Category Archives: Current affairs

Heroes and other strangers

Last night I went to bed way too late. Not because I was out partying. It’s true I did go out for a drink. But the way-too-late bit is thanks to the fact that when I came home I made myself a cup of tea, got into bed with my laptop and stayed up till 3 am watching a documentary about Steve Jobs.

I’m not even interested in Jobs (sorry). But I couldn’t find any episodes of Pan Am on the BBC iplayer (what? has it ended already?!) and I’m all caught up with Death in Paradise. So while I wasn’t all that interested in Jobs, I was already committed to the idea that I was going to unwind by watching TV in bed on my laptop … that I was going to stay up late just because I could!

The only bit of Jobs’ story that I was curious about was the reference to him as The Hippy Billionaire in the strapline of the show. Ever since I went to see my friend Zac’s play at The Fringe Festival in New York this summer (Heroes and Other Strangers*), I’ve been wondering about something:

How come a whole generation of people went counter-culture in the 60’s and they still turned out wealthy and bourgeois? Or if not wealthy, then certainly not poor. How is it possible to drop-out in your early twenties and then come back in your 30’s with a house and a car and not even a job but an actual career?

Zac Jaffee, writer and performer, in Heroes...

Jobs may be an exceptional case, but from the anecdotal stockpile in  my head, he’s not the only hippy drop-out made good.

After Zac’s show (which has been described as a hippy-fueled coming-of-age detective story), I asked his partner about this. His partner also happens to be my high school buddy. I thought she might know because along with most of my other high school friends, her parents were around for the 60’s (while mine were in Ireland — a country that skipped that decade).

The difference between my parents and the parents of my high school friends seemed stark to me at the time. Other parents had done drugs. Other parents had had some pretty intense “experiences”.

Other parents had different attitudes towards parenting than my own.

It was also clear that by the time I met these Other Parents they wore suits (with padded shoulders) and did things like commute to an office. At the time I didn’t think this was weird — but now I do.

My high school friend’s reply to my question had been that I was over-estimating the number of people that participated in the counter-culture movement and while many of these parents might have been at college at the time and up for the odd protest here and there, my friend explained to me that they were not necessarily fully-fledged members of the moving images I had in my mind. (Think Forrest Gump). They never really dropped out, she said. It was just fashionable at the time to be a bit of a hippy … but not necessarily to embrace the full Yoko Ono.

While I do trust my friend on this matter, I remain curious and let’s face it – clearly envious, that lots of people did opt for a life of love-in’s and parties and questioning the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights …. So how did these people re-enter the commercial world and begin to command the sort of paychecks and lifestyles that their more conservative peers had been sweating over and working more steadily towards …

How did they have their cake and eat it too? The answer in Jobs case seems to be that he was amazingly visionary and utterly ruthless. But what about the average hippy? Or were none of them all that average — were all of them special sorts of people to begin with.

I still wonder about this.

The Jobs documentary shed no light on these matters for me. So if anyone out there can either shut down or verify any of the sweeping generalizations I make in this post — or even better, recommend a good book about what happened to all those hippies … please share!

* * *

*I loved Heroes and Other Strangers – and for anyone who knows me well, live performances are not really my thing — normally I get too stressed out for the people on stage to lose myself in the show and can never quite forget I am watching make-believe. But Heroes really grabbed me. Here’s a bit more about it straight from the show’s writer/performer, my friend Zac.



Filed under Current affairs, History, Identity, Money

Get better acquainted

In the 2nd part of today’s 9/11 post, a few words about fiction and community.

On fiction — many have commented that there’s been no “definitive” 9/11 novel and are asking themselves why. Fiction often helps us understand and process what reportage and facts fail to deliver. In this brief 5 minute conversation several authors talk about 9/11 fiction. Listen here 

And if you’re out and about and unable to tune in, here’s an interesting article on 9/11 fiction from 

On community — late last night I received an emailed announcement that took me by surprise. It was from the co-founder of

If you haven’t participated in a meet-up, check out the site. If you’re in London you could sign up to online marketing and social media events, “healing” nights, laughing clubs and impromptu gatherings of improving Spanish speakers — all taking place in the next couple of weeks. If you’re stuck working in a foreign city, meet-up’s are a brilliant idea.

