Why is Foghorn Leghorn called Foghorn Leghorn?

Foghorn Leghorn is a terrifying chicken monster featured in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons. He speaks with an inexplicable Southern accent and is generally pretty unlikable.

But why the hell is he called ‘Foghorn Leghorn’??!?!!  I don’t understand why this is his name. Why does he need to have the word “HORN” twice in his name.

Like…. his first name is FOGHORN? As in the actual thing that warns ships about fog during fog? That’s not a good name for a rooster. It’s pretty much the worst name. Don’t call your chicken monster Foghorn.

And if you MUST give your chicken character the first name ‘Foghorn’, then WHY ON EARTH would you give him the surname LEGHORN.

A LEGHORN IS NOT EVEN A THING. WHAT WOULD THAT EVEN BE??? LIKE… A HORN FOR YOUR LEGS?

NO NOT A SHOEHORN. A SHOE HORN IS A REAL THING. IT’S NOT A HORN, REALLY. BUT AT LEAST IT’S AN OBJECT THAT EXISTS WITHIN OUR UNIVERSE. THERE ARE NO LEG HORNS.

Ok. So I looked it up and apparently he’s named after a character from some 40s radio show called Senator Claghorn. I guess that explains one of the horns. BUT NOT TWO.

He should be called Chicken Man. 

The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me.

Get ready to cringe.

It was a hot summer’s day. About thirteen years ago. And 15 year-old me was doing what 15 year-old me would typically be doing on a hot summer’s day: staying inside playing computer games.

Somehow, I managed to tear my eyes away from the screen to go look out a window. Specifically the window from the computer room (mother’s bedroom). And who do I see from the window? Our sweet little cat: Splat.

Splat was having a little sunbathe. It was a lovely sight. She was on her back, soaking in the warmth. So I gave her a little wave.

A nice little wave. Just trying to get her attention.

For some reason I started throwing in some coos. Like “coo-ee! hello there! coo-ee!!”. Y’know, like baby talk for cats. It didn’t do much, because cats hate attention and live to ignore you. But it made me happy – waving and cooing.

But then I noticed something.

The window from my mother’s bedroom didn’t just overlook our garden. You could also see into next door’s garden. And in my excitement about the cat, I hadn’t looked next door. And I really should have.

Because someone else was also sunbathing that day. Out next door neighbour. He was having a little lie down with his top off, just catching some rays.

And he was staring right at me.

I can only imagine what he must have thought. A young teenage boy leaning out a window, smiling and cooing at him. (Because he could see there wasn’t anyone in our garden).

Needless to say, I ducked down below the window with a speed I don’t I’ve ever matched again in my lifetime. I think I was lying down entirely flat on the ground for about five minutes. And I knew I’d just have to repress the memory until either they moved out, or I did.

And now I’ve shared it on the internet for the whole world to enjoy. Thanks for reading!

Please enjoy this selection of All Star meme videos

There was a trend early last year of making meme videos around Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit “All Star”. And today I want to revisit some of the best content that came out of that trend.

2018 memes are pretty boring for me. They’re standardised to the point of redundancy. I’ll write a longer blog post about this at some point, but I’m sick of seeing ‘three thing’ memes consisting of a trifecta of me // thing i like or should do // thing i don’t like or shouldn’t do. Literally they all follow this format: distracted boyfriend, ‘off ramp’, ‘bowling’, ‘gru’s plan’, ‘Jason Momoa Sneaking Up on Henry Cavill’, ‘is this a pigeon’. It’s all awful and contributing the internet hellscape we are all living in.

So 2017 Smash Mouth video memes an oasis of purity in this desolate wasteland of content. Let’s start off with something simple.

‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth, but all notes are in C

This is fun! I love when people take songs and mess around with the keys and stuff, like the major version of REM’s Losing my Religion.

This is especially fun because of how annoying it immediately gets. You’re so used to hearing the song rise and fall in pitch that hearing it entirely in one key is extremely frustrating. Good luck making it through the whole thing.

All Star but the melody is digitally remastered to be 200% more depressing

Actually quite moving.

SMASH MOUTH – ALL STAR BUT IT’S 1 BEAT OFF

This is so so so annoying. But it must be the hardest thing in the world to do, so I have nothing but respect for it.

“All Star” but it’s Sweet Home Alabama

This is when things start getting real good. Changing Smash Mouth to fit a different song. Especially when it’s a song as stupid as Sweet Home Alabama.

All Star but it’s Walking On The Sun by Santana feat. Rob Thomas

But it doesn’t have to be another band’s song! In this video, All Star is crunched up to fit into the lyrical tempo of another Smash Mouth song: ‘Walking On The Sun’. And in the video it’s played by Santana feat. Rob Thomas for some reason.

“All Star” by Smash Mouth, but only using the sounds and beats on my synth (and Ten Second Songs)

Here it is in a whole bunch of different genres! How fun!

All Star but it’s Donald Trump saying “covfefe”

Lol, I’d forgotten about the whole covfefe thing. Was that ever explained?

All Star by Smashmouth but every other word is reversed

Now we delve into the sub-genre of “but every word” videos. In this one, every other word is reversed. Why not every word? I don’t know!

“All Star” by Smashmouth but every word is someBODY

Sure, make EVERY word somebody. Why not? God is dead.

Allstar but every word is in alphabetical order

They sure do say “All Star” a lot.

