Wedding Day – Las Vegas 07/05/10, 06.00

[Slightly belated post]

Too excited to sleep so I get up and take a stroll about. Inevitably there are people still in the casino – some starting early some finishing late. You can normally tell the difference between the early and the late shift depending on whether they’re drinking coffee or booze. Usually...Vegas is not so much the city that never sleeps as the one that got thrown out of school for Attention Deficit Disorder.

I head outside where gardeners are starting to hoover the grass (seriously – it’s all artificial nowadays) and mosey amidst the joggers and stragglers over to the nearest Starbucks to buy a couple of lattes. The sky’s an azure desert blue, the wind’s died down, and it’s a beautiful day in Sin City. A beautiful day, in fact, to get married.

The ceremony’s fabulous. Nice, simple and uncluttered, with the photographer – a cycling nut – as a witness. A lot of couples get married at The Chapel of the Flowers, but the place did a very good job of making us imagine for a minute that we were the only ones. And, as far as we were concerned, we truly were – the only two people living and breathing on the planet for those moments. Kate looked heart-wrenchingly beautiful and the ceremony and photo shoot afterwards was full of love and laughter. Brilliant, utterly, utterly, brilliant.

The only way to top it was with landscape, so we got changed and headed off to the Valley of Fire, about 60 miles north of Vegas. It’s a stunning place; a desert ecosystem dotted with giant red sandstone formations (it doubled for Mars in Total Recall) on which the Ancient Pueblo Peoples drew petroglyphs on the rock whose purpose and meaning remains elusive to this day. More than anything though, there’s a real feeling of age and gravity to the place; a timeless, brooding ancientness which makes it as different from Las Vegas as it’s probably possible to get while remaining in the same universe.

From there we headed up the Stratosphere to the Top of the World restaurant. It’s not, of course, but the views from the windows as the restaurant slowly revolves 800ft above The Strip are pretty spectacular – lines of neon and light stretching to the desert horizon in petroglyphs all of their own. Food, wine, more food, more wine, and a significantly wallet-lightening bill later, and our wedding day was pretty much done.

It was, of course, only the start of the journey though...

Defining Vegas moment: in a bar where a giant volcano that took up the size of a standard English semi erupted, spewing out a girl in a bikini who promptly slid down a waterslide and into a giant margarita mixer, whereupon she began dancing Esther Williams style while people on stilts stalked around egging the crowd to clap along. Mad. And it wasn’t just the margaritas talking – promise.

Most amazing non-wedding Vegas moment: 250 miles away or thereabouts at the rim of the Grand Canyon. The seminal horror writer HP Lovecraft used an interesting literary cheat in his works, saying that Cthulu and his ilk were ‘too horrible to describe’...and so, he didn’t. As a writer myself I can only admire the cheek (while, being paid by the word, decrying the potential lost income). But Reader, to paraphrase the man himself, words truly cannot convey the majesty and the wonder of the Grand Canyon. Go there, see for yourself.

Dumbest Vegas moment: Anything involving a fruit machine and beer for a dollar.

Weirdest Vegas moment: The last exhibit at The Atomic Testing Museum. The museum is great, chronicling the Nevada nuclear tests from back in the day when the mushroom clouds could be seen towering over The Strip, but then it gets to the point where it justifies the continued funding of the testing facility (even though the Test Ban Treaty remains in force). So, you end up with lots of stuff about terrorism, some bits about rogue states and nuclear suitcases, and then a chunk of I-beam girder from the World Twin Trade Towers in New York. And you end up touching it because you can .

Most equestrian Vegas moment: Riding through Red Rock Canyon on the back of a couple of ponies. Inevitably, Kate (experienced rider) got a perfectly behaved horse called Stagecoach, while I (second time ever in the saddle) got a stubborn-minded git called Big Joe who wanted to stop and try and eat every single bit of vegetation that came under his hooves. About half-way through I started calling him Evostick...

