The Rocking Chair Theory

Sometimes you see something and it sparks a whole chain of thought almost immediately…often it’s in things you don’t expect, and from places you wouldn’t have guessed – but despite this it feels central to your life in some way…as if it has always been a part of you, even if you hadn’t realized it before. I mean…if it wasn’t, why would you suddenly feel so strongly about it?

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Anyway, that’s how I felt today when I stumbled across this photograph and caption on the Humans of New York Facebook page…

And no, settle down…it wasn’t because I saw the bit about STDs. It was just because I realized that despite also being quite a cautious person I am forever attempting to push myself free from those “hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t” shackles so that I can hopefully live a life well lived, rather than a one full of safe regret instead…

Mind I’m not calling this fella a square because he hasn’t ever had a battle with chlamydia…there’s every cause for congratulations in that respect – however it did sadden me that his words have such a final tone to them…even though I imagine his life is far from over…I mean, there’s still plenty of time for him to volunteer in Africa, develop a drinking problem, become addicted to crystal meth, and/or blow his  life savings on cocaine fueled hookers. So why the negativity? Stop wasting time, and get on with it! 

Seriously though…people often say things like: “that’s something to tell the grandchildren!” when they do something out of the ordinary, or have an experience that is half-way interesting…and I suppose it’s this miserable fear of sitting in a rocking chair at 80 years old with nothing interesting to say that motivates me to push on and fill my life’s tapestry with weird and wonderful stuff! You only get one life to live, and all that lark…right? And I don’t want my most thrilling tale to be something about how milk and eggs used to be a lot cheaper, “back in my day…” as I slurp on soup, and fill a plastic bag with pee…

With that said being a cautious person is not entirely a bad thing, and you certainly shouldn’t relinquish control completely, that could prove to be disastrous! In fact, it actually reminds me of a situation a few years back where I found myself cornered in a Sunderland bar in the early hours of the morning – you see a possibly (definitely) psychotic football hooligan had taken an interest in me and wouldn’t let me go…he was too engrossed in his life story, which included a penchant for stabbing police officers in the neck with broken plastic pens during riots – and a claim that he will never stop doing heroin because it is “too fucking great to stop”. And whilst I must concede his sounded like a very interesting life to live – this is perhaps not my suggestion with this rambled post.

I would in actual fact suggest a person can still live a wonderful life even without stabbings, and heroin. I know, a controversial view – but I’m somewhat of a radical I guess! 

All it takes is simply loosening your grip on the “what ifs?” every so often…letting your guard down to different experiences, and occasionally pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. After all it is here where true rocking chair memories are made…

So why not get started today?

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Broke? Travel Anyway!

I often get emails, and messages from people – asking the same question – “how do you afford travel? Are you from a rich family? Do you have connections? Did you get some crazy compensation deal – and have decided to blow it all on roaming the world rather than making sound investments?!” 

Well, no. No to all of those. I wish it was something as easy as being in a car accident – and getting free money, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz…it looks like a spectacular vision until you see the cogs turning behind the curtain. Yes, the actual facts of the matter are a lot less glossy – and  whilst this may be hard to take for some…I actually work. 

Take my first major trip on my own, for example. My year abroad studying in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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For two years before that I worked at an electrical store, moving televisions around, and trying to sell people outdated SCART cables they didn’t want…taking overtime whenever I could, whilst also taking shifts at my Aunt’s pub on the weekend…all the while squirreling away money whenever possible. With no disrespect intended, I wasn’t like the others that were accepted on to the study abroad programme (Newcastle UK – Atlanta USA) there would be no money from my Mother, or Father…I’m one of five children, I would feel rude even asking.

But I made it – and before I knew it I was in the midst of my own travel scrapbook! Carving out new memories for myself…whether it be visa worries at passport control, attempting to make the transition to the different pace of American life, or dancing insane jigs with Waka Flocka, I had flew from the ordinary day-to-day, and was living out these once impossible fantasies!

