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June 15 2012. We saddled up and hit the road around noon. It was raining, on the roads and in my heart. The 80 or so miles that lies between Southport and Leeds is a gallant and unforgiving journey which favours no man. A path of clouded and crowded motorways, uneducated drivers and, dear God, lorries the size of behemoths. Determined to not our spirits soak in the failure of excuses to avoid such a quest, we were not deterred by these hazards. We had a great deal ahead of us.

In the centre of Leeds inside the infamous Corn Exchange sits a restaurant. You’ll find it poured out over the lower level of the establishment: The Rib Shakk. However, this is no ordinary restaurant. This place of beauty and spice holds a mighty challenge within its gates; an Excalibur of the food world, coercing all men from near and far to attempt to release it from its gritty prison.The challenge itself is a rack of ribs. Ribs that boast a tear-jerkingly high measurement on the Scoville scale of piquancy/hotness. The beast’s name? ‘The Wall of Flames. But how hot is it, exactly? Allow me to give you a sharper image; a bottle of Tabasco sauce ranges anywhere between 2500 to 5000 units. With that in mind, The Wall of Flames holds a monstrous 1,000,000 units. The demon costs a jaw-dropping £16.00 to those who can’t defeat it; the victor pays but a penny, minus the penny.

After the two hour drive and the logistical behemoths outwitted, we bee-lined to my execution. With several hours of watching Man vs Food and parroting the phrase “It’ll be fine, how hard can it be? “ for the four hundred thousand and sixty seventh time, I was ready to indulge myself in pure pain. There could be no further preparation. I could hear the inferno beckoning for a soul (Saul).

Upon arrival at the shakk, we were overwhelmed with its presentation. This did not look like an intimidating place of flames and humiliation. It was nice. The words ‘cakewalk’ came to mind. I approached the till. With moral support, I proudly requested the suicidal order. Without a moment’s passing, a disclaimer was slammed on the desk. I assumed it would be for legal reasons in the unlikely event of me dropping dead; my ghostly spirit would not take vengeance by suing them from beyond the grave. That much ectoplasm in a place of fine dining would not equal good business. I signed within seconds. For all I know I had just donated my organs towards a new food challenge. It was then that I had the rules officially explained to me. During the meal there will be no beverages, no cutlery and 30 minutes on the clock. With crystal clear instructions, I downed a glass of milk to protect the sweet lining of my soon to be incinerated stomach and awaited devastation.

 10 minutes passed. I could see it being prepared. Reality kicked in. Within a blink it was on the table staring back at me flared, red and black in a brick shaped mass of porky-fire glistening in saucy destruction. It was easily a foot long, and toxic. With time ticking down I initiated my dynamite strategy, it was almost as hot as the ribs themselves. Without a single bite, I shredded every bone clean of flesh. I gathered two piles on the plate: one of bone, one of meat. The cuts on my fingers from a life-time of nail-biting proved fatal to this method. I was burnt to no end throughout my struggle. After the seven minute mark the process was complete. The two neatly piled hills gleamed back at me under the artificial light of the Corn Exchange. It was time to gorge.

I can now safely say I believe in God, my reasoning being that there is a hell. I know because on that day I invited all of their inhabitants onto my tongue. Hot doesn’t even come close as to what happened next. The texture was spectacular but my face was rotting. The flavour was too intense. Within five seconds of tasting I was shaking hands with Satan. The punishment of failure was £16. I would not give up so easily, my tightness would lead me to victory. I began to shovel mountainous mouthfuls into my crumbling gullet. I was getting this meal for free either from this table or from the stretcher they carried me off in. Kicking my legs under the table I dropped deeper into the lip swelling lair of Beelzebub. By this point my facial features had doubled in size: the chilli was taking its toll. I know understand why cutlery is forbidden during this test of wills. The permanent damage from amateur facial removal surgery I would’ve performed wouldn’t have stood me in good stead. The pain was unimaginable. Soldiering on through what I can only describe as ‘muy caliente times a billion’ I pushed in the last mouthful and swallowed hard. The clock stopped. 14 minutes 19 seconds.

Victory aside, the ribs were not finished with me yet. After my name and photograph were taken to be added to the list of conquerors, I was still engulfed in the fire. A bowl of coleslaw later, I was no better. In for the duration; it was only after a tall glass of coke and an ice cream that I finally got my bearings. Half an hour later the smoke had cleared. The battle was won, but at what cost? I fear nothing will ever taste hot again. The ribs have consumed me as I had consumed them. What have I done? I ran into that restaurant a boy and marched out a man. Although I did not pay financially, I footed the bill physically. Like they say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

“And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” – Revelation 19:20

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