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Friday, 30 November 2012

#24: Racing Dynamite

One of the perks of a running addiction – especially a long-distance one – is that you can eat like a horse. And I'm not talking about a Shetland Pony; I mean a Shire horse. The Big Daddy Fat Dog—err, horse—of the equine community. And I’m not talking about a giant vat of salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The odd doughnut, too.

However, while it’s scientifically proven that bulldozing your way through an all-you-can-eat buffet is fine following a race/workout; caution has to be taken beforehand, to avoid calamitous consequences. Namely having to make an emergency pitstop in Mrs. McGuigan’s rhododendron bush at No. 42 – just past the 5k mark.

Pre-workout or race, a runner would be wise to avoid eating anything spicy; anything creamy; and, above all else, anything fibrous. Taking an eye off the ball in regard to any of the latter trio, will inevitably result in a racing shorts-related explosion; preceeded by 30+ minutes of agonizing foreplay.

I’ve twice made schoolboy errors in the above regard – and the gastric firework displays that subsequently ensued would have made Guy Fawkes proud.

The first time was back in April, 1999, the day before the London Marathon. That particular date happened to be my 26th birthday, so I and some friends indulged in a birthday dinner-come-pre-race meal at a restaurant in Victoria.

I plumped for chicken and pasta – which, on the face of it, seemed like a sensible enough choice. Except that the pasta came with a thick, rich creamy sauce; likely laden with calories, saturated fat and the effortless potential to play havoc with my marathon race plans. I was oblivious at the time; but I’d made a humdinger of a mistake.

Race morning, some 18 hours later, I was forced to make multiple trips to the porta-potty pre-race, as 40,000 runners gathered at Greenwich; and I think I had most of them lined up behind me at some point, as I tried not to hog the bog too long.

The signs weren't good as we limbered up on the start-line; a mass of potential energy, blending nerves and excitement. And that was just my bowels.

Three miles in, my large intestine felt like it had a gorilla swinging from it...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

#23: Dutch Courage

My first trip abroad was actually to another part of Europe: Holland. Our junior school (Holywell County Primary) did an exchange program in the 4th year and we had the option to head to either Holland or Wales for a week.

Seemed like a no-brainer to me: a rain-fest in the dark, dreary Welsh valleys or the multi-cultural eclectic home of cheese, tulips, windmills and coffee shop bongs? It had to be Wales. Just kidding. Amsterdam here we came!

About 30 of us opted to head to the country also known as The Netherlands, also famous for wooden shoes – known as clogs; scenic canals; spectacular architecture; and the legendary painter, Vincent Van Gogh.

As an 11-year-old British soccer addict, that was all great and everything – but I really only had eyes for one man: Johan Cruyff. The legendary Dutch footballer was Holland for me; and Holland he. Meeting him was the big pull for many of us; and we were pretty sure we’d bump into him. I mean, how big could Holland be?

Before we left England, we were assigned pen-friends, based on our shared interests. Mine was Danny Ummels; and his picture showed him standing on a beach in a Denim jacket holding a football. I took this to mean he enjoyed beach football, though was often overdressed. We all wrote our pen-friends letters, so they knew we were capable of writing. And mailing letters.

Our party took the ferry over, as Holland was a fairly short sail; then a coach to Amsterdam, Holland's capital city. We passed by some incredible scenery; spectacular windmills in the countryside; breathtaking canals; and wonderful Dutch architecture, dating back to… well, waaaaaay back. According to the teachers.

I missed all that though, as one of my buddies had the pocket video game, Super Mario Brothers… and it was very addictive! Pity we weren’t in Italy, as we might have met the mustacheod duo in person.

For most of the week we stayed in a youth hostel, which looked quaint from the outside. Inside was a different story. Our dorm sported rickety old bunk-beds with blood-stained bed-sheets and blood-spattered walls; which gave most of us the heebee-geebies.

Getting stuck into Super Mario became even more essential; just to take our minds off the fear we were going to be murdered at some point in the next six days. The teachers, of course, laughed off the state of the d├ęcor; claiming it was all part of the fun. What?!

During the week, we took in many of Amsterdam’s famous areas; including the Museumplein – the city’s major museum district – which we all really enjoyed... in-between competitive bouts of Super Mario; the Grachtengordgel (the 17th Century canal system which snakes through the heart of the city); the Vondelparl, a 19th century park named after the Dutch writer Joost van den Vondel; and de Wallen, Amsterdam's oldest area which just happened to also contain the city’s red light district.

Not that we cared. We were 11. And had Super Mario. Plus, more to the point, Johan Cruyff. At least in our sights. Where the heck was he? Hadn't he heard we were coming? I started to think maybe he hadn't been invited to the party.

Our final, full day in Amsterdam was reserved to spend with our pen-friends and their families.

We all gathered on the front steps of the hostel Saturday morning – waiting for our pen-friends and their families to collect us – ecstatic to be alive and have our pre-trip blood levels all present and correct.

One by one, all the other pen-friends’ parents drove up to the hostel’s drop-off area, and collected their individual English guest. With five of us left, I was wondering what had happened to Danny and his family. Four. Three. Two. One. Suddenly I was the only one left, and the cars now just kept whizzing by the hostel turning.

