Category Archives: Key West

Light at the end of the tunnel (+SOTW)

Ladies and Gentlemen I have returned to the blogosphere! And I have brought a digital party horn!

That’s right, your one stop blog for enlightened writing and exciting gossip (about moi) is back! Due to this blog’s astronomical entertainment value I often compare it to the Daily Mail, minus the factual inaccuracy, braggadocio racism, casual sexism and generalised ignorance and bigotry. So actually not a huge amount like the Mail.

(This is what happens when I have writer’s block; I stare blankly at the screen for about an hour and then spew a stream of silliness because it’s easier that way. I apologise unreservedly.)

So, here we are. 2013. I have just under 2 months left at Peacock, which means I have either 2 or 3 months left before I get to see everyone back home again (Huzzah, huzzah and thrice times huzzah at that prospect!). Why the indeterminate length of time? Well, my good friend Oscar and I plan to go on a roadtrip on the east coast for a month at the end of my stay here culminating in a visit to New York to see The Book of Mormon. I simply cannot wait. However, in order for this tantalising dream to become reality, I must first persuade the US government that I am not a terrorist, nor a mexican immigrant, nor a political dissident (ha!) and should be allowed to stay in the country for that extra month. I have already paid the obligatory $280 bribe (or ‘fee’ as they call it) to have my visa extended but the waiting time is so perilously long (2 and a half months on average), and the process so absurdly arbitrary that there is a real and present danger that all my grand scheming shall come to naught.

But no matter how long the remainder of my time in the USA turns out to be, there is a distinct sliver of light at the end of the tunnel in which I find my self. Now this tunnel is not altogether unpleasant; it may be a bit lonely and restrictive (claustrophobic even) but the land of milk and honey awaiting me on the other side will no doubt seem all the more wonderful for having had such an experience beforehand.

The last few weeks have been an exceptionally busy time. The main event of it all was the visit of my Parents and Louise. Between spotting increasing volumes of iguanas, fat people, exotic birds, lizards, and cruise ships, we managed to fit in visits to Ernest Hemingway’s house (where they have 6 toed cats!), the botanic gardens, the coral reef (twice) and a sangria-drenched sunset sail amongst other wonders. Since then we had a New Year’s Day meal which I was in charge of, and I did 30 (count ’em) seasoned pork chops on the barbecue. By all accounts they were delicious, the evening was a tremendous success, and I am a saint.

In other news I got an offer for Politics at Durham. My SOAS/LSE/Durham trilemma remains unresolved, but thank you anyway admissions tutors.

And with that (and this),

…I will bid you Sayonara

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Christmas hiatus

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM KEY WEST!

...and they decorated well into the night

…and they decorated well into the night

Normal service resumes no later than January the 5th, 2013. Probably sooner. Hell, who even knows?

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Milestones [+SOTW]

It has been a week of milestones.

Monday was the 3rd of December, thus marking the halfway point for my stay in Key West. I miss you all, but light is at the end of the tunnel!!

Tuesday marked the 19th anniversary of the death of Frank Zappa, who died on the same day in 1993 at the tragically young age of 52. Cruelly, he died of prostate cancer despite having lead a relatively healthy life for a rock musician (his only vice was cigarettes). During his fight with cancer, he worked 14 hours a day on tying together the many loose ends his endlessly creative mind had left him with, to protect and preserve the remarkable legacy his music leaves us. I wish he was still alive.

I would have dedicated this week’s song to Zappa, my musical idol, if it weren’t for the fact that Wednesday saw the death, 1 day short of his 92nd birthday, of Dave Brubeck, popular jazz composer who pioneered the use of unusual time signatures in Jazz. His 2 ‘classic’ compositions, Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk have doubtless been played ad nauseam to mark his passing, so I include my favourite of the less known pieces below with some fantastic dancing to accompany.

On Thursday and Friday nothing much happened. K-Midz left hospital and there was an Earthquake in Japan? Will that do to preserve the theme?

Today’s (yes, it is still Saturday here, by a whisker) milestone comes in the form of a club-record 9 games unbeaten in the top flight for Norwich City, following the white knuckle ride of the 3-4 win over Swansea (it was 0-3 to us at half time!).

And tomorrow marks 2 weeks before my family gets here. Somebody’s a bit excited for that one…

 

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A few basic facts about the latest Israeli aggression [SOTW#10]

Misinformation is, as ever, rife.

So let me just set the record straight as briefly as possible.

