Jack The Lad #4: Subway comes to our high street

The future of East Grinstead: good or bad? (Image credit to East Grinstead Online)

The future of East Grinstead: good or bad? (Image credit to East Grinstead Online)

My latest column for my local paper, the East Grinstead Courier, reflects on the sudden arrival of Subway to the town’s high street and weighs up the pros and cons: sure, the less empty shops in town the better, but then we already have a sandwich shop!

Have a read and let me know your thoughts:



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The highs and lows of Bestival 2015

With the Reverend of Bestival's Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

With the Reverend of Bestival’s Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

After years of asking, I finally said yes to my friend James’s hand in marriage in Bestival’s Church of Rubber Love. I know it might seem sudden, but we were both drunk, it was a one-time offer, and it was a giant inflatable church. In fact, we were actually there for another ceremony; not for anyone that we knew though. Like many other party-goers, we were just gatecrashing one of the numerous services that took place across the weekend. As our arms formed an arch and we toasted the newlyweds to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” I felt myself fully embracing Bestival’s summer of love theme. It’s safe to say it was a wild weekend.

It’s been twelve years since Bestival began welcoming indie and dance lovers to its site at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight, and this year was as good as any. The fact you have to get a ferry across to the site even makes it feel like a holiday of sorts! Considering Glastonbury has been my go-to festival for the last couple of years, the first thing that hit me upon arriving is how small the festival seemed to me; I was truly shocked that it didn’t take over an hour to walk from one side of the side to the other.

World's biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

World’s biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

But as you’d expect with an event of this kind, there was more than enough to keep me and my friend James occupied over the weekend. Once into the main arena, you wander across different themed areas, such as the manic dance oriented Port and Bollywood Field, opposite the more chilled out vibes of Slow Motion. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you suddenly stumble across something different on the umpteenth visit. On the Saturday we stumbled across a cosy psychedelic salon fresh out of the 19th century called The People’s Frontroom; it was so welcoming we spent most of that night and the next in its quarters.

Considering the plethora of dance, guitar and hip hop talent that permeated the line up, the biggest crowd I saw were the masses that squeezed into the Big Top for… the Chuckle Brothers. Over a brisk ten minute set (half of which was splitting the crowd in half so that we could volley “to me” and “to you” back at each other), there was a song focused around their phrase “no slacking,” a dance number featured Paul and Barry miming on keyboards and drums, and their Tinchy Stryder collaboration from last year, featuring the man himself… or at least the music video playing over the track. Like a bubbling pot of surreal and nostalgia, I just didn’t know what to think.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Overall, the weekend went without any unusual incidents, until I was backstage on Sunday. My friend James’s sister, Sarah, was managing a few of the acts on that day, and had managed to nab us a few backstage passes, giving us some exciting side of stage views and access to the VIP bar. All very enjoyable, but it became a nightmare for me when later on, as I dashed into The People’s Frontroom out of the rain as the heavens opened, I realised I had left my jacket in the VIP bar. What then followed was half an hour of frantic negotiations and exasperated searching, as security had stepped up and I was told I had to use a different entry route, which proved a nightmare to find.

However, I eventually made my way into the VIP bar, and my frantic efforts were rewarded. As I stumbled across the seating area looking highly frustrated, two kind ladies produced my jacket from under the seat next to them. Judging from my reaction, you would think they had offered me piles of gold. My mood was beyond jubilant; it was euphoria of the most blissful kind. So blissful in fact, that I moved off at such a pace that I promptly slipped over and splashed into the thick mud just outside the Big Top. Of course I was wearing jet black skinny jeans! I still haven’t got all of the mud off.

But looking back on it, when I think about how much fun I had across the whole weekend, Bestival was definitely worth the frantic washing session on the following Monday. The fancy dress costume only adds to the sense of making it feel completely separate from normal life, and the world would be worse off if there wasn’t a place where you could wear bright floral shirts, cover yourself in peace symbols and dance away to Tame Impala, The Chemical Brothers and the Chucklevision theme tune as the summer comes to a close.

Just give it a rest: dealing with insomnia

It's like a relationship that only lasts a few hours.

It’s like a relationship that only lasts a few hours.

The first time I had insomnia was truly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. After all, sleep for many of us is just something we naturally do without thinking about; to suddenly lie down and find yourself unable to, staring at the ceiling as the minutes drag by and writhing under the bedcovers as you attempt to find a comfortable position, just leaves you confused and anxious. Why is it happening to me? What have I done to deserve this? How can I have lost such a basic ability that not only unites all humans, but most animals?

I was freaked out enough to knock on my housemate’s door and ask if they were having trouble sleeping (thankfully, being the night owls third year students are, they were still awake themselves, pondering over notes for an impending essay). It’s never been that bad since; instead, the sense of anguish has been replaced by frustration. The only comfort I take during it is the grim acknowledgement that I am not alone. One 2011 survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that more than 30% of Britons suffer from insomnia or another serious sleep problem. It’s a habit that seems to be on the rise more and more.

