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2016 playlist

2016 was a pretty awful year for the world, but I would be doing many people and things a disservice if I said it was for me. It was difficult and full and at many times incredibly bizarre, but overall pretty amazing.

The world may have been falling to pieces but I was rebuilding myself. For ten years, two fairly major things dominated my life – working towards citizenship and planning a trip I wasn’t ever sure I believed I’d take. I never really thought about the energy I was spending on those things until all that real estate in my brain was suddenly free.

Perhaps this is why my Lindy Hop obsession exploded. Perhaps it’s why I dove into freelancing without really thinking much about it. Perhaps it’s what finally allowed me to let go of having to plan every detail of everything all the time (my friends will probably not believe I’ve actually managed this, but I assure you, I only plan about 65% of things now, as opposed to, oh, 99.142%).

I started the year in a Chinese border rail station with people I’d only just met, and absolutely no idea that the next 24 hours let alone the next year would hold such ridiculous and wonderful adventures. The lows were very low, but the highs were higher and more prevalent. And everything in between was sharper.

I went to 2 international Lindy Hop camps, one of them by myself. I danced in 8 cities (well, 7 cities and one French valley). I jointly started an awesome practice group. I went into my first jam circle and didn’t fuck up. I got clients. I supported myself and lived pretty well despite a 50% pay cut. I got super awesome office space. I read more books that I’ve read probably in any other year since I graduated college. I sewed a whole lot of clothes and started teaching someone else to sew as well. I did Thanksgiving for 19 people – more than ever before – AND managed to get red wine spills out of a white carpet. I cycled more than I bussed. I went wild swimming and wandering up hills and shimmying over flooded waterways. I had a lot of bomb-ass conversations. That’s only a fraction of it. Bad things happened in the world, but good things happened in mine.

I will end the year in a cottage in the Scottish countryside with some of the people who have made it all possible, and for once I’m not even bothering to wonder what will happen in the next 365 days. I hope it’s just as awesome. I hope it’s also much better for the wider world. I’d say it couldn’t get much weirder, but I know better than that.

As it the custom, I’ll leave you with my 2016 playlist. Again, roughly corresponding to the timeline of the year, with a few deviations. (Here’s 2015 and 2014 in case you’re interested.)

The things I’ll never get to

It’s Record Store Day.

It’s Record Store Day and I have this sourdough starter I took on as an afterthought staring me in the face every time I open the fridge. And I’ve been thinking about the X-Men since last night when Tessa mentioned her daughter was getting way into them.

These are tied together by the fact that they’re all part of the long list of things I have not, and may not ever, get to. The sourdough will probably happen. At least once. But I’ve already secretly deep down come to terms with the fact that I’m probably not going to be a constant artisan bread maker. But. But! I am a baker! Of course I’ll bake bread!

It’s unlikely that it will happen with the regularity needed to keep a starter alive though.

And while music is pretty much half my blood and I lust over Kristina and Yann’s impressive vinyl collection and absolutely amazing turntable every time I’m in their flat and I miss the high school thrill of hanging out in Record and Tape Traders even when I felt not nearly cool enough to be there, Record Store Day is probably not a thing that will ever happen for me either. I hate to say it. I’ve been listening to 6Music talk about all the lovely events and shops around the UK all day and thinking, well, that could have been my life. I could have been queuing since 4am geeking out with my fellow music nerds.

But it’s not. There are just too many great things I have to be getting on with to allow myself to add even more.

This is how I feel about comic books and theatrical set design and stage management. It’s how I feel about curling and archery. It’s how I feel about the massive store of bookmarks pointing to cool project ideas sitting in Firefox I never look at again and all the books on my shelf I still haven’t got to.

I have dabbled and I have turned my back. I love a lot of things I have to turn down. I can’t throw myself full-force into every single cool thing I’ve ever done, though believe me, if I found a way to do so without dying of exhaustion and insanity, I absolutely would. I mean, when JK Rowling chucked that Time Turner in there, I was RIGHT THERE WITH HER.

I get so into the things I DO stick with that they have their own nested priorities. My to-do list grows at an exponential rate. My Lindy Hop Trello board alone is an incredible exercise in ambition and daydreaming.  Even my ‘ways to get some freakin’ actual paid work’ plans have grown far beyond my abilities to carry out.

I have to tell myself at least 3 times a day: ‘No. Stop. What is the one thing you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO right now? OK DO THAT THING. But I could just also maybe… NO. (Also: eat something, then do it. (Also also CLOSE THOSE FUCKING TABS.))’

