A Journey through Time and Space

GOOD/BADFILMCLUB: LA LA LAND

Sunday night I was struck with a feeling I’m not sure I’ve ever had before, I left the cinema and all I wanted to do was turn around, walk straight back in and watch the film from start to finish, all over again.

I’m putting it out there early doors, La La Land will be in my top 5 of 2017 come the end of the year. And I shall tell you for why.

Firstly it’s visually stunning. From the very first frame, the colours jump out at you, the camera dances around our central characters, it frames them beautifully in every single scene. The attention to detail is meticulous, and yet never distracting. The way the colour and light drains out of the scenery consuming the characters as a spotlight makes it feel like a theatre production.

Which makes sense, as it is an unabashed, all singin’ all dancin’ good old fashioned musical. A musical with numbers so bloody catchy I tapped my toe under my desk for the entirety of Monday as I listened to the entire soundtrack no less that 3 times. Granted, I’m a sucka for a musical, but goddam this really hits the nail on the head with the composition of the numbers throughout.

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The story is your classic Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy and Girl fight… Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone play Boy and Girl (Seb and Mia, a Jazz musician and aspiring actress), which is where Director Damien Chazelle has played an absolute blinder. They’re a duo that can do no wrong.

Before we go any further the script was originally going to be Miles Teller and Emma Watson, and I can’t even begin to imagine how different this review would be if that were the case- largely because Emma Watson is fucking insufferable.

So, not only are Stone and Gosling both fantastically talented, they’re both utterly beautiful, and have charisma for days. You can just tell that they’re having a whale of a time working together. Their natural charm oozes from the screen whenever they are together. It allows you to be comfortable in their company. Neither performance ever feels forced, and they have moments together that are laugh out loud funny.

This further cements Gosling as one of the real talents of our time. We’ve seen comic actors transition to drama fairly seamlessly- Robin Williams, Steve Carrell and Hugh Laurie all spring to mind. But to pull off comedy you need a little more. That timing doesn’t come naturally or easily to most. Yet in walks Ryan, for his second role of the year demanding comedic chops (after The Nice Guys, which was criminally overlooked in 2016) and fucking nails it.

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It’s also worth noting that this is only Damien Chazelle’s third movie. What’s equally astounding is that his second feature was Whiplash. It’s clear that La La Land shares the DNA of Whiplash, but is the ugly, anxiety inducing bully of a cousin. His vision in La La Land of combining jazz and musical elements with just a simple, age old, yet somehow modern love story is something truly extraordinary.

I think where this film succeeds over all else is how such a fantastical, magical tale can be made to feel so real. Seb and Mia’s relationship feels real because their portrayal is just so earnest. None more so than their first date to the cinema.

This is perhaps the most sincere representation of what it feels like to be on a date and have butterflies swarming your stomach. It’s absolutely perfect.

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I’ve tried my darndest, but I honestly can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this film. It’s flawless. Even if it does have flaws, I didn’t notice them because I was having too much bloody fun.

The only risk is you’ve now been told it’s terrific from too many people and it might not meet the extraordinarily high expectations. I was worried about exactly this. Even so, La La Land delivered.

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GOOD/BAD FILM CLUB: SUICIDE SQUAD

Here’s the TL;DR – this film lies deep at the bottom of the “BAD FILMS” pile. That’s saved you the next 1000 odd words and a trip to Odeon. It’s  a film flawed in so many ways I’m struggling with where to start. As tribute to the makers of Suicide Squad, I’m going to just write down the first things that pop into my head and hope that some sort of structure comes out. Maybe the pacing will work. Maybe there will be an overarching story. Maybe it will make sense. Maybe you’ll laugh. Maybe you’ll want to leave halfway through? Maybe.

 

I usually start by explaining the plot but I’m struggling a bit with this on account of how little it had going on. Instead, here’s what I think the Warner Bros producers meeting went like:

Our scene opens with two men in an office overlooking a Los Angeles skyline. They’re wearing linen suits in pastel colours, aviators, white loafers, no socks. 

Exec 1: How cool would it be if we took a load of Batman villains and had them make a team? It would be pretty dope having all these psychopaths together just tearing Gotham a new arsehole right?

Exec 2: I can dig it. Firstly we need an assassin with a dark past that hasn’t seen his daughter in years. Who could play that role?

Exec 1: Erm, Will Smith, obviously. Plus, he costs like $40 an hour now because he hasn’t made a decent film since 2006.

