I don’t want to be a bucket list writer

I don’t want to be a dreamer, a schemer or bucket list writer.
I want to be a liver, a doer a fucking risk taker.

I don’t want to sit at my desk and tap on my keyboard.
I want to get on with life and jump off that high board.

I don’t want to live between the lines and watch the world from afar.
I want to push past those boundaries and reach for the stars.

I don’t want to sit on my ass and watch life pass me by.
I want to get out into the world and live till I die.

I don’t want to be a dreamer, a schemer or bucket list writer.
I want to be a liver, a doer.

I want to be a fucking risk taker.

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Scary Tales: Jack and Jill

Jack stared at the reflection looking back at him from his bathroom mirror. His baby blue eyes filled with excitement as he slicked back his golden hair ready for his secret rendezvous with Jill later that evening.

His chiselled jaw sporting just the right amount of designer stubble – rugged yet obviously cared for.

He had finally managed to convince Jill, after months of stolen glances in the street and hidden strokes of the thigh under the dinner table, to spend the night with him.

They were to meet at the old well just outside the village at 6.30 after Jill’s husband Chuck had headed off for his lads’ trip to Vegas.

Jack didn’t like deceiving Chuck, who had a notorious angry streak, but Jill was worth the risk.

He had already laid out his choice of clothes on the bed. Charcoal slim-fit chinos, black t-shirt and the brown leather jacket that Jill had always said looked so good on him.

His decision on shoes was still to be made – formal Kurt Geiger or laid back hi-tops. He was leaning towards the Nikes.

He checked his watch and, noting he still had a couple hours to kill before he needed to head off, grabbed a beer from the fridge.

The TV flicked on and Jack settled back on the sofa to catch up on some of the game he had recorded last night.

His mind wandered as he fantasised about the secret night that lay ahead for him and Jill. He fantasised about the touch of her skin and pulling her naked body close to his.

He imagined lying next to her and holding her through the night, feeling the beat of her heart as she slept silently next to him, the rise and fall of her chest as she dreamt of their future together.

Two or three bottles of Bud and a touchdown later, Jack glanced at his watch and decided it was time to go, grabbing his leather jacket from the bedroom.

As he headed for the front door he slipped on his black espadrilles. The third and previously unconsidered option of footwear.

Jill was already waiting at the well as Jack climbed the dirt path just north of the village.

Her auburn hair glistened in the early evening sun as a gentle breeze swept her loose curls out behind her.

She was wearing a blue floral dress that fluttered around her knees. Her pale skin appearing to glow in the sunlight that engulfed her.

The picnic basket she had promised to bring lay at her feet covered in a red polka dot blanket. Next to it, a bottle of Moet and Chandon stood invitingly with a couple of champagne flutes.

“Hey, you,” Jill said as Jack walked over to her.

Jack didn’t reply, he just ran his fingers through her hair, looked her in the eyes, smiled and then kissed her passionately on the lips.

“Hey gorgeous,” he said. “Sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer to kiss you. Been dreaming of that for weeks.”

“That can’t be all you’ve been dreaming of,” she said mischievously before she chewed her bottom lip seductively. She took both his hands in hers, shaking out her hair.

“Care for some champagne?,” she asked, picking up the bottle and glasses as she sat down on the edge of the well.

Jack sat down next to her and held the glasses as she filled them up, his right hand resting on her thigh as he waited.

They both took a sip and leaned back on the wall of the well, gazing into each other’s eyes, blinded to all around them by their youthful love.

Jack broke the silence, asking if Jill wanted to head over to the summerhouse he had prepared for their first night together.

They walked hand in hand from the well as a glorious sunset shot fiery bolts of red and gold into the sky.

But, unbeknown to them, a shadow sat watching from the edge of the forest.

For Chuck Peters had never made his lads’ trip to Vegas. Chuck Peters had never had any intention of going to Vegas once he had heard about his wife’s indiscretions.

Instead he sat watching in the shadows of the trees, his cap pulled down low to shield his eyes from the evening sun. Watching every kiss, her every deep stare into this other man’s eyes.

And as Jack and Jill went up the hill to the summerhouse, Chuck followed silently, his muscular frame moving effortlessly through the undergrowth.

Jack opened the door and motioned for Jill to wait outside. When he called her inside what she saw was romance itself.

On every beam a candle burnt, casting light and shadow across a bed strewn with rose petals. On the side table next to it stood the half-empty bottle of champagne and the rest of the feast Jill had brought for supper.

A single iris lay on one of the pillows, a box of her favourite chocolate truffles on the other.

