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! :)

Monday, 2 May 2016


When I was in primary school - aged around 10-11 years of age - I had three best friends, Barry, Ben and Tom (who is still my good friend 20 years later).

The four of us loved sport, especially football and we were all half decent at it. (We're all in the photo above. Barry is the one in red with his hand on the trophy, Tom is behind him and Ben is to Barry's right. Can you tell which one is me?). But Barry was one of those annoying people that seemed to be good at everything he tried, whether it be football, swimming, running, tennis, cricket, dancing, drawing, etc etc. And maybe we could have been jealous of him but we weren't! Partly because he was a friendly, smily kind of kid, but also because I had no reason to be. At that age life was great. I had nothing to worry about. I did well at school, I had plenty of friends, I was in the football team, captain of the swimming team and the girl I liked, liked me too.

Except there was one thing that I was a little jealous of. Barry could do a somersault! I remember thinking it was just about the coolest thing that you could do. Back then I remember wishing I could do it too and now, well now I'm probably more jealous of his complete lack of fear. I mean, what if you try to do a somersault but end up face planting hard on the ground or landing funny and breaking your neck! But you don't worry about that when you're 10, at least Barry didn't.

And the thing is that I'm not someone who is controlled by fear. There are of course things that frighten me and I'm obviously a lot more cautious that I was in my youth. However, I have actually done a number of things in the last couple of years or so, that have pushed me out of my comfort zone. I've travelled alone, hitchhiked home (200miles), shaved my head, eaten jellied eels and entered an air guitar competition (and not come last).

But attempting to do/learning to do a somersault is different. There is no way I could just do it without training (somewhere safe). I'd 100% definitely end up seriously hurting myself if I simply attempted to do one in the school playground - a 2min walk from my parents house - where Barry used to do it. Not that I would ever try!

But then that's ok because I have an alternative. A more scary than it really ought to be but a lot safer alternative. I have a 7 year old niece who my parents spoil and so there is one of those giant garden trampolines in their garden. It's been there since last summer but because I've not been home too many times recently and because when I have been up the weather has been... well, it's Wales, so you can probably guess how the wether has been. Therefore, although it's been there nearly a year, I haven't had the chance to go on it... until now that is!

I recently had a week off work and I went up to Wales to catch up with my family and friends and finally play on that trampoline (the first time I will have been on a trampoline since I was a small child).

So I thought, while I'm here, why not give doing a somersault a try? What's the worst that can happen? The trampoline will give me the extra spring I need - I've always been a bit lacking in any natural spring and also any that I did have as a child, has certainly left me by now haha - and if I don't land on my feet - let's face it what's the chances of me actually landing on my feet? - I'll have a fairly soft landing.

Now, although I was looking forward to having my first go on the trampoline, when I first went up to Wales I had no intention of trying to do a somersault. Not until my niece told me, that the first time my brother in law Craig had a go on the trampoline, he had attempted to do one. She also said he was naughty and that you're not allowed to do it.

There was even a sign warning you of the dangers:

Well of course that was like a red rag to a bull. To hell with health and safety! As soon as I was told I wasn't allowed to do it, I instantly wanted to haha. Also - and more importantly - if Craig had a go then so must I! Competitive? Me? No! haha But the fact that he had done it, started me thinking about primary school and my friend Barry and I very quickly made up my mind. I'm going to get on that trampoline and try to do a somersault!

So one day my niece came around to play with her "craaazzzy uncle Anthony":

and it was time to give it a go!

So here it is, a video of me attempting to do a somersault for the first time ever. I've never even attempted to do one into a swimming pool before:


So it probably comes as no surprise that it wasn't the biggest success. Not only did I get nowhere near to landing on my feet, I also managed to graze both of my elbows and hurt my back. It turns out that there is a warning on there for a reason after all haha. But at least I gave it a go! It was fun, if a little weird to be upside down and slightly scary because I knew I wasn't going to land correctly. But who knows, maybe if I practice again the next time I'm up - work on my technique and be a little braver - I might just be able to nail it? Unlikely! To be fair it's probably quite unlikely that I'll ever try to do it again haha. But even if I never do manage to do it, I had a great time with my niece and I will be back on that trampoline again and again because just bouncing up and down on it is so much fun. Much more fun than it feels it should be.

