Thursday, 22 December 2011

Flash does Christmas

Sorry I ain’t added anything for a while but I am well busy at the moment. Not only is it Christmas the busiest time of the year; the only time of year when the whole family get together and then suddenly realise why this is the only time of the year when they get together, but I am also moving house.

To be honest I don’t know how other people celebrate Christmas but I'm pretty sure that what my family get up to ain't orthodox.

I usually work right up to Christmas Day, on Christmas Eve I go out into Prestwich, meet up with all my old school mates have a good catch up and ale session. In the past I have been known to let this little tradition spoil Christmas Day. I’m referring to the year when I couldn’t stomach any Christmas dinner because I had stuffed my face with a kebab only hours earlier and the time when I ate all the pigs in blankets for everyone before dinner. Something my sister has still not forgiven me for.

I also have a confession to make, a few years ago there was a story in the local paper under the headline, ‘Drunken Youth Cancels Christmas’ and yes that drunken youth was me.

Every year the Rotary Club would parade Father Christmas through the streets of Prestwich on the back of a Salford Van Hire van, One year I was a bit excited about Christmas and I heard the sound of the van coming down our street. Egged on by my sister who had the video camera to hand, I ran up to Father Christmas mounted the van and gave the cheery rotund chap a love. 

Now I must protest my innocence a bit here I was not drunk I just happened to have a Carling in my hand at the time and therefore, I believe the Rotary Clubs decision to no longer drive the streets of Prestwich but instead park in the Tesco car park instead, for fear of repeat attacks is a bit over the top. To be honest I just think they are being lazy.

On Christmas morning we usually get up quite early, my Sister and her family come round and we rip open our presents, which is always an entertaining affair. This is mainly because my Dad has the acting abilities of a Hollyoaks cast member and therefore struggles to hide his disappointment at the presents my Mum has bought him; despite her constantly reassuring him that even though he doesn’t know it, it is both what he wants and what he needs. My Mum on the other hand doesn’t even try to hide her disappointment at what my Dad has bought her for himself.

Now to be honest I have had my fair share of decent presents in the past. Two years ago Alex bought me a gerbil called Kelsey which was really cute and fun, the problem was the little rodent was up the duff and by Boxing Day I had seven gerbils. Thank you Alex for the gift that keeps giving!

After the present shebang we head off to church, it’s a fun service with people doing show and tell of their presents and there is an underlying feel of Christmas warmth, the sort you get from the feel good Victorian Christmas films on Tv around this time.

Once back home we have our Christmas dinner, which is usually turkey. I don’t understand what the point of turkey is as its not as nice a chicken, its like you all sit down for a big family meal and the main dish is something that is not quite as nice as something you eat the rest of the whole year and don’t get me started on sprouts.

Sprouts aka the Devil's testicles, they are little pockets of fart served by the insane. I swear if you bite a sprout two grow in its place, you chew the little gets for hours and they just keep expanding.

As I said our Christmas is not that orthodox and neither is our Christmas dinner. For example I’m pretty sure that we were the only family in the world that had a Bendy Bully as a table decoration. Also last year, my Nephew Joe stole a whole turkey leg and sat there looking like Bambam from the Flintstones and we had to endure the yearly rigmarole of my Dad trying and failing to get a nice picture of us all round the table using the delay setting on his camera.

By the end of the spread we are usually stuffed and knackered resulting in us all falling asleep in different chairs around the house.

Boxing Day is a whole other bag of tricks. For some reason that I am still not quite sure of we gatecrash a family in Liverpool's Christmas. We have to refer to them as Uncle and Auntie even though we ain't related.  like Peter Kay says "They're not your real Aunty and Uncle you just have to call them that because you once borrowed an orbital sander off them a few years ago" 

It is the most surreal of past times visiting them as Uncle Mick is Dutch but has lived in Liverpool for nearly 50 years, in which time he has forgotten how to speak Dutch but never really learned to speak English. Instead he communicates by viciously elbowing the person next to him and speaking a combination of swear words and stories about the Tate and Lyle Sugar Factory. He also collects toys that sing, you know the ones that perform short, high pitch performances, if you clap near them. It is an art form to be quiet round them so they don’t go off. One year I swear I coughed and set of a Christmas Tree singing La Bamba and a dog doing a toe tapping rendition of New York New York.

