caffeinated chapter II: Grindsmith

I was told about this “coffee box” behind Harvey Nicols by a friend, and I went around the city looking for it. About 5 minutes down behind Harvey Nicols I saw this down below.   Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset     Cute little thing, isn’t it? I ran eagerly towards it, cause it was raining (you can’t really tell), and I was pretty soaked. You could fit 10 people in there at the most, and everyone has to be all up in your face and breaching your comfort zone. And that’s the whole idea of Grindsmith. Not the bit about intentionally cramping people, but a cost-efficient sized café. And I love it.   Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset     This thing was made out of an abandoned shipping container. From the picture above you can tell there’re really limited seats. The close proximity of everyone sitting in that little box encourages (forces) us to carry conversation with each other, and I kinda liked that idea too. Personally though, I do prefer larger spaces when it comes to drinking coffee. Malaysians reading this post would probably know of Whisk at Empire Shopping Gallery, the guys who were in the coffee business before all the trend-followers and bandwagon jumpers annoyingly set up their respective coffee shops. Whisk has great coffee, but I’ve always found the tiny enclosure a little claustrophobic.   Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset   As usual, the café makes excellent use of wooden furniture and places them in a sort of neat clutter, which I like. Loads of glass, so there’s plenty of light. I’m honestly a little tired of cafés with warm, dim lighting.   Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset   I had myself a cappucino for £2.70, a little on the pricier side for coffee in Manchester. However, it’s a much larger cup of coffee than most of the other cafés, so it’s worth the price. It was a little bit on the sour side; I think I prefer the coffee at Fig + Sparrow’s still. This was still okay though. It’s not nearly as sour as the stuff at North Tea Power, that was just overpowering. I just spent about an hour sitting there and chatting with Luke (the barista and co-founder), and a couple customers. Apparently this café was inspired by another container café in Tokyo, Japan. They funded the Grindsmith project on Kickstarter, and successfully reached their goal of £10,000. The whole thing including the coffee machines and electricity costed them about £25,000. That’s under MYR150,000. It’s pretty damn affordable, I’d say.

 

I’m just gonna fill up some space with pictures of the café.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset IMG_3284     I love that they have siphons; it reminds me of a Japanese café I worked at back in Malaysia. That café back home used only siphons to make their coffee (it’s a very Japanese thing). Their Japanese blend of Sumiyaki coffee was great.   Overall, I enjoyed the coffee and the place, and I’m coming back with some coffee junkies to earn these guys some money.   Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset     Grindsmith, Greengate Square, M3 5AS Mon-Sat 7.30am-7.00pm Sun 9.00am-5.00pm Follow them on Twitter.

caffeinated chapter I: Fig + Sparrow

Yet again I introduce another category in my blog: Caffeinated. With the amount of time I have left in Manchester, I’ll have just about enough time to blog about every single café in this city, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. We’ll start off today with my favourite spot for coffee, called Fig + Sparrow on Oldham Street.

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I personally think the environment in which you drink your coffee is just as important as the quality of what you’re drinking, and these guys nail it perfectly. They make use of wooden furniture and floors to give it your typical, rustic café mood, with a fantastic use of fairy lights (you can see them behind the little wooden chairs and tables in the picture above, they’re pretty in the evening).

I don’t usually eat at cafés, but they’ve got a tasty-looking breakfast and lunch menu, so you guys might want to give their food a try. They also serve a huge range of teas. I haven’t given those a go either, but I’m planning to order some green sencha the next time I’m here.

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While I usually go for a cappucino or a latté (less of the latter these days; my mom converted me to cappucinos), I ordered a flat white today, a favourite of my fellow and more experienced coffee junkie Roshan Kanesan. Click on his name to check his blog out.

The coffee here’s so, so good. And it’s a stronger blend than the average coffee in Malaysia, something that’s commonplace here in Manchester. This flat white was a fucking kick. It almost tasted like espresso with a dash of milk. It tasted amazing, anyway. (Note: To anybody drinking coffee with sugar, do try giving your coffee a try without. I don’t scoff at people who add sugar, but it does kill the flavour of your coffee.)

