NOT WAVING BUT DRIVING

NOT WAVING BUT DRIVING

After twenty-odd years of Greek island life, I’ve finally had my eureka moment. But, unlike local mythology, my insight didn’t happen in the bath. It happened in the road…

Now, before you imagine me streaking naked down Makarios Avenue, blissed out by sudden revelation, let me set the scene: I was in the car (as decently clothed as the unseasonably warm October weather would allow) and turning into my street. Or attempting to because, as anyone who lives near the Aretaieio Hospital knows, parking in the area is a bit of a free-for-all. So, with the inevitable approach of three other cars, I did the only decent thing: I reversed to let them pass.

Which is where The Revelation comes in…

One, two, three drivers all passed by without the slightest semblance of gratitude. No smile, no nod, and certainly no wave of thanks. Then, just at the point when I was preparing to express my disgust via the medium of colourful Anglo Saxon (sorry mum), I realised something. These people weren’t discourteous. They weren’t ignorant. And – hopefully – they weren’t blind.

What they were, is law-abiding.

It’s taken me two decades (and the odd flirtation with Tourette’s) to decipher why Cyprus lacks anything approaching automotive civility. Clearly, I live in a nation which so reveres the rules of the road that not even the most thoughtful of gestures can be dignified with an inclination of the head, much less – gasp! – a lift of the hand from the wheel. Not one was willing to corrupt their principles for even a second.

I applaud them. I really do. I can’t think how I missed – for years – the fact that I live in the most law-abiding nation on the planet. To think I believed all those stories about bribery and corruption – shame on the media for painting such a depraved picture of this wonderful country! Of course, now I know the truth, should there ever come a time when a fellow driver is compelled by gratitude to lift a finger from the ten-to-two position, I shall immediately report them to the authorities. Who, as we all know, are the most upstanding citizens on this honest island.

Now, please excuse me. I’ve outlined my thoughts in a letter to my MP, and will be sending it to him forthwith. Does anyone know the address of the prison?

Driving in Cyprus, waving your thanks? Please let me know I’m not the only one risking life and limb in automotive gratitude…

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BACK TO THE FUTURE?

back_to_the_future_ii_soundtrack_by_thegalatf-d6dcureThe iPad. Laptops. Credit cards. And water beds. What do they all have in common? 

If you answered things that make our lives easier, you’d be mostly right (though anyone who’s ever tried to get out of a water bed with a hangover might disagree). But there’s actually a far more interesting link: all, it transpires, were predicted well ahead of their time. Take a look at this extract and see if you recognise the description:

“He would plug his Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports. One by one, he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; a postage-sized rectangle would expand till it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. One could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information.”

Definitely an iPad, right? But no. These words were penned by legendary sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke in his book 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which was published in 1968 – decades ahead of anything resembling a tablet, online news or the internet! In fact, his description was so dead-on that Samsung used it in defence of its Galaxy tablet when Apple sued for patent infringement.

But accurate predictions go back far further than that: in 1900, Mr Watkins – a relative non-entity writing for the Ladies’ Home Journal – suggested that, within 100 years: “Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots will be published in the newspapers an hour later.”

Fascinating stuff – and almost undreamt of at the time. But why are these prognostications important now, of all times?

Today is the day!

bttf2_3478174aWell, today is October 21, 2015. And if that date means nothing to you, you’re obviously too young – or too serious – to have ever taken note of one of the biggest movie dates in history: the day Marty McFly went Back to the Future. The future – as envisaged by director Robert Zemeckis – has now finally arrived. And with it, much of the tech that, when the film came out, seemed beyond the realm of imagination…

Released in 1989, the second instalment in the franchise saw Marty time travel 26 years into a future brimming with out-there inventions and revolutionary tech. Video conferencing, outsize televisions, thumbprint payment and drone cameras were just some of the radical ideas that appeared in the world of 2015, along with multi-channel viewing, self-lacing sneakers (Nike has them in production, apparently) and something that looks suspiciously akin to Google glasses.