One year my Mum received a toy running ostrich off him as a gift. She played a blinder to be honest looking pleased with her gift but 12 months later donated it to the Church Fair. I thought this was unfair so when she wasn’t looking I bought it back for 50p, wrapped it up and gave it to her again for Christmas.

I hope you enjoyed this little insight into what I get upto over christams and I hope you have a lovely Christmas whatever you get upto, random or not.
Ding Dong Merrily and Bye, Flash.x

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Flash goes to Guatemala Part 8 – Play that funky music white boy

One by one everybody got up and shared their words that summed up their experience, it was a very emotional. I'd like to think it was the emotion of the evening that got the better of my stomach, but I think it would probably be more likely to be the obscene amount of bread rolls and red wine I had consumed, that led me to have a date with the toilet bowl.

After sending the chorizo sausages back out the way they came, I started to feel a bit better and therefore was ready for a night out in the Antigua town. It was still raining when we rocked up to the bar we were going to, so we were keen to get in to avoid being drenched. Unfortunately the doormen didn’t share our sentiment and were charging us a stupid amount to get in. After a long and lengthy argument with the Spanish speakers of the group and the doormen we were in.

Nothing could have prepared me for what awaited us when we got inside. On stage to our left was a Guatemalan band playing funk music with Spanish twist while a child’s tricycle could be seen hanging from the ceiling. It was brilliant.

It wasn’t long before the group, dizzy on the combination of alcohol and high emotions were letting loose on the dance floor. At first I think the locals were taken aback but were soon won over by us, even Keyoha (I’m sorry if that’s not how you spell it, my dyslexia means I struggle with English names, so with a Japanese name, it’s just a stab in the dark I’m afraid) who was pulling out some crazy Japanese body popping a bit like a possessed salmon or a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

I was really starting to feel the funk and at the ended of one song shouted play that funky music white boy, more in drunken excitement than in hope they would actually play it, but they did and we went crazy, even crashing the stage to play tambourine.

With the thought of getting up in the morning for our flights still lingering in our minds we decided to head back to the hotel. The rain had subsided somewhat so we decided to walk back. After being immersed in the Guatemalan culture for a week I decided to give back some English culture by wandering the streets back to the hotel singing the Fields of Anfield Road and You’ll Never Walk Alone.

On arrival back at the hotel the sensible option would have been to hit the sack, instead we hit the bar.  A number of the group had decided not to come into Antigua town but this hadn’t stop them enjoying themselves at the hotel bar, this was proved by the Pretap who could be seen traveling quite speedily from his chair to the floor via the 6 foot rustic ornamental double bass, which was now looking worse for wear.

The announcement of the bar closing was met with disapproval and resulted in a couple of the group entering into that foolish of past times; trying to negotiate a deal while drunk with the sober bar staff for more drink. There is only ever one winner in this game, and it’s not as the original cheers would seem to suggest, it is in fact the smiling sober bar manager who has made a small fortune selling one bottle of wine between about 10 people. Ridiculous. 

The numbers of people at the bar dwindled and after passing up on the expensive shot of red wine, I left with Mara and Nakissa. We headed past the hot tub where some of the group had reconvened. Nakissa and I were stood there laughing at the group, showing flagrant disregard for the no one in the pool after 9pm rule, when we turned round to notice that quicker than an ants fart Mara had ran to her room got changed and was now jumping in the pool.

At this point Nakissa and I were encouraged to join the group by jumping in, in our undercrackers. It was at this point the both of us showed maturity beyond our years and alcohol intake level by turning down the offer. We headed to our rooms, I slunk into my bed and drifted off to the now comforting sound of Keyoha snoring.

