Week 52: Tattoo

Week 52 of my comfort zone challenge – a tattoo.

Had you have spoken to me in the other 23 years of my life, I honestly would have told you I would never get a tattoo. It’s something I’ve never been interested in. I never really understood why people would want something permanently on them that didn’t really mean anything to them.

Nervously waiting
Nervously waiting

That, however, all changed as I’ve embarked on this year. To be honest, it was only in the last couple of months I warmed to the idea of getting one. You’ll notice at the beginning I set the rule “nothing that effects my personal appearance”. Well here I am sitting here having broken that rule. It took 10 months to decide to break this rule, but the thought of having a permanent reminder of this year, is something I actually wanted.

So having overcome the fear of getting one, the question now was what to get? This was easy… Simply, the quote that inspired this whole blog. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. The positioning of the tattoo was a tricky one in my mind. I wanted to be able to show it off, but I wanted something I could hide at the same time. The arm felt like the most obvious place.

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The getting the tattoo itself was quite a funny experience… In a tattoo parlour where you could barely stand without hitting your head, the experience was rather quick. The tattoo artist shaved my forearm and began to draw on the font. For 15 minutes, it felt like a cat (ironically the artists name was Katja) was scratching me. I actually found the pain really annoying. How people sit there for 5 hours getting tattoos, I’m not sure.

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As quick as that, there it is, this quote that will sit on my forearm for the rest of my life. Safely healed and with a ridiculous shaved patch on my arm, I sit here with a stamp that will forever remind me to live outside my comfort zone. Some people, including myself, laugh at the thought of me having a tattoo, but I’ve grown to like it. It means something to me, which is something I never understood until now.

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Week 51: Busking/TV

Week 51 of my comfort zone challenge.. This week I’m kind of merging two challenges into one. Would you believe it I ran out of weeks in the year?!

First things first… Busking. Having recently performed in a pub with a captive audience and my family, I decided to make things that little bit harder and head to the streets and play.

I haven’t become a superstar player over the course of a few weeks, and this was just as difficult. The challenges with this way of doing things:

1 – It was freezing, I could barely feel my fingers
2 – The wind made it impossible to get any notes out
3 – nobody was interested

The last point was probably the key here, it felt as if you were playing to nobody. Horrible little feeling, really.

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I was joined by the cameras of ITV Meridian News who proceeded to give me an interview. This was quick and easy and I continued to play. I was however, moved on. The gentleman moving me on said it was because it’s private property but I got the feeling he was sick of my voice. Who could blame him? I barely lasted an hour before being moved on.

I do think it’s sad these days buskers get quickly moved on… Feel they are hardly causing any harm, but what do I know?

Despite the interview going out to thousands of people on air, I was barely nervous. I had taken part in another TV interview not long before this, and this seemed to give me a bit of confidence going into it. I have a face for radio and voice that mumbles, so I’m not the ideal candidate for TV… However, I told myself to relax and don’t think of failure.

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The interview for Latest TV was one of the funnier moments of my life. Backed with a green screen and some bright lights on me, I started to feel the spotlight somewhat. I couldn’t quite expect the 15 minutes of interviewing that came up: I didn’t think I would be asked about my love life and certainly didn’t think I’d be taking a selfie live on TV. Mike Mendoza made the whole thing relaxing, even if I did see “Tim Rose” coming up on his auto-queue and praying he remembered my name was Tom. Thankfully, he did. The support over the last few weeks from the media has really been quite humbling and amazing in terms of building up support for my two charities. I am very grateful.

Check out the ITV MERIDAN interview here and watch the Latest TV interview below.

Week 49: Rugby

Week 49 of my comfort zone challenge took me into the muddy, aggressive world of rugby.

Those that know me, will understand that Rugby is so far outside of my comfort zone. I’m a skinny, passive guy that has never even been close to any kind of fight in my life. Granted rugby isn’t a fight but it feels like you need to be up for a fight to be any good at it.

Having been badgered by my friend Berwick to play rugby since back in January when I started these challenges putting it off until December was a good effort by me to not play. However, persistence beat resistance and I couldn’t say no any longer.

Before.....
Before…..

His team, Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club, agreed to host me and promised me game time. I agreed to play, but suggested I only needed about 10-15 minutes’ game time as I’m unfit and will be useless to the team. I might be up for a challenge, but one of my biggest hates in life is losing and letting a team down because of me.

Of course the match I picked to play in was away to Whitstable, a place I’d never even heard of, and seemed to be a pilgrimage from where I live. However, the hour and a half journey gave my team mates the opportunity to tell me the rules, how to tackle, tips and tricks for my 20 minute game time.

