Arriving to a party fashionably early – a good 24 hrs, in fact – wasn’t my finest. At an eerily quiet doorstep in the staggering Melbourne heat, I momentarily wondered if perhaps children’s birthday parties are actually very quiet – this was my first, after all – or that everyone was keeping husshh in order to surprise the visitor. To be fair to them, I was surprised, and so were they when I knocked on the door quite sheepishly. Was a shame really, as I had missed lunch in order to elbow grubby chits out of the way and feast on wholesome sugary goodness.
I write the above whilst seated at a table at my friend’s house and, in finding it quite tall, I reached down to the lever on the side to increase the seat height. The problem is I’ve been sitting uncomfortably at this table for about three weeks, oblivious to the remotest idea of adjusting my predicament.
Am not surprised though; I have a lot on as I’m having to do what I most dislike when travelling: planning. It’s one of those annoyances when visiting non-western countries that officious governments want to know the details of travels before I know them myself. Can’t I just, you know, arrive and saunter about a bit? Seems not. In February I’ll be visiting Fiji, the US, Bahamas and the mighty Cuba where one needs visas and t’ings. Then perhaps Jamaica and Puerto Rico, not quite set on those yet. As my regular reader may note, the Caribbean isn’t my natural playground: my colour-of-scared-milk skin adores cloud, not sun; I don’t really like beaches; and Reggae, whilst excellent as a pasta sauce, isn’t for the ears. An adventure awaits! Let’s see what I forget.
The cost of me having a pretty good 2022 is that the world, still gasping and coughing from the pandemic, just loudly shits itself for a bit. Seems fair, though.
I spent time with family and old friends back in the UK, some I hadn’t seen for 20 years. My mum received a long-overdue operation and I made new friends whilst exploring eight new countries. I even got to hang out with my sister and brother-in-law as they jet around the world on an adventure of their own. Even my beloved Arsenal are doing a thing! Being back in Melbourne has been extremely special, and I’m delighted I’ve been able to catch up with so many people. At one of the first dinners, I remember just taking a moment to stare around at my friends faces I hadn’t seen for so long . . . it was a little magic.
Conversely, the world has taken a fu**ing shellacking! Russia declared war, Ukraine got pummeled, stock-markets crashed, inflation reached new highs, China shutdown, the benefits of Brexit (ha!) bit home, UK couldn’t pick a PM for love nor money, and costs of everything bar my employment sky-rocketed. Honestly, if my wages increased as much as my weekly shop, I’d be a brazillionaire!
However, the world falling into shit seems to be the price of my happiness, and I think you’d agree it’s worth the cost, ammarite?! Thanks Universe!
Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year xxxx
Ahh just another day in paradise; nothing to do but hide from the fierce sunshine (37C!) and read about Hitler. What’s not to like, ammarite?!
It’s lovely being back amongst the friendliest city in the world, the sunshine pouring through the windows, a welcome calm before more toupee-tilting winds and an inevitable thunderstorm precisely when I venture out for my afternoon stroll. I can hear birds chirping and chatting away in the trees, cicadas causing a ruckus, the low-hum of an airplane luring passengers to dream destinations. It’s an idyllic setting, and one I’ve found by sheer good fortune of house-sitting for dear friends. So far, the house just sits . . . tis pretty light work!
Having abandoned Australia twelve months ago with a swift fork-you at the end of an extremely strict and damaging pandemic, I now find myself back amongst the throng of restaurants and cafes, enjoying the warm embrace (sweaty, in this climate) of friends I have missed immensely. I’ve supped cold drinks aplenty and dined considerably in the markedly changed city; some businesses survived the turmoil, some did not, infrastructure had a welcome cash-injection, and avocados tumbled in price whilst simultaneously the cost of said fruit on toast leapt to new highs. Funny world, eh?
And now, the controversial bit: Hitler, the enigma! As you may have guessed over the many blog-posts, I’m fascinated with leadership, yet I shift uncomfortably even writing about der Führer, and for bloody good reason. Sure, by many (i.e. everyone bar the unhinged Ye) he is considered a mass-murdering evil bastard that single-handedly united a fractious country to turn all their ire against the Jewish population, but on the other side . . . look, does the world lack leadership? Yes! Do we have a burgeoning population? Yes! Do we need innovative solutions? Yes! Are these solutions going to be liked by everyone? Course not, tough choices always have their dissenters, right?! All I’m saying is, we have to be open-minded. OK, am not really saying that! But Hitler does pique the interest from a leadership perspective: everything he stood for was horrid (bar vegetarianism), yet from humble beginnings he captured the hearts and minds of millions of people through oratory brilliance and crowd psychology. Academic essays on leadership cite inspiration and influencing as key skills, both of which Hitler asserted in vast quantities, along with drug-addiction and a vast amount of horrendousness. Additionally, JFK called Hitler the stuff of legends, so if you’ve ever looking for a ringing endorsement from one of the “nastiest Presidents in American history” . . .
