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.
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.
Good people are good people; irrespective of the hows or the whens or the wheres.
Good people are the kind of people that you think about what they're up to or the kind of people that, when you see something in a shop, you wonder if they'd like it.
Good people are the people you reply to straight away and the people you make plans with. They're the kind of people who legitimately listen to everything that you've got to say, before offering sage advice.
Good people care about what you're thinking and care about where you're going.
Good people realise that we're all trying to help each other and they do what they can to make life easier.
Good people don't have to make an effort to do nice things for people, it's a natural process.
Good people take time to drop a simple "hey" or "how's it going", when they know that people are in difficult situations. They ring people up to talk about nothing and everything because they like to talk and listen.
I'm lucky to know a lot of good people and to also spend my time with people who it's no effort to make an effort for.
Until next we speak my friends, remember to be thankful for everything we have, not be wistful about things that we can't change.
The problem with moving quickly is, you've never quite got time to appreciate the miles as they disappear into the night.
Conversely, the problem with moving slowly is that it's hard not to wish the time away because you've become accustomed to a life less ordinary.
I'm already mentally ready for the next, but a part of me realises that these times we live in are our golden years. Every cut a hit, every night a sell out, every glance to the sky gives my eyes nothing but diamonds. But then, just realising this makes me smile every single day when I wake up.
Contrast becomes appreciation.
Saturdays become Sundays.
Chaos becomes order.
The tides are turning, but I'm anchored safely in place by the stability of a thirty seven and a half hour week and the sunshine eyes of my lovely wife.
This past weekend the locomotive creaked into life.
I've missed you, that much is clear. I've missed that feeling of wide eyed excitement and pure focus that true chaos brings. I've missed the shared stories, the familiar faces and the digital navigations of the new and the familiar. I guess most of all I've missed the shared sense of camaraderie that this whole adventure seems to bring.
It picks up momentum without you even realising, that's the beauty of it. It's one in four, then it's two in five and you're once again familiar with the concept. Then before you know it, it's seven in seven and you're staring down the barrel of exploits and opportunities in equal measures.
None of this is possible without the support of those we hold close and the second we forget this, we're resigned to slip beneath the waves with no hope of warmth or daylight permeating. I'll never forget all that you've done; waiting with the home fires burning, fresh to greet the returnee with a hug and a hot drink.
Next time you're in the neighbourhood come and say hello won't you? We're destined to forget everything but true words are never wasted when they're said between friends.
Maybe because it didn't get light all day, the memories of the summer seem like echoes from another lifetime. Last night I walked home in the rain and didn't have an umbrella. It wasn't the best but when I got home it somehow it all became worth it.
It's still surprising though whenever it happens, and it happens every year without fail, We're slaves to this cycle but there's no way we could ever get off or get out. We're the ones running, not the ones watching the wheel.
Why then am I so romantic about this time of the year, when realistically it just means we spend longer with the lights on?
Maybe it's because everything I associate with not having to worry about anything seems to happen more at the tail end of the year.
I play more videogames, sleep more and spend more time with my friends/family and my lovely wife. I watch more fights, I drink more tea and I end up staring at the sky a lot more.
However in real terms, it's the sense of responsibility that I'm unable to shake or shun that wears heavier down on me at this time of year.
There's more to do, more things to fix, more things to buy and less daylight to do them in. Maybe this year I'll make a bigger effort and keep more on top of things. I won't spend my hours wondering when it'll stop raining and imagining what would happen if it never stopped. I'll be positive, forward thinking and pro-active.
Or maybe I'll just sit inside where it's warm, switch on the kettle and play Bubble Bobble until it's Christmas again.
Every time I'm in a meeting at work I somehow retract back to this way of thinking.
What if none of us ever had to think about this ever again?
What if none of this actually really mattered?
What happens if the people we try to appease with whatever it is we're planning don't really care, or maybe worse than that are laughing at us?
I guess we'll never really know, so trapped by the surroundings of the four walls we paint with photographs of better times, we march onwards into the fog ahead.
It makes me want to make a big speech about how we've barricaded ourselves into a corner but I can't because I'm just like everyone else, despite how revolutionary I feel on the walk to work.
Just rest assured, there'll be no more talk of Mecca in this establishment.
