November

By my approximations, we’re 47 hours from New Year: a little under two days before we turn back our calenders and pray we’re chosen as a passenger on Roland Emmerich’s apocalypse ark. New Year simply means we’re now older and fatter, and we enter January with the grim prospect that by December 31st next year, we’ll be more older and fatter.

Perhaps more troubling is that this blog nears the end of its’ life. In fact, November is the last post of this year. I’ll write-up December’s entry in January, but after that: new blog, new theme, new everything. Brace yourselves.

Best of November: Mentioned in last month’s blog, for the first seventeen days of November, I did an internship at Woolley Pau – a pharmaceutical advertising agency in London.

However, fantastic as this time was, it proves problematic writing a blog post about it. Do I approach it by solely focusing on the Woolley Pau aspect? As interesting as it was to me, it may prove laborious for the reader and is unlikely to generate many laughs. Do I write about sightseeing? Again, same problem. I could zoom in and write about a singular, minute aspect; but it would seem unjust to dedicate a paragraph to my time in London, wherein older posts I’d practically novelised my experience of being stung by a wasp.

Instead, I’ve decided to post a few photographs with captions. Hopefully, this will encapsulate my overall experience.

Saw a fox outside the flat.

Bonfire Night by Battersea Power Station

Natural History Museum. Also: giraffe.

Probable winner: Ken Hom Chinese Selection.

I’m beginning to wish I had taken more photos.

Contender (or: A Christmas Tale of Mark): “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding” growled Mark in frustration. It was mid-November and festive decorations were beginning to bloom around London; all the while Mark was skewing his Battlefield 3 Kill-Death spread unfavourably.

“The reindeer are only there on Saturdays” I pleaded. “And besides, this is my final weekend here, we shan’t have another chance!”

A momentary pause as Mark snarled, “How the f*ck did he blow up my tank?” He turned and sneered. “Reindeer are for children. There are age restrictions. They aren’t to allow adults to pet them. And to what end? To stand at a distance and admire the stench? Bah! I wish nothing more than for reindeer to disappear as vermin!” said Mark, as cold and caustic as ever.

The immutable finality in his tone closed the discussion in haste. Without as much as agreeable sound passing his lips, Mark occupied himself with nothing but his game. The hours passed without the usual merriment of a Winter’s evening and I retired to bed; in my weariness I had decided to visit A Very Covent Garden Christmas unattended.

The very next evening, I indulged my whim. What a joy to behold! Market stalls heaped with turkeys, poultry, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, great wreathes of sausages, mince pies and seething bowls of mulled wine, that made the air dim with the delicious steam of spices. The old buildings were so hung with luminous green, that it looked like a perfect grove, from every part of which, tiny lights glistened in the night. From around the piazza, visitors were regaled with carols while children frolicked gaily, the bloom of health upon their cheeks and the innocent unconsciousness of infancy in their eyes.

“A merry Christmas to one and all!” I rejoiced. But my thoughts returned to Mark: what’s the consequence of taking a dislike to such wonders? Would he not gain pleasanter moments — moments of spectacle and joy? He may rally at Christmas until his death, but I defy that he should not find himself in good temper.

“Who can be insensible to the outpouring of good feeling, and the honest interchange of affectionate attachment, that are abound in this season of goodwill?!” I exclaimed. “A gesture of good-heartedness! I shall invite him again! And should he reject me twice, on his head be it!”

In high-spirits and merriment, I tweeted @NotMarkHughes recounting the splendour of the evening in fewer than one hundred and forty characters. “How genial Mark shall be when he chances upon such glorious festivities!” I surmised, dancing with the giddiness of a school child.

Alas! These gestures of good-will did not illicit cordial feelings, nor did they stir Mark! Mark could not be moved. He remained how he had always remained; hard and sharp as flint, as solitary as a crab that hides in the Winter, and most officious to those who seek easy kills on FPS games.

It wasn’t until three nights passed did I feel my jovial spirit return. I had grown ill-disposed of Mark’s temperance toward the season and resolved to banish those morose feelings by purchasing eighteen of the finest mince pies.

On my return to the residence, I was welcomed by Mark’s sneer, “Mince pies? What right you to be merry? For what reason?”

“Come, now” I replied. “For what right to be miserable you have? Why dismay while others celebrate? Will you join me in a mince pie?”

“Bah! One mince pie will suit me fine” grumbled Mark. He snatched the mince pie in haste, and ate all in one bite. Whilst he chewed and swallowed the pastry, I exhibited photographs taken on my Blackberry from that illustrious eve.

In an instant, Mark faltered. “Show me no more!” he wept. “What a fool I have been! Hear me, I am not the man I was! Your nature intercedes me and pities me!” He wiped his eyes with his cuff. “I shall cherish Christmas from now until the day I die. We shall rejoice, beginning with celebrations this Saturday. “

Mark was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; but we turned up late and the reindeer had gone. Pretty disappointing really.

Worst of November: Post-London boredom. No-one was about and I didn’t do anything particularly exciting. I think I did a pub quiz in Penarth, but beyond that: nothing.

Or perhaps the cold baths at 7am. Or Mark’s ecstatic approval of Tintin.

October

October could be likened to a box of Triops. Triops are the prehistoric equivalent to sea monkeys; bizarre crustaceous creatures that emerge when a pouch of colourful dust is added to water. And despite being 220 million years old, they only live up to eight weeks in your home. They go from dust to birth, birth to growth, dinosaur prawn puberty to death. Their faecal matter provide the nutrients for plant growth, and the plants sustain them. The only output from the outside is sunlight for the plants and a top up of water here and now. And that’s what October was; the almost-perfect self-contained eco-system.