The Hoverboard

5491396709_a8f59d6165But the stand-out, have-to-have-it, futuristic item that sent kids into a frenzy and crashed the phone lines at Mattel, was Marty’s hoverboard. A piece of technology so simple, so revolutionary and so undeniably fun, that companies have – for the last 25 years – desperately been trying to create it. Alas, the date has rolled around and no one has yet managed to produce a working model. Last year, Silicon Valley start-up Hendo claimed to have crafted a real hoverboard, inviting skateboard legend Tony Hawk to give it a whirl and starting a Kickstarter fund for further development. In August, Lexus unveiled its own version, which uses quantum locking to allow users to ride a preordained track in a false concrete floor. And, while Crealev have released a hoverboard that actually ‘hovers’ most realistically thanks to its system of magnets, the device can’t actually be ridden. Though it does look good on the shelf!

Tech from tv

1a88d62baec1e6921e9ea4879eca392aOf course, while the predictions for October 21, 2015 might have been mind-blowing for a kid from the eighties – who didn’t thrill to the spectacle of the Jaws hologram snapping at Marty’s head? – these days, we take much of our advances for granted, barely recalling – if we ever knew – that much of our everyday tech first saw the light of day in films, books and tv series.

Star Trek has given us the communicator (scarily akin to mobile phones), Bluetooth, flatscreen tv and the medical tricorder – all of which have appeared in real life since the original series launched in the 1960s. The Jetsons – released in 1962 and set 100 years in the future, accurately predicted such trivial – and now commonplace – items as moving walkways and the tanning bed. In 1974, The Six Million Dollar Man featured a protagonist with superhuman bionic limbs; today, neuroscientists have created artificial limbs that can be controlled purely by the mind. 1980’s cartoon Inspector Gadget showed one of the characters using a ‘computer book’, a wireless handheld device with a search engine and GPS. And a 1995 episode of The Simpsons shows Lisa’s fiancé using his watch to make a phone call – almost 20 years prior to the launch of the ‘smart watch’!

And we mustn’t forget the waterbed – now associated more with dodgy bachelors and adult films (often simultaneously!) than futuristic predictions. Described so accurately in Heinlein’s bestseller Stranger in a Strange Land that the eventual inventor had huge trouble securing a patent for his squelchy creation, the waterbed has since fallen out of use. Which makes one wonder – if we’re currently achieving, surpassing and discarding fictional futuristic tech – what’s up next? Personally, I’d happily trade any fictional innovation for a working hoverboard. But, unless someone’s specifically been waiting for October 15, 2015 to give me a thrilling surprise, it seems I’ll have to be content with my iPad, laptop and credit card. For now…

Any news on the hoverboard? Let me know – comment below!

The full text originally appeared in The Sunday Mail

 

 

 

 

 

TIME POOR, STRESS RICH? One way to reset

TIME POOR, STRESS RICH? One way to reset

I was brought up to win. To compete, to strive, to struggle, to triumph. I was taught that emotion didn’t matter, that excuses were for losers, and failure was not an option. Independence and self-sufficiency became my gods, those who leaned on others or asked for help were weak.

Well, it was a great theory. And it got me through my twenties just fine. But as you get older, you begin to realise that – no matter how hard you try, however strict your self-discipline – the future is beyond your control. Which is why an unexpected family death, a tryst with extreme ill-health, and the launch of a new venture – all within the space of a year – left me more strung out than Widow Twankey’s laundry. Sure, I was coping, but I was exhausted: my inherent positivity was fast running out, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t sleeping soundly. And my answer? Do what I’d always done: give more, try harder and win.

It didn’t work. So I finally gave in and decided to listen to what everyone from my doctor to my barista had advised: “Destress!” But, when you’re in the media – covering stories 24/7, always staying ahead of the curve – taking time off is a luxury you can’t afford. Of course it would be great to jump on a plane. But it’s impossible. Not only would I be neglecting work, I’d also end up stressed about what I was missing – a vicious circle. What to do? If only there were quick-fix tension reliever for those of us who are time-poor and stress-rich.