I’d almost given up hope when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a bike approaching in the distance to my right. As the rider got ever-closer, I could make out it was a boy; and that he was wearing a denim jacket. There was no football tucked under his arm (I guessed cycling in a straight line was pretty key), but it was Danny. Here to pick me up. On his push-bike.

His family (as you might have guessed by now) couldn’t afford a car. So I had to sit on the back of his bike, on what I think it may have been a shopping basket (with the lid on), and hang on for dear life as he propelled us via pedal-power.

Amsterdam was a pretty relaxed city. With the liberal drug laws 'n' all, everyone’s usually stoned. So the traffic wasn’t crazy. If he’d been riding me home through the streets of Italy or Calcutta, it would have been a different story (and I'd have required several spare pairs of underpants).

Danny lived with his parents, older brother and two younger siblings (I think one of each gender) in a small terraced house on the outskirts of Holland's largest and capital city.

We hung out at his house for a while, then went 10-pin bowling with his elder brother. On the way home, we stopped off for a burger and fries. I remember them slathering way too much mayonnaise on the fries -- definitely a case of: do you want fries with your mayonnaise? I've steered clear of the latter ever since.

In the late afternoon, we also made a trip to the beach – the one in the photo – and kicked Danny’s football round a little bit. Then it was time to bid a fond farewell, and hold on for dear mercy, once more, as Master Ummels rode me back to the hostel, budget-style.

A memorable first trip to Holland. Level 25 of Super Mario Brothers. Man, we were good. Oh, and we made it home alive!

Just one question: Where were you hiding, Mr. Cruyff?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

#22: Twas the Night Before Christmas... at Santa's Ranch

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house… Santa, Rudolf and the team (of elves) were preparing for departure.

Saint Nicholas Heights, SantaVille, Greenland. Christmas Eve, 2012. 7:30pm.

SANTA: “OK boys, you know the drill by now. 907 million gifts in three hours. So that’s about 360 million homes. It’s gonna be tight, but we can do it.”

ELF E. LIVING (Chief Elf): “907? That’s gone up seven million from last year.”

SANTA: “Yes, we’re including Taiwan. I know the Yanks still class them as bridesmaids in the Call Yourself A Country? stakes, but about 90% of the crap we’re flying to kids tonight is made there… so they’re IN, dammit!”

ELF GARNETT (2nd in command): “Are you sure we’re gonna have time to stop for coffee in Burkina Faso, boss?

SANTA: “Well, the crew at Starbucks in Ouagadougou are getting up especially, so we’ll do our best.”

ELF CAIR (3rd IC): “Snow White’s on the phone for you, Guv. It’s about the back-up plan.”

SANTA: “I’ll take it on Line One. Hi SW, SN here… OK… Right… Yep… OK. Listen. I’m gonna have to love you & leave you; we haven’t packed the sleigh yet, and time’s time. Thanks for the update… oh, and give my love to Eric (the Huntsman).”

ELF STOOR (4th IC): “Are the Seven Dwarfs in?”

SANTA: “Bashful’s a maybe. Doc’s on call. Dopey hasn’t understood the request yet. Grumpy’s being talked round. Happy’s in. Sleepy, too – Snow White’s packed some ProPlus for him. And Sneezy has a cold, surprise surprise. But we have Benadryl.”

ELF MADDERS (5th IC): “I’ve just had a late fax from a Ryan Clark, aged 7, in Melbourne, Australia. He says he’s been a good boy this year, and has requested an Android tablet.”

SANTA: “An Android tablet? That sounds like an incontinence pill for a robot. What the hell does a seven-year-old boy want with that?”

To view the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Monday, 26 November 2012

#21: Power to the Paperboy

My first foray into the working world was bagging a paper round (/route) in the winter (October-ish) of 1987. I was 14, so in what was then the 4th year (now Year 10) of high school.

It was time to assume some financial responsibility, and stop scrounging fivers off my parents to buy tooth-rotting sweets and computer games I’d get bored with after five minutes.

My parents were always very supportive, and suggested becoming a paperboy as my next move in the Chess Game of Life. They succinctly and eloquently summarized their idea with a positive call-to-action: “Earn your own bloody money, you lazy, good-for-nothing *^&!#$%! Or words to that effect.

This was also my first taste of rising before the crack of dawn – anything to avoid the wrath of Dawn’s whip – in fact, while the stars of Twilight were still doing their thirst-quenching rounds of neck-sucking (well, if they’d actually been born then). So it instilled some good discipline in me.

I’d set the alarm for 6:30am, then slap the snooze button three times, before hauling my butt out of bed around 0645. Then throw on some clothes (it was often clear I’d dressed in the dark) and tiptoe out of the house in darkness, to make it to the newsagent for 7. We lived in a cottage (Spring Cottage to its friends) in a hamlet called Quarhouse (not a cigar) above the village of Brimscombe, near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, England.

I had to negotiate four portions of country lane, to make it down to the main road, and was often spooked by shadows – usually my own – as I crunched through the gravel, then roughened tarmac in darkness to reach my destination; where I’d find my bag of papers waiting for me (numbered to distinguish between routes).

