Posts Tagged ‘driving’

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last Christmas.

December 15, 2012

I remember when I started this blog that I would write quite lengthy, detailed posts about my personal life and about all of my feelings and experiences. This blog has been around for over 3 years and during that time my life has transformed in a lot of ways: I did a postgrad, started working in jobs I actually wanted, learned to drive and bought a car, entered a long-term relationship, moved to London and supported myself, moved in with my boyfriend… I made the decision not to talk about my relationship in too much detail because I feel that my private life is just for me and for Toby – but he informs everything I do now and is such a big part of me that every post on here, more or less, is influenced by him or concerns him to some degree.

Although I am certainly more mature and guarded about what I choose to post on the internet, sometimes I miss the honesty and openness with which I used to post. Sometimes, when I have dilemmas in my life, I find myself typing my question into Google in search of some advice. And sometimes I find some decent food for thought, whereas other times there’s just nothing sensible or nothing that quite touches the nature of what I am going through. But on those occasions where I do find something that can help me, through offering a kindred voice or shedding an alternative perspective on a situation, it’s really valuable. And so I have decided that in this post, I am going to be honest and talk about what is on my mind, in the hope that one day someone else might find my post and it might help them to know that they are not alone.

Yesterday I was speaking to my mother on the phone and apropos of nothing, she asked me that when I am in Bristol for Christmas, that I don’t voluntarily reveal the fact that I am gay and in a healthy, happy long-term relationship with my partner. The reason for this is that my uncle and aunt are coming up from Melbourne for the holiday to visit my grandmother. My cousin (my uncle and aunt’s daughter) has been living in Bristol with my grandmother for the past six months, and during this time she has demonstrated that she has grown up a lot from the irksome child and teenager that she was when I had previously met her. And yet the other day, my mother was having a conversation with her and my grandmother, and my cousin asks “how is Alan getting on with his flatmate?” Toby is my boyfriend, my lover, my partner with whom I share a flat – but he is so much more than my “flatmate” that I paused a little bit – because surely this is obvious, and my cousin (whose recent displays of emotional intelligence lead me to believe that she would have caught onto this) must know that Toby is my boyfriend. My mum then told me that my cousin has revealed in the past that my uncle (who has hitherto always been nice to me) “hates certain celebrity chefs because they are gay” apparently. And so, my mother has asked me not to volunteer any information about Toby to “keep the peace on Christmas Day” and to keep my grandmother happy, because otherwise relatives’ reactions “may cause a scene and my grandmother will get upset.”

What the fuck.

I am not at all angry at my mother for wanting a peaceful Christmas – it’s perfectly understandable. My mother’s side of the family is Italian (and therefore Catholic, although I wouldn’t describe them as religious with the exception of my grandmother who goes to church twice a week – but only since my grandfather passed away 5 years ago). But I have introduced Toby to my father (who has made crass comments about gay people in the past but has never been anything but welcoming of Toby and supportive of me in my relationship – I feel that his macho posturing isn’t really indicative of his views, which annoys me somewhat – why does he even need to act a certain way therefore? But I appreciate the fact that he is accepting of me) and everything has been fine – Toby has never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in my parents’ home. My grandmother has met Toby a few times now and they get on ok too – neither is my grandmother stupid; she knows who he is to me, even if she doesn’t say it out loud. But here lies the crux of the problem – everybody knows, but nobody wants to talk about it. Everybody is actually fine with my sexuality, but everybody seems to think that they are the only “enlightened one” and that nobody else approves. So it remains a big open secret. Which to me is partly laughable, but also quite painful because I have absolutely no shame in having found a man that I love with all my heart, and having established a strong and secure relationship with him. Shouldn’t this be something that could be appreciated, if it’s too much to ask for it to be celebrated? Why do I have to keep quiet about the most positive (out of a range of very positive things in my life) part of who I am today?

