You know when you watch a film or TV show and you see the main character screaming and panicking as some sort of harrowing scene plays out in front of you? You exhale a judgmental puff of air from your nose and confidently exclaim, “That would never be me that. The most important thing to do is to remain calm and level headed. Most people don’t have the capacity to be like that.” This is often met with whoever you’re sat with calling you a prick while they watch you stick another handful of popcorn in your gob. Well, this week I was involved in a situation that once again revealed to the world just what a nervous ball of mess up I am.
You see, it was a Saturday night and I was relaxing on the couch when I heard the door go. This was strange in itself as we’re not the most sociable couple in the world. So unsociable I am, I employ a technique when an unexpected knock of the door happens. That technique is as follows – I don’t move, wait for whoever it it to get tired of knocking and then I enjoy them fucking off.
On this occasion this did not happen, so I reluctantly made my way to interact with another human being.
Upon opening the door, I am in an instant thrown into a state of panic, as in front of me I see an ambulance and a paramedic.
The paramedic quietly, and professionally, steps forward, “Is Melissa in?”
With my breathing slowly spiralling out of control I shut the front door behind me and grab him by the shoulder, shouting a a little bit too loudly, “Is it her Dad? IT’S HER DAD ISN’T IT?!”
Taken aback by the man screaming in his face, he attempts to respond, but before I allow him to speak again, I continue, “Oh god! He has heart issues. How am I going to tell her?!”
In my troubled head, this paramedic is here to tell me that my girlfriend’s father has passed away. A man who in recent years has had a couple of heart attacks finally beaten by the very thing that keeps him alive. At this point, I have my hands on my head and am pacing back and forward, just uttering frightened grief ridden phrases. The paramedic then stops me, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a purse that my girlfriend lost last week on a night out in town.
In a matter of seconds, I’ve gone from a man about to tell his girlfriend that her Dad has passed to feeling like a fucking idiot. My adrenaline being as it was, I don’t exactly remember how the rest of our conversation panned out, but within moments he was gone and I was stood in my front yard sweating profusely and holding my girlfriend’s lost purse.
What an idiot.
I’ve always been this way. I remember once when I was about fourteen, we were playing a game of cricket in the street. It must have been around the time when the England cricket team won The Ashes, because usually there is no chance you’d find me wasting my time playing such an awful game.
Anyway, I was batting and as the delivery came in, I swung back.
The ball, however, didn’t fly off as I had hoped. It just slowly hit the wall and pathetically rolled back towards the direction in which it had come from. Then, surrounded by a defending silence, all I heard was the shrieking cry of some annoying little kid who had previously been trying to ruin our game. I had only gone and accidentally hit him full force in the head.
He ran off.
Moments later his man mountain of a Dad came bursting down the street.
“WHICH LITTLE PRICK HAS JUST CAVED MY LADS HEAD IN WITH A CRICKET BAT?!”
I was petrified. But uncharacteristically I found the courage to step up.
“It was me, sir. I didn’t mean it though, guvnor. He ran behind me. I’m awfully sorry, I am.”
Despite sounding like some Victorian street urchin I had stood my ground. The Dad had been told and had accepted that I wasn’t at fault. He dragged his knuckles back to where he came from.
That had told him.
“Go on then. Next bowl.” I asserted smugly.
Noting happened. Oh. Sorry. Except it did. My siblings and friends pointed out that I had rather embarrassingly pissed my pants. A streak of newly fresh urine making my crotch it’s new home. Like an embarrassed skunk that applies a similar defence mechanism, I walked slowly with my cricket bat and into the house. The smell of piss wafting in the back wind and my days playing that awful game coming to an abrupt end.
I don’t know why I react like this. Psychologically you could link it to growing up around a father who used fear as a way of making sure we behaved? Perhaps being a product of a childhood divorce who grew to panic whenever someone raised their voice?
