Youth vs. 20 Something (Holidays)

Is it better to look at ancient podiums – or dance on sticky ones in nightclubs? 

WAIT. Hold that thought…as I suppose you could do both…although just the one time – after all UNESCO people are such sticklers when it comes to boogeying on their priceless ruins. But for the sake of this post how about we pretend that the two are mutually exclusive? And that one sort of trip contains that of an avid flip flops and socks wearing tourist, and the other of a red-necked nuisance. Okay?

You see I’ve been fortunate to go on both sorts of trips and they are – OH HEY LOOK A VISUAL AID RATHER THAN ME EXPLAINING!

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Yup. Athens and Zakynthos (Zante); both in Greece but both completely different – just look at that distance, oooh wee. Actually this is why I HATE HATE HATE with a capital claw hammer when people check off a country from their “been to” list after seeing just one city during an hour long coach stop. NEWS FLASH: You haven’t been to  England if you have only seen London, no more than you have visited China by taking a selfie on the great wall of China – sorry to be that guy…but…well…facts and all that. GO SEE MORE THINGS, NOW!

And also location aside, holidays vary massively…simply put they are not all the same! If you go for a nice church retreat to Holy Island with some holier than thou nuns, you are likely to have a different experience than a pupil widening weekend to Ibiza with the boys from your five a side team. So stop trying to pretend you can see it all in one go...you can’t. 

So with all that in mind, let’s compare the two trips – and see if there is a winner (spoiler alert, there isn’t):

First up is one of the most famous cities in the world – although these pictures barely do it proof (thanks to my goofy stupid face, apologies internet):

 

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Athens, Greece: Aged 25 (2016) – This was part of my mega-trip after leaving South Korea I met with my sister and headed to the birthplace of democracy and the old stomping ground of my boy Zeus…don’t worry, there was still a lot of beer!

Key moments:

  • Having the amazingly delicious, and healthy (not true at all but it’s nice to tell yourself lies sometimes) gyros every single day for every single lunch. I also learned I had been pronouncing the name incorrectly…it’s “gee-ros” not “guy-ros” apparently.
  • Spending ages in lines to see the amazing historical sites…and then feeling cheated at the fact they were propped up with unsightly bits of scaffolding.
  • Having a staring match with this grumpy guy in a laundrette – and losing. Atheniens are some of the most miserable people I have ever met (but perhaps they have good reason to be.)

But this wasn’t the first time I stepped foot in Greece…the first time was a lot more lively and a lot more hazy too…I give you, Zante:

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Zante, Greece: Aged 19 (2011) –  Oh to be young(er)…more tan, less hair, and a whole lot of memories. Good times – minus the times I was throwing up of course…

Key moments:

  • Having two double hotel rooms with a balcony connecting both just for our group – ideal. But due to some sort of error (or accidentally on purpose?) I had to share a bed with one of my pals…weird at first, but after a few hundred shots of unidentified alcohol: not at all. 
  • Getting talked into allowing multiple friends to have a go cutting off my hair…which essentially looked like a half stripped kiwi for the rest of the holiday…and actually for years after. 
  • Whilst off his head one of my friends almost drowned himself in the sea, but was fortunately saved by a couple of random guys – who were aptly dubbed his “Guardian Angels” for the remainder of the trip. Safe to say he was a lot more careful after this experience.
  • Almost crying upon returning to my home and ordinary life…as life on this paradise island was pretty much well…errr…paradise. Which sort of makes sense I suppose.

But alright,  which one is better? Almost dying from exhaustion after two weeks of non-stop madness, or feeling a newly stuffed belly a cafe hopping vacation gives you?

Well…NEITHER.

There’s a time and place for everything – especially gyros. ALWAYS GYROS.

But I guess my advice is that you take the time to just enjoy whatever kind of experience you are experiencing…just go with the flow and enjoy it for what it is. Don’t cram. Just live in the moment…that way you will have something organic to savour later on.

Wait…why am I suddenly so hungry? 