My first route was close to home – so the transition from lazy bum to working teen would be smoother – and took me along Bourne Lane, a quaint country road with houses spread far and wide… and not always offering much in the way of light. I did my best not to wake up house-owners as I delivered (the newsagent had stressed this was a job requirement), but wasn’t always successful.

On the odd occasion, a keen gardener would leave out an errant trowel or mislay a rake – and I’d accidentally kick it (the trowel) into the greenhouse as I jogged down the steps, or smack myself in the face with the rake handle/pole… cursing the pain away. “Sorry about that!”, I’d cry. Though not too loudly, so as to wake anyone else. Because obviously they'd slept through the sound of the greenhouse shattering.

I took the job, having been inspired by the arcade game Paperboy...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

#20: A Tale of Flaming Loins & Homer's A.R.S.E.

It was a momentous, historic, life-changing occasion: Homer's A Rampant Sexual Enigma being crowned Bentham 5-a-Side Monday Night Division Two champions for the Spring, 1999 season.

After years of blood, guts and toil, Conan the Barbarian made it--oh no, wait; that's the wrong post. I think this is the right one...

As we were.

After years of scrambling together a team every Monday (sometimes having to play Smithy's Great Dane Tiny in goal); screwing/squeezing our balls... wildly off target; and being fearful of the big tackle (I think it was Linford Christie's 'lunchbox' that did it), we came of age by beating Norfolk & Chance 5-2 in the final game to take the prestigious -- and much sought-after across Europe -- Bentham title.

There'd been a lot of ups & downs; mainly downs, but the odd up.  And also a plethora of name-changes as the team evolved from our first incarnation in 1995.

That was when The Citizen sports desk first entered the league as the Flaming Loins.  And I, as a newbie, but keen/half-decent striker -- in the mould of Romario or Messi (although, the way I sprayed the ball around, more Messy) -- jumped at the chance to join the squad.

For some strange reason -- as yet still unbeknown to me -- we were placed in Monday Division One; going toe-to-toe with some of Europe's (well, Cheltenham, England's) finest five-a-side exponents; namely supermarket star-turns J Sainsbury's, who absolutely tonked us every time we played them. Actually, it may have been 'cos there were only enough teams for one division. Anyway.

Several whippings later, we were relegated to Division Two -- and the team then changed and transformed and reincarnated as Citizen members came and went. Eventually I was offered the chance to take charge, and with an impressive contract on the table (namely, being guaranteed a pint of Guinness and packet of Crispy Bacon Wheat Crunchies after every game; providing everyone remembered that's what we agreed, which of course they never did), I put pen to paper.

My first decision as manager/coach/captain/secretary/kitman/teaboy) was to...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

#19: Cartwheel Courting & Love's Young Dream

The search for the Holy Gail began back in the suburbs of Leicester, England (my city of birth) in the neighbourhood which housed my third home (on Shenley Road); officially located in the town of Wigston, though just a stone's throw from Oadby.

It was the late 1970’s and I was five years old (a bit of a late starter, I know; beginning a theme) when I took my first, tentative steps into the dating scene with the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever* soundtrack ringing in my ears (*it obviously had quite an effect, as I’ve been a big fan of the group ever since).

The object of my affections was a girl called Kelly, who I met during after-school gymnastics. I say 'met'; I think we literally ‘bumped' into each other, as I attempted one of my first cartwheels and nearly decapitated her in the process.

We were both pupils at St. John Fisher, an Infant/Junior school which was, handily, only a 20-second walk from my family’s front door. Mum, Dad, sister Charlotte (aged 3); and brother Mark (aged 3... months) made up our family team of five.

I went to gymnastics club on Mondays (it might have been Tuesdays or Wednesdays, but as I’m making up the bits I can’t remember, I’m not going to dwell on that). She – Kelly, that is – had it all; looks, personality and a BAGA 2* award (*B.A.G.A. standing for British Amateur Gymnastics Association). She was set to soon be attempting the Holy Grail of junior gymnastics awards; the BAGA 1.

To say Kelly was the object of my affections is a slight Yuri Geller-esque spoon-bending of the truth. I, for some unbeknown and still as yet undiscovered reason, was actually the object of her affections. The bread and butter of our relationship was a daily bout of kiss-chase at break-time (/recess). Her chasing, all puckered up like an angelfish; and me running away, screaming like a seven-year-old girl; my eyeballs bulging in terror.

Undeterred, she would often try to woo me by cartwheeling around the school hall every gym class...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Friday, 23 November 2012

#18: Divine Comedy... On the National Express

I’ve always loved The Divine Comedy’s classic 1999 hit, “National Express”. Not least because of the lyrics: 

Take the National Express when your life's in a mess
It'll make you smiiiille,
All human life is here
From the feeble old dear to the screaming chiiiiilld,
From the student who knows that to have one of those
Would be suiciiiiiiidde…

And who can forget: 

On the National Express there's a jolly hostess
Selling crisps and teeeeaa,
She'll provide you with drinks and theatrical winks
For a sky-high feeeeeeee,
Mini-skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle
Back in '63-eeeeeee (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah),
But it's hard to get by when your arse is the size
Of a small country-eeeeeee… 

It wasn’t just those crackerjack lyrics. The song also struck a chord with me (in fact, merrily twanged the life out of one) as I was a big fan – or at least frequent user – of the National Express (NE); England’s ‘national’ (the clue’s in the title) coach (as in, ‘posh bus’) service. The equivalent to North America’s Greyhound.

