Tag Archives: Key West

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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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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A busy week in the keys.

Greetings and a good evening to all you fellow denizens of earth. Actually it’s probably the early hours of the morning for most of you but it’s evening here in Key West and I’ve just finished work on my first full day all by myself on the frontline (AKA sat in the office, but the wartime analogy makes my work seem more courageous). What follows is more or less an omnibus post for my activities over the last week and a bit whilst I have been too busy to post. I’ve only had one day off, and I spent most of that watching Warren Beatty’s 3 hour 10 minute 1981 historical epic ‘Reds’ about the Communist journalist John Reed who observed the Russian October Revolution made all the more remarkable considering it was an American film about an American Communist made and released at the height of the Cold War. Well worth a watch by the way. So here are some things with I’ve done/thought/experienced.

Thing the 1st

I have discovered a delightful little place called Kermit’s Key Lime shop (Key Limes and Key Lime Pie being a local treat) where I can get some lime flavoured iced tea, sit in the shade next to fishy pond and drink tea and read my book, all of which makes one feel very zen, cool and sophisticated indeed. I’m going there tomorrow. Oh, and speaking of my book, I’ve very nearly finished it and will be reviewing it on this site as soon as I’m done. Behold the fishy pond.

fishyfishyfishyfishy FISHY POND

Thing the 2nd

Whilst dodging the rain I explored Duval Street, which is the main tourist hotspot in Key West. Lots of expensive shops selling beautiful things, and equally as many equally as expensive shops selling utterly shite plastic touristy dreck. During this process I consumed about 5 coffees, since the intermittent heavy rain kept on forcing me to dive into the nearest café. How I suffer!

Thing the 3rd

The Thick of It is back for what seems tragically likely to be its last series and, after a slightly disappointing first episode of the series, the second episode was back to its sweary best. Why? The return of Malcom Tucker of course. Here are some of my favourite Malcomisms of the episode.

Ben on Nicola: “The leader of the opposition is in that room practising walking. Baby horses can walk from the womb. She’s one-nil down to a pony. Malcolm: A pony isn’t a baby horse. It’s a foal. A fucking foal is a baby horse.”

Malcolm to Nicola: “Don’t send Ben to the backbenches. He’ll just wank and eat Pringles. Leather seats are just an invitation to men like him”

Malcolm to Olly: “I don’t know if you’ve met Mrs Susan Doherty. Mrs Doherty is a quiet fucking bat person, or a fucking motorway men’s bag, or whatever we’re calling these fucking faecal shits at the moment.”

Malcolm to Nicola: “You gotta go hacking through the opposition with a belt full of hands and a necklace full of ears. Can you do that? Can you wear a necklace made of ears?”

Malcolm on Nicola: “We’re out in the middle of the ocean with our own Ellen MacArthur crying and sobbing. Enough. Over the side she goes. She’s going to sleep with the fishes – or at least witter at them until they lose the fucking will to live.”

Malcolm on Nicola, again: “She’s going to kick her own head in, which will be easy because she does yoga.”

Malcolm to Dan: “What the fuck is this? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Cunt?”

Malcolm on Star Wars: “The one about the fucking space hairdresser and the cowboy. He’s got a tinfoil pal and a pedal bin. His father’s a robot and he’s fucking fucked his sister. Lego. They’re all made of fucking lego.”

God I love Armando Iannucci.

Thing the 4th

I shared a nearly empty bus approaching midnight with a friendly drug dealer. I sweet-talked him into not mugging me! Hurrah! Jose, as he was called, was obsessed by my accent. He kept repeating cheerio in the wrong context but he was having so much fun I thought it would be cruel (and unwise) to point it out.

Thing the 5th

Work is very well and truly picking up. I’m enjoying it mind. That’s about all I have to say here without breaking confidentiality. Ho hum.

