Mental Notes on a Four-Hour Drive

The ‘C’ Word

James Taking Me and Lucy Out in His Sports Car

Saturday afternoon, I embarked on the four-hour drive from my flat in London, back to my parent’s house in Cheshire. My good friend Drew is running a half marathon on Sunday. He has raised over £1000 for Pancreatic Cancer UK and I wanted to support him on race day to show my appreciation! Anna had to stay in London as she has other engagements on Monday, so it was just Lucy the puppy and I.

I’m not a huge fan of driving anymore. It can be fun and I am a confident driver, but I’ve been doing it for long enough that the buzz of it has gone, and I’m not particularly into cars or racing or whatever else might keep driving more interesting to an individual. Driving somewhere feels even worse when I know doing so is slower than the train too, which it is when going home from the flat in London…by at least an hour. Further to this, it takes just over an hour on an average day to get out of London alone, before then embarking on the three hours of motorway motorway motorway. Because we live in South-East London, and my parents live in the midlands, it means that there is no quick way of getting out of the city to head north. To quote We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” So you go from driving an average of 10mph and stopping every twenty seconds in London, to driving at 70mph in a straight line, fearing anything that would force you to stop, as that would mean it was a queue on the motorway. Queuing on the motorway is the only thing more depressing than driving on the motorway.

As I sat in a big queue in Kensington, West London, my mind started focusing on the surgery. It was triggered by a slow song coming on Spotify that has nothing to do with surgery. The melancholy vibe of the song infected my brain and took it somewhere dark. I dwelled there for a few minutes, before deciding that it was enough. There were another 3.5 hours to drive and I couldn’t be in this place whilst travelling, especially whilst travelling alone. I put on my summer playlist and tried to think about other things. A few hours later into the drive, when I was about 45 minutes from home, I realised that I had successfully distracted myself most of the way. It was at that point that I set myself a challenge – to write a blog post about some of the things that were going around in my head during that drive and try to turn it into a coherent post. It will probably be competing with the one on Fashion for ‘Least interesting topic for my target audience’, but I can’t always just go on about c****r and s*****y. Perhaps I’ll start a series titled ‘The ‘S’ Word’ if I keep going on about surgery. That’s the second time that I’ve used the word in this post; I’d be failing miserably if this was the start of the series, but I’ve mentioned the ‘C’ word plenty of times in this series, so whatever. I’m the only one policing it anyway, so I say it’s acceptable.

As I said, the novelty of driving has worn off for me. Nowadays, I view driving in a similar way to the toilets at service stations along the motorway; they’re necessary and sometimes I need to use them, but I aim to spend as little time utilising them as I have to, and would rather someone else took the lead whilst I sat on my phone (unsure how the final point applies to service station toilets – I’ll let you use your imagination). There is one thing that might bring some of the novelty back to driving, though.

Anna’s brother, James, has a retro-looking sports car from the 90s. It has an open-top and was apparently featured in the Goldeneye film, according to him. On my penultimate day visiting Dorset, he offered to take me out for a spin in it. Although cars aren’t my thing, new experiences certainly are, especially where they involve Lucy the puppy getting angry at her ears flapping about. She hates the wind, similar to my hatred of the sea. The difference is that the sea is easy to avoid if you want to, whereas wind is pretty much impossible to avoid all of the time. You can opt out of getting in the sea; you can’t opt-out of being blasted by the wind. Especially when driving in an open-top car. She actually uses her paws to try and hold her ears down when it is blowing them around – it is incredibly cute yet pathetic.

I have to say that riding in an open-top car is good fun. This was my first experience and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Finally, I understand why people enjoy going around in them. Although I will never buy one as I do not believe I can pull it off, I have a newfound respect for them. That is until my drive back from London. As I finally made my way out of London and got onto a dual carriageway, I witnessed a man in a sports car with his roof down doing something morally blurry.

The blaring sound of sirens was ringing out behind me. Sirens are such a common sound in London that they practically send me to sleep now. Their piercing sound is as relaxing as morning bird-song to me. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t sleep for a single second in that damn city. I’m sure this is true of any city, but I can only really speak for London as I have a very bad memory and can’t remember if it was true of the other cities I have lived in. Due to their sound being so familiar, I wasn’t panicking too much. Looking in my mirrors, I saw it charging up behind me. I was driving in the right overtaking lane at the time, and I saw a few cars behind me waiting until the very last minute to move out of the way. I’m not sure why they were doing this – just move over and let the damn people past! Aren’t we all supportive of moving out of the way of emergency vehicles as we understand that if we, or our families, were in dire need of them, we’d hope that other people would move the hell out of the way to let them through for our benefit? Anyway, I moved over into the left lane as I saw it getting closer. The roads were very busy but we weren’t standing still – the speed limit was about 40mph I believe.

As the ambulance came raging past me, I saw a car that I had watched practically refusing to move over in my mirror only a minute prior flying up behind the ambulance to utilise its status as an important vehicle that everyone needs to get the fuck out of the way for. This ambulance chaser was technically not doing anything wrong, but damn was he doing something wrong. I detested him; I couldn’t help but scorn his immoral, selfish behaviour in my head. People are hurt and he’s only thinking about how he can take advantage of the situation to get to wherever he needs to be a few minutes faster. It got me thinking – was this actually morally wrong, or am I getting wound up about nothing? No, I’m pretty sure it is wrong. But why is it wrong? At some point, after the ambulance has come past you in the right lane, you have every right to go back into the right lane. So what was wrong with this particular incident? I think it was the way that the driver was sticking to the back of the ambulance and following its every move, making it obvious that the driver is using the situation to his own advantage, trying to break through the large volume of cars clogging up the road.

Not only is it unsafe, but the stakes are higher. If there is a crash involving an ambulance, they are adding to the number of problems that the ambulance service has rather than allowing them to address those problems. It also may put the ambulance driver off from focusing on the task at hand if they see a car hovering behind them in their mirrors. I know it puts me off when a car comes flying up behind me at twice the speed of anyone else on the road, then breaks in a passive-aggressive way at the very last minute, cruising as close to the back of the car as possible until you move over. What usually happens then is you witness them speed up incredibly quickly again until they meet the next reasonable human being in the right lane, which then forces them to repeat the whole process again. I’ve always wondered what these people get out of doing this. Perhaps they are rushing to the hospital as their wife is giving birth, although I suspect they’re just total egomaniacs that think flying around the roads dangerously makes them akin to a formula 1 driver; in reality, it just makes them total idiots who are increasing the risk of someone needlessly dying on the road that day.

Driving seems to be one of the best ways to see game theory playing out in front of you. For those of you who do not know what game theory is, here is a definition from the Brittanica website:

‘Game theory, [is a] branch of applied mathematics that provides tools for analyzing situations in which parties, called players, make decisions that are interdependent. This interdependence causes each player to consider the other player’s possible decisions, or strategies, in formulating [their own] strategy. A solution to a game describes the optimal decisions of the players, who may have similar, opposed, or mixed interests, and the outcomes that may result from these decisions.’

At one point, there were lane closures on the motorway just outside of London. It was made very obvious on the big digital overhead signs that the drivers needed to move out of the two left lanes and into the two right lanes. This led to a buildup of traffic, but I wasn’t sure why. I then noticed that some people were simply flying down in the soon-to-be-closed lane all the way to the bottom of the traffic jam, where the cones would force them to finally merge over. They were then forcing their way into the right lanes at the last possible point, stopping all of the cars trying to move the traffic jam forward. It was clear that you had two choices: move over into the right lane early and join the queue, or fly down the left lane, driving past all of the suckers deciding to do the sensible thing. You would miss out being in the huge queue that had formed behind, but you would also be contributing to that queue worsening as you force your way in front of it. I watched as more and more cars followed suit and took the arsehole approach, making the entire situation worse. Some things in the world make you lose all faith in people. For some reason, this situation really did that to me for a few seconds. “Humans are all just self-serving assholes,” I thought to myself, despite it clearly being the minority of people choosing to take the selfish approach. I realised that I was over-generalising and being harsh to my fellow good citizens. I apologised and got my happy hat back on. The world and I were in alignment again.

After getting further out of London, the car gave me a warning that I only had around 50 miles left of petrol in the car. There were two and a half hours left to drive, and over a hundred miles. I told myself that I’d stop at the next motorway services to get fuel up. Lucy had been fast asleep pretty much the whole time. Anna and I had taken her on a big walk that morning with my sister, brother-in-law and their dog to tire her out. It had worked. At one point she had stood up and started to make some strange noises as if she was about to be sick. I started panicking and shouting “PLEASE DON’T THROW UP LUCY” and positioning her blanket in front of her so it could be cleaned up easier if she did. I also thought that she might think twice about it if it was her blanket, but that’s applying too much stupid human logic to a dog situation. She didn’t care less where and when she was sick. I’ve watched her eat her own sick multiple times; nothing puts her off being sick. It occurred to me that she might need a stop as badly as the car needed petrol.

Josie’s Video of the Dogs Seeing Each Other As We Met in the Park

By the time we reached the next motorway services the petrol dial was low and the estimated ‘range’ was 27 miles. The petrol station prices were extortionate – 199.9p per gallon for petrol. What on earth is going on? I was so outraged that I actually Googled ‘Why do petrol station prices vary so much across the UK’ before getting out of the car to fill up. I wanted to learn my rights, and figure out if I had any ability as a consumer to complain about this blatant robbery. I don’t. Apparently, it is mainly down to competition, as well as other factors such as supply and demand, and what price they purchased the fuel at. Of course, prices are generally high at the minute. This petrol station was the only one for miles, though, and didn’t they know it! I was their perfect customer – low on petrol and desperate. Consumer choice doesn’t exist in this situation. My fate was clear; I resentfully filled up the car and felt angry at the man, woman or child that ran this place and decided to exploit me and my fellow unorganised motorists. I swore blind that I would never let my car get this low on fuel again, so I could exercise my consumer right to choose a petrol station with more reasonable prices. I could save 10p per litre at a large supermarket and not give these bloodsuckers my money… until the next time I find myself desperately low on petrol on a motorway. It’ll probably happen sooner than I want to admit.

As I drove along with about an hour and a half left to go, my mind started wandering. I was driving in the middle lane of a three-lane motorway when I noticed a car on my right struggling to overtake me. Our cars were side by side as we flew down the road at 70mph. There was a brief second where my glance met that of the driver. It made me chuckle to myself. I started thinking of the future of driving as we move into a digital age. Roads full of automatically driven cars, moving in perfectly ordered patterns along the roads. Accidents are a thing of the past as the vehicles seamlessly travel at fast speeds, communicating with each other and ensuring that collisions are impossible.

I imagined two cars travelling right next to each other down a motorway, both containing a single passenger; one man and one woman. Their eyes meet as the vehicles zoom along next to each other. There’s a connection. The woman smiles are rolls her eyes. She’s bored of the journey. He laughs and shrugs his shoulders. They turn away, each glancing back just as the other looks away. Is it awkward? Do they both feel the same connection? She worries his car will turn off the motorway soon and she’ll never see him again. She decides to write her number on a piece of paper. Holding it up to the window, she’s written ‘Dinner?’ underneath it. He sees something in his peripheral vision and turns his head again. As he reads it he lets out a big smile and nods his head. How long would the digital, driverless roads have to exist before something like this happened, I wondered. Damn, I’m romanticising the future, aren’t I? Why am I such a hopeless romantic…

My thoughts were interrupted by a cloud of leaves flying out of the back of a van. It was an open-top one with large white bags in the back. One of these bags had blown open in the wind. The contents were blowing all over the road, mostly leaves but also small branches and clippings from plants. It felt like there was a hurricane in the middle of Autumn as the strong wind blew the leaves across the road. I was only 45 minutes from home now. It was at this point that I realised how long I’d spent creating this imaginary world in my head, with driverless roads and a hopeless love story. That was when I decided to challenge myself to write a blog about driving and see if I could make it interesting. I’ve achieved the first of those things, to write a blog about it, I’ll leave the verdict of the other one, whether it is interesting, to the jury, my readers. I’m going to bake something nice and tidy away my things from the trip to London whilst you deliberate.

Attending Counselling: A Review

The ‘C’ Word

Last Summer During a Heatwave: About A Month Before I FIrst Went Into Hospital

Warning: This blog post contains many sweeping generalisations about a topic that I barely understand at all. Take everything that sounds remotely convincing with a pinch of salt the size of a tablespoon.