Happy trampolining everybody!

Ps. Don't try this at home. Well do but not because I did. It's not my fault if you hurt yourself :)

Friday, 22 April 2016

Secret Cinema

This time last Friday, I found myself being chased around a giant warehouse by Zombies. Well people dressed up as Zombies. But still! It was a fantasy come true.

Last Friday I attended Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later.


I've never been to a secret cinema event before. Even though I have known about secret cinema for a long time. I don't remember how or when I got on the email list but I've been receiving their emails for many years now. I remember how disappointed I was when I missed out on getting tickets for their Shawshank Redemption event back in 2012 and getting very frustrated in recent years when I simply didn't have the money to spend, when it came to their Back to the Future and Star Wars events, especially the Star Wars event! That would have been amazing, I'm still little sore about missing that one.

But, when I saw that they were doing 28 days later! I just knew that was it, that was the one I was going to go to, the one that under no circumstances was I going to miss. I absolutely had to attend!!!

So it was lucky that I had the money to buy the tickets - it was before I spent all my money on my big summer trip to South East Asia. You see, I've been obsessed with zombies and the forthcoming zombie apocalypse for as long as I can remember! I have spent numerous hours plotting what I would will do in the event of a zombie apocalypse, plotting out my escape route and creating a survival plan. I've even written a film script about it. So no I wasn't going to miss this for the end of the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So a few months back - as soon as they went on sale - I bought two tickets. One for me and one for my lovely girlfriend Liliana - even though I don't think she's seen the film or is particularly interested in zombies - but unfortunately I managed to buy tickets for the weekend that she was going to Lisbon for her grandmothers 80th birthday and so I took this beautiful creature instead.

This is my good mate Dom:

He really got into the spirit of it. A lot has been said about the whole dressing up thing: whether they will let you in without being dressed up, whether you should be expected to pay even more for a costume when the tickets alone cost £65. However, what I would say is that dressing up is very much within the spirit of Secret Cinema. It is immersive theatre and if you want to fully immerse yourself in the experience, I would say scrub up. It will help you get into character and aide you to get the most out of your evening.

I dressed up too. Here I am stood outside in the rain, just about to go into St Thomas' "NSH" Hospital:

And the thing is that it isn't a cheap night out. The tickets are £65 plus a booking fee and that's just the start of it. Once you've bought the scrubs, a few drinks and a burger, you'll looking at upwards of £90 each. Which is a lot. But more than an average out in London: meal, club, taxi home? And a hell of a lot more fun I'm sure!

So yes maybe expensive but I would describe it as a rip off. A burger cost £7 which I think is pretty standard fare and a bottle of water was £1. What event, gig, cinema etc have you been to in the last 10 years where a bottle of water costs less than £2?

So expensive but an amazing time is awaiting you. The time, money, effort and production that has gone into Secret Cinema Presents: 28 days later, is nothing short of phenomenal!

The premise is that you are attending a clinic where you will be given a revolutionary vaccine against the rage virus. They set it up very well, with emails and a dedicated website. You can even do a quiz which determines how susceptible to the disease you are.

Apparently I had a 58% chance of contracting the infection:

And you find yourself immersed in the world of 28 days later right from the front gates, where you're greeted by soldiers and doctors. The soldiers checking your tickets and the doctors checking your eyes to see if you're showing any signs of rage virus.

Next you're sent to wait in a tented corridor with a flickering light which really starts to set the tone for what to expect. And without going into too much detail and ruining the suspense for anyone still to attend the event which is running until 29th May, it's all about immersing you into the film. So there is lots of running, people dressed up as zombies banging on fences and grabbing at you from behind strips of plastic sheeting.

