Wake up, and Smell the Coffee

When I was in the USA, I lived in the midtown area of Atlanta…which was lovely! I was told this was the “gay area” by someone in hushed tones, but honestly I didn’t see the problem – all I saw were friendly strangers who liked to give compliments, and some great brunch establishments! How could anyone hate that?! Certainly always put a smile on my face!

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But anyway, this was a little far to travel for some friends who lived outside of the city, so I would hop on the MARTA train and meet them half-way at Bankhead Station…then we’d drive out to some random diner, restaurant, or coffee shop for a catch up on the latest shenanigans…

One of these times stands out, and has been turning over, and over, and over in my head recently – I’m sure it won’t take a genius to work out why…

On this occasion, four of us pulled into a quiet roadside place, and piled into one of the cushioned booths to get warm. A chirpy waiter came over immediately to take our orders…we were all pretty exhausted, so there was only one obvious choice for most! “Black coffee, please!” “Black coffee for me too!” “Yeah, black coffee – thanks.” 

He nodded and smiled, as he jotted it all down – before turning to me.

“Errrmmm…” I murmured, a little unsure as I stared at the menu. “Can I have white coffee please? I don’t really like it black.”

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There was a silence. A horrible, agonising silence. 

Everyone had their eyes fixed on me, I instantly turned the brightest of reds – as if a volcano had erupted in my face, and was attempting to force its way out through my ears…I had no clue as to what crime I had committed, but I was sorry all the same. I looked desperately at the faces of my friends, hoping one of them would throw me a life-line…all they threw me were looks of complete, and utter disbelief.

“Is that supposed to like…be funny? Because its not.” cautioned the waiter,

“Erm, no…not at all – you don’t…you don…you don’t have white coffee? I mean…wha?!”

The waiter looked across to my friends, as if to say; “who is this no-good piece of shit, and why do you even hang around with him at all? Can we shoot him in the head, once my shift finishes?” I wished that I hadn’t been so choosy, I could have just said “black coffee for me too!” and all of this mysterious awkwardness could have been avoided. I wriggled, and writhed in my seat – the leather sticking to my sweaty backside, as I prayed for the ground to swallow me up whole. I gave it one last try…

“Sorry…I want a WHITE COFFEE, PLEASE!” More stares, now there were some who were shaking their head – as if I had gone too far with a bad joke…this was past the point of humiliation, doubly so as I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on! “Black coffee…you put milk in, and it’s white coffee. What…you don’t have milk in a coffee shop?!”

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“Ohhhhhhhh!” everyone chimed together, which instantly broke the awkward deadlock of silence. But I was still completely dumb-founded, my head bobbing from person to person hoping for an explanation. They laughed (a lot), but eventually told me I had incurred a rather regrettable mistake – and that it was probably best to not repeat it again, even if it is an everyday phrase in England. Ask for a coffee with milk, or a latte…or…anything but a fucking WHITE COFFEE! Well, you didn’t have to tell me twice! Jheez!

After all this they dropped me off at the station, and I was just looking forward to getting to bed – so I could forget about how shitty a person I was without even knowing. And I was in luck! The train was right there! Everything was coming up John, after all!

Not quite…ten minutes later, and I was still sat there – the train hadn’t moved an inch. I put my phone away, after all it was all full of white coffee jokes from the friends I had just left. I glanced to my left, and did a double take as I caught sight of some commotion in the opposite carriage…I moved for a better view, maybe this was the reason that…oh Jesus…fucking hell… 

There was a black man, lying there lifeless – with a puddle of blood around him. There were policeman murmuring into their radios, and a paramedic still desperately trying in vain to save the poor man…with blood all the way from his hands, to his elbows. I couldn’t make out much more than that.

I held my head in my hands, tears began to swell, as I began to struggle to breathe. I looked up at everyone else in my train carriage, I watched for their reactions which were basically just to glance over shrug, and go back to their phones, their books, their whatever else. “Babe, some guy’s dead. So I’ll be late.” I heard someone announce in a bored tone.

So wait…a man dies in a bloody fashion, and no one bats an eyelid? But I mistakenly use the wrong phrase when talking about a cup of coffee, and everyone loses their minds? Something’s wrong there, surely.

You see…I didn’t link the two like this till recently, they were just separate events in my head. But the two are unequivocally intertwined, I see that now.