My alarm woke me abruptly the next morning. I did the last of my packing and headed to breakfast. I was sat next to Michael Chiabaudo, who had the second best surname of the trip, just ahead of Mara Cordial in third but some distance behind runaway leader Linda Spooner Rotunda.

I was having a chat with Michael and I was telling him I had been listening to my iPod, especially At Home by Crystal Fighters and told him how much the song was perfect for the trip. I played it to him and he agreed. It is such a beautiful song and for weeks after the trip it still brought a tear to my eye thinking fondly of my travels whenever it came on.

We chatted some more and Michael told me to start a blog and that if I did he would read it. It’s not quite Field of Dreams but with ‘Be What’s Possible’ still ringing in my ears and the new found confidence from the trip that people might actually care about what I would say, I decided to. Thanks Michael.

I said my final goodbyes to people it was really gutting as I knew the likelihood of seeing some of these amazing people again would be minimal.

The bus I was on arrived at the airport first, we got off went through customs and sat down ready for our flight to Houston, customer service capital of the world! While waiting I was stood with Gary and Pretap. I turned to them and said “In England there is a bad portrayal of Americans being idiots and it’s not fair, you guys have opened my eyes to what I wish my country could see more of and that is some of the kindest, coolest, most inspiration people ever.” Gary laughed and said it was the same in America, that they have a perception of the English being uptight snobs and that I had changed that perception.

 Unfortunately the warm feeling I had got from this exchanged was tested to the limits by the journey home. I could finish this blog commenting on the ridiculous journey home involving the farcical immigration system of Houston airport which took 2 hours to get through. Or the idiot behind the desk at the good old Country Inn, who yet again wouldn’t let me stay. But I’m not going to end with that I’m going to finish with something more positive.

I continued to wait for the Houston flight and noticed by boarding passes that the majority of the group on my plane were sat together, all apart from me sat right at the front. Linda and Mara who were waiting for a later plane came over to say goodbye one last time in the terminal. I pointed out my displeasure at being dumped on my own at the front of the plane. Linda said “I think it’s good that you are sat next to someone you don’t know as it means someone else get to meet Flash”

It was one of the kindest things someone has ever said to me and raised my shoulders with a new found sense of self pride. External proof of how much this trip had changed my life for the better.

I feel sad now I’ve finished, it’s like the end of the Truman Show. If you have enjoyed my Guatemalan adventures I will still be posting blogs about other stuffs I get up to and what not, so keep your eyes peeled!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Flash goes to Guatemala Part 7 – Awakening and Blessed.

After working hard it was time to play hard. After getting back to the hotel I went to the local markets with Kathlene. Now my girlfriend Alex is a proper magpie when it comes to a bargain but when it came to bartering, Kathlene took bargain hunting to another level. Im convinced on a couple of occasions she haggled so hard the market stall holders gave her money to take things off their hands.

While at the market the heavens properly opened. While in Guatemala people seemed somewhat surprised  I never had an umbrella especially because of the weather forecast beforehand. I had to point out that whatever tropical storm the skies of Guatemala would try and throw at me it would not be half as bad as a wet October morning in North Manchester.

Saying that, since my return to Manchester, I have invested in a fine hasn’t rained since.

I eventually dried myself out in time for a group salsa lesson. I was a bit apprehensive at first, I may have an arse like J-Lo but im not built for dancing. Someone in the group earlier in the week said that everyone has rhythm they just have to find it, well if you fancy trying to find mine you will need a canary and a miner’s lamp.

The Salsa School was called Mas Sexy and they had a vast array of t-shirts and childrens vests on sale as a souvenir, I didn’t think anyone was going to buy one as they were quite expensive, until I turned round to be comfronted by Gary wearing one and no not the men's t-shirt but the woman's vest.