I’ve never studied leadership in an academic setting, but do wonder if they’d have the balls to cite Hitler in the classroom. Apparently so, to quote the coachestrainingblog.com, “the “Hitler Problem” is just one of those intellectual discussions on transformation and leadership that can be fun and enlightening.” “Fun” eh? Markedly uncomfortable requiring a severe degree of dispassion is probably how I’d put it! So that’s me, studying Hitler and enjoying the sunshine. Look out for my ‘Hitler: All Bad?’ leadership book sometime never. As the afternoon wanes, time for some light exercise and a walk in the gorgeous sunshine whilst simultaneously avoiding the inner voices plotting the destruction of all mankind. Paradise, I tell you, paradise!
It's been a wonderful old year: time spent with family; seeing old friends; making new ones and exploring once again. Next up perhaps the Caribbean . . . you know, because of my fervent love for the sun and all that. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and Boxing Day, wishing you the very best for the New Year!
There’s a certain pull to tackling planet sized problems; a gravity, to break out the puns early. Going ‘full-Thanos’ isn’t entirely dismissible, yet other resolutions include one-child policies, renewable and clean energy, and carbon dioxide collectors, which were called trees at some point, am sure. Even if we #EatTheRich, there’s generally not enough to go around - even when taking a more literal stance of all the ‘Richards’. Time to test out my new cologne, eau de wasabi-marmite-dogshit! (Ed-you’ve been wearing this for years, no?)
Over the years I’ve taken great inspiration from Tim Flannery’s The Weathermakers and Vanishing Face of Gaia by the late yet wonderful James Lovelock. Bill Gates’ How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is the latest in the line. When discussing emissions, the usual scapegoat is the third world trying to improve standards of living, or just living in general, yet we can’t deny them the same privileges we enjoy. Clean energy is the answer. Solar and wind are great, but intermittent, relying upon batteries, and we’d need A LOT of batteries. I’m only halfway through the book, but for reliable, twenty-four-hour energy, atom-splitting nuclear fission is going to be tough to beat. Australia’s risk-averse, get-lost-you-mongrel, standpoint remains steadfast though: no nuclear here, thank you for asking! It hasn’t stopped them buying eight nuclear subs from the gun-lovers south of Canada, but they can park those waaaaaaayyy offshore and pretend they don’t exist. Or park them in Adelaide, which no one likes anyway.
On a global emissions scale, it’s interesting to actually see where things sit: making things (cement, steal, plastic, fuel etc) account for 31%; plugging in (electricity generation) is 27%; growing things (plants, animals etc) is 19%; getting around (planes, trucks, cargo ships) is only 16%; heating cooling and refrigeration 7%. Even if you’re bamboozled by figures, that is fascinating. When we buy electric cars, we’re reducing the getting around % and the making things % (fuel), yet at the same time increasing the making things % (batteries, steel), and increasing the plugging in % (electricity).
But I know what you’re thinking: a) it’s hard to take in the complexity of a fifty-to-hundred-year view when day-to-day life is already a struggle, with surging fuel costs, food shortages, and if you’re in Ukraine, getting shelled the shit out of too b) who is this Thanos character and can he be worse than Britain’s current leadership options? Ladies and gentlemen, Liz Truss at her finest. Making Britain Grate Again?
Many years ago, a friend asked if I could do anything I wished knowing that I wouldn’t fail (drown all Brexiteers?) and there were no negative repercussions for others (goddamn it!), what would it be? The same question cropped up recently in The Authenticity Principle by Ritu Bhasin – artfully reading her own book on her own website, the vane swine! As Jimmy Carr recently put it, it’s not about doing something better than everyone else, it’s about doing the thing that you do best. And it could take a lifetime to figure that out. For me perhaps a writing, travelling, making friends kind of comedy suits perfectly. . . tickets for my ‘hilarious ways to hold a pen whilst chatting’ roadshow will undoubtedly be very much available. Get them while they’re tepid. It’s either that or save humanity.