Exec 2: Good call. You know who’s smokin’ hot? Margot Robbie.

Exec 1:  YES! She can be the Joker’s girlfriend!

Exec 2: Dude, you totally read my mind. Let’s get someone who’s won an Oscar recently to play the Joker. No one will see that coming. What about Di Caprio? Or McConaughey?

Exec 1: [opening his hands like a name coming up on a big screen]…JARED LETO…

Exec 2: Hoe-lee-shit. Sold. Now lets get an alligator, an Australian, a Japanese chick with a sword annnnnnnnnnnd, let’s make Cara Delevingne a witch or some shit.

Exec 1: Perfect. Where shall we go for lunch?

END SCENE.

I’m pretty sure that’s how it all went down. The writers clearly gave not one single, lonely, shit about the coherence of the story. That’s perhaps what’s so infuriating about this whole 2-hour mess of a movie.

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This does look fun though right?

There are so many cool things you could do on screen with a group of baddies.

  • Have them hunt down the Joker, whilst Harley Quinn battles her own twisted love for him.
  • Have them play a game of cat and mouse with Lex Luthor who’s somehow escaped, at one point they cross paths with the Batman, who knowing they’ve got a job to do lets them get on with it.
  • Have them retrieve some new fangled piece of tech from Wayne Enterprises, each hour that they don’t return with it another member’s neck collar explodes.

Those are literally the first 3 things that came into my head when I got into the car home, and hate to toot my own trumpet, but all of them would have made better movies. So anyone at Warner Bros just HMU, yeah?

There are some attempts at comedy, a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy. Then there are loads of attempts at using a cool soundtrack, kinda like Guardians of the Galaxy. Then there’s a little heartwarming bit that shows the villains are human too, sort of like Guardians of the Galaxy. Do you see where I’m going with this?

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This is an example of an enjoyable movie.

It’s hardly cynical to suggest that the producers have tried to recreate some of the qualities that made Guardians so great. But it falls flat about 90% of the time. Then, at the same time, they’ve felt the need to keep the Nolan-esque dark and grittyness of the DC universe. The result leaves it lying in a no man’s land, confused at what it wants to be, struggling for breathe as the life slowly drains out of it.

Then we have Jared Leto’s Joker. Now, if this was a year 5 play and you saw overacting like this, you’d forgive it. I mean your kid is 11 years old, they don’t know any better. The only reason you’re there is because they’re your own flesh and blood. As a parent it is literally your job to be there, supporting your child, watching this horseshit. The thing is, I just shelled out £9 to see an actor who was paid $7million for his role, rock up and give a performance that is unworthy of a panto at the Wycombe Swan.

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BTEC Drama and Theatre Studies, mate.

I should give some positives.

  • Captain Boomerang was cool, I’d watch more of him, plus I’m kinda digging that choice in facial hair, could do with more boomerangs though.
  • Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was interesting, annoying at times, but I guess that’s sort of the point. Also she has an exceptional bum, truly world class.
  • Will Smith was alright back in a tried-and-tested Will Smith action movie role.
  • Batfleck.
  • Some action set pieces were alright, I guess, although saying that I can’t remember any specifics.
  • Yep, that’s all I got.
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Cpt. Boomerang gets bonus points for being an awful bogan Australian.

I’m struggling to think of another movie I’ve seen in the cinema that I disliked this much. It’s laughably bad. Yet ironically, the only time I audibly laughed was when one of them refers to the rest of the gang as their “family”. Eurghhhh.

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Lucille knows what’s up.

I did a lot of sighing, and making guttural, yucky sounds with my throat. My eyes are physically tired  today from all the rolling they had to do over those 2 hours. Eye rolls, because social convention states I can’t just shout “oh, fuck off” whilst sat in the cinema at 5 minute intervals.

I believe this may go down in infamy with the likes of Batman and Robin or Battlefield Earth, as one of those truly awful movies. In 20 years time I can imagine looking back and laughing and how ludicrous it was that Cara Delevingne was given black body paint and made to writhe around in an electric vortex. That Jared Leto gave a performance as hammier than Tommy Lee Jones did as Twoface. That someone got paid to write this script. And above all that it was all done with a completely straight face.

GOOD/BAD FILM CLUB: GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Let me say before we start, I was very nervous going into this. Ghostbusters is up there with my favourite films, it’s got this wholesome, feel-good, sleepy Sunday afternoon vibe to it, that immediately slaps a shit eating grin across my face for the 90 minute duration. It’s a staple in the T-H household at Christmas, and it introduced me to the one and only Bill Fuckin’ Murray, so rest assured I was anxious over what the remake had in store.

