The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – ‘Always Foreign’

Always Foreign Front Cover

‘Always Foreign’ is an album that keeps pushing TWIABP forward and progressing their sound. It’s definitely their most ‘punk’ full-length album, both lyrically and musically. Some faster, harder mixes with plenty of raw political lyrics make this tick many of the punk boxes whilst still retaining the emo heart we all know and love from the group. The album is also quintessentially ‘emo’ due to the incredibly powerful and personal lyrics mixed with longer musical pieces and a brilliant mix of synths, bass, brass, and their signature twinkly guitar.

 

The range of sounds on this album is quite simply fantastic. From the more pop-punk ‘Dillon and Her Son’ to the grandiose ‘Infinite Steve’, and the atmospheric ‘Blank #12’, the band really does seem to be pulling and pushing in different directions to show their dynamics – and it blends oh-so-well. There isn’t a transition on the album that feels too jarring or like a circle trying to be a square.

 

One of my favourite moments is when the end of ‘The Future’ contrasts so drastically with the intro to ‘Hilltopper’ (which is arguably the most cutting commentary on an ex-band member I am aware of). But when you break it down song by song, it is probably fair to say that ‘The Future’ won’t be the go to song for fans. It’s a good song, but it doesn’t bear the hallmarks of what TWIABP are truly capable of. It’s a case of the song fits with the album when you play it in its entirety, but as a stand-alone song it would get drowned out. This is particularly true when you get to songs like ‘Faker’ and ‘Marine Tigers’, which quite simply beat back the vast majority of the competition in the emo scene. The political lyrics are cutting and hard to deny, the multiple vocals are probably at their strongest here (something they began to nail in their previous album ‘Harmlessness’), whilst the instruments flow back and forth and build up into the heart of the songs. ‘For Robin’ is one of the finest moments on the album to highlight that this big band knows exactly when to restrain itself and pull the sounds back to their basics. It’s poetic, spacious, and the ending feels unresolved, which leaves us wanting more.

 

After listening through the album, the part that keeps highlighting itself as a point of serious progression is the lyrics. The pure emotion and political tones of the songs ‘Marine Tigers’, ‘Fuzz Minor’, and ‘Faker’ are arguably the defining points of the album. But please don’t come into this album thinking it is just another band rallying against politicians or a cause, these are songs about community, anti-greed, and simply being better towards other humans. ‘Marine Tigers’ and ‘Fuzz Minor’ are almost two halves of the same story and I implore you to listen to them together whenever you can. When you tune in to ‘Gram’ it shifts its focus to the human cost of pharmaceuticals, particularly prescription addictions and communities riddled with heroin and other opioids. The underlying cry for humanitarian help with regards to healthcare, and the repeated claim throughout the album that making money at the cost of humans is not something to be proud of, makes ‘Gram’ a brilliant addition to the album.

 

Moving away from the politics and social issues, the members of TWIABP do a great job of addressing the elephant in the room of a departed member. Rather than leaving cryptic messages throughout numerous songs, they get right to the point in ‘Hilltopper’ and their message for/about their ex-guitarist is sad, yet defiant. The anger and hurt spits through in the words of David, Dylan, and sung by Dave, Dylan and Katie. It is scathing at its kindest points, but they do a great job of not making it whiny or complaining. There has clearly been some damage done, and perhaps fans will never get the full story, but TWIABP manage to craft it into a great song that fits in perfectly with the album and adds a new dimension to their craft.

 

Despite the fact there are close to a dozen members of the band, nothing ever feels as though it’s overpowering another section of the music. The drums are tight (particularly on ‘Gram’) and fill the back beautifully with the bass giving the guitars that extra push. Every now and then the bleeps of the synth cut through and the crescendo of the horns throughout the album really do feel at home. The vocals are proving their worth and are the finest I have experienced from TWIABP through their numerous releases. When you compare the lead vocals to those on their first release ‘Whenever, If Ever’ there is a marked improvement. They never feel as grating as that did and are actually some of the strongest vocals from a twinkly emo band I have heard for a long time. They have developed from the whiny nasal mutterings into full-blown choral anthem melodies. I mentioned in their previous release that David F. Bello’s vocals work so perfectly with Katie Dvorak’s, particularly on songs like ‘Dillon and Her Son’, which I think, is the best part of that song.

