I deserve some kind of gold ribbin’ for this entry.

We’re about to leave Wellington on an early 8am ferry ride. It’s been a breezy trip through our nation’s capital, which is why I didn’t end up contacting friends during our stay. I was gracious enough to pass on the cold/flu that gripped me during the wedding, so my girlfriend could enjoy its many graces. She’s spent the last few days leaking copiously from the nose, sneezing enough to leave her with a sore back and possessing a general spaciness of the brain. It’s shitty to be sick on holiday but honestly, if she had to be sick, a day and a half where we had zero obligations to anyone else was the best possible time. If it’d been two days later we’d be weaving through the twists and turns of South Island mountainscapes. That’s gotta be a special kind of hell inside the ninth sphere.

We traveled at a breezy pace, doing what we could while we could manage it. Best coffee we found (and currently leading for the trip overall) was at the Flight Coffee Hangar downtown. We’ve been wandering the city drinking coffee, eating well (made the customary trip to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen). I got up early for a morning jog around the waterfront and this afternoon we returned to the scene of the crime. We checked out Te Papa Museum. Visited a very cool exhibit all about bugs, with giant models all designed by Weta Workshops (though surprisingly no giant weta models). There was a hell of a lot to learn with fun interactive exhibits. Let’s see what I can remember.

There was a pretty vicious (both pretty and vicious) mantis known as the orchid mantis. With a vaguely translucent body capable of a certain amount of colour change, it hides among orchids and attracts its prey with bodily luminescence. As the prey draws near, it lashes out, grabbing it in its strong claws, then rips it apart with sharp mandibles. The slow motion video depicted a scene none to dissimilar to how I eat ribs. Brutal, just brutal.

There’s an awesome wasp that turns cockroaches into its zombie slaves. Sorta. The wasp confronts the cockroach and injects its venom into the wasp’s nervous system, paralysing its front legs. It then injects it again, paralysing its antennae and disabling its ability to navigate, It creates a nest and preps it for the arrival of a host. Bringing the cockroach to the next, it lays its eggs inside, then seals off the entrance to the nest. The new wasp emerges, chest burster style, from the now dead cockroach host. None too dissimilar to how my stomach feels after I eat too many ribs. Brutal just brutal.

The Japanese honey bees were fucking wicked. Their nests are often set upon by large wasps. Physically superior creatures, the wasps rampage through the hives, leaving dismembered bees everywhere. The bees are able to collaborate and work together to repel the invasion. I don’t know how they figured this out, but the Japanese honey bees can stand temperatures a few degrees higher than the wasps can. The bees band together around their foe in a little bee ball. They then flap their wings aggressively, heating up their little bodies. The wasp, unable to handle the temperature increase, dies. I’m not sure if it suffocates, melts or has some kind of painful brain explosion, but whatever the result, I’m sure the wasp realises it’s bitten off more than it can chew only when it’s too late. None to dissimilar to me at an all you can eat ribs night, Brutal, just brutal.

A few rad displays talked about evolutionary developments in insects and how human technology seeks to replicate it. One of these is the exoskeleton, which is finally being developed for assistance with accessibility challenged people. Augmented strength or limbs will one day be able to, say, help individuals with spinal cord injuries walk again. Spider silk is uncannily strong for its weight. One thread wrapped around the circumference of the Earth would only weigh half a kilo. Military technology is looking to adopt this strength to weight ratio in new and improved kevlar armour. Other future tech involves swarm-esque nanobots controlled by a central source (think Big Hero 6), and termite-ish machines working together to build large structures or clean up waste spills. I can certainly think of a few scenarios they’d be handy for. None to dissimilar for the clean up crew required after my body processes the aftermath of an all you can eat ribs night. Brutal, just brutal.

Who else is craving ribs right now?

Let me guess, I’ve done one of these already?

It gets challenging at times to write every day. Not because sitting down in front of a keyboard is inherently difficult, but because I don’t like the concept of repeating myself. Oh, I’m sure it’s happened countless times. It’s hard enough to forget which stories you’ve told specific friends, let alone keep track of the content of 1350 odd entries written over >3 years. Having written every day, I’ve long since figured out that some notion of direction makes the whole process easier. Having an idea is not synonymous with “planning”, it just means that I’ve extended thoughts as far as general content.

