Saturday, 23 September 2017

My groomsdudes #7: my new brother

I first met Gavin when myself and Jo went up to visit him and his family in Scotland one Easter. He was exceptionally welcoming straight away. I was a little overwhelmed by the fact that having only been out of the car for 5 seconds and having only exchanged around 5 words, I was then in his car on the way to pick up some drinks from the supermarket. Whilst I wasn’t nervous about meeting him, I wanted to make a good impression, and emerging from an eight hour car journey probably isn’t the best time to do so. Gavin was great, though. He’s one of the easiest people to get on with and one of the genuinely nicest people that I’ve ever met, and we started to bond instantly.

That first evening he tried to get me to have whiskey. I refused as there have been times when I've had whiskey and it has come straight back out again. He insisted I tried it. I had a sip and then passed it to Jo to finish. I have since got a bit better at drinking whiskey. I can now drink a shot of whiskey sip by sip in under an hour. As he hasn't been able to force whiskey upon me, he has gone for other drinks, mainly red wine which I have been fine with. I think this might be a family trait as Jo is always keen to make sure everyone has enough to drink, whether it is tea or something stronger.

Jo had told Gavin that I loved castles, so on my that visit to see him in, he took me to see four different castles in four days. It was possibly overloading but I loved it. I don't think he's taken me to see a castle on any subsequent visits though. I may need to have a word with him about this.

Some of my favourite times have involved going up to Scotland for Christmas with a whole bunch of board games and having drinks and playing games into the wee hours with Gavin and his friends. They have also been some of my least favourite times the morning after. We seem to take it in turns as to who will be the poorliest the following day.

This mainly started when me and Gavin played chess one time when Downton Abbey was on and we both wanted to be doing something else. I beat him twice. He has not asked me to play since. However, it did lead onto a conversation about other games and so the next time I visited, I came armed with a big bag of board games whist has led to me being known among the Borders folk as the Gamesmaster. It's either because I bring games, or due to my uncanny resemblance to Patrick Moore. I guess it could be both.

Whilst on the phone to Gavin one evening after we were engaged, he said that he assumed that I'd be wearing a kilt. I hadn't thought about it but he suggested that it would be a good idea as I'm marrying into a Scottish family. I said I'd consider it, as I do have Scottish ancestry myself, and my brother had considered wearing one for his wedding. I decided to run the idea past all my other groomsdudes, assuming that at least one of them would say no and I'd have a ready made excuse to back out of it. They all seemed to be really excited by the idea and I didn't feel like I could disappoint them by backing out, so my legs will be out on display next weekend.

Out of myself and Jo, I am very much the planner. I am perhaps excessively so. During wedding planning, there came a point when I was worried that if Gavin didn't get fitted up for his kilt, it might not arrive in time for the big day so I started to remind him on what may have been a weekly basis that he needed to go get fitted up.

On the phone to him one day, he told me that he wouldn't be able to get measured up until just before the wedding as the kilt shop was extremely booked up. This sent me into a mild panic, so I gave the phone back to Jo and went to make a cup of tea. He let me stew (pun definitely intended) about it for half an hour or so before he revealed that he had been winding me up.

I realised at that point that this sort of teasing is what big brothers do, and I really felt like part of the family.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Bucket list item 32: Go on a zombie experience day

I am quite fond of zombies. That is, in the sense that I like stuff involving zombies, not that I'm a zombie sympathiser.

One of my favourite computer games ever is Dead Rising, a zombie slash-em-up. I'm also a really big fan of the Telltale Walking Dead games, which have some of the most emotional moments I've ever experienced in a video game, as well as watching the Walking Dead TV show. Zombie entertainment is my not so guilty pleasure.

So, you can probably imagine how excited I was when my brother told me that he'd found a zombie experience day for us to go to for my stag do. In case you can't imagine it, I can tell you that I had an excited face on.