 

Ultimately what the members of TWIABP have created here is probably their best work so far. They seem to be able to improve with every new release and clearly take pride in their work. Each member appears to work tirelessly to improve their skills on different instruments and with recording or mixing techniques. The vast majority of this album is incredible and definitively the crowning achievements of the band so far, but there are one or two songs that fall short of the high standards of the rest of the album. They’re good songs, but when pitted next to the colossal sounds of the rest of ‘Always Foreign’ they simply pale in comparison. You come away from listening to the album knowing you have experienced the pinnacle of someone’s efforts and success. I’m very excited to see how the band can top this in the future and I’m already waiting to buy tickets to their next show near me.

 

I’m giving ‘Always Foreign’ 8 sad songs out of 10.

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Markha Valley, Ladakh

Finding yourself nearly 5,300 meters up and staring out over the highest landscape on earth is quite simply an unbelievable sensation. The accumulation of all the time, effort and training has come to this and the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming.

 

I set myself the challenge of trekking the Indian Himalayas – specifically the Markha Valley trek, with Kongmaru La Pass being the goal. It took a lot of planning, preparation, and perseverance, but I can honestly sit back and say it was the greatest achievement of my life at that point.

 

After flying in to New Delhi for a night, I was on a plane bound for Leh in Jammu and Kashmir – the Himalayas. As the flight approached the city, the glistening tips of mountains tore through the clouds just to remind me of how high up I was and how daunting this terrain truly can be. I have been fortunate enough to do a lot of skiing in the Alps, so I’m comfortable with mountain terrain; but when the airport you’re flying into is an airport that is higher than some ski slopes, it really does hit home.

Himalayas from Plane

Getting off the flight, the first thing you notice is the air – it’s a world away from the air of Delhi. It’s clear, crisp, and tantalisingly thin. It took a little time getting used to as I lugged my bag from one place to another, but the exhilaration of being in the Himalayas was for more powerful than the sense of breathlessness. I spent some time in Leh to get acclimatised and to explore this seldom-seen corner of India before heading into the mountain trails. Leh is an incredibly cultured and historic place with beautiful palaces, plenty of old buildings, artisanal crafts in the streets, and of course Kashmir scarves and rugs. I think the thing I will take away most from my time in Leh is how they managed to build palaces and huge residences on the side of mountains nearly 4,000 meters up! When you remember that these were all constructed by hand with no rulers or mechanical tools, it is certainly impressive.

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Outside of Leh is the town of Stok which would be my entrance to the Markha Valley. I met my porters and horses (which I’m terrified of) and began to put one foot in front of the other. After only two hours or so of starting the challenge, I was already higher than Mount Fuji in Japan (3,776 meters). Lying directly ahead of me was a granite fortress of mountains and passes that offered the most incredible scenery I have ever witnessed. The sheer size of the mountains and cliffs that loomed around me was something that completely took me by surprise. At the end of the first day, after setting up my tent and getting myself sorted for the evening, I simply sat outside and watched the sun drop behind the mountains and illuminate the clouds in a rich pink hue. The isolation and pristine tranquillity of this part of the world were something I had never experienced before. I had been in remote locations such as desert islands and barren plains, but there was (and still is) something incredibly humbling about being in such a place. It’s an alien landscape with flourishing green riverbeds and cereal fields, but contrasted heavily against the bleak brown-grey of the granite walls that form the mountains. I’ve already mentioned it, but the unrelenting size of the mountains surrounding you makes this sense of isolation even more daunting and permanent.