Because trying to do ALL THE THINGS is the number one way to send my anxiety levels right up to danger zone and I’ve been trying pretty hard to train myself to keep them out of there whenever possible.

There’s definitely an element of Fear Of Missing Out in all of this, but it’s like, self-FOMO, which isn’t even what that shit is all about.

Since I got back from the grand adventure, this has been a bigger problem that I ever expected it would be. For someone so underemployed, I am crazy stupid busy. It’s all great stuff I’m busy with, so that’s fine, but I have been writing this post in my head all day and I’ve probably lost the best of it because it materialised this morning while I was moving boxes and I have not had a single moment in the past 12 hours to sit and even jot a short, undeciperable-later-on-but-made-sense-at-the-time list of the ideas buzzing around up there. I’ve just had to try to remember it all because it’s far more important to me than any writing that I am fully present when thanking people for moving and storing my shit, and drinking coffee and learning what the deal is with kefir, and sewing an exciting resurrected tailoring project and (badly) playing football with the world’s best puppy.

And even if it wasn’t, I forgot to bring my notebook with me when I left the house anyway.

There are a million and nine things I’d like to work on this weekend, but I keep needing to get them in line. And the back 90% of that line needs to know it’s getting turned away at the door, because I am well past sold out before I get anywhere near considering leaving the house to go to a record store.

2015 playlist

A brief interruption from the usual travel stuff for my 2015 playlist. Roughly in order from the start to end of the year, all stuff that reminds me of the best times. Either because it was playing or because it was in my head at the time.

Last year I did a photo roundup of the year as well, but there were too many things this year that were awesome, and they’re all already in this blog anyway. I hope 2016 is at least half as great with all the same people I love and a few good new ones.

I’ll be ringing in the new year on a train bound for Beijing, most likely stopped at the border crossing, with fizz, a new friend (hey Felix!), some Mongolian beer, and a lot of random snacks. I’m currently looking for the best version of Auld Lang Syne to download to my phone for the occasion.

I hope you’re having fun wherever you are, and I hope you like the music!

Beginnings and ends, plans and memories

Three months there, about 24 hours back.

Three months there, about 24 hours back.

This weekend I booked my first train and my flight from Bangkok back to Edinburgh. It’s really real FO-REAL now. I just have to fill in the middle bits.

I’ve been waiting SO LONG to start doing the proper booking it almost feels fake actually doing it. But it’s paid for and in the calendar and on the spreadsheet and all that. Done and done.

With this (and pretty much every other) trip, the lead-up and the time I spend thinking about it afterwards far outweighs the actual three months I will spend away, and I have been thinking a lot about how much travel is about what happens in your brain, almost more than it’s about the physical act of going places and talking to people and eating things.

There was recently a New York Times article being passed around the interweb on what your holiday says about you, and how the planning bit has been, in some cases, proven to be more satisfying than the actual holiday because planning a busy and intricate itinerary is incredibly rewarding whereas actually DOING something so full-on is exhausting and stressful.

Well. Obviously.

I’ve tried to make my plans for this trip less about pinning down a detailed itinerary and more about amassing possibilities. And there IS a lot of joy in planning for me. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am A Planner and Organiser By Nature. I do think this reputation does me a disservice in obscuring the fact that I love spontaneity and surprises, and I often wish there was a little more of that getting thrown at me in my life. So part of this adventure is avoiding the temptation to plan the entire route in detail and keeping things a bit open-ended in places.

I will be booking my trains ahead of time through to Beijing, but after that, I only have rough ideas of where I want to go, and rough estimates of when I need to be crossing certain borders (mostly based on visa requirements). But I still have all sorts of lists of cool things I’ve heard about that might be worth seeing if I’m in the right place.

I should also say that the actual booking-of-tickets part of the planning is IMMENSELY satisfying because it means I AM GOING. And also coming back.

I think when I get back is when the trip really does its work.

Memory is a bizarre thing. Somewhat accidentally, I’ve been consuming a lot of media about it lately. I’ve just finished the memoir of a woman caring for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s called Keeper: A Book about memory, identity, isolation, Wordworth and cake…. The book is half personal experience of the difficulties of caring for someone who is basically losing who they are and half musings on the research the author has done into how the brain actually works, how the disease breaks it down, and the history of Dementia, its treatments, and pubic attitudes towards it.