Initially when I read the news of this most Holy of films being revived I screwed my face up into a snarl at my laptop screen. “You can’t remake Ghostbusters” I exclaimed, at precisely no one, “it’s bloody untouchable,” I continued in my fit of self-righteous rage, “it doesn’t put a bloody foot wrong, you wouldn’t bloody remake Pulp Fiction, or Back to the bloody Future would you?”
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Indeed much of the Internet has still yet to get over the fact that intellectual property has been recycled for pretty much as long as people have been telling stories. The most hilarious being the Reddit-dwelling, mouth-breathing neck-beards who refuse to acknowledge that 4 women could possibly be funny on screen. I guess in much the same way that white dudes in the old days used to think that negroes couldn’t possibly be trusted with a vote. Or that you couldn’t possibly dip McNuggets in a strawberry shake and it be delicious. It’s a simply preposterous notion.

That’s by the by because these ladies are funny. In fact half of the cast proved they were funny in 2011’s hit Bridesmaids. Incidentally that falls into the category of movie that Die Hard does: I’ll watch it until completion if I stumble upon it on TV, regardless of what point the film is at, or indeed what time of the night it is.

Back to the point in hand- I was nervous, because the original is a film that truly means something to me, and Paul Feig’s retelling, whilst not without flaws, was funny throughout, and similarly to the original, left me with a big fat grin all over my face from start to finish.

It’s hardly ground breaking in terms of storyline; but it did have enough of its own life and character to stand up by itself. Kirsten Wiig was awesome as per, Melissa McCarthy wasn’t too Melissa McCarthy, which we can all agree is a good thing, whilst their chemistry as a pair was reminiscent of Bridesmaids.

Then we have Kate McKinnon, who was genuinely laugh out loud funny, whilst being maximum babe. And finally Leslie Jones who had a tendency to overact a little, perhaps playing up to the big shouty black lady, a little like Kevin Hart plays the short shouty black guy, but overall was more reserved and funny than I expected.
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It was also self-aware. It took shots at the Internet bozos and the communal aggression that comes with an anonymous voice. It nodded to the original source material in well thought-out ways, the cameos made my face light up and on more than one occasion I literally squeeled with glee. There was also no completely pointless relationship subplot shoehorned in, and some of the gags were the same level of subdued, polished humour that made the original so flawless.
That’s not to say it didn’t have its faults. Some gags were WAY over egged; some were slapped on so thick they’d have the SPF protection to save a ginger kid with eczema; some were written for the lowest common denominator of the Mrs Browns Boys loving public; some lines were I believe stolen directly out of scripts Adam Sandler failed to get to theatres. But overall, pretty good. Not like really good. But, yeah, pretty good.

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Whilst I don’t think this will be added to my Christmas movie list any time soon, I don’t think it deserves nearly the amount of backlash it’s received online. We live in a world where films are remade, and we’ve just got to suck it up and get on with it, and whilst remakes will very rarely surpass their predecessors, if they give us the same warm fuzzy feeling when the credits roll then they’ve done an alright job.

GOOD/BAD FILM CLUB: Batman vs Superman

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It is with no pleasure that this evening I induct Batman vs Superman to the GOOD/BAD FILM CLUB. It was a film I was hyped to see; Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is my all time favourite superhero film, so I had high expectations for his vision of Batman vs Superman, and I was also excited to see what Ben Affleck could bring to the role of an ageing Bruce Wayne. Sadly the film just failed in almost every regard. Let me break it down for ya.

Superman

Fair enough, I have no affinity to Superman. Never read a Superman comic, didn’t even get the whole way through Man of Steel. I just find it really difficult to care about an alien who can walk on the sun and come back entirely unscathed, because what is Batman realistically going to be able to do to him? Well, not much really.

It takes ages to get on with it

Hey, is there a single person out there on the internet that DOESN’T know how Bruce Wayne decided to dress up during the night and beat up bad guys? No? Thought not. So why-oh-why Snyder spent so long explaining this backstory to us I honestly have no idea.

Cut aways and dream sequences-

I was told in year 3 by my then English teacher, Mrs Hogg, that using dream sequences is plain lazy writing- yet here it is being used, in a major motion picture, with almost no relevance to the story. I’ll give you that they contain excellent action sequences, but mainly were a waste of time.