We can’t just stress, and worry about words…and being “politically correct” or appearing to be a person of true compassion. REAL equality comes about with REAL action. Not just talking the talk. All of the horrendous news stories we have seen laid bare recently, SHOULD be sparking something inside of you…and that something shouldn’t be disdain for well meaning people like Benedict Cumberbatch…but more horror for corrupt, or racist individuals.

Please, don’t just look away – wake up, and smell the coffee – BE the change. 

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Saunas, and Snowballs

I’m not such a confident guy, which may shock you to hear. Or perhaps not if you’ve watched any of my YouTube videos, considered how I may come off around normal people – and then put two and two together. If that means you, then well done – you cracked the DaJohnvi Code! Congratulations!

Apologies but there’s no formal prize as such – my budget is tight – but feel free to create your own certificate on Microsoft Paint, and then put it up on your fridge for everyone to see. I recommend using a nice font so people know it’s real and not just some bogus accolade made up on some rambling article in the darkest depths of the internet. They’re the worst, and I doubt anyone will want to see it in a job interview…I mean you never know…but in this case – yeah actually, we know.

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What am I even talking about?! Oh yeah…so confidence, yeah – it’s a little low but I’m getting better. However I must say I’m certainly nowhere near the narcissistic extrovert level I feel is necessary to  prosper in the world these days. I’m definitely not the type to jump out of a plane (unless it’s on fire and there’s a giant marshmallow at the bottom), or tease sharks with promises of cocktail sausages by running through their homes on a spontaneous skinny dipping spree, or…well, come to think of it I wouldn’t even mention it if the waiter gave me the wrong order at a restaurant. I’d just sit there and knuckle down like a prison lifer…shoveling the wretched artichoke and beetroot paella down my throat, pretending everything is fine and that the cheese smothered chicken with extra bacon didn’t sound good at all.

I’d probably even leave a tip and a nice review on their website.

So when I was in Finland a couple of years ago, it was in essence my own personal nightmare to hear of their tradition regarding saunas – which is basically to be completely nude, (or as I like to call it “making close-friends with gravity”) and then to flee out into the arctic expanse and throw your reddened steamy body into a pile of snow. You then run back to the sauna, and repeat, repeat, repeat until you either get bored or die of frostbite.

Some may call this stupidity, the actions of a madman, that only a raving lunatic would act in such a way…and yes I would be prone to agree. But I also think it takes a special brand of confidence to delve into such an act willy-nilly; and I also think it is rather self-evident that you need true metaphorical balls to put your actual balls in such obvious danger. And I’m afraid to note I don’t have those – the metaphorical ones I mean.

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“But it’s the culture…you should at least try it once, just to be polite!” Or at least that’s what everyone suddenly turns and says to you when you attempt to quietly back out of such a thing. Which leaves you with only two options sadly; to take part in the hideous event after all, or to strangle those who are kicking up such a fuss and hope no one will ever find you in your igloo safe-house bunker.

So EVENTUALLY I’m in the sauna, OBVIOUSLY. Looking at my feet as it’s the least threatening portion of nudity on display; breathing in and out – whilst wondering if its okay to be filling my lungs with the greasy sweat vapor of such a large group of strangers. I mean won’t it make my breath smell like an armpit? And another person’s armpit at that…surely that can’t be good…right? And wait, will I have to use deodorant as mouthwash from now on?! So many vital questions, and yet no one to ask…

But my important thoughts are interrupted when a rather dangly man stands up and gestures to me as if to say “it’s time”. He’s middle aged…forty something, rather short and with an admirable beer belly – I wouldn’t have known it by looking at him, but the man was a pro at the whole procedure. You see, the stairs were freezing in comparison to the dense heat of the sauna, but he wasted absolutely no time complaining and zipped up with lightning speed…meanwhile I followed after him, attempting to forget the flashes of bum hole hair I had just witnessed against my will.

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He jammed open the heavy door to the icy tundra…as a shiver ran all through my body – it wasn’t exactly surprising to experience how uncomfortable it was to be fully naked in the arctic circle, where it is regularly -50ish…but it did make me wonder even more why this cultural practice was even a thing at all. “5, 4…” he began without warning, whilst readying himself for his jump and encouraging me to do the same, “…3, 2…” I could see the eagerness in his eyes, but I could also feel the unwillingness of any part of myself to go through such extreme pain…“1, GOAAAAHHH!” 