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The hipster side of me also appreciates how they couldn’t care less about latté art. I never really cared for it, I just want to drink good coffee (they actually can make latté art, they’ve done it for one of my cappucinos before. The swirly things on your foam’s just an added touch, I don’t find it necessary at all).

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I’m currently blogging this from the café itself. You can see the beginnings of the blogpost in the picture above. #BLOGCEPTION. That’s my favourite spot. These days, it’s been sunny and stuff, so I’ve been drinking the stuff outside on those tiny chairs and tables you saw earlier on.

Great coffee, coupled with great classic jazz music, friendly staff, and a pretty café, this checks everything on my “fantastic café” list. I come here at least once a week, and anyone in Manchester should too!

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Fig + Sparrow, 20 Oldham St. (It’s a 2 minute walk from Picadilly Gardens)

Check out their website here.

They also have a Twitter account.

That’s café #1 on Caffeinated. Next up: Takk Coffee House. Thanks for reading, and keep on drinking!

the perfect fit

All Nick wanted was to get home.

It had been a terrible flight from Manchester to KL; there was a delay, giving him only a 20 minute transit at Dubai, meaning he and a mob of Malaysians and tourists had to sprint, shout and shove their way to the plane bound for KLIA. His guitar case had come in handy, at least. It helped buffet a couple of dismayed passengers who had tried to push past him. Reaching Malaysia, he texted his parents.

“HERE! Fucked up flight. Tell you about it later. Grabbing baggage.” Sent.

A whole hour later, and his bag was still nowhere in sight. Turned out a huge group of passengers from Dubai had a whole load of holy water brought back with them to KL. For more than half an hour, there were no bags; just boxes and boxes of holy water. To make it even better, Nick’s phone had chosen the most fantastic time to run out of battery. His parents probably thought a bomb threat had been announced and he was stuck in immigration. He gritted his teeth and stared at the never-ending conveyer belt of sacred H2O. It’s a free country, thought Nick, it’s a free country. Tolerance is key. Tolerance is key.

At 11.00pm, Nick eventually got hold of his baggage, and a couple hugs and tears and bear hugs from dad later, he was in the back seat of his dad’s new car, waiting for the final part of his journey to end. He felt a hand tighten around his.

He looked up at Ellie beside him. She had insisted on coming to surprise him, when Nick had adamantly told everyone not to waste a 40-minute drive to come see him looking like he just went through an 18-hour flight (which he just did). She had hid behind Nick’s giant of a dad, and grabbed him right after his mom’s turn, giving him little space to breathe.

But he didn’t mind.

For 8 months, he had been waiting to see that cheekily beautiful face in the flesh, instead of a flat, 2-dimensional image on a computer screen. That first hug at the arrival hall was a burst of senses: Wrapping his arms around her petite frame; breathing in the scent of her hair he recognized on his sheets; seeing her pretty eyes tear up in front of him. There was so much physicality to catch up on.

He couldn’t wait to get home.

“What’re you staring at?” Realizing he had been creepily fixing his gaze on her for the whole inner monologue he just had, he blushed and hastily looked away. He could see her smirking teasingly out of the corner of his eyes. Don’t look, he warned himself. You’ll jump on her.

“Nothing. I dunno. You,” he said, leaning back and closing his eyes, letting a huge sigh out. He ran his thumb over each of her fingers. The feeling of their hands touching kept him comfortable and calm. Casting a glance at his parents, and then at Ellie, he mouthed the words ‘I missed you’ at her. She grinned and mouthed back, ‘Ditto’. Eventually, both their smiles faltered and they just looked at each other. There was a physical tension, a longing ache that had been growing ever since he had left for the departure hall back in September. Now he was here, inches away from her, the tension was highly strung like a piano wire. He let his thumb drift slowly up her wrist and forearm, feeling her shiver. Nick knew Ellie felt the ache, too. They wanted to be alone.

They didn’t say a word the entire journey back. Dropping his bags and lazily declaring he’d unpack when he’d finished hibernating, he dragged his legs up to his old room, Ellie following behind him.

