London - Home of the Canary Wolves

I wrote this in 2014 and it's been hiding in the drafts folder ever since. I thought I'd finally share it.

I was lucky enough to have a work event in Westminster where I stayed in a run-down area of London called Mayfair. I was in a 5* hotel called The Westbury. If you are aware of this hotel, well done! You are either a taxi driver or you are paid too much! It was around £200 a night for the cheapest room without breakfast, which came at the additional cost of £26 a day. A croissant was £8. 

I definitely feel more at home in a £10 a night hostel dorm where I'm woken up by some fat man snoring. I felt as out of place as one of the many prostitutes that visit establishments like this, to see their oligarch clients.

However, it is interesting to see how used to this lifestyle one can become in just a few days. The idea that this hotel costs more per night than some families live on for a week in the UK just doesn’t seem real when you walk down the streets of Mayfair. The area is incredibly prosperous and financial problems seemed as abstract to me, in that moment, as Africans not having clean water seems to an everyday Brit. You walk down the road and see bags, watches, and shoes costing more than the average yearly salary.

I find this level of wealth uncomfortable. I don't see a need for it and I don't see why anyone would spend so much on a bag or a pair of shoes. That said, I don’t think it's much good to take the Russell Brand style of vitriol hate against this group of elites. If you truly believe in compassion and love then I think it is up to us as citizens, not consumers, to recognise the kindness and the generosity of the elites. We need to encourage them to donate millions for new hospitals. If it helps we can name the institutions after them, to feed the ego of these illusive and eccentric millionaires.

But some are beyond redemption. What do we do with the Dan Bilzerians, who promote the lowest of the lows in this set of elites? Buzzfeed reckons he is Instagram's most interesting man. I say shut down Instagram then if this is the case. I recently discovered this type of celebrity that some people seem to hold up as idols and aspire to be like. He basically lives the life of the Wolf of Wall Street. A great film and terrifically acted, but Leo’s character was deplorable.

These people should be vilified and ostracised from the mainstream, yet a lot of people I speak to seem to admire them. To be a multi-millionaire and have a lavish lifestyle is one thing. But to be a young millionaire and spend your days on yachts, sleeping with prostitutes, being a drug addict, and ruining the lives of everyone around you should not be anyone’s dream. It doesn’t make you happy and it should not be the role model inspiring the next generation. 

There are over 100 billionaires in London. How many millionaires? Around 3% apparently. That means it's not thousands, nor tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands. Do they live the life of a Canary Wolf?

I believe that feeding the egos of these people is the way to save society. Rewarding their egos when they build schools by putting a fraction of the money into a statue of them outside, for their posterity. Force high net worth individuals into transparency by showing the public what charity work they carry out on top of how much tax they pay. Shame them into being more generous.

These are ideas that could inspire these elites to part with their excess wealth and start to contribute to building a grander world. Trickle down economics was a lie. It’s a “sucking up” economic system where inequality only grows. Maybe we can convince some of these people to spit out a few billion and help tackle the larger problems by rewarding their generosity.

I started this article to talk about London and the good time I had exploring the beautiful sights of my home city. It turned into a slight rant but I can’t help feeling these feelings when I see homeless people living in tents outside buildings that stay heated all night and have clean toilets. The juxtaposition is so extreme.

Anyway, enjoy the photos of London – my home town that makes me feel sad when I see the homeless and hungry on the streets. A city where inequality is as obvious as any other. However, it is a city surrounded by beauty and history. This is London.

Valencia Vs Real Madrid

I recently went to see Valencia play Real Madrid...on my own. Not because we don't have friends, but because the tickets were extortionate (~€80). I have pretty much stopped watching football matches these days, because I realised I was getting incredibly frustrated and angry with Arsenal and it was having an overall negative impact on my life. Stupid tribal ancestry was causing me to make allegiances to these millionaires who I really shouldn't care so much about. So I went cold turkey(ish) and now have better control over my emotional state. And as I have no allegiance to any Spanish players or teams (yet), I was able to go to this particular match simply for the spectacle.

The stadium doesn’t sell beer, much like the Maracana, so most people were gathered around outside the stadium, drinking heavily before kick-off. The atmosphere was buzzing before the important La Liga match and there was a sense of hope in the air that only a football match creates.