For sources click on the numbers.
1) The total number of Israelis killed by Hamas’ low-tech Qassam rockets ever is 26 (including soldiers!). If, as the Israelis claim, this is ‘genocide’ then it is rather a slow one.
2) Just today 39 Palestinians died.
3) The number of Palestinian civilians killed in the last major Israeli assault, Operation Cast Lead, is 926, including 313 children.
4) Israel’s right to ‘self defence’ is irrelevant as it is clearly the aggressor. As usual, Israel broke the truce, and Israel escalated the violence.
5) Ahmed al-Jaabari had just received a draft peace agreement at the time of his extra-judicial killing. The wonderful Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin who was involved in the negotiations believes al-Jaabari wanted a ceasefire.

Don’t believe the propaganda pushed by the Israeli government’s increasingly sophisticated apparatus. As the typically excellent Richard Seymour writes on his blog:

“At this point, the excuses for yet another sadistic gorefest in Gaza are looking care-worn.  The same old tired, robotic half-sense: Hamas.  Rockets.  Sderot.  Terrorism.  Something something something, dark side.  Something something something, complete.  There will be some barbarous, nonsensical, infuriating things said in news broadcasts over the next few days.  All uttered in that exaggerated American accent that high Israeli officials seem to learn.”

Plus ça change…

This week’s song is Bone Bomb by noted Palestinian rights activist Brian Eno. It deftly handles the normally misunderstood issue of ‘terrorism’, and what motivates those who blow themselves up seeking a ‘beautiful death’ with great emotional intelligence.

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Videos, pictures, cat poo, boobs, costumes, powerboats, oyster races… just another few days in Key West.

An eventful and stressful week or two. The stress can be almost entirely put down to a few specific things at work which will come to an end soon enough, and so it doesn’t bother me too much since it’s just a matter of toughing it out for a little while more. You don’t want to hear me complain and I can’t talk about it in any case so that’s the end of that.

Halloween

Halloween is a big deal in the states, a big fucking deal. We had a Halloween party at work for the residents and it was extremely well received. A number of gruesome looking foods were cooked up by staff and residents alike, including my contribution, a Cat Litter Cake which was a big success and Goblin Snot, which I made with the leftovers from the Cake recipe. One of the residents who suffers from acute depression was particularly amused by it, and we ended up having a long conversation about baseball. It was another link in the chain of happily rewarding moments I have been gradually accumulating.

Fantasy Fest

I went down to Old Town on the final 2 nights of the week-long extravaganza and experienced the most eclectic mix of the good, the bad and the ugly (you’ll see what I mean in a bit!) that I have ever known. The Friday involved the smaller scale of the 2 parades, where many of the locals dress up (or down) in all manner of outfits and then march through the city. As luck would have it I wondered up on a corner in the route, meaning I had an excellent view of the approaching mass of the variously perverse, weird, creative, colourful or downright confusing that was coming my way.

I got many pictures that night, including some real gems (well done little Sony camera!). I will have to censor slightly I think; in the end the reason I stopped taking pictures was because I could no longer stand the shame of taking pictures of so many naked or semi-naked people. More on that later. One highlight that I did not manage to snap was a group of women with penises glued to their heads, dressed up in suits (dickheads, you see), who would drink a toast out of their Romney/Ryan 2012 mugs whenever the cameras were pointed their way. That and a sign saying ‘Rock out with your Conch out’.

The next night was the main parade which was utterly overwhelming, and pretty damn cool. The lighting conditions were very challenging for photos (poor little Sony camera), and so I took way too many videos instead. I’ll put a few of these up but sadly, the parade was so spectacular is sort of has to be seen first-hand in order to grasp its creative and physical magnitude.

Loved this guy.

Sadly this is the best shot I got at an otherwise brilliant costume


Hell hath no fury like this man’s accompanying gyrations. Terrifying.

Whilst there was no denying it was marvellous entertainment and a huge feat of organisation and ingenuity, I had mixed feelings about the whole event. On one hand I admired the participants for their willingness to let themselves go and enjoy the moment. The peculiarly American way they cast away doubt, fear and social-anxiety is a mystery to me. The result is an energetic and impressive enthusiasm, a sort of ostentatious get up and go without which is the life-blood of Fantasy Fest.

On the other hand I felt there was a significant element of open and virile misogyny the crowd. Worse, there were a number of creepy seeming old men with expensive cameras taking pictures of every exposed bit of flesh they could find. The spectacle of rich American men coming to Fantasy Fest to ogle beautiful women that they clearly could not have seen any other, more organic way, was a tad jarring. And me with my camera feeling very uncomfortable, seeming as I did a member of that same club.

The extent to which both these characteristics are the result of socio-economic conditions is an interesting but unresolved question to me. And maybe I’m just a terrible prude. But why can’t they just stick to pornography, which for all the potentially unethical behaviour in its production is still basically a commercial product and which has the full informed consent of its participants to be viewed as sexual objects? Why muddy the waters by infiltrating a civic event which, notwithstanding its risqué sides, is nowhere close to an explicitly sexual endeavour?