What we recall isn’t a matter of units of memory, but rather our brain pulling together a story and reconstructing something for us every time. We may think it’s the same always, and we may even think it’s the same as what actually happened, but really it’s probably not. Not the same as what we actually experienced and not the same recall all the time. Sometimes you remember slightly different details of an event and surely that shapes what you see in your head a little differently every time. It’s like watching a play instead of a movie.

From what I understand, Alzheimer’s breaks down the connections that allow your brain to pull memories together, so things disappear at different speeds, but you essentially lose the things that make you who you are, because that’s what memory is. Your personality comes in large part from your experiences and how you process them, and memories aren’t a digital things, they’re a constant, analogue process.

I also just saw Inside Out (how could I NOT?) which shows us Pixar’s vision of how memories and personality work. In their version, memories ARE actually units, but they’re kind of evolving marbles rather than static rocks. The way they portray memories having completely mixed emotions as their foundations and how they combine to create who we are is fascinating (islands of personality!) and gut-wrenching because it feels so accurate. And per usual with Pixar, EVERY ADULT in that cinema with me was all teary at multiple points from being hit hard in the feels.

Between the book and the film, I’m now walking around thinking about HOW my brain is pulling together the memories I’m flipping through at any given time. (Because I don’t have enough buzzing around in my head without getting all meta on top of it.) So I wonder how close the memory and the event are, and how they change depending on what mood I’m in when I recall them. BRAINS. They’re pretty cool.

The constant evolution of my travel memories connects those experiences to whatever present circumstance I need them to inform or whatever feeling I need to associate with them. This is true for a lot of experiences though. You do something you think is a bit rough or difficult or whatever, but when you look back on it you feel like it was maybe a lot greater than you gave it credit for at the time. Some of this is hindsight and analysis and, in my case, the fact that I have a hard time relaxing or not being a ball of anxiety about everything that’s happening because I can’t often quiet my brain down long enough to stop and really see what’s happening for two seconds.

But I sort of love this about travel. My memories of trips are things I call up and scrutinise on a regular basis, sometimes for daydreaming or escape, sometimes for self-criticism, sometimes for other things entirely. I’m sure they change a little every time, but I also know that it grows the experience to something much richer in my history.

And then there’s one trip I took just before a pretty traumatic life thing that I never got to think too much about in the weeks after I got back because I was Dealing With Some Hardcore Stuff. I honestly think this affected my ability to commit a lot of that trip to long-term memory in the way I usually do by mulling things over for ages in the background when I return from a place. I don’t have a lot of solid memories of that trip the way I do with every other trip I’ve ever taken, which is too bad, because it was a fantastic holiday and I know I had a lot of fun with my friend Sara who I went with. But it only exists in kind of pixelated bits in my head instead of rich dancing colours the way the rest of my travel inventory does.

In contrast, there’s the trip I took to Paris earlier this year. It was such a fast one, and full-on, and manic. And I had a good time while I was there, but when I think about it now, it’s grown into something so much more amazing than I thought it was at the time. Sometimes it’s good to plow through things and work them out afterwards. All the processing is a big part of who I am, and it’s changing all the time. And I love that. It’s what builds bits of those islands of personality.

I think the fact that your inner landscape is such a major part of your travel or anything you do is why it’s so difficult to explain the full experience of your holidays and trips. You can tell stories and try to draw parallels between them and the stories of others, but I find it nearly impossible to impart the real impact of any trip. It’s so wound up in the rest of my life. I kind of just have to trust that people get that. I think at least most of them who’ve done a bit of traveling do.

If memory was made up of discrete units we’d probably be able to explain our feelings on ANYTHING a lot better than we can. It would be like being able to hand someone a book off a shelf instead of attempting to pull up a 30-year-old tree at the roots and show them what bit you mean.

But I think it’s kind of nice you can’t sum yourself or any of your experiences up simply, even if articulation can be a completely awkward and uphill human endeavour. After all, if it were that easy, what then would we talk about in the pub?

Anticipation, Dave Grohl’s right leg, and perfect days

Way back in December, I bought two tickets to see the Foo Fighters play Murrayfield stadium on the 23rd of June. I’ve wanted to see them live for 16 years. To say I was excited would be an incredible understatement.

In the past month, I’ve been listening to their back catalogue while pounding out websites at work trying to decide what my favourite album is and failing. (And reminding myself what a cracking album The Colour and the Shape is.) I’ve been impatiently waiting for this Tuesday. I was ready – and well overdue – for a big, loud rock show where I could jump around and scream along. My enthusiasm for this gig was dangerously boundless.

