Despite life being meaningless and the overwhelming fact that we’re living on a dying planet, I’ve recently found myself in one of those periods in which for some random reason, I’ve been trying to self improve. This has mainly taken the form of me embracing the challenge of learning a new language. Well, I say, ‘learning a new language’, but all I’ve really done is download the Duolingo app and spent my breaks in work weirdly mouthing such completely necessary sentences as, “the dog eats rice” and “the rhinoceros has a horn.” Undoubtedly, these are sexual euphemisms that are only spoken in foreign climates by bored business men. In fact, if I’m ever abroad and hear someone utter a sentence about a ‘rhinoceros having a horn’, I’m sprinting to the nearest airport. Pronto.
Admittedly, I am still at the really early stages of using Duolingo so I don’t want to judge it too harshly, but the lessons are full of similar bizarre impractical sentences about ‘giraffes reading newspapers’ and ‘socks not speaking English’. I did initially wonder if I had accidentally chosen a setting in the app that was specifically for people with brain injuries. But no, that’s just how they do things in crazy old Duolingo world.
Now you might be thinking, “which language have you taken upon yourself to master, Paul?” Perhaps it’s a language of a country that you one day hope to live in? Maybe a country that you visit on a regular basis? On both of these assumptions you’d be incorrect. I simply went to my old friend Google and asked, “what is the easiest language for an English speaker to learn?” A couple of articles later and I am now a student of Dutch. My inherent laziness not stretching to the next five hundred articles explaining that it’s pretty much a waste of time because almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English.
Upon receiving this knowledge you would assume that I stopped learning Dutch and found a more practical language to learn? Again, you’d be painfully incorrect. You see, whoever designed the Duolingo app ingeniously designed a streak system which once started makes it incredibly difficult to abandon. In fact, I’m currently on an impressive forty one day streak and now spend most of my days worrying about losing it. I can only imagine what my streak anxiety will look like if I one day make it to a significant three or even four digit number.
As I mentioned earlier though, I have been forced to sneak off on a number of occasions to a quiet area in work in order to fit my practice in. A couple of weeks back now, I found myself alone in the changing rooms with my headphones in and repeating back in English the sentences that were flashing in front of me. In hindsight, I was definitely doing that thing people do when they have headphones in and began shouting back the sentences at a volume that was inappropriate even at a football match, nevermind a workplace. Anyway, there I was screaming back in a mixture of English and Dutch when this sentence appeared, “Ik ben een vrouw. ” I confidently highered my speaking voice and bellowed repeatedly the English translation, “I AM A WOMAN, I AM A WOMAN, I AM A WOMAN.” Then out of nowhere, I felt a presence watching over me. Out the corner of my eye I could now see the shining bald head of the security guard slowly making its way around a corner. As our eyes met he dashed away, clearly thinking he had discovered a bearded employee who was in the courageous first steps of a gender transition.
I’m trying to better myself and there I was becoming a talking point at that man’s evening meal with his family.
Anyway, I must admit, I’m now five weeks down the line and my motivation is beginning to seriously wane. In the first week I downloaded the app I was averaging about thirty five minutes per day testing my new skills out and reading over Dutch newspapers. However, like most of my fads I’m decreasingly spending less and less time on it and before I know it I’ll be back to being a little Englander who slowly open mouths sentences to far superior people when ordering beers on a city break.
Does anyone know the Dutch for, ‘stop being an ignorant lazy fuck?’
Me and my friends joined the list of victims of COVID 19 last year when our long awaited “LADS” holiday was put on ice. We had planned to get away for a few days when the last of us reached the grand old age of thirty.
Our last summer getaway was unbelievably now NINE years ago when for our twenty first birthdays we flew out to the party capital of the world Las Vegas. Now to give you some idea of how unprepared we were for this, when we stepped off the plane, I had jeans and a cardigan on.
IN AN ACTUAL DESERT!