Sherlock

A few days later, I went to a reassuringly boring and uneventful Halloween party of my own, as it happens. I went as Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes in shorts.

Gideon’s Daughter

For all the occasions when I’m a) too lazy to write a blog post and, b) bored, I have purchased a Netflix subscription. It’s a great investment in my opinion, and the other day I watched Stephen Poliakoff’s Gideon’s Daughter starring Bill Nighy (Gideon) and Emily Blunt (‘s daughter, Natasha). To the film critics, the plot is a not all that unconventional account of 2 grief stricken people who connect over their shared sorrow and fall in love. Well acted, written and directed as it is, that’s still a bit of a boring plot. To me however, the story of Gideon’s relationship with Stella is a shade, or a brushstroke, not the picture itself. The main conflict is between what is a real, genuine human experience and what is cold, manufactured, and emotionally hollow ‘event’.

French Philosopher and Marxist Social Theorist Guy Debord covered this area with his theory of ‘The Society of the Spectacle’. Paraphrasing greatly here (I don’t fully understand his Frenchiness), he argued that modern society had degraded the experience of living by ‘the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing’. The cult of the image and the advance of superficiality had led to social life being replaced with its representation: ‘All that once was directly lived has become mere representation’.

The film is set between 1997 and 2000, and Gideon is London’s most sought after PR man, in the world of New Labour, Princess Diana, the Millennium Dome and Britpop. In other words, he is at the epicentre of the Spectacular Society. Despite his outwardly in control and successful persona, the events of the film, his obsessive love for his daughter, and his burgeoning relationship with a down to earth Londoner, Stella, reveal to Gideon and the viewer that the emperor has no clothes, that what really matters to him are his daughter and Stella, and that the circles he used to swim in are hopelessly shallow, empty to the core. In the words of the narrator, they need to grow up. In the process of making this complicated point, it also happens to be profoundly moving (to me at any rate!).

The film is not a dismissal of celebrity, or mass media, or politicians, or pop culture so much as an outburst of frustration at the arrogant and elitist attitude that many hold in pursuit of being the next big thing. Gideon’s struggle is to avoid becoming the sort of barren and unfulfilled shell of a person that he has made it his career to promote. Love, for Stella and Natasha, is what allows him to break out of his chains so you could say it’s about the power of love, but truthfully that’s a gross simplification, and you should just watch if for yourselves.

In some small way then, this post has a common theme: fantasy and reality, in life and in art.

Ollie goes for a walkabout

On Friday I stumbled upon an Oyster Race. Confused? So was I when I read the sign, but it turns out you bet on which Oyster a trained cook can open up with a knife the fastest. If you win then you get to choose a numbered key which opens doors in 3 cabinets possibly containing prizes up to $500. The best thing about it was the gent rigged up to a microphone who commentated on each 3-5 second race at 100mph as if it were the single most thrilling event in the history of humankind.

Suffice to say my oysters did not take part in the race.

After that I went for a stroll on the waterfront where I happened upon the mooring station for all the powerboats that were in town for the international powerboat racing they have in Key West. I have to say that, despite all my reservations, these machines were very, very cool. The contrast between how they sat so low and flat against water and the angular precision with which they cut the water at the bow and also their flamboyant cockpit styling (all dials and levers and leather trim) was cool enough, but what really did it was the noise. On the few occasions where an engine was fired up in my vicinity you could feel the air crackling with the energy of these hell-cats. The engine tones were volatile and inconsistent, leading to a sense of danger and unpredictability that is missing (with good reason) from car engines. One of them, painted a pure coat of jet black, looked like it came from a Batman film (or the original Just Cause video game, for those of you have played it).

During all of this I got all think-y about the merits of travelling alone. The downsides are more obvious and, for a social animal like myself, clearly outweigh the benefits. However, that is not to say that there aren’t any benefits. Being left entirely to one’s own thoughts allows a closer observation of the people and events around you. When you’re also thinking about what to put in your blog (which in cases like this turns into more of a kind of public diary) it sharpens your focus towards actually coming to conclusions about the things you experience, and how you experience them.

Then on the midst of my philosophical musings, my foot started to hurt. It turned out to be a fairly bad case of Cellulitis (ouch!) so I ended up in hospital yesterday. The anti-biotics seem to be doing the trick even though I still have the world’s best comedy limp. All is well. I hope this satisfies your huge appetite for anecdotes about my life. Can you tell I’m tired? Now to upload this monstrosity…

P.S. Don’t forget to vote on Thursday! If I have time I will do a post on the elections, but in case I do not, VOTE! And if you’re not sure how to vote just do me a favour and vote Labour, ok?

