The Hell of Wellness

It was 7am on no particular day. Time had melted along with everything else. Outside, a gentle old man with a dot of red on his forehead sold loops of yellow and pink flowers to housewives with porridgy, unwrapped midriffs. Aloof, pedigree dogs pranced around palm trees as their owners slumped into half-hearted lunges. Cows looked on derisively. Inside our cool-floored studio, two red bubbles grew silently from my nostrils and popped, misting my yoga mat with blood. I looked up to my teacher for mercy but he merely floated past, gaze averted. Mysore is no place for quitters.


No, apparently Mysore is a place to get some top-grade wellness; to slough off the spiritual and bodily malaise of modern life amongst the endless cowpats, coconut-cutters and straight-up nutters of the spirit world. Every day, westerners flood into this southern Indian city wedged between touristy Kerala and touristy Goa, seeking someone, anyone, to make them whole again. Whatever you think your problem is, you’ll find someone in Mysore who thinks they can fix it. Or give you a new problem that makes you forget about the first one.

garlands crop small

The scented facade of Wellness

The ‘healing’ began immediately, with the most diabolically difficult of all the yoga styles – Ashtanga. If you were put into an Ashtanga class with a blindfold on, you’d think you had been put into a medieval torture chamber, but instead of constant demands for information, the torturer would demand that you breathe more deeply and calmly. If you managed to get the blindfold off, everyone would be smiling like a maniac. Five classes of this were more than enough to make the quadriceps above both knees numb. Not totally numb, but numb enough so I could hammer them with my fists while laughing until bystanders clutched protectively at their kids.

The ‘healing’ continued at a roaring pace after I took my leave from Ashtanga boot camp and signed up for a 4-week intensive at a mysterious school, home to a hidden master wise beyond his years, who could survive on one breath a day. Rumour had it he could fly if he needed to. It was only because he hadn’t needed to yet that he hadn’t. I totally got that and respected his restraint. When I spoke to one of his many disciples, she told me ‘He will give you something.’ If only she’d been more specific, I could have jumped off a building myself and saved myself 600 quid.

‘Any injuries?’ my new Guru purred over his shoulder as he lit candles on the brass God statues in his studio. ‘Just a very sore neck and numb quads. I’m a bit worried about the numbness to be honest.’ He continued lighting his candles for a while, as if I hadn’t said anything. Then without an ounce of pity, and more than a hint of amusement, he whispered over his shoulder: ‘This is the way of the body’, and returned to his candles. Such brazen vagueness. I ate it all up. Now I had a numb little mind to go with my numb little legs.


tuk-tuk guy tweaked and aligned

Even tuk-tuk drivers have Gandalf-levels of wisdom in their eyes


Even for someone so accustomed to shame, day one was a spectacularly shameful ordeal; not unlike a freshly born giraffe trying to walk after being spun on a roundabout. Day two was the same, as were all of the days after it. My ego petulantly stuck out it’s lower lip as my body failed time and time again to achieve the postures and breathing patterns made to look so easy by the little yoga-yoda. After two weeks of no progress, I approached him for advice. Smiling, as he always seemed to be even when his mouth wasn’t, he pointed to an image of several cobras exploding from the sea, with a black-skinned goddess dancing on their heads. ‘No ego,’ he smirked, and returned to his candle-lighting. What kind of mind-fuckery was this?! I took a photo of the black-skinned goddess and hobbled out of the studio. The mental and physical dismantling was well underway.

I’ve always been surprised at how sick and broken people in yoga classes seem to be, given that yoga is supposed to make you healthy and whole. In Mysore, almost everyone was ‘working through something’ that they may or may not have picked up by doing yoga. See, when you get injured in yoga, it’s not acknowledged as such – you write it off as a niggle, or a kink, or an energy blockage. After all, ‘This is the way of the body.’


one-hand man

Looks like he’d gotten an energy blockage on his right hand


This slippery double-talk starts with the teachers. When I tweaked (totally buggered) my lower back trying to touch the ground the wrong way (backwards), my teacher casually wrote it off as ‘resistance, coming from fear,’ and floated off to someone less fearful. I think it’s natural and healthy to be fearful of breaking your back. As did an idolising Japanese girl who’s spirit thankfully broke before her back did, sobbing face-down into her mat as we all pretended that was fine. She ended up leaving Mysore with a disc problem. Another young Israeli man arrived from military service with a knee problem and left with a disc problem to go with it. Another faithful male disciple came expecting miracles and left unable to walk. The last time I saw him he was crawling in grotesque loops around a café floor, numb on over-the-counter valium.