Jack took Jill’s hand and led her over to the bed, her green eyes amazed at what he had done for her. Chuck had never done anything like this, not in all the years they had been together. Not even for their wedding night had he been this romantic.

Jack silently lay Jill down on the bed. He brushed back her hair and softly kissed her neck. Jill inhaled and let out a quiet moan as she closed her eyes and let the passion of this moment take over her body.

Jack slid the dress off Jill’s shoulder, kissing the spot he had just uncovered. He then pulled off the rest of her dress to reveal her slender, porcelain-like body.

He sat for a second, just staring at the girl lying before him, naked apart from a lacy red thong and a bewitching smile.

Then he leant forward with a devilish grin and took her delicate, pink nipples in his mouth, circling them with his tongue as she arched up her back and ran her fingers through his hair.

He worked his lips down her stomach, gently kissing her as he moved further down her perfect body, stopping to pay particular attention to a small birthmark that sat just above her left hip bone.

Suddenly Jack sat bolt upright as a thunderous bang erupted inside the summerhouse.

Jill looked towards where the sound had come from and for a second thought she could just about make out the silhouette of her husband standing in the doorway as the summerhouse was flooded with light.

Then, as the towering figure stepped inside, Jill realised to her horror that Chuck had never made it to Vegas. Chuck had found them.

But it wasn’t that that made her scream.

That came when she spotted the axe he was holding in his hand, the head of which lay heavy on the ground next to his right foot, glistening threateningly in the light from the candles that surrounded them.

“You fucking whore,” Chuck said quietly as he stepped inside.

Jack stood up to face him, pleading with him to stay calm.

But without breaking stride Chuck picked up the axe and in one smooth swing struck Jack across the side of his skull with the back of the axe head.

Jack slumped bloodied to the floor as Jill let out another scream and ran over to her lover who lay motionless in a pool of blood.

Chuck pulled her up from the floor by her hair and threw her against the wall with a thud.

He took the handle of the axe and pressed it against her throat, staring into his wife’s eyes as he watched the life being squeezed out of her.

Jill tried to struggle free but Chuck’s strength was too great.

“Did you think you could get away with this, you bitch?,” Chuck whispered. “Did you think that I would let a scrawny little shit like him fuck my wife?

“Well I’ve got a message for you: no one fucks with Chuck Peters.”

Jill fought to breathe as she listened to Chuck whispering into her ear, fighting the darkness that started to cloud her mind.

But as Chuck continued to press the hard wood of the axe handle against her throat she began to lose consciousness, and slowly she slumped to the floor as the world around her went black.

When Jill came round her wrists were bound and tied to one of the beams that supported the summerhouse roof, her feet barely able to reach the floor. The coarse ropes that bound her dug into her delicate skin as she turned to try and find Jack.

She caught sight of him to her left, lying motionless on the floor with ropes securing his wrists and ankles. His head had stopped bleeding but his blonde hair was matted and stained a deep crimson. A dark bruise had crept across his temple and down his cheek.

Behind her she heard Chuck laughing: “Awake now are we little princess?”

He walked round in front of her and punched her hard in the stomach, knocking the wind from her lungs. She gasped for breath as her husband swiped the back of his hand across her left cheek.

Jill wanted to cry but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.

Chuck walked over to Jack and prodded him with his boot caps. Jack stirred and Chuck threw a glass of water over him to make sure he was fully awake and aware of what was about to happen.

He pulled a hipflask from his jeans pocket and started circling Jill.

“Listen up Jack,” he said. “You see, you thought that you could steal my wife away from me. You thought you‘d have a nice little romantic night together up here but, I can’t let that happen.

“Because, Jacky-boy, this slut is my property. And no one takes my property.”

Chuck threw the duvet off the bed at Jill’s feet and started pouring the whisky over them, only pausing to take a swig from the flask before tossing it aside.

It was then that Jill realised Chuck was not going to let them leave that summerhouse.

Chuck took a packet of Marlbrough’s from the chest pocket of his red plaid shirt and placed it into his mouth, ignoring the pleas of Jack and Jill as he struck a match.

The match fizzed to life and Chuck put it to the tip of his cigarette, inhaling the smoke with a satisfied sigh.

The match burnt out and he flicked it at Jack lying on the floor as he screamed for Chuck to let them go.

Chuck knelt down next to Jack’s bloodied skull and whispered into his ear.

“See, this is what you get when you fuck with Chuck Peters.”

