The Adventures of Super Muzungu (and Glen) – Landmarks: Going to Seum

In Uganda, foreigners, particularly white people, are often referred to as muzungu – (literally “someone who wanders in circles”, fun article here). Because I require a 2mm layer of deet and suncream to stay alive, my friends referred to me as super mzungu – whiter than average.

Awaking after a fairly horrific night’s sleep, Glen set to work checking how our room faired in relation to British water regs. He’s a plumber, it’s territorial thing. The room came up to scratch the only real issue being that our air conditioning didn’t work. Opening the fuse box, Glen found that one switch was down and so chancing the ire of which ever god has the remit over such things (Vulcan?) he pulled down the lever.

Everything went dark.

It didn’t, but it’s what what both of us were hoping for. Actually, it turned the air conditioning on. Can’t think why a hotel would leave that off, obviously our €6 city tax didn’t cover such trivialities.

Our first port of call was to buy sun cream ‘cause I can burn on a cloudy day. The ten minutes it took to get to the local hypermarché left me feeling decidedly warm, so we attempted to find some. Glen and I have different methods of dealing with foreigners – I talk to them like they are human beings and Glen treats them like a newly evolved species, all slow words and hand gestures. He however would say I use too many words, while he gets his point across. The debate continues throughout the holiday. I think Glen took this one, so after miming washing himself and saying “SUN CREAM” we were pointed in completely the wrong direction. The lady had responded with “crem di sol” so she presumably understood, she just didn’t know the layout of the supermarket. 20 minutes later we found the sun cream next to the tills. I picked up some childrens factor 50 which put me in good stead for the rest of the week, we also bought some water bottles and we learned that italian supermarkets have live lobsters and whilst playing on the travellators that Glen’s shoes have no grip.

A nun buying lots of wine

We saw this nun. Bad habits

Rome does not like fat people. The supermarket had a metal fence around it which you could only past using those gates made for stopping bikes and horses. When we took the metro there were two up escalators but only one down. Which was about half the width of the up ones. If you can’t fit on it, you’re using the stairs. We saw 2 fat people the whole time we were there.

We decided to walk to the Colosseum from 2 stations away because what’s life without a little whimsy. 5 minutes in, I wondered if we were lost (another recurring theme) until we rounded the corner and there it was. The big papa of surviving Roman architecture.

 I shouldn’t be surprised by the scale of it – many buildings are wider and taller than the Colosseum.  It’s not that different to a football stadiums, but we know you can make something like that out of metal and when you surround it with a car park, it all feels quite commonplace. The difference is you don’t find things like this made of stone. The Flavian Amphitheatre sits by the side of the road, a crouching monolith. It looks too tall for it’s width. It knows that it’s on all the postcards. 

The Colosseum was surrounded by gawkers and hawkers, guys dressed up as centurions and the ever present offer of a queue jump. Our path had taken us via streets which were perhaps 15m above Colosseum ground level (interesting to think how much of ancient Rome is buried), so were give a view of both the building and the crowds milling around it. I’d been told not to worry about tickets because you can buy them at the palatine hill entrance. But soon we were spotted by a tour guide. “Hey you guys want an English speaking tour?”

While watching Sherlock Holmes there is always a part of me that finds it hard to believe you could read people like that in the real world. Does anyone really have the white spots on the their left shoe to show they’ve been painting whilst standing on a stepladder? Turns out they do. Well not the stepladder thing. Forget it. Certainly, as far as nationalities are concerned, these guys have it down:

“It’s cool that you know we’re English straight away. Can you do it with other nationalities?”
“Sure, point at anyone”
“What about that guy” I said pointing to a random man in a queue 50 meters away wearing a green and white striped shirt.
“Brazilian. Let’s go see” We stride over. “Hey, me and my friends-“This guy had great patter. “had a bet about your nationality. Where are you from?”

Boom. We played again and it was 2 for 2, though he admitted he knew the tour guide the second person was with. Were we not attempting to see the Colosseum I could have done this all day. I don’t even care whether there are a lot of easy visual tells – we pointed at a person and he told us their nationality. I’ve got a lot of respect for that.