I enjoyed our week there. It was great. But in hindsight, I just don’t think we were the type of twenty one year olds that Las Vegas was designed for. We thought we would end up partying all night taking drugs and creating incredible stories that we could pass on to our children when we were grey and old. In reality, we mistakenly ended up at a burlesque show that was full of excitable young women and gay men and also fell asleep three quarters of the way through a cirque du soleil show. The remainder of the holiday consisted of us playing on ten cent machines and generally looking pale and uncool beside swimming pools. We even went the cinema twice. Twice. In one week. In Las fucking Vegas.
We. Knew. How. To. Party.
Almost a decade later and undeterred by a global pandemic, we decided that we would finally get away together again this year. With age on our side and self awareness now an attribute we had in our arsenal, we wisely decided that we needed somewhere that was a little less action packed.
We decided to go camping for the weekend in the Lake District.
Out of the three of us that had decided to go, it was only me who had failed to get the Friday booked off work. This sadly meant that instead of setting off early we’d have to wait until the evening to begin travelling. However, I had pre-warned my fellow campers that there was an opportunity that I could finish early and requested that they would be ready to leave when I contacted them. My friends assured me that this would be no problem.
You can imagine my excitement then, when at midday, a good four or five hours before we were meant to leave, when my manager tapped me on my shoulder and informed me that I could get an early dart. I shot up, quickly got changed into my holiday shorts and t-shirt and got straight on the phone.
“I’ve finished! We can leave now. We’ll be there before we were even meant to be setting off. FUCK YOU RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC!” I gleefully exclaimed.
The reply back could be best described as disheartening.
“Oh yeah. I have my lad. Can’t leave until his Mum gets back. Also, I haven’t even started packing yet.”
I couldn’t get dressed and go back to work. That would be ridiculous. So I did what any self respecting man would do – I sat behind a wall in the car park and drank lukewarm beer for almost three hours.
I WAS ON MY HOLIDAYS.
After four cans, three hours and a number of disapproving sideway glances from members of the public, my chariot arrived in the form of a Ford Corsa. The journey there was pretty uneventful, only stopping momentarily at a motorway service station Burger King for a fine dining experience.
But before I knew it, we had arrived.
As we walked from the car park to the campsite it became evident that none of us in our thirty years of existence had actually ever put a tent up. Panic set in. It was getting darker and we didn’t want to find ourselves in a field in the pitch black pathetically assembling a tent and being judged by our new temporary neighbours. Almost in unison as we walked the last few yards to the field we repeated our new mantra, “Don’t embarrass ourselves, lads.” We must have looked like maniacs. Nervously muttering to ourselves like we were about to commit a terrorist attack.
Our mantra didn’t help at all but after an agonising forty five minutes we finally had the tent up. Quickly however, we realised we had made a massive mistake. The tent was inside out. It had never occurred to us that the poles were meant to be on the inside. So as everyone else was having BBQ’s, playing music and making memories, we reluctantly began to rip out hooks from the floor as we sounded off about getting a hotel next time. The tension at times was unbearable but after another thirty or so minutes we had our new home in front us. Success.
With the tent now up and the last of the days sunshine dwindling we headed for an evening swim. The images we had seen of the campsite had shown holidaymakers frolicking in a lake just yards from their tents. The only pathetic lake we had managed to discover was ankle deep. There was no frolicking and it became quite clear quite quickly that we were just lifelong friends that were awkwardly sitting together semi-naked on barely wet rocks. After about twenty minutes of looking at my best mates nipples I suggested that it was probably best that we retire to the tent for a well deserved early night. All parties agreed and consequently disappeared into separate bushes to dry off.
The first nights sleep in the tent wasn’t as comfortable as I thought it would be. This was mostly due to my lack of preparation and my complete lack of knowledge at just how cold it would be during the early hours. I wrongly thought that even with our dismal summers in the UK, it would still be warm enough to get a toasty night’s sleep. Fast forward two hours and I was shivering under an old duvet surrounded by plastic bags full of empty cans of alcohol and uneaten sandwiches lovingly made by my girlfriend hours before.