The salsa class was so much fun, if a town could be powered on smiles and laughter, there was enough power generated in that room to light Blackpool for a year. Talking of Blackpool, I was asked to explain what Blackpool was like after mentioning it one meal time, I explained it was like Vegas but with Donkey’s. I don’t think they were buying it.

The highlight of the dancing was when we got to freestyle, I pulled out the legendary lawn mower dance move and then out came the invisible skipping rope. It was my time to get in the middle, I paniced and decided to do the Homer Simpson run on your side in a circle dance move. I like that move because you are dancing and cleaning at the same time. The downside was that the girl boy ratio in the group was was very heavy on the frauline side, meaning that the men of the group never got a break, we had to dance solidly for the whole hour, it killed.

With the excitement of dancing finished we headed back to our hotel for our final meal together. Like with every meal at the hotel the service was impeccable. There was always a bread roll on your side plate without fail within 15 seconds of sitting down. I noticed that if you ate the said bread roll before your main course came, one of the numerous waiters on hand, would replace it again within 15 seconds, I decided to see how many rolls I could get through before the mains came out. I think i made it to about 7. I threw up later on, but that is a side story.

After the mains Nakissa and Karen two of trips organisers got up to share a few words. They thanked us all for coming and then asked if each of us would come up and share one word with the group that described our trip and explain why.

I sat there quickly thinking of what i was going to say as Karen announced the first person to come up, while I was still mulling over words I realised the first name she had called out was mine, I headed up.

I still wasn’t 100% sure of what i was gonna say so i just started talking and this is kind of what happened.

“Right I'm gonna be a little bit cheeky I'm gonna pick two words and the first is awakening.
I suffer realy badly from anxiety problems which in turn make me depressed. I was diagnosed with depression a while ago and have been on and off medication and counsilling ever since.

I often come across as a loud jokey person but that is just a mask from the fact that most of the time I am absolutely terrified. Sometimes I get too scared to leave the house. A couple of weeks before this trip I went to Scotland for the day with my mate Ada, the night before I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared about going. 

So with this trip it was always going to be scary. All the way through the application process I was hoping I wouldn’t get selected, so that didn’t have to come and that it wouldn’t be my fault that I didn’t come. But I got selected and before I knew it, it was the day before the trip. I was more scared than ever. All that what was running through my head was how this trip could possibly go wrong. The thing is nothing that I could ever imagine up was anywhere near as bad as the actual journey I had getting here, it was horrific. 

But I did it and did it on my own. The last couple of years have been really hard for me on some occasions I have been suicidal but getting through that journey has tought me not to worry too much and each day on this trip I have got stronger. It has been an awakening for me to know that I can overcome these feelings, which leads me on to my second word which is blessed, because I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity. Thankyou.”

While talking I was doing this speech, I did this comfort thing I do where I look down and fiddle with the earing in the top of my left ear. So I was surprised when I finished and finaly looked up to see people stood up clapping. It was a very special moment and it got a bit too much for me and a tear ran down my cheek.

I walked over to Nakissa who gave me my rather natty t-shirt as a gift and she gave me a hug. As she hugged me she said she was so glad to have met me. I don’t know if Nakissa knew how much of an effect her saying that to me would have, but it made me feel amazing. I have such low self esteem for someone who had only known me for less than a week tell me that she was so glad to have had the chance to meet me of all people, made me feel like I am actually a decent person. I was overwhelmed.

Coming soon: Flash goes to Guatemala Part 8 – Play that funky music white boy.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Flash is going to Criccieth 2012

The reason I have be a bit slow updating my blog recently is because I have been working hard on creating the promotional work for Criccieth 2 Pathfinder Camp. If you have been reading about my Guatemalan adventures, the volunteer work I do for this camp is one of the reasons I was chosen to take part in Gap Community Corps 2011.