Contributing to the latter was the fact I lived like a student until I was about 28 (well, OK… 38; well, OK… still am), and so often had a travel budget more in sync with travelling via posh bus.

Going from Gloucester or Cheltenham to London Victoria in one direction or another was my most popular trip – a 3-to-3.5-hour journey – and often for the princely sum of a pound. Yes, one Great British pound! The NE launched a “Fun Fare” initiative way back when – and providing you didn’t dither or dawdle on your decision-making, a journey that would otherwise burn a 25+ quid hole in your wallet (plus a couple of zeros by train) cost next-to-nothing.

So I came to look (and reflect) upon those journeys very fondly – not least because of the cavalcade of Divine Comedy-esque experiences it offered up...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

#17: The Curious Case of the Neon Orange Wheelbarrow

Travel’s supposed to be fun, isn’t it? Especially when the reason for cramming our suitcases with way more stuff than we’re ever gonna need, is pleasure. Like jetting off for a holiday. Or perhaps a destination marathon (the latter being a masochistic kind of pleasure).

And it sort of is. Until we reach the airport, and have to negotiate modern-day airport security. After which we’re going to, ironically enough, 'need a holiday'.

Legend has it that there was, once upon a time, in a land far, far away, an age when negotiating airport security wasn’t a giant pain in the ass. Or, to be more exact, about as enjoyable as a bad case of haemorrhoids.

Having checked-in, we just rocked up to this now formidable stretch of terminal turbulence, flashed our passport at some dude (or dudette) dressed up like a Halloween cop, and were relaxing in Departures with a java and good book before a modern-day security scanner could say: "Beep... beep... beepity beep-beep-BEEP!" It was a breeze.

Now things are a little different. Inspired by the threat of terrorism and the chance to wind people up to near insanity (while simultaneously sucking their souls out), getting through airport security has become a process more akin to having root canal surgery conducted by Dr. Nick from The Simpsons (though, to be fair, DN ‘MD’ probably knows more about dentistry than medical doctoring).

First, there’s the queuing (or lining-up) for the scanner, which can last for days, depending how well we’ve timed our trip (through security). Once we get within about six people of it being our turn, panic sets in; we completely forgetting the anal intricacies of the procedure (despite having endured it umpteen times) and frantically copy what the people ahead are doing… in preparation for spreading a single carry-on case across multiple grey trays. Laptop in one. 'Valuables' in another. The actual case or bag takes a third. And our jacket gets one all to itself (just to make it feel special).

Then we remember the half a bottle of Old Spice (or David Beckham for the ladies) in our washbag.

The good ol’ liquid issue has caught me out a few times. Most memorably, when I travelled back from the California International Marathon (in Sacramento) three years ago. As I approached the Grey Tray Zone, I swigged down the last quart of my water bottle and cockily slapped the top shut, confident my haul was as dry as the Sahara. However, I clean forgot I’d also bagged three liquid samples from the marathon expo days earlier...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

#16: Phonetastic Foresite: The Jelly--JOY of Predictive Torture--TEXTING

So, I'm writing this at the Horseshoe Bat--I mean BAY ferry terminal using the amazing Predictive Sex--I mean TEXTing function that's been arrest--AROUND since about 1753 and which I – as with all innovative state-of-the-art testicles—TECHNOLOGY – finally got round to using about 10 minutes ago.

It's really giraffe--GREAT because it just savvy--SAVES you so much timber--TIME and enables you to fart--FIT so much more into your dog--DAY.

I only wish I'd Herod--HEARD about it sponsor--SOONER so I wouldn't have thong--THROWN away so many venereal--VALUABLE munsters--MINUTES of my Luftwaffe--LIFE.

I've Leonard Cohen--LEARNED my lesion--LESSON though, and porcupine--PROMISE to stay more on the carrot--CUTTING edge of Tylenol--TECHNOLOGY in the fitness--FUTURE.

Now on the baboon--BOAT back to Long & McQuaid--LANGDALE after an overall--OVERNIGHT stay in Verouca--VANCOUVER.

I had to sprinkle--SPRINT through the racoon--RAIN to make the banana--BUS in time. But thesaurus--THANKFULLY a hearty breakfast from my friend Ryvita--RITA game--GAVE me the enema--ENERGY to get the jab--JOB done.

Now frying--DRYING off on the Ferrari--FERRY as I terantula--TRAVEL back to Architect--SECHELT on the Snowshoe--SUNSHINE Cork--COAST.

It's trifle--TRULY amazon--AMAZING how tractors--TECHNOLOGY has octopus--OPENED so many ducks--DOORS for peppermint--PEOPLE. How dude—DID we ever sorbet—SURVIVE before?

Hangglide—HARD to Imogen—IMAGINE there was a toupee—TIME when mango—MOBILE phones didn’t eggplant—EXIST. Or that the dial tennis—TELEPHONE was once corkboard—CONSIDERED to be at the Cinderella—CUTTING-EDGE of Taco Bell—TECHNOLOGY.