I want to start this post off with a confession: I really don’t know anything about counselling. My workplace offered counselling as a free benefit. I got 6 sessions paid for me under the scheme. You may not be aware, dear reader, but I’ve had a spot of difficulty recently in my life. In response to this difficulty, I decided to utilise this work benefit to see how it could benefit me. Work hasn’t been paying me for months anyway, so I need to find something useful about still having a contract with them. Financial well-being certainly isn’t one of the current benefits on offer…neither is general support in the face of a life-changing cancer diagnosis, but I digress.

Now, I’m not totally sure about this, but I’m pretty sure counselling and therapy are quite different things. How they differ, I’m also not sure. Luckily, like most of the users on Twitter who decide to engage in arguments over complex issues, I’m going to read a single article on the internet on the differences and will then consider myself an expert.

Apparently, the differences between psychotherapy and counselling depend largely on how the two disciplines are treated in the country in question. Here, in the United Kingdom, they overlap a lot, as you can see by the name of one of the two professional accrediting bodies in the field – the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP). That makes me feel better and less like an uneducated idiot for now knowing, although my original claim that they are ‘quite different things’ seems to be incorrect. It’s ok to be a little wrong in the pursuit of bettering your knowledge.

Both psychotherapy and counselling are types of talking therapy to help you deal with issues in your life. The accredited professional is trained to listen to the things you say and assist you in exploring them further to reveal deeper truths about your behaviours, and the wider impact they may be having. This is achieved by discussing things, such as events that have troubled you and emotions that you have been feeling in relation to those events. Of course, this is a far more complex process than I’m making it sound here. I’m trying to boil it down to its core elements but am sure that becoming qualified to do this requires an individual to be trained in many complex theories, studies and techniques.

Any subject which requires you to understand human behaviour is complex in my opinion. We are all so different; sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in glaringly obvious ways. Whenever we are required to deal with people it is a mini study of human behaviour. The better you are at analysing and responding to others’ behaviour, the easier your life will be. For example, imagine you are working as a cashier in a supermarket. A customer may be short-tempered with you as you take your time scanning their items – you’re there for another 5 hours, so aren’t in a rush. “Could you hurry up!” They may snap at you. You may be offended, but you may also then notice that they have two young children with them who are crying. Perhaps you then realise that it was them that you overheard on the phone whilst you were serving another customer in what sounded like a tense call. You may then decide that you will not react badly to their behaviour as you recognise that they are stressed and struggling. Your better emotional intelligence benefits you both in this situation; you don’t dwell so long on how they were rude to you, or make a comment back which escalates the situation, and they may recognise that they were taking out their frustrations on you, leading to an apology. The stakes are much lower than if you are a therapist/counsellor dealing with a client, though. Most jobs are not directly trying to identify, tackle and transform behaviours like a counsellor/therapist is tasked with. That makes their job difficult and what works for one person may not work for another, despite the core issues being very similar. I imagine it requires a huge amount of natural emotional intelligence and empathy, alongside a cool grasp of the learnt knowledge, to be successful.

According to the website I used, a common difference between the two fields is that psychotherapy will evaluate these things based on both present and past experience, whereas counselling focuses more on current experience. From my experience of counselling, I can attest to that fact as we spoke primarily of current experience. That isn’t to say I couldn’t speak about things that have happened in my past, but they would usually come up during a discussion about what is currently going on in my life. We did not spend large amounts of time trawling through my past, discussing long-standing trends in my behaviour and how they may still be impacting me today. I can see why this would be beneficial, and I would be interested to seek a psychotherapist at some point to try it, but I’m not in a financial position to do so currently.

Under the scheme, I was only entitled to 6 hours of counselling for free. My counsellor was lovely and offered to do more sessions after saying “we’ve probably cut a few sessions short, so we can meet another few times if you like.” I told her that we’d need to cut it off at some time so now is as good as any. She seemed to feel guilty that I’m in the middle of a stressful point of my cancer journey, waiting to hear from the surgeons as to whether they can remove my tumour, or if some other outcome has been decided. My counsellor had been through cancer treatment a few years ago, which meant she was extra sympathetic to my situation. I’m sure it is why she was recommended to me by the company running the scheme.

Overall, I did find the counselling helpful. The website I was using to research the differences between psychotherapy and counselling stated that counselling is usually done in periods of 12 – 24 hours, broken into hour-long sessions. I can certainly see why a longer period than six hours is recommended. In the first few sessions, you are establishing a relationship with your counsellor. They’re figuring out what makes you tick and you’re figuring out how emotionally broken they think you are. It’s hard to be truly open and honest with a stranger. We have a ‘figuring out’ phase with most people we meet, especially when that person wants to delve into the most traumatising and volatile parts of our life. Trusting this random professional enough to open up is an important part of the process.

Knowing myself quite well after 29 years of being stuck in my own head, I firmly believe that I am good at establishing rapport with people fairly quickly. Especially so when that person is a softly spoken Scottish woman in her mid-sixties… I could listen to her speak all day, but our paths did not cross for that purpose. She was destined to sit through my monotonous grumblings about how sad I am that I’ve got cancer. If that’s what she was expecting, I may have disappointed her a bit.

The thing is, I have a close-knit group of friends, a lot of which I truly feel I can talk to about anything, no matter how dark and disturbing it may be. My family are extremely supportive and many of them speak to me regularly about how I am. My fiancée is a beacon of positivity who always makes me laugh. Luke, my best friend and best man at my wedding, is also one of the funniest people I know; he’s always a message away, and we speak regularly on the phone. I’ve even got the cutest puppy in the world keeping me company. My support network is really strong and I’m incredibly lucky. I’ve always known it but it has been proven true beyond any doubt since I was diagnosed. Having that strong network makes a huge difference in how I cope with the things that are happening to me. I’m not saying that I didn’t need the counselling, but it took me a while to feel any benefit from it if I’m honest.

Attending a Festival on 05/06/22 – Me, Matt, Keiran, Robbie and Ali

On top of my solid support network, I feel that I’m quite an open person. I’ve read accounts of others who were diagnosed with cancer and their immediate reaction was to hide it from everyone. Some of them state that they didn’t tell anyone for years, including their own family in some cases. For better or for worse, I will speak to anyone about my cancer. That doesn’t mean I believe this to be the better option of the two. Everyone is different and will process it however they see fit. For me, being open about it helps me process it. That in itself is therapeutic for me, just as continuing on with life as if nothing has changed may be therapeutic for others.

In the context of counselling specifically, my support network and openness allow me to regularly dig into my issues outside of these sessions. During the sessions I was never deeply upset, crying or having a huge realisation about my life based on the conversations we were having. In fact, I spent a lot of the session digging into the tough aspects of things going on but found a lot of humour in them. That may be a defence mechanism, but I truly didn’t feel sad a lot of the time during these periods. Only in a few sessions did I feel myself getting more animated and emotional. I remember getting annoyed when we spoke about my employer and how they have dealt with my diagnosis, and another time I felt very sad when discussing how my diagnosis has affected those around me. Both of these things came in sessions 5 and 6, so I think there’s an argument to be made that I was only just making headway when the benefit ran out. They were also just after key events had happened involving those things. Those sessions were the ones that made me think the most. My counsellor did offer a very valuable perspective, especially on the work issue. I think that was where I realised that she had helped me in a truly unique way that others around me probably wouldn’t have.

As I attended more sessions with my counsellor, I could feel myself relax more and I was speaking more openly and honestly about my behaviours. Speaking to someone who you do not encounter in any other contexts in your life, and who encourages you to dig into whatever is bothering you that week, brings many benefits, even if it takes some time to feel comfortable enough to be that open with them. You realise that they are not there to judge you, whereas your friends and family may judge you; even where you think you aren’t bothered that they may judge you, it can impact how you relay a series of events or cause you to soften the intimate details of the story to make yourself sound better. It is especially true with people you know well, as you also understand what they are likely to judge you more for. You may pander to their personality more than you even admit to yourself. It may be a key part of your therapy to identify that you do that, and try to understand why; inside that answer may be a hidden truth about you and how you cope with the world. Having a completely independent person to talk to was the most beneficial part of counselling for me, but unfortunately, this only became obvious to me in the final two or three sessions.

I know a few friends who are open about the fact that they attend therapy, or who have discussed needing therapy in the past for various issues. None of them have discussed specifics about their motivations for seeking it with me and I haven’t asked for reasons why. It is irrelevant to me really. When they have told me that they are either currently in therapy or have had it in the past, I’ve always just asked if it has helped them. All of them have been complimentary about it, once they have found the right therapist for them. This seems to be the key to success. I’ve heard a few stories about struggling to find one that felt ‘right’.

If you are looking for therapy or counselling on your own terms, not through a company scheme where they provide you with the options based on some criteria that you have provided, I imagine selecting the right person is extremely important. Fortunately for me, it was taken out of my hands. It’s probably also easier to find a therapist if your primary reason for seeking help is because you are dealing with cancer. Not that it means the professional you are matched with will definitely be right for you, but there’s a clear and definable ground to seek help on. If, for example, you are seeking help because you are struggling to maintain relationships, this may be down to a multitude of reasons. That means you may approach a person because it sounds like they have the right experience and skills to help you, but over time you don’t feel your relationships improving. There is another facet of finding the right therapist, though, which is based far more on personality and behaviour.

As I stated earlier, we as humans are always trying to work each other out. From the second we meet someone we start looking for evidence of what this person’s motivations are in the world. Figuring that out tells us a lot about an individual. We do this by analysing mannerisms, body language, the things they say, how they react to situations and how their behaviour changes. Sometimes we meet people and instantly feel a connection with them, but the opposite situation happens too. Within seconds of meeting someone, we may feel suspicious of them or find ourselves responding to them in a defensive manner. If we don’t get on with the professional we’re paying to help identify and tackle our deepest, darkest behaviours, how do we expect to improve? It removes many of the motivations that we have to tell the truth, open up and trust what that person says. You should not be fearing attending the sessions because you don’t like the person you’re paying to see; it’ll lead to you resenting them, among other negative feelings.

I would assume that the contrary situation is possible too, although I’ve never heard about it happening to anyone I know. If we rely on them too much, or respect them to a level that we feel that we care what they think of us just like another friend, we may start to lie to not give as bad an impression of ourselves. In the same way that we can’t admit all of our negative traits to friends and family, we’d cover up the realities to paint ourselves in a better light. ‘White lies’ is a term used for little, seemingly inconsequential lies that we tell in our day to day lives. We didn’t seek therapy to tell white lies though, and they may be damaging to our objective of bettering ourselves. Ending up in this situation may actually speak to some of the issues that you have, as it shows that you aren’t abiding by the tacit agreement of the situation.

White Lie Example: My Dad Claiming He Doesn’t Like Lucy Sleeping On Him…

Of course, the reverse situation may occur too, where you feel that the relationship becomes inappropriate due to the professional’s behaviour. It is worrying to think of a professional abusing their power in a situation with someone who is vulnerable. A good case of it is spoken about by James Acaster, a comedian from the UK, in his standup show ‘Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999’. This masterful routine manages to be very funny yet incredibly sad, honest and vulnerable. Over the two parts, he establishes a lot of issues that he was been dealing with in his life. They include a dispute with his manager, dealing with various breakups, and his ex leaving him for Rowan Atkinson, a comedian who is well known across the world and plays Mr Bean… Yes, you read that last one correctly. It’s worth watching just to learn about that as it really is unbelievable. Towards the end, he discusses how he sought the help of a therapist. The relationship turns inappropriate, with the therapist even using some of the issues they identified in his behaviour against him, but I won’t give any more spoilers away about the details. Luckily, James identified that this behaviour was inappropriate and decided that he needed to break the relationship with her, something that was very difficult for him.

That is probably why so many people do struggle to open themselves up to others – it leaves you vulnerable. By opening up, you are providing others with a means of taking advantage of you, perhaps even manipulating you in some way. Whether that be because you have shared private information with them that you don’t want others to find out, or because you opened up about parts of your personality that they may use to their advantage, by preying on those aspects of it for their own gain. You really have to trust someone to be confident in sharing the most intimate details of your life. Sometimes the barriers to sharing openly are because of your background; you may have been brought up by parents that saw sharing emotions as weak, or who were just not very emotional people. It may be difficult for you to even identify that you have a certain problem and only realise it when you see trends in what others say to you about your behaviour. We’re also often busy and expect some form of hardship in our lives – these ‘flaws’ may be seen as minor compared to other issues going on in the world, so you accept them and don’t attempt to improve them, despite them bothering you and making you very unhappy.

