2022: A Year in Review

Calendar years are funny things. Completely manufactured periods of time, where comparing the end of one to the start can be like looking at chalk and cheese and trying to find where the missing link is. 

If you ask me, the craziest part about this year in particular is the juxtaposition between the start and the end. Most of the first half of 2022 was still pandemic-themed, masks on public transport, entry certificates for travel, mass testing, the dreaded red line ruining any plans you may have had for the next two weeks.

Even still, that first half of this year feels like a daydream now.

I’m lucky enough to live in Gibraltar, at the tip of the Mediterranean. Even though it’s small, and at this point I’ve explored most of what it has to offer (although I did take a boat out into the bay to watch the dolphins earlier this year) – Spain is on my doorstep to explore (when the border isn’t shut because of politics), as well as Morocco and Portugal being close enough to travel to without resorting to aeroplanes. I’ve indulged in all of these vices, getting to explore more of Andalusia than I could have ever imagined, including:

  • Sierra Nevada –  A mountainous ski resort and the highest point of continental Spain. I unfortunately didn’t get to ski, due to a knee injury (more on that later).
  • Ronda – Home to an incredibly famous and beautiful cliffside bridge, which you’ve probably seen on your Windows sign-on screen. You know where it shows you a random photo and you’re like ‘Wow – I wonder where that is’. I guarantee Ronda was one of them.
  • Estepona – A picturesque seaside town, where I got to take my Mum for her birthday. There are orange trees everywhere, so I blended in pretty well.
  • San Roque – Where the Spaniards who used to live in Gibraltar were moved to after the Brits acquired the Rock over 300 years ago. Here, I watched the residents celebrate the Semana Santa, a religious ceremony that dates back to the 12th century.
  • Seville – The capital of Andalusia. Contains the Plaza de España, the real life filming location of the City of Theed, Naboo in the Star Wars prequels. The pavilions built during the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 are another highlight.
  • Granada – One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and home of the Alhambra, an ancient islamic citadel and palace. 
  • Málaga – Picasso’s home town. Got to watch my partner run her first half-marathon here and absolutely smash it. Incredibly proud, will hopefully join you on some soon (more on that later again).
The bridge in Ronda. Told you.

There were a few more, such as Jerez, Conil, La Línea, Sierra Bermeja, but you get the idea. I’m hoping to explore a few more places next year, such as Córdoba and Cádiz, but we’ll see what the future brings.

Alongside these, me, my girlfriend and some friends drove up the coast and spent just shy of a week on the Algarve in Portugal – where we got to sea kayak into the Benagil Cave, and even bumped into a friend I’d made in Prague and joined him and his family on a catamaran day trip.

Probably another one you’ve seen on the Windows screen, actually.

We also got the boat over to Morocco from Algeciras, joining RifCom on a volunteering expedition where, after hiking up Jebel Musa on day one –  we assisted in redecorating a SEND school in Chefchaouen to be more suitable for children with learning difficulties, and assisted in running the annual football tournament in the Rif Mountains, alongside the Dental Mavericks and the Croissant-Rouge Marocain.

The competition brought together disadvantaged children from various villages to compete against each other in a five-a-side tournament. Each child was supplied a bespoke kit, boots, a water bottle, a medal, toothpaste and a toothbrush to keep for themselves. Whenever they weren’t playing a match, they were either enjoying the live music or learning about dental hygiene. 

We also gave out footballs.

Not only that – there was snowmobiling across the Langjökull Glacier and swimming in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, celebrating a stag do in Czechia, trying käsekrainer on a work trip to Austria, and making the trek over to Bratislava for the day where I had the most incredible pretzel dipped in pork fat. Slovakia – I’ll be back for another.

Alongside all of these adventures, 2022 also was a year to connect with home. Going back to the UK for 3 lovely weddings – my sister, my cousin and some of our closest friends (as well as another out here in Gib!). Even so, I got to see some new parts of England, such as Hebden Bridge and Leighton Buzzard, and rediscover some old gems like Howarth, Delamere and my old haunt, Chester.

One of the highlights of my year, 100%.

Travel wise, 2022 has been the literal bees knees; both exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. Long may it continue into 2023 – and with some adventures already planned for early next year, it’s gearing up to be just as exciting.

On one of those travels, Morocco specifically, I managed to aggravate an old knee injury – which ended up knocking me off my feet for nearly a week where I couldn’t walk. This was the catalyst for finally getting surgery to sort my problem for good. It’s been just over a month since the operation, and I’m walking, just about – but my word, has the recovery been painful. Squats can get f*cked at the best of times, nevermind when your knee screams at the idea of being bent. There are so many positives to take going forward though, despite the pain, with me hopefully being able to partake in sporting events again in the future – such as hopefully doing a marathon myself in 2024 after my recovery. Watch this space.

It’s impossible to see silver linings in some things however, and in August I was forced to say goodbye to my Grandad. Which has been one of the most crushing things I’ve ever had to deal with. He was a massive inspiration to me personally, and one of the biggest influences on my life. Not only was he instrumental in raising me, but I lived with him for a while a couple of years ago when I’d fallen on hard times, and he helped me through that period of my life massively. He was also the main inspiration for Ernest in The Toucan Man. I’ve not finished grieving for him yet, and his loss has altered my mindset going into the future, in ways that I can’t really comprehend yet. The world just feels a lot more empty without him in it.

On a lighter note, last month I released my second novel, Sputnik. A story about a young boy in the Soviet Union, living in City 40, one of the many secret cities that painted the landscape of unmapped Russia. This one, however, was the main living quarters for those who worked at the Mayak Nuclear Facility. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever written, and completing it was an exhausting process over a year and a half  in the making. After finally releasing it in November, it sold horribly. There’s a lot going on at the minute – from a literal war, to an economic collapse, to Greta Thurnberg giving Andrew Tate a Twitter ratio so bad he ended up in Romanian prison, so I’m not taking it personally – I just wish I’d have maybe sat on it awhile before releasing it into the world.

Shout out to James for this excellent photo! That coffee looks delicious.

However, after publishing Sputnik, I think I’m gearing up for an extended break from the medium.

