Peter the Polar Bear

Svalbard, 13th February 1983
Peter was awoken from his deep slumber by an ever so soft tapping, gentle but persistent enough to disturb him, it was coming from outside. At first, it sounded like hail but an altogether rounder sound with a softer impact. After several minutes of trying to ignore it, he gave up—he threw back his salmon patterned duvet, and lept to his paws. The floor was icy cold so he slipped into his fur lined nordic slippers.

Step by step, and with a little apprehension, he made his way to the window … reaching for the curtains, pausing for a moment, his heart beating like an out of control freight train. Then, in one swift movement he trust open the curtains—‘Eeeek!’ he squeaked.

But the wondrous vision before him was not so alarming. It took his black, pebble-like eyes a little while to make sense of things. Before finally, his heart began to flatten out, his whole body surged with utter relief, for what he could see was snow, falling all around, or at least that was what he first thought.

A haze of puzzlement gripped him again, he became dazed by this dream-like visage. He tried to fix his sight on the horizon, which was made more difficult by the amount of falling white stuff. He tried to locate the marshmallow factory at the foot of the mountains but it was barely visible. He could, however, make out a faint golden glow and some grey smoke roughly where it should have been. Suddenly it dawned on Peter, this wintery scene before him was not snow at all. He remembered waking in night to get a glass of chocolate milk, a thunderous crash outside had made him jump, but he just figured it was the artic foxes rummaging is the garbage cans, again, knocking them over. He realised that noise must have been an explosion at the factory, WhiteGoodnessInOneBite Co.

Marshmallows continued to rain down in sheer abundance. Fluff covered the mountains. Neighbours’ cars lay hidden under mounds of white. Peter, sported the cheesiest of grins, he rubbed one paw on his overly rounded belly, it growled in anticipation.

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Lost in the Flood

The golden light of the low setting sun enters the car, slides across the dark interior in thin sweeping motions, bending as it moves from one surface to another, the gradual speed in which it dances before my eyes is mesmerising. Then, as soon as it had appeared—it is gone.

I realise I’ve forgotten something. The taxi is already halfway down Viale delle Nazioni.
“Turn around! Take me back!” I shout impatiently at the driver. Quickly following by, “Grazie,” realising I was in fact a little rude.
“Nessun problema,” he retorts. A short while later, he turns the car around in a car park just off the highway. As we head back the way we had came I notice he’s driving a little quicker than before, maybe he sensed the desperate nature of my voice; maybe he was annoyed by the tone and is driving faster in a rage of anger, at least I won’t miss my flight.
The air is dry and humid all over Verona, the summers here can be pretty unforgiving, so I wind the window down a little but it doesn’t help that much. It makes me regret putting on this suit; Luca liked me in a suit, he would tell me I should wear one more often and not just for work. Most of the time it wasn’t even necessary for work, I would wear it simply to please him, or because he would tell me I looked handsome, and, I was rather fond of the way he pronounced the word handsome in English. I take my jacket off and lift my back from the warm leather of the seat, I feel the moisture on my Oxford shirt as it slowly separates from my sticky skin. I hold my back straight for several seconds, before slowly lowering it back against the leather again. It feels cooler, but it’s not long before the uncomfortable warm stickiness returns.
The driver flicks the radio on, Africa by Toto just kicks in; the opening beat and the volume at which it’s being played sends a shiver through my entire body and gives me goose bumps. My mind wistfully drifts into that of a day dream like state, one where you detach from your body in the present moment, completely caught up in a very vivid memory.

… It’s June 1982, Lake Garda, Luca is relaxing in just his shorts on the jetty, tanning under the intense midday sun. Meanwhile, I wander barefoot on the pebble shore nearby, they are almost too hot to walk on, so I keep my feet wet at the water’s edge. I cast pebble after pebble into the lake, disturbing her still, tranquil waters. Kneeling, with my paws (Luca would always refer to my hands, not as hands but as paws, because polar bears were my favourite animal) As I brush over the smooth, hot pebbles, I catch sight of a peculiar looking stone, no bigger than a large strawberry. It’s heart shaped, a shade of pale bluish grey, with a thin line of white down the right side. I make my way up to the jetty, where I see Luca is asleep. I place the pebble gently on his bronzed torso, just above his belly button, and do it so gently as not to wake him, then I simply wander back the shore to skim some more stones …

