The best playlist of my life … and maybe yours too?

I’ve always enjoyed compiling music. In the old days it was recording from vinyl onto cassette tapes, or recording songs from the radio where you had to try and stop the recording just after the song ended, but before Tony Blackburn or Simon Bates spoke and spoiled everything.

I used to compile tapes for friends (for friends read girls). They took ages to compile, each track carefully chosen, sometimes with accompanying lyrics handwritten out of sheer love and desire.  I would sometimes have to post the tapes in the mail in the hope she would receive, listen and come running.

It never really worked but it was immense fun. These days it’s much easier with Spotify, Apple Music or any other streaming service where 30-million tracks are just a click away, in high fidelity, with no DJ interruptions. And so it is that old fashioned, analogue compilations have now given way to digital playlists.

I tend to build playlists these days principally for me rather than for girls, but it’s still a great way to gather together certain genres, or composers, or songs from a particular decade, songs for dinner parties, songs for house parties, songs for flying, songs to run along to, songs to cook with, songs to sing along to.

The options are endless, but my most recent playlist has undoubtedly been the most fun to compile, and I wanted share this with you because it’s something you might want to try.  Mine’s called ‘Andy’s life playlist’, but you might want to give yours a different name.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You must add a song to the playlist if, and only if, it was a significant thing for you, at some stage of your life. It might be something you fell in love with, obsessed over, or just something that is so significantly memorable that it transports you back to a very specific place/time/age. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun was the first 45/single I ever bought from Casa Disco. I was 9yrs old and I fell in love with music. I was on the way to becoming me.  So that’s in.
  2. It MIGHT be a song you didn’t particularly like, but which is so strongly associated with a specific life event that it has to go in. When our first child was born, I remember returning to the car bleary eyed and emotionally punch drunk, turning on the radio when ‘Sleeping Satellites’ by Tasmin Archer came on the radio.  That song will forever be associated with my wife and our son, and whenever I hear it I am immediately transported back to Milton Keynes Hospital Car Park in the autumn of 1992. So that’s in too.
  3. You MUST NOT exclude a song because you now find it cheesy, facile, simplistic or juvenile. This is just your 2017 self filtering and tainting your thinking. You loved that song back then when (and because) you were pure, you were untainted by other opinions, politics, self awareness and snobbiness. You just reacted biologically to the words, the beat, the harmonies, the chord changes. It affected the real you, it was you. I remember singing with a hairbrush into my bedroom mirror miming and dancing to ‘I Can Do It’ by The Rubettes. I was Alan Williams, I even had similar hair. So that has to be in, whether I like it or not.
  4. You CANNOT add a song that you like now, but didn’t like at the time, just to try and make yourself look cool. Stop playing these games. Just because you should have liked The Jam doesn’t mean ‘Going Underground’ should be on the playlist.
  5. Certain songs evoke memories of life events like nothing else can, and that’s what you’re trying to capture here. On the first anniversary of my dad’s untimely death, I remember I felt miserable all day. I was working in London and can recall coming home on the train that evening. It was a hot summer’s evening as I stared out of the window feeling bluesy when ‘Warning Signs’ started to play through my headphones. And when Chris Martin said “... and the truth is, I miss you, yeah the truth is, I miss you … so“, I started to cry, and I cried all the way to my car. But I felt happy, I felt connected to Dad somehow. You could be forgiven for not hearing that ‘so’ at the end of that line, but I don’t, and I never will. I don’t understand how all this stuff works but it’s very powerful, and that song evokes memories of my Dad and specifically his loss, like nothing else ever can. I often cry when I hear it now, and whilst Chris probably wrote it about Gwyneth, or some other lover, to me it’s it’s about Dad. It’s between me and him. That’s the kind of stuff that has to go in.
  6. And it doesn’t have to just be old stuff, you CAN add new songs to the playlist. If a song affects you in 2017, it’s just as much a part of your life playlist as the song that affected you in 1973. You might discover a song from ’73 that you hear for the first time in 2017, so that’s fine to go in too, but you CANNOT add a ’73 song you didn’t ever like or have no connection to, but you now wish you had (see point 4 above) – that’s one for your fake public playlist.

