March in Review: Mystery Flight, Crisis in Crimea, Knights, Dames and Ripples in Space-Time


Missing planes, crisis in the Crimea, marching, Knights and Dames and ripples in the fabric of space-time!

First off I will touch on the subject of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 about which, unless you have been in a complete news blackout, you probably already know the details. It has become one of the most consuming mysteries of recent times, inspiring a series of conspiracy theories from terrorist hijacking, government black-ops and aliens. As I type this there is news of significant amounts of debris spotted by satellite so it may yet be a mystery that can be solved.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority Search and Rescue Officers coordinate the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from the Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra
What actually happened to the plane remains a mystery. Was it the fault of the pilot who has come under suspicion due to possible political ties and deleted files on his home flight simulator? Was it the two passengers travelling with stolen passports? Was it aliens? Was it a simple technical failure? In a selfish way, I kind of hope we don’t find out. Given some of the theories officials and the media have been throwing out there, or the aspersions being cast over parties on the flight, perhaps, in the end, a little mystery is better than fact.

Crisis in Crimea! I can’t help but read that in a 1940's newsreel voice – it really should be a headline on a spinning newspaper in black and white and superimposed on marching troops. Journalistic nostalgia aside, it turns out that countries prefer not to have sections of their landmass annexed, and on the world stage, when a country as powerful and well-armed as Russia begins throwing its weight around it tends to put people on edge.

Following the deposition of the in no way corrupt Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian loyalists began taking advantage of the political unrest, which caused a series of dominoes to fall resulting in further political confusion. Enter Russian troops, causing much of the rest of the world to sit up and say, ‘wait a minute….’ The Crimean Parliament is dissolved and a Pro-Russian Prime Minister installed, seeking assistance from Russia with bringing peace, love and harmony in the area and holding a ‘we love Russia’ referendum, the results of which are that apparently Crimea really is cool with being brought back into the fold of a country run by this man...

March in Review: Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin [RIA Novosti]
The broader ramifications of the move by Russia are yet to play out, but it has very clearly exposed the risk facing Europe due to its dependence on Russian gas. Interesting then, that the US has looked to expand the export of its own natural gas resources. You know, to lower prices, punish Putin, and set Europe free from its reliance on Russia, oh and let’s not forget about making a quid along the way.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the March in March. The protest of various policies and actions of the Abbott Government was attended by around 100,000 people and took place in major cities across the country. Industrial relations, environmental policy, privatisation of public assets, and the treatment of asylum seekers all contributing to the turn out.

Although extensively covered on the internet, the mainstream media was less inclined to talk about the marches, with comparisons drawn with the significant coverage afforded the protests attended by Tony Abbott as then opposition leader, in front of signs criticising Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I’m sure it’s not bothered our illustrious figurehead, but it was a show of force that shows we are not taking this crap lightly. 

While on the topic of Tony ‘Bloke’s Question’ Abbott, he’s now able to pretend he’s the king by swinging a big sword and dubbing not eminent but pre-eminent Australian’s Knights and Dames. One wonders how far away we are from reverting to all out serfdom. Keep an eye out, as four times a year the Prime Minister can swing his big sword and distract from the real issues, like the economy, education, jobs, and asylum seekers.

Finally, something positive – once upon a time the universe was teeny tiny, then something awesome happened and it expanded exponentially creating the universe we know and love. This is the Big Bang. In the early 20th Century scientists discovered that the universe was expanding leading to the inflation theory. What physicists had been trying to do was work out how to prove it.

Nearly a century of scientific work has led to working out what happened and how the universe came into being. In the 1960s two astronomers observed Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Radiation, which has shown a consistent temperature throughout the universe even to the extreme ends.
Essentially this means that these two points of the universe were once close friends and that their steamy one night stand occurred some 380,000 years after the Big Bang. And, it was at this point that matter started clumping together and light could move about (this is where the universe immediately regretted the mistakes it made and promised it would totally call, but things have been really busy so it might not be for a while).