Thus charmed, we bought a tour from his company and entered the amphitheatre with a tour guide. I suppose we could have been easily scammed during this arrangement, but I did know where they worked and for whatever it’s worth they seemed trustworthy. I could review them badly on tripadvisor. The inside of the Colosseum is fairly mental also, showing something of what it would have been like when intact. I would heavily recommend getting a guide, however, since there is so much history around the structure. Built by Vespasian as he eradicated Nero’s legacy from the world, stones carried by Jewish slaves, between 500k and several million deaths. The Colosseum has to make you reassess the Romans. And everyone who has attempted to use it since, be it for a stadium, fortress, slum, market or shrine.

Take a deep breath.

Take a picture for the couple next to you because your long limbs give good angles.

We waited outside for our tour guide for the next part. Chad was described to us as looking like Thor. Biting back comments about Thor’s recently becoming a woman, we waited for him to turn up.

Chad was great. He’d partially completed a masters but for reasons we didn’t find out, had come to Rome instead. He did a great line in sarcasm – insulting us, historians who thought Augustus was the first emperor and Italian workmen. We saw Constantine’s arch and palatine hill. Coming off the hill to the Roman Forum is just preposterous. There is so much Roman stuff just lying around. You could build 5 museums, you could label to your hearts content, but it’s just lying there protruding from the ground or having been preserved/altered by future generations. Chad poured scorn on a bronze? “original Roman door” which if legitimate would have been stolen centuries ago. Huge areas were fenced with no explanation. Rome seems to have too much history and doesn’t know what to do with it. Probably a money thing. Chad chalked some of it up to corruption. In Britain it’s all scarce enough that you’re dying to turn it into a specific tourist attraction. Later we would walk into an church clothed in marble, obviously used daily (I know ’cause they had a daily Bible reading), absolutely stunning, completely empty. Here’s Chad’s company.

Glen and I had calzone for lunch. The guy bought us fantas despite the fact that we had said we just wanted 2 calzone. Italian service isn’t great. Perhaps English service isn’t either, but certainly we were misinterpreted perhaps willfully on a number of occasions. Foreshadowing.

On the upside we took Penny’s advice and bought ice cream. The lady served us preposterously large portions. If you are near the Colosseum it’s just up one of the nearby roads. No I can’t be more specific.

In the afternoon, we visited the Tomb of an Unknown soldier in the Altar of the Fatherland. A stunning building, all white stone with a black chariot on top of each wing, it shows the Italians can still build, though their style hasn’t changed much. (According to Wikipedia a criticism of the building is that style has changed too much, moving from Roman to Greek and Teutonic. Shrug.) Nowhere in Rome did we see modern buildings, no skyscrapers or attempts to show the city as anything other than something that once was a big deal. As we went home that night the tubes weren’t packed with commuters, they were half full of tourists. In places the most modern thing about the city is the advertising, which usually sets off alarm bells for me. The area around our hotel could have been in the parts of Uganda or India I’ve visited – with it’s lack of modern buildings cars or non-phone technology. This side of Rome surprised me.

We walked around for an hour looking for places to talk to other human beings. We didn’t find any – our area lacked a pub culture. Eventually we dined in a seafood restaurant which was supposedly a tripadvisor victor. Later on I would realise that every restaurant seemed to be one of these and all we had done was limit our choice to a type of food I don’t like. The carbonara was lovely. Glen had fish.

We went to sleep. This time in seperate beds – bed seperated by 4 inches. Beggars can’t be choosers.

The adventures of super mzungu (and Glen) – Departure day

That holiday feeling

In Uganda foreigners, particularly white poeple, are often referred to as muzungu – (literally “someone who wanders in circles”, fun article here). Because I require a 2mm layer of deet and suncream to stay alive, my friends referred to me as super mzungu – whiter than average.
Glen and I went to Rome. Before we begin there are some things you should probably know. Rome is an ancient city on the banks of the Tiber, which was the capital of the Roman Kingdom, Republic and Empire between 753BC and 293 AD. Glen is my friend and tormentor, who lives beside the Thames and isn’t capital of anything – he sees himself more as an Alexander the Great figure.

