All posts by Andy

Playground training

Every year I vow I won’t put myself through it again, every single year. But without fail I still watch it. It’s event TV for the unimaginative, it’s infuriating and it makes me shout angrily at the screen as idiots in expensive suits make fools of themselves.

The Apprentice, Alan Sugar, and naked capitalism – a trilogy of things I hate, but still put up with annually. The producers are particularly savvy in their selection of candidates, as are the editors who tweak the narrative for maximum impact. It’s a parade of stupidity, and it makes me genuinely angry.

My girlfriend hates The Apprentice too, but she loves my apoplectic expressions, my consistent assumption that if I were on the show I could do better. The advertising slogans they coin, even the names they give their shitty and short-lived ‘teams’, lack even a simplistic sense of creativity.

Like a sycophant, I assume that if I made it onto the show I could win Alan Sugar’s favour, and his measly investment in whatever half-assed idea I sold him. The Apprentice sells the narrative that we all need a benevolent and wise mentor to guide us through life and it both appalls and entices me.

Watching this show makes me realise that my character isn’t as strong as I thought it was. I know that I should just ignore it, and let myself breathe more easily. The competitiveness, the backstabbing, and the anger that the candidates display is absurd, and frequently childish. The whole process makes these apparent professionals regress to their playground training, pulling hair and refusing to share the toys.

For me, there are some principles in life that we should defend rather than attack. There are some higher ideals that we should strive towards, instead of letting shitty human nature take over. We should aim to collaborate, and work together with others. And we should know that what we do collectively is always going to be better than what we do by ourselves.

But The Apprentice doesn’t aim for anything higher than naked profit. It champions those who squash, lash out, and venomously attack others. And it sucks us in with its logic.

Years and years ago, in the mystical dark ages of the 1960s, a sage called Richard Alpert discussed the legacy of LSD on the free market system. He claimed that if we all killed our egos, and if we all became mindful of the fact that we’re one consciousness experiencing reality subjectively, the world would become a healthier, happier, and more peaceful place.

It seems that if Alan Sugar, along with his business advisers and his yearly cohort of hopeful candidates, understood that life had more meaning than the arbitrary financial boundaries they believe in, The Apprentice could have a better legacy. It could be a TV show that highlights the positive aspects of humanity, rather than its ugliness.

Perhaps we should dose them all with LSD, we could watch consciousness expand, and we could realise together that there is no they or other, there’s just us, the collective. We could share in the candidates’ joy as they overcame the need to compete, and we could revel in the understanding that to be good to others is to be good to yourself.

There’s magic and beauty in the world, and sometimes we need a healthy dose of mindfulness, and we need to step outside of what we know and the ideas of self that define us to find it. But The Apprentice doesn’t allow for that kind of thinking. It’s an experience that makes everyone poorer. The candidates hurt each other, Alan Sugar watches on like the worst kind of prophet, and everyone celebrates wealth, opulence and greed.

If we don’t partake, if we don’t join in, and if we do it deliberately and vocally, then bad things stop. We don’t need to feed the beast; I could just turn the TV off. My girlfriend would lose out on some entertainment, but my mind would be better for it. The noise, the squabbling, squawking shrieks of anger and irritation, would be silenced. 

But what would I do instead on a Wednesday night? I could read a book, maybe explore my understanding of my own place in the universe. I could come to realise that by analysing the candidates on Alan Sugar’s shit show I become just like them. I could take a breath and realise that by judging others I’m judging myself; that our collective consciousness is harmed by the divisive them and us philosophy espoused by wealthy establishment figures like ‘Lord’ Sugar.

But I don’t have time for all that. The fuckers are naming a shampoo brand and they’re shit at it.

Pearl barley and quinoa

I wish I hadn’t watched that video. I wish I could roll back time and forget this moment of enlightenment. Why do we treat animals so badly? Why do we mass produce living beings just so we can eat at McDonalds? I’ll never be able to enjoy a burger again, or a flat white. Even honey is off limits.

Vegan. That’s the dirty word, that’s the descriptor I never thought would define me. I’m normal, I’m just like everyone else, and “I’ll eat whatever you’re having!” Except I won’t. Because I can’t unsee those images. I can’t pretend that it’s fine to stick my hand inside a dead decapitated chicken and fill it up with lemons and garlic. I can’t fry a steak, or wear a leather belt, because I don’t want to contribute to the suffering of other living things.

