Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Girl with the Sunshine Smile


You don't get too many chances at happiness, not real happiness anyway. There's plenty of opportunities to do things that make you stop asking questions briefly; those questions that you're not sure you want to know the answers to.  You make the right choice about making yourself happy however, and it's like changing a wall for a window.

You've just got to be brave enough to make that choice and to make that change. Your life will change immeasurably if you let it.

This past weekend was my first away since before Christmas and, as always happens with these things, I was equal parts excited and disquiet. The event itself, ACB 29 in Warsaw, was really good and the experience was a great one.

Flying home however, was a different kettle of fish altogether.I'd had layover in Zurich for the day where I'd managed to keep myself occupied with a combination of my tablet and a very hospitable Starbucks.

My final flight was a quick hop across to Manchester but as I sat watching Threads, I saw the sky turn angry as I waited for the minutes to tick away.

The flight itself was largely without incident but upon descent into Manchester, I became very aware of just how windy it had become. I looked once out of the window briefly and then leant back with my eyes closed, listening to Copeland.


It had always been the best music to fly to I had learned; a swirling mix of vocal magnificence and scant beauty. I felt my stomach leap upwards and then down as the plane darted towards the runway but these nerves were soon quashed as the wheels hit the deck.

Inertia held me tight, like I imagine a friendly bear would as he evaluated my threat, but I was miles away somehow; ready for the gentle braking to replace the harsh braking and for everyone to stand up before the seatbelt sign had gone out.

It was then I realised something wasn't quite right. 

The harsh braking hadn't subsided and I felt more and more concious of a strange gaining of speed. I passed it off as nothing but, after a few seconds, ascertained that this wasn't the norm. I looked at the window to see nothing but clouds, a mirror of dark greyness that didn't seem to be thinning any time soon.

I looked around quickly to gauge reactions but amazingly, nobody seemed to be budging an inch from where they sat or from what they were doing. This was seemingly a common thing but in my head it felt anything but.

I'd switched my phone back on as we were landing, and managed to message Vanille to let her know I was nearly on Terra Firma but as we went back up I sent her another few messages. The problem is that only one of them sent; basically the one that said "The plane is going back into the air for some reason."

The subsequent messages to allay any fears didn't get sent as I ascended back into the great grey unknown, and therein lied the whole crux of my panic.

It wasn't about me. It wasn't about would I be ok. It was about her. It was all about not being able to see Vanille again. It was to about how she was coping with the limited information I'd given her.

I struggled for a second to cope but quickly realised my best shot was to stay calm and think positively. I hit the unlock button on my phone and was presented by the following image.

It's hard to describe what I felt exactly at that moment.

It felt like the feeling I get when I fall asleep in the sun or the feeling I get when I first come home at night. It's the feeling when she falls asleep holding on to me, and the feeling I get when my phone goes and she's sent me a message.

It was just a feeling of pure bliss and, at 20,000 ft on a perilous Sunday night, it was exactly what I needed to negotiate myself down from the heavens and back into the welcoming arms of the airport.

The rest of the journey home was relatively uneventful, save for an internal countdown that seemed to magnify the closer I got to being home.

The girl with the sunshine smile had saved my life once again and, as I lay in bed that evening, I held tightly in my head everything that had happened throughout the last few hours and tightly in my arms that which had made me brief brush with the uncertain so much easier.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the people in life who make us the happiest, contribute way more to the fabric of our being than they could every truly imagine. Every single day is an adventure but, save for the kindred soul of the perfect person, we'd simply wander aimlessly into the dark, without map or compass or more importantly the sunshine.

Until next time.
Take care.
Speak soon.

Ben


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Breaking Point


I'm pretty sure I've hit it.

Maybe I've been here a while.

It's hard to tell in a lot of respects where this simmering feeling of discontent comes from. There's a good chance it's been here for months, many many months. I just know things are going to have to change and I'm going to have to make them change. Daylight hours are too precious to spend wishing they were over.

