Day 35 – Ayahuasca Part II

After the first magical ceremony we were on spiritual overdrive. The Ayahuasca goddess had let us into her beautiful, natural world and nothing could stop us.

We started the next day with a cleanse, jumping into a freshwater stream at the bottom of the hill, one by one dipping our heads three times underwater to clear the cobwebs from the night before. It was cold.

Two of the group went for a walk and foraged a selection of delicious fruits and berries. The line between foraging and scrumping is a little blurry when you’re still full of DMT and pass a pomegranate tree in someone’s front garden.

fruit.jpgFeeling my newfound bond with the animals I let a house fly land repeatedly on my arms and legs; rather than swatting it away I let it go about its business: “I’m a friend of the flies, you can land wherever you want pal.” A red shield bug got agitated as I coaxed him onto my hand: “Fear not little bug, I come in peace.” I was clearly still under the influence as I fell over on my way to the toilet.

As recommended we took a full day off the black stuff after our first ceremony to recover. I wouldn’t say any of us were quite compos mentis but a proper sleep and a rest did us all good.

Next on the agenda was a short ritual around Hannah’s cauldron – each of us wrote on a piece of paper something we wanted to get rid of, lit the paper on fire and cast it into the pot to burn away.

Impatience.jpgMy patience was soon tested as we looked for a bicycle pump. I delved among dust and cobwebs in the exposed basement, dislodging a couple of dead snails as I searched. After 20 minutes and three laps of the musty drawers I was about to abort mission when I checked a new drawer inside the house and a brand new pump appeared – thanks Auntie Ayahuasca.

In preparation for our second ceremony we took a plant bath. This involved Ru and Hannah picking a selection of healing and medicinal plants from around the garden – lavender, rosemary, hibiscus and other flowers – before leaving them to soak in water for a few hours.

Plant bath.jpgThis felt like the perfect opportunity for Tarzan to get his speedos on. I was instructed to rub the brown, plant-infused concoction into every crack and orifice. It was cold.

speedo-plant-bath.jpgAfter all this bonding with nature we expected an even better second trip. In contrast to the nervous excitement of the first ceremony there was a reverential atmosphere as we went through the rituals, banishing dark spirits as the medicine flowed.

I asked Ayahuasca for a better understanding of the universe and my own place within it. Not much then. I sat in a new spot, buckled up and got ready for the ride.

Similarly to round one the first two drinks had no effect and I purged after my third cup. I sat waiting for the magic and was again greeted with a whole lot of nothing. I thought back to the cauldron and tried to relax…then the ceremony drew to a close, the lights came on and it was over.

Was I being impatient? Had I been greedy in my request? Maybe I was being punished for eating a couple of biscuits earlier that day, or maybe I simply hadn’t drunk enough.

It was clearly working on others: Hasina was occupied by spirits as she incanted a tribal chant and Justin was in pleasuretown, giggling and whooping as if he was being tickled aggressively with a feather duster.

As Andy had also felt very little we reassessed the situation and let doubt creep in. Maybe the talk of spirits and nature was just a way to make sense of all the discomfort and vomiting. Maybe we were putting lipstick on a DMT pig.

As one of the group mistakenly trusted a fart and followed through for the second time that night we laughed at how ridiculous it all felt: when you subtract the hallucinations all you are left with is nausea and a few buckets of human waste.

Ru told us there would be ups and downs and that each person would find their own meaning from the experience, even long after the retreat was over; perhaps we needed to be brought down to earth and this was all part of the journey.

I decided to keep the faith but after glimpsing something otherworldly in the first ceremony this felt like a major speedbump; either the magic was wearing off or this was another necessary stage in Ayahuasca’s masterplan…


Next stop: Ayahuasca Part III 

What is The Gump Method

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Day 33 – Ayahuasca Part I

HEALTH WARNING: THIS IS A BIT LONGER THAN MY USUAL POSTS

ALSO: LOTS OF WORDS AND NOT MANY PHOTOS FOR LEGAL REASONS 🙂


Ayahuasca is a psychoactive drink brewed from a combination of 12 sacred master plants growing in the Amazonian jungle. For centuries, the brew has been used as a traditional spiritual medicine by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin; the tourist trade for ayahuasca has only boomed in the last few decades.

Ayahuasca is a medicine rather than a drug, but as the drink contains concentrated amounts of the hallucinogen DMT it is illegal in most countries except Peru, where the government states that the “wisdom” plant “constitutes the gateway to the spiritual world and its secrets,” recognising ayahuasca’s status as “one of the basic pillars of the identity of the Amazon peoples.”

I travelled to Perpignan on the Southern tip of France for my ayahuasca retreat with 5 other curious travellers, only one of whom had previous experience of the medicine. Three ceremonies were planned over five days by our shaman Ru and his girlfriend Hannah, an energy healer. I had met them both a few months earlier at the Secret Garden Party festival and we bonded instantly. This is me hitting on Hannah (it’s ok, Ru took the photo).

Pomme d'amour

Half hippie half North London boy from the flats, a musician and ex-boxing trainer, Ru did his shaman apprenticeship over 6 months in the Amazon jungle. He is an incredibly spiritual but also totally normal and funny guy who I knew would be the perfect guide for my first ayahuasca journey.

