All posts by Richard

Most podcasts suck. But some are okay.

Podcasts are very in right now. But they’ve been a long time coming.

Remember when podcasts came out? It was 2004. The same year as Usher’s ‘Yeah’,  Shrek 2, and Jeremy Clarkson punching Piers Morgan at the British Press Awards. It’s only been 14 years, but it feels like forever.

And for some reason we still all use the word ‘podcast’. Even though it’s etymologically linked to the iPod and we’re all listening to them on our phones. But whatever, languages evolves I guess.

Podcasts were different back in those days. They were usually extensions of things that already existed beyond the podcast world. Here’s a typical UK podcast chart from 2009:

  1. Frankie Boyle: Mock The Week Musings
  2. Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4
  3. The Ricky Gervais Podcast
  4. Jimmy Carr’s Video Podcast
  5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
  6. Best of Chris Moyles Enhanced
  7. Jack Dee
  8. Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know
  9. Stephen Fry’s PODGRAMS (Audio & Visual)
  10. Rhod Gilbert’s Best Bits

So yeah, almost entirely (male) comedians generating extra content around some thing that’s already popular. And one of the Twilight Books for some reason.

That Ricky Gervais one is one of the first ones I remember becoming famous in its own right. Even that was basically just a spin-off of Gervais and Merchant’s radio show on XFM. But it very much set a precedent for how a podcast could be its own ‘thing’ beyond just supporting something else.

And now, podcasts are prolific. Apple Podcasts hosts over 550,000 podcasts alone. And hundreds more are springing up every day.

That’s because there’s a very low barrier to entry for podcasts. To create music, you need to have some talent. To create video, you need some

You can find a podcast for literally any subject you’re interested in. Even Shrek.

But of that 550,000 how many are actually good? The answer is about 50. So 0.01%.

Is that harsh? Not really. The majority of podcasts are soulless productions, made to fill some niche with non-content supported by adverts for a variety of inessential millennial products. They’re usually one of the following:

  • Two friends (usually men) sit behind a mic and ‘just ramble!’ The content is their oddball take on current events and unnecessary opinions on things.
  • Entrepreneur-porn. Anything to do with success in business.
  • Bland technology news reporting. Often laser-focussed on a particular niche like Apple.
  • Storytelling podcasts, which are now 100% of the gruesome ‘true crime’ genre.
  • Boring sports/politics/gaming chat.
  • D&D podcasts that aren’t anywhere near as fun to listen to as D&D is to play.
  • Culturally parasitic podcasts that exist to comment on the most recent episode of a television show.
  • Harry Potter.

I’m not saying that the secrets to success in life can’t be found in a podcast. But no, they can’t be. Podcasts exist to be mildly entertaining distractions from our monotonous lives. They’re something to listen to in order to make your commute feel quicker, to make household chores less painful, or give your brain something to do while you’re having a bath.

Here’s a few of the podcasts I actually like –

The Adam Buxton Podcast

One of the categories I could have mentioned above but didn’t was ‘comedy interview podcasts’ – which I actually like. Other podcasts in this category include Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, Brian Gittins & Friends, and things like Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces.

These podcasts are actually good because there’s no expectations. They don’t have to be funny, or even interesting – though they often are both. They’re typically just two people having a chat about things.

But wait! Didn’t I say in my list that two people having a chat is the worst kind of content possible? Yes, I did! But when the people in it are famous, or more importantly: people I like, it’s ok. Their opinions are actually insightful and I learn things. So it’s a valuable use of my time to listen to them. Or at least, a non-negative value contribution to my life.

Buzzfeed’s Internet Explorer

A really entertaining podcast that takes on internet culture and memes. This should be my dream podcast, but sadly it comes out pretty infrequently

Other internet-y podcasts that are ok are Reply All and Why’d You Push That Button? And a special recommendation for Trends Like These, which recaps the week in Twitter trends and news. Trends Like These is co-hosted by a chap called Travis McElroy, which brings us to…

Any McElroy Brothers podcast

The McElroys are three brothers (Justin, Griffin, & Travis) who primarily make podcasts. Although their podcasts often fit the template for the kind of podcasts I hate, for some reason they are immune to my typical objections. Chalk it up to them being so inherently adorable and glorious.

Central to the McElroy podcast empire is My Brother, My Brother, and Me – which may well be the world’s greatest podcast. It’s an “advice show for the modern era” but is basically a platform for their surreal improv-esque forays into popular culture. And they talk about Shrek a lot. So it’s more than just “three brothers round a mic”.

Likewise, they have the only good D&D podcast – The Adventure Zone. There’s another in which they chronicle their attempts to get cast in Trolls 2. And they have one in which they’re committed to watching the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 every year until they die.

And there’s a variety of good spin-offs that the brothers have with their partners: Sawbones (a podcast about medical history), Schmanners (a manners and etiquette podcast, which I saw live at the London Podcast Festival this year!), and Wonderful – a podcast about lovely things.

The McElroy’s are part of the Maximum Fun podcast network, which also hosts the Judge John Hodgman podcast, that I quite like. In this, comedian John Hodgman plays a judge, passing judgement on everyday arguments between couples. It’s good!

The H3 Podcast

h3h3 is a bit of a controversial figure. The youtuber-turned-podcaster has a devoted cult following online in places like Reddit. But his frank manner and habit of picking fights with other popular youtubers (he has an ongoing feud with Jake and Logan Paul) means it can sometimes be a little toxic.

But I enjoy the podcast, mostly for the ‘goofs’ – his commentaries on stupid youtube videos. It’s what made his YouTube channel popular and is always entertaining, especially when his wife Hila pipes up with a dry comment. She’s the greatest.

No Such Thing As A Fish

Currently the 3rd most popular podcast in the UK on Spotify. NSTAAF is a spin-off podcast from the researchers behind QI. Every week they gather to share and discuss the most interesting facts they’ve found out. And it’s pretty good!

