The Shining (Finland)

Finland – Lapland ~ 2013

You know in The Shining? When Jack Nicholson goes a little bit bonkers (to put it very gently), due to being cut off in the middle of nowhere? And you are left wondering whether the character was always a little bit crazy, or if the icy conditions turned him that way…well yeah, so I used to think that was an interesting story and great film (like the rest of the world!), but I didn’t rank it as a real life documentary study on mental health. That is…until I spent a few months in the wintry tundra of Finland last year…

Let me explain. You see this lodge really was in the middle of nowhere, with snow as far as the eye can see and only a few other buildings in the surrounding area. That means that employees were flown in to an airport in Sweden, and then drove to this log cabin to begin their toil…which was basically slaving away so that rich white people can enjoy a manufactured “get away from it all” experience. An obvious paradox, but that is not what this is about! Anyway, the food there was pretty uninspired, after all the kitchen staff had a limited stock of frozen items and were expected to whip up some kind of Parisian masterpiece three times a day, the guests always complained…I felt like telling them, “listen wrinkles! If you think YOURS is bad, then what slop do you think we get?!” But I refrained, over and over and over again…my fake smile becoming more and more strained as the days went on…

Fake Smile GIF

But there was light at the end of the tunnel! I heard that a new head chef was coming, and that he had all of these awards, and used to run a five star restaurant, and could fly, and make chocolate come out of the taps…basically people said this guy would revolutionize things, and we might get something more wholesome than reheated crispy spaghetti from four days ago. I wasn’t going to hold my breath. But you know what? He did! As soon as this cheeky Scottish chappie came bouncing through the door the food was markedly better, it had…it had…TASTE! I am not sure what he was doing, but it was working! By the end of his first dinner time he had already won over our taste-buds and our hearts! But unfortunately…the good times didn’t last forever, it was only a couple of weeks in to his tenure that he started falling apart, first he would scream at the other staff like a Gordon Ramsey wannabe, but then he became more extreme and odd in his behavior…one time he argued with me about the vegetarian option (which was fish?!?!) in ear shot of a customer who had requested it “HUUU IZ IT? THE FAT LESBIAN OUT THERE? SHE’S NOH A VEGETARIAN NEE WAY!” and another time I did a stock check of my bar and noticed two bottles of wine had vanished…I put two and two together when he was an hour late for cooking breakfast the next morning! Then there are the sexist comments, the racist comments, the…okay. There are a lot I could list, but suffice to say that he regularly made the waitresses cry and effectively made a shitty situation even shittier for just about everyone.

He was a prick, basically, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to turn full scale mad. But one day his walls of sanity came crumbling down before our very eyes…he was late for breakfast as per usual, which is a bit of an issue when, errr…guests at the hotel expect to be fed in the morning…anyway, he started F’n this and F’n that – nothing unusual, sure. But then he decided to tell ANYONE who came in the kitchen to “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING KITCHEN, IT’S MINE”…well this was a slight issue, as what this Gollum-esque character had neglected to realize, is that waiters and waitresses needed to come in to fetch the food out…of course very quickly there were complaints from just about everyone sitting in the restaurant, both about the fact that they were not getting any form of service, but also about the manically loaded and profanity driven language that was coming out of the kitchen! I’m sure I saw an older couple hiding under a table…and a lady kneeling saying some holy Mary’s. Eventually the big boss was called. You seriously don’t mess with this bitch…I don’t use this term loosely; trust me she was the dictionary definition. She once asked me for water with ice, and when I gave it to her she said “what is this? Don’t you know I want three ice cubes, not four?” Basically, this was set to be an ultimate encounter of the most thrilling kind! “Errr, Chef – excuzzz-“ “GETTT THE FUCK OUTTA MY KITCHEN!”

Shining Mad GIF

Excited gasps from everyone. “What?! No, you don-“ “GETT THE FUCK OUT. THIS IS MINE. YOU STAY IN YOURS.” More excited gasps from everyone – possibly an “oooooh!” “I am the-“ “I RUN THIS, THIS IS MY AREEEEEEE-NAH!” And so it went on, until he stormed off in a red faced huff. Afterwards everyone looked very sheepish, and the guests still hadn’t been fed. So what happened? Well, the boss was forced to roll up her sleeves and whisk the eggs and fry the bacon herself! Of course the waiting staff had a fun morning, they shared “OOOOOHHMYGOD” glances at each other and whispered rumors when they had a spare second; it certainly broke the usual monotony of stacking sloppy plates, that’s for sure! But the story isn’t over my friends, not yet! Naturally this guy was fired immediately, I mean it was way overdue, but the bosses were forced to let a lot slide, as it is a pain to get a new chef all the way out to the Lapland wilds! Anyway, I guess this big kick off was the final straw, as they couldn’t not fire him. So as was routine in these situations he was asked to clear up his things and hop in the van with Kosta, who would drive him to Sweden where he would have to make his own flight arrangements…but, you see this wasn’t possible…he said he had literally no money, at all. So what did he do? Did he call someone to try and help him out? Did he apologise and attempt to win his job back somehow. Well, no. Obviously not. Instead, as they neared the small airport he took out his chef’s knife set, unrolled it, and held the largest blade to the driver’s neck… “I’M NOH FUCKIN’ GOIN ANYWHERRRR!”