All Star but the words are ordered by scrabble score

Just very very good.

All Star but “star” is replaced with Gordon Ramsay insults

Lmao. I love how long some of the clips are.

All Star but it’s played on the sharpest tool in my shed

Does what it says on the tin.

All Star But It’s Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor (1st mov.)

Similar to the ‘Smash Mouth mixed up with other pop songs’ genre, there’s another genre of All Star in the style of classical music. Sorry to all musicians.

All Star but it’s a Bach chorale following the conventions of the Common Practice Period

This is the one that convinced me All Star videos would be the greatest meme of all time. Not only is it a fantastic idea, but it’s perfectly executed. It’s not just a cheap joke, it’s fully backed up with knowledge and expertise. Kudos to the creator.

“All Star” by Smash Mouth but it’s Pachelbel’s Canon

The absolute pinnacle of the form. A modern masterpiece. The perfect bridge of modern and classical music. The zenith of human creativity and perfection.

And an honourable mention goes to…

Steamed Hams but it’s All Star

Delightfully devilish!

Review: Gibraltar

This is a travel blog now.

Just joking, I still hate travel bloggers. And there’s nowhere more ‘wanderlust’ than the glorious sights and sounds of the overseas British territory of Gibraltar.

Again, I’m joking. But I did actually go to Gibraltar this week and I have some thoughts about it. So I’m just going to leave them here if that’s ok with you.

Why Gibraltar?

Good question! Every single person I’ve told about my holiday has asked why on Earth I’d go to Gibraltar. The answer is a bit complicated, but basically boils down to this: I wanted to go somewhere abroad, it’s an easy country to visit, and it’s always kinda fascinated me.

This is a postcard I bought in 2010, and I always found it really interesting. You can see pretty much all of Gibraltar there (it’s only 2.6 square miles big). And you’ll notice that it’s dominated by a MASSIVE GREAT BIG ROCK. Just the idea of there being a settlement living under the shadow of this nightmarish geographic landscape is really cool, in my opinion.

And in person it’s even more amazing. Here’s the view from outside the hotel I was staying in:

Wherever you are in Gibraltar, the Rock looms over you. Ever-present, ominous, quasi-Lovecraftian in nature. Like imagine if Brighton just had a huge mountain in the middle of it, and everything had to be built around it. It feels like some rule has been broken. It’s distinctly unnatural, and genuinely spooky at times.

But yeah, that’s probably reading too much into what is basically just a big rock. It’s just very impressive.

It’s also COVERED IN ADORABLE MONKEYS.

Well, I say ‘adorable.’ They’re still wild animals, they’re just used to being around humans. So they’re not friendly in any sense. They mostly just ignore you, unless you have food – in which case they turn into the most vicious claw and tooth machines ever known. So yeah.

There’s even more mysteries to be found within the rock itself. Like these gnarly caves:

Or these old war tunnels:

There’s apparently more miles of road within the Rock of Gibraltar than outside/around it – which is pretty nuts. A lot of it is still secreted away, and used for various military purposes. So that’s fun too!

So that’s the Geography of Gibraltar. What of its history? Turns out it’s ALSO REALLY INTERESTING.

Gibraltar was first permanently settled upon around 711 AD by the Moorish, led by Berber general Tariq ibn-Ziyad. They named the place after him too: ‘Jebel’ being Arabic for ‘mount’ and ‘Tariq’ being the dude’s name. Thus Jebel Tariq (Tariq’s Mount), becoming Gibraltar over the years.

HOW INTERESTING IS THAT.

Oh, and Gibraltar stayed under Muslim rule for about SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS. The legacy of these centuries can still be seen today with things like a pretty battered Moorish castle on the Rock, a beautiful mosque to the south, and – of course – the monkeys, brought over from North Africa.

Then like French and Spain and the Netherlands for some reason and the British fought over it for a few hundred years. And since 1713 it’s been under British control.

I spoke to a few Gibraltans, and they’re a very proud people. They’re proud to be British but not in the flag-waving ‘well EDL’ sense that we associate with that phrase. Gibraltar is a unique part of the world, with a dense history. The people there understand how unusual their situation is and couldn’t be happier to be living in a little part of Britain out in the big wide world.

It’s hard to capture exactly what I’m trying to say here, but my overriding sense was that the people aren’t just a bunch of nationalist ex-pats who have a weird thing for British colonisation – which I think is the assumption most people have. They’re mostly pretty cool.

So let’s quickly talk about the whole British thing. Sigh.

In Gibraltar I went to Morrisons, Marks &  Spencer, Costa Coffee, Debenhams, and a WH Smith. How horrific I hear you cry, going all that way just to go to the same shops we have here. Remember, Gibraltar is a British territory. It’s not actually Spain. Of course it’s going to have the same shops as us. Likewise with the red letter boxes and British policemen. What do you expect them to do differently?

If it helps, don’t think of it as abroad at all. Just think of it as another part of the UK that takes a while to get to, and has much much nicer weather. Because that’s basically what it is.

BUT HOW WAS THE FOOD RICHARD

Meh. The default cuisine seems to be ‘fish and chips’ – partly as a result of the whole ‘British heritage’ thing, and partly because it’s a coastal region so fish is like all they’ve got. I had some VERY NICE seafood though – like these skewers.