But there is… The answer came from a friend in a similar situation who’d done his time at the altar of stress-related ill health. The solution, he said, was simple: shiatsu.

What is shiatsu?

A dynamic body treatment which restores the balance of energy in the body, shiatsu is an 8000-year-old therapy grounded in Chinese medicine based on the assumption that the body is a self-healing organism, and that the practitioner can aid and support the process while balancing the underlying causes of a condition. And, says Emma Michael – a psychology graduate with a background in yoga who’s been practising shiatsu for seven years now and works from her own studio, The Centre – it’s perfect for dealing with stress.

“Shiatsu is both a preventative treatment that builds the immune system and deals with stress before the body is in crisis, and also an emergency therapy if you’ve got to the point where it’s hard to get out of bed,” she explains. “It will calm you down,” she clarifies, “switching the nervous system into relax mode rather than stress mode to remind you there’s more to life when you’re in balance.”

How does it work?

As Emma takes my case history, she explains she’ll be using elements of physiotherapy and osteopathy while working on the meridians and pressure points that relate to energy flow. “Having energy blockages affects your muscles. In modern society we’re constantly over-stimulated – on our phones, our laptops, in the car – and it can affect the nervous system to a huge degree,” she says, adding that, in her practice, she sees a lot of people suffering from stress. “The adrenaline can be addictive; you may want to calm down, but sometimes you enjoy that feeling of ‘keeping going’. Ultimately, it’s going to affect you physically: hormonal problems, back pain, tension, waking up in the night, tight muscles, jaw clenching…”

What happens?

images (7)As I settle into the ergonomic mat, Emma begins with an alignment of energies and, feeling the warmth spread through me, my journalistic instincts (what does that do? How does it work?) give in to a blissful state of relaxation.

It’s hard to describe everything my shiatsu session entailed, because somewhere along the line I forget to live in the past (“What haven’t I done?”) or fear the future (“What do I need to do tomorrow?”). As rivers of light flood through me, I succumb to the now – for the first time in months.

It’s a strange and wonderful sensation: as if something is inside your body, gently resetting and soothing tensions you didn’t know you had. The back of my head prickles; I can feel energy tingling in my hands and feet; a sense of everything reconnecting. There’s a gently spreading lightness that creates a bubble of golden laughter, and at the same time it’s grounding: like arriving home at the end of the day to find your house has been cleaned, your work done and your papers filed neatly in the right place.

And the result is…

For the first time in a long while, I feel on top of life. Not in the sense that I’m bursting with boundless energy and a hectic desire to get things done, but rather that my priorities are straight once more, and my internal filing system is working. And the feeling lasts. The following day, I’m calmer than I have been in a long time. I’m aware of my body again; my balance has returned and my mind has stopped its incessant whirling.

Shiatsu has accomplished – in a mere hour – a feat which I thought impossible. It’s pressed the reset button on life. Winning, it occurs to me now, as I take a break from typing and gaze at the high blue autumn sky, may be less about beating others and more about taking care of yourself.

The full text originally appeared in The Cyprus Mail

Have you ever tried shiatsu? Did it work? I’d love to hear from you!

TUESDAY IS ICE BLUE: the secrets of synaesthesia

TUESDAY IS ICE BLUE: the secrets of synaesthesia

Tuesday is long, thin and a smooth ice blue. My sister is acid yellow and spiked all over. And the number nine is scarlet velvet, just like Ravel’s Bolero. Now before, you set the social media police on me (or start searching for photos of my family under ‘weird and wonderful diseases’), I should probably let you into a secret: I have synaesthesia.

The dictionary defines synaesthesia as “the production of an impression relating to one sense by the stimulation of another sense”. But that doesn’t come anywhere near describing what’s really happening. Synaesthesia is an incessant eruption of the senses; in my head, everything links to everything else. Which means that whether we’re taking about facts, figures or philosophy, a whole host of colours, shapes, movements, placements, sounds and connections are being sparked. Mention something as simple as ‘cat’ and you’ve ignited a mental explosion akin to the Fourth of July. (A date which appears to either side of my eyes in spikey, deep royal blue, with a discordant brass and percussion overlay!)

