Joining The Rat Race

On leaving University I sat on my sofa at home and had a little think about what it was that I wanted to do with myself. Chelsea manager? That would be great. Really, really great. And if FM was anything to go by, I would be a good manager too. Slightly unrealistic though. And anyway I applied for it after Mr Ancelotti was given the boot, and the fuckers didn’t get back to me.

So I headed West for a PR internship, resulting in 5 fantastic weeks in Bristol. It was only work experience, but I got to wear a suit everyday and it took longer for the novelty to wear off than I thought it would. I met some great people, like the couple who put me up for the first two weeks of my stay there, which might have been very awkward a situation had they not been as accommodating and friendly as they were.

I also met a fellow intern named Bob, a student at Bristol Uni who came a week after I joined, and asked me to make him some coffee on his first day. I was the old-timer, the pro, the veteran internee; I was shocked when he asked, so much so that I meekly replied, asking how he took it. ‘Milk, two sugars. Thanks’. I later learned that when a director asked him to close the window because it was getting cold, he replied, ‘I’d rather not, thanks, I’m quite hot’. Clearly his grasp of the chain of command was rotten all the way up.

After Bristol, I headed back to London, where the hunt for that elusive first job continued. I had sorted myself out a PR internship, which I eventually took, but before that, I had an interview with this recruitment agency that specialised in getting graduates work placements. I thought, this is going to be great, what better way of getting myself out there on the recruitment scene.

It turned out to be a complete farce. One of their unique selling points was the recording of a video CV. Now, I have never considered becoming an international movie star, mainly because of my inability to act, but it is just as well because apparently I come across on camera like a gibbering, sweaty, unemployable idiot.

I turned up at their offices on one of those two freakishly hot days at the beginning of October, suited up, and as a result, was rather overheated. I also hadn’t prepared anything for the video CV, confident in my abilities of reeling off something inspiring and unique. When it came down to it though, I couldn’t think of anything to say, that is, I froze, which was quite ironic due to the fact I was melting.

The girl who was filming me had to write bullet-points down on two pieces of paper for me to read off, and held them up  behind the camera. As I staggered to the bottom of the first page, I paused, waiting for her to show the second. She didn’t seem to realise, however, that the page needed turning, which resulted in a dramatic pause. The point I was midway through trying to convey at this juncture in time was the fact that I was a strong communicator, the evidence on show however, suggested the opposite.

On watching this video back, I angled that it perhaps might hinder my chances of getting a job, suggestions which were briskly rejected, as if just having a video was all that was needed. The lack of interviews received through this agency suggests I may have been right.

No bother, and on I went, onto another PR internship in Central London. This was great apart from my walk to and from work was interrupted by an over-friendly Big Issue seller, who took a shining to me and insisted on shouting joyously every time I passed. I ended up having to add ten minutes onto the walk in order to take a different route. The trials and tribulations of being an intern.

As I bumbled through the days and weeks, however, I decided PR wasn’t for me, so I left to pursue a marketing position. Handing out CVs on the street in my suit in the freezing cold was a bit of a low point. My hands turned purple, making it difficult to work Google Maps on my phone, searching for Marketing Agencies in the areas I walked through. At the end of one day, I got back to the warmth of the flat to find an email from one of the lucky recipients, telling me I’d spelt ‘November’ like ‘Novemeber’, and hence that it wasn’t very professional.

The definition of a Rat Race is: ‘an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit’. People use this idea to describe their jobs, as the mundanity of working in the same place nearly every day of the year. I can imagine it is difficult to motivate yourself in this seemingly fruitless pursuit. However, I think the term ‘Rat Race’ is a lot more apt to describe the demoralising process of actually getting a job. There is the obvious point about doing it to get a job, but there are definitely times when it feels like an endless and self-defeating task. I would much rather be employed then standing on street corners handing CVs out.

So in that sense, I have joined the Rat Race. And I can’t help but feel this video isn’t helping haha.

The Day I Caught The Train

The same holiday that I had the love note nightmare, I received a phone call from my best friend’s mother. This was unexpected to say the least, but she rang to bestow on me a great responsibility.

It was her son’s birthday coming up, and as a surprise present she wanted to get him some Chelsea tickets. Unsure of the best way to go about getting some, she turned to me, naturally, since I was his inspiration in becoming a Chelsea fan, back in the day.

I gleefully agreed, and in it for me was a ticket of my very own; not, I should note, that there needed to be an incentive.

I returned to England, shamed by my recent romantic discrepancy, happy for the distraction of my ticket mission. I was in text contact with the mother, keeping her posted of my status and progress.