Or this very tasty paella:

I also had this weird thing, which is a fillet steak stuffed with king prawns:

The brininess of the prawns kinda ruined the steak for me, but I had to try it. Holidays are all about new experiences after all, right?

But yeah, don’t go there for the food. Go there for stuff like this:

This is Catalan Bay – a small village on the eastern side of the rock. There’s a few bars/restaurants along the seafront and a big hotel (where I stayed), but apart from that it’s super quiet and mostly residential.

When I first arrived I thought I’d screwed up. I was on the wrong side of the Rock to the rest of town. That meant I couldn’t easily just walk in and check things out. But this turned out to be a good thing. The main town area is really busy, loud, and touristy. On the other hand, this quiet little bay was pretty much perfect for just chilling out. And buses ran every 15 minutes into town (a 15 minute journey itself), with a day rider ticket costing £2.50.

I’d recommend doing the same if you visit. Staying in town looks like it might just be a bit too aggro.

So in conclusion

Gibraltar is a really interesting place. It’s got a rich history, fascinating geography, and a unique blend of a tropical climate with British culture. It might not be for everyone, but it’s for more people than I think would expect to like it. And I’m glad I went.


Why Gibraltar?

I want to return to this question. I didn’t just go to Gibraltar because I wanted to look at a big rock and some monkeys. It was also a personal challenge to myself. I’ve never been away on holiday on my own before, and I wanted to see if I could do it, or if my anxiety would win. Because being alone on holiday is involves a whole load of things that trigger my anxiety:

  • Travelling alone
  • Eating alone
  • Being alone in public
  • Navigating unfamiliar places
  • Logistical organisation (booking flights, hotels, etc)

And I find it really hard to relax in general. The GAD-7 questionnaire for anxiety (which I have to do every week at the moment) asks if you’re having trouble relaxing as part of the scoring. And honestly, I find it difficult to relax most of the time! Like, I can’t just go and sit down and chill – I have to be occupied. (I’m no good at just ‘going to sit in the sun’ for example, which makes summer difficult). On this holiday, I wanted to see if I could actually do it: relaxing, in an atmosphere that is extremely conducive to relaxing.

That’s why I picked Gibraltar. Having a familiar language, and a shared currency means visiting it was super easy. The usual things I worry about on holiday (the language is a big one!) were eliminated. I could just get a taxi from the airport, explain where I wanted to go, and pay using the same notes and coins I already had in my wallet. The place is small enough that you can’t really get lost, and there wasn’t too much worry of being ‘late’ for anything. (There was just one point where I got anxious because I couldn’t find a coach I needed to get). Basically, I set myself an easy target.

I even managed to relax! I spent half a day just sitting in one of the restaurants by the sea, drinking beers, eating seafood, and reading in the sun. And I felt kinda… content? Like I didn’t need anything else in that moment. And that’s weird for me. I wish I could feel like that more often.

So I succeeded. I proved to myself that my anxiety doesn’t have to stop me from doing things. And I learnt that I am capable of feeling relaxed (in the right circumstances). Of course, now I’m back in London I’m immediately feeling stressed and worried again. But at least I know it’s possible.

What’s the deal with Mr Mime?

This frickin’ guy.

What on earth’s going on here then?

Mr Mime is the 122nd Pokémon character in Generation I of the Pokedex (the Pokémon encyclopedia). It’s a Psychic type Pokémon, and it’s Pokedex entries reads as follows:

If interrupted while it is miming, it will slap around the offender with its broad hands.

It specialises in producing psychic barriers, in a mime-like fashion by creating invisible walls.

So, it’s pretty clear then: Mr Mime is a Pokémon, not a human. Even though he looks exactly like a human. It’s a Pokémon that is just called “Mr Mime” as if it was a human. Because… reasons?

See, that’s why it’s confusing to me. Why does a Pokémon get a honorific as if it was a person. And why is that name so descriptive of their behaviour? It’s like if Charizard was called “Mrs Fire-Breather”, or Pikachu was called “Dr Lightning”.

And that’s another thing! “Mr Mime” is the name of the species. And yet obviously the species contains both male and female specimens. What kind of cryptopatriachial nonsense is going on here where all members of the species are assumed male by default?

OH AND IT GETS EVEN MORE CONFUSING

Like all Pokémon, Mr Mime can only say one thing: its own name. SO MR MIME WALKS AROUND MIMING AND SAYING MR MIME.

POKEMON I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOU

Also Mr Mime supposedly evolves from this hideous thing.

Image result for mime jr

I hate it.

An appreciation of Andy Kaufman’s SNL Screen Test

The subject of Andy Kaufman is one which it’s pretty trendy to be into these days. As Neutral Milk Hotel are to music, or Infinite Jest is to literature, Kaufman is the go-to mainstream obscurity of comedy.

But, as with those other two things, I can’t help but be fascinated by him. So I voraciously devour any and all content to do with him. Just this year I’ve watched Man on the Moon twice (and adored the Jim Carey doc about its production – “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”), watched countless interviews with him, that legendary Carnegie Hall show, and read Bill Zehme’s comprehensive biography: Lost in the Funhouse.

But this post isn’t about Andy Kaufman’s life, or why he’s so amazing. ((Of course, it is really)). Instead, I want to focus on one short piece of video that to me is the pinnacle of what he was about, and just an incredible performance in itself. Not necessarily of performance comedy per se, but of a performer doing something and getting a reaction from the audience. It’s that relationship between the two that is fascinating to me, and something I think Andy had complete mastery of.