I don’t have any of that today. As I’m sure you can tell from the multitudinous aimless entries, it’s a common occurrence. There’s a non-insignificant level of guilt saddled along with pointless entries. I wonder what I could be doing with the time, whether I’m getting any more out of putting words to paper than I would merely reading books. I often fear that my vocabulary is stagnating, that diving into the prose of accomplished writers could be the salve I need. I’ve at least been reading lately, for the first time in a while. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay. Historical fiction is far from my wheelhouse, but maybe that’s the shot in the arm that I need. Obviously though, that’s not all that I need.

It’s easy to discount the necessity of fresh experiences in revitalising your outlook. Routine is so seductively easy, especially at a time of the year when staying outside too long could literally result in death. What’s the simplest solution for lacking topic ideas? Write about what’s happened to you. If nothing’s happened, however, where do you take that? Do an itemised run down of your schedule? Catalogue everything your body has touched since you awoke (actually, that’s kind of interesting. Earmarking that for another day)? Recount dreams? Meals? Media consumption habits? That’s all backup fodder for small talk, let alone devoting time to words on a page. Having novel experiences is a break from the norm, Suddenly there are things to talk about, reflections to share. Keep moving or go stagnant.

The other option, which I take too rarely, is to use this space as a lab. Throwing ideas at a page to see if they have legs. I can write anything, so why don’t I? I tried a week of writing dialogue with mixed results. Still, how else does one improve? I used to write comedy here, some time back. I’m always writing about myself. How about a week where I write about others? Profiles? Interviews? What about retakes on past entries? How about news stories based on fictional narratives, to work on the inherent conventions? Updates and reworking? Real editing? What if I tried planning in advance? Working out the beats of a short story, then taking a week of entries to put it together? A serialised piece of maybe 3000 words total? Am I afraid of not hitting a certain word count? Or afraid that if I put effort into something and it doesn’t pan out, that I have no excuse to fall back on?

This is not a heartfelt commitment to change. I mean, it’s not like I knew I was gonna write this 30 minutes ago. It’s an expression of a desire to try new things, to keep from going stale. To make the challenge I’ve set for myself worth it. Hell, this is only three years down the line. How will I feel in another five?

Can you pickle M&Ms?

Well I just witnessed the most disgusting vision I’ve seen all day. This comment would be baseless without mentioning that today’s macabre delights have involved pickled foetuses, mummified corpses and the aftermath of London’s strangely inefficient toilet flushes (I swear, every second time I go to the bathroom it takes three or more flushes to vanquish everything. My record is seven. I don’t know if this is a reflection on my lack of good fibre intake, or if someone has been surreptitiously spiking my food with fizzy lifting drink, cause I’ve had some floaters).

It’s not the first time I’ve beheld such horrors, but no matter how many times I do, it’s no easier to stomach. Toronto has one, New York certainly has one and London is no exception. I found tourist Eden. I found Leicester Square. Lights and crowds everywhere. Garish displays and ostentatious presentations from costumed performers. Why the fuck would an M&Ms store be something people would willingly support? It’s an ugly turgid monolith of an advertisement. A fluorescent eyesore. It’s brand idolatry taken to a farcical extent. Come in, follow the colourful lights like a siren song towards price-jacked products you could easily find elsewhere. Especially in a city with such rich history as London, what are you doing pimping out your city centre with a foreign brand? It’s a shamelessly whitewashed affront to a great city’s heritage. Fuck the M&Ms store and everything it stands for. Mouth melting motherfuckers.

On the other hand, the rest of my day has been fantastic. After washing a pile of clothes, sheepishly doing my own indoor workout to keep active (as the downstairs tenants likely wondered who upstairs was wresting a walrus) and eating 200g of clearance freshly best before ham while drying my washing at the laundromat, my tasks for the day were done. I was free to explore and find new inefficient London toilets. Today was to be my first London museum day. I’m a hard sell with museums. I find then interesting as hell, but I also have a limited enough attention span that suddenly hits around 90 minutes in. The secret, I’ve found, is to visit small, niche collections where there’s fascinating material, but not too much to digest. In short, I’ve learned how to handle my childish self.

