Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Learn a martial art

As one of my ten things to do in the coming 12 months (Nov 2014 - Nov 2015) I have decided to learn a martial art. Check out the rest of the list here.

But which one?

There are so many!

  • Taekwondo 
  • Jun-jitsu 
  • Karate
  • Judo
  • Capoeira
  • Muay Thai
  • Hapkido
  • Kung Fu
To name but a few!

And obviously Kung Fu is the cool one. If for no other reason than it inspired this undeniably cool song:

But Capoeira is also seriously cool. I've wanted to learn Capoeira for quite some time. I actually nearly did a few years back - I spent money on lessons for myself and my ex and even bought some jogger bottoms but it never happened - and so maybe now is the time to try again?

Except when it comes down to it there is only really one martial art that I want to learn... KARATE!

There are a few reasons for this.

1. My older cousin did it when we were children and it looked like a lot of fun. I'm not sure why I never went? Although to be fair I was probably simply too busy, what with football twice a week and swimming five times a week.

2. I was and still am a big fan of the Karate Kid films. However, while every kid of the eighties - including my cousin - was out learning Karate so that they could pretend to be Daniel san* I somehow let it pass me by.

3. Finally although it's a contact sport, it is very much about defending yourself from attack and so with that in mind I'm hopeful of not getting my head kicked in on a regular basis haha unlike if I did Thai Kick Boxing for example.

Now that I have decided which martial art I am going to learn, I need to work out where I will learn to perfect the crane:

So I was in Angel the other week when I saw an old guy who looked a bit like Mr Miyagi - only with a much better beard - and I thought to myself, well that's probably the best way to learn. Is it not? With your own private Sensei! But I'm not sure how realistic finding my own sensei is and obviously assuming that a random old Japanese man must know Karate is both stupid and borderline full-blown(?) racist. He might know a completely different martial art altogether! ;).

But joking aside, what I must decide next is where the best place for me to learn Karate is? Some dojos must be better than others? Listen to me with all the Karate lingo. I recently watched the Karate Kid films again. But back on point. Where is the best place for me to learn Karate? Well for me it is somewhere that is either close to home or work, at a time and on a day that I can attend and somewhere that isn't too expensive. While also hopefully being somewhere where my instructor is more Mr Miyagi and less John Kreese.

So I search the internet. What did we do before we had it? And I find a few places that might be suitable but then something unexpected happens. I get completely obsessed with the FX series Archer. Archer is an animated series about the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS for short) and it's self proclaimed best spy in the world Sterling Archer.

So I'm watching my new favourite show and this happens:

Cyril Figgis: Hey, will I get to learn karate?
Sterling Archer: Karate? The Dane Cook of martial arts? No, ISIS agents use Krav Maga.

And I don't get the Dane Cook reference - apparently he's an actor and comedian who is all show and no substance - and I'm not completely sure if it qualifies as a martial art? but I now know that it won't be Karate that I'll be learning. It will be this Krav Maga! What ever that is? Then it hits me. It's not just something that's been made up for the show is it? I do a another google search - other less efficient search engines are also available - and I find that Krav Maga is in fact real. Very real!

Krav Maga is a self defence system consisting of a wide range of techniques sourced from Boxing, Combat Sambo, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Judo, Jujutsu, Wrestling, Aikido and Grappling. It is the official fighting system of the Israeli Defence force and is regarded by many to be the best self defence system around.

It sounds totally awesome. So I look for places to learn Krav Maga in London and getting totally carried away, I spend the money that is supposed to last me the rest of the month - making me very poor for the next few days - booking myself onto a 13 week foundation course which starts on the 19th April. So I've still got a little bit of time on my - soon to be deadly  - hands before I get started, but I'm well and truly on my way to learning a (field stripped) martial art!

Wish me luck!

Ps. If you're not already watching Archer get on it! It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. That and Bob's Burgers. If you're also not watching that you should be!

* I always thought that Mr Miyagi was saying "Daniel son" in a Japanese accent haha but I've recently learned that adding 'san' to the end of a person's name is a sign of respect in Japan. You learn something new every day!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Read the Classics (an update)

This time last year, after reading 'Animal Farm by George Orwell, I challenged myself to "Read the Classics".