I have always been the Beyoncé of the family, if you will. (Prepare for me to toot my own horn in the next couple of sentences.) Not only because I’m musically talented, but I am the only person on my mother’s side of the family to go to university, let alone to the University of Oxford and then on to achieve a postgraduate qualification afterwards. I am the only one who has successfully moved out of Bristol. I’m the slimmest and most fashionable out of me and my cousins. I have an interesting job which pays a decent wage (but more about that in another post, as I have an announcement to make!). I am 27 years old and I have done pretty well so far (with some wobbles along the way – but hey, that’s life right?). With all of this hard work (which was for myself, but it didn’t hurt that it pleased others also), it would appear that the fact that I am gay, that I happen to be attracted to men, and that I have now built a life for myself with another man whom I love deeply, resets everything. I will never be good enough, and no matter what I did or what I achieve in the future, I never had a chance at being “good enough” because of my sexuality, which is something I cannot control. I love being gay, I love Toby, I am very happy with my life and with myself (apart from the fact that I ought to quit smoking and that next year I am going to lose weight – but there’s a forthcoming post for that too because my musical goals and my aesthetic aims are going hand in hand in 2013).  And I can’t talk about any of it, because other people may react to it, and it may upset someone else. Well, it upsets me! What about that?

Back to the phone call. So my mother asked this favour of me. I fell silent, and I said that I didn’t know if I could do that – I certainly couldn’t promise anything. I know that she understands, and I know that she didn’t like asking, and I am not angry at her. But I am angry at my family because I am never going to be good enough, and I am not able to relax and completely be myself. I told my mother that I didn’t understand why I should compromise myself. It’s not natural for one to shout their gayness or their homosexual monogamous relationship upon entering a room – this is not my intention. But I am 27 years old, and I am not afraid of them anymore – I have built my own life, and at the end of the day, I don’t live in Bristol and I don’t need the validation of my family. It’s nice if I could feel comfortable with them – but if that’s not going to be a possibility, c’est la vie. I will choose Toby over them, if it has to come to it. I am sad that it might have to come to that – but maybe we can’t have everything. I have a lot, and that’s enough. But I refuse to be intimidated by small-minded, low-aspiring people. I don’t even really know if they are small-minded – this is all just rumour and myth. But after all – I’d better not say anything, just in case.

I want everyone to have a lovely Christmas day. I want Toby to feel welcome when he comes to Bristol, and the fact that he does perplexes me even more in light of this request. I don’t want my grandmother to be upset, and I don’t want anybody to cause a scene. But it’s not my fault if they cause a scene because of their own prejudice, surely? I don’t understand why I have to conceal, compromise and sacrifice my identity in the presence of people whom I see only occasionally, and who are my frickin’ family, so as not to rock a phantom boat. Am I being unreasonable? Because perhaps it’s not such a big thing to ask, for one day. But then, to me, it’s not really about one family day – it’s about me being denied the ability to openly be myself, to celebrate all of the things I have achieved and the precious gift of Toby’s presence in my life. He is wonderful, and I don’t see why I have to downplay this. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops (though sometimes I want to! 🙂 ) because that would be unnatural, but neither am I going to lie about it because that is no more natural either.

This is bringing me to the sad conclusion that, whether or not a scene occurs, I feel like this will be my last Christmas in Bristol with my family, for at least a while. I don’t want to hurt my family by not celebrating with them, but at the same time I am an adult now, with the right to live my own life. (I can’t lie – it will be nice to actually not do a big travelling jaunt for one year.) I’m old enough to make my own decisions and to choose to stand my ground and enjoy my life in my own home. I have proven my worth time and again, and I now have the flat, the job, the relationship – the evidence to show for it. It’s not my fault that my family members may be insecure or jealous, and I don’t see why I should compromise myself to appease any inadequacies they may or may not feel. It’s not my problem. If I cannot be myself on Christmas day, then maybe next year it has finally come to the point where I’ve got to start making my own traditions, and if it means being by myself then hey – I’ll do it. I would never begrudge Toby going to spend time with his family, and maybe I would be able to join them instead. I don’t know – this whole situation has thrown me into a realm of “I don’t know”. What I do know is that I won’t lie, I won’t hide, and I won’t be ashamed. I am strong enough and secure enough to stand alone – I’d rather not have to, but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it. A part of me hopes I’ll be pleasantly surprised this Christmas and all these worries and postulations will count for nothing. I really don’t know what will happen – I am confident that I feel the right way about the situation, but I hope that I will have the grace and the presence of mind to react correctly and in a dignified manner to whatever situation arises.

I’ll let you know.

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Madonna – MDNA (album review.)

