Christmas gifts for cyclists
When I’m not engaging in shitty book challenges that make no sense even to myself, I can often be found riding a bike. I’m a member of a cycling club, and a sizeable chunk of my ‘disposable’ income is frittered away with alarming regularity on a wealth of objects I convince myself that I need.
In trawling the internet for the best prices for these definitely useful, definitely necessary, definitely not too expensive things I’ve noticed that not many people are dishing out advice on what frivolous shit people should buy for the cyclist in their lives. Well, I’m addressing that here. It’s about to be addressed. Look at the title, you knew what you were getting into.
The issue, of course, is that only people who ride bikes understand what people who ride bikes actually need. It’s a different world, and one that takes too much work to comprehend. If you buy mudguards, will they fit? What’s a hub, and why are those orange ones so expensive? Is it bad luck to buy someone wheels? Why does he go through so much chamois cream? Don’t buy technical stuff, buy something from the list below, I’m giving you consumer advice. Good christ that was a long introduction.
Stuff to buy cyclists for Christmas which, lamentably, isn’t that far away now.
If there’s one thing cyclists like almost as much as the physical act of bike riding, it’s reading about others doing the same thing. It’s like the relationship between sex and pornography, however for the cyclist the act of indulging in ‘solo time’ can frequently end up costing a lot of money.
The most ‘coffee table’, nice gift magazines you can get are, in my opinion, Cyclist Magazine and the inimitable Rouleur. They’re wonderful, visual and feel like nice things to own. Other magazines are available, they’re just not really as good.
Seems like a boring suggestion, granted. However, the relationship between cycling and coffee is long established, and what better way to look like you knew that than the purchasing of a coffee delivery system?
The internet is stacked with cycle-specific muggery, there’s a collection on the Rouleur store that includes the Eddy Merckx mug above. Chapeau have a nice gift bundle that offers mug, coffee and chamois cream for £20. Rapha have a small range. Cycling Souvenirs have a few with the profiles of famous races, such as this Paris-Roubaix number, as well as this outrageously cool collection of vintage team branded espresso cups. Super cool bike cafe Look Mum No Hands do nice ones as well, but if you’re not in London this probably won’t mean much to you.
They do sell nice cake though, if you’re ever in the area.
Someone comes round to a cyclist’s house, how do they know they’re a cyclist? Yes, there’s a bike in the lounge, but it has to somehow be made clearer. If only there were some sort of sign.
Luckily, cycling as a sport has inspired artists for decades, and pieces have been produced that a) don’t look like you ripped them from a magazine and b) don’t make you look like some nerdish shut-in feverishly rewatching a poor quality VHS of Liege-Bastogne-Liege 1988 over and over again.
Neil Stevens does good work, as the Anquetil print above shows. You can grab some frankly gorgeous prints up from Handmade Cyclist. As much as I hate to keep bringing them up, the newly launched Rouleur print shop also has a few good examples.
If the cyclist in your life has caught the cycling bug, there’s a very strong chance they enjoy reading about cycling, then boring the absolute living shite out of you talking about all of the things they’ve learned whilst reading a book in which you have no interest whatsoever.
Become a book enabler, load them down with so many books they don’t have time to tell you the story of how Greg LeMond soiled himself during a stage of the Tour. William Fotheringham is the Guardian’s resident cycling expert, and has written excellent biographies of Laurent Fignon, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi. David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark is a bit by the numbers, but a good account of one man’s journey through doping. The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton is an excellent glimpse into how much of a dick Lance Armstrong has been over the years. Also worth reading are Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage, The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell and Boy Racer by Mark Cavendish.
Rapha is a byword for quality and the uniform of the MAMIL. The gear is good, it’s a bit overpriced, it’s a bit exclusive and a lot of the people who wear it have bought it not because of its quality or its innovative design, but because it says Rapha on it. And Rapha are good. So there.
Buy your cyclist something they would never, ever buy themselves. The following are things I personally would love to own, can more or less afford, but would cringe at how unnecessary the expenditure would be. When it’s a gift, that’s a non issue.
First, this delightful essentials case to keep your stuff warm and dry whilst on a ride. Yours for 40 quid.
