Screen. Shot.

This is written on a Mac, with a smartphone beside it. The Mac has three files open, five tabs on Safari, two on Firefox, while the iphone flashes Whatsapps from friends in Birmingham, Hong Kong and New York.

At a restaurant this week, four girls beside us spent a two hours taking, reviewing, editing and uploading selfies. Two hours. They had a pole to suspend the camera, which my partner said was a brilliant invention, and it was, which depressed me. This is not an attack on Selfies, which are here to stay, regardless of how upset I get. But the girls would each get home and probably spend another forty minutes each, sharing, tagging, untagging, commenting on their evening. More time cumulatively talking about it online, than being with each other at the table.

I, we, all of us, spend hours on social media every week. It’s who we are and we’ve all proselytized the crap out of it. That night we, the judging couple at the next table, who thought we were smarter,  stayed up until 1.30am reading and sharing articles our friends had shared. Today I’m tired, in my head, and a little more in my heart. I, we, all of us, scan and scroll through articles, links, every day – 20 ways to lose weight at your desk, You will not believe what this cat does, Rihanna’s tits in this dress, The incredible truth about Blah… etc.

It’s not enough that electronic media, in all its forms, now clouds the way we live in the real world. The couple on the date, staring into their phones, Selfies as an accepted social disruption, like voluntary vanity hiccups in every conversation. It’s Orwellian. Huxley. Rand. Bradbury. They all warned us and it happened anyway.

We think in clicks, have tabs open, bookmark subjects and read the world in snippets; boxes, tabs, links and scroll-downs. And our memories take them in the same way. Even my dreams are shorter scenes, with more changeable characters.

Mine was one of the first year-groups to be allowed calculators in exams – to not even need to do the sums in our heads. Now every essay must be scanned for plagiarism, (and the skill it takes, to sit down and write an essay, with the entire internet behind your Word screen, is a lifeskill that really will pass the test of time – she says, clicking on the Buzzfeed’s ’33 Jokes only Game of Thrones fans will understand’).

 My father used to charge on a series of crusades against the media, how it manipulated us, how we gave it our lives to it and how it was accountable to no-one but moguls with their own egos on the agenda. Piers Morgan and Max Clifford were his Nemeses, and Mark Zuckerburg would have made him spit fire.

If he was around today, I know this voluntary life-corrosion in the name of ‘Sharing’ would be his current crusade. He would have loved this video, and if it has 43 million hits… something is catching…

It’s so much harder now to sink into a bigger story, a warm one that, segmentized through your daily commute, can’t be diminished. And it’s even harder to write one. The way our brains work, the way we read and think, and how our social relationships have evolved, is fast. A thoughtful friend wishes Facebook was an actual place you could reach out and hold people in. Instant, but real and tangible. A universal craving that our own behavior pushes further away.

Facebook isn’t just a communication tool. With friends in Dubai, a transient place at best, it’s also how people get to know and understand you, when actual conversations are harder to make out in the beating nightclub. Your Facebook etiquette – bombarding people on Chat, too many Selfies, aggressive statuses or judgmental posts, become your Actual social behaviour, to live or die by – to raise or destroy a business, reputation or livelihood.

And in the more important friendships, we write long emails and Facebook and Whatsapp messages, often instead of a call. Skype breaks this down, but still puts real life through a screen that can’t give you a rib-squeazing sweaty bear-hug. From the Middle East, I see my baby nephew in Hitchin, through daily videos held in my hand, where he isn’t.

Next month, I’m travelling to Birmingham, Brussels, Croatia and London then back to the Desert. I’ll see 14 of my closest, longest friends, my mum, my sister, her husband Senior-Awesome and their baby Super-Awesome, my brother and his beautiful wife. I can’t wait to not take any pictures or post any statuses. I want to hug them silly and exhaust them with condensed Chat. Twenty days to go…


30. In Numbers.

One of a series of Quote pieces by designer Julian Bialowas

One of a series of Quote pieces by designer Julian Bialowas

Fretting about bad things that could or have not yet happened is not the wisest use of your time. It stops you sleeping, gives you spots, makes you eat more and even stops orgasms. Get insurance, a pension scheme and a Will. Try some of that Saving-up malarkey. Google potential employers or love interests. Don’t walk around barefoot in a carpentry workshop. Don’t chop onions with a blindfold. (Do watch THIS). Do call your mother. And the big 3-0 is not an entity you should give a toss about in your 20s.