March 28, 2012

MDNA is Madonna’s 12th studio album (depending on what you include / exclude) and it’s an improvement on her last effort, Hard Candy, simply because there’s a higher strike rate of really good tracks. It’s no Ray of Light, Bedtime Stories or American Life (her most introspective albums and not coincidentally, her best – let the debate begin!), but we get more of an insight into Madonna the Human Being than we have in possibly 10 years.

Not that you’d know it from the two singles that have been released: “Give Me All Your Luvin'” is a straightforward ‘fun’ track which has had a lot of the fun ironed out of it. Madonna’s vocal sounds flat, the production sounds a little lacklustre, and while Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. acquit themselves well during their verses, their presence is unnecessary. The melody is perky but calculated, the cheerleader chants are hooky but calculated – the whole thing is a perfectly acceptable pop song, but it sounds so desperate to be joyful that it ends up losing a lot of charm. “Girl Gone Wild” serves well as an album opener, but again it sounds dated for Madonna – which means bang-on-trend with what’s in the charts – and unimaginative. The lyrics are uninspired, the melody is catchy and you will be humming it after a couple of listens. In this sense, the singles both do their job, but there’s much more exciting stuff on the album.

Which, take my advice, should be sequenced thus:

01. Girl Gone Wild
02. Gang Bang
03. I’m Addicted
04. Some Girls
05. Turn Up The Radio
06. I Don’t Give A (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
07. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (Feat. Nicki Minaj & M.I.A.)
08. B-Day Song (Feat. M.I.A.)
09. Superstar
10. I’m A Sinner
11. Love Spent
12. Beautiful Killer
13. Best Friend
14. I Fucked Up
15. Masterpiece
16. Falling Free

I am never usually one to mess with how an artist envisions their album by cherry-picking individual songse, or by listening to things on shuffle. I am very in favour of the idea of an album being treated and listened to as a body of work. However, I gave this track list (which I found on the Popjustice forums) a go and it seems to flow so much better. It stacks the harder-edged songs at the front of the album, followed by a sunny middle section and winding down towards the slower songs at the end.

“Gang Bang” is my favourite song on the album. A revenge anthem featuring menacingly-spoken vocals (reminiscent of Dita from Erotica) atop a minimal beat, a dubstep breakdown (again, bang on trend / a little passé, but it works well in this instance) and screams of “DRIVE BITCH! AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT DIE BITCH!”, it’s irresistible, edgy, a little silly (Madonna does not need to prove she is edgy and ‘down with the kids’ by swearing, but never mind), and it totally works. I can’t help but think of The Bride from Kill Bill when I listen to this song. Even though it would be an extremely weird choice for a single, this song is so cinematic that it deserves a video. “I’m Addicted” is the “Impressive Instant” of the album – swirling synths and insistent beats piling on top of each other to provide a climactic finish, while Madonna abandons insightful lyrics such as “all of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout” in favour of hedonistically chanting “M D N A M D N A” over and over.

And so we come to the album title. It’s a cool way of writing “Madonna”. Madonna has also said that the songs on this album display her musical DNA, so that also makes sense. And then, it also sounds like MDMA – which is a drug (hence the aforementioned refrain) and implies that Madonna’s new music is addictive. It’s a well-chosen title that has layers of meaning – well done to all concerned! The album cover (I am talking about the deluxe cover, above – the standard is pretty but doesn’t really go beyond that) shows Madonna posing behind a ridged glass screen which slices up the picture into discordant segments and perhaps represents an impenetrable layer between us, the listeners, and her, the performer / musical icon. The super-bright colours then pack a punch to the eye, and also reference a psychedelic, drugged-up state. Drugs like MDMA! I am spelling this out. The most intense colour comes from Madonna’s lips however, which is also important – she always takes centre stage. And her lips are where her voice comes from (sort of – you know what I mean) and Madonna is a Singer. Yes.