In one swift motion Chuck flicked the butt of his cigarette over Jack’s chest and into the whisky soaked duvet under Jill’s feet.

It instantly caught fire and flames whipped up around Jill’s ankles as she let out a torrent of agonised screams.

Jack strained against the ropes that bound him, but he was helpless on the floor.

In his terror he hadn’t even noticed that Chuck had picked up the axe from the corner of the barn.

And as the axe came tumbling down, the last thing Jack saw was Jill’s bright green eyes shining out through the flames that tore up around her, a solitary tear running down her blackened face.

The American hero honouring his fallen comrades through ink

The men and women of the armed forces give their all fighting for their country, with many making the ultimate sacrifice in defence of freedom.

One man, David Larson, is taking an unusual step in honouring his fallen heroes to ensure their sacrifice lives on in the memories of everyone he meets.

A veteran himself, Larson had one of his legs amputated in 2010 after being injured while serving with the US Navy.

But after a visit to Arlington Cemetery in 2011, fate swept in and provided him with inspiration to dedicate his body to his fallen comrades through tattoos.

“It had been raining and I was on my crutches and hit a puddle and I fell straight down onto my stump and head,” he says. “About 80-100 people went silent as they turned to me; I was helped quickly by fellow Vets or active duty guys that were there. I got to my car and cried for a while; I was so embarrassed for taking the attention away from the heroes that had died.

“During my trip back home I decided I was going to do something so that no matter where I was, people would be reminded of those that have fallen.”

Larson hatched a plan to breathe life into the memory of his brothers-in-arms, sought the services of tattoo artist Kyle Harvey and started getting the names of fallen veterans tattooed into his skin.

“The first 30 were in a Chinook that was shot down by an RPG,” he says. “I had met a few of them briefly several years prior. Then I added some art and some names of guys I knew very well.

“Then my wife and I were just pulling names off of some internet pages, no real criteria. Then I shared a picture on Facebook and it went nuts.”

Since then, Larson has gone under the needle hundreds of times and has the names of almost three hundred soldiers inked onto his body.

“I was getting requests from everywhere,” he says. “People found comfort in knowing that someone they didn’t even know was going to honour their hero.

“They would share with me and I would double check information and then we would add about 12 names at a time.”

A lifelong bond

Larson’s commitment to honouring the memories of those who have died in battle has put him in touch with many bereaved families, and this has led to the formation of deep bonds that will last a lifetime.

“I am in touch with a lot of the families still, on birthdays, anniversaries and such,” he says. “Since I started the Facebook page I’ve become a confidant to a lot of people from the page. Either [for people] having trouble with the loss of their family member or veterans who are having trouble fitting back into society.”

And this has led to Larson making a real impact in the lives of those families left behind, and even saving lives of veterans fighting with guilt and depression.

“Since I started it I have spent countless hours on the phone with suicidal people that I don’t know,” he says. Some have “adopted” me and are in contact with me constantly. I hope [I have been of some help to them].

“I joke around with a lot of the widows and I was asked one time how come I treat them in a normal fashion. I guess they are treated with kid gloves because of their loss. You can have a loss but your life needs to carry on so I treat them like I would normally.”

An American hero

And in his selfless act of kindness, Larson has also found some relief and a sense of worth following the loss of his leg after some difficult years.

“[My leg] was amputated 16 February 2010,” he says. “Once things settled down a bit I felt useless and the tattoos seemed to give me a purpose.

“I have my wife and 2 daughters and you are absolutely right that it has helped me still feel like I have a purpose to help honour our fallen and more importantly help the families with their grief.”

And Harvey said that he has seen the benefits that the project has had for Larson.

“It’s a very selfless project and yet at the same time I believe it to be cathartic for him,” he said. “I really feel that this project is helping the healing process for everyone involved. It may help the families of the soldiers lost in action find some solace in knowing that their loved one is memorialised in this amazing living tribute.”

This is just reward for a man who describes himself as “no hero” yet has done so much for so many people suffering with the loss of loved ones.

Surely this alone makes him a man who is worthy of being called a true American hero.

And what plans does he have for the future?

“I’m going to keep going until I am out of skin,” he says.

Tattoos in the workplace: self-expression or unprofessional?

With tattoos entering mainstream culture off the back of a wave of inked celebs, is discrimination in the workplace still a problem for the growing number of tattooed workers?

