Tuesday, 28 June 2016

London Eye

To paraphrase somebody who recently summed up my feelings perfectly: going on the London Eye is something I could happily die without ever doing.

Having lived in London for several years, the thought of riding the giant bicycle wheel in the sky is one that had never occurred to me. Well... several times I have looked at the people queuing thinking, why on earth would anyone want to pay good money to go on that death trap! Never however, had I contemplated ever going on it myself, not until the Year31Project was born that is. (Stupidly) travel on the London Eye somehow made it onto the list.

Of course, I do know why it made it onto the list. I was determined to do things that were outside of my comfort zone, things that scared me, thinks that would hopefully make me feel alive. However, I also know all too well why it has just sat on the list (seemingly) never to be ticked off (rusting away like Southbank's big, rickety, old fairground ride). Going on the London Eye is something that is way, way outside of my comfort zone. So far from my comfort zone that it is somewhere out in space. In fact, I would relish the chance to travel into space, whereas the chance to go on the London Eye is something I would always actively avoid.

That has never actually been the case however. I have never needed to resist travelling on the London Eye before. At least not until recently and as you will soon be able to see, my avoidance tactics were as sharp as England at Euro 2016. In fact, instead of sidestepping the opportunity I had been given, I realised that, although I really didn't want to, it was finally time that I took a whirl on the giant ferris wheel I had so often passed and never been even slightly intrigued to ride.

A couple of weeks ago, my boss at the swimming pool, informed me that he had put me forward for a swim team incentive. That because our club had performed well and hit all of our targets, he had been invited to go onto the London Eye with several other swim managers from around the country. However, because he could not - or maybe that should read, did not want to - go, he had recommended that I take his place instead.

I remember him telling me poolside and the fear instantly sweeping over me. My first thought was: how do I get out of this? My second thought was: how do I get out of this without telling him that I am terrible when it comes to heights? I couldn't think of anything. So I said nothing. I said thank you maybe and tried to let the thought sink in. No, I tried to forget about it altogether. There was no way I could do it, just simply no way. So best just not to think about it.

However, with a little time to think about it, I made the decision to go. I say decided! What I really mean is, once my lessons had been covered/rearranged there was actually little that I could do, other than accept my fate and accept the invitation. I was going to go on the London Eye and there seemed to be very little I could do about it.

I tried to see the positive in the situation. I was going to do something from my list, the original list. Something that would take me out of my comfort zone and make me feel alive. But it was pretty hard to ignore the negative feelings. The thought that I was pretty sure it was going to make me feel as though I wish I wasn't alive. That I was going to feel the need to curl up in a ball in the middle of the glass pod, close my eyes and try not to cry, as I waited for it to be all over. Because you can't get off! That's the worst thing! No matter what happens, how bad you feel, how much you panic; you can't get off until you get to the bottom. So the worst thing you can do is panic as soon as you get on because if you do, you have another 30-40mins, until you can step back onto the safety of solid ground.

Maybe I could say that I was ill? I was certainly starting to feel ill! The apprehension was all too much. I didn't want to do this. How was I going to get out of this? Maybe there had been a family emergency or a personal problem that I didn't want to discuss?

But then it happened, Tuesday 21st June 2016 arrived - this time almost exactly a week ago - the day I was to fly the London Eye. The day I was pretty sure I was going to die from a fairly irrational fear.

I left the pool and made my way to Waterloo, where I met a bunch (of nice) strangers who I would be spending the next couple of hours, trying not to vomit or cry in front of. We met at a near by bar, where I drank and attempted to keep down a glass of coke. Well... that's a slight exaggeration! I was nervous. Of course I was. I'm not good with heights. I never have been! They make me feel unbalanced and even nauseous, as though I need to lie down or on occasions, jump off (the quickest way to the ground I guess?). So at the bar, I visited the toilet on more occasions than I probably needed to but mostly I was ok.

Until I saw it's huge, imposing structure that was:

It's just so big! All I could think was: I know it's never happened before but it would be just my luck wouldn't it, if the pod I was travelling in just fell out of the sky. But that's not going it happen right? It could though couldn't it? It could happen? It won't... but it could. etc etc.

But I knew that was just the fear talking. The fear of something is always greater than the thing itself. So I joined the rest of the group in our private pod with free drinks, snacks and amazing views of London:

and you know what? Although there were a couple of shaky moments when it momentarily stopped (which happens regularly and is no big deal... apparently) or when we were right at the top and I realised just how far up we were! Over all it was ok. I didn't feel the need to curl up a ball or attempt to jump off. It really wasn't too bad. In fact, it was almost fun!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Welsh football shirt

Today is a big day. It is the start of Euro 2016! (check out my blog about collecting Euro 2016 Panini Stickers: HERE) Which is important because... FOOTBALL! But this year, it is more important than ever to me and around another 3 million people.