If you want to know what goes on at Criccieth 2 or are interested in being part of it, as a young person aged 11-15 or as an adult leader check out the video I put together.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Flash Goes to Guatemala Part 6 – Breezeblock, Salsa and Tears

After embarrassing Linda immensely at breakfast, all three groups headed to our groups site to see what work we had done in the previous days. On arrival we gave the other groups a tour of our site, explaining each role we had undertaken during the build and showed how far we had come. After giving everyone else the tour of our site, we got back in our busses and headed to the second site to see what Team 2 had done. I call them team 2 because they were really called Team adtfjlfciyuriuytliuyblgoiutyviot or something along those lines equally impossible to pronounce.

The second site was very different to ours. Whereas our site was in the countryside this sit was in a small busy town, and the site was a ramshackle affair. I was secretly quite glad that this wasn’t the site I was working on because it looked quite dangerous working there.

The build was for a young couple who were expecting their first child and currently lived on the site with the husbands parents in a small hut/home. Living with them was also their pet dog who the mother loved nothing more than to make dance for our entertainment.

After looking at the site we branched out into the town where you could play a good old game of “eye spy the book of Guatemalan clich├ęs".
A man on a donkey: Tick.
A woman carrying stuff on her head: Tick.
A man driving a tuktuk: Tick
Oh and of course a painting of Spongebob Squarepants brushing his hair on a wall: Tick

Actually spotting a man with a donkey had brought about much high-jinx throughout the trip. On numerous occasions Lisa and I had failed miserably trying to capture a picture of a man with a donkey as we drove past in our bus. On one occasion Linda gave us a tip off, “is that a man with a donkey ahead” I wasn’t sure and replied “it’s either that or a bloke bent over” I honestly wasn’t sure but the whole bus fell about laughing, turns out it was a donkey and I missed it.

We headed back to our site and once again we worked hard and once again the mason’s assistant didn’t show. My main job for the day was chiselling holes into breezeblocks and once done, we had to move large amounts of the said breezeblock into the rooms that were now really starting to take shape, so that the mason could continue the build after we left.

As we finished the build the Father and two daughters from the family we were building for arrived to see the work we had done. It was quite emotional as the father was constantly telling us how blessed from God he was for having us there to do this for him. I struggle to come to terms with the notion that a fat bloke from Manchester like me could be seen as a blessing from God, and I reckon if my mum were to hear someone calling me a blessing from God she would rupture something inside laughing.

I’m not saying my mum hates me, far from it but she has a novel way of showing affection. Recently at a dinner table with guests I asked my mum how disabled you need to be to qualify for a parking permit, her reply was “more than just fat and lazy so don’t worry”.

We took some pictures of ourselves our finished work and the family. I even managed to get a picture with Eric the driver who by now had a look in his eye whenever i came his way of please don’t leave me alone with this mad Englishman. After which we clambered back in our bus and headed to the final of the three sites, for a closing ceremony.

On arrival I noticed the third site was very different again, it seemed to be in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, even though it was in the middle of nowhere it was surrounded by the most beautiful of landscapes.

The team on this build, the rowdy team Fuago had been digging and laying foundations for a house for a married couple with two boys. Our site was the only one that didn’t have the family living on site at and at this point I was starting to grow envious of the relationships the other groups had built up with their families.

The whole group and all the families gathered in the field in a big circle and we had a closing ceremony. Each family spoke to the group about how grateful they were for our help and how much it meant to them. Members of our party were also invited forward to share with the group their feelings and experience. By this point there was hardly a dry eye in the field. I slipped my sunglasses on to hide the fact I was getting so emotional. I was trying to give off a manly steely Roy Orbison kind of look, whereas if anyone had been brave enough to whip off my glasses they would have been confronted with a Gazza Italia 90 look.

The ceremony grew to a close; we had some cake, said our last goodbyes to the families and then headed back to the hotel. To get ready for an epic night!

The title of this part of my Guatemalan adventure does mention Salsa but unfortunately I have wittered on long enough about breezeblocks and tears so you will have to wait till..