Just remember, this playlist is designed to be a musical portfolio for your life, not for anyone else’s. Build it for you. You won’t be able to do it in one go, just keep it running in the background and add to it whenever and wherever you remember a song. There’s no limit, it can be as short or as long as you like.

Also, please note that your playlist must never be shared. Once you know you might share you will start to filter, and it will no longer be your pure playlist, but rather a modified playlist you’d like others to think was yours. This is very important.  I have some right shit on mine, stuff I’ll never admit to in public, but it’s part of me, no one will ever know, it’s my little secret, it’s my life playlist.

And finally, but just as importantly, you must edit the title and append a number to each song title, e.g, ‘Seasons in the sun’ becomes ‘9_Seasons In the Sun’, ‘Hold me now’ becomes ’18_Hold me now’, ‘Linger’ becomes ’28_Linger”, and so on. This number is the age you were (or as close as you can approximate) when you connected with the song.

And this is the special bit. When you now play your playlist where the songs are ordered alphabetically, you now get to listen to the soundtrack of your life.

Belinda

 

Advertisements

Flawed logic and sub-optimal living

In my latest self help article, I look at the important role of logic in solving everyday problems, and examine, through mathematical reasoning, how flawed logic can lead to sub-optimal living.

I learned this the hard way, failure is the best way to learn, so allow me to share my mistakes with you, so you don’t fall into the same ‘unhappiness trap’ as I.

Let’s take the everyday dilemma of choosing an orange from a bowl of oranges to illustrate the point.

This is how my logic navigated me through life (before I achieved enlightenment):

Let’s say I have four oranges in my fruit bowl, three of which still look fresh, young, zesty and healthy, but one orange is on the turn, with blemished skin, dark patches and bruises forming. And let’s say I fancy an orange. Which one do you think I eat? I don’t choose at random, I use a form of logic that goes like this – eat the one on the turn because tomorrow it will have gone over and will be ruined, save the healthy ones, they still have a shelf-life.  And so I eat the fourth orange, the one on the turn. I find the experience mediocre at best. Satisfaction 50%

The following day I have three oranges in my fruit bowl, two of which still look fresh, young, zesty and healthy, and one that’s now on the turn, with blemished skin, dark patches and bruises forming … I eat the one on the turn. Satisfaction 50%. The following day I have two oranges, one on the turn, one healthy … Satisfaction 50%. On day four the final orange is looking very shabby, it’s on the turn, logic dictates it won’t last, I’m tired of oranges but I eat it. Satisfaction 30%.

Let’s assume the average orange delivers 10 units of enjoyment, my total enjoyment from my four oranges is 50% x 10 x 3 + 30% x 10 = 18.

This is how an enlightened person applies thinking in his life:

The smart person fancies an orange and discovers he has four in his fruit bowl, three of which are healthy and one that is on the turn. He bins the shitty one and eats the ever-so slightly inferior orange from the remaining three (note that it is still still very healthy and far from the turn). Mmm, it’s delicious, he scores a dizzying 90% satisfaction, harvesting nine enjoyment points in the process.

On day two, he only has two oranges left, but they’re still lush oranges, bursting with life and zingy fruitiness. He chooses the slightly weaker one of the two but it’s still a cracking orange. He scores 70% satisfaction, collecting seven enjoyment points.  On day three, he only has one orange left, the leader of the pack, the SAS of the orange world, the never-say-die alpha male, the king of the hill. He eats it, he derives 70% satisfaction and collects a further seven enjoyment points.

On day four he has no oranges left, but he doesn’t give a shit, he’s sick of oranges anyway and he doesn’t want to turn into a bloody orange!

