Monday, June 27, 2016

My thoughts on the referendum results.

I haven't said too much really since the results were released, mainly because I am already sick and tired of the insults and infighting the result has caused. I can't help but wonder if it would be identical if it had gone the other way. Would the Leave camp be demanding a re-run, and saying how un-democratic the first one was? Would the media be saying how terrible the road ahead is now that we were remaining in the EU?

To a degree, I am sure that which ever way it went, there was always a whole host of scaremongering stories, and bullshit facts to try and make people feel it went the wrong way. Some peoples reactions have been depressingly hilarious (yes, that's a real thing!). Depressing that they voted the way they did, based on their hilariously stupid level of intelligence. "If I knew we would really leave, I would have voted stay". Right... Remove these peoples right to vote immediately, and forever more!

I am also impressed at the number of experts, who have already predicted the future of the UK, and can already tell us we WILL go into recession, we WILL struggle to trade, as well as many other guaranteed outcomes. I am however shocked that the same people don't actively have a role in politics or the economy. Such a waste, so talented and knowledgeable, yet only ever show their true abilities when they have something to complain about.

One thing I do know for certain is the immediate future is uncertain. And all the certainties touted about by worriers and scaremongerers is nothing but over hyped bullshit, worded to make it sound like the end of the world is nigh! Yes, the markets have taken a fall, and the £ against the $. But truth be told, they always wobble at times of uncertainty, and usually mainly caused by the media and the huge money moguls making sure they profit from everyone elses panic. Regardless of the impact, there is a quick buck to be made.

In the meantime, everyone is at each others throats, hatred is burning brightly, and people are being judged on a decision they made as an individual. A democratic vote, and expression of their opinion. Probably one of the simplest and fairest votes that has happened in a few generations. IN or OUT. Plain and simple. The majority said OUT, and so it was.... Or so it should have been.
Instead we have people wanting to rewrite the meaning of democracy, the meaning of majority, and begging for a second crack at the whip, and having a second vote to make sure the outcome was fair next time around.
Suggestions of vote tampering, stupid viral panics like "take a pen so they can't rub your vote out" have filled news feeds, and sadly, VERY sadly, lots of people have fallen for this shit, and run with it. Yup, these people were allowed to vote too. Scary isn't it.

Thankfully, the outcome of the vote makes it clear that there are more normal people than nutters, and most of the votes on both sides were cast with a mildly educated mind. Don't think for one minute I am suggesting that any remain voter is somehow mentally inadequate, even if the same was suggested about those voting the other way. See this is how childish it all gets. Name calling. SERIOUSLY !!
There was a vote, it was decided, one side didn't win, so resorted to name calling? I just don't get it. I would understand it more of the future of either direction was known, and we were all sure that we had just voted to have dinner in the gunk tank or something. But I can guarantee, not ONE person can actually guarantee what the future holds. Nothing solid anyway. But in the absence of any information, lets all be terribly civilised and call each other names until we know for sure. Then when we do see the road ahead, one group will pretend they never said a word, and the other will scream "I told you so!"

What is nice to see is that this isn't a UK trait. Far from it in fact. With the big wigs of the EU vowing to make the UK suffer for their decision, and make it an unfriendly separation, it is clear to see that this display of pettiness is a very human thing indeed, and anyone who feels aggrieved by the outcome of something, can just be childish and immature just to spite the other side.
Displays like this are very worrying indeed, and make you question what sort of people we actually want to be in any sort of relationship with.
Not for one second am I saying that most politicians are great, I'm not that stupid! But to see a face slapping head of an organisation as big as the EU, spit his dummy and vow to destroy a country for daring to want out...... I can't take someone like that seriously.

Either way, back to the main subject, the road ahead.
I am optimistic about it. Not expecting everyone to become multi millionaires by the end of 2020, nor expecting the social and financial tiers of the country to somehow merge in the coming years. But neither do I think we will unwind and collapse in a broken mess on the bottom of the sea, with no quality of life.

I will go out on a limb here and say the following.
As many are predicting, Boris will run for leadership, then hold a GE in the hope of becoming the legitimate PM. Voted in democratically (whatever definition of that we have by then). Naturally this would be the position needed to really drive the exit (renegotiate) from the EU, so the sooner the better, as we can really start to get stuck into the ins and outs of what it means.
Now I put renegotiate in brackets, because something deep inside of me feels that this is all the referendum was every really intended to cause. The threat of an exit, the hope we will stay, leading to a very strongly worded remain negotiation taking place. Forcing the hand, and making sure that certain aspects of the EU which have had many people on edge for years now, being negotiated away. And the EU agreement returning to its roots of trade and movement, with some genuine, hard hitting legislation staying in place.

This guess is backed up by the other countries who have seemingly joined the queue for the exit. Stating their interests in holding a national  referendum for their own countrymen who may also want their say. Maybe it isn't such a bad thing to have a generational democratic vote. Rather than one decision made 40+ years ago just ploughing on even though it is becoming something our parents understood it to be in 1973.
The other countries considering a referendum is also on the list of things I predicted would happen. I believe in reality, like having a bad boss at work. All the workers in the office have been sick of it for a while now, and as soon as Bob stood up and downed tools, everyone else sees their chance and copies. It doesn't mean everyone will quit. Some will, some just want a raise or more holidays, but the UK is the catalyst in a movement here, and as the weeks go on, we could see the EU listening very closely to a few of its unhappy members. And with numbers comes power.
Can the head of the EU really treat whole countries like dirt for daring to want change? Especially if there is more than one country?

Anyway, this wasn't meant to be a full on rant, just venting my thoughts on the matter.
I know many will disagree, however just know I am exercising my democratic right to voice my opinion, and ignore anyone else, and the facts they wish to present to me in argument of my opinions.

One other thing before I get, something I don't get.
Jeremy Corbyn. He is being torn to pieces for not getting behind the remain campaign. So I have two questions....
1/ Would more people really have gone out and voted remain if a single man had endorsed the campaign. Are people really that narrow minded that they need telling by ONE person how to vote?
2/ I don't understand how a shadow cabinet, a group of mature and trusted adults, chosen for their beliefs and abilities, can overnight turn their back on the person THEY among others voted in as their leader. Making scathing remarks about their ability to lead. They were fine yesterday, but now that a vote went the wrong way, the person isn't fit for purpose? Strange to me.

Anyway, I'm done now, that is far more than I originally had to say.
Only other thing to say is it is SUCH a shame that what was a simple (while very deep rooted) question became about race, nationality, wealth, religion, and politics. Shame on anyone who has used any form of hate to try and get across their disappointment of the outcome of the referendum,

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bloody back pain !

For many years now I have had a tight lower back (LB). Standing around for too long or going for long but slow walks would result in tension in my LB. Easily fixed usually with a few stretches and all would be well again, leaving a dull ache.
More recently with being a lot more active, a lot of that has gone away. My achillies tendon issues have cleared up, my asthma is far less troubling, and in general my body is far less problematic than it has been in the past. Sure there have been achy days after a long run or ride, but nothing out of the ordinary.

However, more recently I have been struggling, quite a lot in fact.
A couple of months ago I started going back to physio for tight glutes and LB. The massages and exercises were helping to a degree, but as the weeks went on, it was clear that the main root of the pain was not going away, in fact, it was getting worse.

I have reached the point in the last couple of weeks where even walking the dogs has actually become painful, and I have to stop and stretch out 2-3 times in a 25 min walk. And I am talking, full on squatting and stretching my back right out, not just a quick bend, or flex of the back. Side stretches as well, trying to alleviate the pain from my hips, which is deep set.

It is hard to actually determine where the pain is coming from. Note I am using the word pain, rather than ache or discomfort. This is truly one of the worst feelings I have ever had. After a short walk the thought of walking up stairs, or bending down for something is horrible.
Anyway, it seems to be coming from my LB then radiating out into my hips. Tight hip flexors and glutes sets in, then all around my hips tightens up to the point of no movement.

Finally realising that physio was not going to get to the root of the problem, I started looking at specialists. If you have never done so before, it is really quite confusing. Chiropractor or Osteopath ? Who does what, and who should be seen with what ailment? Eventually, after a lot of confusing guidance by others, I settled with a recommendation from a friend to see a Chiropractor in Beckenham.

Knowing it is a long journey so to speak, I was ready for the long haul with them. On my first appointment I had no idea what to expect, it was a completely new experience for me. Thankfully the Chiropractor was well versed in explaining what they do, and with model in hand, spent 10 minutes explaining to me how problems with the spine can affect our muscles and organs throughout the body. Finally the penny was starting to drop about how one thing could be affecting another so badly.

After the explanation, we moved on to the examination. This surprised me no end. I have read about pressure points, trigger points, reflexes etc, but never really paid too much attention to how it all works. So as I lay there being prodded and pressed in various places, I was astounded with how pressure on a part of the back could affect the strength in my arm and shoulder, and various other combinations.

After the examination,  the Chiropractor explained what she had found, and was pleased to tell me she didn't think it was anything too serious, and that it was within her ability to get me back on my feet. Great news! 20 minutes later, and some twisting, contorting and a whole load of back cracking took place, and my upper back suddenly felt a lot looser. Very nice feeling indeed. Sadly there was still a lot of discomfort in the bottom half. A few nice pops were had from the LB too, but nothing substantial.

Warned I would feel it later, I took little notice, but sure enough, I was in for a surprise.
Making my next appointment, for the next day, I was told to expect to need four to six more appointments to see any significant difference.
The next day I was back on the table, and after some cracking, and testing, we talked through the progress and expectations of treatment. Now more than aware that soreness was a part of the package, applying an ice pack to the treated area post treatment was now a must in my books.

The program of treatment was set as six appointments, with the last being a review point to see how we are going. The hope is that half way into the treatment, I will be given some exercises and be able to assist by doing some of the work at home.

Trying to walk for any distance right now is a non starter, the brain just starts to switch off any interest in where I am going, and just want to stop, take ibuprofen, and lay down. Which is what I have been doing a lot of funnily enough. I went to the shops before work yesterday, 10 mins each way, and by the time I reached the office, the thought of climbing the two short flights of stairs to get to the office was almost overwhelming. Not comfortable at all, and very slow.

Needless to say I need to get out of this situation, and fast. It is playing havoc with my exercise routines, leaving me in bed til late in the morning, not wanting to start the stiffness in motion. Having to lay or sit in weird positions is not very pleasant at all, so the shorter the day, the better for me.