Back to the music then. “I Don’t Give A” is another standout track which has an urban quality to the beat. It discusses the hectic schedule of a star on Madonna’s level, and how she does ten things at once without feeling the pressure, because she doesn’t give a. It’s a defiant moment that’s further strengthened by another strong rap from Nicki Minaj, and tops out with an operatic choir repeating “I don’t give a”. As we’ll learn later on in the album however, Madonna does give a. “Love Spent”, “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are introspection done right (unlike “Falling Free”, which is an epic ballad marred by Madonna’s incredibly mannered delivery and too little momentum too late). “Love Spent” switches up halfway through from practically one song to another with little more than a hook in common, but the same theme pervades throughout – if love were money, would you spend it on me? Would you care about me as much as your money? It sounds ironic for Madonna (who is not poor) to be discussing this, but then again, why can’t she? Everyone can relate to the feeling of coming second best in a relationship, regardless of whether either member of the couple is wealthy or not. It’s an emotional moment that is buoyed by a strong melody and interesting musical touches (such as the opening guitar and the Nintendo bleeps). “Best Friend” and “I Fucked Up” are apparently about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, and the demise of their relationship. Now, I know that it is easy to attribute these lyrics to that experience which the whole public knows about- and Madonna has had a couple of relationships since then (one of which was with Jesus!) – but it sounds pretty convincingly like Guy was on her mind when she wrote these tracks.  “Best Friend” talks about losing someone Madonna was very close to, and reflecting upon the time they shared together – “It wasn’t always good but it wasn’t always bad”. The fact that time has passed between the divorce and the album has allowed Madonna to apportion the blame where it lies on both sides – as well as Guy being the subject of her vitriol on other tracks, “I Fucked Up” sees her take some responsibility for the relationship’s demise. “I blamed you when things didn’t go my way… In front of you, I was cold.” Listing a number of the things that the couple could have done makes for some heart-wrenching listening, even as the production picks up speed. Although parts of the album sound manufactured for radio (like the singles) and others see her aim blindly for the craziest dancefloors, these tracks are where Madonna is open and sounds honest, rather than pre-meditated.

Other songs that deserve a mention are “Some Girls” and its basic but essential proclamation: “Some girls are not like me”; “Superstar” and its sugar-sweet hook of “Ooh la la, you’re my superstar”  (I imagine this song as being great for driving along to); the romantic “Masterpiece” which is somewhat cliché but manages to remain elegant and understated. On the other hand, weaker points of the album include “I’m A Sinner” which sounds like “Beautiful Stranger” (and I didn’t like that song either), and the ridiculous “B-Day Song” which wastes M.I.A.’s talents and doesn’t match up to the quality of the rest of the album. However, it’s relaxed nature reveals that Madonna probably had genuine fun recording this track, and it’s nice to hear a song that’s so unguarded. Perhaps it should have remained a b-side.

Overall, MDNA is a good album. It’s not outstanding as a whole, but it contains a fair few excellent moments. The songs are cohesive enough to feel like they belong (with a couple of exceptions), while varied enough to retain interest. There’s genuine introspection, braggadocio and hedonism – which is what we want from Madonna. It’s a shame that some of the album feels so calculated that it detracts from our enjoyment of the material. But once you can look past that, MDNA provides a trip well worth taking.

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2012, here we come!

December 30, 2011

The time has rolled around, once again, for my two standard end of year / new year posts. The first one is my own personal review of 2011, evaluating how I did with my aims for the year, and looking forward to 2012 and what I hope to achieve within the next 12 months. So, to recap, my aims for 2011 were:

1. Buy a car.
Tick! I not only bought a car, but I crashed it and then sold it 6 months later!  Driving was a major achievement for me, as it was 6 years in the making, and represented a triumph over my nerves and my previous failure (I have been a lucky person who generally didn’t have to deal with failure too much in life, up until I started learning to drive). But I also learned the hard way that it’s a big responsibility, that it comes with a whole trapping of expenses, and that while being able to drive is an asset and a liberation, living in London and not having to drive anywhere is also a blessing. When the public transport system is good, life is good. (Let me tell you, having gone home to Bristol for 6 days over the Christmas period, I immediately starting missing my car and how easy it made travelling from place to place. Bristol, step your public transport game up please!)

2. Get a job in London.

Tick! Although I miss the warmth and camaraderie of my colleagues in Cirencester (I yo-yoed about how much I enjoyed the job, but I became much happier and carefree once a certain colleague left), my new job in Notting Hill is a whole new challenge – I’m always busy, I’m never bored, and I am learning many new things. Plus, I am earning more!

3. Move to London.

Tick! As you know, I am now living in my own little studio flat in Earl’s Court, which is pricey but very conveniently located for transport (bus stop and tube station outside my front door), and also only a 15 minute walk from Toby’s place.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

Tick! I love my baby and I realised early on in 2011 that the 100+ miles gap between the two of us wasn’t going to be feasible. We missed each other all the time, and although I may have ended up in London anyway (I’m a city boy at heart), he was the driving force between the transformation in my life and career that has occurred this year.