Anyway the inflation theory is about what happened before the universe started going its separate ways. In the 1990s scientists found evidence of ripples in the CMB spurring more interest in the inflation theory. These ripples were fluctuating in space-time but were thought to be the hallmark of the universe losing its shit and ejaculating crazy physics all over the place. The theory figured that these ripples would leave a distinct signature and the scientific community started looking for that evidence.

This month we found that signature, which means scientists can now look more confidently beyond the 380,000 mark, and start working out what happened and cause the universe to come into being. It also means that science is totally gonna get laid (or, maybe not).

-Paul Briske

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The Art of Titles: Five Awesome TV Title Sequences


I've been watching the new HBO show True Detective, and ya know, it has a pretty impressive title sequence. They really are an art form in their own right, telling a story in 90 seconds or less, or at the very least enticing you to stay on and find out what the heck is going on. Some are nothing more than the show's title but others, like the one for True Detective, go further.

The Art of Titles: Five Awesome TV Title Sequences

Inspired by this I thought I'd share some of my favourite titles in recent years. A couple of which, it appears, belong to HBO shows. Well isn't that interesting.

In my research I was really pleased to find a website dedicated to the awesomeness of titles, which you should check out.

True Detective

Produced by Elastic.


Produced by Digital Kitchen.


Designed by Neil Holman.

And, an oldie but a goodie:

Fresh Prince of Bel Air

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Alternative Valentine's Day Movies


So Valentine’s Day. Named after a religious icon of the early Roman church, who probably never existed, the event we know today replaced the date of the pre-existing Rites of the Lupercalia festival. The abridged version: this was a celebration of werewolves that licenced the pre-Christian citizens of Rome to get up to all sorts of beastly shenanigans.

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies

 A certain degree of cognitive dissonance seems to still be present today. This week the Playstation Network is advertising Alternative Valentine’s Day movie sale, pitching violent action movies at disaffected – presumably male – customers.

Here’s the thing guys. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of romance. It was a standard element of most movies until recently when the industry’s marketing geniuses decided that we need genres that drill down to specific emotions. Michael Bay movies, for example, seem to represent the emotion of agitated boredom.

So romance has been gendered as something only women are interested in, whereas anything with explosions is the province of men. I guess that makes Thor: The Dark World the perfect movie so – thanks movie marketing!

For the past few weeks I have been involved in an office-wide dispute. The cause? Richard Curtisemotionally manipulatively, tepidly directed – though sporadically well-acted (looking at you Liam Neeson) – Love, Actually. Needless to say I am not a fan. It is an ensemble piece that reduces its characters to clichés and goes so far as to set up a series of Pavlovian responses – the Joni Mitchell song for example – in place of engaging an emotional reaction through storytelling.

In the spirit of fairness here is my list of five romantic films that are actually well-made in their own right.

Last Night (1998)

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies: Last Night (1998)

 I would contrast the vapidity of Curtis’ film with Don McKellar’s Last Night, which takes the end of the world and manages to evoke a sense of just how important love can be. Last Night is also an ensemble piece, one that establishes each of its characters through how they are trying to make peace with, well, the apocalypse. We never learn the cause for the Earth’s destruction – although the continuous daylight and the ability of characters to predict to the very minute when it is about to happen suggests a supernova.

McKellar himself stars as Patrick, a bereaved widower who has decided to spend his last hours on Earth drinking wine on his rooftop. His friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) is counting down to the end by indulging in every sexual fantasy he’s ever had. Sandra Oh plays a wife desperately trying to make her way home to meet her husband, who turns out to be director David Cronenberg, a power company rep ringing customers to apologise for the imminent cessation of service.  His secretary, the late Tracy Wright who sadly passed away in 2010, is nursing a strong crush which he is oblivious to. These are all characters trying to make sense of their lives, to make a final connection with other humans, with only hours to spare. Last Night is both comic in its depiction of the end of the world, but also powerfully moving in its vision of the importance of being with others.

Frankie and Johnny (1991)

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies: Frankie and Johnny (1991)

No end of the world here. This is a straight up working class romance starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. Johnny is an ex-con who takes a job at a diner, where he meets Pfeiffer’s Frankie, a put-upon waitress. The casting caused controversy at the time, as Kathy Bates had originated the role on stage in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Pfeiffer’s luminous beauty was only slightly dimmer for the role but in fairness to the actress, despite the Hollywood casting she delivers an excellent performance.