It still amazes how they were able to fit the words Kilimanjaro, Olympus and then, finally, Serengeti, all in one line—that is quite a musical feat and it works! I was actually relived the driver chose to put the radio on, it meant I didn’t have to engage in conversation with him; not that my Italian is anywhere near good enough to hold a conversation for that long, but at least I didn’t have to try. I’m embarrassed that I’ve been in Verona for almost five years, yet still do not have a solid grasp of Italian. I got lazy learning it, I only needed the basics to get by. Luca would talk in English around me, of course, but even when we were with friends, if he knew they could speak it, he would try and cajole them into talking in English.
After meandering through the tight streets of central Verona, the cab crosses the Adige river. There is a brief escape from the heat as the cool air sweeps in off the river, however, it’s quickly spoilt by the smell of exhaust fumes from nearby cars.

’Sir, we arrive.’
‘Grazie. Un momento.’
I leap from the car and head for the outer steps to the apartment. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the place so soon. As I get to the door, there it is! The box lay on the window ledge, where I’d put it. I quickly race back down to the taxi.
‘Grazie, grazie’ I tell him, a little out of breath, ’Areoport, per favore.’
He smiles, wryly, and starts for the airport. Maybe he wasn’t in a rage after all, just a little frustrated with my indecisiveness.
By now he has changed the radio station, some overly dramatic Italian opera is blaring out, and at a volume that seems loader then before.
I open the box, it contains just two items. The first is a birthday card from Luca, the first one he bought me. On the front is a picture of a polar bear in a red and blue scarf, he holds in his right paw, a red balloon, while a single present lay beside him on the floor. I begin to read the message inside: ‘My gentle George, how I have enjoyed each and every moment with you. How I look forward to exciting future with you, my boy. I hope to make a special day for my English polar bear. Yours now and forever, Luca xxxxx.’
I wipe tears away from my watery eyes. It makes me contemplate my decision to leave for the briefest of moments, however, deep down, I know it’s the right thing to do. It had been five months since I got that life-changing phone call. I can still hear the words uttered by the hospital receptionist, I hear them all the time but mostly in my nightmares: ‘Luca has been involved in an accident … ’ She didn’t have to tell me what came next, I already knew.
I reach into the box and pull out the last item, the heart shaped pebble. And as I hold it in my hand, a column of light brushes over it, and then there is just empty darkness.

Emotional Short Story Writing

So, it’s perfectly normal to write a 1,000 word short story and then, when you read it back in one go, simply break down and cry like a baby—right? While it contains a few personal things, things I’ve pulled from recent experiences, it’s not an overly personal piece, it just got me. Anyway, it’s finished, and I will post it up on godfoten over the weekend.

In addition, there is something else happening in the world of Mathew, but, I cannot divulge until mid-January, unfortunately. All I will say is: after one set-back, I’ve picked myself up and changed focus, slightly. I have learnt it’s best if you always have a backup plan ready, that way, you are never left high and dry if something does go wrong.

Term two at University is over, assignments have been submitted, and exams have been completed. So, on Sunday, I will head back to my hometown for the holidays, spending Christmas with my family; two weeks of catching up, running, reading, writing and plenty of coffee.

Happy holidays!

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The curious case of Ádám Nagy

Ádám Nagy first hit my radar in November 2015, Hungary were playing Norway in the second leg of a European play-off qualifier at the Groupama Arena, in Budapest. The game finished 2-1 to the Magyars, and this saw them progress into the finals with an agregate score of 3-1. The spotlight in that match was very much on the Norwegians, and in particular a certain Martin Ødegaard; who though, could have predicted that a young 20-year-old Hungarian would have outshone his more recognisable opponent.

Ádám Nagy started that game as a holding midfielder in a Hungarian team that set-up with a well organised 4-1-4-1 formation, while the youngster was expected to disrupt their opponents through his sheer athleticism and natural tackling ability. The positive and forward thinking Nagy hustled and harried the Norwegians, and it was a role he thrived in. And even though it was the away team dominated possession it was the home side who were more clinical and precise in front of goal. While the two-footed Nagy was a composed figure in the middle, often choosing to drive his team forward, his enthusiastic nature even rubbed off on his teammates. That game certainly alerted many clubs to the emerging abilities of this talented young Hungarian.