What’s that? You don’t need a £30 notebook with ‘race notes’ written on the front? Shut up.
This is probably the most ridiculous of all. It’s an espresso tamper made in collaboration with legendary hub builder Chris King. And it costs £95.
Another list will be forthcoming nearer to Christmas, during the season when I wish to deliver hints via the means of one of these articles. Also, the wait will give me chance to buy a coffee machine so I can use some of this stuff.
The Olympic World European Championship Cup of Books - Lebanon
I see you, sitting there, reading this, knowing full well that the reason this is only the third review in 8 months is because I bit off far more than I could chew, and that adhering to a prescribed reading list over a 12 month period would not only be boring, it would make me despise my book shelf, giving it subtle digs when I walk past so my girlfriend doesn’t notice what’s happening to me.
Anyway, as the challenge drags on, my demeanour becomes more and more that of one who has physically survived a harrowing tragedy but is yet to discover the full mental effects of what I’ve witnessed. I’m still here. Reading books I decided on 8 months ago in a fit of pique.
So, The Rock of Tanios by Amin Maalouf, winner of the 1993 Prix Goncourt, France’s equivalent to the X Factor. This is the Lebanese entry to this godawful, tear drenched marathon I’ve signed up for.
The book itself is a modern(ish) retelling of a tale that influenced life in the narrator’s village for a century, charting the tumultuous upbringing of its eponymous hero and erstwhile protagonist. There’s deceit, murder, adultery, prostitution and war, but somehow the almost folksy style of narration gives you the sense that these things happened so far in the past that they’re a part of history, not something to get upset about. They all exist as a necessary part of the story, not as shocking as if they were in the first person, but significant nonetheless.
Tanios is born under a cloud of uncertainty as to his parentage - either the Sheikh or his major domo fathered the child - but unaware that such a cloud existed. When he discovers it, the story unravels in a rich, beautiful fashion. Maalouf writes poetically, seamlessly weaving together historical anecdotes with written evidence expressed via his narrator. Nothing feels out of place, it’s wonderfully constructed and conceived, drawing you in and immersing you in a world of sticky dates, sand, feudal rule and colonial stuffiness.
This book is genuinely beautiful, an absolute privilege to have read. If I hadn’t elected to include it in this challenge, I probably never would have come across it, which is conflicting. It’s like falling out of a plane, passing the hostess trolly with your mouth open on the way down and accidentally discovering your favourite new cocktail.
Lebanon, you have done yourself proud. A slow start followed by a flurry of late goals. The surprise package of the tournament so far.
3 (three) goals
Huzzah For Nutcases!
On June 6th, the Manchester United Official Fanpage on Facebook posted a picture of the home kit for the 2013/14 season. Those of you familiar with the shirt will know that it has a ridiculous button down collar, for the benefit of rotund Essex-ites who wish to look that little bit smarter in nightclubs.
I commented on the picture - it was a rush of blood to the head, I don’t really care that much - expressing my disappointment at the collar, suggesting that without it, the kit would have been essentially perfect.
A wave of anger flooded my way. Comments from Scandinavians, Malaysians, Indians, a veritable Bennetton of ire, insulting me personally on my appearance and so forth. 22 friend requests came from various corners of the earth. Manchester United are a global club, it’s to be expected (though perhaps not the vitriol).
What I’ve just discovered in my ‘other’ inbox on Facebook, however, is gaspingly pathetic. I pop into that inbox maybe once a month to clear away all of the fabulous offers of a happier life between a Latvian’s thighs. On looking today, I had a delightful message from June 6th, simply saying ‘GIMP’
The time of the message syncs perfectly to when the deluge of REALLY IMPORTANT anger was heading my way. This chap was so INCREDIBLY ANGRY at the sartorial taste of another that he messaged him privately to let him know. Ah Adam, you are a treat.
Oh, and what’s that, Adam?
You’re Welsh! Amazing. A man has insulted the team you arbitrarily chose to support and dear God in heaven, you’ll make sure he eventually notices how angry you are if it’s the last thing you do.
Got the idea from rich kids of Instagram. Photograph your flash watch whilst driving your fast car. Pretty much nailed it.