This totally was a hint for a Christmas present.

Best of October: It began how it ended; waking up on the same sofa, feeling like something had solarbeam-ed my insides, still with the face paint I had clumsily tried to wash off the previous night and craving an in-house breakfast which I knew I would never receive. If this wasn’t what Mufasa meant by the Circle of Life, then I don’t think I’ll ever know.

"SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN SAAAAAAAAAVERS"

For the best to make sense, we need to backtrack a month or two. In late July or September, I had asked the job centre to find me appropriate work experience – something that’d suppress the temptations of dancing and that rock n’ roll music  Rev. Shaw Moore preached about – or at least something that’d look good on my C.V.

As I’ve said in this blog before, I do not like the job centre. The fortnightly meetings are like stepping into a depressing post-apocalyptic wasteland; one in which the only survivors are the belligerent, the incompetent and the job seekers. It took almost a month and a half before they found something. But they did. And in one fell swoop, I was pulled off the sofa and into the workplace.

For six weeks, my life was changed from tweeting from home to tweeting on the train. And tweeting from work. My job title was no longer ‘Unemployed Deep Seat Explorer’, but ‘IT & Social Media Executive’. I was working for a small start-up in Barry called Momentum; scratching my business itch for client liaisons, up cross-revenue streams, social media integration; and of course, synergy.

October passed in a self-contained blur. Early mornings; early nights. More time spent on trains than I would care to remember. I got through five books and twenty-six sandwiches. I made my C.V healthier and had fun too. Circle of Life.

Midway through the month, I received an e-mail from Woolley Pau – an advertising agency in London – offering me an interview for an internship. Sweet.  So, it was back to London for my third agency interview. But this interview was different; I was calmer, more collected, less flustered. My word choice and syntax made sense, no “I do the University good and degree take for me” this time. The past weeks at Momentum had super-charged me with a new, alien, and confident energy. And it was enough to get the November placement.

Contender: 

Some says I was born with it. Other folk, well they says it was learn’d. And a couple of them folks, preachin’-from-a’high folks min’ you be, well, theys say I was touch’d by a some kin’ spirit from beyond yonder. But all of them folk, they all says the same damn thin'; I surely do know how to mak’ a fine lookin’ costume.

Admittedly, this costume lacked the charm, creativity and detailed character history of my past costumes. You wouldn’t find the Cold War tensions or post-industrial, technophobic brooding of the Zombot costume here. Neither would you find the raw sexual charisma of Commander Charming, or the razor-sharp satire and historical terror of Frankeneinstein. This Halloween, I took costuming back to it’s roots; its’ stripped-back, minimalist, and its’ oh-so masculinity euthanising basics.

But it didn’t start like this. The initial idea was simple, but brilliant: a three-man costume – Man, an angel and devil. The angel and devil would literally sit next to Man, representing both the duality of Man and how Man cannot be entirely wholesome, or entirely sinful. But of course, Owen dropped out of being Man – opting for ‘non-descript zombie’ instead. Leaving Mike and I just looking totally ridiculous.

EDIT: “Whilst I did not participate in said costume, I was heavily involved in the creative process and demand a creator credit. On an unrelated note, you’re all invited to  a party at my house next Monday evening. If I don’t let you in, don’t be alarmed, as part of the fun is breaking in while I’m sleeping.” - Owen Harris, Costume Designer.

My mouth does this in most photos.

Worst of October: The most disappointing part of October was, following a gruelling assessment day, failing to get the job at Confused.com. Unfortunately, due to signing a confidentiality agreement, I really can’t go into more detail.

But enjoy this photo of some Triops:

Triops will never disappoint you.

September

Best of September: I’ll come straight out with it; I really, really don’t like interviews. I don’t like telephone interrogations, assessment days or even informal chats. I especially dislike ones with multiple interviewers, and especially, especially dislike those ones with silent interviewers who sit on the side noting and analysing everything from posture to accidental inflections.

But it isn’t the actual interview I don’t like; when I’m in there, it’s fine. It’s the build up and everything that goes with that. Somewhere, at some point in my life, I must have been conditioned to believe that interviews require the same bodily response as fighting a shark.

Like this, but waaaaay less awesome.

About three hours before an interview, several things happen. My hands start to feel a little damp. My voice begins to croak and break. I drink a little more water than usual.

At two hours before the interview, I realise that my initial symptoms are not the result of the clamminess of the train or waking up early. And that begins to worry me. That worry manifests itself in sweatier palms and a croakier voice.

One hour before the interview. Panic mode. My thoughts are jumbled and I can’t stop pacing. My hands feel like I’ve mopped a Saturday night toilet floor with them. Throat has closed up. I’ve drunk too much water. I know I’ll have to suffer through the interview with a bursting bladder; but I don’t want to risk going to toilet and urinating all over my trousers in a state of heightened hysteria.

Fifteen minutes before the interview. I enter the building, talk to the receptionist and tell her I’m here for an interview. Voice comes out high and inflected like a question. She ignores it and phones through to the interviewer. I take a seat. Everything is surreal and dreamlike; if the interviewer turns out to be a headless mannequin, I wouldn’t be surprised. I try to think calming thoughts – blue oceans, tranquil lakes and gentle rivers, but the association of flowing water and urinary relief is too powerful.

"So. Where do you see yourself in five years time?"

Then the nausea kicks in. Fantastic. This is accompanied by visible and violent shaking – imagine using a pogo stick during a earthquake. Now imagine no-one else can see, or feel, the pogo stick or earthquake. It’s kinda like that.