Why I’m a synaesthete, I don’t know, but I do suspect it runs in the family. And I’m fairly certain that most people who share my condition have no idea it’s not commonplace. I discovered synaesthesia during a psychology class: the professor talking at length on the subject while I skulked in my seat, throwing confused glances at my fellow students. Surely, I thought, everyone does this?

A quick conversation with the teacher – and a couple of tests later – it was confirmed: I was most definitely a synaesthete. I went home and told my mother. “But surely,” she said, “everyone does this?”

For years we’d been referring to the ‘ribald red’ of C sharp, and the ‘grainy green’ images (5)of October. We just hadn’t realised we were relatively rare (an estimated four per cent of the population has some form of synaesthesia) in our way of thinking.

From what I understand, the synaesthete’s brain works differently: senses overlap and interchange, information is not filed in one place but linked to a myriad of other data (thus synaesthetes often seem to make intuitive leaps, or recall facts from years past), and normal rules don’t apply. And while it can be a strain (everything I see, hear, smell, taste and touch sparks memories, connections and irrelevant thoughts), synaesthesia can also be extremely useful.

Learning the gender of German nouns, for example, was relatively easy: feminine was red, masculine green and neuter white, and every time I recalled a word, the appropriate colour would flash in my head. It’s also been extremely valuable in quizzes: long-forgotten facts can be dredged from the depths of my mind if I just allow my brain to make the right links. And telephone numbers or licence plates are a doddle (as long as I can get the colours, textures and sounds in the right order!).

It gets even weirder: people are also colours and shapes (and often have soundtracks). Over the years I’ve worked out that those my brain classifies as ‘white’ or ‘classical’ are generally steadfast philosophers, while the ‘sharp reds’ are ideas enthusiasts, and ‘green basses’ play by the rules but can be extremely selfish. In fact, synaesthetes need a whole new language to explain their thought processes; describing a relationship as “indigo concrete poured underneath ivory silk, overlaid with a minor key” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s going on in my head! Words, it seems, are not nearly enough.

But it’s all worth it because, although being a synaesthete sets me apart, it also holds me together. It helps in my work (if a piece feels sludgy grey, I’ll shoot it through with pointed vermillion words, or a wave of golden phrasing) and my friendships (trust the minor navies; party with the crimson majors), colouring my creations and lighting my world. Without synaesthesia, I’d be living in a cardboard cut-out world. Now, please excuse me. It’s Monday, so my acute yellow angles are playing havoc with my ability to craft cobalt squares…

Do you think you might be a synaesthete? If zero is white and one is black, you may well be experiencing one of its forms. For more information, visit http://synesthete.org

I’d love to hear from you, whether or not you’re a synaesthete!

SYRIO on Swords, Stannis, Snow and Star Wars

SYRIO on Swords, Stannis, Snow and Star Wars

In my capacity as Chief Features Writer for the Sunday Mail, I recently had the incomparable pleasure of crossing swords with Miltos Yerolemou, Game of Thrones’ Syrio Forel, when he attended Cyprus ComicCon 2015. Here are a few excerpts from the piece.

Scroll to end for link to full interview.

Known globally for his portrayal of Syrio Forel, the master swordsman in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, Miltos is probably amongst the most recognisable actors in the world.

Both delightful and enigmatic, the actor is a master of charm, his rambling repartee and self-deprecation designed, one feels, to deflect from the fact that his is an incisive intellect. His lines may appear throwaway, but this is a man whose emotional capabilities have been fine-tuned by a profession that thrives on the carefully-maintained persona. And yet Miltos is impossible not to like.

