Saturday, 28 April 2012

​Death Of An Inspiration

In 2009, I was on the Australian leg of my year-long world tour. By about March our time in Australia was coming to an end and The Boy and I had nearly journeyed around the entire country by train and camper van. In the two months we’d been travelling around, we never felt we’d got a proper grasp of attitudes towards and relationships with Aborigines.

The media tells you Aborigines and “white Australians” now co-exist in harmony after land rights were recognised back in 1976 and the original act was amended some thirty years later. Driving through smaller “townships” along the west and north coast it is clear this is not the reality. The reality is complex and hard to understand purely by distanced observation.

Our first Aussie trip back in 2005 along the well-travelled East Coast did little to challenge this well publicised misconception. It wasn’t until we moved away from popular tourist destinations that we actually started to see Aboriginal people and it wasn’t until we hit the Northern Territory that we had our first somewhat mixed interactions. First impressions were far from flattering.

Camping in the grounds of a plush-looking hotel in Fitzroy we were disturbed in the middle of the night by a drunken figure tapping on the side of the van. In the middle of no-where, exhausted from the oppressive humidity and disturbed from my naked slumber, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the attentions of this stranger and actually felt quite threatened.

First arriving into Darwin, we stayed on the city’s outskirts in a campsite with friendly full-time residents, both Kiwis and Aussies. Here we once again witnessed overt racism from people who were otherwise well-balanced, educated and welcoming. It wasn’t until our second night that we finally gained some genuine insight into the Aboriginal culture and clashes between Australia’s people.

In the bar of our city centre hostel, The Boy met Andrew McMillan. We’d actually argued that day but as soon as The Boy discovered Andrew was a writer, he suggested I come to meet him. After our initial encounter, we ended up spending our last two nights in Darwin going over to Andrew’s house, the affectionately named “bunker”.

Having received the Northern Territory Book Of The Year Award for his non-fiction novel, An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land, Andrew was invaluable in explaining hostilities between Australian “whites” and Aborigines. He was a fascinating man who had truly lived to the max and I’m sad to say is no longer alive.

Following on from our days in Darwin, we witnessed yet more drunken Aborigines in Katherine and also met an elderly Aboriginal artist who dramatically contrasted with previous negative images we'd been confronted with. When we left Australia, we planned to stay in contact with Andrew and often talked of arranging a meet-up if he ever re-visited the Hay Literary Festival.

Unfortunately words were merely words and time flew by. We never got in contact with him again. It is only in the last few days that I have discovered Andrew died battling bowel cancer in February this year. Hearing of his death left me with a feeling of profound sadness. I didn’t know Andrew very well but he made such an impact, I doubt I will ever forget him. I am just relieved to hear that he spent his last days and final moments as he always wanted to. The Boy clearly remembers Andrew saying he'd like to be carried out of “the bunker” in a box and that is exactly what happened. But only after he'd formed a last minute band...

R.I.P. Andrew – wherever you are, I bet you’re creatively busy!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

If Sex Selection Treatment Was Affordable...

I am at the age where I'm losing my friends to little people. Friends scattered across the country seem to be reproducing and I'm not. Why I'm not seems to dominate every conversation I have recently and from this familiar discussion, I've made an interesting observation.

However taboo it may be to admit to having a preference, it is widely presupposed that men want to have sons. Of course traditionally in Asian countries daughters are valued even less and China's controversial one child policy heightens the pressure to make that one count by having a son. All this comes from the days when men ruled the world and women were merely housewives whose voice shouldn't be heard. These days women can earn a crust and even be sole breadwinners, making the once disappointing prospect of daughters far less unappealing.

All these “to have” and “not to have” discussions I've been part of seem to suggest that contrary to popular belief a lot of the guys I know would prefer to have a daughter if given the option. When asked why there have been quite an array of reasons ranging from the hope of having a “Daddy's Girl” to daughters being less distant as adults and therefore more likely to stay in closer contact. Others seem to believe girls are easier to contend with than boys – those holding this belief generally don't come from a family of mixed-sex siblings (those who did quickly argued against this idea - even the females!).

Having a male child was also of course traditionally preferable in order to keep the family name going. These days more and more married women are hanging onto their “maiden” name or opting for double-barrel concoctions. This modern trend means of course it's actually more likely that having a daughter will keep the family name (and line) alive.

This very newfangled tendency for many of the males in and around my friendship groups to want daughters seems to go against the stats. The most recent study done by Gallup shows that the majority of men anonymously interviewed over the phone would prefer to have a son if they could only have one child and were given the choice. This June 2011 study was conducted in America so perhaps not a useful comparison but lacking any other recent UK-based research it will have to do:

Short of paying for controversial and expensive sex selection treatment, many of us aren't given the luxury of choice. For now, I'll sheepishly admit to having a preference for male cats but as far as babies go, I'm undecided. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Mega High Five To Wi-Fi

The lady with the pink socks on upstairs - you are being watched by CCTV. I can see everything you're doing," the driver says for the second time, making me wonder how much attention he's paying to the road. This is the voice of the new and improved Megabus. Keen to dispel the outdated 80s' image their name conjures and disprove the popular misconception it's inferior to National Express, Megabus have finally made steps in the right direction and are maturing into a truly mega company.