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A couple of days into the walk, I approached Ganda La Pass and the first major hurdle of the trip. I remember the walk getting steeper and slower, but the views were getting more and more incredible. Every time I turned around to see how far I had trekked in those ten or fifteen minutes, I could see a new mountain or meadow a little further away in a new valley that was obscured lower down. At 12:30pm I reached the top of Ganda La Pass – higher than any mountain in Western Europe at 4,878 meters and still another 400 meters short of my goal further on the trek. I sat and ate my lunch on the peak. This was the highest I had ever been in my life. The wind was quite strong on the peak, so I huddled behind a large boulder and pulled my hat down and spent the best part of an hour simply staring into the wilderness.

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I think the sensation I will remember most, and would probably use to best describe the parts of the trek that weren’t on a peak, is serenity. The only sound is you walking across stones, perhaps an occasional whisper in the wind, and there is nothing but pure nature surrounding you. At the end of each day, as you set up your tent and start boiling some rice, you know you’ve made it. You’ve made progress in one of the harshest landscapes on the planet, and you can’t help but feel complete. As you look around your camp and sip at a warm cup of tea you will notice the greatest range of colours in the sky that you can imagine. From the clearest blues and turquoises, to intense reds and purples, and finally the light of the moon and stars illuminates you. I never considered anything about the sky when I was embarking on this trip, but being 4,800 meters up a mountain with no artificial lights and with a cloudless sky, you get to see the Universe. I don’t just mean beautiful stars and a really clear Milky Way, I genuinely mean the Universe as a whole. I will never forget having to force myself to go to sleep most nights because I was spending far too long counting shooting stars and simply absorbing the intensity of the stars I could see. Seeing the Milky Way as I did each night has given me a permanent memory of the greatest sky I’m fairly certain I will ever get to experience.

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Finally, the big day arrived. I was going to summit Kongmaru La at 5,290 meters and reach the goal I had set out to accomplish. I packed up my gear and started putting one foot in front of the other as I had done for so many days prior to this. The air was very thin and it was quite cold at this altitude, but it didn’t bother me at all. As the route got steeper as I went higher up the side of the mountain, the adrenalin started kicking in. I knew that each step was bringing me closer to my prize. As I think back to it now, I can vividly remember hearing my breathing and my steps scuffing along the dust and rocks in a set rhythm that kept me focused. I looked up and saw that the trail suddenly stopped about 30 meters away from me as it dropped over the peak of the pass. I was looking at the path simply disappear into the sky – from dusty brown to pristine blue. I dug in my boots and jogged the final few meters to be greeted with the most phenomenal view I have ever, and probably will ever, experience. The valley I had been working my way through opened up and I could see mountain after mountain stretching far into the distance. The prayer flags on the summit fluttered in the wind and the patches of ice and snow glistened in the morning sun. I must have spent nearly two hours stood on the summit just absorbing it all. I made my way to the highest point on the highest rock at the top and just sat there. I constructed a small stupa or cairn next to the main body of rock riles and left some prayer flags (lung ta) I had brought with me as is the tradition in the Himalayan region. I ate some early lunch as I relaxed and gazed in awe at the size of the mountain ranges and the size of my accomplishment before making my way down the other side.

Prayer Flags

Empire.

(I know I’ve posted this before, but it recently got published in an anthology, so I want to share it again).

 

Empire

 

I have my own world, where I’ve built you an Empire.

And in this Empire are many wondrous items.

There are performers and artists, who never tire,

And mythical beasts from Greek stories of Titans.

 

There is rhubarb and honey, gifts from plants and bees,

Coupled together with placid lakes and plush trees,

Where their leaves reach out into emerald green seas,

So temperate, we shall not heat, nor shall we freeze.

 

And in this Empire there are the sounds of fiction,

Amplified by the raw beauty of the landscape.

These have come to being through my own creation

In this land where our minds can together escape.

 

And in this Empire there is the perfect lagoon

That holds the reflection of the clearest full moon.

White sand beaches, where one dreams of falling maroon

And we lie there together in eternal noon.

