It was 32 degrees in Cambridge last Saturday. somestuffthathappened doesn’t live anywhere near Cambridge, but that’s where he was. It’s strange to reflect sometimes on the way a certain set of circumstances can make you feel. There was something rather Cypriot about the azure skies and shimmering summer heat that engulfed Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium last weekend as Southport FC proceeded to lose 2-0. Wistfulness and a rather unspecific longing for things is a bit of a theme of this blog. But that familiar cloak of warmth against the skin and the relaxed air that seems to take hold when the sun really shines brought back those memories of lapping seas, succulent kebabs, laid-back atmospheres and, of course, pretty Bulgarian waitresses that made ssth’s recent trip so enduring.
Most people tend to enjoy their holidays, miss it for a bit, and then get on with their lives. Back in 2010, ssth was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in northern India for what can only be described as one of those genuinely life-altering experiences. It’s a cliché that India changes you, but it does have a certain effect on the visitor. Nevertheless, ssth doesn’t long to be back there. He doesn’t long for those perfectly nice people with whom he made some of his almost certainly imagined connections. He even had company on that trip. Good company. And yet there is not the same yearning feeling. It just isn’t there.
So what is so different this time? Perhaps it was the being alone. There were no distractions, no disagreements, no debates about where to go and what to do, or what not to do. It was just one man, an open mind and an island to himself. We spend most of our lives constrained – constrained by the endless pursuit of money to keep us in warm clothes and cottage pies. We pull the nine-to-five for forty-odd years, consume what we can, then perish. We take shit off our boss and, if we’re really unlucky, from our colleagues, too. Yes, it’s gloomy when you look at it that way, but it’s true. So when one finds oneself plonked on a jewel in the eastern Mediterranean with nothing but a week of sunshine, meaty treats and beautiful faces for company, and one briefly casts aside any financial concerns, one cannot be blamed for nursing a sense of loss when it all comes crashing to an end. The office seems even duller than it did before. The rain seems that little bit… wetter. The sky is just that little bit greyer.
The obvious solution is to do the thing other people seem to do but which is the kind of thing that never happens to you: move to Cyprus. Okay, so it’s not 32 degrees all year round, but the idea of skiing in the Troodos Mountains in the morning before enjoying a seafood meze on the beach on the same winter’s day is very appealing. Then there’s the cost of living, which is considerably lower than in the UK, for the most part. But, you see, ssth doesn’t speak Greek. Whilst this doesn’t matter to the affluent 50-something purchasing a holiday home for the summer months, or indeed to the wealthy pensioner looking for a sunny waiting room to while away their golden years, it does matter to a guy in his 20s with his whole life ahead of him who needs to earn money to do things like pay for that very seafood meze. In other words, forget it. Or win the Lottery.
It probably seems churlish at a time when countless people are without work and can only dream of a holiday to sit here and whinge about a holiday having passed. But this isn’t really meant to be a whinge. Far from it. ssth is lucky enough to have the freedom to do things like this once in a while. By no means rich (especially after a period of extended unemployment himself), he is simply a man with few responsibilities in life who can make the odd jaunt to far-off places, hire a car, wince a little at the expense and then get on with having a great time. Plenty to be thankful for, then. Still, in the long slog through each and every working day, it’s hard not to let the mind slip back, momentarily, to that distant, wonderful place and that already long-gone, wonderful week. On with the day…
Being unemployed isn’t all shits and giggles. It can actually be quite distressing. Firstly, there’s the having no money. Then there’s the fact that you expend almost as much effort and energy trying to find work as you did when you were in work. Then there’s the having no money. Then there’s the constant stream of “thanks, but no thanks” or simple stony silence from employers (especially in a recession). Then there’s the having no money. Then there’s the stigma around claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and the inescapable sense that someone, somewhere, thinks you’re basically stealing their money. And then there’s the having no money… Or at least having so little that what you do get goes on things like making sure you can get to the Jobcentre to claim your next payment or getting to interviews. After that, if you’re lucky, you might just have enough left to think about possibly eating some food.