He had been in contact with Zed Events who run an event at a disused mall in Reading. The mall is scheduled for destruction so you can only book it a couple of months in advance as they're unsure when it's going to be knocked down. There are doors with big Warning! Danger! signs on that they tell you to be extremely wary of as they are actually doors to lift shafts with a big drop.

I don't want to give too many details away about what actually happens because I highly recommend you go. It was an amazing experience and even the most hard to please of us seemed to really enjoy it. It was really well executed. From the moment that you walk into the building after your safety briefing, you feel like you're walking into a computer game. The actors really add to the experience, both the humans and the zombies - with some of the zombies having really chilling screams.

At the end you get to have some photos taken by the organisers (see the photo above) and then you can wander around taking photos of yourself and the zombies, who very impressively stay completely in character the whole time.

I highly recommend this as an experience to take advantage of whilst you still can!

My groomsdudes #6: my dude of honour

I have recently decided that my friend Louise is my dude of honour. She was the ringleader for ensuring that I hada hen do. This was so that all my female friends had a chance to embarrass me as well as my male friends. They (rather understandably) didn’t want to be left out of the fun of embarassing me. 

Louise will also be a witness at our wedding, so I hope she has been practicing her signature.  All of this means that she has earned a place as my honorary groomsdude.

I can’t remember exactly when I met Louise. It was almost certainly through mutual friends, and was definitely before her 18th birthday, as I remember going to her party down on Camber Sands. I had only been driving a year or so and it was an exciting adventure to drive down the coast with my friend Tom who most likely brought along a whole bunch of ska-punk cassettes with which to educate me with during the journey.             

Generally we always seem to do cool stuff for Louise’s birthdays. A number of years ago we went to Paris for a day trip (although it rained and was generally a bit miserable). This year we went to the O2 see The Blink 182s who were kind enough to not only put on a show for her birthday, but also dedicated I Miss You to her.

One of my favourite memories of Louise is when we went to the silent disco at The Shard last year for her birthday. I was listening to the Bee Gees and was  strutting, jiving and singing at her, whilst she was listening to T’Pau’s China In Your Hand singing away and air grabbing with the full intensity that the song requires. It’s difficult to explain how awesome it was just with words, but this moment alone made the entire evening worthwhile.

We first started spending more time together when we were both working at Saga, often having lunch with my brother and our friend Ron. We used to have a competition to see how much of the self-service desserts we could hide underneath custard whilst still only getting charged for one portion. 

Louise worked in HR at that time, so she was able to provide us with all the gossip about what was going on. For the sake of all concerned, I should probably not repeat any of this gossip here. I’ve never managed to be able to acquire much gossip working in the accounts department. It's a very gossip free kind of career path.

Many years later, the house next to the one I was renting with three other guys went up for rent and we managed to persuade Louise along with a few other friends to move in next to us. It was like being in Friends. We lived in the House of Boy and they lived next door to us in the House of Girl.  We even took down the fence in the back garden so that the houses started to flow into each other, which was especially useful for parties. 

Around a year after they moved in, we had to move out of our house and there was a space available in the House of Girl which I moved into. Whilst I only moved my stuff about five feet from the top floor of one house to the top floor of another house, in one of the most demoralising moments of my life, I had to take it all the way down two flights of stairs, a few feet along the street and then all the way up two flights of stairs again.

Some of my favourite memories are from the time living in those houses, with chaotic house parties and hanging out with good friends. One slightly less chaotic memory is how I was exhausted and had a really early night before I moved into the House of Girl. Natalie, one of my new housemates, found out about this, and decided that early nights were unacceptable and put in a rule about bedtime curfews. The first Saturday night after I moved in, Natalie was out and me and Louise had an extremely rock’n’roll evening of watching a film and having an early night. I felt extremely rebellious defying the curfew.

When I bought my flat, it turned out that Louise and Lisa had to move just before and we ended up living round the corner from each other so we got to spend quite a lot of time together. One of my favourite things about this was on Christmas morning we would all gather round their flat for a Christmas breakfast fry up and bucks fizz I’m a fan of Christmas and anything that makes it even better is always going to go down well with me.