The Olympic World European Championship Cup of Books - ECUADOR VS GERMANY PART 2
When I concocted the Olympic World European Championship of Books, I had in mind a whimsical journey through literature, an enlightening process that would give me a greater understanding of cultural nuances, an appreciation of intercontinental writing styles and would eventually spit me out the other side of its polished innards a better, more rounded person.
Then, Huasipungo happened. It happened hard.
We’re currently 5 (five) months into the challenge. By this stage, I should be through 14 and ¼ books. I have just finished my second. My second book. In 5 months. Fuck you, Jorge Icaza.
I can only imagine that the reams of positive reviews on Good Reads for this book are by Ecuadorean people instigating some sort of cultural sabotage, ensuring more people go through the unbelievable ball ache of sourcing a book with ONE translation, of which maybe 40 copies are in the UK. This book cost me £14, and in every sense other than the literal, I was mugged for it.
To give a brief synopsis of the book; fuck you, Jorge Icaza, for wasting my sweet time. It’s a tale of subjugation of a simplistic indigenous people, who live in villages called Huasipungos. Everyone who isn’t an Indian in this book is a complete dick, and at some point will rape, accidentally kill or just be incredibly rude to someone who is an Indian. That’s the book. There’s some other bullshit about a road that seemed significant, but by this stage I wanted to call Jorge Icaza’s remaining family and give them a piece of my mind, so I wasn’t concentrating.
If I was a completely fair and rational person, I’d say that this book isn’t badly written (though the translation was apparently a very difficult task). I’d say it’s packed with pathos and strong emotions and - credit where it’s due - it does have a beginning, a middle and an end. It is a very worthy book, and it’s an incredibly significant piece of art in Ecuador’s history.
However, I am not a fair and rational person, I am an idiot who conceives of badly named book challenges. When I was on the tube with this book, I opted for reading adverts about supplements for pregnant women and emergency payday loans. It took me THREE MONTHS to read this book. It’s about 215 pages long. I have never experienced less compelling fiction.
(Better than Huasipungo despite not even technically being a book)
I would literally rather read the instructions for a Baxi Duo-tec 28 HE Combi boiler over and over again for the rest of my natural life and throughout the afterlife than read another page of Huasipungo. Huasipungo may be an incredibly significant piece, historically, however I hated it so much I have plans to dropkick it into the ocean next time I’m near the coast.
To stick to the football theme of this challenge, this book gave an insipid, Spain-esque performance where - though undoubtedly impressive - they bored the living shit out of millions of people globally. Final score, Germany 3-1 Ecuador.
Next, Switzerland vs Lebanon ffs
This is a letter I wrote to Sainsbury’s at some point in 2010 with all the responses from Sainsbury’s below. I’m reposting it here as the other blog I wrote it for is a dickwad
This letter is for the attention of J, proprietor of J Sainsbury’s, Sloane Avenue, South Kensington, London, SW3.
I hope this letter finds you well.
I’ve never seen you on the shop floor of your branch near my work on Sloane Avenue, so I assume you’re more of a hands off manager, however I have an issue which I would like to bring to your attention in the hope of righting the grievous wrong that you do me on a daily basis.
I am a frequent visitor to your grocery emporium on Sloane Avenue. I work across the road, and a dearth of local sandwich shops often drives me to your doors in a low level, sidekick-less quest for nourishment. I find the shop to be clean and tidy at all times, and the staff pleasant and often fragrant (there have been the odd occasions when they’ve been unable to understand my northern dialect, however I take this as an occupational hazard working in Kensington. It’s possible that the only other northerners your staff have heard have been on popular cops and robbers show Police Camera Action!).
My complaint, J (if I may call you J), isn’t about your staff, nor the cleanliness of your store, nor the fact that I often forget which aisle houmous is on. My complaint is of a far darker, more sinister nature. My complaint, J, concerns your undeniably lackadaisical attitude towards the provision of lunchtime baguettes.
J, I’m going to come clean with you, since we’re on first name terms and lying to a friend would feel somehow wrong - I am a vegetarian. No meat passes my lips. If you raised an eyebrow at that, J, I suggest you raise your mind from the gutter, or our friendship will not be a lasting one. Not a morsel of animal based meat will be ingested by me (to the best of my knowledge, anyway. Ham can be quite sneaky). I made this decision some years ago in the face of the relentlessly smug Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who suggested I should eat goat anus out of respect for the animal. This is my recollection, however time may have fogged my memory. Whatever the cause, I am a non meat eater. No meat do I eat. I am a meat free man.