We got to the ground, got changed and I started to practice some tackling on guys at jogging pace. It was only after a bit of touch rugby, the manager told me “Tom, you’re starting. Wing.” I originally thought it was a joke, but no, I started and played the full match.

It’s one thing tackling people at jogging pace, but when a guy taller, bigger and faster than you runs at full pace at you, with a palm to aid him and having never tackled someone before, it’s fair to say it’s not so easy. I must have missed about 5/6 tackles through the game and it’s something I never got used too. It goes against everything your mind tells you to through yourself head first into somebody running full speed at you.

The good news is, I played the full 80 minutes, I came out alive, I quite enjoyed it and WE WON by just one point! It says more about the team I was playing with than myself, but I’m glad to say my rugby career has a 100% win record.

After!
After!

The amazing thing of rugby, which I’ve never really appreciated quite enough until I played was the sportsmanship that comes with it. Guys have been in battle for 80 minutes but it’s all left on the pitch. There is a real respect for each other, which is shared over a beer and chili con carne in the bar. Just brilliant.

A massive shout out to the guys at Hastings and Bexhill Rugby Club, who were nothing but accommodating and encouraging the whole time. I’d miss a tackle and they would tell me what I did wrong but and how to improve. An extremely welcoming bunch of guys, who even gave me the man of the match. If you’re interested in playing rugby, you’d do well to find a better group than these.

 

Week 48: Public Speaking

Week 48 of my comfort zone challenge – Public Speaking

This was a fairly unique challenge for me. I have done presentations, quizzes and now even stand up comedy… but this type of public speaking was something very different to me. I was asked by The Seaview Project, to speak at their Christmas concert, about my time sleeping rough. It was something I was more than happy to do but struggled to know where to pitch in my mind.

On the night, it was made ten times harder. The night opened with two service users of Seaview talking about what Seaview meant to them. Both the girls, ended up in tears, along with the 200 people in the audience. It meant everything to them, at the time they didn’t have anything. Seaview gives help when nobody else will.

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I found myself crossing out half my speech through my watery eyes. How can I talk about being homeless, when I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless? I really didn’t want to come across insensitive, so working out what I should and shouldn’t say seconds before speaking really threw me.

I stumbled and mumbled my way through the speech. The words were true and hopefully I came across in the right way. I found it slightly embarrassing being up there compared to the other speakers, who’s issues were so real, meaningful and emotional. My experience is that presenting at work or even stand up comedy was much easier than this. You may find that hard to believe but this his was difficult in a far different way.

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What the evening really did do, was confirm in my mind, that I am raising money for such an amazing charity. Listening to the stories of all the service users, watching the Seaview choir sing, hearing just how much of a family the charity is, made the evening one of the most emotional hours I’ve had. I have no qualms in sharing that a tear fell from my eye for the first time I can remember in a long time. The tear was in sadness of these people’s stories but their thanks to Seaview was heart-warming and inspiring.

I urge you all to read this article on the work Seaview do and if nothing else read Bob’s, head of the Seaview Choir that performed, story. One of many stories to confirm the amazing work of Seaview.

 

Week 47: Comedy

Week 47 of My Comfort Zone Challenge – Stand up Comedy.

A couple of months prior to actually doing this task, I was approached by work colleagues, Tony, saying I should do stand up comedy at one of our corporate events. My instant reaction was “No way, not a chance”. I consider myself to have a good sense of humour, but I don’t see myself as a funny person. Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself for having terrible gags and being proud of them. So going up on stage, and actually trying to make people laugh… I’d given myself no chance.

Stand up

It took a few weeks of peer pressure and convincing until I agreed to do it. Out of all the challenges, this probably took the most convincing. I’m no great public speaker, and adding the ingredient of laughter felt like a recipe for disaster.

Two months on… And here I was, just days away from writing my stand up comedy. Tony, who does lots of after dinner speaking and event hosting, gave me some advice. Find a theme and go with that route. Don’t just reel off one liners, you’ll forget them. Make it unique. I thought to myself, what is more unique than the challenges that I’ve been doing? So writing the jokes wasn’t actually too hard.

The ‘acting’ element of stand up is where I really needed my practice. I’ll be honest, using a presentation may have been cheating a bit, but I needed all the help I could get. In the build up, I have no shame in saying I would practice in my room alone with a hair brush as a microphone. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Thankfully there is no photographic evidence of this.

I’ve always been one to hate roleplaying and practicing things that aren’t in the real situation. So I only practiced this in front of my flat mate once. He gave me some laughs, so I was happy.

