si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: life

How to Fly Long Distance

I’ve done a LOT of long distance flying.

I’ve spent a chunk of my life in Europe, with family mostly in New Zealand. For the uninitiated this is typically a 26-36 hour flight (depending on the route and stop overs involved). I’ve had it take over 40 hours (that ONE time I wasn’t paying attention when booking flights).

I’ve typically done this trip at least a couple of times a year. Except for that one time I flew to NZ, spent four days there, then back in time for work the following week.

There’s something about sitting in one seat for 12+ hours, often, that gives you a lot of time to think about how the experience could be improved.

Here are some things I’ve found that make it better.


Before the flight


Get everything critical laid out the day before

This enables you to easily and visually check the obvious stuff (tickets, passport, itinerary), and make sure you don’t forget anything, but also to question “do I really need that.” If you’re flying, weight matters.

Put deodorant in your carry on

You might not need it, but if you do you’ll be super grateful. Also, if your bags get lost (it does happen) you won’t have to feel/smell like death until you can find a chemist.

Tie a fancy ribbon on your hold luggage

Around the handle is fine. Just something that makes your generic black bag look slightly different from every other generic black bag on the carousel. The only thing more tedious than having to lift your bags off yourself is having to lift many bags off because you keep accidentally grabbing ones that aren’t yours.

Duct tape makes everything look old

If you have expensive stuff, putting duct tape on it will make it look old and crappy. A sneaky trick I learned from an international travel photographer. It’s odd, but works.

Put everything of value in your carry on

As awful as it is, you have to assume that baggage handlers don’t care, and that everything in your hold luggage will be rifled through and possibly stolen. If your expensive gear is with you at all times, you can keep an eye on it. Otherwise? Good luck.

Always keep your passport and tickets in the same place

Don’t do what I did once – madly rip my entire suitcase apart in front of check in, looking for a lost passport – only to realise ten minutes later that it was in my right jacket pocket instead of my left. Oops.

Always dress up for the airport

Of course, “additional screening is random.” And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. I’ve travelled a LOT. The only times I’ve been really hassled at security was when I had surreal hair and was dressed for a festival. When I’m tidy? (usually black dress shoes, jeans, collared shirt, jacket). I get waved through. In fact, some of the times they’ve actually waved me AROUND security. Yes, so I didn’t get scanned at all. Go figure.

Oh, as a bonus? Jackets have pockets. Always helpful.

Get to the airport early

Usual check in for international flights is an hour and a half. If I’m travelling by myself, I’ll typically aim for 2-2 1/2 hours (depending on how I’m getting there) or 4+ hours if I’m travelling with someone else (depending on the person).

I’ve been on the way to an airport, with two 30+ kg suitcases and three hand carries, only to have a train we were depending on get cancelled. The next available train was half an hour. Fortunately, I’d planned to get there 4 hours early, so we had plenty of time and could relax and laugh about the whole thing.

Travel can be stressful enough, and there’s nothing worse than getting on a long haul flight dripping in sweat because you’ve had to sprint somewhere carrying a giant suitcase. Get there early, be chilled, let everything be easy.

Be super nice when checking in

You may not have noticed, but often the person who checks you in will also be on the flight. It’s one of the ways that airlines save money. They don’t hire extra desk staff, it’s just one more job for flight attendants. What this means is they’ll remember if you’re a dick to them (or grumpy) when you’re checking in. The other thing here is – these people have HUGE power. Baggage allowance, which seats you get, how much they look after you on the actual flight, oh and yes, if you’re even ON that flight.

All that aside, they have a hell of a job. Twelve plus hours, standing most of the time, required to smile and be super polite to often demanding, rude, inconsiderate people. Make a point of making their lives a little easier. It’s good karma.

So, before you walk up, put ALL your internal crap to one side. Imagine you’re meeting an old friend, and do all you can to smile, connect, be loving, supportive and warm. And yes, this is someone who is “there to serve you”. Just do it, you’ll thank me, plus it’ll make you feel better – being loving always does.

Ask at check in to be seated as close to the front as possible

Generally they fill the windows first, front to back, then the aisles. If you don’t mind sitting in an aisle seat, then being in front of 50 or 60 sets of seats will make a huge difference to how quickly you’ll be able to get off the plane. Which in turn makes a huge difference to how quickly you can get through immigration (often the slowest bit of the post-plane exit). Also, forward of the engines is noticeably quieter than behind.

If you can check in with a machine, do that

It’s always faster than standing in a queue. Also, you can then choose a seat super far forward.

Be nice to the security people

Much like checkin staff, they have the power to make your life miserable (up to and including jail, let alone missing your flight). Sure, they can be thieving, under trained, unhappy people, but hey, they need love too. Also? In all likelihood they hate their job as much as you hate them doing it. They’re not all bad. They’re in a crappy position (if nothing awful happens, they’re “adequate”; if anything does, it’s their fault – there’s simply no win condition for them). Have some empathy.

