Bursting my Stomach Lining

There are very few things in life that can’t be improved by making them competitive. This may be a trait more attributable to males rather than the fairer sex, but this doesn’t make it any less true. There are champions of almost anything you can think of, and it was this testosterone-fuelled arena of competition that some of my friends and I entered yesterday, simply by going to the cinema and then for a meal. The film was Looperthe restaurant Meat Liquor. Combine the two and add a competitive element, and ‘Meat Looper’ was born.

At least half of the premise was simple. Step one involved meeting at the Odeon and watching Looper. A film billed as “this generation’s Matrix” was going to have to go a long way to significantly disappoint seven excitable, mildly geeky (if spectacles:humans ration is a reliable measure) men, and so it proved. In the event, six of us enjoyed the film, and the one dissenting voice was most annoyed about the fact that it was “mostly set in a field.” A success whose relative merits and failings I shall leave to be discussed in the words of those who know more about films than I do.

The second half of the Meat Looper adventure was, even on paper, the more difficult. For those not versed in the ins and outs of West End dining, Meat Liquor is fairly eponymous – it serves meat, and it serves liquor. Buried deep at the bottom of its menu, however, was the dish that we had ventured out to conquer – the Triple Chilli Challenge. The logic behind this decision was simple: why have a burger or a hot dog when you could have both, slathered in chilli and with a side of chilli fries? And what if you could get this all for free, just by eating it in less than 10 minutes? Game on.

A few of us had read up on eating challenges. General internet consensus suggested that drinking litres of water beforehand may help to stretch your stomach, and some adopted this approach in the hours leading up to the meal. A short walk to Meat Liquor and a not-so-short wait later, seven Triple Chilli Challenges were order and the gauntlet thrown down. It was very much time to eat.

Standard procedure for this challenge in this restaurant is for the feat to be announced prior to its start to the entire restaurant and then timed on a stopwatch. Mercifully for us, the megaphone wasn’t working, but those in our vicinity were left in no doubt as to what we were attempting when this turned up at our table:

It was around this point that most of us lost our bravado. Some, myself included, made the executive decision that there was no way we could finish this in 10 minutes, if at all, and so would enjoy our food at our leisurely pace. A look at the existing leaderboard – yes, the Triple Chilli Challenge has a champion, and he did it in 3:45 – informed us that only 8 people have ever completed it in the allotted time.

For a few brave souls, the chance to be named number 9 was incentive enough. Tactics had been discussed – what component is best to start with? (the answer is fries) – and last-second toilet breaks had been taken.

The starting of the stopwatch saw fries shovelled into mouths, chilli dogs compressed and forced down throats and burgers devoured in a matter of mouthfuls. By the four-minute mark, a few of us were halfway through. The table was a mess of chilli, mustard and meat, water passed back and forth to those brave bastards still in with a shout of beating the time.

By 9 minutes, only one of us stood a chance. Stand up Jethro Holman. Somehow forcing the last morsel of sodden burger bun into his mouth and down his throat, our cries of support and encouragement ringing in his ears, he finished in 9:20. A ninth champion had been born. We were all too full to offer the congratulations that he deserved.

Whilst I sit here and draft a re-telling of the Meat Looper tale of culinary prowess, my fingers still smelling faintly of mustard, my body a little off and my heart months from full recovery, my point about competition is somewhat proven. Take something a man loves, tell him he can be officially better than his friends at it simply at the cost of his enjoyment, and more often than not he will oblige. And it works. We won’t remember those who simply enjoyed their food, but we will have a lasting memory of Jethro feverishly palming handfuls of chips into his mouth.

Moreover, visitors to Meat Liquor will have a board to remind them that Jethro Sleaze ate an inordinate amount of meat faster than all but 8 other people in the world, and the spirit of competition is alive and well.

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Initial Thoughts on Commuting

I’ve been studying at the University of Westminster for a little over a week now, and I can tell you one thing I didn’t know before: a two-hour commute is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice.

My daily journey from North-West Kent to North-West London  has launched me headfirst into the everyday world of the commuter. Hello tired eyes and escalator queues; goodbye leg room and any semblance of personal space. I’ve so far avoided being that one inevitable tourist who can’t quite work the underground turnstiles, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before it’s me who’s the cause of the commuter chagrin.

None of which, of course, is new. Men and women of London have been experiencing the unique pleasures of the daily commute since London existed. I’m sure the foibles of a businessman travelling to work in 1900 are the same as they are today. There will be have been people on the same train as me who have been moaning about the same things since before I was born, and I’m sure the same gripes will be being made long after I’ve gone. Maybe the hovercopter service won’t ever run on time. Maybe teleporting to work still won’t provide any room for your legs.

The point? All of these age-old gripes and groans are new to me. As someone who, until this week, has been far more likely to be fast asleep and happy come 8am than on a train and mildly annoyed, the commute isn’t an overly pleasant experience.

I should have known this would be the case. Enough people warned me. “Harrow campus? So you’re going to move into London? You’re not?! Ouch. Have fun with the commute.” I must have flippantly laughed along with that conversation about twenty times in the last few months. It’ll be fine, I thought. How bad can it be, an hour and a bit tops? Wrong, James. Very wrong.

There are upsides, of course. By the time I traipse into the newsroom (its official title, I’ve not decided to refer to everything with journalistic titles for the sake of it) at 10, I’ve already managed to read the newspaper back to front and listen to the best part of an album of my choice. Having made a two-hour journey by 10 in the morning has also given me some extra motivation to actually work.

All of which I should look on as positive aspects to an otherwise unenjoyable experience. I know. I just wish I didn’t have to get up at 8 and travel for two hours with people as tired and impatient as me to appreciate it. A world in which a postgrad course is delivered to my door sometime mid-afternoon would be ideal, but it doesn’t appear to be too forthcoming.

Until that day, then: here’s to the commute.