I am off to see the Chiropractor this evening, and then twice a week for the next 2 weeks. I am hoping as things start to ease up, treating the LB will be a bit easier. It feels like it has a huge pop in it that is waiting to happen. But from listening to what I am being told, it is most likely far more muscular than anything else, and the signals the muscles are receiving are causing them to spasm, causing the pain. Which also explains why what feels like a bone ache, can be stretched out in ways I have learned to do.

All in all, it really isn't much fun at all. So to cover all the bases I am seeing a GP tomorrow too. As some have suggested that there are sometimes underlying issues which can lead to this sort of pain, I want to eliminate all that I can. I doubt I will be lucky enough to have a scan, but a referral would be nice, just to make sure things are not more serious than they appear.

So for now, it is painkillers and rest, with lots of sulking and being bored. Although strangely cycling doesn't seem to affect me too badly, so that is one saving grace. Now if only it would be dry enough to ride, things would not be so bad.

Here's to lots of crunchy, crackling goodness at the Chiropractor tonight.

For reference, I am being treated by Christine Bakker at
Beckenham Clinic
366 Croydon Road
Beckenham, BR3 4EX
Telephone: 020 8663 3878

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My first London to Brighton Bike Ride (L2B)

A couple of days ago, on 19th June 2016, I took part in my first ever organised large bike riding event, the L2B. Apart from the training at Lea Valley Velopark the other week with I have never ridden with more that 2 or 3 people. So a field of 23-27,000 was going to be slightly different for sure.

Before I get into the whole event and how I found it, I just wanted to say a sincere thank you to everyone who played their part in getting this event put together, from organising to marshaling on the day. Not to mention the thousands of spectators and supporters, with their cheers, refreshments, and signs for everyone. You all really made a fantastic event special.

So where shall I begin for my actual campaign? For the past few weeks I have been putting in some miles to prepare for a longer ride than I have ever done. With some miles under my belt there was not too much worrying me about the day. I know I have plenty in the tank, just got to go at the right pace. My weakness.
I having been suffering with lower back pain for a few weeks now, but cycling hasn't caused any issues. However it was something I kept in the back of my mind, being that it was a longer ride than I am used to.
The night before the ride, I decided I would give the bike a once over and a clean. Having had some friction noises from the bike on my last ride, I wanted to rule out it being anything sinister, so checked it over. Spinning things up and lubing them, the noise finally appeared then disappeared with the back wheel spun up. As that was done, I decided to give it a wipe over. With the back wheel still spinning I started..... And stopped very abruptly as my finger was hit by a spinning spoke.


Oops! Bad start.

The next morning I got up nice and early, looked out the window at the much anticipated overcast day. Weather man got it wrong again! Dogs fed, nutrition packed, and head all together, I set off on the 7 mile ride from home to the start line in Clapham. I have to say, the first couple of miles had me a bit worried as my legs were failing to launch, and just felt tired. Maybe the 22 miles on Saturday weren't such a great idea after all !
Anyway, a few miles in and I was finally firing on all cylinders. Phew!

Arriving at the starting point I suddenly realised the enormity of the event, and was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, and this was just who was left for the later waves. Still not very good in groups, I found a nice corner to hide in until the start time ticked around. Resting my body and mind, I gazed up to see what weather we had been dealt with for the start.

Fantastic, at least it wasn't wet, but had I packed enough nutrition and fluids. Speaking of packing it all, it was my first time carrying 2 x 1 litre bottles, and first time with all my bars and gels in the pockets of my jersey. A LOT of new things for the day.
Setting off was slow, walking over the start line due to mud, then finally mounting up on the pavement and getting going. As soon as the crank started spinning, it was all real ! VERY real, I was about to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride !

Off I set, ready to go, with NO idea what to expect other than Ditchling Beacon towards the and a whole bunch of miles.
Needless to say, within a mile or so, I managed to come off, thanks to some stop start people who were unsure of how to make a bike move, one of which who fell against me at low speed.  Nothing too serious, but it completing my injuries for the day.

After that, it was plain sailing really, got into a nice rhythm, and started clicking through the miles. Occasional banter with fellow riders but not much more, just head down and get there.

My first real negative arrived as we reached the first of the hills. Now before I start whinging and whining, I want to make it abundantly clear that I KNOW the L2B is a "fun ride" and an event to enjoy. However we all enter it with our own drive and goals.

All along the route before the first climb, there were small pockets of people stopped by the side of the road, and at the refreshment and stops, there were much bigger numbers gathered that I had expected. Chilled out and laying around on the grass. Nothing wrong with that, but quite a spectacle all the same. When I reached the first of the two climbs I noticed people dismounting and starting to walk. Which again is fine with me, not everyone enters with the fitness or equipment to tackle the climbs. But what would have been nice is if they had been kind enough to not take up the whole road.

Clipped in, down the bottom of your gears, and spinning to keep the momentum going, the last thing you need is a group of walkers with bikes, 4 abreast across the road, leaving no room for passing.
I am all for the social aspect of the event, and it was lovely to see the bonds people were making with fellow riders. But it would have been so nice if they had considered that just because they were walking, others would still be riding.

All along the first climb it was the same, having to almost trackstand on a slope waiting for people to leave enough of a gap for you to get through, instead of walking behind their friends, who they would still be able to talk to.
Arriving at the village at the top of the climb, it got even worse. With an official refreshments stop, and lots of locals all offering support too, the path to get through all the people milling around was almost impossible, clip out time, and walk the bike through the crowds.

Back on the open road, the field thinned out nicely due to everyone stopping off, and being held up, it was time to get the pace up and get moving again. Flying along the roads, air in my face, sun shining down, all was lovely. This is what cycling is all about. Freedom, and near peace and quiet. Passing through a few more villages, waving to the locals who were sitting out to cheer people on, all was good.
Arriving at a slight downhill section with a left hand bend, I was about to start to see another sort of stupidity. A marshal out flagging people to slow down, shouting quite clearly that there was an accident around the corner. Needless to say, as I slowed, many more idiots tore past me, banking into the corner, and arriving at a rather wide accident scene, avoiding it narrowly.

Further along , for the next few miles we rode on segregated roads, with cones down the middle. One lane for traffic (same direction as us) and the other for bikes. So why in gods name were idiots riding up the side designated for cars? For a few miles, as I passed people who were doing so, I was having to tell them there was a car just off their back wheel and to maybe move over?
It is this exact sort of behaviour that gives cyclists a bad name in day to day life. Selfish, ignorant, and stupidly dangerous.
This added to the number of people just randomly pulling out into your path as you come along side them, even when you have called out to them. Heads just not in the game

Then it was time, time for the Beacon. Ditchling Beacon was upon me !

Now the photo probably doesn't do it justice, and for car drivers who don't ride, it probably looks even easier, but trust me, it's a good challenge for sure. Especially when it is filled with the same sort of riders I had encountered on the last climb. Slow and steady was the way, no chance to get any sort of pace going, as it would be broken within 30 seconds by the next fool walking out, and stopping dead in the middle of the road.
Riding as slowly as I dared at times, while resisting the automatic response to clip out and put a foot down, I knew as soon as my foot clipped out, my climb would be over, so that was NOT an option.
As you can see from the data screens, it was no record breaking climb, but the pace and my heart rate were well controlled for the whole climb.

If nothing else, I had mastered pacing myself, and keeping everything under control. It was a nice achievement to have that one out of the way.

Reaching the top, hearing the commentator calling out peoples names as they crossed the timing line, that was a nice little boost, and enough to keep me going. As soon as I crested the hill and cleared the masses who had stopped for a celebration, it was pedals down, and back up to speed. Not far to go from this point on, and every intention to get it out of the way asap. Seeing the time on my Garmin Forerunner 230 showing under 4 hours was still within reach, I was determined.

A good bit of speed was had coming down the descent from the Beacon, hitting almost 52mph at one point. That helped my time quite a bit. Sadly as we came into Brighton, even though the lanes we had were sufficient, the manner in which people were riding was "unhelpful". I am guessing I lost a good 5-7 minutes off my final time due to everyone one doing the whole "we finish together" thing. Which I appreciate, but 5 miles out, is a bit premature to say the least. And even if not, if you see a group gathering behind you, let them through maybe. I know for a fact I was not the only one getting frustrated by this.

Of course, on the flip side to this, there were crossings to overcome too. In a busy centre, there are lots of pedestrians and other road users who wish to get around, which I respect fully. Stop for reds and marshals etc. Unfortunately there is the other tier of society that we all forget about, who are far more important, and refuse to stop for such things when riding. "Bike wankers" . You like the others ruin it for the rest of us. Play by the rules!

The last mile coming into Brighton was electric, the atmosphere was brilliant, the support and cheers amazing, but the pace, a tad slow as people soaked up their rewards. It is only fair to let people have their moment by this point, so no complaints from me.

Crossing the finish line I tried to comprehend what I was feelings, and apart from numb feet and almost out of fluids, I was fine. Legs were good, lungs were good, heart was steady and slowing.  Hitting stop on the watch, and waiting for the time to update was a stressful few seconds, but in no time, the official time was in.... 3 hours 53 mins and 12 seconds. And an average of 13.7 mph. Which I honestly believe could have been a bit better. Next time eh! Nice suffer score too, getting the heart working a little harder than it has on some other rides.

I hung around for 10 mins to get some blood back in my feet, and work out where I needed to go to get out of the crowds, then headed off for a long walk down Madeira Drive to rejoin the main road.
Time to get back on the bike.

With the car parked in Shoreham by Sea, it was a 7 mile ride to get back to the car, and get changed to get home. Along the coast road I was greeted with a nice mild head wind just to make it more fun.
Within 20-25 mins I was arriving at the car park where I had left the car.

Glancing down to my Garmin Edge I noticed the total distance for the day was 106km. Something clicked in my head and made me check Strava for the Gran Fondo distance requirement for June, and sure enough it was 115km. With this in mind I realised it would rude not to clock up the last 9km, so off I went for a ride around Shoreham by Sea.

As you can see by the squiggles, I chose some roads which were straight and not too taxing to clock up the last few miles.

At the end of it, 115.2km completed, June Gran Fondo badge on Strava earned, London to Brighton completed, and a great day had.

So my final say on it.
London to Brighton. Great fun, fantastic cause, thank you to all my sponsors.
It was an eye opening experience to say the least, and one I am sure I will do again in time. But wiser to what to expect from the masses. Hopefully a better start wave next time too, just to avoid some of the hold ups. A 3.30 to a 3.45 is realistic I reckon, so lets see when I do it next.

In the meantime,  a round trip from Fareham to Shoreham (return) awaits, a lap of the Isle of Wight, and of course the Pru 100 London Surrey too.  Going to be a busy few months.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Every dog has its day...