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

Nope. The microphone never happened. I have recorded some new material (and written even more), but I am hoping that the album will be complete next year.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

Sort of. I am debt-free, apart from my student overdraft and my student loan. My car ended up being a big drain on my finances, and moving to London required every penny I had. Plus, I did have a wonderful holiday to Seville with Toby in July, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything but did further delay me paying off my student overdraft. But with my first couple of pay checks, I paid my parents and Nonna back for the money they lent me to settle myself in London, I paid off my credit card, and sorted myself out financially. The student overdraft is my primary financial focus for 2012.

So I guess 4.5 out of 6 is not bad at all! I seem to have more success when I write my yearly aims down, so here goes for 2012:

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Toby is a fantastic cook, but I want to learn to make healthy, interesting meals so that I can return the favour from time to time, and enrich my own skill-set and repertoire. Tonight, Toby’s housemates Michael and Naomi have made some very yummy sushi, so that is one thing I shall aim to make; I also enjoyed watching the British Bake-Off and am tempted by the idea of whipping up my own lemon tart!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

I’m not quite as svelte as I was this time last year. I have got into the habit of having desserts, of snacking unnecessarily from time to time, and from cooking quite simple dishes (similar to how I was at university). This is all fine, but I am going to moderate myself a bit and cut down on takeaways from Dominos, Pizza Hut and Jasmine Garden.

3. Move in with Toby.

I would like the two of us to move in together; it feels like the logical next step for our relationship, but we both need to be at ease with it and it also needs to be an affordable and convenient location. Moving in will happen when it happens, but I’m just putting this wish out there in the universe and perhaps in 12 months’ time, I will be able to tick this one off the list! 🙂

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

See above. This year I have really improved at budgeting and restraining myself from impulsive / extravagant purchases; therefore, I am determined to pay off at least £200 a month. So even if I don’t pay the whole thing off by the end of the year, I will have made a sizeable dent in it! Fingers crossed!

5. Learn Italian

Ok, let’s get this done once and for all. I am half-Italian, therefore it will not only be easy (especially having studied French and Spanish) to learn Italian, but it will be culturally enriching and give me a new understanding of my own heritage. Work have offered to pay for / subsidise an Italian course for me, but my initial plan of attack will be to buy an Italian novel, an Italian dictionary (and possibly an Italian grammar book), and keep a pen and paper by me as I read – and just have at it.

6. Learn to sew

Because I feel somewhat babyish whenever I have holes or rips in my clothes, and I have to take them to Toby’s to fix. I presume that sewing is a relatively simple skill, and therefore I should learn to do it and allow myself to be self-sufficient when it comes to repairing my belongings.

7. Finish my new album

This year will be the year! I am over halfway. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Having moved to London, I was unable to carry all of my DVDs and CDs with me. I would need a truck. Obviously, I have my computer, my iPod, and I was able to take quite a few of my DVDs here; but I have realised that I don’t really need most of the physical copies that I own. So I will sell them, give them away, and go digital. I will open myself up to buying things on iTunes much more (believe it or not, B.Slade’s album Diesel that I bought a couple of months ago was the very first album I bought on iTunes!), and perhaps I might need an extra external hard drive. But I am willing to embrace the digital age (only a few years late!), and also make it much easier for myself to move flats and houses as I go.

Wish me luck, and have a Happy New Year! x

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shame.

June 2, 2011

In pursuit of trying to attain a carefree, happy state, I need to try and unburden myself of the baggage that I carry. I think that we all do, and we all have stupid things buried in our past that become a part of us and that resonate as mistakes we are embarrassed by. I generally try and move on and learn from my mistakes, and luckily I can say that each of the following things that I am ashamed of, I have only done once! As long as we learn from our mistakes, that is the important thing. But I want to share 5 of my biggest, most embarrassing mistakes with you so that I can relieve myself of the chips on my shoulder (or try and wipe away the grease these chips have left behind!), and so that we can all see that we ALL do stupid things and we’re only human – unless we fixate on them and don’t move past, we are not defined by our mistakes.