This is exactly the kind of thing that could be very annoying. There’s space for exactly one ‘fun facts’ podcast in the world, so I’m glad this has been the one to break out. It’s become a bit of a brand in itself, perhaps superseding QI itself (they have a book out every year now), but ignore all that and it’s an entertaining listen.

Under the Skin

Russell Brand’s podcast! Wait, where are you going?

No seriously, I like this. People write off Brand as being a figure of ridicule, who just uses big words and does irresponsible things like telling young people not to vote. But listen to the podcast, and you can’t argue that he’s unintelligent.

Under the Skin covers all kinds of big sociological topics. From things he’s written about himself such as politics and addiction, to more abstract things like metaphysics. His interview with Adam Curtis in particular is really fascinating – and it’s kinda adorable how he tries to pierce Curtis’ hard outer shell with boyish charm.

Special shoutouts

Quickfire time. Here’s some more podcasts to check out if you’re hungry for more:

  • 99% Invisible. The design podcast that everyone recommends. I’m no exception.
  • Fintech Insider. Probably only relevant if you work in or know about Fintech. But I’ve been on it twice so I recommend it for that reason!
  • Four Finger Discount. A very solid Simpsons podcast (which I prefer to the more-widely celebrated Everything’s Coming Up Simpsons).
  • Harmontown. Community and Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon melts down on mic in this podcast which is as much a portrait of a man in crisis as it is an entertaining listen.
  • Household Name. A podcast about things we take for granted, but with interesting stories. “Wait, that’s exactly the same premise as 99% invisible!” you say. And yes, you’re right. But they have some interesting content of their own, like their recent episode on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Check it out.
  • My Dad Wrote A Porno. Everyone’s favourite podcast. Does what it says on the tin. Now a worldwide sensation. I have mixed feelings about it but overall think it’s pretty decent.
  • Worst Idea of All Time Podcast. Australians Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt watch the same film every week for a year and talk about it. So far they’ve done Grown Ups 2, Sex and the City 2, and We Are Your Friends. If that sounds familiar, it’s because they also co-host Till Death Do Us Blart, the aforementioned McElroy production, known to its fans as #DEATHBLART.

See, podcasts ain’t all bad. It’s just that about 549,950 of them are.

Got some good podcasts pick of your own? Great! Keep them to yourself. There’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone else’s podcast recommendations.

The Dickhead Song – eight years on

There have always been hipsters.

In late 18th century France, the Incroyables and Merveilleuses scandalised Paris with their outrageous fashions, wearing extreme exaggerated costume-like dress. Some even donned ‘ironic’ bicorne hats, as worn by the military. They really were unbearably pretentious. 

So even though we think of the hipster as a relatively modern phenomenon, that may just be because our use of that word to describe a particular constantly-existing  group of people has only been going on for a few years. (And don’t forget that the word ‘hipster’ itself is originally a 1940s term for certain jazz musicians – and not necessarily a derogatory term).

Back in 2005, Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris were satirising this group of people, and the London media sub-culture they occupied, in their sitcom Nathan Barley. Lacking the term ‘hipster’ in the vocabulary of their time, they instead went simply with ‘idiots’, producing what might be the greatest prophecy since the Book of Isaiah.

(Predicting ‘hand-held twit machines’ a full year before Twitter was created still blows my mind).

And there’s another, more timeless, term often used to regard this group of ‘self-regarding consumer slaves’. Quite simply: dickheads. And nothing summed this group up better than 2010’s ‘The Dickhead Song’.

This came out at that perfect time during university when everyone was just starting to get laptops, and viral youtube videos were just becoming a thing, and that weird mix of synth-poppy songs with crudely-done animations was just getting overdone. (Remember rathergood.com? It’s still going!)

The song itself is a pretty decent inventory of the main complaints against hipsters. So, eight years on (sorry I wasn’t waiting two more years to do some bloody anniversary thing), let’s see how it’s aged. And see how well I – a 28 year old man living in North London – fit the dickhead bill.

Got on the train from Cambridgeshire
Moved down to an East London flat

Was this a big complaint at the time? People from Cambridgeshire specifically? I feel today that hipsters come from all over the place. And they’re not living in East London anymore. SOUTH is the place to be. Looking at you, New Cross and Deptford.

Me? I technically got on the train from Cambridge and moved down to a North-East London flat. So about 90% of the words in the opening lines apply. Not a good start.

Got a moustache and a low cut vest

I feel this went out of date pretty quickly. Beards overcame moustaches pretty fast. And low cut vests? Nope.

Me? I’m growing a moustache literally right now. Please donate.

Some purple leggings
and a sailor tat

Both outdated too. Though presumably the people who got the sailor tattoos still have them?

I dug through some old photos to see what I could find for myself, and I came across this. It’s extremely bad, but I still maintain I was doing it ironically.

Just one gear on my fixie bike

Yeah, fixies are still a thing. But I feel that everyone has a bike now and it’s not so much a hipster thing. Maybe the extreme no-brakes, high-seat, DIY pedal kind of things you see are still a hipster thing. The jury is out.

Me? My fixie bike got stolen. It was too pure for this world.

got a plus one here for my gig tonight

I don’t agree with this. Being a musician doesn’t make you a hipster, or a dickhead. I guess flexing about having ‘plus ones’ and stuff is, but that falls into the wider category of twattish behaviour.

Me? I don’t play gigs.

I play synth…
We all play synth

Synths are out, I feel. There’s probably some new kind of hipster instrument that I haven’t even heard of yet instead. And it seems all the cool kids are ‘soundcloud DJs’ today anyway, whatever one of those is.

Me? I’m happy with an acoustic guitar.

20-20 vision just a pair of empty frames

Are empty frames still a thing? Were they ever? I feel these days, glasses are still ‘geek chic’ cool, but it’s almost cooler to actually need them for vision. Like it implies you’re bookish and books are cool now, I think?

Me? I actually need mine for vision because I’m bookish.

Dressing like a nerd although i never got the grades

See above. Probably cooler to just be smart now.

Me? I have a degree in philosophy. The dressing like a nerd is unintentional.

