Monthly Archives: July 2014

Outdoor Survival Training Course; My Gastropod-Riddled Nightmare

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I don’t smell very nice. I have also been bitten on the arse.

While I know a number of people for whom that would be a pretty run-of-the-mill result for an average weekend, it’s been an unusual one for me. Typically I prefer to interact with the outside world as little as possible, however I have just returned from an outdoor survival training weekend.

Usually, I am not a stinky person, but I have spent the last 48 hours alternating between sweating into a pair of steel toe-capped boots, and sweating into a sleeping bag. I have also intermittently added thick layers of campfire smoke to my person. While baby wipes and KFC takeaway lemon-scented towelettes go some way to keeping you clean, they are frankly limited and there’s not a thing in the world they can do for big curly hair.

So yes, I smell pretty offensive (although that was really just a Best Guess until I stopped for a carvery dinner on the way home. As soon as I stepped into a place full of fresh people, it became abundantly clear that I smelled like I had been barbequed over the charred remains of some vagrant).

So! Let’s add some detail shall we? I shall dial events back to last Friday afternoon, 25th July…

I didn’t really know what to expect from this course, apart from coming away a bit less likely to die quickly and horribly in the event that civilisation falls prey to a zombie apocalypse  (hopefully). Oh, and I was also fairly confident that I would get pretty much no sleep, given my track record of being a bit shit at it, even in the best of circumstances.

My sister and I arrived at the designated place an hour early, and it was a Scout campsite. It smelled decidedly spunky, which I am firmly assuming was due to a Linden tree and not any misbehaviour on the part of any Scout leaders. Apart from the smell, it was all rather pleasant, and included an extremely friendly cat, who managed to cover Kelly in cat hair and drool in a matter of minutes.

Water feature, replete with Winni the pooh characters. Of course.

Water feature, replete with Winnie the Pooh characters. Of course.

We were eventually coralled down into a different car park where we were to meet up with everyone else. There ended out being 11 of us in the group in total, and after a few issues with the M6 being its usual ballbag self, everyone arrived and we headed off up to the site where we would be staying. I was initially a little bit put off by the amount of food and equipment we were being provided with at the outset, but I ended out being really quite grateful by the conclusion of the weekend.

Our main tasks for the Friday evening were to set up our accommodation for the next couple of days and to get a couple of fires going. Our instructor for the weekend was Matt, and he was funny, knowledgeable and interested in helping everyone – regardless of daft questions or previous experience (real or imagined…). Whenever he showed us something new, he talked about the rationale and gave us background and context, and while he was able to drop in a comedy story for a lot of situations, he never failed to impress on us just how much trouble we could potentially be in.

I’d always known that your average human being can go a few weeks without eating, and a few days without drinking. I had however never really appreciated the urgency of getting shelter (I think I had always assumed it was more of a nice-to-have) but Matt explained how certain conditions in a usually temperate environment can knock you out in a couple of hours. It really  did help me to readjust my thinking in terms of priorities.

For the sake of not completely wiping out a large chunk of our time on a 2 day course, they provided us with tarpaulins to put together the shelters that we would actually be staying in. First things first, please enjoy a picture of me actually doing something – I’m normally behind the camera, so you don’t often get action shots.

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I am the epitome of grace and elegance.

…and the finished product. Really basic, and I can immediately see things I would do differently. We did, in fact, end out essentially pulling it apart and repositioning the whole thing…later on…in the dark. Brilliant.

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Precisely as uncomfortable as it looks.

One of the other big things Matt initially talked about was safety when using things with blades – so knives, machetes, axes. A lot of it was perfectly common sense once he had said it – if you are stripping knots off of a tree branch, if your axe/machete bounces off, it will rebound at you – therefore strip the side of the tree opposite to the one you are stood on, so that the dangerous stabby thing will always move away from you. Also, if you are chopping something on the ground, kneel down; if you are swinging at arms length while you are stood up and you miss your aim, the blade will keep going and very likely embed itself somewhere in your thigh. If you are knelt down and you miss, you’ll only hit the floor. If you are swinging a blade around for whatever reason, ensure you are the full swing radius away from your friends – the ‘blood bubble’ as he called it – before you start, to avoid accidentally gutting or maiming anyone that you would otherwise like to keep around.

Due to the fact that we didn’t get the group together until late, and the priority was getting the shelters up first followed by fires, we didn’t end out eating until after 10pm. There was a whole Too Many Cooks thing going on, so Kelly and I just got out of the way and focussed on gathering wood for the fire. I developed a reasonably successful ‘saw & stamp’ method of cutting through logs, because frankly I am a big wuss and can’t saw very successfully.

As it turned out, there was a food miscalculation, and there wasn’t enough dinner for everyone. I ducked out and had a coffee instead – being the clearly awesome and self-sacrificing individual that I am – and let them apportion the food a bit better. It of course had NOTHING to do with having eaten the weight of a small dog in hot sausage rolls from Gregg’s earlier in the day, and the fact it was about 5 hours past when I would normally eat so I wasn’t hungry anyway…no, no… I am obviously a hero.