I got to the day of the event, and it was borderline torture. All I wanted to do, was get it over with. My hands were sweating. I was pacing up and down the office all morning. People were winding me up about the microphone not working. I was a mess. I even struggled to hold conversation in the hour leading up to it. This was even with two glasses of wine to try and settle the nerves!

Looking on with nerves
Looking on with nerves

I have to say though, once I was up there. It was fine. It all came out… I missed one joke, but the rest was okay. PEOPLE LAUGHED. It may have been from sympathy or humour, I don’t care, they laughed, I’m having it.

I was congratulated many times after doing it, and many people said to me “Well done, I could never do that”. That was me, 12 months ago. It’s an old cliche, but if I can do it, anyone can do it. Fear of failure is what often stops us from succeeding. This, to me, was a success. It felt overcoming a hurdle, doing something I doubted even I could do. I joke that life doesn’t begin at the end of your comfort zone, but challenges like this have amazed me to what one can really do in life.

It is with great pleasure to share that this even, raised just over £600 in donations from the kind people at The Boundary Club for The Seaview Project and Surviving Christmas. I’m still amazed by this, and so grateful for everyone who donated. It takes my total raised up to £1,038 with gift aid! You can still donate here

Have a watch of the set for yourself!

Week 45: Cuban Salsa Dancing

Back to my two left feet we go. Not happy that I’d given dancing a good enough crack, the finance team at work urged me to go Cuban Salsa dancing on the hope they could save my dancing hopes.

I have to say, what great fun this was. I was surprised at just how many people turned up. At a guess, around 50 people turned up, all around my age?! It was quite unbelievable.

What wasn’t unbelievable was just how bad I am at dancing. We started off with a big warm up where we would move side to side to a beat, with the occasional spin, jazz hands, etc. At this point I thought, I can dance! I was giving it a bit of Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Belair at this point. This the kind of dancing, I normally do in the mirror.

Then we split into groups based on Salsa dancing experience. I went in the beginners group, where I got the timely reminder. I CANNOT DANCE. I don’t know what it is, but I just have no dancing ability what so ever. However, the environment being so relaxed and the music made this quite fun. Messing up became hilarious.

Cuban Salsa Dancing

Sofia our teacher was very patient. The key was keeping the steps in threes… One, two, three. (Miss out four for some reason).. five, six, seven. One, two, three. Five, six, seven. One, two, three. Five, six, seven. Then we’d learn all sorts of moves, whilst changing partners every now and again.

As there was one more male in the group, there would be a point where I would be dancing with the air pretending my partner was there. Good comedy value at least. I probably messed up with every partner.. but by the end of it, dare I say it, I was getting the hang of it.

I’d look around the room at the more advanced groups and some of the stuff they were doing was unbelievable. Who knows, maybe I could actually one day get rid of my two left feet!

Week 44: Musical performance (guitar and singing)

Week 44 of my comfort zone challenge saw me live my dream of being a rock and roll star for 3 and a half minutes. Singing and playing guitar in front of a crowd.

This week took me about as far out of my comfort zone as I’ve been this year. I took up playing guitar in my final year of university, encouraged by my house mate Andy, as a way of doing anything other than my dissertation (and probably trying to pick up females). I just watched YouTube videos and tried to learn from there. It quickly became a big part of my life, whilst I can’t play guitar very well, I just love playing it. Music has the power to take you to a different space, forgetting about the troubles of the world, whilst enjoying what you do. Noel Gallagher once said “Music has the power to change lives. It has the capacity to make young people’s life better.” I have to say it really has for me. Before I discovered Oasis, music never really meant anything to me. Since playing the guitar, my appreciation for it, has gone through the roof.

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So here’s the thing. I’ve never played in front of anyone, not even my parents. I hate the thought of trying to sing in front of people, as I really can’t sing. A handful of people may have seen me play guitar, but I don’t think anyone until the day before this performance, would have heard me try and actually sing. When I came up with the idea of this blog, I was at an open mic night and thought that one day I should aspire to do it. It then got me thinking about things outside my comfort zone in general, so for me, singing and playing guitar was a real personal achievement! It may well have been the whole inspiration of this blog.

Alex, my god brother, and Vanessa were kind enough to invite me to play at their gig. I had the pleasure to hear them practice the day before, and they made me feel a million times at easier about performing. I managed to mess up the song I was going to play in practice, something which I replayed a lot in the build up to the performance. I was praying I did not mess this up. Helped with the confidence boost of a couple of beers, once I was on stage beginning to play, I no longer had nerves. I just went with the song, and enjoyed the moment. It was like nobody else was in the room. The adrenaline was circulating through my body and everything just felt natural. It was only after I finished the song, I couldn’t stop my hands shaking.