Gotta go eat something, bu-bye – but make sure you leave some sort of experience you have had in the comments – don’t let me be the only one…my God that hair cut and earrings…what was I thinking?!

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Escaping a Braying

A friend of mine recently created a lovely little video of my hometown, Sunderland. It’s the place we both grew up in, and the place we know as “home” no matter where we are in the world. The clip mainly follows through the countryside and coastal areas of the city- rather than the inner-city terraces that I grew up in – but I found it charming all the same, and it soon had me reminiscing of my past life there, and the many friends and memories I still deeply treasure to this day…

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Mind, that’s not to say that life there is always smooth sailing! And I think this story from the childhood archives should prove that! But you know what? You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, and the good with the bad – and always, always make sure you laugh at the negatives later…

I’m going to stop my rambling and just get on with it, so without further adieu, here it is; ‘Escaping a Braying’:

          Every Wednesday without fail was “Mamoo and Grandar” day. So on days off we’d be there from morning to night, but if it was school term time then we’d have to wait for the bell to go…and it was only then that we could make our way to their home, and their sofa. You’d desperately want to be the first one there to get a proper seat, and dibs on the stuff we weren’t normally allowed; the stuff that rots your teeth and makes you fat – the stuff that other kids had in their lunchboxes every day – you see that’s the kind of stuff that was in Grandar’s biscuit tin. 

It was our little haven, just a few rooms that offered so much. You could have sugar in your tea as long as you kept it a secret, and if there wasn’t anything on the television Grandar would always have old cowboy films he was keen to show us…we could take or leave them usually, but he added a whole new dimension; giving running comedic commentary, and repeating the dramatic lines in even more dramatic voices…“DYAAAA FEEL LUCK-EE, WELL DOOYA – PUNK?!” He was, and still is – the funniest man alive, so sometimes I’d laugh so much at his little routines that I’d spill things on the floor – but it was never a big deal: “these things happen” they’d say. And Buster would probably eat it right up anyway.

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Eventually my Mother or Father would pick us up, and then we’d moan and ask to stay longer – so sometimes they’d sit to have a cup of tea and ask them how’s it going, but sometimes they wouldn’t. As we drove away we’d turn back and Mamoo would be waving us goodbye,  and she’d keep waving and waving until we couldn’t see her anymore. Mamoo is what we called my grandma, although we didn’t ever call her grandma unless we were talking to other people outside of the family…friends at school and others like that who would demand an explanation…it was just more bother than it was worth, so many why why whys and it always came across as weird for some reason. But to my siblings and I, she was undoubtedly Mamoo. Which is pronounced “Ma-maw” by the way…a baby’s mis-pronunciation that stuck forever.

 I remember one of the Mamoo and Grandar days more clearly than any other. I was walking over there, and was already late – probably detention for something that didn’t even really matter; laughing with friends, talking in class, not doing homework – something stupid,  that somehow  translates to a heinous crime at school. I was so late that all the other kids had cleared out from the streets and were nowhere to be seen; I was happy about this as I had to pass by another school to get to Mamoo and Grandar’s house and they didn’t take too kindly to St. Aidan’s lads, or Bent Aidan’s as they fondly referred to us as thanks to our all-male make up. Problem was there was no hiding my allegiance to this suspected homosexual club as the uniform marked me out…in black, white, and the gold stripes of my tie.

Anyway, I was late so hopefully nothing would happen this time arou-

“YA FUKEN BENDER!! OI…OI…OI, YA FUKEN BENDERR! OI!”

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Spoke too soon. There were three or four voices behind me, but I didn’t turn to look – all I knew was that they were advancing quickly, but some way away yet. “HEW! HEWWW! SCUSE ME?!” One of them suddenly remembered his manners, but I guessed that it wouldn’t change the possibility of him booting me in the face with his Rockport boots. “OI YA FUKEN BENDERR MAN!!” It was the same voice, but with a significant change in tactic. I hurried my pace, but didn’t want to run…if I ran it would be like attacks on those nature documentaries with the lions and the gazelles, running would encourage more running, and I was no runner. So I just moved a little faster, but tried to move my arms at a normal sort of speed so as not to arouse suspicion…perhaps it wouldn’t look so obvious and I’d be out of sight in no time! Or maybe if I got around a corner, then I could sprint, and just zigzag zigzag zigzag the streets in the hope of losing them? Well yeah, maybe. Maybe.