Pacino is also great in a less-mannered-than-usual role. His explanation of the impact of prison-life on his sexual performance is a laugh out loud moment (to reassure readers, it is not a rape joke). Nathan Lane also appears as a gay neighbour of Johnny’s and the film earned a GLAAD award for its, for the time, sympathetic portrayal of LGBTQ lifestyles. Garry Marshall’s film is sweetly funny and a well-observed portrayal of a relationship strained by real-world circumstances.

Romance & Cigarettes (2005)

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies: Romance & Cigarettes (2005)

 John Turturro’s romantic musical has its ups and downs – it’s certainly not a home-run – but there is still more feeling and pathos here than in most recent cookie-cutter rom-coms. It’s a film about a husband, played by James Gandolfini (yup, he sings), whose marriage is thrown into strife when his wife (Susan Sarandon) discovers his infidelity with a lingerie saleswoman (Kate Winslet). Also, Gandolfini’s curiously named philanderer Nick Murder has just learned he has cancer; so not your typical fare then.

It needs to be said that the film is worth the price of admission alone for Christopher Walken’s song and dance number to Tom Jones’ Delilah.

The story resembles a Jarvis Cocker song – full of low-key observations about desire and the fickleness of mortality – with a soundtrack of blue-collar musical favourites for the cast to belt out. Mandy Moore, Mary Louise Parker, Eddie Izzard, Bobby Cannavale and Steve Buscemi all pop up and give it their best shot. It is Gandolfini’s delivery of Englebert Humberdinck’s A Man Without Love, which then builds to the whole neighbourhood joining in, that sticks in the memory.  His character is selfish and conceited – yet you can’t help but feel for his futile grasping for one last gasp of love. Romance & Cigarettes is a truly distinctive romantic film, with a soundtrack to die for.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

 Screwball comedies get written off as light and insubstantial, but beneath the rapid-fire banter the best of the form have a revving engine of finely tuned plot mechanics. This Howard Hawks classic is deathless in its appeal; silly, delightful and still very, very funny. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were never better together and the titular Baby – a tamed leopard – actually makes you feel slightly nervous for the manic actress. The pair had previously performed together – with Grant using something closer to his original English accent – in the cross-dressing comedy Sylvia Scarlet and would reunite again for The Philadelphia Story two years later. Here their chemistry is fantastic, which leads to some great, off-the wall banter between the two.

Grant’s sheltered palaeontologist David Huxley is set to make his name with the presentation of a reconstructed dinosaur skeleton, though romantically frustrated by his devoted fiancée Alice Swallow (an amusingly officious Virginia Walker) who insists on waiting until their wedding day before consummating their relationship. The day before he meets the spoiled heiress Susan Vance (Hepburn), who confuses him for a zoologist and blackmails him into helping her tame her pet tiger, Baby. It quickly becomes clear that Susan is inventing reasons to keep David around – she also happens to have substantial leverage as her aunt is a prospective financial donor for his work – going so far as to deliberately get the two of them arrested. Driven to distraction, the film famously has a scene with Grant in a dressing gown jumping up and down and shouting that he feels ‘gay all of a sudden’, David unwittingly becomes increasingly fond of this maddening woman. This is not only a sweetly comical romance, but a great all-round film.

A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (1946)

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies: A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (1946)

A classic British film from the unstoppable Powell and Pressburger (although the scandal surrounding 1960 film Peeping Tom would put paid to the former’s career), A Matter Of Life and Death (also known as Stairway to Heaven) has the effortless charming David Niven as a WWII pilot who falls in love with an American radio operator (Kim Hunter) moments before his plane crashes. Instead of dying, he finds himself on a beach on the English coast and wouldn’t you know it, June the woman he – rather literally – fell for happens along to meet him. 

It is only afterwards that Niven’s pilot Peter is contacted by The Other World, which explains the metaphysical bureaucratical error. He should have died flying his plane, but somehow in the fog his psychopomp missed him. Peter is given the option of arguing his case – why should he be allowed to continue to live – before a court of his Heavenly peers.