Perhaps that is why a friend of mine who studies psychotherapy once told me that everyone would benefit from some therapy. I tend to agree after my short stint with it (I’m using ‘psychotherapy’ synonymously with counselling now – get over it). Hopefully, it won’t be my last experience of it. I’m sure seeking a therapist is a difficult process, but I can see it being very gratifying when you find one that really works for you. Although my councillor was great for me, I’d want to try someone else if I decided to use my own money on it. I’d be keen to find a therapist who would be interested in delving into more than just the cancer, which mine would have, but we only had 6 sessions and that was normally the primary thing on my mind. My good friend Benedict said that he is really proud of how I am dealing with my cancer diagnosis last week, pointing out that a few years ago he doesn’t think I would have dealt with it this well. I tend to agree with him. I’d love to discuss it further with a therapist, going through things that happened to me that caused me to change. There are plenty of theories I have about it all – it would be interesting to get into it with someone who is trained to listen and see what they threw back at me. I feel like I am quite an introspective person, but there are a lot of things that annoy me about myself. It would be great to say that sentence to a therapist. I’m sure that their eyes would light up and they’d start licking their lips as they say “Well, where shall we begin.”

Vegetarianism

The ‘C’ Word

Wise As An Owl (Or Trying to Be)

The year was around 2011. I was driving my girlfriend at the time home from my parent’s house. It was late and the roads were dark. Her parent’s house was about a 15-minute drive from mine, predominantly on country roads. At one point in the journey, there is a steady climb as you go over the motorway. There are wooden fences on both sides of the road as you ascend before the road flattens out at the apex, where the fences change to metal and you can look down at the motorway below. Behind the wooden fences are thick bushes, obscuring the view on either side. The road isn’t lit, so when it is dark you can only really see what is in front of your headlights. I was driving up this hill when all of a sudden a fox ran out from the bush on the right side of the road and sprinted across the car’s path. There was a split second when I saw it appear in front of my headlights but it wasn’t enough time for me to do anything about it. I slammed on the breaks in the split second I had, before feeling the car jolt.

We pulled over and I sat there for a few minutes with my head in my hands. “What’s wrong? It’s just a fox!” She was trying to comfort me but I felt awful. I couldn’t stop thinking about that split second where I saw the little animal’s face turn towards the headlights – the second I noticed that there was something in front of the car, but couldn’t react to it fast enough to stop. Only seconds after it happened, I wasn’t sure if I was dramatising it in my head or if it had happened how I remembered it. I felt like I’d seen the panic in the fox’s face as the headlights lit it up like a target. “What if it isn’t dead? I can’t just leave it here,” I said. It was really bothering me. After a few minutes, I pulled off and drove her the rest of the way home. On the way back, I pulled over and got out to look at it properly. My nerves were rocketing and I felt scared of what I’d find. I couldn’t kill something with my hands, using brute force to finish it off with a rock. I couldn’t even drive over it again knowing what I was doing. As I approached the body, I saw that it was quite a young-looking fox. It was dead. That didn’t make me feel better, but I felt relieved that it wasn’t suffering. The event really bothered me, and I still think about it sometimes when I see animals dead on the side of the road. I wonder if the person who hit them felt bad about it, or if they laughed with their friends and sped off. I hope people don’t do that, but I’m sure they do.

This wasn’t the event that made me go vegetarian, but it was the event that made me consider an important point – if I can’t kill an animal with my own hands, cut out its organs and prepare the meat to be cooked, why should I eat them at all? Morally, I didn’t feel like I had a right. I didn’t turn vegetarian until the summer of 2016, though. Approximately 5 years after the event with the fox. The point sat on my mind, but it felt more difficult and invasive to do anything about it than to just have those thoughts occasionally. What would I do when I go round to a friend’s house and they have cooked meat for me? Just not eat it? What about when I go to a restaurant and there aren’t any vegetarian options? Do I make it all about me and protest, requesting to go somewhere else, or just go hungry? I was good at creating situations in my head where it would be a problem and bad at just doing it.

I knew that eating meat didn’t sit right with me even before the event with the fox. At the time, I was still using Facebook. Whenever a video was shared about factory farm conditions, I’d avert my eyes and try to scroll past it quickly. When I went to a butcher where they hung carcasses in the window, I’d look on in disgust and wonder why they would want to display such a thing. Others would emphasise their excitement at the prospect of a hog roast; I’d eat my portion to not be rude, side-eyeing the roasting carcass and wondering why I’m putting the meat in my mouth. I’d feel sick the entire time. It took me a long time to recognise how hypocritical this all was. I ate meat after all and these things are all the realities of eating meat. Others aren’t bothered by these things – they may actually feel more ravenous at the sight of a roasting hog carcass over a fire. I was never one of those people.

Meat was something I’d always eaten – I didn’t really consider these behaviours strange at the time. It was typical of me until the age of about 24 – lacking critical thinking, not wanting to be seen to be rocking the boat and arrogantly dismissive of reality; that if something makes me feel uncomfortable, there are probably things about it worth unpacking. It was only when I started to read about the meat industry that I started to understand more about it. My feeling that I was uncomfortable with meat was being validated, but not in ways that I thought it would. To be honest, I didn’t have the foresight to even think that the practices going on may have been immoral, counterproductive or dangerous. The knowledge that animals were dying was what made me uncomfortable originally. Learning that the modern practices used to mass-produce meat were bad just offered me a nice excuse to stop eating it. Knowing that I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) kill an animal myself was the most convincing argument to myself.

Now, I don’t want this blog post to become an argument for turning vegetarian – that isn’t the point of it. I’m not going to start discussing at length about factory farming, environmental factors, slaughterhouses etc. If you are interested, I am going to include a read list at the end of the post with a few good books that I have read which would introduce you to these concepts. What I will say is that each of us finds things that we feel passionately about in life and we pursue them in our own way. They are the topics that we are comfortable discussing, find interesting and, generally, believe we understand how we can make an impact personally. That is what we then find attractive about that thing. This is my experience anyway – I would struggle to feel passionate about something that I felt I couldn’t change for the better. Passion comes in the knowledge that you understand it and can be a vehicle for change – even if that vehicle for change only refers to your ability to keep learning about it as a means of improving your knowledge. Being vegetarian felt practical to me. One person turning vegetarian may not seem like a lot, but considering yourself part of a community of vegetarians made it feel more effective. Over my lifetime, I would have purchased a lot of meat if I didn’t turn vegetarian. I used to eat meat for nearly every meal, then one day I just didn’t. That is a lot of meat in a single year, never mind five, ten, fifty years.

Being vegetarian is certainly one of my passions now, but I do not enjoy going around calling out people for eating meat, or engaging in discussions in an attempt to influence people’s decisions. It isn’t to say I’m not willing to have those conversations, but it isn’t really my business whether someone else wants to eat meat or not. It does make me laugh, though, as some meat-eaters love to engage me in flippant and provocative ways. They’ll order a steak and make comments like “Does that make you want to cry?” or “This is what a real meal looks like”. I’ll usually just politely laugh, and sometimes the jokes are done in a way that they are genuinely funny. I make the jokes myself sometimes. I’ll engage in a discussion if someone starts one with me, but people usually think they want to argue with you more than they actually do. That’s because the arguments you face are usually vapid and based on feeling, not fact. People say things like “it’s natural to eat meat”, but don’t like it when it’s anything but natural how we are producing it to give people that meat. They resent you pointing out that they have no idea where that steak has come from, that restaurants use phrases like ‘corn fed’ before chicken to make it sound better quality, but this does not say anything about the quality of the meat in reality. It just tells you that they ate corn; it doesn’t even prove they ate corn all the time. I understand that this is fine – not everyone takes such an interest in where their food comes from, and the wider impact of it – but that is why I don’t understand why people want to engage me over it in the first place. It is a topic that people feel entitled to discuss despite never taking the time to research it. When you present reasonable arguments back, they can quickly become defensive or accuse you of trying to influence them, forgetting that they started the discussion.

It can be enjoyable when someone does want to discuss it and have an open mind, though. Recently, I spoke to someone about hunting. Hunting is an activity that they had done since they were young with their dad. Generally, they eat what they hunt and prepare it all themselves. They were surprised to hear that I thought that was an amazing thing to do. I couldn’t respect someone who goes out and hunts what they eat more – that was the crux of my original argument to myself that made me consider going vegetarian. I knew that it was an activity that wasn’t of interest to me and that I would struggle to cut up the animal afterwards and prepare it to be cooked. Knowing that about myself made me believe that I shouldn’t consume it at all. At least when you hunt an animal in the wild, it has lived autonomously up until that point, and I doubt the other ways it is likely to die in the wild are much better for the animal than being shot. Animals in factory farms would long for a bullet given the conditions they are said to exist in (I say “said to exist in” as I’ve never been in a factory farm myself, but I’ve read about them a lot and they sound atrocious).

The reason that I hold myself to a different standard with meat as opposed to vegetables or fruit is that there is a conscious life form involved. I don’t feel bad for not wanting to grow cucumbers to eat cucumbers as I do not think an equal amount is at stake. When it is a chicken being served, a living breathing thing is dying for that meat to end up on the plate. The knowledge that it had probably suffered immensely on a factory farm throughout its life, as most chickens do, made me incredibly uncomfortable. You can’t torture a cucumber.

Similarly, I understand that I am a hypocrite for still consuming dairy products. Many of the arguments against the meat industry are applicable to the dairy industry too. That is why I always say to people that you have to find your tolerance for these things. Although I have significantly lowered my dairy intake since being more mindful of what I eat and where it comes from, I find dairy extremely hard to cut out completely. More than that, I enjoy eating bread with real butter, cheese is delicious (although not to the extent that some do and if it has any mould on it, I’d rather it be in the bin than my mouth) and whipping cream to put on top of a cake is a new favourite of mine. In the same vein, I know plenty of people who do not see cutting meat out entirely as viable but will only cook vegetarian at home, for example. What I do try to do is source my dairy products more responsibly, whether it is through buying certified organic products, getting milk from a local source (my parents get it delivered to their house from a local farm) or buying eggs directly from a local provider. Sourcing meat more responsibly is a great way of being more conscientious whilst not giving up too much in the process. There is a great farm shop in our village where the meat is sourced either from the farm itself or from farms in Cheshire. I know from when I ate meat that the quality was very different when purchased from here as opposed to the supermarkets. It was much fresher, tastier and would not lose so much volume when cooked.

I am aware that this topic may not be of any interest to some people, though. Food is a huge part of all of our lives simply because we have to eat it to survive. Some people likely see eating as a pain and don’t find a lot of pleasure in it, whereas others spend hours looking at recipes, researching restaurants and finding exotic new ingredients to cook with. I feel like I have transitioned over the years from a moderate version of the former to now identifying myself more with the latter persuasion.

The catalyst for this change was turning vegetarian. Cooking used to be a mundane thing which I did each evening – grab some chicken breast, a jar of ready-made curry then get some microwave rice. It was good enough for me and I didn’t really think past it. Turning vegetarian forced me to think more about what I was going to do every day to keep myself satisfied. That eventually turned into a bit of a hobby, to now being more like a passion. A passion within a passion – I’m such a passionate individual, apparently.

I always find it amazing when I watch cooking programmes and everyone fawns over the cooking of meat. “Oh they’re doing venison – that is hard to get right,” contestant A says on cooking show X. I’m always sat there feeling a little perplexed at how obsessed we seem to be as a society with meat and how we believe that it constitutes the highest form of cooking. It takes a lot more imagination and skill to make a dish that doesn’t centre around a piece of meat, in my opinion. People see the removal of the meat element of a dish as the removal of any value of the dish itself. Isn’t that quite a sad reflection of whatever else you are putting around the meat on that plate? Maybe you should focus on those elements and figure out how you can make them as exciting as that piece of grilled chicken – wouldn’t that make the whole dish better?

There are a few chefs who have really changed the way I cook for the better. The most prominent one is Ottolenghi. His recipes regularly blow my mind. I’ll be making something from his book and thinking that I understand what it is going to taste like, then when I put all of the elements together at the end, I don’t understand how it can taste the way it does. So many of his recipes have left me amazed. He has many recipes available online, but he also has a large range of cookbooks; some are exclusively vegetarian/vegan, others contain meat recipes too. The recipes can take a while, and frequently have some obscure ingredients in them, but they are well worth it. I also find that the more of his recipes that you follow, the more of those ‘obscure’ ingredients. They aren’t so obscure for his recipes, just outside of them. I’d never even heard of a black lime until I started following his recipes, and now they are as familiar as plain old green limes (although, I still prefer the plain old green limes).