I never knew that meet-up is a “9/11 baby” — born of a desire to get people talking to their neighbours again. The idea was to use the internet to get people off their computers and back out into the real world — spending time with like-minded souls and building off-line, in-the-flesh communities. Scroll down to read the email I received.

On getting better acquainted with other people — as squirmy as it feels to promote an hour of streaming Nat, since it’s just been published it would be weirder not to. And anyway, if you’re my Facebook friend you’ve already been bombarded with it earlier this week. So to wrap up on a weekend of podcast recommendations, this one involves getting better acquainted with me.

Brought to us by Dave-of-frequent-mention here at Panic Station, GBA (Getting Better Acquainted) is a weekly show about Dave getting better acquainted with someone. In this case — that person is me.
Listen to it here.

I’d also highly recommend getting better acquainted with Dave himself — Listen here for a very amusing collection of personal stories which he’s captured in the opening GBA podcast. Or if you’re short on time, start with this GBA sampler

Till next weekend, over & out — have a great week!

* * *

Email from Meetup Co-founder

To: Nathalie Hourihan
Subject: 9/11 & us

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is
special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many
people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles
from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought
local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I
hoped they wouldn’t bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors
in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to
neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally
ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each
other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring
people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was
born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and
grow local communities?

We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a
crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make
people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months
after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s
working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups,
Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of
100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to
neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me.
They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and
motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find
other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace
together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s
powerful stuff.

It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks
to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it
weren’t for 9/11.

9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to
strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new
community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started
with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

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Filed under Bibliotherapy, Books etc., Current affairs, Not in London, Podcasts, Relationships, Self-help

Podcast 9/11

Being a part of New York City today makes it impossible not to dedicate this post to 9/11 on the 10th anniversary of those events.

It’s a sunny Sunday morning here and the City is somber and so far quiet.

Remembrance events — private and public, small-scale and massive are scheduled for throughout the day with both Obama and Bush at Ground Zero to join the proceedings.

Opening with the spooky emergency call from flight crew to land support, this is a remarkable library of audio collected over the course of September 11, 2001 as events unfolded. Compiled by the Rutgers Law Review, the podcast captures segments of the final moments of people onboard AA Flight 11; UA Flight 175; AA Flight 77; and UA Flight 93.

It’s not for everybody and plenty of us don’t wish to engage in what happened that day by pouring over the details of it. I learnt what I needed to as I watched what happened live and have since chosen to avoid much of the media frenzy that broke out in the days and weeks and years afterwards.

But this morning I did take a few moments to tune into this archive and take myself back ten years —

From the Aviation News website — here’s a link to the podcast

More later today on fiction, community and getting better acquainted.

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Filed under Current affairs, Not in London, Podcasts

London calling (a week in Notting Hill)

I’m guessing plenty of Generation X had the same Smiths’ song stuck in their head over the course of this week. Panic on the streets of London (never mind Birmingham and Manchester), it was.

And now? Well, I can only report from the Westbourne Park/Notting Hill area and am unable to speak for the rest of the city — where plenty of places were notably untouched and a handful may never be the same.

Here, we’ve been left with an edgy hangover and serious worries about the upcoming Notting Hill carnival. The troubles of Saturday and Sunday night were localized enough that you might forgive me when I tell you that the first time I got wind that riots had kicked off , shops had been looted and buildings had burnt was on my way to work Monday morning.  And by that time it was all about to go viral as they say. The worst  of the London riots came that night and that’s when they entered my nearby streets. I was stuck re-routing myself home thanks to station closures where violence was underway above, and as a result I managed to make it back to my street after the attack on The Ledbury and The Walmer .

That night we shuttered all the windows, watched live Sky reports in between following a constant flow of fresh tweets — wondering how many of them were alarmist versus frighteningly accurate. We finally fell asleep. Given a few minor (though recent) incidents where our house has been the target for break-in’s, the thought did cross our minds that maybe it is dumb not to have a baseball bat.

