Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011: A brief look back

So we're at the end of 2011. Wow. I don't know about you, but this year has absolutely flown by for me.

Did August happen? Did we get August? I remember summer happening in May and June when it was ridiculously hot, but I don't remember much about August.

Going through month-by-month and looking at what I've done wouldn't work, simply because I really don't remember what I did. Maybe I did some amazing stuff over the course of the year, but as most people know, my memory really isn't that great for a couple of reasons. So, inspired by a thread on UKFF about Personal Highlights (a thread about personal low points a few months ago resulted in some borderline criminal revelations from some members, some utterly disgusting stories and some things that my mind can never unsee), I'm going to scribble down some of the main things that I can remember.

Some of the points are quite trivial in the grand scheme of things, but I'd like to think I've got some good points. So...here we go.

Finally going to a Grand Prix

I've been an F1 fan for the vast majority of my 20 years on this planet, but before this year, I'd never gone to an F1 race simply because I've not had the money, and F1 really isn't that cheap a sport to attend. Regardless, there was a bit of luck and there was the opportunity to do something pretty awesome, so I got a ticket to Silverstone. The weather may have been rather suspect on Friday and Saturday (including one of the most sudden downpours of rain I can recall happening to me), but the entire weekend was amazing. Hearing the engines firing up on Friday morning while I was sat in one of the grandstands with my brother drinking coffee and then watching the cars all drive past sent shivers down my spine. Without a doubt, that's probably one of the best weekends of my life to date. There have been other fantastic moments (even during this year), but they all happened during week days.

Of course, I was then back at Silverstone just a month later for the Renault World Series weekend. Slightly different weekend (and a hell of a lot cheaper...well, the tickets were free after all!) but it was a great chance to see some young racing drivers honing their craft, and looking at the grid now, quite a few of the guys I saw that weekend will be in F1 next year. If we're keeping tabs, those drivers are Jean-Eric Vergne, Charles Pic, Daniel Ricciardo (though he was already racing for HRT by this point too) and Robert Wickens (though he'll be in a reserve driver role) So in that respect, it's pretty cool.

I don't know whether I'll get back there next year...I wouldn't count on it, but I might try and get to a European race, or check out another WSR weekend somewhere in Europe. Perhaps I'll head over to Germany and check out the N├╝rburgring!

As a side note, but staying with sport, it was also a good year for cricket. I made it to the first day of the Championship with Nick Foy to see the mighty Lancashire kicking arse at Aigburth. And kick arse they did. Lancashire bowled Sussex out for 243 on the first day and still had time to make inroads into that score before the close of play. They went on to win that game by an innings and it set them up for an outstanding title victory in September.

Living in Leeds had another advantage as I spent quite a bit of time from May at Headingley watching the cricket there. Yorkshire's season...well, it sucked. Of the 5 games I saw (3 T20s, a CB40 and one day of a county game), they lost or went on to lose all five. So I'm waiting for the day next season when I get to witness a White Rose win. As long as it doesn't happen in the T20 when they're playing Lancashire, I won't mind.

Music

I've always been a musical guy, whether it's the dozen years or so I've spent playing flute or the last 5 or 6 that I've spent involved in samba drumming. The last year's been all about the drumming, especially with Honeydrum. I've had the opportunity to do some really cool gigs this year in some really nice locations in Leeds and Yorkshire, and they brought me into my own as a musician. Plus, I never realised I could multi-task by drumming and singing at the same time. Turns out I can, and it's not a disaster, so that's always good to know. I'm by no means a good singer, but I can just about hold it together and no one has ever told me that I sound terrible, so I must be doing something right, right?

It's been strange not really getting much chance to play with Beatlife, but I've had a few chances to take a couple of sessions at for Beatlife when I have been home and able to make it to the Tuesday night session. So it just gave me a chance to try out some stuff from Honeydrum and hear it being played by a different group, and also see how easily I can teach a group a completely new rhythm. I had maybe two or three chances to do this over the year, but each time I did it, I felt pretty good about myself and people seemed to like them and thanked me. It's something that doesn't seem so significant, but getting that chance to prove myself has been something I've really enjoyed being able to do this year. If you'd asked me to do this last year, I wouldn't have even considered it for a second.

