The lunacy of the long, slow suicide

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. In the past few months, I have eaten more family-size ‘treat’ bags of crappy Cadbury’s Buttons than about six families of four put together. And before this current Buttons phase, I went through five solid months of consuming Cadbury’s Mini Eggs like Pacman eats Pac-dots.

That would be how my confession would go if I were a Catholic. But since I’m not, here I am confessing into the ether. And then I’m going to share this post on Facebook. Which, if you ask me, is much more hardcore than revealing one’s darkest secret to a man of the cloth in a broom cupboard.

Essentially, I’m here to admit that the following film clip from Chocolat is the screen representation of a struggle I deal with on an almost daily basis.

 

Obviously, I don’t do it in a shop window. My mindless troughing of shameful swathes of chocolate, followed by the inevitable two-hour carb coma on the sofa, all happens behind closed doors. It’s top secret. Well, it was. Until now.

What I have, of course, is a binge-eating disorder. I suspected that’s what it was, but I had it confirmed once and for all by a Radio 4 programme the other day, which informed me that there should be some local experts who can help me. I Googled. Then I read the spiel on several health-service and private clinics’ websites and rolled my eyes. Want to know what the help involves? Telling people to eat more veg and go on a mindfulness course.

I’m not saying that’s bad advice. But it doesn’t bloody work. I’m living proof you can eat your greens and meditate and still be an out-of-control sugaholic. If you come round my gaff and look in my fridge, you’ll see nowt much in there other than organic vegetables and eggs. And all that stuff isn’t just in there for show. I do eat healthily. In fact, I probably know more about the latest science in health and nutrition than most professionals. But, in my case, knowledge isn’t power. I have this insane duality going on. There’s a short-circuit in my brain. Something that overrides all this wisdom and turns me into Terminator 2. Admittedly Sharpy T2 is more molten cocoa butter than mimetic polyalloy, but I’m on a mission and no amount of logic will stop me from eating chocolate; chocolate in obscene amounts.

Needless to say, this is a habit I desperately want to eradicate from my life. And not just because I have a hate-hate relationship with the black Primani leggings I’ve been reduced to wearing every day. But because I know I’m killing myself. I know that overconsumption of sugar is at the root of practically every disease known to man. Yet down the red hatch the sweet stuff goes!

I daresay there are lots of people who’d read this and be disgusted at my gluttony. Believe me, there’s no one more ashamed than I. But one thing I’ve come to realise is that it makes no difference whether you’re doing too many pies or too many protein shakes, we all have an addiction of some ilk. It’s just that some people’s addictions are more socially acceptable than others.

In effect, there’s not much difference between me and the old drunk I saw lying sparked out on the grass opposite the parish church today. There’s not much difference between me and the dude with the prosthetic leg who lives downstairs. I’ve seen him begging up in town. And I’ve seen him passing cash through a car window in exchange for a very small package. But it’s not really so very different from me putting my shoes and coat on and going on a late-night ‘drug-run’ to the Co-op, is it?

The question I’ve been asking myself over and over is why the hell am I doing it? Why won’t I take my finger off the self-destruct button? Why do I continue to self-medicate with toxic pseudo-food? I’ve nothing to be unhappy about. There’s no good reason for it.

Except maybe there is. I think I’ve worked out I’m just plum tired of this shitty short-sighted, profit-orientated world we’re living in. The constant drive to make money makes humans lose their moral and spiritual compass. It results in abusive behaviour, whether towards oneself, to others or the planet. It’s got to the stage where I really just want to check out altogether. Stop the bus. Get off. It’s even crossed my mind as I’ve climbed into bed at night that I wouldn’t be particularly fazed if I were to go to sleep and not wake up the following morning. That doesn’t mean I’m suicidal. It just means I really need to find something more meaningful to do with the rest of my life.

In the meantime, I’m carrying on with my quest to conquer this demonic sugar addiction. To that end, I’m reading a book called Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays. She’s a Buddhist monk. And she has much wisdom to share about how we in the West fear the feeling of emptiness. I reckon it’s definitely time for me to have a crack at being cool with being empty.

 

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Confessions of a half-woman

I stopped buying magazines years ago. Frankly, I was tired of paying the best part of a fiver to be advertised at and body-shamed. These days, I’ll very occasionally bring home a copy of the free Short List and Stylist magazines they give out on the street every Thursday. But even then it’ll probably only be because the hander-outer on Albion Street had a friendly smile. I’ve worked it out, you see. Magazines are not for me. Because I’m not a real woman.

I’ll whip through the pages of Stylist – the one that’s obviously meant to be the girls’ mag – in under 60 seconds. Make-up must-haves. New perfumes. Fashion shoot. An article about robots. Soft furnishings. Beach hols. Hold up, what was that? Go back. Back a bit more. An article about robots? Cool.

