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Originality seems to be lost in Devon.

26 Apr

If you haven’t been to Plymouth recently, a new monstrosity has developed on the Hoe, a fresh eyesore to grace the quasi-beauty of Plymouth seafront. And to add insult to injury, it’s been done before. This ‘Wheel of Plymouth’ is now a scar on the horizon.

To put the record straight, I have nothing against ferris wheels in particular. The Millennium Eye is a fantastic addition to the London skyline, providing us not only with an exciting way of soaking in the city in a way that you couldn’t possibly do on foot, or in a day for that matter, but also as a spectacular platform for the New Year fireworks. It’s just the idea of it. It’s like Plymouth is the slightly less intelligent schoolmate cribbing the answers to a test from London. In fairness, he is the Head Boy.

However, a city can’t rely on another’s ideas and assume they are going to work in the exact same way. While I can justify spending a few quid on the London Eye, on the justification of seeing the Thames sprawling beneath you, St Paul’s downriver, the Houses of Parliament in their Gothic glory over in Westminster, I can’t see how spending £6.75 on the Wheel of Plymouth could benefit my day. What are you going to see that you can’t see on foot, or at the top of Smeaton’s Tower? Which is a genuinely interesting place to go, if you haven’t been to the top.

Perhaps if Plymouth thought of a refreshing new idea for an urban attraction, they might have come across less flak. But this ‘Wheel’, half the size of the London Eye, just doesn’t cut it. Rant over.

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Beating the Bounds

18 Apr

Largely owing to a commitment with BUNAC, I went up to Manchester this weekend, marking the first time I’d been north of the Watford Gap in nearly a decade. And to be frank, it shattered all my predispositions. While I visited my family in Knutsford, the Tatton constituency of George Osborne and an apparent Conservative stronghold, it is easy to assume the North is the pro-Labour, industrialised, terraced and city-bound cousin of the perceptively affluent and white-collar Conservative South, especially to an incredibly Southern, grammar educated history student such as myself, whose only real experiences of the North stem from the categorized and stereotypical Jane Austen novels, Coronation Street and thick regional accents.

While I’m sure it works the opposite way, this stereotype was destroyed by my stay in Manchester. It’s actually a very vibrant city, dotted with stunning architecture and a plethora of interesting and easy going pubs and bars, surrounded by some pretty gorgeous countryside. A night out on the town on Saturday happened to be one of the best in a long while, sandwiched in between an electric atmosphere for the football on Saturday and Sunday. Incidentally the last ten minutes of the Arsenal and Liverpool match were some of the most frantic and incredible football I’ve ever seen.

So the hat is off to you, Northern England. Perhaps time will begin to close the North-South divide more fully, as people integrate and break down the stereotypes and social barriers.

One Small Step for Man.

13 Apr

I’ve just taken a telescope into my garden and had a gander at the Moon. It’s pretty awesome, and if you’ve never done it before, it’s beyond recommendable. To see in such minute detail all the little nuances of the lunar surface that make it so fantastically unique with your own eyes is an amazing experience.

I focused on the South Pole, especially the Tycho crater. On the picture it’s about halfway up, on the right of the cluster of impact craters, with the dot in the middle like a hydrogen atom without an electron. Tycho is pretty young for a crater, at about 108 million years old, and named after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. In case you didn’t know, he lost his nose in a duel and wore a copper prosthetic one, and supposedly died because he thought it too rude to leave the dinner table to go urinate, and ruptured his bladder. But he still had a large enough impact (sorry for the pun) on the world of astronomy to warrant a crater.

And Tycho is a pretty prominent crater. NASA landed Surveyor 7 there, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken several pictures of it as the number one proposed site of the cancelled Constellation program, but with the Orion spacecraft going ahead, this crater could feature some footsteps yet. When I begin travelling, a lot is going to change. I’ll be immersed in different cultures, languages, foods and drinks. My entire life is going to become this dynamic, malleable constant conveyor belt of change. And yet there are going to be just as many things that won’t change, and a pretty good symbol of this is about 230,000 miles away and staring at me right now.

Top 5 serendipitous discoveries

7 Apr

5 – Sildenafil citrare, or Viagra

Discovered while looking for a drug to combat hypertension and angina. The observant guys at Pfizer noticed that instead of reducing blood pressure, they ended up with some excited guinea pigs. And thus, the blue pill was born. And cases of priapism skyrocketed.