You will also visit the high rise flat and of course you will end up at the army compound. Unfortunately I don't have any photographs of inside the event. You have to seal your phone into a plastic bag. I maybe could have gotten away with a few sneaky pictures. But as well as not being keen on being caught, I was also too busy having fun, being scared out of my wits to take pictures.

At the end what i basically a huge haunted house experience - but I don't say that in a negative way - everybody sits or in this case lies down and watches the film. It's many years since I watched the film. I was tempted to watch it just before going to the event but I'm glad that I didn't. But of course the immersive theatre element doesn't stop there, from the decor of the cinema room to actors running around you acting out several key scenes as they play out on the big screens, you are immersed from beginning to end.

All in all I had a brilliant time at Secret Cinema presents 28 Days Later. And I'm happy to say that we managed to emerge pretty much unscathed:

There was one small thing however, it wasn't really scary enough for me. It was a little bit scary but certainly not too scary. Maybe they could have done a general event and then an X-rated event? But that small gripe aside, I felt entertained the whole way through and although it was a lot of money, it was definitely money well spent! Although I would have loved to have gone to previous Secret Cinema events, in many ways I'm glad I chose 28 Days Later to be my first Secret Cinema experience. I'm certainly glad I went, it was the perfect event for me. I'm definitely looking forward to see what they do in the future. I mean I'm not interested in their next event - Dirty Dancing - so much. But exciting to see what they do after that. Maybe they can do the Matrix? I would definitely be there for that! You just try and stop me!!!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Travel outside of Europe

I always wanted to travel but I never made it a priority. I also never earned enough money for it to be much of a possibility. In the last few years however, that has begun to change. I have started to travel a lot more than before. In the last 5 years have been to Scotland, Greece, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Ireland and most recently to Portugal. I have had some amazing adventures, several of which I have written about on my travel blog: aroundtheworldin80mugs. And over the next few years I hope to continue to use my passport as much as I can.

But despite all of my recent travels, there is still one thing - I am slightly embarrassed - that I have yet to do. However, this summer I will be doing something very special. Something that was on my original Year31Project list. This summer I will finally travel outside of Europe for the first time!

Over the weekend I booked my flights to go and see my friends in Bali in August (and so much more!!!). I'm so excited!

My good friend Katherine - who I met many moons ago when I was working part time and studying for my BA degree in Wrexham, North Wales - her partner Eddie and their little girl Lily have been living out in Bali since November 2014 and I am so happy that at last I have the money to make the trip.

I am literally so excited I don't think I'm going to sleep for the next 5 months! It is going to be an amazing adventure. Myself - and my girlfriend Liliana for part of the trip - will be travelling around South East Asia, taking in several beauty spots and vibrant cities in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, before ending our trip with 7-10 days (the details aren't completely ironed out yet) in beautiful Bali with my wonderful friends!

I'm so excited in fact, that I've already bought my swim shorts! :)

Plus of course, it's not going to stop there! Next stop, I plan to finally visit New York and then fingers crossed, at some point soon - hopefully sometime next year - I would love to visit my aunt and uncle in Trinidad. Watch out rest of the world, here I come haha.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Cut Throat Shave

I've always been a fan of facial hair. I think it maybe has something to do with the fact that a number of the people I looked up to as a child - my dad, my uncle and Magnum P.I - had moustaches.

When I was young my favourite tv show was Magnum P.I. I'm not sure how much I understood about what was going on? However, I knew enough to know that when I grew up, I wanted to grow a Tom Selleck moustache, drive a red Ferrari and get the pretty girl.

Then, when I was around 14 years old, all I wanted was a pair of lamb chop sideburns. Something that I no doubt still couldn't grow now (not that I'd particularly want to). Then from around 16 onwards, it's all been about the beard (I thought I would be able to grow by the time I was 18 haha).