No matter how stupid the modern “security theatre” is (hint: very), you can suck it up for five minutes. Smile, be polite, do NOT joke – about anything, be loving. Then run away as quickly as you can. No, don’t run; walk briskly.

When going through the xray, put everything from your pockets into your jacket

First, it’s much faster than putting it all into the plastic tray. Once you’re through you can walk away, and empty your jacket pockets as you go. Secondly, it keeps your stuff safer. Much harder for someone to surreptitiously grab your wallet if it’s hidden. I’ve never seen (or heard) of anything like this happening, but often (say) if you’re pulled aside for secondary screening, all your valuables will be left in the open, without you being anywhere close to them. Might as well play it safe.

Going through security, queue behind single business people

They’ve done this a thousand times, they’ll have it down to a fine art. Try to avoid families (kids make everything slower) and old people (who generally move slower anyway).

Charging devices in airports

If you look around, you can usually find outlets to charge phones, ipads, laptops etc. They have to plug vacuum cleaners in somewhere. Be wary of officially provided phone charging stations. They’re probably fine, but these can be trivially hacked.

Do not get onto the flight hungover (or worse, drunk)

For a start, nobody working in an airport likes drunk people. However, even hangovers are bad. We get hungover partly because we’ve just filled our brain with neurotoxins and hammered the hell out of our liver and kidneys. A big part of it though is simple dehydration. If you’re dehydrated getting onto a plane, 12 hours of aggressive air conditioning is going to dry you out like crazy – which will leave you with jet lag from hell.


On the flight


Take a scarf 

Air con on most flights is brutal. All that cold air swishing around goes right down your neck. Plus a scarf can double as a mini pillow if you’re trying to scrunch up into a corner and need more bolstering.

Take ear plugs

I can’t stress this enough. That background roar of the engines is deceptively loud. Good ear plugs make a HUGE difference in terms of quality of sleep. Plus, bonus, it damps down screaming kids, people who insist on talking while the lights are out, or, heaven forbid, those over-loud page turners (yes yes, fellow readers, I’m joking).

Noise cancelling headphones

These are more comfortable than ear plugs, and work better. Not a terrible idea to have your own headphones anyway, if you prefer your own music. Just make sure you have enough battery power to last the distance (plus layovers).

Wear an eye mask

Most (but not all) long distance carriers provide these, but it’s worth collecting them from previous flights, as this gives you a choice of the best one available. Or, if you’re fancy, go buy one of your own. Never underestimate the benefits of being able to control ambient light when trying to sleep (particularly if people have reading lights on, or the plane lights come on 20 minutes before you’re really ready to wake up)

A neck pillow

I’ve never used one, but I scrunch up pretty small. I know people who swear by them in order to support your neck while you sleep.

Compression socks

Haven’t used them myself, but they’re reported to both make the flight much more comfortable AND help reduce the likelihood of DVTs – although since the risk factors are still a bit in question, that may be hokum.

Take an aspirin

This only really applies if you have one of the dozens of possible “risk factors for DVT” – but it’s not a terrible idea to take one as a preventive measure. Aspirin just thins the blood very slightly, making it less likely to coagulate (glue together) and thus kill you (by having that glued up lump travelling up into your heart).

Use the airline socks

These aren’t always provided, but when they are, change into them ASAP (ie, before take off). Keep them on until the plane is taxiing towards the terminal at your destination. Why? A couple of reasons. First, feet sweat a lot, and having clean socks to wear when you land is always nice. Secondly, because you’re sitting still and at high altitude, blood pools in your feet, making them swell up. Shoes will get super uncomfortable (plus cut off blood flow). Letting your feet readjust to normal altitude first is a lot more comfortable.

Move seats as soon as you can

Once you’re damn sure there isn’t going to be any more passengers, that is the time to nab the middle row, shift rows, or generally just grab more space for yourself. You may not have paid for four seats to lie down in, but if you sit in one of the middle two of an empty four, you can be reasonably sure no-one will grab either aisle seat and voila – instant bed. But you have to be fast. Elderly Asian gentlemen can be surprisingly nimble at this game.

Drink lots of water

For a start, water is great. We’re 70% water, which means we’re less like a solid body with liquid, and more like a rather thick aquarium. Secondly, aggressive air conditioning (filtering 12 hours of 400 people farting) means air travel is VERY dehydrating. Dehydration is a killer. It also makes jet lag much worse (since your body needs water to work, so without it, it can’t help you heal as quickly). Lastly, drinking lots means you’ll have to get up and go to the loo. Hello? Exercise is better than sitting on your arse for 12 hours.

I used to take a 2L bottle of water for each 12 hour leg – which worked great. Unfortunately these days, security theatre means it’s harder (and more expensive) to do this. In lieu of that, just drink as much water as you can and don’t be afraid to go to the steward stations and ask for more – they’ll be happy to give it to you.

Avoid caffeine and booze

As fun as it is to just get roaring drunk, your primary enemy on long distance flights is dehydration. Both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics – which means they absorb water out of your body. Plus, the coffee on planes is usually pretty awful anyway, so you’re not REALLY missing out.

