Monday, 25 April 2011

Sturminster Newton

When young, it’s always your parents who have to drive you to a friend’s house. When I lived in Poland five years ago, I remember my mum driving through blizzards just so I could play with my friend on the other side of Warsaw. When I got older, she would still pick me up from the shopping mall on a Saturday after going bowling, or a skate park near where we lived. I suppose this was a consequence of living in a foreign capital. Poland joined the European Union in 2004, so not only was I a lazy student who never learnt Polish, most young people already spoke English out there. I never bothered to understand maps, or read signs.

Today, the roles were reversed. I was enlisted by mum to drive her south to Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Once home to the famous author, Thomas Hardy, it now accommodates my godmother and for the next couple of days, my mum. Unlike Hardy, who only bothered me during my English Literature exams, I still have to see my godmother every now and then. But joking apart, I do enjoy it. We caught up and for some reason spoke about the AV vote, which by the way is a resounding yes from me.

During the journey several things came to mind. Firstly, and at risk of sounding road-mad here, I’d never driven out of Salisbury on that specific road before. The A354 is a road that travels through Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset and all the tiny villages in between. I’ll always regard Salisbury as my hometown, but it seems strange that I’ve never left it in that direction. Of course, when I had to be careful on directions when I drove back on my own, but small changes and revelations do add colour to what could be considered as a routine journey. How many times in life are we prepared to take different routes or options and try something different?

One of the small villages we passed was Shillingstone. Like Sturminster Newton, it’s in the Blackmore Vale area or Dorset, but I also have family there – or more fittingly had. Unbeknownst to me, it was actually the village I lived in for two weeks after being born. It seemed strange how a place I have no recollection of had a substantial impact on my life. Mum told me of how she took me throughout the village on a pram, although I’ve upgraded to a Renault Clio now.

But it reminded me of my sister and my nephew and put everything into perspective. There I was thirty minutes before talking about the voting referendum, whereas at home Steph was experiencing exactly what my own mum felt nineteen years ago. For all this talk about trying new routes in life, the main things we cherish will always stay the same – whether it’s simply seeing my godmother, or maternal love itself. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Roast Dinners - Happy Easter!

It’s undeniable that university has a huge personal impact on every student that attends. It introduces you to people from around England, gives you a different outlook on life and helps to develop independence. You undertake new challenges and experience new feelings, but, at the same time, you also say goodbye to certain things at home. It might be your old bed, the family dog or your mum’s cooking. This isn’t to say they’re irretrievable. In fact, when you do see them again it’s important to make the most of it. Personally, I miss roast dinners.

I'm a big fan of roast dinners too!
I often cook with my girlfriend at university. Not only does it cost less but we really enjoy spending the time together and making something nice in the evening. But that isn’t to say we’re amazing at cooking. It’s safe to say that we’re pretty good at making fajitas, but anything more complicated than a stir-fry and we’re punching above our weight. At the start of the spring term, we attempted cooking jambalaya, a rice dish with French and Spanish influences. In my recipe book, it is described as a relatively easy dish. We still haven’t mastered it.

Seriously stay away from the jambalaya
I suppose this is one way in which I miss roast dinners – because I’m not skilled enough to cook it, I don’t eat it away from home. But there’s also a psychological element in it. The majority of roast dinners I’ve eaten have been with family which leads to an attribution between the two. Technically speaking, I am conditioned to eat roast with family. This might explain why I don’t like it at university.

Big respect for my Granny's roasts!
So, isn’t it ultimately up to me to ‘get over it’ and just enjoy a roast dinner away from home? Surely it’s only a minor detail upon my life – I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat thinking about roast dinners. Well yes, it would be an easy thing to overcome – but would I want to?
Did someone say Roast?!
For all this talk about conditioning and being incapable of cooking it myself, isn’t it possible to take a step back and think, “I prefer eating roasts with my family”. And it’s not only because my mum makes the best roasts, but also because I get to spend time with everyone that I’ve left behind. If I were to eat roasts at university, aren’t I undermining an experience at home which I cherish?
The baby claims his first victim!
Today’s lunch proved to me exactly how much I miss family life away from home. My grandparents came over and we had a great time watching the day’s midday football fixtures. My Granddad still thinks he’s my driving instructor and spent the whole day telling me how to drive to Ipswich and Heathrow – two big trips that I have to undertake in the upcoming week. The meal was also expertly handled by my sister with outstanding Yorkshire puddings. Even Harry had a few bites.
Bathed and ready for bed!
So, with all things considered, I think the things we leave at home aren’t irretrievable – but there are almost certainly things we shouldn’t take away with us.  In the case of roast dinners, I want to make the most of them at home before I start making them myself. 