By Tuesday, with the arrival of police reinforcements and mass arrests, the tornado of lawlessness that made a brief appearance in Notting Hill had joined the rest of the havoc in London and swept itself off to northern cities.

Since then the streets around where I live have been spooky. Yes, there are people going about their business and some of the restaurants and pubs are still as busy as they would normally be, but only some. Severals shops have temporarily closed for business — especially the tauntingly expensive boutiques. Normality abounds but in limited pockets only.  For one of the most touristic parts of the city, the area has been remarkably free of pedestrians (day and night.) And where are the masses of non-tourist-looking people I normally see and have to wonder why they aren’t at work? Where has the traffic gone? It’s weird. I’d assumed that after the calm that descended on Tuesday night , that the local bustle would bounce back into position. But it hasn’t.

As the week has progressed, there are two groups of people more visible than normal.

The well-dressed bobbies on the beat walking about in their pairs (have I not seen them before or are they taking more visbile paths since Monday?) and old age pensioners standing at street corners swapping stories with each other about what they saw from their windows. On a couple of corners I’ve spotted the two groups coming together, the police strolling up to the pensioners for a bit of comforting chit chat.

The rest of us seem to be observing some sort of self-imposed curfew (at night). Or we don’t much feel like hanging around our own neighbourhood (in the day.)

I won’t add to the blaming that’s been going on. The debates have been heated all week.

  • The kids – protesters? rioters? looters? criminals? an entire under-class most of us have ignored?
  • Their parents – what the heck?
  • The police – heroes? useless? caught between a rock and a hard-place?
  • The politicians – totally out of touch? blaming everyone but themselves?
  • The courts – too heavy-handed? ridiculously soft-touch?
  • And what about the rest of us? Do we carry any blame?

The week hasn’t made me angry. Other things make me angry. The messier a situation strikes me the less likely I can be bothered to blame anyway. What’s the point? Mostly I’ve just been sad and on Monday evening I did get scared.

For those of my readers who don’t follow twitter, I’ll wrap with a selection of riot tweets fresh in over the course of this afternoon last:

BBCBreaking 1,600 arrested so far and 796 appeared before courts in connection to #riots; 17% are under 18 – Ministry of Justice

helenlewis For anyone filling out their “what caused the riots bingo card”, Peter Hitchens just blamed “practical atheism” on #skynews

BBCNews Community Secretary, Eric Pickles, says plans to evict convicted rioters from social housing are ‘the right thing to do’ #riots #londonriots

BBCBreaking Council tenant, whose son appeared in court charged in relation to #Londonriots, to be first served with eviction notice

guardian Top story on Friday – Tories on #riot policing: too few, too slow, too timid #ukriots #londonriots #birminghamriots

tim Blimey, @GMPolice (official Manc police) is tweeting names, addresses, DOB and convictions from recent court judgements after #riots

Telegraph #londonriots: pensioner who confronted rioting yobs dies after life support machine is switched off

thomsonholidays Thomson will rebook holidays for police, who’ve had their leave cancelled due to #riots, for free. For info go to

Anon_Support Dear UK citizens █████ █ ████ everything ███ █████ is█████ ██ ████ fine ██ ███ ██████ trust ███ ███ your █████ ████ government. #londonriots

johnb78 New blog post: Riot strategy, or ‘why calls for tougher cops are missing the point’ #bloggery #londonriots

DavidKaufer Everyone Is Saying Britain’s Immigrant Communities Are The Real Heroes Of The Riots #londonriots

mattstevensloop Please don’t tweet “Things seem to be” etc about #londonriots #tottenham etc without facts – it just scares people – ta

monstris An open letter to David Cameron’s parents. Do you know what your son is doing? #ukriots #londonriots

caitlinmoran If any plan is made to prevent things like this happening again that doesn’t feature Camilla Batmanghelidjh, it will be a stupid plan.

And while Camilla is NOT the only voice of reason, in my book she’s certainly a very important one with something to say about how to help the kids around us (and not so around us if you live in the right place) find a better life. Click here for her views expressed earlier this week.

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Filed under Current affairs, London