In preparation for a ceremony the body needs to be cleansed. The term ‘Stoptober’ has been coined for giving up cigarettes in October but we stopped almost everything: with alcohol, meat, dairy, sugar, salt and processed foods off limits it was also Droptober due to the weight loss. We were even banned from sex, both with others and with ourselves (Floptober).

The reason for this cleanse is not only to show respect for the ‘divine goddess’ and the plants she represents but also to prepare the body for the ‘purge’ (vomiting) which occurs between 20 minutes and a few hours after drinking the thick, brown medicine.

ayahuasca brew

Each person comes to an ayahuasca ceremony with their own objective which is stated, in the mind, before their first drink. I had no particular yearning for a deeper understanding of anything, feeling I had already been on a spiritual journey in recent months, but Ru said something in the preparatory phase that helped bring me clarity:

“Plants don’t have spirits but all spirits have plants:”

After my walk in the Fontainebleau forest and a beautiful experience earlier in the day watching a hummingbird hawk-moth drain nectar from the flowers in the garden I felt a strong desire to connect with nature and asked ayahuasca to help me.

As night fell and the ceremony began one of the group was overwhelmed by emotion and started sobbing. We each took turns to drink our first cup with the shaman and return to our places. I felt reassured that my place was next to Andy, my best friend for the last 25 years, who would be with me on the journey.

I closed my eyes and waited. Nothing. After 15 minutes another group member started purging aggressively into his bucket. Nothing. Before long I realised Andy was on a magical mystery tour, giggling, mumbling and singing to himself as I sat there in complete darkness feeling nothing. Another hour passed and I took a second cup, still nothing. A few puffs of purple smoke were the only vision I had as I sat there, disappointed and frustrated that it hadn’t worked on me.

Two hours in there was a cacophony: multiple people vomiting loudly into their buckets, Andy having a whale of a time next to me bouncing around in the clouds and me sat there thinking “well this is shit.”

I felt like Oliver Twist as I knelt in front of the shaman and asked him for my third cup. Feeling a bit queasy by that stage I took my bucket with me, knowing that one more swig of the smoky, bitter liquid could send me over the edge, and it did. I puked violently into my bucket 5 or 6 times, still only thinking about what a shitty time I was having, and then sat back in my spot, swilled my mouth with water and blew my nose.

It is common for the visions to start after a purge, and as Ru broke out into one of his many beautiful and magical shamanic songs it started POW. With my eyes closed I was suddenly in a greenhouse with light streaming in from all angles. Space and noise were distorted as Ru sang, with tweeting birds and chirping crickets, frogs and insects providing the backing music. Next I saw kaleidoscopes of neon animal faces before my sick bucket became a menagerie with gorillas and monkeys and birds and plants growing everywhere. I suddenly realised how excited I was to write about this when a hippopotamus looked up at me lazily and said “stop thinking about your blog and focus on the animals.”

As I watched a pink flamingo preening himself I briefly panicked and thought “surely this isn’t my spirit animal?” but the flamingo flew away and was replaced by every animal I had ever seen. I went deep into the rainforest where every noise echoed through the jungle. I joined in and made a few noises of my own: drips and drops of water and then out of nowhere a “KAW” thinking I was a bird, which drew giggles from the other participants.

I found myself in the taxidermy shop on Essex Road in London where I bonded with the big stuffed giraffe that has been in there for years. I felt his pride and frustration as I connected with him.

As my body went into convulsions I felt the spirit of ayahuasca was inside me, giving me energy. When Ru came over to check I was ok he spoke to me as a lion. I giggled as he turned into a hummingbird hawk-moth, then a baboon, and as he played the xylophone beautifully in my visions he was a fly, beating down left-right-left-right on the instrument with his big, bulbous eyes.

Then I was a frog being rescued from the pool in our Hamptons house, before finding myself in a garden populated by all the family dogs from over the years who are no longer with us: Billy, Louis, Rufus, Amber and Baxter; all smiling, wagging their tails and turning over to be tickled before going into their own doggy dreams.

Very briefly I was Indiana Jones, Andy was the BFG, Jackie (not even present) was a mermaid and Hasina was a tree, but mostly it was just me and the animals. Whenever we got carried away Ru said “tranquilo” to calm us down. While there is no dialogue allowed with anyone other than the shaman, Andy, Hannah and I were clearly bouncing off each other’s trips as the laughter at times became uncontrollable. Each of us was given a special time with the shaman called ‘Limpieza’ where we were cleansed and asked what we needed help with. In the height of my high I didn’t really know what I wanted but asked for help in finding my spirit animal. Ru said “maybe you won’t choose one, but all of the animals” as he presented me with a turquoise pendant necklace.

I had been waiting for him all night and then he came – the white tiger – but instead of Pieter the cuddly toy I saw a white version of Tony the Tiger (the Frosties mascot) which started a wonderful period of white tiger faces peeking out at me from behind leaves and branches, smiling and laughing with me. In my head I was saying “come and find me, come and get me” but it was at that point that I realised I didn’t love one animal, I loved all the animals, even the ugly ones as I smiled at a rat. During this epiphany Ru came over, hugged me and, as he does for all participants, gave me my new nickname: Tarzan. It was too perfect and I burst into joyous fits of laughter.