And so it is, J, that we come to the nub of my point. I realise sometimes that I ramble on. This is a remnant of a state education system that prized vocabulary over knowledge. I once spoke to a Jehova’s Witness for such a long time they asked to be excused, subsequently climbing out of a bathroom window and making good their escape. It takes me a while to come to a point, J, however a point we have now reached. Not just any point, either - the entire point of this letter.
Your sandwiches, J, are (by prepackaged standards) top drawer. Correct filling to bread ratios, adequately chilled, well presented. I imagine them to be packed by aged artisans in some foothills somewhere, the cardboard woven by exquisite boys. I am a fan of your sandwiches. Or, should I say, I was a fan of your sandwiches. For 3 days. For it is at the 3 day mark that I had exhausted your woeful supply of meat free sandwiches. I’d had the houmous and crunchy vegetable wrap. I’d feasted on the goats cheese and red pepper (which is a bit soft altogether, if we’re being as honest as friends should be, J) and I’d made short work of the mature cheddar club (the plastic tray that accompanies this sandwich is a nice - if unnecessarily lavish - touch).
I had eaten these sandwiches, and I had become bored and resentful of the meat eaters that surrounded me. Oh J, the joys they had to choose from. Bacon, beef, chicken, salmon, ham (the sneakiest of meats) they had the world at their feet, J! Whichever direction their culinary whims may have taken them, your staff were ready to provide the travel costs. While I gummed my way (not literally, I still have all of my teeth. People often ask me if this is the case, which I find odd and minorly insulting, given that I am only 25 years old) through the same sandwiches on a daily basis, they feasted on a cornucopia of delights, tears brimming in their eyes, wild grins spreading crumbs onto their meat greased cheeks.
I was a broken man. Dejectedly I tried new lunch combinations. Salads, soups - I even tried nachos and salsa for lunch. Crisps and dip for lunch, J, can you imagine? I had given up trying to find a food delivery system as convenient and effective as the humble sandwich. And then, one day, she arrived.
I say ‘she’ as I like to anthropomorphise my food. I once had a brief but meaningful affair with some cress. She was a slender, well formed, supple mistress. She had brie, leaves, tomato and unidentifiable but not unpleasant sauce. She was a brie, leaf, tomato and mystery sauce baguette, and I loved her. I gorged on her curves, lost myself in her fillings, cut the roof of my mouth a bit on the top of the baguette (that’s another letter for another time). I was a man possessed with happiness. And then, J, then you committed the foulest deed of them all. You took her away from me. Upon returning to your store, I found no brie, leaf, tomato and mystery sauce baguettes. There were only meat baguettes. Day after day I returned, hoping to catch a glimpse of her proud, bready visage. Day after day I was disappointed. I arrived at different times, hoping to catch her off guard. I stayed up all night like Humphrey Bogart, but to no avail. She had left me, and you, J - my old friend - had helped her escape into the night.
So, J, it is with heavy heart and crumbless lap that I implore you to improve your vegetarian selection of prepackaged sandwiches, for we are technically people too, and we need to eat, J. Improve the selection and make a fully toothed 25 year old man happy. Improve the selection and cease the relentless smuggery of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. You have the power, J. It’s in your hands.
PS - someone I work with says your bananas are always green. How is this possible?
J, proprietor of J Sainsbury’s has engaged one of his friendly and helpful minions to deal with my weekday saga in hot pursuit of tasty, meat free sandwiches.
Now, while Mark’s response is friendly (bordering on flippant, if we’re being honest with each other. We should be honest with each other, since we’re all in this together), I am unsure as to whether he holds enough clout to make any serious changes.
I do not mean to insult you, Mark. I am sure - beyond sure, in fact - that your sandwich knowledge is beyond reproach. I am sure you are well presented. I imagine your hair to smell like a meadow, or a fragrance from the Lenor range or fabric softeners. However I am unsure as to your commitment to this undeniably noble cause.
