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Southport Pleasureland: A photo essay

Southport Pleasureland is a truly strange place. A glorious, decrepit, salt-blasted place buffeted by a wind-whipped sea on one side and an icecream-heavy town on the other. When it opened it was the sister park to Blackpool Pleasure Beach but oh my, how it has sunk below its sister like a pebble in the waves. The rotting fibreglass, the broken signs, the stagnant log flumes and the carparks full of polystyrene; I love it. Love. It. (Continued)

I wrote about turning 30 for Buzzfeed

I’ve written a silly list for Buzzfeed about all the really great things that happen to your body as you enter your thirties. Because, well, bodies are great. Read it online here.

I cooked piranhas for breakfast for MUNCHIES

Thanks to the lovely Morwenna Ferrier I was invited down to Andina to kill, cook and eat a couple of piranhas and write about it for MUNCHIES.

You can read the proper version, including the recipe, online here.

Or the unedited version below.

All photos by Theo Cottle.

It’s not the flesh-tearing teeth of a piranha that freak me out. It’s the way they leap a foot in the air, like fleshy wet bullets, as they die.

My friend Morwenna has been obsessed with piranhas ever since she discovered that an attack by just four of the little swimmers could equal certain death. So obsessed, in fact, that she got the famous tattooist Dr Woo to ink a fine drawing of one across her left ribs. An act that got her branded a “slut” by one Guardian commenter (“piranha” is apparently a Brazilian cuss used against promiscuous women) and called “fucked up” to her face after she admitted, in print, to eating one.

But is it so fucked up? To eat a fish that, if there’s nothing else on the menu, will turn their turbo jaws to human flesh? Or, in a country where quinoa, guinea pig and the metre-long river beast paiche have been eaten for thousands of years, is eating piranha a natural, harmless way to fend off hunger? (Continued)

I wrote about the future of university towns for VICE

I went back to Leeds last week to give a talk at the School of English. It felt very significant to be returning, as I turned thirty, to the city where I spent my twenties.

So I wrote this, for VICE about how our university towns may look in another ten years.

Read the official edited version online here.

Or the unedited version below…

The large oven cakes, high vis vests and hot spam sandwiches of Leeds Market have outlived my student life. They outlived my whole generation of students. They may well outlive higher education as we know it today.

It is a strange thing to go back to your university town ten years after first stepping, shakey-bowelled and clutching an Argos starter pack, into those vodka-sticky halls of residence many of us called home. Whether you fled from country to city, swapped the medieval alleyways of the south for grit grey northern industrialism, the salty poor west for the suburban wealthy east, England for Scotland or simply crossed the Pennines, moving to a university town marked the dawn of a new, satchel-heavy era.

And yet, go back now, after a decade, and if your university city is anything like mine, they’ll be ripping it up from the very foundations. Thrusting new build flats up the most unlikely areas, pouring concrete over your student memories and painting out the very names that once acted like adrenaline on your heart. Leeds Met became Leeds Beckett, the town hall got swamped by a fish bowl of university plate glass, the University of Leeds admissions centre grew a sandwich bar, the flat I overlooked from my first bedroom became a mormon church and the old BBC building has been replaced by a huge cuboid two pence coin of rusty student flats and a faculty of the arts. (Continued)

I went out in my birthday suit

Thank you to everyone who came to my party. You’re all lovely.

I wrote about anosmia for The Debrief

Those excellent women at The Debrief asked me to write something about losing your sense of smell. And I was more than happy to oblige. (apparently it made the editor cry)

You can read the full version online here.

Or the unedited version below…

At the beginning of this year I managed to headbutt a New Zealand highway with such force that I not only split my scalp and ruined a perfectly good jumper with the ensuing blood – but I also lost my sense of smell. Like 15% of anosmics, a blow to the head left me with a sensory (and, in my case, emotional palette) about as sophisticated as a pebble. It turns out, if you slam the back of your head with enough force, your brain with ricochet off the front of your skull like a bowl full of wet cauliflower. And that, of course, causes untold damage to your olfactory bulb (that’s the bit at the front of your brain where the nasal receptors meet the rest of the mulchy, synapse-ridden brilliance).

Now, once the mists of vomit and thumping headaches had cleared, and I finally noticed that I couldn’t actually smell anything, I had some suspicions of how it would affect me. I was, in almost every case, wrong. But here’s what I learned: (Continued)

I wrote about science for Buzzfeed

And bodies. Because, let’s be honest, they do funny things.

You can read the online version here.

Or my first draft below…

The post-coital crush

After an orgasm your body releases a tsunami of oxytocin – known as the ‘love hormone’ – that can make you imprint on even the most unsuitable partner. Like, even a guy in flip flops. Even a guy who whispered “come to papa” when you were taking off your tights. Thanks to oxytocin your body thinks it might be pregnant, your pituitary gland is screaming out that you should bond and seek out intimacy and so it is totally reasonable for you to want the security, food-gathering ability and affection of the person that got you that way. (Continued)

Birthday Goppeldangers

Well I’ve changed loads.

I wrote about animals eating animals for VICE

Image ​via Flickr user rumpleteaser.

If anything is going to make me pitch a comment piece, it’s reading about Eider ducks eating fish and chips. You really should read the official edited version on VICE here.

Otherwise you can find the unedited version below…

If the image of a police horse being forcibly fed a Greggs ham roll doesn’t make it on to the back of the new £1 coin then, frankly, we have failed as a nation.

If the Royal Mail don’t release a set of seasonal stamps featuring powdery-cheeked Coronation Street fans feeding lethal tidbits of turkey, brandy-soaked fruit cake and globules of mustard-n-custard garnish to their wheezing, diabetic pets, then we have lost all sight of the meaning of Christmas.

If Visit Northumberland don’t bring out a range of postcards showing anaemic, eggless Eider ducks hunkering down over grease-spotted packages of cold, gelatinous fish and chips then tourism is redundant.

Because if there’s one thing that makes this great country peerless, nay, glorious among our European counterparts, then it is the noble history of feeding poor, shaking and industrially-reared animals the ground-up, mechanically-recovered and reconstituted carcasses of their animal cousins. We lead the world in traceless mammalian products and unidentified protein feed. We rule the waves of interlocking food chains and capsulated offal. (Continued)

I wrote about midwifery for VICE

I love the NHS. I love midwives. And it was an honour to speak to one about what actually happens on the business side of your cervix. You can read the official edited version online here.

Or an unedited version below…

The miracle of birth is, if not prosaic, then certainly a daily occurrence for the nation’s midwives. As health budgets are tightened and birth rates increase, many of us may forget what the delivery person sees, smells and get soaked in up to four times a day. Some expectant mothers may even worry that they’re going to do something that will shock or disgust this army of birth experts. But the truth is quite the opposite. We spoke to a typical London midwife to find out what work at the coalface of colostrum and cervixes actually looks like. And to reassure you that, honestly, they’ve seen it all before.

Your bumhole

Women should not be embarrassed about pooing in front of their midwife. “We literally don’t give a shit – it doesn’t faze us,” my midwife friend says, smiling. “You just deal with it. You get a pad out, catch it and get rid of it. It’s absolutely fine – and a good sign. It’s our normality.” You see, when the baby’s coming down it presses against the rectum and that may force a shit out.