Goodbye England’s Rose.

It appears to be a month of me losing women. Yesterday’s was probably the worst yet. My sweet little 1.25 Ford Fiesta has been put out for pasture. She took the knocks well and saw me across thousands of miles. She will always have a special place in my heart but Pancetta is dead.

About five years ago my brother bought a car. He thought it was really cool. It had blacked out rear windows, a little tea tray of a spoiler, nice rims, a CD player, all the mod cons. To belittle his efforts in being “gangster” I decided to give said car a stupid and slightly effeminate name to bring down his name. This car was Pancetta.
What I hadn’t accounted for was that eventually my brother would sell me the car and it would have to keep the same name and so that sassy little lady came under my charge.
I’ve eaten in her, I’ve slept in her. I’ve picked up friends, I’ve picked up girls, I’ve picked up my dad, when drunk and on his way home. She has certainly served her purpose but now, as President Truman says, “we must cut down on the cost of living”. Having recently bought my first property and with the idea that I just want to stay in and write all the time, and the train line is just a ten minute walk away I’ve decided to scrap Pancetta and see how long I can go without a car. I know there are going to be issues with it in the coming months. I’m not entirely sure how food shopping will go, or how I will take stuff to the tip six miles away but if you can change and I can change then maybe the whole damn world can change. I might get a bike. Good for the environment and I’ll feel like Morrissey.

But for now, I just wanted to wish Pancetta well as she evolves into a Tetris square and is dropped into the hole. I hope your line gets cleared soon sweetheart.

Commando Challenge 2014.

There is a lot to be said for doing things for charity. If you are able to find something to do for charity that you would also consider to be a personal challenge then even better. There is nothing wrong with doing things for others that can also be seen to advancing oneself. I would place taking part in a 10km Marine Commando Challenge in Exeter for the Air Ambulance service one of those things. Along with two friends (Luke and Luke) I signed up, intending on using it as a reason to get in shape and to push myself harder than I ever have done before.

We had our disagreements through training and we had our issues with kit but the three of us saw the whole thing through together as we well should and sunk a couple of cold ones once we were clean.

We had taken little consideration for the fact we were due to be in Exeter for our run until around two weeks before it was due to take place. One of the Luke’s (LN) agreed to drive and I booked us a bargain hotel room which only had two beds. On the day LN brought his recently purchased car to my door at 7am and we loaded up, ready to hit the road. Other Luke (LB) had been at work, at a local discotheque until two o’clock in the morning and was in no mood for our shenanigans. He slept most of the journey.
There’s something lovely about being on the road with two of your best friends. It didn’t even phase us when traffic slowed us around Salisbury as everyone rubbernecked the stones and searched for signs of Obama as he had recently been sighted.

Following the Sat Nav to the letter, and paying no consideration to the fact we seemed to be getting further and further from both Exeter and real life we stopped at the bottom of a winding hill which was not wide enough for two cars in most places. It was here that we argued about which of us was responsible for being late and lost. It was a group effort.

When we eventually got to the site we were treated so casually that we became aware that our start time had very little to do with what time we would actually be starting. We coughed up our sponsorship money, kitted up, deposited our bags and were taken through a safety briefing and a Marine workout/warm up. We then stuck our GoPros on our sweaty noggins and took our places. Teams were sent off at two minute intervals. We promised the man at the starting line that we were going to overtake everyone and smash it. We overestimated ourselves. We took off and soon found our pace, it appeared to be quicker than some of the others. We ran the 5k out to the obstacles, the first of which was the ‘Smarties tubes’. These were circular concrete tubes buried into a hillside with the approximate diameter of a man’s shoulders. Half of the tunnel was submerged in muddy water. We got down to our hands and knees and dropped ourselves into the water. Once I was completely inside I realised I couldn’t use my legs to levy my way through. The tunnel was so tight that it was impossible to bring a knee up. The entire 25 metre tunnel would have to be done by pulling ourselves along. With much heaving, sighing and the kind of grunting that would make a porn film about tennis players blush, we emerged out the other side like a trio of dirty babies.

Next up were more sets of tunnels, changing in size and dropping us into total darkness. They grew progressively smaller until the light before us seemed to be the size of a letterbox. The trainer had told us that it was one of the few occasions he would ever advise to “go into the light”. Again, we came out on our bellies.