My absolute all time worst jet lag has occurred on those long hauls where I’ve merrily guzzled coffee and wine at every opportunity. Not. Very. Smart.


See: dehydration. Your skin will thank you.


Regularly rotate your ankles, knees, shoulders. Just wiggle them all about as much as you can. Get up and walk about if possible. It’s important to keep blood flowing. This is why in hospitals, long term sedentary patients are regularly turned over by nurses. You don’t want to start getting the early precursors to bed sores just from sitting still too long.

Be nice to the flight attendants

It’s very simple. They have a hell of a tough job. Be loving. Be kind.

Wet wipes

Wet wipes are awesome. Basically, you can use them to “wash” any part of yourself that sweats. So, feet, groin, behind the knees, armpits, back of the neck, face. Anything that would otherwise be sticky and uncomfortable. Unless you’re able to smuggle a portable shower on with you, this is your best option.

Two hours before landing, wash

This sounds odd, but a couple of hours before landing, going to the bathroom and washing anything and everything (wet wipes!) makes a huge difference. Any later than that can be tricky as they’re often serving a last meal, or insisting you sit down for landing. Plus the queues get large as everyone tries to go to the bathroom at once.

Airline travel can be pretty awful – airport dirt, all that sitting down sweating etc, but getting off the plane feeling even moderately clean can feel like heaven by comparison.

Empty the seat pocket WELL before you land

It’s too easy to get distracted by people pushing past, saying goodbye to a seat buddy, etc, and forget something you love (I’m so sorry gorgeous blue scarf, you will be forever Korean).

Sleep as much as humanly possible

I know there’s a lot of talk about circadian rhythms, syncing with the place you’re going to, etc etc, but trust me. Just sleep as much as you can. Once you land is a whole different story, but if you’re tired, it won’t help.

I generally make a point of just generally burning the candle at both ends before a long flight. Then once I’m on I watch a silly movie and sleep for ten hours. It works super well.

Don’t read a book

Magazines are fine, since you can dip into them, but feeling like you have to power through a book will keep you awake much more, limiting your sleep. Movies are fine, since you can usually tune them out or sleep through them, but books force wakefulness. You NEED sleep.

Sit with your legs apart

A bit gross, but it stops you sweating as much “down there.”

Going to the bathroom at night

It can be tricky to spot which is your seat in the dark. So, leave something bright (your scarf or a magazine you brought with you) on the seat. Makes it all a ton simpler.


When you land


Unless you know the airport, always allow more than two hours on layovers

I know it’s annoying sitting in an airport waiting for your next flight, but hear me out.

First, some airports make you go out through security then back in again (LAX!), whereas some just sit you in transfer zones (Seoul). So, it could be a 15 minute journey through a single layer of security, or you may have to go through immigration as well. Ie, it’s impossible to predict how slow it could be. On top of that, often the simple walk between gates can be 20+ minutes, in a larger airport.

Secondly, and more importantly, global warming is affecting air travel. It’s common and becoming more so for strong winds to affect travel times, meaning your incoming flight could be an hour late. If you’ve only allowed an hour to connect to your next flight, you’re going to be STRESSED. Stretching your legs in the terminal (or getting a beer) is a hell of a lot more relaxing than having to sprint from plane A to plane B.

Once you’re off the plane, walk as quickly as you possibly can to immigration

Immigration queues can be HUGE, and walking past the entire rest of the plane means you’ve jumped a couple of hundred places up the queue. If you’re super lucky, you might even be able to walk past an entire other plane that’s landed at the same time.

Do NOT go to the loo before immigration unless it’s life-and-death. My lil bro did this once when we were travelling together. I sat and waited for him while the entire plane shuffled slowly past us *facepalm*

When you’re going through customs, walk slowly and look tired

This may be easy if you’ve just jumped off a 20+ hour flight, but it’s always helpful to walk tiredly and slowly through customs. They’re watching for suspicious behaviour. If they see you, say, excited and looking forward to seeing your friends waiting for you, they may easily misinterpret that as you being excited and looking forward to handing your drugs off to the dealers waiting for you.

The only times I’ve ever been stopped is when I walked at my usual brisk pace, keen to get the hell out of the airport. Walk at grandma pace, it’ll take an extra 30 seconds, but possibly save you twenty minutes of nonsense.

Ditch your airline baggage tags as soon as possible

If you’re travelling on public transport it’ll be obvious you’ve got a lot of stuff with you, but you don’t need to advertise that you’ve brought it all from overseas (and thus it might include duty free booze and electronics, rather than just dirty washing for the nearest laundry).

Stay awake until your normal sleep time

Even if you arrive at 4:45am and you’re exhausted, try to stay awake until your normal sleep time. It’ll help your body get in sync faster, thus reducing jet lag. One tired day is much better than a week falling asleep in meetings and staying up all night. Even if you can’t make it right until evening, every hour you can stay up will help your body adjust enormously.

Have a shower as soon as you can

Get rid of all that travel dirt. You’ll feel a million times better, trust me.