Then it hits. This wet turdpat flung into your Partytastic Chi like a Dyson Airblade of shitspray aimed at your face. The Shizzle for your nizzle. (Going to add more brands and Snoopisms to my pieces as it makes them come up in amusing search engine queries: “Hangover Cure Cheese Banana” “Taylor Swift Yeti Harpoon Gun” “Justin Bieber makes Guacamole for Rihanna”).

Right. Grown up speak. I’m not the first to do turn 30, and seem to share this predicament with a few buddies this year. 3 months in, please find below a statistical ‘summary’ of what’s been taking up my entire life so far, according to an iphone calculator and the Madeleine-Butcher-Law-of-Averages.

(And thoughts like “What about Leap Years?” or “not every month has 30 days”, are appropriate to you, these are approximations. I hate you).

30 years = 10,950 days.  262,800 hours.

If I slept 7.5 hours a day until 23, then an average 6.5 hours a day from then until now, I will have slept 79,570 hours:

30.2% of life asleep.

I give an average 3 hugs a day, for roughly 3 seconds each. Cumulatively I’ve been:

Hugging for 22 days.

I spend 8 minutes every day nomming on a packet of Monstermunch, and usually at least a full hour eating actual stuff divided across the rest of the day, normally paired with other activities. That’s 517 days ingesting the good produce of this planet:

17 months Eating.

No idea how much that would weigh, but probably at least as much as 2 5-bedroom houses in Solihull. Accordingly, if I spend approximately 11 minutes on the toilet each day, (being realistic) that’s a grand total of:

83.65 days on the Throne.

Often on the phone. Often reading. I won’t guess at the weight of the outcome. Actually I will – I think I’ve shat at least a Semi Detached in Milton Keynes.

If I spend at least 25 minutes of every day laughing, (which is realistic) that’s:

190 days Laughing.

No sleep. Just happy diaphram exercise. Good times.

Now factoring in public/bar toilets, supermarket check outs, Dubai Airport’s Passport desks, standing at the bar, the post office, Banks, taxi ranks etc… realistically:

418 days standing in Queues.

Now this one was a bastard: how long on my way somewhere, including the daily commute to school and then work, and every trip across the UK, on planes while living abroad… (This doesn’t even factor waiting times and took about an hour to work out).

106.09 days sitting on Transport.

Let’s cheer it up a bit:

(thinking about how lovely an acquaintance is, how happy I’d make them and what they’d look like with less clothes on etc). …roughly 1 hour of every day, including weekends…


…174.75 days having Crushes.

907 hours Frightening Strangers…

…at weekends, with an inebriated verbal Maddy-Barage when all they wanted to do was drink and dance with people they actually know.

At least 162 days listening to Boring People…

…without hurting their feelings (Non-Work related). This does not include having to read their statuses/comments on Facebook.

950 days reading ‘Stuffs’  (books/web or newspapers).

27 days watching films with Bill Murray in.

4 months working in two thankless jobs, getting out before either could do any permanent damage. (This was written at the last one)

Another of a series of Quote pieces by designer Julian Bialowas

Another of a series of Quote pieces by designer Julian Bialowas

Video & Ting.

I don’t make animations. This isn’t one. It’s more of a Slideshow Musickness-Accompaniment-ism. But an MC in Dubai gave me his CD, and I wanted to give it a try.

THIS LINK RIGHT HERE is the article I wrote about the same artist and two more that inspire me for Uprising, the brainchild of Scott Goodson, rather clever founder of Strawberry Frog, an agency made up of individuals creating things they and their clients can feel proud of, that people can enjoy seeing.

UAE HipHop and R&B in Uprising

I’m going to make another Hypermental-Slideshow Musickness-Accompaniment-ism, but for the next one I’ll be learning some proper editing packages and make some actual footage and actual stuff.

And for a chuckle at my expense, this here is the first animation I ever made back in 2003. It’s Medium-Rare Crappola, but made me laugh today by how perfectly terrible it actually is.

Sri Lankings. Do all roads lead to Beijing?