Nope. Not really. Turned out to be a wishy-washy attempt. Science for girls. So, where was I? Ah yes. Soft furnishings. Beach hols. Recipes. Done.

Next up, Short List.

Now, I know it’s supposed to be for blokes. I can tell by the obligatory double-page spread of new gadgets. I much prefer it. Interesting interview here. Witty column there. Techie stuff. Latest movies. How to survive a zombie apocalypse. That sort of thing. I might get a good half hour’s worth of reading out of it. Which leads me, once again, to question my womanhood.

You know, I’ve never been in a nail bar. My fingernails are always short for the purposes of playing guitar. I’ve never been much into jewellery either, and since I started lifting weights, I can’t even bear wearing the two plain silver rings I have, because they dig in when I pick up the bar. All of this leads me to consider the notion that I might actually be a man in a woman’s body.

Cut to Debenhams. Or John Lewis. Or Boots. Any one of those department-type stores with a ground floor awash with orange women. You know the ones. They have questionable eyebrows and stand near the door encouraging you to sample the latest ‘fragrance’. Usually, just holding the tester nozzle to one nostril is enough to make me gag. But I’ll sometimes acquiesce and accept a little bit of card squirted with an overpowering scent. Am I supposed to want to smell like this? Apparently so. It’s another cloying chemical floralesque concoction that smells like Marc Jacobs dunked a blue toilet-rim block in water overnight. And it’s seventy quid a bottle.

In contrast, I often find myself snuffling around near the necklines of men I know (and sometimes even men I don’t know), like a pig hunting for truffles, trying to get a good noseful of their cologne. You smell amaaazing. What’s that you’re wearing? Almost without fail, these startled men claim not to know the name of their own aftershave.

“I dunno, I just grabbed the nearest bottle this morning,” they often say. Yeah, right. Or, better still, “It’s jus’ me natural pheromones, babe.” As if.

I’ve made the mistake of buying men’s fragrances for myself because I’ve liked them so much. This has never worked out well. At best, they smell vaguely weird on my skin; at worst, absolutely acrid. Still. I’ve taken this as a good sign. It means I am actually, at least at a hormonal level, a woman. But there’s still a decidedly substantial unfeminine part of me.

My nostrils flare, bunny-like, at the exquisite whiff of two-stroke oil from a passing Yamaha 250. I love the aroma of ‘toolbox in garden shed’ – an unmistakably comforting mix of oil and wood. This is the part of me that owns power tools and enjoys drilling. Need a shelf putting up? I’m your man. Flatpack furniture? Love it. I read the instructions and never have any bits left over.

Wait. Wait. Those last two things? They definitely make me a woman.


Disclaimer: The sweeping gender generalisations made in this blog post are for light entertainment purposes only. They do not reflect the real beliefs of the writer.

Trump translated

I listened to the speech Donald Trump gave in Warsaw the other day. And I decided to write down his subtext:

Hello Poland! The Donald here. Stoked to be in Warsaw with my bitch. Can you all see me okay? I frickin’ hope so, because I had my hair coiffed specially for you vowel-less fucks. Also, thanks for inviting the soldiers. Always good having a few uniforms around. Makes a guy feel safe. Preciate it.

Listen, I just want to say how much I love you Poles. Yep. It’s true. It’s true. And guess what? I read up on your history. Not really. I’m too busy. One of my lackeys wrote me a few paragraphs to make me look as if I give a shit about you people. Look. If I had my way, we’d skip this potted history part. Boring as hell. But I see you got a statue of Ronald Reagan, though. That’s… nice.

Anyway, moving on. The main thing I wanna say today is ‘thank you for your order’. For those of you in the crowd who haven’t heard, your government just bought a bunch of our Patriot missiles. Well done. You made the right choice. Because even though, strictly speaking, you guys are in Eastern Europe… you bought our bombs, so that makes you okay. You can be part of the West. And we all know West is best, right? Right.

Yes, people of Poland, if you’ve got any kind of East going on, then you’re bad. East and South equals bad. That’s right. All of the non-West people are evil and wrong and they’re out to get us. But we’re not going to let that happen. No we’re not. We’re going to keep on supplying you guys with bombs and you’re going to keep on being on our side and everything is going to be A-okay. Because I said so.

You Poles are an essential part of our plan. We need you guys to help America stay in the top dog spot. Ahhh, shit. Small slip-up there. Fake news! Fake news! I didn’t say that! Covfefe, covfefe, covfefe. That’s Polish for delete, delete, delete. What I really said is: we need you guys to stand shoulder to shoulder with us to help maintain Western values. Western freedom. The West will never, ever be broken. Our civilisation will triumph!