Everything in life has a finite time span for being relevant. And when the day comes when it is no longer king of the hill there are two ways to go. Gracefully, or kicking and screaming.

For me, going out gracefully, and being remembered for your greatness and service is far more appealing that throwing tantrums and having to be removed by security. Remembered only for that last childish outburst.

Of course, the reasons for falling from the top are plentiful, so I suppose your actions are sometimes determined by what happened to bring it all about.

Imagine, spinning plates, putting on an amazing show and gathering a crowd to watch your amazing show. As the crowds gather, and the spotlight gets brighter, you lose concentration on the plates.
As the first one hits the floor, you turn in panic to react to the situation, frantically running back and forth trying to keep things going. One by one, they drop and smash, until finally you have managed to get 10% of them safely spinning again.
Turning back to your adorning crowd, unsurprisingly most are gone!

Looking to where they have gone, you see them across the way at a different attraction. Not plate spinning, but juggling. So you have two choices, keep your plates spinning, and protect what you have left. Keep the remaining audience happy. Or take your plates down, give up on your show, and start throwing them at the juggler and its audience, hoping to take them down as well as yourself. The old "if I can't have it, you can't have it" play.

Usually if you go with the latter, you tend to be remembered for your last actions, and not the shows before that.

By now you are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about, so let's cut the bullshit, and get to the crux of the matter.

When a local forum runs its course, and stops adapting to the changing population of the area it covers, and allows political and personal beliefs to drive how it is run, it can start to lose its following.  Failure or refusal to allow certain topics or opinions to be aired can also lead to a very closed environment, and become unattractive to not only the current local residents and users, but also to the every growing new population.

So another one pops up, fresh and open minded. It starts to attract your current audience, and gathers pace rapidly. The two ways to approach it are a/ keep going, its no threat, its a different approach, or b/ go to war and throw everything you have at it, including your dignity.

Having been at the forefront of forums, from back in early 2000 until about 2006 running a very popular online community. Lots of people and opinions. Lots of random conversations turning into life changing matters. Friendships forged, leading to marriage and the birth of children. I think it's fair to say that it was quite challenging. But with the birth of Facebook, and the changing times, the day came when it was done. Allowing that to happen progressively, and folding at the right time meant I retained all the friendships I had made, and the whole venture is remembered fondly.

In this case, the local community is not following this model, and instead of being sensible about it, and rolling with things, the owner has decided war is the only way.
Now, let me be honest here. As the plates started falling, the right thing to do is salvage what you can, then start putting plates back on poles, newer more colourful ones, and attract the crowd back. If you want to fight hard, go for it, but show you have something worth fighting for. Don't start throwing plate fragments, hitting your old audience with them, and hope they will come back to see the same old show again.

Sadly, this is not the approach taken, and rather than going with a two pronged approach of promotion and revamping, a route of "destroy the other forum" has been taken.
Reporting of advertising to local authorities, sock puppet accounts on the new forum, trying to stir things up, only to run away and ask for it all to be removed again, constant changing of topic names on the old forum to mimic the new one, buying Google Adwords relating to the new one and pointing them at your own forum, buying domain names again hoping to snare people looking for the other one.
As someone recently said, "imitation is the greatest form of flattery" , and it IS ! So very true.

Sadly it doesn't end with imitation, and goes further to manipulation. Messing around with Wikipedia editing entries in your favour, deleting entries by the new forum, rewording entries to your own advantage. Lets get something straight, Wikipedia is NOT a playground, or somewhere childish battles should be fought. Now it is starting to get pathetic, and borderline personal.

So, Steve....
Where does all this end?
I know there is a strong revenue stream for you from your forum, somehow managing to bamboozle your advertisers into believing that the 40,000 visitors a month (85-90% of which are search bots I presume) and the 6,000 members (of which about 15 still use the forum, and 1,500 are probably sock puppet accounts of your own and others) somehow generate value for money. Surely anyone with any dignity and common sense can see that the interaction on the forum has dropped away to a borderline sustainable level now. But I suppose as long as you can keep prying money out of their hands, you feel like it is a worthwhile venture to keep going.

Sadly, it seems, that actually giving a toss about the local community and their needs is the bottom of the importance list now, if even still on it at all. If it were of any interest, I am sure the forum would have been upgraded over time, and offered more to its user than admin filtered PM's, personal vendettas with users occasionally blocking their account as you don't like what they said, and disappearing posts because they don't interest you, you don't agree with them, or simply don't like the person who posted it.... Without ever meeting them, that's the hilarious part.

When the new forum popped up, it was launched with the intention of filling a gap in the online resources of the local community. A friendly and social approach to get people working together with others in their community, and a fresh spin on an old idea. Getting people out from behind their screens, being real people not just a user name, and creating a happy and self supporting community for the SE23 area.
Not a threat, not a take-down, not a local coup, just something new. Plenty of space for both to co-exist, with the option along the way to work together or benefit from the growth.

What we have ended up with instead is a full on pissing contest. The old vs the new. Offended somehow that someone else would dare to offer the local community (in which they live) a breath of fresh air, and some new options. It is an evolving world where options are obligatory, and people expect to be giving a choice. So to somehow take offence that this would happen is a little small minded.
Surely if you felt that you had something real to offer SE23, you would make an honest and open stand. Come out from behind the "Admin" moniker , speak openly, have your say and show you care. Stand up for the cause you apparently believe in so much.
Rather than hiding behind fake forum accounts, sabotaging online references, and trying to trick people onto your forum by using pseudonyms similar to the new forum.  All I see so far are cowardly sucker punches in the dark, which consist of damaging the name of an upstart, rather than justifying the continued use and following of what is quite frankly an old, tired forum which exists on fitting in with the online clique.

I hope that the stupid behaviour ends soon, and the people of SE23 can make a good, honest, well educated decision of which forum is right for them, and maybe even use both.

On a serious note, do things openly and in your own name. If you truly believe you are fighting for a good honest cause, do it with dignity, and show the community you are trying to convince you care, that you really do!
As for the advertisers...

These are the sole opinions and comments of Michael Snasdell (real name, feel free to Google me) and not those of any other forum for the SE23 area, or anywhere else.
Any name calling is driven by my own opinions and interactions (online) with Steve Shaw and se23(dot)com

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wild ramblings for Monday

I have a quiet period in my day, and a head full of things that are praying on my mind, so I thought I would unload a few of them onto the poor unsuspecting readers of the blog (both of you!)

First up, my bloody back! I have spent the weekend taking ibuprofen by the bucket load just to keep mobile. I am pretty sure running a 5k at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has not helped matters, but in fairness it did give me half an hour of relief after the run. So small mercies eh!
The more it develops, the more I realise that I need to get some professional help with it. Starting in the middle of my lower back, then travelling as far as down my thighs now, it is clear it's getting worse.
I have reached the point now where after a short walk, stairs are just not possible without stopping to squat and stretch out first.
Advice varies, from chiropractor to osteopath, and even long term maintenance with pilates or yoga. Whatever the case, I need to get my finger out soon and do it, especially with the London to Brighton ride coming up this weekend.

Speaking of exercise, that is my next gripe.
Since my huge lows of the end of last year, I have fought back with exercise. Keeping myself busy, fit and exhausted with a regime of running, cycling and working out at home. Sadly, the back problems have really affected my ability to do much of any of the above, which in turn has had a huge impact on my mental health. Tired, unmotivated, reluctant to get going for the day. Too long in bed, grazing all day. None of which is helpful to the situation with my back. I am sure the first thing any medical practitioner says when I present with lower back pain is "you are over weight"
Now don't get me wrong here, I am not bed bound, and I still manage to run from time to time and ride when I get the chance. I am far from a couch potato. But the inability to do as much as I want to do, leaves my stats falling behind, my PB's flailing, and my pride taking a real beating.

The introduction of my new fitness gadget, my Garmin Forerunner 230 has helped a little. Now able to run without my phone for Strava, and have my HR available to me on my wrist (with HR chest band), and to be able to monitor my activities has been a booster. On the flip side, looking at my 5k times, and seeing myself 4 mins or so off my normal pace makes me realise the situation I am in, and has also made me accept I need to do something about it. I haven't lost that much time through nothing, my body is clearly suffering right now.

If I can get anything done in time, i.e the next 4 days is another matter. I am caught up, do I get treatment and hope it doesn't leave me too uncomfortable to do the ride on Sunday? Or do I hold off on treatment until next week, then risk doing the ride and failing because of the back pain? Just a bit of info, the back pain has not yet reared its ugly head while riding, so to date is not an issue.
Both chiro and osteo are new things to me, so I don't know what to expect from either. After effects, restrictions, or how soon to feel the benefits. I don't actually fully understand the differences either, but am doing my best to educate myself now.

The next one is a weird one really. Local community. What does that phrase mean to you? If you are
doing something for and in the name of the community you live in, should it involve everyone within that community, or just the clique you choose to associate with. Those people who share your ideals and beliefs?
Having run an online community for a good few years, encompassing a lot of the UK, it was always important to start with an open mind as to what to expect from so many different groups of people. The UK as a whole is a pretty diverse place. Seeing some of the randomness that people would post on the forum was always interesting. Granted this was quite a young audience with cars in common, but there was always scope for the wild card topics which would for some reason be driven by emotive responses, and passionate beliefs. Had we insisted that the forum only be used for car related topics, and imposed rules prohibiting certain subjects, I don't think we would all have ever gotton to know each other the way we did.
Remember this is a forum which had a direct effect on marriages and the birth of kids! So it wasn't all childish humour.

I guess what I am trying to say is, what makes a community is knowing who people are, and accepting they may have different opinions to you own, but still feeling comfortable engaging with them.

Anyway, back to me....
Well there isn't much more really, I am just currently feeling lazy and down. The back issue is really holding me back with a lot of things.
Each day I get up wanting to get things done, but the knowledge that my back will start hurting within 10-15 mins puts me off. My existence feels very slow and lazy right now. Usually a feeling I get when in depression, but this is clearly driven by something else, and thankfully I know what.

I guess really I should start looking for a local specialist to twist me into weird shapes and make my body make noise to feel a bit better. My lower back feels like it has a MASSIVE crack or pop hidden within it. I just want to believe that it is as simple as that, but am pretty sure it is not.
The areas the pain is referring to now are just silly. Even writing this now I am noticing my posture is changing to allow some relief for my lower back, so in turn my shoulders are getting tight now.

Right, that's it! I'm off to find someone to sort this out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pain pain go away!