Got back from a trip to Sri Lanka with a pal who works for a mining company in West Africa. We saw this captivating little nation through very different eyes, but found many of the same things, and learned a few too. Travelling helps that. I’m not one for listing travelling as a hobby- don’t travel for travel’s sake -it will not guarantee you will be more interesting. Travel to learn things that will better you and who you go with, to see stuff, that doesn’t have to go on Facebook. But I think I learned things on this trip, and now I’m blogging about them.

Sri Lanka Graphic Montage

Dubai takes perspective and stuffs it in the padding of a champagne-sipping Ukrainian model’s bra. But for every Terstosterphoney, overpaid sleazebollock gyrating with a 21 year old while the wife is at home, there’s  a talented, discerning individual here because of the economy. I’ve found a heap of them I care about very much. The greasy hormonoids across chandeliered neon rooms were things I expected, but I’m still getting sucked into the vortex.

My maid only comes once a week, I don’t have an SUV, I have to share my five residence swimming pools with other plebs, it’s at least 6 minutes walk to the nearest decent bit of beach, I don’t go on enough boats, and I’ve not had a decent rare fillet steak in at least a month. Poor me.

This time last year, the deflated mattress in Brooklyn next to the crusty cat’s bum wasn’t so bad, nor the collapsable ceiling, aggressive Haitians in the stairwell and immortal bed bugs (justified by staying with my soul mate, rocking up a Brooklyn-shaped talent-fest as I write this, Theresa Caffrey).

In New York, London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, millions commute at least an hour every day, to share eight hours in a collection of allocated spaces with people we don’t always like or understand. Most of us spend two thirds of each day justifying ourselves through emails, invoices, estimates, documents that will possibly help in compiling other documents, gchat, texting, Facebook when nobody’s looking…  Then we go back, to the train, bus or expressway for an hour home-bound, to the bar, or to the sofa, for American impact-drama and dinner with a label that tells us it’s healthy, authentic or 30% off.

In Dubai, lower that productivity by 30%, reduce commute-time by 70%, increase job security by 40% and sunshine by 80%, and lower inspiration and gigs by 60%. Add a smattering of food imported from opposite parts of the planet, accepted in-grained racism in all directions, and the most beautiful hotels you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got your gig.

Dubai doesn’t give a household-pet-monkey about infrastructure but they’ve got the basics to justify the Sensational-Destination bits. Africa, based on the experiences of my friend and my sister’s time there setting up this brilliant community-based travel company, doesn’t do infrastucture either – you know, roads, power, supplies, that kind of shit, but – Dubai has money, Africa has resources. So does Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, child in car

And Sri Lanka has work ethic – not work like sitting at a desk making spread sheets, work like making things, growing things, refining things, carving, welding, weaving, making things. And not just because people need to pay the bills, or feed mouths. Cycling 8 miles at 3am with a cart of bananas is to put the children through higher education, to get your son his engineering degree, to get him to work abroad where his skills will be needed by people who don’t study engineering anymore, like Europe, or Australia, or the Middle East, or the USA, where we study Marketing, English Literature, Media Studies, Philosophy, Religion or Fine Art. Sri Lankans are bright, proud, and things are moving fast.

And they have China, as Africa has too. The new expressways and tinted vans with Mandarin on make it quietly visible. Every Sri Lankan will say that “China is our big friend”. And when China makes a highway that reduces an 7 hour trip to 2 hours, what’s wrong with that? So why do I have a dodgy feeling about it?

Sri Lanka was flagged up and traded up by the Dutch 450 years ago, extorted and exported to buggery by the British, and now it’s China’s turn to buy up the Pineapples, Rubber, Tea, Cashews and more. They’re not visibly implanting a religion or dictator, or enforcing communism, and Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims live together with a distinct sense of Sri Lankan culture and pride, whether in their appearance, homes, or  auto-embellishments, you can’t tell what kind of god someone believes in unless you ask him. But China’s quiet helping hand will have a vested interest that will arise if trouble does. Which hopefully may not be soon.

Despite some very sludgy Tamil-shaped goings-on in recent years, Sri Lanka is the authentic, multi-cultural island of bright, earnest, hard-working friendliness that Singapore markets itself as, (instead of the weird plastic anti-soul themepark Singapore is).