So of course, Dave Grohl broke his leg.

Oh, Dave. How awesome can you get?

I believe ‘gutted’ is probably the correct term here. (Thank you, UK vocabulary.) The news that the rest of the UK tour would be cancelled fell on top of a particularly crap week. So I DID actually cry when I read it.

First of all, how completely terrible that this had to happen to The Nicest Man In Rock. Dave FINISHED THE SHOW while his leg was held together by his EMT (and probably a whole lot of adrenaline). He is a friggin’ legend. After that though, the doctors were like, ‘ehhh, no, you need to not play some shows, because NO’.

You can tell in the statement he wrote on the Foo Fighters website that he is so disappointed and frustrated about the whole thing. I’m sure no fan would want him to screw himself up any more, so of course it’s fine that the show is cancelled. But it’s also just completely depressing. Or at least it was for a while.

I gave myself Wednesday to be in a funk, because the shit had just piled up a little too much and sometimes, as Louis CK has said in the following well-circulated (and great) clip, you gotta let yourself feel fully sad before you crush it or push it away. So I did.

And then I went dancing, sweat my face off, properly tired myself out, and felt a billion times better.

I know I’ll get to see the Foo Fighters someday. So this is really not that big a deal. I mean, when I tried to see Radiohead the first time in Bull Run, Virginia, we made it to the venue on this blistering hot, sunny day where we were all ironically praying for a bit of rain to cool everything down just a little. But then 30 minutes after the gates opened, the heavens ALSO opened and there was a ridiculous torrential thunderstorm and the entire place flooded and it was all cancelled. And man, that day became a story to tell, because how could it not when thousands of people were more or less trapped in a flooded mud pit since everyone had parked in the grass?

We did not get to see Radiohead that day, and I had been at least as excited about that if not MORE than Foo Fighters this week. But I DID get to see Radiohead. A few years later in Rhode Island. And then again in Glasgow. And it was all fine and worth the wait and after I stopped blithering last Tuesday night that’s what I thought about.

And actually, the week hit an upswing and kept getting better. Dancing again on Thursday with a great class on fast Lindy, a chilled out Friday night, and one of the best Saturdays I’ve had all year. One of those rare, unplanned, absolutely perfect days – a killer dance workshop in the morning, an amazing pub lunch, and a party in Holyrood park with rounders, boules, a Swedish candle, the fire brigade, lots of beer, and a midnight walk up the Crags for midsummer. All in excellent company.

Rounders in the park. I can still pitch!

Rounders in the park. I can still pitch!

Part of the reason swing dancing is so good for me is, as a follow, it forces me to kill my anticipation and give up most of my control-freak tendencies, because the more I can do that the better follow I’ll be. When we were coming down the Crags in the dark, it had just started raining so everything was already hard to see but also suddenly got very slippery. We’d all been joking about how our appropriate-for-Lindy-shoes were not exactly appropriate-for-tromping-up-hills-in-the-dark shoes. I’d also been talking about worrying about unexpectedly messing up my ankles or knees and not being able to dance. And someone said I probably just shouldn’t think about that stuff because really, how can you control for freak accidents?

And THEN I slipped and had a moment where I thought I might have REALLY killed my ankle. (NOT A GOOD WEEK FOR LEGS, GUYS.) Incredibly luckily, after a bit of a shake out, my ankle was fine, but it was as close a call as I’d like to have.

I don’t really know what any of that proves, but maybe if I’d not been thinking or yammering so much about it, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’m always going to be the kind of person who gets incredibly excited about things. I don’t think that’s bad, but maybe if I could kill some of my anticipation OUTSIDE of dancing, I’d be able to relax about things more. It often get so extreme I give myself anxiety stomachaches. It’s not normal. It’s probably not healthy (it certainly doesn’t feel it). But it’s the way I am. It makes the disappointment of something not happening the way I planned or imagined a lot more crushing than it should be sometimes. Big ups equal big downs. I worry about this in terms of travel planning because despite being able to handle it now that I understand my own head, I know how I’ll feel if something goes completely wrong. I guess at least I’ve got some self-awareness though.

I also know from experience that things will just work themselves out. I may not be able to stop the initial air-knocked-out-of-life feeling, but I can at least tell my jerkbrain that it will pass, and that a perfect day will crop up to turn things around when I least expect it.

Fit for travel

Spending the better part of 3 months sitting on trains isn’t the best way to keep up one’s fitness. Particularly when one of the things you’re looking forward to is sampling all the local snacks you possibly can. And when you do get off the train, at least for the first month and a half, you will be in very, VERY cold places not very conducive to full days of walking around free of any cares of becoming an ice cube.

