Category Archives: Adam Mitchell

Absence Note

Sorry I haven’t written in so long, but my time has been consumed by going on holiday and, more recently, going to weddings. I’ve been to three on consecutive weekends now; firstly in the glamorous Las Vegas, then in the not so glamorous Horsham and finally in Taunton.

I don’t hate weddings per se, I just hate the effort required to attend them. You can’t just pull on a pair of encrusted, washing basket bottom feeder jeans and rock up half an hour late, well, not if you actually want to attend the nuptials. You must dust of your best/only suit, iron a shirt, pick a tie, clean your shoes, pack said items into a weekend bag along with toiletries and a whole plethora of miscellanea that you don’t really need and hop on some form of public transport at an ungodly hour to ferry you to a train station where you must board a train that you pre-booked two months ago, which you must sit on for an extended period of time before then getting in a taxi, which for an offensive amount of money will drive you 100 yards down the road to you accommodation; unpack miscellaneous items, attach clothes to your person, get another taxi to the wedding venue, mill about with friends and family until you are shepherded into a room to watch the ceremony (This bit is ok because you can sit down). Then comes food and with it the potential to ruin your nice clothes, then there’s booze and more potential to ruin your clothes, followed by dancing, drinking, hugging, smiling, congratulating, drinking, taxiing, sleeping, then awakening with a hangover to complete the process in reverse.

It’s not the ceremony I dislike, it’s the rituals.

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Terroirs

This weekend, I took a break from my normal routine of serving people food and drinks to have some served to me for a change. It’s the way I prefer the relationship to operate but sadly enough, I have yet to find someone who will pay me a wage for eating and drinking and so I must begrudgingly buy food and drink like everyone else.

The drinking part of the weekend was mainly among friends in the confines of Sheffield. Specifically, Champs (overpriced sports bar, packed to the hilt with the unlikely combination of middle-aged woman and under-aged lads), The Leadmill (very reasonably priced nightclub that seems to have a stranglehold on Sheffield’s University population) and my friend’s house (large old house on a hill, filled with sports equipment, manly odour and Tesco Biere Speciale).

The eating part of the weekend was mainly after the weekend on Monday night, with my girlfriend, and confined to central London. Specifically, Terroirs (5 William IV Street, London, WC2).

My girlfriend had a day off on Monday and I felt it would be cruel to deprive her of my fabulous company all weekend and then return to listlessly mope about in a dressing gown all day. So with uncharacteristic foresight, I booked a table pre-weekend, giving me both purpose and an obligation to adhere to.

We arrived at Terroirs at 7pm. From outside, the restaurant looked modest; just a small board that I didn’t read and some large panes of glass, behind which, there sat people enjoying themselves. Inside, the atmosphere was cosy and homely, speckled with French stuff, but with the appropriate degree of modernity to prevent it from appearing as a rural French anachronism.

The menu was short and fairly simple, offering a range of seafood and classic French fare in a format devoid of overblown ostentatious French descriptions that require the diner to have worked an apprenticeship with Jean Christophe Novelli. The wine menu was not so short and simple; it was in fact long and incredibly complicated. After thumbing through the 38 pages (yes I checked) complete with detailed descriptions, I decided that the best option would be to select one of the wines available by the glass. I went for the second cheapest wine on the list, the 2008 Sauvignon de Touraine, Domaine Guy Allion, hoping that it would be a Sauvignon Blanc of enough calibre to complement the starters of grilled scallop and gremolata and squid a la plancha, espelette pepper and aioli. It turned out to be absolutely delicious and a perfect accompaniment to the starters themselves, which were also excellent. The scallops arrived in their shells sat on an unfeasibly large pile of sea salt, which I debated using as seasoning, although after tasting, I’m glad I didn’t, as they were beautifully seasoned and cooked to perfection. The squid aioli was quite simply the best squid I have ever eaten. The skin itself was taut and turgid, which on puncturing revealed a silky smooth interior that blended perfectly with the hint of garlic and lemon in the buttery aioli.