Another chef is Anna Jones. She has a cookbook called One that has loads of delicious recipes in it. These generally don’t contain too many obscure ingredients and she gives great substitutes for the vegetables depending on what is in season when you want to follow the recipe at hand.

Other than these two, I generally find recipes using the internet. BBC Good Food is a great place for browsing, Delicious and Olive are both great. I’m going to add a reading list below of some good books that I have read which discuss the meat industry. I’m also going to include some specific vegetarian recipes below that I regularly use and that I think perfectly show how a dish does not need meat to be incredibly delicious.

As a footnote to me not making this article to influence or preach, I want to give a summary of my opinion based on everything I have read. I’m putting it here so you can simply ignore it if you are not interested. The meat industry has always felt quite closeted and obtuse to me, and the more I read about it, the more it felt true. We get so little information about factors such as: where the meat was raised, what they were fed, whether their feed included any anti-biotics or growth enhancing drugs, what (if any) level of bacteria was detected in the meat samples from the manufacturer etc. Until that sort of information is readily available to us as consumers, I think we are right to stay suspicious of the industry, as we are not being given enough information to make informed decisions over whether we want to buy the products. My main point is this: food is important to us so we should care about where our food comes from and what journey it has been through. You are what you eat, after all.


Reading List

Vegetarian Recipes

  • Mushroom and Walnut Spag Bol – A vegetarian take on a classic. By blitzing the walnut and mushroom before adding it, you mimic the traditional spag bol consistency well, without needing the fatty mincemeat.
  • Aubergine and Tomato Salad with Feta Cream and Oregano – I don’t like feta, so I made the cream using Wensleydale. Fresh oregano has become one of my favourite herbs – it is so delicious. The oregano oil you make in this is so delicious and can be used in other Italian-style recipes.
  • Miso Butter Mushroom Risotto – You have to dig around this page to figure out the recipe but it is worth it. I double the amount of miso used, and also add some tahini for some extra flavour. They recommend using vegan butter, but I use normal butter unless cooking for a vegan. The butter alternatives are some of the best around, but they are quite processed which is why I avoid them most of the time.
  • Lemon, Tomato & Cardamom Dhal – I absolutely love making dhals but if you have not made one before, you may get frustrated with getting the amount of water right. You can essentially leave them to bubble for as long as it takes to get the consistency of dhal you want, but that can take a long time. I put less water in for this recipe personally. It takes a bit of time to get them right, but they are so delicious when you do.
  • The Ultimate Tray-bake Ragu – Although there are a lot of ingredients in this one, the method is really easy. It is the recipe that I have had the most meat-eaters say “I can’t believe there isn’t meat in this”. It’s truly delicious, and a good example of how Ottolenghi just gets so much flavour in his dishes. I lower the amount of oil that he suggests adding, though.

Whitby

The ‘C’ Word

English people are quite bad at recognising that their country of origin is very beautiful. I know this because I am an English person and I frequently undervalue the appeal of my homeland. When it comes to holidays, we usually favour taking advantage of cheap flights into Europe to get better guarantees of good weather (and usually cheaper alcohol too, depending on where you’re going). After all, the English have a terrible reputation to uphold overseas. We’ll be damned if any travelling Englishman tries to improve it by learning some of the local language or by not drinking 8 pints at the airport pre-7am flight. But navigating airports is a pain in the bottom, and I need to see more of the wonderful English seaside. I only made it to Dorset for the first time last year and I was absolutely stunned at how beautiful it is. So, I thought I’d try my hand at some domestic holidaying this weekend. That’s why Anna, Lucy and I booked a little Airbnb in Whitby, a picturesque English town situated on the Yorkshire coast in North England. It is really worth a visit.

I didn’t know a lot about Whitby before visiting it. To be honest, I still don’t know loads about it, but I certainly know more. There is an astounding demand for fish and chips. Usually, you cannot walk for 5 minutes in an English town without seeing another pub, which is true of Whitby too. The difference in Whitby is that the pub will have a huge banner outside it stating that they serve the best fish and chips in the country, whilst being sandwiched in-between two other places which also, somehow, serve the country’s best fish and chips. I’m not sure if there is a recorded statistic on how many individual chips are sold in Whitby per year, but I bet it exceeds the total number of ants estimated to exist in the world. And who gets to eat all of the chips that don’t make it into the stomachs of tourists? The fucking seagulls.

Before I start on this topic – yes, I know seagulls aren’t only in Whitby. I even know that the seagulls in Whitby aren’t the worst in the country… that award goes to the Brighton seagulls, who are absolute thugs. Take the worst animal on the planet and give them the diplomacy of a Londoner being told that they have to wait an entire FIVE minutes before the next tube will arrive, and the result is the scum which is a Brighton seagull. The audacity of these things is off the chart. I saw a Brighton seagull divebomb into a young girl’s portion of chips which were in her hand, knock them on the floor and then proceed to eat the chips as her entire family chased it around in circles. The family abandoned the operation when the rest of its gang all flew in to obtain some of the loot. The girl was off crying to the side by this point… I think she had lost her appetite.

I do have a particular bone to pick with the seagulls of Whitby, though. I’ve been woken up by seagulls every single day at 5am. I’m pretty sure no sentient being would make the noises these birds do at this time if they weren’t also aware of how INFURIATING it is. Waking up to songbirds is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I am lucky enough to experience it frequently at my parent’s house in Cheshire, where I currently live. They have a nice sized garden which contains a lot of bushes and bird feeders, the perfect combination for attracting birds. The nice kind of birds. Seagulls, however, seem to have learnt their morning call from someone who hasn’t stopped drinking for an entire year and has now forgotten how to communicate. In lieu of real words, they have resorted to simply making whatever noise they feel they can vocalise the loudest to disturb the most number of people, in hope that one of them understands what they are actually trying to say. “GAH… GAH… GAH,” they call to each other over their morning coffee (which they probably fished out of the ocean). I know that a neighbouring dog also hates the seagulls because it proceeds to bark incredibly loudly back at them all morning. I can only assume the owners of this dog are deaf because they make no attempt at stopping it from doing so. The dog is on my side, though, so I shouldn’t be getting annoyed at it. It’s the seagull’s fault, Dan. Remember that. Seagulls are the most obnoxious animals ON THIS PLANET. If I had been starved of food for an entire month and someone offered me a plate of seagull, I’d throw the meat straight into the ocean and proceed to eat the plate itself.

Despite being a walking zombie due to lack of sleep, I managed to pull my walking socks up and do a beautiful 7-mile walk along the coast on Saturday morning. We got the bus to a place called Robin Hood’s Bay and embarked on the walk back to Whitby. The weather started out a little cool, making us both panic that we had under-dressed as we got off the bus. That theory lasted about 30 minutes before we realised that we were absolutely boiling already and that it was only getting warmer. Anna tied her coat around her waist but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It just looks so weird. I opted to carry mine for the best part of 5 miles.

Lucy absolutely loved it. For such a small dog, she really can walk a long way. I doubted that she would be able to see the walk through and suspected that we’d have to carry her some of the way. We didn’t! There were a few firsts along the way too; the first time she met a lamb up close, the first time she stepped onto a beach, and the first time that she saw the sea. She did not like any of them. At one point, we encountered a lamb which had managed to get through a fence and was on the walkway. It seemed quite distressed and (what I assume was) its family were on the other side, also panicking. They weren’t doing a good job of helping it resolve the issue. As we approached and decided we needed to assist, Lucy went into meltdown mode. She had no idea what it was, but she wanted Anna and I to know that she was not happy about it being there. Lucy has met sheep before, but they have always been far away or on the other side of the fence. I didn’t realise that she took confidence from fences separating her from other threatening animals – it actually makes me think that she’s smarter than I give her credit. I had to pick her up and turn away from the lamb to try and stop her barking and crying whilst Anna opened a metal fence and encouraged the lamb through. The lamb did so and then the entire herd ran as far away from us as possible. We like to think that we earnt ourselves some good karma from it. A couple walking slightly ahead of us totally ignored its plight.

Lucy On the Run – ft Terrible Australian Accents

The walk ended in Whitby. There are the remains of an abbey on a hill overlooking the town. It’s called Whitby Abbey, for some reason. Next to it is a brewery that serves pizza. We decided to call into it and have a pint and a pizza to celebrate. It had just turned 13:00 and we felt accomplished. The second we sat down, Lucy passed out and wouldn’t be stirred (other than when there was pizza on the table – you could get her heart to start beating again by waving food in front of her nose). It made for quite a cute sight and a few people came over to chat to us about her. She couldn’t have cared less and would only briefly open her eyes to give us ‘the stare’ if we were moving her too much or being too loud. The brewery is lovely – I’d really recommend doing the coastal walk and finishing in there. We didn’t go into the ruins of the abbey; It cost £10 to enter the site and we could see it from our table in the brewery anyway.

Another thing I’ve learnt about Whitby is that apparently, it has an association with Dracula. I haven’t read the book or seen any of the films which I assume exist, so I’ve only read what the relationship is about on Google. There are 199 steps up to the Abbey that he walks up in the novel, and they are now famous because of it. I didn’t count the steps myself but I’m willing to concede to what the legend says. There is Dracula merchandise in all of the gift shops and a museum called The Dracula Experience. People go Dracula mad in Whitby. Anna told me to strike a Dracula pose as we descended the stairs from the abbey. The one day that I didn’t wear my cape and fangs to go out walking – how frustrating. I didn’t manage the most convincing image and I’m pretty sure no one would ever guess I’m trying to be Dracula from what I am doing. If I’d just had chemotherapy it would have been better as the process seems to wipe any colour from my face for a day or two.

Dracula Dan Climbing the 199 Stairs

On Sunday we decided to drive to Newcastle as neither of us had ever been there. It’s another hour and a half north of Whitby. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After spending the morning Googling ‘what to do in Newcastle’, I established that the main things were to walk the various bridges over the river and enjoy the quayside. Ok, not really, but that’s what someone suggested on a random forum when someone asked ‘what can I do with a few hours in Newcastle’. We decided to park South of the river and walk over one of the bridges, then find somewhere to eat.

As we made our way over The Tyne bridge, I suspected that we had over-anticipated just how good walking over a bridge could be. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t groundbreaking either. It is essentially a dual-carriageway with a pavement next to it but elevated from the ground. You did get a nice view down the river and into the city, but it wasn’t amazing. In Philadelphia, I used to regularly run over The Benjamin Franklin Bridge. That bridge was much higher, and pedestrians had their own separate walkway which went above the level of the traffic – a much cooler bridge experience. I always did my hill repeats on it.

As we approached the north side of the bridge, I noticed something laying on the ground. Lucy ran towards it with purpose so I assumed it was food. I pulled her back to inspect it closer. To my surprise, it was a used tampon. I didn’t see it on TripAdvisor, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a piece of shock art or a historical artefact. We took the executive decision to not let Lucy anywhere near it and proceeded to the quayside. Quite an introduction to the city. I’ve never seen Geordie Shore, but I assume it is a result of that show somehow.

We spent our few hours there walking around and getting a feel for the city. Neither of us ate breakfast, so we wanted to find a nice cafe quickly. The one we chose didn’t end up being very good. Hunger defeated logic. All of the food was overpriced and the quality was poor. I’m not going to name it as I’m not writing the blog to critique restaurants. Lucy seemed to enjoy herself, though. After incessantly crying because she was on the floor, I decided to pick her up and have her on my lap. She’s well behaved usually but she had been sitting in a car all morning, so I think she was a bit restless. We hadn’t walked around very much at this point. I was eating a cheese and tomato croissant when all of a sudden, Lucy lunged and ripped the top half of the croissant off and wolfed it down. The table next to us were in disbelief and couldn’t stop laughing. A woman on another table just looked horrified, but she looked that way before Lucy nicked the croissant; she didn’t seem too enamoured by the small amount of space inside, the pushy waiting staff or the large, overambitious menu options. Inside my mind I agreed with her, but I doubled down and ordered plenty of food just so I didn’t leave hungry AND disappointed. I had nothing but admiration for the move from Lucy. The croissant was quite average so it wasn’t a huge loss. I also wouldn’t usually order a filled croissant – why mess with something that is already perfect? I think Lucy wanted to teach me a lesson. Lesson learnt. We left feeling full but disappointed. The rest of our time was spent walking around parks and looking at some of the local sights. The only time we recorded anything was when we saw The Angel of the North from the motorway on the way home. It isn’t as big as I thought it’d be, but it was still cool.

Wow – The Angel of the North!