That probably sounds a bit melodramatic to you. Well, this is a personal blog, and ssth isn’t going to try and educate you on the myriad cases of people ending up in desperate situations through nothing more complicated than losing their job and struggling to find a new one. If you’re not sold on it now, you won’t be by the end of some obscure Scouser’s blog post. In fact, now that you know he’s a Scouser, you’re probably feeling even less sympathetic. No matter how many stories of repossession, homelessness, drug addiction or mental illness you come across that begin with “I couldn’t hold down a job” or “I was laid off”, you’ll probably not have changed your view that these people are no more than social Darwinian losers. So this post may not be for you.
ssth‘s story, quite fortunately, doesn’t involve repossession, homelessness, drug addiction or mental illness. But it does involve the self-esteem crushing, soul-destroying sense of rejection that comes from being turned down for job after job; the sense that people are judging you for claiming off the state; the hopeless feeling that you’ll never find a job because all you have is a Politics degree and that you’ll still be living in your parents’ house by the age of 40, assuming they can hang around till then.
It was exactly a year ago this month that ssth‘s previous employer – his only employer since graduating – made almost 40 people redundant by ceasing trading. It must have been a tough day for that poor man, having sacrificed his marriage and, to some degree, his health to build up a company over almost 40 years – a company that had seen off several economic downturns and come out stronger. Telling that many people they no longer had a job can’t have been pleasant, either. Up until that point, ssth had naively filed the global economic catastrophe away in his mind with things like 9/11 or the Iraq War – traumatic and appalling but unlikely to affect him.
How wrong he was. For ssth was to spend the next year with his life effectively on hold, unable to convince anyone that he had the relevant skills or experience, and therefore unable to finally escape the shackles of living under his parents’ roof well into his 20s. When you have a job, it’s easy to tire of the routine, of the sameness of each day. But when you don’t have a job, you tire of the opposite – of all the different times you wake up, of the total lack of certainty in anything that comes from having no money. Mostly you tire of the rejection. They tell you never to take it personally and that it’s a feature of job searching. You’ll always get more rejections than acceptances. That’s how it works. Fine. Especially fine if you’re one of those irritating thick-skinned types who handles anything with aplomb. But if you naturally take things to heart, there’s only so many times you can be told that you’re effectively not good enough for something before it starts to chip away at you. As for leisure time, forget it. Time spent relaxing, away from the trials and tribulations of trying to get back into work would be almost as welcome as a standard holiday you might take when employed. But you don’t have time for that. You’re unemployed. Plenty would tell you that time spent away from your jobhunt is theft.
Luckily for ssth, he returned to work this week, almost exactly a year later. But even that comes with its own set of problems. When you’re paid a month in hand and yet your JSA stops, and you have to commute 60 miles a day, how exactly are you meant to live? Until the end of September, ssth will be working in the knowledge that he’d have been better off remaining unemployed. Obviously that’s not true in the long term, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that somehow the system has actually reduced the incentive to take a job. Which is stupid.
Still, it could be worse. There are millions still unemployed and many more who, unknowingly, are headed for that same fate. We can stigmatise the unemployed all we like. But what would you do if it happened to you?
Deciding whether to post about religion wasn’t easy. On the one hand, somestuffthathappened was meant to be a cathartic, personal enterprise. Attracting readers was not the primary aim. But on the other hand, banging on about religion, no matter where you stand on the whole thing, is a surefire way of winding people up, no matter where they stand on the whole thing. Losing readers was not the primary aim, either. And who cares what some insignificant nobody has to say on the subject, anyway? Still, there is one thing that really gets ssth‘s back up. Okay, as an atheist, there’s lots that gets his back up. But putting aside all debates about whether or not any religion is right or not, there is one accusation aimed occasionally at ssth, and regularly at all atheists, that really doesn’t feel fair.