It was recommended that I take a holiday after working for the summer because that’s how people rest. I have never done a city break before, so I mooted the idea with my man friend and we began. The booking experience was anything but restful, but in the end I found a trip to Rome. Certainly some people seem to think Rome is “quite good”. (moneysaving expert is really helpful).

On the day of departure, panic number one happened as I realised we hadn’t invited Luke. “Luke do you know the definition of the 11th hour?” “When someone is invited to something just before it happens” He’s fun, see. “Yeah something like that”. Could he come? Yes. If he bought his girlfriend a horse. And if BA haggle. They don’t. Packed and set off.

Chatted to a bloke on the plane. We told him he should name his spreadsheets after dinosaurs and encourage his staff more; he congratulated Glen and I on our anniversary. I enjoy the whole travelling experience because you can’t do anything other than rest. I’m not great at that so some enforced relaxation etait bon.

On our arrived at Fiumicino airport, I was once again reminded of BAs status as a premium carrier. I had booked a lift from the airport, so that at half 11 at night in a foreign city we weren’t forced to do deals with local cabbies. It didn’t appear, the the BA and lift company desks were closed and their 24 hour english-only emergency line was answered by a confused Italian man who promptly hung up on me. Urgh.

I have been scared on few occasions, particularly with Glen at my side (read that how you will); the ensuing cab journey was one of these. You have no idea which features are the ones to trust and you don’t have Liam N33son coming after your if you’re wrong. We opted for a(n offcial-looking) white cab with some kind of identification, prayed and checked road signs to make sure we weren’t heading towards the sea.
As we checked in we were “reminded” of the city tax. 6€ per head per night. See, here it says on your voucher that you have not paid such taxes, got to pay it or else. Thank you BA, thank you Italy.

Finally, they had of course thought us a couple and so Glen and I piled into our double bed, talked for 2 hours and then went to sleep.


Probably enough words have been written on this topic already, but hey. (buzzfeed title this ain’t).


So we all get to donate to charity. HOORAY! This is obviously a good thing. The charity itself is a bit arbitrary, since ALS is very unlikely to be the thing that kills you or even ruins your life, but it does ruin some lives and… I’m not going to discuss this. Well thought-out piece by vox hereThought for the paragraph: charity hooray.

We all get to say we have donated to charity. Hooray. A culture where we celebrate sacrificing our wealth in order to better others is a good culture. Becoming proud is bad, but showing that its good to do good is good, particularly when we are all focused on how much we have.

We probably gave because our friends told us to. Erm.. pretty break even. It’s good when your friends tell you to do good things, but not if you do good things because your friends told you to. Certainly your friends pressuring you to do good things is bad. Your friends pressuring you to do anything is bad. Probably.

We then probably told others to. #moralmaze. We are now quite far down the rabbit hole. If being told was good then surely doing the telling is good? But what if we are just propagating this chain letter?

We don’t actually donate that much. … … …  . Not sure there is a pithy emotional response here. It’s just true. We probably haven’t given an earth shattering amount of money. That doesn’t make it a bad thing, just a slightly less significant thing that we thought it was. Maybe you didn’t think it was significant. Why are you reading this?

It may have taken someone telling us to give for us to give the what we did. Probs not good. Need we be told to give and then rewarded for doing so. I don’t think so. We have so much wealth and I think we should use it to benefit one another (and to glorify God, but that’s my beef) so I hope we don’t need a process to make this happen.

We may have read a post like this and then felt guilty about having participated. Boo! I don’t think you should feel guilty about this. You chose to participate. Hopefully for a good reason. Maybe just for a reason that you wanted to be good. Maybe for a bad reason (okay maybe we should talk about that).  But just as our pride can piggy back on charity, its easy to let superiority allow us to crush others when they attempt to do good. Most people have done a good thing here.

