All new everything.

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In some ways, the story behind my new skateboard set up seems a good analogy for life.

The build itself started when I ordered a spare blank deck (I love its simplicity and cleanness), and, either by placing my order carelessly or an error on the website’s end, instead of receiving a deck my usual 7.75 inches wide, I received an 8.25. I realise this may sound like nothing to a non-skater, but it does make a significant difference. I have no hardware suitable for this wide a deck, but instead of sending it back I took my/their mistake as an opportunity to experiment and try something new! That same morning I ordered new 5.5 inch trucks to match the deck’s width, and thought that while I was at it I’d order some 56mm A-cut wheels (monstrously enormous compared to the 50mms on my current deck).

In fact, I didn’t stop there, ordering new bearings and bolts too, to commit fully to an entirely new build. The truth is, as with many things in life, I had become very comfortable with my set up; I have been riding the same trucks for the last 6 years, the wheels for the last ten, and – whilst the boards themselves wear out and break – I have exclusively ridden 7.75s as long as I can remember (excluding one 8 inch early on that was too big for me, and a 7.5 years later that by then was far too small). Maybe I’ll love the new set up, and maybe I’ll hate it. But at least I’ll know, and I’ll have learnt something from the experience.

And this is true of all facets of life – leaving one’s comfort zone is a risk: maybe things will improve as a result, and maybe they won’t. Sometimes we may choose to leave that comfort zone, but too often we will choose the opposite, and it takes a mistake, surprise, or just dumb luck to force us out. Of course, a new skateboard set up is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but when changes in life are more significant there is also inevitably also more to be gained. After all, you have to move to move forward.

When life gives you lemons…

 

X.

Poker face.

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Today was a pretty relaxed day, partially by choice and partially due to the weather; the rain has been torrential and unrelenting. I won’t complain though, having travelled around so much lately it’s been nice to just stay in for a change, and I’ve managed to get a few bits and pieces done into the bargain.

Between updating my CV and Résumé I have been able to work on some songwriting, catch up on some quality reading time, and get some maintenance work on my skateboard done: cleaning the bearings (which got wet and locked up), brushing down the griptape, changing my trucks’ bushings, and swapping in some new wheels. The biggest downside to the weather is that even if the rain stops at some point overnight the skatepark will likely still be wet tomorrow, which may seem insignificant to a non-skater but believe me slippery ramps and rusty bearings are a nightmare. But, this is England and unless you are lucky enough to be near an indoor skatepark (which for me is an hour’s drive without traffic) at a certain point in the year you either skate on wet ground, or don’t skate at all.

I also tried something completely new to me today: online poker. Since my early teenage years I have played a lot of poker with friends and on the computer (though against AI rather than online), practising as much (and as many poker variants) as possible, devouring books and online resources on the topic (my favourite being the High Stakes Poker podcast). And it is no secret to those who’ve known me as an adult that I am partial to the occasional trip to a casino (though blackjack is my preferred game; quick, relatively cheap, and one in which skill can make a difference – unlike pure luck games such as roulette or craps, which have never appealed to me).

If I were more interested in the money than the game I may have explored online poker sooner, but the truth is that I am not. What I enjoy most about poker is calculating probabilities and trying to read my opponents’ body language to figure out where I stand in a hand. I’m not much excited by the risk of financial loss (which is of course the most likely outcome – there are more losers than winners at any table or tournament), and I’m not motivated enough by the promise of a large payout (which, save for an elite few, is highly unlikely anyway). What inspired the decision to give it a shot today was an advert promising free cash to play without a deposit (which turned out, of course, to be loaded with terms and conditions). Upon reading that the company also offers a “play money” (free-to-play) mode – much better suited to my needs – I downloaded the software straight away and got stuck in.

I played two sit and go games. In the first I reached the final two before more or less throwing the game (finishing second), satisfied with having made my target of a prize winning position, and won the second outright. I did enjoy the games, and can see myself returning for a quick game or two every now and then, but I won’t be playing for real money online any time soon. If I’m going to pay to play, I’ll pay for the casino experience: a real dealer, real cards on a felt table, and the ability to play the game as it is played best – reading your opponents’ tells and getting a feel for where you stand beyond the values on the cards. But until my next casino visit I’ll gladly take the free practice.

X.

Nomad.