The morning the tickets went on general sale, I dutifully awoke minutes before the hour, readied my computer, primary mission objective about to be tackled. After the inevitable loss of internet connection and freezing of computer, some hairy moments indeed at 7.o.clock in the morning with so much on the line, I finally confirmed the purchase of two brand spanking new Chelsea tickets.

My friend’s birthday came, and with it he received a card from his mum revealing the surprise of the tickets and that I was in possession of them. He rang me happily and we chatted about the forthcoming match, a conversation in which he also revealed he had his mum’s phone when one of my texts came through…

“I saw your name in her inbox and went cold. I thought the worst for a minute there Wiggy… I swear to God… If you ever…”

And so the day of the match came round, and as you might expect, I was in London with tickets safely stowed away, ready and waiting for me to pick up as I left to meet my friend on the way to Stamford Bridge…

I woke with a start, my hazy mind racing despite the shackles of the pub’s beer from the night before. Where were the tickets? Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no. I was in London, tick. The tickets? No tick. Tickless. Ticketless and tickless. They were sitting prettily on my bedroom desk all the way back in Manningtree. The match was a lunchtime kick off and only a matter of hours away. I was up shit creek, the paddle just a distant memory, and time was a-ticking.

I jumped out of bed, hastily pulling on whatever clothes I could find, phone in hand, Dad on the line. I quickly explained the situation, at which he sighed and muttered sentences which revolved around words like ‘typical’ and ‘useless’. Understandably I guess.

We came up with a rescue plan: there was not enough time for me to get to Manningtree and back before the match, so Dad agreed to drive the hour or so to Stanstead and I would meet him there having caught the train. Time was tight, but it was feasible. The exchange went without a hitch as I met Dad, two tickets and two Chelsea shirts in hand, well and truly saving my bacon.

In all of this excitement, in this race against time, this adrenaline enhanced episode, I still found the time to fall asleep on the train back, perhaps because of my hung over state. I awoke groggily when a Dutch tourist poked me and enlightened me as to our arrival in to ‘Liverpool…’. You have got to be kidding me.

Heart in mouth, I raced off the train, incredulous that I could have made such an error as getting on a train going completely in the wrong direction… But thankfully the Dutch tourist had innocently left the ‘Street’ part out of the name, a small mistake which I might otherwise have picked up on had I had a clearer mind. I was still on course, still on track, still ready to enter the final stage of my mission.

And to be honest, the rest went rather well in comparison to what had happened before. I met my friend and handed him one shirt and one ticket. We got into the ground with plenty of time and even found time to have a few beers before the 12.45 kick off, which went some way towards helping my fragile state. We watched the sort match that we have grown used to expecting, only being able to purchase tickets at home against mediocre lower table sides. Afterwards, we went and met our friends in the pub.

After what was a nightmare mission of a day, it all turned out rather well in the end, my ticket mission a victory gripped from the jaws of defeat. Aided by the contributions of my father and a conscientious Dutch man, I was to courier those tickets with suave and aplomb. (If he hadn’t woken me up, I might not have got off that train. Once, I fell asleep on a train into London, and only woke up when we approached a station on the way back out. Luckily, it was in Zone 6 on the tube, so I just got on that),

Dan, I owe you a ticket, maybe given past experiences, you should get them and I will just pay?!

I Love You

Three little words that are uttered a million times a day. 99% of those are appreciated and reciprocated, and everything is grand and merry in the world. The other 1% is, well, all just a bit awkward isn’t it?!

I had a bit of a shocker a few years ago with regard to those three little words. A story which, after it had happened, I swore to myself I would never tell anyone else about due to the cringey nature of the episode, but it was that cringey nature that made me blab it to the first friend I saw after the event.

It was one of those moments that you look back and just have to wonder, what on earth was going through my mind, what on earth could possibly make that seem like a good idea at the time. As inexplicable as it is embarrassing, this is my ‘I Love You’ moment:

I had this crush on this girl throughout pretty much the whole of first year of uni, and to be fair on me, we had got with each other on numerous nights out throughout that time. Unfortunately, this wasn’t what I thought it was, and I was well and truly in the dreaded friend zone, despite these drunken lapses into something more.

First year ended, and summer rolled around. It turned out that she would be in Italy the same time I was there with the family, so I suggested she come and spend a few days with us in Tuscany, which was enthusiastically accepted.

We had fun in the sun; innocent fun in the form of table tennis, swimming, and walking round Lucca, nothing more than that. It was nice; a good rest after what you can imagine had been a long, tough and difficult year of academia in our first of three at Newcastle. I was aware that the sparks weren’t exactly flying, and I pondered the issue as we navigated Lucca’s Roman streets.