Ru called the ceremony to a close but the journey continued as we were still full of ayahuasca. Gurglings, rumblings and painful wind in the stomach were uncomfortable and I needed food. I ate an apple followed by an unpeeled kiwi. We were finally allowed to talk to each other and it was hilarious. Mine was the most lighthearted and fluffy journey but all of us had incredible experiences with very different outcomes.

Andy took a trip on the love train. Starting with the members of his own family his vision took him around the room and outside the house where he fired love thunderbolts from his wrists like Spider-Man.

Hasina spoke to the goddess in their own new language and was told to draw a series of symbols which she has since been trying to decipher.

symbols.jpg

Farid purged the pain and suffering of all humanity, feeling an overwhelming urge to save the planet.

It took Justin the whole ceremony, and 5 cups of ayahuasca, to let her in; only after everyone else had left the room did he finally cast his inhibitions aside, purge and see visions of his own, immediately taking on the persona of a cat before being called upstairs by the real life house cat Fauve who was sat, purring, on his bed.

What do these different journeys say about us as people? Only Ayahuasca knows, but it is clear from our first ceremony that ultimately she gives each person what they want and need, not necessarily in that order.

After hearing various horror stories my first experience of the medicine was magical, beautiful and beyond my wildest imagination. How the next two journeys unfold, and whether I touch on anything deeper and darker in my inner psyche, is yet to be seen.


Next stop: Ayahuasca Part II

What is The Gump Method

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Day 29 – Forest Bathing

Words of the day: 

Phonophobia: a fear or aversion to loud sounds

Shinrin-yoku: the Japanese art of “forest bathing”

Shunrin-yoku: the art of forest bathing while shunemployed


After 10 years in London I had accepted the noise of the city: like people living next to a busy railway track who stop hearing the trains you get used to it.

I moved to New York in late 2015 and the volume went from 7 to 10. The buzz and energy of New York are a big part of what makes it special but there is no escape hatch when you’ve had enough. You can get anything you want in downtown Manhattan, unless you want outdoor quiet time which is guaranteed only by leaving the city.

I was sad to leave New York after 14 months but happy to leave behind the noise. Living on 19th street, one block away from a fire station, I had a specific issue with the unnecessarily loud and genuinely frightening FDNY fire trucks. Words like ‘beep’ and ‘toot’ are totally inadequate to describe their booming devil horns which assaulted not just the ears but the whole body and soul. I realise they were saving lives and I was just trying to sleep but I developed a genuine phonophobia from the incessant horn abuse.

A German friend who I spent time with in New York (hi again Luki) was, at the time, working on a really interesting project called the Sonic Movement. With growing numbers of noiseless vehicles, for safety reasons European regulations now mandate that new electric cars sold in the EU must emit noise by 2019.

Rather than the unimaginative replication of existing combustion engine noises proposed by the regulators, the Sonic Movement identified this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make our motorways and city streets sound more pleasant.

What if, instead of screeching brakes and roaring engines, electric cars sounded like classical music? Instead of toots and beeps and FDNY death honks, horns could replicate birdsong. Yes, my two examples are totally impractical but there must be a happy medium.


With all this emotional and aural baggage I approached the Forest of Fontainebleau on day 29, about 40 minutes south of Paris, for a solo walk in the wilderness on a Monday. I took a fold-up paper map and deliberately left my headphones at home – just me, my map, and the sounds of the forest. I didn’t have a loin cloth handy but packed my speedos just in case.

packing for the forest

I had planned to switch off my phone for the day but as I entered the woods I realised how dependent I had become on the little computer in my pocket. How will I know how far I’ve walked? How will I take photos? What if I get really lost? I put it in airplane mode and resolved to use it only for emergencies (and photos and poetry recitations).

Marching deeper into the deserted forest I realised it was the first time I had done something like this, totally alone, and took pleasure in just wandering along, observing and listening. I was also in search of a suitable location for my first attempt at ‘forest bathing.’

The Japanese love a good tree and when they’re not celebrating the cherry blossoms during hanami you may find them in the woods enjoying a spot of shinrin-yoku. This essentially involves ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ and is regarded as a form of preventive healthcare.

I identified a small clearing under some oak trees and lay down for 15 minutes looking up at the canopy. I can honestly say I have never felt so relaxed. A couple of aeroplanes passing at 30,000 feet provided an amusing contrast as I lay silently among the leaves. As insects buzzed past and acorns dropped around me I had once again found my perfect paradise.

This time lapse video captured my view (extra point if you can spot the plane):

The woods weren’t completely deserted, but in 6 hours of walking and shinrin-yoku I had seen only two men, one lady of the forest and three dogs. After enjoying my own company for hours on end my interactions with these strangers were a little awkward, especially when I realised one of them was working.

As I calmly walked through the trees, enjoying the silence, I remembered the first line of the prose poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann which was on the wall at home when I was growing up:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. 