“ARNLY WANNA TALK TOOYA YA GAY FUKEN LIDL CUNT!”

I wasn’t so much in the mood for conversation, I just wanted to get to Mamoo and Grandar’s house – it was puddings in the corner day, and there’d probably be ice cream. I reached the end of the road and turned right…and started fleeing just the way I had planned – they didn’t seem to give chase, or if they did the adrenaline of sheer fear powered me beyond measure. I looped back around, and headed on a different route. When I’d caught my breath I took some time to reflect on how I could have probably taken them, and how I shouldn’t have ran – I mean, so what if they were older? I should have whipped out some karate moves, and used makeshift weapons out of things I could find around me…a brick as a hammer, a FOR SALE sign as a spear…I’d send them flying through windows – they’re lucky really, I let them off lightly. Next time they won’t be so lu-

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“WHYAYEE! LOOK HUU IT IS!! FUKEN GAY BASTAARD!” 

Shit. They were only a few feet in front of me. I span on the spot and belted away as quickly as humanely possible despite being knackered as it is. A glass bottle spun past my head and shattered on the jagged pavement – as a strong odour of cheap vodka temporarily filled the air. One of them grabbed at my shoulders with grasping heavy hands, but I shrugged free and darted across the road, not sure of where I was heading. But they were faster. I felt a heavy club to the head, not sure what – and then a boot up my behind. I pushed away in every direction, and one lost balance…falling to the floor in a pile, with a dumb expression stretched across his face. This surprised the pack temporarily, and spared me a few precious seconds…

I was still some way from Mamoo and Grandar’s. There was no way I could run all the way back without them catching up and slamming my head off a lamp post several times, or whatever took their fancy this particular day. So I made a split-second decision, to use this space for an impromptu theatrical performance…I really hoped they would enjoy the show and would refrain from heckling…

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I opened a stranger’s gate, and walked up a stranger’s pathway through a stranger’s garden, and then knocked at a stranger’s door. I heard the lads follow me, and caught a reflection in the front room’s window…they looked unsure as to what was going on. I rapped faster at the door and began Scene 1: “Maaaaammm! Maaaaam!” I knocked again, harder this time – “Daaaad! Daaaad!” Open the door man, I’ve forgot my key!” The lads were stood in the middle of the pathway with a shared puzzled look glazed over their faces. I moved to the window and tapped it while looking around the stranger’s house, it was pretty nice and well decorated – I wasn’t sure what I’d do when I met the actress playing my Mam, or the actor playing my Dad…but this was true improv, and I was out of options. “Maaaaaam, Daaaad! Can you open the door?” I shouted through the letterbox this time…catching a whiff of a scented candle as I peered in…

I felt a small rock hit my back. “FUKEN GAY BASTARD MAN, YA LUK-EE. Awer man…let’s go…” I guess he was the leader and had made a collective decision for the group.  Thank God. I carried on with my little one man play until I was sure they were out of sight…then I double checked the area before continuing on my way to Mamoo and Grandar’s house…

Puddings in the corner were waiting in the microwave, and they’d left me some gravy too. Later we had caramel Rocky bars, but I’d missed out on the ice cream. “Why were you so late?” they mused as the television flickered…

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“Detention” I muttered, as I stood up to fetch another cup of tea with two secret sugars.

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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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Poo-Poo Monkey

You know…the unfair thing about playing with kids is…well, it’s unfair. 

You enter into the game like any other – thinking it will be a level playing field (because that’s how games should be right?!) but you quickly find it will be anything but. Like today I was instructed I was a “Poo-Poo Monkey” that was running amuck in a nearby zoo, and needed to be eliminated for poop crimes. I have no idea where this story came from, or even what exactly poop crimes are…but one can assume they are not good, or at the very best – very messy. 