Kelly and I crawled off to our shelter to get our heads down for the evening, but before I go any further in the tale, I need to dip into a bit of personal history for context. I have a phobia of slugs. When I was maybe 14 or 15, I was in the kitchen doing some washing up, and my step-dad walked in and said “There are loads of these bloody things all over the garden!” I turned around and there was a massive black slug in his hand, stretched out over his fingers, looking all interested in the nice new kitchen it found itself in.

I froze. I was stuck in a corner with nowhere to go, and it would be exactly like my step-dad to throw the fucking thing at me. As it happens, he didn’t. It’s entirely possible he was genuinely just pointing out the horror-film monstrosities roaming around the lawn. He took the slug back outside and I breathed out, carrying on with the washing up. He then returned to wash his hand in the side-sink. I froze again, because I expected him to wipe the slug-gunk on me. He didn’t, he just washed his hands and went back out.

Those two moments re-wired something in my brain, and for about 15 years afterwards the mere sight of a slug would make me freeze and panic. It is no longer a crippling phobia – I have got to the point that if there is a slug about, as long as I can clearly see it, I can work with it, and externally no-one would know anything was wrong. However…

On this occasion, we were in a wooded area. It was after dusk. There were slugs all over the place. And I was supposed to sleep outside. On a slidey plastic sheet. That led straight to my FACE.

Nevertheless! I put on a hooded jumper, tied my hair up into a tiny bun on top of my head, pulled the hood up over as much of my face as I could, got into the sleeping bag and zipped the fucking thing as far as it would go. I was way too hot and there were roots and lumps sticking in my hips and shoulders, but I was so tired that I could feel myself falling asleep anyway.

…I then spent the rest of the evening panicking every time I started to drift off and shaking myself awake.

It wasn’t just me waking myself up. I am a really light sleeper at the best of times; the smallest variation in the conditions around me will shock me out of the deepest sleep. At home, I have blankets pinned over the curtains in my bedroom and I wear earplugs to cut out road noise. My ex used to say that if he descended into the bedroom on a rope from a hole in the ceiling, the movement of air would wake me up, and he probably isn’t far wrong.

As I had expected from the start, and no doubt emphasised by the barely-suppressed panic, every little thing woke me up; the flicker of the fire behind us reflecting onto our tarpaulin roof, someone walking past with a head torch, a breeze, a high pitched noise (the ear-plugs cut out the bass). Once the sun started to rise, the birds all found their voices. They clearly couldn’t decide what they wanted to sing though; if you cast your mind back to the days of really basic Nokias with monophonic ring tones, when knobheads would stand in a public places and skip through the ringtones, playing 2 seconds of every damned tune available REALLY LOUDLY, you will get an idea of the birdsong cacophony that that was happening to my ears.

British woodland; full of noisy bastards.

British woodland; full of noisy bastards.

All of that aside, the temperature dropped as the sun was rising and I drifted off for a couple of hours. Kelly got up around 7:30 so I got up too – and found that across the back of my rucksack (which I had been using as a pillow) there was a slug trail. I cannot adequately convey how close I was to dropping the entire bag on the fire, walking down the hill to the car and driving off home again.

I didn’t though. I put my Big Girl pants on and got on with the most important task of the day – coffee. I am fairly caffeine-dependent; if I don’t get enough first thing in the morning, I get a migraine. To that end, I had brought some self-heating coffee cups so that I could get the drop on my caffeine requirements without having to wait for the fires to get going. These drinks are handy bits of kit – although I could only find cafè latte with sugar, which is so far away from how I like to drink coffee that it might as well have been hot chocolate.

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This could easily qualify as part of a medical kit for me

While I was firing my coffee up, there were a couple of people taking the last night’s pots down to the stream to wash out, so I tagged along to make myself useful. Due to being quite fast flowing and not full of dead livestock or road run-off, this little waterfall/stream ended out being our water supply after we finished the initial few bottles we brought up on the first evening.

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It actually looks reasonably appealing.

When we got the pots back to the camp, breakfast was announced as being porridge. Now, in a real life emergency situation, there is a good chance that I would stab someone in the eye and steal the porridge out of their mouth. In this case though, we were only here for two days, and since I would on the whole rather chew my own liver out than eat plain porridge, I stuck to coffee for breakfast again. I did managed to snag a couple of hard boiled eggs and some bread later on though, more because it was there than because I was really hungry.

One thing that had quickly become apparent since setting up the fire pits the evening before, and has stood out for me above pretty much everything else that I have learned, is the sheer volume of resources that you require to simply sustain yourself for any period of time.

Granted, there were 11 of us and if this had been a serious situation, we would probably have been more frugal with water and fire resources, but it was a full time job collecting wood to burn. This may sound like a complete no-brainer to everyone else, but I had never really considered the role of fire in such depth. Not only is there warmth, protection and cooking, but it is more than likely going to be essential in providing a safe form of water to drink, which sits above food as a survival consideration.