Well I'm now 32 and I still struggle to grow a half decent beard. I did have a fairly impressive beard last Christmas - or at least I'd like to think so - when to my mothers distress, I also got my nose pierced:

However, as you can probably see, there are two main problems with my facial hair. It barely grows on my cheeks and it's too ginger (which would be less of a problem if the hair on my head was also ginger). If you look closely enough at my beard you can actually see that it is a rainbow of brown, black, blonde, white and red. However, due to the almost luminosity of the red hair in my beard, it gives the overall impression of being only very, very orange.

Now 2013 was definitely the year of the beard. There wasn't a clean shaven hipster to be seen all year! Beards were so popular in fact that their popularity carried on into 2014 and even 2015, when their popularity even started to infiltrate the mainstream.

And although I'm no hipster, I have always admired a good beard and so needed little encouragement to attempt to grow one of my own too.

Since the start of 2013, you won't have seen me without some sort of facial hair - long or short. Throughout 2013 I was often seen sporting a tash with supporting beard (obviously) or maybe a little David Brent style box beard . Which was not so much on purpose, as it was due to an unfortunate lack of growth on my cheeks, while attempting to grow a full beard and/or being too lazy to to shave.

In 2014 the tash morphed into the longer beard that you can see in the first picture and then during 2015, although I tended to keep it trimmed right down, there was always some sort of facial hair. You certainly wouldn't have seen completely clean shaven.

I'm trying to remember the last time I actually had a wet shave. It was either in December 2012 or at the beginning of January 2013. Either way it has been over 3 years! Which is pretty mad. Three whole years without seeing my face without facial hair.

Now seeing as it had been so long since my last clean shave, when I decided that maybe it was time to finally grow my face back in place of a beard, I thought it might be a good idea to use the opportunity to have a first experience and therefore make it a part of the Year31Project.

I decided that it was finally - this is something I have been meaning to and wanting to do for the last two years and even longer - time to have my first ever cut throat shave!

So a couple of weeks ago, I was long overdue a haircut and not having had a decent barbers and therefore decent haircut in the last couple of years, I was in need of a new barbers too. Hopefully one that could become a trusted and longterm solution. Well that's when I came across this place - a short walk from my girlfriends house - which although doesn't look like all that much from the outside:

looked very nice and professional on the inside and was just the kind of place I was looking for: A Traditional Turkish Barbers, where I could get the full hot towel treatment:

And I certainly got the full works. For what I thought was a fairly reasonable £23 (£14 for the haircut and £9 for the shave) I got:

My hair washed and then cut. My face washed and then moisturised. I was given a full shave that left my face feeling smoother than a ballroom dancer's chest. A nice hot towel massage for my newly hairless face, plus a head and neck massage thrown in as well. When that was all done, I had the hair burnt off my ears using what looked like a (on fire) toasted marshmallow and the barber also offered to trim my eyebrows too (but I politely declined that one). I'm not sure what more they could have done?

I think I have definitely found my new barbers. I'm thinking that I should maybe make a habit of it and start treating myself to a haircut and shave once a month?

So without further ado. Here it is, the dramatic transformation.

Here I am before:

and here I am after:

What do you think? I knew it was time to shave as soon as footballers started to grow beards haha.

It's so weird seeing my face again like this! I literally haven't looked like this in 3 years. It's definitely taken the years off too. I almost look like a teenager again haha (Although maybe the haircut did as much to alter my appearance as the shave?). But I'm not sure I'll be keeping it. I mean I have to keep the face unfortunately, but I can at least cover some of it with facial hair haha probably not too much but almost definitely a small dusting of hair. The kind of three day stubble that takes me a week to grow.