You ain’t no Chip and Yungen-

Serious bruff, what’s the beef? The Bat and the Supe’ have a common enemy, they’re both pretty smart. Batman is literally a detective, so why did it take to act three to work this out and unite? Speaking of which…

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Lex Luther-

God Jesse Eisenburg was garbage in this movie. I watched Zombieland a few weeks ago and he played the semi-autistic fella very well. He played it well in The Social Network too. He was in Now You See Me; a film about Magicians, that I have NOT seen, but educated guess is that he was playing the same thing there. As Lex Luther it was like he’d taken those characters and then had them pretend to be Heath Ledger’s Joker. Utter BTEC standard acting. Get in the bin Jesse.

Amy Adams-

As Lois Lane just single-handedly pushed the role of women in feature films back to this

Movie marketing departments fuck everyone’s shit up, yet again-

I had a huge problem with Jurassic World, because all the juicy bits of the film were fed to us in the trailers before we saw the finished product. Terminator Gynesis gave away a HUGE plot twist in it’s trailer too. And Warner Bros did the same here. The single most exciting thing about this movie was Wonder Woman coming to Batman and Superman’s aid. It could’ve blown audiences minds. It could have left nerds the world over sticky messes in their cinema seats. But nope. We got told about it in the trailer. Anticipated it for the first 2 hours. Watched it happen. Great. 

Why so serious? –

Not all comic book movies have to be wise cracking like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but if your movie is this flawed, please don’t take yourself so seriously. Oh, what? There was a joke? Oh yeah I remember it from the trailer. AND IT HAPPENS AT THE SAME BLOODY TIME AS BLOODY WONDER WOMAN SHOWING UP.

The Justice League set up –

So forced, so lazy, so pointless.

I’m not gonna be completely mean, there were good things too…

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Batman-

Ben Affleck was dope as a big grumpy old Batman. He’s got a great jawline/bumchin for it and his age, combined with size was completely believable. I’d be up for another Affleck outing as the caped crusader.

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Played by Jeremy Irons, (Sidenote- Jeremy once helped my mum on the Hammersmith flyover when her car broke down.) He’s very english, and a bit sassy, and probably a closet homosexual, and excellent. 

Wonder Woman-

1- she’s a complete badass with a sword. 2- she’s smokin’ hot. 3- she’s waaaaaaaaay more intriguing as a character than Superman, or for that matter, Lex Luther. She could’ve made a worthy enemy turned partner for Batman to battle against/with.

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I suspect this will still do well in the Box Office over the coming weeks, although that doesn’t mean it is doing the title Batman vs Superman justice. To have two properties of such high esteem should have been awesome, it should have been gritty and exciting, it should have been the cinema event of the year. But it’s none of those things. It’s like biting into a bacon sandwich to find there’s no butter or ketchup. It’s not offensive, but not particularly enjoyable. You know what would make it better, but you’re not able to remedy the situation, and when it comes to it, you certainly won’t be recommending it to anyone.

I think Sad Affleck sums up a large section of the internet’s thought on the film; a monumental disappointment at what could have been one of the all time great Superhero movies.

Jurassic World.

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I’m putting it out there real quick; I went into Jurassic World with relatively very low expectations. I wasn’t expecting Oscar worthy cinema, and after being fed about 90% of the movies plot from the trailers I was expecting this to succumb to the same fate as the 4th Transformers movie; commercially successful, whilst being utterly terrible. 

I love terrible films though, so it was kind of a win-win. And I won, but not the way I thought. It was actually really surprised with just how much I enjoyed Jurassic world. 

We’ve seen the previous films so you know what happens, and if you haven’t then shame on you. This 4th Jurassic outing follows the same kind of path, only this time instead of T-Rex theres a GM(Genetically-Mutated)-Rex on the loose. Cue Motorbike-ridin’, Indiana-Jones-lookin’, Velociraptor-trainin’ golden boy of the moment Chris Pratt, to save the day.

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It falls into almost every single action movie trope, leaving every scene completely predictable, or rather it would be if you hadn’t seen the trailer, but Pratt pulls most of it off well. The real thing that makes it all so fun is the CGI. 

It’s like really bloody stunning actually. The whole thing is so visually impressive you forgive it for it’s shortcomings in story and actual substance. Like Mad Max, it had me leaving the cinema wishing I hadn’t been so stingey and just gone to see it in 3D, because it was clearly made with 3D cinema goers in mind.