This is actually something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m not an unhealthy slob (she says as she sits in bed with her laptop having just scoffed half a giant chocolate Easter egg and a whole bowl of popcorn whilst watching a film of questionable quality on Netflix) but I don’t exactly have any kind of regimented approach to exercise. I walk everywhere, including to and from work every day, and I’ve been doing a ton of dancing which is definitely a workout, but I still get pretty worn out from that. I’ve been trying to figure out what else I can do to feel less like a wreck after a hardcore week.

Because surely being in the best shape possible will also help make life less painful when I’m riding around on horseback in the middle of the ass-freezing cold Mongolian winter. Right?

I’ve never been a very big runner, but two years ago I read that Born to Run book and decided I COULD TOTALLY DO IT. So I trained myself to get to 5k and that’s pretty much the ceiling of my distance ability. It’s enough for me. But I stopped running with any regularity once I’d reached my finish-a-proper-5k-race-in-under-30-minutes goal. Not for any particular reason – I think I was just bored of it.

PROOF I DID IT. Also I really love my running shoes.

PROOF I DID IT. Also I really love my running shoes.

Yesterday morning though, with the weather finally warming up and the last few bits of a week of rubbish to clear from my head, I went for my first run in about a year. And it went WAY BETTER than I imagined it would, so clearly all the dancing has had an effect. (Also I have a BANGIN’ running playlist which I credit for nearly every bit of my motivation.) I did about 3.5k, but I did it more or less without stopping and without feeling like complete and utter death. This after being sure I’d only make it to about 1k before my brain went ‘noooooooooo’. It felt pretty awesome.

So I’m going to add regular runs to the plan from here on out. I’m sore as all hell today from being out of practice, but hopefully that will fade. I’m also apparently going to be bagging my first few munros next weekend, weather permitting, on a wee Sunday hillwalking adventure.

Unfortunately I don’t think train attendants would look too kindly on me running back and forth down the length of the train rocking out to AC/DC. (That seems like something that would happen in a Wes Anderson film. Except maybe not with AC/DC.) So I don’t really know how I’m going to keep my activity level up in the confines of a train, but if I can at least go into it in the best condition, maybe I won’t feel like a complete sloth when I’m lounging about reading War and Peace, eating whatever the Russians would replace popcorn with and watching Siberia roll by.

2014 playlist

If you're wondering how on earth 'Gloria' ended up on this list, this is the night we all became properly obsessed with Laura Branigan. I make no apologies.

If you’re wondering how on earth ‘Gloria’ ended up on this list, this is the night we all became properly obsessed with Laura Branigan. I make no apologies. GOOD TIMES.

Continuing on the musical theme, I’ve put together my definitive 2014 playlist.

I will always be the kind of girl who makes mix tapes. Over the years they’ve morphed into burned CDs and now playlists, but I always have a few on the go. I still make them for people and situations and parties and myself and everything. It’s a proper art form and it needs to NEVER DIE.

This one is heavily influenced by all the traveling I did this year. But also, as ever, by people and big moments and, perhaps disproportionately, the jukebox at Starbar in Edinburgh. It’s roughly in chronological order in terms of how things cropped up over the year (so basically don’t listen on shuffle because then you’re ruining the curation of the thing). I hope you love it all as much as I do.

Merry Christmas, readers! Have some awesome music!

Play me on the radio

Radio...

Radio… by João Pedro Silveira Martins, on Flickr

Way back when I was backpacking in Europe for the first time, it wasn’t as easy as it is today to carry around a load of music. We were well past the dawn of digital music, and iTunes and iPods already existed, but they weren’t exactly ubiquitous and I didn’t have one yet. I think I probably had a discman with me, but what a battery drain that was, and not very convenient.

Anyway, I relied heavily on whatever I was hearing in my environment in terms of music. One of my first music memories of that trip was sitting in the common area of the YHA in Copenhagen writing about whatever I’d done that day and realising, as some recent American rock music played on in the background, that I had yet to hear any music that was not in English. Whatever local radio station they were playing was all the same stuff on the radio in the US and the UK.

I get that popular music transcends language barriers and all, and that even before digital music got really, really big, the internet spread popular music much further afield than it would have gotten on it’s own. But NOTHING in Danish at ALL and I’d been in the country at least 3 days at that point. It was kind of… disappointing.