It gets worse. My heart starts to beat so hard and fast that my tie vibrates rhythmically. I ponder over fight and flight reactions; I haven’t run, or risen to the challenge and overcome – I’m just sitting there, shaking and whimpering.

The other contenders come in. They do the same things as me – check in at reception and take a seat. Why are they so calm? Don’t they know where they are? Then they pick up a magazine from the table and start flicking through it. I fear to do this; my hands will most definitely stick to the paper and absorb the magazine ink. Haven’t they assessed these type of scenarios? I convince myself that they are actors employed by the company to psyche me out. Job well done.

The interviewer finally comes down and extends their hand. I remain seated and drag my hands across my trousers under the table, vainly hoping I can wipe my sweat and nerves off onto the fabric. It doesn’t work. I rise, smile and shake their hand. Did they notice how gross my hands were? They smile and ask “Would you like to follow me?”

This may not sound like this should be in the ‘best’ of the month, and it may actually sound like the worst of all the months so far. But, it was the first time since I finished university that I’d had an interview.  And I had two interviews. Two interviews in advertising agencies. In London.

It was something different. I got to see the inside of two advertising agencies. And I travelled to London, all paid for by the job centre. And in my eyes, that’s pretty sweet.

Contender: September ended on a high. I was back in Swansea for a party at the new house.  And it was going fine, until I started falling asleep mid-way through.

I had picked up a can of beer, which frothed up and spilled down my chinos. So I sat down and covered up the stain with a sofa cushion. Then, the fatigue of work experience and the haze of six beers hit me; I fell asleep.

Mark responded by taking off my shoes and throwing them at my face. I’ll admit it, it woke me up the first few times. But, I soon got used to it and started swatting them away like annoying flies.

Luke and Mike got involved. They had a marker pen and an ultimatum: sit still and get a cool tribal tattoo on your face, or squirm and get a “Darth Maul”. I fought valiantly, like any Dathomirian Zabrak would, but ultimately I received the appropriate, and traditional, Iridonian tattoo.

 But which is which?

Worst: Honestly, I was super gutted about not getting a job from either interview.

When I first got offered an interview, I was like:

But then, when they sent me an e-mail saying: Unfortunately, you have not been successful in attaining as position. If you want some feedback, let us know. We wish you all the best in your job search, I was like:

Although, you may have to have watched Breaking Bad to get the reference.

August

Best of August: August is host to the most emotionally, physically, and financially draining week of the year: Birthday Season (Part 2). Astute readers knew this was coming; it was foreshadowed way back in February’s edition.

This meant travelling all over Cardiff, Penarth and Surrey to attend the numerous events. A solid week of Birthday parties: Owen’s, Mike’s, James’, Josh’s, Sarah’s, Jack’s and probably someone else’s. It was good fun, but draining.

I’m in no position to rank them, but Sarah loses major points for only having unbranded cereal for a after-party breakfast.

Contender: Finally getting my sweet £280 deposit back from the Landlords. Then spending it all on Birthday Season 2 straight away.

Worst of August: It’s not the joblessness that worries me. It’s not the lack of direction, the undetermined path, or the uncertainty of my short term or long term future either. It’s not even that I’ve consigned myself to fortnightly visits to the job centre – a veritable haven of indifference and 9am drunkards – amidst which a smile is harder to find than a telesales position.

No, these are of little concern to me. What really worries me, and I mean really worries me, is the rate of response to my job applications. It’s like I haven’t even applied. Sometimes I feel like I’d be more productive if I spend my days conducting lightsaber battles with myself in the mirror – at least I’d be getting some exercise and improving my ‘vwaaam‘ sound effects.

This is no exaggeration. I’ve applied to loads, literally hundreds of jobs since I graduated. Even the marketing agency called Response didn’t respond to me.

Now, I’ve thought about this and have come to the only logical conclusion: my mail is being intercepted. This is the inference, this is what’s left when other conclusions are proven false, this is fact. However, the hows and whys are purely speculation at this point, but I can venture a few guesses at what is happening.

Either:

Someone I’ve wronged in the past is dedicating their lives to ensuring I don’t get a job. It may well be the kid I hurt when I was eleven; I was at the park, pushing the roundabout to see how fast it would go, unaware that his bare feet were scraping along the gravel and stone. When the roundabout eventually came to a halt, the soles of his feet were cut, bruised and raw. He couldn’t walk; he wailed. His mother was summoned to the scene, and I fled.

It was probably this guy.

He was probably an eight year old professional athlete, preparing for the next Olympic games. Perhaps he was endowed with a small fortune from major sponsorship deals, or he was the beloved sports icon of his home village.

All that changed after the roundabout incident. Because of his injuries, he could no longer run – even short distances. The sponsorships and endorsement deals were dropped. His praise vanished, and within a few short months he faded into relative obscurity. His mother, who had already spent the money from future endorsement deals, spiralled into inconsolable debt and wasted her precious final years in a hazy inebriation.

Foster care was next. He was bounced from home to home, no-one able to properly care for such a troubled child. He fell behind in school, in his early years dreaming of professional athleticism, he had cared little for the the disciplines of maths and science and cared even little for them after the accident. He dropped out at sixteen, securing not academic qualifications or a future in academia, but an insatiable thirst for vengeance.

He assessed his options: murder, blackmail, kidnap and arson. But finally he decided on the most torturous of revenge: sabotaging my prospects of future employment.