Friends, and life in general

I'm a much happier person at the end of this year than I was last year. I feel much more settled in life, and since my life is mainly at Leeds, that's what it all comes down to. I suppose it's time for some lovely revelations. It just wouldn't be the end of the year without some revelations and heartbreak.

Last year, I wasn't really feeling that I was enjoying my course that much, questioning whether I really did want to be studying German, and there were points when I felt like I had no real friends and was...well, a bit lonely. It's one of the secrets I've carried with me over the past 12 months and I've only talked about this with one or two people...and even then, that's only been in the last month or two.

I think what surprised me most has been in the last week or two when talking to school friends about uni and whatnot. Where I've just casually mentioned that I think I'm doing well, I'm pretty happy and things are much better than they were a year ago, they've pointed out how they thought I was a bit glum and down. Maybe I'm not so good at hiding it...

So, I'll end the blog, and the year with something that is nothing short of emotionally disgusting.

To all of my friends, whether those that I've known for years, or those that I've only really started to get to know over the last few months, thank you. I've grown and developed as a person over the last 12 months, and you've helped to shape me into who I am, and the person that I'll continue to be.

Whether I'm that guy who starts dancing at random times, bursts into song when no one else does at a Stammtisch (or anywhere else for that matter), acts like a 6 and a half year old because it's fun and it beats doing work, someone to have a serious conversation or being that shoulder to cry on, I am who I am because of you. Without you guys, I wouldn't be who I am. Life would be a different ride, but I doubt I'd enjoy it anywhere near as much as I'm enjoying this one.

I may not tell you how much I appreciate our friendship, but I do. Thank you.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Berlin Chronicles: Part II

So...here we are for Part II of Berlin. It actually works out quite nicely as it was a four day trip, and so using my amazing A-Level in Maths, I know I can split the trip into two entries of two days. Those years of differentiation, calculus and integration weren’t wasted aft-...oh, wait a minute. They were.

Wednesday was a day spent taking it VERY easy indeed. I didn’t really sleep that much on what was pretty early Wednesday morning by the time we got back to the hostel and settled down to get to sleep. I don’t remember if anyone set an alarm, but I think I was up by about half 8 or 9. Take out my unusual sleeping habits of waking up at pretty regular intervals, and I got about 2 hours of sleep. That’s really not enough sleep for me, as we found out a bit later in the day.
We went off to East Side Gallery to see that part of the Berlin Wall, and it was really something to be able to walk along that section of wall and look at some of the artwork that people have drawn on there. Some of it is really amazing and inspirational stuff, and I’ve definitely got my favourites. It’s crazy to think that just over 20 years ago, there was a gigantic wall going around Berlin that divided a city in two. Of course, as we all know, the world (and Germany) has progressed at an astounding rate in this time to become the place that it is today. For that, we thank you David Hasselhoff.

Once we’d finished that walk along the wall, we managed to find a really nice bakery place in Alexander Platz for lunch. It was ridiculously well priced too which makes things even better and I was able to stuff my face with some bread, a sandwich, a doughnut and a milkshake for just under 5 Euros. Tell me that isn’t fantastic. Then by this point, the severe lack of sleep had caught up with me. Hessie suggested a sneaky nap to the group (which sounded like my idea of heaven), so we headed back to the hostel. There was then a fairly large change of mind among people, but despite virtually everyone else going off to have a look around the cathedral, I managed to catch up on snooze-time.

After I was woken (I vaguely recall having a mini-freak out when being woken. Thank you) we headed down to the cathedral to find the rest of the group and then went for a wander around another Christmas market. And it’s here that I found the surprise of the trip: a five piece band playing a variety of music. And these guys blew me away...probably because I was craving some music and they covered all bases. There was stuff by Beach Boys, there was Little Richard, there was Christmas music...they had it all. So it’s probably no surprise to read that I was dancing around and we ended up sitting in the tent with a drink and listening to these guys for about an hour or so. It really was a pretty cool way to spend part of the evening.

Once we got back to the hostel, things because...well, they became more childish. We spent the night sat downstairs while a good chunk of the group went to check out a club in Berlin. Most of us were just too tired and not really feeling the need to go out, and we had a good time anyway. There was a German copy of Cosmo magazine which inspired me to start my own mini catwalk, even though no else joined in (shame on you guys, shame on you!) and we even got to hear our horoscopes. Turns out the last week or so was pretty good for me in terms of “Lust und Erotik”. Then again, this was the same for the other 5 of us who got to find out what our horoscope had in store for us.