But is it hardly surprising? We live in a world that increasingly refuses to switch off; businesses, media and events go on at all hours of the night. No longer is there an end point where there is nothing on television and shops close up for the evening. On top of that, many of us push our bodies to the limits- some with good intentions to bring their families as much money as possible; others just to hold on to the euphoria of a good night out. It’s amazing how little some people seem to care about a lack of sleep, considering how important it is.

The rest of my family, by contrast, have no issues with their sleep- my Dad and sister even drop off the moment they pull back the blankets. Sometimes, I think if I was a superhero with any power in the world, I wouldn’t want strength or speed- just to sleep on demand. It isn’t just the experience itself that is unbearable though; it’s the aftermath; a day of restlessness as you constantly rub your eyes and squint into the daylight, praying that night will be okay.

My first serious bout of insomnia happened towards the end of the first semester of my final year of university. As if impending course deadlines and job applications weren’t enough, I was also running a student radio station, writing articles for local magazines and trying to update my YouTube channel as much as possible. I was just able to hack it, and worked as hard as I could to get everything done, but I was so focused throughout the day that come the evening, I just couldn’t switch off.

Ultimately, it made for one of the worst weeks of my life. After four days of getting no more than three or four hours a night, I had my first night with no sleep whatsoever. My emotions were already hanging by a thread; my stammer, which rarely makes an appearance nowadays, was at its peak. Thankfully I did manage to get some shut eye that night, but it was still disruptive, and it wasn’t until I’d finished my exams- sorry, exam- in late January that my sleeping pattern returned to normal.

Now, insomnia only rears its ugly head on rare occasions- usually when I’m getting too philosophical for my own good about what it is I’m doing with my life. Thankfully, there are a few things that I have learned along the way that help massively that I thought I would share, just in case you’re going through the dreaded cycle:

1) Switching off. It’s so easy, with the amount of devices at our disposal, to keep checking Facebook or find something on Netflix if you find you can’t get a good night’s kip. Instead, this only makes the matter worse as the light triggers your body into staying awake. I make sure to switch off my devices at least half an hour before bed and leave my phone charging on the other side of my bedroom; this also helps in the morning when my alarm goes off, as I have to force myself out of bed to stop it.

2) The power of exercise. Quite simply, the body needs to burn energy. Doing some form of cardio most days a week, even for half an hour, has worked wonders on my overall health and not just with sleeping. It certainly makes you feel more ready for bed when the evening arrives.

3) Powering down. Once my devices are all off, I usually settle into one of the artefacts of a bygone age called a book. After I’ve knocked off a few chapters, I spend about a minute breathing in and out as slowly as possible; inhale right to the point where you can feel the back of your throat, hold it for about five seconds, then exhale. Do that a few times, just focusing on the action and everything on your mind just evaporates.

4) The bed itself. Sometimes, something as simple as cooling your room by opening a window can make all the difference to nodding off, but it can be hard to realise this when all your efforts are focused on falling asleep in the first place. Take a blanket off (or put a blanket on), open the window… try something to alter the temperature of your bed and see the difference it makes.

5) Embrace it. They say keeping an eye on the clock only makes you more anxious, but if it feels like you’ve been lying there for ages and it really has been half an hour or so, then it’s clear you’re not in the right state to go to sleep. Get up, read a book or meditate or just do something that’s not in your actual bed- change your environment until you start to feel tired again.

I hope this helps somewhat, but remember above everything else; the body has to sleep, and it will do of its own accord in the end, no matter what tricks your mind might play. And while it might be horrible while going through the cycle, it will eventually come to a halt; something I wish I could tell the final year student version of me. In the scheme of things, it’s just another lesson to learn.


If you enjoyed this post, give it a like and let me know your thoughts in a comment below! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and I also have a whole host of videos to enjoy on my YouTube channel. Go on, treat yourself!

An Unexpected Visitor, or “There’s a fox in our bathroom!”

Fox In The Bathroom

“Hannah? Are you awake?”

“For God’s sake Max, it’s two in the morning. Tomorrow, I’ve got to fire someone so I can hire someone else who I will probably end up firing further down the line. It’s only four hours until I have to face the music, so whatever it is, I guarantee I won’t be interested at the moment!”

“Hannah, there’s a fox in our bathroom.”

“Max, I’m really not in the mood for this- did you say there’s a fox in our bathroom?”

“Yeah, like a real wild fox. I could hear something scampering around and when I peaked around the door I saw two startled eyes staring back at me.”

“You sure it wasn’t June and Peter’s cat? The one that got into number 42’s compost heap?”

“Hannah, believe me, I know it’s a fox. Bright orange, busy tail and all.”

“And why are you telling me this Max?”

“Well, funnily enough I don’t really know what to do with it!”

