Blue is the warmest colour: love at first sight.

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Next week I turn 23. This means that two years have now passed since I came into possession of my beautiful Gibson Les Paul Futura. Prior to this I had happily played the same Yamaha Pacifica since age 11, a guitar I still treasure to this day. I had often promised myself that when I got good enough to merit a new guitar I would treat myself to a beauty, with the vision of keeping it forever, allowing it to age alongside me.

Fast forward some years and I feel ready to commence the search for my musical soulmate. I started to look into new guitars, obsessively looking online and making trips to an excellent guitar shop, Andertons, not too far from my home. I tried everything from hollow-body Gretsch guitars to PRS beauties, and everything in-between. Despite my love for the Les Paul shape, none within my price range had blown me away, and I ultimately narrowed my search to an Alpine White American Fender Stratocaster and a PRS S2 Mira. After some deliberation I decided that I preferred the feel of the Strat’s neck and its distinctive Fender tone (perhaps also swayed slightly by my love of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s strat tone).

Just before calling it a day, a shop assistant asked if I had tried the Futura. I had not. What happened next would change my life forever. At a first glance, I was blown away by the guitar’s looks – the beautiful wood and its stunning colour. Then I held it: heavy, and solid, a serious piece of kit; not something a child could throw over their shoulder. I was already falling in love. Next, I plugged it in…

… What I heard was incredible. Beyond a Les Paul’s usual three pickup options, and tone and volume pots, the Futura presents a range of features rarely seen on other unmodified iterations of the model: a conventional humbucker at the bridge, and a hum-cancelling P90H Sidewinder at the neck, both of which with the option of coil splitting for an even greater tonal range, putting two iconic Les Paul tones into a single guitar. The action is perfect and the neck fast. I knew this was the guitar for me.

The shop assistant mentioned that the guitar was the only one left in stock, but I had already made up my mind – I was not leaving without it. I told my dad (a phenomenal guitarist himself and never one to miss a trip to a music shop) that I was going to buy it then and there, to which he surprised me by revealing that he would like to buy the guitar for me as a 21st birthday gift. And what a gift it was.

It’s funny how two years later I get the same excited rush when I pull it out of its case that I got the first moment I saw it. I used to occasionally look at guitars and dream of maybe one day owning this one or that one, but I haven’t looked at guitars for sale since; but why bother when I can just take my dream guitar out of its case and play that instead?

 

X.

First day!

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Today couldn’t have gone any better.

I feel absolutely exhausted, and my brain feels ready to burst with everything I’ve had to take in today – where things are in the lab, who’s who, how to work various new pieces of kit, and all the tidbits of information thrown at me throughout the day – but the work is exciting, the environment stimulating, and I couldn’t ask for nicer colleagues. It’s going to be tiring, and it’ll be tough at times, but it’ll also be fulfilling and absolutely fascinating!

I’m so grateful that this opportunity has come my way, especially so early in my career, and I look forward not only to my time in this role but also the many doors I am certain this experience will open in the future. Most of all, it feels very satisfying to know that the continued effort throughout my studies – long days in the library, and nights spent studying when I’d have rather slept – have paid off.

Yes, I’m just a cog in a much greater machine, and no, I won’t be rich or famous, but I’m still living a lifelong dream and am exactly where I want to be. And that’s enough for me…

… For now, anyway.

 

X.

About tomorrow.

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Tomorrow I begin my new job, and I couldn’t be more excited (if also a little nervous). It’s been only three days since I found out I’d got it, so still doesn’t quite feel real yet! After years of studying and hard work it feels rewarding to know that my first graduate position is not only within my field of study, but everything I’d hoped to one day end up doing as a starry-eyed high schooler considering what I might like to do with my future (though it is a bit overwhelming that that future – which felt so far away back then – is now upon me!).

Most of all I feel blessed that I haven’t needed to settle for something I’m less passionate about as a stopgap job, as is the norm nowadays. It is an opportunity I will not waste!

X.

No more bad days.

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This morning the sun came out, and it even stayed dry. England hasn’t seen this bright a day for a long time, so obviously I headed out to the local skatepark to make the most of the weather. The photograph with this post is actually from around a month ago – I forgot my tripod today so couldn’t get a good photo – and unfortunately doesn’t nearly do today’s weather justice (though it was taken at the same skatepark, if nothing else!).

Today’s efforts were mostly focused on manual pad, ledge, and rail tricks, and I had one of those sessions where things seem to just work – the cherry on top of an already glorious morning. The park wasn’t completely deserted either for a change (though the others there were riding scooters, but you can’t always have it all). The only negative this morning was that I had intended on trying to fastplant over the larger ledge from the manny pad (which I have always thought would look awesome), but completely forgot once I was at the park. But there’s always tomorrow…

The session’s highlight came in the form of an epiphany on my skate home. I realised the only difference between today and any other of late is that the skies were clearer than they have been for a while: I had nothing special planned for the day; temperatures have actually continued to drop, despite the brightness of the day; and there were more job applications waiting to be done when I got home. It occurred to me that I had essentially chosen to be happy, and justified it with a minuscule factor that is completely out of my control anyway. But there needn’t be a justification for feeling good, and I have vowed from now on to cut out the middleman and choose to be happy just because.

After all, nothing makes a day good like having a good day.

 

X.

Man’s best friend: what my dogs have taught me.