He switched on a bedside lamp, bathing the place in a soft, warm light. Mom had obviously cleaned it out that day. Otherwise, everything was just as he had left it 8 months ago.

“This place hasn’t changed at all.” Nick turned around, a little disturbed and mostly impressed at her apparent ability to read his mind. Ellie had just shut the door behind her. They were alone. His lips were suddenly really, really dry.

“Yeah. It didn’t, huh?” said Nick stupidly. She took a few small steps closer.

“Have I changed much?” She was right in front of him now. He was a head taller than Ellie. She’d have to tiptoe to reach his height.

“No,” said Nick, “Well, you got taller.” She smiled playfully at that remark, then made a mock pouty face.

“So I haven’t gotten any prettier since then?” Nick almost laughed at how cute she looked; the effect was so much more amusing face-to-face. Speaking of face-to-face, they were really close now. Intimately close. It’s been 8 months. He was going to fuck this up with the worst kiss ever.

“You can’t improve perfection,” Nick said, not breathing. He felt his hands automatically wrap around her body. She sighed at the contact and reciprocated.

“You people pleaser, you,” she teased. She lightly brushed her lips against Nick’s.

“I haven’t showered,” he said hoarsely. Ellie grinned, her eyes dancing with life and cheek.

“That’ll have to do for now.” And just like that, the tension broke. He firmly pulled her into him and kissed her deeply. And into that intimate contact he tried to pour all of the emotions, the missed things, the longing, the insecurity he had felt 7000 miles away from home. He felt her lightly run her fingers through his hair, tugging softly, and he groaned. He missed all of this. He missed her.

“God, I’ve missed you, Ellie,” muttered Nick, pulling away and guiding her towards his bed. He sat down on the edge, and Ellie proceeded to sit on his lap, cradling his face gently.

“You said that just now.”

“I didn’t actually. Mom and dad were there.”

“Same difference,” she laughed.

“No.” Nick looked at her seriously. “It’s not the same. Like how we talked over Skype. And now.” His gaze softened, and he nuzzled his head into her chest.

“I’ve missed you.” Smiling slightly, Ellie stroked the back of his head, then tilted it up, making eye contact.

“I miss you more.” He saw her eyes glaze over with love and want and everything else, and they kissed again, hard. Nick slowly slipped his hands under her top and lightly caressed her bare sides and back, the smooth skin he had longed for so much, pulling her close against his torso. He heard her moan gently into his mouth from the sensation of his rough, callused fingers on her soft body, and he laid her down on the bed.

______________

Hours later into the night, they just laid together, basking in the physicality of the moment, and the presence of each other’s warm, living bodies, skin on skin. He held her hand, and she was snuggled close to his, her head against his chest. He had remembered the first time of each different contact. They had first held hands when they crossed a road, and Nick had grabbed her hand without thinking about it to lead her to safety. He had wanted to pull away after, but stuck with it. It had been a clumsy grip, and his palms were sweaty with nerves.

The next was at the movies. It was both of their first times at the Platinum cinemas at the Pavilion Shopping Complex. The tickets had cost a bomb, and they were provided with two huge, retractable seats that could morph into beds at the push of a button. The down side was that there was so much space between the seats. But one was big enough to fit both of them, so they squeezed into one in the end, wasting a ticket. Halfway through the movie, she had gently laid her head on his chest, making him go stiff with shock and euphoria. He had awkwardly patted her head, and proceeded to stroke her hair for the rest of the movie.

Two years later, her hand was naturally resting in his, and he had his hand on her head, lightly stroking her hair and teasing her ears. They were huddled comfortable together. It was a perfect fit. And he couldn’t have been happier to have her back beside him.

He took a moment to look at her. Her eyes were closed, and she was breathing deeply. Her soft, brown hair felt amazing under his fingers. She was petite and fit overall, but she had these slightly chubby cheeks she was always insecure about, and he found them to be the cutest things ever. She was so pretty.

His smile dropped as he thought of how much time was left before he had to fly off again. He only had under three months with her. Time would fly so fast… too fast. And they’d have to repeat the painful cycle of a long-distance relationship again. The thought filled him with dread, and he shook his head gently, trying to clear that thought.