I remember when the kids at school would call me names
Now were taking over their estates

Yeah, there’s a good point here about gentrification – which is still happening and is still very much bad. The fetishisation of deprived areas as trendy is insensitive to their resident populations and drives out lower-income families when new, wealthier people move in.

Me? I’m probably guilty of it. I live in Stoke Newington, which isn’t a materially impoverished neighbourhood by any means, but I do feel guilty walking past several local greengrocers to pick up my overpriced organic veg at the Whole Foods.

CHORUS

Catchy.

Polaroid app on my iphone
taking pictures on London Fields
up on the blog so everyone knows
were having new age fun, with a vintage feel

I can’t believe Instagram didn’t exist when this song came out. But it just about didn’t. (The song was uploaded to YouTube on September 28th, 2010 – the initial Instagram release was October 6th, 2010). Of course, other polaroid-style apps have existed for as long as smart phones have had cameras. But for some reason I just assume that Instagram has always existed. Like Instagram came first, then light and darkness, then the earth and the heavens, and the sea and the skies, and then plants and animals, and then finally humans. Instagram is eternal, we just logged into it.

But yeah, Instagram is ubiquitous now. Your primary school probably has an Instagram account. So it’s not even cool now. It just is.

Me? I tried to see if I’d taken a picture of London Fields because that would be perfect. I couldn’t find one, but I did come across one I took of Greenwich Park, which is just as clich√©. Also LOL at the caption I picked for it.

View this post on Instagram

new age fun with a #vintage feel

A post shared by Richard Cook (@cookywook) on

coolest kids at a warehouse rave
exclusive list look theres my name
I got in…
You couldn’t get in

I might be wrong, but I don’t think warehouse raves are a thing anymore. It seems to be more like ‘poetry night downstairs at the pub’ or something. I don’t know – I’m not cool. I don’t get many Facebook invites these days for those weird club nights with like 100 DJs on that nobody’s ever heard of.

Me? No.

never bought a pack of fags i only roll my own

Yes, hipsters are still very much rolling their own. 

Me? I don’t smoke.

plugging in my laptop at the starbucks down the road

Oh come on, EVERYONE does that. It used to really annoy me that people would set up shop in Starbucks all day and work. But now I’m the kind of person that would do that, I think it’s a very good thing.

Me? I think it’s a very good thing.

say i work in media im really on the dole

Hipsters still dominate media. They’re in your advertising agencies, they’re running the social media accounts for your favourite brands, they’re producing that TV show you really like. Sorry, you have a lot to thank them for.

Me? My job involves social media so guilty as charged I guess.

im the coolest guy you’ll ever know

Obviously this is me.

Loafers with no socks
Electropop meets southern hip hop
Indeterminate sexual preference
Something retro on my necklace

I feel these are very specific references I don’t quite get, and reflect more ephemeral aspects of hipsterness specific to the time. What might they look like today? Ripped jeans? Grime music? Gender fluidity? Each generation of hipsters will have something unique to cling onto.

Me? I tried to think about the most hipster thing I’ve ever done. It was either going to a Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Camden, or seeing a Wes Anderson movie in Shoreditch and going to a hipster fried chicken place afterwards.


And that’s it. That’s the whole song.

It’s stood up pretty well. It’s still describing a somewhat self-absorbed group of people. But we’ve established that these people will always exist. And since they by definition keep themselves to themselves, they’re nothing to worry about.

And me? Most of the things referenced in the song applied to me in one way or another. (Moving from Cambridge to North-East London in particular is a bit spooky). But I’m a product of these times as much as I am a participant in them. Being involved with culture is bound to leave some cultural residue.

But I’m always just doing it ironically, yeah?

Quick look: Rubik, the Amazing Cube

The 80s was a wild time for cartoons, with everything from the Ghostbusters to Mr T¬†getting the animated treatment. And it’s no secret that a lot of these existed purely to sell or promote child-friendly toys, like Transformers or Masters of the Universe. Even some video games were made into cartoons, with the Pac Man¬†cartoon being especially memorable.

But the one I’d like to take a quick look at today is¬†Rubik, the Amazing Cube.¬†Here’s the intro:

Yup, it’s a show about a talking Rubik’s cube.

BETCHA DIDNT THINK THERE WAS ANY LORE BEHIND RUBIKS CUBE DID YOU. WELL THERE IS AND ITS VERY DEEP. RUBIK IS A MAGIC SPACE ELF THAT TALKS LIKE A BABY AND HAS THE FACE OF A HIDEOUS TROLL MONSTER.

According to the¬†mythos of the show, this Rubik’s cube is magical and owned by an evil wizard. The way it works is that Rubik is powerless and inert when the cube is scrambled, and only comes to life when the cube is solved. Yes, I am aware that it is basically the same premise as Clive Barker’s¬†Hellraiser.

In any case, in true 80s cartoon fashion, some punk kids steal the cube from the evil wizard and use it to get their revenge on bullies. In total, 13 episodes were made, airing between September and December 1983. The episode titles are wonderfully evocative, with stand-out favourites being¬†Rubik and the Mysterious Man,¬†Rubik’s First Christmas,¬†and¬†Back Packin’ Rubik.

But I have questions.

Is the implication here that¬†all Rubik’s cubes contain little Rubik people? Or is it just this one? I mean, it was originally in the possession of a wizard – but I’m unclear whether he created it or just has it. I’m also unclear on whether the cube is meant to be magic, that is to say that Rubik exhibits non-standard metaphysical properties and is perhaps some kind of machine elf, or whether Rubik is an alien and the cube is an extraterrestrial mechanism. But why would such a creature exist, if it can be so easily disabled by being scrambled? (In one episode, the cube is fully mixed up after being dropped by a dog).

And in one episode it is heavily implied that Rubik, the Amazing Cube is also Santa Claus.

And that’s all I have to say about this bizarre show.

I can’t believe that Readitfor.me exists

Reading is one of the few pure joys left in the world.

