Thursday, 7 July 2016

Words Well Written About Writing!

So it's been a while since I got typing out a blog, I've been podcasting with the guys on The SmarkCast, and verbalising a blog type thing on soundcloud (which some of you may have listened to over the past few weeks). But earlier this week I was on another one of my holidays/trips, this time to Mallorca doing nothing except sit by the pool and chill out, I thought it was about time I got back to writing again.

The thing is, I'm going to be writing a hell of lot again over the coming months as football season is getting under way, so of course that means the matchday programme will be back in full swing. In each issue I always write a page worth of “editors notes”, pretty much the same as one of these blogs, but given that I've tried to make some improvements to the programme this year, I've given myself even more to write and get in it. Add that to the newsletter that we're now producing as a club every month (with additional ones in between) then I am not making it easy for myself on the writing front!

I still enjoy it though, getting my thoughts down on paper (or a computer screen as is the case here) is kind of therapeutic, much like the spoken stuff I do as well, just different ways to clear the mind of things, serious or not. I guess the only worry I have, and it's more of a passing concern than something I would actually fret over, is duplication, I don't want to spend loads of time writing something that I've already gone over in my spoken stuff over on soundcloud. Now I know those that read this may not listen to that, or vice versa, but I think on a personal level it's important not to be too repetitive. I mean, it's important not to be too repetitive........

That was too easy, and I know that leaving it in there when I publish this blog will actually leave me wishing I had taken it out, most of you know what I am like when it comes to the written word! If I make mistakes I want to be told, so that I can correct them, I hate making a mess of these things, even though I do them for free and for my own enjoyment/benefit. If I'm this bad now, imagine how I would be if I was writing something that I was actually paid for that went out to thousands of people!

Now my first bit of writing in a while has pretty much been about my writing, a fairly bland topic, almost a self-obsessed piece of writing if you will. But I see it as a way to ease myself back into the long and boring stuff, the detailed blogs that will undoubtedly be sprung your way over the coming months, and for that I warn you and apologise also in advance! Whilst there isn't much substance to this particular entry, I thank you for reading, those that have, and look forward to presenting more of my wares to you all!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Madrid in a word, Magnificent

So it’s been just over a week since I returned from Madrid, another beautiful city I had the pleasure of ticking off of my ever changing and expending mental list of places I want to visit!

When I booked this trip up, I’d not quite realised that a) I was travelling out on a bank holiday so it would be busy, and b) it was the half term holidays so it would be busy. Heathrow was certainly busy when I got going, but it wasn’t an issue, as the time had got closer I’d come to terms with the fact it’d be chaos! What I didn’t bank on though was the flight out being incredibly uncomfortable and probably the worst I’ve had so far. Don’t get me wrong, I know the more I fly, the more likely I’ll encounter problems, but damn it was the bumpiest and most nail-biting take-off I’ve ever been a part of! I didn’t let that bring me down though, once I’d got off the plane and stretched my body back into shape all was well again!

I’ll be honest (as ever), I didn’t have much of a plan as to what to see in Madrid, I was purely playing it by ear, whereas in Rome & Bruges I had an idea of what I wanted to see. But things started to fall into place after I’d checked in and got on the metro to a station that I thought would be the right place to go to get food. It wasn’t, but after looking at Google Maps on my phone I realised that the Bernab—źu was literally just down the road, so off I went to see what it was like. I got there about 18:00, with an hour to go till the tours stopped, so I thought sod it, use the time effectively and get a tour in now. What a stadium it was!?! The tour was cheap, and you could walk round without a guide which was cool, taking in the presidents area, the dressing rooms, press area, pitch side area and the seemingly endless stream of trophies on show (including the Champions League that they’d won that past weekend).