Louise has been an invaluable source of advice when I have been dating which, over the course of our friendship, has been quite a lot. Her understanding of how females work was invaluable, as was her patience as I rambled on and on almost non-stop about my dating woes.

When I met Jo, Louise was able to tell how happy I was and was very quick to invite her to join in with group activities. This included an invitation to the annual viewing of Love Actually in November. There is pretty much no bigger honour than that. 

I find Louise to be an inspiring person. She likes taking on challenges, such as when she persuaded a bunch of us that we should start climbing mountains and we foolishly agreed that it was a good idea. We have now climbed all of the three peaks and I feel very accomplished for having done so. When Louise sets her mind to do something, she is a very dedicated person. She has very strong feelings about wanting to make a positive difference in the world and she is very determined to do what is right for both others and herself. Louise is one of those people who has great qualities that I want to emulate, and I am proud to have her as my dude of honour. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My groomsdudes #5: The Lego-Jay to my Lego-Stew

I first met Jason when he moved down to Kent. We mainly became close when we went started at the same university a couple of years later. Even though we were studying different subjects (I was on a philosophy course and he was on an English course), I had taken an English module called The Tale to fill up my schedule,  and we would often be getting the bus at the same time.

My earliest memories of us spending quality time together involve us skipping the lecture for The Tale, to instead go and play pool and video games (mostly the amazing Racing Jam which has the funkiest theme music known to mankind, and Time Crisis). We were pretty poor at pool and spent a lot of money attempting to complete Time Crisis until I ran out of coins and died, abandoning Jason to continue the quest alone and overwhelmed.

Jason decided that uni wasn’t for him, and we didn’t see each other quite as much over the next couple of years. However, when I finished my third year, I was looking to move out and there was a room available in the flat he shared with our friend Luke, which I snapped up as quickly as I could. This was the point when I started to think that I might be a grown-up; living away from home; my first full-time job earning what couldn't have been much more than minimum wage. Surely this is as grown-up as anyone ever gets? Oh, silly naive past Stew.

My job involved me working shift patterns and would often be in the flat on my own during the daytime. Jason had a large range of replica weaponry. This helped to keep me sane. We lived on the fourth floor close to town and one of my favourite games was pointing a toy gun out of the window and pretending to be a world class sniper.

Me and Jason have recently shot real guns together. I am far from a world class sniper. He is a natural, possibly because he owned a million toy guns. He is able to hit James Bond in the eye from 20 paces.

I have many memories from the short time I was living in the flat (our landlord decided to sell around 6 months after I moved in); towers of pizza boxes; endless sessions playing Crazy Taxi; watching Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back around 1,000 times; the time that me and Luke were playing Championship Manager and he decided that as manager of Liverpool he was going to blow his entire transfer budget on the worst player in the game just to see what would happen.

One that for some reason sticks in my mind was spotting Bass walking along the road during one of my sniper sessions, pretending to shoot him and the calling his mobile to tell him he was dead. You have to take fun where you can when you’re stuck indoors on your own earning peanuts.

Whilst living together, we formed a band. Perhaps band is a loose term. We played music together. We did so with my brother and a couple of friends who used to crash over at our flat frequently. Not many of our friends had moved out of home yet, so we were effectively living in a bit of a party flat. It was natural for us to just start playing music together. The band was known as Werewolves Ate My Platoon, after a newspaper headline at the end of the film Dog Soldiers, although was generally shortened to W*A*M*P. I left the band before they played any gig to join another band in the hopes of gaining fame and fortune (Spoiler alert: I didn't work). I am fully aware that I am a complete sellout.

Both of our bands played regularly around local venues and Jason and I would hang out and watch each other’s bands but over time we’d drifted apart due to various circumstances. In the last few years we’ve reconnected and started hanging out again regularly. We’ve even started doing music things together again, along with one of the other founding members of W*A*M*P. Jason has learnt how to play drums for this project in a ridiculously short length of time. Look out for The Cool Kids, coming to an open mic near you.