Crazy angry GIF

(Dramatic pause) “I’M NOHH GOIN TILL YA BOOK ME A FLIGH AN GIV ME ME MONEY!” Well…of course he had went insane. Blame it on the weather, blame it on the situation, or errr, blame it on his brain…but either way, this guy had well and truly lost his marbles. But the driver, in a stroke of agility and genius, simply waited for a window of opportunity during one of his garbled ramblings, and slid out of the door – slammed it shut – and locked it from the outside with his keys. Phew, done. Feeling betrayed and even more furious than before, the now imprisoned chef unleashed a second knife, and started to slash violently at the dashboard, the steering wheel, the windows, everything…”RARRRRRRRR, I”LL KILLLLLLL YAHHHHHHH!” All while the Bulgarian driver (who spoke very little English, never mind anything with a thick Scottish accent) watched on, and finally opted to phone the police.

Phone Call GIF

(He never did tell me what he said whilst on the phone to the authorities…I mean…where would you start?!) “Hi…yeah…I have a guy in my van here. Yeah – little worried, he is violently slashing and stabbing at my dashboard…a-ha…that’s right….okay, so now he is biting and wrestling with the air bag…errr…can you come quick? Please?” So anyway, there we have it people! The Shining is real. Jack Nicholson really should be more vocal about it…after all, it could happen to YOU!

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Public Pooping (China)

China – Wuhan ~ 2012

A move to a different country is difficult, you have to contend with a different time zone, a different language and a whole different culture. It can be pretty hard, but eventually you adapt. You get to know the layout of your city; you get a favourite café, pub and a place to hang out…slowly you learn that McDonalds isn’t the only thing you can relate to (not that you don’t return every so often/all the time).

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Old Friends (Ireland)

Galway ~ Ireland – 2013

I remember my automatic reaction when a (now ex)  lady-friend of mine suggested a spur of the moment mini-break to Ireland…we hadn’t even known each other for that long…I mean, we weren’t even an official thing (whatever that is!)  She could have been a mad-axe murderer, she could have hatched a plan to get me out of the country, and harvest my organs or something…or, she could just be a nice normal person, with a nice normal plan to have a romantic getaway together…you can just never be sure in these circumstances…

But I said yes all the same, I mean…why not?

The clear choice apparently, was Dublin, for the sole reason that it is the capital – I knew in my heart of hearts this was a lazy choice…and I was relaying this to an Irish friend of mine, who immediatley grabbed me and muttered, “no…no man…NO. Not Dublin. Galway – I’m tellin’ ya…fucken…Galway.” There was such sincerity in his voice, such clear and unequivocal passion, that there was no way I would defy his opinion! He went on to explain that Dublin had became oversaturated, and overpriced. Playing up on the usual lepracaun Guiness drinker, who does nothing but have sex with four leaf clovers all day, “ting.” He found it obnoxious, and not a true reflection of Irish culture – just a pumped up stereotype to pull in fucking American tourists.

I nodded, as if I knew what he was talking about.

Nodding Bale GIF

So Galway it was, I did some research…I knew it sounded a little familiar, turns out a few of my favourite comedians are from there…so at the very least I was expecting some fun, and some humorous thrills and spills! Good thing is, it’s just a short flight from Newcastle, I think like half an hour, maybe a bit more? So before we had even finished our peanuts, we found ourselves there…we were immediately lost, which didn’t help at all, and spent what seemed like forever, walking up and down streets dragging bags filled with clothes we would never get around to wearing…thank God for the friendly folk there. Someone, a random stranger who honestly looked a little bit scary – stopped us and asked what we were doing, maybe my blotchy red face served as a beacon that displayed I needed aid. We told him, and he called up the hotel – got the address, then called a taxi and had it pick us up, then drop us at the door. This friendliness was no one time, stroke of luck! People are actually NICE there…I know, it’s a crazy notion!