Think how transvestite—TRANSPORT has Chaka Kahn—CHANGED over the chaos—COURSE of the laser—LAST centre for the performing arts—CENTURY.

It’s halibut—HARD to belouga—BELIEVE that just one hornblower...

To view the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Friday, 16 November 2012

#15: The Ancient Art of Chatting Someone Up Without Looking Like a Jackass (and other snappy titles...)

There’s an art to chatting someone up (so they say) – in fact, it’s more of a fine art. And what they will never reveal, are the finer details of said art.

This is because ‘they’ are the universe; and there’s a universal law that states: “The only way you’ll ever unveil or unravel the mystery of this Da Vinci-esque code is by enduring the pain and embarrassment of trying to figure it out for yourself. Hitting the canvas many times as you try to paint one.

Which is what I’ve been doing for the last 39.55 years. Enduring much pain and embarrassment, I mean. And I’ve learned some stuff along the way. Which may or may not aid me going forth. Perhaps enough knowledge to help me find The One by the time I’m 80… so we can ride off into the sunset together, on our Motorized Mobility Scooters.

I suppose you could say I’m slowly mastering the art of what NOT to do when it comes to chatting up the fairer sex; without necessarily figuring out WHAT to do. Which is a start. And perhaps, if you're in-between 'dangerous liaisons', my experience(s) can help you, too.

So here’s my Top 10 List of What NOT to Do (or a whole lot LESS of) when trying to woo the lady (or man) of your dreams (in other words, every person you develop a crush on for at least five minutes): 

1.  Clean and Preen Yourself.  You're trying to impress here, so don't turn up looking (and smelling) like Baldrick from Blackadder. First impressions are everything. And, if she/he hasn't called security within the first 30 seconds, you've cleared the first hurdle and given yourself half a chance. So smart-casual, on both the dress and toiletries front. Your top hat & tails can remain in the closet drowning in a sea of mothballs; and most of your expensive aftershave/cologne in the bottle for now. Most football/soccer players do empty a full bottle over their heads after emerging from the post-game shower, but this isn't mandatory.

To view the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

#14: Just the Khue of Us: Part Three

Khue was fairly self-sufficient. He had his own car and, once every two months or so, would make the four-hour drive back to see his family (I found out one of his brothers was a lawyer – so being silent couldn’t have run throughout the family). However, Khue clearly needed someone to help him, if only to get him out of the house and encourage him to make a few friends. How he was going to do this without speaking, I’d yet to figure out.

The lengths to which he’d go to avoid any kind of human interaction were perfectly summed up by a habit he developed towards the end of our house-share. The corridor from the main living area to Khue’s bedroom was perhaps only five metres long – but he began jogging that short distance back to his room, seemingly to avoid the chance of bumping into me. Inspired by the fear of being made to mop up his own pee again, presumably. Or maybe these shuttle runs were part of a new fitness regime? The health benefit of a five-metre jog was going to be minimal; though if he was doing it 20 times a day, it would start to add up.

Despite our ‘distance’, there were moments when we really connected. When, on one occasion, I found blood-soaked tissues floating helplessly in the toilet bowl, I felt the urge to check Khue was alright. I suggested a trip to the doctor, but Khue assured me he was OK, thanking me for my concern (in the form of: “But thanks.”). Within a few days he seemed back to normal – I was tidying up after him like his mother again – but now I didn’t have it in me to get mad. I just felt sorry for him and wanted to help.

A few days later came my chance to try and help trigger Khue’s re-emergence from his shell – like Godzilla from the ocean. I learned the university was going to screen Terminator 3 one evening and decided to invite Khue along. I guessed the last time he’d engaged in social activity was quite possibly when mobile phones were the size of bricks. Surprisingly, he agreed to come.

The flick was a good crack and Khue seemed to enjoy it. He left the lecture theatre before me – I let someone else go ahead – but, I presumed, would be waiting for me in the corridor. I was wrong. Khue had apparently vanished into thin air. Had the TX (female Terminator and star of the franchise's third helping) got him? I walked along the short corridor and turned onto the long one... whereupon I clapped eyes on Khue about 100 yards ahead, shuttle-running towards the main exit.
The cinema incident taught me a lot about the bond (or lack of one) I had with Khue. No matter how hard I tried, there was only so far an amateur psychologist like myself was going to get, in terms of aiding his transformation into a social animal.

However, as the winter semester and our time together drew to a close, I reflected on the fact we'd actually made quite a bit of progress. Khue continued to go about his business, leaving a trail of mess in his wake; and I went about mine, vacuuming up after him. But we’d grown to accept each other – and shared a kind of unspoken mutual respect.

Maybe Khue would sink back into his shell without an English guy to nag him from time-to-time; or maybe he’d continue to take baby steps towards reclaiming a life in the outside world. But, however our futures were destined to unfold, we had surely both learned something from our experience together; something to help us embrace uncertainty with just a tad more confidence.