We all awoke like the inexperienced campers we were. Our eyes filled with first world trauma after a disastrous night’s sleep. However, upon asking each other how we slept, our British conditioning of repressing negativity set in.
“Like a baby, mate.”
“Perfect. Nodded off straight away.”
“Best sleep in years.”
Sat on our soaked travel chairs we looked at each other in the eyes. Each one of us knowing that the man either side of us was a lying bastard. The weary chat then changed to a camp meeting about what our first full day in the Lakes would entail. I put forward the motion that we should head straight into the nearest village, find a pub and do absolutely nothing else. My motion was carefully considered by my campmates and then disregarded. Apparently, we must first earn the beer and climb one of the majestic hills that surrounded us.
I don’t mind walking on holiday if the walk has an end goal. And by ‘end goal’, I mean ‘a pub.’ I just don’t get putting yourself through all that physical exertion if all you going to get as a reward is a sense of achievement and stunning scenery. Some people would call me a moron for echoing that sentiment. And they’d be correct.
Anyway, despite my unwillingness to climb anything other than the stairs leading up to the bar, I quickly found myself panting half way up what everyone else was describing as a hill but what I will refer to simply as a, ‘fucking huge mountain.’ Much to my annoyance every human in sight was absolutely loving themselves. Like agile mountain lions, pensioners were manoeuvring through rocky terrain like it was nothing. Children were skipping and singing songs merrily on fucking high. I, however, had my hands in a bag of prawn cocktail crisp and as sweat cascaded down my face I refused to go any further. Stupidly, I thought that my refusal would mark the end of this walk and that we would now go and actually enjoy our holiday. Nope. My mates left me beside a rock and told me they’d be back shortly. With my fingers now full of crisp dust I sat there while other hikers passed me by. I can only assume that they thought I was waiting to be rescued or that I lived there. Either way they didn’t care and I sat there like I was told until my friends returned.
Thankfully our morning adventure soon came to and end everyone was now in agreement that it was time to find a pub.
Before we left, we decided that we would visit as many pubs as possible. We would do our very best to find the most authentic boozer and an atmosphere that screamed realness. Despite our best intentions, however, we only made it to the second pub and never left. “The Ambleside Tavern” was a brilliant little place. The price of the beer was reasonable and we had even managed to get a seat. Who needs authenticity when you have convenience?
For the first time this weekend, I now felt like I was on holiday and I spent the next few hours contently sinking pint after pint. I’d love to expand on what happened for the rest of the evening, but all I can really remember is semi-aggresively cornering the musician who was playing that night and telling him to make sure he let me know if he ever played my hometown. Enthusiastically he nodded along but my misplaced energy definitely scared him off ever taking up the offer to play within thirty miles of my city.
Unsurprisingly, the second nights sleep was incredible. As soon as my drunken head hit my pillow I was gone. Nothing and I mean nothing would have interfered with my sweet Z’s that night.
As often is the case with a drunken night’s sleep I awoke the next morning more tired than I have ever been in my entire life. The hangover hit me hard. Exhausted and holding back vomit I resolutely ploughed on. Sunday was our last day and after dismantling the tent we would squeeze the joy out of the remaining few hours left on our LADS holiday.
For weeks and weeks I had bugged my mates that on our last day we must visit the incredible picturesque ‘Bowness on Windermere.’ I had stayed there a couple of times with my girlfriend and had fallen in love with the place. True to their word my mates drove the forty five minute detour to only be turned away at every car park we reached. In sheer desperation we circled the place about three times in an attempt to find a parking place. Not a chance. With our heads spinning and the car holding that smell that can only exist when three unwashed hungover men occupy a small space we decided to head home.
Again, the drive back to Liverpool was uneventful and after about two hours and thirty minutes I found myself stood outside my gate. A gate that had recently been visited by what I hope was a dog and had done the biggest shit I have ever seen. With a roll of my eyes and a careful side step, I climbed over the dirty protest like one of those pensioners I had encountered just twenty four hours previously and made my way into my house.