Happy Easter!

Working Outside the Comfort Zone - Manchester City

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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Guitar Strings

Whenever we experience the thrill of driving or the excitement of seeing a new film, it’s always accompanied by something that’s significantly less attractive. No matter how much I enjoy driving, I have to wash my car at the end of the day. At the cinema, I could be seeing the film of the decade but there’ll always be people making noise.

Of course, some people enjoy washing their car. Rather than simply sending it through the local car wash or a fiver, they love to soap the bonnet, windows and rims. After a hard hour’s work, they step back to admire their handiwork – cue the generic sigh.

Unfortunately, I’m the complete opposite. I don’t always see the logic in knuckling down, washing the car and putting in the effort. The car wash is there for a reason, regardless of the weather! But is this really how we should live? In Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, Remains of the Day, it is said: "The evening's the best part of the day. You've done your day's work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it." Therefore, it’s inherently wrong to put pleasure before pain, but why?

When I started playing guitar six years ago, I had no idea how to change the strings. Whenever one broke, which it eventually did considering how hard I battered the guitars, I took it to the local guitar shop and had it repaired. It cost me ten pounds in total, an extra fiver on top of the strings. Of course, I was young and this was a price to pay for my novice experience.

However, money soon stacked up. Because I was neglecting effort on my part – I wasn’t bothering to learn how to resting my guitar – it cost double the amount of money. Needless to say, three years later when I realised how much money I was wasting, I quickly learnt how to do it!

So what am I getting at? As I said, it’s wrong to put pleasure in front of pain. In this case, I was being lazy and paying the guitar store instead of putting in the effort myself. How many times in our lives do we neglect hard work for simple pleasure? Whether it’s not doing the coursework now and leaving it till later, or not giving up smoking and saying we have the rest of our lives to deal with that. This isn’t true.

We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and worry about it later. We need to take responsibility and put in the hours. Only then can we relax.

I know that when I next look outside the window and see a dirty car, I’m going to be one of those guys who enjoy washing it. Afterwards, I can drive with pride, in the knowledge that not only did I save money, I accomplished something for myself through hard work and effort. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Last night, I went with a couple of friends to our local, Wetherspoons. We chilled out, had a few drinks then went home. It seemed quite a shock to come from the mass drinking culture at university to Wetherspoons, a humble location in comparison. Overall, it was a good night – but one thing took me by surprise. I got asked for ID. In Leicester, I rarely produce my driving licence. In fact, it made me think of when I turned eighteen.

Can you remember when you bought your first beer? And not just over the counter in a Tesco, but your first time in a pub? I’m sure lots of people reflect back and recall a distant summer in a Cornish pub (possibly in Devon). Surrounding by family and friends, they sipped upon a cool cider, revelling in the picturesque backdrop.

I turned eighteen in February, in a boarding school. With a couple of mates, I snuck out after nine to the local pub, careful to avoid patrolling teachers. We were met by silence at the pub – it was a Monday in Warminster.  No worries, great atmosphere! I ordered a pint at the bar. What brand? I looked at the nearest tap. I’ll have a Guinness - rookie mistake. Oh, and sure here’s my ID. The barman handed it back without a word. I hesitated. Did you notice it’s my birthday today? He grunted in reply. It was a pretty poor Guinness and I haven’t ordered one since.

Okay, so my first pint was pretty anti climatic. It wasn’t perfect – but not many things are. Indeed, when we try something for the first time, it’s rarely ever that great. Whether it’s the experience, the feeling or the after effect, it’s never quite ideal. Whether it’s when we try a new dish for the first time or read a new book, it might taste or feel awkward, but it will get better if we stick with it.

When I started playing guitar, I was awful. Not only could I barely play a decent chord, I got calluses on my fingers. It was easy to get disillusioned, but I stuck with it. Four years later, I passed my Grade Eight Guitar with a merit – the tips of my fingers are rock.

In this sense, I believe I’ve matured at least a little bit. My first pint at eighteen was awkward, my subsequent ones at university were indulgent and almost regretful at times – how did I approach drinking last night? As stated, we had a quiet evening with a pint. When asked for ID, I didn’t rebuke them but accepted it as part of their job. I didn’t feel the need to stay out longer than I did. Admittedly, the odds were against us – a night out in Salisbury is bad by any measure, on a Tuesday it is categorically poor. But the point is that I can now approach drinking differently, in a more mature way. 

It’s not until after the pain or hangover that we realise the value of something, but it’s equally important that we break through the initial barriers and obstacles to achieve something. 