After some soul searching yesterday, I started to realise something, something quite important. I think that the downturn in my mood and energy is because of my lower back pain. It started years ago when walking, I would get severe tightness in my lower back and glutes, and find it hard to bend down to undo my shoes after getting home. Having instead to slowly stretch it out before I could bend again.
When I got really active early this year, it went away for a bit, or maybe was masked by other aches and pains from running, training and riding. Either way, its back, and with vengeance!
Yesterday while walking the dogs I really struggled to keep going. The sensation transitioning from discomfort to pain. Cutting the second walk a little short in fact. Later in the morning I was in great discomfort just walking up a flight of stairs. Again, just the lower back area, but now travelling into my hips.

This morning, waking in discomfort, I walked the dogs, took some pills and went back to bed for an hour, just so not to have to put up with it for the next hour.

So this got me thinking, and subsequently realising... It is my lower back, and the problems with it which is affecting my mood. It makes me not want to get up in the morning, spend a lot of time not moving, and as a by-product of that, leaves me eating convenient food, as both easy and comfort. So that really puts my mind at rest a lot. Automatically takes the pressure of me, worrying that it is all a mental state, when looking at it from afar, it's clearly not.

The big question now is, what the hell is wrong with my back?
Having seen a physio a few times, and checking for basic nerve issues, muscular issues etc, there is nothing alarming immediately presenting itself. A little relief is found from massage and releases, but the root cause of it all doesn't go away.
Laying on my left side, I can't have my right leg in front of me, as it irritates my glute / hip area.

My thinking on it is it can't be anything other than a soft tissue issue as it subsides with certain stretches. If it were joint of skeletal there would be no such relief?
Ibuprofen regularly helps control the discomfort levels, so again points to inflammation of something soft. At the end of the day, I think what all this means is, I am going to have to go through the long process of seeing my GP, and possibly being referred for investigation.

As much as I want to avoid going to a GP these days, I am getting to the stage now where I have to get it under control. Strangely however, if I run or cycle it's fine for the duration and some time after.  All very strange.

I am left battling myself now, is it the reduction in activity which is making me ache. Would returning to being very active help? Or is it the activities I have been doing over the past months, which has aggravated the area to this new level of pain and discomfort?

Whatever the case, the feeling is making me miserable as hell, and I want it under control. Preferably sorted rather than numbed with strong pain killers. Depending of course if there is a solution for it. Hopefully nothing too back, and something a specialist can bend, crack and knock out of me!

Really is amazing how your physical and mental states can affect the other. And once again I am grateful to having the calm state of mind when needed, to sit back, consider all the aspects of what is going on, and realise the truth (eventually) rather than constantly beating myself up about how I feel.

Thanks to Sarah for the chat this morning and making me think a little harder about why I am miserable, thanks for noticing too lol.

For now, until I can get an appointment sorted, I think I will try and increase my activity levels a bit, and spend some more time with stretches and weights to give everything a good workout and shake down. With some more sporting events just around the corner, I have to get able bodied enough to get my groove on.

Here's to getting my back sorted and under control once and for all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My recovery from depression.

It has been a while since I sat down and put fingers to keyboard about my depression, so with yesterday marking the end of my 12 week CBT course, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at where I was 5 months ago, and where I have reached in my recovery.

Along the way there have been many revelations, from who I now see at my support network, to how I perceive life in general and my interactions with people.

Back in Nov 2015 I started to see signs that I recognised as the start of depression. Low moods, withdrawing from interactions, trouble sleeping then staying in bed, avoiding doing things. All classic signs for me that something is not right, and an early warning that things are about to go badly wrong. Sadly by the time you realise what is happening, it is almost impossible to maintain control. You are along for the ride, however long it may take.

Once I was sure I was spiralling out of control, I reached out as quickly as possible to people I know and trust to try and give me the boost I needed, and the support I knew they would offer to try and see me through this bout of depression I knew was upon me.

It all started when I had a bit of a moment with a friend in a local cafe. Chatting to Sarah I realised all was clearly not well, and subsequently took a couple of hours off work to try and collect myself a bit. Telling my then manager how I was feeling, I felt that I was now safe if anything further were to happen.
The following week I was scheduled off work on annual leave, and as the week progressed, I realised things were just getting worse. The day I was meant to return to work I went to see my GP. At the time she was new to me, having never seen or spoken to Dr Paul, I was really anxious about who I was going to face, and even writing myself a script of how to explain what I was feeling and going through to this new person. To my surprise, Dr Paul turned out to be amazing, and set me up for a good recovery.

Anyway, the previous entries in the blog probably explain what I went through during my lowest points better than I can recall these days, but this is about what happened next, and where I am now.
I have put off writing this for a number of weeks as things have continued to change, so didn't want to get ahead of myself.

By the end of the CBT course, I felt truly on top of things, and was attending more for the rest of the group than myself. Or at least that is my perception of it. Reaching the stage where I felt I could help others was very rewarding, and gave me a lot of confidence back. So with hindsight I am really glad I stuck the course out. At the beginning I really didn't get it, and thought I was wasting my time being there, but as the course went on, and the group started to form a friendship, it all started to work.

Released back into the free world, I was not fully engaged in my fitness. Running, cycling, entering group events etc, and really enjoying myself. As confidence built, so did curiosity, as did self confidence, leading me to explore matter which were closer to my heart, literally. Sadly for one reason or another, I started to revert back to my submissive, "must please others"way of thinking , and I slipped.

A slip which has been rather expensive to me, and set me back some way. Backing away from what kept me occupied, allowing my brain its freedom to wander, really didn't work well for me at all, and still to this very moment I am paying the price. I guess I am not as "all new" as I thought I was, and old habits die hard! The one hiccup and break from fitness has continued far longer than planned, and I dearly need to get back into my stride, literally. I have a 5km event at the weekend, which I hope will kickstart me.

As the weeks have gone on, I have sunk back into deep thought, too much time in bed, and not enough activity. Telling myself each evening, early to bed, and out for a run in the morning, it is yet to happen. The closest I got the other day was going for a 46 mile ride, and that in itself was only inspired by making plans for the day ahead, and being proactive in case they didn't happen. (which they subsequently didn't)
It's a horrible feeling. Nowhere near depression, but a real downturn in my moods and energy, and I hate it!

That said, I know my symptoms are not THAT bad, as I proved at the weekend.
Saturday was a busy and interesting day, with a little bit of fun with the kids mixed in. So Sunday I thought I would probably take it easier. I had made lunch plans, but was mildly confident that something would come up and they would not happen. So I got up early, rode into town and met a friend for breakfast, then carried on riding til a good distance was done.
Lunch plans cancelled, I set out to the shops to buy lunch for one. Mid-way to the shops I received a DM on Twitter from a friend. All very strange. She said we had a mutual friend, and that they were both heading for to Wembley for a Bruce Springsteen concert, with a spare ticket, and would I care to join them. Seeing who my company would be, I didn't think twice. OK I did, but very quickly.

Rushed home, let the dogs out quickly and headed for the train.
Meeting them at Canada Water I was excited, in great like minded company with Gemma and Edel, off we went to see The Boss!
My greeting from Edel was very nice indeed, and a much needed huge hug. Everyone loves a hug, right! I know I do, and don't get anywhere near enough of them. Doggy cuddles don't count.

A great evening was had by all, and while we waited for the queues for the station to subside a little, we got into some very deep conversations. It was enlightening and relieving to realise how alike the three of us are, and right on each others doorsteps too. That knowledge alone has made me feel a lot better, so thank you Edel for mentioning me to Gemma, and getting the ball rolling. Strange how things work out isn't it.

While my mind was put to rest by this event, other areas of my mind are still all over the place. Falling into my famous old traps of getting involved and engrossed far too deeply with things. Rushing in eyes wide shut, then opening them once deep inside, and realising I'm out of my depth. A place I find myself right now, on a number of different planes. One day I will learn how to avoid such situations. But until then, I need to master getting my head out of the situations, without backing away from it entirely. That is what usually leads me to being a recluse. An existence I do not enjoy.

I am fed up of battling my mind. Reading too much into things, over thinking other things. But most of all I am pissed off with myself for this slip up from healthy eating and training. Yes, I am having a lot of physical discomfort recently, something I need to address, and maybe even see my GP about. But in the meantime, I need to start getting up earlier, not being afraid of quiet time (that my mind will run away with me) and just get on with being me.

So am I recovered?
Tough one really. I don't feel anywhere near as bad as I did. Maybe I am just over doing it, and getting run down? That's a possibility for sure. Maybe I will go with that, and just set myself some goals again. Get motivated, and get off my arse.

5km Olympic Park run at the weekend.
London to Brighton ride the weekend after
Pru 100 a few weeks later.

I have a lot to get ready for, as well as some other pending events too, to add to the list.

Surely the above listing is more than enough motivation? We shall see.

Thanks for reading as ever. I shall post something more inspiring soon, I hope.

Monday, May 30, 2016 A breath of fresh air!

For a long time now SE23 (Forest Hill and Honor Oak) have had a forum, friendships have occasionally been made, an many a debate had. Mainly about politics and Perry Vale, nothing much more over recent years.

Then along came , a fresh approach to a community forum, very up to date and fresh, but most importantly, a complete new ethos.
From it's conception, the plan was clear, free speech, opinions welcomed, and somewhere you can feel comfortable with the people around you. It is all very well saying how you want a forum to run, but another thing actually making that happen.

Of course it is very early days yet, but already from engaging with members both online and in person (a very unfamiliar feeling for me) it is clear that the forum feels like an extension of any venue we may choose to meet in. We had a group meeting in a local bar a week or so back. Everyone got along, respected others rights to get a chance to speak, and listened. When the meeting was over the discussion continued in the forum, and it felt exactly the same. That in itself is a huge achievement.

I have been lucky enough to be offered a role in helping the forum find its voice, and help with things relating to its structure, growth and popularity, for which I am very grateful for. To be honest I find myself alone and at a lose end quite often, so this has given me a bit of a purpose, and something to get my teeth stuck into for a change. Seeing ideas grow is fantastic, and watching the community all clambering on board is really rewarding,

Able to discuss all sorts of topics, it is lovely to connect with people over common interests and hobbies. Something I don't think was possible really on the original forum, so certainly a positive factor for .I am pretty sure I am not the only one really starting to come out of my shell on the forum now. Seeing people exploring the boundaries of what is allowed, and watching friendly casual topics grow rapidly. Even just things as simple as what everyone is doing for their weekend. The community seems to flock to such topics and openly share what they are doing.

The foundations of the site are still setting, but already you can see the structure that will grow on top of them will be mighty. The structural design is not yet set in stone, and to be honest I see it as being an organic structure, able to change as the demands on it do. Closely watched by its creator and another admin, tweaks are made on categories as the interests evolve. Of course there will be core topics which remain forever, but lesser used ones would be absorbed, and any demand for a new one will be considered.