It got to the day when she was to leave for the airport, to fly back to the UK in time for a festival, and my Dad offered to drop her off. We got into the car and set off, all of us, including me, unaware of the impending romantic disaster that was about to take place.

She had been reading this book on holiday, whose binding had started to break, and as we sat there in the back of the Chrysler, conversation flowing, the pages started to fall out as she opened the book. I began to gather them up and as I was giving them back to her, an idea, that idea, the idea, struck me like a hammer. Clearly, I needed to make a statement, make my intentions clear. One last throw of the dice, why not? What was the worst that could happen? Dr. Pepper knows.

I scribbled those three, terrifically immasculating words down on a page, folded it, and returned it to her, mentioning that she shouldn’t open it till she got on the plane. A fool-proof plan, a romantic mega-gesture, one that would spur her into mutual giddiness.

I didn’t clock the ridiculousness of the situation as we walked through the terminal and said our goodbyes. She went through the security barrier and I waved her off. As she disappeared round a corner, I turned and headed back to the car where my Dad dutifully waited.

And then it hit me. A cold surge of terror and disbelief swept into my consciousness and I stopped dead in my tracks. What had I just done?! I cursed my stupidity, my ridiculous sense of logical thought. I bent over with my head in my hands, panic coursing through my veins. I had to do something.

I fished my phone out of my pocket and quickly typed:

‘If you haven’t read it yet, don’t! Throw it away!’

Now, I’m no scientist, but I get the impression that the text failed to accomplish what it was designed to do. Needless to say, we didn’t hook up for good after that, if ever again actually. Months of awkwardness and avoidance from both her and me suggested as much. Unless, I’d read the signs wrong. Possibly? Possibly not.

My friend who I had told on my return from Italy, having laughed all that he could laugh, asked me why I hadn’t made a joke of it by sending a different text, along the lines of ‘Haaaa, Kidding!’. The power of hindsight is an often celebrated tool, but I don’t think that even in this instance hindsight highlighted anything that could have made the situation better, other than perhaps not sending the note in the first place, and everyone could have told me that beforehand anyway. For once, hindsight was obsolete.

And that was it. That was my ‘I Love You’ moment. And didn’t it go well! What followed was many months of ‘I love you’ coos from my friends, which served as an important lesson to learn… Whatever embarrassing things you do in life, don’t tell a girl you love them on a scrumpled page of a novel, then tell your friends haha.

Welcome to the Layer Cake

The art of good business is being a good middleman…

It was with this little nugget of entrepreneurial genius that I set up my own little business in Newcastle. The best ideas are the simplest, and this was a pretty simple idea: take people’s old student text books, sell them on and take a 10% cut. Easy-peasy, money in your pocket, I’ll be in a Ferrari in no time.

When this idea was conceptualised, I engaged the last three years of marketing learning and set the wheels in motion of what was meant to be the vessel on which I would make my millions. Or at least some money, surely. Surely? So, with an air of optimism, Uni Books was born.

I embarked on this adventure confidently, assured that whatever happened, the student book industry was unlikely to be as cut-throat as Layer Cake’s coke scene, where Daniel Craig’s unnamed character had a bit of a tough time of it.  Kidnappings in the night would be infrequent. Hopefully.

Within a few hours of Uni Books being ‘live’, technical terminology there, I had had some messages from people with books that they wanted me to sell. I went round and picked up around thirty, which turned out to be bloody heavy. I hadn’t thought of this little logistical detail… by the time I had carried them home I was sweating and tired, but I had money on my mind; I was going to be a student millionnaire.

I imagined the suits, the cars, the women, the brand of Uni Books going on the stock market, copy-cat book traders popping up all over place; I was frightened by its potential. I came up with slogans such as ‘Get the looks with Uni Books’. What could go wrong?

I guess another bit of business acumen that needed to be present was the concept of supply and demand. There was a supply of crumpled, outdated books, sure, but unfortunately the guys who I had lined up to buy them off me weren’t as forthcoming with their wallets as I had anticipated.

In fact, they were very unforgiving indeed.  When I submitted my list of books that I had to sell to the book store, it was returned with about three books that were eligible for re-sale. Hmmm….

Unperturbed, I packed up the sellable books and wandered into town with my friend, who had a book of his own. We steamed into the book shop, handed over our goods and compared our money. He had £10, which was all his, while I had £30, of which £3 was mine to keep. My cheeks reddened with frustration as he chucked his head back with laughter, mocking my miniscule returns.

I spent the next afternoon ringing round book shops in Newcastle, determined to shift my stock. They caked my room, piled everywhere, and it was getting depressing waking up finding them there staring at me, jibing at my faltering entrepreneurial credentials. Not so determined as to put them all up on eBay or Amazon, mind, as that would involve me investing my three pounds into postage materials, and the overheads were simply too tight. This was the mother of all cash-flow crises. I took solace in the fact that most entrepreneurs have been near bankruptcy at least once in their careers; it was just part of the business.