On the Saturday, Matt talked to us in some depth about water, which was next up on the list of priorities. Basic purification of water involves boiling the fuck out of it. Obviously you try and collect water from the freshest source possible and not somewhere that has a dead sheep in it, but he showed us how to make a filter to take out the largest particles in any water you find, before then boiling the living shit out of it. The filter itself consist of layers of moss, charcoal, and grass, but you can use a sock if needs be.

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Instinctive response is “…ick” but better than a sock any day of the week.

We had brought about 16 litres of water with us initially, but once that was finished we used the water from the stream, which needed lugging up the hill to the site.

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Beautiful environment…

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…but a ballache for carrying equipment up.

I have thought about my monthly bill from Anglian Water since I got home – I am actually way happier for them to filter and purify my water for what I pay them now, because I know what is required, and I cannot imagine the sheer amount of time and effort that it would take me to do what I needed for myself for any period of time.

In the afternoon, we spent quite a bit of time walking through the wood and along the river banks, talking about plants, trees and flowers, what is edible, what isn’t and what has other properties.

Lunch anyone?

Lunch anyone?

I am not going to relay a lot of it because I do not wish to be in any way responsible for anyone taking something that think they know and getting it wrong. I am on the other hand happy to share some DON’Ts;

  • Unless you 100% know otherwise, don’t eat anything that has a milky sap
  • Unless you 100% know otherwise, don’t eat anything with red, black or yellow berries
  • Don’t eat anything that has tiny hairs or barbs on it (throat/mouth catching possibility too dangerous)
  • Don’t eat anything that has shiny leaves. (although Rhododendrons smoke like fuck so are good for signal fires)
  • Don’t camp under Beech trees, they have a habit of going “I’m bored of this look.” and dropping branches. If you’re under them, that’s bad news.
  • Any plants that look like a blown out umbrella, leave the fuck alone.
  • Mushrooms – unless you REALLY know what you’re doing, leave the fuck alone entirely

If you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t, try mixing some black charcoal into a paste, then dilute it with water and chug it down, because it will make you hurl your entire stomach contents. White ash from a fire on the other hand will apparently a) settle your stomach and b) work as an effective toothpaste.

Matt talked us through some trap setting (e.g. rabbit snares), and while I get the principle, I would have to be really close to death before it was something I considered. I appreciate the hypocrisy because I do eat meat, but I would seriously struggle to sacrifice a life to sustain mine for a day. That’s if I could even catch anything in the first place. I am fairly confident that most animals are way better at avoiding predators than I will ever be at being a predator myself.

This is where I became really grateful for the food we’d been provided with, because I genuinely cannot imagine trying to find the resources for three meals a day, for eleven people, for even the short period of time we were there.

In the evening, we looked at building an actual shelter from scratch, if you have nothing like a tarpaulin or waterproof blanket to act as a roof. Matt showed us how to create a frame between trees, and then how to layer up branches and nettle bundles for the roof to make it waterproof (to elbow depth) and then another foot deep of other plants on the floor to work as insulation from losing all your body heat into the floor. As with the firewood, the sheer volume of material required to just make an effective shelter for one person is unbelievable.

Partially completed shelter. Please note, reclining lady is part of demonstration model only and is not included as standard. No VAT, subject to terms & conditions.

Partially completed shelter. Please note, reclining lady is part of demonstration model only and is not included as standard. No VAT, subject to terms & conditions.

That of course was based on being in a forest full of resources. There are lots of alternatives in terms of shelter, because obviously you have to use the things you actually have available. If you’re in the snow, use the snow and ice igloo style. If you’re in a field, you use sods of earth…incidentally also igloo style. Mudloo? Another key thing that I learned was about looking at what you actually have, and seeing it in a different way, being really open with your ideas about what those things can BE, not just what’s on the label.

So, a stinging nettle can effectively become a green ribbon, useful for – you know… –  tying things together. To start a fire (to catch a spark) you want a material that is light, with low density, lots of airspace – so dried grass…or cotton wool. To stop it burning out in a fraction of a second, it needs a fuel, so it requires soaking in oil or grease… A stripped open tampon, smeared with a chapstick, makes a perfect thing to catch a spark, and start a fire. Two tiny little things, that I personally would never have thought of in that context, but that Matt genuinely carried in his survival tin.

Saturday night was even worse than Friday night for me in terms of sleeping. We had gone to bed a bit earlier, and I had actually drifted off but after a while it started raining. Luckily, we had oriented our shelter well and didn’t get much rain inside, although we did have to scootch down a bit to get further under the overhang. The bit that was worse was on the inside of my head; more rain = more wet = more slugs. The downpour brought with it a load of leaves that stuck onto the top of our shelter, and it wasn’t until the sun came up and injected some colour into the world that it became clear that they weren’t all slugs hell bent on terrorising me.

This leaf does a really convincing slug impression.

This leaf does a really convincing slug impression in the dark.

Almost as soon as I had calmed myself down, I looked across the other side of the shelter and saw one of the most horrifically grim things I have ever seen in my life. Bearing in mind that I have spent a LOT of time on the internet, that is really quite a statement.

