Hail to the Home Comforts: Things I Miss When I’m Not in Britain…

I'm packing my (tote) bag and heading off, but I'm keeping home close to my heart...

I’m packing my (tote) bag and heading off, but I’m keeping home close to my heart…

Picture E.T., its glowy finger held high to the skies, croaking out “phone home“. Now imagine E.T. walking into a small supermarket in a backstreet in Milan and emerging with a rare packet of Weetabix. E.T. then returns indoors and tries to fulfill the “phone home” objective, except the phone home is a Skype call on a laptop. If no one answers, E.T. opens up YouTube and starts watching vintage Britcoms. That’s what life looks like for me when I have those odd moments of feeling like a homesick alien in Italy. That was also an overlong and awkward intro to what’s meant to be a brief blogpost and it put me inside the saggy skin of E.T. Right, I’m now taking this skin off and getting to the point with pointed glowy-finger precision, right heeeeeeeere

Very soon I’m going to do that thing where I trip off to Italy for a couple of months. This is excellent news because I love Italy and I’m up for a fresh adventure. Still, even though being in Italy is a great – if not, the best – thing there’s stuff I’ll miss about Britain (and it’s stuff that I always miss). Here is a brief list of things that just aren’t there or just aren’t the same in bella Italia, noted down for posterity so that I and any other British people can savour them and appreciate them while they are so close…

Family

Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. My brethren aren’t physically near me when I’m overseas and that’s a bit sad. (And the same is also true for other distant friends. Guys! I miss you! Oh, I’m so lonely!) My bloodclan are crackers and drive me up the wall but, hey, I love ’em and miss those clan gatherings where we just share the same room and talk all over each other for ten hours non-stop. Those Skype calls home? They go on for a long, long, long time…

When in Italy: I’m fortunate in that I’ve got a great collection of Italian friends and Italian family units who welcome me with unbelievable generosity and warmth. I then end up making more friends each time I return and the children I teach come to hail me as a hero, so I’m not bereft of affection. As for my real family: long, long, long Skype calls…

Tea

Italians survive on teeny-tiny cups of coffee (real coffee and not ‘overpriced big mug o’hot milk carelessly prepped for you by an underpaid barista’). I don’t like coffee – I’m English so, naturally, I drink tea. Tea is a a bit of a mystery to most Italians and here we find a complete cultural disconnect. Far from being considered essential (the most important household item), kettles aren’t common in Italy. The rituals and regular brews that keep British people surviving and thriving – the habitual hot drink that helps us cope, comforts us and inspires our creative and constructive output – are entirely absent. No, I just don’t know either. I just shake my head – a head now experiencing a slight headache because I’ve not had a cup of tea – and sigh…

When in Italy: With a stash of teabags I can survive. With water boiled on a hob or in a microwave (yes, I know), something resembling regular tea can be made to happen. Needs must…

Curry

Italy may be a diverse country and Milan may be a cosmopolitan city but multiculturalism isn’t as potent as in the UK. What’s more, Italy – quite rightly – has a firm sense of tradition and identity that prevails and cuisine is one area that you can really see (erm, taste) that. Italy has the best food in the world and I eat a lot of Italian food at home (partly because I don’t like what might be considered ‘traditional British food’). That said, when I’m in Italy I do sometimes feel like I’m missing out on the international flavours that are in abundance back in Blighty. You can find ‘ethnic foods’ but, in the land of pasta and pizza, it feels a bit odd to be eating them. Even so, I miss curry and Indian cuisine is scarce and much misunderstood in Italy. When I tell people that the most popular dish in the United Kingdom is chicken tikka masala and that going out for a curry is a social institution I get disbelieving, quizzical glances. “You see, the best curries are in Britain!” I cry, adopting the tones of a batty aristocrat. “You shall come over to see me, chum, and I will make you eat, understand and come to love this hot stuff that we stole from the subcontinent, back in the days of the Raj, what what?!” And then it turns into a outrageously bullshit alternate history lesson in which I whitewash the past and claim that Queen Victoria travelled to Bombay with bicycles and cricket and traded them for tea and curry so that the Empire could become truly great. At the end of this the Italians are still looking at me as if I’m crazy and I’m still hungry for a curry.