Sounds dreamy, dreamy – I’m sure? But the truth was my budgeted money soon ran out, and there were a couple of very hairy months – I recall that after weeks of eating next to nothing I sent my parents a whimpering email explaining the situation…and I received something along the lines of – “you’ll figure it out.” And I felt it was harsh, but the fact is…you will…if you want it that badly – you will. (And I’m still alive, so I guess I did!)

Study abroad programmes can be a great way to get away, and experience a different culture first hand – there are often great schemes, and incentives – with mine I was actually reimbursed for any costs throughout the year. Which meant I had thousands to play with at the end of it all – long story short, two weeks in Greece with some of my best friends from back home. 

My second major trip came just after I graduated university- although I was recruited before I had even been given my degree…and a month after I flew out to Beijing, China.

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Again I had saved, and saved working some terrible job – this time around it was a sportswear store, selling people trainers, and trying not to touch their sweaty feet as I assisted them with trying on their shoes. Not ideal – but a means to an end. This was just so I had some initial spends, as the programme actually flew me out at no cost, and many of the site-seeing trips, and other interesting adventures were paid for, or massively subsidised.

Either way, there I was again – in a totally foreign, and unknown environment…forced out of my comfort zone…but that’s what it’s all about…I was experiencing all of the weirdness, that was so different to anything the 9 to 5 version of myself would be encountering…whether it be bizarre disputes over taxi fares, relaxed views to public pooping, or trying to sample local dishes without being sick (such as dog) – I knew these were memories that would last a lifetime.

And thanks to the cheap day-to-day living China affords, I was able to save a little for the NEXT trip…you see, that is important – always have the next trip in mind. 

My third major trip to Scandinavia came unexpectedly…but was well worth it…

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My sister – someone who has worked all over the world with nothing more than a can-do attitude, and flexibility – found a two month long  job in the Arctic Circle at a remote lodge…it was placed right between Sweden, and Finland. Did I fancy it? Well…OF COURSE I DID! There was a catch though, we had to fly out (again at their expense, so no worries) the following day! You see, sometimes the opportunity comes abruptly, and if you ponder over it too much, it will go to someone else – you sometimes just have to grab it, and say YES! 

And I certainly did. Before I knew it I was crashing snowmobiles in Sweden, experiencing The Shining effect first hand in Finland, and after I finished my contract – experiencing the raw natural beauty of the Norwegian Fjords first hand.

The work was often not pretty; six day weeks, with long hours – and if my boss was ever pissed off he would make me scrub toilets for an ungodly amount of time…but still…huski racing? The Northern Lights? Spending a night in an igloo? You can’t tell me that wasn’t worth it. 

For my next major trip, I was off to South Korea! I scraped together the last of my meager savings – put up with the horrendous visa process…and then went on my way!

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And I couldn’t have asked for more! Yet again I was flown out at my employer’s expense, provided with a cosy home to stay in for free, and continue to live very comfortably – whilst also having an amazing time, with some amazing kids, in a truly amazing country! And, using Korea as a base, I have been able to save very efficiently, which allows for a great many adventures; including a  Christmas trip to Vietnam,  an interesting excursion to North Korea’s border, a heat-stricken jaunt to Nepal…back home to England, and Scotland – then on to Italy, Hungary, and Austriathen…well, you get the picture – the world suddenly doesn’t seem as hugely inaccessible as it once did!

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You see it’s not difficult, you just make it difficult. If you really want to travel, like really, really want to…then be willing to work, and be willing to take every opportunity. Rich, or not – you’ll get there – so stop just posting random sunset photographs, with “W A N D E R L U S T” etched over them, and start planning that next trip…and start filling up your passport, and with it your little book of memories. 

~

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Kiss Me, I’m not Irish.

So it is upon us again…St. Patrick’s Day! Or as I like to call it “the day Americans tell you they are Irish because their Grandmother’s half-cousin once dated a guy who once had a teacher who was Irish.” ..so yeah, with that in mind it should come as no surprise that the global Irish population expands temporarily by about 10,000% (just for the festive weekend, of course!)