I will ruminate on this, Mark. You are a noble adversary, and one I intend to respect. Let’s not allow this grumble to come between us. Perhaps one day, when this is all over, we can watch sports together, or run with the deer in Richmond Park (I use deer as the plural as I’m unsure as to the collective noun. I’m not just referring to one deer, I don’t know any of them that well). Who knows, perhaps we can be friends one day. The ball, Mark, is in your court.
PS - any word on the banana situation?
SAINSBURY’S PLAY HARD BALL!!!!!!!
The hardest, in fact. J, proprietor of J Sainsbury’s has sent his finest, most aromatic of minions - Mark, of previous blog fame - into the breach once more, calming the righteous flames of my rage with the soothing Gaviscon of kindness.
Read these from the bottom to the top. This caught me out, the topsy turvy minx.
But where is J? Where is the shadowy figure behind this exceptional marionette performance? Will he ever show his face? What are the remaining characters of his forename? No one is just called J. Even Jay Kay was called Jay Kay.
For now, J, the actions of your noble pawn Mark have saved you from my scorn and ire. For in Mark you have a kind soul. The sort of man who allows wasps to sting him rather than risk harming them. The sort of man who, when confronted by one of those toilets that has a big flush and a small flush, always presses the correct flush.
As for you, Mark, your performance has been exemplary. I put it to you, sir, that you are wasted in your task of doing J’s diabolical bidding. Your talents at diffusing tricky situations and negotiating happiness would suggest to me that you are more suited to a career as a market stall owner or psychiatric nurse.
And so, for the time being, I am thwarted. However, barring a marked (not you Mark, a different one) improvement in the quality of meat free sandwiches, I will return. I do not tire or get bored (making me an excellent chess partner, Mark, if you’re free at any point), and I will not deviate from my cause.
I’m watching you, J. Figuratively. I’ve never actually seen you.
Yours temporarily satisfied,
PS - apparently the bananas were ok today. You act quickly, J. Almost too quickly.
Drinking in pubs alone, a guide
It’s a weeknight, and your office malaise mixed with your permanent background hum of disquiet is urging you to stalk and kill a tall, cool, foaming pint of non-specific European beer. You’ve contacted all of your friends and each of them has come back with an excuse that is just ‘you can’t come’ enough to not hurt your feelings but leave no questions as to whether you can join in with their plans. Your friends have deserted you, but the pint lust hasn’t. What do you do?
You go to the pub alone.
For a lot of people, this is anathema. The pub is a social experience, to not share it with someone negates the entire point, but do you know what those people are having when they’re alone? Zero pints of beer. Well, that’s not happening to you. Not on our watch.
If you’re too intimidated to make the step into ale house solipsism then we’ve created a handy guide of dos and don’ts for the noble solo pub adventurer. Read on and be fortified, you are doing the right thing.
(This guy gets his own spotlight, no one else is getting that)
Choose your reading material wisely
You may feel obliged to bring along Proust, Voltaire or some other ‘look at me’ lit no one ever reads for pleasure to convey an image of a deep thinker just trying to get some peace. Do not do this. You are already drinking alone in a pub on a weeknight, no one in that pub is judging you based on what you’re reading, trust us. Take something you enjoy, and think logistically; might you want food? In which case take a book and a magazine, holding a book open whilst eating a meal is difficult, and if you’re not reading while you’re eating you’re just…looking at shit, which unsettles the natives.
You’re not buying rounds, genius, and won’t breach the £10 minimum card spend that too many pubs arbitrarily impose. The barmaid will laugh with you as she takes your pint away so you can run to a cashpoint, but she hates everything about you.
Rather than thinking of yourself as the benign growth on your friendship circle’s neck, the relationship-less pariah forced to drink alone, think of yourself as the guy who’s confident enough in his own company to sit in a social environment alone and read Viz. You’re that guy. You’re the King. Or Queen. Most likely King though, let’s be honest.
You chose this, no one else. Don’t tweet about being alone in a pub because you have no friends. Just read the last sentence back to yourself and imagine the judgements you’d make seeing that tweet.
Tell your colleagues
If you have the kind of colleagues who ask about your life and what goes on in it, lie. They’re not interested in the real answer and they will judge you. Say you watched Grand Designs, they like that.