I have actually gone out and bought a new razor:

as I haven't owned one in the last 3 years. However, I'm not sure how much use I will get out of it? I think I'll probably be mostly sticking with the beard trimmer for now instead.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Read the Classics (another update)

This time two years ago, 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, last year I thought I did 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 those 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 or plane journey and at the end of the 12 months, I had read 7 books which I was fairly happy with. The last 12 months however, well they have been slightly less successful. Here are the books I read between Feb 2015 and Feb 2016:

(in chronological order)

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I loved this book. It's a bitter sweet tale of male ego and stupidity. Maybe this book was of particular significance to myself as I am a man in my early thirties - and single when I read it - who has spent a significant amount of time in the past looking back, scrutinising previous, failed relationships but who is also hopeful and hopefully spending more time looking forward than backward these days. This really is a great, great book and I couldn't recommend it enough, to everyone! As Harry Enfield put it: "... If you are male you should read it and then make your partner read it, so they will no longer hate you but pity you instead."

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

It was a good start to the year. I instantly fell in love with this book and it's wonderful hodgepodge collection of eclectic characters. It's a lovely heartwarming tale of personal growth, centred around a bereft carer, an introverted, insecure disabled teenager and the road trip of a lifetime. It is a wonderful book and a film 'Fundamentals of Caregiving' starring Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts and Selena Gomez is set to be realised very soon (it had it's world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival at the end of Jan 2016).

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

I'm not sure if I have a favourite book? If I do, I would say that although towards the top end of the list, Pigeon English would probably narrowly miss out on the top spot. However, without a shadow of a doubt, if I were to order my favourite characters from the books that I have read, Harrison from Pigeon English is by far and away my favourite character of all time! I absolutely fell in love with Harrison, he is the most wonderful, innocent, imaginative and loving young man, with such a brilliant turn of phrase and a unique way of looking at the world. I fell in love with this character so much so, that towards the end of the book I had to take a break from reading it. I did't really want to but I had to for two reasons. 1. I didn't want the book to ever end. 2. As the story unfolded it became more and more apparent that the book could be heading towards a dark and distressing ending. I won't spoil the book for you. Maybe I guessed wrong? But I was too nervous to read the end because I didn't want anything to happen to Harri, a fictitious young man I had become so emotionally involved with. Hats off to the writer Stephen Kelman for capturing my imagination and manipulating me into being so emotionally involved, in a way that very few other books have ever managed before.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The year had started off quite strongly. But then with the Kite Runner I hit something of a brick wall or maybe that should be border control. I started reading The Kite Runner back in the summer (2015). I took it on holiday with me to Croatia last August and although maybe I wasn't to know before hand, it didn't exactly turn out to be the ideal holiday reading. 

The thing is that I think The Kite Runner is a great book. Or at least the first half is definitely worthy of the title "Modern Classic". As I have yet to read it, of course the second half of the book could be terrible. I mean, I doubt it but you never know. However, as great as it is, it is something of a tough read. The themes are quite heavy. There have been a number of times while reading it that I have stopped. Each time I have started reading again at some point but have then found it hard going again and have had to stop. I really want to persevere with this book because despite my difficulties in finishing it, it is a very good book. Not just that though, but also because while I have been struggling so much to finish The Kite Runner, I have also failed miserably to read anything else. Which means little to no reading for the past 6 months! Or at least no reading towards the 'Read the Classics' challenge. Unless you count "Krav Maga: An Essential Guide to the Renowned Method for Fitness and Self-defence" as a classic?

Wish me better luck for the coming year.


PS. If you have any reading suggestions please place them in the comments section below.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Hot desking

Way back in the Autumn/Winter of 2012, I took 4 months out of work to "concentrate on my writing". It was a fun time but it wasn't the greatest success! I did get a one man play out of it called 'one lump or two- which I am still very proud of but I wasn't exactly as productive as I had hoped.