I think hobbies can consume you if you let them, we’re all geared to think that we find one thing we’re (hopefully) good at and we squeeze everything out of it until it’s bone dry, trying our best to generate income out of the things we create. I’ve felt a bit caught in this rat race over the last couple of years, the feeling that writing is my only hobby worth pursuing, and it’s starting to feel a bit claustrophobic – and starting to make me feel a bit two dimensional. Not to mention tying my own self-worth to the statistics that appear on my Amazon page, Goodreads and this very website.

Working outdoors while living in Hertfordshire, back in 2020/21, for twelve hours a day made coming home and sitting in my nook to write a refreshing experience, something drastically different to my working life that truly felt like it was my own. A break from the normal. Now, coming home from my copywriting job to do more writing just feels like an extension of a day at work, and the fun has drained.

This isn’t to say I’ll never write again, just that I’m going to take some time to pursue some other things. I’ve been meaning to get off social media for a while, but the urge to keep pushing my work out there has kept me online. I’d love to fully invest in learning Spanish, while I’m in this part of the world, read more books compared to writing them and maybe try something with music. I don’t know, but that’s the point really; 2023 is a chapter that hasn’t been written yet.

The world’s our oyster, but why stay looking at the same pearl when there’s so much other fun stuff to be doing that you’re not aware of yet.

So, Happy 2023 if you made it this far! I know it’s a long one – so thanks for sticking with me and my ramblings. Here’s to another year of peaks and troughs, of pursuing dreams and embracing surprises, and of making the most of the people you meet along the way. All the best, and I genuinely hope the new year brings everything you’re searching for, dear reader.


Console Warriors: The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

I don’t remember the exact day I discovered Console Warriors, except that it was the song ‘Vicious Fishus’ that I heard first. I was in school, living in a Chester suburb named Mickle Trafford, and at the time was obsessed with Brisbane-based indie band ‘The Jungle Giants’ and ‘Capisce?’ of SentUAMessage fame. This triad of indie pop forms the basis of a time capsule that contains an era of my life where ‘The Inbetweeners’ felt like it mocked me personally.

Out of these three bands, the one I still return to the most is without a doubt, Console Warriors. The band formed originally as a duo in Adelaide, in 2010, with Bill Meegan and Fionn Tschanz-Bartleet filling out the lineup. Their debut EP, the self-titled ‘Console Warriors’ came two years later. Following that, they added Danny Catalano as a full-time bassist and released ‘The Jitterblood Mini EP’ a year later.

Despite not having released any new material for eight long years, I can’t help but go back to this band and their heartbreakingly short discography – which contains a grand total of just seven songs. 

This lack of quality has no impact on the quality of these songs however, with ‘Starship 84’, ‘Jitterblood’ and the aforementioned ‘Vicious Fishus’ being my S-tier picks of their catalogue. These tunes capture that zeitgeist of quintessential early 2010’s millennial indie music too well for me to ever put them down.

The latter of those songs, ‘Vicious Fishus’, might be one of my favourite tunes of all time. It’s a cleanly edited, barrage of indie rock with maybe the most infectious baseline I’ve ever heard. Bill Meegan’s vocal performance on this song is powerful and full of raw emotion, especially when he rasps “this is love my dear, I can feel it / I feel it in my bones”. His voice carries a slight vibrato that dances over the intense drums laid down by Tschanz-Bartleet. Truly a gem of a song, and in the comment section you can see how dearly missed this band is, even to this day.

This is clearly just my comment, but my point still stands. There are others, promise.

‘Starship 84’ is a close-second when it comes to my personal opinion, it’s got a wicked math rock-esque guitar line, reminiscent of old-school Foals, that carries the verses of the track. The bridge of this song is something else too, with the aggressive drums talking centrefold alongside a slinky bassline that would go hard at any indie disco.

Both of these aforementioned tracks are from their debut ‘Console Warriors’ EP, but ‘Jitterbug’ from their sophomore effort is definitely worth your time too. The introduction of Catalano and his funky, dancing bassline carries this track by the hand, and does not let you go until the heavy guitars kick in. Again, this song has a fantastic instrumental bridge, which you’ll notice is the forte of the now defunct Aussie group.

All this isn’t saying ‘Sodapop Swing’, ‘Pyjama Party’, ‘Imaginary You’ and ‘Ode To Overstreet’ aren’t bangers in themselves, but they don’t invoke that same feeling of, dare I say, nostalgia as the others do.

So, if they’re so good, I hear you ask, where are they now? The truth is, they all seem to be working on other musical endeavours. Whether they moved on through lack of interest in the Console Warriors project, or if they fell out of love with the sound, I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything that remotely looked like a hiatus post on their socials, but it’s possible I just missed it when researching.

Either way, give them a listen, their stuff is only available on Bandcamp or YouTube so you can feel all edgy and hipster while you’re listening to it. Maybe someday they’ll come back, but until then, and if Bill, Fionn or Danny are reading this – please put your music on Spotify, I beg you.

Here, I’ll even link you to a video on how to do it:

You can thank me later x
movies personal writing

Why I love tick, tick… BOOM!

Murakami (image by wakarimasita)

Sometimes in life, you read or watch a piece of art that has a profound effect on you. For me, there’s been two, the first being The Wind up Bird Chronicle (and South of the Border, West of the Sun to a lesser extent), and it’s grim incorporation of magic realism and surrealism where the lines between real-life, imagination and memory are blurred so fantastically that you don’t know what is actually happening to the protagonist, Noburu. Thank you, Haruki Murakami, for influencing my writing style so heavily.

The other is tick, tick… BOOM!, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on the life of Jonathan Larson, and expertly brought to life by lead actor Andrew Garfield. The latter, completely deserving of his Oscar nomination, is my personal choice to win this year (but then again, I’d have given it to him when he was nominated for Hacksaw Ridge).

