The Versatile Blogger – nominated x 2

versatile-blogger-award

I am flattered and honoured to have received two nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award so a big, big thanks x 2 goes out to mythinkout and also pointless & prosaic who were kind enough to nominate me. As an Englishman this delights me and makes me feel very awkward, in equal measure. I confess I contemplated ignoring the nominations, but that would have been very rude and impolite, so thank you once again from the bottom of my blogging inkwell you two!

So, in accordance with the VBA rules, here are 7 things about me:

  1. I look like the Before photo in every Before/After fitness transformation photograph that was ever photographed.
  2. I’m 51 years old, but I think I’m about 34.
  3. I was born, grew up and still live in England, but have also lived in Munich – Germany (’97-’99) and Virginia – USA (’00-’02)
  4. I have an INFJ personality type which means I’m in the smallest, most select group alongside Gandhi (good), Plato (smart), Wittgenstein (wow, cool), Dostoevsky (get me!), Hitler (awkward), Bin Laden (wtf …?)
  5. I hate mushrooms
  6. The last time I cried was when our family dog died. He was called George. He was ace.
  7. I’m listening to Joni Mitchell as I type this (Court & Spark album)

My nominations are all bloggers who have either 1) blogged about something that made me go “wow”, 2) made me laugh or 3) inspired me to carry on blogging.

In no particular order:

Antondotreks

Emma Fleming

Cars and cooking

fromroad2trail

3389 miles & further

dazz22

Greater than gravity

 

 

Film review – The Revenant

First off, I should say I’m not a film reviewer, nor am I aspiring to be one.  As my blog seems to be changing to become more of a place where I collect and deposit my thoughts, it seems sensible (and quite useful for me) to also park my thoughts about books, films, theatre, sporting events and other life events I experience. I’m notoriously bad at recalling things as I get older, so this might help refresh my memory and perhaps be useful to a few readers of this blog in the process.

I will try and categorise such reviews under film/movies, books, sport etc, so those that are interested can find them, and those that aren’t can ignore.

I should also mention up front that I’m very much a non-film buff. I’m the sort of person who usually has film conversations with friends that go like this:

Me: “Have you seen that film about that man who escapes from that prison on a motorbike? There’s mountains and green fields in it. You know, it’s got Clint Newman in it … no Paul McQueen, yes Paul McQueen that’s it.”
Friend: “Errr …”
Me: “He throws a baseball against the wall a lot, and eats boiled eggs, loads of them. No, hang on that’s Papillon, no, that’s about butterflies, this is a motorbike definitely. Anyway, have you seen it?”

At which point I’m usually confronted by my friend’s rather withered, horrified look. The conversation can go on for hours until we find out what film and what actor I’m talking about:

Friend: “Steve McQueen?”
Me: “Yes!”
Friend: “The Great Escape”
Me: “Yes!!”
Friend: “Yes I have, many years ago, why do you ask?”

At which point I’ve usually forgotten why I mentioned it in the first place:

Me: “Why do I ask what?”

It’s not always easy being my friend, so in an attempt to smarten myself up, become a better friend, and aid memory recall in future, making such conversations less painful for friends and acquaintances alike, here’s my first film review:

Date: 25th February 2016
Film: The Revenant

I’ve always been indifferent towards Leonardo DiCaprio, meaning I neither dislike him or think he’s mega talented, just a decent Hollywood A-list actor. He is, however, superb in this film, where he plays the part of a fur trapper in the wild-west(?) of 19th Century America. Not sure if it is the wild west as it’s covered in snow, in fact I googled it and it is in fact Nebraska. I don’t know where Nebraska is, more shame me, but it’s ever so cold.