1. Car accident

A month and a half ago, I had become much more confident with my driving, and I had found myself caught behind cars which were driving very slowly and being quite impressive. I never drive aggressively, but I was becoming impatient. It was the Easter holidays, and I was leaving for work on a Wednesday morning. My mother told me to drive carefully, and I brushed it off with a “yeah, yeah”because I thought she was worrying unduly and just doing what mothers do. You know what’s coming next.

Not 10 minutes away from my house, I can’t remember why but I looked down at my phone on the seat next to me for a second. In that second, my hands must have moved on the wheel, I veered into the other lane of oncoming traffic, and I looked up to see my wing mirror being knocked off the car by a van, and although it had swerved to avoid me, the back of the van hit the front wing of my car. Now everyone was fine, the damage was not major, and I just needed to pay for some polish to remove the worst of the scratches, some touch up paint, and a new wing mirror glass to replace the one that had been shattered (the rest of the wing mirror luckily just popped back onto the car in the same way it had popped off).

But I just felt so embarrassed at a) making such a stupid mistake, especially when my phone hadn’t even done anything! My phone stays on silent in my pocket from now on, and I put a playlist on my ipod of what music I will listen to on my journeys prior to setting off!

b) That I could have done much more serious damage, and injured myself or another person. It was bad enough that I had ruined my pretty car (that’s how I felt – now that it’s all touched up, the dent is barely noticeable – especially compared to a lot of cars’ scratches and war wounds) and damaged another person’s vehicle.

c) What would other people think of me having an accident only 3 and a half months after getting a car? Would my friends, my partner, my family risk getting in a car with me again? I was clearly careless, and I was afraid of being judged. Slowly but surely, I have told some of my friends and I was surprised to know that they have nearly all been in a similar position. The most common expression is “oh, you’ve had your first prang!” This makes me feel a little better, because I am not alone. I certainly drive more carefully as a result – I just wish that it hadn’t taken a car accident to make me wake up and be less complacent.

I lost my confidence with driving, and I am only now getting it back. I felt disappointed in myself and doubted my own ability. Mike was absolutely brilliant – he told me to just get in the car, drive to work, and then we went to Halfords and sorted out the door hinge, polished and painted up the dents and scratches, and ordered a new wing mirror glass. And this is the attitude I need to maintain – no matter how disappointed in myself I felt (and I felt pretty low in the days following the accident), I got back on the horse and kept going. Even when I didn’t want to. So that (along with the not looking at my phone while driving) is what I am taking away from this experience.

2. Walking on the motorway in Spain

My friend Jen from LA had come to visit me for a few days during my placement year as an English Language Assistant in San Roque (southern Spain). On the way back from Algeciras on the bus, it seemed like it suddenly got dark and I ended up getting us off the bus at the wrong stop. We didn’t have much change, so rather than wait for the next bus to come along, I decided that we should just walk up to a clearer area and then I would call my flatmate Juan and hope that he would pick us up (which he ultimately did). This involved walking up alongside the motorway – it was unsafe, and Jen was shaking and crying all the way to the roundabout where we met Juan. Although at the time I was scared myself, I felt that we had no option other than to walk – in retrospect, we should have waited at the bus stop for the next bus to come and explained our predicament to the driver. It would have been much safer, and I am ashamed that I put both of our lives in danger, just because I had not enough money and too much pride. I would never make that mistake again, and I was lucky that Jen forgave me easily.

3. Writing ‘SEX’ on my classmate’s art overalls

When I was in year 4 at school, I was fascinated by sex because at that age, it was naughty and forbidden and I was just gathering an awareness of what it was. Because it was naughty and provocative, and my classmate Nick was pissing me off in an Art lesson, I scrawled the word “SEX” in green paint on his overalls. Looking back, this is obviously not a big deal and sort of hilarious – at the time, Nick went to tell our art teacher, who told me I was “evil” and my punishment was to take the overalls home and wash them. Which meant my mother saw, and she asked me why I had written it. I had no real answer, she didn’t talk to me for a day, I returned the clean overalls, my art teacher forgot that I was “evil”, and everything was ultimately fine. But I was ashamed at the time because it was such a shocking thing for a child to write and to do, and being told I was “evil” only made me feel that sex was dirty and naughty, giving me some issues to work through in my teenage years.