And then it got really childish. REALLY childish (though what would you expect from me?). I’m going to claim credit for the idea as well, even though I’m not 100% sure it *was* my idea. Once we went upstairs to go to bed, I shared the idea with Hessie and threw my mattress onto the floor and then grabbed hers and did the same. The mattress party was born. I’m going to say it’s a good thing that we were in a room of people who don’t always have to be the most mature people and therefore, they were open to our idea of just sleeping on the floor on our mattresses. Again, there are photos of this amazing event on Facebook somewhere should you want to see images of me and combinations of people lying on the floor (including one taken just after I was hit in my *ahem* gentleman parts with an elbow).

It was Kenny’s birthday on Thursday though, so we started her birthday with the most fun way possible: a bed time story from Tom! It wasn’t my finest rendition of Once Upon a Time, but it was definitely a special version as it was turned into a musical version featuring all of your favourite songs such as “My robot broke and then the warranty expired!”

Aah, that really was good fun. We were childish, we were immature, but it was good fun (even if I did stay up until about 3am again). It’s amazing how you can be tired one minute and then go upstairs and suddenly find another burst of energy to be on it for the next three hours or so. I was pretty impressed at that, though some of the conversation got REALLY bizarre by about 2am.
So we get to Thursday...the last day of the trip (well, the last full day). We finally got round to checking out the DDR Museum which was really cool. There were plenty of interesting things to look at and read. I can now say I’ve sat in a Trabi (even if it was just in a museum) and we created the not-so ideal Socialist Tom. Any futuristic historical version of myself that has me wearing a top hat, a suit, long hair and carrying flowers and theatre tickets is the sort of the Tom that I would want to be in the past or future.

Looking at it now, the trip just wouldn’t have been complete without ice skating. Even though I haven’t ice skated for a couple of years, it was really good fun and I remembered how to not fall over on the ice while continuing to move. Santa was there too! He wasn’t skating though and once we got off the ice, we went over to get a picture with the big guy. Being the genius that he is, he positioned us to get as many landmarks into the photo as is possible. I’m not sure which camera that’s on, but once it’s uploaded (if it isn’t already), I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

And so that brings an end to the trip of Berlin. The journey back was fairly eventful as Amanda wasn’t feeling too well (she’s thankfully much better now, yay!) but I managed to catch a little bit of sleep on the plane, and I don’t think anyone was in the mood for being awake on the coach back, especially at the time we were travelling back up to Leeds. We beat the sun back, though I did stay up to watch it from my bedroom before I headed off to sleep early on Friday morning.
Berlin shoots to some of the best moments of my time in uni at the moment. Obviously, having never been to Berlin before the trip, it was always going to be a good trip. Getting to spend it with some of my closest friends made the trip so much better though, and I can’t think of a better group of people to have spent it with.

So to you guys and girls, thank you for a fun week! I know I wish I could have stuck around for a few more days as I was really enjoying myself and being back in the UK just isn’t the same...still, it just gives an excuse to head back in the near future.

With that, have a safe and pleasant Christmas (and Chanukah). Love and happiness to you all.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Berlin Chronicles: Part I

As we know, I was in Berlin last week. And needless to say, I was pretty psyched about it. Prior to the trip, I hadn't been to Germany's capital. I'd done some travelling around Nordrhein-Westfalen but that was about it for German adventures. So it was a trip that I was looking forward to, and the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a different country with my friends at the end of semester was pretty much all I could ask for.

Before we went off to Berlin, there was a bit of evening excitement for Adventsonntag. Realistically, this was just an excuse to eat a lot of German biscuits and cake before flying. Though really, I don't think I need much of an excuse to eat a lot of cake and biscuits. It's rather my thing. Good fun though, and I even got to wear a nice Christmas hat and display my affinity for elf culture by alternating between happy and sad elf.

I'm pretty indifferent to flying really. I've not flown that often in my life and I think that the two flights were maybe my fourth and fifth times on a plane. So that's really not so often. There are people in life who love being on planes and there are some who really dislike it, but I really couldn't care. It could just be that by the time I was flying for this trip, I was so sleepy that I just wanted to grab a bit of sleep, but it's easy enough to just continue talking to friends or stick in the iPod and doze off for a while.