Or maybe you are upset that I’m trying to make you feel bad. I’m not. You now have an opportunity to think about giving. You have likely been challenged to give in the past month, so you can think about that. I have been massively challenged. I give regularly, but I have practically no outgoings and it just leaves my account, so its not that much of a sacrifice. Certainly this has caused me to take stock. I’m certainly reticent to participate in the challenge because everyone else is doing it. So I’m a bit stupid regardless.

Why did you ice challenge? How should we give? How could you benefit more people? How wealthy are you? Need we give money? How do we choose whom we give to? Is a bucket full of mice not cruelty to animals?
It is good for us to take time considering how we give because giving is a great thing to be able to do.

And for that reason if no other, it was good to have something to break the ice.

p.s. but seriously, don’t think forever, put it into practice.

Chapter 2: A New Hope

At this juncture, it seems reasonable to actually tell you the point of our trip other than to gain patience (and then pretend to have gained none by writing a vitriolic travelogue about it). We went to a college in Udaipur, India to run a sports tournament. The trip was in affiliation with the Emmanuel Church (the church which I attend) Football Team (ECFC, ECFC, ECFC – hopefully they chant this, I’ve never been to one of their games). There were 6 of us:
  • Ben (leading, midfielder, volleyball umpire),
  • Jo (married to Ben, advising on all things with two X chromosomes),
  • Steve (small [6ft], ugly, and bad at both football and cricket [he plays for the “county”])
  • Mike (one time Emmanuel FC midfielder, Steve’s dad and erstwhile tormentor)
  • Tim (defender, banminton pro, all round good egg, had the misfortune to previously play for Christchurch FC)
  • myself (lamentably unable to play football, but relatively handy with a circular piece of plastic).

In the run up to the trip many had asked me what I expected to do and while it would have been a lie to say I had no idea, it was close. Suffice it to say I expected to play some sports in some Christian-related context, in India. Probably other people had more of an idea, but preplanning is for wimps (clever people) without a million other things to do (who know how to say no). It should be mentioned at this point that I wasn’t really looking forward to this trip. I don’t really look forward to things in general and it had caused me quite a lot of difficulty due to my misreading (see preplanning) my university calendar and having to hastily rebook my flight home to avoid my missing 2 weeks of university (unreasonable) instead of 1 (passable) and the aforementioned computing assignment which was taking longer than expected and could present a serious issue if I was unable to find internet in India. I don’t really know why I decided to go at all since it was quite expensive, but it seemed like a good idea, whatever that means.

Back to the good bit. Since we had passed Indian night time in an Herculean struggle with baggage control, we opted to avoid sleep since that would mean losing another day. Janet, our host, who used to go to Emmanuel before she moved permanently to India, met us at the Golden Tulip and listened patiently while we played air violins and narrated our tale. Once the the 7 of us had got in one Rickshaw (cramped) we travelled to the centre of Udaipur.

Cultural Point #2: Driving in India is “an experience”. I’m not sure they have heard of traffic law and if they have, they take no notice. Generally people drive on the right, but also in the middle and, if the mood takes them, on the left as well. It’s more an art than a science, every driver attempting to get to their destination as quickly as possible, beeping  and avoiding anyone in the way. The crazy thing is that this actually works as long as everyone plays along. Were you to actually drive safely you’d probably cause a crash when you slowed unexpectedly (or just slowed down).. Stopping distance: at times, inches. Crumple zone: invariably your knees.

On arriving at the town centre, we made our way to Haveli’s (probably not spelled like that) a small cafe owned by… you guessed it. Janet had said the food was good and cheap and it seemed like your standard local eatery, as long as you were expecting a view worthy of your average 5 star hotel, that is. Somehow, Haveli had managed to bag a heart-stopping view over Lake Pichola with its azure waters, a floating palace, mountains fading into the mist. The food was great (garlic naan can be really garlicky, and your average takeaway does kormas all wrong), but this was just a local café, rather than the highrise establishment you might expect to hold such a view. This is certainly something that has stayed with me – the effortless beauty of Udaipur. I’m not going to be crass and say the locals ignore it – I have no idea, it didn’t come up in conversation – but in terms of both natural landscape and architecture Udaipur has a raw beauty to it. There is some raw pain and poverty too, but the beauty is what I saw first.
Following brunch on the roof, we idled on the riverbank for a while, deciding to take a boat trip around the river. While the superb scenery drifted past I chatted to Tim and variously attempted to capsize the  boat. We navigated around the river palace (built into the lake floor and only accessible by boat) as well as a slightly less impressive lake house (washing on line, presumably accessible by dinghy). Two American girls sat at the prow and derided my naiveté; you take the rough with the smooth, I suppose.