He leaped, I didn’t. Instead I stood there glued to the spot, staring down at this balding starfish, and his wide gaping butt crack. His head turned to look for me, holding an expression tarnished by my betrayal. I put this to the back of my mind, and darted back down the stairs…slipping in my hurry and slamming my nude body rather clumsily across solid unforgiving concrete. Which yeah, served me right I suppose. 

And although I ended up with a bruised left buttock, and that fella didn’t ever really talk to me properly again after my Judas moment…as far as I know I can still have children at some point which I feel would have been under a lot of scrutiny had I went ahead with Operation Ice Testes-test. So you know what? I feel pretty confident I made the right decision, and that’s good enough for me.

But for what it’s worth, sorry Csaba! I’ll do it next time…promise!

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Fringe Benefits (Scotland)

Scotland ~ Edinburgh – 2014

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the entire world – the thing is huge! It has over 250 venues that are jam-packed with over 45, 000 varied performers! It is truly a colossal occasion that triples the city’s population in that single August month…year in, year out! So if you can put up with shuffling at a snail’s pace behind old fogies desperate to take a photo of every lamp post they see (WHY, GOD WHY?! IT IS A LAMP POST!!! MOOOOOOOOOVE!!!!), then it is certainly worth a look in!

Disclaimer: Some people think of it as a version of hell.

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Wonderlust!

What is this fabled ‘wanderlust’ that I see strewn around quite literally every form of social media these days? By the looks of it it’s something to do with handwriting fonts, pictures of maps, and photos of fields, seas, and mysterious pathways…right?

ahh wait no, here it is:

‘Wanderlust; a yearning or desire to travel and  experience adventure.’ 

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Makes sense! No wonder everyone’s auntie and their cat has the word littered around the place as if its as commonplace as regret after a face tattoo! I mean, surely every single person in the existence of existence has had such a will…haven’t they? And I can’t see that changing anytime soon, it’s in our primitive nature to make such demands on ourselves – life is but a small window after all, and it’s on us to fill each little panel with as much colour as possible…so it may be worthy of display.

Yeah, yeah – I know! I’m being a typical liberal arts major freak and contorting the meaning of what it is to ‘experience adventure’…so apologies for that, it must be at least mildly annoying – but I just want to put forward the notion that just because you haven’t or likely won’t have a huge dramatic The Lord of the Rings type of epic in your lifetime it doesn’t devalue the journey you are already on…as long as you are living and breathing you are on your own personal adventure – just without the hobbits, and dragons.

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Although you may encounter hairy feet, and cockroaches…which is kind of the same thi…yeah alright it’s not, sorry – real life does have its pitfalls. 

Anyway, but despite this people post these wanderlust pictures, bless their hearts – and I’m not that against it or even mildly offended (I suppose i’m just being a dick if anything), but they often wrongly think that it’s the travel that they are longing for…that all they need to do is board a tin can in the sky,  eat peanuts/watch straight to DVD type films for twelve hours, then take a few photos at their guidebook destination to show people back home, and then they will feel content…but that’s not what it’s about, and that’s not what they want if they were really to consider themselves thoroughly. 

They want to step outside of the ordinary maybe because of a stagnant or complacent lifestyle, they want to experience something that shakes them from their routine, and reminds them they are seeing, hearing, and feeling human beings. They want to be in wonder…in amazement…they want that “wow” factor which you can only get by witnessing things first hand. Can you get this from travelling? Of course you bloody well can! Can you get it from opening your eyes to the beauty of life all around you wherever you are…yes! And you are not any less of a person for being more in line with the latter than that of some mad bearded traveller type who talks down to people who haven’t spent months in an igloo drinking their own urine. Or whatever it is they do – was just a quick example. 

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That’s why as lovely and well meaning as it is, I really loathe the question; “so how many countries have you visited now then?” As it is completely missing the point in my book, I mean I don’t count and I never will – in doing so you are reducing the experience to a number, and a check-list…I find it robotic, I find it soulless. The questions that excite me are more focused on the human side of things; “what did you see? What did you do? Who did you meet? How did you feel?” These are what we should really be examining…and you should ask the same of yourself whether it be on a boat in Vietnam shifting through the islands of Halong Bay…or after you attended something in your hometown; a football game, an art show, drinks with your nearest and dearest…a hot dog eating competition – whatever it is just mull  it over and think;  “what did I see? What did I do? Who did I meet? How did I feel?” 