Being an atheist in the United Kingdom is not particularly difficult. Most religious people, as far as ssth can tell, generally get on with their lives without spending too much time railing against atheism. They may periodically complain about the increasing secularism of British and European life, but the most proactive approach any religious person has ever taken toward ssth‘s atheism is to offer to pray for him. It’s not like the United States, where atheists are viewed as being on a par with Satan. But if most believers generally seem content enough to leave ssth alone in his unbelief, the one thing they often accuse him of is… arrogance. “How arrogant to presume you know better than millions of Christians throughout history.” “How arrogant to argue with my holy book.” ssth was even accused by a former girlfriend of trying to “stop people having things that make them happy.” He could have pointed out that religion in all its forms stops people having things that make them happy, or that finding happiness in a belief in God doesn’t mean he exists, but sometimes it’s best not to push your girlfriend’s buttons.
Everybody is occasionally responsible for saying or doing things that leave them open to accusations of arrogance. The moment ssth decided to blog is as good an example as any. Surely sitting down to write about your own thoughts and reflections and experiences when you’ve done very little of note and achieved next to nothing hints at some kind of arrogance somewhere in the psyche. But, by and large, he is a humble soul. Or at least, tries to respond to things in as humble a manner as possible. As far as ssth is concernced, atheism is the least arrogant position to take when it comes to the origins of and explanations for the universe and our existence.
It’s fairly obvious why it looks arrogant not to accept the existence of god. The majority of people lead mundane, insignificant lives. They are exposed to their religion as children and have it drummed into them as the truth by their parents and other adult figures of authority. They have a modest education, but never really learn the value of questioning received wisdom. When you wholeheartedly believe in an almighty being with very clear teachings, rules and guidelines, and when all those authority figures told you it was the absolute truth, you can see how having a mainly well-educated and articulate elite telling you it’s all a fabrication looks terribly arrogant. Let’s also remember that, whichever religion a person follows, it “answers” the very deepest questions about the very worst suffering we go through as humans, about the biggest questions of how we all came to be, and ultimately about what happens after we die. As that former girlfriend was effectively saying: “you arrogant bastard, robbing me of all the certainties my religious belief provides”.
But ssth didn’t arrive at atheism through arrogance (or at least not intentionally). You see, he doesn’t claim to have a personal relationship with whatever force created the universe. He doesn’t claim to be of any importance whatsoever to that force. He doesn’t claim to have answers to enormous questions without ever providing a shred of proof. We’re probably getting to the point now where some will accuse him of doing the same as religious people, but placing his faith in science, scientists, and evidence. Well, that’s a different argument. It’s already been rebuffed by far greater writers than this one. But in any case, it’s not the point of this piece. The point most certainly is that by awaiting evidence before assuming you have the answer to anything, you are in fact taking a considerably more humble position than by stating without evidence that your holy book is the entire truth and that the creator of the universe cares deeply about your actions and about the thoughts that never even leave your head, to the point where he pays more attention to you as a human being than to any other aspect of his creation.
The fact that the most vocal atheists are often highly-educated writers, thinkers and, of course, scientists will always give the illusion of arrogance. The fact that all atheists go completely against centuries of received wisdom and cast doubt on vast swathes of human “certainty” only adds to that illusion. Howard Jacobson argued in a piece in The Independent back in June, that one thing atheists don’t get is that the rationality on which they base their thinking is insufficient in the face of the “subtle unreason” that guides humanity. Obviously we could point out to Jacobson that even if this were true, it doesn’t prove the existence of a god. We could also suggest that enslaving ourselves to superstition because we are fundamentally unreasonable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to improve our understanding of how things really are. But the point here is simply that one can understand why atheism can appear like an arrogant position to take.
ssth isn’t immune to moments of arrogance or an inflated sense of self-importance. He’s human, after all. But he arrived at his atheism through rational thought and a sincere belief in the value of questioning those things we are told, especially those things that are passed down through generations without being made to account for their claims. Every day on Earth is a humbling experience. Every new piece of truth that humanity uncovers is humbling. It isn’t arrogant to await evidence before declaring where you stand on something.