I don’t know. I know ‘Neo Colonialism’ is a buzzword that describes something very real, and steadily raping African and Asian resources and nations. I know the gold in Dubai’s Gold Souk comes from a sinister chain of very unsavoury people, that starts with a young mother with a pick axe and baby on her back in an un-reinforced ditch in an unofficial mine in the Ivory Coast, who along with thousands of others has to run for her life when it rains.

I know that Sri Lankans sell to where the markets are, that they govern themselves, that post-Tsunami they’re hard-working, resilient people in a very beautiful country, and I hope they stay that way. It’s a lovely country in the middle of some big changes, but it has the resources, the people, and the strength to hold its own.

Sleevey Wonder and the beauty of single-serving sites

A friend forwarded me this lovely single-serving site called Sleeveface. (click it, have a look).

You know a site like this when you see one. It seems silly, and you forward it to the friends that understand you.It puts a smile on their faces the same way it did on yours.

And here’s the beauty of it – it serves one purpose, with no apparent agenda. It usually does nothing to market any individual and is a forum for people anywhere in the world to share a quirky/amusing/geeky/random/obsession-based collection of homemade or found images/puns/quotes/videos/songs/gifs/animations. After reasonable or global success, many of them get shafted by ‘inspired’ ad creatives who them pawn off the ideas as their own, but by and large, these sites exist purely to spread smiles, not money.

In Sleeveface’s case it’s made by a clever Welshman who spends a lot of time explaining how the web works to big companies and busy people. He thought up Sleeveface (and the Sleevey Wonder title) and is a perfect example of how the web works:
We click all day every day, and dwell where there is no shouting at us or fighting for our attention or taking our data, or showing us something we haven’t asked for. These sites, like us, want to play, interact and engage in an open dialogue with anyone and everyone who feels like it. That’s it. It’s play, and sharing play. And it’s lovely when advertising, Marketing, PR or Media gets that without killing it.

Here are our two cents for sleeveface: Photographer/Art Director Umran Shaikh – models: me and colleague Alex Bruyn at Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai

And here are a few other single-serving websites that if you’re anything like me you might enjoy:   THEY’RE LINKS SO YOU CAN CLICK ON THEM: ever I am feeling sad, this makes me cry with joy. Thanks Major Steadman for this daily beaut. It’s like a moustache, only it’s your hair. See what they did there?

Kate Bush on a skateboard  Kate Bushes on skateboards. Yes that’s right.  An easy way to waste a decent twenty minutes.

Downton Abbey Beyonce  Downton Abbey pictures to Beyonce lyrics. Yes that’s right.

100,000 great lakes logos OK, a hybrid between a single-serving site and a lovely self-promotional tool, but done very well.

Pizza Boomerang wtf wtf. Thanks Keith Lawler.

Leekspin No idea, but like Trolololo Man, this will get inside your soul and stay there. Thanks Raja. Kind of.

2012 More or Less


The Setting:
Beirut. Capital of Lebanon. A fuzzy, laughing, pock-marked electric oasis, ensconced in the Arabian wedge of the Meditteranean. Garlic, booze, concrete, olives, amorous eyes, hormones on steroids and cigarettes in every hand, cornered between angry nations pointing rockets and fingers at each other.

The Cast:
Seven Brits – alcoholism, nihilism, Borat & Partridge quotes, mutual piss-taking, self deprecation, limited understanding of exchange rates, cheerful and willing abandon at regular intervals.

Three Aussies – construction, management & mining consultants with a vent for hedonism, females and the pursuit of happiness.

Two Filipinas, immaculately turned out, all-seeing, all observing, not about to take any shit. Off anybody.

One Palestinian/Lebanese – the only member to actually understand often less-than-favourable comments from locals. Tolerant, thoughtful counterbalance to everyone else. Loveable.

One South African – Ladykiller, ladles of charm and no problem being the butt of jokes because he always gets the girl (although he doesn’t know what Savoury means or who Bill Murray is).

One Scottish-Indian, bright-eyed, loved up, up for everything, owner of the most inimitable accent I will ever hear.

The ensemble headed to Beirut last weekend for a 30th bash. Memory loss. Fearlessness. Intermittent Aspergers. Regular premature Alzheimers. Puke. Bidets. Abused curtains. Lots of laughing.