Outside the yoga studio, the bewitching continued. Though not everyone was under the spell. At a lunch one day, an otherwise pristine little girl pointed tearfully at the brown stains on her eyes, picked up from an established Ayurvedic doctor a year earlier. The room visibly frosted at the suggestion that it might be his fault. Late one night, another earnest young woman admitted to letting a healer put his hand inside her vagina to correct some urinary tract issues. It wasn’t for long, she said. Most memorably, a group of ‘Spirit Reiki’ students spoke, without a flicker of incredulity, of how they recruited the energy of disembodied spirits to help with their healings. They couldn’t quite explain how this cross-dimensional cajoling worked.

Back inside the studio, I watched in horror as someone merrily inserted a rubber tube up their nose until it popped out the back of their throat, pulled it forwards out their mouth and start yanking it back and forth, effectively ‘flossing’ their sinuses. As they gagged, I got my first adult nosebleed. Please, someone, anyone, let the healing stop. Wellness is terrifying.

My saviour came in the form of the most reviled animal in the kingdom – a mosquito, carrying the dengue virus. I felt the nip in class, just after I had received my first and only word of encouragement in three weeks. Fever gripped me like I was nine again. I moaned like I was giving birth in slow-motion. I slept-talked to empty rooms even when awake. Ferocious boils gestated then exploded inside my nostrils and ear canals. The Ayurvedic pills I took for the fever gave my hands a stinging, red rash. The Doberman next door would simply not shut the fuck up, no matter how many disembodied spirits I roped in. For five days, I disintegrated. On the sixth day, when I could walk again, I went to the Arabian Sea and tried to piece Humpty back together again. Thankfully, it didn’t work. The black-skinned goddess got her way after all.

‘Paper-thin’ was how a friend described the shadow-self that returned from Mysore. ‘And a shit beard!’, was the chorus from other so-called friends. The beard was shit, granted. At best, I looked like a confused scarecrow. At worst, the Scottish ambassador for ISIS. But behind that beard, in my brain, I was experiencing an unsettling level of serenity. Not the kind of serenity that those gormless, shawl-draped, frantically smiling people pretend to have but rather an overwhelming sense of nothingness – an absence of bad stuff rather than the miraculous appearance of good stuff. It’s not like I’d become a good person or anything, just less of an awful one.

I can’t pretend to understand it. All I know is that after busting my balls on a yoga mat twice a day for about 8 weeks, I began to feel like less of a cock. No longer did I tell the automatic check-out machines at Tesco to fuck off when they asked me to put my bag in the bagging area even though I already had. No more did I wince with jealousy every time a facebook friend posted an achievement, or crumple in on myself when an ex-love interest became married or pregnant or just plain happy. I started holding doors open for people unironically, and even stopped laughing outwardly at very small dogs and their owners.

The veil separating me from the world had become rice-paper-thin. If someone got angry near me, I would start shaking and have to lie face-down in an another room. It felt like I could read people’s sadnesses and despairs just by walking past them in the street. Visits to my recently widowed Granny became more of a head-fuck than watching Blair Witch Project alone at a pop-up cinema in a forest. My empathy engines were close to blowing. But just as I could sense all the sadness around me, I was starting to sense this strange new thing called happiness. Or at least I think it was happiness. It didn’t look like the happiness they have in the movies – you know, with the reconciled couple and the dog and the lessons learned and all that nonsence. No, it just felt like relief. Like I’d been holding my breath for 34 years and now I could let it go.



epic banana man

Happiness is walking through heaps of bananas forever



How to be an Alcoholic


One day, not so long ago, I drank so much alcohol that I bled into the toilet. After 5 silent, appalled seconds, I numbly flushed, got on a trans-atlantic plane and ordered a double gin and tonic. And another one. Don’t think I don’t know how strange that behaviour is. To intentionally hurt yourself like that. How does one get to that stage, you might ask. Easy. SO EASY. Let me tell you.