Life is just people wandering about aimlessly trying to make sense of things – it’s just people bumping into each other and saying hello then telling their life story; everyone has a tale to tell and you can make any experience richer by bearing this in mind. You see, thinking this way gives you a greater appreciation for life, and how amazing it really is – do I forget this sometimes and wallow, sure! Pfft, all the time! But that’s just more of a reason to remind myself again, and again.

Just look at yourself – you get to meet people everyday, see things, feel things – I mean how great is that?! Also you’re hot, and have a nice personality.

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With all that said, I would encourage everyone to travel if you can, it’s fantastic…but don’t forget to look at what you have right where you are. Chances are it’s pretty damn wonderful and more than worthy of your time.

So it’s wonderlust over wanderlust, my friends. Remember that. 

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Almost at Everest

This tale is about the time I almost saw Mount Everest…yes, that’s right…almost saw. It isn’t a story of how I felt when I finally laid eyes on the huge natural behemoth – instead it’s the story of how I tried and failed.

I should point out that I didn’t ever plan on climbing it – I am not a fool, although I may look, and act like one; I know my strengths as well as my weaknesses – and putting one frostbitten limb in front of another as I take desperate drags from an oxygen tank is not my idea of fun, and most certainly isn’t a field in which I would excel…in fact I would probably have so much to complain about up there I would talk myself into an early grave. Because of this I had arranged to take the Mountain Flight from Kathmandu airport up to Everest to catch a glimpse (without all of that walking and heavy breathing)…don’t judge, come on, I had one day left in Nepal and I wanted to use it wisely!

After all, I bet an actual climb up Mount Everest entails a whole lot of inhumane practices – such as surviving on a diet of weird toothpaste meat energy capsules as there is no space to cook…if that is true, which I have promised myself it is – I can’t do that, I need my food. So, it was the only option to be a lazy piece of work and fly up there. I’ll climb next time…maybe…probably…errr…LOOK RON WEASELY EATING A SAUSAGE!

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Phew!

So I had booked the short tour flight just the night before, despite still being horribly sick (heavy duty industrial strength diahorrea) – it’s unfortunate of course, but it is for that reason that I will probably never return to Nepal…you know for fear of all of my insides falling out of my anus in a burning rush of searing pain…no big deal or anything. It was with this self-instilled no return policy, that I decided whilst I remained in the country I should do everything I can (to get my life’s fill of it all)!

So I popped a bunch of pills, drank some water, wore two pairs of underpants, and hopped uneasily into a taxi to begin the trail to the largest mountain in the world.

Obviously the taxi driver took the bumpiest fucking route known to man, so I was forced to clench harder than a crab claw’s vice grip – there were a lot of touch and go moments, but I held on, justI mean I had to! I am sure we all agree that shitting myself whilst looking at Mount Everest, may have taken some of the fun out of the experience! Anyway, after some jumbled directions about which muddy path I should follow, I trampled down what appeared to be a flooded building site until I found some automatic doors that had been jammed open with chunks of cardboard – I sighed my deepest sigh, trying to put it to the back of my mind…these guys can’t even grasp the intricate mechanics of the door mechanism but I am trusting them to throw me up into the sky in a tin can…smart John, very smart.

It’ll be fine, you won’t die…it’ll be fine. No one dies. It’ll be fine. 

After being vigorously molested by security, I spotted the desk in the distance and slowly waddled my way up to it, occasionally flinching due to what can only be described as adult nappy rash: if for some reason that sounds fun in any way then know that it is not…I don’t want to give too much horrifying detail, but to say that it felt like someone sandpapering your butt-hole, would be an outrageous understatement. It is more like someone…I’ll stop.

Despite the mess that was going on in my lower section, the lady at the desk still smiled cordially, she didn’t judge my diseased penguin walk, she didn’t mind the vague smell of sewage that probably clung to me…good for her…I couldn’t have did it. As I beamed back at her, I began to reach for my passport as I –

“YEAH, WHEN DO I GO ON THE PLANE?!” a strange sweaty man burst from nowhere to shove me aside, and instantly shared a “what the fuck?!” look with the lady, who appeared just as bewildered as myself!

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The guy didn’t look at me once, I assumed out of sheer shame – I mean, know that if I was going on like an absolute prick I wouldn’t be mad keen on giving my victims eye contact, no, no – just do the crime and ignore those affected by it, that’s the code. I didn’t let this little incident get me down though and took perverse joy in listening in to the (pretty one sided) conversation…he kept demanding strange things, asking odd questions and becoming angry when the answers were not to his liking…to the point the lady looked altogether freaked out -he kept wagging his chubby finger and saying “YOU DO YOUR JOB – DO YOUR JOB WELL.” I mean who gets hot flaming mad about there  being no complimentary peanuts on the flight?! Who gets a little rage on because there aren’t two cushions on the seat?!