There are a two howling criticisms that I need to address, though:

Firstly, where are all the women?! There are literally four women that speak during the entire 2 hours. Only one of these given any prominent screen time and that’s just to be the damsel in distress, thorn in Pratt’s side and (spoiler) eventually snog him. 

It seemed so lazy to completely omit any other female leads, and particularly strange coming off the back of watching Mad Max: Fury Road, which had an abundance of really excellent women. In fact Mad Max was refreshing in that a typically “blokey” movie had such strong female characters driving the action; whilst Jurassic World as a family film, made it’s absence of women even more noticeable.

The next is a scene in which one of the young boys tells his older brother that their parents are getting a divorce. It happens on a monorail, and the kid cries for a while, then the whole thing is forgotten about and never mentioned again. The whole scene is (I think) supposed to show how the brothers relationship is pretty shitty, while also demonstrating the younger brother is somewhere on the Autism spectrum. But the whole thing felt forced and just plain weird. In fact it was bizarrely reminiscent of this scene in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room

I must also mention that Jake Johnson is (as usual) fantastic and hilarious in his small role, that I can imagine will be amped up considerably in the (inevitable) sequel.

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So to summarise-

Good: CGI, Jake Johnson, fun.

Bad: Cliches galore, lack of worthwhile females, could do with more swearing. 

10 things I learnt about Nepali Cuisine

After nearly a month in Nepal I’ve taken down a few notes on the Nepali cuisine. With an understandably big influence from their Indian neighbors Nepali food is largely well spiced curries, mountains of rice, sweet and spicy and sticky chicken, with all the bones left in at sharp angles, poised to scratch the roof of your mouth. For the most part it’s great, so here’s ten things I learnt about Nepalese food in the past 28 days.

Breakfast

Should never be overlooked! In my teenage years I dabbled with breakfast. The milk early in the morning before I had to run for the bus was often too much for my stomach to handle. As I grew up the necessity to have a belly full of food before a commute or prior to a day running around a restaurant was overwhelming.

In Nepal you’re offered wonderful, although quite heavy pastries, often sold from”German bakeries” although I’m dubious of the label. The problem being it’s mighty difficult to find a decent coffee to pair it with.

Curiously the one good cup of coffee I did have was in Bagnas, here we stayed with Dinesh and spent a good hour roasting beans, grinding those beans by hand and then sifting the results to make our own pot of coffee. I think things just taste better when you’ve put your own sweat and elbow grease into producing them.

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There are a lot of egg options , or something billed as an English breakfast but oh so far from it, but largely the Nepali people have a Dal Bhat (which were coming to) at around 11 o clock.

Dal Bhat

Dal bhat is the equivalent of the vegetarian thali at your local curry house. You get a big pile of rice, a potato and cauliflower curry, wilted spinach or cabbage, some pickled or fermented veg of some kind and a lentil soup. You can also get chicken and mutton varieties, but for the real deal veg is the way forward.

The Nepali have one mid morning and one late afternoon. From everyone I spoke to it gave them a good balance of protein and carbs, kept them very full and nice and warm until their second one of the day. Some liked chapatis on the side others liked poppadoms and curd.

That was another great thing about the Dal Bhat, wherever you go it varies slightly. Some with curried spinach, others with picked onion, some with a spicy tomato relish, others served with coriander and garlic heavy potatoes. And the lentil soup added to your rice adds loads of protein to a meat starved meat lovers belly.

Regardless of the content of the dish there was always one trusty invariable. It will always be served on a prison tray…

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Samosa guy

They’re everywhere, and they’re great. Find a guy with a little cart mounted to his push bike and fresh samosas and pakoras for about 20 cents a piece. Wrapped up in yesterday’s newspaper, or more likely a page from a discarded school exercise book. Again the variation is fantastic, some are blow your head off spicy, while others have the muted flavours of cumin and cloves mingling through soft potato and crunchy garden peas and beans.

Don’t get on a coach journey without a trusty bag of samosas.

Bread

Fan favourite is the chapati, flat breads thrown in a HOT dry pan, Pressed down at the edges when in the pan to give it that little steam pocket in the middle, almost like a pitta bread. It’s a staple, and it’s great.

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If you take a chipatti and calzone it up with some mashed potato, plenty of coriander, cumin, hot curry powder and a bit of garlic you get Aloo Paratha. Fried in a hot buttered pan they’re the Nepali equivalent of a toasty I guess? They’d be fantastic with some halloumi or buffalo mozerella too, and I fully intend on crafting those when I’m home.