The last of the challenges and the one I had been least looking forward to was what is known to the Marines as the sheep dip. This is an underwater tunnel, approximately dix metres across. You stand waist deep in water and are thrown through by a Marine. When we arrived there were a lot of people watching and cheering others along. Without being given time to think I was instructed to sit down and place my hands palm up on the edge of the tunnel. I was told I would be given the count of three, that I should hold my breath and that I shouldn’t kick. The next thing I knew I was being grabbed out at the other side, the GoPro missing from my head. We found it floating in the brown water and headed on. The run back was hard. We were soaked through, our boots were carrying a pint of water each and we were beginning to ache. We pushed on and when we could see other teams were struggling to a stop, we pushed on together, grabbing one another across the back or under the arms to keep going.

When we crossed the finish line, when we knew we had made it, the awe was absolute. I felt very proud of the three of us. It was an incredible achievement. We collected our stuff and headed back to our hotel to shower and change. We went down to the bar for a couple but soon found we were too tired to celebrate. It was an amazing kind of tired.

 

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Dans Le Noir?

“There is no darkness but ignorance”

The Great Bard there, pointing out stuff that we are still trying to get our heads round today. It’s from Twelfth Night, a play I haven’t read or seen. The quote did in fact not enter my orbit until I recently interviewed Dominique Raclin, the London manager of Dans Le Noir, a restaurant unlike any other, and the subject of the recent Richard Curtis film About Time. Dominique was kind enough to give me half an hour of his time to talk about Dans Le Noir?, the experience they offer and the awareness it creates. You can read my interview with Dominique for What’s Up, What’s On here.

What Dans Le Noir? does (and it is spelt with a question mark to make you consider what it is they are offering) is allow diners the unique experience of enjoying a meal without the aid of sight. You are taken into a pitch black dining area by a blind guide who will then assist you through your meal. I had to have a part of it.

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I was first told about Dans Le Noir? through my friend Terri (who, if you are a regular visitor to my blog or in fact one of those poor people who has to deal with me in real life will know, is my tent buddy from our Sahara Trek in October 2013). Terri and I have grown very close through our working relationship which is why I was gutted when she told me she was going to up her business sticks in order to go travelling for a year. Of course I’m obscenely jealous and I’m going to miss her and as such I thought I would treat her to a dinner where I could get used to not seeing her.

When we got to the restaurant we were asked to put our mobile phones and anything else that may create a light in a locker. We were then given the menu. Dans Le Noir? do not allow guests to select what they want to eat but instead offer four menus to cover different tastes and are also able to cater for any dietary requirements. The choices are a meat menu, fish and seafood menu, vegetarian menu or surprise menu. Being the wild and crazy adventurers that we are, Terri and I both went for the surprise menu, deciding that we had drunk enough over the previous weekend that we could just stick with water for our meal. We were then introduced to Nadine, who would be our guide and along with two girls who were dining together we were let up the ramp towards the dining room. On the way up the slope it grew steadily darker until we were just lit by the red overhead bulb. Nadine told us that all we had to do was carefully follow her through the restaurant and that if we needed anything we could just call for her. As it is pitch black in the restaurant and Nadine is blind, there would be no point in us trying to get her attention in any other way. We chatted with the two girls we were heading in with, Corrine and Philippa, who are both teachers. Within half an hour I would have completely forgotten what they looked like.

Nadine took us through a black curtain and I was surrounded by noise. I could hear the sound of cutlery and conversation, I could smell something delicious and feel there were people nearby aside from us. I couldn’t see a thing. Ahead of me I couldn’t make out my hand which I had been told to place on Terri’s shoulder. Terri and Corinne were led round one side of the table and Philippa and I were left in the darkness. It felt very surreal. I couldn’t work out how much space was around me or how many people or the layout of the room before me. Even now I struggle to think of another situation where the same could occur. Philippa and I were led to our side of the table. Dans Le Noir? do not have individual tables for guests but instead seat people in rows along long tables. I was sat opposite Terri but there was nothing separating me from the six to eight people I gathered were along the same row.
Terri and I put our hands out, trying to gauge the distance across the table before Nadine told us where on the table we could find our cutlery and glasses. She then gave us bottles of water which we had to pour into our glasses. I expected to emerge covered in something but managed to get all of the bottle into my glass over the course of the meal.

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What happened next is the most curious part of the meal. It’s something that as a group (English) we avoid. Terri and I did not silo ourselves but instead chatted with Corrine and Philippa throughout the meal, sharing the experience with them. I didn’t get used to not being able to see but it became part of the course. I found ways around it. When our starters were served I felt the components of the dish, trying to establish what I had been served and then tentatively putting a bit in my mouth with my hands. In the dark, I could eat without prejudice. I didn’t use my cutlery at all throughout the meal, which only caused me trouble when I slammed my hand into yoghurt. Yoghurt, why did it have to be yoghurt?