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But what’s the harm? None really. So you pull on something green, sip something strong, and head on out to celebrate life – and just have a fucking good time! Perhaps the true meaning has been lost, but it brings people together in a joyous (although slightly blurred)  beautiful moment – so I’m all for it!

I was wearing these green jeans I have for some reason, which I thought looked cool…but which actually make me look like a demented pixie. But it was too late, I was on the subway – and people are usually against strangers stripping off in public. Especially in tight spaces. But I eventually got into Seoul at 12, and we immediately went hammer, and tongs with the soju, and beer. And lunch…but honestly that was an after thought. After which we headed over to a big event that was happening – probably guffawing as I laughed manically at my friend’s moderately funny jokes. I read a quote someplace that said something along the lines of, “when you laugh, laugh like hell” – which I guess is saying, make the most out of happy moments…

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Well I imagine I looked worse than this…how much worse though? I picture myself as a pterodactyl who just learned to fly…shaking my massive head around in celebration – and making bizarre squawks at irregular intervals. That much worse.

Mind, I loved the performances that were going on…so many talented people – dancing, singing, playing musical instruments – the lot. My favourite were these guys who played hip hop songs with violins…each time it took me a minute or two to realise! Fantastic stuff! It was also wonderful to see so many old friends, acquaintances, and naturally new people – I love things that bring people together, and this was one of those events ~

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 Anyway, great times…with some great people…what more can a person want, ey? If you are celebrating, enjoy yourself – if not, kick back, and eat some bacon or something. Toodles! 

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Curse of the Ninja

Was reminded of this childhood memory by Melanie, after my previous post regarding childhood lies!

When I was in primary school, like most kids my age – I used to love The Power Rangers. The kicking, the punching, the flipping, the monsters, and the explosions…I mean, the whole package appealed really. So it wasn’t a rare sight to see me, and a couple of friends acting out crazy fight scenes in our school break times! We’d be jumping out of trees, doing killer rolls…the whole works…basically just battling evil wherever we found it…

And we didn’t skimp on any of the realism…oh no…we’d be using elaborate formations, working together to beat these savage creatures which had every intention of taking over the world. We’d jump in, one by one; “HIIII-YAHH! HUHH! PAAAH! KAPOWWW!” 

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It often took a few hits, especially if our foe was one of the big bosses – but we always, always triumphed…I mean, we’re The Power Rangers, we’re only ever going to win – that’s kinda the whole deal.

But one of these bouts stands out…you see, one of them was very, very different…

Which is odd, because it started out very much the same; we fought over who gets to be who, and then fought again over who gets which stick…just the same as every other time – but after these usual formalities, we were able to continue with our normal crime-fighting ways as per! …but this truce wasn’t to last – and before we knew it we found ourselves  arguing over something else…something which hadn’t ever been an issue before…

“YOU JUST SAID A SWEAR WORD!!!” protested one of my so called Power Ranger colleagues – wagging an accusing finger in my general direction.

“No…no, I didn’t!” I argued, unsure of what he was referring to. I assumed he had misheard one of my amazingly realistic “SHIPOWWWW!” sound effects as something more menacing. So I pleaded my case, I was innocent GODDDAMITTT!

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“NO. NO. NO. I’M TELLING.” He smirked out the side of his mouth…the grin sent my blood boiling – did he really think I had swore, or was he just trying to fuck with me? I wasn’t sure…but for once, I hadn’t actually done a thing! So I tried to grab him, I had to keep him from spreading his lies – his arm alluded my clutches, and I found myself pulling desperately on his empty jumper sleeve…but with one big yank, he was free – albeit with a stretched bit of material that was now twice the length…

“YOU FUCKING BACK-STABBING PIECE OF SHIT!” I screamed after him, as he ran towards the classroom. Well obviously I didn’t really say that; I was eight or nine – so it was more likely I said “GET LOST, YOU BUM HEAD!” Which roughly translates to the same thing.

