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 ( 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 ( 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.