When I was unceremoniously rejected from all book shops Toonside, I must admit that I was scared for the future of Uni Books. I did wonder that perhaps the cars, the clothes and the girls might not come after all. Maybe it was a dud of an idea, maybe it just wasn’t to be. Then, in that moment of weakness, I remembered Michael Gambon giving his inspirational speech to Daniel Craig about the Layer Cake… This was my Layer Cake moment. I wouldn’t give up just yet. I would have my slice of cake and I would eat it.

I decided I would try a different book store that I knew of in Cambridge. They would surely take them. Why wouldn’t they?! This would be the way I would make my money. This would be the answer to this little conundrum.

At the end of term, I was due to go to a friend’s house about a week after I’d got home, which would take me through Cambridge. It was the perfect opportunity to get Uni Books back on track, and I loaded the books I had left in the back of my car.

I reached Cambridge with high spirits; my money moment was imminent. I had the book store on google maps on my phone, and I was headed straight for it. Except, as always, there was a problem. It was right in the middle of bloody town, with not a car park in sight.

I eventually found some narrow residential streets where I parked the Fiesta, ignoring the parking permit signs, confident that not today, of all days, would a traffic warden wave his dreaded pen. I’ll only be a second, I thought. And anyway, I’ll have some money from the books, so if I did get stung, I’d be covered.

Alas, I was wrong. On two counts. The book store I’d had in mind was as reticent and uncompromising as its northern cousins, and I left with a full bag, but yet again, an empty wallet. And as I sloped back to my car, it took a few seconds for me to recognise what the little square of white was on my windscreen and as I did, my shoulders sagged even further. The dreaded pen had been waved, the ticket signed and sealed, the icing on the cake. Uni Books was dead and buried.

Total Revenue: £3.00

Total Expenditure: £35.00

Net Profit: £-32.00 (and a whole lot of hassle).

Welcome to the Layer Cake.

Silver Lining

I am at war. In battle. On guard. I am every day, and have been for as long I can remember. The enemy? A small, slivery, silvery little menace known as The Key.

Big ones, small ones, simple ones, intricate ones, important ones, useless ones, they all have that mystical ability to leap from my left jeans pocket where I put it, to my right coat pocket where I most definitely didn’t; a game designed to confuse and frustrate in equal measure.

If it’s not jumping about my person, it is manoeuvering about my house, scurrying from the desk in my room where I placed it deliberately, and crawling down the back of the sofa in the living room; the last place I look.

But, despite the longevity of this battle, there are only a few instances in which I remember The Key really winning.

One of those times was when I was due to have a New Years Eve party at my parent’s flat at London Bridge, where it took my arrival at Liverpool Street for me to realise I had left the key on the kitchen table next to my empty cereal bowl. Even here though, The Key only managed to make me spend three times as long on the train between Manningtree and London.

This, though, is the one that really rankles:

When I was in uni halls, the battle ceased a little due to the combination of my corridor being quite trustworthy, and the fact I didn’t really possess anything worth stealing, so it meant I didn’t have to worry so much about The Key, as my door was on the latch most of the time.

One night, I decided to go out with some friends, while my corridor buddies chose to stay in. As I was leaving, I glanced around the small room and patted my jean pockets for my keys,  but couldn’t find them. The latch would do. What could possibly happen…

So the night progressed, and on the walk back it was suggested that we have a bit of an after-party in someones room. My room, often being messy and unkempt wasn’t the usual candidate, but in this instance, it was suggested, rather explicitly I realise now, with the power of hindsight.

As we entered our halls, a small crowd was now gathering as we made our way through the twisting corridors, every one identical to the last. As we continued, more and more people joined the group, with those that hadn’t even gone out joining the flock. I was like the shepherd, and it was my duty to see them safely to our destination. My drunk brain hadn’t spotted anything amiss quite yet.

I guided the by now heathing throng of people into my corridor, where, as I approached my door, I did the usual patting and searching of pockets. It wasn’t on me, but I recalled the latch, so boisterously encouraged the party onwards.

As we whistled down the corridor, one of my friend’s doors opened, and he came out, extending his hand to me. In it, was The Key. It came as no surprise as I was always leaving it about the place, and I thankfully took it from him and continued down to my room, muttering all the way that I didn’t need it anyway, my door was on the latch…

It wasn’t, and this surprised me, but it was only when I put my key in the lock that the penny dropped. I looked around me at the crowd comprised of the swinging, the swaying, and the singing, and it all became clear. They were here for something! A reason! That was the afterparty! I was about to reveal something that served as an attraction to drunk and sober people alike. They were magpies, squawking and screeching in anticipation of me opening this door…

It was amazing. Like something you could never imagine, unless walking into one of your very own. My room had been replaced by an eerie foil equivalent; everything was silver: the walls, the bed, the desk and everything on it, all individually wrapped; truly, totally, tin-foiled.