This is the first coach journey I've made since permanently moving myself back to Leeds. Stuck in London's congestion, our vocal driver clearly aspires to be a comedian, making his presence felt: “Can someone lend me their helicopter?”

As I say goodbye to the south and its extortionately hiked prices (my favourite Greg's creation, 'The Spicy One', actually costs an additional 20 pence!), I'm amazed by the driver's next announcement, alerting us to the free Wi-Fi and power sockets the new double decker Megabuses now boast.

Even dramatically more expensive Leeds to London trains merely offer a token fifteen minutes of free surf time so I can't quite believe it when I'm able to browse e-mails for the entire five hour trip. Sure, as an alternative to train travel, the bus takes double the time but it's also a fraction of the price.

Rivaling National Express' Eurolines, Megabus is finally launching three new European destination routes (Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris) and in doing so, has clearly upped its game, almost matching the level of service offered on long-distance Peruvian coaches. And unlike National Express, overhead lights and ventilation actually work.

The driver's sharp wit punctuates an already long and delayed journey as he tells us “we'll be arriving into Sheffield tomorrow [with this traffic]” and once again warns the person who has removed their shoes to put them on: “you're gassing everybody!” - in turn reminding us, alongside creature comforts, Megabus have clearly improved on-board CCTV and Big Brother is indeed watching us, if only to poke fun.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Egg In my Fridge

The sign saying, “They're back,” directly conflicts with the contents of my fridge over the last year, inaccurately suggesting “they” have been absent. As a child, I loved eggs cooked in their various forms but rather like milk and MacDonald's seemed to develop a sudden inexplicable dislike for them.

In the first year of University in the days of inclusive campus breakfasts, I attempted to reintroduce eggs into my diet but my unfortunate aversion to them remained. In the last few years, I have however become rather partial to a certain type of egg I once thought over-rated.

Back in 1923, Cadbury first introduced cream-filled eggs but it wasn't until 1971 that the brand we know and love today came into being. From 1975 Cadbury Creme Eggs were advertised on TV and in 1980 they were made available year-round but diminishing sales prompted their return to seasonal production.

Over 300 million Creme Eggs are made each year with a third being exported. Each consumer devours Creme Eggs in their own individual way, in keeping with the legendary 1980s adverts “How do you eat yours?” Research by Cadbury shows that:

53% of people bite off the top, lick/suck out the creme then eat the remaining chocolate in one go – otherwise known as the 'Bite and Lick' method

20% just bite straight through 

16% use their finger to scoop out the creme.”

It seems few people go for the “Cadbury Creme Egg and Soldiers” approach (removing the wrapper, placing the egg in an egg cup, cutting/ biting off the top of the egg, eating the fondant filling with a spoon and/or using Cadbury Fingers as dipping soldiers before eating the chocolate shell) or utilise many of the other suggestions from the advertising campaign:

I'm part of the 53% majority and also fall into Cadbury's “Delicate Peelers” sub-category:

Those that know me well, probably won't be surprised to hear I'm a “methodical and subtle eater” who exhibits all the traits of a “Stage Peeler” (unwrapping just enough to keep the creme off my fingers), rather than a
”Quick Discarder” (ripping off all the foil).

The growth of the Creme Egg range (Mini Creme Eggs, Caramel Eggs, Orange Creme Eggs, Mint Creme Eggs, Dairy Milk with Creme Egg bars, Creme Egg ice cream, Creme Egg Twisted, Screme Eggs...) made it possible for me to keep a constant year-round supply chilled in the bottom drawer of our fridge. Last year in the weeks after Easter, supermarkets and market stalls began selling off Creme Eggs at discounted prices and once unsold Easter stocks ran out, left-over Halloween Screme Eggs were on sale for six for a pound. Days away from Easter Sunday, although reserves have seriously diminished, we're still not “dry”.

I may not like my eggs poached or scrambled but in consuming Creme Eggs I am actually eating some egg. Beyond traces of egg whites, the ingredients are less wholesome: The 20 grams or five teaspoons of sugar each egg contains is the same amount the American Heart Association considers an entire day’s dietary allowance of sugar. Eating three Cadbury Creme Eggs this Easter Sunday equates to the same sugar dosage a physician would use during an oral glucose tolerance test to determine if a patient has diabetes. If you prefer your Creme Eggs deep fried like Doncaster-based Martyn Bilby (, perhaps just the one is wise. Without immersing in a deep fat fryer, one is a mere 150 calories and a quick sugar high...

If Dean Martin was to ask me: “How do you like your eggs in the morning?” I'd promptly reply: “I like mine with a kiss. Gooey or chilled, I'm satisfied as long as I get my kiss...”