There’s a lot of things about air travel that are tiresome and stressful. However, it’s also quite exciting. Airports are full of people off to distance places. They’re like a nexus for adventure. A few relatively minor changes can make the whole thing fun, and certainly a lot less hassle.


    A Weekend in Ireland

    Last weekend, my ridiculously lovely girlfriend took me on a surprise trip to Ireland for my birthday. My instructions were simple – turn up with a passport. Until we were through security, I had no idea which country we were going to, and even after we landed, I didn’t really know where we were. (For the fun of it, I was quite happy to cover my ears and turn away while she talked to officials and handed our boarding passes etc over)

    early morning

    In case you’re curious what London looks like at 4am in the morning – this is it. Kinda beautiful. Once you get farther away from the city lights, the sky opens up and the earliest moments of the dawn break through.


    si & m

    Tired but super excited and dressed for inclement weather. M & I on the plane. As I said, even after landing I wasn’t totally sure where we were. However, one hire car and an hour or so of driving later we ended up here:

    moher cliff with grass

    First stop – The Cliffs of Moher. Now, as exquisitely beautiful as they are (and up close? They truly are jaw dropping), they’re exciting for another reason too. These are the Cliffs of Insanity, from The Princess Bride! If you’d like to see what it’s like to climb them, check this:

    Apparently climbing is easier if you’re a pirate – no footwork is required – inconceivable!.


    moher cliff with tower

    To give you some idea of the huge scale of these things. It continued from here to the right about another 50%, and around the corner to the left you can see them stretching off into the far distance. Oh, and that tiny little blip on top? That’s a two storey castle. After all the climbing I’ve done, heights aren’t too much of an issue for me – but I have to say, being up there (with the highly variable wind gusts and no safety gear) standing closer than a foot to the edge definitely made my legs a little wobbly.


    sweater shop!

    After that we headed up to Galway for (what else?) a pint. On the way, we saw this – a super cute sweater shop. Which sold (of course) super cute sweaters.


    After walking around Galway, and driving the car back to the hire place, we then caught a cab to Limerick. Now, the Irish are notorious for liking their pubs. Indeed, the first place we stopped in Limerick was a wonderful little pub recommended by the cab driver (nothing like a local suggestion for a great place to get beer). Upon walking around we found this glorious stretch of road. It may not be super clear from the picture, but that is four, yes FOUR pubs in a row. Right next to each other. On one street. In a row.

    Ay. May. Zing.

    Never seen anything like it in my life.

    After Limerick, we trekked on to Dublin by train. Oh, I do love train journeys. We stayed in a gorgeous little hotel (with a wonderful bed and deep, fast filling bath) a short walk from town.

    Then, first thing the next morning – guess what?!?!?


    m with the guiness gate

    Yeeeeppppppp, the Guinness Brewery!

    If that’s not a perfect start to a birthday day, I don’t know what is.

    Now, I’ve been on the Guinness tour before, about a decade ago, but they have really picked up their game now. There’s a reason it’s been voted the most popular tourist attraction in Dublin two years in a row. For a start, there’s about five times as much information as before. The vast majority of the tour you just wander around at your own pace (you can get audio guides if you don’t speak English). They have almost no staff for the entire tour – they just don’t need it. There’s lots of clever multimedia work (eg being able to put yourself into a Guinness advert). So, they have massive throughput, vastly reduced staffing costs and a far superior tour. It’s a win-win-win. Smart. Genius, you might say.


    me pouring perfectly

    For example, as part of the tour, you get taught how to properly pour a Guinness. Along with getting to drink it, of course. Hey, I even have a certificate proving I can pour a perfect Guinness – with my birthday date on it! Woohoo! And if you think that was an accident, ha ha ha. I’m regularly reminded that while I’m no slouch, M is still farrrr smarter than I am.


    a guinness advert

    Another ridiculously fun/silly experience? This. Hehe. (I’m looking a little high, dammit, but still, awesome)

    all the guinnesses!

    Now what’s not to love about that? Perfect.


    dublin homeless

    Of course, with any travelling, it’s always the little things that are most fascinating. A homeless bedroll – ok, common enough. What I found most interesting here? Count the books. There’s three books left there with their roll – a veritable library. Oddly intriguing, I thought.


    dawson st

    Also, this. Oh boy.


    trinity bell tower

    We also checked out Trinity College, which was started, essentially, as an Irish answer to Oxford and Cambridge. That’s the central bell tower, which we were reliably informed peals out if ever a virgin walks underneath it. It hasn’t sounded in over 200 years. *cough*


    st patrick's cathedral

    As a small sign of how far I’ve come in terms of getting rid of my Catholic detritus, when M suggested visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral, I jumped at the chance. It’s obviously architecturally stunning. One whole end of it was repaired by Sir Benjamin Guinness (yes, of those Guinnesses) in 1860ish. There’s also a very interesting display on the left hand side, with a bunch of flags brought back by the Irish from various wars, dating back hundreds of years. Many of the flags are burnt beyond recognition. An odd place to store them, but a strong reminder of how core to the community these ancient houses of worship truly were.


    m in the garden

    There are, of course, many beautiful parks.