When in Italy: Eat pasta and pizza and be happy.

Films

In the UK I can just take myself off to the pictures anytime I please and watch a movie. Most of those movies are American movies starring British actors and everyone speaks English. I can’t do this in Italy where films are, obviously, screened with Italian dubbing. My Italian is nowhere near good enough to follow the dialogue so I don’t get the full experience. Furthermore, I find dubbing disconcerting because I see the face of, say, Sir Ian McKellen but hear a voice that sounds dissimilar to Sir Ian McKellen’s. Altogether, in spite of Italy’s proud cinematic heritage, I feel a bit at odds with regard to this particular personal passion when I’m miles and miles and kilometres and kilometres away from my local multiplex.

When in Italy: There are ways to see original-language Hollywood flicks in Milano and, if I get chance and miss the cinema too much, I may try that. Otherwise I could also just go and watch new movies in Italian for kicks (staggered international release schedules may mean that I’ve already seen the film in English). Alternatively, I could take a Friday night trip out to the legendary Cinema Mexico to catch one of their audience-participation screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Hot-patootie, it’s pretty groovy…

Accents and Dialects

The anglophone world is vast and diverse. The ways people use (and abuse, misuse and confuse) English fascinates and delights me. Being in a country where English isn’t the first language, though, I find that I start to miss the sound of English in its infinite varieties. I inevitably encounter English speakers from all over the world but the ‘anglophone presence’ obviously isn’t the same. Simultaneously my own English speaking becomes slower, clearer and shorn of quirky colloquialisms in work and day-to-day speaking (when I’m not mangling Italian). Altogether, there’s a deficit of idiomatic language, slang and dialect and my ears start yearning for accents. I’m not just talking about the accents of North West England – I’m talking all parts of the UK, Ireland, North America, the antipodes and Africa.

When in Italy: I end up procrastinating on YouTube, watching videos of people spitting out all sorts of slang and dialect and speaking in an array of accents, lilts and brogues. I subsequently come to find awful sketch shows and sitcoms funny, even though they aren’t funny and trade in ropey-ass regional stereotypes and duff gags. (Hey! There’s amusement in novelty!) I also find myself occasionally slipping into silly voices and bad impersonations of thick anglophone accents when I feel bereft. I sometimes do this for effect when I want to scare children (it’s easy to scare Italian children with a Scouse accent). Allow me this indulgence, guys. I’m a foreign land and 60% of what’s happening is incomprehensible to me. Just give me a moment where I can blast out something like “Eeeeeeyaaah, by ‘eck luv, s’like pea-soup out th’urrgh t’day, like. Summat’s up wit’ t’environment, like. S’at clim’ut ch’haaange int’it? Int’it just, reet?

There are lots of other little things that I miss when I’m in exile: the BBC; British politics; famous British folk that have no celebrity presence or elsewhere (I weirdly end up missing newsreaders, celebrity chefs and BBC documentary presenters); porridge; the moors; Manchester; complaining about crap public transport; and so on. Allora, as alluded to a little earlier, Italy is possibly the best place to be and I’ll be there. In the meantime, this evening I’m going to go out to the cinema to watch Star Wars with my family and then we’re going to go and get a curry. Home comforts, y’know?

Home comforts...

Home comforts…

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In Search of Pizza Spaceship…

Pizza Spaceship… … and yes indeed, in under a fortnight I'm flying off to Italy… #PizzaSpaceship #LiveLongAndPizza

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Live long and pizza…

Things don’t necessarily have to make sense. Things don’t have to have a reason. Their underlying meaning needn’t be clear or logical. Things can be and happen ‘just because’ and ‘just because’ is okay. In fact, ‘just because’ can be mind-blowingly brilliant when two beautiful things are brought together for no apparent purpose other than to make something even more amazing.

Pizza Spaceship is one such thing. It doesn’t make sense and we don’t know how or why it came to be. We don’t really need to know, because ‘Pizza Spaceship’ is fantastic just because it’s Pizza Spaceship. It is the meeting and blissful union of ‘pizza’ and ‘spaceship’ – two great concepts on their own. Together, their powers combine to make possibly one of the greatest notions that a human mind could conceive of.