In the tree – in a direct line above my sister’s head – were two big brown slugs, fucking. They were dangling off some – I have no idea HOW – self-generated stringy thing, and it looked like they were going to drop into our shelter at any moment. I couldn’t look away. It was awful, and I am certain it is going to give me nightmares for years. I do not even want to dwell on it enough to commit the details into text, but if you’re curious, I am sure you can find plenty of videos on Youtube.

Before we left on Sunday Matt talked us through navigation – at night the Polestar is a static point that you can use to identify North, but that’s obviously not an option during the day. He showed us methods for using shadows cast over a period of time to identify which direction is North. He also showed us a neat trick using analog watches, in conjunction with the sun. It’s neat, but does rely on you having kept your watch wound and on the correct time. I don’t fully understand the maths behind why either method works, so I need to go off and do some research about the WHY, but I tested it when I got home and it does indeed work.

I had a great time – barring the whole slug-inflicted trauma – and while I have learned a lot of really useful things, the key things I have taken away are 1) I need to get a really good knife, 2) I am never going anywhere remotely outdoors again without a box of slug pellets or a bag of salt and 3) I really sincerely hope I am never in the situation that I will need to use anything that I have been taught this weekend.

10 Things That Scared The Crap Out Of Me As A Child

As an adult, I find a lot of reassurance in the dark; it’s comfortable, it feels like home, and it’s often funny as hell. That wasn’t always true though – a lot of the things I love now once paralysed me with fear as a kid.

Here’s 10 of the biggest things that used to scare the crap out of me as a child.

1. Venger from Dungeons & Dragons

Venger was just nasty. And persistent. However hard the heroes fought, however right they were, whatever new skills they mastered, he would always use his terrible magic to get away, and you just KNEW that you couldn’t let your guard down because he’d be back at any minute.

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“So…you know the 80’s one-sided thing only works for ponytails, right Venger?”

Nowadays, he just comes across as annoying and stroppy and slightly boss-eyed.

2. Volcanoes

Lord of the Rings has a lot to answer for. I was petrified that a volcano would erupt in the middle of my town and the whole place would be engulfed by lava and I would have to run and hide and try and save my family.

…in Northampton…England.

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It’s fair to say that I didn’t have a wonderful grasp of Geology.

3. Ozzy Osbourne

I shared a room with my sister. We had bunk beds, and I – of course – claimed the top bunk. On the wall opposite the foot of my bed, my Mum put up an Ozzy Osbourne poster. I haven’t been able to find the exact poster, but I have found the same face in other pictures. Every night when I went to sleep, and every morning when I woke up, THIS was the visage that greeted me.

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Cheers Mum.

4. Sharks

When I was a child, I was terrified of crossing this precise bridge near the Carlsberg brewery in Northampton, because I was absolutely convinced that one of the paving slabs would drop out from under my feet, dumping me in the water, where I would then be eaten by sharks.

…in the River Nene…in Northampton…England.

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Geology, Biology…none of it was really a strong point for me back then.

5. Michael Jackson in Thriller makeup

The funny thing is that he became proportionately more scary in reality as the years went past.

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Now recognised as the least terrifying face of Jacko.

6. Words & Pictures

This was a kids TV show from the 70’s that filtered through into the 80’s, and it had a horribly dark and dystopian feel to it.

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Say hello to Wordy; the disembodied floating orange head was the least odd thing about the whole programme.

Magic E, anyone?

7. Critters

Critters – and in fact every horror movie that had nasty icky puppets hell bent on being thoroughly unpleasant; Gremlins and Ghoulies are two other notable sources of terror. I always used to weigh up exactly how badly I needed the toilet whenever I saw the lid was down.

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“…you’ve got summat in your teeth dude.”

8. Shogun Assassin

Another questionable choice of poster for a small child’s bedroom. I couldn’t find the exact one we had up, but I am not in the least bit surprised to find this movie cover in a Google search, stating the film was actually banned in the early 80’s.

I was also quite frightened by the scene in David Carradine’s Kung Fu where he grips the hot copper pot with his forearms and melts the imprints of the dragons into his skin… Martial arts were not a favourite of mine in my early years.

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Again, cheers Mum.

9. Zelda from Terrorhawks

Terrorhawks was a brilliant show, classic Good Guys v Bad Guys puppet series, following the same essential theme as Thunderbirds. It was set in the year 2020, largely in space, and the bad guys were all aliens and robots/androids. Zelda was the leader of the aliens with powers of teleportation and she was just upsetting and…ICKY. The way she spoke, the way she moved just wasn’t RIGHT.

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Way less scary when you realise that it’s just Rod Stewart.

Incidentally, Terrorhawks is actually really really funny and cleverly done when you re-watch it as an adult.

10. War of the Worlds

Both the 1953 film and Jeff Wayne’s musical version left me almost immobile with fear.

One night, my Mum’s friend Joy was babysitting me while Mum was (I think) at work. She put the War of the Worlds records on for me to listen to while she had a bath. I sat – at night, in her living room, alone, with the curtains open, and the blackness of the night outside staring in at me – with this music soaking into my skin and my awareness. I loved it, but was utterly terrified at the same time. I had to walk back down the street when Mum got home and I slid the whole way with my back pressed against the wall.