First stop was the Wellcome Collection. A showcase of medical technology and art from across time and culture. Bloody. Interesting. A special exhibit, Bedlam, featured a specific mental institution from ages past. It traced particular patients, their art and writing. It looked at methodology and techniques, varying in success. One of the most stunning features was the Madlove project, where designers consulted long term patients on their desires for perfect convalescent care. The result, modeled to scale, was a gorgeous Seuss-ian landscape. With surreal colours and shapes, it allowed for a variety of solo and group experiences, destigmatising mental illness. The collection also held a few galleries revolving around past and future technology, debunking theories and homeopathic approaches. Art, science and history fused into a glorious space.

The Huntarian Museum was housed in England’s Royal College of surgeons. A private collection of medical oddities, diseases and samples. In short, a ton of body parts and foetuses, both human and animal, preserved in vinegar. It was amazing. With many internal organs removed, the preservation was startlingly effective. Also sloth foetuses look eerily like misshapen little humans. There were the results of experimental grafts, such as a chicken’s spurs grafted to its forehead. There was the skeleton of a certain “Irish Giant”, standing at 2.3m. there were a whole row of diseased penises, suffering all manner of afflictions. A display showed early examples of wartime plastic surgery, which really brought home how far we’ve come. The most chilling part was the fully preserved human foetuses ranging from a month or two to the full nine. Umbilical cord still attached, the thought of this perfect specimen derived from stillbirth was horrifying. Amazing, but heartbreaking.

With that said, it’s dinnertime. All this learning has worked up quite the appetite. Not even the M&Ms store is enough to put me off my dinner.

A true captain goes down with the shit.

When we last left our hero, he’d just polished off a big plate of fry up. Egg, bacon, sausage, hash brown, tomato, pancake and soda bread were no match for a stomach long since filled to the brim with Guinness. The plans of the day were nothing more than to explore the Titanic museum that people couldn’t stop raving about. Oh, and a welcome, overdue Skype with my girlfriend.

I had every scepticism walking into the museum. Stanchions set up in a twisting pattern gave me flashbacks to every tourist trap I’d visited in my life. I paid £1 to stow my coat in a locker, before realising that I’d left my ticket in said coat. Clearly idiocy has a cost. I sheepishly unlocked the locker, removed my ticket, inserted another coin and entered the exhibit.

Sometimes you’ve gotta believe the hype. A lot of money, care and attention had been put into the museum, which began with a top down look at Belfast’s industrial history. Am I the only one who had no idea that linen was made from flax, broken down and repurposed? I hope at least one of you learned something new just now. The museum was a cornucopia of facts and information, but very easily digestible. Complete with AV displays, interactive games and activities. Could you accurately place steel plates in a scaled construction yard with a working crane? How about Morse code? A three letter word in 30 seconds? Young adults used to do 25 to 30 words in a minute.

There was even a ride showing the production process from the perspective of workmen. Sitting in a gondola, it took you through a forge and work yard depicting riveting in action, with reenactment videos and atmospheric heating/wind for effect. Sounds cheesy, was actually quite nifty. There were recreations of living quartets, segmented by class. A room had projections on three of four walls allowing you a 270° view of the Titanic’s interior, rising through the floors from the engine room to the captain’s deck. Textile features were abundant, showing the massive class divides right down to the quality of carpet and fit out.

Just before I entered the section on the disaster, a maritime tragedy struck close to home. After finishing up in the toilet, I flushed. The basin filled with water, but did little in the way of flushing. My efforts floating merrily on the surface instead. I tried again, flushing more vigorously. Perhaps I hadn’t put the pedal to the metal enough. Nope, more water, zero flushing. I saw a red cord dangling from the ceiling. Perhaps this flush would have greater efficacy. NOPE. Turns out it was an alarm. A loud beeping sounded from outside the bathroom. A voice came over the intercom.

“Can you hear me. Are you in distress?”
I replied that I was sorry, I pulled the cord by accident.
“I repeat, are you in distress?”
I realised they couldn’t hear me. I pressed the button next to the intercom and responded.
“I’m sorry, I pulled the cord by accident. I was just trying to flush. Sorry to alarm you (actually no pun intended).”
“Hello?” Clearly he still couldn’t hear me. “We’re despatching help to your location now. Stay calm.”

. . . /_ _ _ / . . .

Mortified, I had to explain the situation to the attendant. Embarrassment abounded, compounded by the fact that there was no lid on the toilet. He could clearly see what the situation was. I explained that I didn’t want to leave anyone else to find the mess. He laughed, locked the door and put an Out Of Order sign up. “Happens all the time.” It certainly lessened the impact of the disaster section to follow.