The film is basically the story of Leonardo’s character (I forget his name) who spends the film trying to get home after being brutally mauled by a grizzly and left for dead by a nasty, vindictive Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) – I think I have my brackets the wrong way round there. Sounds basic as far as plotlines go, and some people (all my 3 kids in fact), thought it dragged and was too long. I however loved it, but then I love long novels like ‘World According to Garp’, which are about people and don’t have much plot. I like that, plots often confuse me, and I really identified with Leonardo’s character, so much so that I was gripped from beginning to end. I was with him as he dragged himself back to life, fighting against endless elements and losing his son in the process (Reggie Kray again). The film is gruesome, brutally so in parts, but it doesn’t feel misplaced. Leonardo is fantastic and indeed the supporting cast are brilliant too, including a few Brits who do rather good American accents, at least to my untrained ear.

I was exhausted at the end, but in a good way. I have a new found respect for Leonardo too, who has come on leaps and bounds from that film he did on that boat which capsizes, you know, it was the same year as Barnsley won the FA Cup … 1912 … ooh what’s it called .. also has that woman in it from Reading, Emma Winslet … that’s it.

The Revenant (****)* – 4 out of 5 stars according to Andy’s newly devised film ratings scale.

 

 

 

If I could turn back time …

Slide2

I suspect this is a question which has piqued us all at some point:

If you had one turn in a time machine, where would you set the dial?

What a wonderfully indulgent thought, to be given the opportunity to set the record straight, to right that wrong, to write that book. Would you go back to last week to relive that argument with your best friend? Would you go back to your last job? Your first marriage? Back to school? Even back to the crib? Or as far back as the womb?

I’m tempted to say I would go back to being a baby and do everything again. I’d grow up eating healthy food, I’d pass on the deep fried spam fritters and 1/4 pound bags of kali (northern English word for sherbert) that undoubtedly rotted my teeth beyond redemption. I would have continued running, cross country running was my thing, I was good at it as a kid, as a teenager. I found running easier than walking, and I should have exploited that, not neglected it.

I would have been more confident, less shy. I would have asked girls out at school and I wouldn’t have turned down that kind offer from Jane T. in 1981. I was bright and fairly academic, but I wasted my education. Had I applied myself I would have certainly attained better grades and that in turn would have led to better career choices and more money and … and …

So many choices, how far back do I turn the dial? So many choices! However, university was probably my greatest tragedy – 3 years of drinking beer and very little else, probably the single, greatest downturn in my life, certainly the period I look back on with the most regret, and so that seems to be a good place to return to in my time machine.

But wait, I met my wife at University. The Butterfly Effect, borne out of chaos theory, tells us that infinitesimally small changes can have huge longer term effects. Had I not been a beer monster, I may have turned left into the library rather than turn right into the top bar at Essex University. Had I done that I wouldn’t have seen her, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the girl that rocked my world. We would never have married, and in turn, our children would have never existed, and that’s unthinkable.

If I step into that time machine, whichever point I choose to return to, I risk losing everything I now hold dear. The butterfly effect tells us that anything we do differently during our trip back in time, risks changing everything from thereon in. If I stop eating kali, perhaps I replace it with something else more sinister – I may have nicer teeth on my 2nd attempt, but perhaps I have a more addled brain. If I start running more in my second life, perhaps I end up at a different university, studying a different subject, and most certainly never get to the top bar at Essex University in the spring of ’82, and never actually meet that girl in the green combat trousers.

To imagine, or to wish for a different outcome from our past, is to risk changing everything going forward, including all that one holds dear. I don’t think we can pick and choose, we just act spontaneously and we must therefore live with the consequences of our actions. You pays your money, you takes your choice, and you have to accept all that comes with it.  I might wish I had better teeth and a flatter stomach but would I risk everything for that? To change anything about us is to change ourselves forever, and that has unintended consequences.

On reflection I think I’m OK after all, so I think I’ll pass on the offer of a spin in the time machine, thanks.

These boots were made for walking …

These Boots Were Made for Walking

The boots shown below are my walking boots. I bought them circa 1991, so long ago I forget their exact age, but I think they are dated ‘BC’ (before children). I was with my wife in the Yorkshire Dales, I think we were walking Malham Tarn that week, and we treated ourselves to brand new Scarpa walking boots.