Everything else is amazing btw, if this title sounds a touch melodramatic. We'll speak again soon on better circumstances I'm sure.

Speak soon
Take care
Ben

Thursday, 14 January 2016

These last few days

I've realised that the things that matter are the people that matter.

I'm pretty sure I knew that anyway, but my worldly view has been reinforced tenfold by realising a few things recently. I'll never care about so many different things, despite how many times you tell me I should do.

The greatest gift we have is the chance to do what makes us truly happy. We're not here long enough to spend our time make plans; plans for the sneering eyes of people we'll never meet.

That's the beauty of all of this though.

When we truly realise that we have the power to what we want, everything becomes of slightly less consequence somehow.

The shackles of this corporate visage loosen enough to escape for the night at quarter to five; when the people we really are be meet up with the people we really love.

In short, wasting time is only wasting time if you don't look back it what you've done and smile.

Take care
Speak soon
Ben

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Blankets

This five day week thing has hit me pretty hard.

Every day has felt like Monday so far but maybe that's just because of the weather. I had quite a few odd days off in December, a weekend trip to Munich to take in the Christmas markets and a big break over Christmas, so this week has felt as tiresome as walking uphill in the rain.

Ironically, I've done that quite a few times these last few days also.

I guess I just really miss the days where all I had to worry about was could I eat a Pretzel this big without falling asleep afterwards.

I didn't as it happens but it was quite a struggle; the tea that I had with it really helped.

The Christmas markets in Munich were so pretty though. I'd planned them as a surprise for my lovely wife.

I booked all the parts of the holiday separately in the summer over a couple of months.

She didn't know where we were going right until the last minute when I gave her the flight number to enter into the ticket machine.

It had taken weeks of preparation, of dodging questions, of working out hotel rates, of converting currencies but for that split second when she saw Munich flash up on that screen, it was all worth it.

It was worth it a million times over.

The back and forth craziness of work/judging will pick up speed in a few weeks but for the time being, I'm just happy that you're happy sweetpea.

I'm happy in the knowledge that we'll always have these adventures with each other to drift away into.

Until next time
Speak soon
Take care
Ben


Monday, 21 December 2015

Just because...


Just because you're not happy, don't try make and make me not happy.

Mondays.

Hit me harder than a train every time. 





Tuesday, 8 December 2015

When time stood still

Places largely stay the same, but they become tainted by the tapestry of emotions that we recall at a moment's notice. The colours combine like milk in tea; crashing and swirling into each other and creating so many further questions.

I went through Longton the other day and straight away I remembered a million and one different stories and incidents as I wandered round the Bennett Precinct.

There pretty much wasn't any shops open so I couldn't look through the window of Dixons at the Sega Megadrives running endlessly. This ritual became essential part of life for years, generally as I walked to somewhere I should have been.

The old arcade that my Dad used to take me to has long since closed. It's been re-branded and re-designed a million times. The front of it however, still fills me with that feeling of magic that I hope never leaves.

The feeling I used to get on a Saturday morning when my Dad would walk me down to Longton and take me in the arcade so I could play all the Sega games. That's all I wanted to do, all I ever wanted to do.

The old bus station has since been gutted, renovated and redesigned into a giant bargain shop that there seems to be so many of at the moment. I'm still unable to walk into it though, without thinking of how dark and cold the old bus station was. It's like the progress we make is begrudgingly pulling us forward, as we further sink our heels into the sand.

Nothing stays the same, but memories seem to keep us in a state of perpetual stasis somehow.

Longton is like any other town now. A decaying city centre, industry long deserted, being slowly drained by an out of town retail park where all the big shops have set up.

In my head however, it'll always feel like freedom.
It'll always be the place I walked through when I should have been somewhere else.
I'm forever looking for the door to the arcade even though I know it's not there.
I'm waiting to walk into a room full of smoke, lights, machines and crackly local radio.

But that's just me I guess.

Until next time
Take care
Speak soon

Ben

Thursday, 19 November 2015

One Thousand


It seems another lifetime now but in the same odd kind of way, I can still remember everything about it.