First, be born into a well-off family on a small island reeking of the stench of ale, beer, vodka, whiskey, sambuca, and if you’re really fancy, wine. You may know this strange island as the ‘UK’.

Then, at the age of 11 or so, accept a goblet of some hellish-smelling, amber liquid from your Dad. Take a sip of the apple brandy, then run full-speed to the nearest tap as the fire of hell itself explodes in your mouth, in your throat, in your very soul. Extinguish the fire. Give your Dad a ‘how could you?’ look. Cry a bit. Try to ignore the one cell in your body that cries out for more.

Hold off on the booze until the age of 15, then make up for those lost years with a collection of alcoholic lemonades (you may know of ‘Hooch’. If you don’t, you may know ‘Mike’s Hard Lemonade’), Coke mixed with anything, and if you’re a real hard man – whiskey.

Then, in your adolescent years, quickly build an association between alcohol and sexual success, or at least the prospect of sexual success (I rarely hit the bullseye in my teens and I rarely hit it now – it’s all about potential).

Now, having established this connection, use it to get you through 4 years of excessive drinking at the ale-stained University of Edinburgh. Suitably ill, graduate to the epicentre of world alcohol abuse – the London advertising industry.

Try so hard to break into this world that you never turn down a free drink. Not at lunch, not during work, not after work. Laugh them down, one after the other, praying that someone will give you a job or make your idea into something more real than scribbles on a page. Discover that the more you drink, the more people laugh. Choose to believe that they’re laughing with, not at, you. Choose to ignore the rotting feeling coming from inside.
Get the shots in.

Eventually break into the tequila-soaked world of advertising, then climb high enough on the ladder that you can buy as much alcohol as you want, but drink it in your own flat so no-one really notices except you, and your girlfriend until she’s not there anymore.

As your wallet grows, so mysteriously, does your appetite for alcohol. Employ a new strategy – that of the ‘connoisseur’. Espouse the superiority of this or that drink, this or that liquor. Insist that your friends try it (after you, of course). Create wonderful, crisp vodka martinis with friends until the bottle is empty (they weren’t wonderful, they were just strong). Buy another bottle.

Insist on going to only the finest cocktail bars because there is something that your friend ‘just has to try’. Finish your drink before your friend is halfway through theirs and order another one – after all, there’s a queue building and we don’t want to wait, do we? Comment on the masterful herbal infusions in the cocktail, the ‘echoes of marshmallow’, the delicate fizz on your tongue and the elderflower aftertaste.

Keep drinking.

Then one day, see your own blood in the toilet. Marvel at this crimson offering from your insides. Wonder how it got there, from what part of your insides it bled from. Was it your stomach lining or an organ? Wonder if it will stop.

Then flush the toilet, wash your hands, look at your blood-shot eyes in the mirror, and exhale. Nothing is wrong. Just another step on the journey. No pain, no gain. Collateral damage. War is hell but who wants to be in heaven anyway? All the interesting people are in hell, plus heaven is too close to the sun for Scottish skin.

Such is the ‘nurture’ side of this coin, but what of ‘nature’?

I never knew my biological Dad. My only memory of him is of a bearded man not being allowed to come into the flat when I was about 5. A flash of bristles, a hint of desperation in the eyes and he was gone. As far as I know, I’ve never seen him since. It’s possible that I have of course, but how would I know? Over the years, I have tried to mentally subtract my mother’s face from mine, like a mathematical equation, to get his, but all I see is a beard. Though logically sound, this is a shitty way to figure out how someone looks. Faces aren’t numbers.

Yet I feel like I know him intimately. Just as I have an affinity with all left-handers, or all people who know for certain that mangoes are the best fruit or that Ryan Gosling is now over-exposed, I feel an affinity with alcoholics. Just to be clear – I am not, and never have been, a full-blown alcoholic. But I have glimpsed the depths. I have felt the magnetic pull of hand to bottle too many times for it just to be boredom. I don’t reach for cigarettes in the same way, or the bums of attractive women I don’t know, and I don’t trip up strangers unprovoked, though all these things would bring me great pleasure. No – alcohol’s whisperings are unique. Or were.

6 months after the ‘Crimsonbowlgate’, my eyes are bloodshot once more. Bright red lightning forks jaggedly from the rim to the centre. If I could see the back of my eyes, I’m sure they’d be bloodshot too. I am so congested that I can’t breathe through my nose, and my muscles ache to a depth I can’t fully contemplate. No matter how much water I drink, I piss orange. It’s been like this for 13 days now. Sobriety hurts.

