Monday, 31 May 2010

April Ridiculousness

“Tell me I've lived a good life. Tell me I'm a good man.”
-Private Ryan (Matt Damon), Saving Private Ryan

Napoleon Complex kicked in big-time in April. I'd spent most of March writing constantly like a maniac- and I hadn't done much working out. I hadn't done much of anything else either, wanting to knuckle down and hammer out some serious wordage. But writing is mostly a solo affair- it's just you and your pen / keyboard, scratching around in the caverns of your mind trying to compose something, hoping that somebody will give a fuck and read it once you've finished it. It's no wonder so few people choose to do it.

When April came, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I drank an array of different whiskies- Glen Farclas, Talisker, Johnnie Walker Black Label- and also some Wild Turkey Bourbon. I felt better for it as I watched An American Werewolf in London (impressive DVD extras include behind-the-scenes footage of the puppeteering performed during the main transformation scene. It's a cinema moment that I doubt anyone will forget).

I also watched the twisted brilliance that is Meet the Feebles. Before Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson created this depraved and formerly banned tale of a cheating hippo going on a violent rampage, a rabbit with AIDS, a shady, duplicitous walrus and a journalist fly that loves to dish the dirt- in more ways than one. A hilarious outing. Check it out.

As I mentioned- I wanted to work out. Loads. I still do, and I find that writing and gym seem to clash a lot- I'm always thinking about how far behind I'm getting on one whenever I do the other. So after March's lit-frenzy, I've been to the gym a few times. I've been working out since I was seventeen, in one form or another, be it weights, boxing, Muay Thai or Mixed Martial Arts. I'm 173cm tall (that's something like 5'8 for those still catching up with the 1980s), which no-doubt spurs me to build muscle to compensate. Besides, if you ever watched Gladiators on ITV, how could you not want to grow up like one of them? I'm keen to catch up- and tone up- to what I was, after sitting still for so long.

Another reason for hitting the weights- I'm booking a lads' holiday soon. Obviously, I want to look my best in the sun. I keep meaning to go away with mates, but things keep getting in the way... It's being booked imminently, though. So I have until the end of July to get ripped out. Tuna sandwich for lunch, then.

Here's a third reason for going to the gym- I twisted my knee at the start of the month in a ridiculous wrestling match at my mate's house. Typical, isn't it? Two years of grappling training and I fuck myself up throwing an amateur around. I tried a knee support for a couple of weeks- a tubular bandage that helped me to straighten my leg. I wore it that much that the quadrilateral muscle on top of the thigh, used to extend the lower leg, started to diminish. So the quad machine is getting hammered every time I hit the gym between now and the holiday.

When I'm not writing, learning how to kill people with my bare hands, cruising Greater Manchester for MILFs, watching crazy Australian films or sat at this desk writing, I like to read. Believe it or not. In December I started reading Don DeLillo's epic Underworld.

On the surface, it's about a group of people who are all connected by one baseball- the ball hit by Bobby Thompson of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. This instance- a factual event- became known as “The Shot Heard Around the World.” In the novel, various people come into contact with the ball, and we see segments of their lives in an almost vignette fashion as the ball moves from person to person. The book spans four decades, ending some time in the 90s. It takes in the Cuban missile crisis, dissects consumerism (one character is a waste management executive and sees everything as trash while it sits on the shelf) and even has Lenny Bruce himself doing stand-up. What more could you ask for? It's a textbook example of fine descriptions and realistic, engaging dialogue- the kind of writing you feel compelled to read out loud and impress on others. And I found it for four quid in Oxfam! Winner!

So anyway- in April I finally finished the novel, after reading it in sporadic bursts from December onwards. I then dived straight into The Nature of the Beast by Janni Howker. Does anyone remember reading this in third year in English? A quality piece of teenage fiction that has stood the test of time. Kind of.

As I'm thoroughly bored of going around the same circles with street-fighting, pint swilling women (I'm digging a hole here- they are probably reading this) I decided to make a few lifestyle alterations recently. In 2006 I joined a salsa class at what was Che bar in Manchester. It was overcrowded and there were always too many men, so I slung it. Four years later, I decided to give it another shot. Che bar is now Parrot Bar, and as it doubtlessly no longer has any South American connotations they are unlikely to be running classes. I scouted out a few other groups.

First up- Copacabana, a bar in Manchester's Northern Quarter. I wasn't too impressed with the class- once again, it was overcrowded and male-heavy. They also taught us to step out-of time to the music, which I think most dancers will agree, is pointless.