The Rise and Rise of 2048

The rise of 2048 has been exponential. Since its introduction to my friend group 7 days ago, most conversations seem be along the topic of these fiendish powers of 2. A blog seems appropriate.
Stage 1: Encounter of the 2^nth kind
The Marhvelous [sic] Greg showed me the game originally and it was interest at first button push. I’m not sure why it should be so enticing, but with it’s clean interface and well-chosen colour palette, combining things easily finds its way to your pleasure centers. If you haven’t played it, do. But only once you have finished any upcoming deadlines. As I said, it’s been a week.
Surely there’s got to be a strategy? You hope so at least. You notice that by putting your big numbers in a corner they are more combinable without getting in the way of the smaller stacks. Armed with this knowledge you share it with your friends.
Stage 2b: The Race Begins
It seems so simple, get 2048. But every second you waste, one of your friends maybe eschewing their responsibilities also and coming ever closer to that beautiful numbered lozenge. It’s a winner takes all competition with cries of “who remembers the second man to run the 4 minute mile?” echoing around your friend group (It was John Landy. And before you complain about the obvious analogy being people on the moon, you don’t know my friends. They know the 2^1th man on the moon. They probably even know the 2^3.58th). You toy with using paint.
Credit to Ollie Lansdowne. He apologises to all you font nerds.
Stage 3: The Tears Begin
You cry like a wounded animal as you are unfairly beaten to the prize by someone with fewer time pressures but no discernibly greater IQ (in your modest opinion), be it Steve from the animal care department using the fact that the bears are still hibernating or the sabbatical officers of your Junion Common Room (the student body in my college) deciding to take Friday as their “morning off”. It’s humble pie for you and they spend a lot of time smugly musing on the nature of their premiership. You wish you’d used paint/failed your summative presentation.
Well played boys.
Stage 4: Scoring
Now that the big prizes has (as far as you are concerned anyway) gone, you move on to scoring. Is it possibly to finish with 2 concurrent 2048s? (Theoretically, but I have been, as yet, unable.) What’s the lowest score you can manage? Timed races? Throughout this your receive threats from your peers for the damage you have done to their schedules, sleeping patterns, relationships. It’s around this point when the dreams begin. You close your eyes and can only see squares colliding into sequentially higher powers of 2. You think of combining plates, pots, similar-looking friends to see if they will morph into some superior version.

That’s not my actual best score.
Stage 5. Interest Wanes The Game Changes
Just as your were about to move back to cookie clicker (no I won’t give you a link, trust me, you don’t want that) you realise some guy named Emil has built a two player version and while you and your friends were talking about whether there is a perfect strategy some guy was programming an AI version. You read his notes in a bid to understand this demigod before watching the computer tear up the tiles.
Stage 6: The Game Changes Again..
Somebody builds this monstrosity. You play for 20 minutes before your friend tells you it will take ~71 million years to complete (at 2 moves a second) meaning you should have started in the Cretaceous period. Your success is mocked by fake trumpets. Doge
The colours don’t even change after 8192. Credit to Josh Wilkes (I didn’t get past 4096)
Stage 7: Paradigm Shift
Seven days ago you were sitting under the apple tree and realisation came that all pairs of objects are attracted along a lines joining their centers of mass. Today you wake up and your twin returns from their relativistic journey to tell you that along with seeing you hit by that apple just 5 minutes before, time and space are relative and 2048 now has 4 dimensions. There are now 8 keys to press. You twist your mind round the problem… And you play.