The following night we found ourselves somewhere on the main high street, after an amazing dinner, and quite a few fine ales…we were deliberating which way to go, you know,  where to head to next – when I felt a sudden arm around my neck. “Where are we off to, then?” It was a small group of people a couple of years older than us, we were taken aback…and went into the usual stranger, danger mode, obviously we immediately tried to escape…but they were having none of it; “Come on maaan, come onnnn! Ya’ with us tonight!” and with that we were shepherded into a nearby nightclub. We had skipped the whole awkward first stage, and been invited into the “best friends for fucking ever” section of friendship. I found myself thinking that this is how it should be…all that wasted time, your a person, I’m a person – let’s just go someplace, and have a good time.

I seemed to click with one guy in particular, I think his name was Adam…anyway, we had some rather enlightening conversations once we got in there  – after a few round of drinks of course…

Rum Gone GIF

“Galway…is fucken amaaaazing! Don’t even tell me it’s not! YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!”

“No, no – it’s lovely, I was jus-“

“Wanna’ know why? Eh? The PEOPLE.”

“I was planning on going to Dublin, then my friend sai-“

“NOOO! DON’T! Galway…Galway…GALWAAAAY! I’ve lived here all my life, and you know – I have never once paid for a taxi – NOT ONCE. I just walk, someone picks me up…brings me a mile, I get out – within seconds someone else is along…they take me so far…then, I’m HERE!”

I laughed, and so did he – but he was obviously telling the truth. There was something great, about that community feel, that help people out just because it’s fucking nice mantra, that made parallels to other places, including my own hometown, pretty bleak.

“I’ve never actually paid into this club till now…usually just hop over the back-way, you know? But you went and paid for you and your lady, and I was like FUCK it, didn’t fancy the upheavel! There’s like glass, and nails – ya’know? But you gotta’ live dangerously, or ya’ not livin!”

Gandalf Chuckle GIF

The next day my girlfriend and I,  were walking the streets again, sampling more food, and even more of the ales. As we came out of a tourist store, we heard excited screams from across the street…the group, our new sudden best friends we had parted with a few hours ago, ran toward us. We began to recount the craziness of that night, without even a sniff of nervous awkwardness – we laughed about the stupid stuff that had went on, and after we had giggled till we were breathless – they asked if we fancied lunch, or maybe even dinner later on…

You know…there’s hospitable, and then there’s that. I haven’t even got a slightly negative thing to make a joke out of! Lovely place, lovely people. It’s simple as that…Galway man, GAAAAALWAAAAY!

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Frozen (Sweden)

Sweden – Karesuando ~ 2013

“Live a little” – what does that phrase conjure up in your mind? For me it used to be something I would attribute to getting out, and doing things, experiencing, you know…living. I thought it was usually coupled with things that are a little reckless, or less than mature – for example; perhaps you may think it is a bad idea to have another ten drinks when you have work the next day, “live a little!” your moronic friend will cry…and you do it. Or maybe someone suggests you go on holiday with them, but you really think it is best for you to make the rent payments you owe – “live a little!” says the friend with no money-worries, and therefore no understanding of what you are going through. AND YOU STILL DO IT.

Well sometimes you do, it feels good to throw caution to the wind sometimes – just to do something, even though you know it is stupid…perhaps it is the fact you are going against societal expectations? You are acting out of character for a split second – so for a moment you feel free, as if you are in complete control of your choices…then the next morning happens. Shit. All that responsibility starts flooding back…hello, old friend. 

Whatever GIF

Anyway, this is a story of one of those times – those silly moments where you go against your better judgement, and just act irrationally for a change…it feels good! Then it feels terrible! Then…well, just have a read, then you’ll understand:

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The Land of Confusion (Japan)

Japan ~ Osaka – 2015

What do you think of when you hear Japan? Probably a lot of things flash by in an instant…from the deep rooted cultural elements, to the checkered history, the strange and bizarre…all the way to Pokémon and Dragonball Z (as well as so much more) – it’s safe to say that Japan has always painted a colorful tapestry for themselves, one unlike any other place on earth.

Like most western folks I confess I have a rather bare knowledge regarding the so-called land of the rising sun…but that’s alright – as it’s always more exciting and rewarding to go into a place totally unprepared! Every sense is more receptive – your eyes wide like a newborn baby…not wanting to blink so as not to miss anything as you stare up and around at all the newness in front of you. Like being unplugged from The Matrix – all of the preconceptions and travel guides can go out of the window, as you are witnessing it all first hand…you are truly living it in real time. And if you are lucky, nothing will be like it seemed from your armchair back home.

Exhilarating right? RIGHT! So how would all of these aesthetic commodities manage to impossibly mesh together then ? I didn’t have the foggiest idea – but of course I was still beyond curious! I mean…what would I find behind Japan’s veil of mystery?