It was the great musician-philosopher Tom Delonge of blink-182 and the groundbreaking Angels & Airwaves who issued the above endorsement of travel. You probably won’t be familiar with it. This was the opening line from a song on an album that was purchased by about twelve people. But it’s a concept somestuffthathappened is very much on board with.
In the context of discarding your possessions and heading out into brave new locations, a week’s holiday in Cyprus probably doesn’t stand up to much. Thousands of teenagers head out to the island every summer for two weeks of Ayia Napa parties, piss-ups and losing their virginities in the kind of adolescant drunken fumble that nobody remembers but which is apparently the real indication that you’ve been on holiday (aside from the suntan). And then there’s Paphos, with its British pubs, British accents and British breakfasts absolutely everwhere. But the discerning traveller can find much more than this if he or she wants to. A week in Cyprus can still feel like an adventure. And to ssth, it certainly did.
The starting point was Larnaca. The best way to describe Larnaca is that it has the feel of a laid-back playground for Cypriots. The city is a draw for people from many corners of Europe, but the majority of those you meet in Larnaca are Cypriot holidaymakers on a desperate escape from the blinding heat of the island’s interior, or simply locals making ends meet. But it’s also a working city with myriad businesses, industries and the metronomic hum of everyday life. It lacks the 24-hour rave feel of Ayia Napa or the stream of sunburnt Northern European faces and omnipresent smell of the “full-English” you find in Paphos, but it nevertheless knows how to let its hair down come nightfall.
ssth fell in love with Larnaca. He fell in love with the beautiful young Cypriots (mainly female, but don’t discount the men) who stroll it’s lovely palm tree-lined promenade; with the sight of low-flying planes over the bay making their final approach into the airport; with the bars and tavernas that sit virtually on the shoreline. And he fell in love with the way Larnaca wakes up as darkness arrives, but without the air of impending vomit, punch-ups and inevitable low-quality kebabs you might expect from something similar back home.
It was in Larnaca that ssth took possession of a hire car. On an island where numbskulls fearlessly hire scooters and quadbikes in order to terrify nonagenarian Cypriot grandmothers and generally make themselves look like the kind of person a 16 year-old girl would want to sleep with, you’d probably chuckle at his trepidation as the realisation hit that getting around safely would be down to him and solely him. But no voyage of discovery goes very far without confronting fear at some point. In this case, it was a fear of Cypriot driving, which is probably of a higher standard than in some other regions of the Mediterranean, but still manages to result in one of the highest road accident death rates in Europe. But with his heart in his mouth and his mother’s tears on his mind, ssth grasped the wheel (or the nettle, if you’d prefer a metaphor) and proceeded to deliver himself safely round Cyrpus. If only the locals could learn such masterly use of indicators or rear-view mirrors…
Stop number one took in Choirokoitia, one of those places archaeologists periodically dig up which looks to the untrained eye like a pile of old rocks but which, due to the sheer age of the thing, leaves you aghast. This ancient dwelling (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is also perched on a hillside, which offers fantastic views of the surrounding hills (and the motorway and a dusty service station). Hauling oneself up to the top when the temperature has long passed the 30c mark is something of a challenge for a man with a gently protuding belly and an exercise regime that reaches its most strenuous when pizza is being lifted toward mouth, but it is certainly worth it. What better way to recharge the batteries after such exertions than a short hop back down to the coast for fried baby squid and feta cheese salad overlooking Governor’s Beach? Sure, the view could do without the distant power station, but with all that air conditioning running 24/7, even Cyprus needs to generate power somewhere.