(It’s perhaps interesting to note that this is the trip on which I first observed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ bringing people of all cultural backgrounds and languages together. EVERYONE knows (and loves) that song, and will pretty much immediately join in singing it when it comes on. Anywhere. Including on a rickety old television in a fast food shop. I mostly put this down to Freddie Mercury being magical and charismatic as hell, but who’s to say someone singing in another language can’t manage this?)

Well, they sort of can. Recently, YouTube announced that they had to upgrade their counter because Gangnam Style had been viewed so many times that it surpassed their current upper limit.

Now, Psy is no Freddie. NO ONE is Freddie. But Psy is singing in Korean, and EVERYONE knows this song. We may not be able to sing it all, but I heard Gangnam Style come on in, of all places, an Irish pub in Bergerac, France about two years ago and I was straight up thrilled about it. This can happen. Non-English music can be this big. And it SHOULD be, so much more often than it is.

In any case, back to that trip, where I continued to hear mostly English music through Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic. From the minute I noticed it in Copenhagen, I started paying attention to music normally meant for background, in shops and restaurants and everywhere. And it was mostly English-language pop most of the time.  Then one night in Český Krumlov, I went out with the people staying in my hostel and we ended up in a crazy, cavern-like basement club where a band were playing some pretty proper hardcore metal. AND SINGING IN CZECH. It was fantastic! But you’ll note, this was a local thing, and not on the radio. And this seems to be one of the issues.

I was speaking to someone at my work Christmas do the other night about Eurovision (WHICH I LOVE) and how it’s a shame everyone’s always singing in English. 29 of the 63 winning songs have been in English.  The UK have won 5 times, and Ireland 7, so take them away and that’s 17 winners that felt success was more likely in a language other than their own. Including ABBA of course, whom history has shown they probably made the right choice.

HOWEVER. It’s worth noting that 14 winning songs have been in French, all from countries with French as an official language. And none of those countries were ever English language winners. So why is it that French speakers seem to believe in the power of singing in their own language so much more than everywhere else? At least in terms of Eurovision. Because that conviction has clearly paid off, and they need to share it.

English is marketable and money makes a lot more choices than cultural pride it seems. It’s not like that’s surprising, but it’s a little sad. It’s fantastic that so many people learn and understand English. I feel lucky to speak one of the most widely spoken, and therefore useful, languages on this planet. But I wish marketability wasn’t partially responsible for stifling the use of other languages in music and art. The more we reward people for favouring English over their native tongue, the more variety we lose. And where’s the fun in all the radio stations of the world sounding exactly the same?

Refreshingly, when I was in Finland this summer, Johanna and Carolina were playing the radio station that played only Finnish music, which I was super happy existed. Of course there was plenty of English music floating about, and I was there for a festival full of bands singing mostly in English. But I also got introduced to the Finnish pop hit of the summer, among many other things, and it was great.

I’ve also mentioned one of my favourite bands Movits! here before. They’re Swedish and they perform completely in Swedish. And I have spent a lot of time with Google translate as a result, but I really love that they refuse to change what they do, and they have apparently been asked to (and asked why they don’t) many, many times.

I don’t always know what they’re saying, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s awesome music. And I’ve also been introduced to a lot of new music in Swedish just through checking out the people they work with. There’s a huge Swedish hip-hop scene and a lot of it is really, really good. Some of it is in English, but most of it is, very adamantly, in Swedish. And I love that.

Zacke (also great) and Movits! did this song, Spela Mig På Radion (which translates as ‘Play me on the radio’) and it’s basically about all the things they refuse to do just so they’ll be played on the radio. Not only is it a great track, it’s a good fucking point. They do their thing and they do it well, and the soul of it would be completely dead if they switched over to English (or used autotune or anything else) just so they could gain more popularity, in or out of Sweden.

Even if I knew another language well enough to write for an audience in it (I am shamefully mono-lingual), even if I’d been speaking it most of my life, I don’t think it would ever be as rich and layered as what I can write in English. And why should anyone feel they have to water themselves down just to be understood? In ANY language.

Being in an English-speaking country, it’s kind of hard to discover a lot of new music in other languages. The internet helps, but it’s actually quite hard to get a hold of full albums and things, even on Spotify. It depends on the artist, but a fair amount of the Movits! back catalogue isn’t accessible in the UK. I had to order imports to get their first two albums, and I bought their most recent one AT their show in Sweden. It’s getting easier, and some artists are more available than others. But initial exposure is difficult, and licensing probably makes it moreso.