He got a job in the local post office. He knows my handwriting; when he sees it on an envelope, he picks it up and places it in a bag. I imagine, at the end of the week he takes the bag to an open field. He empties the contents and opens the envelopes. He then proceeds to do what he does every week – creates an effigy of me made from my CVs. And burns it to ashes.

Or:

The postman is frequently attacked by a monster that feeds on speculative cover letters. Of course, after the attack, the postman forgets so the monster can continue to feed again and again. It sounds like one of the better Doctor Who episodes. Even in my imagination, the monster is made from budget BBC prosthetics…

July

Best of July: There were complaints about the short length of last month’s post, so to make it up to everyone, I’ve gone the other extreme and made it way too long. This post is mainly concerning the trip I and eleven others took to West Wales in July.

Friday

Friday began on a dreary note. The early morning sky hung low and grey, and the air felt moist and warm. However, those familiar with my waking-sleeping patterns will know I’m no morning lark, and that may be how Summer mornings usually are. After a short inner-struggle and a few minutes to shake my fatigue haze, I managed to pull myself out of bed and into the shower. In almost an hour, I had washed, changed and hastily stuffed my bag with hay fever meds, books and various chargers.

In fewer than thirty minutes, Jo and Holly had driven up to collect me. The car boot was crammed with toilet roll and wine cases, which meant sharing the backseat with a precarious tower of suitcases and board game boxes. This didn’t bother me at all; as long as I held the tower in such a manner, or the car didn’t aggressively swerve or brake, I was left almost unscathed.

We had arranged to meet the rest of the convoy down at the Sainsbury’s car park. There was Jack and Owen in the Mini, leading the pack. Behind, it was Jo, Holly and myself. And that was how it was for an hour on the road. Until, from seemingly no-where, Maddy and Lewis stole the Mini’s position as leader – despite lagging twenty minutes behind. Twenty minutes later we stopped at the services for a pasty and toilet break.

It wasn’t long before we had reached The Courtyard Cottage – our accommodation for the next week. I’m not one to usually give anything a rave review, but this place was fairly good. For a large group of budget constrained students and recent graduates, we had found a place of true comfort and luxury.

What really blew us all away, was the extensive video library in the outhouse. VHS quality aside, the library, and its selection of tapes was pretty sweet. Unfortunately, we soon came to discover that some of the tapes didn’t work, on account of thick mould growing on the reel. This sucked, because they had both Flight of the Navigator and The Last Starfighter in the collection.

Saturday

In the afternoon, we ventured out to Tesco to get our essential supply for the week. This, of course, meant a shopping list of: Nesquik, milk, bacon, bagels, brie and beer. After, Maddison, Lewis and I drove to Fishguard to pick up Josh from the train station. On the return journey we stopped for a beer, and bought a football for Mark’s FIFA-and-Mark-Hughes themed Birthday party later.

Back at the Cottage we set up banners and balloons, and ran practise drills of “Surprise!” synchronisation and wearing our identical Mark Hughes masks.

When Mark and the others (James, Raman and Henry) eventually arrived, we jumped out and yelled “Surprise!” to his mild amusement. Then his party began. It began with the usual Ring of Fire ritual, immediately followed by Owen’s deeply flawed I Remember When… drinking game. After indulging Owen, Mark was a bit drunk and proceeded to play an all-male strip table tennis match against Josh.

The whiskey shots came out, as well as the dirty pints, and more cider. Mark danced topless in a stupor. A little more whiskey, a drop of white wine. We spiked his drink with more while he was in the toilet. Then Purple Rain by Prince came on; the artist formerly known as Mark Hughes was gone. Like a party Cylon, the song had activated Mark – the aggressive inner-Mark had come to the surface, one who loved to both party and wrestle.

Mark loves to party.

Eventually he sicked up in a bowl and we all went to bed.

Sunday

Sunday was our day of relaxation. Mark slept through the early afternoon, while we watched Pocahontas in the living room. When he awoke, we walked to the local pub and had Sunday lunch. The food was alright, but it was swamped in gravy and surrounded by dense vegetation.

Later, we returned to the cottage for a quiet afternoon of reading and Time Bandits on VHS.

Monday

Despite Mark’s protestations, Monday was an early morning for all of us. We were heading to Oakwood. I made a mental note not to attempt the ‘Big 5′, especially the water ride formerly known as “Die-dro”.

When we arrived, I surprised myself in the fields of both bravery and courage. I tamed the mighty Treetops, mastered the swinging ship, conquered the great water slide and enjoyed the pedalos.

The face of a true warrior.

I had soon met my annual terror quota, and consigned myself to the less scary rides – in particular, the Brer Rabbit train ride and the lunch bench. As a side note, it was at this point, for the first time in my life, I failed to finish a blue-flavoured slushy. Partly because of the ride nausea, partly because the blue flavouring stains made me look dangerously hypoxic.

In the evening, we drove out for takeaway Thai food. We saw an advert for Linda’s Thai Takeaway, followed the directions and ended up at her house. Linda and her friend took our orders in her kitchen, while her husband whittled metal signs in the garage. I’ve never eaten home-made-but-take-away Thai food from a joint-business that sells commercial signs on the side; but fair play, it was really good.

Tuesday

Making the most of the weather, we headed to the beach. We played rounders; we ached. We tried frisbee; we hurt. I raced Mark, on foot, to the sea and back; I won, but almost threw up from exhaustion.

None of us are built for physical recreation. Well, no-one but James Edward Maddison. Maddy had ventured off, on presumably a voyage of self-reflection and discovery, so we took this vital opportunity to take his kayak out to sea.