My summer British holiday was now over – and I think we’ll wait until COVID goes away before holidaying again.
A couple of years ago, before the world was under siege from COVID, me and my girlfriend booked quite a fancy holiday to Marrakech. We booked one of those incredibly extravagant five star hotels that will almost certainly have me stressing out as we approach it in a taxi.
DOES THE MAN BRING OUR BAGS TO THE ROOM?
WILL I GET JUDGED FOR USING CUTLERY WRONG?
IS EVERYONE HERE GOING TO BE STUCK UP ARSEHOLES?
Ultimately, I know I’ll let my class anxiety get the better of me and it won’t be long before I’m moaning that we should have just booked a budget hotel. This will then almost certainly be followed by a thousand mile stare from my girlfriend and a significant period of awkward silence in a Moroccan Uber.
Anyway, this ‘relaxing’ holiday was meant to be this week. However, due to the ongoing global pandemic it obviously couldn’t go ahead and we instead decided to find a cheap alternative that could be easily driven to.
The cheap alternative to Morocco was Wales. Naturally.
We left Friday morning, but like every working class person who lives in a slightly dodgy area, the main aim was to make it look like we were doing anything BUT going on holiday. Consequently, we slowly started loading the car up three whole days prior to actually leaving. Generally, this involved tip toeing stealthily to the car with an array of different holiday related items and praying you didn’t bump into the local scumbag. It always seems like a good idea, but in retrospect, even the local scumbag isn’t going to believe you when you tell him you’re just, ‘popping to the shops’ with a foldable chair under one arm and an inflatable novelty donut for a swimming pool around your waist.
After the car was fully packed, I went ahead and gave my best traditional fake farewell to a fake family member that was still fake pottering around the house.
“We’re just leaving to definitely NOT go on holiday Great-Grandad Charles and we will be back home intermittently to check on you. It would be a terrible time to burgle this property. Also, please keep taking your prostate medicine. “
With my award winning acting complete and fake medical advice given, it was time for me, my girlfriend, and toy poodle Belle to hit the road and set off on our summer holiday.
Quite quickly, however, we encountered our first issue when the aforementioned toy poodle started panting rather excessively. My girlfriend, who is a worrier at the best of times, suggested that despite the dog not having access to her bowl, she must be given water instantly. As a result, I now found myself crafting a makeshift bowl out of empty plastic vegan sausage roll packaging. Upon being given the nod of approval from the boss, I placed the newly crafted dog bowl in front of our withering canine.
Nothing. Nada. She just looked back at me blankly in the way that only dogs can do. I took this as a clear sign that our companion was fine. My girlfriend on the other hand still wasn’t convinced and signalled to a packet of crisp I was currently attempting to consume.
“She’ll drink if there’s food in there. Just lick off the salt and vinegar on those and put it in the water…”
I just looked back at my girlfriend blankly in only the way boyfriends can do when they’ve been asked to lick off crisp flavouring in broad daylight like an absolute creep.
Without the energy or desire to argue back, I did as I was told. So there I was. Just thirty five minutes into our holiday and I was sat there as we whizzed passed the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign sucking off a crisp like some sort of snack based pervert.
I have been to Wales countless times and it never fails to amaze me how absolutely beautiful it is. The long, winding roads sandwiched between rolling green hills and coastlines of pure blue sea. My Dad used to take me and my sisters on these types of holidays all the time when we were kids, and as soon as we saw the sign welcoming us to Wales, he would religiously ask the same question like some sort of right wing travel agent, “Why do you need your silly foreign holidays when you have places like this on your doorstep?” The eight year old me didn’t have the capacity to counter this argument, and as I become older, I now largely find myself agreeing with him. I say ‘largely’ because I’m still yet to take a city break in Spain and be welcomed by tacky roadside diners named ‘Roger’s Speedy Mealz’ and quite a significant number of dead badgers that litter the roads.