Monday, 18 April 2011

Elizabeth Gardens

The River Avon runs through Salisbury, dividing the city into two. You can walk alongside its banks from Wetherspoons Pub, where men and women in sip coffee, read the papers and smoke in the April morning air. Down the path, one man sits on a bench and observes the southern flow of the river. On Crane Bridge Road, a small art shop, acts as a warden to the 7am traffic. The commuters saunter by to open up their shops.

But further downstream, the river is flanked by Elizabeth Gardens. Fishing is allowed, but only through permission – a steel sign nailed to a tree says so. No one is fishing at this time. Only I walk down the riverside path. It’s not the first time I’ve been down here either.

I remember when I came to the Gardens four years ago. Fifteen and reckless, I sat around with friends experimenting. We smoked our first cigarettes. I can remember buying them for the first time – Mayfair, ten pack. We didn’t even inhale the smoke, just circled it around in our mouths and pretended. For a month we did this, until one day we coughed and hesitated. Four years later, I stopped smoking.  

We binged for the first time – cider and vodka. One evening, I stumbled home drunk and couldn’t afford a bus home. I look back and realise, I had plenty of money.

I follow the river to the point where it splits and meets open fields. Mallard ducklings climb onto dry land, hassled by their mother who rounds up the group. They crawl over to a willow tree and search for breadcrumbs. The cathedral rises above in the distance like a lighthouse. It directs you from the Plains towards the city centre.

I walk on through the gardens – Salisbury gradually begins to awaken. Tourists brave the morning and explore; a teacher wastes times with her pupils before a visit to Stonehenge. Builders swarm around a playground preparing sacks of concrete mix. I’ve been to this playground before. My dad and I took my step-brother there once. Only a year old, he loved playing on the slides and seesaws. We hoisted him onto the monkey bars and carried him on our shoulders. Now, the gates are locked and the apparatus has been torn down.

In science, the second law of thermodynamics is the only quantity to suggest a particular direction of progress: entropy, the arrow of time, an egg timer and sand. The playground is in a process of change – the cathedral looms in the background surrounded by scaffolding. When will the thirteenth century foundations begin to crumble? The Avon entrenches its banks, reaches for the path and benches. It gradually peaks and starts to shrink.

With no water, the mother duck wanders down the path towards the city centre. Her children lead the way.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


So recently I’ve become really interested in snooker. Since going to university in September, I’ve started playing pool - I’m nothing special and get beaten most of the time. Although I can be competitive, I enjoy the banter and drinking more than anything. I even had a few games with my dad last Christmas. But when I started watching this year’s Snooker World Championship on TV, I knew things were going slightly awry.

Me 'playing' pool
Unlike football, snooker’s not really that exciting – or at least to me it isn’t. With football it’s hard not to cheer on a side, even when it’s not your team playing. The main difference is passion. We see passion and commitment in the players, managers and supporters. Whether it’s Stoke City making it to the FA Cup Finals, Brighton and Hove Albion getting promoted or a Sheikh investing in a new team, passion is literally what makes football work.
Brighton and Hove Albion and their passion
Today, Arsenal played Liverpool in a 1-1 draw with two penalties in extra time. Arsenal manager, Wenger, complained to his counterpart, Kenny Dalglish, who told him to ‘piss off’. This may be a negative example of ‘passion’, but it certainly makes for compulsive viewing. Although considerably ‘downmarket’, we all like to see players get angry – just as much as we like to see them win.
Piss off, Wenger
On the other hand, when I watch Higgins, Williams or Hendry play, I’m confident that with every shot, they’ll pocket the ball. The systematic precision these snooker players bring to the table actually makes the game less exciting. It’s impossible to be an underdog when the difference between players is superficial – this year, defending champion Neil Robertson was felled by Judd trump in the first round.

On the topic of passion, snooker players rarely cheer, get angry or even smile. How can I empathise with these players when they look indifferent and bored? Sure, when they get a 147 they cheer, but then again they do win a hefty prize. Footballer Jack Wilshere posted a picture of himself kissing his team’s badge on Twitter. When will we ever see Ding Junhui kissing his carefully ironed waistcoat? Football supporters stand on edge and shout throughout the match – snooker supporters sit in silence and get told off for eating sweets.
An example of a passionate snooker referee
But still I find snooker interesting – and yes, it is because of passion. Unlike football, I believe passion in snooker is more withdrawn and understated. Around the table, a calm respect is observed by all involved; from a player waiting patiently for his turn to the silk gloves of the referee. Of course all the players are unlikely to miss their shot, but you must respect the time and dedication it took them to reach that standard of playing. Not only that, you have to respect their fortitude and measurement throughout the match. Unlike footballers, snooker players don’t break a sweat, even if they’re one frame away from losing. I believe snooker players uphold a huge degree of dignity in their game. It’s impossible not to appreciate that.