All the guidebooks will tell you that Cyprus’s capital city, Nicosia, is “worth a visit”. They’ll also tell you to avoid it in July and August. The second piece of advice is probably fair enough. It is unbelievably hot in the height of summer. ssth drove through a little drizzle on the way, but with bright sunshine in the city itself, temperatures were skirting the 40c mark by the afternoon. However, this is a city that is far more than just “worth a visit”. Not only is it vibrant and exciting in the way seemingly nondescript cities can sometimes turn out to be, but it’s also filled with curiosity and intrigue. Described as the “last divided capital in Europe”, Nicosia is bissected by the so-called Green Line, which divides the city’s ethnic Greek and Turkish populations. The Green Line also marks the de facto border between the Republic of Cyprus and the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Whilst the situation is unendingly sad (many people remain missing following the 1974 conflict), crossing the Green Line on foot, as ssth did at the Ledra Street crossing, is a fascinating experience.
The border officials of both entities are surprisingly helpful and friendly. And once you’re through, you feel like you’ve entered a different world. Left behind is the Hellenic charm of Republic of Cyprus-controlled territory. Suddenly, you are in the midst of something very Turkish indeed, with kebabs, mosques and winding narrow streets and lanes. Crossing the Green Line is now considered one of the most important experiences for a tourist in Cyprus, so you’re never far from familiarity as there are plenty of similarly-minded folks pounding the cobbles and soaking up this still quite closed-off society. But you don’t have to wander far from the crossing point to get that other-worldly feel. The Turkish side is evidently poorer. You exchange smart streets and stylish boutiques for something with a much more run-down feel. It’s no surprise that life is tougher on this side, given that the TRNC is recognised only by Turkey and barely able to trade with anyone else. But the European Union is on the scene and you can see from time to time where money is being spent. For ssth, time spent on the other side of the Green Line will be a highlight of his trip.
This, however, was a trip full of highlights. Limassol was a clean and tidy city with that mix of package holidaymakers and funloving locals. Cyprus’s second city, Limassol has its own share of cultural and archaeological treasures for the so-inclined. Even the burdgeoning blisters now developing on ssth‘s feet couldn’t prevent him from trudging the length of the seafront from the enormous free car park built by a Russian property developer “as a gift to the people of Limassol” to the castle at the southern end. But this was a mere stop off en route to Paphos, base camp number two. The old coastal road from Limassol up to the family holiday resort of Paphos makes for some stunning vistas on a virtually empty highway, not least among them the beautiful beach at Aphrodite’s Rock. A female companion might have allowed for taking advantage of the obvious romance of the location, but even without, it’s a wonderful place. The people of Russia certainly seem to think so.
Most of us, at some point in our lives will have experienced a place like Paphos – a slice of Blackpool under the balmy Mediterranean sun. Every second billboard advertises “fish ‘n’ chips” and there are bars called “Steve’s” or “Joe’s”. This is package holiday territory, where few visitors are too concerned about much of Cypriot life beyond the sunlounger. Before ssth starts to sound like a holiday snob, he should point out that he actually rather understands this. Immersion in a different culture will never be for everyone, but surely those Brits with the means can be forgiven for wanting to take the things they love best about their own life – fried breakfasts, beer, karaoke, etc. – and enjoy them for a week or two in a bit of sunshine, which proves so elusive back home, even if most of them can’t go without that other Sun (you know, the Murdoch one).
Judging Paphos on the basis of its clientele is terribly unfair, though. This is a city with a cultural and archaeological heritage that stands up with anywhere else on the island. There are the remains of ancient cities (including another UNESCO World Heritage site), a fort, catacombs and much, much more. And the old town retains plenty of its traditional charms. There’s proper Cypriot food on offer, even in the most heavily touristed areas (ssth enjoyed a superb beef stifado mere metres away from the ubiquitous pubs and bars).