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Ollie gets eaten by a shark [incorporating Song of the Week #6]

I would like to claim that it has been one of those weeks; that I have been overrun by events, work and/or an act of God and that that is why I have been so remiss on updating this here blog o’mine. In fact, such a claim would not be without reason. For 3 of my last 4 days off, including this one, I have been to some extent consumed by the drudgery of the university applications process. The 4th of those days off was my Birthday, on which I went Parasailing (more on that later), so you can’t criticise me for that!

However, no matter how much I would like to make that claim, I cannot. For if I am true to myself, I must admit that I could have found time. Be it time I threw away watching shitty films on Netflix, or having long conversations with co-workers, or spent playing chess with my boss (a winner is me!), or simply that time you tend to lose down the back of the sofa every now and then, I’m sure I could have got a little bit more done. So. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. But that’s life, and that’s the sort of person I am.

So, Birthday time. The best worst thing about being 19? Realising that next year I will have just started university and that I will be 20 years old. 20!! That really gets to me for some reason. Just goes to show the surprising power that arbitrary social conventions like the decimal system have over our perception of the world. One of the local chartering and outings companies here in Key West, Fury, do free excursions on your Birthday, which is pretty awesome.

So, I went down, showed my ID, and got on a speed boat to go Parasailing over the beautiful sapphire-blue seas around Key West. The whole island really shone from up in the sky, where a surreal and sublime calm exists, as if floating in a dream. The only problem (which was honestly not so much a problem as a reminder of how far I am from home) was the jock-style douchebags I shared the boat with, who had all the charm and sophistication of the male versions of Katie Price that they surely are. And yet their wives seemed relatively normal. Fascinating.

I’m flying! In case you were wondering why my legs point out like that, it was the way the harness held you. Nothing I could do about it. Don’t worry Mum I have not developed rickets from malnutrition.

Unfortunately I did then get eaten by a shark on my way down.

Anyway, in keeping with the Latin theme (just about), and introducing the next wee segment, here’s a humorous little tune for this week’s song:

‘… cos I got a DEGREE!’

Yes indeed, it’s that time again; hyperactively checking UCAS Track, fretting over whether your courses were right, which one you might choose if you get in and – what probably should be on the top of everyone’s list of worries, but likely isn’t – if there’s even going to be any suitable jobs left by the time George Osborne’s had his way with the tattered remains of the graduate labour market.

Just to tackle one of these worries, I do find myself in the awkward position of not having a firm favourite. Of the 4 universities I am likely to get in to, 3 are fairly equal in my mind. I will likely have to choose between Durham and LSE/SOAS (both London). Durham has many of my friends in it, but London has more to do (especially when it comes to Politics). Durham and LSE have the prestigious reputations but SOAS has the best looking course. The student politics? SOAS is ragingly Left-wing, LSE fairly Left-wing and Durham moderately so. And just to be fatuous, Durham is very pretty, LSE is moderately pretty and SOAS is… not pretty.  I’m just holding out hope that the Open Days when I get back will help me decide.

Next, I present pictures from the outing a few of us from Peacock (plus a Heron contingent) made to the Dolphin Research Center (ERRRRRR is how I see this egregious Ameri-spelling in my head). A good day was had by all. Having said that the shirt I was wearing was way too hot to wear on a day out. Idiot, Hill.

Oh, and by the way, I may be able to piece together a dolphin video for next week’s song. Does that sound like a good idea?

So long and thanks for all the fish?

Nope, more fish please

Fellow volunteer (from the Heron), Jodie, sporting some unique attire

The following 5 were part of a group of 10 shot in rapid succession and should probably be viewed a la flipbook. Sadly I don’t know how to make that happen so just try to imagine, ok?

And finally, to celebrate Norwich’s first win of the season (finally!), against Arsenal no less, this gem from the NCFC Facebook page.

Who says Canaries can’t beat Gunners?

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Ollie rides a bike! (incorporating Song of the Week #3)

I saddens me to note that, predictably, my Song of the Week posts are not among the most popular on this site. However, unlucky for you suckers, I’m going to keep churning them out just to amuse myself! *evil laugh*

I have one ace up my sleeve however, which is my stroke of genius in throwing caution to the wind and including video footage I shot of a typical ride through Old Town to get to Southernmost Beach. (Note the sickening use of 3 clichés in a single sentence there!)

Anyway, I hope this will be of more interest to you with the video (the original quality of which was surprisingly good, but YouTube’s compression monkeys have put an end to that) and will serve as an effective way to channel the smooth stylings of Steely Dan and 10cc into your ungrateful ear-holes.


Both songs cruelly cut short I might add.

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