We arrived at out first destination, ‘Heron Lake Resort’ in the stereotypical picturesque town of ‘Caerwys’. It was a luxury resort full of wooden lodges and cabins. Each one with the novelty of having its very own hot tub. I am a sucker for hot tubs and therefore couldn’t get my clothes off quick enough.
Unsurprisingly, as often is the case with Wales, it was absolutely lashing down. I’m talking torrential rain. My girlfriend rather sensibly pointed out that as we were here for a few days, it was probably best to wait until the weather improved before we took a dip. But like a child high on E numbers I couldn’t wait. I simply didn’t have the required will power. Quickly, I ran downstairs in my trunks like a member of ‘Baywatch’ intent on making the most of their financial decision to holiday there and within seconds was sat comfortably in the heated bubbles while my head and glasses were assaulted by rain.
It was only after sitting in the hot tub for two straight hours that I decided to read the instructional manual.
“We advise sitting in the hot tub for no longer than twenty minutes at a time. Skin can react to the chemicals used.”
I awoke the next day with my skin peeling and my penis looking like it belonged to a man thirty years my senior.
With the secret of my wrinkled genitalia buried within me, it was now time for breakfast.
My girlfriend sorts everything. Whatever event or meal we have been to in the entirety of our relationship, she has organised it. So when she informed me that we were going for our breakfast at a placed called ‘Brynford Pet Cemetery’ I thought nothing of it. It’s probably some hipster place that has a quirky controversial name to gain publicity I thought. However, upon arriving it became glaringly obvious that it was an ACTUAL graveyard for cats and dogs.
On our walk up to the café, I could see well kept graves with sincere dedications to animals that had passed.
“Here lies Rocky. He loved chasing balls. Taken too soon.”
“In loving memory of Jingles. A friend, a confidant, a cat.”
Admittedly, I’m being a bit of a prick in an attempt to be funny, but it was actually quite a lovely little place with really decent intentions. Still, for anyone wondering, it is a bit weird eating your beans on toast surrounded by dead sausage dogs.
In the evening, we decided to check out a pub that we had heard good things about called the ‘Dinorben Arms.’ The pub itself was almost castle like. It was situated on a steep incline and looked like it had sprung up naturally in the Welsh hills it now resided in.
The only problem with it being half way up a hill was that the car park was right at the very top. Now, my girlfriend is the driver in our relationship. She’s basically my own personal chauffeur. So it would be ridiculously ungrateful to mock her driving skills wouldn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what I’m about to do. For some strange reason, on both occasions we visited this pub, she lost confidence half way up this almost vertical road and we were temporarily frozen in fear. What this resulted in, was me gripping on to my chair for dear life and screaming directly in her face while she held tightly on to her steering wheel and whispered her final goodbyes to this cruel world as images of us essentially reversing off a cliff played in her mind.
There’s nothing like the beginnings of a domestic and a near death experience to get you in the mood for an enjoyable scenic pint.
We were also told that surrounding the pub was a circular walk that was great for a post pint afternoon stroll. So that is exactly what we set out to do. I use the term, ‘set out’ because although our intentions were pure, what actually happened is that we got lost, ended up dodging an insane amount of sheep shit and got absolutely covered in nettle stings. We gave up half way and after about forty minutes of rambling torture ended back on the pub terrace retelling tales of our nightmare while drinking even more alcohol.
After a couple of nights in the luxury surroundings of Caerwys, it was time to move on. Our next stop was at my Mum’s static caravan in the seaside resort of ‘Rhyl.’
This might be a random question. But have you ever bumped into your school crush years after finishing school? You know, in your head you remember them as this attractive individual exuding an overwhelming amount of youthful energy. Then you bump into them twenty years later and they’ve got depressingly bad greasy hair and have lost half of their teeth.
Well, for me that’s Rhyl.
As a child, Rhyl was this magical little place full of bright lights and loud sounds. It was a haven from all those dreary countryside walks that my parents would drag us on. So obviously, as soon as we got to the caravan, I insisted that we take a walk to the town centre.