For the main course, I took the partridge with puy lentils and bacon and my girlfriend went for bavette, bone marrow, shallots and parsley. The partridge was slightly dry, although the lentil and bacon that accompanied it was delicious. Likewise, the bavette was a little chewy, although deep ruby red, strong in flavour and well matched with the texture/flavour combination of marrow and parsley. Both dishes could have also used an actual knife with a blade, rather than the palette knife we were forced to hack away with.

After the quality of our opening wine, I have to say that I was mildly disappointed by the reds we had with our mains. I decided to make use of the waitress to choose good accompaniments, having read somewhere that they effectively double up as sommeliers. Unfortunately, our waitress seemed to pick two wines almost at random and was adamant that either would work well for both dishes, which I found difficult to believe, considering that one dish was the flank of a cow and the other a little bird. I have since read up on the reds we chose at www.slurp.co.uk and have come to the conclusion that my palate is too unsophisticated to enjoy these wines to their full potential. I didn’t pick up, for example, on the “myriad black fruits: myrtille, mure and cassis” in the 2008 Marcillac ‘Lo Sang Del Pais’, Domaine du Cros and in my ignorance, failed to notice that the 2007 Sous Les Cailloux des Grillons, Clos du Gravillas had appeal that is “more guarded and beguiling.” What a klutz!

Nevertheless, the overall dining experience was very pleasurable and not extortionately expensive (£75 for two, including wine and service) and also, judging by this brilliant and insightful review, perhaps it has also provided me with an opening into the lucrative career of restaurant reviewing. I will be paid a wage for eating and drinking yet!

 

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Parallel Cultures

Apologies for the long absence from the blog, although this time I had a real excuse. Roz and I were in Morocco and I felt neither the desire nor obligation to interrupt our holiday to hunt down a computer suite circa 1995, with a 56k connection and a cassette playing ‘Now that’s what I call Koranic chants 1983,’ in order to write some sort of eulogy about a North African country that you have probably never even considered visiting. Now that we’re back though, I will make you care. I’ve endured too much to let my hard won wisdom slide into the deep abyss of unremembered memories.

Eighty pounds for a flight to Morocco. It’s a good start. But first of all you have to get to Luton airport, which is a pain if you live anywhere outside of Luton. Then, worse than this, you have to fly with Ryanair. I’d never previously flown with them before, but I assumed that their ‘no frills’ approach would be the bog standard Easyjet affair. In actual fact though, it’s more like a no frills version of Easyjet. You have to pay for literally everything bar the actual flying bit; each bag checked £20; priority boarding £5; you even have to check yourself in online or get charged £40. How can you check in when you aren’t even in the airport? It doesn’t make any sense! Onboard, the only thing free is the seat you sit in. Water costs £2.70! I was glad there was no loss in cabin pressure or we would have probably had to pay for oxygen and mask hire.

Nevertheless, after three hours or so, we arrived alive, which is the main purpose of flying I suppose – maybe it could be Ryanair’s tagline ‘Bringing you to your destination not dead’. Tired and extremely dehydrated we ambled towards border control. Now, I’ve travelled to a good few countries, many of them far more poorly equipped than Morocco, but never have I had to wait for such a long time to actually enter the country. As far as I can discern from my detailed past appraisals of border control, the process for a border guard seems to be: Enter some details from the passport into a computer, look at the photo and then at the person, stamp the passport, look menacing throughout. This usually takes about a minute and in some more technologically advanced countries even less (thanks to the automatic scanning thingamajig they use in the UK the process takes less than 10 seconds). So I have no idea why it took an average of two and half minutes per person (I worked it out while we were waiting) in Morocco. Oh, and there were still 17 people in front of us in the queue when I had determined this average, so you can calculate roughly how long we had to wait.

Once you finally get into Morocco – assuming you don’t have to just turn right around and board your return flight home, having spent all your holiday in a queue – you must barter with a bastard of a taxi driver outside the terminal who will heavily overcharge you for your journey, safe in the knowledge that the only options available to you at that moment are: 1) Take his expensive taxi to your accommodation. 2) Walk aimlessly for miles through desert scrub in 35 degree heat, carrying 20 kilograms of luggage. You always choose option 1.