I’m gently mulling over How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates, flying off on the occasional tangent as I go. Bear with me! Our polar caps are white, and white reflects heat; the more the caps melt, the less heat is reflected, the hotter the planet gets, the more the polar caps melt etc So, if we had more white reflective surfaces, that would reduce the heat, right? This led me down the rabbit warren of the Albedo effect (reflective surface coefficients), and if there is the blackest black, can there be the whitest white? The answer is yes. If we painted roofs super-white in a small hot town in Australia or erected fields of white reflecting panels, would that cool the immediate area or would the next town along be fu**ed by firestorms? No idea. Any climate geeks out there?
As you may know, I don’t have a television, but I am a sucker for Star Trek – neeeerdddddddd! Pointed to one recent episode, they had a line about living life gloriously that draws on the same leadership books I imbibe concerning life direction. Effectively, you imagine your own eulogy, and work backwards. Is what they are saying at your funeral reflective of the life you wanted to lead? As Bonnie Ware’s incredible Regrets of the Dying, no one reaches their end of days and wishes they worked more. I meet so many people that are envious of the life I lead, dreaming of visiting Australia or simply to work and travel . . . things I am forever grateful for. The grass is always greener. Use the knowledge of your own death to make the best version of yourself that you most aspire to be...and I’ll leave you with this: right up until the last moment of our lives, we don't believe our story will end. Our last emotion before we die is of surprise.
I envisaged writing more when I was away for 10 weeks in the Balkans, but alas I seem to have existed in perpetual states of sleeping, working, sleeping again, exercising and sightseeing, then sleeping more. I say goodnight three times a day. Almost a week passes in two days! But now being back in Wales with my folks - instead of sweating on buses or hiking up hills to fortresses – I can slow down a bit, trawl through photos, and write. Don’t get me wrong, the sightseeing was wonderful, but that 38-degree malarkey ain’t no jokes, I tells ya! <Brace yourself Britain!>
Unbeknownst to many, when I do I travel, I go as a genteel Australian. It has a less ‘I am here to invade your country’ feel about it than being British, whilst remaining exotic and distant. So distant, in fact, Australia is inconsequential. Our leaders are, at best, instantly forgettable. Do we even have one? Is it Crocodile Dundee? In fairness to the world, we’ve had a string of fatuous, egoistic useless bastards, the last a charmless, happy-clapping Presbyterian climate-denier. He was so forgettable that Biden struggled even when talking to him. However, there is a new Sheriff in town, and unbeknownst to many, he’s 1000% Albanian. Or at least that’s what the Albanians think.
A proper country write-up will come, but the highlight was probably Albania: picturesque; mountainous; lots of unused concrete bunkers in preparation for a Cold War that never happened; the first declared Atheist country; rich Roman history; Turkish Islamic influence; and an odd knowledge of Australian Prime Ministers. The new man is Anthony Albanese, the surname from Italian-Albanian origin. To Australians, he’s simply Albo (of course he is!). The newb is a clean break from tradition: of the last 30 leaders, 29 have been the stereotypical white, middle-aged, religious straight male, but in a sweeping change, we’ve plumbed for a white, middle-aged, straight male that is semi-religious. Viva la revolution! Yet he is pro-LGBT, pro women’s right to choose over abortion, a fan of renewables and supports voluntary euthanasia. The appointment of the sane Penny Wong as our Minister for Foreign Affairs, our first female openly-lesbian Australian federal parliamentarian, has been met with a round of applause by at least me.
But, for now, all hail, Albo! Please don’t be as crap as the last lot. It comes to something that instead of hoping for, well, hope, we wish them to be less shit. Giddy heights! What a campaign ticket that would be! ‘I solemnly swear, I may be fu**Ing useless, but not as fu**Ing useless as those other guys, ammarite?! Pass the yard of ale!’ My standing invitation to Obama to take over as some kind of benevolent dictator, working 2/3 months a year, chilling in the Whitsundays for the remainder, is still on offer. Why do we let good leaders go to waste? Suppose it’s the complication of deciding who is best. Sure, Boris has his detractors, but who could have predicted that a bumbling, fu** the poor, fu** everything that moved bowl of jellified hopelessness would have been a bad Prime Minister? When Jacinda Arden is done in New Zealand, we should start bidding. If she could smuggle in some air-conditioners as Britain braces for a heatwave, we could usher in a cooler New Great Britain.