I felt top of the world, it felt like such a personal achievement. Something I’ve always wanted to try and until now, never had the balls to do. Whilst I don’t plan on it becoming a regular thing, I’ll never forget the day I did it and to top it off, it was all for a good cause.

I have such respect for people that do this regularly. People are so quick to judge performers, when in reality just getting up and singing is a real achievement. Getting over the fear of failure and rejection is something everyone should aspire too in life, and I think it will help people to get over some real hurdles in their life.

I really should thank a few people for making this one happen. Alexander Jasper and Vanessa King, for helping me organise this, letting me play, providing me equipment and Alex for donating his gig fee to my chosen charities. I can’t explain just how grateful I am. Andy Ryan, for making me bring a guitar to University and bringing out my enjoyment of music. My family for coming down to support in case it all went completely wrong, and particularly my dad for letting me ‘borrow’ his guitars over the last two years.

Have a listen to how it went!

TO DONATE PLEASE CLICK HERE

Week 43: Living 7 days on a £10 food/drink shop

This week really took me outside of my comfort zone. The £10 challenge. 7 days living off a £10 shop. That’s roughly £1.40 a day, and about 47p a meal. It’s worth taking into account my usual ‘meal deal’ lunch from tesco normally comes to £3 and I’m normally suspect to a Nando’s that I wouldn’t even be able to cover on my budget.

I always knew I would do this, but just how hard it would be, I wasn’t sure. I foolishly didn’t plan too well before heading to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. It became quickly apparent, fresh meat and veg was off the table. The tinned section was screaming out to me, 20p for a meal, was bang on. Accompanied with eggs, bread, porridge, milk and rice, I had everything I needed to get me through the week. In hindsight, spending 10p on a bag for life, wasn’t my finest moment – but it wouldn’t be one of my challenges if I wasn’t a cretin for part of it.

The list..
The list..

So what was on the menu? My days would consist of a banana and coffee in the morning, egg on toast and porridge for lunch, and whatever I could find in one of my tins and either rice or toast for dinner. Some of it wasn’t pleasant, meatballs in a tin being a real low for me. Some of it, however, was surprisingly edible. Chicken Curry from the tin was actually quite pleasant, believe it or not.

It was do-able and just goes to show, if times were tough, you can really cut back on food. Was it enjoyable? Not really. The lack of breakfast in the morning, really began to affect my mood and apparently my appearance. On the Friday morning, I was asked three times ‘are you okay?’ as I looked I apparently looked ill. Not ideal. One thing very noticeable, was my skin becoming horrendous over the week. Maybe it was the quality of food and lack of vitamins, maybe it was all just the placebo effect and my mind is just playing big tricks on my body, who knows!

What I do know, is that I love my food. I’m not a big eater but I’m fortunate enough to be able to eat mostly what I want and when I want. The say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, well I can concur, you will not make me love you by starving me.

This challenge marks the end of the food challenges. Having thrown up from a hot curry and given up my beloved added sugar, I’m not sure I can put my stomach through it anymore.

The last supper...
The last supper…

I was inspired to do this challenge by a blog post by Christina, where I read that as well 6000 children in the UK are being brought up on £1 a day and over 1, 000, 000 adults and children have received three days’ emergency food and support from Trussell Trust foodbanks in the last 12 months, a 163 percent rise on numbers helped just two years ago. A few of my challenges, have given me an idea what it would be like to live without a home and without food, with this in mind, I’ve decided to dedicate the whole comfort challenge towards causes to help this. I will be hoping to raise money for The Seaview Project and Surviving Christmas, who both do great work with homeless people in East Sussex. Hopefully you’ll be be kind enough to donate.

Spag Bowl
Spag Bowl
Meatballs - HELL
Meatballs – HELL
Beans on toast..
Beans on toast..
Egg on toast
Egg on toast
Chicken Curry
Chicken Curry

Week 33: Festivals

This week I delved into the world of music festivals by visiting the Isle of Wight for Bestival.

4 nights, camping, middle of September. Good fun, no doubt.

A common theme of the weekend is fitting things into small spaces. (No sexual innuendo there). Clothes, tent, chair, blow up bed, pillow, endless amount of toiletries, crates of alcohol, food and all my fancy dress outfits into one manageable amount proved tough. Especially with me being as vain as I am, and deciding to take my whole wardrobe. Then fitting this into a car with three other people is the next challenge. Then fitting this car onto a ferry at 6am on a Thursday morning, with 80 000 other festival goers wanting to go. Then fitting 80 000 festival goers onto the small island of the Isle of Wight. You see where I’m going with this?