But with the passing of alcohol comes the arrival of this strange new thing – the whole rest of life. See, when you’re not crawling around your flat/hostel, with a headache as powerful as the big bang itself, you can actually do things. Things other than facebooking or watching masterchef (obviously, I still do those things too – I’m not an asshole).

When you stop drinking, there’s nowhere to hide from yourself. You’re always there, soberly considering yourself. And there’s only so many coffees you can drink and inane cat videos you can lobotomise yourself with before you have to actually do something.

In the 13 days since I broke from the pied-piper’s intoxicating melodies, I’ve managed to, almost without thinking, half-write 4 or 5 pieces, and started teaching yoga, which has yielded the first income I’ve been genuinely proud of since I washed cars as a baby-livered teen. Heck, I think I’ve even started being slightly less of an asshole to my friends and family. That could be an overclaim though. You’d have to ask them.

I still hear her whispers of course. After 15 years of marinating in her starry-eyed liquor, who wouldn’t? Then there’s the fear. The sickening hit of daily panic that perhaps I won’t be able to connect with people without it, that maybe the friendships I’ve made over the years are really only a shared adoration of beer. Then there’s girls. How could I ever sleep with one without being drunk? A terrifying prospect, I’m sure you’ll agree, and an almost intolerable risk. Though I’ve been informed by the internet that this is biologically possible, I remain deeply cycnical. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I have to find a new drug to become addicted to. Any thoughts? I’m told crack is fun but might get in the way of my yoga.

10 Pins in the balloon of travel


Everyone’s always harping on about how great travelling is, how magical, how……’life-affirming’.


These people are either trying to sell you something, they’ve forgotten what it was really like, or they’ve never been. You don’t need to sit in a super-heated tin room on the other side of the planet to know that you’re alive – you just need to stick a pen into your arm. If you scream and blood goes everywhere, then you are, at least for the time being, alive. Much cheaper and more exhilarating than dropping about 12 thousand pounds to sit about in various, unsanitisized dustbowls for a year. And let’s be honest, probably a more original story. So before you make the biggest mistake of your life (unless you already have kids, in which case, may as well just keep making mistakes), I implore you to read the following rules. They might just save your life. And 12 thousand pounds.

Categorically DO NOT go travelling if:

Like the rest of the world, 99% of travellers are tits. However, unlike the rest of the world, they all feel compelled to tell you ‘their story’. But ‘their’ story is actually just one story, and it goes like this:

‘I was somewhere before here, I am going on to this other place, and I have B.O. Cool, huh?’

I haven’t met one person I’d want to have sex with. Which makes what I did with that woman even more shameful. If you are reading this, sorry. I’m usually better than that.

When you travel, even your sweat sweats. If you were to zoom in on the sweat, you’d see it mopping it’s brow and complaining about how sweaty it was. And if you were to zoom in on that, you’d see more sweat coming out of that sweat, and so on, an endless flow of sweat that cannot be stemmed, even by staying perfectly still, in front of a fan, in the shade. Of course, you could just get air-conditioning but it costs a fortune. A fortune you don’t have because you already spent it on the flights, medicine and gear required to be here in the first place.

If there’s one thing that proves how homogenised the world has become, it’s ‘Gangham Style’. Blaring from every hostel, bar, tuk-tuk and bus, it’s enough to make you pick up your pen and stab it into your arm. But you can’t, because if you had to go to hospital you’d probably contract AIDS. And anyway, it’s too hot to pick up a pen. And also, someone stole your pen 3 hostels ago.

White equals money, which establishes an us-and-them dynamic between you and all locals that is tricky to overcome. The only way to get round this is to either:

a) Spend years learning their culture, language and humour in the hope that you’ll eventually blend in,
b) Become poor like them, or:
c) Wear one of their skins, like Hannibal Lecter.

The problem with skin is that it doesn’t have eyes all over it. If it did, it could tell you when it was being lanced by a mosquito’s proboscis, or nipped by an army ant’s ludicrously over-sized mandibles, or if a spider was just being a spider on it. Short of swaddling yourself in a mozzie net and sitting in a brightly-lit corner like a Guantanamo bay guy, there is no way to escape this fate.