Hacksaw Ridge (image from Netflix)

I’m going to be talking a lot about the plot of this movie in this article, so please go and watch the film if you haven’t already. It’s phenomenal, and I would hate to ruin some of the emotional moments for you. However, if you have seen it (or you don’t wish to heed my warnings), feel free to read ahead.

tick, tick… BOOM! is a special kind of film, and I don’t mean that lightly. It’s based on the late Jonathan Larson, of RENT fame, and his journey to get his musical Superbia picked up by a producer in New York City. Set in the early 1980’s, we follow Jonathan as he struggles to grasp with his upcoming 30th birthday, panicking at the thought that he’s wasted the last 8 years of his life writing Superbia, and that he’s chosen the wrong path by being a creative. All of this hinges on the workshop he has planned, this is his success or failure moment. This is all in comparison to his best friend Michael, who abandoned his own acting aspirations and now works a successful job at a corporate marketing agency.

The film does an excellent job at showing the stressful tightrope walk between creating art, having fulfilling relationships, and trying to keep yourself afloat by working, all at the same time. Creating is a full-time job, you never turn off, and sometimes it takes a toll living in your own world, not just to you, but for the people around you too.

For the majority of the movie, Jonathan is desperately trying to write a new song for his play, one that he’s been told by his main influence, Steven Sondheim, is missing. He toils over his computer, the flashing bar of his word document sat after a single ‘You’re’, unable to force anything from his mind to paper, all the while the time until the workshop, and his 30th birthday, ticks away. His girlfriend wants to move out of the City to a stable job, yet he can’t take his mind away from his work to discuss this drastic life change with her, his best friend, Michael, grappling with the HIV positive result he’s been given can’t catch Jonathan for a fleeting moment to inform him of his life-shattering diagnosis.

Summer 2022, mark your calendars. For dreamers, for explorers, for one-eyed bears.

Jonathan can’t do anything but work on his art, at the expense of him being present with the people around him. I’ve been there, the amount of times I got stuck writing The Toucan Man, and my sophomore novel (which is being released this summer by the way) and was unable to get out of my own head, for even a moment, just in case I lost the momentum I’d built up. I don’t talk about anything else when I’m like that, I recluse, and I work for hours at a time on my laptop, despite spending hours upon hours on one at work.

There’s a scene, where after a tense fight with his girlfriend Susan, she and Jonathan embrace, seemingly ready to move ahead positively in their relationship. This is shattered when she realises he’s mimicking piano keys on her back, seemingly putting their intimate moment to music with the intention of blasting it to the world within his musical. She fumes at him and ends their relationship then and there, baffled at his lack of emotional intelligence and inability to stop, even for just a moment.

There’s a quote director Lin-Manuel Miranda gave to the BBC that puts this better than I ever could:

“Because the dirty secret is, if you live with an artist, the microphone is always on.”

And on it is, so much of this movie has Jonathan taking notes from the world around him, from the treatment of the gay community by the government during the HIV epidemic to the words he sees sprawled across New York City. He never wants to miss a moment, a chance to perfectly word the perfect story. For Superbia to truly be the best it can be.

There’s a fear that I’ve got that I think backpacks off this, and it’s the same as the overarching theme of the movie, time. Artists are always recording for their work, because they want to get all of their ideas out before the time runs out. For Jonathan, sung excellently in the opening song ‘30/90’, it’s the thought of turning 30. For me, it’s not putting my ideas out into the world before the knell tolls. Jonathan Larson, died from an aortic aneurysm at just 35, the morning before RENT first previewed off-Broadway. He never lived to see any of his success.

The worst part of all of it is that it kind of proves his point.

He was the epitome of the tortured artist, he worked in a diner, not being able to bring himself to work for the man. He didn’t want to create for conglomerates who wanted people to buy what they couldn’t afford, or shove unhealthy products down their mouths in the name of money. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel guilty, wondering whether a past version of myself would shake his head in shame just as Jonathan would have.

I can see parallels between Superbia and my own teenage novel Pawns of the Gods, both ideas thought of out of teenage idealism, a product of their time, convoluted beyond belief just for the sake of being different, but the idea has been there for so long that it pains you not to see it realised. I’ve fought, and still fight with that novel, and I do hope someday I’ll be able to release it and do the story justice, not just for me now to be proud of, but for me all those years ago.

There’s a quote from this film that sums up being an aspiring writer so well that it makes me well up everytime I hear it. Jonathan’s agent, Rosa, says it to him after nobody is interested in producing his then life’s work, ‘Superbia’.

“You start writing the next one. And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on and on, and that’s what it is to be a writer, honey. You just keep throwing them against the wall and hoping against hope that eventually, something sticks.” – Rosa, tick, tick… BOOM!

It’s a daunting prospect. Nothing of mine so far has taken off, but I do what I have to and I go back to the drawing board, and I start again. Maybe someday something will stick, maybe it won’t, but if I can look back on a bibliography that I’ve written myself, that I poured every shred of my heart and soul into, then when the knell finally tolls, I’ll die a happy and fulfilled man.

video games

Some Thoughts on Wave 1 of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC

Be warned, some Mario Kart 8 Deluxe spoilers lay ahead.

I love Mario Kart. Kart racing in general, actually. From oldies like the Muppet’s RaceMania and Diddy Kong Racing to more modern titles like Crash Team Racing Nitro Fueled and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. Stick some mascots in cars and I am there, and I will play and unlock everything humanly possible. It’s a curse, or a blessing, depending on who you ask.

So after 5 years of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch, after unlocking Gold Mario and the golden kart parts, arrived the announcement that 48 more tracks were to arrive over the next year and a half. It was a shock to say the least, considering they were doubling the track count, a shock that I loved wholeheartedly, mind you.

The rollout of CTR: Nitro Fuelled tracks and characters kept that game alive, and I was hyped for the new content that was added to that game at every opportunity. The new Mario Kart DLC has the capability of being the same, I hope, the only stimulation is that it’s about 3 or 4 years too late.

An example of A CTR road map. Nina is also the best character in this game, don’t @ me.

It’s well known at this point that all these tracks are enhanced ports from Mario Kart Tour, and being honest, that doesn’t phase me all too much. This first wave, in my opinion, was great and the tracks were (mostly) fun to play and experience. My only gripe is the lack of zero gravity on all the tracks, but we’ve got another 40 to hopefully fix that going into the future. But honestly, those turns on Coconut Mall scream for Zero G going up the walls. It would make the track flow so much better in my humble opinion.