Despite the rip off (I later discovered that we were overcharged by a factor of three) I always quite enjoy the first taxi journey from the airport. The journey is a mix of excitement and apprehension. Between the standard broken English conversations held with the taxi driver “From England? . . . Yes . . . Is cold? . . . Yes,” you get a chance to gradually acquaint yourself with the city you are entering – from the desolate sparse surroundings of the terminal building, through the fragmented suburbs and finally into the cacophony of the centre – rammed with all the shrieks, beeps, sights and smells of life – where you are dumped, confused and disorientated and at the mercy of strangers that you must trust to help you.

And so we were dumped, in the North of Marrakech’s central medina, which is not an easy place to find your way around. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s the most challenging place I’ve ever had to try and navigate . . . ever. It’s a high, walled in maze of side streets, paths, narrow alleys and cul-de-sacs, signposted in French, Arabic, or not at all. Maps offer no help whatsoever. The taxi driver misdirected us for no discernable reason (it was before I discovered that I didn’t have enough money to cover the journey) and in the end we had to trust an incredibly eager small boy, who proved to be remarkably helpful guide to our riad, although not a free one. In these early stages of our trip I was beginning to see that in Morocco, like in other poor tourist destinations, everything is a challenge and only money can alleviate the difficulty. Perhaps if we had visited 10 or maybe 20 years ago it wouldn’t have been the case, but Marrakech has been open to travellers long enough for the locals to know that they can exact money for just about anything they want, and many have found a way to make a living from doing literally nothing at all. This issue came to be the single annoyance that bordered on spoiling an otherwise remarkable and fascinating holiday.

“A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Wilde

In the UK and other developed countries the price for things, be it a service or a product, is determined via supply and demand and lots of other factors that I neither understand or care about. But in Morocco, the price is determined solely by how much the customer is willing to pay. Perhaps this worked in the past, but after years of affluent idiots grossly overpaying for worthless tat, the system has broken down. It’s something I would normally feel positively jubilant about – “. . . what’s that you say, the poor are getting one over on the rich? Call in the DJ—prepare the fireworks display!” – but it has thrown the relationship between vendor and customer out of sync. For instance, when shopping in the souks you are meant to haggle and barter for goods – it’s supposedly fun – but there is no congruence between the quality of an article and the price the merchant will quote you. Some of the shopkeepers jack the initial price up to three or four times the worth of the article, while others only make a small mark up. This means that you either become an expert in Moroccan handicrafts, or you do as I did and offer a woefully low price for everything you set eyes on, which means that in some cases you will still overpay a little, and in others, you will insult the vendor by implying that his beautiful hand crafted goods, forged with care attention—the result of centuries of accumulated knowledge and decades of practice, are nothing but crap, hardly worth a handful of pennies.

More annoying than the challenge of goods acquisition, however, is the remuneration for services offered. Somewhere along the line food stands and stalls have become aware of the notion of tipping, but they have no concept of the purpose. The service in these places is hasty and perfunctory at best and sometimes virtually non-existant, which is, of course, completely understandable. After all, it makes far more financial sense to try and drag in as many customers as possible, than to dutifully tend to each tourist who will visit once and then leave Morocco for good a week later. However, to do this and then request a tip at the end of the meal is to have one’s cake and eat it too. I tried to explain to one such ‘waiter’ that the idea of a tip is a reward for providing a good service throughout the meal. He just stared at me blankly like I was stealing what was rightfully his (Other waiters managed to avoid this discussion by simply keeping my change). At the forefront of this shameless money pilfering though are what’s known as ‘faux guides’. Typically they are jobless teenagers and young men who hang around tourist hotspots waiting for confused or disorientated tourists. They see you stop to gauge your surroundings and then they pounce.
“Hello, where are you going?”
“No, it’s fine thankyou, we don’t need any help.”
“My friend it’s ok, I just want to practice my English.”
“Ok, fine. But I’m not paying you for anything ok.”
“Of course, of course. Where you from?”
“London.”
“Ah London! I have a brother/sister/cousin delete as applicable in London. They live in Portobello Rd/Notting Hill/Oxford Street/Kensington/Chelsea or some other well known London destination.
“Really.”
“Do you want to go to a nice restaurant?”
“No thankyou.”
“Where are you going my friend?”
“Look, it’s fine. We know where we’re going.”
“Do you know this wall was built in the 12th century?”
“Sigh.”
“Do you know insert other possibly erroneous information about the surroundings.”
“Listen, we’re going to go into this café now ok. So goodbye.”
“Ok, I’ll wait for you.”
“No, I don’t want you to.”
“It’s ok, I don’t mind.”
“No, I really don’t want you to wait for us!”
“Ok, ok. Then just a little money for the tour.”
“What tour?!”
“The tour, while we were walking.”
At this point, depending on my mood, the heat, how much sleep I’d had etc, I would either laugh at them and walk off shaking my head while they swore at me in broken English (The word ‘Jew’ featured once, which has made me paranoid about my nose), or I would fly into a massive shaky fisted rage about their lies and treachery. Neither helped, as there was always another one waiting just around the corner.