 

As the grand night draws in after our timeless day,

We retire to the castle with drawbridge and moat,

Where the feast is set in Parisian cafés

And dessert is offshore, on a luxury boat.

 

We go hand in hand, off the boat onto firm land

Where between our toes there is green grass and warm sand.

Ahead in the marquee is a four-piece string band,

Whose music we waltz to; then together we stand

 

As I pull you close to press my lips against yours.

Your soft silk skin, so precious as I hold you tight.

With only us and the calm starry night outdoors

Watching our eternal love forever shine bright.

Bedtime

It was a few minutes after nine at night and my daughter was still awake. She usually went to bed at eight, but I could still hear her restlessly rummaging around her room, probably playing a game or something with her toys. I muted the television programme I was relaxing to before going to bed myself and listened to her feet padding across the ceiling. Smiling to myself, thinking of childhood games and imagination, I got out of the chair and made my way upstairs.

 

I knocked on her door and suddenly the footsteps stopped and I heard the bedsprings bounce. She knew she was supposed to be asleep and was probably afraid I was going to be annoyed, as it was a school night. I turned the handle and made my way into the room. She was hiding under her duvet and the floor was covered in all of her things – she was obviously having a good time before I interrupted and I felt a little guilty. Only her bedside table lamp was on, so the room was a little dim and with a slight red tinge from the lightshade.

“Aren’t you supposed to be asleep by now?” I asked the mound under the duvets and a small giggle replied. On her bedside table was a book – Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ – that I picked up.

“Would you like me to read to you to help you get to sleep?” I asked. I saw the mound beneath the duvet nod and giggle again. I smiled to myself and turned to the page with the bookmark and began reading whilst sitting on the edge of the bed.

 

After a few minutes of reading, she muttered something.

“What was that? I didn’t quite hear you.” I asked her to repeat. She moved uncomfortably beneath the duvet

“There’s a monster in my wardrobe.” She whimpered, not quite sounding herself.

“Is that why you can’t sleep?” I replied. She nodded beneath the duvet and pulled her knees to her chest.

“Okay, if I get rid of the monster in the wardrobe, do you promise to go to sleep?”

She nodded again and I rubbed my hand down the duvet where her back was. She was shaking she was so scared.

 

I moved from the bed and made my way across the bedroom, carefully not treading on any of her toys that were scattered all over the floor. The wardrobe door was shut, as it always is, and I looked at myself in the mirror on one of the doors. I smiled and thought to myself ‘I can’t remember if I ever asked my parents to do this’ – but I probably did. Children and their imaginations are incredibly powerful things. I could see the reflection of my daughter’s mound under the duvet behind me in the mirror and I opened the door.

 

The tear-strewn face of my daughter stared at me below the hanging clothes, her face white with fear and eyes swollen with crying.

“There’s a monster in my bed.”

Sangat Island Dive Resort, Coron, Philippines

As the twin-prop plane I was sat on accelerated down the runway in Manila, I was filled with excitement – I was finally off to see Sangat Island. Located in one of the seldom-seen parts of the Philippines, Sangat Island is home to a collection of incredible World War II wrecks and some impressive reefs. These Japanese vessels sank in relatively shallow waters in a calm, warm bay just off of Sangat, Coron, in the Calamian Islands. On 24 September 1944, the US forces struck the Imperial Japanese navy harboured in Coron, sinking twelve vessels in the flotilla and dealing a heavy blow to the Japanese expansion in the Pacific. 96 Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter escorts and 24 Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bombers flew to Coron in the early hours of the morning and within fifteen minutes, they had decimated the Japanese navy in the region. In the years since the War, these waters have become a haven for divers looking for the next adventure and to experience the brutality of the conflict that drew them to this place.

 

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As we approached the airport in Busuanga, Coron, it was clear to see that the topography and geography of this part of the Philippines is quite different to that of other islands. With sheer granite cliffs soaring from the waves and rugged, hilly terrain, it is an impressive sight to behold. It’s immediately clear to see why this part of the Philippines is frequently regarded as the most beautiful. The shoreline gave way to tiny islands and reefs breaking the surface, with vast expanses of forests covering a large portion of the island. I touched down, de-planed, and grabbed my bag before being whisked off in a van to the little port where I would then take a boat to Sangat.