It could be a myriad of things in my environment that has moulded me into an exhausted, fear induced neurotic moron. Or it could be that I’m just a massive shithouse.
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.
Something that I get accused of on a regular basis is that I over share parts of my private life in exchange for easy laughs. That instead of keeping things to myself like the mature adult I should be, I’ll instead eagerly blurt something embarrassing out in order to hit the comedy jackpot and bathe in the warmth of my easily earned laughter. With that in mind, please prepare yourself to read this weeks blog on the topic of me finding a brown growth on my penis.
It started a few evenings ago, when upon ending one of my usual visits to the toilet, I discovered a dark patch of skin just looking back up at me. Instantly, a mixture of panic and intense anger stirred deep within.
“Just my fucking luck. Of all the cancers to get, I get dick cancer. Nobody is going to do a cake sale for penis cancer…. ” I found myself muttering as I strode determinedly towards my poor girlfriend with penis in hand.
Greeted with the usual sigh and roll of the eyes that I have been accustomed to over the years, she rather wisely pointed out that it was probably nothing but it was best that I contacted my GP in the morning. This advice was by far the most sensible thing to do. I knew it was the route I should take even before she said it. Unfortunately, however, I am a silly man and as silly men often do I decided to ignore the sensible woman and instead spent the next two days unproductively comparing my growth to some of the most cancer riddled genitalia the internet had to offer.
Now there are some life events that are so important that people just know were they where when they took place. JFK’s assassination, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11. In years down the line when I’m asked, “At what point did your girlfriend lose all respect for you?” I’ll know in a heartbeat that it was on a Monday evening in July after leaning over to my beloved and asking her for the seventy fifth time to look at some random unfortunate penis on Google Images.
With a random mans penis just inches away from her face she snapped and informed me that she would finally end this nonsense. I awoke the next day to an email informing me that I would receive a call from my GP in the coming hours.
Today I was to face my fears.
And my health anxiety fears were raised to an all time high when in work my phone began to ring.
This was it.
I was in the last few moments of living in world where I wasn’t seriously ill.
I picked up my phone and walked past a colleague who I mouthed something about needing to take a call too because vagueness is king when you’re just about to go and stand in a corridor and attempt to privately discuss a potentially serious medical issue about your cock.
The phone call started as I expected it to begin. The bog standard questions about my general health and so on. Quite quickly, however, it became apparent that he would need to take a look at the marking and he politely suggested that I send him some photos. Reluctantly, I agreed and asked him what would happen once he had viewed the photos. His answer startled me.
“If I call you back it is probably something that needs more attention. If not, I’ll just text you.”
For some bizarre reason, he was adding jeopardy into this. Like some sort of twisted game show host he held all the power in his hands and I would soon become transfixed on my phone hoping to be this weeks lucky winner and receive the text that would confirm I could continue to exist.
Now I’ve had terrible starts to many working weeks, but very few have involved me sneaking off from work and taking pictures of my junk in the disabled toilets.
But there I was.
It was happening.
We live in a world ruled by identity politics. Almost on a daily basis I see people of all genders, sexuality, classes arguing between each other. However, I think we can all agree on one thing – dicks are disgusting. Even on the best day with the most flattering lighting, one hundred percent of them still took gross. But on this day, hidden in a disabled toilet with my foot up against the door I might possibly have owned the most disgusting of all dicks on planet Earth. The combination of potential serious illness and being discovered by a work colleague had made my little fella completely shrivel up. I genuinely remember pathetically shouting after my fourth attempt at capturing an image, “Just fucking work will you?!”
It was like the night I lost my virginity all over again.
But alas, I managed to take a couple of images that wouldn’t result in a lawsuit and sent them straight his way. I then lifted up my trousers, walked back into the office and sat down at my desk like the disgusting pervert I am.
Within seconds my phone buzzed.
IT WAS A TEXT!
“Thanks for the photos, Paul.”