It’s been an incredibly enjoyable time for me. I haven’t played regularly in a band for many years and it has been fun and reminded me why I enjoyed playing music in the first place, and is possibly the most fun I've ever had playing in a band because it is with a couple of really great friends and we're only doing it to have fun so there's no real pressure.

A while ago, I told Jason he was going on a random holiday with me. There was a thing on a discount holiday website where you could pick some dates and the company would give you a random holiday. This is how we ended up going to Riga in Latvia. This was an excellent holiday. To tell him where we were going, I prepared a most excellent Powerpoint presentation.  I even bought one of those clicker things to change the slides. I enjoyed doing this very much.

On this holiday, not only did we discover a mutual love for Lego minifigures (which has blossomed into visits to Lego exhibitions, talk of future visits to Legolands, and our long awaited and at present completely unwritten and unplanned Lego sitcom) but this is when Jason got to fire real life guns for the first time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him happier.

Jason was asking me after this when our next adventure would be, so I made him climb a mountain. It may sounds like I’m bullying him, but I know what he likes. He likes climbing mountains. Even though he moans about it the whole time, it’s a very character building experience. I was amazed at how good he was at mountaineering. He puts it down to stubbornness and the fact that he’s decided to do it and isn’t going to back down from doing so.

I'm very much looking forward to our next adventure which I have promised him will involve no mountains and all of the Lego. I should be a bit kinder to him from now on. We're hopefully going to be visiting Legoland Denmark next year, although like most of our great schemes, it is currently unplanned. However, once I've got this big party thing out of the way, I'll have some more time to sit down with him and bash out the details. LEGOLAND 2018, BABY! WOOOO!

Please note: Jason is not as small as he appears in the picture above. It is a cunning use of perspective. He is actually person sized.

Monday, 11 September 2017

My groomsdudes: #4 The Statler to my Waldorf

I first met Paul during secondary school as I was good friends with his older brother, who I was also in several bands with. I got to know Paul a bit better when we were both at university in the same city, as were a couple of our other friends and I would drive us all to Canterbury on a Thursday morning as we all started at roughly the same time.

We always used to drive past a sign on Stone Street which said “Caution: mud on road” yet we were never able to see any mud. It was the highlight of the journey, but then it was around 7am, so none of us were at our peak conversationally. At best we’d manage a few grunts at each other which passed for conversing.

It wasn’t until I joined the same rock’n’roll band as Paul that we started to become close. We were in the band together for maybe 4 or 5 years. When I joined the band, I was the oldest and the only one with a car. This meant that I was the designated driver for any gig that wasn’t in walking distance. Paul was usually the most sober of the rest of the band at the end of a gig and as such he would assist me with playing equipment Tetris to get all of our gear to fit into whichever vehicle I was driving. He would then be the most likely to stay awake to keep me company on the journey home.

Significant memories that I have of the journeys home include the band trying to keep me awake by shouting “STEW! WAKE UP!” at me, when I was clearly already awake, and singing along loudly to Christmas songs in the middle of summer. Oh, the larks we had.

As well as being my sober buddy when we were in the band, Paul was my drunk buddy when we were both single and looking for love. We would go out for a few drinks and lament our woes. There were times when we were both a bit too down about things, feeling like we would end up old, single and grumpy and I always thought we'd end up being a real life version of Statler and Waldorf, the two hecklers from The Muppet Show.

We were both playing for the same football team for a while (the second time I accidentally started up a football team, and again a story for another time), and at the same time we were both exploring the world of online dating looking for Ms Right. During training sessions, we would pair up and whilst warming up or doing circuits, we would discuss our tales of woe and all the experiences we’d been having.

I think perhaps the fact that we were chatting and not training might explain why neither of us are pro footballers. It’s either that or our ages and lack of skill. We’d inspire each other to persist with online dating, even when it seemed to not be going well and, in the end, it was the method we both used to find our partners.

