Boiling Point

 

They say that if you drop a frog in boiling water it will jump right back out, whereas if you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will boil to death without ever realising it’s in danger.

It’s complete rubbish, of course.

Let’s be honest, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will die. If you put it in cold water and turn the heat up slowly, the frog will escape the minute it starts to feel uncomfortable. Still, it’s a handy made-up metaphor for allowing creeping change to cheerfully lead you down a path you never meant to take. Before you know it you’re lost, your phone is out of battery, you have no light to guide the way, none of the trees look familiar, and… are those… eyes shining in the darkness?

I’m assuming that you did not spend your weekend in a remote cabin somewhere, studiously avoiding all media and interaction with the modern world. If this assumption is correct then you probably already know where I’m going with this.

America, when did you get so metaphorically amphibian?

Over the past few months I’ve spoken with some people who live in America, and they’ve nodded and agreed that what’s going on – be it the travel ban, or the rise of the alt-right, or Trump in general – is scary, but then, inevitably, they’ve followed it up with some sort of phrase to minimise the situation.

“…But I mean, it doesn’t make a difference really in the day-to-day…”

“…But of course it’s also sensationalised in the media…”

“…But it’s really just a few bad apples…”

Do you know what the rest of that phrase is?

“A few bad apples spoil the bunch.”

Here’s the thing, from the outside looking in America looks like it’s in a very bad place right now. The ruling party seem uninterested in excommunicating the most poisonous parts of their base, corruption seems to have infested the White House from top to bottom and the Help-me-Obi-Wan-Kenobi-you’re-our-only-hope of this Empire seems to be Mueller. For a country that used to be held up as an example of liberty and justice for all, a beacon of modern ideals, it now seems to be imploding. Internal conflict has it straining at the seams, and the rest of the world is giving it a wary side-eye.

The US is an enormous country. I understand that it can seem impossible to band together for a cause when there are 323 million people to consider and the longest drive end to end – if you didn’t stop to eat, drink or pee – takes over 50 hours. It’s difficult to gain any kind of traction or momentum as a nation when people are spread out over so wide a swathe of land. It’s hard to put pressure on the government when all they have to do is field your calls; they know they don’t have to worry about an unruly mob of tens of millions laying siege to the Capitol Building anytime soon.

But guys.

GUYS.

That philosophical water is getting hotter. Sure, it doesn’t seem to impact BBQ plans or trips to Target or stressful work weeks, and for the most part that’s true. Sure, it may seem like nothing more than a relentless pocket of ignorant assholes, and for the most part that, too, is true.

But if the events of Charlotteville teach us anything, it’s that the water is almost at boiling point, and it doesn’t show any signs of cooling.

What’s the solution? Is there one? Is it a case of needing to hit rock bottom? If things haven’t hit rock bottom yet, what might that look like? Is there another way of turning off the heat?

*Unlike the frog metaphor, this adage is actually true. Apples emit hormones as they ripen, and if one overripe apple finds its way into a barrel, the hormones it gives off will eventually cause all the other apples to rot. The more you know!

 

 

 

Travel, flying, Ireland, home

Straight Outta Ireland

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There are a lot of great quotes about travel.

For example, Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true in my own life. There is something about being in a country that is utterly unlike your own; it stalls the senses and resets your brain to create a new normal built on the foundations of the old.

Today, I’d like to write about any one of the many places I’ve visited on my travels. That’s what I really feel like doing. I want to spin an amusing tale about the time my milk withdrawals led me to sneak into a shop, in which I then had to mime extensively in order to procure a clear plastic baggie of unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk from an unknown animal. It was a lot like the scene from Bridget Jones, only with milk and confused Egyptians rather than a pregnancy test and confused Austrians.

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Same same but different

Anyway. That’s what I’d like to write about… But that’s not what I’m going to write about, because I don’t feel that would be right. This is my first post about travel, after all.

Let’s start elsewhere.

Let’s go back for another travel quote.

Terry Pratchett once wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. […] Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

So I’m going to start there. Or rather, I’m going to start here.

I’m going to tell you a bit about Ireland.

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I was born and raised here, on this small but surprisingly popular patch of land; the little spoon to Great Britain’s big spoon. If you’ve never been, it really is as excessively green as people say.

This is mostly due to the truly appalling weather, which by all rights should have us lolling about despondently in deep, unremmitting depression. Instead, it has spawned a peculiarly Irish sense of humour and a steadfast, grim camaraderie. The citizens of Ireland are fighting an interminable war against the weather, and all we have to get us through it is each other.

… And we love to talk about it. Rain, naturally, gets the worst of it. Naturally, considering the amount of rain we have to deal with, we’ve developed different ways of saying the same thing so we don’t get too bored.