Away from Paphos, while exploring the north coast around Polis, ssth appeared to fall foul of the Cypriot military. Winding his Ford Focus along the stunning mountain road that heads from Paphos to Polis and beyond, he passed the Kokkina exclave, a small area of TRNC-controlled territory hemmed in by the Republic of Cyprus. Peering into military bases, including UN lookouts, as you pass is probably not the best idea. Doing it again on the way back is a sure way of arousing suspicion. ssth can only assume that the red 4×4 that swung out behind him and followed closely for twenty minutes before mysteriously falling back must have been the Cypriot military’s way of warning him to keep going. The road itself was magnificent, however, and totally devoid of traffic. That is how driving should be.
And then, on ssth‘s final night, back in Paphos, he met Maria. Ahh, Maria. It’s no secret that the women of Cyprus are beautiful (until they turn 40 when they suddenly transform into dumpy, ranting sourpusses), but the women of Bulgaria aren’t to be sniffed at, either. While awaiting his lemon rabbit at one of Paphos’s many tavernas, ssth enjoyed a conversation with his angel-faced waitress, a young Bulgarian lady by the name of Maria. Frustrated by her treatment at the hand of her boss and other Cypriots, poor Maria had a careworn manner about her. By the end of the conversation ssth had that yearning one occasionally gets when one meets a woman with that rare combination of raw beauty and unmistakable niceness.
ssth‘s departure from Cyprus thus came with a strong hint of regret. Sure, she may well be that friendly with all the restaurant’s patrons. Who knows? But this was one of those “what if?” moments, another possibility, albeit probably very minor, that went unexplored. Sometimes you need to take a risk in life. Flying out to Cyprus on your own comes with its own risks. And yet ssth survived. He did more than survive; he prospered. So why couldn’t he take that one final risk and at least ask Maria if there was any possibility of staying in touch? Some things are clearly just that little bit too daunting.
Cyprus will be missed: for the sunshine; the beaches; the vibrant towns and cities; the empty mountain coastal roads and their stunning views; and the glorious cuisine. The pace of life makes one wonder if anybody in Cyprus ever really worries about anything, bailout or no bailout. The endless, frenetic way in which we live in the UK makes ssth wonder if there wasn’t something we could learn from Cyprus. At the very least, perhaps there is something to be learned from the hedonistic and yet civilised way in which Cypriots enjoy themselves. So there is much to be missed, but nothing more so than that brief, fleeting and possibly imagined connection with Maria. Here’s hoping she’ll do okay.
somestuffthathappened pitched up in Paphos today for the second half of his journey to the centre of his soul via Cyprus… and walked straight into his own personal nightmare. Picture a 27 year-old solo traveller on a voyage of discovery. Now picture him in a hotel full of package holiday family types. Oh yes. Karaoake is a sinful, wicked thing, no more so than when men in thir 50s belt out ‘Mustang Sally‘ in that way pissed-up dads-of-three do. On the plus side, an hour’s Internet use is a ‘mere’ six euros. What do they do that takes six euros? Is the server in Belgium?
Ah, Cyprus. They tell you to expect it in Greece, so perhaps it’s to be expected here too. Makes you wonder why anyone would leave their ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign up. In Cyprus, the cleaner is your best friend! The remover of shitty paper. They should be treated like kings. They’re not, of course. Partly because they’re women (who can’t be kings), partly because nobody anywhere pays cleaners very much.
So somestuffthathappened has been in Cyprus for… one and half days now. In that time he has experienced a tour bus that plays two Boney M songs over and over again (why?!), a cafe bar playing a live version of Westlife’s ‘Swear It Again’ on a continuous loop (which he loved, of course), and the typical Mediterranean sight of some idiot being knocked of his scooter by another idiot.
It’s not all been eccentric lunacy or weird pop music, though. There’s the rack of lamb he enjoyed last night almost to the point of orgasm while watching planes fly in over the bay. There’s today’s lunch; a squid platter which, if you like that sort of thing, was only enhanced by being perched on a restaurant patio overlooking Governor’s Beach. There’s the way every restaurant seems to offer a free dessert once you’ve finished eating.