Whilst neither of us may have been really good at real life football, Paul is exceptionally good at Pro Evo on the Playstation and I think has beaten me 95% of the times that we have played. This is despite an intensive training program that I put myself through, playing a season on every version of Pro Evo from the dawn of time. I think perhaps I just suck at computer games.

Paul asked me to be an usher at his wedding two years ago and I am pleased to be able to return the favour and that we have both found that happiness that we moaned to each other about being unable to find on several drunken occasions.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

My groomsdudes: #3 the Sherlock to my Watson

I first met Bass sometime at secondary school. I forget exactly when. We were in the same year group but not the same form, so I think it was a while before our paths crossed. It was in media studies where our friendship started to bloom, with Bass enjoying lecturing me about films.

I've used a bit of artistic licence there. I can't remember that far back at my age. I'm just assuming that he lectured me about films as that's one of his favourite past times. He even does it professionally. Like, really for real cash money and stuff. It's crazy. Along with our friend Luke, he produces the weekly Story Toolkit podcast.

It is genuinely really quite good if you have any interest in story writing, stories or listening to Bass rant about the recent Star Trek films. I often listen to it on the bus and it's like Bass is sat next to me ranting about a film we have just watched, only it is even more difficult for me participate in the conversation than usual.

We started to become closer when I accidentally helped to set up a football team for the first time (a story for another day). Bass and myself will probably both admit that we were two of the weakest players on the team. As such, we got placed at full back - Bass at left-back and me at right back - for the majority of the time we played for the team. As far out of the way of danger as possible, yet still involved enough to feel that we were part of the team. I think this gave us some sort of full back bond. I still recall Alex McNeice attempting to explain a sliding tackle to Bass.

Whilst we have a lot in common and enjoy doing many things together, many of my fondest memories of Bass revolve around board games. We became really close when I started living on my own. He would often get me involved when he was arranging a gaming session which I really appreciated as too often, I would just be spending time at my flat on my own feeling isolated. He would introduce me to both new people and new games and I am grateful for both of these things.

One memory that I will never forget is when I got one over on him playing the Battlestar Galactica board game. I was secretly a cylon, which are the bad guys, and Bass was a human. I saw his secret mission card which said that he had to get a certain number of enemy ships surrounding the Galactica otherwise he would fail his mission and as a result, all of the human players would lose.

Seeing this, I started freely sending ships to attack the Galactica. The other players rightly got outraged, until I called on Bass to stand up for me because I knew what his secret mission was. He vouched for me and was 100% sure that I was human. The moment when I later revealed that I was a cylon and I had mind-mastered him all along was one of my greatest board game moments of all time.

Bass once showed me a video of the Shut Up and Sit Down review of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. We are both big Sherlock fans and he has bought me several copies of the Conan Doyle stories, including one really beautiful version for Christmas last year. I have also bought him Sherlock themed gifts, including a deerstalker, a toy pipe and a magnifying glass. Upon seeing the video, I knew we had to play this game.

Consulting Detective was out of print and I searched for ages until I managed to find a second hand copy of the original printing which wasn’t on sale for a million pounds. There are lots of typographical issues, including some that send you to the wrong location in the game and might mean you miss an important clue. We loved the game nevertheless.

We were, also, quite shockingly poor at it. Like, really really poor. If we were actual detectives, we’re have been busted down to traffic duty within a week. We would often score negative points. There was one time when we played against a real life detective in the hopes that he's struggle as well and we could feel better about how bad we were. He utterly destroyed us. Bass wrote about it here and it is quite an amusing read, including me having to try to convince him that his midget assassin theory is quite ridiculous.

Despite how poor we are at detectiving, Bass is and always be the Holmes to my Watson. He will be performing MC duties at our wedding and I'm hoping that he busts out some phat rhymes or whatever the kids say these days. That's what MCs do, right? Although, I'm also hoping he doesn't do a mic drop as I think we have to pay for any damages.