I was sitting behind the goal at the top of the top, two rows in front of the highest seats in the stadium, and it was awesome! I could peer over the edge of the stadium onto the ground below, which gave me that dizzy feeling I really need to learn to get over. The game started and there was a lot of chanting happening on both sides of me - a group of die-hard fans to the left, and a group of thirty-plus Nazi Ultras to the right (naturally). They were kicked out of the stadium fifteen minutes into the match, by hordes of policemen. It was intense.

After this drama off the pitch, Ronaldo did what he does best on the pitch and won a penalty, converting it to give Madrid the lead. The fans around me were pissed off, except for one man in his early twenties, who started celebrating the goal. But he didn't do it in a respectful way - he stood up with both hands in the air, in absolute glee, cheering in the faces of all the Valencia fans around him. It was exceptionally odd and dangerous behaviour. The 19-year-old next to him got particularly pissed off and it nearly kicked off. The guy's friend ended up sitting between the two to keep peace. The arguments continued throughout the entire game though, with a lot of aggressive men getting in this Madrid fan's face. It was a great mini-drama. The Madrid supporter didn't seem to apologise and apparently thought this was all acceptable behaviour. Thirty years ago you probably would have been killed for doing this, so the fact he escaped without even a mild a beating is very lucky for him. I bet he had moist underwear though.

Back to the drama on the pitch and Ronaldo doubled the lead with another, seemingly contentious penalty. The Madrid fan did not celebrate the second or subsequent goals. I guess his adrenaline had returned to normal and he wasn’t about to stir the hornets' nest around him.

As you can tell from watching the video, I had two very shouty fans behind me, which meant I got rained on by their spit, so I'm glad I had my jacket. The plus side is, along with some potential diseases, I picked up some Spanish vocab from them. I think puta means referee. During half-time I also got accidentally pissed on at the urinal by a child. I wanted to tell the little squirter to aim the cannon before he fires, but my Spanish hasn't got there yet. Having been coated in two bodily fluids, I hoped there wouldn't be a third.

The game was quite open and Valencia had chances, and eventually got a goal back. For a while it looked like a comeback was possible but then Madrid got a third and then a forth goal. It was game over and Zidane would live to manage another day. For now, at least.

The thing that stood out most to me was the crowd's reaction at the end. The Valencian fans clapped and cheered their players, despite the loss. They had played better than the scoreline suggests, so this may have had something to do with it, but the Mestalla stadium definitely had a different, more positive feel than the Emirates after a loss. This really endeared the club to me, and I will go back for some more games for sure. They may make a fan of me after all!

One other thing I want to mention before I end is this lady - she ate sunflower seeds for the entire second half and I got showered in shells, to accompany the aforementioned spit and piss. And yet I had fun…

The goal scorer and second biggest legend on the pitch
The legend
Proof I actually went!

Nine Life Lessons from my Twenties

I turn 30 today and although I have so much to learn and many mistakes still to make, I feel my birthday gives me license to share some personal thoughts with you all.

This is not my version of the path to happiness or enlightenment, but simply the best lessons I've learnt to achieve my goals. I think these kind of lists are great, I read a lot of them, but it's important to recognise three things: One, take it with a pinch of salt, as they are only simple explanations and some of the nuance may be lost in the writing. Two, not all advice/methods will apply to everyone. Three, if you read something you think is good advice for you, try to action it straight away. Merely reading things will change very little - it's all about the action.

Okay, are you ready? Let's go.

1. Nutrition

Every list should start with nutrition. Everyone knows, "You are what you eat" but I like to emphasise, "If you shove shitty food down your throat, you feel like shit." I don't yet know what the perfect diet for me is - it's been a five year experiment of trying to find the right balance and I'm still not there. So I have no idea whether you should be on paleo, vegan, keto, or 5-2. You're going to need to figure it out for yourself, but I have learnt a few things I'd like to share:

  • Eat less sugar. Everyone studying nutrition agrees with this one so give it a go. I try and do three to five "no sugar days" each week. This means looking at ingredient labels a fair bit because sugar is added to everything. 
  • Eat less complex carbs. These make me groggy as fuck, so I've reduced my intake of bread, pasta, rice, etc.
  • Time restricted eating / intermittent fasting. This has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve lifespan. It basically means don't eat/drink anything most days for 12-15 hours (overnight). It's not too difficult to do.
  • Drink more water and less booze. My main issue with booze is that it's already loaded with sugar and then seems to lead to poor food choices.  
  • There is also your microbe biome to consider as well, in your gut and everywhere else. Don’t take antibiotics unless you have to. They are indiscriminate killers of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. I've always heard you should go on a probiotic course during and after a course of antibiotics. 
TLDR: Poor diet choices lead to poor health and generally feeling like crap.