Tattoos are traditionally the reserve of bikers and criminals. But now the art of tattooing has entered mainstream culture off the back of a celebrity juggernaut started by the great Janis Joplin back in the era of true Rock ‘N’ Roll. More recently pop-idols and sports stars have all helped bring tattooing out of the darkness and onto the high street.
Despite this popularity in the glamorous world of celebrity, it has not been truly accepted into everyday life. Many tattooed individuals still feel the weight of judging eyes boring into their decorated skin. And the effects can be just as long-lasting as the tattoos that invite them.
Brittanie Johnson is one such individual who has experienced discrimination because of her tattoos. She applied to be a mentor for underprivileged children but was turned down because of her ink.
Johnson said: “To be denied that opportunity really shocked me. It made me angry because my physical appearance was more important than the fact that I want to be involved in a positive manner in a child’s life.”
She now works as a manager at a design company, but her tattoos still cause trouble for her in the workplace. Johnson has to keep her tattoos hidden for fear that she may lose her job if her employers find out she has body markings.
“I would like to think I’ve been there long enough and done well enough to prove that they don’t define my work ethic or character,” she said. “But, I feel if I were to show them, I’d probably be sacked.”
While Johnson believes tattoos are slowly being accepted into modern life, she thinks they are still viewed negatively in the work place. And this is something that upsets her.
“I would love to show my art just like others display pictures of their kids,” she said. “But I don’t want to carry the wallet sized photos, so I have tattoos.”
Chef Tony Marshall is heavily tattooed and cannot cover his designs like Johnson. This has led to his career suffering as a result. Marshall is confined to the kitchen and is not allowed to face the diners who visit his restaurant.
“They hired me with them. But policy states they have to be covered up but I have my hands and throat fully covered,” Marshall said.
He believes that the discrimination he faces is something that shouldn’t be allowed but there is nothing he can do about it. He said: “There is no law that I’m aware of but it feels shit every day. They make you feel like a dirty secret hidden away in the back.”
Law firm Thomas Mansfield partner Kirsty Lewis, who has a tattoo herself, said that Marshall is right. “The law protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, disability, religion or belief, age, pregnancy or maternity, marital status,” she said. “But having a tattoo is not covered.”
Lewis added: “Unfortunately, we still live in a society where people are judged by their appearance and it is still likely that some employers will make assumptions about a person with visible tattoos.”
However, signs for the future are promising. It is estimated that more than one in five 18 to 29 year-olds in the UK have at least one tattoo and many of those will go on to add to their collection. When these people do get employed and progress in their careers, they will be in positions to employ fellow tattooed people.
Robin Heinrich has already noticed the improvements. As a masseuse she struggled for a long time to find a job that would accept her 18 tattoos. Now, she works at a physiotherapy clinic and experiences no problem with her ink. “My tattoos on my arms are out in plain view and most people don’t even notice them,” she said.
Heinrich believes that the discrimination that is still around is because of what people have been taught by their parents. “I think that people discriminate against tattoos because at some point in their lives, they may have been told that getting tattooed was wrong,” she said.
Manuel DeJesus has also noticed a shift in the perception of tattoos. When he started his job as a digital marketer DeJesus had to keep his tattoos covered. “It definitely would not be smart to have them exposed in a large meeting setting,” he said. But now, he says he can have more of the designs he wants, without worrying about them being visible.
Some people are even managing to take tattoo acceptance to the next level, and are using their tattoos to help them in their jobs. Amber Shipp is a maths teacher who uses mathematical tattoos on her forearms and neck to inspire her students.
“I have the Greek symbol phi which is the golden ratio, along with a golden rectangle that shows the golden spiral on a nautilus shell,” she said. “I also find the phi/golden ratio is a great way to engage kids in maths because they can see it all around them.”
By integrating the tattoos into her lessons she is able to grab the attention of students who don’t normally concentrate in the classroom. Sometimes the children broach the subject of her tattoos, and other times she uses it as a means of introduction. “Either way the kids get pumped,” Shipp said.
Shipp says acting in a positive way helps remove the stereotype that often faces those with tattoos. “If I am a kind, caring, and productive member of society, why does my ink matter?” she said.
So, while tattoos are no longer observed solely as a sign of delinquency and rebellion, there is still a long way to go before they are truly accepted. But as the tattooed pioneers climb the corporate ladder they will blaze a way for those behind them – giving them the opportunity to excel in a professional career, and slowly erase the discrimination of yesteryear.