I’d like, at this point, to apologise to Morocco and the majority of Moroccan people, for having ranted about its few flaws without highlighting any of its numerous upsides. I’ve made Morocco sound like a place solely inhabited by intolerably annoying money grabbing shitbags, but that’s really not the case. It’s just that it makes for more interesting reading than the story of the man on the train who gave us his email address in case we had any questions or problems when travelling, or the guy that collected us from the train station for free and wrote down instructions on how to visit some Roman ruins for the cheapest price possible, or the Riad owner who drew us a map of the Marrakech medina, or the shop vendor who invited us in for tea, which he wouldn’t let me pay for, or the myriad other random people that helped us, joked with us, or generally treated us with warmth and kindness. Ironically though, it is these people that constitute the majority of the population, balance out the annoyances, and leave a pleasant memory of the holiday in your mind.

Actually, I should have said that it is these people that constitute the majority of a 99% Muslim population, because, up until now, I’ve felt no need to bring the point up. It’s not that you don’t notice it; 5am prayer calls, the absence of alcohol and, of course, the abundant Islamic inspired architecture that you wander in and around every single day tend to remind you once or twice a minute. However, aside from the lack of booze, which is more of a personal gripe than anything, I was aware of the silent discord between Islam and the Western world, although surprisingly unencumbered by it.

Like many developing countries reliant on tourism, Morocco fights to retain it’s culture without discouraging the life blood of it’s economy. And whilst this may be manageable in more liberal nations, merging a rigid and uncompromising ancient religion with the feckless and capricious ideals of Western culture is like mixing oil with water; the two never truly unite. So it is testament to the Moroccan people that they have somehow managed to work the two side by side and, in doing so, erase the stereotypical media images of demented Jihadists, decapitated infidels, cowering obsequious burka clad unknowns and leave you to remember instead, the intricate plaster work and mosaic tiling of the madrasahs, the imposing minarets of the mosques, the reverberating prayer calls, the smell of cinnamon and turmeric, Coca Cola written in Arabic.

Returning to England after another torturous and waterless three hour flight, I felt as if we had returned from a place far further afield. And as we whizzed through the border check and into the straightforward simplicity of England I considered that perhaps the wait at the Moroccan border does need to take that long; a sort of acclimatisation to being in two places, but neither in one nor the other.

 

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Am I bovvered?

Write something. Anything! It’s come to the point where it would be less detrimental to write 500 words of completely inane stream of consciousness crap than nothing at all. It’s been over a month since I last wrote this blog, which has led people to speculate that I may have died, or worse than that, entered the Big Brother house. It was this final and horrific assumption that stirred me from my ennui and resulted in me writing what you are now reading. I can cope with being assumed dead I thought, but I’ll be damned if people assume that I’ve taken to spending my time with that horde of bastards.

The real reason for my lack of activity is because of bother, or specifically a lack of it. And not just on my part, no. Of late, I’ve realised that no one and nothing can be bothered.

They can’t be bothered to make good television shows. The last thing I watched was a program called ‘Young, Dumb and Living off Mum’, which in short, involves a group of spoilt insufferable brats whining about the difficulties of existing. It’s almost exactly what I and the other two million nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine unemployed people don’t want to watch; a show where those with everything moan about how difficult it is to do nothing. What next? . . . A man dousing couture gowns with 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, whilst eating fistfulls of £50 notes?

