Thoughts

Three Days In Barcelona

It’s my first day back, and I’m sitting in a London cafe. Downstairs is empty, and the lights gloomy. For a good few minutes, I stare ahead at the pale blue walls, wondering if it was all a nightmare. But it wasn’t. It was all real. The gunshots. The baying screams. Families running for their lives. Shop assistants rushing people under the shutters.

I was there, you see. In the main square of Plaça de Catalunya, just meters from La Rambla- the scene of a crime that saw a van plow down 15 innocent civilians. But no amount of words will do justice to what took place on the day of my arrival. It won’t bring back the lives of the 15 taken, and It sure as hell won’t stop more attacks happening in the not-too-distant future. But I will endeavor to give you an idea of what it was like because I feel that writing about it might be the only way I can truly make sense of it all.

When stuff like that unfolds, you can be forgiven for thinking you’re in a movie. The adrenaline kicks in and everything appears blurry. Even the screaming sounds that should become amplified seem muffled because all you want to do is survive. And if you’re with someone, you hold them tightly, because the thought of anything happening to them makes you sick. In many ways, you worry more about the lives of your loved ones than you do your own.

Without meaning to put a sentimental gloss on an event that was anything but, my holiday (if you want to call it that) started with romance in mind. I had booked a three-night stay in a nearby hotel in Raval to see my girlfriend. She had recently moved back to her home city after three years living in London. I was apprehensive because I hadn’t seen her in 6 weeks, but that was soon replaced by genuine excitement when landing. The sea breeze made my nostrils dance, and the sun’s rays stroked my back as though they were happy to have another sun-starved tourist in their city. Even the quasi-palm trees that lined the streets made me smile like a goofy child on the verge of a candy overdose.

  

So far, so good….. I was finally there, in a place recently voted the best coastal city in the world. And after unloading my suitcase and slapping on the factor 50 sunscreen, all that was left was to meet her in the main square. Naturally, I got lost. Anyone who knows me knows maps are not my friends. So what should have been a 10-minute walk up one road turned into a confused Brit wandering down unfamiliar side streets with a phone telling him to turn right in 200m then left on the street with 28 letters.

Eventually, (it might have even been an hour) a miracle occurred and I got to the Fnac shopping center where she arranged to meet. A minute later I saw her. She looked stunning. The kind of stunning that makes every head turn. Her skin glowed a glorious gold, making her round eyes an even stronger green. She hugged me tightly. My hat fell off, and we laughed. Then smiled like idiots. It was good to have her back.

She recommended we went to La Rambla. It was seconds away. But. Her phone needed fixing. She also wanted an MP4 player so we crossed the busy square and sat down with a sales assistant in what must have been the Spanish equivalent of the Carphone Warehouse. He spoke for a good few minutes and seemed to be annoyed at what she was asking until he stopped talking altogether. His eyes fixated at the window. And then that’s when I heard a ghastly scream.

Soon, the shop was flooded with people. There was one girl. She was screaming. Crying. Pointing. We went to the back of the store and the shutters locked us in. 15 minutes into my trip and I feared the worst. I asked what was going on and when the shutters opened only minutes later, he said a car was speeding through the square. Weird, I thought. People even laughed, and everything was restored.

Order. Calm. People needed things. Tourists wanted to see things. And we were no different.

So we left.

But 2 minutes later, we were running for our lives.

 

It was too late to go back into the store. The shutters were fully closed. The streets empty. Everyone was running in one direction, and for a good few minutes, it was just myself, my girlfriend and an old man asking us how to operate Facebook Live on his phone. Bravely, he moved forward in the then-empty road and began recording. We followed him. Then hid beneath the water fountains and recorded some of it ourselves before joining everyone on the path to the right of the main shopping center.

Looking around, with more people for company, everyone appeared to either shake their heads or record the drama on their phones. A few even approached officers clad in bulletproof vests for answers but were told to keep running. So we did. For a good hour. Maybe more. Another shop even let us in, but when you’re surrounded by such hysteria, you can’t decipher whether staying in one place is actually a good idea, and for us, at least, we preferred to run. In fact, it wasn’t until a helicopter circled the scene and news flooded through on our phones that we truly caught wind of the attack’s severity.