Total enjoyment points = 9+7+7 = 23

If it were only oranges that would be OK, but sadly this is mirrored all too often through other facets of my life (and maybe yours too), for I also apply similar ‘orange’ logic to other daily challenges – like selecting underpants for example:

I have 10 pairs of underpants in my pants drawer. Three pairs are my absolute faves – comfortable, roomy yet secure, airy, stylish (in case of road traffic accident) – and seven pairs are getting old and a little tired. They’re also slightly tight fitting (I think they must have shrunk in the wash). They look a bit like old man’s pants too, somewhat dated and embarrassing if I’m brutally honest with myself.

So which pair do I choose? I choose one of the seven shitty pairs obviously, my logic dictating it’s best to save the good ones for another day. Satisfaction 20%. On day two, I repeat the aforementioned logic, selecting another pair of ill fitting, moribund Y-fronts, satisfaction 20%. This repeats the entire week, at which point I do some washing so at the beginning of week two I have 10 fresh pairs of pants, three nice pairs and seven shitty pairs.  Week two, by the same logic, I wear shitty pairs all week.

Let’s say the average pair of underpants delivers 10 units of enjoyment, my weekly enjoyment haul from my pants is a measly 2 x 7 = 14*, whereas the superior logician reaps (3 x 10) + (4 x 2) = 38*.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 09.52.10

Conclusion – live life every day, like it’s your last. Wear nice pants and eat fresh oranges.

 

 

* assumes only 1 weekly wash of smalls

 

Shitty food and corporate skullduggery

Over recent years I’ve read more than my fair share of diet/nutrition books and been convinced (or misled, more on this later) into believing many different fads and diets.

A couple of decades ago I felt the secret lay in supplements, or optimum nutrition as Patrick Holford called it. In many ways it was a precursor to low carb, so credit to Patrick for getting behind that early bandwagon I suppose, but it also seemed to rely on you having to buy lots of supplements – vitamins, minerals, powders, shakes – all conveniently available from Patrick’s online store.

I then looked into Atkins. I lost weight, all the while thinking it absolutely ridiculous that it could be in any way good to consume so much meat and so little fruit and veg. Atkins has now rebranded as a low carb diet. It also has a shop too where you can but shitty low carb, processed foods and snacks at sky high prices.

I then investigated the The Paleo Diet. It seemed to make a lot of sense – to eat natural food, like our early ancestors did, because after all that’s how we’ve been designed, optimised by evolution over thousands of years. This made a lot of sense – eat lean meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. But what about all that meat … ?

And so it went on, through LCHF diets and on all the way through dalliances with pescetarianism, fruitarianism, to vegetarianism, veganism, and then on to whole food, plant based nutrition.

I’m slowly forming my own conclusions and adopting an eating pattern that seems to work for me on several levels, but I am painfully aware other people don’t need my opinions ramming down their throats. I’m aware food choices are deeply personal and there is no ‘one size fits all’. People shouldn’t preach, they should just inform, educate and debate and let individuals make their own choices.

I’m also of the belief that the biggest and most important debate shouldn’t be between the vegan, the vegetarian, the pescatarian, the paleo and the fruitarian. The real issue we need to debate, the real enemy we need to face, is real (natural) food vs. processed food.

Putting ethical/moral issues to one side for a moment, there’s little evidence that moderate amounts of well cared for, outdoor farmed meat does you any harm, and meat can in fact provide you with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. Heavily processed meat on the other hand appears to be problematic, as does intensively farmed meat.

There is no evidence to suggest vegetables are bad for you, and in fact they undoubtedly provide you with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. But if you deep freeze a carrot, transport it over a thousand miles, inject it with chemicals to enhance shelf life, add sugar for ‘extra taste’ because you depleted all the natural flavours, and then mix it sparingly into TV dinners, you can get a much greater bang for your corporate carrot buck. And instead of getting a cheap, wholesome, nutritious and natural vegetable, the consumer gets a rather bland, sugary, nutritionally bereft orangey, floppy, lifeless sticky thing floating in a gloopy ‘soup’ which can be sold at a great profit.

There is no evidence that whole fruits are bad for you, and in fact they provide us with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. But if you extract just a very small amount of the juice, add carbonated water, even more sugar AND aspartame, add some preservatives to improve shelf-life, add stabiliser and phenylanaline, you get a can of fizzy drink with 23g of sugar, more than 25% of the UK daily allowance for a female adult.