There is poignancy to the wartime setting, beautifully balanced with the whimsical romanticism of Peter and June fighting against the odds to remain together. The stairway to Heaven sequence remains impressive, with the following court-room comedy still very laugh-out-loud worthy. The film is also interesting for its romanticising of the so-called Special Relationship – turns out members of the afterlife at Peter’s trial still hold grudges from the War of Independence – and the light secularisation of the heavenly space, which is never actually referred to as Heaven. An unlikely tribute to the directing pair behind the film would later appear in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
- Emmet O'Cuana

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Sustainable Spidey: Spider-Man Earth Hour's Superhero Ambassador


With great power comes great responsibility...

WWF's Earth Hour and Sony Pictures Entertainment have teamed up to announced Spider-Man is the first ever superhero ambassador for Earth Hour. Not sure how that's going to work, but I hope Andrew Garfield has plenty of baby-powder (sustainably made, of course) as I reckon he'll be spending a bit of time in that skin-tight costume.

Earth Hour Ambassador Spider-Man

Garfield says he's proud Spider-Man is the first superhero ambassador for the cause, 'because he shows we can all be superheroes when we realise the power we all have'. More from Garfield and his co-stars Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx in the clip below.

Why does it make sense? Well, according to Director of the Amazing Spider-Man 2, Mark Webb, the film is the most sustainable ever produced by Columbia Pictures. It's also apparently entirely carbon-neutral.

The announcement was made as part of the launch of Earth Hour Blue, a crowdfunding and sourcing platform aimed at supporting projects focused on sustainable development and conservation. The idea is to encourage and fund grass roots approaches to environmental management.

Webb himself is supporting a project that will provide equipment for WWF rangers working in Indonesia to protect various endangered wildlife and their habitat.
Earth Hour was co-founded by Andy Ridley in Sydney in 2007. Since then the concept of switching off the lights has reached over 7,000 cities on 7 continents and hundreds of millions of people. I know I always see messaged from my friends in Finland reminding me to turn off my lights.

This year, Earth Hour takes place on 29 March at 8.30pm local time.

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Everyone's a Comedian


Last month I made my stand-up comedy debut. As you do.

On arriving in London last April I set myself the challenge of doing stand-up before Christmas. 17th January? Close enough. But why would I do this? Well, funny you should ask.

Growing up the little sister of my two brothers, and with a mother who is quite the kitchen table joker, my wit muscle was exercised from an early age. Since childhood, humour has most definitely been a tool for me – as a mechanism of defense, particularly when I’m nervous, it's also great for connecting with people. But rarely, if ever, do I set out to make people laugh, it just kind of happens, and I often shock myself.

I was always interested in performance, but as I grew older I found the world of acting to be too fake – both on and off stage – and that just wasn't me. I had never considered stand-up comedy as a career option (or any option for that matter), and so I pursued the public service as my profession.

Over the past decade I have found myself drawn more and more to comedy as an outlet, with the rise of the podcast it has grown into a passion, and may be nearing obsession. I’m a big fan if Wil Anderson – more so for his podcast, TOFOP/FOFOP, than his stand-up or variations of Gruen. A big reason for this is that, in his podcasts, he is so genuine and inquisitive, and that he’s able to both open my mind about life and makes me laugh is no mean feat.

Everyone's a Comedian: Wil Anderson

As Wil says, comedians are modern day philosophers, and I agree – well, the good ones, anyway. In a nutshell they stand up and point out all the not-so-great things in the world but do so with laughter, not put us in a state of fear, which seems to be the modus operandi of the mainstream media.

Russell Brand is another favourite of mine who does this. Perhaps he’s a bit much for some, but I think what the likes of Wil and Russ are doing is genius. Their use of humour, which is so disarming, to make as laugh at ourselves and the systems we all subscribe to while expanding our perspectives is pretty clever in my book.

This all got me thinking about voicing my own views of the world, though not in a way that was serious and self-righteous – people don't respond well to that, but they do respond to humour. I pondered that idea for a good few years, then late 2013 I signed up to an eight week stand-up course with London’s Hoopla.