Much like those I know in Melbourne, the Greeks are effortless charm machines. Although I am genuinely having a wonderful time, even if I wasn’t, I feel they could convince me otherwise. Very much a case of these aren’t the droids you’re looking for! I’ve eaten so many olives on this holiday, and I hate olives.
I arrived in the country’s second city of Thessaloniki in the north-east of the country a few days ago then headed down the coast, but spent the first week on Corfu, hiring the tiniest car possible to circumnavigate the Ionian island. The road to reach my accommodation had collapsed, taking with it 60% of the drivable surface. It was a frightening experience tiptoeing around only the semi-broken bit! From hiring the vehicle, I lasted perhaps five minutes before the first ‘Oh God!’ as I narrowly squeezed between two cars parked casually across the road like they owned the place. Driving in Corfu is absolutely hair rising. Locals park almost anywhere apart from outside a fruit and veg stall, as a harassment will ensure. Charming harassment though, as I found out.
The beaches appear more spectacular than they are: the water seems inviting but at this time of year, that crystal clear turquoise sea is bracingly cold. Sure, I still went in, of course I did – there’s a long supressed British part of me that says ‘you’re on holiday, get in that fu**ing water right now! - but the duration of the adventures was pitiful. The shorelines are covered in crisp white pebbles that whilst crunch nicely underfoot, also hurt said underfoot. Yup, water was too chilly and the stones too hurty. And the sand it too coarse. Princess Reed, at your service.
After only a short time, I get the feeling that the Greeks don’t really give a shit about anything apart from food and family. They just live in this permanent state of relaxation and friendliness, building concrete skeletons of houses for foreigners and then just abandoning the project entirely. When I talk to people about Greece, their eyes sparkle, mind dancing of past romances and sundrenched beaches. Everyone seems to have their favourite island, like some kind of elite level travel club. Am not there yet, so will just have to continue travelling until I find one. Such is life. Ohh, an olive, yum!!
‘I didn’t know we had lizards in Wales!’ I reported excitedly to my mum, spotting one unwisely resting in the uneasy solace of the cat bowl. Mum confirmed that we still didn’t. When I was done channelling my inner Attenborough, would I be able to relocate the newt to the pond please. The difference, you ask? Newts are more like salamanders, and as this article explains, ‘while all newts are considered salamanders, not all salamanders are newts’. Doesn’t help, right? Anyway, dearly hoping that the poor thing hadn’t just made a mammoth journey from the pond in the first place – I asked it, not much of a response - Jeff was duly dispatched to the watery depths, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Think he quite liked the bowl.
Next up for me that day came another blood donation for this year, propping up the NHS with some more mighty Reed blood! Honestly, there’s never been a better time to have an accident. I imagine somewhere in the basement of the NHS, they’re distilling the potency, watering it down for mere humans or just donating it all to a single poorly elephant that’ll go from languishing despair to dancing a jig now that he’s been injected with some rocket fuel! Or they might just pack it in with the others, I guess.
Feeling a little jaded in the afternoon, I stumbled across a large bumble bee sharing my listlessness – I was going to write sluggishness but we already have two animals in this story. The Reed Rescue Centre (me) plopped him next to some flowers. Since he didn’t immediately look energised, I fetched a tiny dab of honey from the pantry and put some down right next to him, hoping to god that bumble bees like honey as much as honey bees supposedly like honey . . . I mean, am sure they’re very different, unlike lizards and newts which intelligent people mix up all the time. Yet sure enough, ten anxious minutes later, just when I was picturing the news headlines, ‘Sick bastard poisons innocent bee – public execution arranged’, the little chappie/chappness/non-denomination-please-stop-boxing-me-into-a-gender bumble bee had more pep, and soon buzzed away merrily. He zipped by several minutes later to the lounge window I was gazing out of, undoubtedly to say thank you in a bzzz, bzzz bzzzzzzzz way that they do. A quite wonderful day! No idea what happened to the slug.
Being a professional log-bagger isn’t as glamourous as it sounds, battling spiders in the wood shed for the juiciest chunks. I’m just thankful we don’t have Huntsman or snakes in this country, otherwise I’d be forced to sign-over woodshed ownership. I’m good with cold, thanks! It is glorious being back home, but the hours change on both hemispheres means the rough 8pm-4am slot is now 10-6am. Ouch!