As we continued with our meal, the taboos of dining out were broken. We shared things we wouldn’t have with people who were strangers. When news of Terri celebrating her birthday during the week got out, the restaurant sang her happy birthday in unison before realising she wasn’t a boy. There was a sense of camaraderie and joint experience that I have never had in a restaurant. Throughout, Nadine was careful and insightful with us, her open channel of conversation and humour helping us through the experience. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re particular about your food or your dining habits then it might not be for you, but it is an interesting experience and experiment and I would be happy to be in the 5% of diners that Dans Le Noir? see returning.

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My hump, my hump, my hump.

“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York”

There are some things, some lines, some moments that are so imbedded in the psyche of the populous that it is bizarre to hear them in their own context. Amongst them I would include the bit in Come On Eileen where it breaks down and then ups the tempo until you’re swinging a doddering old tart around at a wedding with a tie pulled tight across your brow with Rambo affection, or the bit in EastEnders where Kat Slater told Zoe that she was actually her mum. Also, the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
This week I was fortunate enough to go and see the play starring dragon-bothering, stapler-jellying, Holmes-fondling mod of the people Martin Freeman in the titular role and I was not disappointed. There are some people that you assume, even though you only get a sense of them via the media, that would actually be quite nice in person, amongst them I would include The Queen, Dave Grohl and Martin Freeman. What’s so capturing about his performance in Richard III is that he’s a bit of a maniacal bastard. Even when he was marrying his niece and having his brother’s slain in the name of power I thought oh, but look at his lovely face. He somehow manages to cross that boundary where you wonder if he’s actually going to be okay when he takes off his prosthetic hump and goes back to staring lovingly at dwarves or Benedict Cumberbatch.

The production was absolutely incredible. Having been fortunate enough to see the Trafalgar Transformed production of Macbeth (starring bullet-bending, University-challenging, mind-poker James McAvoy and his dreamy blue eyes) last year, I was all for a bit more of the Great Bard, especially when presented with such panache. I’ve come to realise that Shakespeare’s strength is in tragedy in the same way Mike Leigh is in a kitchen-sink kind of a way. The more death packed into a two and a half hour word-fest, the better in my opinion, which is what made the fish tank drowning, the telephone cord strangulation and the gunned down whilst looking everywhere for a bloody horse so fantastically engaging. The rest of the cast were superb, special nod to Tyrrell and Catesby for hamming it up while looking like a rasta-pimp and Kev from Derek between them.

Shakespeare though man, you can’t really knock it. He knew how to spin a yarn.

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10 More Things I Have Learnt Since Living Alone.

This week is three months since I moved out on my own. It’s been tough. I’m still learning some valuable lessons and thought it would be only fair to share them in the hopes they can guide you through your life.

Utilities are expensive
I can remember my parents always going on at me about leaving the lights on or for having every TV on in the house because it made me feel like I was at a noisy party but I didn’t realise when they said it was expensive, that they actually meant it. I thought it was just one of those things parents say like “don’t pull on it, it’ll fall off” or “smoking is bad for you”. I have come to realise that everything in this life costs money and it’s utter bullshit. I’ve even had to stop flushing the toilet before I go just to make sure there are no crocodiles in the pipes. If I go missing, you know where to search first (u-bend).

Constant washing
Doing the washing or indeed the washing up is a thankless task which is why I make sure I stand in front of the mirror and say “thank you for doing that Paul” three times like I’m trying to call up Bloody Mary to do the housework. There’s always something that needs to be done. You cook an egg, there’s a frying pan to wash up. You eat the egg and get yolk down yourself, there’s a t-shirt to wash. It’s utter bullshit. 

Food is becoming a luxury 
It’s the weekend before payday. I’ve got enough to survive but I would be embarrassed to tell you what I’ll be dining on until Wednesday.

If something is broken, I have to fix it
I’ve realised that I have to treat my things well or I am fucked. I dropped a frame, shattered the glass everywhere. It’s still on the floor. “Someone will deal with that” I thought. Fuck, that someone is me. I have become a dab hand at fixing things though. This week I’ve fixed the blinds in my bedroom which someone managed to derail. I’ve also fixed my toilet although the handle is now angled like it is performing a constant Nazi salute.

I probably need a vacuum cleaner
You’ll be disgusted to know that I don’t have a vacuum yet. There’s one that I have been told that I can have, but it’s almost ten miles away, and it’s only been three months. What’s the problem? I imagine you think the flat is a state. You’re wrong. It turns out that if you leave it long enough, a little bobbed elf will come round and painstakingly dustpan and brush the whole flat for you while you’re at work. I am getting it sorted though.

I have proper conversations like an adult now
Last weekend I went to a housewarming/birthday BBQ at my friend’s new house which was brilliant. We were stood in the garden, nursing beers and talking about cavity wall insulation with no sense of irony.