Nervous at first, the course turned out to be my weekly release during what became a very stressful time. Each week the class had to prepare about three minutes of material, which would culminate into a ‘best of’ set to be showcased at The Miller, an extremely popular pub and performance venue in central London. No pressure!

Everyone's a Comedian: Wil Anderson

So each week I got up and voiced the things that were puzzling me, doing so with a humorous spin, without the limitations of political correctness, only to have people laugh along in agreement. What’s not to love about that? As well as that, the course covered various improv games and exercises to get those funny bones firing.

I was most surprised by the fact that material is so readily available – basically, it’s those thoughts we all have on a daily basis but wouldn’t dare dream of saying out loud. Stand-up comedy affords you that dream. And it can be incredibly cathartic as each giggle indicates a person or people who shares in your thoughts or opinions.

Midway through the course a group of my fellow budding comedians and I went to an open mic night – just to watch. Our teacher, Max Dickins, himself a comedian, taught us that watching others trying to be funny will help us realise how good we actually are. He’s right, so very right. We suffered through seventeen acts, all of which had something in common – they were trying to be funny, using multiple one-liners without any flow, but weren’t actually funny. They didn’t share anecdotes or air frustrations, which we had by now learned is what an audience responds to and connects with. The best advice Max gave me was that the audience wants to like you, so let them.

Soon enough, showcase night came around, with thirteen of us making our stand-up debut.

Max, who was also our emcee for the evening, had guided us through the course like a fairy godmother, and reassured us that we were there to have fun. A fellow deputing comedian pointed out that all of our friends were coming to see us for the first time, that they were going to be at their most supportive, and that we were never going to get a room full of this much support ever again. Slightly bummed that she was probably right, it gave me a great deal of comfort in that moment, and in that moment I needed it – I was second on the line up!

The room was so full that we had to give up our seats. Whilst this was a little intimidating, the more people in the room the greater the probability that at least some would find us amusing. The first debutant was brilliant. As I said to her dad afterwards, I could not have picked a better support act (thanks Alice). She set the standard for the evening and that standard was high. Then her five minutes were up and I was on.

Everyone's a Comedian

The most brilliant thing about the venue was that you could see no further than the front row, so from the stage I was staring into a humming darkness, waiting for my first laugh. And when it comes from the crowd it’s like a wave of calm rolling over you, and it’s amazing – I’ve got this.

I’m not going to go into the details of my set, or anyone else’s for that matter – I couldn’t do them justice in writing. All I will say is that everyone did a great job, and I am so proud of each of us for doing what most people would regard as their biggest fear. I have been to professional comedy gigs where by the end of the night the energy in the room is very low, but not this night. I was honestly amazed by the standard – I think even our fairy godmother was surprised!

The highlight of the evening was actually on the way out, when I overheard someone saying that they really liked ‘that girl on second’. This experience has left me firmly with the view that anyone can be a comic, as long as you are genuine to your own voice and are prepared to fail.

This is a class where, in that room, you forget about all the crap around you that’s getting you down and have a laugh at it instead. So much did I enjoy it that I’m going back for level two!

Everyone's a Comedian: Russell Brand

Max Dickins will be previewing his Edinburgh Comedy Festival show on 23 February in Camden, check out his website for more information. You can also enjoy his shenanigans on his highly acclaimed podcast Dregs.

The next stand up course for Hoopla starts on 24 March or you may also be interested in their improv classes, check their website for details.

Wil Anderson is also on touring various places and shouldn't be missed at this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival (my face may even be on the poster). For tickets to his MICF show see Ticketmaster. Or you might want to listen to his award winning comedy podcast, TOFOP/FOFOP.

My new addiction is Wil's new podcast Wilosophy, which, while not necessarily funny, is a good listen. The latest episode has Australian muso Ben Lee and is fascinating. If you're a fan of the Gruens you must listen to the first episode.
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The People In Your Neighbourhood: Elizabeth Egan


Elizabeth Egan does things I could only dream about. Actually, even in my dreams I’m conscious of the reality of my abilities and don’t have those kinds of wild aspirations. Elizabeth does; although for her they’re not aspirations, they’re tangible goals that she sets herself and achieves. Elizabeth is a scientist, but first and foremost Elizabeth is a runner.