What a weird start of a text I thought. Nobody is thanking anyone for those photos, doc. My girlfriend is the one person on this planet who *might* want them and even she would vomit instantly on sight of seeing those.
“Just looks like a pigmentation issue. Nothing to be concerned about. Please keep an eye on it and if there are any changes, please get in touch.”
The relief washed over me. I wasn’t going to die! Phew! I looked around and felt nothing but gratitude. Life was beautiful. Everything once again seemed possible. I was at one with everything and everyone in that office. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath…
“Those horrible photographs are going to live on the internet forever.” My internal monologue whispered into my psyche.
The panic was back. I then remembered that the ninteen year old me once posted a picture of his anus in a random forum online because he had convinced himself that his newly birthed haemorrhoid was anus cancer.
My naked body was all over the internet! At this point, I might as well start an OnlyFans.
With the cringe enducing memories refusing to vacate my mind, I slowly placed my head on to my desk in some sort of exhaustive embarrassment.
I had lived to tell this tale, but in that moment it dawned upon me – nobody ever really dies on the internet.
I’m not a fan of clichés, but I’m going to start this weeks blog with one. My last seven days have been quite the emotional roller-coaster. I have gone from uncontrollable fear to unadulterated highs and it’s all down to finally booking my COVID vaccination.
I’ve been entitled to have my jab for about four months now but I have resolutely avoided organising it. Whenever my colleagues, friends or family have asked if I’ve had it, I’ve increasingly sounded like an absolute passionate conspiracy theorist. I’m not. But that’s exactly what it has sounded like.
“I’m just holding off for a bit longer, see what the research says.”
“I have a healthy immune system. I’ll let others get it first.”
“BILL GATES IS A SATANIC PAEDOPHILE WHO WANTS TO INSERT TRACKING CHIPS INTO OUR ARMS!”
You see, I don’t believe any of this, but I was willing to say anything to hide the fact that I have a really bad fear of needles. It actually has an official term called ‘trypanophobia.’ However, my friends sympathetically refer to it as, ‘being a massive pussy.’
I’ve always had a fear of needles for as far back as I can remember. I was the shortest kid in my year – the runt of the litter. So the school nurse would routinely refer me to have blood tests to figure out the bizarre mystery of my lack of height. She would genuinely look at my 5’3 father and 5’2 mother in the eyes while having these conversations. I mean, I’m no medical expert, but even I know that these two diminutive humans were never going to create a Shaquile O’Neal.
I remember one particular visit to the hospital when they put needles in both my arms and legs at the SAME time. It was horrific. The nurse in charge tried to calm me by saying, “Once they’re in, we have a PlayStation you can play on.” Even at eight I wasn’t stupid enough to think that this was a good deal. Four hours of trauma that would linger with me for the rest of my life for a go on ‘Tony Hawks Pro Skater?’ No thanks, lady.
But alas, my time was running out. I knew my list of excuses were seriously depleted and that I was going to get it eventually. So on Sunday evening, I bit the bullet and booked it.
The appointment was booked for Tuesday morning. Now, from the moment I booked it and every moment leading up to actually getting the vaccination, all I was filled with was stomach churning thoughts about getting it. I couldn’t eat properly, I couldn’t sleep properly. It was horrible. My every living second occupied by the thought of my skin being aggressively pierced by some middle aged woman just wanting to finish her shift so she could get home.
With my nerves shattered and my body exhausted Tuesday arrived.
My usual morning routine usually consists of having a cup of tea or two, reading a couple of chapters of the book I’m reading or scrolling mindlessly on my phone. This morning was different. There was no tea. There was no reading. There was no scrolling. There was however excessive diarrhoea. Just hours of fear induced defecation. At one point, with the clock ticking down and the time of my appointment getting ever nearer, I found myself genuinely tearing up during one of my visits to the bathroom. The only sound filling the silence between plops was my pathetic cries of, “I can’t do this.”