It was an hour later, and for some reason, a bar near the center was open. We sat down and ordered beer. My phone had died so I couldn’t contact my family. Instead, I drank my beer and rubbed my girlfriend’s back as she looked blankly ahead. We barely even talked. I guess we didn’t have to. Simply being in each other’s company was enough.

I guess it wasn’t until we left the bar and circled the rest of the city, passing the various news crews and correspondents that we thoroughly talked about it. “Mad” was a word that both left our mouths. “Mad.”

Ending the day, we convinced a taxi driver to take us to the beach after a somber dinner in a near-empty kebab house. It was deserted barring the odd couple. So we walked along the warm sand with our bare feet and speculated who on earth would do something so heinous.

Shortly after we got a taxi back to the hotel. With my feet bleeding, I flicked my shoes off and got under the covers, not bothering to shower. And then we held each other close, saying little, but thinking everything.

And for the next two days, we did the same.

 

 

Thoughts

6 Weeks Like No Other

Where do I begin? These last few weeks have been both a beautiful blur and a time of national mourning, with unfortunate tragedies in my hometown dominating news stories across the world. But I’ll start with the good stuff first.

It was another Tinder date. Yes, another one. But this time it was different. She was Spanish and bore a canny resemblance to the Hollywood actress Mila Kunis, so much so that she revealed she get’s approached for photos at least 40 times a year.

It was a great first date; one which started in an Italian restaurant in Central London and that ended in a dive bar in Clapham. As far as first dates go, it couldn’t have been much better.

We met the following week, and things just grew from there. She’s funny, kind, and great company. But there was a catch. She was leaving in 6 weeks.

I knew this going into the first date and was prepared for us to just have fun. But then I fell for her. It’s a cruel irony, because as I write this, she’s departing to go back to Barcelona, and I’d be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t sad. In fact, I’m devastated. After three years of not falling for anyone, I fell for someone whose destination is one that is now far removed from mine.

But we had a great time, and I will see her in Barcelona. So who knows? It’s better to create memories than to create none at all, and I can honestly say that I’ve had the best 6 weeks in a long time.

Of course, a lot has occurred in these 6 weeks that would put my saddened heart to shame.

The terror attacks in both London and Manchester took the lives of innocent bystanders. And most recently a fire in a tower block in South-West London killed what many fear could well be over 100 people (many of which are children). As a Londoner as well as a human being, I have been profoundly impacted by these events, and it’s certainly put things into perspective.

But things must go on, and promoting a book which celebrates life and love- no matter one’s timespan- has proved incredibly cathartic in such a period, and seeing it go live on Amazon earlier this month has been awesome.

Most importantly, I hope everyone reading this is well. It sounds incredibly cliched, but in times like these, I’ve never felt more compelled to write such a thing.

Stay safe.

H X

Thoughts

Are we graduating into a new era of the Lost Generation?

As thousands of soon-to-be graduates leave university for pastures new this summer, are the new crops of graduates destined for a life of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams in an economy that continually turns away the talents of an ambitious but ultimately debt-ridden, downward mobility-stricken generation?

We are told university is the gateway to success and a better life, a life which will enable financial security and greater job prospects. Not anymore. The rigours and strains of unpaid internships (if you’re fortunate enough to have one), having to live at home because you can’t afford a mortgage, the worry you might never earn as much as your parents did. These are all realities slowly destroying the ambitions of a future generation of workers.

Welcome to Graduate Britain: A country where it is no longer surprising to hear of PhD graduates working in Starbucks, whilst others wait tables, fill temp vacancies and sign on for long periods of time. The white collar jobs, it seems, are no longer a guarantee for my generation.

Anyway, all this doom and gloom reminded me of the term ‘Lost Generation’, which was first popularized by the legendary writer Ernest Hemingway in reference to the loss of talent caused from the deaths of many artists fighting in World War One. And whilst my generation has never had to experience such atrocities, the student graduate post- 2008 is joining a different kind of Lost Generation where the prospects of gaining your dream job are becoming increasingly bleak- regardless of how qualified you are.

Yes, youth unemployment in the UK may not be as bad in deficit-ridden countries like Spain and Greece, but according to government figures in August 2013, youth unemployment statistics showed that 973,000 people aged between 16-24 were out of work. That’s a lot of people. And if that wasn’t bad enough, according to a report from the Prince’s Trust, 1 in 10 young people felt as though they had nothing to live for in a country labelled ‘Broken Britain’.