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There’s probably a good reason for age certificates on films…

The things that terrified me as a child I now either really like or find really funny in their own right. I am no psychologist, but I am in no way surprised by this.

A strange but happy anniversary

So, it’s not quite an anniversary, but it’s close enough that it started me thinking. It’s been nearly a year since I split up with my ex, Daniel…and it has been the best near-year of my life.

I have done a load of travelling, seen a serious amount of live music, including bands I never thought I would ever get to see. I have made lots of new friends, but more importantly I have reconnected with old friends, who I had sacrificed in order to stay in a relationship that I couldn’t admit that I didn’t want to be in.

I am now happy, truly happy. I am happy with my life, and the key thing is – I am happy with me.

I made a decision after I split up with Dan that I was no longer just going to put up with what made me unhappy. No-one deserves that…least of all me, because I am awesome. I had stayed with Dan for 3 1/2 years longer than was realistically healthy out of a weird sense of obligation, and a complete lack of understanding about what I was entitled to. I never back down, I am a fighter, but I was fighting for the wrong things. I was miserable, withdrawn, repressing myself, and constantly frustrated because while I would not consciously acknowledge what was wrong, my subconscious knew, and it wouldn’t let me rest.

Since the relationship ended, I have surrounded myself with the things that I enjoy and the people that I enjoy being with. I have moulded my life into the shape I want it to be – a celebration of all of the things that I want, and what I want to be. I trust that who I am now is good enough, and all the things that make me ME are good enough, and if they are not good enough for anyone else, then that other person is not someone who I need to be around. I have cut out the things and the people that were weighing me down. No stress, no anger, no frustration. I can honestly think back to days over the last few years when I would scream impotently inside my head a hundred times a day, and I feel so sad for the person that I was back then.

Yes, I have had a few emotional hurdles that I have come up against in the last year, but because I went into those situations for the right reasons and with the right mindset, I have come away from them a better person for the experience.

I initially posted this as a note on Facebook to say a big thank you to each and every one of the people that I have on my friends list – they are all there because they add something to my life, and I wanted to let them all know that whether they are aware or not, that are all part of something bigger. I have decided to also post it here as a blog, because if at least one person can take something away from this, then that is a good thing.

This part is a loving message to those of you who are stuck in a bad place.

You are not stuck, trust me. You might think you are, but you are not. “You’ve made your bed, now you have to lie in it” is something I got told a lot as a child. It’s not true. In fact, it’s not just ‘not true’, it’s outright dangerous. You are entitled to make your own emergency exits as an adult, and you certainly should not spend your life punishing yourself for a bad decision that you made.

Whatever you need to do to get out might feel like the hardest thing in the world, but sometimes what you fear the most is the very thing that will set you free.

Take care of yourselves x

I think I may be the untidiest adult that I know.

Last night, I decided to watch a DVD in bed. All well and good, but I couldn’t find the remote control, and without it, this new fandangled flat-screen TV/DVD player affair won’t even switch on. The remote is normally on my bedside table (a precise arm’s length away from where I normally lie) but last night it wasn’t there. Now, I remembered falling asleep (or passing out drunk – one of the two) after watching Splinter the other evening, which meant that the remote could have ended out anywhere.

A cursory glance around my room proved unfruitful, but luckily my evening was not disrupted for too long since I have the same model TV downstairs, and the remote from that works equally well.

The side effect however was that I actually took a closer look at my bedroom for the first time in a while. It wasn’t pretty.

A bit like an explosion in a charity shop

Now, I do not overly value tidiness as a virtue, and there is part of me that finds my 36-year-old self vastly amusing. I have the attention span of a toddler who has been fed blue Smarties and fizzy pop, and if I put something down for moment, wherever it is becomes where it lives. This goes on for weeks on end, until something forces me to notice how disorganised everything is.

I do need to be clear that the massive pile of clothes are all clean; I managed to lose a bra the other day, and figured it was folded somewhere in the middle of a pile of washing that I had put straight in my wardrobe. I ended out taking all of the clean folded clothes and dumping them on the bed to work my way through…they then went on the floor when it was time to sleep…then back on the bed when it was time to get up…and so on for a few days.

In general, my room isn’t dirty per sé – you don’t need inoculations or a tetanus shot to go in there – but it does pose a Health & Safety risk a lot of the time.

For the sheer amusement of it, I showed the picture to a few of my work colleagues today and immediately provoked the inner parent in them. One woman actually threatened to come round my house and tidy it up if I didn’t do it myself. As it happens, I was quite keen to find my remote, so tidy I did.

Sorted geeza

Sorted geeza

For the sake of entertainment and curiosity, I decided to share some of the things I found in my bedroom.

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A reasonable amount of beer cans…

...some beer bottles, chopsticks and spray fabric glue...

…some beer bottles, chopsticks and spray fabric glue…

...a selection of stickers and business cards from all of the crap that I have bought...

…a selection of stickers and business cards from all of the crap that I have bought…

...plus all of the packaging from the crap that I have bought...