    And on a random whim, we went on an utterly impromptu pub crawl – The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. This is without a doubt the most fun public pub crawl I’ve ever been on. It’s run by a couple of actors, so has a combination of skits, poems, stories and general literary exposition and explanation. Now, I’m hardly a high brow reader (I read a couple of Pynchon’s books earlier this year and they just about made my head explode) but these guys made the whole thing incredibly approachable, entertaining and informative. I really can’t recommend it enough. It went for a few hours, but I could easily have hung out with them for several more.


    yarn bombed posts

    There’s also general merriment to be found. A different kind of bombing going on in Ireland these days, although the pain of The Troubles, even as far south as we were, was still widely felt and acknowledged. Never quite-too-directly talked about, but often surprisingly near the surface.


    yarn bombed bike

    First time I’ve ever seen one of these – that’s quite some effort there.


    train view

    We spent a ton of times on trains – which was glorious. Endless hours watching views like this – always different, always gorgeous.


    train snacks

    And of course, the best thing about travelling on trains – lots of secret snacks!


    cork floor plate

    One more train trip, and we ended up in Cork. Many of the streets in Cork have these gorgeous plates set in them. They appear to describe often defunct side alleys, many tiny, several blocked completely. Still, the plaques are intricate and exquisite.


    st fin barre's cathedral

    Cork has the Protestant St Fin Barre’s cathedral, which utterly dominates a huge part of the city. It also has statues of a groom, five wise virgins and five foolish virgins guarding the front door – which sounds like one hell of a wedding.



    After walking around utterly and somewhat intentionally lost for a couple of hours, we stumbled across this utterly wonderful local pub. They had a happy hour on, and as such the only beer we found in Ireland that was cheaper than London. I have no explanations what’s up with that.

    Eventually, our time in Ireland came to a close, so we headed back to the airport.

    airport fisherman

    Where we found this guy. I’m not sure what the fishing is like in an airport concourse, but he seems to be doing ok.


    airport cops

    The crazy thing is, the adventure still wasn’t over. As we came into London, the intercom came on – they were looking for a guy. Since he (apparently) didn’t immediately offer himself up, the entire plane was exited through the front door. There were two armed policemen waiting, checking everyone’s passports. Wait, did I say everyone? I meant just the guys. Eventually, some elderly fellow, in his 60s or 70s, hobbled down the stairs. He was the one they were after. The cops pulled him and his (obviously long suffering) wife aside and everyone else was allowed to go on their way.

    What a trip.



      A few weeks back I went to my first hangi (pronounced hung-ee). Considering how many years I’ve lived in New Zealand, it’s an odd thing to come all the way to London to experience, but life, she is a funny mistress, yes?

      So anyway, nice and early one Saturday we headed out to the marae (mah-r-eye):

      the marae – ha ha, not really

      I jest, I jest. That’s not a marae. Hell no. That’s Clandon Hall, at Clandon Park, just outside London. The marae is here:

      Clandon Hall, plus the marae

      You can see it off to the right. It’s one of only three maraes outside of New Zealand. So, really quite a big deal. To give you some perspective – the New Zealand High Commissioner turned up for the hangi. So, really quite a big deal.

      The start of the powhiri

      Here’s the start of the powhiri (poe-fih-ree), where the locals welcome you onto the marae – but wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The hangi (which, after all, is why we’re here) starts with one of these:

      A fire. A BIG fire.

      It’s a little hard to see – but when that fire started (several hours before the cooking kicked off) it was about five or six feet high.

      The trick with the fire is this. You build a massive fire at about six am in the morning. In the middle of the fire you put big hunks of iron (eg chopped up bits of railway). So, the fire isn’t to cook the food, but rather, it just heats up the irons. Way back before railways, obviously they would have just used rocks, but iron holds the heat better.

      After the fire has burnt down sufficiently, you rake the fire with long handled rakes, and pull out the irons.

      raking the irons out of the fire

      There’s a real art here – if you don’t let the fire burn long enough, the irons won’t be hot enough to cook the food properly. Luckily, the guy with the gray hair there has been doing hangis weekly for 13 or 14 years, so he has a ton of experience.

      While the fire is burning, you dig a pit – about the size of a grave, although not quite as deep (you do, after all, want to be able to get the food out of it afterwards, unlike, uhh, graves).

      these irons are HEAVY

      It’s hot, tiring work.

      Digging through the fire to get all the irons out

      You can see the fire has been raked apart pretty thoroughly by this point. It’s still damn hot. Even at this stage you wouldn’t want to stand within 10 feet of it.

      After the irons are put in the ground, the food is placed into baskets.

      It’s a cage match! No, it’s not. These cages are quite peaceful. They’re about to be fed.

      There’s a very specific order the pits are lined.

      First of all the irons. Then pork, chicken, beef, vegetables (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes), then layers of hessian (burlap) on top (to keep the dirt out).