That's partly because I spent the first 6 weeks relaxing in Greece doing absolutely zero writing:

and then another 2 and a half months doing who knows what? What ever I was doing, very little of it had anything to do with getting my writing career off the ground. Then in the January, after I had burnt through my savings, I had to go back to work - tutoring children that were no longer in mainstream education - and I was no further forward in my career than I had been 4 months earlier. It was a massively wasted opportunity.

The main reason that I managed to waste such a golden opportunity to kick on in my career was because I was attempting to work from home. Which I'm sure is something that some people manage to do very successfully but is something that I find completely impossible to do. Especially when at the time, my then girlfriend was also mostly working from home (in the flat that we shared). There was never any chance of anything getting done!

The plan had been to find some sort of small office space to rent. I thought that if I got out of the house and went to an office, it would force me to be more productive. I spoke to my girlfriend about it and even sounded out a couple of friends about potentially sharing the space and splitting the cost. But due to one thing and another: money? lack of affordable office spaces? being at home all day with my girlfriend? The plan never became a reality.

Then as time went on and we split up and my finances took a nose dive, the plan was put further and further back on the furtherest back of all the shelves. For the next couple of years I struggled to write from my bed in between shifts as a lifeguard and then as a swimming teacher. And although I managed to complete some exciting projects like my short film letters (https://vimeo.com/110795993) my productivity was actually going through the floor instead of through the roof.

For the longest time I continued - in vain - to try and work from home. For Christmas 2014 - after living in the same flat for over a year - I got a keyboard and stand for my laptop - the very ones I am using right now - with the plan of setting up a proper writers desk in my bedroom. Instead of sitting in bed, propped up uncomfortably with my back against the cold wall and the duvet over my feet as was the norm up until recently.

I set up the desk in January 2015:

and put the above picture on Instagram with the caption "Finally got my little writers desk all set up. May my productivity explode." However, it is pretty safe to say that it did not! Last year was a bit of a lost year in terms of my writing. It was a great year in lots of other ways. I met a lovely girl. I travelled to several new and interesting places for my travel blog (www.aroundtheworldin80mugs.co.uk). The swimming teaching went very well and my finances finally started to work themselves out. But I was still attempting to work from home and failing miserably.

That all changed recently however - on the 1st of February - thanks to a little thing called hot desking. Back in December I started looking into affordable office spaces again. I had just moved flats and taking into consideration rent, bills and travel expenses, I was saving around £120 a month while living in a flat that I am a lot happier in. So I started looking for flexible, cheap - with a budget of around £120 to £150 a month - desk spaces when I came across something called desk camping or hot desking.

Desk camping started a few years ago, whereby companies with a free desk space in their office would allow a freelancer or startup company to use the space for free. But not many things come for free in London and so as you can imagine I found finding a free space impossible. However what I did find were plenty of offices with the option of hot desking.

"A new way for freelancers and startups to rent desk space" hot desking allows you to have a non-fixed space for a given number of hours per week/month.

One such space is the desk that I am currently sat at writing this post (or as the photo below shows - filling out my tax return. An act which led to a pretty substantial tax return payment and me finally sorting out my finances and getting back into the black).

Once I had chosen an office, based on location, cost, facilities, flexibility, opening hours etc. There were two payment options to choose between. A fixed desk space which costs £250 a month - which I could just about afford at a push - and gives you a permanent desk and 24 hour access. Or the other more affordable hot desking membership which at £120 a month - an amount that given my recent savings on my rent, makes the desk feel as though it's for free - gives me access to a desk for up to 20 hours a week. Which is perfect for me. I don't have a desk to call my own but most days the same desk is free and 20 hours is more than enough. Through my swimming teaching and english tutoring, I work around 28-30 hour per week and so visiting an office for more than 20 hours a week would be virtually impossible anyway.

So I visited the office - which is a short bus ride from the pool I teach at - for a 3 day trail at the end of January and being very satisfied with the arrangement, I started my monthly membership from the beginning of February. And so far it has done absolute wonders for my productivity!

