…stood whilst watching the Queen’s Speech

Day 53Day Fifty-three

Since I started this quest fifty-three days ago, what to do on Christmas day had always been in the back of my mind.  It’s a day for sharing with the family and sticking to tradition, so going bungee jumping or doing something weird with the turkey didn’t seem appropriate.  I decided I wanted to do something simple that embodied the Christmas spirit of giving.

I was staying at my Grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve, as we would be celebrating Christmas at my Auntie’s place just down the road.  I was partly brought up by my grandparents, so spent a lot of my childhood at their home.  Whenever I stayed over they’d always cook me breakfast, I distinctly remember the way my Nan would yell from the kitchen downstairs “breakfast’s ready!”  I decided, for the first time in my life, I’d get up early and make breakfast for my Grandparents as a gesture of thanks for my spoilt lazy childhood.  I went to bed excited about the next morning – and not because Santa was coming.

The next day I awoke to the familiar sound of “breakfast’s ready”.  I’d overslept – Bugger!

After guiltily eating breakfast, I looked through the Christmas TV guide to see what was on.  Again, I’m aware how spoilt and lazy I’m coming across.  I remember Christmas Television always being exciting as most of the license payers’ money was splashed out by the BBC on showing big budget movies. Nowadays, as there are hundreds of digital channels and movies on demand, it’s slightly lost its appeal; However, I did notice in the listings that the Queen’s Christmas speech was on at 3pm.  I never really watched the Queen’s annual televised message to her minions, so I just hoped I wouldn’t have a festive snooze after Christmas lunch and sleep through another opportunity to do something I’d never done before.

The Queen’s Speech is written by Her Majesty herself, apparently it’s one of the few times in the year she’s allowed to air her own personal views.  The ten minute royal broadcast opened with a picture of Buck House and the sound of the national anthem, so I stood as one should, whilst the rest of family asked if it was time for dessert yet.  As the Queen talked, she reminisced about the year she’d had, speaking of Prince George the new addition to her family, but the more she went on the more I switched off.  She seemed to me (as your servant, I apologise your Majesty) to lack any genuine connection to the words she spoke, I was desperate to feel a sense of real emotion, but perhaps that’s just the British stiff upper lip she is meant to epitomize.  After the speech finished I sat down and wondered whether when Prince William and Harry, as children, stayed at Buckingham Palace, their grandmother would shout up the stairs “Breakfast’s ready” – I doubt it.

In conclusion: I don’t mind that we have a monarchy, but I wish they’d lighten up a bit; it’s Christmas for God’s sake.


…nearly missed Christmas

Day 52Day fifty-two

In Britain, a country obsessed with the weather, it surprisingly doesn’t take much overzealous precipitation to generate a shared national sense of apocalyptic peril; none more so than on Christmas Eve.

To travel from London to my hometown Horsham, West Sussex, it should have taken just an hour’s train journey, however due to ‘adverse weather’ (a term the transport people tend to use a lot when things aren’t moving) the South of England had come to a halt.

When I told the Jamaican lady working at the train station where I was trying to get to in time for Christmas, I knew I was in particular trouble after she replied “Oh me Lord would me no want to be you, Sweet Jesus”.

I had something planned for my day’s new experience, unfortunately I was forced to abandon it, however I can now no longer state that in my life I have never taken five and half hours to make a forty mile journey – I’m very proud of my achievement.


…been on a sunbed

Day 51Day Fifty-one

I studied in Liverpool, in the North of England, where there are a lot of Tanning Salons and many people with dubious tones of skin (sorry to conform to a stereotype, but it’s honestly based on what I observed).  I remember a female friend at university visiting one of the salons and returning to class pretty much bright orange.  She’d fallen asleep on a tanning bed and the automated stop timer failed to kick in.  I’ve been wary of these human toasting machines ever since.

Despite being fully aware of the many health risks associated with using a sunbed, I thought to myself that surely one ultraviolent radiation blast can’t be that bad, so I headed to The Tanning Shop in London Bridge and kept my fingers crossed I wouldn’t get cancer for Christmas.