…plus all of the packaging from the crap that I have bought…

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…sewing pins, safety pins, sellotape, spare buttons and Redbubble mini clothes-pegs…

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…a mousetrap…

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…a roll of Christmas wrapping paper…

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…a mop handle…

...a modest bag of rubbish and a couple of broken shoes (not a pair incidentally)...

…a modest bag of rubbish and a couple of broken shoes (not a pair incidentally)…

...then two pairs of scissors and three screwdrivers.

…plus two pairs of scissors and three screwdrivers.

For those of you that need closure;

1) The remote control was in a bag of knitting at the end of my bed. Yes, that’s right.

2) The bra was in my underwear drawer, but I’d folded the cups inside out so it looked a different colour.

3) The mousetrap was from when my now-deceased cat brought a mouse home…and I found it in one of my boots…when I put my foot on it. I bought the mousetrap to try and humanely capture and release the poor thing, but eventually found it dead under my wardrobe two days later.

The day a 20 year old dream came true

It’s Friday. It’s also the 4th of July, but I’m not American so I don’t really care. I guess this must be how the Germans feel when English football fans go on about winning the 1966 World Cup… It is, however, the day that I finally get to see Faith No More and THAT I really do care about.

Let’s rewind 22 years. It’s now 1992, which as it happens is a real year of musical divergence for me. I’d grown up largely on a blend of hair metal and 80’s pop, but a few hugely significant albums featured in my landscape in ’92, which really subdivided my musical appreciation. That year, me and my tape player became inseparable.

My old faithful Sony Walkman

My old faithful Sony Walkman

In 1992, there were a few albums that I quite literally played back to back for weeks on end, which fundamentally changed the way I was going to feel about music for the rest of my life. The most significant ones were Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – 1992: The Love Album, Nirvana – Nevermind, The Prodigy – Experience and Faith No More – Angel Dust.

I didn’t have what you could call a happy and uplifting childhood, and up until that point I had always been slightly intimidated by music that erred on the darker side, but a series of changes in my life (which thinking about it now included puberty…) led me up to a point where not only was I able to accept darker and harder music into my life, but when I did so it hit me, and hit me HARD.

Since the first time I heard Midlife Crisis, Mike Patton has blossomed into a complete icon for me. Astoundingly good voice, fit as fuck, and absolutely mad as a box of frogs. In fact, all things that still rank highly on my list of Desirable Qualities…

Faith No More played a few times in my local town in the mid 90’s, but because of the circumstances of my life at the time, I was frustratingly never able to go. They then disbanded in 1998, leaving me with nothing but an awesome back-catalogue and dreams. 11 years later they reformed, and between 2009 and 2012 they embarked on the 2nd Coming Tour which I was again unable to go to.

Then, out of the blue, it was announced that they would be playing in Hyde Park on 4th July, Barclaycard British Summer Time, along with Soulfly, Soundgarden, Motorhead, headlined by Black Sabbath. I nearly lost my shit, because Soundgarden are another band that had a massive influence on my life (1994) and then disbanded before I got a chance to see them. I got very dejected and didn’t bother trying for a ticket because I thought there was absolutely no way – with a line up like that – that I had a chance of getting one.

Well! Two weeks ago, one of my old friends from school, Jay (who has now been elevated to Utter Hero status in my life), returned from whatever godforsaken chunk of South America that he is living in these days and announced that he had a spare ticket, and – more importantly – that I could have it. I was so excited that I ran off up the pub garden in an explosion of sheer joy.

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So, back to 4th July 2014, and I start out my day with a round of naked Pilates. The naked bit is not a prerequisite, nor even something I have done before; I was simply still somewhat drunk from the night before and couldn’t be bothered to even put on a robe. I followed this up with a breakfast of Cumberland sausages and a fried egg, while flitting around my house in an excited frenzy of dancing and wriggles to the soundtrack of Winamp on shuffle mode. (It’s worth noting at this point that the last two songs offered to me were Dead Kennedys – California Über Alles and Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark – If You Leave . Thanks for that utterly jarring clash Winamp.)

In the train station at Northampton, I ran into a group of 5 other people who – based on the long hair in ponytails, shorts and tattoos – I immediately assumed were also headed the same place I was. I hate to stereotype, but I was absolutely correct. Being the friendly and sociable creature that I am, I of course made a beeline for an entirely different part of the train carriage and put my headphones on so that I didn’t have to talk to anyone.

The ticket stated doors at 13:30, but the Facebook event page suggested 12:00. I was more inclined to go with the ticket so I had taken the train just after midday, which would be an hour into London and thus giving me plenty of time to get to Hyde Park for 13:30.

No. No it wouldn’t. I had chosen The Slowest Train In The World, and it didn’t actually reach Euston station in London until nigh on 13:30. By this time, I was so vexed and worried about potentially missing Faith No More that frustration and impotent fury were arcing out of my body, and I was very nearly driven by sheer stress into climbing onto the headrest of the seat in front of me, using only my fingernails for purchase. Think of an angry kitten spitting and swearing from the back of an armchair and you’re about there.