I ran away in the opposite direction, hoping that this would somehow make all of my problems go away – or at the very least bide me some time. It didn’t work. Before long I found myself in front of my teacher Mrs. Mc.Dermott…she was usually so friendly; she always appreciated my artwork – even the ones using paint which I constantly messed up. But she wasn’t friendly now, after all he had whispered his bullshit into her ear – and she had believed him.

He was sent away, and the interrogation began. Why had I said it?! What had driven me to use such horrible language?! Where had I learned it?! I tried to explain, tried to sputter out my defense – but she wasn’t buying it. So it was a stalemate. I didn’t know what to do…and hunger pains began to pulse through my body…urgh, now I come to think of it – I was STARVING…

“LISTEN, JOHN! You either own up, and apologise – and then go for your lunch. Or we just sit here. Your choice.” 

 Well obviously I admitted to it. It was like the carrot, and stick – except it wasn’t a carrot on the end of it…it was a lovely chocolate doughnut, apple juice, and whatever other goodies I had waiting for me in my bag. I’d probably do the same thing now, food trumps just about anything…for me anyways! 

You see I needed my energy. I’d be playing Power Rangers again in the afternoon break – and there was a new enemy I’d need every bit of strength to take down…“HIIIIII-YAHHHH!”

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SANTA CLAUS IS REAL.

Well it’s beginning to look, a lot like Christmas…don’t worry, I am not about to break into song! I just love this time of year…that festive feel, that holiday spirit, that – well, whatever you call it! I just unashamedly still, love Christmas!

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Unfortunately it has came to my attention recently, that many foolish souls have been spreading a rather hateful, and malicious message…something that isn’t Christmassy in the slightest! And this is something for which I will not stand…as a resolute Christmasist! 

What I’m raving about are those Scrooge-like fellows, who wildly claim that Santa Claus, is NOT repeat, NOT real! Which is of course crazy!  And I have a story to prove it!

I was six years old, possibly seven, when I found myself sitting on a train with my Aunt. I’d just visited her in London, so I had just enjoyed a couple of days of looking up at big things, and eating ice cream. I was quite content, just staring out of the window – and holding on to my new “Evil Cat” soft toy, that a nice lady in Pizza Hut had given me. You could squeeze his belly, and he would emit a chaotic “MUAHAHAHAHAHA” giggle.  Amusing for me, probably hell for all of the grown ups. 

Amidst all of this fun, someone caught my eye a few rows down. I instantly stopped squeezing Evil Cat’s belly, and stared. There was a man, he was maybe sixty…or eighty, well he was old anyway. And he was sat there reading his book, minding his own business…but for some reason I couldn’t look away. There was something special about him. But it is rude to stare so I tried my best to look down at the floor, and out of the window…but I just…couldn’t! I had to have one more peek..then one more peek…then one more…

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It was strange, I definitely recognised him from somewhere. He wasn’t like everyone else, who were either sitting there with a bored expression…or eating a horrible looking sandwich, that smelled like sick. He had a little smile on his face. His cheeks were chubby, and red –  he actually looked comfortably relaxed in his seat, in between sips of his hot cocoa…

And that flowing white beard! Not many people have that, it’s usually jus-

“WAIT! …WAIT!” I shouted desperately,

“Shhhhhh, John! Try, and kee-“

“BUT…BUT IT’S-“

“John, people are trying to re-“

I didn’t let her finish whatever she was saying, and simply pointed (rude, I know!) at the man sitting a few rows down…Santa Claus”, I announced proudly.

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She stared too, and I waited in anticipation for approval…“it is, isn’t it?!” I blurted out hastily without thinking. She then smiled, and said she wasn’t sure – and that perhaps it was best to just go up to him, and ask.