For context, my first encounter with the idea of Pizza Spaceship occurred a year-and-a-half ago. Fittingly, I was in Italy and I and a good friend were working at an English-language summer camp in a small town on the outskirts of Milan. The town’s name will remain a secret for security reasons. I’ll refer to my friend as Sandy because her name is Sandy (at least, it is when she’s sober). Regardless, this summer camp proved to be quite a challenge for Sandy and I, for a variety of reasons. We were mentally and physically exhausted, we were often semi-delirious (inevitable at summer camp) and we were singing ‘The Pizza Song‘ every day. Even so, in spite of all that, we didn’t collectively hallucinate or imagine Pizza Spaceship. We didn’t wish it into existence or make it up. Pizza Spaceship was and is real.

We ran this summer camp in an elementary school building and this school had a large hall which we used for big games, art activities and lunch breaks. On one of the walls in the hall was a display showcasing art works produced by school children during, we presume, the academic year. Kids had taken paper plates and stuck bits of coloured tissue paper and card onto the plates to make them look like meals (for example, spaghetti, salad, chicken and chips and so on). On the wall alongside these plates someone had pasted a cardboard rocketship. Instead of a porthole window this rocketship had a pizza. “What is that?” Sandy and I both asked ourselves at exactly the same moment. “It… it’s… it’s Pizza Spaceship” we both responded, simultaneously, the spark of enlightenment catching fire in our eyes, minds and hearts.

It was like a flash of enlightenment or a revelatory ray of hope hitting us from somewhere beyond the stars. We felt blissful euphoria. Our base existence was blasted and our state of mere being was altered and blessed with radical new flavour. We had Pizza Spaceship and it was sublime and spectacular. Mundane reality was swept aside as this fantastical prospect transcending time, space and matter moved into our consciousness and captivated us completely. Post-Pizza Spaceship, life would never be the same again. We paid homage to that corner of the hall every day and showed our gratitude for its sheer awesomeness.

We should pay tribute to this cosmic combo. Space travel is immense and exhilarating and I love the idea of boldly going beyond Earth’s stratosphere into the vastness of the wider Universe. (People who know me know that offworld sci-fi is my jam or, indeed, my pop-cultural pizza.) Pizza is a supreme gastronomic invention and a signature article of Italian cuisine (the greatest type of cuisine in the galaxy, in my humble and quite-biased opinion). Put ’em together and I’ve got two things that get me really excited working together and opening up realms of wonder beyond tangible, imminent reality. I mean, Pizza Spaceship could take us anywhere.

This thing – genius in its simplicity – offers unlimited potential and possibility. Infinite joy is within reach if we don’t question it and Pizza Spaceship is not really something to intellectualise or rationalise. We don’t know who created it and we don’t know why. (Pure imagination? The result of divine inspiration? Is its origin extraterrestrial?) Its purpose is also a tantalising mystery. Is this some kind of pangalactic delivery service? Is it a message from another galaxy? Is it first contact, related to the human race in an appealing format? Is it someone or something telling me that I really need to start writing a kitschy sci-fi novella series about interstellar voyagers on-board a flying pizza? (Working titles for instalments include ‘Martian Margherita‘, ‘Prosciutto to Polaris‘ and ‘The Kuiper Belt Calzone Conundrum‘.)

We also don’t know what a Pizza Spaceship actually looks like. The crude card-and-poster-paint representation we found in that hall was a 1950s-style rocket with a pizza riding the cockpit but I can picture a whole fleet of alternative craft. I see the Starship Enterprise and Millennium Falcon as pizzas. I see a space cruiser made entirely of dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella string. I see a square-shaped cardboard takeout box the size of a small moon spinning through deep space, occasionally flipping open its lid so the living Pizza-Titan inside can survey the stars and work out if it’s travelling in the right direction.