I did however muster the courage to wipe and leave and just a mere fifteen minutes later from having a shit based breakdown I was stood at the door to the clinic.
I was welcomed by a young man at the door who I dutifully informed that I was there for my vaccination. I must have looked terrified because he quickly smirked and said, “Scared?” I was worried that everyone at the clinic would be cold and would just think I was a massive coward, but his warm smile put me at ease instantly. I smiled back and with our blossoming friendship cemented, he continued to reassure me.
“Are you scared of the needle itself or what’s in it?”
“Oh no. I trust the science. It’s just the needle. I have this silly longstanding fear.”
“Mate, you won’t even feel it going in.”
“I’M USED TO THAT SENTENCE.”
My top lip sweating and my sense of friendship completely overestimated he went from being welcoming to awkward in just a matter of seconds. Without saying a further word to me, he handed me a document and requested I take a seat.
So like a man who had just inappropriately joked about penetration, I slowly made my way to the waiting area.
I looked down at the piece of paper I had been given and saw the number ’49’ scribbled at the top. Then, a nurse appeared at the door just in front of me and bellowed it out. For a second, like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I just stared back at her.
“If I don’t move she won’t know it’s me.” My internal monologue muttered.
“This can be my new life now, I’ll just sit here forever.” I continued like the moron I am.
However, without warning, my legs took control and before I knew it, I found myself walking towards her.
This was it.
I sat down. Inhaling gigantic breaths and looking like I was about to faint, I cry-whispered, “Get it over with, please… ” She then preceded to read out a number of generic mandated questions which my voice decided to answer in the same tone as a teenage boy in the midst of his voice breaking.
With the administration over, I closed my eyes.
I had literally felt nothing and with the adrenaline and relief coarsing through my veins I misjudged my reply.
“Jesus FUCKING Christ. Is that it?!”
My voice now back to normal but my eyes now widened like I had done a fist full of cocaine, I stared intensely at the nurse like I was on some sort of vaccination high.
“CAN I HAVE MY SECOND ONE NOW!?”
The nurse was clearly becoming a little bit weirded out by both my volume and requests for more vaccinations. She requested that I go sit in what can only be described as a holding pen. This, obviously, was standard procedure, but I couldn’t help feel that I would have been sent somewhere to calm down regardless.
After twenty minutes of sitting, it was now time for me to leave. With the last remnants of confidence still in my system I left the building with a strut and jumped astride my bike. My feet touched the pedals, and then, almost as if it had been waiting in the shadows, it was back. That familiar worrying voice.
“Oi Paul?! What if you get those severe side effects?”
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.
A few weeks back I went for a meal with the future in laws. I’ve been for many meals with them by now and this was nothing out of the ordinary. The usual nice bit of food, a few too many alcoholic drinks and the standard four hours of pure panic making sure I come up with enough small talk so they don’t think that their daughter is with a serial killer.
You know, all the normal stuff.
During my usual ‘make-sure-you-don’t-say-anything-too-weird’ pitter patter with the partner of my girlfriend’s mother, I wandered into my usual safe space of talking about football.
“Liverpool did well considering the amount of injuries we had this season.”
“England have got a manager in Southgate that will pick players on form rather than reputation.”
“If COVID has showed us anything, it’s just how important fans are.”
I was half way through my main at this point and things were going swimmingly. It seemed like I was going to get through another social event with my girlfriend’s family without raising any serious concerns that their daughter would end up chopped up in a fridge freezer.
It was at this point that the subject of ‘matched betting’ came up.
“You can’t lose, mate. I’ve been doing it for weeks and I’m a few hundred quid up.” He boasted while stuffing chicken wings into his gob.
Straight away my cynical side kicked in and I felt the urge to argue back.
“What you do, is you take up an offer on a bookies website that gives you free bets, match that on the bet exchange and then use your free bets to make profit. Simple.” He said like rain man at an all you can eat buffet.