BUT IMMA SHUT UP AND LET YOU WATCH THIS

The title of the video claims that it’s Andy Kaufman’s SNL audition tape, but I don’t think that’s 100% accurate. From what I can gather it’s more of a screen test – just checking how you look and come across on camera. In any case, it’s a chance to perform something on camera like a monologue, which is what Andy does here.

Well, I say ‘monologue’. But technically he’s reciting a song. Specifically, MacArthur Park – a song by Jimmy Webb, and most famously performed by Richard Harris (aka FIRST DUMBLEDORE). And what you’ll probably notice is how incredible mad the lyrics are.

Like, it’s a song about leaving a cake out in the rain? Listening to the Richard Harris version you can easily gloss over the lyrics, and come away with the impression that it’s a pretty standard love song or something. But really focussing on the lyrics – as Andy forces us to do in this clip – reveals how asburd they are.

According to Wikipedia: ‘The Jimmy Webb-penned “MacArthur Park” is popularly held as the worst song ever written‘ [source]. The lyrics are patently nonsense, even by the standards of the 1960s. So is Andy just picking a deliberately awful song and doing a dramatic reading of it? Is that the joke here?

Sure, dramatic readings of songs are a staple of comedy. It’s pretty much standard fare for American Late Night Talk Show content. And it’s usually pretty fun.

But there’s something extra about Kaufman deliberately picking an unpopular song. A song that’s widely ridiculed and disregarded. Taking that and treating it with the upmost seriousness. So the joke isn’t just “ha ha these lyrics are dumb lol” but “what if this song was actually amazing?”. It’s the classic Kaufman manoeuvre, to not only subvert your expectations, but to make you question them in the first place. As I’ve seen other writers say: Kaufman knew how to make you wonder.

And it’s that sense of wonder that shines through in this piece. It literally radiates out from his eyes – those bright beacons of child-like excitement. Look at him at the start, hands-on-the-table looking around the room like a toddler sitting in front of a birthday cake. How he never breaks character throughout, flashes a ‘dumb’ grin to the people around him, seems to have an alien-like fascination with what everyone is finding so funny. It’s so far removed from “I am comedian and here is a joke”, it’s a fully realised and expertly-delivered performance. And the performance itself is a performance, if that makes sense.

Diving a bit deeper into the details, watch the actual delivery of the monologue – which he goes through twice. Watching the first pass, it appears awkward and unprepared. He fumbles the very first word (“s… spring was..”), and mispronounces “striped”. But then they ask him to do it again.

And the second time is exactly the same as the first. The ‘s’ is fumbled again, ‘striped’ is tackled in the same way. We have to conclude that these are deliberate parts of the performance, expertly rehearsed and included. Why fumble the first word? Maybe to start the whole thing off badly, or to create awkward tension for the rest of the rendition to inhabit. Only Andy knows for sure. And it’s the idea of him knowing these secrets that I find compelling. Again, he make you wonder.

And then there’s the weird Superman bit at the end. It kinda comes out of nowhere, which I like. We go from two tenderly performed monologues, to a completely random piece with the weirdest southern accent. It shows Andy’s range, and his ability to make comedy out of just about anything. And again, afterwards he smiles and looks around at the reaction, seemingly oblivious to what we’re all finding so incredible – like a dog happily looking up as strangers fawn over it.

Is it comedy? Sure. If we take something, hang it up in an art gallery, and critics respond to it, that seems to be enough to call it “art”. Likewise, a performance for SNL that makes its audience laugh, seems to fulfil the sufficient conditions to be considered “comedy”. Call it anti-comedy or surrealist humour if you want. But there’s more to it than just the absence of traditional comedic elements like punchlines or even jokes.

Kaufman himself often rejected the title of comedian and would sometimes refer to himself as a “song and dance man” (or was that, too, just part of the bit?). A lot of his stuff was just him singing songs, or doing other traditional performances – like his bongo drumming. But at a fundamental level, it’s the same: establishing a relationship between performer and audience.

Andy didn’t care what the nature of that relationship was. If they liked him, fine. If they hated him, fine too. His Tony Clifton persona was deliberately obnoxious. His wrestling career (where he did things like fight women live on TV) was an exercise in garnering hatred. SNL audiences eventually voted him off the show, such was the level of vitriol he ended up generating. In a sense these were all successes: the audience were feeling something.

And that’s what we get from this tape. We feel confused, amused, entertained, full of wonder. We want to see more, but we also don’t really know what we’re seeing. Even taking a step back and viewing it ‘as a performance’ doesn’t help, as for Andy the lines between performance and reality were so blurred.

His whole life a performance, and we’re still his audience. And we’re still wondering.

The best kids sweets that I can remember

Happy bank holiday weekend. Let’s do this.

1. Zappers

Image result for zappers sweets

These ultra-sour bubblegums were like my favourite thing ever. Seriously, these things could turn your face inside out. They were sweet, and lost their flavour after like five seconds. But they were delicious and I loved them.

2. Campino

Image result for zappers sweets

These were just great. Individually wrapped hard candies about the size of a 50p coin – which had a kind of vague ‘strawberries and cream’ flavour. And they lasted a while too. One of these suckers could keep you busy for half an hour. Yum!