Who wants to talk to the guy drinking on his own in a pub? Do you want to talk to that guy? No, you do not. Solitude and mystery are your friends, not the loud teenagers fucking up the wall around the dart board.
Break the three pint barrier
You’re having a pint, not getting drunk. Getting drunk on your own in a pub is the line. Cross the line and before long you’re in Wetherspoon’s for a pint and a full English breakfast before work because it ‘represents value for money,’ and soiling yourself noisily on buses within five years.
Leave your table for any reason whatsoever
Imagine this: you get up to go to the toilet but don’t want to leave your coat and belongings at the table. You run to the toilets and run back out to your table and BAM! Three men in Stone Island jumpers are all up in what used to be your shit. Now what? You can’t stand on your own in a pub, that’s the most uncomfortable situation on earth. Do not surrender your position for anything other than hometime.
The rest is up to you. Make us proud.
The Olympic World European Championship Cup of Books - Germany vs Ecuador
Let me begin this by saying that this matchup has taken me three months to complete so far, meaning I’m approximately nine weeks behind schedule. Now this is, in part, due to the anti-Ecuadorean sentiment that is obviously inherent in literature - finding an Ecuadorean novel for less than 20 English pounds has been next to impossible, and if I was to place the blame for that on one person, it would be permanently upset Ecuador and Manchester United right winger Antonio Valencia. I hope you read this, Antonio, and your infini-frown deepens.
Now, on with the match. The Germans fielded a strong side for this opener, represented as they were by Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s tale of derring do and danger on the high seas, or low seas or whatever, Das Boot. Characteristically German both in its industry and stamina, Das Boot is a meaty tome that charts one mission of the crew of U-Boat U96 during World War II.
Buchheim sets the scene wonderfully in the opening minutes, packing a book’s worth of character development into a chaotic chapter set in the naval officers’ mess. Furniture is destroyed, politically questionable views are aired, a superhuman quantity of alcohol imbibed and a sense of impending dread around the next morning’s mission expertly conveyed by the author, himself a veteran of the U-Boats - of the 30,000 Germans who served on U-Boat, only 10,000 survived, so he himself is of a rare breed.
The party ends and so comes the morning after. The sailors strut around with affected bravado, complete the final checks on the boat, talk voluminously about the prostitutes they encountered whilst on land and, finally, are played out to see by a brass band while people above throw flowers onto the deck. The story is underway.
Except…it wasn’t. What followed was hundreds of pages of description of the minutest of details. How the engines worked, what each sailor was meant to be doing, the dimensions of the cabins and page after page of the colour of the sky. While this is all obviously necessary to convey the boredom and nervousness of war, it’s reminiscent to an extent of Moby Dick, which seemed to alternate between the excitement of the quest and the tedious minutiae of whaling. Like a book written simultaneously by Dave Lister and Arnold Rimmer. I am aware this identifies me as a simpleton. What makes that fact even more obvious is the raucous laughter when I discovered that Das Boot has not one, but two chapters entitled ‘Frigging Around.’
But then, frigging around is what these men were doing. Sailing around the Atlantic in a tiny tin can, following the instincts of the ‘Old Man,’ a commander in his early 30’s. It is during this period of endless description that you really begin to feel a love for the characters - you endure their boredom and routine. Buchheim puts you through purgatory so you can understand hell. When, later in the book, the inevitable action begins you want each of their foibles to continue to the end. There are Nazis on the boat, of course, however the vast majority are career sailors, as indifferent to Hitler as they were to Bismarck.
The Chief, the Navigator, the Old Man - all the very best at what they do. The British Destroyers hunting them are regarded with deference and respect rather than hatred. Perhaps the greatest enemy of those on board is central command, who favour increased tonnage of Allied ships sank over the welfare of their submariners.
This is a very, very good book. A slog at times, granted, but well worth the drudgery of the opening for the rewards of the second half (obviously others will disagree with the ‘drudgery’ label, but I’m sticking with it).
To review this book in terms of football - as is inexplicably necessary - the Germans would have had a lacklustre first half, placed a few wayward passes but generally kept possession well. The manager got it right at half time here, applied the hairdryer technique in the dressing room before his side came out and knocked in a couple of worldies and a six yard tap in.