Those eye-catching performances continued for his club side, Ferencváros, which in turn thrust him onto the world stage at the European Championships of 2016. Hungary exited at the round of 16 stage, but after the tournament Nagy made it onto the list of the top 10 young talents of the competition. Clubs promptly scrambled for his signature … And in July 2016, the Italian club, Bologna, won the race to sign Nagy.

imagesIn his first season with the I Rossoblu, Nagy played a total 28 games in league and cup, a reasonable amount for a promising young player in a top league. However, this season, Nagy has started just one game and made just a single appearance from the bench. In addition, he started bologna’s most recent Coppa Italia match against Cittadella, a 0-3 defeat (prompting me to write this post).

The worry for both fans of Ádám Nagy and for fans of Hungarian football is that he will stagnate and fail to develop his potential if his lack of game time continues. He is under contract with Bologna until June 2021, however, he may be forced to look elsewhere in order to get more first team football. For me, a possible solution for the 22-year-old could be to find a move away from I Rossoblu, at least a temporary one, and in doing so, he would get the regular first team football he not only deserves but needs, and with a club who would be more appreciative of his abilities. Additionally, if he did perform well on-loan, the Italian club would be more willing to grant him more game time on his return. But failing this he could be tempted into a permanent move away from the Serie A club, and to a club who was willing to offer him regular playing time — thus allowing him reach his obvious potential.

Blonde Me’s Canadian Adventure

Crazy names

What’s in a name? We’ve had the bizarrely named Horsey McHorseface, Maythehorsebewithu and Ha Ha Ha, all of which can be particularly troublesome for commentators to call come race day, while the general racing public will be supplied with brief humorous moments upon casting scrutinising eyes at their racecards. But what drives someone to invest so much money on a thoroughbred only to label it with an embarrassingly poor name is beyond me. Thankfully, there seem to be more good names than bad in the world of thoroughbred horse racing.

Exceeding expectations

But what of Blonde Me, good or bad? Who cares, right? She’s a very special mare either way.

The six-year-old has been the star performer for the Andrew Balding stable this season. Her impressive campaign started in May, a full-of-running victory in the Group Two Middleton Stakes at York, beating John Gosden’s The Black Princess by 1 & 1/4 lengths on the Knavesmire. Next came a trip to Glorious Goodwood and the Group One Nassau Stakes. The daughter of Tamayuz was the unfancied 16/1 outsider of the field, and despite this, she still managed to finish a valiant second behind Aiden O’Brien’s star filly Winter—who had racked-up three Group Ones before that Nassau run.

Disappointment (and relief) in France

Andrew Balding then set Blonde Me the task of tackling the Group One Prix Vermeille in Chantilly. However, things didn’t go to plan in France, five furlongs out she stumbled badly, dropping to the rear before being significantly eased by Oisin Murphy, eventually trailing the field home in last place some 90 lengths off the winner, Bateel. Clearly, this was not a true reading of her abilities, but merely a race to forget. And more importantly she was unscathed, making the trip back across the channel returning safely home to Park House Stables in Berkshire.

Canadian beauty 

Next up, Woodbine, Canada—the Grade One Fillies & Mares Turf was the target.

As the bell rang the seven runners burst from their gates, jockey Oisin Murphy quickly switching Blonde Me off settling her nicely towards the rear. She galloped majestically down the back-straight, perspiring an ever-willing attitude, enthused in her own enjoyment. Only on the entrance to the home bend did Murphy ask the Andrew Balding favourite for a little more effort and she seemed to grab at the turf more ferociously which propelled her onward—weaving her way through the field. Once in the home-straight Murphy tried to angle the six-year-old out, however, for the briefest of moments she wanted to duck back in behind the USA mare Kitten’s Roar; Murphy had to reassert her focus, and in the blink of an eye she responded. Now, with the winning post in sight, the final phase of her task could commence. Blonde Me was brave, drawing level and dusting shoulders with Kitten’s Roar, looking the competition directly in the eye before asserting inside the final furlong crossing the line one length ahead of her American rival. And by doing so securing the biggest win of her career.