3. Bubbaloo

Image result for zappers sweets

Bubblegum with delicious juicy sugar juice inside. Errr….. YES.

4. Melody Pops

Image result for melody pop

These were great! Lollipops that also worked as a functional whistle! They even came with a little musical score in the wrapper that you could follow along to play a little tune. After a while, the tube would become clogged up with what I can only describe as ‘your own spit’, but until then it was a lot of fun. Tasty too.

5. Rainbow Dust

Image result for rainbow dust

Absolute crack. A super long tube of sherbert, which changed flavour as you went down the tube. One of these and you’d be running around the garden all afternoon long. Again, the tube could get spit-clogged pretty quickly – but a handy pair of scissors would fix that right up.

6. Roll-up bubblegum

Image result for rollup bubblegum

Do they still make these? Well, in any case, it’s a long strip of bubblegum that rolls up into a little case. So you could unspool the amount you wanted to eat, and save the rest for later! Or be like me, an absolute madman, and just take a full bite out of it anyway.

7. Frosties

Image result for 90s sweets

These were great. “Kola flavour” candies, that were hard on the outside – but chewy inside. Probably the quickest and cost efficient way to destroy your teeth.

8. Toffo

Image result for toffo

Toffo! What ever happened to Toffo? It was literally just a bar of individually wrapped toffees, and they were delicious. Sure, the wrappers would stick to the toffees like 95% of the time, but it was worth it!

9. Candy Sticks

Image result for 90s sweets

Just the king of sweets. Specifically these soft candy sticks from Barratt though – none of those hard ones.


Thanks for reading, I guess. (I only wrote this to stop my brain my atrophying over the BHW but hopefully you enjoyed reading it too).

What’s the deal with microwave settings?

Ok first up, I don’t own a microwave. I know that makes me sound like one of those “oh I don’t own modern day appliances because I am free from the trappings of modern day consumerism” unbearable hipsters, but know this: I own a massive HD TV that I bought just so I could play video games at 4K resolution at 60 frames per second. So I’m like objectively the worst kind of consumer.

The reason I don’t own a microwave is mostly one of space. Counter-top real estate is precious, but it’s not always something you think about when picking where to live. Location, price, bedroom size, distance from the nearest hipster coffee shop – these demands all come first. So you can forget about your kitchen with a hand-wavey ‘ah, I’m sure that looks like enough.’

But it’s never enough. Several kitchen essentials instantly occupy some of the space the second you move in – specifically the toaster and kettle. These get used frequently enough to warrant their permanent tenancy on the worktop. Some other appliances can be relegated to a cupboard, or shelf, (or the rarer still ‘on-top-of-the-cupboard’) – things like blenders.

After this point you’ve got to start making compromises. Do we use the coffee machine enough for it to always be out? But packing it up and away is a massive faff; does that count extra to its justification as an ever-present fixture?

And it’s not just appliances. If you’re like me, you’ll probably end up with what’s best described as a ‘booze corner’. The spirits you like, bottles of wine people give you, little miniatures you’ve stolen from weddings. It seems like they should always be in grabbing distance, so out they come.

Don’t forget to leave a space to actually, erm, PREPARE FOOD. You’ll need at least a square foot of prep space. Plus room for the accoutrements of food prep – the tools, plates, utensils. Like, you might as well always have your electronic scales out, and chopping boards, and a timer. Kitchen roll obviously. And then the things that you’re going to use in every meal – oils, salt, etc.

If you still have any space left, then congratulations: your kitchen is bigger than my kitchen.

I’ve tried to figure out where I could put a microwave in my kitchen and the options are basically: a) the floor, or b) its own dedicated table. And as much as I find the idea of a floor microwave – or a microwave pedestal – funny,  I’m not going to do that. I’ll just go without.

Because what’s a microwave actually for? Other than the preparation of ready meals, it seems kind of… useless?

“oh, but it’s so good for defrosting!”

Mate, just put it in the fridge all day. Or use the DEFROST SETTING ON YOUR OVEN (if it has one). Or you know what else is great for defrosting? Literally everything that isn’t a freezer. You ever hear of THE SUN, mate? That giant ball of gas that produce constant heat and is extremely efficient at exciting molecules? Try it sometime, moron.

It doesn’t help that microwaves are like the most confusing things to use in the world themselves. Here’s what the average UI for a microwave looks like:

Ok yes, I’ve deliberately used a picture of a Brazilian microwave to make it look more confusing. But all microwaves might as well be in Portuguese as far as I care. For something that has one feature (“HEAT”), that’s sure a lot of buttons.

Like, who’s cooking BREAD in the microwave often enough for that to warrant it’s own button? Or for it to need a CHILDREN’S MENU on it.

No, let’s do this. What’s the MVP for a microwave? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a product to exist as a microwave? Here’s my account:

  1. Provides heat.
  2. Lets you specify for how long you want the heat to last.
  3. Has a door.
  4. Has a ‘start’ button. Maybe a stop button, but that can be the same button. Or you can just open the door.

Here’s my first draft of a design:

I’ve got away with three buttons: more time, less time, and a GO/STOP button. Job done.

What I haven’t included is an extra button specifically for soup. Funny that.

Sometimes you get lucky and find a microwave that has a DIAL. With these you can control the temperature quite smoothly. If you were able to also press down on the dial as a stop/start button, you could simplify my design even further:

One button! The epitome of UX design! I don’t know why this isn’t the industry standard.