The journey was pretty smooth, however, it was only once you arrive at Bestival and you have to take the treck will all your stuff on your back to your camping location that things get hard. My bag, 90L big, was just killing my back. I’m not made out for lugging things from one place to another, especially in wellies.

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Picking a pop up tent, was one of my finest ideas. Chuck it out the bag an it’s up. Honestly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t have these things?

So camp is set up, camping chair in place, sun is kind of out, first beer is opened. All is needed is to dress up as a hippie, in line with the Summer of Love theme, and you’re in the Bestival fantasy land.

Camp
Camp

I have to say, I was quite disappointed of the lineup this year… With rumours of Muse pre-event never coming true, I was left with Chemical Brothers and Mark Ronson as the only acts I wanted to see. What it did mean though, was there was time to see things/try things I’ve never done before. Here’s a quick list of what I managed to fit in at this music festival.

– Touched a bird of prey
– Hugged a Llama
– Had an oil massage
– Sat in a ‘front room’ of 6 people listening to acts I’ve never heard of play.
– Explored an ambient forest
– Found a ‘Secret party’
– Played Mini Golf
– Saw three blokes get married in an inflatable church
– Bought endless amounts of terrible fancy dress

Activities
Activities

It must be said for the four days, I did not have a care in the world. The atmosphere is about as friendly as I have ever been part of. There was not even a hint of any animosity during the weekend, it was the summer of love after all.

Mainstage
Mainstage

Despite my complaints of the lineup also, I had a belter of a time to the acts I saw, ‘The Cuban Brothers’, not Chemical, was a hell of a laugh that stands out in my mind. The Jacksons making you boogie, what’s not to love about that. Singing a long to a man playing piano in a secret party in a forest, what’s not to love about that. More pyrotechnics and lights than you can imagine at The Port, what’s not to love about that. A sofa where a guy just plays acoustic music, what’s not to love about that.

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Okay, the toilets can be pretty rank at times; The rain on the final night was borderline unbearable; Not being able to stand up in my tent drove me mad. Showering with cold water in front of thousands of other campers was painful; Never having phone signal was irritating. But as I walked past the 8ft Love robot and world’s largest disco ball, to treck up the now muddy hill back to the car, I could only think how I didn’t want to return to normality. Maybe the hippie life is for me. (On edit: Having re-intergrated to the real world and office lifestyle, you’ll be pleased to know I haven’t grown my hair and taking the hippie lifestyle).

Week 22: Knit and Natter

Week 22, I was invited to Cheneys Lodge in Seaford, for a Knit and Natter session. Cheneys lodge is block of properties, ran by Sussex Housing and Care to help support senior residents.

The purpose of the session is to help the older residents make friends and interact, so they don’t feel lonely in their later life. I was invited by Rebecca who organises the sessions, and was told the lovely people would teach me to knit. She wasn’t wrong.

Needless to say, I have no knitting experience on my CV. I still require my mother to sew on the spare buttons on my shirts, yet alone knit a scarf. I can natter to be fair, so if in doubt I’ll talk my way out of trouble.

At this week’s session we had Diana, Rita, Sue, Ann, Pete, Rebecca and myself. Nice numbers, as it meant I could at least remember everyone’s name. Diana would be my teacher, a genuinely lovely lady. Armed with my orange wool and two needles I was ready to go. Though I had no idea what to do.

Diana would ‘cast on’ for me, and then proceed to show me what to do. “Through the hole, around, back through, off, repeat”. She showed me a good ten times, and it was one of those moments when I went “yeah, got you” then as soon as she gave me the needles it was like I hadn’t been watching her for the past five minutes. Fortunately, she was very patient (she needed to be) and kept talking me through it. “Through the hole, around, back through, off.”

Slow start
Slow start

Despite these simple instructions, I managed to mess it up a lot. Diana would repair the damage in seconds everytime. I did slowly get the hang of it, only with intense concentration however. I looked around the room, and the others were knitting all sorts of shapes with such ease. I can’t even begin to work out how you knit shapes a line was tough enough.

The nattering part was also fun, Diana asked why I had to do a challenge every week. I explained I didn’t have too (didn’t want her thinking I was on community service or anything like that) but that it was my new years resolution and explained some of the things I had done. She told me some of the things she had done… Sky dives, white water rafting, mountain expeditions, bungee jumping, she actually had done loads of cool things that I’d love to do.

So after an hour, what did I knit? A slug’s scarf. Big enough to keep any slug warm in the winter. Yeah I was terrible, but it’s harder than it looks. They told me I was good (being nice of course).. Fair play to all you knitters out there, this requires a bit of skill and patience, neither of which I’m blessed with!

My Slug Scarf
My Slug Scarf