I have started to get myself into a routine. I take Monday's as my "rest day". It is the one day that I don't set an alarm. I get up when I feel ready and head to the pool for my first lesson at 3.30pm. I work all day at the pool on Tuesday, with an important weekly - documentary related - meeting during my extended break. Then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I get up and head to the office for a few hours before starting my swimming or english tutoring lessons in the afternoon (at 3.30pm, 4pm and 4.15pm respectively). So far I haven't managed to reach anywhere near 20 hours in a week but my hours in the office are slowly building up each week and I am really happy with the way things are going.

I'm sure there are drawbacks. Of course some of you might see this as a large waste of money. Good luck to you if you can work from home. In doing so you would be saving £120 a month compared to me. You will also be saving time that I spend travelling to the office and between the office and pool. You can probably make nicer lunches at home too and probably don't have a noisy woman wearing a headset close by. But unfortunately for me, I have tried many, many times to work from home and it simply isn't possible for me to do so. There are just too many distractions.

Hot desking is therefore the perfection option for me. Of course it is not perfect. I do worry that I will end up fat from all the biscuits, blind from staring at a computer screen for so many hours and ruining my back if I don't concentrate on my posture at all times. However, I have found a space I can afford just a short distance from both my swimming teaching and english tutoring. And due to both the office environment and the knowledge that I need to try and use the hours I have paid for - it will become a very expensive exercise if I spend all day in bed watching Bob's Burgers - I have been more productive in the last 3 weeks than I have in the last 3 years!

So if you're in a similar situation to myself. If you're trying to be creative but you're struggling with your productivity, then maybe think about giving hot desking a go? It's certainly been working for me thus far.


Monday, 1 February 2016

Write a (funny) joke

When I was in primary school:

I always wanted to create jokes but I never really knew how (and still don't). I remember at some point - we were probably around eight - a friend of mine and myself came up with the joke:

Me: Why isn't a cheetah very good at hide and seek?
You: I don't know. Why isn't a cheetah very good at hide and seek?
Me: Because it always gets spotted.

However, looking back I'm pretty sure one of us probably just read it in a Christmas cracker? But at least it was a joke. Rarely do any of the children I work with, tell me "jokes" that actually make any sense. This is a "joke" a young child told me a few days ago: 

Child: Why did the kangaroo slide in the park?
Me: I don't know. Why did the kangaroo slide in the park?
Child: Because it was very funny.

But I did make up one "joke" while I was a younger. When I was probably a little older than I care to remember, I created this little gem:

Me: What do you call a girl with green hair?
You: I don't know. What do you call a girl with green hair?
Me: Jade.

Hilarious right? Try to control your laughter, if you can?

And so the other night in bed, I found myself - struggling to sleep and - thinking that although I've made plenty of off the cuff comments and written a few things in blogs, poems, film scripts etc that I consider to be funny (and people have laughed at), I don't think that I've ever actually written a joke before? Or at least, if the girl with the green hair "joke" is anything to go by, certainly never a funny one. So as I lay awake at 3.33am the other morning - despairing at the fact that my alarm would be ringing in my ears in just four hours time - I attempted to write my first ever (funny) joke.

And this is the best - and only joke - that I could come up with:

Me: What do you call a giraffe on stilts?
You: I don't know. What do you call a giraffe on stilts.
Me: Anything you want. It's unlikely it will ever hear you.

And I'm not sure if it - ok I'm pretty confident that it doesn't - qualifies as being funny? But at least it's original. By which I mean that I'm pretty sure I didn't read it in a Christmas cracker. And I think it's slightly better than the kangaroo joke a child told me the other day?

So I think I'm probably going to put my professional joke writing career on hold for now. However, if I'm ever stuck for cash it is something I could always fall back on (not thats a joke haha). 

HAPPY JOKE TELLING (& writing) :)

Ps. If you have any good jokes, especially ones that you created yourself, please put them in the comments below.