Foodie Vegas moment
: Vegas does a lot of food blandly in portions that would make Jabba the Hutt blanche. That said though, the corned beef hash at Tiffany’s 24-hour Diner & Pharmacy (you can picture the clientele for yourselves) was pretty spectacular in a ‘That’s really unhealthy but I’m glad I’ve eaten it’ sort of way. Plus we got to say we’d eaten breakfast at Tiffany’s afterwards...We really did eat in all the best places.


The science news cycle

How the media helps the world get hold of the wrong end of the stick and give it a damn good tug...

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Grading Gear...

An article I wrote about grading the BBC's Top Gear for High Definition magazine. Not often I get to quote AA Gill twice in the same piece. You'd think he might return the favour sometime...;-)

WELCOME | High Definition magazine

The end of advertising

Interesting presentation to say the least...

Faster Future: Publishing possibilities now and beyond: Time to end the failed experiment of advertising


A brief interlude...

Written for a New Scientist competition to write a short story about the future in 350 words or under.

Border Point

The border point was along a quiet, non-electrified B-road in the middle of the countryside. It was secluded and there were guns. Richard held Jeanette’s hand.

“So, you want entry into Rutland?” asked the Guard.

Richard swallowed, but stuck to the plan. “Citizenship actually....Refugee status even,” he added, seeing the look on the Guard’s face.

Don’t babble, he thought to himself. Be strong. You’re the one with the power here.

He babbled.

“Look, we’ve been on the move for a year now, ever since Surrey enacted the Native Wealth Laws and threw us out because Jeanette was born in Kent. We work where we can – we work hard, we’re science teachers – but no-one wants us. Lincolnshire has given us a five-day transit visa but it runs out today and if we’re caught we’ll be Interned.

“And,” he concluded in a whisper,” I can’t let that happen.”

They stepped off the road to let an oil-burner go past. Richard coughed from the stench of its exhaust. There had even been a driver behind the wheel. What sort of Godforsaken backwater was this?

“Look, mate,” said the Guard. “There’s not a lot I can do. Unless, of course, you have special reasons for me to look into your case...”

He left the sentence hanging. Richard sighed.

“Bananas?” said the Guard. “Tea? Coffee? We’re landlocked here and trade negotiations aren’t going well.”

“I’m sorry,” said Richard. “We’ve given away everything just to get here.”

The Guard leaned in and whispered earnestly. “Can you fight? It’s starting to look mean over Leicestershire way.”

Richard shook his head.

“Well, then, be off with you,” the Guard shouted. “We have no use for your type here.”

“But where can we go? We’ve tried all the borders!”

“Have you tried the sea?” the Guard sneered, and stalked off.

Richard went to leave and reached for Jeanette’s hand, but she took a step forwards.

“I can show you how to make mustard gas,” she said.

The Guard turned.

Alcohol map

One from Strange Maps-

"It matters where we are, for it helps determine who we are. Or, as the quote often attributed to Napoleon states: Geography is destiny. That destiny extends to drink, as demonstrated by this map. Where we are determines to a statistically significant degree what kind of alcohol we prefer. Or is it the other way around: the kind of alcohol preferred is determined by the place where it is produced?

This map shows Europe dominated by three so-called ‘alcohol belts’, the northernmost one for distilled spirits, a middle one for beer and the southernmost one for wine. Each one’s existence and extension are a mix of culture and agriculture."

442 – Distilled Geography: Europe’s Alcohol Belts - Strange Maps


Time Traveler Essentials

This is quite simply brilliant: a cheat sheet for mad scientists to hang in their time machines so that they can fundamentally rebuild civilisation (or at least make serious amounts of money) if they end up stranded back in the past. Have to admit to thinking about this in the past, probably as a result of a boyhood collision with some L Sprague de Camp book or other, so there's definitely a market for it!

Would presumably also work in advent of nuclear war, asteroid impact, or any other chance to rebuild civilisation. Nifty

TopatoCo: Time Traveler Essentials Print