High-performance sport has long been a passion for Elizabeth. Influenced by her coach from a young age, she became increasingly interested in what was behind the athlete and their abilities – what made them able to do what they could and how particular types of training could make them better at it. ‘I’ve always wanted to be a better athlete’, she tells me, ‘I love working with people and I want to make the most of their talent’.

So far does Elizabeth’s passion for helping athletes extend that she completed a PhD in sports science – looking into the biological impacts of athletic activity. Towards the end of her studies she also managed to find the time to represent Ireland at the World University Cross Country Championships. Most recently she has edited the culmination of four years’ research into a book Notes from higher grounds: an altitude training guide for athletes, which provides information and advice on some of the world’s best altitude training locations. Oh, did I mention Elizabeth also likes to travel.

People In Your Neighbourhood: Elizabeth Egan: Altitude Training
Notes from higher Dr Elizabeth Egan
It was a break following completion of her PhD that got her started. ‘I wanted to go to Africa, and in 2004 I decided to go to Kenya to train there for a while. I soon realised that running was a great way to see the world,’ she says of her ability to combine her two passions – running and travel. ‘In 2006 I decided to travel to more places and write a book about it.’ While I wonder if that’s clouding the pleasure of travel with work, Elizabeth assures me it’s not. ‘It makes such a difference to be doing something that I’m really passionate about; it doesn’t really feel like work most of the time’.

Being a lay-person, my extensive knowledge of altitude training amounts to it being something I hear mentioned during the sports segment of the news, as something footballers might do during the off-season. Elizabeth enlightens me, in as simple a way as possible, about how ‘above 1,600 metres air pressure the body detects the lower oxygen levels in the blood and increases production of a hormone that increases the synthesis of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body.’ Right; got it so far. The increase in red blood cell mass, which she tells me is very important to endurance performance, is particularly beneficial to endurance athletes.

But apparently it makes you slower. ‘There are some limitations,’ says Elizabeth, ‘it’s simply harder [to run at the same pace you might at sea-level], due to lack of oxygen, so you have to strike a balance between quality speed work at sea-level and oxygen-boosting training at altitude’.

People In Your Neighbourhood: Elizabeth Egan: Altitude Training
Training in Kenya - photo credit Elizabeth Egan
Like I said, I only know about altitude training because it’s where some clubs send their teams, however the reason Elizabeth wrote her book is to make this type of training accessible to anyone, not just professionals with the right contacts at the venues. ‘I wanted to show that anyone could train there, and benefit from it.’ As Elizabeth notes, for the professionals this type of training is ‘icing on the cake, it’s the extra little thing that may make the difference between being a world championship finalist and a medal winner.’

And for someone who’s serious about their running, but not quite that serious? ‘Training in a different place is good for motivation; training in places like Kenya and Ethiopia can be very inspiring, and training at altitude for sub-elite athletes can help prepare them for when they reach a high level.’ Even if you’re not aiming for a higher level of ability, Elizabeth says there are benefits for athletes at all levels from having extra red blood cells.

Although interested in athletics, running and training techniques for a long time, it wasn’t until that 2004 trip to Kenya that Elizabeth first experienced the benefits of altitude for herself. ‘I probably trained too hard’, she says, ‘so it wasn’t the most successful trip I’ve been on’. Apparently this is a common problem for many altitude first timers. ‘I always advise people going to altitude to have their iron [needed to make red blood cells] levels checked about six weeks before they go, and to take it easy for the first two weeks.’ The benefits of altitude also extend to just being at height, so there’s no need to push it too hard to start with.

Notes from higher grounds… includes tips and advice for travelling to the 15 different training venues Elizabeth has experienced firsthand. According to Elizabeth it’s ‘basically a travel guide…including how to get there, some places for athletes to stay, the sorts of facilities they should expect, what the trains are like, and what activities there are to fill the hours between training’. And it fills a gap in the market. ‘When I was planning to go to Kenya for the first time, I found it very difficult to get [the] information [I needed].’ It was a number of years before she decided to take the prospect of collating the information she herself couldn’t find seriously, however the decision to write the book was in itself a fast one, made in just 48 hours.