It’s not just the food, though. The women here were clearly created behind closed doors in God’s special lab for his most perfect things. The problem is that they know it, so there’s no way a pastey blonde blogger from Merseyside will be getting a look in. somestuffthathappend has to admit that he doesn’t fit in among Larnaca’s beautiful people. But he doesn’t care, either.
A few questions do spring to mind, though:
1. Why is everybody Russian? somestuffthathappened has no problem with that, and Russians like holidays too, of course. But why Larnaca?
2. Why do all Russian men have mullets? somestuffthathappened has more of a problem with this.
3. How does anyone in Cyprus make any money? Granted it’s holiday season, but it seems like everyone gets up around 10am, foregoes breakfast, has a huge lunch in the early afternoon, lies on the beach until evening time, has their dinner around 9-10pm and then parties till dawn. Perhaps these are the roots of the country’s economic problems? Or perhaps it’s just holiday season.
Whatever the situation, somestuffthathappened is already somewhat charmed by this little corner of the Mediterranean.
From July 21st to 28th, somestuffthathappened will be heading out on his lonesome to the sun-soaked island of Cyprus for a week’s clichéed self-discovery. If you’re at all inclined, do check back for updates, thoughts and reflections as he attempts to navigate Cypriot roads, sample as many local beverages as possible and gorge on meze.
Back in 2004, when somestuffthathappened was busy at Lancaster University dodging taxes, drinking himself into a stupor and attending the occasional lecture should it happen to start after midday, he read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation“. It was pretty good, if a little one-sided. If you’ve seen “Supersize Me”, you’ll be familiar with its content.
The basic premises were pretty familiar: if you eat at McDonald’s you’ll die some time around the age of 38; if only you knew some of the evil substances that go into fast food; each Big Mac you eat results in the death of six Arctic terns; McDonald’s staff are paid twelve cents an hour and are beaten with a broom should they drop a fry.
Eight years on from that chastening read, and somestuffthathappened still eats fast food. Not every day, but he’ll confess than when he does, he enjoys it. It’s become a pretty dirty thing to say and it’s increasingly unfashionable to admit it. Still, that’s the way it is. Let’s be honest, though. While the global success of McDonald’s, Burger King etc. owes at least something to being cheap and readily available, it simply wouldn’t be where it is today if there wasn’t something about the food that made people want to keep coming back.
But this is no attempt to defend the fast food industry. somestuffthathappened‘s relationship with burgers and pizzas leaves him with a feeling of great personal guilt and no small amount of shame. There’s the feeling before the meal – of hunger, of anticipation, of excitement. There’s the feeling during – the soft bun, the warm, tender meat, the tangy sauces, the gooey cheese. Then there’s the feeling afterwards – remorse, queasiness, the shakes, the aches, the regret. This must be akin to what drug users go through. Or those who pay for sex.
And maybe there’s something in that. Fast food is just another giddy little thrill, another cheap way of numbing our minds for a few minutes and brightening up the drudgery of another day on Earth. We might pity the heroin junkie as he shoots up in some dank alley with only the rats and a few hundred discarded cheeseburger wrappers for company. If we’re sufficiently right-wing, we’ll probably also condemn him. Of course, whatever your political persuasion, heroin addiction is a tragic and dangerous thing, for the individual and society. But is a compulsion to consume artery-clogging, waistline-expanding, bloodsugar-annihilating fast food not also a personal and societal disaster?
somestuffthathappened isn’t in Burger King every night indulging his addiction to processed beef. Few people are. But this doesn’t stop him from facing a moral dilemma every time he finds himself on the high street with those familiar pangs. The equally familiar Golden Arches are never far away.
It’s not fashionable anymore and it’s not healthy. Well, it’s never been healthy. It’s far more fashionable these days to make out like the mere thought of McDonald’s makes you want to vomit. Take it from someone who eats there that you’re far more likely to feel nauseous if you’re anything like a regular customer. But if you ever spot somestuffthathappened in a McDonald’s near you, feel free to offer him a Quarterpounder with Cheese, and a shoulder to cry on.