Every single thing from the songs I listened to on the way down, to who I saw, to how many fights there were, to how the bulk of them finished up.

About a year prior to Shoot n Sprawl  I'd worked my first ever show in a professional capacity, providing some commentary for Ross Pointon's Night of the Gladiators.

Since then I'd done a smattering of writing, a lot of it is archived in the earlier editions of this very website, but nothing seemed to resonate quite like I wanted it to.

Don't get me wrong, I'll never ever forget the feeling I had after that first show when I was sitting in my car waiting to go home. I could have gone home at any point, but I just remember sitting in my car and staring at my own eyes in the mirror. It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that but, for that split second, I felt more alive than I think I ever had done up to that point.

When my now good friend Andy Sledge messaged me regarding judging work I jumped on the opportunity and spent a good week beforehand absorbing all I could read about the specifics of the judging criteria. I sat in my office at work and watched fights on my lunch hour with a pad and pen and headphones, trying to get my mind used to the task in hand.

There was something different about this Saturday in July though, quite what I wasn't sure but I knew I felt different. It was both a new experience and a new challenge and I was really excited to see just where it would lead.

Attending shows in general was still quite a new thing in reality, I'd been to see Ross fight for Cage Rage back in 2007, but it was only recently that I'd started working at events. As I sat cageside, I was aware of noise subsiding it became massively obvious in that instant that this was real. Commentary was fun, nervous at first, but soon it quickly became more professional versions of conversations we had at the gym.

All around me seemed chaos and a million things raced through my head but the second the bell rang, my mind was filled with a truly serene sense of calm. I can't describe it. It's kind of like the feeling you get when you first dive underwater and everything seems to slow as you swim deeper down. It's a feeling of complete crystal clear focus. It's one of the single most addictive feelings in the world. I think about it all the time.

The first few fights went off without incident and resulted in fairly early finishes but the one pictured represented my first real challenge. It just goes to show how long ago this truly was, in the spectrum of this young sport, that Luke Barnatt now an 11 fight pro and UFC veteran, was fighting amateur in only his 3rd contest.

His opponent was Spartan MMA's Chris Kelly, who only a few months prior had unwittingly created the audio dynamite that bonded myself and the dangerous one as a bona fide commentating powerhouse.

I remember the fight as if I remembering a story that happened last week. Barnatt using the jab early on before getting the takedown and working from the top dilligently. Kelly ploughing bravely on but seeming not to have any answer for the reach differential he was facing. The third frame saw the tide turn and Barnatt slowed down as Kelly came forward with enough momentum to steal the round but ultimately go on to lose the fight 29-28.

As I handed in my scorecards I realised that it was down to me now. Everything I'd studied, everything I'd watched, all the preparation I'd made was leading up to this entire moment. In my head I knew that there would be no excuses, I'd given it everything I could to try and be the best I could be at this.

The decision was announced as unanimous in the favour of Luke Barnatt, the respective corners nodded and photos were taken, and I mentally got ready to go again as the next set of entrance music began.

That's how it all started.

If you'd have told me as I drove home that night about what was to come there's no way I would ever have believed you. If you'd have explained that about 5 years later I'd be racking up my 1000th fight in the chair then I would have done some hasty maths and then laughed it off. I've been to some crazy places and seen some insane fights go down but the feeling remains the same before every single one; that liquid clarity that I can't seem to find in anything else that I spend my time doing.

It's all on me. I get it. I get how much time you've put into this. I get what sacrifices you've made and I get how this fight is the biggest one you'll ever have. All you need to know is that your fight is the most important fight to me, because they're all the most important fight. I've got this. Trust me. It's a never ending cycle of learning and reviewing. That's the best part. It's the beginning. 1000 is an insane number but it's only just the start.

Thanks to everyone along the way.
Thanks for reading this.
Thanks for the opportunities.
Thanks for putting up with the fact I talk about old videogames and fights a lot.

Take care
Speak soon
Ben