Once we got to Berlin, it was a pretty good day. The weather through the entire week was pretty good with the exception of some rain on Wednesday afternoon/evening and pretty strong winds throughout. Compared to England at the moment though, Germany definitely won in the weather stakes. Well done!

I think everyone who was there would agree that the rooms were pretty awesome. They were BIG. There were 8 beds in our room and a lot of floor space to prance around and get up to other childish antics (as I'll get to in the next entry). My room mates in the hostel are also some of my favourite people in the world, which definitely helped. Admittedly, it was a bit strange sharing a room with 6 girls (yes, I said six) but it was hilarious and I don't think I could have picked a better bunch of people to have shared with. We spent part of Monday night dancing around the room to some rather terribly excellent boyband music which just wouldn't happen with other people.

Monday was a fairly relaxed day once we got to Berlin really. We had time to kill before we could get into the rooms, so we went for a quick wander down the road and stopped off for some lunch since we were all pretty hungry after not really eating all morning. And it was here that the hunt for the waffles began. Kenny and Susan split a waffle which was apparently rather scrummy, and after that, there was the frequent talk of waffles among the group and the idea of starting a waffle tour to discover the best coffee shop in Berlin. Sadly, that will have to wait for another visit!

Once we got into the room, I think we took an hour or so to sleep. Well, that was the plan. I think we slept for the best part of two hours (though no one really seemed to mind since we were collectively destroyed). It was such a nice sleep too...I thought my bed was pretty comfortable, though as it turns out, it wasn't as comfortable as other beds in the room!

In the evening, we all went for a group meal which was really nice. It also gave me a good opportunity to speak to some of the first years, since I've really not said much to any of them this year. They're a pretty cool bunch though which is really good to know. And the food! Oh, the food. I'd forgotten just how marvellous a proper German meal was. Definitely going to have to start getting more food in next semester. I tell you something, I'm going to end up getting fat when I'm away next year if I eat as much as I think I probably could. Not that that would be a major problem though, my mum commented earlier on how I've continued to lose weight.

Tuesday was a really interesting day too. We were up relatively early (well, I'd like to think it was early) and we managed to get plenty of stuff done. Of course, this means that we were able to start the day with the awesomeness that is a German breakfast. Oh, I'd forgotten how simply fantastic a breakfast of bread, cheese and salami was, and it goes a bit further when it's helped down with plenty of apple and orange. I don't really have breakfast that often, but if I could bring myself to make sure I constantly had this sort of stuff in my fridge, I'd probably be going for this as a way to kick things off most days.

Anyway, once we got out into the streets, our group went for a nice wander. As you'd expect, it was all new to me and it was quite cool to recognise street and area names like Unter den Linden, Karl-Liebknecht-Stra├če (though that's where we were staying, so I'd already spotted this one to be honest) and Potsdamer Platz. We went and had a look at plenty of cultural stuff around the city including the Brandenburg Gate, and the Jewish Memorial . So I got plenty of photos of these things, as did everyone else with us. If you don't believe me, just look at the hundreds and hundreds of photos that were put on Facebook over the last few days by people on the trip. I'm thinking I could well have been tagged in about a hundred photos myself. Considering I tend to not take many photos, or being in photos that often, that's a pretty big thing for me.

It really was good to explore Berlin though, and once the sun went down, we went for a wander around Potsdamer Platz and got to see the awesomeness of life size Lego statues. These. Were. Amazing. As someone who is sometimes mistaken for a six and a half year old child, this was brilliant to see a gigantic Lego snowman, bear and Santa's sleigh complete with some reindeer. As a 20 year old, it was probably even more fantastic. This was possibly my highlight of the day, and I think the only thing that matches it would be the walk back to the hostel after we'd had dinner. Given the choice of hopping on the U-Bahn or trekking back, I think we made the right decision. Seeing the Brandenburg Gate at night with the gigantic Christmas tree lit up just in front of it was something to behold.

What better way is there to conclude a Tuesday in Berlin than with a bar crawl though? I know what you're thinking, a bar crawl isn't really my ideal vision for a night out since there's that rather large stumbling block regarding the fact that I don't drink. Still, when you're with some really good friends, you've got a chance to just do nothing but hang out and relax for the night and you're wandering around some bars in Berlin playing some fairly good music (especially for dancing), then what more could you want?!