As soon as we sat in that kayak, something other than salt water washed over us, and instantly, we knew. A pure moment of absolute clarity. We were James Maddison. In those moments, we had left our mortal remains behind and had ascended to something far greater. The Earth was one with the sea, the sea one with James Maddison, and we had become James Maddison.

Wednesday

Wednesday was another beach day. It was either at the misleading Popping Sands beach, or the fractionally more accurate White Sands. I’m not sure. We read our books, quietly mocked Owen for buying a Kindle, swam in the sea, and bought food from the beach canteen.

That's what was expected of 'Popping Sands' beach.

Later, we visited Britain’s smallest city – St. Davids. It was a pretty place, but it took fewer than twenty minutes to survey the site. We perched on the stone wall facing the cathedral and ate our ice cream.

In the evening, we had a barbecue in the courtyard. This effectively smoked our neighbours out of their cottage; they came over and feigned friendship in exchange for the chance of a burger. These two guys, Joe and Joe, got involved in the others’ traditional drinking games (I Never and Ring of Fire), while Mark and I played two games of drinking Chess.

The rules: a finger per chessman ‘taken'; finish your drink if your queen is ‘taken'; finish your drink if you’re checkmated. I weaved around the board, positioned myself and sacrificed my knight. Finger for me. Took two pawns. Two fingers for Mark. I positioned the poison pawn trap, Mark took it and I took his queen with my bishop. He finished his drink. The rest was of the game was an unceremonious mopping up exercise. Mark downed a glass and a half of Pimms.

The next game was easier. Mark was visibly drunk; he made fast, reckless decisions that cost him his queen early on. He resigned and Josh continued the game, concluding it in a draw. One of the Joes challenged me to a game. I was four bottles of Bud down, but that’s not my excuse.

It was like playing a chess computer on the highest difficulty setting. He surrounded me, immobilising me behind my own pawns. Every move I made he matched; I’d take a pawn, he’d take a knight, or a rook, or my queen. I staved off defeat, but it was fruitless. In about fifteen moves, I was checkmated.

Worst of July:

Thursday

“Bad luck always comes in threes”. I’d never really understood or experienced that saying before Thursday. And Thursday was the Holy Trinity of disasters: Fear, Pain and Disappointment.

Fear: The plan of the day, our last day, was to head to the nearby village of Cenarth in Pembrokeshire for a walk along the River Teifi. I got into the backseat of Maddy’s car, ready to leave. Josh, who can’t drive, sat in the driver’s seat waiting for Maddy to return.

At this point, it’s necessary to mention that the car was parked on slope several metres above a river. Mark, being the ever practical joker and harbinger of Death, flicked a switch, or pulled a gear, or whatever cars do to start. The engine rumbled, and we lurched forward. The car started to build up momentum as we descended towards our final resting place, the bottom of the riverbed. I tried to move, but I was blocked by front seats, and gripped in a frenzy of terror.

Then, like an ethereal guardian, James Maddison dived in through the open passenger seat door and pulled the lever that makes the car brake. The engine switched off, the momentum slowed and the car came to a halt.

Pain: After shaking the adrenaline of a near-death experience, I was ready to continue my day. We walked along a footpath that straddled the river to the right, and embraced the forest on the left. It was a peaceful, serene walk. It almost makes you forget that you’re in constant danger in the countryside.

Then, like Nature’s version of Midsomer Murders, we were attacked in the countryside by a later-apparent assailant. The culprit? A battalion of super-aggressive wasps. Nearly half the group got stung fleeing. I tried to flee, but wasps were stuck in the fabric of my jumper. I picked them off and got stung on both arms. I was starting to run from the ambush, when Jo announced there were wasps crawling on my shorts.

Artist's depiction

I didn’t want to run. They were dangerously close to my male-manparts; I didn’t want to aggravate them further. I pleaded with Jo to hit them with her water bottle. She refused. I pleaded again. She hit and missed. I ran off in pain.

Disappointment: When expectations and reality do not align, especially when you’ve hyped up your own expectations, you’re given a giant smack of anticipointment. And that’s exactly what happened.

Maddy had promised us a real treat for our last day. In his travels, he had visited a secluded cliff side where scores of seals gathered. In my mind, it was a chance to feed, befriend, or circus train the loveable water mammals.

It took a thirty minute car journey, followed by another thirty minute walk through farmer’s fields to reach the fabled cliff side. We looked down the cliff into the water below. Waves crashing on the rocks. Sea foam. The odd seagull searching for a place to die. But no seals.

Ten minutes later, after meticulously scanning every foot of water, and by straining our eyes hard enough – we could make out a black blob in the distance. It could have either been a seal or a drowning gorilla. I was very disappointed.

Contender:

Oh yeah, and I graduated.

June (Part II)

Ok, I lied. I promised only a few days between Part I and Part II, and now it’s August. I thought of skipping this entire blog post and going straight into July’s instead. But for continuity purposes I’ll refrain from that. I’ll bash out a quick summary and we can all move on with our lives.

Best of June: The intention was to carefully deliberate, select a day from Beach Break Live and crown it ‘the Best of June’. Furthermore, the chosen day would have been based on several criteria: the weather, quality of music, the amount of bacon & brie bagels eaten, and the physiological damage sustained from a visit to the porta-loos.

Unfortunately, I’ve left this a little late. I can barely recall who went to Beach Break, let alone discern my day-to-day adventures. I read somewhere that internet use has been linked to deteriorating memory and information recall. I must use the internet a lot, as my memory seems like a pirated VHS tape when I try to rewind it.

From what my neural-pathways afford me, Beach Break was swell. Swell as both the figurative bygone Americanism, and in the literal geological sense of an increase in the density and quantity of clouds. It rained. A lot.