The interface for the site is a thing of beauty, modern, clean and fresh, with the added bonus of a lovely mobile version too, which is proving to be a favourite. Nice that it offers a service to people on the move, killing a bit of time for the morning commute etc. I imagine some interesting stories will pop up from the station and trains over time.
Notifications are very simply enabled and disabled, meaning you can easily watch a topic for replies, and at the press of a button drop out of the notifications, or tailor them to your own requirements. If there is one thing in an abundance on the forum, it is user control and preferences.

Speaking of user control, another very fresh approach is the user level tier system. Each level giving members the ability to do more with their accounts, allowing trusted and frequent members to carry out moderation when called for. Allowing the community to share the responsibility of keeping the forum ticking over gives a great sense of involvement and belonging, ensuring people feel their contributions count for something, and that they are far more than just a username.

Trust levels of users start from the very beginning, with users able to have their account verified. This means meeting someone in person, Pauline at Sugar Mountain, Chris the owner, or by being confirmed by an already verified member. Once verified, the forum opens up a little more for you. However the main reasoning for verifying members is to give other users a level of security that this is an actual human being , and not just a sockpuppet account being used to stir up trouble. Something that a lot of forums seem to have issues with on various levels, to the point where it becomes childish and malicious.

So far has seen huge growth, a few hiccups with enthusiastic advertising of the site, and some interesting encounters with people with ill intent towards its existence and growth. Thankfully, the community which has already grown within the forum, are having none of it, and each slip up, turns into a positive thanks to open discussion of what just happened, and where WE go from there. I say WE, as the contributions of ideas and suggestions highlights how a simple idea can change a community.

The forum and the community around it have so much potential it is unreal. Having lived in this area for 35 years now, I would never have expected it to have pulled together in such a positive way, but it really has, and I am sure it will continue to do so. Bringing people from all walks of life closer together, starting discussion, answering queries, and welcoming each and every new member in the exact same way.

Times are changing, the community is changing, and finally SE23 has a safe, friendly and open place to let peoples voices be heard. Congratulations to the owner for his commitment to the community , and for having such a thick skin to defend against the negativity.  Here's to SE23, a growing community, and one which is finally communicating within.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dear Mr Steve Shaw... (SE23dotcom)

Please let me start out by saying this is a purely personal opinion, of which I have formed over many years of experience with you and your local forum. This is not encouraged, nor representative of the opinions of another local forum which I am now helping on.

For many years now you have been obstructive in the way you have managed and administrated your forum. Editing, deleting, and splitting posts, leaving people confused as to why their voice was suddenly lost. For those of us who have endured this, but still tried to engage with our local community, we have become accustomed to the preferential treatment of some uses, usually those who are in line with your own point of view, both politically and morally.

However there comes a time when enough is enough. And that time is now.
When others have in the past tried to set up a local forum of their own, they have failed time and time again. Bombarded with spam, pornographic posts (which strangely stopped when you were out rightly accused of being behind them, and many other underhand and quite frankly childish and malicious attacks.

In recent instances it would be fair to nickname you Steve "Sockpuppet" Shaw, as it seems when there is dirty work to be done, another user pops up on your forum, is quite openly allowed to start posting inflammatory remarks about local businesses you don't personally like, and be left to get away with it. While anyone defending the business or person is allowed to be attacked or questioned.
THEN Mr Shaw, YOU block the user you don't like. Just as you have just done to my account. Using your sockpuppet account to question me, then block me so it looks like I have no answer to your spineless accusations.

If you can't see how pathetic your actions are, then you probably won't understand a word of what I am writing here.

Obviously there are other actions you have carried out recently too, some legit, others somewhat desperate. Renaming posts "Life in SE23" with no doubt the intention of creating a little more traffic for the ever fading forum. While there is nothing wrong with that, hey we all need to ride other peoples coat tails of success from time to time, it does show you are actively aware and engaging in a status fight with the rapidly growing

The bit that doesn't show, certainly not to your users, is the defensive moves you are taking behind the scenes. Lets start with the report to Fix My Street, after reading on that some posters had been put up, you signed up yet another sockpuppet account on there, using threatening wording and advising it had been reported to Fix My Street, and would be reported to the other authorities if your demands were not immediately met. I might add that not only did you only use the pictures from in your report, but you probably never saw such posters in real life.

Obviously, the adults in this exchange acted on their own morals, and not the demands of your childishness, and then self reported themselves to the authorities you threatened to contact. Needless to say, they were thanked for their honesty and openness (not something a sockpuppet can ever receive) and were given guidance on the authorities view on such matters.

Obviously with their guidance in mind, expect to see more poster popping up around soon. Then you can go and open yet another account and report them again.

The more I think about it, the more I realise you have NEVER spoken out as yourself in public. "Admin" is the only way people know you. And for someone who apparently cares so much about their community (and not just the cash flow from the ad's you slap all over the place, the Gold users who get sticky topics, which quite frankly make the front page look like it never updates, which lets be, with just  fair a few posts a week it probably doesn't change that much) I find it strange that you have no interest in people even knowing your name, let alone what you look like or even if you still live here.

Obviously anyone who uses your computer repair service will have unknowingly met you, but it makes me wonder, if they mentioned the forum, would you even tell them it was yours? I'm gonna guess not on that one.

Anyway, seeing as you have once again attacked me and then removed my chance to reply on your forum , I would like to take this opportunity to ask you to just delete my account once and for all, and if possible remove all my content from the site. Which of course I don't expect you to do, but I am just putting it out there as my wishes.

To reply to "Chippy" I would say quite simply, YES I do know the owner of Sugar Mountain, (as do you Steve). I get on very well with her, and respect the amount of commitment and dedication she shows the local community (unlike you Steve, just keep the revenue coming) The 3 star rating allows the shop to continue trading, and has raised no significant concerned with the local authorities (much to your dismay Chippy, opps sorry, Steve) The fact that a new user (or sockpuppet) would dig through 3 years of posts on your forum, which I realise is only about 2 pages with the traffic and activity you get these days) just to find a post which speaks negatively about a person who is supporting , just to make a single swipe at them is really quite strange. Especially given that all new accounts must currently send YOU the content of their post before becoming active and it appearing. That in itself would suggest some chickenshit, underhand, spineless sockpuppet behaviour.

But of course as the trusted Admin of the forum you would never allow that, right. After all they have agreed to the rules already.

By registering on this discussion system you agree that you will not post any material which is knowingly false, inaccurate, abusive, hateful, harassing, sexually orientated, threatening or invasive of a person's privacy, or any other material which may violate any applicable laws.
By continuing with the sign up process you agree to the above rules and any others that the Administrator specifies.

I must say, big fan of the bold print which basically says, if I don't agree with what you say, I will mess with your posts and accounts. Change your password, block your account or anything else which doesn't involve actually being a grown up, adult, human being about the matter.

All in all Steve, it is sad to see you abuse your administrator privileges like this, just for your own entertainment, and financial gain. SE23 is a great area, full of wonderful people. With different opinions and views. All of which makes it all the more an amazing place to live. You had an opportunity to help it thrive, but instead you have captivated an audience and left them wanting more. The site traffic is clearly down, the interest in the forum is fading away, so no wonder you feel threatened by a new forum which people are flocking to. But react like the business man you are. Not threatening people, trying to stamp on them, and demanding your name and website not be mentioned.

I would love to say I wish you the best, but that would just be a lie. I would like to see the back of you and your underhanded ways. If you REALLY want to engage with the area, use your own name, from one account and speak up openly and honestly. Rather than this childish puppet show. Stop attacking people without a face.

That's about all I have to say on the matter now.

Good day!

Monday, March 7, 2016

The story of my tattoos... (so far!)

Every time I get a new tattoo the question arises, what does it mean? So I thought I would do a little story blog of my tattoos so far. Call it a retrospective tattoo diary if you may.

Before I start my journey down memory lane, I just thought I would write this quick bit about tattoos in general. For decades they were a sign of poor lifestyle choices, mixing with the wrong crowds, pledging allegiance to some sort of group with evil intentions and so on. Basically, if you had tattoos you were simply undesirable. This whole image took a long time to change, and as the generations went on, and tattoos became a little more mainstream and available to people, the stigma went from dangerous to dirty. With unlicensed shops popping up, people working from home, and basic hygiene not quite up to scratch, infections became "common". No not actually common, but it was the belief.
Because of this, even into the 80's and early 90's people with visible tattoos were shunned from any form of work where hygiene was an issue. Hell even McDonalds wouldn't hire people with visible tattoos.

Thankfully in the early 90's things started to change, and with licensing and health inspections being done, as well as the business being regulated, more tattoo studios / shops / parlours started popping up. But we are talking one to each town at best. Usually mixing trades such as piercing and tattooing to stay afloat, as tattoos were really not yet a big thing.

As the new millennium came around, so tattoos started their journey into popular culture. Movies seemed to show more people with them, in both the good guy and bad guy roles. People in the public eye started revealing their tattoos more, and slowly but surely the younger generation jumped on board with the whole idea. People designing tattoos starting to become more creative, and as the industry picked up speed, so did the development of new techniques, equipment, and of course the inks. Anyone growing up in the 70's and 80's would be familiar with older relatives having blurry and blotchy marks on their arms, vaguely resembling anchors, love hearts, and the occasional poor attempt at an animal. Usually a good few years old and now turning green.

The revolution in tattooing, at least amongst the genuine artists, and not the backstreet wannabies would put an end to this image for tattoos forever. Fine lines, rich colours, blended colour palettes, intricate designs, and longevity were all on the horizon. Tattoos were about to explode onto the scene.

The work was improving into the 90's and the boundaries were falling fast,new generations of artists bringing their own techniques and artistic ideas to the industry. Tattoos were on the brink of becoming almost glamorous. But not quite there yet.
In 2005 a show hit the TV screens. Miami Ink. Now I have to say that this was NOT the actual turning point in the industry, that had come a good few years before. But for the mainstream culture, it was about to change a lot, especially in the UK.
While tattoos continued to be frowned upon in the UK, the publics eyes not yet opened to the full potential of what was possible with a tattoo, suddenly there it was on TV. Holy cow, you can have a life like picture of a loved one tattooed on you, which will stand the test of time, and do the original image justice. (if you go to the right artist of course!)

Anyway, I digress from the actual point of this entry.
In short, from early 2000's tattooing came into its own, gained popularity and mainstream acceptance, and all sorts of new artists, styles and equipment flooded to the scene. Obviously with all this popularity comes fakers. Scratchers, bullshitters, and people with no idea what they are doing, but in it for a quick buck. As a whole though, the revolution had begun, and things were about to get interesting.