We got back to Whitby at about 17:00 and chilled out for an hour at the Airbnb. The sun was fully out now but it was still a bit cold. As it is our last night here, we wanted to go into the town for a while. We headed back out and went to a dog-friendly beach by Whitby harbour. We figured out how to make Lucy like beaches – show her that you can dig in the sand without consequence. Lucy is a big fan of digging. My dad, however, is not a fan of her digging. He is forever shouting at her for ruining the flower beds and digging up bulbs to chew on. Of course, knowing that she isn’t meant to do it only makes her enjoy it more, comme stealing croissants or trying to eat tampons off the street. Once Anna encouraged Lucy to dig and she realised it wouldn’t get her in trouble, she fell in love with the beach.

Lucy Finally Digging the Beach

So, I’m finishing this blog post off whilst sitting in the Airbnb on our final night here. My family got me a voucher for Airbnb my birthday – what a lovely and thoughtful present from them. We tried to book a few different weekends away but had to cancel, either because I felt too ill or because other medical issues got in the way. It is nice to post all of these pictures and videos and reflect on the past few days, knowing that I’ve successfully got out of my bubble. I like my bubble, but it is so beneficial to break out of it occasionally. We’ll spend a bit of time walking around the town tomorrow morning and give Lucy another run around on the beach, then we’ll make the two and a half-hour drive back to Cheshire before the evening rush hour hits. It’s been great, Whitby. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again in the future.

Fashion: The Mainstay of the Lifestyle Blog

The ‘C’ Word

Considering I have a blog which can be branded with the tag ‘lifestyle’, it was only a matter of time before I delved into the topic of fashion. I’ve been well aware that the primary motivation for most people following this blog is to hear my thoughts on fashion for a while now. You’re probably hoping I reveal some of my deepest darkest tips for dressing well. I’m sorry to disappoint, those secrets are being kept hushed, just like the mysterious Coca Cola recipe.

Fashion isn’t a topic I am well versed in. In fact, I would say it is a topic that I outwardly deplored for most of my life… ‘outwardly deplored’ being used to describe how bad my fashion sense was, and how it communicated to those who did have any fashion sense that I had none. I still don’t have a lot, but I am comfortable saying that I try to have some these days. Throughout this article, I am going to be using the word ‘fashion’ a lot, probably incorrectly to its actual definition. I’ve just Googled the word actually and got the following definition:

  1. A popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour.

Reading this definition actually makes me feel quite uncomfortable because I absolutely don’t consider myself fashionable and I don’t really aim to be – especially if that means keeping up with any sort of trends. What I will say is that finding some sort of style that works for you and makes you feel good is important. It helps you to express yourself whilst giving you a better sense of self. I never used to take much of an interest in trying to find my own unique style as it just wasn’t something I saw as particularly important. The thing is that we all have to wear clothes because of stupid ‘society’, so we may as well take somewhat of an interest in doing it in a way that makes us feel confident and comfortable in ourselves. I’ve established a few techniques for finding new clothes and for dressing in a way that is more fashion-conscious, without trying very hard. I’ll try and throw in a few stories to make it interesting for people who have a fashion IQ far above mine, or just have no interest in the topic whatsoever.

For a lot of my late-teenage to early-adult life, my de facto ‘fashion’ (if that word can be applied here) choice was jeans and a band T-shirt. Now, I’m not trying to talk down on that look in any way, but I didn’t do it well. The band shirts were mainly small bands that no one had heard of which, again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think the main issue was that it wasn’t about the shirt for me, I just wanted to support bands I liked and knew that merchandise was a good way to do this. So I didn’t really select the shirts for how they looked or fit, I did it for other reasons.

These days, I tend to donate money to bands I like through the Spotify ‘Make a Donation’ functionality. I should do it more really as I’m sure smaller bands really suffered from the Spotify revolution, and I certainly overindulge in Spotify. Through the use of playlists, related artists and song radios, I probably listen to at least 2 new albums every day, if not more. If Spotify didn’t exist, that would be impossible to sustain. Anyway, I digress. Stay focused Dan, you’re talking fashion, not music.

When I started working full time, I was forced to think about my fashion sense a little more. Luckily there’s a playbook for interchangeable office worker #174749292748392173 – shirt, trousers, shoes. It was easy. Occasionally I’d even wear a suit. “You look nice today,” someone might comment in the office. I’d smile and say “Thanks. I have a meeting today,” trying to explain why I was dressed up more than usual, feeling uncomfortable that they had noticed. It’s interesting stuff, I know. That bought me a few more years of not trying to improve my fashion sense whatsoever. For work I wear my work clothes, at home I wear my home clothes. Easy. The two worlds never to meet, separated into different closets at home.

Eventually, this started to annoy me a little bit. I also run a lot, so I would find myself buying clothes for working out, clothes for work and clothes that I wear outside of work. As someone who didn’t have a lot of interest in buying clothes, this was quite an undertaking. Running/cycling clothes are actually really expensive too, especially if you favour clothes made out of recycled materials. For example, Rockay are an amazing brand for exercise gear and they make all of their clothes out of recycled plastic from the ocean, but they’re quite expensive. I don’t mind spending a good amount on running clothes because I use them a lot, and I’ve used Rockay for a while now so I know that they last well. It doesn’t mean that everyone wants to spend £100 on running shorts, though. Throw in a few cycling jersey, the endless amount of shoes you need to run, and the energy gels (which cost a fortune), and you realise that you’re choosing between these things or buying a house before the age of 50.

This embodies the issue with buying clothes – you have to make decisions around how much effort and money you are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of your style, whilst also filtering those decisions through your ‘moral’ compass too. For me, I don’t want to buy loads of new, cheap clothes that aren’t made to last very long and will get ruined easily. I also don’t want to spend loads of money on something just because it has a certain brand attached to it, although I don’t mind spending more on brands I know fit me well and are good quality. I want my clothes to be functional, fit well and sometimes be a little different. I’m willing to spend more on them if they meet these objectives. Some of the functional brands I think are worth spending more money on are Fjallraven and Patagonia. Columbia are also good and are more affordable than those brands. It is a huge bonus if a brand are sustainable in some way too. There seem to be more brands using sustainable and organic cotton these days, such as Pact. I haven’t bought anything from them yet but my mum seems to be very positive about them.

Anyway, I felt less willing to spend a lot of money on work shirts. I used to do the classic Charles Tyrwhitt shop where you get 4 shirts for £100 and would resent every one of them. They weren’t that bad, I just didn’t feel like I was buying something because I wanted it, it was because I had to have it. That’s a bit of a shame when you’re spending your money on them and wearing those clothes more than the rest of your wardrobe. It works, though, and I know this is how a lot of people who have an office job dress.

I started trying to buy more clothes which I could wear both casually and to work. This meant that I had more money available to spend, as I wasn’t splitting up my budget into “work” and “casual” so much. Some brands, such as Reiss, Percival and Cos do a good job of making clothes which can be worn in either contexts and are really comfortable. I always disliked wearing the standard work shirts because they feel very rigid and uncomfortable. I’ve spoken before on the blog about my strange reaction to being too hot. It effects me far more than it should. If I am too warm, I sit there and focus on how uncomfortable I am. Lucky for me, I have mostly worked in air-conditoned offices and it hasn’t been too much of a problem. When I was working in Philadelphia, there was a day where the temperature got near to 40 degrees. We were eating lunch outside on some benches and my phone was on the table in front of me. An alert popped up on the screen telling me that my phone was overheating. It turned off. I felt jealous of it, managing to switch off and get away from the heat. I ended up running back into the air conditioned office and splashing water on myself in the bathroom, before sitting with one-too-many buttons open on my shirt. We were based in our client’s office at the time so I was playing a risque game dressing that provocatively.

There are also tools around that can be useful in improving your style too. I downloaded an app on my phone called Thread. When you first signup, you answer a load of questions about your sizing, brands that you like, what you primarily buy clothes etc, then it recommends clothes to you. It’s useful because it recommends things to me that I may not have found otherwise, and forces me to consider different styles of clothing which I wouldn’t otherwise consider. I have to admit, I seldom buy the item from Thread though. Usually, I’ll find something I like on there and then look elsewhere to see where it is cheapest. It seems that Thread have to request the clothes to be sent to them, then they box them up and send them to you; a process which seems totally pointless if you can just go directly to the retailer. The argument to not do this is that you aren’t giving Thread the financial support they need to keep providing the service… another thing for me to feel guilty about in life, I guess.

Once you find a few brands you particularly like, you can also use sites like Ebay to find new clothes. I like doing this as it is more sustainable, as well as being cheaper than buying things new. The downside is that sellers rarely accept returns, so you have to be confident that you understand the sizing if you’re going to be buying them through these sites. There’s a lot of good stuff on there, though, especially if the brands you like to buy are well established ones. If you find smaller brands you like, there are usually limited options on sites like these that match you sizing. I seem to be the quintessential size in most brands so it is quite fruitful for me, but I appreciate that it isn’t the case for everyone. I’m also cautious of the seller’s rating when buying clothes, or when buying anything really. When Anna and I were buying furniture for our apartment we were scammed by a seller on Ebay. Luckily we got the money back, but I’ve paid close attention to the ratings ever since.

My best friend Luke used to find random clothes on Ebay constantly. I’ve seen him wearing a Frosty Jacks cider hat, a Budweiser hat and a retro international football shirt…for Ghana. To make it even more random, the Ghana shirt was the goalkeeper jersey, not even the standard player one. So Ebay really does have something for everyone.

That is pretty much everything I have to say on fashion, you’ll be glad to know. Hopefully this will propel me to new heights in my pursuit of being the number 1 lifestyle blog on planet earth. Soon I’ll have my own show rivalling Sex and the City. Perhaps I’ll call it Cancer and the Countryside if I’m still living at my parents house when it airs… c’mon, I had to mention cancer once.

Aiming to be Less Aimless

The ‘C’ Word

I remember being in primary school and making jokes about Coca Cola having drugs in it. At the time, I’m pretty sure it was only based on the fact that ‘coca’ was in the name which sounded a bit like ‘cocaine’, not on any research we had done on the brand; we were about 10 so I’d be more concerned if it was based on research. Come to think of it, it’s strange that kids were making jokes about cocaine at all but I think when you’re that age you are good at sensing what feels ‘taboo’ and leaning into it. I remember it also being the age where we started to indulge in swearing. There was a teaching assistant at the school who used to giggle at us saying mild swear words like ‘crap’ and the occasional ‘shit’. We had a lot of fun with her.

Since then, I’ve heard it said that the drink used to have cocaine in the formula. I’d never really looked into it or thought too much about it, but I’ve been sceptical every time someone has said it. It smacked of an old wives’ tale based on the brand name. Today, for some strange reason, I looked at the logo for Coca Cola as it sat on my television screen during an advert and started to really wonder where the name does come from. Time to do some research.

It turns out that the first recipe was created by a man called John Pemberton in 1885. John was a Confederate Colonel in the American Civil War, during which he was injured and became addicted to morphine. His intention was to create a substance which would cure his morphine addiction. A classic tactic to recover from an addiction – finding another substance that you deem less bad and getting yourself addicted to that instead. Like quitting smoking by becoming addicted to vaping.

In the original recipe were the ingredients Coca leaves, the plant used to produce cocaine, and African Kola nuts, which provided the drink with caffeine. These key ingredients formed the brand name. It was originally created as a tonic wine so was alcoholic, however the following year prohibition was introduced, so he changed the formula to make it alcohol free. Don’t worry – there was still plenty of coca in there. And Kola, presumedly.

Coca and opium tonics were becoming all the rage at the time, with people like Sigmund Freud claiming that consuming them can provide significant health benefits. Two of the ailments they believe it helped to cure were impotence and depression… How wrong they were about both of those things. I was surprised to read about Sigmund Freud’s love affair with cocaine, but then I wondered why I was surprised. I know hardly anything about the guy, other than the fact that he was seen to revolutionise the field of psychology, I believe. He wrote an essay titled ‘Über Coca’ (translates to ‘About coke’) which is both incredibly satisfying to say and also reminiscent of most of London’s streets on a weekend – lots of Ubers around and lots of young professionals with moon-pupils climbing into them, looking fidgety.

By the year 1900, cocaine use was much more widespread in society. This meant that the negative effects of it were also becoming better known, and in 1903 the Coca Cola company caved to public pressure and removed the coca from the drink. I wonder if they knew that a legend would be born that day. The old wives’ tale that is actually true. So true, in fact, that it remains part of the brand name to this day – a brand that is one of the most recognisable in the world.