Coming soon: Flash goes to Guatemala Part 7 – Awakening and Blessed.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Flash goes to Guatemala Part 5 – Beef Beef and Alters

For a treat we got to eat out on the third night, not that the hotel food was not a treat, it was immense. We went to a nearby monastery that has been converted into a restaurant and hotel. I can’t actually remember what the place was called which is ridiculous because it is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life.

Sure enough I can remember the name and address of the Country Inn Hotel, 1555b JFK Boulavard, Houston, Texas;  Which was so awful I’d rather take my chances at Bates Motel that have to stay there again, but no, the name of the most beautiful place I have ever been to, I ain’t a clue.

Still a bit tipsy from the afternoon session I had been on with Lisa I decided to try and teach people the ‘shipoopi’ song. The majority of the bus were not buying it, their loss. I suppose it could have been worse, I could have started a round of three coins in a fountain. 

When we arrived we were all in awe of how beautiful the place was. We were led to the banqueting hall, it was stunning. Earlier in the day I was teaching Lisa some English phrases such as ‘are you smuggling peanuts?’ meaning you’ve got cold nips on show. As we entered the stunning banqueting hall we were greeted by a massive painting that had Lisa and I in stitches as the woman in the painting looked like she was not only smuggling peanuts but  whole watermelons.

After ordering our food, I ordered steak as standard, we were allowed to have a walk round the monastery. Nothing had my prepared for what I was about to see. Every corner I walked round there was another piece of beauty that was better than before. The whole place was lit with candles and fairy lights, there were fountains, sculptures, ruins, artefacts and all kinds of stunning things that the written words of a Mancunian dyslexic will never be able to do justice to.

Just when I though it couldn’t get any prettier Mara and I turned round another corner and were hit with what I will always maintain is the most perfect place I have ever seen and I’ve been to Anfield and seen the Kop in full voice. We had stubbles upon an outside church with the simplest but most stunning stage and alter at the front, with white cloth just draped effortlessly from the top. It was almost like stumbling across the original stage from the globe theatre, steeped in history and character, but filled with the peacefulness of heaven.

I walked up onto the stage and to the left of the Alter and in a small lit locked room was a statue of Jesus. I was overcome with a weird feeling. I come from a Christian family and it is because of the Christian youth work I do that I was selected for this trip. I was stood in the most amazing place I have ever been to and in front of me was a statue summing up the reason I was there, it was very humbling.

After lots more walking about and seeing more and more beauty, I sat down for my meal. Lisa had ordered the Beef Beef; a dish that was so beefy they named it twice. It was well impressive, then mine turned up, it was the nicest piece of steak I have ever had. It turned into a drink as I bit it, it was so tender. Lisa tried her hardest to put me off it by saying that my refried beans looked like a turd with a Doritos stuck in it, it didn’t work.

Instead of desert I decided to have another walk round the place before we set off back to our hotel. When we got back to the hotel I headed straight to the bar to hit the Gallo. I kept drinking for quite a long time till one by one everyone left the bar and therefore I thought I had better leave. I walked to my room passed the hot tub where I noticed a group of bar drinkers had decamped to. To cut a stupid thought process even shorter, the next thing I know, I am sat in the hot tub in my undercrackers.

One thing I found out quickly about being in the hot tub in undercrackers is how chuffin’ heavy they become. I often say my arse is so big it’s not an arse it’s a buoyancy aid, well it was now engaged in a proper tussle with my undercrackers, my arse wanted to float but my cecks were pulling me down.

Eventually I got out and realised I didn’t have a towel. Luckily Linda leant me her dressing gown on the condition she definitely got it back the next day. I stumbled soggily to bed.
The next morning I lived up to my part of the deal as I walked into a full breakfast hall with Linda’s dressing gown and discreetly announced loud enough for everyone to hear, “I found this in my room this morning, I believe it belongs to you.” I knew exactly what I was doing and judging by the embarrassment on Linda’s face it looked like it worked.
I tucked into my breakfast in anticipation for our last day of building...

Coming soon Flash Goes to Guatemala Part 6 – Breezeblock, Salsa and Tears