      The order is very simply so that the foods you have to be the most careful about cooking properly are the closest to the heat. Makes perfect sense.

      So anyway, once the food is in there, the entire thing is covered over.

      ha ha. Turn your back & we buried it. No food for youuu!

      Yep, lunch is under there somewhere. This is what lead me to joke about the entire thing being “mud food” (although really, it tasted nothing like that – plus, hello, they’re not idiots, there’s exactly zero interaction between any dirt & the food itself).

      While this was all sitting around under ground was happening, we headed back to the marae.

      The way the powhiri works, it starts with a challenge. Essentially, the warriors from the marae come out and scare the shit out of you. The thing to remember is – they’re holding weapons that are designed to kill with a single strike. Those things do serious damage.

      the challenge (my lil bro may be one of these extremely white warriors)

      The whole thing is intentionally intimidating as all hell.

      Interestingly, in terms of the people coming onto the marae, the women are in front. Now, I don’t speak Māori (moh-ree -sounds like ‘mouldy’, without the ‘d’) – but the tradeoff here seems to be – we offer our peaceful intentions by putting the most vulnerable people in the front (women & children) and they show they’re fully capable of protecting their marae.

      Once the challenge is done, they put a small branch off a tree onto the ground as peace offering.

      However, they’re still all business. Even as they’re stepping back to the marae, they keep eye contact:

      note, weapons still in full attack position (covering all possible eventualities)

      Did you figure out which one was my bro? Welllllll.. I wouldn’t want to embarrass him.

      Ok, ok, I probably would:

      Not so brown, but still kinda scary while he’s holding that thing.

      Yes, he’s trained. No, I wouldn’t want to mess with him while he’s holding it.

      Ok, so I do have his permission to post this. Actual conversation:

      me: Doing a blog post about the hangi. You ok if I post a pic of you in full gear, face paint, grass skirt etc?

      him: Why not, it’s not like I have any manliness left, anyway.

      me: Dude. You’re holding a stick capable of killing someone with a single blow. AND you know how to use it. That’s fucking manly.

      him: Tell that to the Scots. They’ve been accused of wearing dresses for centuries.

      me: They’ve also been head butting anyone who gave them shit, for centuries.

      (As an ironic side note, he’s Scottish, but you can see why I love him so).

      Three UK based brothers, plus stick through the face – traditional Maori pose (no, really not)

      After the challenge and retreat, there are a bunch of speeches, songs and even poetry. It’s all very cool, very welcoming, and really quite entertaining. There was also a bunch of demonstrations of the Māori martial art my brother trains in.

      Eventually, after four hours or so – again, utterly guessed by the guy running the hangi (get it wrong & you’ll find either raw or dried out food – and you can’t bury it again once you do, all the heat escapes), they dig it up from under the ground:

      notice how the layer of hessian you can see is spotless – not an accident, that’s careful planning

      More hot, sweaty work – but utterly fascinating to watch.

      Oh and look, here are those irons I was telling you about:

      Super hot. Super heavy.

      Once the baskets are brought up on long poles, they’re loaded into a van:

      van full of deliciousness!

      After all – it’s that or carry these super heavy baskets for half a kilometre to where everybody is waiting. Might as well use some modern conveniences (For example, I’m a big fan – as were the guys running the hangi – of beer-in-a-can).

      The baskets themselves still required some manly heaving to get to their desired location:

      Heave-ho! Only real blokes need apply

      I helped with a couple of the baskets. Ho ho, no, really. Here’s the proof:

      oh, I really am quite filthy.

      Those are my hands. Honest! Look, it’s even my jacket. Ohhh, ok, fine, believe whatever you want.

      So after all this digging, burning, heating, covering, uncovering and carrying, what did we end up with? This:

      Delicious, delicious food

      The chicken was a little (but not ridiculously) dry – I’ve certainly had much worse. The pork was utterly delicious, as was the potato, carrot and stuffing. The whole thing was quite scrumptiously smokey.

      Oh, and that seemingly small pit in the ground? Fed about 150 people, with plenty for all.

      A perfectly delicous ending to a thoroughly educational day.





        This is without a doubt the scariest post I’ve ever written.

        I’ve tried to make this blog as useful as possible. With the exception of the odd frivolous entry, I’ve tried to give practical advice, stuff I’ve found helpful. What’s helped me that might help you. This means talking about things only after I’ve figured them out, after I’ve learned how to best get through them.

        This is not one of those entries.

        I’ve been reading I thought it was just me by Brene Brown, which is about shame.

        After a decade of studying it, she defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed & therefore unworthy of acceptance & belonging.

        The key bits here:

        1. It’s painful
        2. It’s a perceived external judgement (ie, about how we think other people view us)
        3. It’s isolating – makes us feel we’re alone
        4. It’s about something we feel we are (as opposed to something we’ve done)
        5. It’s about wanting acceptance

        There are many other emotions that swirl around this, but what differentiates shame is that it’s about external judgement, combined with being about us (not our actions).