Well the answer to both of those questions is that guy. I thought I was having a shitty day, but I would take toilet woes to dealing with him any day of the week! The lady had to maintain the classic professional smile throughout the whole torment, I was half expecting her cheeks to spasm due to over use and peel off. She held on. 

When we got through to the main waiting gate area (it was all one large room) I made a sprint for the toilets for reasons which should be obvious by now. I was not disappointed, the smell was just as rank as I had come to expect, there were rusty brown splodges that were presumably a homage to the thousands of people who had entered and pissed on the floor rather than use the disease ridden cubicle. Bizarrely there was a mop in the corner of the room…which was weird…I thought that must be some kind of joke by the staff, like a funny thing which further exemplifies just how unnecessarily putrid the place is. But anyway, joke or not – I had assessed long ago that this wasn’t a place anyone could use for toilet time, so I washed my hands (probably making them even more dirty than before by turning the tap OFF) and then headed back to the main big room. The angry man was shuffling about, still irate, barking at people as he went on his way…I sat down in a far corner well out of his path…ah..no…he then performed an unexpected U-turn and…oh…oh, my…he was heading straight towards me…I tried to look a little bit strange, unhinged even – like the kind of guy you would just think hmmm, not sitting next to him…he may try to sell me cheese he keeps in his pockets, or ask if he can lick my gloves or…it’s not working, he is still coming – do something weird, why is it not working?!

“PLEASE DON’T SIT DOWN HERE – PLEASE DON’T SIT DOWN HERE – PLEASE DON’T SIT DOWN HERE!”

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Naturally he sat down right next to me despite there being ample space literally everywhere else – I felt the violent surges of red creep up my neck, past my cheeks and up to my ears…the anticipation of being put on the spot and screamed at about the lack of peanuts, or whatever other mad crusade he would crazily ramble on about this time. I sat there tensely, wishing I had put the second earphone in when I had the chance…now if I put the other in it would be too obvious a don’t fucking talk to me kinda tactic…which is just not socially allowed for some reason, so yeah – just had to sit there staring at my hands, hoping maybe they may fall off…so that I could have a decent enough excuse to return to the bathroom…but they didn’t, they just stayed there, shaking a little…I looked off into the distance, itching my neck over and over…I started to tell myself that maybe he would just leave…maybe he wouldn’t want to shout at me…maybe he –

“WHERE ARRR YOU FRUM?”

Argh, fuck. I turned slowly to face him – as much as I would have loved to ignore him, or just get up and shoot myself in the head,  for better or for worse – that isn’t me. Strangely, we ended up speaking for some time, at first I gave him limited responses, as it was the usual who, what, where kind of interview, it also irritated me that he kept referring to Korea as Japan…so much so that eventually I just shrugged and started doing it myself. Yeah, yeah – Korea do great sushi, don’t like Tokyo though, far too crowded…mhmm me too…

He asked me what I enjoyed doing, what my passion was – he assured me that you have to have passion in life or you may as well be dead. I said I loved to write funny stories, and make people laugh if I could – naturally, he immediately asked me to tell a joke, which is always horrible – I don’t really do one liners…but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, he just looked at me with these expectant eager eyes until I finally caved…what happens when you drink food colouring? You dye a little inside! It was a little bit like Slumdog Millionaire, as a random memory of a Penguin chocolate bar gag slipped from my memory vault, perfect for this occasion. There was an awkward pause…I was about to apologise for inflicting such a bad piece of cheap humour on him, but he then started raucously laughing, and slapping his thighs – “GOOD ONE! DYE LIKE DIE…DYE IS…AHHH!” 

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He was impressed that I had thought it up by myself…so was I. There was an announcement that the flight would be delayed, they needed to wait for a weather safety report. But we didn’t particularly care, we carried on chatting about this, and that. He asked me about my family, friends…you know, the usual introduction stuff – when I reciprocated he began telling me an unexpected tale of woe that really gripped me, and has been on my mind ever since…

He was originally from Syria, and had once been married…with one son. He was so proud of him, that much was obvious – he told me he had studied day and night without any pushing, easily passing all of his exams and becoming a doctor – which was the only path he was ever destined to be…he wanted to help people, and had been the same way even as a young boy, always fixing up animals and doing things for his Mother. He then spoke fondly of his wife…the most beautiful woman you will ever see, clever and witty – someone he could talk to deep into the night, never to tire of the conversation…it was the perfect life he said. Was. 