So my transition starts. My girlfriend watches on disapprovingly as our fridge loses all meat and dairy, and hemp milk, oat milk and almond milk take up increasing amounts of space. She’s even less impressed when I proudly state: “The cat ate smashed avocado on toast for breakfast today.” I’m turning that carnivore vegan; she gets special cat food delivered in the post now.

All I see are healthy guilt-free alternatives; all my girlfriend can see is boring plain food. I tell her; “It’s for the best, we can radically change the world one meal at a time.” She tells me she’s hungry, and she’d rather stay ignorant. I’m not allowed to show her the evidence of the terrible things done in her name.

Things come to a head at 2am on a Wednesday morning. My girlfriend has been out drinking with her workmates and she staggers in and wakes me up – she’s absolutely smashed. She’s hungry and I follow her into the kitchen and watch as the realities of my veganism wash over her swaying form. Sourdough bread, almond butter, bags of kale, fresh mushrooms, seven packets of lentils (green and red), pearl barley and quinoa – this isn’t the menu for a drunk twenty three year old.

She slams the fridge door shut and decries the “vegan shit” filling up our kitchen. She wants pizza, pie, kebabs, sausages, burgers, but all I can offer her is homemade soup, or a banana smoothie. And I remember the phrase that appears in nearly all vegan media: “See the world through the eyes of the victim.” And I’m torn – who is the victim in this scenario: my drunk girlfriend? Or the animals that die so she can drunkenly sink her teeth into their decaying flesh?

But context is important too. We sit around and stuff our faces and we owe our lives to mass production and deception. We’re sold images of happy animals who die quietly and peacefully (after content little lives) and we buy their dead bodies wholesale.

My drunken girlfriend has bought the lie. She’s drunk so she wants meat (of course), she wants to stuff herself on unhealthy foods because that’s what you do. You drink too much, and then you eat a kebab; and it’s fine, you can be temporarily hedonistic. Until you wake up the next day with a pounding headache and a bad stomach.

We’re all victims. We’re all sucked in by late-night advertisements. We’re enchanted by the kebab shop myth, those late night vendors in brightly lit windows, hawking horse meat at ungodly hours – the moments where people are at their most susceptible.

I realise that we’re all victims of corporations that fill their pockets with our pennies, the tiny pieces of money that we all tithe daily to keep Coca Cola, McDonalds and other global purveyors of repackaged suffering solvent. So I fill up my blender with chickpeas, I dice up a lemon, crush some garlic, and I make houmous, good wholesome Middle Eastern food.

I chop up a cucumber and I hand it to my girlfriend. “It’s finger food,” I tell her. “It’s good.”

She looks at my arrangement with disdain but her belly growls and she starts to eat. She stuffs her face and devours an entire cucumber, all of the houmous, and promptly falls asleep on the sofa with a contented belch.

We don’t have to eat the shit they tell us is good, we can change our perspectives, we can reassess and reconsider the myths we’re sold. I don’t eat anything that had a face, or a mother. I don’t drink cow’s milk, monkey’s milk, elephant’s milk or rat’s milk. I’m a human; I don’t consume animal products.

But it took a massive shift in my reasoning to change my diet, and it’s hard to maintain. I miss cheese, I miss milk and cookies, but I can’t go back. I’ve learned something, a truth that sits uncomfortably inside me, and one that I can’t forget – we don’t need to eat animals (even when we’re drunk).

So in those moments of weakness, in those times where advertisements define your response, take a step back. You can be radically different. You can change the world one mouthful at a time by not accepting the pain and suffering that meat-eating causes.

But don’t try and change your girlfriend’s mind too quickly. Take inspiration from fast food advertising. Wait until she’s drunk and at her most susceptible – then feed her cucumber.

The dirty word of revolution

Sydney Lumet’s film Network is full of rants, replete with angry words, and they’re all spouted from a man losing his mind. He speaks truth to the masses and he does so from an increasingly popular pulpit – a TV talk show. His perspective is cynically exploited by mass media oligarchs but that doesn’t negate the truth behind the vitriol.