When I speak of the revolution, I think you will see as I progress through my pieces, that at a certain point the work becomes a little better. Some looking at the pictures will say obviously the older ones look worse because they are, well older, but the truth is, some were before the revolution, and things were just not quite as good before.

So lets begin.
My first tattoo, the first time I dared walk into a tattoo shop and ask for a piece was around 1996 (pre revolution) After the birth of my daughter I wanted something on me forever. Not knowing at that time that we would one day be torn apart, I decided I wanted something to symbolise my affection for her. Cue Tas!
Walking into Fantasy Tattooing in South London, as was done in the day, I had a choice of anything I wanted... As long as it was in one of the folders or on the wall as a piece of flash art. Pricing was based on a coloured dot next to each image, and once chosen a stencil would be taken of the piece, or in some cases, the stencils were already made, and sitting in a draw, waiting for someone to come in and as for #63 etc.

Choosing my right shoulder / back to get this amazing tattoo on, avoiding disgusting anyone with this terrible decision I was making. Not wanting to become one of the dirty tattooed type people. I sat down, and after what seemed like an eternity, but was probably about 45 minutes, paid about £35 and left, scared for life, but over the moon.
Today it is fair to say that Tas has kinda stood the test of time, colour still visible, lines just about in tact, and a basic idea of what it is meant to be.
As you can see from the picture below, it has done OK over 20 years, and lasted better than some of the post war tattoos some had. But is far from "great"

See what I mean! Either way, it served its purpose at the time, and has a story attached to it, therefore it goes down as a success.

The next tattoo I would get would be as equally well thought out, as in not really thought out at all, seeing a picture on the wall and asking this time for a #57 and parting with about £40. It was after all now around 1997. This next piece was driven by two factors. Firstly I was now separated from my daughters mum, but still very much in touch with them both. I wanted something that made me feel like I always had one eye open, watching over my daughter even while I was not with her. And secondly that a new tattoo shop had opened locally, run by a guy I used to go to school with. Everyone needs a tattoo from an old school mate! Seeing an amazing design, incorporating what looked like what I called the all seeing eye, and in this new style called "tribal" I decided that was the one for me.
Shut up and take my money was the order of the day, and down I sat. An hour later, there it was, this heavy black, bold expression of myself on my arm for all eternity, and I was delighted.
That evening I went over to visit my daughter, and showed her mum my new piece of art. Explaining what it was and what it signified, I was greeted with hysterical laughter. Well that went down well. None the less, I was happy with it, and as I say to people even today, if you are happy with it, sod what others think. Not that I for one second now believe it is anything much more than a heavy mark on my skin, like Tas, it served its purpose and holds sentimental value to me.
As you can see from the pic of it below, on the grand scheme of things, its rather..... well you decide.

You can kinda see the eye part.... Right? No, ok moving swiftly on...

The third piece I was to get would show me growing up and learning more about these tattoos. While barbed wire and other such arm pieces were starting to become popular, spurned on by the film "Barbed Wire" with Pamela Anderson (I think) I decided it was time to go big or go home. I was training hard at the gym now and my biceps were really starting to pop. It was 1998, I was 25 and in my prime, and I needed something big and masculine to show off to errm all the other guys at the gym. It was time for a tribal arm band!
Walking into the same shop in Sydenham, I knew this was the day I was going to get my masculinity affirmed, I was ready, encompass my arm with your finest band of tribal ink please sir.
Errrm Houston we have a problem. It appears that all the wonderful flash art on the wall was designed to fit people of normal size and stature. My arms were now around 19" in circumference, and nothing was going to fit. So instead of getting a tattoo all the way around my arm, to show how manly I was, inner arm of no concern to me, I was suddenly faced with the wimps option, and just on the outer section of my bicep.

Getting the piece done, it was positioned in such a way it gave the illusion of going all the way around, but if asked to see it, I would have to explain my arm was just too big on the day. Because people believed that, right! On the day I was undecided on having it shaded on the tips, the new style of lighter tribal, or going full on black. In the end I went with full black.
The significance of the tattoo was not quite fixed, but the coming month would change that. With a trip to Tunisia planned with a friend, I was all ready to enjoy a new beginning, when disaster struck. My daughters mum was about to make a life changing decision, and break contact between me and my daughter. Suddenly this tattoo now marked the point in my life where my daughter was torn away from me.

The piece that marks this time in my life is quite fittingly sharp edged and dark. Or at least was when it was done. Not so much now, but still quite imposing all the same.
The late 90's and tribal, what a great time for tattooing. But things were going to change soon. But not just yet!

So here is #3

I know, I know, amazing right! To be fair, this was probably the first piece to actually start to stand the test of time. After 18 years there are still points where there are meant to be, and quite a dark consistency to the whole piece. The two whispy bits at the top are the amazing seamless join to piece #2 . Crazy I know!
Incidental , in about 2012 while in Wet and Wild in Florida, my girlfriend at the time pointed out the American guy queuing in front of me for a water slide had the exact same tattoo as me! 4000 miles away, and he picked the same piece of flash art as me! Great!

So now I was left with the dilemma. Would I walk this earth for the rest of my life with one of those wimp tattoos, too scared to have the inner arm done too, or would I find a way to make this happen. Well obviously I needed to go back to see Tony in Sydenham and get this sorted out, so off I went. I would say it was now 1999, 26 years old, and ready to complete the band.
In I walked, explained what I wanted done, and the solution was a simple on, pick another band from the flash selection, and they would use it to join the two ends up. Maybe some small adjustments here and there to make it fit. 1999, and now they are going all freestyle with a Bic, this is amazing!

Finding the piece best suited, we cracked on and got it knocked out, in no time my arm was now fully banded with black tribal. I was in awe. As you can see from the picture below, it was the best piece I had had yet, and completed my dream of an arm band. Full on man!

Now I know by this point you are wondering how tattoos can possibly improve from this point, but I am about to blow your mind.
By 2002, some places were now allowing you to bring in your own ideas, and turn them into a tattoo. Talk about thinking outside the box. I don't know who pioneered this technique, but bless them! (I am being sarcastic before people start ranting)
I was ready for something epic, something that was totally different. Deep in a relationship, turning a corner and finding positivity, feeling brave and ready to take on the world. It was time to get matching tattoos! And, not only matching, but writing!
What on earth I hear you say, I know its crazy but the following story really happened!

While having a rather deep moment in my life, reflecting deeply on things I was going through, and in a relationship with a girl of Greek heritage, we decided we would get the word "butterfly" in Greek tattooed on our lower backs. Hers was in defiance of the rule of the relationship she had escaped. Mine was a slightly deeper meaning. I will use this exert from a little book I am writing to explain it fully.

For me the significance of the word is quite profound, and holds even
more meaning since we split up. To me it relates to experiencing the
touch of a butterfly. I have told the story many times while explaining
the tattoo, and most get it, so lets see if you do.
A butterfly moment. Imagine yourself sitting in the countryside on a
bench. Relaxed in the tranquillity of your surroundings, you see a
butterfly fluttering around you. Hopeful, you hold your hand out and to
your surprise it lands on the tip of your finger, fluttering before folding
its wings, resting for a moment from its journey.
You hold your breath, afraid to move, wanting the moment to last as
long as possible, but knowing all the while that this moment won't last. It
is temporary before the butterfly continues its journey.
Touched by beauty for a moment. Sharing a perfect moment before the
world around you moves on, leaving you forever with the memory of the
time you were touched by a butterfly. A moment you can't force, a
moment which you may never experience again, but one which will live
with you forever. The butterfly of course is metaphorical, but the beauty
and the memory are as real as life gets.
Nicci was my butterfly. Touching me so deeply, leaving an ever lasting
memory in my mind, which each time recalled is as real and fresh as the
day it happened.
So there you go, the idea was set in stone, and soon to be set in ink also. A lot of explaining would follow for years to come, but as dull as it looks now, it was truly the first tattoo I ever got with such deep meaning.

The pic below shows the original piece, surrounded by tribal (yes more tribal) These were added a couple of years later, just to flesh it out a bit. Pretty poor attempt, but worked for me at the time.
Here is #4 "Butterfly" Along with #5 "More tribal"

Again I have to say, there is absolutely no regret in getting these tattoos done. While mediocre at best by today's standards, they have marked very significant times in my life up until this point, and I am proud to have them to remind me of those times.

Now, remember I was saying about the revolution. Well my next piece would come after this time. Just as things were starting to really get exciting.  The bar had been raised, so it was time to really get creative. Roll on 2007...

In 2007, after a number of years with no tattoos, I really thought my days of wanting anymore were long behind me. I had always wanted tattoos in places where I could wear shorts and a t-shirt and no one would be any the wiser. Not because I was against visible tattoos, but at the time I just didn't think they were for me. However life was about to take a violent turn, with my mum being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. It was all a bit of a shock to the system, having been left so late before seeking medical attention, there was really no long term hope, so a journey begun.
I decided I needed something radical, I had so many ideas floating around in my head for tattoos to show my emotions about this and a number of others things in my life.
Referred to a tattooist used by a friend, someone I will speak about later in this entry, I threw some ideas down on the table. A scroll, with Japanese on it, with mini scrolls, with dates on them, with a koi and flowers and cherry blossoms. It was a big ask, but Heather of Rising Phoenix took it all on board and came up with an amazing modern Japanese design. Just what I wanted.
Lots of research was done on the piece before getting started. I was off work sick at the time with issues with my arm, and seeing a private physiotherapist. On speaking to him about the design one day, and mentioning the Japanese writing and the need to get it checked, it transpired he was married to a Japanese woman, who kindly confirmed the translation was as close as it could get.
The long scroll in the picture below translates roughly to "One life, one chance, no regrets" A motto I have lived by for many years, and continue to do so. The translation is not perfect but about as near as it gets.

On the day it was to be started, I booked in for a 3 hour sitting in Leighton Buzzard, and took my mum along with me to be there for the piece, just to add some depth to the meaning of the day. Sadly the sitting took over 4 hours to get it lined in, so she was less than impressed, but later admitted she was happy to have been there. In total the piece would take approx 14 hours to complete, broken up into a number of sittings. The piece itself is a sheet of A4 paper, just for reference.