That’s when he told me…his son had been on a bus, on his way to start his first job since graduating, when a bomb blew up, causing the vehicle to fly off the road, and kill every person unfortunate enough to be inside. His wife, once the happiest lady you would ever meet, instantly stopped working and would lock herself in the bathroom every day…after a few agonizing weeks she was found dead, she had shot herself in the head – so as not to deal with the worst possible heartache imaginable. He gestured the gun shot to the head, and began to form tears in the wrinkled cracks of his eyelids.

But he didn’t want my sorrys…he didn’t want my sympathy – instead he made me promise I would live out everyday in as full a way as I could, he held on to my hand and squeezed tight – after all, he said – that is what he is doing. I wondered what he meant, and it was then that he revealed a tattered map, once owned by his son, and told me that he is visiting all of the places he once heard him speak of, all of the places he had promised his Father he would see one day.

Everest had been on the top of the list.

There was an announcement that the flight would be cancelled, and a full refund would be available. You’d think I would be disappointed, as unlike my new friend – I didn’t have the option to try again tomorrow – as I would be returning home the next day. It seems like I had just wasted three hours of my life in an airport for seemingly no reason whatsoever…but the truth is I had learned a lot from this strange rude man, that had barged into me just earlier that day…at the risk of sounding cheesy let me just say this – I walked out with a different appreciation for what life is that day, it’s a flickering flame that can go out at any moment. So you have to make the most of it.

Go on…

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Don’t EVER Travel!

We all have our own custom-made worries, responsibilities, musings, and quandaries…things we must do, things we dream of doing, and a whole bunch of things we don’t ever even want to think about doing. And it’s because of this that the weight of the world can, at times, get on top of us…and if we’re not careful – overwhelm us completely…

I’m having one of those times at the moment,  I mean I’m fine for the most part – but not fine-fine…like if someone was to ask “how are you?” – I’d still reply with “I’m fine” – but it wouldn’t be entirely truthful, I’d just be sort of going through the usual motions, you know?

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I’m a better liar than Ross though, I think…

That’s what they don’t tell you about leaving home for some far-flung country; the way you feel so feckless, helpless, useless, and a whole load other things with ‘less’ at the end. Apart from bless of course, as it’s no blessing to be away from family in times of need – in fact I’d argue the exact opposite; it’s a fucking curse. 

You feel guilty for not being there, particularly during the more miserable occasions; deaths, illnesses, surgeries – all that fun stuff. But when you do return you realise that everyone is…well…everyone is fine – and that life has been rolling on without you, as it inevitably always will.

That’s the irony, I suppose – you feel selfish for being away from loved ones, and yet when you come back you feel selfish for believing you were so necessary to people’s daily survival that your homecoming should have been on a Jesus level…that the very sight of you should have cured all of the woes people had been suffering in your absence…that you were the missing piece, and now you’ve been found again – so let’s rejoice and have a thousand wines, or you know, whatever Jesus did*…

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Artist’s rendition*

Either way, life’s not like that. It would be great if it was – but it isn’t, and that is hard to deal with. We have to make our decisions, and live with the consequences; “happily ever after” is just a narrow and simple-minded fallacy that seeks to act as a blanket statement to cover over all of life’s hidden intricacies and complexities…all of the pain, and suffering…all of the worry, and remorse…basically all of the things that mean you truly care, all of the things that make you a living, breathing, and feeling human.

Sucks to be you, sorry mate…I’m sure you’ll be fine.

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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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The Psycho Stalker…

Some stories write themselves…and some take years, and years…well this particular one has been waiting in the drafts for a long, long time. Every time I went back to it I just couldn’t find the words, I couldn’t express all of the oddness, craziness, and horror on the page! I came close, but it didn’t ever seem quite right… 

So at long last it is done! But in the form of a video – seriously the funniest one so far, and well worth a watch! If people need a giggle…and also a way to not fall asleep at night (sorry in advance for the impending nightmares!) then press that play button!

How would you have dealt with this one? Remember I don’t know kung fu, so that’s out the window…

If you have a video request you can leave a comment, or send me an email – if it’s a cool/interesting idea then I will get to it as soon as I can!

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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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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.

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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…

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“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!”

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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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