I had a really fun night, proving that it's possible to enjoy yourself on a bar crawl despite not drinking. I'll assume everyone else did too, though there were some shenanigans that are best suited to the category of "What happens in Berlin, stays in Berlin." They will not be spoken of by me. The night ended in a fun way though as I got to swap beds for a reason that I'm not totally sure of. All I know is that the mattress on Hessie's bunk bed was far more comfortable than the one I had, so I was clearly the winner in this location change. Success!!

I'll leave it there and do the remainder of the trip and some after thoughts within the next day or two, though I'll have already written it by the time you read this. Call it building suspense or something...it'll add to the excitement when you find out what happened on Wednesday and Thursday. ;)

Take it easy, thanks for reading. If you don't read Part II, or I do forget to post it, Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Time for a catch up

It's been quite a while since I last blogged, and while it's been mainly for what I would hope are reasons, it's no excuse to have neglected this page.

It's been an eye-opening month though. A lot has happened since I last typed something into here, and the vast majority of it has been positive. Fear not, I'm not entering some weird Brody Stevens mad man phase and being all about #positivity #positiveenergy and #positivethinking. I'm going to guess that the reference is lost on...pretty much everyone. Such is life.

Thinking about it though, I can't really think of anything negative that's gone on. Sure, life is far from perfect, but perfection is something I strive to never achieve. If we find perfection, where do we go from there? In this semi carefree life that I try to lead, it's much easier to put the bad things to one side and leave them there.

So...what have I actually been doing with my time? As you'd expect (and for any fellow students reading), it's not too difficult to figure out that the majority of time has been spent working.

Work seems to dominate far more time than it did last year. Could that be because I was able to dedicate Wednesday-Saturday on homework each week last year? This time around, I've only got Fridays to work all day and I'm pulling more late nighters than I'd probably like. The last month has been one of essays, presentations and posters...and with the exception of Linguistics (let's just not go there...), I think I've been doing alright.

It's most likely helped by the fact that it's been group work for these presentations and posters. So to those people who have put up with me over the last few weeks, I thank you. Hopefully our marks reflect the amount of work we put in...

In one of the more bizarre moves I've made, I said farewell (for now) to my ponytail and that scraggley ginger mess I tried to call a beard. For those who haven't yet seen it, imagine the 90s boyband hair...and you'll have some idea of how it looks. It has allowed me to buy hair gel though. That's something I've not done for a long time.

The beard is most likely going to do a Terry Funk and make a comeback before people have had a chance to miss it. It could well be because I was asked to grow it for the German Theatre Project we're doing...but I'm going to maintain that it's because I'm far too lazy to shave regularly.

Of course, it's now the end of semester, which means that Christmas is just around the corner...which means that Berlin is just a few days away. Never been there before (which seems criminal for a German student) but I'm looking forward to it. It should be a cracking little adventure. I definitely need to start Christmas shopping. My UKFF Secret Santa deserves a nice present so I'll have to pick that up tomorrow. And of course, I need to buy appropriate gifts for family. You'd think it would get easier with time...but it never does. Andrew's still just as difficult, Emma wants a t-shirt from bloody Germany ...my mum already owns most cookbooks worth having and my Dad...

I did go to Preston to see PCW over the weekend. They're probably my favourite UK promotion at the moment (especially since DPW shut up shop earlier in the month) and they've provided me with some great entertainment at recent shows. I think I just love them because I got to get a photo with Nigel McGuinness on his retirement tour. He even commented on how old school my t-shirt was (it's one of his ROH tops from 2006/7). So that was quite simply excellent.

I wonder whether it'll snow this Christmas (or during the break)...probably will. It's getting rather cold these days but it just keeps raining! It's also incredibly windy. I'm writing this in The Treehouse at uni and the doors keep blowing open. Very strange...

So it seems that while I've been busy, I've not actually been that busy. That's a rather sombre thought to end this entry with. We can't end things on a downer though, so I'll leave you with this. It's Thursday evening and I don't have any classes tomorrow. In the words of Noddy Holder: It's CHHHRRRRIIIIISSSTTMMMAASSS!