You see, I've never been much of a reader. I have always enjoyed a good book but it's just too easy to find something else to do. Something that takes less effort. Which led to the fact that there were many, many books that I was quite frankly, a little embarrassed not to have read (most of which I still haven't read).

So I set myself the challenge of reading the classics and how did I get on? Well for a lazy reader like myself, I think I've done OK. I've always been a lazy reader and that wasn't really about to change. I wasn't about to start reading at home - not when I have a laptop and a tv to keep my mind occupied - but throughout the last 12 months I always made sure that I had a book with me where ever I went. So no reading at home but I always made good use of any train, bus and plane journey to do some reading and at the end of the 12 months to date I have read:

(in chronological order)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I didn't like this book. I'm sorry. I know it's a classic, a great piece of literature, full of great symbolism, but I still didn't like it. It is a classic. There is absolutely no doubting that. However, I expected a lot from this book and that was part of the problem. For me the book completely collapsed under the weight of it's own fame. Also maybe knowing the story - or as it turned out parts of the story - very well was another problem. I wasn't exactly coming to this book with a fresh pair of eyes. Which all added up to me finding it to be a very slow book, with whole sections about mock turtles and babies turning into pigs, that bored and confused me. No wonder these sections are so often left out, when the story is adapted for stage or screen.

The version of the text I have is a two in one, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it's sequel Through the Looking Glass. Originally I intended to read them back to back. However, after reading the first book, I decided to put off reading the sequel indefinitely. I'm sorry Lewis Carroll fans and Lewis Carroll himself, I know it's a great book, but I didn't enjoy reading it at all.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I am a huge fan of both Douglas Adams and HHG2G and have been for many years. I've seen the (not as good as the tv series but still good, Hollywood remake) film at least ten times, I have listened to the radio programmes more times than I can count and I have seen the tv series so many times that I have most of the dialogue memorised. Therefore if I wasn't such a lazy reader, I would find it quite incredible that I have never read the books. But who needs the books when you can watch tv, right? Wrong! The book - there are several books all of which I aim to read at some point and I bet are equally brilliant - is a truly "classic" read. I just wish that I had been alive for the stage shows and then I would have experienced the full set!

What ever format the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is in however, it is always wonderfully inventive and downright hilarious.  I loved reading the book and there is a great chance you will too. Don't be put off if you're not a big fan of sci-fi - apart from HHG2G, Star Wars, Red Dwarf, Nineteen Eighty-Four and a few others haha - neither am I, but HHG2G is so much more than a sic-fi novel. Give it a try and see what I mean.

And if my love for Douglas Adams and all things Hitchhiker were still in doubt, here is a picture of me leaving my inky sacrifice at Douglas Adams' grave, at Highgate Cemetery:

The Graduate by Charles Webb

This is a very interesting story and the book contains several very interesting characters. However, I had one major problem with this book, it's main character (and the subject of his affection for that matter too). In the film, the character is a little softer around the edges and is also played by Dustin Hoffman which makes him immediately more likeable. But I don't like the character in the book. I don't care about this disillusioned youth. Even if I have been something very similar, very recently. I simply don't like the character and therefore find it hard to care what happens to him.

Now of course this wouldn't be a problem if I really hated the character. If I was keen for him to meet his comeuppance, I would probably have enjoyed the book as much, if not more than if I had really wanted to see him succeed. However, my feelings towards Benjamin Braddock, were that of abject indifference. I simply didn't care one way or the other, whether he succeeded or failed in his attempts to get the girl. I don't know whose fault that is, maybe it is a fault of the writing or maybe it is just down to my own personal preference. I don't know. But maybe give the book a read and see what you think?

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I am a very big fan of this book. I think it starts wonderfully and I love the way the story is pieced together through diaries and letters. Something that may seem almost cliche today but was quite revolutionary in 1897... I think? Either way, although I found the section of the book where Mina was in Whitby, to be quite laborious and the ending felt quite rushed compared to the slower pace of the rest of the book, Dracula is an absolute classic by every definition of the word. I was completely engrossed for the majority of the two months it took me to read it. Yes two months! It is actually quite long, but mostly I'm just really slow at reading.