I was never encouraged to read the poem – it just hung there – but over time it has come to mean a lot to me. It is a beautiful collection of words offering gentle guidance on how to live life. As I had no music to distract me and a lot of walking to do I decided to learn it.

Finding a lovely spot for afternoon tea on one of Fontainebleau’s many formations of huge boulders I set up my recording studio and gave it a go. The gap after the word ‘silence’ was deliberate, but all other dramatic pauses were just me trying to remember the words.

From the noises of London and New York to the silence of Fontainebleau I am making an effort to go more placidly; my day alone in the forest was very special and I believe that all my big city friends would benefit from a little more silence, shinrin-yoku and maybe even some boulder-top poetry recital.


Next stop: Ayahuasca (Béziers, South of France)

What is The Gump Method

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trees and boulders

Day 27 – Poorly Paris

It was great to catch up with friends in Paris, one of my favourite cities, but after 24 hours I got the feeling that it’s a little unwell.

The 20 minute walk from Gare de Bercy up to Gare de Lyon is not the Champs-Élysée but it was a grim welcome. Dingy and dirty, there was an aggressive tension in the air along with 2 or 3 different varieties of weed as I walked through a dimly lit park.

In the station I sat down to listen to a couple of old guys taking turns to play beautiful pieces on the grand piano until they were surrounded by a swarm of youngish teenagers who elbowed them off the stool. It was nothing too malicious – the kids were just showing off – but as the old men trudged away there was a sense of resigned indifference from the disappointed audience.

Parisian waiters are notorious for their attitudes, particularly towards Brits with terrible French accents. It’s usually an entertaining element of the dining experience but, after encountering consistently miserable and rude servers at each of the 7 or 8 bars, restaurants and cafes we went to, it was just unpleasant. Even my French friend got sick of the impatience, unhelpfulness, eye rolls and sighs.

Walking through the streets there was an extremely active police presence, as expected in the current climate. I found it reassuring but the aftershocks of multiple terror attacks are clearly reverberating with Parisians. There was a noticeable lack of buzz, with few people staying out late (even on La Nuit Blanche).

As a British francophile I hate to paint a depressing picture of such an amazing city and must caveat this with the fact that I was only there for 24 hours, spending most of my time in and around the Marais. Having said that, it is clear to me that Paris is suffering from deep political, social and economic malaise; the city will bounce back but it will take time.

While I may not be qualified to give this opinion it is clear that Parisians feel it too. A beautiful, hand-painted piece of satirical street art posted at the entrance to a subway station may be the best way of summing up how many French people currently feel about France:

Marianne Pinnochio


Next stop: Fontainebleau (trees, chateaus and only happy thoughts I promise)

What is The Gump Method

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Day 26 – The Spectrum of Spending

Words of the day:

Parsimony – extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources

Profligacy – reckless extravagance or wastefulness in the use of resources


As a kid I used to love money. Just having it, looking at it, saving it and watching the coffers rise. My Britannia Building Society Young Savers Account booklet paints a picture of financial discipline and restraint: an opening investment of £20 was gradually bolstered with deposits of anything from £10 to £75 (after a bumper Christmas haul in 1992) and not a single withdrawal in the first 5 years. I saved so much at Natwest that I got the whole family of piggy banks.

Natwest Piggy Banks

Was this love of money my natural state or was it something taught? I believe the latter, and that most people’s attitudes towards money change over time. Things that we learn can be unlearned and I’m currently in a process of unlearning. Or maybe I’m learning.

In support of this nascent theory I present Exhibit A: Stephanie Jones. My sister Steph was always a ‘get it, spend it’ kind of a kid – clothes, makeup and magazines would cause her to shell out cash. What’s the point of having money if you don’t use it to buy a Take That pencil case and a massive poster of Jason Orange breakdancing? (She was actually more of a Mark Owen girl but whatevs).

take that

As an adult Steph still spends eye-watering amounts on clothes and shoes but lives well within her means, saves and is far more financially controlled than Exhibit B: her big brother (me). I’m not sure exactly when the switcharoo happened but after saving everything as a kid I developed an ability as an adult to spend spend spend.

In Britain you don’t need to have money to spend it, but fortunately I did. I was earning a decent salary but smashing most of it away on poor value-for-money purchases – usually extravagant holidays and stag dos all over the world. I had an amazing time and have no regrets (apart from that one time in Hong Kong, oh and Miami, and I try not to think about Vegas) but recently decided that a change was necessary.

While I have always appreciated the value of money my approach to saving and spending has clearly changed over time; I’ve travelled from parsimony to profligacy – one extreme of the spending spectrum to the other – and I’m currently trying to settle somewhere in the middle.

It was in this spirit of enlightenment that I approached booking my current trip to France. Using my remaining airmiles was not good value so would it be the expensive, last minute Eurostar train or the cheap but gloomy bus from London to Paris?

I hate long bus journeys so that was a non-starter. With a little help from a friend (hi Marits) I settled on a perfect compromise, buying a Eurostar ticket for £50 (full price £170) on a Facebook resale group. I then smugly told everyone how clever I was.

My 8am Saturday journey was perfect, forcing me to behave on the Friday night and getting me to Paris by 11am to hang out with friends and do some touristy shizz.