Did you know it took under two hours for the entire vessel to sink? Madness. The walls were covered with transcriptions of the Titanic’s Morse code correspondence. From the initial reports of ice just after midnight, to the final pleas for mercy before 2am. At first irked, the mood turned to fear and despair quickly. The exhibit had a comprehensive database of everyone on board from the service staff to passengers. You could filter down the results to search by age, ethnicity, profession, class. It was equally fascinating and awful. Wholly interesting.

By the point I’d digested as much as I had the presence of mind for, but there was still so much more. There were comparisons of different fictional narratives arising from the disaster. A section devoted to the intricacies of deep sea exploration and wreckage. As someone with little to no interest in maritime endeavours or the Titanic, the museum was totally captivating. I’d no reservations in recommending it to anyone passing through Belfast.

Maybe steer clear of the poop deck though.

Is this regular behaviour? I’m starting a movement here.

Is anyone remotely surprised by Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comment? The guy has proven repeatedly to be racist, aggressive, dishonest and misogynist. Is the idea that he treats women like they’re coffee mugs really out of left field? We’ve seen Trump’s type again and again. They’re the same entitled shitbags who’d flout the law and get bailed out by rich parents. They’re the kids who never learn from their mistakes because real consequences don’t exist in their lives. They’re the ones who are taught that the world is theirs for the grabbing, and they go on to treat everyone like shit, because they feel like the world owes them something. They’re also the first to get outraged by infringements on their worldview, because they don’t believe in boundaries.

I live in a bubble, so I don’t know what the other side sees when they go on Facebook. I’m sure there’s a large contingent of men loudly proclaiming “men don’t talk like this”. Bullshit. I went to high school. I know what it sounds like when immature men are deep in the throes of raging testosterone. I know the kinds of things they say. Yes, women are objectified (in the purest sense of the word- treated like non-sentient objects) by high school kids, for sure. In truth, I haven’t heard this kind of locker room talk in years. Most male locker rooms I’ve been in are usually full of silent, hurried men trying desperately not to look at one another. Because toxic masculinity and gay panic. That being said, I’m certain that there are 25+ year old high schoolers who never really grew up and still act the same way they did in the midst of puberty. Men like Donald Trump.

I’m thankful that I don’t seem to know guys like this any more. It’s a wonderful existence to not be constantly reminded first hand of the shittiness inherent to a patriarchal society. This is not something to get complacent about. This kind of rhetoric is obviously still floating around and it should be guys like me, those who are lucky enough to have grown up, to help inform these kind of Cro-Magnons that they should have evolved by now. It’s not enough to desire change without stepping in and helping where we can. Do you think men who treat women like things are gonna listen to their opinions? Or are they more likely to open their ears to someone they can’t push around?

Are you someone who can stand in and say a few words the next time you hear talk like this? If you are, the next time you hear the words of a teenager coming from the mouth of a grown man, let him know why that’s not okay, why that language is damaging on a personal and societal level. And if he doesn’t listen, wait till he leaves the locker room and shit on his spare clothes.

Because that’s what moral fibre is for.

I’m an outlaw! A calligraphiend!

How often do you offhandedly mention something to friends only to be met with a resounding “wait, WHAT?” It could be something long forgotten to you, something you took for granted. Perhaps you just assumed that everyone had the same experience. Very quickly though, it becomes apparent it wasn’t common to sleep suspended in a birdcage hanging from your ceiling.

I’ll put it this way. Did you ever get your pen licence?

I casually threw out the words “pen licence” at a party last night and the room collectively lost its shit. “What do you mean, pen licence?” “what were the penalties for unlicenced pen usage? Probation? Incarceration?” “did they put it on your permanent record?” “did each new teacher check your documentation before entering the classroom?”

See, at primary back home we had a graduated handwriting system. Yes, now that I type those words I feel a little dumb. As a method of teaching good technique and adherence to form, we would follow certain restrictions. The end result was a bizarre tier system that made sense at the time, but now seems amazingly arbitrary. In essence, it was the summation of our entire system of teaching handwriting.