You go travelling to leave all that facebook nonsence behind and then when you step off the plane, it’s already waiting for you. Travellers seem to think it is their right to acquire you as a facebook friend, not the by-product of a pre-existing rapport. To date, I have been forced to add 3 people while they watch over my shoulder, only to immediately block them because we had no rapport.

It’s endlessly entertaining to me how many people go on a trip round the world, then complain about having to take a bus, or walk somewhere, or do any kind of getting from one place to the next. That’s almost as dumb as spending 12 thousand pounds on a year-long trip, then writing a list of reasons why you shouldn’t have done it. Idiots, all of them.

They’re not yours, silly. They’re just things you’re holding until someone else decides to have them.

I was on a bus in Nicaragua when a cheery Carribean bloke with a huge smile asked me if I was lonely. I responded with ‘No – I’m not lonely – I’m alone’, and he burst out laughing. Big, deep, belly-laugh laughter that spread like wildfire throughout the bus. People stamped their feet and screamed with mirth, repeating ‘He is single, SINGLE, the IDIOT!!! Doesn’t he know that accomodation costs could be virtually halved if he had a partner!!!’. Even the babies were laughing. But as soon as the laughter reached the driver, we lurched to a stop, all went quiet, and I was hurled from the moving bus into a litter-filled ditch. You thought being single was hard back home. Here, being a transvestite is more relatable.

Waking up with a spider in your mouth


Yesterday, I ate chocolate so rich, so deep, so goddam SEXUAL, it felt like I was eating something’s soul. Only with the best meat have I felt so sated. If only there was an animal made of chocolate around here, I’d gladly dropkick it’s delicious head off for another hit of cacao goodness. Having googled it, I can report with much regret that it is the only animal that doesn’t exist around here.

Central America is a massive zoo without bars, keepers or closing hours. In Honduras, hordes of little kids held up huge, dragon-like iguanas to the windows of our shuttle-bus, making ‘delicious’ gestures with their free hands. Butterflies, of which I am justifiably terrified (irregular flight patterns are not be trusted), fluttered through Guatemalan glades as silver squirrels and monkeys sniggered from on high. Pumas lurk deep in the shadows, waiting for their moment.

In the jungle that surrounds my Nicaraguan Spanish school, there are reportedly 7 types of tarantula. Not 7 tarantulas, but 7 TYPES. Let’s say conservatively that there are ten of each type. That’s 70 of the scuttly little bastards that could very easily climb into my mouth as I sleep. No-one deserves that many tarantulas in their mouth, not even the person who used my toothbrush to unblock a poo-packed toilet in Guatemala. But even more bizarrely, the surrounding countryside is also apparently riddled with transvestites, following the Mayor’s closure of Nicaragua’s premier lakeside transvestite bar after one of them accidentally tried chatting him up. Just think what could end up in your sleeping mouth if that tale were true.

There are also Boa Constrictors (yes, the unfeeling ropes of solid muscle that crush their prey to death), Howler Monkeys that think they are Lions at 4.30 in the morning, rampaging, razor-tusked wild boar and thorned trees patrolled by ranks of kamikaze army ants. Touch one of these trees and you’re pretty much done. Having already seen a lizard being murdered and dismembered by ants one night in El Salvador, I have absolute confidence that they’d be able to finish off a pasty Scotsman without breaking a sweat, or whatever it is ants do instead of sweating.

According to the guy who runs the school, most of the bees around here are ‘Africanised’. Among other things, this means they’re really good at gang-stinging humans to death if they feel threatened. His advice was very clear – if you try and kill one, make sure you finish the job, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself wearing a bee onesie, en route to the hospital. And to think I was scared of the machete-wielding locals. Turns out the smaller the organism, the bigger the problem.