The Scene.
Flydubai took us to the city where the Arabs go to party, where Roman ruins dance between the ghosts of old wars and potentially imminent ones on streets peppered with smiles, stares, shwarmas, cigarettes, hugs, handshakes and a smoky warmth wherever you end up.

Biblical stone broods beside bullet-addled bricks, and 70s highrises cuddle up to Maronite churches, while Byzantine columns sleep between cacaphonic pylons. Decent Graffiti frames Hesbollah posters. 60s Mercs cut up brand new Porches. And men, men everywhere – soldiers on corners, old men on chairs, flatcaps and leather jackets, on steps, in doorways, outside shops, fifteen for every lady, with unabashed stares at unchaperoned women, hands forever scratching itchy bollocks (apparently it’s because it’s common to shave your pubes in Lebanon, but the ladies didn’t seem to have the same problem).

One street is old Berlin in summer, the next is Havana in Winter. The manic roads and crumbling history are Athens, with streetfaces of downtown Memphis or Barcelona. Plenty feels like downtown Marseille or Lille in the mid 80s, or like the 80s in general, only everyone’s off their faces, wants to be your friend, to show you the very best of their country and drives like a complete mental. Rear view mirrors are for ornamental purposes, as are lanes, pavements, traffic lights and zebra crossings.

The Plot.
Ha. Not really. Started with good intentions, but there were no illusions that the plot was going to be devised or found on this trip.

At 5am, 1.5 hours before the flight, I met my roomie for the first time, a stunner a long way from the home counties with a clever media job, in a pile of drunken bags and stuffs on the roadside. We’d both separately decided that as it wasn’t a school night, it was fine to travel to Lebanon on NO sleep and extended inebriation. On the plane, one of the Aussies thoughtfully warned a Lebanese man that we might be doing “terrible things to your country”. He was wrong. As much as Brits and Aussies are a royal pain in the arse on a global scale, anything we thought was unacceptable or just plain silly was fine with Lebanon. The locals’ primary concern was that we love the place, and we did.

Jihad Salon pour homme - We'll blow you away

We hired a coach and saw some sites. A million years of stalactites, (or an incredible, drippy Jim Henson/Terry Gilliam set at Jeitta’s Grotto), the serenely chilled RomanChristian Byblos, with fishermen chilling in the sunset on a 4000 year old port, giant angry marshmallows or rocky fingers swearing out of the bay at the Corniche, electric bars and happy drunks staggering across Jemayze. But mostly we ate, drank, ran, danced, wobbled, sang, questioned scam artists, lather-rinse-repeat as needed.

We met Hamdan, the checker player with the most incredible moustache any of us will ever see, the scamster arsewipes at BO18 who took a chunk of our money for a table guarded by overweight overzealous bouncers in bad suits & attitudes, then charged the entire bill again to the Aussie Birthday Boy’s card once we’d left. The larger than life ponytailed soulsinger Alex Nashef in Bar Louis. The kind taxi driver who didn’t get offended when we observed the thickness of Rafik Hariri’s eyebrows. Reem, the barmaid who kept pouring us ‘surprise’ shots and cocktails. Local ladies with lashings of eyeliner, piles of cleavage and plenty of soul. The Finnish girls who scammed us into paying their Bar tab. Wolf whistling soldiers. Bemused hotel staff. Amused pizza boys who could see a chunky profit a mile off. Everyone you looked at was looking back.

 The Script. (Names *****ed) 

“I knew it was time to go when I asked that man to drag me around the floor by my feet”

“Reception said they’ve run out of beer – they didn’t sound very apologetic about it”

“I think I’ve got chocolate cake in my ear”

“Promise you won’t make me leave this room or do anything today or I’ll have a panic attack”

“What’s the conversion for dollars into Lebo thingies again?”

5pm on BBM “Is anyone up yet?”

“A good midget porn title? ‘It’s alright, they’re not children'”

“He is genuine ********* face” (Borat quote in response to very Borat-sounding coach driver)

“If nothing else my kids’ll have good manners.” – “J****’s kids’ll probably have ***** ********”

“Who’s that dude staggering across the street down there? Oh, it’s D***. D***! We’re here!”