2. Exercise, motherfucker

I used to think of myself as a brain on a body, almost as two distinct items, walking around without the body impacting me too much. It was almost like an inconvenience that my
consciousness was trapped in this meat vehicle. I never considered the impact exercise could have on my thinking and wellbeing. Well I was wronger than wrong. You have physical requirements and these must be met or you're going to struggle mentally as well. If I feel low, I often exercise, as it boosts my mood and gives me energy.

We don’t all have to do Cross Fit, but go for hikes in the countryside or swim in the sea. It's always calming to work out in nature and puts you and your ego back in place. I find watching the sea crash into rocks, and then seeing how these rocks have been shaped over hundreds of thousands of years, puts my tiny day-to-day concerns in their rightful place. High intensity exercise has helped me reduce my aggression/anxiety and cycling to work is my favourite way to commute. 

TLDR: Build exercise into your routines and focus on it daily, even if it's a rest day. You still can stretch you lazy good-for-nothing :P

3. Sleepy sleepy

I used to view sleep as wasted time. Why sleep when I could be doing other things like partying, reading, or writing? There is some truth to this, but the importance of sleep on wellbeing and ensuring you make the right choices the next day is paramount. Poor sleep leads to poor diet and exercise choices.
I still don't enjoy sleep that much (I don't like switching off my consciousness!) but I ensure I get what I need.
The topic I am skirting around with the above three points is about brain chemistry and free will. I don’t believe we have that much free will. I think we are mostly the sum of our habits. Our choices are unconscious and built on routines rather than "in the moment" choices. For example, eat a chocolate bar and you receive a lot of great mouth pleasure. You feel fantastic for a period and then the insulin kicks in. This hormone regulates blood sugar and causes an eventual slope that makes you feel lethargic and crave even more sugar. You aren't choosing to eat that next candy bar, your hormones pretty much have a gun to your head pushing you down that delicious, slippery slope.

TLDR: Sleep for the right duration, at a similar time most days, and the one I recently learnt: at the right intensity. No more blue lights late at night.

Talking about our lack of free leads me nicely to:

4. Build routines to achieve your goals

You need clear goals in life. Whether they are simple, like "be healthier, lose some weight, look better naked" or complicated, like "start my own company, change the world." You have to define what you want before you can start building routines to help you achieve it.

I use daily lists to define what I need to do and have triggers that spark new routines to hopefully turn them into habits. For example, I'm trying to learn Spanish so I have two triggers I'm using. The first is when I go for a shit, I use Duolingo and do ten minutes on the app. So most days I'm doing those ten minutes of Spanish learning. The second is when brushing my teeth, I listen to "Notes in Spanish" - a podcast that is helping me learn. So that's another five minutes a day. This fifteen minutes a day of otherwise wasted time is now utilised, and this adds up to over 90 hours a year of Spanish learning. It's not nothing.

We are the habits and routines we have, so if you want to change your life, start focusing on building positive ones that align with your personal ambition. Also, recognise the negative ones, and the best way to remove a bad habit is to track it. If you're trying to save money, write down every time you spend a penny (literally, not figuratively). The same goes for losing weight - write down everything you eat. As soon as you start tracking, you can start to improve.

TLDR: Build routines that achieve your goals using triggers and tracking to ensure you do them!

5. Constantly learn

Learning is one of my favourite uses of time and we are all lucky enough to be alive in a time when learning is easier than it ever has been. We don’t need to trek to a library or travel hundreds of miles to speak to an expert. There are so many reliable sources on the internet and thousands of podcasts and books just a click away. You can now hear an expert in any field talk for hours about their craft in a podcast. It's an amazing time to be alive!

Don't believe you aren't capable of learning maths, anything else. I used to think I couldn’t learn a language but that was the wrong fixed mindset. Skills are learnable and having a growth mindset is useful for acquiring news skills. I just stick with it, practise every day, try my best to learn, and don't get too annoyed at Katie's ability to learn the language with seemingly half the effort. Learning Portuguese was harder than most things I've tried, but I can now get by and slowly I am learning to speak Spanish. 