Books don’t have ads in them. Books don’t have extra downloadable content after you’ve bought them. Books don’t stay in a state of disappointing ‘early access’. Books are good.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those ‘I love nothing more than the smell of a new book, the feeling of turning pages, the rush of knowing you’re getting to the end’ kind of people. Even though my life’s ambition is to one day be rich enough to own a failing bookshop, I read everything on my kindle these days. It’s just more convenient.

But here’s the important bit: I still read them. I’ll spend months ploughing through a good book. Which in the age of 90-minute movies and meant-to-be-binged Netflix shows is pretty nuts. That’s a lot of time and attention to dedicate to one form of entertainment. But I don’t mind at all. A good book is a slow burn, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But what if you’re too important to have the time to read books? Introducing: readitfor.me

Billed as ‘the #1 book summary service for entrepreneurs, executives, and business coaches‘ the pitch is this: WE READ BOOKS SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

They basically produce short twelve minute summaries of the kind of books that people who describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneur’ in their Twitter bio go crazy over. Books with titles like¬†HOW TO SCALE YOUR BUSINESS BRAIN AND SUCEED WITHOUT TRYING¬†or¬†POWER HACKS TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR MINDSET.¬†So it’s not fiction, or anything good, just typical executive trash. But it’s still annoying to me.

Here’s a gem from their FAQs:

What sort of equipment do I need for this?
All of our videos and workshops can be accessed on your tablet, laptop or smartphone, and can also be projected onto a boardroom wall.

Ahhhh yes. The way books were meant to be read. Little did Dickens know when he put pen to paper and inspired generations of writers in the English-speaking world, that one day we might be reading books “projected onto a boardroom wall”.

Sure, the sting is taken out of this by the fact that the books aren’t any good. If this was attempting to reduce classic literature down it’d be outright offensive. But I think there’s a couple of assumptions being made here that I find distasteful:

  1. That the benefit of a body of work is solely the top-level content, which can be extracted without anything being lost.
  2. That reading as an activity can be outsourced.
  3. That you can be too busy to just a read a book.

Keep books great. Read them! Support libraries! And for the love of God, don’t pay something else to read them for you.

Hot take: polls are bad for democracy

Why do we vote?

It’s a pretty interesting question, with a long answer. The history of democracy is a good read, but what you need to know is that – like all good things – it was invented in Greece. The city-state of Athens around 5 BC is generally regarded to be the first implemented model of one-person-one-vote democracy as we would recognise it today.

It was a¬†direct democracy in the sense that the people of Athens themselves were the voters on each decision, without further representation. (A footnote to say that ‘people of Athens’ referred to¬†citizens – a somewhat non-inclusive group, excluding women, slaves, young people and so on). And for a while that was good.

Today, in the UK, we have a¬†representative¬†democracy. We don’t vote on each and every issue like the Greeks did – we vote for people who make those decisions on our behalf. Further still, our model is one of¬†parliamentary democracy where we vote for representatives to form a government and the head of government is appointed by the head of state (Queenie!) to run things – that being whoever is the leader of the most popular party, as voted for by that party’s members. Yeah, it’s a bit complicated.

But the basics of it is that in the UK we vote for parties. We divide the country up into about 650 constituencies (voting areas), and the parties field candidates in each constituency. At a general election, whichever party wins the most seats gets to be in charge, since we have a dumb and stupid non-representational voting system.

So far so good. It’s fair, open, easy to understand, and about as democratic as you can hope for in the 21st century. The old Athenian system simply wouldn’t work in 2018. We can’t be expected to understand or have an opinion on every issue. We don’t even have referendums that often (imagine this current Brexit mess, but for EVERY SINGLE DECISION).

There’s some debate about whether MPs are meant to be ‘delegates’ or ‘trustees’. As delegates, they’d be the absolute instruments of their constituents will – perfectly channeling the voice of the people. But as members of a political party that isn’t really feasible. Yet having them as ‘trustees’ means letting them make decisions that might even be¬†against the will of their constituents, if it’s actually in their best interests. For example: most constituents will oppose an increase in tax, but support better public services. A trustee can make the difficult decision to oppose the ‘will’ for the overall good.

BUT I DIGRESS I WAS GONNA TALK ABOUT POLLS NOT JUST REGURGITATE MY POLITICAL A LEVEL IN FULL SORRY

When describing how democracy works above, we haven’t mentioned polls at all. That’s because they’re simply not part of the concept. In fact, you could say that there’d an inherent idea core to democracy that is incompatible with political polling: the idea of the secret ballot.

The ‘secret ballot’ is the idea that everyone’s vote is a secret. Everyone has a voice, but nobody knows what everyone else has voted for. This is a good thing for democracy: it prevents voter intimidation or squeamishness. We always have a desire to fit in, and our votes being public might stop people voting from how they really want to. Yes, it helps extreme groups win more votes, but overall it’s a good thing.

Do polls violate the idea of a secret ballot? Clearly not. The secret ballot idea applies at the individual vote level, not overall. After all, we have to know the outcome! But there’s another idea at play here: that the outcome of a vote is uncertain.

Democracy works best when it’s a disinterested process. By this I mean that the result of a vote is up for grabs. After all, what’s the point in voting if it’s a foregone conclusion? Brexit and Trump were ‘good’ votes in that the outcome was surprising (what they demonstrate about the democratic process is another conversation). The will of the people needs to be a potent force, and that’s not possible when decisions are robbed of their jeopardy.

And yet this is precisely what polling does. By ‘polling’ I mean the forecasting and publishing of election results. Bodies like YouGov, ICM, and Ipsos Mori do this, attempting to predict the outcome of elections before they happen. And this is bad, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, as said above, it robs elections of their jeopardy. If the outcome of an election is a foregone conclusion – which for polling to have any authority, it must consider it to be – then the process is likely not truly democratic. Sure, in a perfect direct democracy there would be issues with a 99% consensus already. But even still, publishing the result of an election, even a ‘predicted’ one, before the vote seems to betray the concept of uncertain outcomes that makes democracy effective.