If you've been reading for a while, there must be at least a handful of you, then you'll remember the mess I was when I first arrived back from Japan.
It was at that point that I decided to call time on writing about mma because I saw too many conflicts of interest and, writing that style there were hundreds.
The essence of a good interview or a great feature is an edge, something that people can get from your writing that no-one else can give them. I remember interviewing Joachim Hansen once and him talking about killing Bono and how he'd survive in an apocalypse, we didn't really talk fighting too much. There's only so many times you can read that, "this is the best camp I've ever had/he's getting finished/this is my time."
Those questions you needed to ask, the relationships you needed to develop, the links you needed to forge. You can't do that and remain a neutral official. You have to be that guy at events who walks away from groups of people if fighters or even representatives from their camp are sitting at the table. You've got to be careful of your social media output because, as a good friend told me, "You're not just an official when the fights are happening."
It was hard to break the habit initially, but I look at judging fights as something I'll always be doing while I still have breath in my body, sight in my eyes and the love of my good lady wife in my heart.
If it wasn't for these pages and a few projects that remain to burn slowly, I don't know what I would have done; probably get shouted at in meetings for writing about cliff tops and rainy days.
A few months back I chatted to the John Gooden for the UFC Octagonside Podcast, here's the link if you've not heard it, and it was really refreshing to get back involved with something like that. The approach was very different in that it was more about the science of judging, and about addressing common misconceptions.
It was a conversation that really got me thinking about judging a lot more and maybe about ways I could address writing about it, but within a more theoretical context. If I could find a way to write informatively and interestingly, but without sounding like I was giving a health and safety speech then there surely could be some kind of positive output.
Those of you who read Fighters Only might be surprised to see a small feature in there from me, but rest assured it doesn't compromise me as a person or as an official. It's not about "he should have done this/this score is wrong because this fighter fights like this" or any nonsense like that. It's a logical look at some illogical things. It's a balance that allows me to sit and let all these things out of my head but still allows me to do the thing I love doing with a clear head and the integrity that is vital for any official to have.
I'm a big fan of Marc Goddard's articles for FO because it's a chance to read things that we wouldn't normally get the chance to, it's there to learn from as well as to enjoy. I think that's the perfect balance.
It's not a comeback. I'm not going to be writing a lot.
It's like anything else in life you can never go back, as much as you'd like to.
We've all changed too much. It's just nice to sit down again and try and translate the purple noise in my head into something tangible.
We're all set to become the people we never thought we would be, but it's seldom through our own drive. It's through the wishes and wants for those who we will never see, sitting atop in their air conditioned offices, looking out on all that they've changed to move the line.
Teaching represents a lot of different things to a lot of different people but, for me, it's the chance to help people out with whatever skills I've picked up along the way. It can be anything from using a computer, to spelling a word, to doing some multiplication or solving one of the many problems that life in the modern era seems to throw at people.
That photo above sums up everything I love about the internet.
The availablity of moments so cataclysmic in their nature makes me constantly realise the scale of everything. I'll spend days looking at pictures of abandoned cities, of derelict theme parks, of people who lived in times gone by and buildings of varying significance.
That photo also sums up everything I've come to dislike about my industry of choice. It sums up the theory of acceptable losses against collateral gains. Every single person in that photograph has a family, a story, a brain, some feelings, some emotions and a whole load of questions but right there in that moment they're simply a statistic. They represent the roll of a dice, taken by someone miles away from the retribution of those decisions.
I'm struggling with the concept of people not having a chance, not having any chance but still being required to plod on regardless. I can't get my head round sending people to do things that they won't be able to do for a meagre gain. The worst part is looking at myself afterwards as I smile and try and convince both them and me, that all of this will make sense at some point.
It'll make sense for those on the top floor, just not for anyone else.
The real question isn't how to we get past this anymore, it's what's on the other side?
At this point there's no way of telling, but maybe that's what makes this an adventure rather than an arbitrary set of decisions. Our view has been tilted to the right by 10 degrees and now all we can see are opportunities, not blistered wood and reflections.
Who knows where this all finishes and where we all find ourselves, but as of right now, this second; I'm simply glad it doesn't have to end just yet.
It's hard not to be happy in these kind of circumstances.
It's impossible to recollect why you were ever stressed or worried about anything. It all seems so far away from whatever was happening or wherever you were previously doing.