Ps. How brilliantly awkward is this message scribbled on the first page. I bought the book at a charity shop so somebody has given it away:

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

12 Years a Slave is certainly not the best book I have ever read. I don't think that the book is particularly well written and there are long, boring sections dedicated solely to explaining different farming techniques. That said however, this is a book of extreme historical importance and a book I think that everyone should read. It's by no means a terrible read either, I did enjoy reading it and I was rooting for Solomon from beginning to end.

I am definitely glad that I took the time to read this book. No, not for it's literary importance as much for it's historical importance because I feel that - as easy as it is to pretend that they don't exist - it is important to learn about the horrendous things that have happened and continue to happen in the world that we live in. With that in mind, what better way to hear these stories than straight from the horses mouth? Therefore, although not the best book I have ever read, it is still a very powerful and emotional story and one that I believe should be read by everyone for generations and generations to come.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I had very high expectations of Nineteen Eighty-Four - having heard a lot about it and with Animal Farm being the whole reason I started this challenge in the first place - but I needn't have worried as I very quickly fell head first into the book. I instantly started to care for the main character Winston and became completely wrapped up in the situation and the world that he found himself in.

I quite literally loved every single word of this book! From the very first line "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." to the very last. Well that's not completely true. There was a section towards the end that I found slightly boring and didactic, and I also hated the last page. There were two good reasons for this though. 1. because of what actually happens at the end. 2. because it ended! And I wasn't ready for it to end. Ever!

The last line was the worst. I think I hated the last line - which I will not quote in case you haven't read the book - more than any other sentence ever written in a novel! Not because it wasn't the perfect ending, it was, but because of what it meant for Winston and ultimately what it means for me, for you and for all of us!

But those small things aside, I loved, loved, loved this book! I think that maybe the biggest praise that I can heap onto this wonderful, wonderful book, is that no other book has ever made me miss my tube stop as many times as Nineteen Eighty-Four did. On one particularly eventful day, I was so engrossed in the story, that I managed to miss my stop when I was both on my way to work and again when I was on my way home.

I can not recommend reading this book enough. And in fact since this book was donated to me by a brilliant poet called Thomas Smith, I will in fact be passing it on to someone else (who has already called dibs), who will then pass it on to someone else, who in turn will pass it on to someone else etc etc.

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Here is another book that I became completely involved with and which altered my world view in someway. I just loved this book so much. I think the main reason for this was because I had never read anything quite like it before. On The Road - one of my favourite books - is similar but Post Office is different again and so different to all of the other books on this list. It really excites me that this book was published! It is just the type of book I like to read and gives me hope that there are other books out there like it, that I would also enjoy reading (suggestions are very welcome). It also very much the type of book, that I might write one day if I were to write a book (I'm not sure I ever will write a book as I enjoy writing scripts too much. But if I did it might be of a similar style).

In my eyes Post Office is definitely well worthy of the title "modern classic" and not just in my eyes either. Over the years this book has been suggested to me more than any other book, but maybe the fact that I am something of a small time rebel, led them to believe that I would love it. And they were completely right. I love this book!

OK, so 7 books in 12 months isn't exactly impressive, but it's definitely the most books I've read in one year since I was in school and probably as many books as I've read in the last 7 years combined. Which in my book ain't half bad because not only have I massively increased my rate of reading, I've also read 7 more of the books that I think I should have read. I've read 7 more "classics". Plus this reading lark is kind of addictive. I mean I'm still not about to start reading when I'm at home or anything but I intend to continue reading the "classics".

Next up is:

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I started reading High Fidelity this week. I'm only about 10 pages in but so far I'm absolutely loving it. There is a passage at the very beginning where Hornby describes  park. The young girls sitting on one side and the boys sitting on the other. The scene is set in 1972 but could quietly easily describe my youth and your youth too (assuming you were a teenager pre-smart phones). The devil is in the detail as they say and so far this book appears to have come straight up from hell (it's still smouldering in my hands).

