I miss him all the time – but how many people are lucky enough to have dozens of radio and TV clips online to enjoy anytime they want to hear their hero‘s voice again?

There are so many wonderful clips of my grandfather Don Harron on the CBC archives – but this one is probably my favourite, in which he remarks on what he called “the absurdity of the world”.

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Don Harron: “I happen to think that humour is very serious. It’s like poetry – it says things in a much shorter way than prose and even fiction… That’s the ideal I aspire toward – to say something with the minimum amount of words in the least amount of time.”

Peter Gzowski: “People say many of the great comedians are actually quite sad people.”

Don: “I don’t laugh much. Valerie and Don each have a laugh, but I don’t really have my own laugh. Every week I have to do two editorials as Charlie, and I look through the papers, and I have to make them funny. But I have to tell you, the agony I go through as I see the disaster and the absurdity of the world. I once you that I thought the world was absolutely absurd, and I have no reason to change that opinion.”

A truer word was never spoken. I’ve always thought that only the smartest people can see how mental humans are – only the ignorant and the deluded are capable of thinking things are just fine.

But being aware of the insanity of the world doesn’t have to be paired with a depressive or misanthropic nature – far from it. Don lived life to the fullest, and did more than almost anyone I know to help other people.

Without question, I think I can thank him for inspiring the mantra that has inspired all my work:

“Cast the light upon the dark to make the world a better place.” – ZCC

 

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Everyone likes to shit on millenials at the moment. Yeah, the selfies, phone addiction, saccharine synth pop and whatnot are annoying.

But you know what’s more annoying?

Arrogant, selfish baby boomers.

In the 60s they were all about drugs and sex, then in the 80s they were all about regressive taxation policies, trickle down economics, deregulation and neoliberal bullshit. There’s a reason they’re more accurately termed the “Me Generation”: all they ever cared about was themselves. They squandered our resources, enjoyed cheap education and job security, and then left their offspring with astronomically high tuition fees, no employment prospects, climate change and more.

Fuck. Them.

American Millenials – do your duty and VOTE. Prove those asshole boomers that you’re not the self-obsessed politically disaffected brats they make you out to be. Because guess what? In a lot of states, you now outnumber those pricks:

There is strength in numbers. Take them down. As a friend, said when I lamented that boomer assholes had voted for Brexit: “MULCH THE OLD!”

And one last thing: voter turnout by age group in Canada is lowest among people under 34. Pour some cold water on Canadian smugness and do better.

This October I went to a spectacular city I have neglected to visit for far too long – 12 years in fact. Barcelona, the one and only.

Naturally, I gorged on Gaudi as much as possible. I have always been transfixed by the complexity of living things. The structure of biological forms fires my imagination and rocks my world. I just never saw the magic in physics – it’s base matter brought to life in all its spiralling, fractal glory that is glorious to me.

As Gaudi put it, “Nature is my master”.

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A mushroom inspired fireplace at Casa Batlló.

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Every staircase should be shaped like a spine… Casa Batlló.

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Why wouldn’t you make the rooftop resemble a dragon’s dorsum? Casa Batlló.

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Tiles on the light well shaded in descending tones of brightness to amplify light, depending on the depth. Genius. Casa Batlló.

Long before Silicon Valley designers cottoned onto “biomimicry”, Gaudi was modelling his creation on evolution’s genius. “Man has been flying airplanes for a few decades, but insects have been flying for millions of years.” Word.

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Park Güell in Barcelona. Public benches should be shaped like Stegosaurus spines, m’I right?

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Strolling with your bestie in Park Güell. Thank you Barcelona… but more importantly, thank you Gaudí.

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Park Güell. Because all columns should be shaped like palm tree trunks.

My father had a running joke when I was a kid, teasing me that I was going to become an architect – a craft he saw as a brilliant fusion of art and science. I had zero interest in the profession, but maybe if he’d ever shown me the works of Gaudi instead of comparatively flat and bland designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, I might have been able to muster some curiosity.

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The glorgious Sagrada Familia. Every church should feel like a forest.

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This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you use light to your advantage. Inutterably brilliant.

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Stained glass window magic at the Sagrada Familia.

Gaudi – one of a kind. As one of the audio tours put it, “Like all geniuses, he made it look easy”.

One more thing about Gaudi: he was a hero the Catalan people, who STILL are building the Sagrada Familia based on his plans. In fact, they only just received planning permission.

Moreover: Apparently he broke pretty much every building code at Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. This makes me very happy. ZoZo has a soft spot for renegade geniuses. They are so much more interesting than brilliant but straight-laced intellects who play by the books.