A quick peruse online led me to Salsology, a dance class near to Copacabana. Miles better. Students get separate tuition for their first lesson, to learn the basic steps and get them up to speed. Then you get to dance with the opposite sex- and there's usually an even number. Occasionally there's not been enough women, but sometimes it's the other way around. In fact, Salsology is a pretty good place to go for older women. Okay, okay. That's what I go there for. Happy now?!

Another reason I go there: In salsa, the man needs to take control of the woman. He needs to guide her to move in certain dirctions. If the man doesn't lead, the dance falls apart. When learning salsa, there's two mistakes that dancers make. Men can be hesitant, and can mess it up by expecting the woman to move without his guidance, and women can go wrong by taking control away from the leader (man), by moving without his encouragement. Sociologists could have a field day at a Salsa class. Admittedly, I'm doing it to man-up.

After the class, we usually head to Copacabana for drinks. There's no place like this Latin bar at night- the wooden décor gives a beach-hut feel, and most of the customers seem to be Latin-American. The music, I'd describe as contemporary Latin- slightly influenced by rap and R'n'B, but played with a lot of the traditional instruments like the guitar.

I can't remember whether the music is played through automatically from a sound system somewhere, or whether there's an actual DJ. A DJ booth isn't something you'd really notice. The reason for this is possibly that it's packed from about 9:30pm onwards, and everybody is there to dance. Nobody goes to get pissed. That's really separates Copacabana from the crowd of other city bars- you're not going to get chatted up in Copacabana. You're going to be offered onto the dance floor. Don't worry if you don't know what you're doing and you've never had a salsa lesson in your life- the place is way too laid back for anyone to care about mistakes.

I'm keen to check this place out on a Saturday- I'll let you know what happens.

Before I go to the class I make sure I stock up on the finest American BBQ food in town. SouthernEleven opened in the Food Court on 29th March, and for the first few weeks they were giving away free samples to passers-by. I passed by. I was hooked. So far I've munched through tender pulled pork, chicken thighs, smoked brisket sandwich (twice), an avalanche of fries and a tsunami of BBQ beans. They also have a selection of tasty sauces characteristic of the Deep South. It seems to be a standalone venue, so people in the rest of the world will have to do without. For the moment. So unless you frequent the awesomeness of Manchester city centre, you're missing out big time.

In another attempt to break the mould, I eschewed the weekend bar crawls in favour of a speed-dating event. The night was held in Manchester's Circle Club, a very upmarket joint in a secluded area of the city.

I expected it to be two rows of seats facing each other- men on one side, women on the other, with a whistle being blown every two minutes and one gender moving down the seats, “dating” us one man at a time. This is your traditional speed-dating format, but Circle went for a “lock and key” event. I stepped into the club and was given a key on a lanyard, as were the rest of the men. Women were given a padlock on theirs. As an ice-breaking device, we were to find a matching pair, thus unlocking the padlock. You can imagine the innuendo this encourages. “It's too big. It won't fit... well, it goes in but it won't move... maybe next time hey?... Wow, I sure am opening a lot of locks tonight!”

A successful unlocking allows you to go to the event organiser (who happened to be the hottest woman in the building), and we each receive a raffle ticket. At the end of the night, the raffle is drawn and prizes are won- including a box of quality street, if memory serves me correctly. The winner that night decided to share them all out. Bravo. After all, we didn't really go there to win a competition, did we?

You're going to ask how well I did, aren't you? Go on, ask me if anything happened.

Well. I dished out the banter. I did my god-damn best. And I gave my number out to a few girls. I can't describe a speed-dating event without pointing out my own weaknesses here, but I stopped short of asking for numbers. I shouldn't have. Nobody rang. There's a certain comfort zone that giving my number exists inside. Asking for someone else's is outside it. Gotta stretch out of that comfort zone.

Let's end on a high note.

This week saw the launch of Shadows, the new book by the Oldham Writing Café. The Café is a group of writers who meet in Oldham. I'm a member. In the meetings, we read out work, give out feedback and share info on upcoming literature events and competitions. There's usually a writing exercise, where we each produce a short burst of text in a limited time. You'll notice some of them on here. The book launched at Gallery Oldham on Thursday, where we read out segments of the book to an audience (of mostly very old women).

The book, a series of short stories by each writer in the group, was published just as I joined. So none of my work is in there. But I read out a section of a story written by a group member who had since passed away. The section I read was about a nurse preparing to meet her extra-marital lover. Her husband knows she's playing the field, but he doesn't confront her. Instead, he watches her as she chooses out her best lingerie and puts it on. I thought the old biddies in the front row were going to have a heart attack.

I also met the Mayor and local rap group Double A. A good day all in all.

And that's April. Am I living a good life?

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