Then late last night I saw a sign at a petrol station saying  “Old style £1 coins must be exchanged before 15 October when they cease to be legal tender.” Rushing home I emptied my (Natwest) piggy bank, found 53 old style pound coins and put them in a freezer bag in preparation for an early morning spending spree. The banks wouldn’t be open yet but, consistent with my new approach, I was not sacrificing a hard-earned £53.

It’s tough getting up early when you’re shunemployed, and I snoozed the alarm at 6.30am. No bother, we still have plenty of time here. On arrival at St Pancras off I went to Neal’s Yard to buy a gift, then Calvin Klein for 2 pairs of boxers, then Joe and the Juice for a healthy start to the day. As I approached the Eurostar terminal with £3 left to give to the next homeless person I felt like everything was coming together.

You know where this is going – the check-in had closed, I went to change my ticket and was asked for my passport. She saw my name wasn’t Maxime, scowled at me like a corked wine and offered me a new ticket for £190. Merde.

FLix bus.jpg

As I write this 6 hours into my 8 hour bus journey to Paris (cost: £19) I am feeling surprisingly pleased about the way today is working out. I spent the first two hours deep in conversation with Spencer who has had a far worse day than me so far (a banana exploded in his pocket which took A LOT of sorting out – see Exhibit D).

banana.jpg

I have also chatted to a couple of other lovely people (bus photo credit to Marwa) and noticed a palpable sense of team spirit on this bus. Helping each other out, vacating seats so the tired people can sleep, sharing food. Yes there are better ways to travel but this is fine so let’s be nice and enjoy ourselves.

Every day’s a learning day and I’ve learnt a few lessons already, one being that I should have got the bus in the first place.


Next stop: still Paris 

What is The Gump Method

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Tricky Day Twenty – Oktoberfest Part II

Word of the Day: Oktoberfessionals – professional Oktoberfest revellers


In only my third year at the wiesn I cannot claim to be anything close to professional, but there are some things I have learned. Firstly, there are many different ways to approach Oktoberfest; I’m personally familiar with three main options:

Option 1 is to turn up at 6am, queue to get into one of the unreserved seating tents, get twatted, be sick and (if you win) go home in Munich’s answer to an air ambulance:

IMG-2348Most popular with Brits and antipodeans I flirted with this approach in my first year and quickly moved on.

Option 2 is to reserve a table in one of the tents 7-12 months in advance. This is expensive and only permits a few hours of uninterrupted boozing: the more popular tents typically have three sessions a day and kick people out after each one.

Option 3: turn up mid-afternoon, warm up with a few beers on an outdoor bench before working your way inside for optimal late evening positioning when it gets really fun.

Option 3 is preferred by many locals, and is much easier if you are from Munich. I am lucky enough to know some Oktoberfest professionals (Oktoberfessionals?) meaning a relatively easy route into Schutzen, apparently  the “most Munich” of the tents. Cool kids, wealthy Bavarians and the occasional appearance from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Oktoberfessional may not be a sufficiently grandiose term to describe David and Fincki: covering two generations they are genuine living legends of the wiesn.

Fincki and I have managed to become friends over 5 years despite him speaking no English and me speaking no German, united by our love of beer gardens and Oktoberfest. He likes to comment on my facebook posts with “du narrischer” which roughly translates to “wanker” but is a word of Fincki’s own invention (there are many). Fincki (apparently ordering one beer in the photo below) has been Oktoberfesting since before I was born and is an Option 2 man, but most likely for all three sessions.

IMG-2361

David has spent so much time at Oktoberfest that his hair looks like the frothy part of a beer; his wiesn stamina is unparalleled. The festival lasts between 16-18 days depending on the year and from my research with the locals, 4-6 proper visits is about par. This year I did 4 consecutive days with David, which was heavy going for me, but he had also been on 7 of the previous 12 days. ‘Magic 11’ has been his number for the last three years.

img-2352.jpg

The only way to survive and still enjoy this level of drinking intensity is to respect the rules of the wiesn:

Rule 1: keep eating. My first day at Oktoberfest in 2012 ended with me asleep on the pavement in the foetal position outside my apartment, not knowing how I’d got there. This year, while still fully intoxicated every day, I managed to remember everything, stay out late and not embarrass myself too much, mainly thanks to food. Chicken or pork on arrival, another meal after 3-4 mass (litres) and a snack later on.

Rule 2: trust the beer. On days 3 and 4 this year I sat opposite David and we couldn’t see a route to having a good time. Please, no more. But we drank our beer like good little Bavarian boys, drank some more, and had 2 brilliant days at the festival.

Rule 3: don’t get carried away. Many of you will have seen Pieter the baby white tiger who spent most of Oktoberfest on my shoulder making friends. Pieter is my actual son and was delivered by stork for €16. Five years earlier, after falling in love with two identical twins from Dresden (hi Marie and Anne Sophie) I bought them matching white tigers (obvs). I then got really carried away and bought a whole family of white tigers. It was a lot of fun and fortunately my card maxed out before I was able to acquire the giant one, but the wiesn is expensive enough as it is and spending many, many unnecessary euros on cuddly toys makes the hangover feel so much worse the next day.