Regardless of how you look at it, anger and madness is sellable. It fits a need for truthfulness, a desire perhaps for righteousness. We’ve all heard the lies and the misinformation from government officials but the voice of an angry old man has less of an axe to grind and in his insanity we find some sort of accuracy.

It’s clear that angry words are important. Rage against the system, the chains, and the madness is needed if we are to ever effect change. Our prophets are often maligned, laughed at, and under appreciated. They are people that speak truths that are uncomfortable, truths that may be self-evident but under acknowledged, and truths that could shake our complacency if we’ll only let them.

But we don’t. Things stay the same, we seldom change, and society ticks on. We become our parents, then our grandparents, and then we die and the cycle repeats itself. Our unhealthy obsession with now, with the present moment, leads us to forget that life is a transition, that nothing is set in stone, and that we can effect change. Sometimes we need an insane old man to show us just how far we ourselves have fallen from sanity. Sometimes we need a prophet, someone who will challenge our complacency and hold a candle up to the contemporary darkness.

That insane old man can be found in our latest secular saint, Russell Brand –a one time heroin addict turned TV personality. The noughties were an odd decade for the contemporary rogue as he hopped from drugs to saccharine film entertainment. He married Katy Perry, a singer notable for squirting milk from her chest in an overtly sexual music video, and of course for the unflattering #nomakeupselfie captured by Mr Brand himself.

But Brand has rebranded since those early sobering days. Now he’s a man with a mission and one that he actively rams down people’s throats. He wants to see change; he spits out the dirty word of revolution in a tone of almost reverence, and he strives to better the world and leave behind a positive legacy. But we like to hate, so we assume that he’s in it for the celebrity status, for the acclaim and the fame.

This is unfair and it seems reductive. Russell Brand is a man who has come from nothing. He has fought for his health and sanity, and he has succeeded. Every day for him is a challenge, a struggle to stay on the path that he has chosen, but he hasn’t fucked up yet. Instead he campaigns tirelessly for better living conditions, the rights of the maligned, marginalised and broken, and he argues and uses his notoriety for good. But our society pushes back – we’d rather support Cameron’s austerity through inaction and quiet acquiescence than fight for Brand’s vision of change.

Where does this complacency come from? Why do forget that we are divine, autonomous beings with the ability to live lives of freedom? We accept the rules, the increasingly archaic religiosity of the past, and we live our lives based on received wisdom. This renders us inert, it ensures that we will always be the generation of the echo, the people who never shook nostalgia, and lived in the era of the never was. By living in the past we negate the present and we ignore the future too.

Russell Brand is a voice suggesting that there are alternatives. He’s no messiah (although he may claim to be) and all he is doing is providing us with a different vision of the future. It’s a future that requires active participation and it’s one that needs us. That’s the key to it all. We are the people behind the scenes; we’re just too quiet. Instead of understanding our innate power we simply live out our days as audience members letting our ‘betters’ talk over us and dictate our perspectives.

We let the political into the personal and it leaves us with a reality that has very few choices. In actuality there are as many opinions as there are people and each is just as valid as the rest. We should be championing conversation, dialogue, and challenging our preconceived notions about the world around us. We’re not Tories. We’re not red, white, or blue. We’re people and we don’t need saving. We don’t need God; we just need to find our voice.

Instead of shooting down those who speak up, we should congratulate them. Russell Brand is a man striving for something and we need to acknowledge that he is doing good, or at the very least he is trying. What are you doing with your life? Are you making things better or are you part of the problem?

Until we start to open our minds to alternative visions of reality we are collectively the problem. Our wages are too low, our futures are sold to foreign investors, and we’re priced out from our home cities. Our legacy will be as destroyers of legacies, and future generations (if they exist) will look back on us as world destroyers. An impressive title perhaps but the reality of our actions will be a destitute world, a place where the rich get richer and the poor go hungry, freeze and die.

Russell Brand isn’t a hero but what he is doing is heroic. He is a man that married a pop star but he’s also a man that protests side by side with the working class. That’s where he comes from – he understands the pain of poverty, but he also escaped it. In that, you should surely see why he’s a man that should be listened to. His testimony is one of self-discovery, self-healing, and selflessness.