4. Mentioning 9/11 to a new student from New York.

When I was in for an induction day for 6th form, we were introduced to a new student who had come over from New York. Her name was Alex, she looked nervous and I decided, in my utmost wisdom, to be friendly and warm towards her. We made polite conversation, and then I decided to put my foot in my mouth and mention 9/11 (which had happened nearly a year ago, by this point), and ask how her family and everyone had coped with it. What possessed me? The poor girl just smiled and flabbergasted, said that everyone was coping and that it hadn’t really affected her overly much. I learned from this that I should think before I speak and that if something seems like it might be a faux pas, then it’s best not to say it. Needless to say, we did not end up being friends.

5. Overreaction at the QCG 2009 Christmas party.

I wrote about this here, so I won’t rewrite it. All I can say is that but a few weeks later, I met Toby (the real love of my life) and I can now look back and see how neurotic I was, and how much I have chilled out. And I can still be pretty neurotic now, to be honest – so when I was younger, I was probably quite crazy!  I have learned to try and keep my composure, to just keep moving in life, and that love is just around the corner, even when it seems most unlikely. And a year and a half on, Mike and I are still close friends and that is the most important thing.

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criticism.

May 13, 2011

So a couple of weeks ago, E (with whom I do a car share for work, alongside two others) gave me a lift halfway home along with another member of staff, H, who normally doesn’t travel with us – however, they were all attending an event in Bristol so we were all travelling together. The first thing that H says to me upon meeting to get in E’s car is “So Alan, how is your lead foot?” I was a bit taken aback, but just smiled and said “It’s all good!” However, this bothered me.

I am a new driver, and I drive at the speed limit, slightly over it on the motorway, but no more than anybody else. My car is small and quite low down (because it’s a cute sporty thing 😀 ) and I can appreciate that I have been getting the hang of slowing down to go around corners a little bit. But I’m getting a lot better. Now, it’s not the comment of having a “lead foot” that bothers me – I have not been caught speeding and in fact, rarely do speed – so it’s nonsense. What irritates me is the fact that E and other people seemingly have chosen to spend their free time criticising my driving.

In the past, I would have simply said “well I guess I just stay on their minds, which is a compliment.” Which is true. But I have noticed that lately everyone seems to be competing with one another for the prize of “being right”. If you mumble your words, there’s somebody there to make fun of it. If you don’t know where a famous landmark is, there is somebody there to not only tell you, but boast their superiority and make you feel small. I appreciate learning things I did not know from other people, but I don’t understand why being right is so important to some people. Nobody is right 100% of the time, and gain-saying others doesn’t make you a richer person. Life is too short – rather than making other people feel small to feel better about myself for an instant or so, I would prefer to work hard on my own life and reap the lasting benefits. Now, I’m not holier than thou – if I know the correct answer to something, it makes me feel proud and I am not afraid to express that. But not at the expense of others’ self-esteem or confidence. At the end of the day, I am my own worst critic and I would rather criticise myself to improve myself, than be hard on others to momentarily appease my own insecurities.

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another driving lesson…

March 18, 2011

So yesterday I drove to Taunton and back for a Sexual Health Regional conference. The conference was interesting (some of it went over my head, but some of it was quite useful and I felt privileged to have been invited!) and I felt triumphant that I navigated my way to Taunton and back home with little difficulty. However, I learned that I drove too fast, at times, on the motorway. I have been told off by my parents, by Toby and by Mike – I know they care about me and I wasn’t in danger – the car was never out of control and I never had to swerve to avoid anything or to correct any drift. I’m talking about speeding.

Now, I was on the motorway driving quite happily in the right lane. I was going a fair amount over the limit, but no faster than the other cars in that lane – a lot of the time, I was keeping up with traffic. However, I still have a big fear that I might have been caught speeding – although I saw no cameras or police vans, and I didn’t see any flashes (let alone be followed and pulled over), I am now paranoid that at some point before the end of the month I am going to get a letter through fining me and putting points on my licence. I probably haven’t been caught, because I expect I am dramatising things in my head and the bad speeding was only for a couple of seconds at a time. I didn’t see any flashes, which are apparently what you look for – even in the daytime sunshine, they are apparently visible. But I feel like just having this fear has made me learn my lesson, because I’m going to dread letters in the post for the next two weeks. This is punishment enough! I can’t afford to pay any fines, and I can’t afford to have my licence taken away – I just got it and I need my car! Not to mention the embarrassment… I am sure I am just being paranoid and dramatic – after all, I don’t have any points at the moment whatsoever and I plan on keeping it that way, especially now. I wasn’t going faster than other cars on the road, and I know that plenty of people go faster than I was and still get away with it. I just wanted to write that it’s really not worth the fear of the next two weeks – which I have to endure – to go too fast. So don’t do it kids. Love y’all.