The tracks themselves in the first wave are a bit of a mixed bag. For me, Paris Promenade (Tour), Choco Mountain (N64), Coconut Mall (Wii), Shroom Ridge (DS) and Ninja Hideaway (Tour) are the highlights of this wave. Those two Tour tracks in particular are excellent, the latter has so many vertical options for completing a lap that the course feels like a different experience every time you play. While the Paris track flips things on its head in the last lap, having you drive the course backwards into oncoming racers (should you be far enough ahead).

Coconut Mall is a faithful remake, bar the end section, where the cars no longer move, instead being static Shy Guy-manned randomly placed obstacles that barely get in your way. There’s also no Mii’s anymore, but everyone moaning about that needs to realise Mii’s are old news, and they’re going to be phased out eventually. I’m sorry to break it to you. I do miss the escalators as well, but Tour remakes be Tour remakes I suppose.

Choco Mountain and Shroom Ridge are also solid, with Shroom Ridge being a great drifting track, that is a massive improvement on the base game’s Toad’s Turnpike (which may be the least fun track in the game).

Below that, you’ve got Toad Circuit (3DS), Tokyo Blur (Tour) and Sky Garden (GBA). None of these tracks are bad, just lacking. Toad Circuit gets a bad rap for being basic, but it is the first course on Mario Kart 7. On 200cc the track is so fun to drift around, but it suffers from early game syndrome. But, who cares, if every track was Rainbow Road, your family would never want to play drunk at Christmas and you’d be stuck watching the Queen’s Speech. These are the tracks your Mum and Dad like to play with motion controls on.

Tokyo Blur’s gimmick of using all your variants is fun, but the changes from lap to lap feel more like moving the objects in your living room a couple of inches to the left instead of completely renovating, making things feel slightly off and confusing rather than exciting and new.

There has been a lot of discourse about the graphics, but if the rumours are to be believed that a MK9/10 is in development, the likelihood is that this is a skeleton crew hired to tick over the fans until the next game comes out. The graphics are fine, let’s not endorse crunch culture in game development even more and be happy with what we’ve got. It’s less than 50 pence a track, s’all good. And anyway, Paris Promenade and Ninja Hideaway actually look great!

5 more waves to go!

Overall though, it’s a good start, and the tracks are only going to get more exciting from here on out. We’re going to get most (if not all) of the Tour city tracks, but I’d love to see:

  • DK Mountain ❤️
  • Waluigi’s Pinball
  • Mushroom Gorge
  • Maka Wuhu
  • Maple Treeway
  • Koopa Cape
  • Wario Colosseum
  • Toad’s Factory
  • Daisy Cruiser

The Double Dash and Wii bias aside, these are great courses that would bring a lot to the game and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!

U-Turing back to the CTR route, I’d love another pass that comes out in tandem with new courses that bring more characters and kart parts to the game.

Tour has a vast array of costumes and characters that could really boost the replayability of MK8D, as well as improving a universally panned character roster. I’m looking at you Tanooki Mario, Pink Gold Peach and Baby Rosalina. Bringing over Pauline, Birdo, Diddy, King Bob-omb or Funky would do well to remedy that, alongside freeing them from the shackles of a gacha game. 

There are hints at other racers, such as the Honey Queen Racer Lemonade poster on Coconut Mall, but whether this is just a reference or a future path the game will go down, only time will tell.

I just want to end on the fact that these new tracks are being developed by Bandai Namco, the geniuses who created the Mario Kart Arcade series. So if they wanted to bring over some tracks from those games, or Pac-Man, Don-chan or a literal Tamagotchi, I don’t think I’d complain about anything ever again. Some data mining has shown that some courses have ‘???’ as their origin platform, so it could happen, but will it? Probably not, but I’d love to be living in that timeline.

Also, what’s the deal with not having Wario’s bike in the game yet? It’s in Smash Bros!

personal poetry

Protected: A Pursuit of Water

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personal travel

How I Ended Up in Gibraltar

So, in case any of you hadn’t noticed I’ve ended up moving to Gibraltar. Typing it out cements its status as quite a bizarre thing that has happened in my life. It’s an odd feeling being honest, especially because of how bruised my arm is after pinching myself too many times to see if I’m dreaming – but I’m still here, or possibly in some deep Matrix-like coma. Maybe we all are, I guess we’ll never know.

The feeling being here is quite different to my experiences of going abroad to Spain and Tanzania, mainly because nobody is holding my hand during the moving process. Both of those relocations were through organisations, where they hooked me up with host families, jobs, and generally kept an eye on us all during our times there. Now it’s me and my girlfriend, all by ourselves and being honest, the freedom of being abroad and making everything work out yourself is probably the best part – if not highly stressful. Yet as they say, no risk no reward.

Made a friend at the top of ‘The Rock’ (September, 2021) 🇬🇮

The story of how I ended up in Gibraltar starts with a solid foundational plan; one that had been in place since November of last year. Charlotte and I had been working towards it since then, getting the necessary paperwork and qualifications together. The thing is, that plan was aimed at moving to Thailand, and moving to Gibraltar hadn’t even crossed our minds until about a month ago.

The initial decision to move abroad came around a month after we’d moved into our flat in Welwyn Garden City. It wasn’t that we were sick of the place already, more to do with the fact we’d been grounded for years and that we’d both developed itchy feet to live away again. That and the fact that we’d never intended to move to Welwyn Garden City, and you get the point.

We had settled pretty early on moving to Thailand as one of my partners’ best friends lived out there, who she hadn’t seen in years. I was just happy to be invited along for the ride. We had nothing in WGC worth staying for, so we got to work securing ourselves a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language (or a TEFL for short).

Ah, the TEFL qualification, the bane of my life. See, when I moved to Lleida, Catalonia, four years ago (four years ahh!!) a section of my contract guaranteed that I would study for and receive a TEFL at the end of my time there. Alas, life, with its giant spanner, threw it into the works and I had to leave my job in Spain earlier than I (and the programme) had originally intended – the chance of getting my TEFL for free while I worked went with it. Thus, I had to fork out £300 to do another one, which for a certified Level 5 qualification wasn’t too bad.

After that purchase I followed up by doing nothing Thailand related. Instead, I worked on The Toucan Man and got promoted at work – all the while the six-month time limit for completing my coursework ticked away. Diamonds are formed under pressure though. Right?