Of course, not all blame can be directed at government and the economy. That would be shortsighted to suggest. As a generation that has been raised in an era awash with an exciting blend of rich and vibrant technological products and services, many new industries are flourishing. This has been particularly evident through a number of tech start-ups created by young people. Then again, not everyone sets out to be an entrepreneur and many students simply want a career in an industry of their choice!

Maybe the high expectations students now have of gaining jobs in more competitive industries has caused many to be let down by their own aspirations rather than necessarily being lost as many industries used to previously be the preserve of those from more exclusive backgrounds- and arguably still are.

So is my generation ‘lost’? Potentially, and if government incompetence towards youth unemployment reforms continues, maybe a new term needs coining. Perhaps the ‘Forgotten Generation’ is more appropriate.

Thoughts

Are Millennials Falling Out of Love With Love?

Are millennials, people who, as well as Instagramming their mother’s lasagne and exhibiting entrepreneurial streaks not seen before in any other generation, falling out of love with love? It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot since learning that 64% of millennials happen to be single and I have a few thoughts as to why that might be the case.

First things first, I’m not an effervescent City broker working 15-hour-days trading stocks and entertaining Japanese clients until I pass out on my bedroom floor only to do it again 3 hours later. Neither am I an app developer forgoing a social life to become the next Zuckerberg.

But I am single and work long (ish) hours as a content writer, often writing 3,000 words a day before using the evenings and weekends to make edits or write new passages for my upcoming book. Not that writers, bankers and coders are a special species of grafters.

Indeed, I defy any generation to tell a working millennial they have it easy. Even if you happen to find yourself working behind a bar or waiting tables to ungrateful Yummy Mummies, not only are you earning peanuts, but you’re probably facing the added indignity of being told to wash your hands before dinner when you get home. And who wants that?

So, of course, with little time or money to see friends let alone go out and talk to someone you like at God forbid… a bar, most turn to paradoxical dating apps that promise a litany of potential partners when in reality you probably won’t meet 1% of your matches.

Instead, dating apps are used as ephemeral time-wasters that rarely lead to anything meaningful because even if you do have the good fortune of matching with someone and convincing them you’re worthy of their time, chances are you’ll probably be too busy to sustain anything beyond the initial bonding phase. Or if you do they’ll likely work 13-hour-days and then entertain their friends on weekends leaving you all but redundant barring the odd booty call.

That said, the saying goes you make time for someone you want to see, and that’s somewhat true because if presidents and C.E.Os can structure their professional lives around family and friends then why can’t you?

Well, you probably can’t because you haven’t got much money, you don’t know where you’re going in life, or if you do know or happen to have the good fortune of already being there, how do you convince yourself to slow down for a romantic liaison that could or couldn’t lead somewhere?

I guess we are all at different stages, though whether that means we are falling out of love with love itself is hard to quantify. Perhaps my generation has simply fallen privy to a more ruthless and self-seeking capitalist economy flexing its muscles? Or let the looks of Instagram models subconsciously trick us into thinking that potential partners need flawless jawlines similar to theirs? Heck, even the ‘feel good’ film La La Land told us that, you, too, could lead a life like the stars if you had the willpower to say no to Ryan Gosling.

Whatever the reasons, I believe most millennials still want to find love and enjoy all that it encompasses, but the idea of finding it in an era where one’s lifestyle moves at a faster pace than a Jamaican relay team’s has many throwing in the towel at the first hurdle, because, let’s face it: We’ve become better equipped at being on our own.

And quite frankly; I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

Thoughts

Tales From My Grandfather

After visiting my grandfather this week in the beautiful surroundings of the Suffolk countryside, part of me saw it as a duty to go. After all, I hadn’t seen him in nine months. So off I went, departing from the hustle and bustle of London Liverpool Street, eventually arriving in the small picturesque market town of Hadleigh some two hours later.

The moment I opened the door, the joy on his face was priceless. What struck me most was the sheer happiness that not just my grandfather showed, but elderly people in general experience when around young people. It was as if he had turned the clock back 40 years, putting the pain of his polio to one side as he recited his days as an Army General in Kenya and journeys to the wilderness of Papua New Guinea. I was hooked and had a childlike excitement I often experienced when being read to as a child.

And the stories only got better.

One particular story centred on his days working as a publisher overseeing the works of great thinkers such as the philosopher Bertrand Rusell. He even recalled a telephone call with the world famous writer J.R.R. Tolkien. As a journalist, the stories he recited was music to my ears, with one fascinating story after the other rolling off his wise tongue.