And don’t think this doesn’t have an impact on turnout. Ask people why they don’t vote and you’ll likely hear “because it wouldn’t make a difference” anyway. I live in the¬†Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency – which elected Labour MP Diane Abbott to Parliament in the 2017 election with 75% of the vote. The Conservative candidate got 12% of the vote. So if I was a Tory voter, would I feel an empowered democratic citizen having this repeated again and again in the polls running up to an election? Clearly not.

Something that drives me crazy is the use graphs like the above in election pamphlets. “Can’t win here” is the catchphrase they use, and it’s awful. Every election is a blank slate, anyone could win. If every voter decided to vote Green in your constituency, you’d get a Green MP. And yet polls set an alternative narrative: that of the status quo. That the incumbent state of affairs will more or less be maintained. It’s no wonder that young people and other groups feel disenfranchised and powerless.

Polls also shift the way we think about voting, in bad ways. ‘Tactical voting’ is a symptom of a broken democracy. That’s when you vote, not for the party you actually want to win, but in order to help prevent someone else from winning. Cleisthenes must be turning in his grave. Vote-swapping systems and things like that arise because polls turn an election into a scientific game rather than a legitimate decision-making exercise.

And it encourages bad behaviour from our representatives too. During the election cycle, incredible levels of attention are paid to the polls. And the campaign strategy is informed by the poll results. Sure, it’s the sensible thing to do given that polls exist – but it’s a reflection that elections have become a vote-winning version of marketing. And that’s bad for democracy too.

Can we beat this? Can we claw back democracy from the damage polling has done to it? I don’t know. As with all technology and science, once the genie’s out of the bottle, it won’t go back in. On the TV debates they’ve started doing recently, they’ve now got those live ‘worm’ graphs, where support for each speaker is displayed live in real time along with the program. I think that’s too far – encouraging a safe, boring approach to politics where every word of every sentence is rehearsed to media-trained perfection.

Keep polls, sure. But for the sake of democracy let’s stop obsessing over them. Bring back the uncertainty to politics. It’s an open field, anyone can win. Trying to predict the future just sucks the joy out of it entirely.

Who should have really won Rat Race? A comprehensive study.

Rat Race is a near-perfect film. Coming out in 2001, the same year as Shrek, it was very much part of the peak of pre-9/11 wacky comedies that embodied the turn of the millennium. It even has Smashmouth in it – literally on stage singing All Star at the end of the film.

It’s one hundred and twelve minutes of pretty much pure nonsense. A crazy squirrel lady, a bus full of¬†Lucille Ball impersonators, a song by the Baha Men, Hitler’s car… the film really has it all.

I remember first seeing the film in 2002 or so. We’d rented the DVD from the local village shop because they had nothing good available, and I was sceptical. The film looked like garbage. Just completely stupid and dumb. The cast were pretty much entirely nobodies to me, expect for Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese, and the fact that Atkinson was being wasted on a bizarrely offensive Italian tourist character put me off.

But do you what happened when the ending credits began to roll? I went back to the DVD menu and watched it again. In full. An entire second time. Something I hadn’t done prior, or since with any other movie. There was something special about this film, something I had to watch again. And I did, again and again. And now this movie lives forever in my dreams and soul.

And because of that, I’m particularly fixated on answering one particular question about it, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first, let’s review what the film’s actually about.

1. A brief overview of the plot

Rat Race is primarily a rip-off of the 1963 movie ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ – a film I have never seen and have no interest in seeing. But the plot of that movie, as I understand it, is a bunch of strangers chasing after some money in zany ways. And yep, that’s pretty much Rat Race.

John Cleese plays an eccentric casino owner – Donald Sinclair – who wants to offer his highest rollers a new game to bet on. Instead of betting on cards or horses, he invents a new sort of race – where people chase across the country to win a prize. To do this, he plucks a variety of guests from the hotel and informs them that two million dollars in cash has been placed in a bag in a station locker in New Mexico. The first one there gets to keep it. And they’re off!

That’s it. It’s a very simple premise. Well, there’s at least one layer of dramatic irony going on – the participants in the race don’t know that they’re the subjects of a larger bet. But that doesn’t really play any significant role in the plot. It’s more just a contrivance for the setup to make any sense, and to give Cleese a few more scenes scattered throughout the film. The film could just as well be the same characters chasing the money without that element, and it’d be more or less the same.

So what the film represents is a logistical challenge. All the characters start off in the same spot, and each has to reach the same end point. What they need to do is find the most efficient way to manage that. Things go wrong, hilarity ensues, and that’s basically all you need to know to understand this film.

2. The most efficient way to win

To figure this out we need to determine two things: where the characters start, and where they end up. As Rat Race is a piece of fiction, it makes identifying this an interesting challenge. Thankfully, the first part of this is pretty straightforward:¬†it’s explicitly stated that the characters are in the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. That weird casino that has a mini-Venice built inside it. To each their own.

The end point is more difficult. They have to get to Silver City, New Mexico – which is a real place. But the train station containing the locker containing the money does not exist. Silver City just doesn’t have a passenger train station. The exterior shots of the station are actually of the¬†Nevada Northern Railway Museum¬†in Ely, Nevada.

So the most obvious approach would be to simply pick a central spot in Silver City and say that’s roughly where they were going. A problem with this is that Atkinson’s character (Enrico Pollini) is clearly seen travelling to the station by rail, and ends up¬†nearly winning as a result. (OH SORRY I DIDN’T GIVE A SPOILER WARNING FOR THIS 17 YEAR OLD COMEDY FILM).

But the stand-in location above isn’t any good either, as the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is 800 miles away from Silver City. And there aren’t any really good rail stops nearby that could act as approximate locations. So let’s just say that Silver City in general is the location they’re heading to.

Let’s plug these coorindates into Google Maps and see what we get.

I’m not buying that ‘7 hour 10 mins’ travel time by plane that Google is giving me there. But I’m not able to find any actual flights that go between the two airports. Instead, as the characters in the film attempt, you’d be best off getting a flight to Albuquerque, taking about 1 hour and 25 minutes. Followed by a drive of just over 4 hours to Silver City. So your total travel time would be about 5 and half hours.