Far from using the opportunity to flaunt a festival chic ensemble, the muddy yellow raincoat came out; I was washed with rain and a sense of my own ridiculousness. But we never let the rain dampen our spirits. (That last line was written with intense self-loathing.)

If memory serves correctly, Ms Dynamite was unable to perform. As a direct consequence, Mike took to the stage to lay down some heavy beats. And he killed it, pretty hard.

The above photograph needs to be explained. The 2 days spent without upper lip hair removal devices were not kind to Ms. Hammond. Our moustaches and facial hair were painted on to make her feel more comfortable.

In reality, it was an incredible weekend of music, drinking and Todd’s Double Down. The weather may have been torrential, the toilets dangerously unsanitary, and Tim may have spilt cider inside everyone’s tents – but I wouldn’t have swapped those bacon bagels for anything.

Contender:

That happened. But we weren’t playing to save the community centre. This time the game was real. And we were playing for our lives.

Everything else in the trailer happened. Even ‘The Phantom’ existed; that was Drew’s paintball alter ego.

Although, their message of team-work and ‘5-as-one’ is utter BS.  Every time we worked together, the bigger Stag Do lads decimated us. Only when Ben went solo and sort-of-cheated did we win a match. “Five as five separate individuals doing their own thing to achieve a common goal” would have been more apt.

June (Part I)

Worst; or Swansea University: A Retrospective

This month I’ve shaken things up a little and divvied June into two parts. I have three solid reasons for this: You get twice as much blog in one month, I can do this mini-retrospective, and who doesn’t love a mid-season two-parter?

Don’t be fooled; I haven’t compromised the best of/worst of format of the blog to do this. June was the last month spent as a student, therefore I can count that as being the ‘worst’ thing of the month. Normal service will resume next month and I’ll do the ‘best’ and ‘contender’ bits in a couple of days.

So for this month, here’s my top 10 list. Please don’t count this as my favourite bits of the past three years; this is simply stuff that will cause you to do a nostalgic eye wee.

The top 10 things I’ll miss now that I’m no longer a Swansea University student.

1. Humans

I’ve put this as number 1: the thing I’ll miss the most. The others are in reverse order, but I didn’t want to make this too sentimental. Plus, you would have all guessed that this would take the top spot. Some of you are amongst my favourite humans. The Fellowship may have been divided, but I’m sure we’ll all meet again in the 25-minute epilogue.

10. Competitively flipping a coin into a cup

I was both literally and figuratively sick on a bike.

From the tear-jerking to the frankly disturbing, Tuppence is the UFC of drinking games. Requiring only higher-level functioning and a stomach for Spar value cider, Tuppence quickly grew as a cult pastime for all of us. There were casual games, league matches and even a World Cup (Belarus was robbed…and subsequently threw up everywhere.) Remember, the hangover only lasts 2 days, the glory lasts for marginally longer.

9. Karting in 191

This is a stock photo. Didn't know 7th place existed until I saw it.

Nothing encapsulates the experience of the end of first-year better than playing Mario Kart for hours. And hours. And hours. But it never lost its spark. I’d been a long-time visitor, but first-time resident of 191 in April 2009, and from then until the end was endless MK. My new room stole the visitors to Sarah’s room, mainly because I had a larger TV and my company was far superior. Also, I totally won every time.

8. A View to a Kill, but in reality, more of a view of a beach and some houses

From the photo it may not seem like much, but my view was, well, viewtiful. To the left, the industrial works of Port Talbot; in the middle, a nightly ferry crossing and a clock tower; to the right, a stretch of beach and the Mumbles. I experienced sunshine, snow and fireworks from that window in my room. I felt like if I could zoom in on any one location, a thousand tales of love, death and betrayal would unfold before my eyes. But as it’s Swansea, it’d probably be a bare-knuckle fist fight or a grown man taking a dump on a public footpath (I’ve actually seen that happen.)

7. Tuesday Morning Hangovers

Never miss an opportunity to show this photo.

As we trudged into late third-year territory, going out on a Monday night became a rare treat. Wind Street was deserted, the bars closed by midnight, and we normally lost the majority our starting party long before then. The nights never ended particularly well – either we got a taxi back home, or the lure of Oceana got a stranglehold on one of us. If the former occurred, we’d sleep. If the latter occurred, we’d sober up and despair that we got sucked into a Black Hole that devours fun. But IT Box-ing in Bank Statement, cocktails in Pitcher & Piano, and Jagerbombs in Yates’ always made for a terrific night out.

6. +1 to your Age Stats

If you want a full review of my last birthday, check out my previous blog post. But it isn’t just my birthdays I enjoyed, from Pam’s first-year ‘dress-as-something-beginning-with-P party’, to T-Bird and Luke’s ‘Birthday Battle’ in February – they have all been memorable experiences. It’s because of all these parties, my wardrobe is composed of more fancy dress ensemble than actual clothes. My only quibble is that no-one complied with the theme of invisibility for my last birthday party…or did they?

5. Doing the Student Thing

I liked being a student. You could wake up at unreasonable hours and spend day gorging on Super Noodles in bed. Money was abundant at the start of the term and scarce at the end, but you could maintain your lifestyle through overdraft. If you went over your overdraft, extend it. Shops gave you a 10% discount on items unrelated to academia. How was Guitar Hero: World Tour relevant to a Business Management degree? Who cares. Life was sweet.