Thing the 6th

Fantasy Fest, the biggest event of the year here in Key West, is coming up in about a month. How to describe Fantasy Fest… a video I think. This is from the tourist board so I suppose this was probably the only footage from the entire week long party which was not rendered unusable from the proliferation of boobs.

This year’s theme is ‘A-conch-alypse’. Groan.

Thing the 7th


Thing the 8th

To all those who’ve sent letters or cards to me (you know who you are!), you’re the best. Thank you so much they brighten my day on a regular basis. If anyone else wants to send me something the address is 1624D Spalding Court, Key West, FL 33040, USA.

Thank you, goodnight, and good luck (Edward R. Murrow reference FTW).


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Picture roundup

Dear all, just to prove I’m alive…

It looks like I won’t have time to post again before Saturday so I figured that rather than leave an unseemly gap on my front page I’ll put up a few of the cool pictures which didn’t seem to fit into any of my other posts. Everyone likes pretty pictures. Some people like captions too. Enjoy!

Oh and by the way, Key West looks very sad if it’s a cloudy day so sorry about that.


Doesn’t look like any Woolworth’s I’ve ever seen…

It’s a fixer-upper

I wonder if he dreams…

I’m not convinced as to the accuracy of this here sign

Extravagantly painted cars are a feature locally. This is one of the best.

I don’t know if you can read any of these…

… but my favourite was ‘Save a tree, eat a beaver’. Teehee.

This T-shirt and the next were in the window of an intriguing novelty shop. I went in briefly but panicked and beat a hasty retreat when I noticed the number of male sexual aids on display.

Yes I’m aware this statement is a bit daft. No I do not care.

You get some pretty awesome colours at times. Click to expand.

Same place as above.

The full awesomeness of this house at night time does not come across well on photo at all. But trust me, it’s really cool.

Mile marker 0 on US 1. Obviously some conspiracy nut decided it would look better with an Infowars.com sticker on it. Sigh.

Tucked away in a corner of a supermarket with about twice the floor space as Ely Tesco… the British section! Huzzah! I bought Vimto, Marmite, and a Lion Bar. Just because I could.

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The joy of food stamps

Training continues to be a somewhat uneven and slipshod process, but in the mean time I have been able to do a tiny little bit of what I came out here to do: work, help people less fortunate than myself. As I gain more interaction with the residents, and reading up on a few case histories, I have a few observations to make about life in paradise, whilst of course keeping to my confidentiality obligations.

Gratuitous cruelty

The penal system in the United States embodies everything wrong about the ‘punishment first’ school of justice. I could prattle on for days about this and that; inflexibilities, cost, dehumanisation, the obscenely high incarceration rate (more people are in prison here than in China. Not just per capita, but in absolute terms too) and much more, but let me just use a new perspective I’ve learned whilst being in Key West to illustrate such gratuitous and counter-productive cruelty. Quite apart from the obviously daft decision to incarcerate those with mild to moderate mental illness, whose ‘crimes’ were clearly only committed due to their condition, upon release, people are regularly denied essential items that were provided when inside. People released with a single day’s supply of their medication (or none at all), despite the fact that such a drug takes weeks to apply for; people released without lotion which causes their skin condition to worsen and begin to scar; fragile and insecure people kept locked up for a day after the time they were scheduled to be released because the court notes were not properly kept. All of which doesn’t just show contempt for the supposedly free citizen being released, it also clearly poses an enhanced risk of homelessness, poverty and recidivism, which starts the whole evil business all over again.

Economic insecurity

In addition it’s notable just how precipitous a decline many of our residents have had. And such volatility and insecurity clearly echoes very strongly the experience of many Americans in the Great Recession of 2008. Comments are casually made about life 2, 5, 10 years ago; ‘I used to have a house with a pool and a Jacuzzi’, ‘I’ve worked in every restaurant in Key West’ and such like. That’s the reality in a society of sink-or-swim Capitalism. There are a lot of people sinking, and with a sadly atrophied social(ist) safety net and only a thin layer or charities to rescue people, there’s not a lot stopping people from drowning.