As I was pushed in by the joyous hordes behind me, I could do nothing but admire the beautiful pointlessness of the endeavour. Everything clicked into place, with the walk back and the suggestions of the afterparty, to the swelling crowds through Castle Leazes’ corridors, to the return of the real culprit in all this, The Key… I had been pranked.

As I awoke groggily the next morning, and the sun dazzled off every surface in the room, I could take at least a little solace in that, despite the inevitable headache and nausea caused from last night’s excess, I knew I was still alive, alive to fight another day against The Key. Sometimes the silver lining is as thin as a piece of foil.

Dan:

Bean:

Lloyd:

Will:

The attention to detail was impressive:

And here, a beautiful photo of the pranksters, a photo I am sure they cherish:

And finally, my reaction to the prank:

Ha, I think the expression says it all really.

Chicken Chivalry

Nandos came out of nowhere. One day it was just another restaurant that was on the High Street, the next, it was a religious necessity to go there at least three times a week. It was just chicken, but so much more than just chicken.

It was chicken that should be consumed in a certain way; there was a Nandos etiquette that seasoned pro’s would stick solemnly to, whilst it simultaneously baffled newcomers who hadn’t yet had the chance to realise what on the menu was hot and what was not.

I didn’t really get the cult fascination with it (it was after all, just chicken), but I wasn’t going to go and sit in the pub on my own was I. Me and my friends went frequently, and therefore, it became another arena in which I had the chance to amuse others with my discomfort.

It was a low-key affair, just the four of us, going for a cheeky chicken chomp before going to the cinema. It was me and two friends, and this girl that I liked at the time. We went to the bar and ordered, and settled into a booth for what was meant to be a peaceful bite to eat.

There are two things that you should probably consider before I continue with this story:

  1. One of Nandos’ features is a range of spices that can go on one’s chicken. It ranges from the safety of ‘Lemon and Herb’ to the ‘Extra Hot’. But it doesn’t stop there; for those with an extra spice gear, there is an evil looking bottle that does the rounds of the braver tables. Black with a red ‘X’ on it, it is a truly fearsome condiment, one that can’t be far off waking those poor chickens up from what was meant to be their last sleep.
  2. I am not a particularly fussy eater, but when it comes to spicy food, I am simply inept at consuming it without descending into a red, sweaty mess, tongue out, glasses of water queued up, unable to make conversation for a while after consumption. There is something in my DNA that resoundly disagrees with spicy food.

Now, if you were paying close attention, you will have noticed that 1. and 2. are inextricably linked, and you will appreciate the danger I was putting myself in all of those times I set foot in those chicken bone yards.

Each time before, I had trodden carefully, and had avoided the sauce, and perhaps this was my undoing. This was my downfall, allowing myself to fall into this false sense of security. This time, though, the wolves were out, and I was not prepared to meet them.

My friend, fully aware of the situation: the girl I was trying to impress; the inability to eat spice; that deadly sauce. It was with a wicked sense of glee that he connected the dots, and undertook to throw a cat amongst the chickens.

Holding the dreaded bottle aloft, a glint in his wicked eye, he addressed me with three teasing little words: “I dare you…” He nodded at my food, pushed the bottle upon me, a sly smile, all the while aware of my trial. A sideways glance at the girl next to me, daintily picking at her chicken, unaware of the combustion that was about to take place in my head. Unaware of the crimson cheeks, not caused through embarrassment or shyness, but through a pure biological meltdown.

The table paused in it’s feasting, urging me on, telling me not to bottle it, bottle of ‘X’ in hand, trying to bottle the rising dread. I looked down at my plate and toyed with a piece of chicken breast, knowing that its tastiness was about to be drowned in heat.

I tipped the bottle up and poured some of the devilish sauce on a slither of chicken, and not wanting to delay the inevitable any more, I put it in my mouth. Immediately, the heat touched my tongue and the roof of my mouth, and the familiar feelings of pain and sweat and general discomfort began to rise into my consciousness.

I glanced around me, taking in the faces that sat looking at me. One hugely proud of his endeavours, one happy that it wasn’t his ordeal, and one that looked at me with a sort of pitying smile, not the sort of look that gets a man laid. And as the heat intensified, something unusual happened, unusually bad. My eyes pricked and started to glisten over, and as I blinked back the tears, I wondered if chickening out would have been the better option.

