23!


Today I turned 23. The age nobody likes you when you still act like you’re in freshman year (according to Blink 182’s What’s My Age Again?, anyway). Jordan’s iconic jersey number. An isolated prime number, made of two consecutive prime numbers. The usual number of chromosome pairs in a human…

Whatever significance (or not) one may choose to bestow upon the number 23, if my 23rd year on earth can be even a fraction as good as my 22nd I really cannot complain. I was intending on writing a list of my goals and ambitions for the year, but in all honesty if I am fortunate enough to be blessed with another year of good health for my loved ones and I, I couldn’t ask for more.

I can’t wait to see what this year holds; onwards and upwards!

X.

What I’ve learnt from my first month of blogging.

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This is my thirtieth daily blog post (OK, so I posted one at 00:00, therefore technically a ‘day’ late), so to mark this modest milestone today’s post will be about my experience so far of blogging itself.

The first thing that occurs to me after a quick look back through my past posts is just how much it turns out I’ve had to say – my greatest concern when I committed myself to giving daily blogging a go, as a diary of sorts, was that I would find that I don’t really have anything to write about. And the more posts I write, the easier it comes – so far, so good – though the acid test will be how I fare on a less eventful month!

I have found that writing this blog has allowed me to reclaim writing for pleasure. Having just finished a postgraduate degree which culminated in writing, and re-writing, a paper (now due for publication in a scientific journal – so in retrospect worth the hard slog), the thought alone of writing had become enough to induce nausea, so it’s been wonderful to write for fun again, and for me again.

Another observation is just how quickly things can become routine if you want them to. Despite having a full time job, practicing guitar and skateboarding daily, and finding time to relax and socialise, I’ve not struggled to find a moment to write down some thoughts every single day. It’s funny that the more things I want to do, the easier I find it is to be organised – but then again, if I weren’t I’d get nothing done at all.

See you again tomorrow.

 

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.

adventure:mk

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Anyone familiar with the town in question will understand this post’s title, though for the benefit of those of you who aren’t it is a reference to Milton Keynes (also known as MK), where the mid-noughties saw a spate of large buildings named (or renamed) in a similar manner, including: stadium:mk (since renamed ‘stadiummk’), the local football team’s ground; centre:mk, the town’s largest shopping centre; hub:mk, home to restaurants, bars, and hotels; and even office blocks, such as pinnacle:mk. Modern day Milton Keynes is one of Britain’s newer settlements, arising as part of the third wave of ‘new towns’ in the late 1960s, taking its name from a pre-existing village in the area.

It has to be said that Milton Keynes, unless you are particularly fond of snow sports (more on that later), isn’t much of a tourist destination. I found myself there for the first time yesterday evening to see my closest university friend, Emma, who lives in a nearby village. My first impression of MK (or what I saw of it, anyway) was that it seems very functional, if a little soulless: the town’s centre, for example, presents a collection of large industrial-looking buildings with sprawling car parks throughout a grid of wide multi-lane roads (admittedly a much more efficient and simple to navigate road system than the usual mess of narrow and poorly maintained roads seen in most of Britain’s towns). Due to its brief history and rapid construction, the town’s uniformity in architectural style is also unusual; I, for example, grew up in a 20th century house directly opposite a church built around the turn of the 12th – though for context the area is a lot older, having been continuously inhabited since the Saxons settled there during the Dark Ages.

One building, ‘Xscape’ (our destination for the day), stands out from the rest. The enormous glass-fronted half-dome houses not only shops, restaurants, and bars, but also a casino, a nightclub, an art gallery, a multiscreen cinema, a bowling alley, an indoor skydiving centre, and a real-snow indoor slope (one of only six in Britain!). We filled the afternoon with back-to-back bowling and pool best of threes, having a laugh while catching up on what’s new, then grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to hers to kick it for a bit.

Every time I get back from an enjoyable trip somewhere new I wake the next morning with the itch to get out there and discover somewhere else, and this morning was no different; as always it was wonderful to get in my car and explore, made even better by the fact I got to see a close friend I’d missed into the bargain. Yes, it could have been the worst place on earth and I’d have had a great time thanks to the company I had, but honestly MK has no shortage of fun looking things to do: I’d really like to try the snow slope, as much for the novelty of being able to snowboard indoors on real snow as for anything, and indoor skydiving sounds fantastic. As the old adage goes, you should never judge a book by its cover.

 

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.

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.