As it happens, I needn’t have worried, because if I had taken the time to check, FNM were third in the running order, and Soulfy – who were first – weren’t even due on until 14:45. However, I didn’t know that at the time, so when I hit Euston I took off like a rocket – or as close to being a rocket as you can get in the packed London Underground. I’d checked with Jay and the closest tube station for where I wanted to be in Hyde Park was not in fact Hyde Park Corner, as you might imagine, but Marble Arch. I had to change from the Northern line to the Central line, but all proceeded smoothly, if in a very stuffy and sweaty manner, given it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year.

I arrived at Hyde Park to the blessed lack of sound of anyone playing. It was hot and sunny, with a nice breeze and lots and lots of beer tents, mostly designed to look like the set of a spaghetti western. Marvellous.

DSCF2508 DSCF2507 DSCF2505 DSCF2504 DSCF2503I very quickly gravitated towards the dark fruit cider, and accepted that it might be a very messy day from here on in.

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Obligatory selfie.

Soulfly were due on at 14:45. I am a big fan of Sepultura, Soulfly and the Cavalera Conspiracy, and would in fact probably listen to an album of Max Cavalera belching the Brazilian national anthem, but since I have managed to catch up with them and see them in Birmingham in February, they weren’t top of my hitlist for the day.

Interesting stage, complete with massive playback screens and a complete of Ents.

Interesting stage, complete with massive playback screens and a pair of Ents.

Nevertheless, your blood cannot help but stir when you hear Roots Bloody Roots kicking off, and while I got the call to say Jay was around and I went off on a mission to find him, Jump Da Fuck Up and Tribe were still tugging at me.

Max Fucking Cavalera.

Max Fucking Cavalera.

It didn’t actually occur to me to start making a note of the playlists until after Faith No More had started (my short term memory is disgraceful at the best of times, let alone when there are pints involved). I have no recollection of what else they played but fuck it, if it’s important to you, I’m sure someone else has posted it.

There was actually another hour until Motörhead were due on, which made for a nice chilled out pace to the day. There was a lot of sitting around, drinking beer and applying the highest factor sunscreen I could find (I didn’t trust that the 50SPF I had applied before I left would last any length of time).

I am going to take a moment here to compliment the toilet facilities. It may seem like a small thing, but when you are required to sit down and use toilet paper 100% of the time that you are in the bathroom, and based on the usual experience of a night out in Northampton, it is absolutely delightful to find more toilets than you actually need, all with sufficient toilet paper supplies, seats and locks, and none of them swimming in fluid that you don’t want to question too closely.

On the other hand, whoever was in charge of sorting out Wifi can Fuck Right Off. Seriously. I would be DELIGHTED to find that person and have stern fucking words with them. The 3G signal just wasn’t even worth mentioning, however there was a public Wifi channel you could access… although, I never really did pin down exactly where that was located. It sure as shit wasn’t anywhere near to close to where the stage was. You could pay for 24 hours premium Wifi access for £3 (reasonable) but it relied on getting on the fucking internet in the first place to pay via PayPal. After numerous attempt and an unholy amount of swearing, I managed to complete the transaction…only to find that I didn’t get access to a different all-singing all-dancing Wifi network – it was the same one, which was still equally inaccessible from where I was. I am prepared to admit that there is a chance I may have missed something, but I was not in any way pleased.

Motörhead came on at 15:45, and I have to admit that I am not a big fan. Not that I don’t enjoy their music, I have just never really paid attention. I love Ace of Spades, because that was in the first Young Ones episode I ever watched. They played it, which pleased me, but I would not have a clue about the rest of the set list. So sue me.

His Warty Majesty

His Warty Majesty

Faith No More were due up at 17:15, so again more wandering around in the sun, and more beer. And then came one of the most exciting moments of my adult life.

Mike Actual Patton. No other words.

Mike Actual Patton. No other words.

Faith No More hit the stage in full priest costumes, and opened with Zombie Eaters. Mike Fucking Patton. Right THERE.

I am pretty sure I remember what they followed up with and the order, but I still hadn’t picked up my notepad until about 4 songs in, so I make no apologies for any errors. The eventual notes I did make look like they were written by an epileptic toddler.

Wrote these with the pen gripped between my arse cheeks, by the looks.

Wrote these with the pen gripped between my arse cheeks, by the looks.

Anyway, to the best of my recollection, this was the actual set list, but I will be delighted to update if anyone has anything I missed.

Zombie Eaters
From Out Of Nowehere
Epic
Caffeine
The Gentle Art of Making Enemies
Easy
Midlife Crisis
Everything’s Ruined
Cuckoo for Caca
King for a Day
LEADER OF MEN [new track]
Ashes to Ashes
ENCORE
GET THE MOTHERFUCKER ON THE PHONE [new track]
We Care A Lot

Fucking awesome. They were album perfect, and Mike Patton is an absolute god. He spent some time between tracks quoting The Exorcist and anointing the crowd with, frankly, anything he could get his hands on…but largely bottled water. “The power of Christ compels you!” Combining this with the priest costumes, is this a hint for the next album, or are they just having a giggle? Who knows, we shall see. I have included a photo from a source far better placed than I was, just because it is totally warranted.