Usually, as we sit there in Nandos, there is a sort of basic camaraderie as we sit shoulder to shoulder, munching on our wings and breasts. But I can categorically say, that in this instance, chicken chivalry went right out the window.

First Day Fart

Everyone has done it, so I am told, which is why I don’t mind bringing to light a story which centres around that menace of social etiquette, the fart. As amusing to some as disgusting to others, the much maligned ‘bottom burp’ intrigues and distracts, and creates for some very embarrassing moments, not least when you arrive at a new school, fresh-faced, acutely aware that these were reputation defining times.

The scene of this story is the reception of the school theatre, in which around a hundred thirteen year olds sat round in awkward groups, as their friendships ambled through their formative stages. There I was, crisp shirt buttoned all the way to the top, scruffy tie with too small a knot, and a new tweed jacket that immediately aged me by about forty years. No doubt the pudding bowl hair cut made an appearace too.

As is the way with first day nerves, all of the different boarding houses stuck together through the safety of familiarity, so there I was, sat with the other members of Cotton’s newest year. In the face of so many new and strange faces, we closed ranks and sat close to each other. I sat with my new friend George, who I’d met that morning, and we settled in for one of many inductions to the various departments of the school.

I sat crossed legged, with my knees up, arms resting on them, hands clasped. The drama teacher was speaking and as his dainty voice rolled serenely around the room, my mind wandered and speculated as to the time. It had been a long morning, and all of these inductions more or less said the same thing, which is almost always nothing important. It looked as though this would just be another one of those uneventful occasions through which I have sat many a time.

But no.  As the teacher paused dramatically for breath, the room descended into a momentary silence, which was cheerfully disrupted by my bottom. There was an immediate change in the atmosphere of the room, and I don’t mean the balance of airbourne gases around us. A wave of heads turned, and as I tried to comprehend what I had just done, it was all I could do but to look at the sea of faces that had turned to smirk at the audacity of the farter.

But it is in these moments that instinct takes over, your body’s natural defense system kicks in, and Mother Nature once again proves that she knows best. And thank you, MN, for blessing me with the guile and dexterity with which I got out of this little pickle. I turned my head and looked directly at my new friend George, leaning a little the other way for maximum effect, a picture of disgust painted across my face.

I knew that my cheeks would have turned a rather deep shade of crimson, but they would have had nothing on the shade of Geroge’s, his pale complexion reddening as he realised what I was insinuating by my simple gesture.

I will never forget the sight of his disapproving, disbelieving eyes as they stared back at me, and when his gaze shifted to somewhere behind me, and shifted again, and again, I knew that I had got away with it. George’s poor face got redder and redder, through a probable combination of anger, injustice and disbelief, but for all the people who looked his way, only guilt for that outrageous faux pas could be seen.

George is one of my very good friends, and I’m sure he won’t mind being named in this story, if only because it proves his innocence. We have laughed a lot about this story in the time since, and I’m quite sure we are the only people who remember it. The fart did no lasting damage to either of our reputations, but I don’t think George ever sat next to me in another induction again.

Sick Timing

It is not often you get the chance to wipe away eight months worth of hard work in one foul swoop. I had that chance, and unwittingly took it with both hands. Eight months undone by one simple error.

As part of my Marketing course at Newcastle, you could choose between an individual dissertation like everyone else, or a dissertation group project with five randomly selected strangers, where you had to market a concept up until implementation.

I ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhhed’ over which one to do, mainly because I wasn’t sure I could do either very well, so it was a case of damage limitation. I decided in the end that it was better to succeed or fail as a collective, a cog in the machine, rather than a valiant individual effort crashing and burning.

I decided to go for the group project, but did so in the knowledge that a game plan must be formulated. As far as master-plans go, it wasn’t the trickiest to conceive: peer reviews were essential. You could score an outrageous ten per cent above the group mark if your peer review was perfect, so this is where I knew I could purchase some percentile.

This decision was vindicated as the months rolled by, as it became apparent that my team was an extremely effective working unit, myself included, one which would convene to create the pancake house named Whisk~it. I was mocked remorselessly for wearing my Whisk~it t-shirt, but I didn’t care; I had taken to this project with aplomb.

It was with energy and excitement that I attended every meeting over the course of the eight months. I was vocal in meetings, made the best attempts at getting work done by deadlines, and made sure everyone in the team was content with what they were doing. I volunteered to do the six presentations, despite being terrified of presenting. In short, peer review was the goal, and I was gunning to score.