What better way to generate interest than with a dispassionate list? somestuffthathappened spent the last few days shuttling between home and Llandudno, North Wales. Here is a list of things he observed, experienced or otherwise encountered:
1. “If you don’t behave, no sweets or doner meat for you”.
On a Merseyrail service chugging its way up the Wirral Line, a mother struggles (loudly) to get her young daughter to behave. It should be said that the daughter was doing little more than failing to sit still. To somestuffthathappened‘s astonishment, the mother proceeds to issue the above warning. The sweets bit is forgivable. Parents have been bribing their kids through sugar since time immemorial. If sweets aren’t a part of your childhood, it’s not a childhood.
But it’s no surprise that we’re wrestling with a obesity rate among children that’s as high as it is if we’re now throwing doner meat into the mix. Perhaps this was an isolated incident. If so, you still have to wonder about the mentality of someone who would blurt out in front of a carriagefull of train passengers that doner meat is a useful inducement to good behaviour in her book.
2. “Muuuummm? Can I have a bottle of water when we get to Rhyl?” (Repeat ad nauseum)
In the light of no.1, there’s something positively joyous about this. Here we have a clearly thirsty child desperate not for Coke or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper or any other form of sugary fizz-juice, but for a simple bottle of water. It’s a far cry from needing doner meat in order to behave yourself.
Still, it would be nice of Mum to reply, in the affirmative or otherwise, just so those of us who don’t necessarily think children are as adorable as others do don’t have to hear the same question over and over again.
I hope the kid got his bottle of water. Because if not, he’s left without the one thing he wants the most… and he’s in Rhyl.
3. Position: Closed
Pop down to Gorsaf Llandudno (that’s Llandudno Station to the small number of us who don’t speak Welsh) at 2pm and you can buy a ticket no problem. But, in their infinite wisdom, Arriva Trains Wales see fit to close the ticket office by 5pm, when you might expect something of a rush. Buying on the train would be fine if the ticket inspector didn’t have a full train to get round, in between manning the doors.
That’s the thing with trains in the UK – you pay some of the highest fares in the Western world for a service that would embarrass countries in Eastern Europe with a still-developing rail infrastructure. And apparently fares are going to have to keep rising.
By the time somestuffthathappened changed in Chester, he had his ticket. But only just. And it’s a good job because he would have been arrested and disappeared by the guards in Liverpool once he got to Merseyrail’s barriers.
4. Under Attack
Llandudno has the fattest, meanest, most brazen seagulls that somestuffthathappened has ever encountered. Most of the time, it’s not a problem. But don’t even think about enjoying a sandwich on the beautiful seafront. Oh no. Poor somestuffthathappened was almost scalped by ravenous, divebombing seabirds, apparently in a daring raid to steal his frankly sub-par Greggs chicken, sweetcure bacon and mayonnaise butty. Escaping to the presumed safety of the main shopping street offered no protection from a follow up attack that forced him back to the office to polish off his Walker’s Squares.
5. “You’re fit”
somestuffthathappened is homely-looking at best. Compliments are but rare and fleeting. Yet, while innocently and rather vacantly munching his way through a McDonald’s Quarterpounder with Cheese, he was informed by a girl of about 14 that he was “fit”. Perhaps in the fast food outlets of North Wales, somestuffthathappened is the teenage girl’s bit of crumpet. Perhaps it was some kind of dare. Either way, it’s a first. And probably a last.
In all seriousness, Llandudno and the surrounding area is stunningly beautiful and worth a visit. If you can put up with the overwhelming preponderance of people in their 90s who’ve either retired there or are on what must be their last ever holiday, it’s hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else. And if that sounds horribly disrespectful, see if you feel the same after four days of being barged into, sworn at and insulted by the insufferable old codgers.