Despite his effervescent veneer, he appears rather zen at times (he’s a Buddhist, and talks about seeing “true seeing, with all the senses”), flickering from sparkling wit to contemplative introspection. And in a meditative moment he shyly admits that of all the characters he’s portrayed, perhaps Syrio’s is closest to his own. “He’s the archetypal unconventional teacher, like Mr Miyake or Obi Wan. The noble hermit – even more noble than Ned Stark – there I’ve said it! Let HBO sue me!” he guffaws – “who’s the trigger for the protagonist’s story. I mean, Arya” – one of the main characters, and Syrio’s pupil – “would basically be dead if it weren’t for Syrio.”

That’s not to say that Miltos ever expected to get the part. Originally, he was up for Lord Varys, the skilled spymaster who commands a network of informants across two continents. “And they liked it, but they didn’t think I was right. So they gave me Syrio to read instead.”

By the fifth reading, he says, “I was told ‘The Americans are coming; they want to meet you in person’. And that’s when I basically lost it! It was probably between me and someone else, and I was just hoping that if I lost out it was to someone like Ben Kingsley, who would have made a brilliant Syrio. Though,” he grins, “maybe he was just too expensive…”

Speaking of other actors, I remind Miltos that he once said he’d love to see Gary Oldman appear in the series. “Oh yes!” he exclaims, imagination lighting the room. “I can see him showing up as a Night’s Watchman who’s been trapped north of the Wall and hasn’t spoken to anyone for 25 years. Or maybe he’s Jon Snow when he’s resurrected: older, dirtier, gruffer, less ripped…”

Is this a clue, I wonder? Does Miltos have inside information when he talks of Jon coming back to life? “It’s only my conjecture,” he says quickly. “Though I don’t for a second believe we’ve seen the last of him…”

If Jon Snow isn’t gone for good, who then was Miltos most surprised to see written out in a series that’s noted for unexpected deaths of its major characters? “Stannis,” he responds immediately. “I felt there was still a lot more of his story to be played out, and I really did want to see him kill Ramsey Bolton!” Fans, however, will be most relieved to hear that the plotline Miltos least expects to see played out in Season 7 is “the death of Tyrion”. Phew!

15730026991_aace20b7eeFrom Game of Thrones to Star Wars. And though he’s not allowed to say much – “my confidentiality agreement is longer than my contract,” he jokes later, during the public Q and A session he will admit the experience is “amazing! JJ Abrams has created this brilliant, brilliant world which is real, literally real. You get dressed up in costume and you’re on the set and everything you pick up and everyone you look at is so real! I mean, this is Disney and they’ve got the money to get every scene exactly right,” he adds. “You’ve got the designer from Blade Runner, the writer from The Empire Strikes Back, you’ve got JJ Abrams himself… what could possibly go wrong? Ha yes!” he exclaims with one of his sudden bursts of energy. “Write that down! Famous last words!”

From eastern-sounding guru to a character from another universe: Miltos possesses the ability to switch nationality, accent and personality at will. And one wonders, when he goes home at the end of the day, who he really is underneath it all.

“It’s a weird thing,” he muses, quietly, “but I would actually consider myself an introvert. I mean, I come across so gregarious, and I do these workshops and conventions and acting jobs, and I can talk to anyone. And then, when I’m not working I’m really quiet; quite reflective. I don’t need to go out socialising with friends; I unwind by being solitary, reading, being in nature. It’s very cathartic. I put so much of me into what I do, that ultimately there’s a cost. And you have to go away and recharge your batteries and be private.”

And that, I think, as we thank each other profusely, is as close to the truth as I’m going to get. Because for all his charm and sociability, I have a strong feeling that I’ve just interviewed someone who has revealed exactly what he wanted – nothing more, and nothing less – while keeping me entertained for hours. And coming from a world where nearly everything is public knowledge, that takes a great deal of ingenuity. I applaud Miltos Yerolemou – not just for his outstanding acting skill, teaching capabilities and incredible energy – but most of all for his intelligence.

Who do you think should have lived? And who deserves to die? I’d love to hear what you think…

The full article appeared in the Sunday Mail on September 27, 2015.