Nothingness

The eternal darkness envelopes me
Like floating through an everlasting night of
Nothingness
Sending me ever onwards
Deep into the chasm of my empty soul

Darjeeling: Life in the clouds

As I was driven up the winding road into the Himalayas in the back of our hired 4X4 I remember thinking how different this was from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore. Having spent the last two months working in India’s IT capital I was soothed by the quiet that now surrounded us. No more trumpeting car horns, no more shouts of anger from the auto-rickshaw drivers as they attempted to navigate the hectic streets swarming with cars, pedestrians and, of course, the obligatory cows meandering down the middle lane. No, this was peaceful. And as we meandered higher and higher into the foothills of Everest the rolling hills spread out across the horizon. Soon, the view was one undulating patchwork of rises and falls, with soft clouds nestling in the dips and valleys below us.

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Looking ahead, the seemingly endless road crept higher into the beautiful countryside, cutting sweeping pathways through the tea estates that dotted the landscape. These vast terraces of tea trees are the source of the world famous Darjeeling tea, one of the major sources of income in the region, alongside tourism. From these humble plants, 10,000 tonnes of high-quality tea is produced each year and sold around the world. The higher we climbed into the mountains, the easier it was to spot the differences in culture with the rest of the Indian sub-continent. The Hindu shrines gave way to Buddhist prayer flags and Tibetan prayer wheels, and the locals took on a more Nepalese appearance. This was an unfamiliar India to what I had experienced on the rest of my travels, and this difference was visible in the murals and political posters dotted along our route seeking independence for Gorkhaland, an ethnic area in which Darjeeling is situated. Ramshackle huts lined the narrow road now flanked by the tracks of the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. This toy train is a narrow gauge railway that runs from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling via Kurseong, and is often listed as one of the must-sees before you die. The steam powered locomotive was one of the reasons I came to the region, and as its tracks snaked across the road and joined the cars in the newly formed traffic jam I sat anticipating my journey in its carriages.

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The next day I was on the platform in the monsoon rain queuing up for my ticket on the tourist leg of the toy train from Darjeeling to Ghum, the highest train station in India. Standing with the steam blowing across my face I realised how integrated the railway had become into Darjeeling life. Workers, families, goods and produce all found their way through the Himalayas on this little toy train, it was the lifeline that kept the blood pumping into the mountain towns and villages. The railway also injected much-needed finance into the area through the tourists like me who pay to ride the tracks from Darjeeling to Ghum. Along the route is a stop-off at the Darjeeling War Memorial at Batasia Loop. Commemorating the loss of Gorkha soldiers lives in conflict post Indian independence, the memorial comprises a granite cenotaph and a bronze statue of a lone Gorkha soldier, as well as a roll of honour for all the fallen soldiers. It is another reminder of the pride of the Gorkha people, and the reverence with which they hold those who fight for the cause. Arrival at Ghum presented me with the opportunity of a wet walk back to Darjeeling in the rain, and a chance to view the famous Bhutia Busty Monastery. Having previously been destroyed by invasions and earthquakes the monastery is now home to both Hindus and Buddhists, and is widely recognised as the oldest monastery in Darjeeling (even if it has been rebuilt and relocated on numerous occasions). It is a beautiful building, and the grounds offer a quiet place to sit back and relax in the search for enlightenment. Having supped on traditional Tibetan food (I do not recommend the butter tea made from rancid yak’s milk) I slept soundly amongst the clouds in my hotel room before rising for my second day in the Himalayas. This started with a trip to the Darjeeling zoo, the only park in India recognised for its conservation breeding programmes, which houses amazing creatures such as red pandas, Himalayan black bears, snow leopards and, of course, tigers. The zoo is also home to the world-renowned Himalayan Mountaineering Institute While the zoo is well worth a visit, the highlight of the day for me was a walk through the town to reach the botanical gardens. The walk revealed the local meat markets, with huge cuts of meat hanging from butchers hooks, cobblers fixing shoes, and tobacconists selling paan, the local chewing tobacco. Interacting with the locals allowed me to get a greater feel for the hilltop community, whether that be playing football with a bunch of school children in the pouring rain or being lead across a gorge on a rusty girder by an elderly man with an umbrella.

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One individual even invited me to view the school where he was headmaster next time I was in India while we chatted over a hot cup of chai. The gardens themselves were a thing of beauty, even in the rain, with native plants of the area, as well as rare orchids and cacti. The following day it was my time to leave this mountain retreat. And as I drove back down the hills towards Bogdagra Airport and the final leg of my journey back to England, I appreciated why this area was so sought after by the British before Indian independence. Darjeeling is one of the most remarkable places I have been. It is just so peaceful and beautiful and, whilst I stayed there, even for such a brief amount of time, I really was living in the clouds.