“Nick?” She was looking up at him, concern etched on her face. She studied Nick for a moment, then reached out and stroked his head in return.

“Nick, we’ve got a lot of time.” He stared at her. She did it again. How does she do it?

“I know, I know. But, it’s going to go so quickly. Summer’ll be over before we both know it, and I’ll-”

“You’re not looking into perspective, baby.”

“I am, Ellie. Three months here and nine long months there-” She put a finger to Nick’s lips and shook her head slightly.

“Nope, not like that. The next eight months will be your last in England. We’ve got all the time ’til forever after that, Nick.” She smiled sadly. “Eight months away from me compared to the rest of what comes after with me. You could wait those eight months out, couldn’t you?”

Nick looked at her, surprised. She had never said it that way. They had both agreed, long ago, that it’d be awhile before they talked about marriage, and kids, and being old seriously. She finally chose to bring it up. And it filled Nick with the warmest affection for this woman laying beside him. He smiled back and kissed her forehead.

“Yeah. I could wait, Ellie.” She smiled that beautiful smile, the one that struck him down in love for her all over again everytime.

“Good.” She snuggled back on his chest, sighing heavily.

“I love you, Nick.” At that moment Nick stopped fretting, and chose to fully utilize every day he had left with her before their summer ended. To appreciate every single thing about this holiday. Starting with this first night with her: his woman, his life, his future.

“I love you too.” With that, he drifted to sleep with one last thought flowing through his head, that he would forget the next morning, and probably for the rest of summer.

We’re a perfect fit after all, aren’t we?

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Thanks for reading. A friend of mine approached me, and asked me to write a post based on the title “The Perfect Fit”. There’re three of us in this gig, and we’re posting our respective posts consecutively. I decided to go with a love story, because I haven’t written fiction in awhile, and my right brain has lost its six-pack abs. Hope you enjoyed it!

food maker chapter 1: tom yum chicken with basil

Introducing another section of my blog: Food. In Food Maker I’ll introduce recipes, original, from my mom, or anything else that won’t get me sued. I’ll also have a separate section called Food Finder for restaurants, and food that I’m not personally cooking. To start off, I thought I’d write down the recipe for what I just had for dinner an hour ago: Tom yum chicken! A really simple dish with most of your nutrients inside when paired with rice. I add cucumber into mine to get some greens, and an egg for further texture, but those are optional. Here’s a picture to get some drool flowing.

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Serves 3 persons

Ingredients:

  • 1kg of chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1tbsp of tom yum paste
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 1tbsp of palm/granola oil
  • Roughly chopped basil
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Optionals:

  • A cucumber, sliced thinly
  • An egg or two

Instructions:

  1. Heat a pan large enough to fit the chicken, and put in a dash of oil.
  2. Stir-fry the onions until they’re soft. If you included cucumber, put the cucumber slices in now.
  3. Add in the chicken and tom yum paste (you may also marinate the chicken in the paste beforehand). Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir until cooked.
  4. Stir in the chopped basil a minute before you’re done. If you want, crack an egg in now and stir it in, too.
  5. Done.

Extra info:

  • I love chicken thighs, but other parts like chicken breasts work too (for clean eaters), as long as they’re cut into small pieces.
  • You can get tom yum paste from your local supermarkets in Malaysia, and Chinese supermarkets here in the UK.
  • Check out a simple, easy way to finely chop an onion, taught by Gordon Ramsay himself over here.
  • Palm and granola oils are neutral oils; they don’t have any flavour that’ll affect the taste of the dish, so I prefer these. Other oils like olive oil are fine.
  • Roll the basil leaves up like a cigar and chop through the leaves only once. You don’t want to bruise the leaves.
  • For people with wooden cooking tools, to check if the oil’s hot enough, just dip your wooden spatula into the oil. It should bubble gently. Otherwise, just add the onions right before the oil starts to smoke.