Later that night, with jazz music roaring loudly in the background and already on my fifth glass of wine, he told me of his encounter with Margaret Thatcher and Sir Dennis at the Ritz. The Ritz is famous for playing live Jazz music in the main tea hall, much to the pleasure of its customers. However, to my grandfather’s annoyance, the music suddenly stopped. “Why was that?” I asked. “The musician told me that Lady Thatcher does not like the sound when she dines here. So after drinking a few glasses, I went over to their table and told Sir Denis that it was rather rude of her to do that. He seemed shocked,” said my granddad, hysterically laughing.

Who knew a night in with an 87-year-old could be so entertaining?

Did I mention that he recently returned from New York after visiting his good friend, who just happened to be the head of Penguin Books? Or the time he attended the funeral of a chief in the remote New Guinea jungle?

Considering I have been alive for a paltry 25 years, it was incredible to find out about his rich past. It was also a lesson in how we can learn from others. My granddad achieved a lot in his time, and still does as much as he can, both for himself and the local community. And I discovered this because I eventually took an interest in his life. Every person at a certain age has lived. Everyone has a story.

My only hope is that when I gaze towards my departure from life, I, too, can tell myself I lived a life as rich, exciting and fulfilling as the one he did.

Thoughts

Why Are Young People So Disillusioned With 21st Century Politics?

When Nick Clegg infamously retracted his promise to scrap tuition fees, it dented the moral fabric of the whole of Westminster, not just his party and, in due course, alienated young people.

There are distinct differences in the types of political disillusionment among youth voters. These are divided between deciding not to vote through an educated response to a political topic, such as the expenses scandal, with the other side deciding not to vote due to having no political opinion or, more disconcertingly, simply not caring. That said, with only 43% of the 18-24 age group registering their vote in the 2015 election (the lowest from all age groups), young people’s engagement with politics is disturbingly low.

Whilst one must not dwell on statistics alone, they are certainly a good indication of illustrating just how low youth participation in politics is becoming. To some extent, I see the rise of cheap popular culture, for instance, reality television and the expansion of Sky, playing a role in lowering the engagement levels of the youth. This modern day celebrity-obsessed culture has targeted the youth market to such an extent that many young voters are so passively consumed by their products that they hold opinions on television shows, such as 90210, without having any views on political events, e.g. Syria, which can create a coma of ignorance. In response to this argument, many would say ignorance is bliss, and to an extent, I agree.  However, we live in a time where such an attitude towards political issues will only create an increasingly stagnant political system.

Although I have been critical of certain youth voters in my age group, I do however sympathise with them. The raising of tuition fees was a huge slap in the face for the youth vote. In addition, those who choose not to engage in political affairs have arguably been disillusioned by being bought up in an era of New Labour that promised so much but instead proved to be a mere extension of Thatcher’s free market policies. Since the 1980s, the income inequality gap has only widened further whilst the austerity measures introduced by the coalition government are only worsening future job prospects for the youth of today. Unemployed youths across the country may see little value in investing their time voting for a political party that, in turn, has invested so little in their communities over the years. It is no wonder that many potential youth voters have lost interest in a system which only mentions them concerning their retirement age or increasing tuition fees.

A counter argument could also be made against political apathy among young voters if one points to the demonstrations that occurred in response to the raising of tuition fees, as well as the Occupy movement, both of which attracted young protesters from across the country. These are, however, in my somewhat cynical opinion, isolated instances which have proven to be exceptions to the norm in recent years.

In reality, politics often lacks the appeal needed to access a wider youth audience. Perhaps Russell Brand injected some much-needed charisma and opposing thought back into the political arena, but that was merely a superb critique of a flawed system rather than a solution to existing problems. Increasing political appeal in the future does not need to be drastic, but would benefit from greater transparency and openness within our political system; a place where the youth actually feel like their voice is being heard. A leader who practices what they preach is essentially all that the youth desire, rather than the infamous façade Cameron adopted during his cringe-worthy ‘hug a hoody’ phase.

Ultimately, my generation just wants new energy injected into our regressive political system. As the famous American political commentator Paul Begala said: “Politics is show business for ugly people”. He was spot on: the ugliness of 21st century British politics is why our youth are rejecting politics.