Music in other languages is not just something you stumble on the way you (and the rest of the world) stumble on stuff in English. I wish this would change. I wish I could say I thought the whole Gangnam Style phenomenon was a sign of things to come, but unfortunately I don’t think it is. The success of that seems more based on novelty than anything else. But I guess it’s a start.

I do hope more artists will start standing their linguistic ground, because only good things come of it. Did anyone ever imagine that the thing to bust YouTube’s assumptions on statistics would be a song in Korean? I doubt it. So who knows what’s next?

In the meantime, anyone got any good non-English recommendations for me?

Driving is a novelty

Driving in New Zealand

I have zero pictures of me driving on this trip, so here’s me driving in New Zealand. On the left! With much more interesting scenery than Delaware.

Since I’ve moved to Scotland, I don’t drive very often. I just don’t need to. And I LOVE that I don’t need to. By the time I was leaving the US, I’d done a few months of a fairly short commute to a temp office job and it made me hate my life even more than the job itself did. People in cars are morons. And that was BEFORE texting was even a thing in the US. But there was plenty of makeup application and reading books and eating full meals while driving going on. And that was just in the morning. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so excited to get to  a place where I could just walk or rely on public transport and be done with it.

The last time I drove (and the only time I’ve driven in the UK) was over 3 years ago. I rented a car to move flat and it happened to be the day of the Edinburgh Marathon. I’d driven on the left before in New Zealand, so I had a tiny bit of that going for me, but I did fairly well considering how stressed and out of practice I was.

Last Monday, I borrowed my parents’ car, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. They have a Honda Pilot, which is pretty big, and incredibly wide. When I lived in the US, I had a Honda Accord, so luckily I was completely familiar with how everything was laid out, but there’s all this new shit now like SiriusXM radio and a video feed with some kind of crazy overlay for when you’re reversing. And satnav, which I won’t even touch.

I borrowed it to go down to Salisbury to see my friends Dan and Kathleen and their new kid, Liam, who’s only 6 months old. I didn’t want them to have to pack up a newborn just to see me for a few hours, and I also wanted to see where they live. (They have DUCKS!) This was before I went to get a Delaware license since I no longer have a permanent Maryland address with which to renew my license. And the whole time I’m driving, I’m thinking: this is basically my brush-up driving test. So, state of Delaware, you can rest assured I earned that replacement license.

In the course of a few hours, I did night driving, heavy rain driving, and sun-low-in-the-sky-and-therefore-in-my-face driving. I had to stop for a school bus and pull over for an ambulance. I was on country roads and highways and city roads. And I had to stay alert enough to anticipate that, on a green left turn arrow, some dickbag in a huge SUV decided to go barreling straight through a red light from the other direction JUST BECAUSE. So, 5 minutes before I got back to my parents’, I could have been creamed because someone wasn’t paying attention. And by that point, I was well and truly done with driving for another good long while.

It’s so tiring. It’s a completely different brand of concentration from anything I normally have to deal with. I felt incredibly tense and unsafe the whole time, and that’s at least 60% because OTHER drivers are so rarely paying attention. It’s no good for a control freak.

It wasn’t all bad though. I scanned the satellite radio for a suitable rock station, found Lithium (basically the equivalent of mid-to-late-90s 99.1 WHFS), and proceeded to spend a good portion of my drive singing Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots and the like at the top of my lungs, feeling very much like I was in high school again. In the best of ways. In fact, my best memories of driving are always the ones that involve blasting good music on long night drives. So despite the anxiety, it was a dose of nostalgic happiness.

Technotronic tape

There was no satellite radio in the New Zealand rental car. This was the only tape. A classic.

Plus, I got to see my friends and their cute kid. And their border collie Scout, who had understandably incessant interest in his ball and was quite content to try sitting in my lap at dinner. And their ducks and chickens! Kathleen made awesome home made pizza for dinner and pumpkin pie for dessert. Dan and I talked about loads of people we knew in high school who I haven’t even thought about in some cases for years. It was the best kind of catching up. I sometimes hate that I’m not closer to some of my best friends, but it always makes for really, really good evenings where we can pick up as though we saw each other just yesterday and the conversation never stalls because there’s so much great stuff to talk about.

I think I hate driving now more than I ever hated flying, but even this one short stint has proven that, like flying, it’s a means to getting somewhere you really want to go, and when there are good friends at the end, it’s more than worth the hassle. The next time I drive will be to my friend Lindsay’s wedding in May, also in the states, and I have no doubt it’ll be equally worth it. I just hope the rental car has Lithium XM.