On The Tanning Shop window there was a huge image of some beautifully tanned women frolicking together on a beach.  As I sheepishly opened the shop door it dawned on me that perhaps men don’t use Tanning Salons, I had no idea, and I suddenly felt a bit stupid.  Luckily, I was greeted by a very friendly, if slightly over tanned, member of staff who answered all my questions.  She informed me that lots of men use fake tanning facilities, in fact, at that branch there were more male than female customers, although it is very close to the City of London so I imagine all the bankers need to constantly boast their natural glow.

After being assured I wouldn’t turn orange, it was only two days till Christmas and I didn’t want my family thinking I’d been ‘Tangoed’ by Santa, I was left on my own with the Sun Angel S52 – the world’s most advanced lay down tanning technology (apparently).  I took all my clothes off and got on the huge sci-fi looking bed and pressed the start button as instructed.  When the machine burst into life I pretty much shit myself, it was terrifying, but once I closed the lid and acclimatised to being in the brightly lit cocoon I actually found it quite relaxing. Day 51b

As I laid naked in the bed listening to loud House music being pumped through the integrated speakers (I did say it was the most advanced technology) I suddenly got the fear that I wasn’t meant to get completely naked and perhaps you’re supposed to leave your underwear on.  I felt quite vulnerable as a feared someone could open the lid and recreate the scene from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  I also kept getting flashback to my friend’s orange face and I started doubting how advanced the advanced technology was – the last ten minutes were quite unnerving.

When I got off the bed and looked at myself in the mirror, my face was covered in red blotches and I looked a bit ill – shit.  However, about an hour after the experience I discovered I had quite a nice tan and I was surprisingly impressed with the results.  As I dashed around the shops doing some last minute emergency Christmas gift purchasing I was expecting strangers to shout “Hey Mr, you been somewhere nice?”, but of course they didn’t

In conclusion: I think I’ll want for my holidays to get another tan; I don’t want to push my luck.


…Eaten a Reindeer Burger (and probably upset lots of vegetarians)

Day 48Day Forty-eight

Feeling festive, as the 25th December was fast approaching, I thought I should do something Christmassy, so I ate Reindeer.

The problem with meat, as delicious as it is, it pretty much all tastes the same and I felt a little guilty tucking into Rudolf as any old regular cow burger would have sufficed.  Oh well.



…played Twister

Day 42Day Forty-two

Rather surprisingly I’ve never actually played the 1966 patented party game Twister.

I’ve always thought that the game, which involves a group of friends using their bodies to touch different coloured spots on a ground sheet, was actually a precursor to some kind of middleclass British swingers evening – unfortunately when I played it wasn’t, I just fell over and hurt myself a bit.


food, Uncategorized

…sampled a traditional Danish Christmas dinner in Denmark

Day 34Day Thirty-four

I was in Denmark on business. I won’t say what business just so I sound more mysterious, but it’s not drug smuggling or people trafficking – and I was invited to sample a traditional Danish Christmas meal.

Christmas traditions seem to vary largely in each country. In Britain, it seems to be traditional to eat ridiculous amounts of dried turkey and over boiled sprouts, fall asleep in the afternoon, wake up, then get smashed and upset a relative. In Denmark, apparently, most celebrations take place on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day and the highlight is when the whole family dance around their Christmas tree in the living room.  I’m little jealous we don’t dance around a family tree in Britain, in fact, I’m just jealous I wasn’t born Scandinavian, as they always seem to have a lot of fun and, in general, look nice too.

A traditional Danish Christmas lunch consists of a platter of meats, some creamy cabbage dishes and various sauces.  It was tasty and I was most pleased.  I particularly liked the sharing nature of the lunch as it’s more in keeping with the spirit of Christmas than the British ‘this is my plate of dinner, back off’ way of serving food.

The highlight, for me, was a calorific dessert made of rice, cream and almonds. I apologise for using the term calorific as it makes me sound like one of those annoying calorie counting people who use such terms, but it really is the best way to describe the dish.  I was told there’s a tradition of hiding a whole almond in the dessert and whoever finds it their bowl of creamy Christmas slop wins a prize, or something. Actually I wasn’t listening properly to the rules of the tradition as I was too busy consuming, but it sounded a bit like the British tradition of hiding a penny coin in a Christmas pudding, which apparently has now been banned due to Health and Safety; there’s nothing like Health and Safety to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

So, feeling stuffed and creamy, I can now proudly no longer say I have never tried a traditional Danish lunch.