What's even better is that I took this book from one of these amazing little free libraries that are dotted around Walthamstow (Awesomestow! as us "locals" call it) where I will return it when I have finished:

And of course my reading won't stop there. I'm into this reading thing in a fairly big way now. I mean, as much as any lazy reader ever can be. I now find it almost impossible to walk past a charity shop without having a look at their book section - they're cheap and the money goes to a good cause so it's win win - but I do need to start using a bit of restraint because I'm definitely buying books at a much faster rate than I could ever hope to read. Here are some bargains I snatched up this week:

I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you're already a big reader, hopefully reading this post has inspired you to read that book you have always been meaning to read and/or maybe one of the books "reviewed" above? If you're not a a big reader - like me - then maybe I have inspired you do a bit more reading than you normally do? And if not, I think with maybe the exception of Post Office? all of the books above have been made into films - including some very good films - so why not check them out instead.

or happy watching :)

Friday, 6 February 2015

Emirates Air Line

A couple of weeks ago I met up with my friend James. Something we really don't do often enough. I've known James since the summer of 2008. We met on a train up to Edinburgh, where we would both spend 4 days on a scheme aimed at giving young, inexperienced creative types a better practical knowledge of working in the television industry.

Here we are pictured together looking young and as fresh faced as you can after 4 days and nights of constant drinking:

(That's me on the far left and James is the one stood next to me.)

We had such an amazing time in Edinburgh and after I followed him down to the big smoke - not literally but chronologically - we've done an ok if not a brilliant job of staying in touch.

So a couple of weeks ago we met up in Shoreditch on a cold but dry Sunday afternoon and took the short walk to Brick Lane - which of course was insanely busy - grabbed something to eat from a - off the street - street stall and stood chatting moaning about dating or the lack of and how hard it is to meet someone.

And then we headed to Royal Victoria to get on the Emirates Air Line. For anyone who isn't familiar with the Emirates Air Line, it's a 10 minute gondola lift link across the River Thames.

When we got there we posed for pictures like teenage girls:

(How is this man single?)

Then when we'd finished posing, we went up to the terminal to board the cable car. It was very quiet and so we didn't have to queue. As soon as we got on I started to feel a little wobbly. Now I didn't tell James this until we were actually on it but I'm terrified of heights. Although that's not exactly true. It's not as much about being scared - which I am - as it is about feeling unbalanced, wanting to lie down and curl up into a ball or even jump off. It's a physical thing and not something you can fully understand unless you know the feeling personally and so it's probably easier to just say that I'm afraid of heights.

So this is what you look like when you're pretending not to be scared:

(And not doing a very good job of it)

And this is when you're genuinely enjoying yourself haha:

You see, the worst things for me are bridges that have little gaps in them so that you can see the river or road below. I think knowing that there is nothing underneath me holding me up, plays a big part in my fear and so as you can image, cable cars aren't normally my idea of fun.

This one reaches a height of 90 metres. Which on the grand scheme of things maybe isn't that high for a cable car but it certainly felt more than high enough. Even so, I still really wanted to give it a go. Why? The main reason was the same as always. I had not been on it before and as I say time and time again: that's what the Year31Project is supposed to be all about. I also thought hoped that if I was able to get past the fact that we were dangling from a thin metal cable 90 metres in the air, I might just be able to enjoy it.

And enjoy it I did. I started to relax, sat back and enjoyed the view:

There were a couple of sketchy moments -  namely the going up and the coming back down - but overall I enjoyed our little ride. Now if you suffer with vertigo like me then it might not be for you. You're up there for 10 minutes and although that doesn't sound like a very long time, you know that if you're hating it those 10 minutes will feel like 10 hours. Otherwise I'd say go for it. It's not expensive. You can pay with your oyster card and I'm not sure but I think it's the same price as a normal pay as you go journey. And it's worth it. The 360 degree panoramic views are excellent. Unfortunately we went on a bit of an overcast day. Otherwise we might have gotten to see a sunset which would have been nice and (b)romantic haha. But you can't have everything.

So yes, I would definitely recommend a trip on the Emirates Air Line. Especially to those of you who aren't scaredy cats like me and if you are, then just make sure you don't go up when it's blowing a gale like we did haha. At some point it felt like we were really swinging from side to side and that I didn't like. But all in all I have to say that I really enjoyed our little journey.