After that it got me thinking that there was a second team in Madrid and that it’d be worth doing a tour round their stadium too if I could. And that was what I did, first thing the next day, smothered in suntan lotion as the sun was shining brightly, and wearing my West Ham shirt with pride (us English either choose our club or an England shirt on holiday without fail). Another great football stadium, but from what I learnt on the tour (this one guided), Atletico only have another season or so there before they move and it’s torn down, so I was glad I got to see it now.
The rest of the day (and the following one) I quite literally walked everywhere I could before my feet began to ache too much! There was so many palaces and historical buildings around the city that me and my camera were in our element! The food was beautiful too, along with incredible weather, it was another couple of days away that allowed me to switch off and get swept up in the enjoyment of it all.

I was walking through Parque de El Retiro (a beautiful place with a boating lake in the middle of it), and I got a little taste of home. I had stopped to look at my map, then I heard "Come on you Irons!".
A cheerful old chap & his wife had spotted me looking at the map & asked if I was lost (after the Irons shout). They were Essex raised but now reside in North London (and still go games), was a great little conversation about the club & the OS when it wasn't expected! A taste of home so far away


Anyway, Madrid was a lovely trip, I enjoyed wandering around the city and seeing the sites. It is a beautiful little city, not one I’d go to again though as I feel like I’ve seen most of what I can, but I would also recommend visiting it yourself if you get a chance. Next up for me is a switch off trip to Palma, Mallorca, to soak up the sun!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Waving Goodbye To The Boleyn

There has been, and will be over the coming weeks, a number of articles and blogs written about the last game at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, and the majority of them will be written by people much more experienced than I, and written in a much more professional style too. But I wanted to get my words down on paper, or at least the internet, as I know when that final whistle blows and the curtain comes down on that historic stadium, a part of me and every other West Ham fan will be gone forever.

Many people will write about their first visit to the stadium, about how they remember exactly who they saw and who they were with. Some will write about the legacy of the club, about the academy and the seemingly endless line of young England internationals that have walked through that tunnel to the pitch. Whilst others will simply bemoan the fact that we as a club are moving to a new stadium and leaving our home of 112 years behind. Me, well I do have plenty of memories of Upton Park, many that will live with me forever, and far too many to fit in one blog, but I wanted to share a couple of things that mean a lot to me.


My first visit to Upton Park wasn’t actually for a match surprisingly enough; I was late in the attendance stakes, no my first trip was with my dad, who drove me to the ground just so I could look at the place from the outside for the first time in person. I had my picture taken outside the East & West stands, and loved every moment of it. I still have those photos, and I’m wearing a dodgy old basketball jersey as the visit was a bit of a surprise as we were originally visiting my Nan who lived down the road, I’ll have to scan one or two so I can share them online.

I do still remember the first game I went to, I had been given a ticket one Christmas for the game a few days later (28th December 1998) and I went on my own (as generally became the norm for me over the years). West Ham at home to Coventry City, I remember it well as I was in the lower part of the Centenary Stand (now the Trevor Brooking stand) and saw Ian Wright and John Hartson score to give us a 2-0 win.

That was the first of many, and the following season I actually had a season ticket which was awesome. That year we went through the whole Manny Omoyinmi issue (cheers Harry), the emergence of Di Canio & his wonder goal (scored in front of the centenary stand where I was at the time) against Wimbledon. I’ve seen incredible victories and heartbreaking losses, shed tears and cheered so loud I got a bit light headed, and sung I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles countless times. I’ve met some superb people thanks to that club, some of which will remain a part of my life for a long time to come, I’ve met an idol (Julian Dicks) and shared in some special moments for people in my life at Upton Park.

I won’t be there for the last game, my final visit was a stadium tour just last week which sent chills down my spine, especially when walking out the tunnel to the pitch. I am glad I had the chance to say goodbye to the place, somewhere that holds countless memories for me and so many others. Some may think this is an overreaction, but any football fan who has seen their club move home will know the feelings West Ham fans have right now.


Thank you Upton Park, thank you Boleyn Ground, thank you West Ham United. It is the end of an era, but the beginning of a new and exciting chapter down the road at Stratford. It’s certainly been emotional, and watching that final game tonight won’t be easy, but I’ll belt out bubbles at home in honour of the Boleyn Ground tonight for sure. Come On You Irons!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Family, New York, And Talking About It

Last weekend I, along with my brothers and dad, went to Newcastle for my cousins wedding, it was an emotional occasion as it would be the first time all this side of the family would be together in one place since my Nans funeral last February.