Reminder: the NHS is a wonderful thing, don’t let Cameron dismantle it any further

Whilst many are sinking, there are far more people barely treading water. Half of all bankruptcies in America are related to healthcare costs. If you find yourself in need of an operation and can’t pay for it, can’t get time off work to have it, you’re screwed. Medical emergencies are financial emergencies. And one of the nicest people I’ve met here may be approaching a cliff in this regard. Having to pay for healthcare utterly changes your frame of mind towards it; the odd ache is ignored, and put off, and rationalised to avoid paying for a medical examination until the situation deteriorates so much that the pain is unbearable and the patient is rushed to A&E. The aggregate effect of millions of people making the same decisions represents one of the many huge economic inefficiencies which makes the US healthcare system so expensive and so crappy: it costs more in the long run to let problems become severe before seeking medical help. Prevention is better than a cure.

And all this in contrast to the remarkably efficient NHS, part of Labour’s post-war socialist heritage, that Cameron’s new health secretary has called ‘a sixty year mistake’.

But I already knew this

I knew this. I knew almost all of it before from my personal research and reading. So what’s changed? Exactly what I hoped would change when I decided to come out here and work. I am beginning to move from an intellectual and academic opinion that Socialism should be my thing to an emotional link to what it means, practically, on the ground to be politically aware. I’m very happy to feel moved enough to start to build a profound belief from the foundation of my opinion. This is the political aspect to my aims which I referred to in my first post. Huzzah!

Gratefulness and stoicism

Two things characterise the response I’ve had from residents when helping them and talking to them. Firstly, stoicism and secondly gratefulness. The stoicism of the residents towards their situation is remarkable. They just try to get on with their life. Maybe it’s because of my privileged upbringing, but if the things which have happened to them, happened to me, I would be fucking angry at the world, angry at life! But mostly they just accept it and shrug their shoulders. Secondly, the wave of gratefulness from residents who have gone a great deal of their life with nobody caring for them, helping them, being nice to them, supporting them, and have been screwed over by a profoundly unfair economic system, the wave of gratefulness that comes from them when I do something as simple as setting up their food stamps makes me incredibly happy, and stands tribute to the real genuine goodness of the human spirit I’m dealing with.

Phew, that felt good.

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Yesterday I finally managed to get up to Marathon (another island in the Keys) to go and visit some of the other young volunteers at Heron House. Heron-Peacock Supported Living is split into the Heron in Marathon, where the more challenging and less independent residents are looked after, and the Peacock Apartments here in Key West and since I have by my own admission, zero relevant experience, it’s probably wise that they put me here in Key West. It does mean, however, that I’m somewhat starved of company of roughly my own age: hence the trip up to Marathon.

Anyway, after a delayed and frustrating first experience of American public transport, involving a taxi, roadworks, infrequent busses, an unannounced temporary route and a bus driver who seemed to think he could stop and have a fag whenever he felt like it, I finally made it to Marathon. But hey, at least I got to read my book lots.

First we went to have drinks (me feeling like a 13 year old with my lemonade) at the Island Fish Company, which is a breed of watering hole known locally as a ‘bar-marina’. I didn’t take any photos I must confess, but I’ve found one online of this place to give you an idea.

It was their annual Boatapalooza, which in essence meant a shitload of people way too drunk to be around water jumping off their boats into the harbour, grinding to the hard rock classics being pumped out by the live band, turning their outboard motors into splash machines/water cannons and generally being a bit YOLO. Needless to say it was pretty good fun.

Then we headed over to have something to eat at the Sunset Grill which genuinely provided the best sunset I’ve yet seen. Again, sorry for the lack of photos but I was busy giving myself diabetes so there. Speaking of which, I’ve put myself on starvation rations today in the hope of regaining some sovereignty over my weight from the tyranny of local portion sizes.