It’s never a wise thing, some would say foolish, buying boots and walking in them straight-away, especially up and around Malham Tarn, but we were young and reckless back then. You’re meant to wear them in, gradual mileage at first, allowing them time to mould themselves to the unique shape of your feet to prevent chafing and blisters. We did none of that, we just put them on and walked and we were just fine.

In 1992 our first child was born and within 5 years we were a family of 5 and walking was soon a long forgotten pastime, replaced by visits to zoos, petting farms and the seaside. Nevertheless the boots made regular appearances over the years. Weekends in the country often involved a sturdy walk, carrying the kids in slings or backpacks.  Both sets of parents enjoyed walking and our boots always accompanied us on day-trips and weekend jaunts.

In 2005 I took my boots with me to the Himalayas for my charity Trek in India. We endured all weathers and all terrain and my Scarpas, already teenagers by then, behaved impeccably, never once letting in water or rubbing.  Friends with newer and fancier boots fell by the wayside whilst my trusty old Scarpas marched on proudly.

And then, in 2015, wild camping with friends in the Lake District, my 24 year old Scarpas marched their final journey. It was cold and very wet, we were trekking with 15kg rucksacks on our backs, often through boggy, sodden ground for 12 hours a day and I noticed my feet were wet, tired and blistered. In over 20 years they had protected my feet through all weathers, over many different terrains spanning North America, Europe and Asia, always uncomplaining, always doing their job impeccably and unflinchingly.

However, that wild camping weekend was to be their swansong. They could no longer keep out mother nature, they were tired and finally flagging. They had done their job and some. In an era when things aren’t designed to last, my Scarpas refused to comply, their ne’er say die attitude saw them through the most of the 90’s, all the 00’s and half the 10’s.

I have new walking boots now, and I like them, but I don’t yet love them. They’re just not my old Scarpas.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away and so I still have them now. In fact this photograph was taken this evening. They still sit out the back – wise, proud and loyal.

These boots weren’t just made for walking, they were made for me, and if it’s dry tomorrow I might just take them for one last jaunt down the lane, for old time’s sake.

FullSizeRender

 

In pursuit of rubbishness …

My blog hasn’t gone viral, my blog barely has a runny nose and an imperceptibly mild rash at best, but there are bloggers out there, seemingly ordinary people that blog everyday things, just like me, yet every now and then something they say resonates with their readership and beyond, far beyond – when everything goes a little mental and interstellar.

In this blog which can be found here, Cheri looks at four bloggers, four everyday blogging people who at some point said something remarkable and extraordinary. Cheri sums up what happened to them in her opening paragraph:

You wake up one morning, check your phone, and spit out your coffee. You have thousands of likes on Facebook, hundreds of retweets, and an inbox that has exploded. Your little blog — which normally gets a dozen views per day and has an audience of exactly two, your spouse and mother — has been shared all over the internet, and that post you wrote last night, in your pajamas, has gone viral.

Twelve views would be a good day for me, a fist-pumpingly awesome blogging day in fact, and I have to reluctantly admit to frequently having that gorgeous ‘what-if’ indulgent thought where my imagination runs wild, imagining a parallel world where I wake up to a chirping phone, lit up like the BBC switchboard on comic relief day – a day where my blog goes interstellar.

As a kid I dreamt of scoring a goal at Wembley, as a teenager I was the singer in the band at Wembley (a different Wembley day to the football I hasten to add – even for my egocentric imagination, scoring the winning goal to win the FA Cup and also serenading 100,000 singing Hey Jude, all on the same day, is a little far-fetched). Nowadays I imagine writing a blog that sparks the imagination of people across the world, just like the four bloggers outlined in Cheri’s blog.