Carried away

really carried away

better.jpg

Rule 4: jagermeister is the best medicine. Whenever I was feeling really queasy I delved into the lederhosen for one of the many smuggled-in mini jagermeister bottles, downed it and carried on. The healing power of this stuff may not have been scientifically proven but, trust me, it works.

Rule 5: go with the flow. This is not another beer-related comment – many of the memorable moments at Oktoberfest are totally unexpected and just evolve if you are willing to talk to anyone and end up anywhere. A conversation with a couple of old ladies who it turned out had worked with David’s dad 40 years earlier; drinking with ruddy-cheeked Bavarian men with huge moustaches; after-parties and selfie-stick photos with people we had met that day.

wiesn selfie.jpg

With classical German precision, the wiesn is perfectly designed to ensure that everyone gets a good amount of drunk, makes friends and has an amazing time. If you hadn’t yet got the idea, I like Oktoberfest a lot. I will keep going back year after year and would recommend it to everyone.

Thanks to all my brilliant Munich friends for making me feel so welcome yet again, and a special shout out to Lukas who moved into his girlfriend’s apartment for a whole 5 days to give me my own place to stay – amazing ❤

And don’t forget Rule 6: detox. I am writing this a few days after my return and have now recovered from the shakes, have stopped waking up in cold sweats and have not had a sip of alcohol. David always does a dry month after Oktoberfest. Fincki does not.


NEXT STOP:  HOME (THEN PARIS) 

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More Oktoberfest here: Day Eighteen – Oktoberfest Part I

What is The Gump Method

Day Eighteen – Oktoberfest Part I

Word of the day: Teutonic – characteristic of or relating to the German people

Cocktail of the day: Gin and Teutonic – gin, tonic and bitte lemon 


There is a consistent theme in my approach to travel: do everything as late as possible without it becoming stressful. This applies to booking flights, packing bags and choosing how fine to cut it for an airport arrival. It often annoys other people but I like it.

Weddings and special occasions aside I’m not the kind of person who would arrange a long weekend 9 months in advance, and yet for this year’s Oktoberfest (also known as the wiesn) I booked my flights in January, proudly informing my slightly bemused Munich friends, most of whom were still recovering from their 2016 festival hangovers.

So why did I make an exception for this funny-looking event with its lederhosen and dirndls? Because it is a special occasion. For me, Oktoberfest is an almost perfect combination of features which, independently, might seem a bit strange or awkward but when mixed together under a massive tent in Munich create magic.

Honed for over 200 years the festival has maintained its Bavarian traditions and adopted some new ones. The music is a prime example: each tent has a live band playing a ridiculous mix of songs that could only work at the wiesn. There are traditional German oompah oompah songs focused mainly around drinking beer, catchy German language favourites known as ‘wiesn hits’ including belters like Schatzi schenk mir ein photo (Baby send me a photo) and then seemingly random pop songs from all eras that have become Oktoberfest classics – Sweet Caroline, the Macarena, Sex on Fire, The Cheeky Girls.

Yep, the Cheeky Girls. Based on this playlist excerpt it could be a cheese festival but the thing that unites these tunes is they are great for a singalong. I bloody love a singalong and I’m not the only one: everyone sings and dances along from their perch on one of the long benches and it is brilliant. The atmosphere in the huge Oktoberfest tents towards the end of a night is as good as any club or concert: packed and rowdy but always friendly.

Packed wiesn

Everyone there wants the same things: it’s all about drinking, dancing, making friends and having fun. Four of my favourite things, which is probably why I keep going back 🙂

This sweaty excerpt from my Instagram story (@odjuns) doesn’t do it justice but gives you the general idea. Cinematography takes a back seat after 5 or 6 litres of Bavarian beer.


Most tall blonde men called Oliver wearing lederhosen at Oktoberfest are very German. People in Munich often assume I am a local but, like many before me, I am a tourist who had to learn the hard way to truly understand The Reason For The Wiesn (I came up with this as a name for the next wiesn hit but don’t have any other lyrics or a tune yet).

I first visited Munich for Oktoberfest in 2012; sat in the Käfer tent beer garden with my Australian Teutonophile mate (hi Bobby) I looked around and started to wonder why I had just spent over €200 on my entry level lederhosen and calf warmers (this was the only photo of me fully kitted out that year, because beer).

lederhosen.jpg

Bearded old men, families with young children, tourists, chicken and pretzels. After all the hype I looked at Bobby and said “this isn’t quite what I was expecting.” His response was as Australian as it was Bavarian: “Don’t worry OJ, just drink your beer and wait for the magic to happen.”

I did what I was told and it worked. The weekend was more fun than almost any other before or since; I had to be dragged away (literally) on the Sunday when I refused to leave for the airport. Two days into Oktoberfest 2017 the magic is most definitely happening again.


 

Day Twelve – Life on the Road (and the Floor)

Words of the Day:

Vagabond – a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job

Terpsichorean – of or relating to dancing or the art of dancing


I’m a child of the earth now. One of God’s people, a free-spirited wanderer. I will go where the wind takes me, and wherever I lay my hat is my home. Life On The Road. At present it’s the Kingsland Road as I’m back in Dalston trying to make a miniature cappuccino last a few more sips.