Blonde Me may face one finally assignment before her well-earned retirement, a trip to Hong Kong has been rumoured.

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Rain, fjords and a difficult decision

Row upon row of whitewashed wooden houses. Long, straight, narrow streets—all of which look just about the same. Metallic grey overcast skies, leaking rain, in ever-constant motion. Navy blue seas, an open expanse fuelling fresh salted wind. Fjords on the horizon, a mesmerising mystic beauty.

Stavanger is pure, but also wet, cold and lonely. Yet for me, despite this, it felt like my second home, like I had lived there before. I had longed for the opportunity to sample life in these Nordic lands ever since I was a young boy upon discovering it was the birthplace of my great grandfather, this igniting my initial interest. While my Mum always said it would happen, someday—and she was right.

My adventure was cut short however, after finding out my English qualifications weren’t recognised by Norwegian Universities. So, my search widened to other European countries, to universities that would give me a chance, and then, finally, the UK. Shortly after that, I was offered a place in Buckingham, and so the decision was made to return to the small island for the duration of my studies (two years) but indefinitely? I’m not so sure…

I spent eight months in south-west Norway’s ‘gateway to the fjords’, I was out walking or running pretty much every day, taking advantage of the beautiful environment on my doorstep. While I made a living teaching English­—freelance—and working in a local restaurant, each providing so many great experiences, while also creating memories that will last me a lifetime.

The tale of the Arctic Fox

Wading through fields of white, cold and alone, I stumble into an arctic fox. At first he is not so friendly, but over time I get to know him, learn to love him, his adventurous nature and even his obscure little quirks. Then one night, a ferocious blizzard rolls in, just for a second I lose sight of his fuzzy little snout and glowing beady eyes – he is gone, maybe forever. In the morning, the sun still rises, it’s calm and quiet, just flat open fields of whiteness again. I start wading, today, I hope to meet a fluffy white polar bear and share a beer, and just maybe, the arctic fox will be with him.

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Luck, pucks and more coffee

What was it Christopher Isherwood once wrote ‘Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck and a good physique…’ — I tend to be rather fond of those sentiments.

The past two weeks have involved many early morning runs, most through some of Buckinghamshire’s beautiful countryside surroundings; I have run through fields of green, along the banks of the River Ouse, and even through an enchanted forest (pictures attached). The thing with running I tend to find, is a routine helps enormously, it’s certainly what helps you stay motivated to run regularly — that is the good physique part covered anyway, but what of the luck?

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Do you make your own luck or does luck find you? Being in a particular place at a particular time, all has intertwined connections with various degrees of luck — a philosophical point of view, maybe, but an interesting interpretation nonetheless.

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This week — apart from the fitness regime — has consisted of: starting a new job (and quiting on the same day), getting the brief for my new media role with MK Lightening, and resolving some accommodation issues. It has been busy and tiring, but I am at least in a better, more comfortable place for my studies going forward.

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I am also trying to find the time to finish the Christopher Isherwood novel Lions and Shadows, it is difficult to find any extra reading time whilst studying, but I am at least making progress. While the coffee is still prevalent too of course — currently I am drinking an Ethiopian fair trade blend.

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New beginnings, outlooks and coffee

Ok, so I’ve threatened to do another small journal type post for a long time now, so here it goes…

My first few weeks have consisted of meeting new people, reading, lectures, tutorials and copious amounts of COFFEE!

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I travelled down from Wirral in North West England to my new home with much excitement and equal amounts of trepidation. However, those feelings dispersed fairly quickly and eased further once I had gained more familiarity with my new surroundings.

The University is located in the scenic market town of Buckingham in the heart of the English countryside, it’s not comparable in any way to Stavanger or Tbilisi, it is something altogether different — an unassuming place nestled in its own serenity. I am thrilled with its proximity to London, I can travel to the centre of the capital in just over one hour, while Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon are all on my to do list.

So far, things are good. Life is interesting again. I’m writing more frequently, learning with each passing day, and observing life/people with a more creative understanding — a crucial characteristic for any writer.

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