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Earlier today I was behind the wheel of my car, singing along to my music as I powered up the road home from Portsmouth – the most recent in a series of trips over the ten weeks since finishing my Master’s degree that have put a further three thousand miles on the clock. Had I travelled any other way it wouldn’t have been so simple to spontaneously stay for the cosy night of film watching and pizza we had after my hosts’ double date plans fell through yesterday, particularly given how infamously unreliable public transport is on a Sunday here in Britain… What’s more, journey times are often (though admittedly not always) quicker by car than even the fastest option by public transport, and sometimes cheaper given my car’s phenomenal fuel efficiency (66 miles to the gallon or thereabouts).

My love of driving extends far beyond its practicalities; I like that there is no timetable, no set route, and that I can be completely in control. Getting behind the wheel of my little black car lets the journey become part of the adventure on any trip – whether freely racing through country lanes, or late night cruises through deserted city streets that by day would be stationary with traffic, as if reserved solely for me to explore. While driving I have witnessed police chases, car crashes, and even once saw a lorry burst into flames. I even accidentally discovered my favourite skatepark by driving an alternate route to a shopping centre; by bus the route would have never changed.

But beyond the driving experience itself, my car has played host to many emotional events. I have thought up stories, worked through problems, and have had moments of inspiration so intense I have had to pull over to jot down a lyric or two. I have whooped with joy on the way home from landing a new trick on my skateboard, still loaded with adrenaline, and I have lost myself in music after a tiring or stressful day, finding respite in finally being alone, safe from the world in my own private little box. It is also where I once laughed and sang and dreamed with the person I loved, and where I sat alone and cried the night it ended.

Who knows where it’ll take me next.

X.

What I learnt at university (other than my course material).

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Today I received the grade I will be graduating my MSc with: 76%. To someone accustomed to the American, Australian, or other such grading systems this may seem fairly unimpressive, but here in the UK, where 70% is the minimum requirement for first class honours (undergraduate) and distinction (master’s) – the highest awards available at their respective levels – and where course averages over 80% are almost unheard of, it is an achievement I feel very proud of. However, final result aside, I have taken a lot more from my university experiences than just the course contents and a fancy piece of paper.

Even studying biological sciences, with its countless hours spent in laboratories in addition to lectures and tutorials, I found life as an undergraduate highly liberating. I found I had sufficient time to regularly practice with two bands, go skateboarding, go to the gym, go out with friends, and do other stereotypical undergrad things like binge-watch TV shows. Admittedly I have always been an efficient worker, but I soon discovered that getting things done became easier the more organised I was, and without which adjustment it would have been impossible to maintain this lifestyle throughout the entire program of study whilst keeping on top of my academic commitments. Sure, I definitely didn’t sleep as much as I maybe should have, and I am sure many would argue my decision to not drink any alcohol, which undoubtedly saved me many hours of hangover recovery (and a lot of money into the bargain), is not in the spirit of the British university experience, but managing to pursue and develop my non-academic interests as I did, meet so many great new friends, and succeed academically more than makes up for it; I had the time of my life (so far anyway).

My Master’s degree, which I undertook at a different university, was a very different, but equally rewarding experience. This course followed a modular structure, with courses running intensively over a week each, with seven hours of lectures and/or practical work each day, the weeks in between modules filled with additional private study and assessments. Due to the nature of the course structure, I opted to commute to the site – a military facility 65 miles away – whilst returning to live in my family home (having spent my undergraduate years in private accommodation and halls). This might have been an isolated setting for the year, had the intensity of my studies not been so great and the course numbers so small; nights out with coursemates were few in number – mostly to celebrate birthdays or other special occasions – with socialising instead predominately occurring at meal and break times (generally spent at the Officer’s Mess), whilst working on group projects, or at the end of the day when many of us would wait for the rush hour traffic to ease before hitting the roads.

This time, the experience gave me an insight into the working world: long, full days, a lengthy commute, much less free time to devote to one’s other interests. I soon realised that an audiobook or music was all it took to turn my drives into a period of respite at the end of a long day, and that by working on any assessments I had pending whilst waiting for the traffic to subside I would have more time for playing guitar and piano or working out once I got home. I actually found that this time constraint resulted in me naturally shedding lazy habits (such as watching TV) in favour of doing the things I really wanted to do, hardly downsizing the time I invested in my non-academic passions relative to my time as an undergraduate. Initially, the step from undergraduate to postgraduate study had seemed massive – almost too great to handle – but I ultimately showed myself how much pressure I can not only handle but succeed under.