My thanks go to Gabriele Cirulli and to all my friends with whom I have shared the rollercoaster ride (and stolen and published the funny bits). You can email Garbriele or donate if the game has given you enough pleasure that you might have bought it if you could (you can even donate bitcoins – good way to get rid of them before their value crashes).

Edits – Additional 2048 variants as they come
18/03/2014 Fibonacci “2584”
17/07/2014 So I should admit I didn’t keep this up. There are some good websites for it though.

Chapter 1: An Unexpectedly Bad Journey

I am a nervous flyer; not because I couldn’t wax lyrical about their safety or the general awesomeness of their physics for 5 (15) minutes, but because all travelling falls within the subset of “activities within which forgetfulness can be catastrophic” (also included: relationships, academic/general work and cupboard management) . Within 5 minutes of leaving my house I realised I had forgotten my trunks and was in no doubt that there was a real possibility that I might have left something really important or even several somethings.

Steve, one of the other group members did not (at the start of our journey at least) share this attitude. He had a small bag, saying he travelled on “a wing and a prayer” and that with the frequent flying he undertook as a salesperson for a steel supplier this mindset had not failed him. I fear he may travel with fewer wings and more prayers in future. As a final warning, if you have a good opinion/ shares of British Airways either stop reading here or sell, sell, sell.

We arrived in newcastle at 3 for a 6:15 flight. Sadly after some issues getting the plane out of the hanger (a no doubt unexpected and rarely performed manoeuvre) our flight left after 7. Our national ‘premium’ carrier then contrived to put their signal operator on a tea break after our landing, making the 10 meters between where the plane currently stood and where it needed to be an insurmountable obstacle. Needless to say we missed our connection.

Despite Steve’s misgivings we left our luggage uncollected, trusting BAs promise that they would check them onto the next morning’s flight. He had heard, after all, only stories of luggage troubles on his wide travels. We were put up in the nearby Ibis, pronounced Abyss, which had a little restaurant and mathematical symbols all of the lift doors. Their soup was cold and their maths was meaningless. It was as if BA was trying to soften us up for what was to come. We did get a t shirt and razor each. Silver linings.

The next days flight was uneventful. Sadly, rather than flying at night, the lions share of our journey took place during the day, forcing us to stay in Delhi between 1 and 4 the following morning. Luckily our their with us. Not. Here are some phrases containing the the concurrent letters BA. Balaclava. Barracuda. Bad airline. Lost Bags. (other phrases removed at time of print). Here are some that don’t: responsible, compassionate, premium carrier. Ribena. Case closed. In a shockingly unlikely turn of events BA had forgotten/willfully decided not to put 4 or the party’s 6 bags upon the plane? Why only 4? I don’t know. Probably they wanted to taunt us. Tim and I were lucky enough to have our things, but Sadly steve was both unable to change his clothes (unlucky for him) and and had been catastrophically right about the need for us to pick them up the night before (unlucky for us [in fairness, Steve was actually very reasonable about that, but it doesn’t do to praise him too much]). I was not free of the curse of the BA, however. With my new boarding pass unprinted the day before meaning I had to stand in line for about an hour to be told to go to another booth to return to the first booth with a sheet of paper so I could check my bags in.

Cultural point #1: Indians we met didn’t seem to have a concept of urgency. This isn’t necessarily a bad, but things will happen when they happen (…obviously). If you are in an airport, be prepared to queue for a long time. You are British, you have been preparing for this opportunity all your life.

As a side note, don’t change your money at the airport (rupees are a controlled currency and can’t be bought in England). It’s run by Thomas Cook who, after looking at how their rates compare to just about everyone else’s in the country, ought to be damned to stay in the Ibis for all of eternity, along with the BA managerial board.

We drove (we’ll get onto the driving later) to our hotel (the Golden Tulip) and after a brief scuffle in order to stay in the rooms we actually ordered (I’m not married, so I don’t know, but supposedly a Twin is not a fitting substitute for a double [Tim and I found our twin to be more than satisfactory]). We checked in. The luggage would not arrive for another two days and we would have to drive back to the airport to get it. BAFTA-award-winningly bad.