I start doing shadow shifts of my manager tomorrow, which I am impatient to get on with. Stay tuned for a second, bigger post soon today. Onwards and upwards!

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A sandwich the size of my face

It was all going so well…

I had been eating fairly healthily. Smallish portions, nothing too rich, standard stuff really. On top of that I had been making fairly exhausting bicycle trips downtown over the last few days. Nothing’s too far away in Key West but a combination of me getting a bit lost, the incredible temperature and humidity, the fact that you have to stop and look before crossing the street at the end of every block, the lack of good cycle lanes and above all the fact that the seat on the gangsta-ass bike (with handlebars like a Harley-Davidson) I’ve been using is way too low for efficient pedaling make getting around pretty hard work. Plus, if like me you’re an idiot, you can try hanging bags of food off the handlebars on the way back from the supermarket because you bought too much to fit in the basket. Oops.

Given all of this, I was feeling confident that not only would I be able to avoid catching ‘the fat’, I may even be able to make some unexpected progress against my existing belly jelly (yes I did just make that up). But then my manager ordered lunch and offered to get me something. I ordered a modest looking sandwich. Ahaa. Ha. How foolish I was! This was 2pm, it’s now 9 and I haven’t eaten anything else or had the inclination either.

90 miles to Cuba

Here are a couple of pictures I took on my bike trip last night on the south side of the island, including the southernmost point of the United States.

A quick update

I’ve had a quiet day, did a little bit of training (including a hilariously cringe worthy instruction video in the style of ‘Hi, I’m Troy Mclure’) but mostly I’ve been idle. Full training starts tomorrow I think.

Oh, also, Dr. Pitt added me on Facebook. Sweet dude.


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They said Key West was laid back…

… but I have to admit even I did not expect that I’d be sitting here writing this blog at 10:40, having been awake and sorting myself out since 9:00 and still be the only one up! This isn’t quite as crazy as it seems, I must add, because the Peacock office I’ll be working in is open from 1pm-9pm, but I’m still feeling fairly smug about my productivity. Anyway, here’s a long-ish post about my journey and some first impressions.

Pathetic Fallacy Alert

I did somewhat get the sense that I was driving into the unknown as we drove towards Heathrow and so, just to make the whole event that much more sinister the British weather kindly obliged and produced a nice patchy mist.


Other than that the drive to the airport was dull and uneventful as you might expect, which was exacerbated by Radio 4’s unhealthy obsession with a Brazilian runner’s artificial legs, which clearly everyone is meant to care deeply about.

That’s Jermaine Clement??’

The flight was pleasant enough, except I didn’t manage to sleep a wink. I watched Men in Black III, in which Jermaine Clement (one half of Flight of the Conchords) was meant to be in. It took me a good 5 minutes after first seeing his character to work out it was him, as the production team had decided that in order to make him look more gnarled and alien-y (he’s the villain), they’d have to slap generous amounts of play-doh  all over his face, which actually worked quite well in a way. So too did his halting space-zealand accent which strained to be as menacing as possible and to ensure the audience who know his FOTC work did not drift off into ‘Albi the Racist Dragon’ midway through the film.

My only complaint was that the woman sat next to me was playing puzzle games on her iPad, and I couldn’t help watching. This wouldn’t have been a problem were she not so excruciatingly useless at them. I had to fight very hard not to interfere and the temptation to watch was immense. Oh well.

Also, it’s a good job I’m not superstitious because we flew right over Bermuda. Eek.

U.S. Highway no. 1

It took me an hour and ten minutes to get through immigration but I’m not going to complain because the volunteer whose plane got in an hour before me actually spent so long queueing and filling in forms that I got out of arrivals about 10 minutes ahead! We were driven down U.S. Highway 1 to our destinations (3 hours for the other volunteer going to Marathon, 4 hours for me!) by Heron Peacock’s executive director who told us all we needed to know about our work.

We stopped about half way on our long drive for dinner at a diner called ‘Mrs Mac’s’, which was a lovely old shack full of character with number plates from all over the world plastered on its walls.