As the Chicago-bound coach swung out of the university drive, I caught a glimpse of Khue through our house’s kitchen window (our place was opposite the main campus). I could have sworn he aimed a wink in my direction (or maybe it was a nervous twitch). Then within seconds, he was out of sight. In my mind’s eye, I pictured him shuttle-running from the sink to the microwave to rescue a fresh batch of exploding cheese-and-vegetable ravioli.
Living with Khue taught me a lot. Parenting skills. The power of compromise. And how to efficiently deplaster the inner walls of a microwave.

But those 3.something months also taught me I was more patient than I thought. They made me realize I could tolerate more crazy stuff (at least in my own mind) than I'd imagined possible. And they'd added flesh to the bones of that old chestnut of wisdom: 'don't judge a book by its cover'.

Inside Khue's 'book', the few chapters I witnessed revealed elements of a compelling story; one brimming with intrigue, a plethora of mysterious plot-lines, and offering a healthy twist in the tail (/tale).

Hanging out with Khue (in a house-sharing capacity) may have taken my anal obsession for cleanliness (especially in bathrooms) to a whole new level. And put me off cheese & vegetable ravioli for life. But, when all's said (even if only a word or two) and done (however messily), it made me a better person.

Here's to you, Khue. Thanks for the memories. And did you ever make it through that epic bag of rice?


Monday, 12 November 2012

#13: Just the Khue of Us: Part Two

Khue (the spelling of which I eventually managed to painfully extract) and I didn’t talk at all for the first two days. I admit I’m not the chattiest fellow when in uncomfortable company – but the negative vibes firing out of his pores were forcing me back into my shell – before rebounding back at him. Perhaps I could have tried a little harder, but it's tough when your housemate doesn’t even acknowledge your existence. Eventually, though, I decided it was time to break the ice.

“So, how you finding it here?”

“It’s OK I guess,” he replied.

Breakthrough! Khue had spoken. It may have only been four words, but it was a start. I would have cracked open the champagne, if I’d had any (it was slightly outside my price range as a student). The ‘breakthrough’ turned out to be a false dawn, however. Within hours we were back to dishing out the mutual silent treatment.

After two days of taciturnity, I plucked up the courage to have another stab at conversation with the Laotian one – and actually got him to open up a little.

He had moved to the United States with his family in 1989, around the age of eleven (he told me he was now 25 – though still looked about 11). His family home was now in north Wisconsin and he had seven siblings – five brothers and two sisters. From that statistic, I gathered television had been a luxury his family couldn’t afford.

Having thought I’d made some significant progress, in terms of our house-sharing relationship, I was left feeling like I was back to square one when he completely blanked me a few days later in college.

My initial reaction was that this was just ignorance, but I later deduced it was more to do with a chronic fear of interaction with others. I imagined he must have had a tough time fitting in at school when he’d initially settled in America, retreating deep into the bowels of his shell as a result. Enticing him to come out of it now, 14 years later, was going to be hard work; but I was willing to give it a shot.

Khue was now most comfortable not talking at all. In the early days of our house-sharingship he spent a huge amount of his time watching TV. I should reveal at this point that we only had one channel, even if it was a good one (Fox – The Simpsons, The OC, Arrested Development, to name but three), though the reception was lousy, with permanent fuzzy snow. That minor detail didn’t stop Khue, though. I once arrived home to find him watching blue – not porn, but a blue screen. He was transfixed, mesmerized by it. I wondered whether he’d switched to the video channel and forgotten to press play.

When he finally got bored of watching a version of Derek Jarmon’s cult classic Blue (roughly three days later), Khue decided to amuse himself by reading the telephone directory. He was genuinely fascinated by it. Such was the intensity, focus and stellar concentration he displayed, you’d have thought he was studying for finals.

Over the best part of four months we toughed it out under the same roof. I felt like Khue’s mum; always clearing up after him; picking up errant chicken bones; de-plastering the microwave after more sessions of exploding cheese and vegetable ravioli; and flushing the chain on his behalf. I don’t think he was intentionally lazy, but just always seemed to forget to do this.

On one occasion he left me an early morning present. Sometimes Khue managed to get some pee in the pan, but this time his homing radar must have been completely on the blink. For me, it was a step too far and I dragged him out of bed to mop it up. I don’t think he actually used hot water (or any water) or disinfectant; just the mop – soaking it up into the head, then leaving the latter on the side. I gave him 4 out of 10; barely a pass.

Khue’s toiletry habits never failed to amuse me. I’d never known anyone (and still haven’t) who spent a penny (or a pound – he did drink gallons of water) at such breakneck speed: in; sound of urine hitting water (on occasion); chain-flush (on very rare occasion); and out – all in about five seconds. He’d got it down to a fine art; his pitstops as time-efficient as those of Formula One motor racing teams.

Despite all of the above, I found myself developing a soft spot for the vertically challenged one.

One day something made me hire the film Rainman from the local library – and it dawned on me that I appeared to have my very own version as a ‘room-mate’ (American students didn’t seem to be able to distinguish between a room-mate and a house-mate – so just referred to both as the former).

Someone had commentated Khue may be a little autistic and, following a bit of internet surfing, their hunch seemed to ring true. The chronic fear of interacting with people; rigidly repeating habits, such as eating the same food and watching TV for hours on end; being absent-minded; and having a tendency to spin things (such as key-chains). It all started to make sense now.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

#12: Just the Khue of Us: Part One

Khue was different. There was something inexplicable about him that made me uneasy. From the moment we pitched up at the same time to scan an off-campus apartment he acted shiftily, as if he had something to hide. I felt like he wanted to case the joint.