So here is the first REAL tattoo I ever got, and the start of a long journey in both the cancer battle, and the tattoo story. Tattoo #6

After this epic piece was complete, I decided I wanted another leg tattoo, covering the entire left thigh, inside and out. So again I sat with Heather and we worked on a Japanese warrior fighting with, not against a traditional Japanese dragon. Taking an old style of the two fighting against each other, and turning it into a protector piece for me. Facing outwards, fighting off negativity and threats to me. At this point I was still caring for my mum in her battle, and felt I wanted something of significance to help me too. The seventh piece was about to start.The initial drawings were exactly as I imagined. However life was about to be a bitch once again.
While being tattooed in sessions, I started introducing friends to the tattoo studio. We would block book days to share amongst us, but this soon turned sour when wires started getting crossed, and I ended up spending the day there and having no work done at all. Communication was poor, and I grew tired of being forgotten. So about 15 hours into the piece, I called it a day. From 2008 til present, the tattoo sits there untouched and nowhere near finished. Sadly the direction it was going in started to stray too, so I am left with a piece that needs a complete rework.

Sometimes things just don't work out, even when you think you know the person doing the work. A lot of trust in the industry was lost at this point. Below is tattoo #7, incomplete and unsatisfactory. One day I will get it sorted.

After the above situation, it was going to take a bit of time for me to get my confidence back in the industry. I also realised that a 120 mile round trip for 2 hour tattoo sessions was not a great idea, so when the next tattoo came around, I was blessed to find a much more local, and dare I say competent artist.
The next piece would start a a phase of tribute tattoos for me. In 2010 I lost a life long friend in a motorcycle accident, I immediately knew I had to pay my respects in ink, and keep his memories with me forever. Time to get the creative juices flowing again.
Taking aspects of John's life, and cues from the event, I finalised the idea. This was the first time I had the confidence to throw a whole bucket of ideas at an artist, and know I would get back an amazing interpretation of what I had asked for. The design base would be a Japanese Hannya mask, its representation fitting for the tribute, and its image both crazy and wild, just like his true life character. I wanted a cloth mask across the eyes of the mask, in an almost bandit style. Bandit being the bike he was riding in the tragic accident.
I wanted to incorporate a sand timer, with the glass broken and the sand pouring out to signify the time stolen from his life, and how it was cut short. And three leaves to signify the three children he left behind.  To say that Michelle took the idea, ran with it and scored a touchdown is an understatement. As you can see from the image below, it came out better than I expected.
You will also see from the picture that this was a continuation of my new habit of not having pieces fully finished. This time not because of lack of satisfaction, but time was about to become a real rush for me, and as the next pieces came about, I have started to build towards a session of which its sole purpose will be to finish all the pieces. You will see what I mean.

For now, here is tattoo #8 RIP John Littlebury

For anyone wondering. The foot really wasn't that bad to have done. The piece in total took 15 hours, again session work, and to this day, 5 years later, looks as crisp as it did the day it was finished. This was to be the beginning of a long relationship with Michelle Collenette at Innocent Needle in Croydon. I now had an artist who could listen to my design briefs, take the reference work I gave her and come up with something even more amazing than was in my head.

For me this kind of relationship with an artist is key to really meaningful pieces. Some people can draw, but have no idea what makes a good tattoo, some have amazing ideas that just don't translate. And too many artists are happy to throw any old rubbish out the door just to take a few quid off you. Finding someone you click with, that has creativity, imagination and the skill to do it all is where it's at. And has been the only way I will get tattooed these days.

In August of 2011 my mother sadly passed away following her long battle with cancer, and of course I wanted to get something started ASAP to pay tribute to her.
This time around I took a couple of memories with mum, and put them together. For years we had a fish pond in the back garden, a very hit and miss affair, losing many gold fish along the way. But in the middle of the pond was a lily. One mum had bought but in years it had never flowered.  Amazingly the summer of the year she was diagnosed the lily flowered for the first time. Producing a beautiful rich pink flower. I took a picture of the flower and printed it for mum. In her last weeks of life, setting up her room she asked for her lily picture. So I framed it and it remained with her.
The koi aspect comes from the gardens of St Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham. While having respite breaks there mum grew quite attached to the very mature koi pond they have in their gardens, and would often sit watching them for ages.
While there I noticed there was a particularly active koi which would leap from the water when feeding.
After mum passed away, I returned to the hospice with my camera and took the picture below of the koi, so its pattern could be incorporated in the final design.
The actual picture is below as are a couple of the references I used to guide Michelle towards what I pictured.
The stories of the pieces gets a little longer from here on in, mainly due to the collaborations with the artists.

From these cues, Michelle put together a much more fluid piece, and below is the finished piece. Again this was 15 or so hours in the making, but the end result was astounding! This was my first experience of where tattooing had got to since my first tattoo in 1995. Colours blended, images copied to perfection, fine line needle work. Amazing. (note the leaf in the top right of the tattoo, unfinished, I told you it was my new thing)

Tattoo #9 RIP Ann Snasdell

Now, if you look very closely to the bottom left edge of the picture, just away from the tattoo, on the other side of my chest, there is a single line drawn, following the curvature of my chest. There is a story behind this, and it is not a slip of the machine.
I had planned all along for this tribute to my mother to be finished on her birthday, Feb 23rd. On Feb 23rd 2013 I went along to Innocent Needle to have the piece finished. With the appointment being in the afternoon I had time to receive a phone call late morning. The call was from my aunt's carer in Wales, telling me my aunt (mums sister) had passed away that very morning, on mums birthday. Knowing long in advance that the other side of my chest would be dedicated to my aunt, I decided to have the first line of her tribute tattooed on on the day mums piece was finished, and on the exact day she passed away. It seemed too fitting a chance to pass off. Tattoo #10 was about to be conceived.

A tribute to my aunt would be tough to get right. Having spent a long time out of touch, I was slightly unsure what aspects I could draw together to make a fitting piece for her. A little deep thinking and consideration to her loves and heritage, and it came to me. Keeping the theme Japanese to fit with the other piece, but wanting a dragon due to the Welsh connection, I decided I wanted a Japanese style dragon mimicking the pose of the traditional Welsh dragon. Also I wanted to incorporate rocks and hills, and an owl. Owls being a great love of my aunts, since I had since learned.
As you can see from the stunning and realistic concept drawing I came up with below, I now had it firmly in my head how it should look. Just for added effect it was also decided to put a pagoda in the background.

Now it was over to Michelle to see what she could come up with from it all.
Needless to say, once again she didn't fail to deliver, and below you can see the final design, finished in all its glory.
Many people choose this as their favourite of my pieces based on the intricacy of the design, the attention to detail and the sheer depth to it all. It is not just a black and grey lightly shaded low def piece, but a crazy detailed design executed to perfection, in my eyes anyway.

I should also add, the colour scheme for the dragon was shamelessly stolen from a dance video made by a group called "Dragonhouse", which featured this mural in the background.

Tattoo #10 completed, and now my mum and aunt both paid tribute to, close to my heart where they belong. Both tragic losses to breast cancer. Seen together (below) , the pieces work beautifully with each other, facing each other, but missing something to connect them. Tattoo #11 would take care of this I was sure.

In July of 2013, as requested in the will of my late aunt, we gathered in Wales (Conwy) to scatter the ashes of both her and mum together, out at sea near Puffin Island. The boat was chartered, the day was perfect, so off we went. On the day I took a lot of photos, including the one below, which is of Puffin Island itself, in profile. This photo would go on to be the foundation of tattoo #11, and the piece which would tie the other pieces together.

Over recent months, spending more and more time looking at tattoos, styles and influences, I stumbled across Trash Polka, a wild and frantic new style, mastered by Florian Karg in Germany. The style uses many fonts and character sizes, mashed together to make what can look like a ransom note style word layout. In heavy black, and purposely messy, with ink drops and splashes, the style would be perfect to stand out from the other two pieces, yet tie them together. Using the outline of the island, and the numbers making the coordinates of where we scattered the ashes, I came up with this concept.

Passing the numbers on to Michelle, she once again pulled all the stops out and created this little beauty.
The birds are both a trait of the style, but also a very common sight around the island, so fitted perfectly
Now we had almost the complete and perfect idea, but it was missing one thing, just a little more content and depth.

Time to take another influence from another of Karg's pieces, crosses and beams, again in the very heavy ink, but in a brush stroke style. Making a cross would show respect, highlight subtly the fact it was a tribute, and just tie the piece together once and for all. The day came for tattoo #11, and when all the machines had stopped buzzing, this was what was left. First picture is a close up of the piece, the second picture is of 9, 10 and 11 all together.
Note the subtle 1 and 4 in the design in red. That is my little egotistical touch, being born on the 14th of February, with both mum and Joan being born on the 23rd and 27th respectively, I just wanted to put myself in the mix somehow.

So, here is tattoo #11

By April of 2014 I had decided that it was time to take a break from getting tribute tattoos. Not that I didn't feel the same way about them, but it was time to get something for myself. Looking back on the intentions of tattoo #7, I decided I wanted to try again, and find something big and bold. Interesting to look at, but at the same time to have something with significance to what I was trying to achieve.
For a year or so I had been driving past a Chinese restaurant in South London on the way to work in the mornings. Each time I did, I was presented with two Foo Dog statues, a male an female pair. Used to guard the gateway to places traditionally, striking the balance of fierce protector, and nurturing mother. It was an idea for a tattoo I had long liked, but understanding the balance between them, it was soon obvious that if I got one, I would have to have a pair. So what better place to plan one than the bicep / shoulder area. Flanking my body, setting up a perimeter of protection around me. I was soon sold on the idea. Obviously a problem presents itself with tattoo #3 being on my right bicep, but that was something to worry about later.

For now tattoo #12 was about to become a reality.
I took my camera with me and grabbed a couple of shots of the Foo's, and then found the perfect reference image from Google, then handed the idea to Michelle once again for her touch.
The reference work is below.

As you can see from the top image, the pagoda in the background really makes the whole idea pop much more. Colour scheme was going to be a difficult choice though. I didn't want it heavy and bold, not feint and grey. So doing some more searching I found pictures of them made in metals, so we went with a copper / bronze colour with some green hints to accentuate it a little. The eventual piece was never meant to be as big as it turned out. But while in the shop with Michelle and her super-sized line drawing of the final design, and working out the placement for the piece, it became apparent that the larger version worked perfectly where it sat, so we left the size as it was and went shoulder to elbow.

Again, the finished piece was beyond my expectations in both detail and presence. Some won't like the colour palette chosen, but for me it strikes the perfect balance I was looking for.
Presenting, tattoo #12

To date this was my most visible tattoo to date, and the shorts and t-shirt rule was well and truly broken. That said, I was 41 by this time, so who cares what other people think eh!