I got a few good pictures of the sunset from the car window, but expect more and better ones soon. It’s pretty.

The guy driving us (I’m not using names at the moment because I have yet to ask permission) lit up a thick cigar and finally the image was complete. He was driving a Chevrolet fatmobile into a glorious Caribbean sunset, wearing a Hawaii shirt, reclining at about 45 degrees as he drove with about 2 fingers on the wheel on average, with his dog riding up front with him in the car, cracking jokes and then, to top it off, smoking a cigar. If I don’t see anything more stereotypically American for the next 6 months I will still be satisfied by yesterday.

Anyway, as he drove from Marathon to Key West we took a detour to his house to see the endangered miniature deer that dot the neighbourhood.  These deer really do not give a shit by the way; he drove right up to them with his headlights on full and they looked at us as if to complain that we were interrupting their sleep.

When we got to Key West I briefly said hi to my manager and an older volunteer then collapsed in bed, aware that I had not slept in 22 hours.

Reverse Pathetic Fallacy alert

This morning it absolutely chucked it down for about an hour whilst I wrote this. I am very happy with how it’s been so far. All is good. The dog whose name I’ve forgotten decided to sit and watch the storm with me, and I took some pictures of my room to prove that it’s tidy and sorted out.

Now to find out how to get on the Wifi so I can actually upload this…


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Beginner’s Luck

And so to the daunting task of typing my first post in such a way that is neither too formal nor too chatty, which is not pretentious, or frightfully self-aware, or rambling, or incoherent and which does not bore people to death. If I achieve this I shall henceforth consider myself a veritable blog-writing Shakespeare. Wish me luck!

So, what do I expect from the next 6 months?

Really, I’m not too sure. I have many hopes and just as many anxieties, but very little seems concrete to me. One thing I am certain of is that it will be a horizon-expanding experience. I fully expect to look back at this post in 6 months and find that reality was not much like my predictions, but here goes. I’m hoping for the opportunity to tackle something completely different, and that by volunteering for Heron-Peacock (website link in the ‘about’ section); by getting to know the residents and their stories, by understanding their problems, and above all by working hard to help them get back on their feet, I will not only have made a difference of which I can truly be proud, I may also have gone some way to feeling more aware of and connected to the situation of those less fortunate than myself.

That feeling of connection which I hope to foster is what links the next 6 months to my academic study at university. In my mind, it is a political desire of mine to do this work for political reasons and ends. Anything you do which affects others in society should be recognised as being to a greater or lesser extent a political act. I’m not trying to say that you should live your life constantly fretting about the political connotations of your every act, as some deranged fanatics do, merely that there is a political dimension to just about anything. And I personally embark on this particular trip mindful of the political and sociological context. That’s the bit for the university admissions tutors out of the way…

Also, just to state the totally fucking obvious (a pavlovian response to years of exams training), I’m going to remind myself that I’m going to a tropical island in the Caribbean with a reputation for being laid back and chilled out. How could I not have fun, meet people and make friends, get a tan, eat exotic food and see incredible things?

Why am I blogging it?

As a way of keeping in touch with people, keeping them informed and recording what I hope will be an unforgettable experience. In addition I’ll have to adapt myself from my usual habit of consuming media, blogs, news, commentary and analysis, to producing it. I hope this process will lead me to new ways of thinking and expressing myself, as well as giving me the freedom to discuss topics which I feel are neglected. I’d love it if you’d comment, even (especially, in fact) if you disagree with me, so that this process can become a bit less static and a bit more interactive; ‘blogging adventurously’ if you will. It’s just possible it’ll improve my writing style too (I’m painfully aware that my sentences are way too long, and that I overuse parentheses. (Case in point.)).

One last thing…

… a chubby korean rapper (credit to Yonny for showing me this!)

Today is the 1st. I fly on the 3rd.
Adios amigos, Key West here I come!


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