There are some things you can’t be cheap about
Toilet paper and bin bags are the immediate things that come to mind. If you buy poor quality of either, you’ll end up ripping through it and getting shit on your hand.

If people come round, you have to offer them a cup of tea
I wouldn’t drink tea if it wasn’t for other people turning up here. I wouldn’t wear clothes if it wasn’t for other people turning up here. As soon as people step onto that welcome mat, I feel obliged to offer them tea. Where did that come from?

I have to consider expiry dates
There is nothing more humiliating than a hand covered in cobweb-like bread mould. When I buy a loaf it becomes a race against nature to get through it before Alexander Fleming turns up to swizzle it about in a petri dish, the Nobel prize winning fuck. Don’t even get me started on avocados.

I’m happy
Despite what one of my best friends told me about my mortgage stifling my creativity, I feel in a very good space. I’m hard at work to the sequel to The Stamp Collective as well as putting the final touches to Yallah! It’s a lot of hard work to maintain the output I do, but being alone and having time with my thoughts are essential. I’ve got that where I am at the moment and I feel very lucky for it.

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Then you put the boot in…

So Team Sticky Bandits are now just four weeks away from our 10K Marine Commando Challenge. We have booked a hotel, which was so much of a bargain I still worry that I might have done it wrong and we have now started getting our kit together. From the off we said we wanted to have team t-shirts printed up, which we are in the process of doing but last weekend, we concentrated on our boots.

The website suggests that you go to an army surplus store and get a good pair of boots with noble ankle support and then take the time to break them in effectively before the run. We should just have enough time to get that done based on our recent shopping exploits. We met (eventually) at the Army & Navy store in Southend and were guided through our options by a man I imagine to be a fan of both nuclear warfare and Warhammer. He showed us their UK Army Assault boots which are the actual boots worn by the actual army. Not only are they the actual boots worn by the actual army but the actual boots they had for sale were the actual boots worn by the army, as in, the army had worn the available boots. They were recycled, they were second-hand, they were the boots of babykillers. We were enthralled.

‘So where have these boots come from’ asked Luke, trying to find out if they had been in the shit as it were. The guy refused to give us a straight answer and our minds ran away from us. Luke and I each goth a pair and I made quite the parade of marching up and down the shop. They put a spring in my step and elevated me a couple of vital inches above my usual six foot. As the guy declared Luke’s new booties to be slightly more scuffed than mine, he got them at a discounted price. On the drive back, Luke sat riding bitch and goaded me about his new boots, claiming they had been in ‘Nam and that he had found a tooth stuck in the tread.

There are three of us training for the run together as a unit, although at the moment the unit is probably only centimetres.
Note: considering it’s seven in the morning and I have a hangover, that’s a really clever joke.
The third of our party Luke B, refused to buy actual army boots off the actual army and is in the process of getting a better deal elsewhere. As punishment, we tricked him into running 9k with us. You wonder how that’s possible. Well, he doesn’t use a run tracking app (like the brilliant one provided by Nike) so relied on us to tell him the distances we had covered. We lied and then took an extended route on the way back so what he thought was 5k was over 9. Luke and I then ran laps of the car park until we ticked over to the 10k mark.
We are getting there. We are almost ready to take on the world, just give us a chance to get matching camo trousers first.

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Advice for life.

In recent months there have been a number of changes in my life. I find myself drawn to taking advice from other people as if it is gospel. What I really wanted was some advice for myself that I can turn to and so I created the below list. It is by no means complete but I can’t imagine that any list of its ilk ever should be. Here is my advice for my life.

1. Write about what you know but remember you know your own imagination.
2. There is nothing that can’t be solved by listening to The Beatles or a strong dose of antibiotics.
3. Wear all the black you can.
4. You don’t owe or own other people.
5. Cold hands, warm heart.
6. A weekend wasted is not a wasted weekend.
7. Floss.
8. You will never get today back.
9. Cut out poisonous situations and relationship for your own good.
10. Never regret. It got you where you are.
11. Imagine a string emerging from the top of your head and keeping you up straight.
12. When wearing headphones it is best to imagine you are in a music video.
13. Season to taste.
14. Layers are important.
15. If it doesn’t bring you joy or serve a purpose then let it go.
16. Make mixed tapes for specific journeys. They deserve the attention of a soundtrack.
17. Always tell people you love them, especially as you leave.
18. Dog-ear the pages of your books to track down quotes you loved later. There is nothing a book appreciates more than being physically assaulted.
19. Take the time to appreciate both architecture and nature.
20. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need
21. It’s okay to be scared.
22. It’s very hard to get a good bagel in an airport.
23. Just remember, that body of yours is on loan.