Ecuador have a lot to do, represented as they are by Jorge Icaza’s (probable) classic Huasipungo.
Germany 3 - 0 Ecuador
My Experience With the NHS
One Friday night around a month ago, I visited a friend’s house for drinks, music etcetera. When hometime came around, I was moderately inebriated and found I was having a degree more difficulty walking than is normal in these situations. My right foot dangled from my ankle like a useless lump of meat, and walking necessitated lifting the entire leg to prevent the toe from scraping the ground.
Putting this down to an unusual side effect of gin, I ventured out into the January snow and - after a couple of icy tumbles - arrived safe and sound at home. When I woke up the next morning, however, I found that either I experienced hangovers like no other human alive, or I had something seriously wrong with my leg. From the knee down the leg was completely numb, I was unable to lift my foot beyond a right angle to my leg and walking was becoming impossible.
A resolute sense of Britishness struck me; I wouldn’t visit the hospital, I don’t want to waste the doctor’s time, these things have a habit of sorting themselves out and frankly, I have far too much on today. Fortunately for me, my French girlfriend had no such qualms and frog marched (or frog hobbled) me to the urgent care centre at Guy’s Hospital, London Bridge. It was here that the absolute brilliance of the NHS began its work on my maimed appendage.
(Backless, of course)
The receptionist at Guy’s UCC, my very first point of contact in this saga, was a kindly, middle aged woman who - despite this being at 6pm on a Saturday evening - greeted me with a warm smile and genuine interest as to what had happened to me (I believe there was also a bit of hospital banter when she caught me trying to steal her pen). I waited no more than 15 minutes to see my first doctor, and he himself wasted no time in referring me to the accident and emergency department at Guy’s sister hospital, St Thomas, a few stops up the Jubilee Line at Westminster. He warned St Thomas’ A&E I was on my way, and they were ready for when I arrived.
After another wait of less than 15 minutes, I was seen by my first triage nurse, a no nonsense woman of roughly my age who laughed at my rubbish jokes, refrained from wincing when handling a stranger’s foot and did her level best to calm my jangled nerves (more on those later). There was no room in the Urgent Care Centre at St Thomas (to be expected, they’re there to take the strain away from A&E), so I was sent straight to resuscitation. Resus is the part of the hospital where serious things happen. My Britishness struck me again; I’m occupying a bed that someone else will need, I’m not ill enough to be here. No one would hear anything of it, and I remained in resus for the next 6 hours as doctors, nurses, neurologists, consultants and registrars got to the bottom of what was happening to me. I was seen in total by four doctors that evening, three nurses, two receptionists and an extremely austere ward matron. I had blood taken along with my blood pressure and heart rate, was poked and prodded with needles, had my leg and spine x-rayed and was asked hundreds of questions as everyone tried to get to the bottom of my leg.
(The view from my bed in resus)
At no point was I made to feel as if I was wasting anyone’s time. Everyone was treated with the same level of professionalism, concern and humour; from the old lady who’d had a fall to the chap in the bed next to me who’d had an allergic reaction to some crisps and was outraged about it. At no point either did anyone enquire as to my income, my ability to pay for my care or my insurance details.
(Leg brace number one)
Since that night, I have visited Guy’s and St Thomas on no less than four occasions (each time accompanied by my Mum, who’s made the long journey down south from Yorkshire). I have had appointments with physiotherapists, consultants, an laconic neurologist who made me laugh despite electrocuting me dozens of times, the radiologist who conducted my MRI scan and didn’t judge me for admitting to having eaten a penny in my younger days and the blokey bloke in orthotics who has supplied me with two leg braces to keep me walking (the second made from carbon fibre, though the similarities with Oscar Pestorius end there). I have also had the great pleasure to meet Barbara, the receptionist at St Thomas’ fracture clinic, who rules her roost with an iron fist and a spangly jumper.
(Leg brace number two - the Pestorius)
Now, we arrive at the present. Common consensus amongst the doctors and nurses is that I have drop foot, and that’s it’s being caused by damage to the (aforementioned jangled) peroneal nerve in my right leg. In the morning, I visit St Thomas for the final time to receive the results of my scans, so I’ll finally know how long it will be until I can walk again.