4. An Early Night on a Thursday

Also known as 'Casual-Racism City'

Thursdays posed the ultimate question to us: whether or not we were to go to Sin City. Most of the time, the answer was yes. The other answer to the question was no. It was a yes or no question. The place was almost dangerously unsafe, the music was the same every week, and the walls seemed to inexplicably sweat. But we all loved it like a son with a mysterious past.

3. The Mothership

House 19 was cold in the Summer and far colder and vermin-infested in the Winter. The house was not perfect. But there was as much love for 19 as there was black mould inside it. 19 was the eighth member of the house; while it wasn’t human, it did have a very non-literal human heart. It also made a sick place for everyone to pre-drink. (Hence, The Mothership)

2. Obviously, Christmas Day

What else would have got the second top spot? The annual early December ritual of Christmas lunch, quizzes and a sweet Xmas playlist (compiled by yours truly) is something special. Despite Tim’s annual plan to ruin our special day, he has thrice been foiled. It’s an impossible task to replicate such an experience at any other time of the year, so here’s to hoping I’m invited to the remaining Swansies’ Christmas party this year.

May

Best of May: Turning 21. At 21, I’m at that stage of age limbo; I’m still young enough to be excited by cake and wrapping paper, but old enough to have considered hosting a semi-ironic children’s party throwback (party bags and PTP), and being overwhelmed by the fear that my shy hairline will be M.I.A. before my twenty-second candle is blown out.  I worry my scalp has become a war zone – luscious hair vs. genetic predisposition, two warring factions fighting for territorial control. And every day, GP (or the “Viet Comb”) is using guerilla warfare to push my front-line forces back a little further…

This is happening.

But it’s not all bad news. The great thing about turning 21 is, well, all of these things: I can adopt a child, supervise a learner driver, drive a large passenger vehicle, run for mayor and be sent to prison. I plan to exercise my full rights as young adult and do all of these things…possibly simultaneously.

It’s a weird world we live in: for doing nothing but surviving for an arbitrary period of time (21 years? why?!), we are granted ridiculous, irrelevant rewards. For instance, why aren’t humans under 16 years of age allowed to buy lottery tickets? The results could have been hilarious. BBC3 are losing a lot of potential programming: ‘Rich, Sexy and still in Nappies’ – snooty toddlers searching for modern London property almost writes itself.

Fact is: 21 is a milestone. It is the youngest age at which full rights are granted; respect is gained from everyone, you are now the equal. But youth can also mean recklessness, energy and vitality – throw mayorial power into the mix and you’ve got a deadly cocktail. Kinda like the Snakes on a Plane, if the snakes could directly address local budgetary concerns.

Oh, and speaking of deadly cocktails…

Contender: In the vein of previous year’s parties (Steff Aid 20, last year; Steff-a-bration day, 2009), Steffestival was a cocktail party. However, no matter how many gazebos or prawn wheels I throw at these celebrations, it’s never the sophisticated soirée I intend it to be. The cocktails are replaced with dirty pints and subtle midnight conversation regresses into flour fights. It may not be the party I wanted, but it’s definitely the party I needed.

Of course, a party is always helped by being on the precipice of the examination period and being the final birthday of the academic year. It is also made infinitely better by having my friends there to celebrate with, so thanks guys.

Also, according to the T-Bird’s calculations, I managed to survive eight minutes longer than the previous year. I count that as a personal win.

Worst of May: Plutonium was widely considered the most dangerous chemical element on the Periodic Table. Radiation from the residue of this element causes an accumulation of radioactive poisons in human bone marrow, resulting in devastating effects. The first Plutonium isotope was synthesised, and subsequently discovered in nature, in 1941. Seventy years later, an even more devastating element has been discovered: the unstable Balloonium.

In 2011, scientists are trying to understand this new discovery. The half-life, atomic structure and chemical mass remain relatively unknown, but researchers have discovered a direct correlation between human happiness and having a balloon. It seems that Balloonium is a volatile element – not having a balloon makes no change to human happiness, but having a balloon and then losing it, can result in an atomic explosion of unhappiness.

Imagine my suffering when I experienced these effects first-hand. My 21st birthday balloon: caught in an upbreeze from the open car door, evading my grasp, slipping through my fingers forever. I can still feel her helium-head on the pillow next to me, and hear her deflated whispers, telling me ‘everything is going to be alright’. I wake up and she’s gone and I’m alone.

Sometimes I think I see her in the distance. I run up, my arms outstretched and touch her back. She turns, like she does in a breeze. It’s not her. It’s never her.

It took time, but I moved on. My housemates found me another balloon. We’ve been happy, but time has taken a toll on her. On the both of us.

 

Also, the second worst balloon-related incident of the month:

I still don't understand what my pregnancy symbolises.

April

Time is a tricky devil. You can’t outwit it, you cannot control it; time saps beauty, defeats wisdom, and murders princes and paupers alike. Those who pursue an extension of their time are ultimately ensnared in the bitter irony of a lifetime wasted. On the other hand, we need time to power our clocks.

What I was meant to say before that pseudo-insightfulness was that April went really fast. Almost in the month-long blink of an eye, it went by. Future-me, in case you’ve forgotten, I went home over April to Cardiff for Easter. In Cardiff, time goes fast enough to see the sunset transform to sunrise before you’ve even finished your Krave cereal, but slow enough to blast through every episode of Modern Family and Peep Show, tick off a few IMDB top 250s and host chess tournaments in your conservatory. I’ll re-iterate: time is like an eel in a stream – fast, impossible to hold on to, and watching it pass by is a little boring.

Reader. You’ve noticed the new layout. Enjoy it – it’s for you. It reeks of class. So put on your favourite casual-formal tux, pour yourself a matured scotch (neat), and get your read on.