 

There appears to only be one road through the main island, with twists and turns making it feel like an Alpine drive – but with far more unexplored jungle and far fewer skiers. The density of the forests in certain areas was something unexpected from a country with a population of nearly 100 million. It was as if no one had ever set foot here. After spending some time in Manila, Dumaguete, and Puerto Galera; suddenly being thrust into a pristine, rugged, and undeveloped region such as Coron was exhilarating to say the least. I then remembered that it was on these Western Filipino islands (Lubang Island, Mount Halcon) that Japanese soldiers were found decades after the war, still fighting for their cause. Once I caught a glimpse of these forests and remote locations it became very easy to understand how these soldiers stayed undetected for so long.

 

As my driver sped down this one road at 100km/h we didn’t pass a single other van or car, just motorcycles. We drove for roughly 45 minutes and the wilderness throughout the island left me feeling very excited and a little apprehensive at how remote this location truly was – and I was heading to an even more isolated island.

 

Finally we reached the little village at the southern tip of the island where I was told the boat to Sangat would meet me. I walked out onto the wooden platform from the dock and found myself in a small wooden ‘waiting room’ with a weathered thatched roof and a wooden bench. Behind this small room were dense mangrove forests, which felt as though they absorbed me. I couldn’t stop walking up and down the wooden platform peering into the twisted roots to see which animals were making which noises. I could have spent a week in the mangroves alone having an adventure. After a few minutes, I heard an outboard motor and a small black boat arrived. This was my transport to Sangat.

 

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Two people got off the boat whilst the captain moored it. I introduced myself and found that these two guests had just spent a week on the island. The first thing they said to me was “the diving is incredible, it’s beautiful, the food is really good, and, for the love of God, make sure you have sun cream”. I would soon find out that their words were probably the most succinct way of describing Sangat.

 

I jumped onto the boat and sat in front of the driver, who then shot out into the bay faster than I imagined he would. With my hand on my cap and civilisation rapidly getting further and further away, I was definitely in the beginning of my adventure. The water was millpond-still and the engine roared as we shifted at pace through the bays and granite walls. The closer we got to the islands suddenly revealed just how colossal some of the scenery is here. You would have a grey-white cliff face at water level, which then suddenly burst into greens as the trees and plant life clung to the islands and made their homes in the vertical walls.

 

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We turned a corner, and the edge of Sangat revealed itself. With their famous Rock Bar in the middle of the bay and the white sand beach with bungalows behind it, the immediate thought I had was “this is what paradise is based on”. As the boat was tied to the dock, I stepped off and was instantly greeted by several members of staff. They took my bags and presented me with a cool glass of juice and some water. I made my way into the small restaurant area and looked out over the sea to be presented with a palm-fringed beach, some of the bluest waters I have ever been graced with, and simply stunning islands forming the border for this masterpiece. I was left alone to enjoy my drink and absorb where I finally was when it dawned on me that there was something unique here. Silence. Even though the resort was at full capacity, the only thing I could hear was the breeze and the sea lapping at the shore. I was aware that people were around, but it was genuine silence. I stood at the edge of the beach and gave myself a viewpoint where nothing man-made was in sight, and I sincerely felt like an explorer. It was as if I had set out to map and chart this area, and no person had ever set foot here.