It was a great celebration for Claire & Stevie on the day, even though our southern clan struggled at times to understand a word Stevie and his side were saying (the Geordie accent can be a tough one to get round). I enjoyed catching up with the family again, it gets said all the time but it’s sad really that a lot of the times we catch up are at weddings and funerals. There were a few standout moments of the weekend though for sure, the grooms speech got a lot of us choked up as he’d lost his mum recently, and also mentioned our Nan, so tears flowed from my aunts & a few of us. Speaking of my Nan, about 10 years ago we had a family photo taken for her, one of which was all the cousins together. The wedding was the perfect opportunity to get another one done, the professional one will come soon but my aunt captured one too, felt like a good touch and nod to Nan, and we know she’d have loved the photo.

Of course, you know what families are like at weddings, one of my aunts was on my case, why aren’t you with someone, why aren’t you married and having kids, you should have someone etc. Thankfully there’s not many weddings in this family so I don’t get that very often, but it’s not exactly easy explaining that actually you don’t need to find someone, and marriage isn’t something I want in life. Maybe there was a moment when I thought I’d do that for the right person if that’s what they really wanted, but that’s a once in a blue moon thing, even when you say it’s not something you want, there’s still too many people that think you have to have someone, get married, have kids etc to be happy in life!

Anyway, enough of that for now. Summer is coming, which means that the NFL schedule has been released ready for the start of the season at the end of August. With the schedule comes my plan for my next NY trip, and I’ve already gone through the guys at Sports Travel Tours and put my deposit down! It didn’t take long to get sorted, so a week after my 33rd birthday this year I’ll be back off to New York to see the Jets take on the LA Rams (formerly of St Louis)! These NY trips are fast becoming a tradition and a year wouldn’t be the same now without a jaunt over to the US for a game and a bit of touristy sight-seeing.

Sports on this side of the pond have been entertaining too, the lads at Concord Rangers won the Essex Senior Cup for the third time in as many seasons, and West Ham are fighting for a European spot as they it 6th in the league. Following the teams I do, being able to get along to the games I do, it’s because I’ve got the time, freedom, and money to do so, one of the reasons I am continuing to enjoy life and embrace the opportunities that are provided for me!

What’s next? Well the wrestling podcast continues to go well, still having a laugh each & every time we put it together. Actually that has prompted me to record my own little snippets and stick them online, almost verbalising a mini version of my blog (on Soundcloud, as BullJet, original I know). I sound like an idiot when I’m doing it, hence why I’ve not really publicised it, but it’s kind of cathartic, much like writing these are. Work is going well, usual blips but it could be worse. Other than that, life is life, I’m still smiling, hopefully you are too!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Whisky, Podcasts, and What's Next

Bit of a catch up this blog, not one specific topic but two main ones as noted by the title! Recently I attended Whisky Live, and subsequently wrote a lengthy blog about it. In said blog I also mentioned the Whisky Weekender, which took place this past weekend (run by the guys at The Whisky Lounge). Of course I attended and had a blast as always, catching up with some of the same people I'd seen just two weeks previous at Whisky Live. One difference though was that I took a long time friend along to what was her first whisky event.

Now she likes whisky, and going in to the event had a general idea as to the type of whisky she liked, as anyone who is slightly familiar with a dram would have. But as I've said before, these shows are about sampling new whiskies and finding out what other drams you like and enjoy. It was actually a proud moment seeing my friend try some rather different whiskies from what she was used to and finding out that she really enjoyed them. It was also good to see that some of those were ones I'd recommended, my taste in whisky isn't too shabby! The “marmite of whisky” Balcones was one standout, along with the new “Quiet Man” Irish blend, and The One, a blend released from the new Lakes Distillery (which is on the list to visit eventually).