Looking around, you sometimes do find microwaves that are marketed as ‘simple microwaves’. But they suck too!

Two dials! My dudes, no! That second dial is supposedly so you can control the power rating. As if I wouldn’t want my microwave to be as powerful as possible at all times. Why is this even up for debate? Artificially limiting my microwave’s own power level seems at best self-defeating to me, and at worst: some kind of moral crime against technology itself. (shut up with your cooking vegetables or whatever in the microwave).

And as a side note: how come microwave power settings never match up with cooking instructions? At least in my experience, the instructions are always like “800W: 1/2 minutes / 900W: 1 minute” – meanwhile I’m stuck with an 850W microwave suddenly faced with a problem of differential calculus I’m not quite in the best position to tackle. I just want to eat my microwave lasagne.

BUT ANYWAY, why the complexity? Meh, it’s probably a marketing thing. Manufacturers always need to find the new big thing to sell, which is hard when the product is just a box that makes heat. So adding more and more features gives marketers more ways to pitch things (“New” is the second most powerful word in marketing, after “Free”). Which is how we end up with things like CHAOS DEFROST.

In short: everything sucks and life is pain.

Join me next week where I’ll be ranting about the number of buttons on my television remote control and trying to solve the riddle of my washing machine settings.

Please enjoy my self care tips.

I just had a fantastic bath. A fantastic evening bath. Here’s how it went down:

  • Whacked those taps on circa nine thirty pm.
  • Full blast taps. Temperature range in the very-hot-to-too-hot.
  • TEN drops exactly of tea tree oil.
  • While the bath is running, I’m brewing a cup of tea. Twinings St Clements.
  • Slam down the bathroom blind. Screw shut the bathroom window.
  • Strip, obviously.
  • Phone by the bath. Got a podcast on. A comedy one.
  • I’m dunking down into the bath once it’s around half full.
  • My body…. screams? This is very hot, way too hot. I should probably get out.
  • A few seconds later that passes. No, this is the ideal temperature. My skin is a light pink already.
  • The water is almost at the taps. This is no time for cowards. I ramp the taps up to the hottest they’ll go.
  • Finally I kick the tap off as I begin to sous-vide.
  • I’m sipping on that tea. It’s also scalding.
  • There’s sweat running down my face. Steam from the bath is trying to escape the room, but it’s no good – it’s locked in here with me now.
  • Considering the tea sufficiently brewed I remove the tea bag. It plops down into the bath with me. The water is now a extremely weak broth of oranges, lemons, and like all my dirty skin and hair.
  • Laying here for a few minutes perfectly still is key. Sipping the tea just a bit. Taking in the podcast. Feeling the sweat.
  • Eventually the tea runs out. Out comes the plug and I get out the bath. If you don’t feel dizzy at this point, you’ve done it wrong.
  • Congratulations on the best bath of your entire life.

And that’s just one way I do so-called  ‘self care’. We spend a lot of our days rushing around to fix things or do things for other people, so it’s important to take time to do things that make you feel happy, or relaxed.

Self care is commonly prescribed in mental health treatment and coping strategies. My CBT therapist has even recommended it to me recently, and my reaction was basically “isn’t that just candles and hot chocolate and youtube vloggers with strings of fairy lights?”

Why do I think that? Well, because those are the things you hear most about it. It’s a term somewhat hijacked by both pseudo-scientific spiritualism and vacuous lifestyle vloggers. To quote this Buzzfeed article:

It might be overly cynical to suggest that vloggers have simply found in the mental health advocacy phenomenon another avenue through which to peddle products….But regardless of intent, the lines have become blurred over what, exactly, the audience is to assume they are watching”

And if you google “self care” you get a lot of stuff like this. Pictures of flowers, hearts, and words in the shape of a meditating alien. None of which is appealing to me at all.

Which is a shame, because I think self-care is really good and important. The main things it covers seem to be:

  • Healthy eating and meal planning
  • Seeing people
  • Taking care of your body (exercise)
  • Doing activities that are beneficial to your mental well-being.

Or to sum it up: be good to yourself. But what does that even mean?

Is it a treat yo’ self situation? Or a do what you feel one? Is it meant to be outright hedonism? Or is it more about self-discipline?

The most important thing IMO is that self care is about looking after your self (duh!), down to your basic needs of food and hygiene. Depression in particular can make things like just showering or changing into proper clothes a chore. So it’s vital to engage in these things.

Last year I read A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind by Emily Reynolds, which is a good book absolutely jam-packed with practical tips. Tips like:

Before you get depressed, or before you realise you’re overwhelmed and can’t cope, put small and manageable systems into place. Make tidying a habit, and be strict with yourself. Make your bed every day. Put bleach down the toilet every other day. Get a laundry basket and put dirty clothes in it at the end of every day, instead of on the floor.

And that’s what I think self-care is about. Not so much bath bombs and face masks, but remembering that you’re living your life, and taking care of that. Having that sympathetic, caring approach we find it easily to dole out to others, but almost never ourselves.

That all said, I think there’s still room for the ‘do things that make you feel good’ interpretation of self care. And I’d like to share some of the things I do:

1. Meditation and other exercises.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Headspace before. But I’m back on the “Headspace is good” train. If you don’t want to use it, there’s other perfectly good and free resources out there that do exactly the same things.