One last thing: how did Gaudi die? He was hit by a tram. But because he looked like a dishevled hobo with raggedy hair (like many aged geniuses), they just thought he was a homeless vagrant, and left him to die in the street. One more testament to the importance of having a health care system that treats *everyone* with dignity – no matter who they are.

DRUM AND BASS. DRUM AND BASS.

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Despite the mud and the rain, an absolutely joyous day. D&B has a reputation for being a bit aggro and a bit knifey – but it’s totally unfair. The crowd was one of the gentlest and happiest I’ve seen for quite some time – even though it was muddy as fuck. Granted the tickets were pricey so there weren’t too many scuzzy types about (and a lot of ravers are mellowing in their 40s), but meh. It was glorious, warm, and heaving with the collective happiness of people who just fucking love this genre of music, enjoying it together.
Some people complain that D&B hasn’t changed much in its core beats for 20 years… but so what? Why fix if it it ain’t broke.

I’m also reminded of a conversation from 2011, in Brazil…

Me: “Dubstep is such perfect dance music – slow but dark, I feel like I’ve waited forever for it.”

Peter: “NO. First we had drum and bass, and THAT was perfect. Then fucking ketamine flooded into London and turned drum and bass into dubstep.”

A truer word was never spoken.

I have a new piece in BBC Earth about saving coral reefs.

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I poured my heart and soul into this one. Once I started speaking to people who are intensively researching how to re-grow coral reefs, I couldn’t stop – there was so much more to the story than I imagined when I first pitched it.

The BBC asked for 500 words minimum.

I gave them 3,300.

And they published all of it.

Because it is just that important.

So, long before I dropped acid for Rolling Stone, took my clothes off for New Scientist, signed to the same agency as Stringer Bell or wrote a book about sex n’ drugs, I spent many years as a journalist specialising in environmental issues.

My degree is in zoology, and nothing inspires me more than the structure of living things. However, if you care about life on earth, you can’t just celebrate how cool it is – you have to shout from the rooftops about how imperiled it is.

From 2005 to 2010 I spent most of my time writing features for magazines and newspapers about climate change, the biodiversity crisis, developments in renewable energy, corporate lies, plastic pollution – everything that concerns how amazing life on earth is, and everything humanity is doing to destroy it as quickly as we can. I never would have stopped writing about ecological issues full time if the publishing industry hadn’t gone down the toilet. Once you’ve seen how terrible things are – and are aware of how easy the solutions would be if we would just get our fucking shit together – you can’t unsee it.

This spring BBC Earth asked me to write some features about my old friends climate change, the biodiversity crisis, and how cool life on earth is. Now, over the past 13 years, I’ve gotten very used to bad news. Very used to seeing every catastrophe that shocked me in 2005 just get worse… and worse… and worse. I’m not used to seeing anything that really gives me hope. Take the coral reef bleaching crisis: 16 per cent of the world’s tropical reefs died in 1998. In 2016 70 per cent of the world’s reefs were damaged. Now fully half the world’s reefs are gone. HALF. And we still just buy shit we don’t need and explore the deep ocean for more oil and gas.

So it’s not often I see anything that makes me feel optimistic.

Well, this spring I interviewed a chap named David Vaughan, and he didn’t just give me hope – he made me cry when he showed me brand new images of his coral reef gardens in Mexico before and after planting with his “microfragmentation” technique. I never in my life thought what he was doing was possible.In his own words:

“Normally it would take a single larvae several years to grow into a piece the size of a golf ball. But if you take a piece of coral the size of a golf ball and cut it into 20 pieces, each the size of a pencil eraser, those each grow into a golf-ball sized chunk in a few months instead of a few years. If they fuse together, you can create a coral head the size of a basketball in just two years – when normally it would take around 75 years. This is an absolute game changer.”

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Amazingly, there is no international body to oversee (let alone fund) coral reef restoration. So philanthropists have had to step in – most notably Paul Allen of Microsoft. Nice stuff. Best of all: regenerating corals with all the techniques I describe here is actually dirt cheap. We just need to get our shit together.

I’m still not convinced that humanity will get its shit together, that these amazing people will get the money they so urgently need.

But it’s bloody inspiring to see what can be done when we get our priorities straight.

Had a bastard good time interviewing Michael Pollan last night – thanks so much to my mates for coming out.

An audience member asked about the shift in book cover designs away from the tiresome fractals, mushrooms and paisley patterns of the past.