I bought Jack Kerouac’s On the Road a while ago before I’d handed in my notice at work, sub-consciously choosing what a friend later described as “exactly what you need to be reading right now” (he’s American). I started it in Spain but have made limited progress, largely due to my failed HTML coding efforts and Uncle Bill’s majestic speedos.

Kerouac’s novel is largely autobiographical, and as the protagonist hitchhikes his way across America from one dive bar to the next I have a sobering vision of what my future could be. Poor old Jack succumbed to liver cirrhosis aged 47, following through on his promise to drink himself to death.

I will keep an eye out for the signpost to Alcoholism and avoid that turning. Like many of the gap year students I will encounter along the way it would be easy to treat this adventure as an extended Spring Break party trip. Yes I will drink and yes I will party but as I’ve been doing exactly that on almost every holiday for the last 15 years this one needs to be more than just beach based bar-hopping.


Like the rare occasion that I wake up on a Sunday at 8am without a hangover, I feel this moderation could multiply the time I have available to actually do things while I’m away. But what things should I do? In Spain my mum asked me what I hoped to achieve from all this (both the travelling and the blog, for which she now has the address, eek). After giving her the standard Gump Method chat about not really having a plan, I did come up with a few answers:

World peace, obviously. Spiritual enlightenment. The meaning of life.

While these are all admirable objectives I’ve put them on the longer term to do list and have decided on a few, more achievable, skills-based goals:

  1. Get good at Spanish
  2. Get good at surfing and/or kite-surfing
  3. Get good (even better?) at dancing

Yes, I saved the best till last there. I can hear the sniggering. I’m planning to spend time in South America so by dancing I mean the Latino varieties: salsa, rumba, tango etc.. I’m not fussy and don’t really know the difference but I’ve always enjoyed dancing and have never had a lesson (shocking I know).

The film Dirty Dancing has served as a major source of my terpsichorean inspiration (every day’s a learning day). Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey blended various disciplines under the umbrella style ‘Dirty,’ and their iconic final lift has been mimicked all over the world, perhaps never more expertly than by myself and Jackie (aka Montauk Baby Girl) at Halloween last year in New York. Dressed as David Bowie (I was told it was more Ellen DeGeneres) I performed the role of Johnny Castle and MBG of course played Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. If you haven’t seen this video before you really should:

I’m the first to admit that there is room for improvement. No one puts baby girl in a corner but I deposited her solidly on the floor. Fortunately I took the brunt of the damage: MBG recognised the impending disaster and expertly adopted the foetal position as I got underneath her, cushioning her fall and sacrificing my right elbow – not all heroes wear capes. She never even thanked me!

With some immersive training I’m hoping to be less Ellen DeGeneres and more Judge Rinder, who impressed the judges on Strictly Come Dancing with his passion and flamboyance. I wasn’t in the UK for that season of Strictly, but watching this video today I immediately understood why so many people compared me to the man (both visually and stylistically):

One last thought which, again, came from my mum (what would Freud say) in response to the speedos post*. She said that once something is on the internet you can’t take it back.

Correct.

Along with my failed attempt to maim MBG I have now shared my three GGA (Get Good At) goals with the world and expect to be held accountable.

Me llamo Ollie Jones y quiero ser bueno en hablar español (sin usar Google Translate), surf (o kite-surf) y bailar.


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*Facebook took down my link to the speedos post as it broke their community rules. Lolz. You can still see it at Day seven. Speedos and self-reflection


 

Day seven. Speedos and self-reflection

Words of the Day

Speedo: 1. Informal, short for speedometer 2. Trademark, men’s brief, tight, swimming trunks

Misogynist: a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women

Yep, speedos and misogyny. Buckle up people, shit’s about to get real. But let’s ease into it….

So the travel diary without any travel ends here. I’m writing this from the south of Spain, where my mum recently bought a lovely little holiday home in Quesada, on the Costa Blanca. Quesada is not the most authentic of Spanish retreats; there are more Irish pubs than tapas bars and shop owners greet customers in English, but it’s cheap, cheerful and, most importantly for mum, sunny over 300 days of the year.

After a late flight in I woke up to the sounds of cicadas and chainsaws (next door is doing some landscaping work) and rays of Spanish sunshine piercing the blinds. So this is it, the real start of my journey. Will I find my ‘perfect paradise,’ like the day I sat next to Sarah Slater on the bus to the school playing fields?

I emerged from the poolside room, towel in hand, ready to occupy the prime sunbed location next to the olive tree; as I opened the door and made a few steps in pursuit of my prize, the path to the sunbed was blocked by what could only be an apparition – my Uncle Bill in a pair of speedos.

Uncle Bill

The horror I experienced in that moment was not due to the speedos themselves. I love speedos. I rock speedos. Few men are more comfortable in the garment, or so I thought until I saw Uncle Bill. It was the way he wore them, with such panache and insouciance, like they were an old pair of jeans.

Fashion runs deep in the Jones family. Mum can make anything on her sewing machine, my sister Steph is smashing her career at Alexander McQueen, and I….I have some nice shoes. And, like all fashionistas, Uncle Bill knows how to accessorise. The trainers and hat were clearly on point, but you need to look a little closer to see the true genius of the man.