 

 

 

 

4 – The Microwave 

The saviour of torpid chefs the world over. Percy Spencer walked past a radar tube with a chocolate bar in his pocket, which then melted. He then took it further, and developed it into the microwave oven. And presumably bought a new pair of trousers with the money he made, rather than cleaning melted chocolate goo out of the pocket.

 

 

3 – Brandy

Apparently brandy was invented when merchants distilled their wine to preserve it. The plan was to dilute the distilled wine later down the road and resell it as wine. But they discovered that this new distilled beverage, or ‘brandywine’, was scrumptious, and an alcoholic revolution was born. It even provided the name for a river in Middle Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 – the Slinky

Invented by Navy engineer Richard James, after he dropped a torsion spring and thought he could market it. The Slinky has sold over 300 million units, was used by the US Army as radio antennae in Vietnam, has been taken up into space by the Space Shuttle, and was famously straightened by Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters.

 

 

 

1 – Penicillin

I know, it’s a bit predictable. But penicillin has saved countless lives. And it so easily could never have been discovered. It was only the keen eye of Alexander Fleming that prevented it from being thrown away, and he worked tirelessly to synthesize it and produce it in bulk before the Second World War. If you didn’t know what a hero looked like…

Back in the gateway to England

2 Apr

I’m back in Kent for a brief respite before heading back to Plymouth to fully wrap things up there. The journey back, as always, was hellish, and a couple of hours in London without any money or phone battery is always an experience.

But I got there. And a foray into Ashford and Bluewater has concreted one thing in my mind, and the reason why I love my country so much – pubs. Bars aren’t the same, and nightclubs serve their purpose, but an afternoon searching for a beer to quench a parched throat is one of the easiest things in the world to a Briton. Just type in pubs on AroundMe and see if I’m wrong.

And I’m really going to miss Kent. Apart from the wedges of tarmac that cut through it on the way from London to Dover, and the inevitable backwater settlements that accompany that, it really is beautiful country, and an irreplaceable part of the UK. The perfect marriage of beauty, heritage and proximity to both London and France make it a pretty damn good place to live.

I’m pretty aware that New York and Sydney are going to be completely polar opposite to this sprawling greenery, and I’m coming to terms with that. But now at least, I can walk the dog in a beautiful forest carpeted with bluebells and feel at home.

Is the world falling apart?

20 Mar

Earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, the Arab melting pot boiling over, Colonel Gaddafi sticking the political finger up at a coalition force, and Bahrain falling apart. What has the world come to? It definitely can’t be attributed to the Moon’s perigee-syzygy, it’s only a fraction closer than it normally is. And yet it seems that the world literally is falling apart right now, both politically and geographically.

The earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand truly are horrifying. To see two separate earthquakes tear these first-world countries apart like this is such a humbling sight –  New Zealand always seems so remote and out of harm’s way that it is shocking to see such devastation. And Japan always comes across as such a powerful, stoic country, immune to such horrific circumstances. And yet, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong to this devastated country.

Colonel Gaddafi needs to sort his life out. He’s like the stubborn neighbour who won’t take down his Christmas decorations in March, despite the fact that the entire street has rallied to throw stones at them. It has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, what can be gained from challenging rebel forces supported by the UN?

But it’s not all bad. Many Egyptians are voting now for the first time in their lives, which is such a big step for such a beautiful country. They have worked hard for their democracy, and I hope that they make the most of it.

St Patrick’s Day

17 Mar

So today is the 17th March. Which means, it is St Patrick’s Day. Which is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the strangest day in the whole year. A year where we get to celebrate a different country, through the day of a Saint who is the patron of Ireland, despite being English and taken to Ireland as a slave. Awesome.

The strangest thing about St Patrick’s Day, is that the entire world celebrates it by stereotyping Ireland. Seriously. We drink, smoke and live to excess, in the hope that we are fully representing Ireland. We drink pint after pint of Guinness to honour the memory of the Saint who rid the island of Ireland of snakes.

And yet it remains one of the best days of the year for the University student. It’s a day of listening to Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, drinking pint after pint of Guinness and Irish whisky, and generally making a fool or ourselves. But the best thing about it is, EVERYONE does it!

One of the main things on my F**k it list (the Bucket List part at least) is to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland and Boston. But until then…

Happy St Patrick’s Day! Hope it’s a good one for all of you!