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But you know what? I didn’t fuss, or fight it – I decided to take on the role as best as I could…like an actor who is just starting out, hungry and desperate to impress; I thought maybe if I do a good believable rendition of the Poo-Poo Monkey perhaps later I would be able to demand better, more prestigious roles! What can I say?! Gotta be positive, we only get one life after all!

However on the strength of today’s scenes the possibility is looking less, and less likely. To my disappointment it was just fifteen minutes of pure poop-filled carnage; me running around, getting pulled to the ground by eight grasping weirdly strong hands, having my clothes stretched out of size, and subjected to a constant stream of foul putrid gas. Beyond unprofessional working conditions! 

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Oh, but no! The stench was always blamed on me…because I was the Poo-Poo Monkey! Totally unfair stereotype…just because of my name I was being tarred immediately with every negative connotation that can occasionally be attributed to folks of that sort. (If they weren’t fictional creations of course!) 

My main problem despite the blame-game was the odor itself…I mean…I just didn’t understand – what the hell are these kids eating?! It was like what I imagine old people’s homes smell like. If I had to give a rough recipe I would say…sardines? In vinegar. Burnt. Then rotten eggs swirled into the mixer for good measure. Oh yeah, and a dash of Nutella. 

You can see how frequent this must happen, seeing as though I practically have a cookbook in the works! What is my life? This wasn’t in the contract anywhere…

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Well now it is written – life isn’t fair, especially when it comes to games with the little’uns! SO yes…now for better or worse, you all know it. Go spread the word, and never agree to play the Poo-Poo Monkey…it’s just not worth it!

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Lost Child

Gotta tell you this one real quick…it’s a story I was told just yesterday – drama central over here trust me!

So there’s a larger school near the kindergarten I work at…and the parents are up in arms at the moment – full pitchfork and flaming torches kinda deal (well you know, metaphorically!) …news travels fast here with a dedicated community of Mothers in place to spread stories, as and when necessary! And boyyyy, is it necessary!

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Usually such upset is over trivial matters…but the latest is pretty ridiculous I have to admit, and the uproar levels are definitely justified; let me cut to the chase…one of the students (five years old I think) was on the school bus home…when he decided to have a little snooze! I mean, there’s nothing better right? You wake up, and you are at your destination! Perfect! 

Ingeniously he decided to stretch out over a couple of chairs for maximum comfort! And slowly but surely the bus made its way around the student’s homes…and before long there was no one in it ! Apart from the driver, and that little sleeping chap in the back of course…

Well the driver wasn’t the most screwed on fella in the world (it seems) – because he eventually finished his usual route, did one little look back and saw no one…so then proceeded to drive the bus to the school’s shelter and head on out into the night! Naturally an hour or so later the boy woke up to nothing but darkness, wondering just where the hell he was!

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Thankfully the door of the bus was open – so the petrified boy was able to free himself from his prison…but that only meant he was in a strange place, with no idea how to get home. It’s basically the kindergarten version of The Shawshank Redemption. Poor lad. So all he had left in his arsenal was to wander these unfamiliar streets, whilst crying out loud. This went on for an hour or so apparently.

Finally the police asked him what the hell was going on. Or words to that effect I imagine! And were able to get in touch with his parents…who were freaking out. Like Drake getting kissed by Madonna levels of freaking out. 

Anyway, important info is – he’s coming to our school now! Feels kind of intriguing, he has an air of something about him…he is the boy who lived! Not quite Harry Potter, but definitely someone with a story to tell…just think of the things he must have seen on that detour of his! The bus seats…the pavement…the…well okay, it’s bland when I put it like that!

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But come on! HARRY POTTER IS COMING TO OUR SCHOOL! REJOICE!

In unrelated news, we now have a strict seat-belt policy for the kids, and a final check procedure when the bus is finishing its route. But as I say…totally unrelated. 

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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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