 

Memory foam headphone tips

Headphones with red tips.

My current trusty earbuds with red Comply Foam tips.

I am incredibly particular about my headphones. This is in no small part because of how heavily used they are when I travel. I am a fidgety person by nature and if I’m even the least bit uncomfortable, I will fidget EVEN MORE. To the point where a small, solvable discomfort turns into a massive pain in the ass that I feel trapped by. Maybe that’s dramatic.

I will put it another way: If my headphones are bothering me, I can easily have a claustrophobic fit. That can turn a travel day downhill real fast. On the other hand, if I want to keep my sanity on a long travel day, I NEED to be able to plug myself in for certain stretches of time. Particularly in airports and on long-range public transportation.

So, I learned early that headphones were one of the things I really had to nail when it came to the perfect gear. If my ears are happy, I am happy.

One of the first things I ever did to deal with this issue was get an airline adapter so that I could use whatever I damn well pleased in those double-jack seatback plugs. Luckily those are now, largely, gone. (I stopped carrying the adapter ‘just in case’ about 3 years ago.) But the headphones airlines give you are still rubbish.

I can’t wear over-ear style headphones, no matter the size. Big or small, they drive me nuts. I’m sure the sound quality is better and yada yada yada, but if I have them on for more than about 5 minutes, I freak right the eff out. They are uncomfortable in at least 3 different ways, and I have a threshold for ZERO different ways. So it’s in-ear headphones for me, always.

The main benefit of this is that they don’t take up any space. They also keep me from spending loads on them. You can easily spend over £100 on a pair of fancy earbuds, but it seems moronic to spend more than £20-£30 on something that is so easily lost or crushed or tugged out of commission.

So, my perfect pair is something with decent sound and replaceable tips and NO bloody remote or mic on the wire (getting increasingly hard to find). Currently that’s a pair of Sennheiser CX 160. I think they were £20. But what makes them amazing, what makes ANY pair of earbuds wearable for me, and what this post is really about, is memory foam earpieces.

Pretty much all earbuds you get now come with a few sizes of rubber earpieces. They are  a waste of time. Toss them. About 8 years ago, I bought a cheap pair of JVC earbuds in the airport and they had the option of memory foam earpieces along with the rubber ones. I tried them and I have since never used anything else.

For a while, that was hard. I would save the earpieces for longer than was probably hygienically wise. I’d switch them from an old pair of headphones to a new one. When that particular JVC headphone disappeared from the market after my third pair, I used my leftover earpieces for 2 YEARS until I found another brand doing memory foam. Yes. That is disgusting.

I searched a few years ago online for a place to order just the earpieces, but didn’t have a lot of luck, so I muddled through for another wee while. But recently I checked the interweb again and found what I’d been looking for all these years: Comply Foam headphone tips.

Comply makes various different types of memory foam earpiece, and they make them to fit all different brands of headphone. So you go to their site, tell them what make and model your headphones are, and they point you at the right size. You can then choose the type of earpiece you want and the in-ear size (and in some cases, colour). I went with the T-500 isolation tips in medium.

One of my favourite things about memory foam, aside from how comfortable it is to wear all day, is how well it blocks outside sound. It’s so effective at this that you don’t have to turn your volume up nearly as loud as you normally would in order to hear properly, both out in the world and on an airplane. I remember the first time I used memory foam earpieces on a plane and anything louder than the first notch on the volume control was suddenly too much. The background noise on a plane is so hard to cut through, so I was super impressed with my cheap-o little JVC earbuds. I felt like I’d uncovered some massive secret answer to life. And it had cost me less than $15! Plus, keeping your volume down can only be better for your eardrums.

Comply tips are about $15 for three pairs, and I think that’s a great deal. Now I can buy any headphones I want, regardless of what earpieces they come with, and I can make them perfect with the tips I choose. That to me is well worth the extra cost, even if shipping to the UK is a bit high. Also, I can now toss my earpieces when they get manky instead of hanging onto them for as long as possible. That has to be better for my ears.

The tips fit my headphones pretty tightly, so it was a little difficult to get them on, but that’s probably good because they also seem to stay put once they’re in place. And the foam itself is pretty high quality. It’s a lot nicer than the tips that came with my old cheap headphones. And they fit my ear so perfectly I can barely feel my actual headphones. I can wear them for a long, long time with no fidget fits or feeling claustrophobic. That is a gear WIN.