They’re all amazing stories of everyday tales from everyday folk. Their blogs haven’t made them rich, but they have made them visible. They all now have a voice, a raised platform, a heightened status, a metaphorical megaphone and a substantial audience which spreads right across their social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. They’ve made it!

But then you read their back-stories, and you realise that all isn’t rosy in the garden of blog superstardom. As ever, success seems to come at a price. Suddenly these people are having to deal with trolls – people that write nasty, spiteful, hurtful and personal insults, and in every case they felt a pressure to maintain their newly found and elevated levels of success. Your next blog can never be as good, such a feat can never be repeated and the truth is the only way forward is down. You have peaked. That’s it, you’ve done it now – pressure, anxiety, expectation – these appear to be the new norm, the consequences of your new found popularity.

Whereas me, I can carry on dreaming, hoping, aspiring, sitting cross-legged at the bottom of my hill staring balefully skywards. My blogs can easily get better, I don’t have to try very hard to make improvements, and that’s the beauty of being rubbish. It doesn’t take a lot to cheer me. Even one new follower perks me up, I’m ever so easily pleased down here in my valley of loneliness. Any shard of light – a comment, a like, a new follower – I lap them all up graciously and covet them.

It’s good down here in my sun-starved blog-valley where the light is obscured by the majestic peaks of successful others – great and worthy, epic bloggers.

I pity them, their future looks bleak up there in the bright sunlight, and the truth is it kind of feels OK down here, hidden amongst the gloom, being ever so slightly rubbish. Yes, I like it here.

Yay for me! Yay for my rubbish blog!Slide1

The idiocy of being me …

I’ve been set an assignment by my Blogging101 course, to ‘write a blog to my target audience, on any subject, but with an interesting twist’.

I immediately panicked, I don’t have a target audience…

Target audience -> all human beings

That feels a bit vague …

Target audience -> people like me

This is hard, really hard.

The Blogging101 students have a common room, an online chatroom. I’ve already been on there several times and seen that loads of people have already done their homework and this is just like school all over again, all those feelings I used to have, have come flooding back. I’m more obsessed by how far others have got on their assignments than actually doing my own, and the more I procrastinate, the bigger my crisis becomes.

And yet it feels ever so slightly comforting and familiar, like slipping into an old pair of jeans. Part of me likes being told what to do, part of me likes to rebel, I will do my homework assignment but not without a small drama, a quiet rebel yell, a Tim Henman-esque fistpump.

It’s getting late, but here I am, doing my assignment, writing about not doing my assignment. This is like a bloody John Le Carre novel.

And this is a picture of a twisty snake, next to Tim Henman, fist-pumping. Pretty interesting huh? My classmates are gonna love this …

 

twisty snakeHenman

My name is Andy and I’m a blogger …

Of course you knew that, regular readers, but you see I’m doing a ‘Blogging 101’ course through the kind people at WordPress, my blog hosts. I want to try and improve my blogging, and my first assignment is to re-do my introductory blog, to re-visit and re-answer the basic question:

“who I am and why I’m here”

When I first did this at the very beginning of my blog back in 2012, which can be found here, I made up all sorts of excuses about how random and unpredictable my blog would be.  But I was right! It is random, sporadic, unpredictable. My blogs are like London buses, nothing for days and suddenly two come along at once.

So why do I blog? Because I love the edginess of blogging. I could write in a diary or journal, and in fact I used to do that but I found it too easy to become sloppy. I often wrote in shorthand and used bullet points and abbreviations. I scribbled in my already shoddy handwriting. I didn’t have to explain or justify things and it all felt rather staid and loose. Worst of all I wrote about the same things – about how I was feeling, about my likes and dislikes but always in a very insular way, and even I got bored.

With a blog you can at least pretend you have an audience, you can imagine critical eyes being cast over your writing and that demands a certain level of effort. Being accused of being boring is quite an insult for me, and so with a public blog I am forced to try and say something original, something new, something funny or interesting, or at the very least thought provoking.