And so we reach the final day of the eight months, the day of the final presentation. This was it, the final reckoning, the last piece of the jigsaw. One last nerve-jangling fifteen minute presentation, and I was done, Whisk~it over and out. I was swanning serenely to the finishing line, my work almost complete. Peer review was looking juicy.

I was presenting with Whisk~it’s team leader, a girl who, in my honest opinion, made Whisk~it the success it was with her dedication and hard work. We met inadvertently in the computer cluster before the run-through was scheduled, as we were printing off presentation notes. We hugged, good lucks were exchanged, then she left to find a room in which we could practise. I told her I’d be there soon, giving myself time to go to the shop to buy some breakfast.

And there it was. There was the opportunity I had not been looking for. The chance to wash away all of that hard work, like the tide rippling over an impressive sandcastle. A lingering, unmistakable scent that would stimulate me into making my error. What’s that I can smell? Is it… Is it vomit? My nostrils were clear, but my mind was drowsy, however, I was certain. Had my co-presenter been suffering spats of nerve-induced vomiting? The alternatives were banished as I reached for my phone to report the action.

My thought processes have been known to be a little irrational from time to time, and it was with this characteristic that I acted. I was thinking here that if the nerve-induced vomiting were to happen in practise, I would a) be very poor at comforting/dealing with it and b) wouldn’t be happy cleaning it up on my lonesome. The recipient was a member of the team who I was close friends with:

I’m worried about *****; She’s really nervous; She smells of sick”.

I placed my phone back on the table, my Vomit Reaction Squad informed. Inwardly praising my skills of delegation, I glanced back at the Blackberry’s miniature screen.

It was to my horror and disbelief that what I saw was not a message sent to my VRS, but in fact a message to the subject herself, the team leader, whose apparent nervous disposition was the reason behind the message in the first place.

If I had been a bit drowsy before, I was wide awake now, eyes fixed on the screen, mind desperately racing to think of a way to unsend the message. Of course, that was impossible. Could I run to where she was, grab the phone, delete the message and save the situation? Not if my sporting track record up until this point was anything to go by. Usain I am not.

Those familiar with Blackberry Messenger will know about the  little ‘D’  and the little ‘R’, that indicate when the message has been ‘delivered’ and ‘read’ respectively. As I watched those little ‘D’s’ turn, I knew the damage had been done. I knew the brittle mettle of the poor girl had taken an unexpected battering. I watched with my mind’s eye as my peer review melted away, draining into a chasm.

There was no way out of this. I had to go and see her, repair the situation, glue the shattered pieces of my peer review back together as best I could, and practise for the presentation. Time was a-ticking. Breakfast was out of the equation; the sooner this was addressed the better, despite my stomach’s grumbling complaints. I optimistically thought she might act in a stereotypically British way, stiff upper lip, ‘let’s ignore that shall we and carry on’. But unfortunately, I was very wrong.

I hadn’t so much as set foot in the room, before she launched a tirade at me that was as bitter as the offending odour that got me into this mess:

And who the F@CK WAS THAT MESSAGE MEANT FOR?!!! What gives you the RIGHT TO SAY I SMELL OF SICK?! You’re a B@STARD AND I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU! I don’t even know if I CAN DO THIS PRESENTATION NOW, especially NOT WITH YOU!”.

As her trembling voice rhythmically bore her rage, I knew I had done a booboo. I’d made a mistake. I protested the good nature of the message, conceding that it wasn’t the most tactful combination of words, but it was essentially meant for her well-being. I don’t think she bought it, but she calmed down a little, and eventually we started to practise. Needless to say, the atmosphere in the room was a tad awkward.

In the end, the presentation went quite well considering the monumental spanner I’d placed in the proverbial works, and my peer review didn’t quite take the hit I had anticipated. Again, my powers of recovering these situations served me well.

The one thing that did amaze me about the whole episode, however, was the timing of my error. Eight months, and I pick the very last few hours to shoot myself in the foot. Pretty sick, if you ask me.

Thai Bride Fights Back

“That’s one song in the bank. Next song. NEXT SONG!”

Cheers Jack Black, I had thought the same: one post in the bank. Next post. Now I could move on to bigger and better tales, fantastic stories of awkward moments in which I feature, morose tales of toe curling cringe… but someone had something to say about ‘Thai Bride?”

“I read your ‘tales from the bedside’ episode with interest and showed it to my uncle who, as i told you, will write my emails until my Engliish has improved. It was a great story with a thickening plot behind it which was well received by your mates – but not quite a fair or balanced account i think.. Sorry to disappoint you but the ‘plot’ unfortunately didn’t exist – my uncle wouldn’t consider an unemployed graduate with no track record as a suitable suitor. Any talk of marriage by you is premature and was certainly not even mentioned by me during our brief time together – I have a career in Thailand to consider and also find it far too cold to live here – even in summer. I would like to have some English friends and have now been out with many boys and girls, including you, and am having a great time overall. I would also ideally like to have an English husband in due course – English men tend to look after their wives better on the whole – but it will be difficult to find eventually a good man who wishes to settle with me in Thailand. Thanks for your company but clearly we do not communicate our feelings accurately or well so i think it better if we went our separate ways. Good luck in the future.”