So, cocaine wasn’t only in the drink, but it was actually seen as appealing enough to stick in the brand name itself to make sure people knew that they were getting coca when consuming it. I find myself more boggled at how many times I have seen the name Coca Cola in my life and never looked into it. It goes to show that we become acclimatised to the world around us. Huge brands like Coca Cola are so omnipresent in our experience that we barely even notice them. Worse, we probably feel comforted by them. I say that this is ‘worse’ because we stop really seeing or trying to understand the damage they are doing. We welcome the Coca Cola logo like a good friend as we walk into a bar whilst on holiday. Some people I know really do only drink things like coke and claim to not ‘like’ water. It’s absolutely crazy.

I read that the brand is now sold in over 200 countries. I then Googled ‘How many countries are in the world’ and Google responded with “Well, curious Daniel, there are 197 countries in the world.” I then Googled ‘How many countries is coke sold in’ again just to double-check and it really does say it is sold in over 200 countries. Not so smart now, are you Google. The fact is that it is sold in almost every country in the world, and I read online that the ones they do not directly trade in, local businesses import it to meet local demand. You can’t go anywhere without seeing it; every time you see an article about oceanic plastics, there’s a cover photo with a coke bottle or can in the middle of the pile floating in the sea. It’s quite depressing.

So, how am I attempting to relate this to my writing? I’ve been approaching the blog in a way that feels a bit aimless recently. It has been my assumption that so long as I am living and breathing, I’ll find things to write about and it’ll be fine. There’s also various ‘series’ that I contribute towards such as The Chemotherapy Diaries which provide a regular cadence of posts. I had hoped to do a bit more writing for other sources as I have been approached by a few, but none of these have come to fruition yet. As a result, I haven’t been writing too often for the blog. Sitting there reading about the history of Coca Cola, I realised that there are always things to write about if you’re looking for them, and if I’m interested enough to continue reading, others will probably be interested in it too.

And it is true too that you can become so familiar with something that you stop appreciating the depth of the issue at hand. Coca Cola may have got rid of the coca from their recipe, but they have kept the reference in their brand name. There aren’t many people who think twice about it now. It is so recognisable that it is considered irrelevant to most people what it means. It has become its own meaning, without needing to be broken down into smaller parts that explain the nature of the product. When it was made, it was appealing to the consumers to remind them that it contained coca in it. Only 20 years later they already didn’t want to drop the brand name, despite the namesake ingredient being removed. Now nearly everyone in the world know what the name Coca Cola refers to – it’s a mysterious black liquid that dentists and doctors warn you off during the day, then kick back and enjoy at night (probably). The most common thing I read in my research was that the recipe is secret and only a few select people know it; I wonder if they still get the caffeine from African Kola nuts… Who am I kidding, they obviously grow caffeine in labs now.

It’s coming up to 6 months since I was diagnosed and I’m nearly at the end of the 12 sessions of chemotherapy. The current routine has all become very familiar for me and perhaps, even, normal. I’m able to analyse a chemotherapy cycle and decide whether it is bad, good, or somewhere in the middle fairly quickly. My condition seems to finally have stabalised of new symptoms popping up too which is a relief – I was getting tired of raising new symptoms with my oncology team and hoping to be patient zero for that particular side effect. The jaw locking was the closest I came, but they shrugged it off as another muscle response to temperature. I’d always be excited to bring my new issues up during the check in calls, seeing it as a game where I was trying to find just one symptom which seems to shock or worry them in any way. “My nose has been bleeding again and I never used to get nosebleeds,” I enthusiastically say during a check in call. “Your platelets are lower than usual so it isn’t a surprise,” they reply in a monotone voice, thinking about whether they want a sandwich or soup for lunch. Damnit, I really am just another cancer patient aren’t I – a realisation even more degrading than getting the cancer in the first place.

The end of chemotherapy will certainly constitute a shakeup to the normality of the current situation. If I am told that I am going for an operation it will constitute an earthquake in comparison, in both a positive and negative sense. Positive because I will have finally been approved for surgery. Negative because I will have been approved for surgery – has anyone ever been excited at the prospect of surgery? Whatever happens, it’ll be the next phase. I’m learning to embrace progress instead of always hoping for improvement.

With the writing specifically, I’m going to try and establish a core aim when I am writing, instead of my current ‘freeflow’ approach. Although it is fun starting writing and not really knowing where you are going, it wasn’t the approach I had when I first started writing in the blog. I thought it may have just been a development in the way I write, but if I’m being honest with myself, it is probably more out of laziness. Perhaps a little bit down to not being confident enough in my writing too. Sitting and researching something to write about is something that actual journalists do – not Cancer Dan with the Cancer Blog. I’m not sure why I’d see this as some sort of barrier to entry. In typical fashion, I’m probably worried more about how things are being perceived and how I may be judged for then, as opposed to concentrating on just writing things I like and want to write. It’s annoying and I need to stop thinking about it like that.

So, things you’ve (possibly) learnt in this article – coke is for drug addicts, Dan can’t write coherently and this blog post talking about aimlessness has a real aimless feel to it. Voila. Like any resolution, I’ll start abiding by it next time I write.

Escapism

The ‘C’ Word

I’ve spent the past two days in and out of consciousness. The double threat of Covid and Chemotherapy has left me feeling pretty out of it. It’s a shame because the weather is really beautiful outside, but I have been managing to enjoy it here and there. I’ve tasked myself with leaving the house at least once a day to walk Lucy and I’ve managed that both today and yesterday.

Last night I woke up suddenly to the taste of bile in my throat and I thought I was choking on it. I panicked, reached out for the water by my bed and started to haphazardly drink it, occasionally stopping to cough more. I then dug out some medicine that the hospital gave me a few cycles ago, which I swore I would never need. It’s an anti-acid and paracetamol combination medicine that worked a charm on settling down my throat. How the hospital knew that I would contract Covid and need medicine for my throat is beyond me, but I’m not going to start throwing around accusations just yet. They are helping me in many other ways. I had also complained to them that my throat was consistently hurting in the mornings and I wasn’t sure why, but… damn, I’m making excuses for them. Stop trying to be a nice guy, Dan. Just accept that the hospital spiked you with Covid because they feed off your unhappiness and lust for your suffering. Giving you the medicine was just their way of reigning you back in when it eventually struck. You’re such a sucker.

After the coughing/choking episode, I was feeling pretty shaken up. My nose had also been bleeding, something which seldom happened to me before starting chemotherapy. I made my way downstairs so I wouldn’t disturb Anna. The time was about 1:15am. It’s been a while since I’ve had to grab the blanket and knuckle down on the sofa. What followed was pretty much consistent with everything that has been happening to me this week – I floated between lucid dreaming and loose consciousness, struggling to establish what was really happening and how long I had been asleep or, not asleep, in mental limbo. There is a comfort in knowing that when your body is at its most overexerted, the default reaction is to intermittently slip in and out of a sleep so deep you start to doubt your grasp on reality. It takes away all that complicated thinking stuff and just leaves you as a shell of a human, thoughts and feelings merely reflections of a consciousness that you have lost all control of.

My head was pounding as I lay there; my eyes were shut and they felt like they were a meter away from each other on my face. My feet felt like they were a mile away from my head. Everything was discombobulated. It felt like there was enormous space in the room but I couldn’t quite fit into it. I pulled the blanket over my head and cocooned myself inside. At some point, I fell asleep.

For some reason, I kept dreaming about being back in Philadelphia. I used to run on a trail next to the Schuylkill River nearly every day. I remember looking at Philadelphia on a map when I was first told that I was going to be working there for a few months, and being totally puzzled at the name of the river. It looked so out of place compared to the names of everything else on the map. For the first 3 months that I was out there, I avoided saying it for fear of making an idiot of myself. Over time, I discovered that you can pretty much say anything with a British accent in Philadelphia and people will only ever find it either endearing or entertaining. I learnt the name of the river, and it became my favourite place to run.

The trail runs for miles alongside the river before coming to an end in the city. Pretty much every running route I did would use it in some capacity. It was just down the road from my apartment and was the most pleasant space for running in the city. I remember doing intervals on it during the sweltering summer months and almost collapsing at the end of the workout. There were little bar pop-ups on the grass by the river bank at the time. They were cordoned off by small wooden fences and full of people drinking overpriced beers. It was Saturday afternoon so there was a good vibe. I shouted over the fence to a guy standing behind the makeshift bar – “Can I buy a bottle of water please, mate?” He told me that they were only taking cash. I’m not sure I used cash once in all the time I lived out there. I told him this, and, to my surprise, he gave me the bottle of water for free and told me to bring my mates back for a beer later that day. I had every intention of doing so, but I didn’t.

On my favourite 10K route, I’d run to the end of the Schuylkill Trail and come off at South Street. There’s a ramp from the trail that meets a bridge that goes over the river. You’d regularly see people doing hill repeats on it. I’d head along South St and up Spruce St, through the university on the Woodland Trail. It took you to a nice little graveyard called The Woodlands. The graveyard has a small semicircle road around it which was good to run around. It was at the top of a hill overlooking part of the city and running there at night was always peaceful.

I remember seeing an episode of the Netflix show House of Cards where one of the main characters, Claire Underwood, was running through a graveyard. A random stranger shouts “Do you have no respect?” at her, stopping her in her tracks and leaving her looking despondent. Every time I ran around the graveyard, the scene would occur to me and I’d worry that people in the states might be more sensitive to someone using a graveyard as a running track. One time when I was running the route after work, I came around a corner obscured by some trees and heard a scream over my headphones. Upon looking up, I saw a woman squatting over and peeing in the middle of the trees. Her friend stood laughing and covering her face with her hand, she might have even been filming but I’m not sure. “It’s perfectly natural! I’m not looking,” I shouted as I realised what was happening. I felt vindicated of any worry that I was doing something wrong by simply running in there – I’d never pee in there.

A Sunset in the Woodlands Graveyard – Taken 18th March 2019

After running around the ceremony, I’d run over to Walnut street via the university and head back towards the city. There’s an American BBQ restaurant called Baby Blues BBQ one street over from where I’d run on Walnut, located on Samson St. I’d heard a lot about this place, it being a favourite of many coworkers of mine who had spent time in Philadelphia. I’m vegetarian, so I didn’t have a huge amount of motivation to go to this particular restaurant, despite having an expenses budget and regularly eating out. I couldn’t imagine there would be a tonne of options for me at an American BBQ restaurant because, well, isn’t that the point? Meat meat meat! No lettuce to be sent out without bacon fat having touched the leaves. Put pork fat in the salad dressing etc. I had no problem with it, but it was never created to appeal to me.

I did eventually go to Baby Blues BBQ once. It was for my birthday, funnily enough. Some of the directors were on site for the week, and there was a larger cohort than usual wanting to eat out. One of the directors suggested that we go out for my birthday, which I was happy to oblige. The idea of Baby Blues BBQ was floated to the delight of some of my colleagues. Some of my other colleagues were telling me to take a stand against it. “Dan – you can’t let this happen! You’ll be surrounded by meat on the one day you have any clout to eat somewhere else!” These people clearly didn’t know me well. I’m a martyr and a saint – never shying away from public persecution. I saw it as an opportunity – finally, tick it off the list and be done with it. I was pretty sure they’d have some vegetarian options at least. There was one other vegetarian who regularly worked with us out there, and he reassured me that they have ‘a great selection of sides’. I didn’t find a lot of solace in this but he had eaten there before, so surely he his claim was going to be substantiated to an extent.

He didn’t have a point. The sides were fine, but I wasn’t running laps around the restaurant informing every customer that they simply must order more of the irresistible sides. I don’t think they were particularly focused on the sides either, as large hunks of meat towered across their plates and dared them to finish their meal. I ended up ordering a salad and had to reiterate a few times that I didn’t want any of the meat on it. To be fair, it was a nice salad… the kind of salad where the dressing completely defeats any health benefit you thought you’d get by ordering a salad. I’m still pretty sure I walked out of that place with the lowest calorie count, though. I was also the only person using that as a metric of how successful the meal was. I’d found my angle and I was sticking with it.

I’d then run along Walnut St and finish in Rittenhouse Square. There I’d usually pick up something to eat before heading home. If it was a nice evening, I’d sit and eat it in the square itself and watch the world go by. It’s a great spot for people-watching, with plenty of benches, trees and water features. One critique I have of Philly is that it doesn’t have a lot of green space, but I feel like Londoners are spoilt in this regard. Perhaps it is an unfair critique.

The next thing I knew, I was awake again and back in the room. My head still felt like a void between my shoulders and my mouth was begging for moisture. I reached out to find that all of my water was gone, so reached for another glass that someone had left on the table from the night before. I sipped it conservatively, seeing that there wasn’t much left and knowing that I didn’t want to make the short trip to the kitchen any time soon. It didn’t matter what time it was. I repositioned the cushion under my head, turned onto my side and closed my eyes. Let’s try this again.