An analogy would be working from home versus going into an office. When I work from home I can wear a scruffy t-shirt and jeans, I might wash my face but may not shower, I may not brush my teeth until mid-morning. When I go into the office I always wear pants, I will always wash, always brush my teeth, wear sensible shoes and clean clothes and generally make more of an effort.  To me that’s writing a diary/journal versus blogging – one can live a pantless, scruffy, unshaven existence but it’s not very nourishing.

Blogging therefore challenges me more than writing a private journal ever would, and from challenge emanates a degree of personal growth. It enforces a level of discipline on the undisciplined me. Often I get the urge to blog long before I have a subject, and in such situations I just write from a blank page and am constantly amazed at how stuff just appears. It’s not always great, but is forever unexpected.

Sometimes I just have a spark of an idea, and I use the blog to work and expand that idea further. Often I might not have a strong opinion or even a conclusion to my thought, and sometimes through the act of blogging I may even change my original point of view – I thought I believed A but in fact through blogging realise I believed in B, and I love that sense of personal discovery.

I also get a kick out of any blog interaction as few and far between as they may be. Comments from people who have taken the time to read my blog never cease to cheer my wearisome soul. People lead busy lives and there’s a stack of stuff to read and do, and so if through my blog I can solicit a comment, it means I have stirred something in someone else, somehow moved some electrons somewhere else in the universe, and that’s a lovely thought which makes me feel alive, makes me feel connected.

And yes, I have an ego too. I may never be famous, but through my blog may I never be forgotten. Please, not that.

Mozart


Crikey, I’m like a young Mozart, overflowing with creative juices.  My writing talent knows no bounds as I embark upon a second post and it’s still only Day 1. Where will this end? Will I slavishly blog my entire life?  Wouldn’t that defeat the object of capturing life’s events in a blog, if the blog becomes life itself?  Wooah that’s deep Andy, steady tiger it’s still day 1, we don’t want to scare the punters off.

Of course, what is really happening is what happens whenever I start anything. Throughout my life, I have begun things with such enthusiasm it defies belief.  I love running, so I run from a standing start until my toes bleed and my shins splinter.  Think Forrest Gump.

I stop drinking, I don’t cut back on drinking, I become tee-total, almost religious in my fervent belief that alcohol is the devil incarnate, even depriving myself of Beelzebub’s mildest temptations such as sherry trifle and liqueur chocolates.

I read, I love reading, so when I start a book the rest of my life is placed on hold as I lock myself away in toilets and bedrooms, feverishly reading in every spare second of every day. I stay awake all night reading, rendering myself incapable of anything the following day, except perhaps reading more. I carry my book everywhere in case I can grab 30 seconds to absorb a couple more paragraphs. And now I have a Kindle, with 3G, so I can download books from any corner of the world, 24x7x365.

I diet, I don’t just cut back, I devise revolutionary food regimes, research anthropological archives for hidden insights into caveman nutrition.  I study the diets of tribes, as yet undiscovered in the heart of the Peruvian jungle, and I order foods from niche health food stores on the web.  I clear the fridge to make way for the new van-load of foodstuffs that will be ‘next-day’ delivered to my door, and will undoubtedly change my life forever, allowing me to live to be 100 yrs old and to still be running marathons.  I have even ducked out of dinner parties during a health phase, in case I am tempted to eat or drink something evil.

I discover a new band, one tune from the radio can have me hooked, one major-to-minor chord change and I’m spellbound.  I Google the band, I download their entire back catalogue, buy their auto-biography, order a t-shirt from eBay and learn everything from where the band members grew up, how they formed the group, what they like to eat and where they go on holiday.  I have even joined fan clubs.  As a grown adult, ffs.

And now I start my own blog.  Not content with establishing the profile for the blog, setting up the basics, I have to fill it.  I see other blogs with hundreds of entries and I want one, I want my own and I want it NOW.  I want to be instantly established.  I want to resign from my job immediately, to travel to Nepal and write 24hrs a day from the top of a mountain. It would need to be a mountain with wi-fi, obviously as I chose the online format (see day 1 post 1).  Samuel Pepys never suffered like this.