Surely this is one of those things that are too good to be true I communicated with my girlfriend with one of those knowing looks. It’s sort of too good in the same way, when as a child, your slightly older loser uncle used to try and sell you adulthood. Pontificating with his wise words like an ancient sage while holding a can of Strongbow.
“You don’t have to go to school! You have your own money! They let you drive a car!”
Oh it all sounds absolutely brilliant Uncle Kev. Well, until you actually reach adulthood and then they surprise you with credit ratings, a volatile job market and haemorrhoids.
No, it’s nonsense. There’s no such thing as easy money I told myself. Next he’ll be telling me he’s an African Prince who needs money for his Mother’s operation or he’ll try to convince me that I’ve been in a car accident in the last twelve months.
I resolutely kept quiet and ate my vegetable biryani like the polite boyfriend I am.
However, it was when I went home that the problems started. If you have read any of my previous blogs you’ll know by now that once I get an idea in my head, I become absolutely obsessed.
And unsurprisingly, that is exactly what happened.
The following two days passed with my internal monologue incessantly daring me to give it a go. In retrospect, it was actually a nice break from the usual soundtrack to my life of thinking about death and the meaningless of absolutely everything.
On the third day, I decided that I would give it a go. As as a man with not much money in his bank account and absolutely no savings to speak of, all I had to lose was absolutely everything I had ever worked for. But how else was I going to find enjoyment in some Norwegian football game with two teams I had never heard of? Bankruptcy gets you excited quite like nothing else.
My girlfriend’s mother’s partner made it sound so simple, but what followed was three hours of watching countless YouTube tutorials and reading a million different blogs on the topic. Surprisingly, however, after an afternoon of PhD level research, I found myself with £8 pound profit.
Enough money to buy some paracetamol to cure this migraine from trying to work out how to bleeding do it.
Since then I’ve made about another £30 JUST from watching football and I’m totally sold on it.
It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being a member of a cult and I can’t help mentioning it to everyone I meet. It’s only my social awkwardness that has stopped me from knocking on people’s doors like some sort of Jehovas Witness.
If you do hear a knock on your door though, please do answer. I might not be able to offer you salvation, but I can probably get you a tenner from watching Scandinavian football.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality this week.
I know, I know. I need to stop being so bloody positive and uplifting.
It all started earlier in the week when I booked an eye test. I’ve had glasses for as far back as I can remember. I was THAT kid in school who had an eye patch. It wasn’t enough that I was the shortest kid in my year and that glasses for children in the mid 1990’s were clearly designed for pensioners, so the adults then also decided that I had to stick on an eye patch.
And if that didn’t already make me stand out enough, someone then thought it would be a really good idea to put a rotation of brightly coloured stickers on the front of my patch. There’s nothing quite like being short, wearing glasses that were designed for your grandma and wearing an eye patch with a multi coloured zebra on it to quickly make sure you develop a decent personality.
I mean, it’s an absolute miracle that I wasn’t bullied. People kept telling six year old me that it was cool.
“It’s so cool. You’re basically a pirate, Paul.”
Now, I’ve watched ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ but I don’t ever recall seeing a miserable maritime adventurer sat in a children’s sandpit drinking out of a ‘Toy Story’ cup and lamenting the temporary loss of half of his vision.
On the day of my test the optician informed me that as this was now my first eye test in my thirties, they would have to carry out two new checks that I hadn’t experienced before.
GETTING OLDER RULES!
The first new experience was to test the pressure of my eyes. I didn’t even know this was a thing. I still don’t even understand what it is. But what the test basically entailed was a machine being thrusted in front of each eye and a puff of wind being directly blown into them. This happened approximately twelve times in total and approximately twelve times I reacted by jumping back like the absolute shithouse I am. There’s only so many times you can awkwardly make the same, “It won’t get me next time” joke to a stranger before they begin to wish blindness on you.