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Driving tips and tricks

February 23, 2011

Hi all! So I have now been driving for two and a half weeks, and I’m rapidly finding out that the adage “Once you’ve passed your test, that’s when you start learning to drive” is true. I thought that from my first couple of weeks (since I’ve clocked up a fair few miles in a relatively short space of time) I would share my experiences and things that I have learned.

  • Nobody can make you go faster than you want to, no matter how close up behind you they may drive. Don’t rush yourself. Stay in your comfort zone, and you’ll soon get more at ease with your car. If people want to go faster, they’ll overtake – they always find a way!
  • Do not try and do a hill start in 3rd gear. It will not work! So learn where your gears are. It’s best to have a practice drive around the block (over, and over, and over – I did!) to feel at ease with the car before you have to go somewhere specific.
  • Be nice. Sometimes life is plain unfair, but a lot of the time what goes around comes back around. So if someone is waiting to pull out of a junction, and it’s safe, let them. It’ll make you feel better about when you stall your car and the person behind you is patient, or when someone lets you out in front of them.
  • Learn the width of your car. Preferably not by bumping the end of your wing mirror against another car (although you’re unlikely to do any damage – I did it once and escaped unharmed). If in doubt, then stop and let the other driver come through.
  • At a roundabout, even if you think the car on your right will stop because you’re halfway across, don’t assume that they will. Especially if they are boy racers. Technically, even if they are idiots and are driving too fast, they have the right of way so just let them go ahead of you, and soon enough they will be out of your way.
  • Learn your routes, so that you know where likely problem areas are going to be. For example, on the way to work I always slow right down to drive through Tetbury because it has a ridiculous crossroads / roundabout junction, sharp curved roads with cars parked on one side, speed bumps and a lack of people who seem to know the basic Highway Code. So when you know somewhere is usually problematic, be aware!
  • If a pedestrian has arrived at a zebra crossing, even if they’re not near you, slow down so you can stop for them. Otherwise they will glare at you. And technically, they are right (unfortunately).
  • The turning circle on your car will most likely be different to that of the car you learned to drive in. So when you try to do a reverse park, be careful and don’t feel bad if you end up still two miles away from the kerb, or alternatively backing into the kerb. You got your licence – they can’t fail you now! Practice makes perfect.
  • Re. the above point: driving into a space is much easier than parallel parking.
  • If you’re parked on a camber on a downward incline, even when you put your car in reverse, it’ll roll forward a little bit. So leave yourself room to do this. If you have no room, get a kind parent to reverse the car while you push forward on the front to stop the car rolling forward and hitting the car in front. This is the kind of mistake you only make once (I hope!).
  • Learn where the speed cameras are. Once you’re more confident, you will learn when you can speed up a little bit (obviously not too much!) over the limit, and when you need to slow down.
  • Driving on the motorway is just like driving on a dual carriageway. It’s basically driving in a straight line at a high speed for an extended period of time. It’s nothing to be afraid of! Just use the signs along the way to your advantage.
  • Don’t sit in the middle lane on the motorway. It’s irritating.
  • Don’t leave your fog lights on for extended periods of time. Turn them on for foggy patches, turn them off when your visibility improves.
  • Don’t worry about being in the wrong lane. If you realise you are in the wrong lane, keep calm and indicate to get to where you need to be (or follow the road round if there is no alternative and try and loop back as soon as possible). Most of the time, you’ll get an opportunity to filter into the right lane – either because someone takes pity on you or because the traffic passes. I apparently have the directional sense of a wombat and I still get places in the end! Remember: even if you get lost for 5 minutes, it is quicker than getting the bus! And you can always buy a sat nav.

And most importantly: ENJOY driving! We passed our tests, we spend ridiculous money on lessons to get here, we pay a premium for petrol, insurance and the vehicle itself. We earned this. Have fun!