Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
I've got a story for you.
Stag do. Barcelona.
First night of 3.
First night. Always take it easy. Don't go mental. Don't ruin yourself.
Pace ourselves, right lads? Acclimatise. Go steady.
We've been out since 6 pm talking shit and semi-competitively indulging in a wide spectrum of intoxicants.
It's been fun but we're now all showing signs of wear and tear.
Things escalate quickly.
Suddenly, it's 3 am.
We literally (used correctly) fall out of taxis.
Local ne'er do wells surround us, sensing idiots.
In the blink of a hooded eyelid, I've been separated from the rest of the boys on La Rambla.
I'm alone. I'm in a state.
They're in a state (but that's a different story).
Let's say I've been spiked.
Let's say we've all been spiked.
Let's all just say that's what it was.
My Northern stag party are all back at their shared flat, in various states of angst and physical decay. I didn't know where their flat was as I'd arrived separately from London. I had the keys to the Airbnb me and my best mate were staying in but again I didn't know exactly where that was. I'd taken a taxi from the airport to the place and another to meet everyone after dropping off my case. As far as I was concerned it could've been any door on any road in any area.
So, to recap:
It's now 3 am. I'm on my own. I don't know where they are or where I'm staying. I'm off my head.
Memory is a fickle mistress but this is the broken jigsaw puzzle of recollection.
For orientation and help, I check my phone.
It says 1% battery.
Oh. Right. Ok.
Even in my mental confusion, I recognise that as a low number.
Important decision to make. Check the map for the address or try and call the boys.
Back to the phone.
Fuck it, I'll just go back to the Airbnb. This night is over.
I know it's in this area. It's down a side street off the main drag. But which one?
I've got a pretty good homing beacon when off my head so I start walking.
A journey in the dark.
My memory of that night definitely needs defragmenting but I recall some street savvy survival thinking kicking in.
I'm alone in a dodgy part of Barcelona for tourists. At a dodgy time. In a dodgy state. I'm vulnerable.
I need to walk with purpose. I need to not be an easy target.
So I stride off. Away from the epicentre and the prozzies and the hustlers and the drug dealers and the drunken tourists and pissed off locals.
I start walking.
This 'plan' works for a (very) short while, but soon enough I realise I just don't know where I am.
I check my pockets. I have a big key. I have a dead phone. I don't have any money on me – not sure where that went – but I couldn't use it to get anywhere anyway as I don't know the destination.
So I continue to walk.
And keep walking.
I head toward a rough idea of where I think the Airbnb might be.
I have some fractured bits of data for a flat I don't really recall, on a street I don't remember.
I use maps on bus shelters as potential clues.
I have no urge to ask someone for help. My Spanish is limited to 'sorry' and 'I don't speak Spanish' but even if that wasn't the case, I don't feel confident I have the mental or emotional stability to look another living creature in the eye.
I plough on relentlessly. Ever forward. Afraid if I stop I'll pass out.
Hours must have gone by because the dark night begins to break into dawn and early morning.
Still, I walk.
No food. No money. No water.
So dry mouthed.
Desperation, frustration and fear creep over me.
I exist in the dwindling hope that every corner I take will lead to an epiphany of recognition.
But it doesn't.
It's summer, so I'm in shorts and a t-shirt. It's thankfully not that cold but I'd worn new trainers and now my heel is bleeding.
I want to cry.
Landmarks and streets start to repeat. I'm sure that dude offered me drugs the last time I sauntered past. I'm sure I've been past that McDonalds.
I'm so tired.
I do cry a bit.
Pathetic childish tantrum tears that go nowhere.
Angry at myself.
Just want my bed. I want to go home.
It's now a brand new day in Barcelona and normal people are going normally about their normal day. Normal workers and normal tourists.
I must look FANTASTIC.
I've been walking for hours but I'm not that far from where I started. Memories of places I've stayed in Barcelona before nudge their way into my mind so, bereft of any better ideas, I head toward where I think they are. Even though I know that's not where I'm staying now. But they might at least offer a hint of sanity.
They do not.
Comedy size key.
I'm really really struggling now.
I've taken to trying the key in my pocket in ANY lock of any door.
It's part idiocy and part maths. The key fits one door in Barcelona. I might as well start the process of elimination.
Unsurprisingly it doesn't work.
It's also an almost comedy size key. Like something you'd use to open a castle gate or portcullis with. It's stupid.
A thought flashes through my mind that it might actually be a fake key. A key-shaped chocolate wrapped in foil. I'm so hungry I'd take that deal at the moment.
But it's not chocolate. It's metal. So that idea is dead in the water.
I'm potentially mildly delusional.
I'm so tired, thirsty, tired and also thirsty.
I've definitely broken my heel a bit. And almost certainly my mind.
It's now definitely a new day. Normal people are definitely now out doing normal things. They've taken back the streets. I'm an outsider.
I'm not having a fun time.
Blood dries on my achilles.
Whatever was in me, be it foreign or domestic, has now left. I'm a husk.
there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman Kristian Bromley, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.
As a fog starts to briefly lift, an idea comes to mind. I could try an internet cafe. Once a fantastic business model. Now a relic. But they still have them. And I'm outside one. But I have no money.
I approach the guy working there and, no doubt lucidly and eruditely, explain my predicament.
He takes pity on me and lets me use a computer for free. I log in to emails and find an address. I check maps. It's a few streets away. I don't know if I walked past it during my walkabout but it doesn't matter. I'm nearly rescued.