The news can’t be bothered either. Rather than giving you information about events from around the world, it chooses to provide updates on MP scandals and a death count of troops in Afghanistan. Unnecessary deaths in a futile and unwinnable war is nothing to sneer about in a blog, and MP scandal is so boring and tired that I wouldn’t even feel incensed if it transpired that Gordon Brown had claimed a million pounds a month for renting out headspace to his ears.

My personal life can’t be bothered. The most interesting thing that has happened to me of late was an argument with a bus driver that resulted in me leaving the bus a pound poorer and him being called a fucking prick. I won’t go into the details of the incident as it is long winded, boring and, most of all, I can’t be bothered. But rest assured that I was right and he was a fucking prick.

I even found out this morning that the weather can’t be bothered. August, at first predicted to be swelteringly hot and lovely, is now being described as ‘unsettled’.

So, there you have it, I’m not dead and I’m not in the Big Brother house and what’s more, I bothered to write something that, provided no one from Transport for London reads, will have proved less detrimental than writing nothing at all. I only hope that you lot can be bothered to read it.

 

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ANGER!

“Where is the cool bag full of meat?!” I yelled across the Ruda Holiday Park in Croyde. “Where did you last see it?!—Come on, think, THINK!”

I prowled around kicking plastic bags, randomly opening car boots, frightening Northern children, shaking my fist at the heavens and yelling at the malevolent Gods that conspired to destroy my weekend. All but one of my fellow bank holiday weekend friends scurried to the safety of their tents to avoid my storm of indignation. The one who did stay out knew me the least and, what’s more, was of a happy-go-lucky disposition, completely at ease with the loss of our meat and seemed to positively enjoy my monstrously disproportionate level of rage.

After unfairly directing my anger towards his unfazed smile for a while, I began to calm down and eventually recognised how preposterous it is to be so angry over the loss of £20 worth of sausages and burgers, and within an hour or two we were laughing at the likelihood of having left it on a hedge in the Tesco carpark.

I never learn though, I get angry over just about everything. It’s fleeting, but I’m often in an agitated state. I just banged my shin on the corner of the bed – I do it about twice a week – and it hurts, so I’m annoyed about that. I’m annoyed that a massive dark cloud has just loomed over, threatening to drench my nearly dry washing. I tolerate the anger because I think it flavours my work and makes for more interesting writing, but still, I often consider what it is that makes me get so irritated by the little things.

I deem the things that cost me money, time, or cause me physical pain to be fair reasons for anger and, therefore, I have no control over them. However, I also get angry over small things that don’t actually hinder me that greatly, like when you drop a toilet roll and it begins to unravel, or when you leave a cup of tea to go cold. It’s ridiculous to get annoyed by these things, but I do. I have to blame someone or – because I usually act alone in my incompetence – something. That something is an omnipresent evil force that watches over me and strikes me with problems when I am weak.

The evil force works like this: in a moment it will rain on my washing and not only that, the force will make sure the washing is completely dry before wetting it again and, if it’s feeling especially cruel, it will perhaps start the rain when I’m in the shower, or half way up a step ladder with a piping hot bowl of soup.

Unlike God, who seems to spend his time doing precisely nothing to prove his existence, the evil force is constantly showing off; some people call it fate, destiny, or bad luck and lament ‘what wasn’t meant to be’. I’m sure some of the Manchester United fans and indeed players will look back on last night’s result and identify specific instances in which the evil force intervened to scupper their chances. Really though, there can be no doubt that Manchester United were forced to play badly by Barcelona, who looked superior throughout. There is no specific player who made a mistake, no official to blame, no challenging pitch conditions. In fact, it is one of the first football matches of grand magnitude that I have seen in a long time where you have to be resigned to the fact that a team lost completely fairly. Manchester United were the only force responsible for their destiny last night. According to Teddy Sheringham, when United trailed to a seemingly infallible Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, Alex Ferguson went into the changing room at half time and simply said, “Just make sure you give everything, because if you come off that pitch and you haven’t given everything and you can’t touch that trophy, you’ll be so disappointed. Don’t leave anything out there.” I just hope they all did, because with no evil force to blame you have only yourself to look at for the reasons why, and if you feel that something in you could have changed the course of events, then you will have an anger that resides for a long time.