This past weekend, whilst full of lovely whisky for me, was also a rather important one in the wrestling world, being that on Sunday night it was Wrestlemania, the biggest event of the year that WWE (the company we all knew back in the day as WWF) put on. Now I'm not going to sit here and write a bucket load of stuff about wrestling, but recently I've had more than one reason to watch it (other than general enjoyment). Back in December, myself, my two brothers and a couple of mates went to a wrestling show at Wembley arena, beforehand at a restaurant we sat around a table and talked a lot of wrestling, to which one mate suggested we should put together a podcast. 3 months later and after much discussion, we finally got off our arses and started recording one, and at the time of writing we're 4 episodes in and regularly notching up around 75-80 listens per show. If you like wrestling, or know anyone that does, our podcast is at Soundcloud.com/thesmarkcast, and we also have a Facebook page & twitter account!


Nothing like a bit of shameless self promotion eh? Other than that, things are going fairly well in general. Looking forward to the NFL schedule being released later this month, as then I can organise my next trip to New York (Kyle, Brian, guys I'm sure I owe you a beer or two when I get over there), and the month after that I am hoping to book a trip to Vegas for next year with friends which should be a blast too. Plus there's the Great British Beer festival in August, another whisky event in October, and any other trip that I decide to book before then (thinking Barcelona next as the summer approaches).

I could write a bunch more about football (what a season for West Ham eh? And Concord are flying....), the countless tv shows I'm watching (series 2 of Daredevil is awesome by the way), the books I've read recently (yes I read), my emotional state (relatively solid), my family (a pain as always but I love them), but then I would end up boring you more than I already have! Thanks for reading, it's always appreciated.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Love A Whisky Or Three

Those that know me, know I enjoy a whisky or two, ok maybe more than two, and over the years I have been to a number of whisky tasting events. There's plenty that go on during the year, with three main ones that take place in London. There's the big one, The Whisky Show, in October, The Whisky Weekender in a couple of weeks, and most recently there was Whisky Live (this year I will be attending, and possibly writing about, all three)

I first attended a Whisky Live event many moons ago, back in 2008 if I remember right, and since then I've attended every London event except for 3 years ago when I was ill. Needless to say I am familiar with the set-up and how the event has changed over the years. The first one I went to was in Westminster, the Royal Horticultural Halls to be precise, then the next couple of years the event moved to a bigger space at the Hurlingham Club in west London, before switching to the Honourable Artillery Company near Old Street where it remains to this day.

So on to this years event, not sure whether there were less tickets on sale or just that less people showed, but it didn't seem as busy as it has done in previous years. The venue is a small one compared to other events, so it's easily crowded, but it didn't seem as much this year. That didn't detract from the drams on offer though obviously! Coming to these shows more often you tend to bump into exhibitors you've met a number of times before, so you gravitate towards them and get to try some truly special whisky. That was the case on this day, as I sought out Dave Worthington aka WhiskyDiscovery (who took the picture below), and the Maverick Drinks stand.


The Reference Series, taking a whisky and exploring exactly what effect cask/age etc has on it, is a whisky geeks dream. Reference III is a blinding blended malt (yes a blend!), and I sampled all the versions that Dave had on the stand. The most I've spent on a bottle previously is £200, there's a chance I may break that for one of these (over £200 a pop). The truly special one though was The Lost Distilleries Blend, featuring whisky from closed distilleries such as Port Ellen, Caperdonich, Mosstowie, Glenisla, Glenlochy and Imperial Scotch malt whiskies as well as grain from Port Dundas. This was £350 a bottle, which was shocking, as a whisky from each lost distillery in the blend could cost much more than that!

Also on that stand was an award winner, The Golden Age Blend whisky, which had an age statement attached of 40 years. Those that know whisky know that a blend displaying an age statement has to display the age of the youngest whisky in there, so the ones in this blend were a lot older than me! Only 210 bottles were made, which is understandable given the age of the whiskies, but again this is only £350, which is incredibly cheap given what's in there. Trying drams like this are why I go to these shows, I catch up with old whisky pals (not saying you're old Dave) and get to try whisky that I would never normally have.