        • We feel guilt about things we do, but shame about who we are.
        • We feel embarrassment about events that are temporary, fleeting and eventually even funny.
        • Humiliation we don’t believe we deserve (eg it’s unfair), but shame we believe we do.

        Other people can cause shame in us (criticizing who we are or what we’ve done – only if we interpret that as a personal flaw), but as always, we are our own worst enemy. Most shame is self-inflicted.

        This is where the isolation comes in. Nobody likes to talk about shame. Nobody likes to admit it and that silence is, I suspect, the worst part of the problem.

        Notice how people will only talk about rags-to-riches stories when they’re successful again (and thus distanced from it)? That nobody talks about riches-to-rags stories, unless they’re talking about someone else? That’s shame.

        See the gradual realisation that Facebook is depressing us? (“Everyone else’s life is better than mine”) That’s shame.

        We only want other people to see the best parts of our lives, and it’s a lie.

        • Every family is screwed up (in some way or other).
        • Everybody struggles – with addiction, depression, trauma, physical ailments, parenthood, self-comparison, work-life-balance, at least once in their life if not constantly.
        • Nobody is perfect – and by that I don’t mean “hair is sexily ruffled at 3am” I mean “is fucked in the head about something or other”

        Because nobody talks about it, we think we’re alone, which only makes it worse.

        So here’s where I’m at. Here’s my life, right now.

        To give some perspective, I need to scroll back a few years. A while back, maybe half a decade ago I owned several properties (let’s just say, more than three). I flitted around the world whenever the whim took me. Stayed in $1200/night hotels. Didn’t think much of making $100k decisions based on a two minute phonecall (batting average on those? About 50%). I’ve dropped 50k in half an hour, and slept soundly that night. Made as much on a single deal with zero effort and thought “that’s nice.” Financially, at least, life was pretty sweet.

        On a side note, I was pretty unhappy with who I was as a person (in a few ways), which is what lead to the spiritual journey I’ve been on since then – which this blog (mostly) chronicles.

        About the time I started on this journey, my finances started taking a serious downswing. So, over the last few years, I’ve gone from the above situation to about a hundred grand in debt, with zero assets (nothing of any resaleable value).

        I’ve been evicted twice in the space of two years. I’ve been taken to court. Threatened with debtors prison. Been forced to sell everything I owned to pay debts (& given the rest away because I couldn’t afford a moving truck). I owe significant money to a large number of people (friends & family alike).

        I’ve had two girlfriends dump me because of it. I’ve watched my friends get tired of asking “are you making any money yet?” and slowly drift away. Several of them no longer talk to me (or reply with the barest of politenesses). This isn’t a criticism of them, they’ve been beyond patient – I can barely explain the situation to myself, I don’t expect them to understand.

        I’m now 41 and living at home with my parents – the only place left that I could go. I’ve been here for a year (give or take), and (externally at least) still nothing has changed.

        So where’s the happily-ever-after? There isn’t one – at least, not yet. And that’s exactly the point.

        I’d been hoping I would eventually pop out the other end of things, so I could write a “Here’s what I’ve learned… now my life is all wonderful & shiny again” post. It hasn’t happened.

        I haven’t written about this because it’s so shameful (and embarrassing, and humiliating).

        If there’s something appealing about a 41 year old guy who is so incapable of looking after himself that he’s forced to bludge off his parents, I haven’t found it yet.

        Is there any of the above I’d recommend? Well, getting rid of all your stuff; it’s challenging but ultimately freeing. Other than that, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Stressful doesn’t begin to describe it.

        Is it an awful situation? Yeah, kinda. Have the last few years been awful? Yeah, pretty much.

        Oddly (or perhaps not), I’m the happiest, most peaceful and most loving I’ve ever been in my life. I can thank all the healing (as I’ve been describing here) for that. That part of the journey I wouldn’t give back for anything.

        So what have I been doing all this time?

        Well, a ton of healing (as you know), which has been super helpful. Without that, I probably would be dead. No, correction, I definitely would be dead.

        I started a company, in late 2009. That was doing ok until early 2010 when two things happened. One, Twitter had loving-but-stern words with me about the way I was doing things (which involved a complete code rewrite) and two, Paypal shut down my account – temporarily – due to one of their apparently-common “security reviews”. Short version: something I did (or didn’t do) flagged some obscure setting in their software. I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, it was just a temporary hiccup on their end.

        Still, something about the confluence of these setbacks really kicked me… somewhere, and I still haven’t managed to even start charging people for the service again, let alone be able to pay bills or start making decent money again.

        The bigger story is this: I’m an entrepreneur. My first job was when I started a company at 14, selling technical drawing paper to my schoolmates. I’ve always, always had side businesses on the go, no matter what I’ve been doing elsewhere.

        However, there’s been a strong underlying pattern. I write amazing code, or build amazing things, but I rarely if ever make money.

        When I invest (property, stocks, whatever), I generally make out like a bandit, but businesses I’ve started (and there’s been a lot), no.

        This is a pattern I want to break.