That is because tomorrow is going be one of the biggest days in Welsh Football history. At 5pm (GMT) tomorrow, Wales will be taking on Slovakia at the Stade de Bordeaux. Their opening game of the Euro 2016 football championships in France. A very special occasion due to two facts. 1. It is the first time that Wales have qualified for a major football tournament since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. 2. Wales have never played in an European Championships before.

And therefore, what better time to talk about identity. Something a lot of people struggle with, myself included.

Upon moving to London several years ago and hurling myself at the open mic poetry scene, I soon found out that every poet in London - apart from myself - had a poem about identity. Whether it be race, religion, sexuality, disability or being a nerd, every time I went to a poetry event I ended up sitting there listening to a hundred and one poems about identity and although many of them were very good, it became very boring, very quickly.

I don't go to a lot of poetry events these days. On those occasions that I do, I still hear the odd identity poem but nowhere near as many as I did a few years back. Maybe it was something of a passing phase? But the thing is that identity is a very intricate and complicated subject and my own identity is something that I have struggle with a lot (more than I have realised in the past).

I am a straight, white, able bodied male and so there are many things that I have not had to struggle with. I have no doubt enjoyed many privileges simply by being male. I've not had to do any soul searching over my sexuality, I like girls and that's the social norm and so I'm fine. My parents and grandparents and as far back as I can see, my family are all white. I'm not from a mixed race background and so I don't have a culture and/or a language that I want to explore but struggle to feel connect to. And yet do I?

The thing is that... I am Welsh. And although I would like to see myself as simply a man of the world, my nationality has become more and more important to me in recent years. I hate the fact that we are separated by nationalities and yet at the same time I am very proud to be Welsh. However, it wasn't always that way. In fact only upon moving 200 miles away from my child home in North Wales, did I truly start to feel and embrace my Welsh-ness.

You see, I grew up in a small industrial town in North Wales very close to the border with England. I was born to two Welsh parents but my grandparents and their parents etc are a mixture of both Welsh and English. Plus, the nearest hospital to where I grew up and where my parents still live, is actually across the boarder in the English city of Chester. Therefore, although I was raised in Wales, I was actually born in England. A fact that somehow made me "feel" English and so I spend my youth declaring my Englishness:

And very loudly and proudly supporting the England football term. The England shell suit above was just one of many, England shirts, coats, tracksuits etc that I wore as a child.

My first recollection of watching England play was at my friend Tom's house. I could have only been six at the time because it was the summer of 1990 and Tom's whole family were gathered around TV to watch England take on Germany in the World Cup semi final. A game it is impossible to forget.

Of course, it really shouldn't matter. Wales should have been my team but of obviously to an extent, my decision has helped by the fact that England had a serious chance of actually winning something while Wales weren't even able to qualify. When I was 12 years old and glued to the to screens as England really ought to have won Euro 96 - those Germans again! - the Welsh players had been on their holidays for the past four weeks, as has been pretty standard for many years before (and after).

I have even been to see England play live at Wembley, more by accident than anything but I was there to see them beat Croatia 5:1 in the Autumn of 2009.

A lot of this stemmed from my school years. My school was a strange place. For all the normal reasons but also because for some unknown there was an invisible line created between the children born in England and those who were born in Wales (who were the vast majority). It was strange and a little tribal and although it actually really meant very little, my friends were split fairly even between the two, it was something that was discussed. I'm pretty sure I could still recall which school friends were born where with a great deal of accuracy, if required (but why would it be? haha.

As I said, the line was invisible, ultimately it meant nothing and nobody really cared, however, there was a feeling between the English born children, that they were somehow superior for having been born in England. I was extremely happy to have been born in England. Which is completely ridiculous and as I now sit here in London some 20 years later, I can't help but think how perhaps I would prefer it if I had been born in Wales? Maybe it would help me to feel more Welsh?

I also feel a little sad that although we learnt the Welsh language at school, living in an English speaking town, going to an English speaking school and feeling English, all meant that I never put much any effort into those Welsh lessons and so today my Welsh language skills are limited to; how are you and I like football. Again, maybe if I could speak the language I would feel more Welsh today? Although unfortunately even if I could I would struggle to find anyone I could actually speak Welsh to.

I don't know where the feeling/thought that England was better than Wales came from? I mean, I'm pretty sure some of it originally came from the English and the years of oppression. But how that transcended into our juvenile friendships I don't really know (parents? older children? the media?). But for some reason it did and so for a great many years, when asked what my nationality was, I would declare loud and proud, so that everyone could hear... English. But I'm not English. And I see that now!