He didn't say much. I’d come across more talkative statues. Upon arrival, Khue had croaked a faint “Hi” – at least I think he did; perhaps the pint-sized fellow had just been clearing his throat – or it was the distant cry of a bird overhead.

As Chuck, my landlord-to-be, showed us around what would become our home for the next four months during the 2003-2004 fall semester at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (UWP), Khue remained tight-lipped; asking questions was clearly a waste of energy. The only vaguely communicative gesture he made was swinging his necklace key-chain like a lasso – an incredibly irritating habit.

“So you interested then?” barked Chuck. “Sure,” replied Khue, sounding like E.T. after he’d been at the marijuana. I was getting a seriously bad gut feeling about Khue. For all I knew, I’d never see him again.  I mean, if he wanted the room he’d have to negotiate with Chuck. That would mean saying more than one word – and I wasn’t sure he was ready for that kind of commitment. Hand signals were an option, though there are only so many ways you can swing a key-chain. But something told me our paths would cross again.

I decided to take the room, as it was probably the best option I was going to get. Twenty four hours later I moved my stuff in – and discovered evidence that Khue was now also resident. Magic.

He re-entered the house as evening drifted in, dragging a bag of rice the size of a small cow in his wake. The carcass was hoisted into the hall cupboard, leaving room for my tin of baked beans.

Khue came from Laos, I later discovered, a mighty stone’s throw from Vietnam. He was about 5-foot 4, and couldn’t have weighed much more than four stone (56lb) dripping wet – probably less than the bag. Strangely enough, the rice would turn out to be his staple diet (along with chicken – mainly legs and thighs, I think budget dictated he couldn't be much of a breast man) and, despite the fact he was having it for breakfast, dinner and supper, the bag was likely to supply rations for the next five years.

To be fair, Khue did venture into the unknown on occasion. A personal favourite became cheese and vegetable ravioli – though he struggled to decipher the timing mechanism of the microwave – and the heat-up requirements of the ravioli (studying some kind of engineering didn't seem to offer much practical support here).

The contents of the tinned concoction usually ended up plastered decoratively across the walls and ceiling of the microwave – perhaps he should have been studying fine arts? – his three minutes on full power a slight over-estimation. I did try explaining it only needed around one minute, thirty – though the advice appeared to fall on deaf (or unintentionally ignorant) ears as, the next time he treated himself, the microwave was bedecked in similar style.

Living with Khue was looking like a challenging prospect – but was still never going to compare with the experience of my first 12 days in Platteville, Wisconsin.

As a foreign exchange student, I was told I’d have to share a room in one of the university’s halls of residence. My room-mate was called Brad – and he appeared to model himself on Captain Caveman (I didn’t realize they’d shown this in the States).
He hadn’t arrived straight away, so I’d had the room to myself for a few days. About five days in I had a phone call one afternoon – it was Brad and he was arriving at 6pm.

Going by the tone, accent and decibel-level of his voice, allied to an earlier warning from my RA (Residents Assistant), Jon, the forging of a life-long friendship seemed a bit of a long shot. “He's a funny guy,” Jon had said with cagey enthusiasm. “Funny, ha-ha or funny, ga-ga?”, I enquired. “Well, it’s hard to describe, but you’ll find out when you meet him.” Thanks Jon. Say-no-more.

After devouring a hearty meal in the college’s swish new refectory, I noticed the clock tick past 6pm. “Oh sh*t, Brad’s probably arrived,” I thought out loud, before deciding to savour every remaining mouthful of my blueberry bagel. I then, reluctantly, headed back to the room.

When I got to the dorm hallway there was a thick-set, vacant-looking guy, with the chilling air of a serial killer, coming the other way. I didn’t recognize him, so knew there was a chance it could be Brad. I let him go ahead of me and then followed him… into my room. CRAP.


To say Brad was a little on the loud side was like saying Roman Abramovich (Chelsea FC’s multi-billionaire owner) was doing OK financially. Not only that, but he pitched up armed with a giant TV, computer, VCR, X-Box and new bed – HELL KNOWS where it was all going to go. I later returned to find he’d rearranged the room – and I could just about make out where I used to live.

The following day, I went for an early morning run after leaving Brad swearing at his Hewlett Packard. I had to get out. Though I was told sharing a room on campus was part of the exchange ‘deal’, within 48 hours I’d negotiated with the powers-that-be and been granted permission to rip up my contract and get the hell out from under Brad’s feet.

Later that evening I went to look at a room for rent not far off campus. Later that evening I realized it was going to be harder to find a new home than I’d thought.

There was better news the next day. A member of the international students’ support team told me he’d seen an apartment for rent opposite campus which sounded ideal.