Hopefully you get the point – natural foods are generally good, processed foods are generally shit and it is these sugary drinks, sugary snacks, sugary breakfast cereals, shitty white breads, sugary desserts, salty TV dinners, chemically infused ready meals, mechanically recovered and reconstructed chicken nuggets which are the real menace and which are killing us quickly.

The evidence is out there waddling down our high streets and camped on our sofas and GP waiting rooms for all to see. We are fatter than ever before, we have more diabetes sufferers than ever before, more cardiovascular disease than ever before, more incidences of cancer than ever before. So much for progress.

I’m not saying this is all down to diet – I’m sure environmental and hereditary factors play a role here too – but the food we put inside our bodies undoubtedly plays a very significant and very dominant part in the current health crisis.

I think the message is finally getting out there, but only if you look hard enough, and even then the scientific messaging and evidence is still confused. Scholars may now know the problems are more to do with sugars rather than fats, they may know the chemicals we add to prolong shelf life can be carcinogenic, they may also know that natural food is better than processed food, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination to research this stuff yourself, you could be forgiven for thinking all is well is the world of modern food.

And that’s because the messages being transmitted from our supermarket aisles are intentionally muddled and often very biased for sinister reasons, specifically aimed at keeping the muggles in the dark.

Food industry funding of nutritional science is plain wrong. Coca cola paying scientists to  shift the blame away from diet and onto exercise is just ethically corrupt. This is deliberate obfuscation of the facts solely designed to confuse and mislead. This is corporate marketing at its worst.

I know we have to be practical here. We have a free market where people and corporations should be allowed to create and innovate however they see fit. And at the end of the day it’s down to us, the consumers, to use our intelligence and common sense, but let’s also be fair. There is such a thing as corporate social responsibility.

The debate of meat vs fish vs fruit vs plants should remain a secondary issue until we once and for all gain a fair and transparent view on the damage we are really doing with our modern, processed, corporate fronted, so-called dietary advice.

Food politics

food politics

You won’t ever stop some folk from eating what they want, and of course that’s their prerogative, but let’s at least lay the facts out for all to see, once and for all, so that we can all participate on a level playing field.

The two faces of an English September …

It’s September and it’s a bit shit outside. This is England and our lousy summer is over.

A summer that started so promisingly, with BBQs firing and drinks fizzing as far back as May. And back then we all thought this was it, this was going to be just like the summer of ’76 – that sizzling, scorching, dream of a summer when us kids played out for six long, glorious weeks, from dawn until dusk.

We think of ’76 every year, but like every other year, this one wasn’t to be. June was hotter than average, but wetter than average too, and this pattern repeated through July. August was cool and wet. Rain never seemed far away these past months.

And so here we are, the week that children, teachers and MPs return to school and work, the week our roads and public transport networks regain their familiar bloated, unkempt and overcrowded personas.

After a summer of over indulging, it’s time to can the booze, time to wheel out those empty promises of healthy eating and regular exercise in the safe knowledge they will be long discarded once again before October is out.

The clouds are forming, the first leaves are falling alongside the raindrops and the central heating is starting to creak and burp into life.

Deep breath ladies and gentleman, here we go.

Janus, the god of beginnings, transitions and endings. September is Janus with two faces, one looking back, reflecting on the summer that’s gone, one looking forward, excitedly planning for the autumn and winter to come.

Less than four months to Christmas, initial plans are afoot – who should we invite? what days shall we take off? what about new years eve?

Is that boiler actually working?

It’s time for jumpers, time for soups, casseroles and stews. Time for hot brews, time to snuggle down and watch TV, time for good BBC dramas, time for decent films at the cinema.

Sod the boiler, it’s time for log fires. Put the lawn mower in the shed, get out the rake. Time for rosy cheeks and wellington boots, time for long walks in scarves and gloves. Look at those leaves turning brown and gold. Let’s make a fire!

It’s September and it’s a bit shit outside. This is England and our beautiful autumn is just beginning.

autumn2