Still, the details don’t matter and we don’t need any definite answers. We just need the words ‘Pizza’ and ‘Spaceship’ joined together and Pizza Spaceship is fantastic ‘just because’ it’s Pizza Spaceship. If anything, to me, Pizza Spaceship acts like a religious icon, Tarot cards or a mandala. It’s a symbolic conduit that transcends reality and opens up the acolyte’s mind, body and soul to something beyond. In times of darkness or confusion, I can fix my thoughts on Pizza Spaceship and instantly I’m transported far away to either Italy (my spiritual second home and the home of real pizza), outer space (a stimulating and fascinating otherworldy immensity) or, indeed, metaphysical and macrocosmic space (where you are liberated from the world of illusion and reality itself, becoming one with the Infinite).

Think on Pizza Spaceship. Feel Pizza Spaceship. Realise the wonder and joy and awe-inspiring actuality that is Pizza Spaceship. This is perhaps the ultimate soul food – nourishing Earthly substance and advanced astro-science transfigured into a totem on which we can project all our desires and dreams. Through this vessel we can escape and travel to another world, another reality and/or a superior state of enlightened being.

All aboard Pizza Starship and full speed ahead. Live long and pizza…

(P.S. In under a fortnight’s time I’ll be flying off to Italy again. In reality, I’m flying to Malpensa on a Flybe plane but in my imagination, I’m going to be gliding towards Milan on Pizza Spaceship…)

Back to Italy for Adventures: Andiamo, and Bye Bye for a Bit Again…

Allora, andiamo! I’ve got to go and do what I’ve got to do, and what I’ve got to do is go back to Italy again. I’ve got a thing for Italy, y’know? In fact I have several things for Italy. I’m going to jump on a plane at the crack of dawn tomorrow, touch down in Verona and share some of those things with Italy and Italy will inevitably share its own very special things with me. Ah, bella Italia: grande amore

… and that Eurovision flashback reminds me that, hey! I’ve got tickets to the opera! I’m going back to summer camp! I’m going back to see old friends! I’m going back to practice Italian conversation in real life with real Italians! I’m going back to the best food in the world! I’m going back to the culture and the scenery and the atmosphere that I just dig so much…

(Yeah, I’m very excited and that might all sound very nice to you but I’d also like to note that summer camps are brutal. By this time next month I’ll probably be a traumatised and exhausted husk, beaten up physically and mentally by Italian children. Why do I do this? Because I’m a masochist, a sucker and deranged zealot who can’t conceive of summer without English language summer camps in Italy. I may need help.)

So, summer camps are just what I do (it’s an irrational compulsion) and Italy is a place I just get (possibly also an irrational compulsion, or maybe that’s what real love is). Over repeat visits this natural affinity has grown and, even though I can’t shake off my Britishness and am far from fluent in Italian (ways and language), I think that there is something strong deep inside tying me to the place (and/or the Italian spirit). I really realised that when I left Milan in April after a two-plus months stay and stopped by Zürich for three days – it was nice, but simultaneously alienating. I felt foreign where I don’t feel totally foreign in Italy.

I could ramble on, navel-gazing and analysing my relationship with Italy (and indeed myself and the wider world) but I should really be packing, so I’ll leave this short and sweet. Just know that I’ll be in Italy for a month doing my things (gesturing wildly, awkwardly mangling the Italian language, trying to teach the English language to Italian kids, exploring and generally having an array of adventures, etc.). Because I aim to travel light (*the Universe laughs at such delusion*) and because I want to unplug a bit, I’m not taking this laptop and, thus, regular services and communication channels may be a bit erratic. I may occasionally fling something out on Twitter or some of my doodling on Instagram but it depends. My energies and mind are all going to be directed towards travelling, summer camp work and creative activity in notebooks. Oh, and hanging out with good people, searching out good pizza and soaking up the art, history, culture and overall experiences on offer in Italy – my home-away-from-home.