Please take a moment to view what I consider to be the worst psychedelic book cover of all time, The Scientist, by John Lilly. He started his career as a brilliant, promising biologist – and wound up spending all his time taking ketamine in isolation tanks talking to dolphins in his head. Enjoy.

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It’s not every day you get invited to interview one of your idols.

On June 12th I’ll be in conversation for a live audience with the legendary author Michael Pollan, whose books rocked my world as a teen.

He was one of the few writers who could describe how biological systems work with the kind of colour and life you’d see in any other genre.

Now he’s turned his attention to psychedelics for his new book, and I’m delighted to explore the subject with him.

What I wouldn’t give for my 19 year old self to see this.

I am reading a DELIGHTFUL book, A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell: How Drunks, Delinquents and Other Outcasts Made America. Pirates, prostitutes, pimps, homosexuals, shit-faced Irish dock workers. It’s a badass read, and a fantastic subversion of the great American myth: that the country has been shaped by Puritan values from the start. Nuh uh – noisy sexy drunken rebels were just as if not more important in creating the nuttiest nation on earth.

In a fantastic chapter on early Jewish immigrants, the author points out that Jews only became stereotyped as nerds in the 1930s onwards – prior to this, they were renowned for being the nation’s top athletes, musicians, and dancers.

This passage caught my eye and brought me great joy.

Jewish immigrants took over vaudeville theatre in the early twentieth century and made it into a celebration of unseemly pleasures. Most disturbing to the disciplinarians of the time was the dancing of female vaudeville performers – in particular the undulations of female dancers and the “tough dances” in which copulation was simulated.

There you have it folks: Jews invented twerking.

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All my Jewish friends: you’re welcome.

For more check out this magnificent podcast with the author.

It finally happened.

I got a tattoo.

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For 15 years I have observed my friends get blind munted, come up with fantastic concepts, and have weird ideas inscribed indelibly in ink on their skin.

For EVER, my friends. Forever.

I have always resisted the temptation to use my body as a Post-It-Note…

Until today my friends. Until today.

Behold: my first tattoo.

Long story short: One leg is longer than the other, so I have a variety of problems with my foot/leg/hip on the right side.

Think what you like about acupuncture. Every single specialist I’ve ever seen picks two specific points on my right leg to prick, and it always does the trick.

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Again: always the exact same two points.

My conclusions:

A) There’s clearly something to acupuncture,

and

B) Why can’t I do it to myself? I mean, it’s not open heart surgery, surely I can self-administer?

Initial idea: Two circles on one leg. There’s no reason I couldn’t make it f’ing cool. And after all, mummies are often found with tattoos marking their acupuncture points. It’s an ancient practice.

Result? Six tattoos. Six, my friends. Six.

Conversation:

Me: “Mum, sorry but I’m getting a tattoo.”

Martha (audibly in panic): “Surely your skin will move?! ARE YOU SURE THIS IS A GOOD IDEA.”

Me: “Look – I’ll ask my acupuncturist if it’s a bad idea, ok?”

Acupuncturist, Garry Trainer (who is a legend) – not only did he think it was an excellent idea, he suggested that instead of two points, I should get six.

 

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Et, voila.

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On this day of unusual snowfall in London, I am amused at how much people are whining about how COLD it is and worried about how DANGEROUS it is … when it’s a few inches of snow and just -1C.

But you know who isn’t whining? The city’s children. Because they know that snow is fun.

I am reminded of a day in February 2009, when I saw a bunch of teenagers building a giant penis out of snow.

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From my Flickr diary:

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All the kids got the day off school. I went for a park to see them enjoying the rarity of English snow.

Everywhere kids were making snow sculptures. I came across these teens –
who were putting waaay more effort into this thing than anyone else in the park.

Me: “So, how long have you guys been making your penis?”

“About an hour. And it’s not a penis, miss. It’s a slide. For kids.”

“Uh huh. Guys I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“Bruv, I can’t WAIT to see the slide get excited, innit.”

“Cute. I’ll catch you guys in a bit.”

I walked around the rest of the park and came back 20 minutes later.

“Man, so this is like the most snow you’ve ever seen in your lives, eh guys?”

“Yeah. You too?”

“Naw, I’m Canadian, this is nothing.”

“Aw shit, so your country must be FULL of huge penises!”

Cue applause, laughter.

“Have fun playing with your penis guys.”

“We will!”

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– – – – – – –

British adults – don’t whine. Learn from the children. Get drunk, wrap up, and go make some naughty sculptures out of the snow. This only happens once in a while. If I don’t see a giant vulva on my lawn by lunchtime tomorrow, you’re all grounded.

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