People In Your Neighbourhood: Elizabeth Egan: Altitude Training
Training in Kenya - photo credit Elizabeth Egan
The culmination of four years’ research, that comparatively spur of the moment decision can’t have been easy to fulfil. ‘The biggest challenge was running out of money a couple of times. I had to take a job in 2011 to raise funds to finish the travels, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t let the hard work I’d done up to that point go to waste.’

‘When I set out on this project I had no idea what I was doing. I had no experience writing a book, or the publishing industry, but I knew I wanted to write one, and had an idea of what I wanted to look like, so that went a long way.’ And it did, to 15 sites no less. ‘I now respect how much effort and time goes into researching and writing a book. Because I did everything myself, I learned so much about writing, editing, and designing a book. I can’t wait to start writing my second one – it should be much easier.’

A long time coming Elizabeth says ‘the best bit was holding the first copy of the book, hot off the printing press, in my hands. It blew me away!’ Extra special, given she not only undertook the travel and research for the book herself, she also started her own publishing company, Kukimbia Huru Publishing, to get it out to market. The only thing she didn’t do herself was name the company, ‘it was a friend that suggested I use the Swahili for run free – linking my passion for Africa and Kenya in particular, with my carefree approach to life. For me, it’s the perfect name.’

People In Your Neighbourhood: Elizabeth Egan: Altitude Training
Ethiopia - photo credit Elizabeth Egan
Of all the places she’s travelled, it’s clear that Africa is a favourite, but it was Mexico that had the biggest impact on Elizabeth during her research, probably more so due to her state of mind at the time. ‘That was the first country I visited for the book and I was really unprepared’, she explains, ‘I finished my job, changed address and got on a plane, all in the space of a few hours. I didn’t speak Spanish and just about everything that could go wrong did!’ This, unfortunately, included her bank putting a stop on her card. ‘All I could do was get on with it and make the best of things. My attitude changed and that definitely helped with the rest of my travels…things could go wrong, but that was part of the excitement of travelling.’ Elizabeth acknowledges that she quickly had to become content with her own company but that doing so in Mexico City, which she says is ‘completely mad’, helped her to come to terms with that.

And of Kenya, the location that sparked it all? ‘Kenya will always be one of my favourites; I’ve been six times already; that speaks for itself.’ Elizabeth notes that part of her mission in her travels has been to find somewhere that comes close to Kenya for her, and says she’s found two, ‘Flagstaff in Arzona and St Moritz in Switzerland – and I will definitely go back to those two.’ Not just yet though, ‘first I’m planning to go back to Ethiopia. A new camp has opened on the outskirts of Addis Ababa (Yaya Village), which I hear very good things about. That and I know I didn’t see all that beautiful country has to offer when I visited the first time.’

People In Your Neighbourhood: Elizabeth Egan: Altitude Training
St Moritz, Switzerland - photo credit Elizabeth Egan
Notes from higher grounds: an altitude training guide for endurance athletes by Dr Elizabeth Egan is available through Amazon. In future Elizabeth hopes to be running training camps through Altitude Training Camps, as well as continuing to provide health, lifestyle and training advice through Athlete Life Development.
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An Exercise in New Year's Resolve


New Year's resolutions. Made with such belief, promise and most importantly, conviction. One resolution that is recycled every year is the ‘I will get healthy this year’ or ‘I will lose weight’ or ‘I will start exercising more’.

I will exercise more... (Summertime Jogging by Candida.Performa on Flickr).
If you’re anything like me, said determination (bordering on mild obsession) lasts for three or four weeks before things start to go pear shaped and you’re starting to slip off the bandwagon.

It starts with a birthday cake that shows up at work. What? No. You couldn’t possibly refuse. That would be outright rude, and you don’t want to offend the birthday girl.