Now this sounded like utter madness, to me! But it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, I mean…how many kids get to say that they met Santa while he was off duty, on a train heading to the North-East of England? I haven’t heard that said, EVER! So there was only one thing for it, I had to go for it! I mean the worst thing that could happen is that he says, no – and then I burst into flames due to a severe embarrassment overdose…

I pulled off the chair, and began to shuffle slowly over to him – I turned back a few times, and there was my Aunt grinning, and giving eager thumbs up. Once I got to his row, I just stood there – transfixed. Thankfully he smiled warmly, and said hello.

“ARE YOU SANTA CLAUS?!” 

I couldn’t help it, it just burst out without me knowing! He maintained his smile, but I instantly regretted it, I wished in that moment that I had just stayed seated…that I had just carried on squeezing Evil Cat’s belly. I shifted awkwardly on the spot, awaiting his answer…

“Yes. Yes, I am.” he whispered in a hushed tone. I didn’t say anything, instead I immediately fled back to HQ to report the news:

“IT’S HIM! IT IS! IT’S ACTUALLY HIM!” 

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She asked what he had said to me; “well – I came back here to tell you…so, nothing…” I suddenly realised how I had missed out on so much in that opportunity, I had let so much slip through my fingers! My Aunt agreed to come along with me, to make right my wrongs. 

We had a lovely chat; I asked him why he was on the train – he said even Santa needs a break sometimes, to which I thought fair enough. He showed me some photos, of him and the guys (his reindeer, and his elf friends). His wife looked friendly on the photos, he said he missed her a lot but he’d be back with her soon. He actually remembered my name, once I told him – he said I had been pretty good this year, which was such a relief because I was half expecting my poor performance in maths class to affect my present haul that year!

My Aunt said we best leave him alone, that he had a lot of things he had to do for all of the other children…I nodded, and walked back to my seat.

Just before Christmas a card arrived from him personally, with a photo of him, and his wife on the front – they certainly did look happy to be reunited. It was nice to know he hadn’t forgotten me, because I certainly didn’t ever forget him…

Have yourself a very merry Christmas!

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The Close Shave

I was reading an amusing post from my main man Geraint Isitt, and it reminded me of an old childhood memory. Funny how that can happen! Just one little detail can swerve your brain into a strange direction, causing all kinds of things to come back into context, right to the forefront of your thoughts! Hmm, weird! Anyway here’s the story I was reminded of…

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It is only in the past couple of years that I have been able to grow any real facial hair. Phew….I feel better now that is out there! But therein is the issue! Now that I’m able to possess it (should I want to look like a lumberjack), I hate it! The shaving process itself is just horrific…if I don’t shave I look homeless, and not like your happy go lucky tramp, who plays his banjo and rides the rails ~ no-no-no, I have the misfortune of possessing the scary/vaguely psychotic look. So shaving it is, done deal! Ahh, no you see – because when I do my skin flares up in a very unflattering way…in fact a slice of corned beef has a more healthy looking complexion.

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Strange then, that before all of that I wanted nothing more than to shave…perhaps I thought it was a manly occupation – I felt dis-empowered that some grandmothers had ten times more facial hair than I did. What was wrong with me? Well nothing…but I felt this way even when I was a young child. I remember staring up at my Father’s razor…its solid steel handle, its sharp layered blades – and the embossed writing on the side that always had words with loads of extra Xs…just to make it even more cool. Wowif only…if only…one day…one day…

Well it was a blessed day when I spotted some hair – right above my lip, it wasn’t much – (you had to press close up to the mirror just to spot it) but it was there. I raced to show my Mother, who pretended she couldn’t see it, she claimed it was all in my head…I was eight I wasn’t blind or stupid – IT WAS THERE, I WAS NOW A MAN – NOTHING COULD STOP ME!