Garung bread or Tibetan bread, I’m pretty sure it’s deep friend and comes out like a donut of sorts, light and fluffy inside, a slight crunch on the outside, perfect sprinkled in sugar or dunked in porridge.

We were also lucky enough to stumble upon a little flour mill whilst wandering somewhere between Tolka and Sinuwa. The hydraulics of the river were used to drive the mill to grind the corn into flour. A desolate hut sat above a stream and the pressies do water was being fired out of the side, small plumes of flour billowing from the cracks I the stone. After investigating the Miller, with his face wrapped in a ratty t shirt gave a demonstration. Seeing such primitive techniques and effort involved to create such a basic ingredient for every day cooking is a sure fire way of letting you know how much you take for granted while wandering around Morrisons.

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Trekking

So things change a bit when you start getting up the mountain. Firstly you’re itinerary for the day revolves around when you eat, largely because when you get hungry it’s difficult to comprehend the massive set of stairs in front of you without imagining the Dal Baht waiting for you at the top.

Also you need to make sure you’re fueling the vessel carrying you and your 17kg bag for the next 12km.

The thing is food starts to get expensive, which you can sort of combat with a cheeky wink and the promise to eat two meals at your guesthouse; they tend to knock the price of your room on the head. A free bed in exchange for paying for two meals isn’t so bad.

All the guest houses along the route to Annapurna Base Camp have largely the same menu, catering to Koreans (and oh boyyyyy is there a lot of Koreans hiking around Nepal in January) European tastes (usually 4 variations of Mac and cheese/ spaghetti and red sauce) and traditional Nepali cuisine.

So try as you might it’s rather difficult to get any variation in your diet. Especially when your stomach thinks your throats been cut, and by the time the food arrives you’ve eaten it so quick you can’t actually recall the taste.

My staple became egg veg fried rice for lunch, and mushroom Mach and cheese for dinner. Although we did find a burrito along the way, but it’s just not the same with no meat…

Veggies

Oh yeah, it’s difficult to eat meat when you’re on the mountain. Like, “don’t even bother lookin’ cos you ain’t gonna find it here, pal” difficult. Simply meat is a ball ache to transport, and even if you were to get it to the more remote villages they haven’t got fridges to store it in. Even if they did have fridges to store it in, there’s only power six out of every 24 hours. IF you’re lucky.

So I, Ben Thornton Harwood, the guy who wouldn’t cook an alternative for a veggie if I was on Come Dine With Me, was (largely) vegetarian for the better part of the past month.

And here’s the shocker- it was alright.

I really started to notice the variation in veg from town to town, village to village. I enjoyed how they played with the flavours, and appreciated a good bit of spinach or cauliflower or broccoli. Granted I didn’t really have a choice, but when meat was on the menu I still opted for veg, even if the true reason was I didn’t want to fire out of both ends at 4170m above sea level.

But I enjoyed it, I had a few meat cravings which we sorted with a can of tuna thrown in with a Mac and cheese here and there. Also no stomach ache, which is a massive bonus.

Farming

Many guest houses we stayed at survived on sustenance farming. The guest house just being a source of extra income to support themselves and make use of their spare rooms. I remember sustenance farming being a buzzword in GCSE geography and I’d never really seen it in action.

The first house we stayed at (Sunlight Lodge, Tolka,) we were shown around the back garden/ allotment/ hillside farm by our Didi for the night. Didi means older sister, but is used as a term of endearment for older ladies in general. Our host for the night is exactly what I wanted from an adoptive Nepali grandmother.

She grew cauliflower, cabbage, spuds, broad beans, and this curious little plant sat mingled within the crops, undisturbed. Although from the amount Didi presented to us at dinner time, it was one of her cash crops…

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Tea

Black tea is cheap, milk tea is quite literally a cup of hot milk with a tea bag limply floating with a pale hue of brown surrounding it, mint tea is fairly difficult to cock up, and masala tea is the nectar. Sweet and cinnamony, with a touch of cloves, it can come out with a little bit of spice, and is wonderfully milked in texture. It warms you to your bones, then cuddles the marrow inside.

All of the above require LOTS of sugar, even my walking partner/ mission leader Zak, a tea purist at heart was dumping spoonfuls into it. Partly to make sure you’ve got loads of energy for the walk ahead but also because diabetes tastes hella good in a cup of masala tea.