 

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I settled into my room and went for a stroll around the resort – which wouldn’t take me long. One of the best features of Sangat Island is its size. It’s a small resort that should never be allowed to grow too much more than it has – a few more bungalows or chalets would be nice, but nothing too much. It’s got this wonderful community atmosphere to it, and it feels as though everyone on the island has worked hard to cultivate this little slice of paradise. Each bungalow is spaced far enough away from any other bungalow to give each guest a level of privacy, but not too far to make any walking unbearable in the heat of the day. A cool breeze is usually rolling in from the beach, but the fans are definitely needed. As you sit in the main restaurant area, you are treated to incredible views of the bay and the magnificent bar on a rock offshore. Being sat on a bench, or perhaps one of the hammocks, really does give you an appreciation for the natural beauty and splendour of this part of the world. Watching the palm fronds sway back and forth in the lazy breeze, listening to the small waves lap at the shore, hearing the monkeys and birds rustling in the trees behind the resort – this place is something special.

 

In the evening, dinner was served buffet style and had a whole range of options. From fruit to pizza, onion soup to lasagne, there was plenty to pick from. I helped myself to a small portion of each bit and I struggled to work out which part of the meal tasted best. I truly must commend the chefs as each portion of food was cooked immaculately. The sun had set on our day and I retreated to the sanctuary of the Rock Bar in the sea for some evening relaxation. The Rock Bar is the best place for WiFi on the island (if you need to stay in touch with the outside world), but it defeats the point of being here. Sure, it’s lovely to update Instagram, or brag to your friends about where you are, but you break the atmosphere of isolation, of exploration, of paradise. You need to come to Sangat with the promise to yourself of ignoring the outside world. You are here to be stripped back, basic, and embrace the ‘here and now’. I sat at a table on the Rock Bar until eleven thirty in the evening, simply sipping gin and tonics and watching the stars in the clear skies above.

 

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The following morning I made my way to breakfast where another buffet had been laid out. With choices of cooked breakfast, cereals, toast, and a myriad of fruits available, there is a lot to offer depending on how you do your breakfast. I personally went for a plate full of fruit, and then treated myself to some bacon and maple syrup pancakes – my justification to myself being that I needed to fuel my day of diving.

 

At the dive centre I was kitted out with some good quality gear and a Nitrox tank. The dive centre isn’t huge, but it doesn’t need to be as the island is so small. There is plenty of kit for hire, Nitrox is readily available, and if you want to bring a Rebreather, you are more than welcome (just give them advanced notice!). The gear is in good condition and the dive team are brilliantly efficient. We loaded the gear onto the boats and cruised out to our first dive site – the Akitsushima.

 

Lying on her starboard side, with a large crack towards the stern, this wreck offers divers plenty of exciting penetration and access to some of the mechanical parts of the ship. The Akitsushima is a seaplane tender which carried a Kawanishi H8K seaplane – more commonly known as the ‘Emily’. With some bullets and shells left from the crew on that fateful day, plenty of incredible engineering, and the hindsight of knowing what happened to the crew make this a very exhilarating dive, and one that gives you a lot of respect for those serving on the vessels.

 

We followed the buoy line down to the stern of the ship and spent the first part of the dive hanging around 30m and examining the deck of the ship. There were huge steel girders and radio towers that you can duck and dive between, as well as some large fish that have made this place home. The famous crane used for lifting the Emily was impressive to drift around. The superstructure of this war-time relic loomed in the background where the visibility dropped off. On the deck of the ship, the anti-aircraft guns are still pointed up as though they’re still trying to defend the Akitsushima from the inevitable. As I made my way closer to the guns, you could clearly imagine the young Japanese men manning them and trying to save their comrades from the planes above. We then approached the crack in the ship and made our way inside.

 

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One of the first things I remember about finning inside the Akitsushima was that there were a dozen or so clams that greeted me, then snapped shut when I got too close. I turned to my left and began to drift down the corridor and into the heart of the ship. The Akitsushima is lying on its starboard side at pretty much 90° which gives the ship a little more character, but it also highlights the destruction of the vessel by the Americans. This massive, armoured ship was (and still is) a stunning piece of engineering, and it truly highlighted the power of the US attack to leave such a gargantuan machine reeling on its side. The Akitsushima was hit by the Americans amidships and sank almost immediately. This was the deepest penetration dive I had ever done and as I made my way further into the ship, I found myself trying to imagine what would have happened on board for those few minutes between being struck and going beneath the surface.