“Is that a piece of toilet roll on your face, Bill?”
“No, Oliver, it’s a nose protector made from toilet roll, it’s what the Australian cricketers wear.”
And that was that.

 

Will the real OJ please stand up put some shorts on 

Uncle Bill is worthy of a dedicated blog post, but for now I want to talk more about speedos. And firstly let me apologise to team America who use the singular form, speedo. In Britain we wear them as a pair.

With my friends I have become almost synonymous with speedos. Rarely would a pool party go by without me stripping off and showing off in my latest number. Whether it was the poolside supermodel catwalk (I can do male and female) or my snakey-hipped, pelvis-thrusting dance moves, I have never been shy to don some budgie-smugglers and act the fool.

So who is this (cute, sexy) man? Speedos, Lycra and fancy dress seem to have become a part of my DNA in recent years. A cursory flick through my Facebook profile pictures would appear to confirm it.

But why is there hardly a single picture of me in normal clothing? Why am I always showing off and who is this persona I have created? Is it the real me or just some social media derivative? Ok, deep breath, this is the ‘buckle up’ part….

Around 18 months ago I found out that a man who had met me only twice had described me as a misogynist.

The emotion I felt upon hearing this was like the opposite of a mic drop. Horrified.

I do not dislike, despise, or have strong prejudices against women. The two friends who told me about it (one male, one female) vigorously defended my honour in the resulting discussion. However, the man in question was not stupid. He knew what it meant and would not have used it without reason. What had I done or said that could make someone use such a sickening and emotive word to describe me?

The answer was twofold, both in the things I had done and the things I had said.

Had I ever objectified women? Honestly, yes.
Had I ever shown a lack of respect towards women? Another yes.

And in fuelling the fire of my party boy, speedos-wearing, ‘superlad’ persona I was telling stories which reinforced this totally unacceptable behaviour.

The first step is admitting you have a problem and, as you can see, I’m working on changing my story. In the 18 months or so since this happened I have been living closer to the values that are most important to me – respect, honesty, humility – but I’m still a work in progress.

My close friends and family know who I am and how I roll, but I have a way to go before the persona, online and offline, catches up.

For now, here’s a picture of me, and an unknown accomplice (hi Kenny), in Las Vegas in 2009, sporting the original banana hammock. I do not intend to stop wearing my speedos, I just hope to be a better person underneath them.

And on that note I’m overdue some pool time….as I didn’t bring my speedos I will be wearing shorts.

image3

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Day four. Man date

Definition of the day: ‘Man date’ – when two straight men do something that would be regarded as a typical dating activity, like going to a film or out for a meal 

I went on my first ‘man date’ today and it was great. A great man date with my new mate. His name is Michael.

I met Michael a few nights ago and was immediately impressed and slightly in awe as he told me his story. I wasn’t shy about letting him know this, and he was (rightly) cautious….who is this guy and what does he want.

Michael is one of a few people I’ve met who I would describe as a force of nature; a super smart, tall, handsome black man, 30 years old with the power to change the world. I’m not even joking. After uni he shunned employment offers from top tier investment banks to work in music, taught himself how to produce, set up his own studio, signed some artists…..fast forward 8 years and he is keeping a low profile (out of choice) but has had some major success and now owns a largely self-sufficient record label, meaning he has the time and money to make a difference by pursuing other projects.

I will always be grateful for the experiences I had at university and the great friends I made, but hearing Michael’s story, and others like it, makes me wonder how many people suffered from a lack of imagination and inadequate career advice upon graduation.

For me the options were consultancy, law, banking, government or a large corporate. Some of my friends have gone on to do great things 10-15 years later in a wide range of industries including those, but it just wasn’t set up for the nonconformists. I do think the world is changing, and that the millennials could end up being our saviours, but I digress….

So this man date. I met Michael on a Tuesday and we agreed to go for lunch on the Friday (very Craig David) to discuss what he was doing and how I might be able to get involved. After a big Thursday night I arrived 20 minutes late (not cool, sorry Michael) and realised I was a little nervous. Lol. It genuinely felt like a first date. On arrival he was sat at the table, menu in hand, waiting patiently. I found myself making small talk, asking lots of questions and trying to be interesting.

lady and the tramp

After getting over my butterflies we had a great conversation. One thing that hit me was the scale of his ambition. He genuinely has a plan to take over the world (in the nicest possible way) whereas I am completely linear in my thinking…..quit job, go travelling, maybe find a new job, maybe something else.

All of my recent ‘big ideas’ usually died after a couple of whiteboard sessions with a mate at work (who was also full of big ideas**) and limited follow up, cos it always just seemed a bit too hard….

Anyway, every day’s a learning day and today was no exception. Michael and I metaphorically swiped right on each other and will be hanging out again soon.

Notes

**The last ‘big idea’ from my mate at work was….(drum roll)….toilet doors that can be opened by foot. Designed to avoid that awkward hygiene conundrum when you’ve washed your hands but know that many before you did not. If anyone wishes to invest in this world-changing idea please comment below and I’ll pass it on.