 

Snickers

I can’t quite emphasis enough just how integral a role Snickers play in your diet while trudging up a mountain. A tasty and quick way to take on board sugar, fat, carbs and protein, the snack sized are perfect as a one bite boost in the afternoon. Full sized a perfect desert. We got told by a Sherpa to break it up and melt it in our porridge, which is like peanut butter and golden syrup mixed and mashed with oaty goodness.

Then there is the encore, the piece de resistance, the mother of gluttony and lead up to the leg wobbling climax of munchie food. The deep fried Snickers.

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Most have tried a deep fried Mars Bar before now, a battered, greasy, sickly mess of a heart attack. Not these. Firstly rolled in sweet crumbs and wrapped in a momo pastry, not unlike a spring roll, then deep fried- the Snickers Roll comes out hot and sometimes smothered in custard, with a deep crunch of pastry and nuts, and a gooey molten caramel and nougat centre.

Bring a spare pair of shorts, and prepare for your dining company to see your vinegar face.

Pizza

Other than my mums lasagne it’s the food that I’ve missed the most. I’ve become a bit obsessed the past few months with all things pizza, it’s become something i want to cook more and more, and search out wherever possible. I blame a large part of this on my trip to Naples earlier on in 2014.

I was told it’s the global food stuff and I’ve had some duff (see:APPAULING) excuses for pizza in my time throughout Asia, but in Pokhara there is a place called Godfather Pizza and it produces fantastic pizzas in a proper wood burning oven. I actually visited two concurrent nights, after I went for a calzone and then realised that was no test, the basic Margarita with just its six ingredients is the test. And it passed that test with flying colours.

It can’t really compete with some of the cool London pizzerias that I’ve gone out of my way to try the past few months. But that being said it’s all produced by a troupe of Nepalese chefs, who I doubt have crossed the border to India, much less made the pilgrimage to Napoli.

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Taling Chan Market

 

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If you happen to be in Bangkok and want some fantastic food, a journey through he city on a boat and a bit of a culture shock head to the Chang Pier in Bangkok. From here you can get a taxi boat for around 200baht (£4) to take you down the river to Taling Chan Pier.

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En route you’ll see Bangkok from a different stand point, the river. It’s a lot less chaotic down there. I mean it’s still pretty chaotic and the turbo charged long tails move like the clappers, but it’s always fantastic to see a city from another point of view.

Along the river you see old factories, tiny jetties crumbling into the water, local families fishing and swimming in the drink, as well as floating vendors coming over to sell you cans of beer and bananas (for a VERY hefty sum, transportation costs on a rowing boat must be astronomical…)

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Either way after 30 minutes or so you’ll arrive at Talingchan market.

It’s not Bangkok’s most famous floating market but it is a wonderfully small community of people selling their produce, most of which seemingly comes straight out of the river in front of you.

There are also tiny vendors selling fresh coconuts, cold cans of soft drinks and of course, the Chang. We sat down and ordered three plates between us, a whole salted bass, HUGE fresh shrimp and a few crabs.

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image12It was terrific to see the produce being cooked up right in front of you, by a tiny Thai lady bobbing around in a boat fitted with a proper charcoal bbq. The bass was beautifully soft, and the salty flesh was kicked off by the green chilli relish on the side. In fact the first bite blew my head off with spice and I learnt to just dip, not dunk and scoop the salsa up after that.

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The shrimp were firm and slightly charred which again really mixed well with the green chilli, while the crab was a mess of dark meat, and broken claws. Tucking straight in with your hands to all of this was a wonderfully primitive way to eat lunch and added to the experience- no frills, no nonsense, no ceremony, just honest food on a paper plate packed with flavour, covered in chilli and washed down with the Chang. A perfect lunch.

Rocktopus

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When you’re in Koh Tao the scuba diving capital of the world you’d frankly be an idiot not to indulge. I’ve done try and fun dives in the past but never attained my open water certificate. My dad is an old school scuba diver taking great pride in the fact that he’s gone down to stupid depths and swam around gravel pits and even the English Channel for a reason only he knows.

Regardless he, with great delight agreed to pay for my open water. There are two options PADI and SSI. Comparibly I was told it’s a lot like Pepsi and Coca cola, not much difference but everyone has their own preference.

With that in mind I opted to go for an SSI course with a company called Rocktopus. It was a near instantaneous decision after the owner of the company, Jay, explained the ins and outs of the course with such enthusiasm, passion and comprehensive knowledge it almost seemed like a waste of time shopping around.