Until July, then, take care of yourselves and enjoy your June. Here’s to summer adventures. Andiamo, indeed… 😀

Andiamo! I'm being pulled back to Italy by giant spaghetti so, yeah, away I go… 😀

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Hooked on a Feeling: Marvel Movies and My Emotions…

Feelings. Feelings, friends. Aaawww. I have so many feelings and they all fight each other in a forest of confusion fogged by the mists of memory, grappling with artificial intruders and elusive subtle intelligences and secret agendas that I may not consciously be aware of. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s going on or who’s winning. Still, the soundtrack is stirring, the images are moving and it feels quite dramatic in here. Hey! I’m having fun!

It’s just like the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, really. Speaking of which, I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron the other day and had an absolute blast. It was a great experience both because of the film itself and because I was actually going to the cinema. I’ve been enjoying this strange old-familiar phenomenon of being able to trip off to the flicks whenever I please after not having that luxury while living in Milan.

In further film-related news, it’s also been good to get back to Den of Geek writing and, with Age of Ultron coming around and my mind occupied by Marvel heroes, I wrote a piece on the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recommend you read it if you’re interested in these movies or want to see me crying about how much I love fictional characters.

Awww, feelings. Empathy. Emotional content. Here’s to great art that touches our minds, bodies and souls. Thus, I leave you with a timely bonus sketch of Shakespeare and the Hulk. Onward and upward, true believers, and onward and upward with a whole lot of heart. Excelsior…

It's Shakespeare's Birthday and Avengers Day. It's a great day… 😀 #Avengers #Shakespeare

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Free Hugs and Lots of Valentine’s Day Love in the Galleria…

Hugging Robot, Human Feeling…

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Saturday was the 14th February, so Saturday was Valentine’s Day. You’re probably aware of this and know that the day commemorates the martyrdom of poor San Valentino (a.k.a. St. Valentine, Vizzy Heartdust, Sweet Val the Virile) stabbed to death by rose thorn-brandishing heathen eunuchs employed by a devastated Roman senator whose wife had run off with a Christian leathermaker. And then Al Capone shot some people, Captain Cook was skewered on Patrick Swayze’s surfboard, Richard II died after starving himself because no one invited him out for a candlelit dinner and Benedict Cumberbatch got married.

All of those are reasons to note the 14th February, but really I’d just like to think of it as a timely moment to say, “Awww, yeah! Love is great!” Love is always great, in whatever form or flavour. I could go on quoting all kinds of pop songs, pop aphorisms and suchlike but I’ll spare you because Valentine’s Day has passed us by and you could get all that by watching Moulin Rouge (and I haven’t a hope in hell of making this blogpost as entertaining as Moulin Rouge). Still, I want to reflect on it a little though and write down a short account of my lovin’ Saturday experience because I feel it has some significance.

In brief, I’m a lover but I’m not a lover. As a single man on Valentine’s Day there is nothing to do and no one to do it with, but I don’t see any point in being bitter, sad or antagonistic. Also, if you show me a calendar, I’ll seize any opportunity to do something timely related to a milestone day, even if it’s just a doodle. When February 14th rolled around I figured, “Hey! I’ve got to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I’ve got to do something to celebrate love and spread loving feeling!” I would have declared my affection to someone I love and showered them with bad poetry if I didn’t have the problem that I only fall in love with film characters (some of them robots) and women who sit opposite me on trains and then vanish out of my life after just three stops.

Still, I’m in love with the idea of love like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. And maybe in a couple of months I’m going to move to Paris and write a hit musical that’ll spark a fresh Bohemian Revolution. For now though, I’m in Milano in Italy and I was also in Milano in Italy on Saturday. “How romantic it is just being here in this romantic place surrounded by all these beautiful people on Valentine’s Day!” I thought. “I’m going to see if any of my friends want to come with me to the Duomo on Valentine’s Day morning and share ‘Free Hugs’ with strangers!

I did that – actually we did that, because some friends joined me – and it was wonderful. Sadly, the weather was lousy and it was too wet to stand outside next to the grand cathedral so instead we stood under the cover of the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the great shopping arcade, home to high fashion outlets and a floor mural of a bull on whose testicles you stand and spin around if you want some extra good luck). I made a sign to advertise that I was offering free hugs and a number of passers-by embraced me and my colleagues.