A Newcomer to Writing

The ‘C’ Word

As I’ve said a few times, writing is a new thing for me. Although that is true, it’s also a bit of a lie. Maybe ‘lie’ is a touch strong… ‘inaccurate’ is probably a better reflection of the reality of the situation. I have written a lot in my life, but I am new to writing for fun. I’m also very new to writing fiction. It isn’t something I had tried before I started the blog, but in recent months I have started to dabble in it as more of a pastime. I need to go back to my school days to discuss my history with writing properly.

In school, I always seemed to do well in English, despite putting in little to no effort at all. My immature philosophy throughout school and into my first year of university was that you are either good at something or you aren’t. The idea that you could practice, commit time and get better at something, didn’t register with me. I thought that was just talk to motivate people who were bad at things, in an attempt to make them feel less bad. When I saw professional athletes, I assumed that they had put in very little effort to get to that level of skill. “They’re just good at it,” I thought to myself, whilst acknowledging that it wasn’t the thing I was good at. It doesn’t mean I thought they were lazy and didn’t have to work for it, but that they always knew they were good at it and were always bound to be if they backed it up with some effort. It was easy to put effort into something you were good at; I knew that from playing the guitar, something I considered myself naturally good at.

This ‘master of none’ mentality did very little for me, and likely robbed me of a lot of valuable experience early on in life. Looking back, I wish I’d played football more, for example. The few times I tried and wasn’t very good at it told me that it wasn’t for me and I was bad at it. I hadn’t seen the time and commitment everyone else had put into getting to their proficiency, so I just saw it as a natural talent that I didn’t possess. That stopped me from trying at it, and I never really put any time into it. Nowadays, I wish I played it more because it seems like a good hobby to have, but I’m not overly fussed. Not enough to actually get out and learn it, anyway.

I bumbled through school and sixth form, never realising how lucky I was to be an A*-C student without really trying at all. There was something more in English, though, and I knew I liked writing the essays for some reason. When it came to selecting university courses, it was a no brainer for me. English was where my skill lay, English was what I’d do. My predefined personality, characteristics and attributes assigned my fate to English, so I walked that path with very little critical thought or second-guessing. The same philosophy applied to the idea of going to university – that was just what everyone had to do if they wanted to get a job, I thought. Everything is predetermined; what is the point in fighting it. It’s a very anti-entrepreneurial approach to life, but it’s easy.

I went to university and studied English. My love for writing essays continued, really. Throughout school and university, writing essays was my favourite part. When I did my MSc in Management at Bath University, the story was similar; my favourite part was writing essays. When I had to write a 15,000-word dissertation, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I finished it with months to spare and got a mark of 76% in it, which is a really good grade for such a large, convoluted piece of work. Despite these signs that maybe writing was something I should try and indulge in more in my spare time, I didn’t. I never really thought that I was naturally good at English because I enjoyed writing, and that was also what helped me in all of the other subjects where exams were largely essay-style questions.

Eventually, I realised that I had actually spent a lot of time writing essays and that it must be at least partially responsible for my level of proficiency. My time at Bath studying for my master’s also showed me that by committing some time to a new subject, I could do well at it too. It was a bit of a breakthrough for me personally.

The mentality didn’t change overnight, and I can’t put my finger on the main catalysts responsible for it changing, but it really has changed. I don’t ascribe it all to the fact that I studied business for a year instead of English; there were lots of things going on in this period. I was maturing and learning more about the world – it was harder to view things through such a simple lens. I remember reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and now think that was a bit of a turning point. He essentially breaks down a list of extremely successful people and discusses how they benefited from not only dedication and skill but also a level of luck and circumstance. It was the first time I’d seen someone paint a bigger picture of success, properly analysing some of the external factors which can play into someone becoming more proficient and successful in a key area.

It is incredibly empowering to believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I don’t mean that in the cliche way that teachers or parents would use it. I simply mean that you can ‘do’ something, persevere through the tough stages, and build upon the foundation to a level of proficiency that is better than you would have started at. Early on is usually where you see the biggest improvement in a skill if you stick with it, in fact, so this stage is where you usually see the biggest and most noticeable changes. That was how I felt with guitar anyway. The first few years you improve a lot, but then you hit a bit of a ceiling where it takes a lot more time and effort, to achieve much smaller improvements in the margin of skill. It’s a fulfilling thing, but it takes a while to ingrain in your mind and behaviours. There are days when it feels like a chore, where you question whether you should be bothering and where the overwhelming emotion towards it is that you want to give up.

I’ve quipped to friends that I find the writing I do for the blog to be quite ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. I think this is true, but it may sound more negative than I mean it to be. It isn’t that I’m not proud of the writing on the blog or that I think it is bad per se. It doesn’t really include any ‘characters’ or plotlines, though, making it easy to write. All I have to do is sit down for an hour or two and throw together some thoughts. Sometimes it takes a little longer to write, but generally, it is low-stress, easy writing. It makes it very enjoyable most of the time. It’s sort of like a therapy session; it feels like you have a captive audience simply wanting to hear your thoughts and how things are going for you, or this is how I approach it anyway. It is maybe arrogant to claim to have any audience at all, let alone a ‘captive’ one, but you know what I mean.

Having said this, I had a down period with the blog recently. I had quite a few drafts on the go but didn’t feel I was getting any of them in a place where I was happy to post them. This made me avoid writing because I didn’t know how to progress the pieces I was working on, and I struggled to feel inspired to write anything else with so many drafts in progress. They also contained a lot of ideas that I was really happy with. It seemed a shame to just delete them, but I couldn’t find a way to make them work in a way that I was happy with them. Overall, though, the blog posts are really enjoyable to write, and it is a welcome distraction from everything going on (not mentioning the ‘C’ word).

I’m still learning to enjoy fiction writing. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy any of the time I spend writing it or don’t want to spend time doing it. The difficulty comes in piecing together the narrative, figuring out the best way to portray things, writing the scenes, developing the characters etc. They’re all things that I haven’t tried to do before, and it comes with many frustrations. The whole process really plays into the hands of the critical part of my brain. I’ve always been quite self-critical, and I think I try and hold myself to a high standard. Sometimes you need to just press on for the sake of progress, though, and this is the part I am slowly learning. Instead of fretting over every word, sentence, or paragraph, sometimes you need to just write a thousand words and not care about it until later. That way, you establish a framework to operate in.

My new approach is to write out a plan on pen and paper about who my characters are, the main scenes I want to write and how they fall in the plot’s timeline. It has helped me fight through some of the more frustrating parts of writing, but I have not had a significant breakthrough with the technique. It hasn’t transformed my writing process yet, that’s for sure. I still haven’t finished a single short story that I have started, and the novel has not been progressed for a while. It is all a process that I am learning more about. I already had a lot of respect for authors, but it does give me a newfound respect. When you read a novel and everything perfectly fits together, you don’t think about how that person has built this world from nothing. They’ve agonisingly formed these characters that appear as natural as if they walk and talk in front of you when done well. You seldom see a sentence produced by a character in a book that looks out of place. That is a difficult thing to do.

I sense that my current situation in life (not mentioning the ‘C’ word) provides me with an ‘outlier’ moment. Writing is becoming an important part of my life, and I wonder if there is any way I can make some sort of career out of it. I’m not sure what that would look like, whether it would mean writing novels or doing some form of writing for more corporate purposes, such as copywriting, but I’m hoping I can do something with it. If nothing else, I hope it sticks as a hobby. Yesterday, I found out that my Dear Cancer letter had been accepted by the magazine. It will be in the June edition of the magazine. That will be the second thing I have had published in a magazine, the first being my 206-word story Hunter-Gatherer. These small successes give me hope that I may be able to turn it into something more significant than a hobby, but we’ll see.

Hate and Prejudice

The ‘C’ Word

I’ve been slacking on the ‘C’ Word posts recently, either by not writing them at all or by writing them but speaking about the ‘C’ Word in them, going against the entire point of the series. Let’s hope today’s post will be a return to form.

I was scrolling through my Youtube feed tonight when I stumbled across a video titled ‘Do you hate the US? 100 Russians‘. It is by a channel called 1420, a ‘street journalism’ channel based in Russia. I found it recently as I was searching Youtube to try and find content that gives an honest reflection of Russian civilians’ opinions on what is going on in the war in Ukraine. The videos are centred around asking random people on the street a question, which is usually used as the video’s description. It seems that the channel has existed for quite a while, so it hasn’t been created in response to the war in Ukraine, but the current situation makes it an extremely interesting format to be engaged in making.

I don’t know the ins and outs of Russian law, but I do know that any form of journalistic endeavours there put the perpetrator at great risk of being on the wrong side of the government. There was a recent video of a woman holding up a sign with writing on it, which translated as ‘Two Words’. As soon as she unfurled the sign in front of the camera, she was detained by police officers. Quite incredibly, another woman then started to berate the cameraman asking if he is willing to interview people who agree with the war too, to which he responds that he is. She is then also detained by police. They must have assumed she was also pushing rhetoric that was considered ‘anti-government’, or just didn’t care what her opinions were but saw speaking into a camera in public as enough of a crime in and of itself. You can watch it here. It is almost comical until you remember that these are real and ordinary people being detained for stating their opinions peacefully in the street; in this particular example, they weren’t even expressing opinions, they were just daring to express anything. The reality is bleak and, unfortunately, though we kid ourselves that our society in the United Kingdom is very different, one which we are sliding closer towards with some of the reforms in protesting laws that are being pushed through here too. I do hope it could never get to this stage of ludicrous, though.

I have incredible respect for the people who run the 1420 channel, as they continue to record and upload this style of video despite the risks. I’m unsure if they feel at risk, and don’t know what their personal opinions or political leanings are, but that, if anything, should show what a great channel it is.

The ‘Do you hate the US’ video is quite long and I haven’t made it past about 2 minutes due to me not liking to dwell on war news for too long, but luckily, most people definitively say no. Or they at least say that they don’t hate the US population, but do not like their political system. I felt a huge rush of relief as I watched it. I have met a few Russian people in my life and I have always found them to be very open-minded and intelligent individuals, so I wasn’t necessarily surprised by their answers. It still felt good to prove to myself that there wasn’t a majority of people in Russia willing to state on camera that they hate another continent of people and hope their government would hurry up and nuke them; that is the sort of irrational thing you can start to think in such charged times and which, on a large scale, can lead to tensions rising to an unpalatable level. Russia has a rich history of culture, with many famous plays, operas and novels being written there. Their people are strong-willed and intelligent. I can’t claim to be an expert on this, but I was made aware of it through a rather random connection with the US.

I went through a period of only reading novels by the American authors Charles Bukowski and John Fante. I particularly enjoyed the protagonist in Fante’s series of semi-autobiographical novels called The Bandini Quartet. The main character’s name is Arturo Bandini and the series of novels follow him from childhood to old age, as he finds his way in the world as an aspiring, then (somewhat) successful author. He always has an arrogance in his own abilities and regularly goes on tyrannical rants to himself about how good a writer he is, whilst also comically idolizing people around him, such as an editor of a magazine who paid for a few of his stories. His absurd style has greatly influenced my writing in these blog posts, and I haven’t laughed as much at any other novel I’ve read. Dreams from Bunker Hill and Ask The Dust are both incredible books in the series and continue to be 2 of my favourite novels to this day.

Bukowski famously said that ‘Fante was my God’. He randomly discovered Fante’s work whilst trawling through a library shelf one day. You can see the influence on his work if you read a novel by Fante, then a novel by Bukowski. The auto-biographical form and dark, over-indulgent humour are evident in both, although Bukowski took the latter to an extreme that Fante did not. Seeing as I had found Fante through Bukowski, I started looking into other writers that Bukowski was influenced by, which was when I heard the name, Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist. I started looking into other influential Russian writers and found there to be a long list of names, including people like Mikhail Bulgakov. It forced me to recognise a side of Russian history that I had been totally unaware of, one of free-thinking, innovative writing which was recognised across the globe. It made me address some bias that I obviously had towards Russia, and it challenged my perception of the country. I had never realised this about Russian history.

This is why I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the video of Russian citizens recognising that feeling ‘hate’ for an entire population is ludicrous and that any ill feelings should be put towards whatever system is governing that population. US culture has dominated the world in my lifetime, and I wasn’t sure if Russians may feel a lot of hatred towards them. The video showed that they didn’t. I’d be interested to see what result you’d get if you asked the opposite question to 100 Americans. Hopefully, it would produce similar results.