Acts of kindness, Uncategorized, Voluteering

…volunteered at a Free Bookshop

ImageDay Fourteen

If I’m brutally honest whenever I’ve been into a charity shop, and that’s not often as I’m a bit of a snob, I’ve always thought the volunteers must either be on community service for mugging old grannies or they’re a little bit nuts.  The idea of working all day to receive no pay or at least some kind of prize ashamedly baffled me.

I was invited by a friend who calls himself Idiot Rich to volunteer with him for a day.  I jumped at the chance as it was something I’ve never done before, and also I wanted to find out how much of idiot he actually is.  We were to help at a bookshop that offers all their books for free; certainly not a business plan that’s Dragon’s Den worthy although I doubt the people running it care as they go by the name The Kindness Offensive.

I met Idiot Rich at Camden Road Station.  We had to take a short bus ride to the free bookshop (I’m not sure it can technically be classed as a shop if no money passes hands, but that’s just being picky) and during the journey I was told a little more about the unpaid job ahead.  He explained the charity saves unwanted books before they head to landfills and instead offers them to the public for free.  The charity don’t wanted another book in return or any donation money, it’s completely free – a pure act of kindness.

I was instructed by Idiot Rich that we would be arranging a large jumble of books into genre sections in the shop and, time permitting, alphabetising them too.  I thought to myself the people running the shop will be very pleased with the free work I’m about to give them and at a bare minimum I’ll get a certificate from the Mayor of London, or at least a party thrown in my honour by the local residents – at this point I still wasn’t quite grasping the concept of working for kindness not reward.

When we arrived at the shop I must admit I was somewhat impressed.  I was expecting a small rundown charity shop with the whiff of damp ginger biscuits in the air, perhaps a crazy bag lady in the corner searching through a pile of odd shoes (all based on my limited experience of charity shops), however the Kindness Offensive’s Free Bookshop is in fact located in a beautifully converted pub.  The former Camden pub has been completely redecorated into a welcoming bright open space with shelved books around the edges and bunting hung from the ceiling.  Parked outside the bookshop there’s an old Route Master Bus that’s been painted in the bright signature colours of the Kind Offensive.  I’m later told they won the bus (I’ve only ever won a pot of jam) and it’s now used to deliver free Christmas presents to children in hospitals – an even kinder act of kindness.

Inside the bookshop I meet two male volunteers both wearing high visibility jackets which is the uniform of their offensive.  One of the men, after I explained I’ve come to volunteer for the day, informs me all I have to is greet people and tell them they are allowed three books for free.  The man then informs me Idiot Rich likes to arrange the books in order which is possibly pointless because the entire shop’s being moved around in few weeks, also you can’t label the sections because for some reason the cleaners don’t like it, and furthermore new books are piled on top of the old ones every day – despite this I begin the task of categorise the books, which now seems like an idiotic way to spend my afternoon.

In general I’m not a big fan of working and tend to find as many distractions as I can before commencing any form of labour.  After reading all the posters on the walls and staring out the window for bit, just like I used to at school during Religious Education, I finally started arranging the books.

As Idiot Rich and I continued organising the books into some kind of order, the other two volunteers sat waiting for someone to enter the shop.  In the almost three hours I was there only five people entered – five people Imagewho were smart enough to realise what a great shop a free shop is.  I overheard one customer ask a volunteer if the books are in any order and he replied “not really”, that’s great I thought to myself.

Later on Rob, who is the leader of the Kindness Offensive and had just returned to the shop in the ‘Funbulance’ (another vehicle they’d wonderfully converted), presented one of the volunteers with a plastic medal for his commitment to being super kind.  At the start of the day I would have murdered for a medal or any kind of recognition for my free work, but I was happy for the man who’d clearly committed more time to kindness than my miserly half-hearted almost three hours.

By the end of my time in the bookshop I was proud of the work Idiot Rich and myself have achieved, even if the customers didn’t notice there was actually a complex system of book arrangement.

I was surprized to find it was great doing something for the community and for a short while being part of something wonderful and, with the fear of sounding cliché, ImageI guess that IS the ultimate payment of volunteering.

The kindness Offensive are awesomely kind people, so if you’re near Camden do go visit their bookshop which will hopefully be there for a long time, or even better why not donate some of your time to them.


P.S. When you enter the bookshop Arts and Crafts are on the left by the entrance, Science Fiction at the back and Novels on the right.