After a classroom and a pool tutorial session I had taken my exam wand was ready for the Thai Gulf. My instructor Eli was a great combination of hard ass and personal tutor for our group of four. It made it easier to learn when you could compare technique with three others in the group- and by the time we hit the open water we were brimming with both excitement and confidence to try out our newly learned skill.

The piece de resistance and the service that really singles Jay and Rocktopus out from a very saturated crowd in Koh Tao is the video that is produced the afternoon following your final dive. The whole Rocktopus team shows up and has beers with the groups who graduated that day to watch a video of what they got up to that afternoon. It was brilliant, funny, and fantastic to relive some of my favourite moments of my trip thus far.

I spoke to Jay afterwards at the bar and said how so many companies in Thailand just don’t get how a little extra bit of service goes such a long way. I could easily have not written a whole post about my experience with Rocktopus but I want to because that is how bloody awesome the service they provide is. A lot of companies in Thailand could learn from that. Shit, a lot of companies in the UK could learn a little bit of customer service and satisfaction from the Rocktopus gang.

I’ll be going out of my way to make sure I drop in again if I’m ever in the neighborhood..

Koh Tao

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This was by far and away my favourite island in Thailand. Perhaps because of the (quite literal) shitty end to Koh Phanang. But also the vibe of the island strikes you immediately as far more mellow, far more laid back. There is a much higher proportion of resorts on Koh Tao, primarily because of the prevalence of scuba diving on the island. It’s the scuba diving capital of the world and it makes sense. I’ll tell you all about it here.

But more than that we sound an amazing hostel to stay in, Spicy Tao is easily the best hostel I stayed in in Thailand. The sense of community there is something I haven’t found since I was in Israel. You’d have no worries leaving your iPad or phone out charging all day or all night in the common area. If you’ve run out of cigarettes there’s someone who can spare a few. You can watch movies on the common deck, or sit and play cards. It’s also the only place we stayed at that gave you free breakfast and coffee before midday, whilst a few times a week the owners put on a massive BBQ with corn and mashed potato and all you can eat wings and ribs. The following morning there was left over chicken so Clyde, one of the workers there, gave me some for a sandwich to take to my diving class.

The rooms are basic but the only time you spend in there is when you’re sleeping. Even when going out of my way to get an early night before a dive I’d end up finding someone really interesting to speak to and the next thing I’m kicking myself because it’s 1 in the morning again.

Anyway if you’re slightly more disciplined than I get up early, hire a moped (I got my pal Zak to hire one and chauffeur me) and get down to Shark Bay with your snorkel. If you swim out about 100/120 metres you’ll be somewhere between 6-8 metres deep. A prime spot for seeing sharks.

After around 20 minutes of swimming in the relatively shallow waters Zak shot off into the distance, his excitement could mean only one thing. I followed as fast as I could muster and sure enough, there he was, a 5 foot long black tip shark.

Seeing a shark in the wild has been an ambition of mine since I became obsessed with pirates at the age of 6, and to see such a majestic, beautiful creature, so fast and streamlined was the most amazing and surreal experience.

Koh Phanang

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To be perfectly honest if I was to go through Thailand again I would avoid Koh Phanang like an Ebola ridden racoon. Generally speaking it’s full of Australian and British holiday goers, who have spent a very long time in the gym and not very long at all choosing their tribal sleeve. When you have to walk down a beach wearing shoes on account of all the broken glass that’s not really what I’m after whilst travelling. But I think, and perhaps very snobbishly of me, that Phanang isn’t a traveller stop off, more the Full Moon party is a box to be ticked when passing through SE.Asia.

And I’m guilty of doing the exact same thing, thinking it would be hilarious to party for 6 days, stay on Haad Rin beach, pay through the nose for a terrible hostel, it’ll be a laugh. It was but it wears thin. And quickly. Our hostel the Jaya Guest House was frankly a slum, at 800 baht a night (around £18), it was far and away the most expensive place I stayed and with a 7 night minimum stay, because it’s a tourist trap and the owners know we have no other option but to tie ourselves in over the new year period.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had one of the best New Years eves I’ve ever had, but it’s more to do with the people I spent it with rather than the location or the music or even the portions of booze being sold. Regardless on the 2nd of January we jumped ship two days early when someone constructed a shit lasagne in the toilet making it actually impossible to have a shower in the room. That was the kind of place we were staying in, and shows the kind of company staying there.