So, following this dramatic realisation that my sagacious diligence can prevent a lot of my anger, I will turn over a new leaf. I will go out now and take the washing in before it rains, I will come back upstairs and take care not to bang my shin on the bed and I will write the most boring blog known to man.

Has anyone seen a cool bag full of meat by the way?

 

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Men’s Health and my health

An eon has elapsed since my last blog. I’m not sure I even remember what it’s all about anymore, or what it is that I do. Ah yes, angry rants. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending how you look at it – this is specifically the problem. I just haven’t been that angry at anything lately, or more to the point, I haven’t had the time to be angry.

Some of you may be aware that I’ve spent the past fortnight on work experience at Men’s Health magazine (the thoughts expressed in this blog are those of the author (me) and do not represent the thoughts of Men’s Health magazine). Thought I’d add that in, lest I inadvertently enter in to some sort of intractable legal quagmire as a result of my horrible opinions. Anyway, although I’m enjoying myself, working here has zapped my usual abundant energy reserves, rendering me another commuter zombie – another grey face in the sea of grey faces – travelling back and forth between bed and office with little more than the London Lite and News at Ten to keep in touch with the real world. As such, I don’t have the time to digest and critique about four hours of TV every evening and nor do I have much time to pontificate on the bothersome aspects of society and, therefore, I have nothing to say.

I sat down to write this blog the other day and just looked at the screen for about five minutes before deciding that nothing in the world had irked me enough to mention. Amazing! . . . But is it?

Diligence and interest in work is certainly a positive in many ways – your employer will obviously be pleased, you’re probably enjoying your job so that’s a good thing and it’s going to do your career a favour – but it leaves a hole. A void of life experience and understanding that can’t be found in Microsoft Word or Excel, only through thinking and reading and learning and questioning. We’ve learnt the hard way that ignoring things outside of our general scope has its pitfalls, and now the mounting unemployed are striking back, releasing their previously undiscovered anger via protests at the G20 and the smashing up of Fred Goodwin’s stuff.

Perhaps if one positive can come from a high level of unemployment, it will be a greater understanding and interest among the public of the issues that affect them; because, at this juncture, that is what we need to change our collective history for the better.

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My neck’s evil plan

 

Two days ago I broke my neck. Not in the traditional ‘cervical fracture’ sense of the word. No, this is far more painful, annoying and, most importantly, sans sympathy.

 

There was no precursor to my neck’s sudden and inexplicable strike. I simply got out of the shower and realised that turning my head was an excruciatingly painful exercise; it was as if my neck seized my naked and wet vulnerability as the perfect opportunity to execute a carefully planned attack. If it had a mouth it might have said “I’ve been here for 24 years swivelling your weighty bonce around so that you can interact with groups of people over a full 90 degree range, cross the road safely, nod in agreement, shake in disagreement and what thanks have I got for all this effort? I want some recognition and I demand some respect!” Respect it has – albeit a begrudging respect, like the kind you would give to Robert Mugabe, knowing full well that he might kill you – but it is now respected nonetheless.

 

The worst thing about the neck’s new regime, aside from looking like C3PO every time I want to glance left or right, is that despite the insufferable pain, you get absolutely no sympathy because people just assume you’ve cricked your neck. Roz’s parents laughed at me and called me ‘old’, albeit in Chinese, so at the time I just smiled and nodded until the shame was translated for me later on. Even when I went to see a doctor yesterday and told him that the current dosage of Co-codamol/Ibuprofen was doing nothing to alleviate my agony and that he’d have to prescribe something stronger, he eyed me with the type of wary judgement reserved for the no-doubt countless drug addicts that come to him feigning injury. So, not only has the neck now forced me to respect it, in a tyrannical autocratic kind of way, it has also knocked me down another few rungs in society. Who would have thought that a pain in the neck could take you from disenchanted dreamer to a drug addled menace to society in one fell swoop?

 

The only saving grace is the fact that I now have a prescription for a stock of powerful opiate based painkillers and Valium, which should not only alleviate the pain in the neck, but also the social embarrassment of this dreadful affliction. And if that fails, there is always the option of joltily ambling around the Hackney estates in a gold droid suit referring to everyone I meet as Master Luke in an upper class effeminate voice. That’ll put an end to this regime once and for all!

 

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