Let’s add in some time for general airport faffing. It’s a domestic flight so no border control, and they probably wouldn’t take any baggage: so about 90 minutes extra seems right. So maybe 7 hours total? And that’s if they¬†could instantly get a flight the moment they reached the airport. Which seems unlikely.

So clearly a plane trip is the most efficient way to do this. Unless they just missed a flight, in which case the direct car ride is the best – at around nine and a half hours door-to-door.

All this is purely academic anyway, as none of the characters end up sticking to any kind of plan or take anything close to an ‘efficient route’. But it gives us an interesting yardstick with which we can measure the film’s correspondence to reality. If seven to nine-and-a-half hours is a realistic time range for getting from Vegas to Silver City under normal conditions, then we should expect at least ten hours and upwards for the wacky routes our heroes take to get there.

So let’s get to it. I’m now going to take each group of characters in turn, analyse the route they took, and attempt a fair approximation of their trip. A lot of guesswork is going to be involved, but I’m approaching this from a disinterested perspective (I don’t really like any of the characters enough to be rooting for them), so I’m not concerned about any impartiality on my part, conscious or otherwise.

3. The Journeys

3.1 – Duane & Blaine

Duane and Blaine are brothers, and they’re basically hustlers. We’re introduced to them as they attempt to commit some ‘personal accident compensation’ fraud. They’re probably the most ruthless of the group in their pursuit of the money, and willing to go to the most immoral lengths to win.

They start by driving to the airport. The Venetian Resort is a ten minute drive from Vegas’¬†McCarran International Airport. (We’ll use this as a standard for the other characters too).

At the airport they find they’re unable to get a seat on the next flight, as the others have got tickets first. So they decide to, erm, use their truck to destroy the ground radar and prevent anyone from flying. (As a reminder, this film came out in cinemas just 25 days before 9/11). Let’s rewatch that scene, a masterpiece of film-making, combing physical comedy and a classical score.

Let’s say this whole thing takes¬†15¬†minutes.

Somehow avoiding domestic terrorism charges, the pair head over to a car hire place (10 minutes) and hire a new car (10 minutes).

They then drive for an unspecified amount of time. Off-screen they meet the squirrel lady, but I’m not able to determine whereabouts she’s locate; the “Totem Pole Ranch” she references doesn’t seem to be a real place. Let’s just assume they’re doing the normal drive.

At some point along the way they stop to get a second key cut (15 minutes) but it’s stolen by the locksmith. They chase him down the road, into a hot air balloon festival. Again, this could be anywhere. Can we reverse engineer some of the missing times here from what else we see in the rest of the film? Maybe!

Following a¬†4 minute episode where they fight the locksmith for the key they end up back on the road, with a signpost indicating they’re 28 miles from Silver City. An interrupted drive from from Vegas to to the town of Buckhorn (roughly 30 miles from Silver City) would take¬†8 hours 40 minutes. So let’s assume that as a base amount of time to add everything else onto.

But they’re not they’re yet! Distracted on the road, they end up driving into a Monster Truck rally. Again, I can’t find a decent contender for this within 30 miles of Silver City. But let’s say they spend at least¬†20 minutes at the rally, for the both the events in the film and then stealing the truck off-screen. They then drive the rest of the way – about a 30 minute drive. They then run for another 2 minutes from the truck to the station. So..

  • Drive to the airport: 10 mins
  • Airport sabotage: 15 mins
  • Head to car hire: 10 mins
  • Hiring a car: 10 mins
  • Car travel: 8 hours 40 mins
  • Key cutting: 15 mins
  • Locksmith fight: 4 mins
  • Monster truck rally: 20 mins
  • Remaining drive: 30 mins
  • Running: 2 mins
  • Total: 10 hours and 36 minutes.

3.2 – Enrico Pollini

Enrico Pollini is an Italian tourist character, portrayed by Rowan Atkinson. Similar to Mr Bean, he’s a bumbling idiotic character that the others look down upon. He’s also a narcoleptic, which – rather than being used as a chance to highlight the impact this illness has on people’s lives – is basically just used as a punchline a few times to reiterate how useless he is.

He falls asleep pretty much immediately, in the hotel lobby. He then stays asleep for about half of the film before waking up and continuing. Sadly, there’s no accurate way to determine how long he was asleep for. We can see he’s amassed a crowd of children around him, watching him sleep – so he’s been there a while. But not so long that he’s received any medical attention or intervention by hotel staff. (They could of course be under instructions not to intervene by Sinclair, but who knows?).

From what I understand about narcolepsy, sleep attacks are common but not especially lengthy. These microsleep attacks can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. I’m going to give a generous high-end cap of¬†30 minutes on Pollini’s sleep, as that seems about right for the way the sleep is cut in the film, and the limit of what seems to be medically appropriate.

After his sleep, he leaves the hotel and is almost hit by Zack Mallozzi Рan organ transplant driver played by Wayne Knight. Mallozzi is driving to El Paso, which does indeed go close by Silver City. They drive for a while, before stopping after Pollini throws a human heart out of the van window.

Mallozzi attempts to murder Pollini and take his heart (????) and Pollini escapes by jumping onto a nearby moving train (???). Can we figure out where this takes place?

I think so! On the Interstate Route 10, between Steins and Lordburg there’s a stretch of road that has a train track running alongside it. This is along the route they would have taken from Vegas to Silver City/El Paso, and also matches the geography. So it’s a safe bet.

To get here, it’d take an¬†8 hour 30 minute¬†drive. Pollini escapes onto a train and is on his way to Silver City.

Now, since Silver City doesn’t actually have a train station we’ll have to use some imagination. This spot on the road is 45 miles from Silver City. In the USA, passenger trains are limited to 59mph. So, assuming they were travelling at top speed, the time it¬†would take for a train to cover that distance is about¬†45 minutes.

Let’s assume him arriving there counts as winning, narcolepsy aside. So..

  • Initial sleep: 30 minutes
  • Car time: 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Train time: 45 minutes
  • Overall time: 9 hours and 45 minutes

By car, the distance covered by the train would have taken about an hour. So we can also give him a ‘realistic’ time of a round¬†10 hours if it comes to it.