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And you’re done! It looks good, it can be presented to look like something that just came out of Amarin or Good Morning Bangkok. Hope this was informative enough for you guys. Do you want a Western or another Asian dish next? I might wanna do curry chicken, or a hokkien soy sauce pork belly dish, which are absolutely fabulous.

Thanks for reading, and have a good meal!

stylecheck chapter 1: layering

I had to keep up with my dare of posting weekly, so here I am! Following my desire to make this blog a helpful one in any way, I think I’ll start featuring recipes (Asian and Western), fashion tips and other stuff, maybe even workouts (although I don’t exactly have the results to lay claim to my advice).

Today I’ll talk about fashion; to be specific, extra layers over your shirt or tees.

Fall and spring are the best weathers to get all dressy: It’s not so cold that you’d have to really ball up into a xiaolongbao, but it’s chilly enough to layer up and get creative with your style. I’ll talk about three specific layers today.

1. Cable Knit Sweaters

These are fantastic modifications of your typical plain, chunky sweater. The detailing of the cables on the sweater give it a classier look, and they’re usually pretty thick, so they’ll keep you warm for sure. Cable knits are pretty versatile, too; you can wear them over a t-shirt, or add a smart casual feel to your look by putting it over your shirt. The usual rule is if the collar of the sweater’s rather wide, you don’t put it over a shirt, as it can look a little sloppy and weird. I’ll give you two examples of both looks:

Cable knit sweater from Zara

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Cable knit sweater from Jack Wills

2. Cardigans

Cardigans are basically lightweight sweaters with buttons, and (usually) a lower V-neck. These are, again, very flexible for dressing up and dressing down. Their thinner material gives you more space to add other layers without looking too balled up, too. There’re a couple ways to wear a cardigan. A shirt paired with a cardigan never goes wrong. For a casual look, drape a low-necked cardigan over a plain t-shirt or a polo. UNIQLO has a fantastic collection of cardigans for good prices, so there.

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Cardigan from UNIQLO

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Cardigan from Fred Perry

3. Sweatshirts

Sweatshirts dwell somewhere in between thin merino wool sweaters and knitted sweaters, like a cousin. Usually closely related to streetwear, sweatshirts are almost always casual, but there’re some plain, single-coloured sweatshirts that can pass off as smart-casual. It’s always useful for a trip to the gym, or to dance, or anything sporty. Also a great ensemble for streetwear if you pair it with a varsity jacket, some chinos or jeans and a pair of sneakers.

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Sweatshirt from Zara

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Sweatshirt from Boy London

So those’re my tips for secondary layers. Some honorary mentions include the thin, lightweight sweater and the hoodie, both in two extremes of smart and casual. I don’t particularly fancy those, so I left those out. If you have any questions about layering, let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading, and stay classy!

i’m baaaaack

After my 23918th hiatus, I’m back on blogging. This is partially (mostly) due to the fact that a friend called me out to make weekly updates on my blog, no matter what. Another reason will fit perfectly into what I’m about to blog about right now. You’ll see later.

I don’t have pseudo-Confucian words of wisdom to impart to you, so I’ll just update you on my life right now, the most self-loving way to update a blog. But just to help you get through it, I’ll explain my life in pictures instead. I’ll also give you some tips and fun stuff to check out like music, funny comics and shit.

So recently I’ve decided to pick up my life. Okay, that sounds extreme. I haven’t done a Wolf of Wall Street; I just didn’t feel I was doing any learning and skill-building besides my degree, which made me depressed. I faced a very common identity crisis in a sense; something that’s unfortunately common with us in our 20s. I just lived each day, going to classes, eat, sleep, rave, repeat. I felt like I was just stuck in education at this point in my life.

In rebellion, I decided to put things in motion.

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1. Books

I started reading. A lot. I finished up most of the books I had in my possession, and I went on an Amazon shopping spree to get all these pretty books with pretty covers. The Defining Decade as seen above is a great recommendation from another blogger called Jun Ian Chan. It covers what I mentioned above about the identity crisis in our 20s, and how to make full use of that decade in your life to the max. Totally recommend this book if you need a direction.