I was then told that the next part of my test would be to have a detailed 3D picture taken of each eye so they could potentially see if I was at risk from a series of unpleasant conditions. The lady then started reading out a list of potential things the machine could pick up on.
“Glaucoma… Diabetes… Tumour…”
It was like the world’s worst menu.
While the machine was then busy taking the necessary images, she attempted to make small talk.
“You going to make the most of the good weather after this?”
“Well that entirely depends on what this test picks up, love. I was expecting a relaxing Saturday, but there’s now an actual chance that I could be weeping the rest of my day away after the discovery of an inoperable tumour!”
I didn’t actually say that. I just muttered something about maybe having a pint and taking the dog for a walk.
Luckily, everything was ok other than the £30 charge and the consequent out of body experience of seeing myself reacting like my father whenever he his hit with a bill.
I also watched Russell Howard’s new TV show in which he visits a group of Australian ladies who make coffins for charity. An incredibly selfless thing to do for people who otherwise would struggle to meet the financial requirements when a loved one passes. I usually let these type of things wash over me, but as some geriatric lady from Sydney was doing a piece to camera explaining the decisions that went into making her creation, I found myself being overtaken by an overwhelming sense of dread. I was lying on my sofa drinking tea and sweating profusely.
“My god! I’m going to be in one of those one day! Everyone I love is going to vanish. Ambition is pointless. Achievements are just the egos way of keeping you in denial about the futility of existence. THIS IS ALL MEANINGLESS.”
That was all going on underneath. Deep within me. But like a good man entrenched in masculinity and a cultural British idea of not talking about fear or emotions, I manifested this to the outside world by quietly having another sip of tea.
The ladies then went on to reveal that they also make coffins for children. A camera panned across a selection of tiny coffins. Each one smaller and more harrowing. Despite this, my panic subsided as not even someone as short as I am could fit inside one of those.
Phew. Existential panic over.
Apparently, there’s nothing quite as soothing as the death of children.
This week, the fantasy football community have reached our penultimate week of gameplay. Now for those of you who don’t know what fantasy football is, it’s basically a game in which you pick eleven real life footballers at the start of the season and then spend the next nine months of your life obsessing over every single facet of their lives. In a few years, I’ll genuinely regret spending the last decade of my life not answering phone calls from my recently deceased mother because I was overwhelmed trying to figure out which full back had the most attacking potential.
Now for others, it’s just a bit of harmless fun. They join simply because everyone else in the office is participating. You often find that they stop modifying their team after about six weeks and then throughout the season will intermittently ask, “How’s that fantasy football thingy majig going?” I bite my tongue and give them a run down of people’s positions, but a fire burns deep inside me that roars, “YOU WOULD FUCKING KNOW IF YOU HAD FOLLOWED UP WITH YOUR COMMITMENT TO COMPETE AND HADN’T COMPROMISED THE ENTIRE INTEGRITY OF THE COMPETITION.”
As you can tell, I am not one of these people and I take it rather seriously like the unbearable competition nazi that I am.
In fact, it’s now getting to the business stage of the season with just two games left, and rather unsurprisingly as someone who takes it so seriously, I am top of all three leagues that I compete in. For anyone who thinks that would make me happy, let me be the first to say that you are reading the room incorrectly. I am riddled with uncontrollable anxiety whenever I think about it. I have been top for so long that I just want it to be over. I am currently like an injured animal who just wants to be shot in the face so I can be free of this torment.
I spent the whole of last week in a state of semi-permanent depression because I missed the deadline to change my team on a triple gameweek. It was a week in which I was huddled over my tablet incessantly checking the points that my nearest rivals were accumulating and calculating whether that was enough for me to be overtaken. On an unrelated note, my girlfriend was also doing her own maths and was working out how much money she would need to save in order to leave me and start afresh.
If I do clinch the title this year, I am honestly debating whether I can take the pressure of doing it all again next year. I might retire before I give myself a heart attack. However, if anyone is impressed in the slightest by my pointless achievement, I might risk cardiac injury once again.