We shared some really nice cuddles with an array of random people from both Italy and various international destinations. We got into nice conversations and made a lot of people smile. It even followed a couple of us home as we ended up hugging and talking with a mixed group of Anglo-American tourists to the bemusement of everyone else in the train carriage. I repeat again: it was wonderful, and the main reason it was wonderful was because it was a sweet moment of human connection and human sharing.

What I learned – or re-learned, or was potently reminded of – was this fundamental fact which I very often forget: human beings are social creatures and they need to retain a link to other people, to be open-hearted and to live with compassion and empathy. ‘Free Hugs’ is a way of consciously forcing oneself to knock down the barriers and make yourself open to others as opposed to distancing yourself. As a loner prone to self-isolation (not always a good thing) and as someone who wants to make people happy (“And, by Aphrodite, I will make you happy, damn you!” *smites them all with a double-rainbow*) ‘Free Hugs’ is a win-win scenario.

I loved the experience, and I’m going to do it again (and again and again, if possible) not for attention, but because I believe that ‘Free Hugs’ is a beautiful thing. It spreads positive energy, encourages human connection and brings human beings together, even if it just for a fleeting moment. It’s a moment of love and love is something worth celebrating, on Valentine’s Day and everyday.

I’m going to go and write a Bohemian musical about love. And I’m going to try and find more people to hug, which is easy in Italy where hugs are conventional everyday greetings. I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day and urge you to hug more often. Embrace it, and embrace each other…

Hey! Let's hug!

Hey! Let’s hug!

Epic Cathedrals, Awesome Cow Boxes and Italian Kids: An Update from Milano…

Allora, amici. I’ve got a morning without lessons, it’s snowing in Milano and I’ve got an itch to kick out blogpost and provide an update from bella Italia. Do you want a brief update? I hope you do, because I’m gonna give you a brief update and I’m going to begin it with a GPOY that sort of sums it all up…

Mugging before Milano's immense marble masterpiece...

An idiot abroad…

Hey! I’m in Milano! I’m in Milano and I’m getting to be silly! It’s my job and it’s my city and it’s all feeling really good. (Except for the fact that I’ve been addled by the flu-bugs that have struck down half the children in Italy and seemingly most of the teachers but, hey, we’ve got to fight on through froggy throats and sniffly noses, right?). Over the course of the past fortnight I’ve returning to Italian rhythms and settling back into the country that clearly has become my second home. To get back into the groove I stayed with my very good friends near Lake Como for a couple of days, learned how to make Risotto Milanese and caught the same kind of ailments that my future work colleagues and students had. (“When in Rome, or indeed, Milan…“, y’know?)

I then hit Milano and moved in with yet another fantastic family, hooked up with a host of other mother tongue English-speakers and we all got down to prepping for our new gig. That new gig is work as a linguistic assistant in the city’s schools, acting as a tangible, real-life English-speaking presence and teaching Italian children through informal methods (activities, games, songs, art, etc.) Basically, my objective is to be fun and be English. My first week has revolved around me walking into a classroom, beating my chest like King Kong and showing children a shoebox decorated in cow-print paper that contains five objects that represent me. The following doodle sort-of showcases some of the things in my amazing (seriously Jamazing) cow box…

 

 

The five objects are: teabags (because I love drinking tea and because English people drink lots of tea); a pen (because I love writing and drawing); Boston Celtics wristbands (because I love NBA basketball and support ‘dem Celtics); an ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ pin-badge (because I love films and because I love science fiction); and a Super Mario figurine (because I love Nintendo videogames, am a fake Italian like Mario and because Mario reminds me of my childhood and my family but I don’t go into all that ’cause it’s too complicated for the children and I’d probably start crying and squealing “Aww, man, I miss my brother!“). The lessons have been a blast and the children’s English ability is astounding. They’re really enthusiastic, ultra-keen to show off all the vocab they know, ask for new words and ask questions. The most common question is “Manchester City of Manchester United?“. Other questions I’ve been asked include  “Do you prefer it in Manchester or Milan?“, “Are you married?“, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and “Is your brother married?” Aww, them kids. It’s good to get back to engaging with Italian children again.