A mini wave of expectant euphoria washes over me.
I thank the cafe worker as if he's a doctor who's just successfully removed my brain tumour and head toward 'home'.
I find it. Take out the oversized key and click. The door opens. I get to the right floor and open the door.
I find my bed. Close the curtains. Charge my phone. Cry a bit of relief at not dying in a Catalonian ditch. Call my best mate and let him know I'm alive.
He's had his own trauma going back and forth between the stag flat and our place all night ringing bells, annoying neighbours and banging on doors trying to wake me up. Assuming I was there.
We are not going to get a 5-star rating on my Airbnb account.
I check the time. It's now 1 pm. I cry again. Nothing comes out. There is no water in my body.
I fall into a shit sleep.
The importance of data.
I awake at 4 or 5 pm. Relieved but down. Before I head out to drink again (though at a very sedate pace) I explain my journey to my mate. He can't believe it. No way I've been walking 8 hours.
I then realise that throughout my ordeal I've had my Jawbone fitness tracker on. Amazing! I connect to my phone and download my step data.
And it's a goodun'.
He's right. There's no way I'd been walking for 8 hours. It was 9 hours.
I walked 30 miles!
30 FUCKING MILES.
I walked more than an entire marathon in circles with no water, food or sense of finish line and with blood leaking out of my chafed heel.
Really. That's pretty mad.
It's also pretty cool.
Just look at the consistency. There's no real drop off in steps per hour from 4am to 1pm. Relentless. Zombie. Shuffling forward. Looking for salvation.
I was averaging about 5k steps an hour for 9 hours.
Maniacal zeal, bleeding heel.
If I had GPS it would've been even weirder. The erratic circles of lostness.
I bet I was never more than 2 miles from the place. What a divvy.
Lessons in there somewhere.
I couldn't have set out to walk that with intention. With preparation, walking shoes, supplies or map. I'd have given up. Too long.
But thrust into a dark situation, you have no choice but to push forward. Keep going. Dig down deep. Don't give up.
There's an obviously thinly veiled metaphor in there but it's important to look at events like this for what lessons they provide.
You're capable of more than you can imagine.
It's just you don't often CHOOSE to find out. It's only when your back's against the wall or you're on your own and off your head in a strange city in the early hours, that you're forced to reach down into those oft untapped reserves of will and determination.
The Marines famously say that when you think you're finished physically. When your mind is saying you're done. You're actually only at 40% of what you're capable of. You just need to push through. Have faith. Keep going. You've got more in the tank.
I was a bit like a Marine in Barcelona. Or the SAS.
You would have to assume they'd be a little bit better at orienteering but still, you know what I mean.
It's empowering realising you can do much more than you assume you can.
And you can.
It also highlights the importance of data. Of being able to measure your progress. I'm not sure I'd look back on the experience with quite the same sense of awe or macho pride if I didn't know I'd walked 30 miles. Somehow that data adds an important layer to the memory.
It's also a killer fact to finish the anecdote.
Measure your training. Your eating. Your progress. It helps paint a fuller picture, reframes your memories and gives you a kick up the arse.
Although at the time it was all frightening and absolutely destroyed me mentally and physically I now look back with a strange pride.
Stripped of the horror of its actual mad experience it's now one of my 'go-to' stories. It's now legend amongst my friends. It's part of my legacy. At the very top of my anecdote bag.
Hedonism is a fine line. The good times rest on a razor thin edge. But that's as it should be.
What once was a nightmare now becomes a vital part of your identity. In your sense of self. A story worth telling.
Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
That's the weird thing. Remember that.
It's normal. To experience these lows and hard times and then feel good about them in recollection. It's all part of the same process. Two sides of the same coin. The Yin and the Yang.
Now go out and create some stories.
This is JUST THE STUFF I REMEMBER or have made into a convenient narrative. Who knows all the little exchanges or moments or events that I can't recall. I shudder to think.
I literally shudder.
When we packed up to get the taxi to the flight home on the final morning I was riddled with the blues but happy to be leaving 'my nam'.
That was until….
Where's my passport?
I'd lost my passport.
As the heavens poured and I got in the taxi to the airport, my mate beside me trying his best to look concerned but basically wanting to completely wash his hands of me – I realised this was bad.
Fuck knows where it went. Robbed on the way home? Fell out of my pocket on the initial taxi from the airport?
Maybe someone is using it to travel around Europe at the moment. Under my name. Fair play. I hope they're having more fun with it than I did the last time I saw it.
I ended up missing my original flight. Had to spend 7 hours waiting for a costly emergency passport and booking a pricey new flight home.
An expensive cherry on an idiotic cake.
That hit me harder than the ramble on La Rambla.
It was a negative. And right then I needed at least a dozen positives.
Let me tell you, I wrote some very sternly worded notes to myself on my phone on the way back. Very stern. How this was the last time. No more. You fucking idiot. A garbled volley of self-loathing. I was certain that type of hedonistic lunacy was behind me now.
Resolve is never stronger than in the morning after the night it was never weaker.
But, you know what it's like.
What felt like a definitive line in the sand for my hedonism and my outlook on life morphed into something else over time. Eventually, the low serotonin and the tedious self-flagellation loses its lustre. You revert somewhat to type and embrace the inevitability of doing it all again.
Reframing is vital. As Mozza once said 'I can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible.'
I'm cool with that.
You should be too.