The biphasic or sometimes triphasic sleeping patterns mean I go to bed A LOT! My whole day seems to consist of getting up so I can then go back to bed. Traipsing through the narrow-cobbled streets of Lisbon or staring across the beautiful Lake Como for a few hours a day (or indeed walking the Welsh countryside in spring with all the cute lambies or chatting to my parentals) are pretty magnificent in the down time though.
Accompanying me on any trip is my camera, muddled thoughts and a need to exercise, but many of my standard practices have capitulated. My meditation practices have fallen off a cliff, as too has the sheer amount I read. Lack of sleep wipes out a lot of creativity too; I still have my bounce, just it’s not quite as high. Back in Wales following the last European jaunt, I recently picked up the lovely Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark by Australian author Julia Baird, a journalist extolling the benefits of the natural world: walks in the countryside; swimming in the ocean which she cutely refers to as Vitamin Sea; the simple everyday experiences of feeling roughness of a carpet under smooth souls; the delights of apricity – the warmth of the winter sun. It’s an entrancing charming book.
Referred to often is the feeling of awe and wonder, the latter Descartes expostulated was the greatest of all emotions. It perfectly encapsulates my feelings when staring at snowy mountains and countryside stretching for eternity, at architecture or art that sends my soul into rapture, where I lose my footing on the path of time for a few brief seconds. An interlude of dislocation from the world. Time to plan another jaunt, perhaps Greece. Wanna come? You can watch me sleep and mumble about spiders and logs.
Trivia Quiz: Name two countries that have another two countries ensconced in their midst? Answers: South Africa (Lesotho and Eswatini/Swaziland) is obvious, zero points!; the other trickier one is Italy, with the Vatican City and – drum roll – San Marino! Other than being the whipping boys of European football competitions from time immemorial, I knew very little about San Marino. Not even where it was. ‘Europe’ was my best guess, but that’s kind of inherent in the European bit of the competition. Nary a team of Innuits has ever made an appearance.
There’s a lovely straight train line in Italy of about four-hundred kilometres running from Milan to the coast, skirting footballing goliaths and minnows such as Ancona, Ravenna, Bologna, Parma, Sassuolo, Piacenza and, of course, Inter Milan and AC Milan. It’s when roving along that map trying to find Modena that I stumbled upon San Marino. The history goes that in Roman times, stonemason Saint Marinus established an independent monastic community on the awesomely named Mount Titan circa 301 AD. Then . . . everyone seems to have quietly forgotten about it. San Marino was occupied by the son of the Pope once in the 16th century, until dad intervened and removed him like a chaste school bully. And one time, the nephew of another pope attempted to conquer the republic but incredibly got lost on the fog in the way there. How embarrassing!
Given tourist season was yet to kick off in a pretty-bloody-cold February, only half a dozen of us boarded a fifty-seater bus from Rimini on the Italian coast. Four of those got off before we even arrived at the lofty citadel. I parked myself in a fancy hotel with a less fancy view of a wall, and excitedly went straight to bed in preparation for my night’s working. Huzzahh! In between working nights talking to Australian comrades though, I pottered around the old citadel, which you can traverse in about an hour from end to end.
With barely any tourists, it was very easy to strike up conversations with those that had bothered to venture out. I met a few Britishers wandering around, basking in glorious and unexpected sunshine. When they holidayed in the area two years ago, they built igloos in the copious snow. Despite the lack of people, San Marino has its charm. There is an abundance of curiosities such as the torture museum and vampire/werewolf/weird things museum, all of which were open the one day of the week I wasn’t in town. No one I met seemed to know why these oddities existed. The only shops readily doing business were hawking guns thanks to San Marino’s very liberal laws on firearm ownership. However, the views from the citadel into where the peasants lay beyond is extremely pretty (beyond the peasants, obviously), with splendid light shows of orange and purple pastels during never-ending sunsets.
This tiny country also has some claims to fame: it is the oldest constitutional republic and oldest surviving sovereign state in the world. Astonishingly, in 1861 San Marino wrote to Abraham Lincoln congratulating him on his recent presidency, and made him an honorary citizen (another trivia question!). Also, it’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world in GDP per capita, which is even more miraculous considering most shops are shut. They must sell a truckload of guns, or ingest money by osmosis or something. As for their footballing prowess, little can be expected from a country of only 24 square miles and a population of roughly 30,000. As yet, they have never won a competitive game. According to this morale booster from Wikipedia ‘San Marino's national team is sometimes considered the worst national side in the history of the sport.’ Ouch! Come visit, you may make the team!
Writing and writing...