God bless Poland, God bless our allies… but more importantly than you Polish jerks and all the other random puppets I just asked God to bless, God bless the United States of America!

Hey. I can see my reflection in this bulletproof glass. That’s nice. And they’re chanting my name. I like that. Is it okay if I stand here a bit longer? Thank you. Thank you very much.

Okay. Time out. Can we grab a McDonalds? These Krauts have got McDonalds, right?

In a world full of don’ts, there are still things we can do…

Recently, I saw this poster on a prime-location billboard opposite Leeds train station exit at Neville Street:

army1

My first glance: Wait a minute. Say whaaat?

My second take: Ohhh, fuck off.

My stop-and-study: Cor, look at all that blank space. It’s like a giant blackboard just gagging to be chalked upon.

As I walked home, I started daydreaming about sneaking back in the dead of night, all dressed in black and wearing a balaclava, armed with a ladder, a can of white spray paint and a headful of retorts:

DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD.

DON’T STEP ON A MINE.

DON’T KILL YOUR FELLOW HUMANS.

DON’T KILL YOUR MUM WITH WORRY.

DON’T DIE HELPING RICH MEN MAKE A KILLING.

Why do nice creative people enable unethical clients?

A few weeks have gone by since I saw the poster and today I found myself thinking about it again, and about what went on in the heads of the creatives who devised the campaign.

Fortuitously, the ad agencies I used to work for didn’t have any clients I found morally objectionable, but I did sometimes wonder what I’d do if a brief ever landed on my desk for the likes of McDonalds, Monsanto or Margaret Thatcher. I think I’d have been fired.

I have friends who still work in creative agencies as copywriters, art directors and designers. They’re brilliant people… loveable and super-witty sorts whose company I enjoy immensely. They’re not immoral. They have consciences. But they also have children. And mortgages.

So I reckon the creatives who devised the Army Jobs ‘DON’T’ campaign must be similarly good-hearted folks. I suspect they were just cruelly hoodwinked. They probably thought they’d landed a really nice job at a lovely, ethical agency – you know, what with it being called Karmarama and all, and its strapline being ‘Good Works’. So Buddha only knows how they must have felt when their boss broke the news that they’d won an MoD account.

When I imagined the self-titled ‘Karma Krew’ being presented with the brief for this campaign, a little bit of my soul shrivelled and died. Oh, the torture of having to try and drum up a new way to present the ‘positive selling points’ of a career in the army! I pictured these beleaguered creative souls at work. Tearing page after page of facetious anti-establishment gems from their layout pads, scrunching them up and missing the bin before finally toeing the line and writing the necessary pile of trite to present to the committee at Army Jobs.

Was there rebellion in the ranks?

But I wonder… was there an element of subtle insurrection involved? Did the creative team present their campaign with seemingly earnest smiles, all the while hoping they’d used type and colour in such a way that most people who passed the poster in a car, or who walked past without paying much attention, would only clock the bright white DON’T JOIN THE ARMY part of the message? How many drivers would actually have time to see the grey ‘punchline’? How many pedestrians would actually look again and think “Oh ho ho, I see what they did there”? And, of course, there’s the question of all that black space. Was that a deliberate invitation to the public at large, encouraging them to append the ad with their own ‘DON’T’ slogans? I really hope so.

Anyway, here’s the final headline and strap I came up with. I’m ashamed to say I bottled out of the dead-of-night graffiti mission:

DON’T JOIN THE ARMY. JOIN THE DOTS.

Search Veterans for Peace.

 

How a pomegranate kicked my ass

Much touted on health websites for its anti-inflammatory, health-promoting properties, the peculiar pretending-to-be-an-onion pomegranate is one of those fruits I’ve always blithely passed over. But since I’m cracking on a bit and I have a few aches and pains I’d like to assist away without reaching for anything Big Pharma has had a hand in, I thought I’d give the poms a go. Especially when they’re five for a quid at Leeds outdoor market.

Prior to 2015, my one and only encounter with a pomegranate was when I was growing up in Lanarkshire in the 1970s. As I recollect it, my mother cut it in half and gave me a dressmaker’s pin with which to pick out the seeds one by one. About five minutes into this seed-pickin’ marathon, I decided this funny foreign fruit was far more trouble than it was worth.

Nothing is ever as hard as it seems

Forty years down the line, the five pomegranates I’d bought at the market rolled out of their brown paper bag onto my kitchen worktop. Hmmm. I drummed my fingers on the Formica. I sure as hell wasn’t going down the pin route again. There had to be an easier way to open and eat these things. Well, of course there is! Ten minutes later, having watched one or two YouTube vids, I had my answer. A few knowledgeable incisions later and I was able to pull the bulb apart and tumble out all those magical ruby-red arils. Yes, arils. The proper name for pomegranate seeds. I live and learn.