And if mindfulness / meditation isn’t your bag, there’s just plain breathing exercises that are really helpful. My CBT person recommended the Soothing Rhythm Breathing Practices here, and I do too! Real handy to calm you down in a stressful situation if nothing else.

2. Junk food.

Ok, this is probably a bit controversial. The official Mind guidance on self care specifically notes that you should watch your diet. And of course bad food has a negative influence on your mood. But sometimes eating rubbish just makes me feel better. And I’m ok with that.

3. Video games

Video games are very fun. There’s no denying that. I like to play them, often more than anything else, and especially more than having to deal with people in real life. Which is why I struggle with multiplayer games – if I’m trying to escape from other people, why would I actively go and seek them out?

But yeah, video games are fun. And I’ve learnt not to feel guilty about spending time on them if they cheer me up.

4. Ironing.

Ironing belongs in a special category of things including colouring and knitting. I call this it ‘secret mindfulness’. It’s a category of activities where you have one task to focus on that requires some amount of technique but not any particular amount of difficulty. It’s brain-on-autopilot territory.

Man, I love ironing. There’s something just really satisfying about pressing the creases out of clothes with hot steam. Turning a pile of laundry into a neatly-folded stack of shirts ready for the drawer is molto, molto bene.

Plus it’s also proper self care in that it means you have clothes to wear that aren’t all creased looking. Top self care, ironing.

5. Memes

Memes are very self care. I’ve fallen lately into the pit of Vine compilations – 10 or so minute youtube videos of collections of funny 6-second videos. As my housemates point out, these compilations invariably contain all of the same Vines each time, but that’s the point. Seeing the same things again and again, and laughing at them again and again, they soon become like close friends to you.

6. Getting real organised. Probably too organised.

I’ve written before about my stupidly overly-organised online life. But I stand by it. There’s something liberating about letting a complicated system of rows and columns rule my life. I don’t really have much control any more about what TV series I watch next, or the next book I read, and that’s fine. I’m sort of glad that these decisions are being made ‘for me’.

Is getting up at the same time every day to follow the same routine every day good or bad? I’d say it’s good. It lets me actually get things done, like regular exercise every day, which is what self-care is all about.

7. Loud music.

Today I had a stressful walk. I was walking between offices and had a lot to do, but knew the walk itself would take up about ten minutes of valuable time. So I put on my intensity playlist and power-walked the hell out of it. On the way, I listened to ‘Ize of the World‘ by The Strokes and ‘Big Unit‘ by Abedisi Shank – two of my favourite songs – super super loud. It felt amazing.

Music really does have that power to exorcise our emotions. And its use in self-care is enormous. Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be light, fluffy Katie Melua stuff; heavy metal, electronica, rap – it’s all good if it makes you feel better.

(‘What Went Down‘ by Foals is another very good song for banishing stress. For me at least. And you have to play it really bloody loud).


And that’s probably enough self-care tips for now. I hope you found them useful.

I’m still not 100% clear on what SC is. But I think we’ve at least been feeling around the right kind of area. The main takeaway is that we should love ourselves, which I hope you do. Because I love you. You know that, right? x

checking in on my own mental health

So, 14-20 May is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is ‘Stress’ but it’s good to think and talk about MH in general, yeah? For us men especially, since suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and it is considerably higher in men.

A year ago, I wasn’t in the best place. Literally. I was living alone in a big house that I couldn’t afford. I was coming out of a two year relationship. And I was spending most of my time commuting for a job I wasn’t really into. Outside of work, I wasn’t doing much fun, and basically I was just not very happy.

A year on, how am I doing? Not a whole deal better, to be honest, but there’s been improvements in a few areas. So let’s break it down, in excruciating detail!

Health

Health-wise, I guess I’m ok. I always worry about my weight, which I know is stupid since folks frequently comment on me being thin/skinny. But I know I’ve definitely put weight on over the last few years, and I’d love to lose it. I know my diet of beer and sweets probably isn’t helping much, but I haven’t had much luck cutting them out.

In particular I know my diet worsens when I’m stressed/depressed. I eat a lot of sugar (hence my like 30 fillings) and I’ll use it to get through the day when I’ve got a low mood. I wouldn’t call it an addiction, but I’m literally eating a bag of Haribo Fangtastics right now if that gives you any indication.

Living situation

I’m not living alone anymore! And I’m not commuting 90 minutes each way for work!

I moved from Cambridge to London about six months ago, and it’s had a mixed effect on my mental well-being. Yes, the commute is better, but London is a busy, crowded place. It’s harder to get away from the hustle and bustle, people seem just a little bit meaner, and the buildings aren’t as pretty.

Having housemates again is great. And it’s especially good that it’s friends I’ve actively chosen to live with – not absolute randomers. Living with randoms is awful for your mental health since they can act unpredictably and it’s harder to have difficult conversations with them about things.

Living with friends is much better, but it still makes me anxious sometimes. Do my housemates hate me? Do they think I’m uncool? Why don’t they ask me to join in with things sometimes? How do I get them to take part in the things I want to do? These kind of dumb questions are still a cause of stress for me.

Work

I started a new job at the beginning of the year. And it’s great.

I wasn’t enjoying my job at the end of last year. It was stressful, made me feel inadequate, and frankly I’d probably been doing it too long. Leaving a company after six and a half years was really stressful to do, but I reckon it was the right move in the long-term. So I’m glad to be out of that environment.