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Today began with a long walk through the Windsor Great Park – or part of it, anyway; at 20.2 square kilometres the one-time private hunting ground of the Royal family is an enormous piece of land. And the park is as beautiful as it is large, particularly resplendent in its Autumn colours.

The park is a dog walker’s dream (and most likely a dog’s too): no shortage of different routes to keep walks interesting; plenty of other dogs (and their walkers) to meet at all times of the day, yet enough space to never feel crowded; and safe for humans and dogs alike, with very few areas of the park accessible by vehicles, and even then most roads are reserved for the use of authorised persons only.

I love watching my dogs run, play, and explore, endlessly stimulated by various animal scents and sounds, chasing rodents, and each other. In taking in their surroundings in such a deep, multisensory manner my dogs never fail to remind me to stop, look around, and appreciate the wonders of nature. It is amazing how many beautiful views I never stopped long enough to appreciate before having the dogs, always otherwise distracted by where I’m going or what I’m doing. If you don’t make an effort it can be easy easy to forget to occasionally go outside just to be outside, and dog walks force me to do exactly that.

Our walks give me time to think, but I can also lose myself watching the dogs running around, carefree and happy, tails raised and gently wagging, or by grabbing a stick and getting involved myself (and believe me, it’s not just them enjoying our games). They don’t even care about the weather, never mind the countless little things we are all guilty of letting play on our minds and dampen our spirits. My dogs remind me of the importance, and freedom, of living in the moment and putting everything else to one side, even if just for a while.

 

X.

Longhill.

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This morning, as I have been doing most mornings, I hopped in my car and drove down to my favourite skatepark to start my day with a session. I feel a lot better physically and mentally if I can fill my lungs with fresh air and get the blood pumping around my body first thing, and there’s nothing quite like an adrenaline and endorphin rush to help get a day off to a good start. And then there’s the skateboarding itself. Going out to skate when I wake up has been a habit for some time now, but by obliging myself to head over to a proper skatepark (see above photo), rather than cruising around whilst running errands or casually practicing flatland tricks, I have found myself feeling more inspired and motivated, and have seen a significant progression in my abilities as a result. What’s more, a skatepark provides a perfect surface and varied obstacles to learn on – which obviously helps too.

I am more conflicted, however, when it comes to the emotional aspects of my routine: the greatest downside to my morning skate routine is also one of its greatest assets – that I am always alone. Now, this does have its benefits: there is no pressure to perform, no one can get in my way, and there are no distractions to name but a few. In fact, being alone means that if I’m at the skatepark for two hours, I skate for two hours (often returning home drenched in sweat). Now for the negatives… Perhaps I’m suffering from a case of the grass seeming greener on the other side, but when things go wrong and I am struggling to land a certain trick, or sometimes just too scared to try something new, there is never anyone there who might shed some light on what I might improve to land something or offer some words of encouragement. And when things go well it’s even worse: after a good session I always feel a little disappointed that no one was there to witness what I did well – I think it’s every skateboarder’s dream to be the person whose trick is met by boards banging on the floor, a cheer, and a sea of high-fives and fist bumps. Instead, my tricks are met by silence.

I doubt anyone could put the feeling better than Christopher McCandless: “Happiness only real when shared”.

 

X.

The big smoke.

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Yesterday I met up with an old university friend I haven’t seen for well over a year. We met at one of my all time favourite spots: London’s South Bank – home of the legendary skate spot, the London Eye, all sorts of restaurants, concert venues, and markets (with Christmas markets now in full swing despite it being November). Being situated on the river, which at this point of its course is somewhere in the region of 250 to 300 metres wide, the South Bank is permitted a feeling of openness seldom felt in cities as crowded as London.

 

It was nice to wander about, catching up on life whilst taking in the hustle and bustle of the city. I have to admit that London always looks beautiful decked out in all its winter finery (if a little ridiculous that Christmas decorations should have gone up already). We had no plans beyond when and where to meet, but the magic of London is that even an impromptu day out is never dull; it is a city with opportunities for fun and adventure around every corner. The evening took us through the Christmas markets at the South Bank before crossing the river to explore Westminster’s bustling streets, starting with Leicester Square’s Christmas market and street performers, where Tina then had her first ever casino experiences at Casino at the Empire and the Hippodrome. We then nipped around the corner to Orbital (where I picked up some of the new Karnak comics I’ve been keen to read) on the way to my first ever Five Guys meal (pretty good, if a little expensive for a fast food joint – though paid for by my casino winnings). Once stuffed we sauntered through Covent Garden, always bright and lively (and nostalgic – particularly taking a gander in my childhood favourite Eric Snook’s), and on down to the South Bank to take in the river by night before heading our separate ways (though hopefully not for so long this time).

 

My recent adventures in London have stolen me away eastwards to the streets of Shoreditch, Islington, Mile End, and Peckham, so it felt great to be back in the stomping grounds of my youth: The City of Westminster. This is, of course, also the part of London most tourists come to see. There is much more to London than this little pocket of the heart of the city (making up only 0.01% of London’s total square mileage), but a little pocket that punches well above its weight, boasting some of the country’s finest palaces (including the Palace of Westminster and the Queen’s humble abode of Buckingham Palace), squares (Trafalgar square anyone?), and gardens (Hyde and St. James’ parks amongst others), as well as being home to “Theatreland” (the West End), some of London’s most famous shopping streets (such as Oxford and Regent streets), and an endless number of other landmarks, museums and galleries, and other attractions. If you’re going to explore London it’s certainly a good place to start.

 

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.