Whilst enjoying a bowl of power-packed pommy arils, I started thinking about how my life has changed since Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet. What a gift he has given us: the ability to drag ourselves out of our own ignorance! I’m not knocking how my wonderful mother raised me; I’m simply saying that, as a pre-wifi Scots family living in the frozen wastelands of the north without the financial means to travel abroad, how the hell were we supposed to know the best way to handle a strange fruit from the Middle East?

Had it not been for the internet, I’d probably still be hanging onto that ill-informed opinion of pomegranates I developed as a child. But here I am, a savvier version of me, smugly partaking in all the health benefits these juicy fruits bring.

Glass of arils
Those pesky foreign arils, they’re trying to heal us!

The dawn of the intrepid Googler

Of course, knowing how to open a pomegranate is the mere tip of the iceberg in terms of my mission to fill at least a small corner of my vast chasm of dumbness before I die. I’ve asked some really random questions of Google in my time. Who decided women ought to shave their legs? Who invented knitting? What does an axolotl look like? What is it that makes a man think a comb-over is a good idea?

My questions are not always so trifling. In the past year or so, I’ve noticed that more and more of my searches have become earnest quests for enlightenment rather than a whimsical desire for trivia and entertainment. Questions I’ve asked Google in the past year have included: Why are the Israelis so fucking horrible to the Palestinians? Why are white people so afraid of black people? What is TTIP? What is the Sykes Picot Agreement? What is ISIL’s modus operandi? Who was Buddha and what did he say?

Needless to say, I’m still far from fully clued up upon all of these subjects, but digging around on the web for answers has given me invaluable historical and current insight into the seemingly never-ending power-and-money machinations that are making a misery of so many people’s lives. I feel like my worldview has widened a hundredfold recently and my nostrils are now more sensitive than ever to the stink of establishment spin.

The pomegranate I opened this evening (rather deftly, I’d like to add) led me to reflect upon a few truths I now accept wholeheartedly. Number one, in order to be considered truly mature, I need to call into question all the beliefs I hold that were formed in my head before I reached adulthood. That includes the conditioning I’m imbued with by the society I was born into, and by my own very limited experience of the world to date. The map, as they say, is not the territory.

Number two, we’re too damn quick to write things off when they’re not familiar to us. This includes shying away from our fellow humans when they are not from our culture. We don’t understand them. So, with callow arrogance, we dishonour them by not taking the time to get to know them. And we do ourselves a great disservice in the process. But what happens when we relax and reopen our minds and start to get curious? Funnily enough, the rewards are pretty much identical to those you get when you persevere with a pomegranate: you can kick inflammation to the kerb and say hello to a happier, healthier heart.

The Oh-limp-ick champion

I might just have ordered some nnnruhngshuz…

*Clears throat, looks sheepish*

… um… running shoes. Well. Not really running shoes. Just kind of trainery-type things that look like they might be running shoes. I mean, the description on sportsshoes.com’s website certainly said running shoes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to go running in them, does it?

Perhaps just a power walk that may merge into a light ‘dad run’, as Peter Kay calls it: the way of moving that makes you look like you’re running when you’re actually just walking with an added bounce. Yes. That’ll do me, I reckon, especially since I’ve only just recovered from my maiden running venture in the wrong shoes with my friend Natalie last weekend; three-quarters of the way around Roundhay Park my right calf muscle twanged like a Megadeath guitar string and I was, quite literally, out of the running. Goddamit. I really should have started out with a gentle jog up my cul-de-sac and back.

Whether I’m able to continue with this new 2016 running venture is anyone’s guess. Maybe my calves just weren’t cut out for it. But one thing I know for sure: sports-shoe manufacturers employ some seeeeeriously deranged, colour-palette-challenged designers. I wouldn’t be seen dead in 90% of these freakin’ horrorshoes, even if I am only gonna be slugging along the canal path like Jabba the Hutt. In my ever-so-humble opinion, DayGlo orange is wrong on anything other than a traffic cone.

Thankfully my friend Sarah, who is part graphic designer and part machine, introduced me to the world of Inov-8 aesthetically pleasing sports shoes (they even manage to do the fluorescent thing with aplomb), so even if it turns out I’m going to be a lame old heifer for the rest of my days, at least I’ll still be able to wear these *cough* nnnruhngshuz as fashion trainers.

Asics Gel-Noosa trainwreck
The Asics Gel-Noosa: Fifty Shades of Grim. What exactly was the person who designed this trainer-wreck thinking?