I only started to embrace my Welsh-ness, when I went to University in Wrexham to study creative writing in 2005. I'm not sure exactly what the catalyst was? Maybe it was the university, the lecturers or my fellow students? Or perhaps it was just my age? I was 21 and maybe not particularly mature but a little more mature than I had been previously?

So ask me now what my nationality is and I will tell you that I am WELSH! because although I still wonder what being Welsh means sometimes, especially as I don't care for Rugby, leeks or cheese on toast haha I am Welsh! No I was not born in Wales but my parents are Welsh and I grew up in Wales and most importantly... I feel Welsh! Therefore anytime that someone asks me if I am English or accidentally introduces me as being English (which happens a lot), I will always make sure to (politely) correct them.

Which brings me (finally) to the title of this blog post: Welsh Football Shirt. I decided that for the Euro 2016 Championships I would buy my first ever Welsh football shirt:

I haven't worn any football shirt in several years and I have never worn a Welsh one before. Maybe I am just being a glory hunter? They have finally qualified for a tournament and so I can show off the fact that I am Welsh. Or maybe I am simply starting to fully embracing my Welshness and my Welsh pride? Either way, here I am in my brand new Welsh football shirt (in France obviously!):

Which I am particularly eager to wear on Thursday 16th June, when Wales will play England at 2pm at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens.

AND FINALLY! To help celebrate the fact that Wales have finally qualified for a major international football tournament, I have written a (very short) poem about my Anglo-Welsh identity crisis. Please check out the video below and give it a like and a share if you do indeed like it. Thanks:

Monday, 9 May 2016

Panini Sticker Album

I often collected stickers and cards and pogs and many other things as a child, keyring and egg cups, cd's and all sorts of things in fact. It's strange because I never though of myself as being a collector. Not until recently that is, when I started my new project: where I am attempting to collect souvenir mugs from 80 places around the world. You can read about my travels to far flung places like Windsor, Lisbon and Split - I will actually be visiting some fairly far flung places this summer when I travel outside of Europe for the first time - on my travel blog aroundtheworldin80mugs.co.uk. But in fact it turns out that I've been collecting things all my life, maybe just not very successfully.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided that I was going to start collecting something new and I was going to do something that I have never done before: complete a Panini Sticker Album!

I collected many different stickers when I was a child: football, wrestling and my 10 year old self is going to hate me for divulging this information but even thunderbird stickers! Or was it Stingray cards? Either way I remember being pretty embarrassed about it and wanting to swap but not wanting to admit I was collecting them haha.

So... to the task at hand. I have never completed a sticker book before. In fact I have tried this challenge before and not too long ago. Back in 2012 I attempted the same thing and got pretty close! I attempted to complete Euro 2012 Panini Sticker Album and got within 4 stickers - that's just 4! stickers - of doing so before bizarrely giving up. I have no idea why? Maybe it just stopped being fun?

But I am going to try again this year with my Euro 2016 Panini Sticker Album:

I picked up my free copy of the album from the supermarket last week and with a £10 note I found in the pocket of an old pair of shorts - which I think had probably been there for years? - I bought myself 20 packets of stickers:

And instantly got sticking! I didn't even have time to take my coat and shoes off. Like a kid at Christmas I raced in and just started tearing straight into the packets, so eagerly if truth be told, that I made a small tear in the back sticker of the first packet haha.

And the thing is that I'm actually quite glad that I failed last time around. That's because this year Wales have qualified for an international football tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden! Which is super exciting and means that the first time I hopefully complete a football sticker book, it will contain the players from my home nation. Amazing!

I've had a lot of fun so far attempting to complete my sticker book. Too much fun perhaps? I was so happy when I opened my first packet:

 I was so, so happy when I got my first shiny:

And I was so, so, so HAPPY when I got my first Welsh player:

I've now got ten Welsh players, so still plenty to go yet - there are 20 players for each nation - but overall, I'm well over half way, although frustratingly I'm still to complete a full page!

Out of the 680 stickers you need to fill the album I currently have 445, so well over half way. I'm actually at a new and exciting stage where, after the swaps have started to mount up, I've decide that it's time to stop buying new packets and concentrate on swapping. Luckily I have an equally childish housemate who is as obsessed with collecting Euro 2016 stickers as I currently am: I have recently been describing my sticker collecting as my 10 packet a day habit. You know you're obsessed when you take your sticker album around to your girlfriends house haha. But it's not just me, there are men around the country and probably around the rest of Europe who are equally as sad obsessed. So much so that I've had messages on twitter and there are even websites and an app, dedicated to helping you swap your doubles (via the post) haha.

So I'm well on my way to completing my challenge... but will I actually manage it this time around? Only time will tell but hopefully I will have an update for you shortly!

Happy collecting everyone! :)