My word was it an absolute slog. After leaving it until the last possible moment to begin, I’d backed myself into a corner where I had to slave night and day on my TEFL. This was not only on my days off, but during work time as well when I could sneak off for 20 minutes at a time. It was horrendous, but I did it, and now I’ve got another shiny qualification on my resume. Even though I never actually used it to get my current job, who knows when it might come in handy in the future. Also, it’s always good to learn new things and add to a fresh arrow to your quiver. On a personal note, I was able to finally tick off something that I should have completed a while ago. So, go me I guess.

Brown on Seashore Near Mountain
Maybe someday… 🇹🇭

We decided that because of the disease that shall not be named we’d be better off booking flights as late as possible to get to Thailand, and that our best chance of employment was getting into the Kingdom first then figuring it out later as the normal recruitment drive for foreign language teachers online had dried up into a barren wasteland.

We didn’t think about it enough to be deterred, too busy building up our savings to fund the, what became increasingly evident, expensive trip. We were excited, passionate and determined to make it work.

This was when August hit and the murmurs coming out of Thailand about another lockdown started increasing in volume, there was talk about pushing back school dates, which meant no classrooms to be taught in, which in turn meant little to no jobs in the country itself as they could all be done over the internet. The October date we would be leaving our Welwyn Garden City flat on was fast approaching, and we were being told to wait for an opening as it might pass in a week or so. Wait we did, and we waited and waited. The good news never came, so we decided that we’d just book our flights and get there, everything else would surely fall into place afterwards.

Then the bureaucracy kicked in, the amount of paperwork required to get into Thailand (at the time of writing) was too much. Each document required another form that couldn’t be filled in until the one we were filling in had been completed. It was chaos, seemingly designed difficult to dissuade people from travelling. In the end, it felt too much like swimming against the tide of a flowing river. We closed the laptop in defeat, the Thailand dream was dead in the water.

However, like a phoenix in the ashes, a new idea formed out of the old one. Our time in WGC was coming to an end, that was a guarantee. The world was now potentially our oyster, as long as it was situated on the UK green list.

This was when the applications started flying out, not for teaching jobs, but for writing positions I was qualified for in Dubai, Malta, and Gibraltar.

For the latter, I was offered an interview the next day for the following week, which I attended and was offered the role two hours afterward. It was mind-bending, we’d gone from fighting the current to being swept up by it, now eager to see where it would throw us off.

After getting off the phone and going hysterical with excitement it dawned on me, we had two weeks to get to Gibraltar. We sold all of our furniture and packed up our belongings, taking only what we could carry. Our backs becoming decimated from 4 days sleeping on the floor as we’d accidentally sent the pump for the airbed back up North with my girlfriend’s dad.

In a way it was the perfect storm. My partner’s job is home-based so she could move to the peninsula freely, combine this with the visa-free access and being on the green list made it a surprisingly simple move. Not long after our arrival we sorted out a flat too. It had all started to finally feel real. We spent our first few days in Gibraltar treating it as a holiday, something we had been unable to do since a trip to Glasgow in early 2020.

Gibraltar at night (October 2021) 🇬🇮

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Half of me thinks its knowing when to let go of a pipedream, when to realise something is implausible even if you’ve worked so hard for it – but its in letting go that more opportunities rear their heads, ones that you would have been blind to beforehand like a horse with its blinkers on.

On the other hand, it could be about not selling yourself short, that the opportunities to do what you love will come eventually as long as you work toward them. Being offered a job abroad as a copywriter is something I could have only dreamed of a couple of years ago – especially after working in marketing and my old manager deciding to go external with the company’s copywriting duties, even though that was my bread and butter. In hindsight that may have been the turning point where I started to take writing (and myself) seriously, as I started this website a month or so later.

As I sit here in a bustling café just off Main Street in Gibraltar, with a light lunch of a cortado and quiche, letting myself absorb the new surroundings I find myself in, I’m filled with excitement for the coming years. I don’t grieve a missed opportunity in Thailand, as it was never meant to be, and so in the end never existed.

Because if it had, I’d never be here.


Refined Living in a Petrol Powered Village

There’s a small area of land on the cusp of Cheshire and the River Mersey that for me is most fitting of the name ‘Home’. Even though my documents list my place of birth as ‘Chester’, I’d never call myself a Cestrian as doing so would be a lie – in truth that was just where the hospital was, and I doubt my mother fancied giving birth in the tub.

The name of that place I call home is Elton, and its where I grew up. Recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Eltone’, meaning ‘Eel Town’ or ‘Eel Farm’, this small expanse of land comprised nearly the entirety of my childhood despite having a population of under 4,000 people.

Elton isn’t known for a lot of things, it’s a pretty run of the mill village crammed between areas of more people and substance, but it has had a few moments where it has infamously made headlines.

The first, is the existence of the massive Stanlow Oil Refinery that takes permanent residence here. It is pretty much on the village’s doorstep, so much so that I could see a lot of it from my childhood bedroom window. Some fun facts about this factory – it is the second largest in the United Kingdom, its product suffices a sixth of the country’s petrol needs, and that it used to let out a foul mushroom-smelling odour every Saturday alongside an accompanying alarm. I never knew what that alarm was for, but every time it rang my mum used to call us inside and close all the windows. Can’t wait for the health affects of that to hit me down the line.

Alongside that, there’s a glass bottle production factory that houses the worlds largest container glass furnace – which me and my friends were chased off once for pushing a large black pipe onto the only road in and out of the facility.

The village is also the victim of a joke from some football fan who works at Google, who randomly changed the road behind the shops, originally named Willow Way, to Diego Maradona Street – which I’m guessing has caused chaos to every mailman or woman that operates in the area. There’s also the small fact that a former resident went on trail for murder in the USA.

Right next to ‘Hand of God’ Lane

None of this strange and surprisingly notorious history matters to me though, because this was my home, my little slice of Earth. As a child, nothing outside of its tiny boundaries mattered. This was where I went to nursery and primary school, where I tried and hated Taekwondo, where I played for my first football team (Elton Youth ride or die) and where I grew up most importantly. You see, other than visiting family in nearby Ellesmere Port, Frodsham or Helsby, this was where I spent all my time. Elton’s placement made it a nightmare to walk anywhere else, unless you fancied walking down the A5117 which back then didn’t have a pathway and forced you to walk on the road or the overgrown grass. Whatever your thoughts on what I’m saying in this essay so far, I loved the place and thought it was great.