This week, I finally caved into a voice that has been intermittently whispering into my ear for the last two years. A voice that has been berating me for being a man in his thirties and not being able to play a single musical instrument. It’s the same voice that made me download an app to learn Spanish not too long ago, and without giving away any spoilers, I’m still only fluent in being an ignorant little Englander.
Nevertheless, I didn’t let my previous failure in improving as a human being stop me and decided to take some serious thought about which instrument would be right for me. And by, ‘serious thought’ what I really mean is, I quickly googled the sentence, ‘easiest and cheapest instrument to learn’ and impulsively ordered a keyboard. If I could have been bothered to click the second link you would have now undoubtedly been reading a blog about my attempts to learn the ukulele.
After the order for the keyboard had been placed, I spent the next forty eight hours watching videos of the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John and forensically looking at their finger placements as if I had any idea what I was looking for. I was even being distracted at work and found myself incessantly texting my girlfriend asking if it had arrived yet. So much so, that when it finally arrived my girlfriend’s text message to me simply read, ‘It is here.’ No warmth, no kisses to end the text as she usually would. Just three cold words sent by a woman at the end of her tether.
When I arrived home, I sprinted past all loved ones and instantly began to rip the packaging apart exactly like a man who lives in a world of instant gratification and is emotionally overwhelmed by a two day wait for something he bought on a whim. Upon annihilating the cardboard it became quickly apparent to me that I had bought a keyboard that was clearly designed for children. In particular, there’s a leaflet included that has several smug children holding a variety of different instruments. I suppose that this is meant to motivate other children. The message is an uplifting one of, “IF THEY CAN DO IT! SO CAN YOU!” But as a man so significantly outside of that demographic, it holds a more negative tone. More a message that says, “WE’LL BE ENTERING THE JOB MARKET SOON! INSTEAD OF PISSING ABOUT WITH A CHILD’S KEYBOARD, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD FINALLY GET AROUND TO LEARNING MICROSOFT EXCEL?”
Surprisingly though, even this was not enough to dampen my spirits and with motivation and enthusiasm still running through my pores, I found myself on YouTube within moments. In the recommended videos, I could see thumbnails advertising videos such as…
“Learn Hallelujah in 5 easy steps.”
“Classical music for beginners.”
“Nursery rhymes for children.”
As is often the case, I analysed all three choices and decided to go for the easiest option. As a result, I spent the next two hours learning the famous children’s ditty, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ It must be noted that at the same time I was committing this tune to memory, my caring girlfriend, who has decided to volunteer for a charity that helps people with learning difficulties, was undergoing her volunteer training via zoom. So as she did this genuinely amazing thing, she and all her fellow volunteers could just faintly hear a fully grown man in the background swearing along to a nursery rhyme like a fucking lunatic. It must have crossed the other volunteers minds that my girlfriend had gone above and beyond in her duties and started dating one of the service users.
Despite the annoyance of my poor girlfriend having to listen to her neanderthal boyfriend smashing away at keys to a song that five year olds learn in thirty minutes, she was actually quite impressed and couldn’t resist shouting, “You’re an actual top notch pianist.” Or at least that’s what I think she said. Her compliment was drowned out by a selection of choice swear words and requests for me to keep it quiet.
My talent already too much for some people to take in.
I’m now about a week in to being an owner of a keyboard and I’m still at that stage where I can’t walk past it without having to touch it – I went though a similar phase as a teenage boy. Obviously, my girlfriend is convinced that like most things I’ll get bored of it and before too long it’ll be in the corner of our bedroom gathering dust. I on the other hand think I’ll eventually be proficient. In fact, her insistence that I’ll give up makes me want to stick with it. I might be the only musical legend that learns his art fueled solely by spite.
Also for anyone interested, my first single, ‘I Told You I Would Stick With This And Thanks For Your Unwavering Support’ will be available for download shortly.