Next time you feel like being cynical, target David Cameron or Nick Clegg. Their dreams of the future are literally our nightmares and their attempts to change Britain for the better have clearly not worked. Let’s give some more time to the voices that are untested, the voices that have no reason to lie to us, and let’s hear them out. Change is coming but it’s up to us to determine if it’s for the better.

Creams, foams, gels, lotions and ointments

We humans are rather vain. We preen, we do our hair, and we dress to impress. Our self-confidence is linked inextricably to the way that we perceive ourselves. That’s why the onset of baldness can be a blow to many of us and it can often result in some downright awful haircuts.

Men go bald in a number of ways but often it starts at the temples, the hair recedes and at the same time the crown becomes increasingly bare. The end result is a horseshoe shape and many men think simply directing their remaining hair to the middle of their head is a convincing way to cover up their baldness. The comb over is an absolute disgrace of a solution and something that should be avoided at all costs.

There really is no disguising what’s happening to you. The only option is to embrace it. You could opt for expensive hair transplants, or a good old fashioned wig, but at the end of the day you will still be bald. There are all manner of creams, foams, gels, lotions and ointments to rub on your dome too, but they have terrible side effects such as a decrease in your sex drive.

At the young age of 18 I started to notice my hairline was retreating. It was slow at first and I thought, “That’s not so bad, in fact it’s pretty manageable.” Unfortunately, just like the inexorable march of time, there was no stopping it. I scrubbed vigorously in the shower and I prayed daily that my hair wouldn’t go. In fact I tried to make several deals (with whatever deity would listen) to exchange the hair on my chest for the hair leaving my head.

It was not to be. My hair became an increasingly historic part of my life yet I still denied what was happening to me. I pretended I wasn’t balding and I assumed that no one even noticed. That was until I saw a photo of myself on a particularly blustery November day. I couldn’t tell where my hairline began but I could definitely see my scalp, and I realised that this was how everyone else saw me. My perspective on my appearance was completely out of touch with reality.

For me it was hard to accept my hair loss. I’m only 24 and my dad has more hair than I do. Going bald is traumatic, it fucking sucks, and most of us will do whatever we can to fight it. The trouble is it’s not a fight that you’re going to win. I should know. I fought the good fight for years until recently I decided to just shave it all off. It may seem extreme but I’ve never felt more comfortable, more confident, and I’ve certainly never been likened to Bruce Willis before.

It’s not attractive to be balding but it can be attractive to be bald. Confidence is always sexy and I’m fucking fed up of television personalities, movie actors, and general celebrities denying the effects of time. Going bald is natural and I want more role models. Shave your head, embrace it, and don’t try and hide behind terrible haircuts or even worse treatment options.

Being bald is liberating. Shaving your head is fucking exhilarating and there is no shame in it. To all of the people that think I now look like a thug and to all of the people who pointed out that I was losing my hair – fuck you. I’ve embraced it. I’ve owned the thing that made me most ashamed. And do you know what? I’m happier.

There will be a moment, a point in time, where someone will comment on your thinning hair. That moment will stick with you, that person’s voice will speak in judgement at the back of your mind, and you’ll suddenly realise that your carefully maintained and kept secret is out in the open. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay, that these things happen, and that it’s how you deal with them that defines you.

Accept who you are. Being bald won’t define you any more than balding will. It’s a simple choice between constantly fretting over your remaining hair and avoiding windy days or chopping it all off. It’s not easy, it’s not something that any of us wants to deal with, but it is something that you can’t avoid forever.

Shaving my head was the best decision that I ever made and I wish that I had made it sooner. If you are battling with hair loss, if your hair is on its way out the door, kick it the rest of the way. You don’t need that strife; you don’t need the self-doubt and pitying looks from your friends. Shave your head and be alpha as fuck.

My bald head is easy to maintain. It’s memorable. Best of all though it’s brave, and I wear my scars, my once shameful secret openly and for the world to see. Funnily enough I get fewer comments now about my lack of hair than I did about the hair I had left.

And anyway, fuck the lot of them. You don’t need their opinions or validation. Shave your head, bare your shame, and be proud of who you are – the good and the bad.