        I don’t want to spend the rest of my life starting businesses, working hard, and getting nowhere. That’s stupid. It’s neither loving nor helpful to myself.

        Of course, whatever is going on is just something emotional. I’ve created it, and I very definitely have the tools to break it.

        I just haven’t been able to do so yet.

        If I don’t, eg if I follow most of my friends’ well-meaning but misguided advice to “go get a job”, well, this issue will just continue to re-manifest for the rest of my life. I’ll keep recreating it in new and exciting ways. This is exactly what I’ve already seen happen several times, so it’s time for it to stop.

        Making the time to sort this issue, even if it means abject poverty for a couple of years, is worth it for the pay-off over the next hundred.

        Logically, there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be rolling in cash. I’m male, white, well educated, have a broad experience in a bunch of high value fields, hard working, skilled, motivated. All these things work in my favour. I fully realise how blessed I’ve been to be born into the situation I was. Whatever’s going on here has nothing to do with the obvious.

        The thing is – I can tell myself all this. How counter-intuitive it is, how unlikely, and how necessary to sort it out.

        It doesn’t make the situation any less shameful.

        It’s not an accident I’ve been single for almost three years. How do you ask a girl out on a date if buying a coffee is something that will most likely take a month to budget for? What about a second date, wait another month? Awkward.

        Plus, of course, shame is always accompanied by powerful feelings of “Not good enough.”

        Statistically, most people work for others (as employees), whereas I’ve had a very non-standard career. This makes it difficult for most people I know to relate, let alone understand (isolating).

        In Silicon Valley maybe, running a startup would be understood. Even there though, when a startup gets funding (from a VC, typically), that’s considered “success.” Until that point (or an IPO) they’re not generally considered successful. Even bootstrapped (ie, no external funding) startups are considered a bit weird, interesting, but not-as-successful.

        Where my parents live is over an hour by bus from the nearest city. There are wild chickens that live closer to it than I do. It’s where I grew up and while it has its charms, this is the most provincial I’ve lived since I left home, 24 years ago. This is no accident. I thrive on the bustle of cities, and even telling people where I’m currently living is mildly embarrassing.

        All these things – they’re all my perception of how other people will view me.

        None of these things I’ve wanted to talk about with anyone (except my family, whom I love dearly). Even writing this is scaring the shit out of me.

        To be clear. I’m not posting this because I’m looking for sympathy. Or solutions. Or even empathy (although generally that is the ideal response to someone talking about something shameful). I’m posting it because we all have things we feel shame about, and not talking is worse than the discomfort of admitting them.

        Yes, I am aware that once this is on the internet, it will exist forever, and be indelibly connected to my name.

        Again, shame. And again, this is exactly why this should be posted.


          Native Bush

          I was recently asked what bush looks like around here.

          Well, today I went for a walk.

          I'm a sucker for a stylish suspension bridge

          Many of the interesting walks around here start with this wonderful bridge. Apologies the sky isn’t bluer, but on the upside, less sunburn risk. Good walking weather.

          The shade of these gorgeous trees is visible from miles away


          walking in the bush



          Lots of walking.. but then, that’s the fun of it, right?

          Part way along is this segmented swing bridge, which shakes like crazy - great for terrorising nephews. Uhh, not that I would. No. Of course not. Not shown: upset nephews.

          There's a bubbling brook which runs alongside the path.. interspersed with the occasional waterfall

          What is it about water? So incredibly soothing. The Japanese definitely know a thing or two, with their garden design.

          and if you ever wondered what New Zealand hills look like, pretty much like this (foreground left is a shrubbery, not a hill)

          There’s a very particular shade to the greenery in New Zealand. The light is quite silvery. It’s especially noticeable if you’ve travelled to Australia (where the light is more golden). So, many of the trees here have that rich, dark green shade. Once you know it, you can pick it anywhere (eg, a single frame from the middle of Lord of the Rings).

          Many of the hills are also covered in gorse (an introduced pest), which are covered in SPIDERS! These are Nursery Web McMansions. When the spiders are ready, out pop thouuuuusands of baby spiders. Exciting!

          Lunchtime we found a gorgeous stand of pines to lie under and eat

          Peaceful. Gorgeous. No doubt pining for the fjords. Also surprisingly comfortable.

          and look! Fud! (also, coffee. Extra yum!)

          Even on an overcast day, the hills are pretty damn beautiful

          The path back treks through a picturesque stand of macrocarpas

          In case you’re curious about macrocarpas (I know you secretly are). They’re also really good for making fake swords and whacking your friends with. So I’ve been told.

          Mum also weeded pretty much the whole hill on the way down, removing introduced pests (in this case ragwort. Not related to regular warts)

          There are massive stands of ferns everywhere

          When they're tiny, oh boy, they're like a flurry of grass

          and when they grow up, they can take over entire hillsides

          To see just how red those leaves are, check this contrast

          back to civilization!

          You may recognise this park.

          The view south from that same initial bridge

          Even on an overcast day the beauty around here takes my breath away.