Hate is a powerful emotion. If hate is successfully conjured up in a population against another population, then that is an extremely worrying situation to be in. If you have ever dealt with a truly hateful person, you’ll see that they are vacuous individuals who are extremely unpleasant to be around. That’s not to say that hate is never an appropriate emotion to feel, and it has its uses in the world. Powerful emotions force us to act in the face of extreme situations, helping us survive. The problem is that powerful emotions cut off the reasonable and analytical parts of our brains, and result in us engaging in extreme acts with little ability to evaluate them. Tactics such as identity politics are used to force us to feel powerful emotions towards a situation and/or population, which then allow for extreme acts to take place. I read a book on the Rwandan Genocide a few years ago, and that was an example of where drumming up hatred led to acts so horrific they seem to be a thing of dystopian fiction. One day people were neighbours, the next they were enemies.

Ukraine is currently being invaded, and the Russian government are engaged in all sorts of propaganda games with their population, the same way that our governments in the west are engaging in an information war by influencing us that what Russia is doing is evil and that what we are doing is successfully fighting back against it, in an ‘appropriate’ fashion. The difference between the West and Russia is that the west have enough journalistic volition to critique and challenge what their governments do. My worry with Russia is that the government’s total control of the media results in the population believing and supporting whatever schemes their government is engaged in. the 1420 Youtube channel offers a fly on the wall style look into what the citizens of Russia really think, and reassures us that they are very much the same as us. Some likely buy into extreme opinions on both sides, but most of those interviewed seem like reasonable individuals, with balanced opinions in spite of what their government tells them. It almost sounds patronising for me to say that, and I really don’t mean it to be, but we are lucky enough to have the technology now which prevents these types of smoke screens from being effective. Russia’s government can say they are engaged in a special operation to liberate Ukraine from extremists, but when they see videos online of Ukraine cities that have been raised to the ground by Russian shelling, they likely start to question whether their government’s ‘special operation’ is really benefitting ordinary Ukrainians. It allows people to draw their own conclusions about a situation and hampers their leader’s ability to influence their population. This also hampers their ability to drum up hate in their population for another people, as videos of their suffering humanises them, and helps Russians see that they are similar to each other. Normal people’s lives are being ruined by their armies in Ukraine; there are videos of the damage all over the internet.

Although I can honestly say there are very few things in the world I actually ‘hate’, I have used the word many times in my life in the colloquial sense. For example, for about a decade, any time I saw fennel on a menu or it came in a conversation I was involved in, I would emphatically state that I hated fennel. This was usually followed by a rant that I don’t understand why anyone would feel anything other than hate towards it, that people who don’t hate it clearly had something wrong with their brains, and that any emotion other than hate expressed towards it was inadequate. I recently found a recipe for pasta bake that used a bit of fresh fennel and reluctantly decided to try it, and now realise that if you balance it well in a meal, it can actually be very delicious. The conclusion that I drew from this is that being closed-minded to anything, even something fairly trivial, may prevent you from experiencing whatever is potentially positive about that thing. It will at least prevent you from understanding what someone else’s positive experience is from that thing. If I shut down any conversation about fennel with a rant about how much I hate fennel, I’m unlikely to be susceptible to changing my opinion or hearing out others on why they don’t hate it. My good friend Dan told me that eating fresh fennel soon after it has been picked is something he has treasured since childhood. I was in utter disbelief about this when he told me, but it has made me curious to try it. I’ve also had a very nice tea that uses fennel root to sweeten it. Look how far I have come… This leads me to my final point, another one about strong emotions and how it is easy to be swept into them.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of disagreeing with people on subjects that I know very little about and, in fact, don’t feel passionate about in any way, shape or form. I’ve spoken about this before I’m sure, but it really is worth emphasizing again. There is something about engaging in a ‘disagreement’ (which innevitably moves into an argument once the disagreement gets out of hand) that I used to find irresistible. The topic could be almost anything and I would come in with the opposite opinion of the person speaking, starting off as ‘devil’s advocate’, but soon assuming the position as a gatekeeper for an opinion I don’t hold, over a topic I don’t understand.

I remember a particular example where a colleague brought up flat earthers, and I quickly dismissed him and said that people who believed it were stupid. He then asked me how I knew it wasn’t flat, and if I had personally proved it to be round. We then engaged in an argument that lasted far too long, went far too meta and was never going to produce any winners. Alcohol played its part too of course, but the whole thing got extremely heated and, frankly, embarrassing. I remember that as a pivotal moment for me – the moment I realised that I don’t actually need to engage in these types of ‘disagreements’ and that they never resulted in me being any happier. I don’t mind a discussion now, but I try and approach them with more of an inquisitive attitude, as opposed to obsessively trying to be ‘right’ or to see everything as a competition where I need to be the winner. I stop myself from getting to the stage where I am blinded by strong emotions, which prevent me from learning anything or thinking critically.

It made me realise that all of the people that I knew and respected most were people who tried to stay calm, looked to engage with others over differing opinions and allowed their prejudices to be challenged. The people who were always desperate to be right, desperate to be seen to be the most intelligent and ready to engage in any argument were not the ones I idolised at all, yet they were all traits I easily identified in myself when I evaluated my past behaviour. It is my interest in evaluating these types of human behaviour that led me to the 1420 channel, and that inspired me to write this post.

After the Party

The ‘C’ Word

‘After the Party’ by The Menzingers

Music has an exceptional ability to conjure up complex memories and emotions. You have likely noticed that music, as a topic, is a common feature of this blog, alongside cancer, unsophisticated humour about blood nurses being vampires and baking. ‘After the Party’ by The Menzingers came on whilst I was in chemotherapy on Saturday. It immediately made me nostalgic for my past, and I spent some time reminiscing at the hospital. I decided I’d do a little blog post on some of these memories and trawl through some other songs that remind me of past times, which also came up as I took a trip down mental memory lane.

‘After the Party’ was introduced to me by a girl on a first date in Philadelphia in 2019. I realised she had quite an alternative taste in music which always entices me as I have always spent a lot of my free time and effort digging around for new artists of all genres, generally. She offered a wealth of artists, mostly of an alternative/rock type genre, which I didn’t listen to much so I hadn’t discovered many of them before. Many of the bands were relatively local, hailing from Philadelphia or New Jersey, the next state over. There is a lot of good music that comes out of this part of the United States. Another band that I love called Pinegrove are from New Jersey, and I listened to them a lot then.

‘Rings’ by Pinegrove

A lot of the music recommendations washed over me, but I loved ‘After the Party’. We quickly decided we got on well as friends, and there was never a romantic element to our relationship. I did go to a few gatherings at her house with her friends, though, and they did them well. They lived in South Philadelphia, which was quite rough-around-the-edges-trendy (and cheaper than the city). The house was 3 stories and had a lovely rooftop area overlooking the city skyline. ‘After the Party’ actually contains the below lyrics, which I listened to her friends sing in unison. They were liberally throwing their arms around each other; I enjoyed my drink and observed the comradery with glee. They were a fun bunch.

“With a new outlook on everything we see
From high upon this rooftop over South Philly

Funnily enough, the song immediately made me think of the time I spent at The University of Bath for my masters year in 2015 – 2016. I went with all the good intentions in the world… Get my head down, focus and walk away with a mastery of business unparalleled in the shark tank. I’d just finished my undergrad degree and managed to get a first despite not taking it extremely seriously, but I wanted to start expecting more from myself. I should have known better to think it would run that smoothly. Entering into a house share with 6 other random strangers from the internet, I was certain that this would be a calm and knowledge-enhancing experience. Day 1 of meeting Dee, one of my favourite people on this planet to this day, we decided to put vodka into a Pot Noodle. The red flags were there from day 1 – I was in trouble.

What proceeded was the most unhinged 3 months of my life. That is really saying something, as my friends and I had a propensity for unhinged behaviour before this, but the time in Bath really did take the prize. After the Party’s story of a volatile, substance-driven relationship always appealed to me because it captured the mood of that time so well. It smacks of immaturity; doing something because you want to do it and not thinking about the consequences of that mentality. Somehow the song captures this vibe perfectly for me. It is just chaotic enough yet melodic enough. The lyrics are nicely written, and I truly feel I can see them all play out in front of me, and they conjure up images in my mind from that period in Bath.

The phenomenon is strange, as I didn’t hear the band until 2019, so it had no relation to my time in Bath. Music has a fantastic ability to do that to you. It was a really fun time, but I don’t long to return to it. The memories all feel like they happened to a different person now. When I see pictures like those below, I smile a lot to myself at times passed and know that I’m more the person I want to be now. Even if it was fun at the time. Perhaps I needed that year to become who I am now, though – I learnt a lot about myself during it.

Things had to die down after Christmas. It is hard to keep up a lot of energy for drinking, going to bed late, spending a lot of money you don’t have etc. I’ve spoken before about how drinking sat quite uncomfortably with me too. I already had a complex that the behaviour was at odds with my favourite characteristics about myself: my productivity, waking up early, feeling physically good and exercising. It also made me feel like I was at my most appealing when I was drinking. That mindset really bothered me especially, as I wanted to have more to offer the world than just “he’s fun when he drinks”. I’m fun anyway, aren’t I? Still, the memories are great, and I made so many friends for life. Cam and Dee, who I met in that house, remain some of my best friends to this day!

The nostalgia train had left the station. I went to my phone and looked for another song that would somehow dip into my past. I landed on ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ by Frank Turner.

The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ by Frank Turner

This song was played a lot among my friendship group when we were in sixth form, probably about 17 years old. I remember vividly being at a New Years house party at my friend Rich’s house. There were far too many people who were far too young to be drinking far too cheap cider. Classic English party vibes, really. There were people at the party who weren’t as integrated into our group and weren’t aware of the phenomenon that is ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ by Frank Turner. When the song came on, they looked concerned as voices bellowed out of every room in the house and from the garden, singing along and throwing arms around each other. People were running and finding others to shout the lyrics at. It’s all sort of cringe, really, but it has also stuck with me for all of this time, so it must be significant. I sometimes hope that the portrayal of memories from the animated film Inside Out is accurate, and some part of my personality was defined at that moment. It is now concreted into my character as a core memory forever.

The song’s recording is done live in some capacity, and the way it has been produced makes you feel like you are sitting watching him perform it in front of you. It adds to the magic of the song. When the background voices come in during the lyics ‘And we’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell’, you can see why it became an anthem among a group of angsty teenagers; drunk off cheap cider and enjoying the novelty of a ‘free house’ on New Years Eve. It adds to the feel that you’re sat somewhere watching a friend play a song, and everyone is joining in at the apex of the lyrics.

I can’t remember how the song got into our group. It was probably through a member of the group called Ben Hackett. He actually ended up getting the quoted lyrics above tattooed on him, then went to a Frank Turner show and managed to show him the tattoo. There was a picture of them together on Facebook, but I deleted my account years ago. I wonder if he still has the lyrics tattooed, but I don’t see him often anymore, and I haven’t thought to ask when I have seen him. Tattoos are usually, by definition, permanent, so I assume he has, but I have had a tattoo covered up before, so I’m not easily tricked by their ‘permanence’.

Anyway, times are different now. The nostalgia is pleasant and is an excellent technique for getting through the tough chemotherapy sessions. It was a really lovely method of escapism today. It made the time go much quicker towards the end of the session, so I have it to thank for that. Music can bring so many memories flooding back, both good and bad. ‘After the Party’ definitely didn’t bring up all good images of my time at Bath. Many things were plaguing me at that time, such as dysfunctional relationships that were fuelled more by alcohol than any genuine feelings. You also learn a lot from those experiences, though, and I look back on them as a very different person with a newfound clarity over what was valuable about it and what wasn’t. Lots of it was useful, even if I didn’t study anywhere nearly as hard as I should. I still ended the year with 68%, 2% off the highest past rate. I can’t complain, really. I got 75% in my dissertation, which completely floored me. Life is not about how hard you study, though; there were plenty of other things I learnt during this time and in the proceeding years that were nothing to do with any degree I acquired. Hearing ‘After the Party’ for the first time in Philly on that rooftop immediately captured a mood for me, one that I can easily tap into any time I listen to it now. It’s lovely for that reason alone.

Feel free to comment with some nostalgic songs you like and any stories they bring to mind. I’d love to hear them and see if I can paint the image whilst listening! This was quite an alcohol-heavy reflection on my past. Next time I will talk about some music that reminds me of other times in my life. Any excuse to reminisce!