TLDR: Learn everyday, little and often. It takes time to learn but it's humbling to start something fresh and it feels good to push your abilities.

6. Challenge your opinions

Hearing words and opinions that offend your ideas is great. You shouldn’t want to hide away from these challenging conversations. I love hearing someone say something contradictory to my beliefs. It makes me confront my own ideas and try to explain/realise the flaws in my or someone else's thinking. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance so we can't always realise where our thinking is flawed. But if we constantly challenge our ideas we should get better at noticing these errors in our logic and get to some kind of truth. I find that most arguments are simply language games that occur when words or ideas are defined differently between groups or individuals. Different nuances are at the heart of most disagreements. Conversation is often the best way to learn where you are mistaken or to try and show another individual where their logic is flawed. 

TLDR: Hunt out the flaws in your thinking by understanding other points of view.

7. Be grateful

Gratefulness is positively correlated to happiness. Everyone enjoys happiness, so be more grateful. Especially to your family, as you never know when loved ones will leave this earth. Be grateful for the privileges you have not earned and also for the ones you worked hard for. I do struggle with this one and can find that when I'm grateful, I'm less productive but definitely happier. One thing I'm trying to do more of is to be honest with people and express any positive opinions I have to show my appreciation of them in that moment. Don't hold back expressing positive thoughts. Do hold back negative ones that aren't useful or are poorly timed.

TLDR: Be thankful for existing and utilise your time on this earth!

8. Thoughts are not facts

The amount of conversations I've had with people without opening my mouth is amazing. I constantly argue my viewpoint against a person IN MY HEAD. I put words and often fear into my head when considering what others might say if I spoke to them about a particular subject/idea. Yet, most of the time, this isn't how people respond. I find we are so scared of imagined conversations that we don’t actually have them. You never ask for that pay rise and you never ask if that person loves you.

Another similar thing I do is have a thought about a situation, normally negative, and then believe it to be true. Such as someone not replying to a text, leading me to think that they don't like me. It then takes evidence for me to shift this negative opinion. In reality they were probably too busy or forgot to respond. Don't assume malice when ignorance/laziness is more likely. Thoughts about people and situations are not facts. They are merely thoughts. Believing them to be true is as crazy as believing everything in your Facebook feed. How do you overcome this?

TLDR: Build the mantra, "Thoughts are not facts" into your thinking. You'll still have the thoughts, but try to disregard (most of) them using the mantra.

9. Don't expect people to change

It's incredibly difficult to change someone in the way you want to. You can lead a horse to water but don't expect it to drink. It might just shit in that thirst-quenching puddle instead. The most control you have is over your own behaviour.

Lead by example and try to coach others along the way. But don’t expect your 90 year old granddad to stop using that racist term when he has been using it his entire life. It's unrealistic to expect older people to have the same morality and ethical values as the youth. Indoctrination and closemindedness takes its toll on every generation.

TLDR: You can only change yourself and try to help others along their journey.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment, share if useful, and give me some feedback. Do you agree/disagree? What makes your list?

Weird & Wonderful: Italy

Weird and Wonderful is back with an ecletic collection of oddities found on our trip to Italy, starting with Chinese Ronnie Corbett.

Chinese Ronnie Corbett
Arsenal 'til I die

Attractive statues

Sexual preducker

World's largest fusbol table!

Some really tiny, intricate furtiture

This is one hench horse. Must be on steroids!

Marzipan delights!

Very bizarre mannequin in a sex shop

Don't jump!

A wall of chewing gum

Katie's namesake boat

Disabled lake access - never seen this before

A ship after my own heart

There's a lot more of these to come! We love 'em!

Paolo printed us a photo of this bus stop to helps us find it. I guess we look that stupid.

How lovely.

Emilia Romagna - home to a delicious collection of things!

Sean Connery Private Investigator...

What a cute railing

Mamma mia pizzeria!!

I'm a Pacman!
Jesus Christ!

Very cute post/bread delivery box

Poor Billy No-Legs

Say cheese!

Funky door knob

Like something out of the Labyrinth

Yup, more road signs!

Interesting war monument in Rome

The beauty of scaffolding!

These Romulus Remus statues were EVERYWHERE

Coolest policemen ever!