Best of April: My favorite part of April was actually the day before I returned home. I had stayed up an extra week than intended to start my essay on how companies trap employees in psychic prisons, but the book I needed was not stocked in the library. Luckily, the book I needed was on eBay for £3 – so I vowed to write my essay when I returned to Cardiff (still haven’t done it). Anyway, this gave me a few days to sit back and relax. Or, just pull all-nighter StumbleUpon sessions and watch disappointing Wrestlemania streams.

The day before I left, Cherry, Jenn, Mike and I went down the Gower in Cherry’s Mini. The sun was out and Mike was DJing Summer-ish songs from my iPod – if it had a retro look and some mute laughter; it may well have been a John Lewis advert. We spent a nice hour or so on the beach, playing make-shift rounders and learning what those wormy-sand things are from Jenn. In the evening we went to Frankie & Benny’s, which was also nice.

Contender: A close second was the evening in Jack’s garden. Just a few of us having a few drinks, listening to Henry explain the economics of the oil market.

Worst of April: With my parents and brother jetting off to Gran Canaria for a week, leaving me to guard the fort – I had a sneaking twang of initial jealousy. I, of course was invited, declining the offer in lieu of academic pursuit/watching tv in my underwear. I went out and had fun most days, so the jealousy evaporated. But alas, I still had an environmental essay to complete. This meant 2 days without leaving the house, which meant having no-one to talk to. After the first day, I realised I hadn’t spoken a single word in 24 hours. The second day was filled with muttering and ‘hello’s to no-one – I had to keep checking that I hadn’t lost my ability to speak. Not talking to anyone can do strange things to a man.

Although being self-aware of the crazy my isolation was making me, I entertained the idea of being surrounded by invisible bugs. In my state of mild psychosis, these bugs could be a feasible and very realistic threat. You can’t see them – they are invisible. You can’t touch them – they run super-fast like regular bugs and avoid human contact. It would explain random itching and irregular texture in food. And how can you prove they don’t exist? You would need a team of scientists to conduct a study; no science administrative body would fund that – it sounds ridiculous.

There may be an invisible bug in this picture.

I was quite glad when the home phone rang with some telesales from BT, snapping me out of it. I still didn’t want to participate in the BT customer satisfaction survey though.

March

I thought I’d like to apologise for the lateness of the blog post, but then I thought no-one would remember that I’d I’m still doing this anyway. This isn’t a self-putdown. It’s that you may have difficulties with long-term memory retention. And with that strong joke to kick us off, here’s March…

Best of March: Probably when my brother, Mat, came down to 19 for the weekend. There’s not much to write here. We hit up JCs & Tooters, had a Nando’s and went down the beach. That’s kinda it.

Contender: Scoring the winning goal on Fifa, to appreciation and jubilation. After a humiliating last place in the Fifa tournament (-1350 points) the Sunday before, I struck back a Monday night win with my dazzling ball performance. The details are hazy (or foggy? misty?), but it was a 2 vs 2 game, and I’m not sure who was on whose team. I’m not even sure who was playing, I’m guessing I was one, Mike/Drew another, and I’m fairly sure world-class footballer Pimpara was paired with me.

Anyway, I can’t really remember how the goal went. But I imagine it was something like this:

And I didn’t even cheat by using ‘other shoot’…

Worst of March: While there were a few hiccups in the month, there’s nothing singular that deserves its own paragraph. Maybe the worst part of the month was that I had no wacky story for this section. Instead, I drew upon Google Maps to plot where these minor incidents occurred. When I’d finished, I began deciphering the pattern – using deep cluster analysis, statistical location tracking… and Paint MS. The results of my findings both shocked and terrified me.

The different colours make it fun.

The red indicates where I lost my DS charger (just when I wanted to play some Pokemon as well!).

The blue is for shattered expectations. The plan was to go to the beach for a bonfire and other fun. No-one turned up. Instead, we went to Pub On The Pond. They had run out of The Fisherman’s Feast Fish Platter. Double whammy.

The purple is the University. Why make all deadlines coincide? And why make all the deadlines coincide with the sunshine? Also, why charge an extra £0.05 for Lemon Lucozade in the Spar with the bigger selection of sandwiches? A lot of “I bought this sandwich from the Spar upstairs” misunderstanding ensued.

The orange is where I stepped on a snail. Poor, poor snail.

The green, of course, is where we almost nailed a #1 spot in the Rhydding’s Pub Quiz. Tied with another team for the win, only to lose to a technicality. It seems all my losses are down to stipulations which prevent me from winning. If a game/sport had no rules, I think I’d win every time.
Now these incidents don’t seem like much…but look a little closer….

Working on the assumption that all these incidents had a butterfly effect on each other (No deadlines = not stepping on the snail; finding my charger = the brain confidence to win the pub quiz) Then we get something a little like this…

P-P-P-ENTAGRAM!

A pentagram.

“A reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. It is the goat of lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates.”

Attracting sinister forces, eh? Symbol of evil? Well, I’m glad none of that happened. Glad that nothing of evil was summoned between the two points projecting upwards.

Oh wait…

I hate him.

For the unitiated, Demon Cat (or “Tippy”) is the spawn of children’s nightmares and infinite darkness. Look at his eyes! He has no insides, he’s filled with the shadows from the orphans he’s devoured. He also frequents our garden – rotting the ground he walks upon. And it is this unholy creature, I blame my above misfortunes upon.

If things start going wrong, turn on your lights and check under your bed. You may have a Demon Cat in your house.

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