It’s strange growing up in a village like that because it gives you a really warped sense of the rest of the world, mainly because every time we’d walk to the shop or to school, we’d always stop and talk to someone that we knew – which was pretty much the entire village. It’s probably the only time in my life that I’ve felt myself inside a community like that, where you have the support of so many other people through familiarity. It must be a nightmare for new people moving in, but when you’re inside it, it can make it so hard to leave.

Childhood memories are a strange thing to quantify compared to the ones you make in your adult life, there’s always an element of fuzziness to them all, like that part of your brain hadn’t finished forming yet. I can remember my old house and the robin who used to visit our garden after my granddad died, which our family believed carried his soul and was checking in on us. I remember our next-door neighbour throwing up a haphazard fence extension upwards to stop me and my brother looking into his garden when we were on the trampoline and us seeing it as a challenge to jump higher. I remember riding to the shop on my bike to buy Somerfield own-brand chocolate to sell at my high school in Chester or the time my friend stood up too quickly, headbutting the underside of my chin and caused me to bite my entire upper lip with the whole bottom row of my teeth and getting sent home and playing FIFA 05 on the CRT in my room.

Me and Matt on the couch in Elton, circa 2009.

I’ve been fortunate to live in some far-flung places across the globe since, but nowhere fills me with the familiar feeling of home that I get riding through Elton on the bus. I should probably get off and explore it again one of these days, but I doubt that much has changed. It will always be the place where I discovered Pop Punk by listening to ‘Kerrang: The Album 08’ in my bedroom, or where I got pelted in the face with a rounders bat in P.E, or where our entire street played in the gross water that regurgitated from the grids one rainy evening.

Kerrang! The Album '08 - Various Artists
The nostalgia that this stupid album cover gives me man.

It almost makes you want to stay on the bus, just so those fuzzy memories don’t get replaced with more rigid ones from adulthood, and you can live in that moment in time forever without knowing any different.

Although I’d rather forget the time I rode my bike into a bench and snapped my rib in half.


Optimistic Nihilism: Nothing Matters, Which Is Great

Have you ever made the mistake of believing that we are the main characters of the planet we call Earth? That every decision, mistake, or accomplishment you’ve ever made was your role in some divine Earth storybook that will be remembered for all time – where this planet and the rest of the universe is ours and ours alone for exploring.

Humanity as we know it today has only existed for around 200,000 years. Civilisation is even younger, an infant child in these gigantic milestones, being only 6,000 years old. Yet, compared to ourselves, aged below 100 in most circumstances, they are behemoths in time that we cannot comprehend.

Our universe, in comparison, clocks in at 14 billion years old. Our existence as a species is a fraction of a pixel of the 4K television screen that is our universe. We’re not even the protagonists of our own planet, if anything we’re probably the poorly received and short lived sequel a la Joey following Friends.

The dinosaurs dominated our planet for about 165 million years, a period which a lot of us are guilty of lumping together and assuming all of them existed at the same time. This couldn’t be further from the truth, for example, the Stegosaurus existed in the Late Jurassic era and had been extinct for 80 million years when the Tyrannosaurus (T-Rex) roamed in the Late Cretaceous era.

Dinosaur fossil on rough stone formation

Our Earth’s Mesozoic inhabitants only made way for us in the Cenozoic era after they were wiped out by a meteor that collided with Earth 66 million years ago, creating the Chicxulub Crater and kickstarting the age of the mammal – of which you dear reader, are a member of. Even before the dinosaurs, was the Palaeozoic era, an estimated 541 million years ago where arthropods, molluscs, fish, and amphibians ruled. They too only moved along after the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which was the largest extinction event in our planet’s long history – in which it took 30 million years for it to recover.

For both eras, it was only their destruction that gave way for the next wave to rise. As much as many try to fight it, the same will most likely happen to us some day. Whether our replacements are a master breed of self-aware baboons, another race of dinosaurs, or one of our own creation; such as mechanical robots or artificial intelligence, is for the historians of the future to figure out on their own. Maybe someday you’ll be in a museum like the Tyrannosaurus skeletons of the world, being studied by a race of silicon-based AI, that can breathe in the air we polluted our own world with. 

It’s all quite a lot to take in when you really think about it, that in the grand scheme of everything we’re an inconspicuous speck at a very high risk of destroying itself through nuclear war or greed before our era truly got under way.

I think it says a lot about the delusions of grandeur that our species has that we think we are so superior to all the other inhabitants that once called this planet home, a lot of this is down to our own intelligence, in which we are genuinely superior. However, I believe we’ve all lost sight of the point of evolution, it’s not about intelligence, it’s about survival. The dinosaurs never developed consciousness or brain power equal to ours because they never needed it, they were big and strong, and needed body parts that could either destroy their foes, or ones that made it easier to run away. Our intelligence developed because we needed it to survive, as I previously mentioned, the dinosaurs lived on our earth for 165 million years. We might be smart, but we’re only 200,000 years in and are already at risk of destroying ourselves, so in hindsight intelligence might not have actually been the best call.

You’re probably asking at this point – if nothing matters then why bother? If I am a pixel of a pixel of a pixel and my significance is so minute in comparison to the rest of time and space, then what’s my purpose? Especially if we’re on a one-way track of self-destruction. Why shouldn’t I just sit and watch TV until I die?

I've remade "Come watch TV" gif: rickandmorty
Source: Rick and Morty

It’s a valid question, and one that I hope I have the answer to. Coming to terms with the chaos of everything can be the key to unlocking your own potential, because you can write your own story, within your own scope of existence and enjoy this small slice of consciousness we’ve been lucky enough to receive.

Optimistic Nihilism. Life is meaningless and that's exactly… | by  Neeramitra Reddy | ILLUMINATION-Curated | Medium

Every regret, every mistake, every time you’ve made an incorrect decision doesn’t matter in the grand scope of the universe. There will come a time where nobody remembers you or anything you ever did, whether you’re Kim Kardashian, George Orwell, Attila the Hun, or Ramesh from down the road.