Some of the other whiskies I was able to enjoy on the day included a sherry cask Amrut (Indian whisky), a number of independent bottlings from Murray McDavid (which before this show I had never heard of), a cracking Elements of Islay bottling (on the recommendation of Billy/Cowfish), and some excellent Irish whisky from Dunville's. The regular greats were there too, Nikka, Teeling (love their grain whisky, and loved the free hat), Glen Moray and Compass Box. At the end of the day I bought 3 bottles, the Elements of Islay bottling, the sherried Amrut, and one of the early Reference Series bottlings.

If you enjoy whisky, even as a passing interest, I'd recommend taking in one of these shows/events to get you started. You get to meet some great people with an incredible knowledge of whisky, they are friendly and will happily take you through any questions you have about it. No matter how many times you go, you will always learn something new and try a different whisky, trust me on that one!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made A Choice

Life is a wonderful thing, and it's amazing when you look at it how so many seemingly small decisions can end up having long lasting and almost life changing consequences.

I look at a few key moments actually that have played a part in putting me where I am today and having some of the experiences that I have over the past few years. I know I've mentioned it before, but one tweet suggesting I go watch Concord Rangers was essentially the start of what has been a 6 year journey as part of a club I now see as family. Back then, I would never have even had a thought that a) I would fall in love with the club as much as I did, b) I would become good friends with the players & people around it, and c) that I'd end up being a committee member and editor of the matchday programme. The experiences that have come my way can essentially all be traced back to going to that first game.

It hasn't stopped there though, the team is on the verge of their 4th cup final in as many years (Ryman, then 2 Essex Senior Cups), holding their own in a league not far off the pro game, and the club continues to expand and progress with all the community work they are doing. There's a bright future on the horizon for Concord Rangers and those that are a part of it, however we got to be there.

I went to New York back in 2002, and brought home a New York Jets towel, just as a bit of NY merchandise really. If I didn't pick up that green & white towel, which I still have to this day, would I have chosen a different team to follow when I got into the NFL? Probably, or I may not have even have got hooked on the sport like I eventually did. Small decision, but ultimately it led me on a road which has taken me back to New York two more times to see the Jets live at their home stadium (and meet the team owner), I've been to countless NFL games at Wembley (including to see the Jets last year), and I have met some fantastic people on both sides of the pond thanks to a mutual love of and enjoyment of the Jets or the NFL in general. Again, it's not stopping either, I plan on visiting NY again this year to catch another game, meet up with some of the friends I've made over the last two years, and hopefully meet some more.

Small decisions that you don't think about too much at the time can set you on a path that can bring a lot of opportunities and experiences. Even with work it goes all the way back to being too lazy to find anything for work experience back at school. So I asked my mum, who at the time worked at Fenchurch Street station, if I could go work with her for 2 weeks. Easy enough, no effort in finding businesses or roles that matched what I wanted to do with my life, because I didn't know even then. There was timing involved later on though, as I finished school just as a part time job came up, the manager knew me, so it was easy enough to get into that job and settle in. 16 years later I'm still on the railway, doing a job I enjoy with a number of decent people and getting a decent wage for it. Obviously there's been tough times and I've had to work hard over the years to change roles and move upwards, but I wouldn't be in the place I am today if it wasn't for these decisions way back when.

Why am I being all reflective and thoughtful about all this? Well I was thinking about it all, one of those moments where you wonder how you got here, what decisions led you to this stage in life. I overthink things sometimes, so waffling on here allows me to clear the head a bit!

Am I talking bollocks? Maybe, but the thing is that, even if I do say so myself, this makes sense. The decisions you make through life, no matter how insignificant they may be at the time, will set you on an unknown path which could ultimately lead to some of the most impressive, enjoyable and interesting experiences there is, from the places you may visit, the people you meet, the relationships you form, the things you do, it all started from a simple, 5 second thought of a decision way back when. They say life is what you make it, well yeah, thanks to the decisions and choices you make.