Coincidentally, I attended an economics summit at Warwick last week, the WES 2014. One of the speakers, a political coach named Sam Potolicchio told us to read 3 books a week: a biography, a novel, and a random topic you have no idea about. He makes all his clients do that, so there’s no conversation they’ll ever get lost in, cause they’ll know everything. It’s as if everything in my life’s been pointing me towards the direction I’ve been wanting to go to lately, it’s great.

So here’s a challenge to anyone reading this: Read at least 2 books a week for starters, then 3 if you can manage. Think of all that knowledge you’re gaining.

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2. Music

This, is a given. Singing and guitar have been with me for ages. I recently expanded my horizon to two other branches, though. One of them was songwriting. It’s been a great exercise to get my creative juices going, and I’ve got about 6 (nearly complete) songs. I’m seriously considering releasing an EP when I’m back in Malaysia. So that’s awesome.

I have a housemate called James, and he studies music. Really well-versed in piano and percussions. I randomly walked into his room one day and asked him to teach me to play piano, and he said “Okay” instantly. So I’ve been taking piano classes from him in our living room, and that’s been going good too. I know what chords are and how to play them, so it’s a matter of speed. Hopefully someday I’ll be solo-ing like Jamie Cullum and Brian Culbertson. If you like smooth jazz and funk, you really oughta check Brian out, btw, right here.

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3. Exercise

This, is the one thing I constantly procrastinate on the most, second to studying. Working out’s been an on and off experience for me since late 2012. But the positive attitude’s like a snowball effect; getting my ass off in other areas made it easier for me to get geared up to go to gym regularly. Hopefully, I’ll get that damn beach body in time for June. It’s been two months of serious bodybuilding so far, and I’ve gone up from 66 kilos to 68 kilos. Here’s to the next few months before summer!

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And I’ve been sleeping early, since I’ve got so much time, so that’s awesome. :D

Honorable Mentions:

Coffee! Been drinking a lot of coffee, and many different types of them. I just found out that besides a latté, a flat white, etc, the types of coffee branch even further out from there. There’re more than 5 different types of cappucinos!

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Btw, I Love Coffee’s a great place to learn about the stuff you’re drinking. Fun fact: The owner of this blog is the girlfriend of Matthew Inman, otherwise known as The Oatmeal. He draws comics, and he’s great.

Cooking! If you look at the picture of books I have, you’ll see Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking in the background. I’ve been really into it lately. Loads of recipes that look and taste good. I just love presenting a dish in a really attractive way and stuff. And I’ve been sating my homesickness with some traditional Malaysian dishes too. Yeah, I’m doing it purely to attract women.

Dancing! I recently got enlisted to choreograph and lead the LA dance team for our Manchester Malaysian Night, and it’s been a blast choreographing. I’ve never done it before, so it was a pretty fresh new experience. Again, just branching out my skills and knowledge. And I’ve got two projects with my good buddy Li Yon when I’m back in Malaysia that is guaranteed to BLOW YOUR MIND. So stay tuned for that, although you’ll probably forget all about this post by the time you see the videos in summer.

Blogging! Recall the “other reason” I mentioned above? This whole thing was the reason. Since I’m getting my life on the track, I might as well get active with blogging again. Once again, it’s as if Kenny’s message came as precisely the right time to push me to do other stuff, just like the bit about the books. So yes, I’ll try to update weekly. Maybe every Monday? We’ll see. I might run out of shit to write about.

So that’s been my life so far. Been trying to keep things positive. I think it’s been great. Only, and it does get a bit sappy from here, but it’s just been a little lonely. My regular readers are probably rolling their eyeballs. “This fuck’s been single since 2012, and he’s been complaining about loneliness since then on his 10 blogs.” Yeaaaah, I know, guys. Still doesn’t hide the fact it sucks a little. I really just wanna date a girl, and hopefully she’ll like me back, and we’ll do couple-y things together. That’d be so awesome. I have no idea when that’s going to happen, though. It’s been two years.

And with that, I’m done! This has been my favourite blog post so far. Really happy (except the last bit), and refreshing. Follow my blog, I’ll try my best to do those weekly updates. Stay tuned. And get moving.