My new role has come with its own stresses. I’ve got a lot more responsibility, which is satisfying, but also challenging. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming, but everyone is super supportive. I’ve had some rough weeks, but some great times too. Hopefully I’ll grow more secure and confident with time.

Love

A bit like a year ago, I’ve just gone through another breakup. This time it had just been a little under six months, so a bit less serious, but it still sucks. And it seems partly down to my inability to integrate in social situations properly with a partner’s friends and family.

This has come up a few times, which tells me that it’s something I need to change or improve about myself. Or I just die alone, I guess.

Family

I recently went on holiday to Iceland with my Mother and sister, which was great. I don’t hang out much with my family otherwise. So that was nice.

But this month I also met my half-brother and half-sisters for the first (proper) time. This was a bit of a surreal experience, and I’m still “processing” it. It’s really weird to have all this family you don’t know, and I don’t know how to feel about it. So that’s just something going on in the background, I guess. Does it make me sad? Sometimes, yeah.

Social Life

Being social is difficult for me. Parties, gatherings, meeting new people – these can all make me pretty anxious. It’s something I’m focussing on with CBT, but it’s one of the main blockers in my life right now.

I just find it difficult to talk to people sometimes. Especially if there’s lots of new people, or if we’re in a loud environment. I’ve never understood how people can chat in clubs, or even loud clubs. Often I’ll just sit there and nod along to other conversations, even though I can’t actually make out a word of what’s going on.

And as I mentioned above, this is particularly difficult when meeting the friends/family of a new partner. Which causes all kinds of problems down the line and isn’t much fun.

I also really value my free time, like weekends and stuff. Sometimes you just don’t want to see anyone at all, right? And I can feel like I’m sacrificing the precious time I have to myself to see people I don’t really want to see. But then other times I get desperately lonely. So either way it sucks.

Creativity

I like to be creative. I write things like this blog, and make videos and things. Being creative is a great coping mechanism for me when I’m feeling down. But I often feel like I’m at the bottom of the well of my creativity.

Or I’ll have a short burst of creativity where I want to do lots of things, and then suddenly lose all drive and momentum. It doesn’t help that I always hate the things I actually produce, and usually the things I’ve worked hardest on get the luke-warmest reception.

Without wanting to be petty or anything, but here’s a thing that annoyed me recently:

Last July I did this and it was great – I was a viral sensation and felt really good about myself. Earlier this year I tried to do it again in what I thought was actually a more technically impressive way, but it got a much smaller reaction. Meanwhile, someone else did something similar in the same week and not only got lots of Twitter praise, but actually did better numbers-wise than my original tweet.

Yes, I know it’s kind of pathetic to base your self worth on social media vanity metrics. And yet that’s exactly what I do. If I work hard on something and it doesn’t ‘do well’, what’s the point in me even trying? What’s the point in me even bothering to create anything? Sometimes it seems like I shouldn’t even start on a new creative project, when I know it won’t be appreciated anyway.

And yeah, that makes me feel bad.

Mental Health

Way back in like October, my GP referred me to a local NHS mental health unit for some anxiety I was having. A few phone calls later and they were like “yeah you need CBT”. So a mere five months later I started some CBT, which I’m doing weekly at the moment.

CBT is a weird one for me. It’s very curriculum-driven, in the sense that there’s a list of things you just have to learn and understand. But once you’ve read and understood the list of common cognitive errors and been through the behavioural strategies for dealing with them, what next? There’s only so much mindfulness I can practice before I just have to admit it’s not helping.

I’ve been on medication before, but I’ll always try to avoid it as much as possible because of the side effects. So I’d like to avoid that as much as possible.

Exercise is sometimes heralded as the ultimate cure for low mood / depression. But as we all know, when all you want to do is lie in bed and cry, going for a light jog is at the absolute bottom of your list of things you’d feel comfortable doing.

Mental health-wise I seem to be getting worse. My anxiety and depression scores are going up, despite the CBT, and I’m noticing warning signs in things like my diet and alcohol intake. Physically, I’m a bit drained. Some days I wake up with my chest pumping with cortisol, which isn’t a fun sensation.

I’m a bit more anxious than usual at the moment. And I’m living with constant moderate depression.

But it’s ok.

It’s good to talk about this stuff. I have a few friends I can confide in, and that’s good. And writing blogs like this, out in the public and shared with the internet, is super cathartic.

The worst thing you can do is bottle your feelings up. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned over the years. But sharing them is also the hardest.

So: talk! Talk to me, talk to a friend, talk to anonymous strangers on Twitter. It’ll help, and you’ll feel better. I know it helps me, at least.

Thanks for reading. Getting this all down makes me feel better, and if it at all helps you come to terms with anything you’re feeling too, that’d make me very happy.

<3


Further reading:

If you’d like to know what living with anxiety can be like, here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about an attack I had during a comedy gig. I’m glad to say things are better now with this, and I frequently go to shows on my own now (only partially out of choice). But the negative thoughts patterns and things in that blog post still affect me day-to-day.

And the other week, as an exercise for myself, I wrote down a list of as many of my anxiety triggers as I could think of. Writing them out and seeing them in a list is kind of therapeutic. But reading over it, it makes me feel a bit silly. 28 year old men aren’t supposed to freak out when someone knocks on their door.