That afternoon I had nothing but that razor on my mind…it was taunting me, daring me to give it a go – it took no time at all for me to find myself in the bathroom, right there at the sink – steel blade in hand. I wasn’t really sure what to do, in this light the hair was invisible – maybe I had imagined it? Not good to think that way, negative thinking – so I went ahead and squirted some whipped cream stuff on my hand, squirted too much…smells weird, tastes weird, eww…like minty chemicals…okay, so then I began to cover my face in it, till I looked like some kind of French fancy dessert.

I then jabbed randomly, and sporadically with the razor…YOWWWWW!!!!

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That hurt. I had just sliced a rather huge gash in the side of my face, blood was now gushing out, it was mixing with the shaving cream to make a pinky coloured sludge that clumped to my face, and slopped down to the bathroom floor. This was a mess, this was a nightmare.

“TEA TIME! TEA’S READY!” That was my  Mother calling – I heard the usual Jumanji styled rush of bodies piling down the stairs, “I’M COMING…I JUST…I”M COMING!” I managed to squawk out weakly…

I splashed frenetically at my face, used a lot of toilet paper for the clean up – that way I could flush away all of the evidence…but it was using too much, they would suspect me, they would know somehow! So I looked around for a dark towel, there wasn’t one…ahhh…errr…“JOHN, TEA!” that was my Father this time…I shouted back that I knew, I was just on the toilet – no answer, that’s always a good one, they can’t say anything if you are having a poo – it’s just not allowed.

I continued to scrub all the surfaces, and mop up all of the mess, but my face was still oozing with blood, and new drips were being formed every second – I almost cried, but held it together…after it had stopped, I gave one last wipe over, before tossing the used and blooded towel straight in the washing basket. Done, what a relief.

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URGHHH! The reflection in the mirror was a shock – I hadn’t realised just how ginormous the slash in my face was. “JOHN, GET DOWN HERE NOW – THIS IS RIDICULOUS, IT’S CLAY COLD NOW!” That was the last straw, I knew that – when that phrase is dropped you are out of lives. So I plodded down the stairs…trying to scan what was left in my tired, overworked brain for a valid excuse. Nothing.

I sat myself down in silence, and began to eat my food with my head down. Someone asked what was on my face…how had I scratched it so deeply, what had happened? I paused, quivering with fear…my hands shook, and tears were filling up in my eyes…

“I…I…tripped…I tripped and hit my face on…the sink…”

There was a pause…a long one…this was it….grounded for forever, no pocket money for the rest of time…

“Awww…you should be more careful – now eat your dinner.” replied my Mother, barely glancing –

And that was it. Everyone else was more interested in their ice cream. I was lucky – usually there would be a deep and unrelenting inquiry – but not this day…not on ice cream day.

Still…I think to this day, it’s probably the most exhilarating shave I have ever had – weird, I haven’t ever seen that experience documented on a Gillette advertisement…

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Mermaid (France)

France ~ Dordogne – 1996

You may note that this is a tale that dates back to some time ago – in fact it is from the dusty shelves of the Taggart family archives ~ so you could say we’re going in a time machine all the way back to 1996(ish)…yes, so you’ll have to picture me as a little four…or maybe five year old…actually, maybe even six year old! (I have literally no clue!) Strange, I don’t really have too many memories of the early years of my life; I think most of them are just made up ones fabricated by looking at old photos and imagining the scenes they depict…actually, I do recall  as a very, very young child scampering up to my Mother sobbing; claiming that I was not a human at all, and was in fact a robot -my proof being that I could see mechanical cogs spinning in circular cycles inside my head, and could only see black and green stripes due to my limited robotic vision…what would I do? What kind of life does a robot have in this world? How do robots pee…eat…BREATHE?! I remember the horror at seeing her immediate reaction, which was of course to laugh…and tell me that it was just a figment of my bizarre imagination – but I was never truly convinced…hmm…

So no, no real early memories – I hope that isn’t my brain blocking out something horrific…come to think of it maybe I was tested on by mad scientists, possibly even aliens…that would actually explain a lot. No proof yet though…YET.

Mulder GIF Continue reading “Mermaid (France)”