  • “It’s only drizzle” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s only spitting” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s trying to rain” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s just a shower” = It’s raining out.
  • “It’s lashing rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s pissing rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s pouring rain” = The rain is coming down in sheets.
  • “It’s bucketing down” = Ready the Ark.

The default conversation with a stranger here tends to at least start with a comment about the meteorological conditions. I’ve traveled extensively, and nowhere else have I experienced this chronic, obsessive need to discuss what is happening in the sky. At work, answering the phone becomes an exercise in zen-like patience, since almost every call begins with the same – apparently compulsory – conversation about the type of weather we’re having.

“[Workplace name], how can I help you?”

“Hello! How are you?”

“Well, thank you, and you?”

“Ah sure, you know yourself. Ticking along! Isn’t it a dirty day*? A dirty, dirty day…”

“It is! I’m glad to be inside.”

“Sure this is it!”

It’s a thing. You get used to it.

As Mr. Pratchett rightly pointed out in the quote above, sometimes you don’t appreciate certain facets of your home country until you’ve been elsewhere. For example, it wasn’t until I was living in Germany that I realised why the Irish reputation for being friendly was so deserved. The first time I found myself waiting at a bus stop with a German stranger, the silence lengthened and, without shame or compunction, I commented, “Es ist sehr kalt, meinst du nicht?” (“It’s very cold, don’t you think?”). This was greeted with the same reaction I feel I might have received if I had stuck my middle fingers in her face, thrust my pelvis at her and insulted her mother in lewd terms, rather than made a fairly banal remark about the weather.

The second time I attempted casual conversation with a stranger was at a bar while I was waiting for my drink. I turned to the person on the stool next to mine and told them their cocktail looked delicious. They stiffened in alarm, and without a word picked up their glass and turned their back to me.

The third time I tried it (and was again rebuffed with much the same wide-eyed panic), my shoulders slumped in cultural surrender and I finally realised my mistake.

In Ireland, if you don’t spark up small talk when you find yourself thrown together with a stranger for longer than three minutes, the situation feels tense and awkward. In Germany, if you do spark up small talk when you find yourself thrown together with a stranger for longer than three minutes, the situation feels tense and awkward.**

Superficial small talk is not encouraged, or even welcome. Keep your congenial phrases of muddled German to yourself, is my advice.

Another thing I’ve learned about Ireland from traveling elsewhere is that we have tiny toilets. Well, either that, or our toilets are regular-sized and Florida received a supersized upgrade, because the toilets there are so inexplicably and comically enormous that when I first visited Miami I had very real fear that I might fall in. Every visit to the bathroom was fraught with danger.

Not only that, but I had always thought that a high water level in a toilet was the warning sign of a blocked pipe. Not so in America, where the water level in the toilet is so high, I imagine anything that falls into the toilet is a lost cause unless you’re Trainspotting-level committed to getting it back.

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So.

A cultural fascination with the weather, small talk skills and relatively tiny toilets.

That’s what I’ve introduced you to today.

Welcome to Ireland!

*Translation: It’s grey, cloudy, miserable, and probably (yes, you’ve guessed it!) raining.

**This is not to say that Germans are not friendly. They’re very friendly! You just have to get to know them first… Preferably not by accosting them unexpectedly with superficial conversation.

 

The End Of The World As We Know It

Fresh oranges

Yeah, you all know what this is going to be about.

I had something else in mind to write about today, but then I remembered that an egotistical bloated orange is being sworn in as president of the United States, and so this is possibly our last day of blessed normalcy for a while.

So here I am, writing about that instead.

I spent some time in San Diego just before the election. In the run-up to my trip I felt cocooned in my safe web of world media telling me that Clinton had it in the bag. Wonderful, I thought. Worst case scenario, America will have their first female president, and the human goldfish will go back to reality television where I can go back to ignoring his existence.

I won’t dive into what I feel to be the extremely problematic voting system in America except to point out that the United States has a population of almost 319 million people – 319. million. people. – and yet from a country that large, that diverse, with that many citizens, Hilary* and Donald were chosen as the two best candidates for the job.

Now, it’s not my country, and you could claim it’s none of my business, but I think I speak for the world at large when I say we would like to suggest that America see this as a sort of gentle nudge, if you will. Except, perhaps not so gentle. In fact, more of a forceful shove, because when your presidential election cycle whirls by like an East Asian typhoon causing nothing but chaos and disruption, it might be a good idea to call a Time Out and reassess your political process.

Just saying.