They played two new tracks, and I didn’t even realise that’s what they were. I knew that I didn’t recognise them, but I just figured they were from the King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime album that I haven’t really listened to as much. I am now stupidly excited at the prospect of a new album. Whatever the actual title of the track ends out being, what is currently being referred to as Get The Motherfucker On The Phone was fantastic. I was giddy, and grinning like an idiot. An unquiet part of my soul had been stilled and I was really really happy.

I shuffled off to get some food (incidentally, I found a spare pair of chopsticks in my pocket this morning, that I don’t remember picking up…) and I genuinely did not envy the people who had to clear this place up. There were crushed plastic beer glasses in drifts everywhere. On my way to the food stands, I saw a couple of girls merrily kicking their way through a pile of glasses like they were Autumn leaves.

I had had a brilliant day; the weather was amazing, Faith No More had been excellent, Mike Patton was just Mike Patton… what I wasn’t prepared for was for Soundgarden to be even better than Faith No More. I am not talking from the perspective of a music critic, just me, from inside my little old head.

Soundgarden played at 19:00, and they were incredible. Chris Cornell explained that since it probably wasn’t going to happen all that often again, they were going to play the whole of the SuperUnknown album. I almost came right then and there. I was sure I had heard rumours somewhere of Chris’s voice having suffered over the years, but they were absolutely not true. I managed to get a better angle on the stage and get better photos than I did with FNM.

Soundgarden

True to his word, they played the SuperUnknown tracklist (I’ve included it for reference) although I don’t recall them playing Half – I was however distracted right when it would have been played by an impromptu 5-person circle-pit, 50m out from the stage (it goes to show that you can’t put metal fans out in the sun, with beer, and expect them not to jump about for any period of time.)

SuperUnknown
Let Me Drown
My Wave
Fell on Black Days
Mailman
SuperUnknown (joined by Mike McCready)
Head Down
Black Hole Sun
Spoonman
Limo Wreck
The Day I Tried To Live
Kickstand
Fresh Tendrils
4th of July
Like Suicide

It was mind-blowing. I am not in any way ashamed to admit that I had tears running down my face by the end of Black Hole Sun. Chris Cornell has a voice that can just make your core vibrate. At the start of each song, he spoke a little bit about the inspiration for each one, or where the title came from, and it was absolutely like being taken on a journey through the album with them.

Just before Head Down, Chris mentioned it was 20 years since the album was released. 20 years?? I reckon that is what triggered the tears after Black Hole Sun. Don’t get me wrong, his voice does funny things to me, but at that moment, I felt in equal parts like the kid who first bought the album on tape – living and breathing this music for the first time – and the adult two decades older, and it was like every experience I had had in that 20 year period hit me over the course of a song or two.

Music is a special and beautiful thing, and I swear that anyone who says they don’t really listen to music is missing a massive part of the human experience.

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Kim Thayil

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Matt Cameron

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Ben Shepherd

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Chris Cornell

I was totally spaced out by the time Soundgarden finished. I knew where Jay and his friends were going to be, but I wanted to be alone and absorb what had just happened to me. There was a whole Dance section that I hadn’t noticed earlier, and it looked like some kind of carnival was going on, so I went and enjoyed that for a little while.DSCF2581 DSCF2582 DSCF2587 DSCF2588

Black Sabbath were due on stage at 21:00, and it was a proper spectacle. They opened with War Pigs, and for a guy who can barely string a sentence together, Ozzy can still wail with the best of them. I think I read somewhere that War Pigs is 44 years old, and do you know what? It still sounds pretty damn good.

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I am going to be honest here, I am not a big Sabbath fan. Don’t judge me. By the time they started playing, I was nowhere near drunk enough to throw myself into the experience, and I ended out just hanging back and observing. They were bloody good, just not anything I felt bought into.

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Tommy Iommi

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Moar Tommy Iommi

Geezer Butler

Geezer Butler

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Ozzy

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Tommy Clufetos

I had had a mind blowing day, and Sabbath were not going to add anything more to it. There were shiny fairground rides and stalls selling meatballs to capture my attention.

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It’s so pretty…

I ended out settling on a pot of strawberries and cream, because I’m posh, innit?

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Not quite Wimbledon, but I prefer my version.

I felt that I had truly taken in everything that the day could offer me, and decided to head home.

I jumped the couple of tube trains back to Euston, and headed back to Northampton just after 22:00. Some wannabee Lothario, replete with too many instrument cases to be realistic, was trying to gather himself a harem on the way back home. I was polite, but managed to duck out of the conversation while his attention was drawn by a couple of blond ladies. I was able to get my earphones in and get settled into a corner without drawing too much attention. Hello Brumlebassen! By the time I next sneaked a glance from between my eyelids, the blonds had disappeared and he had moved to the back of the carriage.

I got home completely unmolested and feeling truly happy with the world. Things that I missed out on two decades ago have now been restored unto me. All is right with the world.

Mike Patton photographed in San Francisco, CAMarch 8, 2006© Jay Blakesberg