Curtain GIF

Well my friends I will say this…Japan is weird and wonderful – no actually, wait – let me rephrase that…Japan is weirdly wonderful. You see many things in Japan are weird; very very weird – but the weirdness often makes them wonderful…and the things that are wonderful, wellllll they still often cling to a certain sense of weirdness. Sorry…I know I’m sounding like some sort of deranged Willy Wonka right now…but this is the best way I can think to sum it up! 

You see there’s battles on every single street corner! And by “battles” I don’t mean Pokémon battles (to my great disappointment), but battles between juxtaposing cultural elements…it’s bizarre, it’s crazy…but they manage to meld together in the strangest of ways…it shouldn’t work…they shouldn’t be able to coexistbut somehow they do in a way only Japan can manage. 

Think the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that form together in perfect unison…well yeah it’s like that except rather than good/evil, or light/dark it’s Buddhist temples and pornographic manga characters…to give just one of many examples…

Unbelievable GIF

There’s also a perfect fusion between the old and the new which I found rather fascinating. On the one hand you are ordering your food through a machine in a restaurant rather than dealing with humans…very Bladerunner-ish…but then on the other side of things you are paying in coins to get a paper ticket stub to ride a rather dated subway!  I like this idea though…not everything has to be updated, smooth, and futuristic – then again I’m biased as I still dream of living in a castle with a moat in the next ten years, so perhaps you shouldn’t pay attention to silly old me!

Mind one thing I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the confusing nature of the transport system…it actually seemed intentionally difficult. The lines criss-cross in the most nonsensical ways imaginable – I would assume because they were just built one after another, and so the map took shape without forward-planning…either that or the architect dropped a bowl of noodles and thought “mehhhh, good enough!”

Anyway, what that means for the user is that they are sure to pull their hair out attempting to understand that which cannot be understood! I’m not even talking about the fact that it is all strictly in Japanese; which sure is frustrating but as I was in Japan I felt was fair enough! I’m really just raving at the layout of the tracks, and routes…my advice is this; attempt to be constantly partially intoxicated on Japan’s surprisingly good, and cheap selection of beers – that way you won’t mind as much, and will just go with the flow!

“Oh, we went the wrong way by 20 minutes? Never mind…these things happen! Let’s go!” as opposed to: “FUCCCCK! WHY DOES THAT LINE GO THAT WAY?! WHY DOES IT HAVE THE EXACT SAME STATION NAME MINUS ONE NUMBER! WHY AM I NOT DRINKING BEER RIGHT NOW?!” – it’s really your decision, but I feel comfortable with my choice.

Smug GIF

I came to the end of my trip seriously wanting more…which has to be a positive? Sure there had been some lows – losing on Tekken to a young Japanese kid which basically destroyed my entire belief that I was a master of that game…continually relying on body language rather than spoken words, so much so that I now feel like a professional body-popper…and finding out there are so few vegetables in the Japanese diet that I may have scurvy, BUT – despite all of this it has piqued my interest massively as both a country, and as a culture – due to that I want to return very soon…next time Tokyo I reckon, so I can experience a change of pace – mind, I’ll still be going in as a rather clueless and ignorant tourist; and you know what?

That suits me just fine. 

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CHEEZ ND UNN EE N (Germany)

Germany ~ Baden-Württemberg (The Black Forest) – 2000

We encountered some pretty strange kids when we were on our summer holidays, in fact it often seemed that every other family we ran into across Europe were…odd. Or maybe we were the weirdos? Nah, surely not…that’s not…possible…

The Black Forest in Germany is an amazing place, it looks straight out of a fairy tale, full of ancient natural history and a mysterious beauty. The campsites on the outskirts however, are anything but. I suppose there is still a certain kind of mystery to it…but rather than “wow, I had no idea there were trees of that colour!” it’s all “wow, I didn’t expect there to be so much pubic hair in the communal showers!” So yeah, as always – pros and cons guys, pros and cons!

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Fun Zone (North Korea)

North Korea ~ DMZ – 2014

It was horrendously cold on the winter day that I decided to visit the DMZ (demilitarized zone) of Korea – so cold that as I woke up (at 4pm or something crazy like that!) I very nearly thought fuck this I’m rolling back over, waking up after 12, and having a full on winter warmer duvet day…whilst that would have been wonderful, I am thankful I didn’t, as there is a lot of interesting and dare I say it funny stuff to see there – oh, for those who may not be aware or fully clear, the DMZ is the open land that separates the Korean peninsula, sort of a no man’s land between the north and the south. So, despite North Korea being famously difficult to get into, you can actually go up there in that restricted space, and have a look around!

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