And it goes without saying that all of the above fads, crazes and hobbies almost always, nay, always, end in doom and disappointment. I end up in the GP surgery with chronic running injuries and am told I might never run again. I succumb to a drink of alcohol and the flood gates open, the red mist rises and I drink everything in sight, from red wine to lighter fuel, often into the wee hours.

I go on a business trip, and, forced to break from my diet, I eat like a frenzied, deranged truffle pig, munching my way through fried breakfasts, 3-course lunches and 5-course evening meals, invariably washed down with fine wines.

I get tired of reading, surely there is more to life than having your head stuck in a book? So I don’t read anything, not even a newspaper, or a bus ticket, nothing for months on end.

And on certain days I indulge in ALL my hobbies ALL at the same time. I watch Radiohead in concert (HD, surround sound) at 2am, whilst I guzzle red wine and eat a carb fuelled chickpea and wholegrain rice curry with an icepack on my leg to ease the pain and inflammation from my latest running injury, and in my hand is my Kindle where I shop for new books to read. And I do all this until I am sick or fall into a deep slumber.

You probably have the picture by now.  I’m an all or nothing kind of person and so I fear greatly for this blog. After breathing life into it, giving it legs and a heartbeat, I wonder when the fog will descend, the weeds will begin to creep into the (soon to be) untended website and “Spinning Head” will start to decay, left rotting, throttled at such a tender young age, cast asunder, stranded and alone on the side of the road that marks my journey through life, just another one of my casualties, just another fad, just another silly craze.

I really should know better.

My new blog

I’ve decided to write a blog.  Which is funny because I don’t really know what a blog is.  I know it’s a place where people write stuff online, but what do ‘Bloggers’ actually write about?  After some research through Google it turns out that most blogs are either:

– “Moms” from Arkansas,
– corporations pushing products,
– or they’re themed (cooking, mountaineering, cycling, Christianity, fishing, etc).

My idea of a blog isn’t any of those, it’s just a place where I write and store thoughts that come into my head, things that might be bothering me, amusing me, frustrating me, boring me, etc.  The key in the last sentence is the word ‘store’, let me explain …

I like writing, I’ve always enjoyed writing.  I remember as a 7 yr old in 1972, I won a ‘pick-a-platignum’ pen for my story about “Sounds in the morning”.  I remember writing about “the water swirling in the kettle” and “listening to Tony Blackburn on the radio”.  It really was a beautiful, epic piece of prose.  I jest, in fact I don’t remember.  And that’s my point, as that story is long gone.  Only the faint memory remains – the pen and those two lines of prose.  I would love to read the whole thing again 40 years on to a) recall what mornings were really like back then, and b) to see what I wrote and to gain an insight as to how my mind was working back in ’72.

I still like to write.  I don’t know what it is about travel but I often write on long flights.  Often I don’t write with any particular topic in mind, I just start to write and I love to see how my thoughts wander.  Again, it’s not epic stuff but it’s always amusing to read back at a later date for the a) and b) reasons above.  Problem is I never keep any of that stuff, it gets lost gradually over time, written on scraps of paper or notebooks long since filled and thrown away.

So, I thought I would try and keep an electronic journal. But wait, writing notes on my laptop is no good because I NEVER backup my laptop, and I don’t always have my laptop with me.  I also change laptops every few years.  Laptop, bad idea.  In the end I concluded it needs to be online, because that takes all the effort out for me.  I don’t have to back it up and I can access it from anywhere using any device.  This is the perfect medium for disorganised people like me.

So there we are – the blog is the perfect medium to capture thoughts, always accessible, always safely backed up on’t’internet.

This is my blog, so move on over Arkansas ‘Moms’ there’s a new daddy in town.  And I have a Pick-A-Platignum pen. Somewhere …