We don't do enough of this, nearly enough of this but then it's impossible to spend as much time as you want, doing the things you want to do largely.
We accept this somehow; it's the twisted mantra of the modern world we live in.
Buy a house you couldn't afford without a big loan and leave it empty all day as you work 8 hours a day for people you'll never even meet.
There's no logic to any of what we do but, for a dinner time dip into unconsciousness there doesn't have to be.
We just need to breathe slowly, feel the warmth on our faces and the orange light on the insides of our eyelids. That is all we need to do for those blissful few hours, it's somehow all we've ever needed to do.
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Aristotle
In any other situation I'd probably agree, but to the same token it's the absence of those intricate pieces, the pieces which made that huge puzzle take shape, that I'm struggling with at the moment.
In my head I know I made the most of it, I'm pretty sure that's the one thing that is constant in all of this.
It's hard to quantify real friendship.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I guess you just sort of know by exactly what you feel. I think that's the hardest bit of this whole spot in a lot of respects. It's only in severe withdrawal do you realise how much you came to rely on those contributions.
It doesn't even matter what they were, it's who they were made by that made them stick in my head like glitter on glue. The memories still keep me smiling but they become simply that with each day that passes. We all become different people slowly but the hope of another sunset is what makes us continue to move forward.
I just wanted you to know that I haven't forgotten about you, about any of you and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't wonder what you're doing or when will be the next time that our paths will cross.
Where do people go when there's nothing left to do?
Those people I see wandering around in a dreary labyrinth every day; faces too drawn out to give me a clue as to why or who or what. I hope I never become one of those people who I see every morning. They wander as if cut adrift from the purpose, it may have never really existed.
I hope there's always something to do.
I hope there's always me and you.
I hope there's always adventures.
I hope there's always the blankets of clouds that seem to stretch forever.
I hope there's always the things that make us feel alive.
I hope there's always sheets of lined paper, cut into squares.
I hope there's always hope.
It was a Sunday and I'd just made the trip back down the M1 after a very productive morning. I took a a meandering detour round a few old roads that had seen better days and soon found myself back in the middle of Stoke.
It's a funny old place.
It's full of a strange mixture of people who've always lived there, and people who have arrived there by mistake looking for Hanley. They've followed the road signs to the letter and somehow ended up in a sea of grey buildings, charity shops and second hand electrical goods.
We were moved out of the building above last Summer, as they'd received the planning permission to convert the whole thing into student flats. We'd all since moved into a much newer office in a more central location but somehow I knew that I missed the old building. Is that what I really missed though, or was it the people who I shared the dilapidated stretch of carpet with?
Maybe it all comes back to the same thing that all of these epistles come back to; a burst of nostalgic longing for a time when less things mattered during the sunlight hours. That being said, there was always a way to make things more important than they needed to be. Somehow though, the fire of bad intentions always seemed to be deflected by hiding away from the horrible weather in a Woodchip cocoon.
I do kind of miss that old place, if for no other reason than everything seemed so much simpler.
This old ship is picking up momentum as we speak, creaking into life as it sways from wave to wave. The tide will keep on turning, and we will end up where we may. Our paths will cross that much is certain.
When the rain trickled down my window, it was impossible for me to focus on anything. As each drop of rain meandered down the window towards the cold, dark wood of the frame I became less and less connected with what was really happening.
Why are we always chasing the answers to questions that we could never truly comprehend?
I guess because it gives us a sense of a journey; a voyage between where we were and where we want to be. What happens if you are where you want to be though? What happens if you take stock of everything that you have, the friends that you've made and the people you've met and you're truly satisfied?
It's almost like we're discouraged to believe that this can happen to anyone. You can always buy something bigger/faster/stronger but what does it change apart from your electricity bill, and how quick you can access something that you probably don't overly appreciate. It's the curse of modern living.
These high def dreams fly through electric air on a constant basis without anything connecting them to where they began or where they end up. It's not so different to the everyday. If we had the answers we needed then we wouldn't have found out all of the things that make us stop and think how unreal this is. I probably spend too much time thinking about things like this but there's something about the serenity of a cold and windy day viewed from the confides of somewhere warm and well lit.
There really is no reason that we can't be those people; except those people aren't those people. They're just looking at us wishing they were those people.