Now for the next piece everything becomes a bit of a jumble. Timelines go all over the place, so let me explain a bit. A couple of years before, a very dear friend of mine Graeme had passed away. Far to young, and leaving a huge void in my life. His life truly deserved remembering in a tattoo, but the right idea had evaded me for a long time. I like my tattoos to tell a story, but without shouting it too clearly and loudly. It would need to be something that truly meant something.
Now in 2012 a new series hit the screens of US television, Ink Master. While on holiday out there, getting ready to go out for the day I just caught the commercial for it, and it looked good. Sadly before it aired I would be back in the UK. Not wanting to miss out, I found a way to watch the series back at home.

As the seasons rolled on it reached season 3, and featured two artists and a style I had really not seen much of before. They were Craig Foster and Jime Litwalk, and the style was "New School". Big bold pieces, bright colours, and challenging every boundary traditional style tattooing had ever set. I was immediately in love! Knowing I would travel back to the US that summer, I threw emails out hoping to get a piece from one of them. Sadly Jime was working at H&H in Orlando at the time, and they were very vague about being able to make an appointment with him, so I switched my attention to Craig. Based in Carrolton, Georgia, he was going to be a bit further away, but his style was wild, so worth the trip.

Email's were exchanged, an ideas thrown around. But no solid agreement to do a piece, or commitment to a date. A week or so before flying out to Florida in the summer of  2014, Craig got in touch and said he could fit me in the next week. It was a deal, and we set the date.
The full story of the trip, complete with pictures can be found here...

The above link is worth reading in itself as it details the full story of the meaning behind the tattoo, how the final design came about, and how the day went. I won't repeat it all here again, but it's a good tale.

Short version though. Met Craig Foster, my new tattoo idol, 100% genuine nice guy. Came up with a design on the spot and draw it there and then. Encompassed everything I wanted to simply.

The bit worth reflecting on here though is the different experience. This was my first international tattoo, first new school piece, and would be my longest sitting to date, taking about 6 hours in total. The location chosen on my inner lower leg was interesting too. The difference between normal tattoos even with quite heavy colour saturation, and a new school piece is tough to explain, but this is the way I have always tried to explain it to people.
Imagine yourself doing a drawing with a pencil. You draw the outline, then tilt the pencil to the side, and shade, adding more layers for a gradient effect, and working back and forth until the desired finish is achieved.
Now take the same drawing but decide you want colours in it. To really make it pop the colour has to be solid and heavily saturated. To get this effect you need to press a little harder, work the area more, and not stop until there are no gaps in the colour. Where colours or shades of a colour meet you work over them again to get the right blend. In short, new school works the skin a lot more than some other styles, and unlike even sold colours, the difference here is the number of times the same area will get worked. It can be quite sore but so worth it!

The finished result blew me away. Here is my tribute tattoo to Graeme Breen, RIP my friend. Tattoo #13
Note also the line drawing Craig had done on the day. Refinished, signed and presented to me as a keepsake.

I now had a new love for tattoos, and the industry in my eyes had now moved on yet another step. New school fascinated me, but I was still very much in touch with the other styles too.

For tattoo 14, an opportunity presented itself to me, finding out that Craig Foster would be travelling to the Netherlands for a week, to guest spot in a local studio. That of a very talented lady Verlee London. It was pretty short notice really, but not an opportunity that I could easily pass off. Much more local than Georgia in the USA, I had to go. Problem was I had absolutely no idea what I wanted.This was just going to be a fun tattoo, for the sake of it. Not something I have really done up until this point. Knowing it would be in new school, I knew I could have some fun, so I decided to go with a little piece to show my love for my two Alaskan Malamutes (dogs!) Taking some cartoon reference pieces, and sending them to Craig, by the time we arrived in Alkmaar, he had the plan in his head.

In typical Craig fashion, the artwork was done there and then before my eyes. And a very relaxed time was had during the whole process. Once again I blogged the whole experience, so the full story is here....

Shortened version, me, my girlfriend at the time, and a good friend Jason piled into a Mini, drove to Dover, got the ferry to Calais and drive 350 miles to The Netherlands, had lunch, I sat for the tattoo, then we reversed the trip. 24 hours, 4 countries, 700 miles, and a great adventure.

The end result of the trip was a pretty sore leg, and an amazing piece of art.
Tattoo #14 Image shows, reference images, drawn design, and the final piece.

I now took a rest from tattoos for a while, to allow my mind to consider what was next, what the end goal was with the pieces, and tying them together etc. Over the winter I had many ideas, but none that would actually make it into a tattoo, not for the time being anyway.
As summer came around, I was fortunate enough to be dumped by my girlfriend of 12 years, so suddenly found myself a little bit of a free spirit, and the ideas I had put to bed started coming back into the foreground of my mind.

With no deliberate connection between being dumped, and the next choice of piece, the first idea to come back from the archives of my mind was a Day of the Dead girl. A style I have loved for a long time now, but one which has so many variations, it is hard to be both creative and original. As usual, I got digging through the internet for inspiration, and put Michelle on warning that I had a new idea brewing. After a meeting with her to discuss location, size and ideas, I went away, and as usual came up with a wonderful design brief for her. As seen below. It was again one of those ideas which I could see in my mind, but was completely unable to translate into an image. This was my best shot.

My idea was to take a praying Mary image, and turn it into a praying Day of the Dead girl. Original image on the left, with my drawing of some DOTD make-up on her face, hands repositioned slightly to shorten and condense the image, and a patterned extension to the hood. This was probably my best design brief ever! And will probably remain that way.
Needless to say I didn't actually want the face in the image, so supplied a few new examples of make-up and faces. And this is how the design came back to me.

My brief on the right, Michelle's design on the left. As usual I was gobsmacked and delighted, so we got on with it. It was to be a pretty quick piece, as it was all being done in black and grey for once, with tiny red highlights for the hood pattern. 2 sittings later and the piece had exploded to life on my leg, and was positioned perfectly to be shown off in shorts.

So here is tattoo #15
2 images, one a little closer, to show the attention to detail.

By this point I was in full solo swing. Ready to get out there and get all the tattoos I have ever wanted. Not that anyone had ever stopped me before, but because deep down inside being tattooed is the normal thing for me to do when I'm feeling crap about something, and need a distraction.
Unfortunately my mind was about to take over, and by the end of the summer of 2015 I was hitting rock bottom. Realising I was falling deep into depression, I needed to fight as hard as possible to stay afloat.
I needed something different, an inkervention!

Since my love of new school tattoos had been born, I had followed a guy by the name of Craig Measures on Instagram. Some of the work he puts out is amazing, taking animation style images, and making them pop from the skin of the person. Bright, bold colours, edgy designs, and the sort of thing if you can imagine it, he can create it. So in November, reaching the point of knowing I needed to do something, I stumbled across a post from him on Instagram saying he had free days that week.
Email fired off immediately, and discussion of what I wanted started. My brief was simple, yet complex. I wanted a cartoon angry hulk, not playful, angry! But wanted it to represent me smashing through the barriers before me, and fighting back against my depression. Not in a deep and sad way, but in Craig's bright, animated way. An evening of emails and sketches later, and I set off for Birmingham, UK.

Driving up there that morning, I was fully aware that we had agreed to do a whole day, bang it out in one go, and then I would have a late evening 120 mile drive home again. Aiming for about 7-8 hours, I was ready for this. Whatever happened this was going to be a new record for me for a single tattoo sitting. Of course, it over ran, and we reached somewhere in the region of 10 hours in the end. Fun day all the same. Lots of laughter, conversation and movies watched. Would happily do it again, and have already discussed the next piece, which is yet to happen.

The trip was totally worth it, and this is what I came away with. Not only was it the longest tattoo sitting I have ever had, but also probably the largest colour palette ever used on me. On the day Craig was "experimenting" you might say, using a wider range of the pre mixed colours he has, rather than the more traditional way of mixing with white to make lighter tones to blend with.

So here is the palette and the finished piece.
Tattoo #16 Angry Hulk smashing through a field of candy.

The joys of being a sponsored artist, with all your inks supplied. It is fair to say that both Craig Measures and Craig Foster have a wide range to choose from thanks to their sponsors. And of course, the customer benefits big time!

Craig Measure's options for colours...

Now I know what you are thinking by this point. How many more for goodness sakes. Well, good news. This is the last one. Tattoo #17 Word star.
As my recent trip through depression has shown me, there are a few key things in life which help us through hard times. Some others give, some we have to find in ourself. As my strength returned, and my mind started to settle, I decided I wanted a reminder. I already have the Hulk to remind me of the fight, and how I push back with positivity, but now I wanted something a little simple and sincere.
In my usual style, not wanting a readable and easy to interpret tattoo, after consultation with people I decided to go with Latin. I found the style I wanted to get, knew where abouts I wanted it, but was stuck with the complete design. Eventually deciding to get the word star done on its own, and carefully consider what comes next. I have of course, since this piece was completed, decided on what comes next.

Choosing the words carefully, and deciding how they should be laid out. Even going to the extent of choosing the font I wanted to use, which is Corsiva out of interest, the idea was ready, I just needed Michelle to work her magic on it. This was going to be a pretty simple, single sitting piece, pretty large really, but easy to knock out. And it was done. On the same day a good friend had her tattoo completed, I got my word star started and finished.
So here it is, the final piece in the story so far.
Tattoo #17 Word Star

It means a lot to me, and is nice to be building a collection of tattoos which remind me of my own personal battles, and not just the people I have lost in life. All the styles I have had, and all the reasons for getting tattoos are equally important to me. Nothing is regretted, and I can look at each of them the same way someone would look through a photo album. I am immediately taken back to the moment which inspired the piece, and can smile or pay my respects to the moment.

So that is the end of the story of my tattoos so far.
I should add that I am seeing Craig Foster at a tattoo convention this weekend, where me and a friend will be tattooed by him. My design brief has already been forwarded to him, and involves animated new school marshmallows. I am sure I will share the finished piece when it is done. This piece will almost complete the wrap of the lower leg sleeve of new school pieces.
The word star will also soon be joined by an idea I have of a Daruma Doll. This will also almost complete the right lower leg sleeve. So I will have the left leg in colourful new school, and the right in black and grey.
Roll on the summer and the dirty looks, and occasional smiles of admiration.

Thank you for reading all of this, even if you just looked at the pictures and skimmed the words.

All that is left for me to do is share some links of art and info from some of the artists mentioned above, and express my sincere thanks and gratitude to them all for working with me, I know I can be awkward, but I like to think that between my mind and your talents, we have created some amazing pieces and memories together.

Here's to the continuation of the story.

Michelle Collenette

Craig Foster

Craig Measures