Then there are dinners with friends. You haven’t seen them since last year (see what I did there) and you have loads to catch up on. You don’t want to be bathed in your own sweat by the time you see them and hair that has dried with the sweet smell of stale perspiration will draw attention for all the wrong reasons. Skip the gym, just this once, go on.

This year I made this very resolution. I will exercise more; I will eat healthier, I will go to that spin class even though it feels like hell on Earth… yada yada yada.

Considering it’s still early days I’m not at the stage where the excuses have started to flow…yet.

I’m sure my undertaking would be easier if I was someone who loved exercise. You all know who and what I mean. You meet these people at work, see them on TV and run into them on the street. You can see it in their faces. They’re in pain and they love it, they really, fucking love it.

She loves it, LOVES it...(Miami Fitness by Calibe Thompson on Flickr).
And deep down (actually you don’t even have to venture that deep) I secretly want that. I want to love exercise. I want to find joy in the burning in my thighs. I want to relish the stinging sensation that sweat brings on when it drips into my eyes. I want to…you get the idea right?

Sadly this is not the case. Take tonight’s gym class for instance (or even any gym class I’ve been to in the last three weeks, which is about three). Instead of walking away feeling larger than life, all I can feel is the wave of nausea rising from within my belly with my lungs feeling as though they’ll burst with the next breath I take.

I barely manage to make it to the ladies change room before I’m sure I’ll pass out or throw up, or both. It’s a good 15 minutes of sitting there with my head between my legs before I’m brave enough to start making my way home. 

Every night it’s the same. As I wander home in my exhausted stupor I hope that people won’t notice my weakened state and desperate fatigue, instead looking at my butt hugging tracksuit and fluorescent sneakers and thinking 'she could probably out run me'.

And there it is, the lesson in all of this: even if I don't end up fit, at least I can look it.

-Susie Obeid
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Hopeless Bromantics


Season Five of Community, one of my favourite television shows, is Donald Glover's last with his final episode airing in the US last week. A fitting send off it may be, to allow Childish Gambino to more seriously pursue his music, but still a sad end to one most innocent, humourous and enviable bromances on television.

As tribute to the end of Troy and Abed, here's my top five television bromances, in no particular order, but of course starting with the bros in question.

Troy & Abed (Community)

Who'd have thunk a once promising football jock and a socially insulated movie geek would become this generations' representative bros? Apparently Dan Harman, creator of characters Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi).

Denny Crane & Alan Shore (Boston Legal)

Played by William Shatner and James Spader respectfully, these two Boston Legal-ites were less than decent characters most of the time, except, that is, when it came to each other. Their shared cigars and bonding over whisky on the balcony epitomised their relationship - wealth, arrogance, intelligence and in the end, bros. Well, in the end husbands, actually.

Kirk & Spock (Star Trek)

Yep, William Shatner features again!

Not that you'd really know it from the films, but Star Trek's Captain James T Kirk and Mister Spock (Leonard Nimoy) were definitely bros. Spock being the logical counterbalance to Kirk's emotion. So noted is their bromance that Kirk and Spock are the subject of reams and reams of fanfic, somewhere in a dark dark place on the internets. If that's your thing, go boldly.

JD & Turk (Scrubs)

JD (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) are such great bros that they even sang about it, in season six episode My Musical. Scrubs has to have been one of my favourite shows for a very long time, and it needed the madness of JD and Turk's bromance to carry it. The greatness of Scrubs was its ability to balance at times serious and depressing realities of life and death in a hospital with the outlandish humour of JD's relationships with his friends, colleagues and bro. Happily it appears Braff and Faison continue to be bros, with Braff recently crashing Faison's Reddit AMA (ask me anything), and to be expected, hilarity ensued.

Sherlock & Watson (Sherlock)

While there has been many an incarnation of Sherlocks grace our screens, here I'm talking the BBC's version starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman  as Dr John Watson. Arguably, Sherlock is Spock to Watson's Kirk, but with Sherlock taking the lead, if that makes sense. Sherlock is reason where Watson is empathy, and together they form a whole. And if there was any takeaway from series three episode two The Sign of Three of the BBC's Sherlock it's that they are most definitely not just colleagues, they're bros. Best bros, in fact.
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