Now, I don’t know if it was nostalgia that had made me misremember Rhyl as this little beautiful quaint seaside town, but jesus it was depressing. My school crush didn’t just have greasy hair and poor dental hygiene, it now had rows of boarded up shops and had been heavily shit on by feral seagulls.
We did a dutiful walk down what was left of the promenade and quickly headed back to the caravan.
Rhyl aside, North Wales was glorious and we spent the next few days taking day trips to places like ‘Llandudno’ and ‘Conwy.’ Gorgeous places steeped in incredible history.
My only pet peeve with these places was the over abundance of cheap tacky tourist souvenirs that were spilling out of every shop within a mile radius. In fact, the sheer number of plastic keyrings and tatty tea towels that lined the streets really made me miss those dead badgers.
As I type this, my summer holiday is now over and I’m back in the unrelenting grind of capitalism.
I tell you what though, I’d give anything now to be walking down that promenade in Rhyl.
Recently I visited Amsterdam. It was the first time I had ever been and I was incredibly excited. I was excited for many reasons, but there was one that stood above the rest. I was finally going to try weed for the first time. My heroes in literature, in music, in comedy, they had all experienced it and spoke of its eye opening qualities. It was something I wanted to experience. This was my mission.
I always imagined my first time would be very romantic. I’d be in an intimate venue probably listening to jazz with people who wore quirky hats and said things like, “I’ve just got back from a really meaningful backpacking experience in Peru.” I would be taken to a place in my mind I’d never been and the whole experience would fill me with wisdom that I could pass on to future generations. It was going to be a pivotal moment in my ordinary life.
That didn’t happen.
What did happen was this. I entered a pub. The pub was the type of pub that would have scared the sober me. It was full of heavy metal types. Leather jackets everywhere. On the walls it was decorated with framed art that depicted the Devil riding motorbikes and putting his middle fingers up at anyone who paid him the slightest bit of attention. But I wasn’t sober. I was far from sober and I was determined that this was my moment.
As I made my way to the bar with my money in hand, panic began to set in. How do you even order weed? What words do you say and in what order? In my head I nervously practiced my lines.
“Can I have some weed please, sir?”
“One of your finest strains of marijuana, squire!”
“One weed for me. Keep the change!”
I was out of my depth and was going to be laughed at.
I waited patiently in the queue. Not knowing what was about to come out of my stupid mouth, when out of nowhere, a hand landed on my shoulder. It was a man I had never met before and he was speaking in a language my drunk mind couldn’t pin down to anywhere on earth. He seemed happy, patting me on my head a few times and laughing. He probably sensed that I didn’t belong there. After a few moments of nodding back awkwardly he offered me something – incredibly it was weed! This god-like man had saved my life. I took it from his hand and inhaled before I had the chance to chicken out. I did this a few times. Holding back my coughs and trying to look as cool as I possibly could in front of this friendly foreign man.
Standing there, I waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but regardless I waited. Nothing was happening. I continued to wait. Where was this inner peace? Where was this enlightenment? I waited some more, but to no avail. This great fountain of knowledge and wisdom and peace that I expected to rain upon me was nowhere to be seen. Instead I just felt nervous. What if I had done it wrong? What if I pass out? Why am I sweating?!
I began to breath heavily. I was like Pablo Escobar with anxiety issues.
“HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN I’M HIGH?!” I screamed directly into his face.
He looked back at me with the expression that only two people who don’t share the same language can give each other. A smile, but a smile with eyes that radiated confusion. I saw this as my cue to leave him.
Tentatively, I made my way out of that pub and into the Amsterdam night. My first experience with weed was over. I had completed my mission. Was it the personal transforming experience I’d hoped it would be? No. Did I feel like I was about to vomit as a mixture of nerves, alcohol and weed mixed around my tired body? Yes.
There are no lessons to learn from this. Other than perhaps, if you’re looking for a transcending experience, it’s probably best not to do it in the early hours of the morning on your own in a rock bar in Amsterdam