3.3 –¬†Owen Templeton

Owen Templeton is Cuba Gooding Jr’s character in Rat Race. He plays a disgraced football referee, universally despised for making a bad call on a coin flip. His is one of the most pitiful misadventures in the film, and particularly varied.

He also starts by going to get to the airport (10 mins), finds he can’t make the flight (5 mins), and goes to grab a cab. Meeting the same cabbie, he instructs the driver to head to Silver City.¬†After some time,he’s left stranded in the desert by the cab driver, since he’d lost money on the football game Templeton had refereed.

Now, I doubt that the cab driver would drive over an hour to exact his revenge on Templeton. And while there’s no clues as to the exact part of the Nevada desert that Templeton was left in, I think somewhere around Boulder City would be suitable.

It’s surrounded by desert, on the way from Vegas to Silver City, and is only a¬†30 minute drive. Let’s add another¬†10 mins for the cab driver’s shortcut, plus another¬†1 hour for Templeton’s time spent wandering the desert – he’s clearly been out there a long time and is suffering from dehydration.

This also makes sense in terms of what happens next. He reaches a coach stop, where a bus is parked full of Lucille Ball impersonators, on their way to a convention in Santa Fe. If they came from the Vegas direction, it’d make sense they’d pass by Boulder City on the way too. So the facts add up.

After 5 minutes of coaxing the coach driver into giving him all his clothes, Templeton is on his way. The drive from Boulder City to Silver City would take about 8 hours 45 minutes. But since a coach full of Lucys is going to be slower than a car, and Templeton is shown to be an inexperienced coach driver, I think we can add another hour on top of that.

This time also includes the coach breaking down scene, and Templeton somehow coming into possession of a horse.

Then the¬†2 minute run from the coach to the station. So…

  • Travel to airport: 10 mins
  • Time in airport: 5 mins
  • Cab to desert, including shortuct: 40 mins
  • Lost in desert: 1 hour
  • Coach stop: 5 mins
  • Drive to Silver City: 8 hours 45 minutes
  • Extra coach time and horse: 1 hour
  • Running to station: 2 minutes
  • Total: 11 hours and 47 minutes

3.4 – Vera and Merrill

This pair are an estranged mother and daughter meeting for the first time, played by Whoopi Goldberg and Lanai Chapman respectively. And they have a pretty wild time.

Like the others, they try the airport. Merrill is a wealthy businesswoman and is able to secure a charter jet. She offers a bonus for the pilots if they can reach their destination in under an hour. Was she heading for Albuquerque airport like the others, or the closer¬†Grant County¬†Airport? We don’t know, but it doesn’t matter as the flights all get cancelled. So let’s just work with the standard¬†10 mins drive to the airport, with maybe around¬†15 mins of faffing because they actually make it onto their plane.

Like the brothers, they go to hire a car (10 mins) and are frustrated by the slow car hire worker (let’s say¬†20 mins). Then they’re off!

Driving for a bit, they get a bit lost trying to locate the interstate. This is brought up several times in the movie and I’m not sure what it means. If they mean Route 10, then it should be clearly signposted after cutting through Phoenix.

Sure, they could be trying to cut onto the interstate early. But that would add extra time onto their journey (checkout Google’s wild suggestion that adds two whole hours onto the journey). So I’m not sure what their route is, or how they’re getting lost. But whatever. Crazy squirrel lady happens.

They take the squirrel lady’s directions and end up driving into a ravine. Let’s say they lose¬†30 mins for this detour / near-death experience. They then wander the desert for a bit – let’s give them the same¬†hour¬†we gave Templeton for this bit. And they come across the testing area for a high speed rocket car.

Since we can’t say where they start or end up during the rocket car bit, it’s a bit sparse in terms of the calculations we can do. But the scientists state that the girls break Mach 1 during this part, meaning they were travelling at about 767mph. So they definitely winning the ‘fastest moving at any point during the film’ part of the movie. Assuming they were in the car for 5 minutes, they’d cover about 63 miles. A car travelling at 75mph (the speed limit in New Mexico) would take¬†50 minutes to cover this distance.

So I propose that rather than trying to incorporate the rocket car in as an additional calculation, we simply deduct ’50 minutes’ from what would be otherwise be a standard trip.

They wander the desert a little more. Clearly still dizzy from the rocket car, they can’t have been walking around for more than¬†15 minutes, before getting bundled into a bus. Since we can’t tell where the bus started, we can’t say how long this would have taken. So let’s think about this.

Nine and a half hours is the average amount of time it’d take a normal car to do the full journey. Let’s deduct the fifty minutes saved by the rocket car, then add another 10 for the extra slowness of travelling by bus. That gives us a total ‘on the road’ time of¬†8 hours 50 minutes. Are you still following along?

Their bus actually ends up closer to the station than the other racers, so let’s give them¬†1 minute of running time. So…

  • Airport travel and faff: 25 mins
  • Detour: 30 mins
  • Desert time: 1 hour
  • Second desert time: 15 mins
  • ‘On the road’ (initial car time + bus time – rocket car time): 8 hours 50 mins
  • Running to the station: 1 minute
  • Total: 11 hours and 1 minute

3.5 – The Pear Family

The Pears are a mother, father, son, and daughter enjoying a family holiday to Las Vegas. The father, Randy Pear (Jon Lovitz), is recruited into Sinclair’s race but neglects to tell the rest of the family about it, thinking that his wife wouldn’t approve. The lie he gives instead is that he has a job offer in Silver City (working in “ink, for fountain pens!). His family all believe this lie and they set out for the airport (10 mins journey time, 5 mins faff).

Like the others, they end up grounded so opt to drive to Silver City instead. His daughter needs the toilet soon after, and Randy makes her go out of the window of the moving car. He’s stopped by police as a result, probably being detained for about¬†10 mins.