Oh Dear.

Thai Bride?

I guess I’ll start off with my most recent situation, that has had me looking over my shoulder in my own village…

I live in a small village in Essex, just outside the town of Manningtree. As is the way with country living, one Saturday morning, my Dad bumbled into my room and insisted I arise to help him with ‘village matters’.

Reluctantly, I got up and went downstairs, bleary eyed, demanding at least a cup of tea for my troubles. The excitement that Dad had in store for me was the epitome of rural English living: helping to trim trees in the village churchyard. I couldn’t believe my luck!

We arrived just as the other members of the village amassed, most of whom I had never met (I don’t get out much in Little Bromley). There were a few old men, some young guys with chainsaws, and a small, young looking, Thai girl, which was a bit out of the ordinary. It was one of those moments when you don’t question it, you just go with the flow and hope some light will be shed on this strange development in due course! It turned out that this girl was the niece of one of the members of the village, a pleasant ex-army officer, whose travels had led him to Thailand where he had met and married his wife. The girl was over here for three months to help improve her English, whilst experiencing the delights of the home counties.

Due to similarities in our ages, Me 22 and her 21, and the fact that it transpired that this girl was lonely because she’d spent a month doing nothing other than playing pool with her Uncle, it was suggested innocently that I take her out to show her the delights of Colchester. I thought, why not? What was the worst that could happen? What was the best? Who knew at that point! The Uncle seemed very keen on the idea indeed, in so far as suggesting that I take her to the cinema, then to a restaurant for some food afterwards. I felt a bit uneasy at the rising levels of commitment but I put a smile on and agreed. We exchanged Facebook details and away we went.

Anyway, I took her to the cinema the next week, which to me, seemed a little pointless seeing as her grasp of English wasn’t exactly perfect. Conversation was hard work, very one sided, and definetly a bit inane. Although, to be fair, while it was hard work, I could have said anything and she wouldn’t have known any better, so I had a bit of poetic license. After the film, we went and got some chips and sat by the river, as neither of us were particularly hungry to go for a sit down meal.

As we sat on the bank, through her broken English, she told me that her Uncle had informed her that English men made good husbands, because they basically had the money to look after their wives. She then muttered something about how I was an eligible English batchelor, and then the penny dropped. This had been the plan all along. I had been selected, groomed almost, to be her English hubby, the man with the plan, the beau with the dough. I shrugged this off with a smile and a laugh, but inside my mind was racing. I had to get out of there. I wrapped up the ‘date’ pretty quickly, drove her home, and then back to the safety of my house.

Or so I thought. I had assumed that it was a case of one and done. Once the front door closed behind me, that was that, no more weird ‘dates’ with random Thai ladies. Then the exchange of Facebook details came to haunt me when I received this message, which was suspiciously well written. I smelled foul play on the Uncle’s part:

“Would you like to go out again some time? I am busy with family outings and helping with a family party until 18th July but am free for a couple of weeks after that. Perhaps you would like to go to a Thai Restaurant and then play some pool at the local club after that. Or we could go to a pub or club and perhaps listen to some music? What do you think?”

Nooooooo thank you! I replied apologising that due to Graduation week and a short stint in Turkey, I wasn’t going to be available for the forseeable future. Now I could relax.

Again, wishful thinking. On the day of my return from holiday, the telephone rang. My helpful sister picked up the phone and gleefully informed the Uncle, who was so intent on my capture, that I’d respond to the message that very day. I had another ace up my sleeve though… my impending work experience in Bristol. A little bit of flexibility with the dates when I would be there left no time for me to be entrapped in this dark cloud of arranged marriage.

Thank you Bristol, thank you work experience, thank you wits, for being with me to the very end, and steering me clear of impending danger and a possible future of forced unity to my Thai bride…

“Hi Henry. It is great to hear from you. I am glad that you had a fun time at graduation and also in Turkey. You are having a busy summer! I have been occupied too with family and also learning to horse ride and to play golf. I go back to Thailand on 23rd August but would very much like to see you again before I go. You are good fun to be with. If you are not able to come back to Essex before I leave I am very happy to come down to Bristol for a couple of days if that would fit in with your plans and you like the idea. However I do not want to spoil your job hunting, job attachment or other arrangements. What do you think? Keep in touch.