Over the past month, I have come into contact with some of the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever been privileged enough to meet. Throughout this tedious, nervous process I have encountered boundless patience, professionalism, good humour and optimism. I haven’t been treated as customer, nor as a burden, but as a patient with all that status entails. The fact that we in Great Britain have access to this service is perhaps the greatest testament to the ideals so many of us believe in ; that anyone of any social or financial status can walk into a hospital and be treated in exactly the same manner as their bed partner - no matter who they are. That’s something that collectively we should be incredibly proud of.
It may not be perfect, but the people on the ground do an extraordinary job of disguising that, despite seeing people at their worst every single day. The NHS may well be the best thing we have, and everything should be done to keep it that way.
Perfume adverts are bullshit
If, like me, you don’t trust your body to emit a welcoming aroma for longer than 20 or 30 minutes post-shower, you fall into the demographic perfume vendors call the ‘they buy or they don’t have sex with anyone’ guys. If, also like me, £40 for a small bottle of magic nose water seems a little steep, you may want to shop around a bit. You may even pay attention to televised perfume advertisements, as I have lately.
I want to smell like a guy who owns a sports car. I want passers by to believe I holiday in Val D’Isere in the winter and Monaco in the summer. I want this to be conveyed by the aroma I’m drenched in despite literally every other piece of evidence suggesting I’m a tramp who found some house keys.
Luckily, I have perfume adverts. Whilst admittedly it must be hard to market a fragrance, perfume advertisers appear to have been struck down by some kind of aspirational autism where ‘MORE SPEEDBOATS’ is what we want to see, rather than some sort of description of scent. It’s lifestyle selling at its most disingenuous; an olfactory switch and bait that literally no one should be taken in by.
In order to prove my point (and be a dick about the hard work and creativity of others), I’ve searched for perfume ads by the first brands I can remember. Here they are. Watch with your eyes open and inhale the pungent gust of bullshit.
Dior Sport (2012)
Straight off the bat, we have Jude Law driving through Paris in a sports car before sliding his way onto a speedboat and disappearing over the horizon of his own anus, all soundtracked by the Rolling Stones. Then we have the customer, presumably hidden from shot in his stuffy meeting room in Harlsden, hoping his back sweat hasn’t permeated his suit. The best bit about this advert is NO ONE TAKES PART IN ANY SPORTS. In fact, nothing at all happens. Nothing. This ad’s greatest achievement is giving Jude Law a full head of hair.
Dolce and Gabbana - The One
Another ad, another bizarre celebrity appearance. In this advert for Dolce and Gabbana’s enticingly named ‘The One’, Scarlett Johansson appears to be suffering from the onset of dementia, blurting out semi lucid sentences at random, just looking for help that seemingly will never come. That’s what The One smells like. Futile despair.
Chanel - Coco Mademoiselle
Several moments in the 40 seconds of this video will make you say things out loud. Firstly, Keira Knightley enters a room through a window wearing nothing but a shirt and a bowler hat. Fine, maybe rich people do that, whatever. Then she really, really enjoys the process of getting dressed. Really enjoys it. Then, and this is where I lost track, she hides a bottle of perfume behind her back before smearing some of it on a man’s neck. Instead of him saying ‘what the fuck are you doing, I’m wearing Dior Sport,’ he chases her into a party which is suddenly happening behind them. Then it all goes a bit 1984, with Keira parading past 50 foot high moving images of her own head in black and white. This, remember, is for a fucking fragrance. If you spray this shit on yourself, the world will become a surrealist, dystopian nightmare from which you will never be able to wake up. And to think, you just wanted to smell nice.
Rihanna - Reb’l Fleur
Don’t waste two minutes of your life on this like I did. Basically Rihanna, the victim of domestic abuse, is stalked around a Tudor fucking maze by a mysterious man before being accosted. Then the tape reverses and you see the entire thing in reverse. And they’ve removed the second ‘e’ from ‘rebel’ for some reason, they don’t explain that.
The only redeeming feature of this advert is the top comment on YouTube:
As I understand it, James, Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Rafael is cool but crude and Michelangelo is a party dude. You weirdo.