On the other hand, you can set your own goals outside of societal norms, because if you’re living in a way you enjoy and you’re not hurting anybody else, why shouldn’t you? Time is finite, spend it as you wish. Nobody asked to be born, but we can choose how we get to live.

If your life goal is to have a family straight after graduating from college, or to be a receptionist for a doctor’s office, or to be an underground musician, or to never have kids and travel the world, or to gather the world’s largest collection of beer mats – nobody is stopping you. That’s your truth, your enjoyment, your life, live it however you want – the dinosaurs did without questioning their social status, or maybe they did, not knowing proves my point exactly.

If nothing matters then neither should anyone else’s expectations of you.

Now, this isn’t saying you should go and murder everybody you know, or steal everything they own. If anything, take this as a sign that I’m strongly urging you not to do that. We still have laws and punishment to keep everyone in line, and rightly so (when it works properly at least). We’re all here for a short time and not a long time, and if you ask me, we’re all responsible for everyone else’s speck of existence to be that little bit brighter too. Be kind, be true to yourself, and why not hold the door open every once in a while, it can really make someone’s day. Love who you want, love what you want, love how you want – just don’t stamp on anyone else’s good time.

Just because in the grand scheme of things we literally mean nothing, doesn’t mean our feelings of love, admiration, and accomplishment aren’t valid. If anything those sentiments are more valuable because they mean something to you personally. You are the architect to your own universe, in that regard this slice of the cosmos is all you’ll ever have, or be able to remember depending on what you believe. Nothing outside of your universe matters, and in the same way nothing that matters within it matters to the forever expanding mass of infinity.

We’ve all been conditioned with movies, books and video games that life has some sort of ‘end-goal’, that when we reach a certain milestone that we’ve completed it and nothing else matters. That could not be further from the truth. We’ve all been in the position of gaining something we want, whether that is a move, a material object or a career milestone, getting it and then feeling exactly the same – then looking at the next thing and hoping that it gives us the satisfaction we were seeking the first time. It’s a fallacy, life as we know it is more of a creative sandbox where we can play to our hearts content until the game shuts off. There’s no instruction manual, so play the game how you want to play it.

Nothing really matters, which means there’s nothing stopping you from being you.

personal travel

Welwyn Garden City: A Town With Hert, Not History

I’ve been struggling with a way to start this blog post, I’ve played with the idea of using a quote or some grand metaphor about living somewhere new and exciting, but that’s just the thing, for the past year I’ve lived in Welwyn Garden City – a commuter town that’s only existed for 100 years more than I’ve been here. It’s no Paris, New York or Rome but that’s the beauty of it, that is why it has been perfect.

When I say that I ended up in this corner of Hertfordshire by complete chance, I honestly mean it. Me and my partner had dreams of grandeur when we moved out of our flat in Bamber Bridge just over a year ago, dreaming of the late nights and bright lights of London Town – but sometimes pipe dreams are just those, pipe dreams. Two months was how long I drifted through the capital, unemployed, bouncing between Airbnb’s, but that was enough for me. Using the 20/20 vision that hindsight brings, London was never right for me.

Not that it isn’t a fantastic city, it really is and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’ve never been. It just never felt like mine, I always felt like a stranger, always feeling the urge to look over my shoulder after finding myself in another area I didn’t know at dusk. That’s just the way in London I’ve found. The streets change personality from one to the next, you could be on a road that houses the rich and famous in one moment, before finding yourself on the next street that’s full of high-rises where the inhabitants can smell the outsider on you. I think it was this juxtaposition that kept me on edge and kept me from truly wanting to stay. London is perfect for a lot of people, just not me, but I’m glad that I tried, and I know that for definite now, instead of spending a lifetime yearning for it.

The move to WGC came about through a connection I’d made in Tanzania, believe it or not, whereby he’d offered me a job role after a few too many pints in Camden Market. I’d applied for over 100 writing jobs, become far too accustomed to the word no, so decided to say yes. I’d never heard of the place outside of it being the birthplace of Alesha Dixon, but I needed the money and I had nothing keeping me in London. So, we booked a hotel for six weeks and started looking for a place.

As it turned out, I did have a prior connection to Welwyn Garden City. The place had given me an eerie familiarity when I’d entered the centre for the first time, and it took having a drink in the Doctor’s Tonic pub to figure it out.

It was Newton Haven, from The bloody World’s End. What a great movie, I’d thought to myself, and now I got to live where it was filmed. Being a massive Edgar Wright fanboy, that fact gave me more satisfaction than the job I was working – but being on a COVID test site I’m sure you can let me get away with that.

Historically, the confusingly named town of Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 by a bloke named Sir Ebenezer Howard and quite liked the idea of cities but thought they were a bit too grey, so decided to mix in some trees and fields to spread everything out. He’d tried it in Letchworth first, but I guess he’d decided that he’d failed and fancied another pop. If you’re from LGC don’t @ me, I’m just stating facts you know, second the best and all that.

The man himself, Sir Ebenezer Howard (Welwyn Garden City, 2021)

It was an odd place to end up by chance, it wasn’t somewhere that you’d ever move to the otherside of the country for, but that was what we’d ended up doing. There was an odd melancholy in getting the flat we’d end up spending a year living in, a feeling that we couldn’t go back up North out of pride, but also the feeling that we’d ended up somewhere we’d never wanted to be in the first place, forced into stopping our couch-hopping by the impending second UK lockdown.

Jerk chicken from That Picnic Brand (2021)

It’s been nearly a year since that moment, and I’ve decided that moving to Welwyn Garden City was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s an odd feeling finding yourself stuck somewhere with no network, no nostalgia or passion to stay in the area and no attachment to the job that keeps you there. However, I think that’s what made the place perfect, there was nothing to take care of other than ourselves. There was no local drama, no pre-emptive impressions from people who had heard of you at school. We were unknown quantity, it was great, freeing if you will.

Gradually you build a network over time, and I’ve been honoured to make some great friends who I hope stick around for the long haul. On top of that, you learn the lay of the land, you pick up on shortcuts, find the best eating spots (I’d recommend That Picnic Brand in the Wheat Quarter, it’s incredible) and the excellent places to go for long walks.