Altogether, it’s all really sweet and I’m excited about all the things I can do here (hopefully making some comics, composing some educational songs, imagining up some new games and so on). I also keep having “Whoa!” moments when I realise that I can just pop out to Piazza del Duomo on my lunchbreak, admire that epic marble masterpiece and grab a slice of pizza (genuine Italian pizza). Anytime I want I can drift off and dig Milano’s history and culture. I’ve still not quite got over the “Hey! I’m living in Milano!” state of elation.

I’ll now go back to that and cut this brief update short. More blogposts and bits of writing may surface soon (I’m still seeing how my time and work are working out). The snow’s now coming down thick and I’m going to charge out armed with a cowprint box to play Pass the Bomb with i bambini. From me in Milano then, buona giornata, be excellent and have fun with whatever you’re doing. (Having fun is my job, so I’m very serious about it…)

To Italy – Again! – for Adventure and the Unknown and a Fresh Exciting Exile…

GPOY, badly drawn but showing kind of what I’m about right now…

Allora, andiamo! It’s time for me to say goodbye, go and get my ass to Italia. Why? Because it’s time for a new adventure and I’m heading back to my favourite place to work a new gig and hang around in a slightly warmer climate. I’ve got children to teach English to (hey, I can try), people to see and experiences to experience. Aside from those knowns the rest is mostly mystery. One of my favourite Coen Brothers movies once advised me, “Please, accept the mystery” so I’m going to do that.  Indeed, I don’t know how long I’ll be off home soil and what’s going to happen with my online activity and various other usual bits ‘n’ pieces.

I do know that I’ll be back in the UK at some point – if only to check in with my family, pick up my summer wardrobe and vote those sick, sick, sick and venal fiends out of Parliament when the election rolls around (if they’re still in power come June I’m never coming back to this country again). Erm, yes. Anyway, moving onto more positive things, as far as creative action goes I can guarantee that I’m always going to be creating.

Some stuff might end up online and I’ll probably file a few things on this site at intermittent points – maybe some blogging, maybe some short stories, maybe something altogether entirely different. Definitely less Twitter, probably same-to-more Facebook, maybe Instagram. As Italians say: Boh?! Who knows? I don’t know! The future is enigmatic and as-yet-unwritten (unfilmed, unillustrated, etc.) and I’m venturing off into some unknowns. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be good because I’m an optimist -an optimist going to the land that he loves to live in Milano, the city of miracles, for a bit.

Andiamo, then. Having celebrated my farewell cinema trip (Ex Machina – a perfect science fiction film) and shared a final family meal at my favourite curry joint, I’m done. I’ll now wrap up this overwrought and overlong rambling farewell thing (I’m really bad at goodbyes) and go get my bags together ’cause I’m not completely ready yet and am in pre-travel all-over-the-show anxiety state.

I’m in this state because I’m excited (read: EXCITED) and an adventure lies ahead. Onto that then. Thanks for reading and I’ll be thinking of you all while I’m in bella Italia (yes, I mean you, you). Take care of yourselves while I’m in exile and enjoy the very British things that I’m going to be missing. Ciao ragazzi! Adventure on… 😀

I picked up a new travel buddy. It's-a almost a-time to go…

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The Total 2013 Backtrack Trip Before We Bring the Axe Down Ahead of New Year Revolutions…

I’m bringing down the axe on 2013…

It’s New Year’s Eve, so following on from the end-of-year musical retrospective of the other day and doing what it seems right to do at the calendar climax, here’s another look-back blog post. I will keep it brief and will try not to be boring and self-indulgent. In truth, the coming of a New Year is always an auspicious opportunity to eyeball boringness and self-indulgence and say “A pox on all your pernicious devices! Begone!” And then we explode boringness, self-indulgence and their dyspeptic brethren with our Positive Mental Attitude in a multiple-Boss Fight and level up. Erm, yeah. Basically I’m just going to write my personal sheepdip blogpost equivalent of Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe though I guarantee that it won’t be as funny or as depressing as that. If you want a more worldly or insightful view on all that’s happened this year, all the newspapers and websites in the Solar System have got you more than covered. You can navel-gaze and dwell in premature-nostalgia as much as you want – it’s all out there…