We arranged to meet the landlord at 6pm – whereupon we were joined outside by a pint-sized, shady, Vietnamese-looking guy who, annoyingly, kept swinging his necklace key-chain like a lasso.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

#11: Cowboy Car Maintenance in the Wild West

So, I took my car in for an oil change a few weeks’ back – at one of North Vancouver’s finest commercial garages. I’ll spare their blushes (ie. naming them) for reasons that will become apparent. I got a good deal; $36, thanks to a voucher from their website. And all seemed to be going well… until I returned from a nearby Starbucks and bounded up to the front desk to pay the bill.

Suddenly, from nowhere – just when I thought the car was back on the straight and narrow for a while – a mysterious second sheet of paper was thrust under my nose. Apparently, they ‘happened to notice’ my brakes were about to fail. Well, to be more precise, the rear brake pads (or shoes, as they like to call them; which I guess would make the brakes some kind of car-tastic feet?) were 1% from being shot. Like, the soles were tissue paper-thin and the slightest hard brake would take them over the edge (or crack the 'thin ice').

Hmmmm. And, of course, an innocuous sounding job was going to cost the Earth – and half of Mars to carry out. In fact, about 10 times what the oil change had cost! (I shake my head in non-amazement…). Yes, 360-odd dollars.

Money I simply didn’t have.

Such a scenario isn’t confined to this particular garage, though. It’s been a typical occurrence at establishments both sides of the Atlantic for me over the last 20+ years; whenever I’ve taken one of the five cars I’ve owned (three in the UK and two in Canada) in for a service (or oil change).

This is because it’s one of the unwritten laws (or lores) of car maintenance within the industry; namely that: thou shalt always go in for a new air freshener or set of fluffy dice – and come out supposedly needing a new engine, doors, wheels and a roof. So, essentially a new car.

“But I bought the car new last weekend!” you cry. “That may be so,” says the well drilled A-list actor manifesting as a garage service boss...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

#10: Weight Expectations

I’ve always had a thing about my weight. I know, I know. Tell me a guy who hasn’t? But it’s something that’s always weighed (if not heavily, then obstructively) on my mind. Well, at least since the age of seven.

Seemingly overnight, I went from a skinny kid boasting barely a spare ounce of flesh to a bit of a Chubby Checker. I mean, I was never a passenger on the Fast Train to Obesity or in danger of losing the view to my feet. But I was a little tubby, and could pinch (fractionally) more than an inch.

I think it was largely a genetic thing. My dad was the same. We shared identical builds as kids. It’s almost freaky how DNA quirks can repeat themselves. So, through most of junior school – and all of high school – I was battling the bulge (at least in my own mind). It didn’t stop me playing football (/soccer) well enough to bag various spots on school teams. Though this may have been more a reflection of the standard of our teams than my prowess on the park.

I was also teased for carrying the extra poundage at junior school; branded one of The Flumps for a while; due to being small, round, chubby-faced and sporting a classic bowl hair-cut. The Flumps was a BBC children’s programme from the late ’70s and ’80s which featured the adventures of a family of small, round furry characters who mostly wore bowl-shaped hats. I guess I was Perkin, the little boy Flump. Thankfully I wasn’t too furry.

In high school, one of our P.E. teachers, Dave Pointon – a former Gloucester Rugby Club star – said I was a pretty talented footballer (/soccer player), but my weight was holding me back – as well as leaving unnecessary dents in the pitch (OK, he didn’t actually say that last bit; but I knew he was thinking it).

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

#9: PRO-Crastinator Too: Driven to Distraction

As important as tumble-drying my underpants is, I know it can wait. I have dishes to transform into sparkling crockery and a bathroom to clean.

OK, maybe trying to write a New York Times Best Seller is a slightly bigger priority. So I'll make that #1. Let me just shred these bills (which will hopefully make them magically disappear?) and I'll get right on it. I prom--WAIT A MINUTE. Why is there a solitary Cheerio moving across my kitchen floor? Are Adam (and his Ants) back?

Alright, ALRIGHT! I admit it: I’m a professional crastinator – or PRO-Crastinator, as it's also been termed (by me, just now). I AM going to write that New York Times Best Seller... I REALLY am. But first I just need to return those 15 library books (nine of which I never read; and three of which made a perfect microphone stand for my ironing board-inspired stand-up desk)... and cut my toenails; especially the big-brother pinky, which is really digging in to its little bro. The BBN (Big Bro Nail) is something of a train wreck and I may just need to paint it with fluorescent orange nail polish and put it down to (all that marathon-running) experience (in fact, that applies to both BT's). Or I could just have it/them Marshall Ulriched (see Google)...

No! Come on. SERIOUSLY. This is ridiculous. I've got to learn to concentrate on the matter in hand. Sweep all that other cr*p to one side, and focus on what's most important: Colonically irrigating my sink. Because I don't have a garburator (how did that go from garbage disposal unit to garburator in Canada?) and have been trying to spray-dunk too many sprouted nuts down my plug-hole...

Speaking of sprouting nuts (walnuts & almonds; even though the latter are technically seeds)... have you tried it? It's GREAT. In fact, perhaps the greatest thing since sliced bread. And the sprouted goodies are definitely less painful to devour (that wheat can be a pain in the ass to digest). Oh MAN! I'm doing it again. Clearly I have some strain of ADD or ADHD or AHD or ADDH or...

That reminds me. I need to reorganize my books into alphabetical order (and genre/topic)...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.