 

Moving through the Akitsushima, you come across a lot of badly twisted and shattered metal. It’s at this point in the dive that the colossal force of the US attack hits you. All around you, as the beam from your torch is the only light, tonnes of metal is splintered and bent, creating an incredibly eerie atmosphere.

 

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We moved through to the engine room where two huge engines dominate the space and close in on you. As you drift down into the narrow corridor, you come towards the control room. This small part of the ship is definitely one of the most impressive. As you drop down into the small space, you can still see the gauges and dials that would have helped run the ship. It’s arguably the closest I felt to being a part of the Akitsushima as I was staring at the same mechanical parts that the crew used. Amazingly, a lot of the gauges still have their glass and you can even read the dials.

 

After this, we made our way out through a hole and back on to the deck of the ship. The two other divers at this point were beginning to run low on air, so they headed back up and the dive guide and I drifted along the deck of the ship for a few minutes more. We finned across the deck and inspected the towers and cranes whilst schools of fish circled us and we slowly made our way back to the buoy line.

 

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The second dive of the day was on the Kogyo Maru, an intimidating 180m long freighter that is now famously home to construction materials and an antique bulldozer. As we dropped down onto the side of the ship (it’s lying on its starboard side) it was immediately clear that this wreck was different to the Akitsushima. The most prominent difference was the abundance of life, particularly corals, on the Kogyo Maru. We spent the first few minutes of the dive enjoying the huge blanket of corals and groupers that now called this wreck home.

 

We passed some more anti aircraft guns on one of the superstructures and dropped inside the hold. The lighting coming through the holes in the ship as you pass from hold to hold is spectacular. It’s like an underwater cathedral with blue-green light beams passing over you. As you look around in each hold, you can clearly see the different building materials that were most likely going to be used to build runways and fortifications around Coron. Huge rolls of steel matting can be found as well as bags of cement before you come to the famous bulldozer encased in cement bags. The tracks are clear to see, as is the scoop, and it’s probably one of the most unique things to find on a wreck.

 

After the bulldozer, you come through to another hold, and this one is where the lighting of the wreck really comes into its element. I found myself stopping and just absorbing the atmosphere whilst we were in this part of the wreck. It was most definitely the most beautiful part of any wreck I have experienced. For the first time in the dives it didn’t feel claustrophobic and it didn’t feel like hundreds of people lost their lives. It was spacious and the way the sun broke through the twisted metal and holes was something I don’t think I will ever forget.

 

Then, as soon as you turn the corner and head back into the ship’s depths, the atmosphere is shattered and the darkness engulfs you again. The eeriness of the wreck and the formidable nature of the battle that ensued rushed back and you are very aware that the open space has gone.

 

Unfortunately we had to cut this part of the dive short as one of our dive team was running low on air, so we made our way to the nearest opening and emerged back on deck. We were greeted with the other side of the superstructure and the walkways around the bridge. As a group, we headed towards the buoy line and the other two went to the surface whilst the dive guide and I stayed on deck. We still had 90 bar or so and wanted to make the most of it.

 

The guide took me back down and pointed to the holes around the hold. This was the opposite side of the ‘cathedral’ and it was almost unrecognisable. The splendour of the interior that I had experienced only a few moments beforehand seemed a thousand miles away as I stared at decaying coral encrusted metal. I guess it was a perfect physical example of looking at things from a different perspective. We made our way across the port side of the boat where the corals flourished and simply enjoyed the marine life.

 

Once we decided to go back to the buoy line, a huge school of tuna appeared and danced around us as we slowly headed towards the surface. It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful dive.

 

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Writing a Novel

Like many people, I am trying to write a novel. It’s tough. I never seem to have enough hours in the day to get something written, or I’m not in the right mindset to put words to paper.

 

However, today I officially surpassed the 10,000 word count for my manuscript. It’s far from complete, but it feels like a milestone. I have some characters fleshing out, the story is beginning to progress, and I actually feel good about what I have written.