Anyway, armed with the extra experience (accumulated in the multiple-Boss Fight) and resolve to get on with it, here’s the rest of the round-up of my 2013. All in all, it was a pretty good year and I’ve done some cool things and had some awemazing experiences. The highlight of the highlights was definitely spending the entirety of June in Italy, going back out there to work as a English-language summer camp tutor in Italy. I got to see old friends, make new friends and have an absolute blast with the bambini in a country and culture I love. I cherish all the memories of Milano, Torino, Borgo val di Taro and all the things I saw, did, soaked up and appreciated on the way. Good times…

Trip-wise, a birthday weekend excursion to London to see Shakespeare on stage (Macbeth at The Globe, no less) was special. Also special was watching the Charlie Chaplin silent masterpiece Modern Times with a live orchestra accompaniment at the Royal Northern College of Music. I also got to see some heroes this year and had starstruck moments in front of Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction. Sticking with comics, Exhibiting at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds was a really good time. Oh and while my mind’s in Yorkshire I remember that I actually drove over the Pennines and automobiled over Britain’s highest stretch of motorway for my Pass Plus lesson. I passed my driving test in February! Achievement! An achievement completely forgotten because I don’t have access to a car but, hey, I passed!

Achievements otherwise generally revolve around creative output and I’ve churned out a lot of mess over the past 12 months (though never as much as I’d like). Den of Geek columns most weeks; Alternate Reality News and the Alternate Reality News Timequake Expanded Edition reboot; several Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes; a number of Working Barbarian instalments; monthly Pictonaut short story experiments; several doodly projects like #DrawAugust and the Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar; and a whole lot of stuff that no one will ever see or that people will hopefully see once I’ve done the necessary reprocessing, perfecting or completing. I’ve got a lot of things in pipelines, in notebooks, in neglected files, in locked-up parts of my brain and in other places out of sight but I can smell them and they’re scaring me and i’m going to have to face them at some point before they become even more fearsome. 2014 is ‘get your hands dirty and wrassle with demons’, time…

Before then, though, I’ll tie up 2013 with a few cultural highlights. My favourite comics of the year have been Battling Boy by Paul Pope and Hawkeye (or Hawkguy) by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. I’ve also been getting jazzed about Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals in recent months and am ultra, ultra excited about catching up on with all the Mike Mignola-related comics (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy) that came to stay at Christmas. Televisually, everything is ultimately overshadowed by the end of Spartacus and I was in mourning for a week when it finished.

Really, I don’t watch a massive amount of TV because most of my square-eye time takes place at the cinema. I used and abused my Cineworld Unlimited card to maximum this year and saw over 100 films. That’s an unhealthy amount of time sitting alone in the dark crying about people who aren’t real but, hey, I got to see some great movies and I enjoyed and got something out of most of them. Trying to nail it down to an exclusive few (I like pretty much everything so it’s hard) my favourite films released in 2013 were Only God Forgives, Gravity, Stoker, Pacific Rim, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Way, Way Back. My sweetest movie memory would be getting so high on Pacific Rim that after watching it I ran all the way home punching imaginary kaiju monsters. Yes, that happened…

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix...

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix…

I also experimented with growing a beard for a bit, participated in an all-day meditation retreat for the first time (it was cold and uncomfortable battling with my mind in silence) and dressed up as a pretty witch for Halloween. I’m sure that there’s loads more but I’m going to bring the axe down on this self-indulgent bore ramble and put the year to bed (graveyard bed ’cause ding dong the year is dead. I’ve put an axe through its chest and it breathes no more). 2013 is beasted and I’ve levelled up to bounce my way through 2014 which is an even more exciting stage with fresh challenges. I have more powers, I have more experience and I’m game on to have some fun in the future and get better on the way.

On with the New Year Revolutions (I have so many) and ‘thanks ta-ra’ to 2013, then. Thanks and appreciative cyber-hugs are also sent out to everyone who’s been nice to me this year and taken a moment to give me or my shenanigans some consideration. And with that I’m off into the future. Happy New Year and see you in 2014…