Welwyn Garden City can be seen best in the dilapidated Shredded Wheat factory that stands dormant over the train station, using its time still standing as a monolith long lost to another era. Yet there are plans to revitalise it, to bring it back as something fresh, new, and exciting. The building blocks are here for Welwyn to turn into something great, it has a history it will grow into, a commute into London that lasts only 25 minutes and the feeling that some culture is going to start rearing its head through the rows of corporate shops that run up and down Howardsgate.

The Shredded Wheat factory in the snow ( Welwyn Garden City, 2021)

I’d be lying if I said that living here has been wild, but it’s been an experience that removed the fog from everything, it made the next step much clearer and much easier to work towards. Pressing the reset button can help you become yourself again, and I was lucky enough to do it for a year during a pandemic which has crippled so many people mentally. For that I count my blessings, I really do.

The coat of arms for Hertfordshire predominantly features the stag, an animal that symbolises instinct, maturity, regeneration, and spiritual enlightenment. I’m not sure if everyone else’s stay in the Hert of England has been the same, but the symbolism seems awfully apt and poetic to me.

Cheers for the memories.

Coat of arms of Hertfordshire County Council
personal writing

Covid, Books, Bo Burnham and Burnout

Hello all, it’s been a while since we’ve spoken here hasn’t it? The last time I worked on a blog post was in December of last year. Which was, at the time of writing, eight months ago. Yikes. Some blog ay? Sorry about the wait I guess.

I do apologise for the delay, but I promise I was working on something worthwhile. I’m sure the majority of you reading this have already seen, but I self-released my debut book, ‘The Toucan Man’, and honestly the response has been both humbling and overwhelming.

Before I go into the book, and what it means to me, I just want everyone to know how thankful I am about it. I’ve sold a total of 25 copies, which may not sound like the largest number in the world; but considering that it has only been a week or so and I haven’t put any money into marketing yet, I’m absolutely blown away.

Every copy sold is another reason for me to go at it again, another reason to keep trying to make the dream a reality. I worked myself to the bone on ‘The Toucan Man’. It’s a piece of work I wrote, edited, formatted and revised myself (bar a few special people that can be seen on the copyright page); the only thing I couldn’t do myself was design a decent cover, which my friend Dan Kendall did, you can find his website (and his excellent portfolio) here.

Being honest, every picture of you lot holding the book or piece of feedback you’ve sent me over DM has made the whole experience worth it. I don’t write for money, I never have, I write to tell stories; and the fact that you all came out in droves to support me makes me feel like the luckiest man in the world.

So genuinely, thank you. Yes, especially you, blog reader.

A bit of behind the scenes on ‘The Toucan Man’ is that it’s a book based on my grandparents, the characters of Ernest and Eloise, especially their backstories take a lot of liberties from them, so too does the love that they shared. Avoiding spoilers, what happens in the first few chapters is a mixture of the truth and how I feel like I’d cope in that situation, and where my mind would go after so many years of being so reliant on somebody else.

Grief is something I’ve unfortunately experienced a lot of in my short 25 years on Earth, and ‘The Toucan Man’ was my way of putting that into words, as well as being a love letter to the people who showed me what love was in the first place. I tried to tackle anguish the best I could, how different people deal with it, the sense of abandonment, the feeling of needing to find something to fill the person-sized hole in your life afterwards. My hope is that the book can help someone, someday, slowly come to terms with their own loss, and that certain avenues aren’t healthy ways to deal with it.

I’ll stop being so depressing now, you’ve probably had enough of that.

Another fun fact is that the name is a double entendre, let me know if you’ve figured it out.

File:Guinness 250th anniversary poster, Belfast - - 1138788.jpg
Guinness 250th anniversary poster, Belfast (Albert Bridge, 2009)

For anyone that cares too, I’ve finished the first edit of my follow-up novel. This is one that has ascended the word count of novella to a full blown piece of literature. I’m not going to give much away other than the fact it is a historical fiction based in the Soviet Union, and that it’ll hopefully be released next year. Keep your eyes peeled, it’s already a piece of work I adore and one that has expanded on the experience from my debut to become a more well-rounded novel. There are a lot less kinks at this stage than there were at this point in ‘The Toucan Man’, which tells me I’m hopefully getting better? I’m excited for you all to read it. I am trying to become an actual novelist, and I’ve got a fair few more ideas in the tank yet so I’m going to trudge on into the future grinding them out! (Hopefully being read and growing an audience, but who knows.)

In news to some of you too, I caught COVID recently (despite being twice vaccinated and being careful), so me (and my girlfriend) have been in isolation since the books release, so outside of the messages I’ve received, I’ve had no human contact with anyone. So really, all of your support has been amazing, especially during a time where I’ve been inside again, with little else to think about.

Bo Burnham’s favourite book, probably, if he read it.

Like most people I’ve been a bit obsessed with ‘Inside‘ since it’s release onto Netflix, and honestly my opinions on that special could be a whole blog post in itself. If you haven’t already, go and watch it, have you been living under a rock or something? The special is funny, it’s existential, it sums up lockdown, modern society and being a creative in ways I wouldn’t even know how to start expressing in a book, never mind through comedic songs. It’s a chaotic masterpiece, so just go and sit on your couch and put it on already.

Speaking of creativity, I’m already trying to start book three of my little self-published repertoire, but between writing two books in the space of a year and having the disease that managed to break down society as we know it, I’ve been struggling to get into the flow of the story, so I might be a bit more active on here for a while as I ease myself into another big project. Keep an eye out for early 2022 though, for the next (already in the works) release. If the reaction to my sophomore effort is half as good as the one that greeted my debut, I’ll be absolutely buzzing.

Thanks again to you all. When I started up this stupid blog last year I’d never dreamed that I’d accumulate over 2,000 views, and that the initial support and gradual growth would spur me on to write my first book.

Which you can buy here, if you haven’t already ❤️

Or potentially leave an Amazon review? I’m waiting for a few of those to roll in before I start marketing it!

Or review on Goodreads, if you’re that way inclined!

Soppy blog over, thanks for reading and thanks for supporting me.