Anyway, so I’m in San Diego, and I’m feeling pretty good about life because let’s face it, San Diego is beautiful, and the streets are clean, and the weather is sunny, and the people are gorgeous, and the Nordstrom Racks are caves of treasure, and the roads are wide enough that a Boeing 747 could probably land without major concern, and there are dogs EVERYWHERE**… and then, suddenly, my little bubble of happiness is popped rather unexpectedly by a gathering of boisterous Trump supporters heaving giant placards onto a bridge crossing the freeway.

I begin to look around me and take note of the fact I haven’t seen a single Hilary bumper sticker.

Sidenote: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Americans, it’s that they love their bumper stickers. I cannot pretend to understand this phenomenon. Every time I saw a bumper sticker I would crane my neck to get a good look at the driver, and then picture them monologuing to themselves:

“I have bought a car! It is a lovely car, and when I drive it, everyone will think, ‘that person is driving a lovely car!‘ But that’s not enough. I want them to know more about me. I cannot happily make the drive from my front door to the car park at Target without the people behind me at every single red light knowing that I love Jesus/my cats/surfing, or that I support the United States Marines/Donald Trump/the legalisation of marijuana, or that I hate Mitsubishi/idiots who can’t drive/Shania Twain. This is the one thing that truly defines me – that gets to the very essence of me – and I must print it on a sticker and slap it on my rear window for all the world to see. YOU WILL KNOW ME!”

And then I would sit back and wonder what my bumper sticker would say if I had one. Maybe ‘You do you!‘ or just a thumbs up emoji with ‘You’re doing great!‘ to try to spread a bit of positivity. I have the same feelings towards bumper stickers as I do towards tattoos; I don’t think there’s anything I really feel strongly enough about to have it as the one standout feature on my car/skin.

/Sidenote.

I had seen multiple cars purposely defaced with Trump slogans in crude white marker or neon pink paint. I had seen Bernie stickers by the dozen. I had even seen a ‘Giant Meteor 2016’ sticker.

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I hadn’t seen a single Hilary sticker.

I started to feel a chill up my spine. I turned to Scrubs, wide-eyed with apprehension.

“We haven’t seen a single Hilary sticker,” I said gravely.

“So?”

“So what if Trump wins this thing?”

“He won’t,” Scrubs reassured me, patting my hand.

“WHAT IF HE DOES? This is like when we were in London just before the Brexit vote, and we saw David Cameron derided on national television and realised it might actually happen! This is just like that! Trump might actually win! We won’t be able to move here and live our dream life of sunshine and dogs if he actually wins!”

Scrubs fanned my face. “There, there” he said. “Shhh. It’ll be okay.”

It was not okay.

It was a mess.

People bought into his rhetoric despite his proclamations having absolutely no basis in reality. They cheered his “plans” despite there being no plans, actually, if you paid attention. I transcribed a number of his speeches, and the thing that struck me most was the feverish enthusiasm of a crowd that was hearing the words coming out of his mouth, but not listening. They chanted fervently, drowning out the fact that his sentences barely made sense, and if they did make sense, they were impossible pipe-dreams.

He could have been saying anything at all, and their earnest loyalty would have carried them along on a wave of devotion, their blind hope making it possible to paper over his contradictory statements. It was impressive. It was inspiring, in some ways.

And it was frightening.

Today, Donald Trump, a man with no plan beyond inflating his own ego, takes office in one of the most powerful countries in the world. He has shown complete disregard for tradition. He has shown complete disregard for the White House press corps. He is unpredictable, he is hypersensitive, and he will now be president of the United States. He could have chosen to surround himself with more experienced, bipartisan people in an attempt to bring the country together, but instead he has chosen to surround himself with cronies and right-wing fanatics. He has the capacity to sever diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. He has the capacity to pull out of trade deals and international organisations. He has the capacity to sink the world economy into another recession.

Of course these are worst case scenarios. I hope that none of them come to pass. I hope he is reined in, and his twitter account is taken off him, and that the people in government remember they serve the people – all the people – and not just their own interests or beliefs. I hope that America can find a way to knit itself back together and be true to its self-styled identity as ‘home of the free, land of the brave’.

And not just because I would love to live in San Diego.

For now, I’m off to find some butter popcorn so I can watch the inauguration in style. Let’s all cross our fingers tightly and wait and see what tomorrow brings.

*Despite the fact that I believe almost anyone would be a better president than Trump, I really don’t believe any candidate should be the son/wife/cousin/grandchild of a previous president. Again, there are 319 million people out there! It’s just downright lazy. Pull your socks up, America.

**I have a theory that any place with a lot of dogs must have lovely citizens. Dogs make people happy, happy people are nicer people, therefore dog-friendly places have nicer people! Q.E.D.