Case in point – the local scorpions, which cockily assume squatter’s rights deep in your rucksack, boots or pants, then go all ‘Ricky Lake’ on you if they feel like they’re being evicted. They won’t kill you, but you’ll probably look like a balloon for a wee while. Then of course, there are the myriad mosquitos, bed bugs and ‘don’t-see-em’s’ – invisible little fuckers who pepper your derma with cluster bombs of itchy napalm for the duration of your trip. Worse, and smaller still, are the kinds of bacteria that only the most twisted God could concoct. These microscopic horrors will magically spirit themselves into your gut and own you from the inside out, despite any medicine you may take. On day 7 of my latest bout of tectonic-plate-shifting-shits, I would have gladly walked naked through a rainforest-full of mozzies to stop the bum-rot. Luckily, just as I was about to do that, the bum Gods showed mercy. El Allah is great indeed. Let’s hope he steps in a bit earlier when I catch THE PLAGUE in South America. That’d make a believer of me, at least until I woke up with a tarantula in my mouthimage

The ‘Guate’ Spa


I recently had the extremely dubious pleasure of my first ‘Gutemalan Spa Experience’, aka ‘Travelling alone, made essentially dumb, deaf, mute and blind by your inability to understand the language of the country you are in’.

So why choose a Guatemalan Spa Experience?

Glad you asked. The G.S.E. works by targetting various emotional and physical weak spots to slowly yet surely chip away at your being until there is nothing left but the soft centre of what you used to call ‘you’.

Sounds amazing. How do I get some of this?

It couldn’t be easier. Just set your alarm for 6AM and relax while you still can. Spiritual, physical and emotional disarray is just round the corner.

How to prepare for your Guatemalan Spa:

1. Spend 32 years not learning Spanish
2. Continue, resolutely, to not learn Spanish for your first 4 weeks in Guatemala.
3. Arrange to go from San Marcos, Lake Atitlan to El Paredon, solo, on public transport.
4. Keep not learning Spanish. It is is vital that you have no way to communicate your suffering to others.
5. You are now ready for your experience!

So, what can I expect?

1. The Guatemalan bum massage.

Hitting various perrineal and buttock-al pressure points, the rock-solid seats of the juddering wreck of a machine they call a ‘chicken bus’ will take you slowly yet surely to the middle of nowhere, both spiritually and geographically. Not to be missed, even if you could.

2. The Guatemalan neck and shoulder massage.

Discreetly delivered by a small child sitting immediately behind you, the Guatemalan neck and shoulder massage acts like an invigorating machine-gun to the soul. Simply by angling the point of his or her elbow forward into your spine, the child utilises the natural vibrations of the bus clattering over pot-holes to create knots that would not be possible with any other Spa Experience. And if you want it harder, simply push back – they relish the chance to work you deeper!

3. The Guatemalan Colonic.

Provided by deceptively innocent-looking young girls, the Guatemalan Colonic comes in the form of 3 deep-fried, semi-circular, corn-based envelopes filled with some kind of vegetable matter, topped with additional shredded, pickled vegetable matter and a concoction of specially formulated germs guaranteed to unlock the mysteries of your digestive tract. If you are lucky, this will happen in transit, but if not, don’t worry – it will happen sooner or later! (This is available as a one-off, walk-up treatment at any Guatemalan street-food stall).

4. The Guatemalan Dog confrontation.

Hand-picked for their infected eyes and festering holes in their head, several vicious dogs will be released towards you from various angles. The ensuing spike of adrenalin coupled with a sense of total vulnerability purifies the mind, cleansing it of such unhelpful emotions like feeling safe, secure, and relaxed.

5. The Silent treatment.

As outlined above, the corner stone of the Guatemalan Spa experience is to feel totally alone – to find yourself you need to be by yourself. If locals try to engage in English, immediately relocate to a more bewildering environment, clutch at your pockets and whine like a child lost in a supermarket.

6. The Guatemalan mis-direction

The cherry on the Guatemalan Spa Experience, this part starts well before the treatment. By simply telling you that a 9-hour trip will take 5 hours, the manager of the hostel you are going to screws you from the start. Learning to square what she told you with what is actually happening gives you an opportunity to face your anger and eventually let it go. By the time you arrive at your destination, rage will have been replaced with meek gratitude, a confident gait with a nervous shuffle, and a functioning digestive system replaced with an inflamed tunnel through which food and water passes unhindered.

Now all you have to do is lie back, not relax and be kept up all night by the sound of pounding surf, the prospect of being ‘Steve Irwine’d’ by unseasonally early stingrays, and tangle yourself in sweat-sodden sheets and mosquito nets with holes big enough for small puppies to get through. And all this for 10 dollars less than it would be to get a private shuttle-bus in half the time.