The default was to start with pencil, printing. We’d do lines and lines of the same letter and upon filling up a whole page, bring them up to the teacher to get marked. If it was deemed unsatisfactory, we’d have to stay back into recess until we’d improved. This sounds barbaric and felt so at the time, but really teachers aren’t idiots. They could see who wasn’t putting effort in and/or tried to blitz through to get it over with. My handwriting has always been borderline illegible (I once did a letter that looked neat and happened to be tiny, so from then on I wrote in miniature font. Took me years to cast off that terrible habit.

After a steady series of well done printing, you’d be ushered into the next tier. Cursive. I feel like the only reason I graduated to cursive was out of pity. See, my writing was disjointed enough that linking together letters made them look like new unknown characters. Those poor old teachers who had to deal with my sanskrit-esque scrawls. Thing was, all the other kids were doing it and the teachers felt bad for me. Is that the definition of selflessness? None of it was to their benefit, but it made me happy and I felt accomplished.

The weird part here is I feel like this graduated licensing spanned multiple year levels and I have no idea of how they kept track of each student’s progress. As an adult, the idea of auditing kids’ writing talent systematically seems really peculiar. If we moved from one teacher in one year level to another, what happened? Did they actually chart our skill? Or did they rely on honesty from the kids?

In any case, much like cursive, I never actually achieved my pen licence. Here I am, having spent years illegally and illegibly spreading my dastardly scribbles. You know what though? The mainstream adoption of typing was one of the best things to happen to me (and even then I don’t have regimented touch typing technique). Now I can put word after word on page with digital ink for the world to consume. Just think, if I actually got my pen licence, would I have ended up becoming this prolific? Or would my love of handwriting kept me in the paper age?

What a shame that would’ve been.

Then again, I did once wake him up by dropping trou and farting in his face. I think we’re even.

I was the most gullible child. It makes sense, I was an innocent, trusting child who assumed everyone knew a lot more about the world at large than I did. Fantasy was my domain. I’d watch cartoon and play video games. I’d dream of what I wished existence to be, but neglect the reality of what it was. Frankly, childhood was stimulation overload. Everything was so big, bright and new. Cynicism wasn’t a word in my vocabulary until at least age 10 and it would’ve been at least another year or two before I actively exhibited signs of it. I believed most things that people would tell me. I took things at face value because what was the alternative? Accepting that others would deliberately mislead or deceive me? What kind of life would that be?

I believed in ghosts, aliens and monsters for long enough, not least because of some intentional self-fulfilling prophecy. If my conviction was strong enough, maybe this stuff would flicker to life. Awesome, right? I still never got on the Santa Claus sleigh, perhaps because of the whole Judaism thing. Religion didn’t make sense to me as a kid, considering a bunch of my friends followed different theologies. The idea that they were all wrong but our family was right seemed strange. The notion that one religion being true invalidated the others smelled a bit fishy to me. See, I was never an idiot, just trusting. Still, all of this talk belies the dumbest thing I ever believed.

Firstly you need to understand the kind of people I had around me. I had big brothers feeding me bollocks time and time again. A bunch of my friends were older and had a bit more nouse knocking around in their noggins. A gullible kid is the most fun to tease or joke with, because it extends the value and life of the joke. My best friend, in particular, has always been quick witted. He’s a joker by nature and improvisational by trade. He’d lead and I’d willingly follow. For years I followed in his shadow, with time eventually being an equaliser. We’ve gone on to live different lives, but time and space has been no barrier to that rapport. It’s not something we need to upkeep, because it’s only ever a Skype away. Anyway, you get the point. Best buds fo lyfe, yo. So naturally as a kid when he told me something, I’d listen and believe. The dumbest thing he told me?

You know that “Egyptian walk”? The one I assume The Bangles sung about? Arms at right angles, one pointing in front, the other behind. This one. He told me that everyone in Egypt walked that way. Not only did they walk that way, but walking that way was mandated by law. It was illegal to walk as most do, arms by sides or in pockets. Who was I to judge? I’d never been to Egypt. I’d never met anyone from Egypt. I hadn’t read books on Egypt.

As soon as he told me, I accepted and absorbed it. I don’t know why I didn’t think to ask an adult or teacher. I have some shady recollection of bringing it up in the middle of class, stating it matter of factly. I’m sure the teacher’s response was vaguely along the lines of “that’s simply not true”. I’m sure teasing followed. Whatever, I was a kid, that kind of thing rolled off my back. You know what? I still haven’t been to Egypt. I can neither confirm nor deny.

Though I think I just got an idea for my Autumn vacation.