They stop off at a ‘Barbie Museum’ on the way – which instead of being a museum about the popular doll, is in fact a museum about the SS officer¬†Klaus Barbie. They spend about 15 minutes at the museum (why did they take the tour) before leaving to find that Duane and Blaine have sabotaged their car. Somehow they are able to steal what in the universe of this film is explicitly actual Hitler’s actual car. Which is apparently roadworthy and contains petrol.

A series of highly-plausible events take place where Randy smears black lipstick on his upper lip, burns both his tongue and middle finger with Hitler’s cigarette lighter, is attacked by bikers, crashes into a WW2 Allied veterans rally, and is shot at. But I can’t imagine this adding more than 30 minutes to the family’s overall journey.

After this, the family are next seen in a truck stop, wanting to quit the journey. Randy refuses to let them give up and illegally drugs them all, before bundling them into the back of a truck. Sleeping pills take about an hour to take effect, so let’s say they were at the stop for 1 hour 15¬†minutes.

The family then arrive in Silver City and spend the usual¬†2 minutes or so running to the station. Despite the diversions along the way, the family spent most of their journey on the road (in their car / Hitler’s car / the lorry), so using the standard 9.5 hours as the base time feels fair, with some fuzzy lines around the speed of the lorry and the reliability of Adolf Hitler’s car. So…

  • Airport: 15 mins
  • Police stop: 10 mins
  • Barbie Museum: 15 mins
  • Weird Nazi stuff: 30 mins
  • Road stop: 1 hour 15 mins
  • On-the-road time: 9 hours 30 mins
  • Running to the station: 2 mins
  • Total:¬†11 hours and 57 minutes

3.6 – Nick & Tracy

Nick and Tracy are unique amongst the racers in that, although they travel together, they didn’t know each other between the film. They agree to travel together (mostly because they happen to be reading the same biography of Charles¬†Lindbergh) and a romantic element develops. But we can count them as one unit because all their timings should be the same.

So they both head to the airport (10 mins) but faff around for a bit longer. They strike up a conversation over the book, and Nick is excited to hear that Tracy can still fly as she’s a helicopter pilot and only the airplanes are grounded. Let’s call this another¬†10 mins of chat/plan time.

Now, if they’d just taken the helicopter the entire way they’d have easily won. Assuming the helicopter travelled at¬†160mph¬†they could cover the 450 miles in about 2 hours 48 minutes – and probably land right near the station. But they don’t.

Instead, Tracy begins by flying the helicopter north – which Nick expresses some concern about. Tracy explains that it’s so they can visit her boyfriend. Where they end up isn’t clear, but it’s presumably a bit far east as well. After Tracy fights her boyfriend, they crash the helicopter and steal his truck.

In the next scene we see them, they’re sitting in a diner where Nick brags: “If everybody else had to drive,¬†we have a three-hour head start.” Nick’s got a map in front of him, so we can take his word on that. So, let’s take our usual 9.5 hour calculation and subtract three hours to get six and a half hours driving time.

Not much else happens to them along the way. They spend a scene arguing with a mechanic who’s trying to rip them off. Call that 30 minutes. And they run out of petrol and stop to siphon some from a police car. But that can’t be more than¬†5 mins¬†as the policeman drives off pretty sharpish to chase the brothers.

Does that all add up? This scene in the film¬†geotemporally locates Nick, Tracy, Duane, and Blaine in the same spot. We could attempt to reconcile this all into one consistent timeline, but it doesn’t matter too much. We’re interested in how long each group would have taken, independently of each other anyway. Remember that the brothers still have to deal with the Monster Truck bit. We don’t see Nick and Tracy again until the end, with¬†two minutes of running time to the station. So…

  • Airport: 20 mins
  • Driving: 6 hours 30 mins
  • Policeman: 5 mins
  • Mechanic: 30 mins
  • Running to the station: 2 mins
  • Total: 7 hours and 27 minutes

4. The Winners

We have a winner! Here’s the countdown:

Sixth place: The Pear Family (11 hours 57 minutes)

The Pears spent a good deal of time hitting the road, but racked up way too much stoppage time. The lag on the sleeping pills is a particular hard-hitter. And the Nazi Museum was just unnecessary altogether.

Fifth place: Owen Templeton (11 hours 47 minutes)

A surprisingly high ranking for someone left to die in the desert. But even a solid commitment to driving a coach under stressful conditions sees Templeton just missing out on a spot in the top four.

Fourth place: Vera and Merrill (11 hours 1 minute)

The rocket car wasn’t enough to help the girls out and claw back time from two separate sections of them carless in the desert.

Third place: Duane & Blaine (10 hours and 36 minutes)

The brothers ruined everyone’s plans with their airport sabotage and this ruthlessness saw them through to making up good time on the road. But it wasn’t enough in the end.

Second place: Enrico Pollini (9 hours and 45 minutes)

Incredible scenes from the plucky Italian. Despite falling asleep at the starting block, Pollini really ‘hauled ass’ to almost make it into first place. Of course, within the film itself he makes it there first, but we can’t ignore the reality that there is no rail station in Silver City. So he just misses out.

First place: Nick & Tracy (7 hours 27 minutes)

They had a bloody helicopter. Of course they won.

Whether they used it all the way or not, the “three hour” head start is simply too much of an advantage to ignore. We’ve established that travelling by air is the most efficient way to win this race and since they were the only two able to take advantage of it, they were the clear favourites from the outset.

5. Concluding remarks

Rat Race clearly isn’t a film meant to be taken this seriously. The fact that all the characters end up in basically the same place at the same time isn’t the result of careful and deliberate planning by the screenwriters – it’s just a convenience for the sake of the plot.

But I think we can conclude that if an eccentric billionaire offers you the chance to win $2m dollars in a race, you should probably go find a helicopter pilot as soon as possible. And don’t trust women who sell squirrels.

I’ve probably made some basic errors in the above, so please do let me know if you spot anything. Or have a go at doing all the calculations yourself. It’s only taken me five and a¬† half hours!

Now, let’s all enjoy some Smashmouth.


Further reading:

In my research for this… thing, I really enjoyed this article about the plotholes of Rat Race. It really is a very silly film.

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.