“Since when have I been a fox expert Max? I’ve got enough responsibilities around here as it is!”

“I just thought you might have some ideas… and the thing is… I kind of need to go.”

“Then give him five minutes, knock again and see how long he’s going to be.”

“Hannah, I’m serious…”

“Well honestly Max, what do you expect me to do?”

Middle class suburbia. Sunny south. Gets the Telegraph delivered (except on Sundays). Jobs going well, thinking of starting a family, all the details ironed out. Everything flows like clockwork. Then there’s a fox in the bathroom. This isn’t just an unusual work-up call; this is a test.

“How on earth did the fox get in in the first place?”

“How should I know that?”

“You didn’t have the decency to ask? I’m pretty sure that’s breaking and entering, I don’t care if he has four feet.”

“Look Hannah, I know this might be funny to you, but I just want to sort it out!”

“Oh yeah, because being woken up in the middle of the night to sort out a fox with malicious intentions is a barrel of laughs! Well, what have you done so far?”

“Nothing really, just… gave it a quick Google… I put something about it on Twitter, but no one’s got back to me.”

“At half two in the morning?! I wonder why?!”

Raised voice, flared nostrils, stress levels rising. You wonder if these two are meant to last. Because if they can’t sort out a fox in their bathroom, then what does that say about longevity?

“Look Max, the last thing I want to do at this hour is chase a fox round the house as we try to usher it out into the garden. It’s probably more frightened of us than we are of it. Look, leave it for now, and we’ll call the RSPCA first thing in the morning and get them to sort it out.”

“Why the RSPCA? We’re not asking them to adopt a fox!”

“Do you have any better ideas?”

“Well I’m certainly not letting my privates dangle out in front of a fox if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s a gamble in No Man’s Land that is. I’m not making the charge.”

“Why can’t you just go in the garden? We could do with a bit of fertiliser, just make sure it’s over by the compost heap, or by where the compost heap would be if we had time to make a compost heap.”

“Hannah, are you really asking me to urinate over the flower bed? To defecate over the dandelions? We’re not savages, for heaven’s sake! What would the neighbours say?”

“Oh yes Max, the neighbours! The ones we see so frequently, like the time we popped round for afternoon tea and inane chit chat about how the kids are doing, how good the new kitchen looks, and- oh wow, is that a new lawn mower? What was that, two years ago now? And besides, even if you do happen to talk to the neighbours, are you seriously telling me that you would drop it in the middle of the conversation? I mean don’t be so-“

“Shush… Harriet… I can hear it moving.”

“Well, I hope it remembers to flush. Look, if it’s stuck in there now I highly doubt it will be able to get itself out. Barricade the door if you have to, but I’m going back to sleep.”

An hour passes. A whole blissful uninterrupted hour. Dreams of exceeding targets, satisfied clients, that golden ticket to promotion. Then…

“Max? Where on earth have you been?”

“Round to the neighbours.”

“At three in the morning?!”

“Well, I needed to go didn’t I?”

“I thought I said to go out in the garden?”

“Hannah, I know there’s a fox in our toilet but that doesn’t mean we have to stop being decent! June and Paul were perfectly understanding once I explained the situation. Anyway, you were the one bemoaning the fact that we never see our neighbours…”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean going over for a chat at this time of night! You know how they love a bit of gossip, everyone on the road will know before long.”

“Ah well, seeing as they even leant me a spade to defend myself against the fox I think that’s a fair compromise.”

“I never thought I would see the day my fiancée would stand over me in his boxers, with a spade at his side, ready to defend us against a blinking fox. Just… try and get some rest, okay?”

Sunrise, birds chirping, morning. Strong cup of coffee, definitely not decaf. Just another day in the office for you madam? Home time, feet up… fox in the bathroom.

“Is that fox still there then?”

“Course it isn’t, I called the RSPCA first thing. Bloke came round and sorted it this afternoon.”

“Thank God you work from home now; I don’t think I could stand another night of it!”

“Yeah well, how often does a fox end up in your bathroom anyway? That’ll be one to tell the kids.”

“How was it anyway? Didn’t cause too much trouble?”

“Nah the guy was straight in and straight out. Wasn’t deterred by the situation at all. Although I did have a fair bit of cleaning to do after they left…”

“Don’t even go there Max, I have NO desire to hear about what that fox got up to in there. I’m just glad you did it.”

“You know I’d do anything for you Hannah.”

“Oh honestly Max, give it a rest.”

“Don’t go breaking my heart Hannah.”

“Don’t you start quoting Elton John on me Max, you know what that does to me!”

“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…”

They laugh, they chat, they reconcile. The night brings well deserved rest without any intruders. Days go by, weeks roll on and months turn to years. But there will always be that night when their relationship was strained. Pushed as it only can be at that hour. Resolved after many a bad word was said. But if you can get past that, then there is hope, and lots of it. But NEVER underestimate the effect of a fox getting stuck in your bathroom.