To anyone approaching a big decision in life, or about to undertake something that seems intimidating in proportion, you must first be absolutely sure it is what you want to do, or will help you get to where you want to be. I realise that had I not found my courses fulfilling the experience may have crushed my spirits and sapped my energy, which would have resulted in repercussions for every aspect of my life. The early starts would have been unbearable, and the workload oppressive. Always follow your heart; no matter how well intentioned other people’s advice may be, only you can know which path is right for you. Once you are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to pursue your goals – be it a job, a course of study, or any other challenge for that matter – do it, because regardless of the outcome, you may be amazed by what you learn about who you are and what you are capable of.

X.

The story SOFAR.

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Not too long ago I was introduced by a friend to an organisation called ‘Sounds From a Room’, or SOFAR for short, which organises gigs with a twist; you learn a show’s exact location no sooner than 24 hours before it starts, and only learn the show’s lineup once the artists are onstage in front of you. Everyone’s set is of equal length so there are no headliners. Venues range from someone’s living room (literally. I know, insane) to industrial and commercial spaces, and what’s more, there are practically no restrictions on genre or performance type so you could literally see anything. I was instantly intrigued.

Sure enough, five days later I found myself sitting with Samantha on a picnic blanket in the Bianca Road Brewery in Peckham, South London. Given the potential for a brewery to be a very industrial and cold setting, with their bare concrete floors and huge metal brewing vats, the soft lighting from some carefully placed fairy lights and the soft chatter of the crowd transformed the venue into a surprisingly intimate and cosy setting. Everyone seemed so at ease, sitting around on blankets and pillows strewn across the floor. At a SOFAR show the audience remains seated during sets, don’t chat during songs, or leave before every act has finished performing. Everything is about respecting and enjoying being at a live music show. Testament to this, both the crowd and performers alike were about as eclectic as I have ever seen at a single show: The first act was an alternative band called Spy From Moscow, playing delicate songs of guitar, trumpet, and cajón, with beautiful lyrics and melodies to match; next came Zia Ahmed, a poet with the perfect mix of comedy and tragedy, delivered beautifully to a rapt audience; and finally, a Belgian trio called Blow, who, armed with two saxophones and a drum kit, played their unique brand of ‘electronic’ music. Yet despite any superficial differences, everyone present was alike in the most important way: we were all there to have a good time listening to some live music.

And that’s exactly what music should be all about.

To attend a SOFAR show near you, perform, or even host your own, visit: https://www.sofarsounds.com.

X.

Tattoo aftercare and healing update.

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Around a week ago I finally finished a tattoo on my calf that’s been a work in progress for the last two and a half years, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s not my only tattoo, but unique as my only colour tattoo to date. This final session consisted of adding a host of colours to the tattoo: blue, yellow, orange, red, brown, green, and white.

My only anxiety prior to this final session concerned the horror stories I’ve heard of bad reactions to red inks, which thankfully in my case do not apply. In fact, with the exception of blue – unfortunately the most abundant colour in the tattoo (other than black, of course) – all of the colours have settled as beautifully: slight flaking but no excessive scabbing or itching, good going for the first week of healing (generally the most bothersome period, in which a tattoo is at its most vulnerable)!

Since my first tattoo session, about three years ago, I have had great success employing a dry healing method as suggested by the first artist to decorate my skin, as far as I am aware the preferred method in her native Japan. Dry healing has not only been incident free and produced deep and consistent blacks (and will hopefully work as well for the colours), but is about as simple as aftercare comes:

  1. Remove the plastic wrap around 3 to 4 hours after leaving the shop.
  2. Gently wash off any plasma, ink, and blood with warm water and a little unscented antibacterial soap.
  3. Gently pat dry with kitchen roll (or any other disposable paper towel, though the softer the better).
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 two or three times a day.

And that’s it! Simple!

Some additional steps I like to take include:

  • Avoiding strenuous exercise involving the tattooed area for the first few days, and ensuring I give the area an extra wash should it get sweaty or dirty.
  • Letting the area breathe as much as possible, leaving it uncovered when at home and wearing loose, soft clothing when outside (which can help prevent the tattoo getting dirty or scratched, and will protect it from the sun).
  • Using clean bedsheets (some people like to use a spare set, as any leaked tattoo ink will never come out).

However, as previously alluded to, my experience with the blue on the other hand has been a little less straightforward. Areas of blue ink have dried out much more than any other tattoo I’ve healed, and today I noticed a couple of small areas had cracked and looked slightly bloodied. Whilst it occurred to me that the cold climate won’t help the dry skin issue, the other colours have settled beautifully and all dryness and damage appears to be limited to blue areas which leads me to believe it may have something to do with my body’s reaction to this specific colour of ink. Hopefully it’ll turn out to be nothing a bit of moisturiser won’t mend, but only time will tell. And if not, a little touch up should do the trick…

X.