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

 

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The idiocy of being me …

I’ve been set an assignment by my Blogging101 course, to ‘write a blog to my target audience, on any subject, but with an interesting twist’.

I immediately panicked, I don’t have a target audience…

Target audience -> all human beings

That feels a bit vague …

Target audience -> people like me

This is hard, really hard.

The Blogging101 students have a common room, an online chatroom. I’ve already been on there several times and seen that loads of people have already done their homework and this is just like school all over again, all those feelings I used to have, have come flooding back. I’m more obsessed by how far others have got on their assignments than actually doing my own, and the more I procrastinate, the bigger my crisis becomes.

And yet it feels ever so slightly comforting and familiar, like slipping into an old pair of jeans. Part of me likes being told what to do, part of me likes to rebel, I will do my homework assignment but not without a small drama, a quiet rebel yell, a Tim Henman-esque fistpump.

It’s getting late, but here I am, doing my assignment, writing about not doing my assignment. This is like a bloody John Le Carre novel.

And this is a picture of a twisty snake, next to Tim Henman, fist-pumping. Pretty interesting huh? My classmates are gonna love this …

 

twisty snakeHenman

My name is Andy and I’m a blogger …

Of course you knew that, regular readers, but you see I’m doing a ‘Blogging 101’ course through the kind people at WordPress, my blog hosts. I want to try and improve my blogging, and my first assignment is to re-do my introductory blog, to re-visit and re-answer the basic question:

“who I am and why I’m here”

When I first did this at the very beginning of my blog back in 2012, which can be found here, I made up all sorts of excuses about how random and unpredictable my blog would be.  But I was right! It is random, sporadic, unpredictable. My blogs are like London buses, nothing for days and suddenly two come along at once.

So why do I blog? Because I love the edginess of blogging. I could write in a diary or journal, and in fact I used to do that but I found it too easy to become sloppy. I often wrote in shorthand and used bullet points and abbreviations. I scribbled in my already shoddy handwriting. I didn’t have to explain or justify things and it all felt rather staid and loose. Worst of all I wrote about the same things – about how I was feeling, about my likes and dislikes but always in a very insular way, and even I got bored.

With a blog you can at least pretend you have an audience, you can imagine critical eyes being cast over your writing and that demands a certain level of effort. Being accused of being boring is quite an insult for me, and so with a public blog I am forced to try and say something original, something new, something funny or interesting, or at the very least thought provoking.

An analogy would be working from home versus going into an office. When I work from home I can wear a scruffy t-shirt and jeans, I might wash my face but may not shower, I may not brush my teeth until mid-morning. When I go into the office I always wear pants, I will always wash, always brush my teeth, wear sensible shoes and clean clothes and generally make more of an effort.  To me that’s writing a diary/journal versus blogging – one can live a pantless, scruffy, unshaven existence but it’s not very nourishing.

Blogging therefore challenges me more than writing a private journal ever would, and from challenge emanates a degree of personal growth. It enforces a level of discipline on the undisciplined me. Often I get the urge to blog long before I have a subject, and in such situations I just write from a blank page and am constantly amazed at how stuff just appears. It’s not always great, but is forever unexpected.

Sometimes I just have a spark of an idea, and I use the blog to work and expand that idea further. Often I might not have a strong opinion or even a conclusion to my thought, and sometimes through the act of blogging I may even change my original point of view – I thought I believed A but in fact through blogging realise I believed in B, and I love that sense of personal discovery.

I also get a kick out of any blog interaction as few and far between as they may be. Comments from people who have taken the time to read my blog never cease to cheer my wearisome soul. People lead busy lives and there’s a stack of stuff to read and do, and so if through my blog I can solicit a comment, it means I have stirred something in someone else, somehow moved some electrons somewhere else in the universe, and that’s a lovely thought which makes me feel alive, makes me feel connected.

And yes, I have an ego too. I may never be famous, but through my blog may I never be forgotten. Please, not that.

Unchaining the digital slave

Browsing Facebook is easy, playing candy crush is simple, building my SimCity takes very little effort. I can easily burn several hours a day doing these things, and I can do them anywhere – on a plane, on a train, at my desk, in a meeting (!), on the loo, in bed. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and do them. I think of something funny, something that I think will make people laugh and so I make a mental note to post an update on Facebook in the morning. Sometimes I do it there and then in the middle of the night, in case I forget, and whilst I’m on my phone I may even sell some items on SimCity to get more money, to build a bigger city. I’m a terrible sleeper.

geek-modern-life

I’m currently stuck on level 500-and-something of Candy Crush Saga. I’ve been stuck on it for weeks and it’s really hacking me off. I contemplated paying for extra moves, or buying additional booster packs but I thought better of it. I’ve paid before, 69p, doesn’t sound a lot but each time you do it a small piece of your soul dies and your kharma shrivels up, like a slug exposed to salt.

I’m on level 15 of SimCity BuildIt, but I’ve only been on it a couple of weeks. I look enviously at my SimCity neighbours, some who have row upon row of shiny skyscrapers and beaches and airports and beautiful people and … how do they do it? I’m so envious, I must work harder at mine, so I load it on iPad as well as iPhone allowing me to build my city anytime, anywhere, any place, it’s the right one, it’s the bright one, it’s Martini.

Facebook brings out the worst in me. I update my status at airports, that’s cool, and foreign restaurants, and cinemas, and concerts. I like to tell jokes to make me look funny as well. Basically I’m a show-off and an attention seeker. I also only choose to share select parts of my life – I choose my photos carefully, need to look good, need to look cool. I like to talk about my kids, but only the good stuff, the funny stuff. I don’t mention the arguments, the screams and shouts, the tantrums, the door slamming.

And possibly worst of all, when something exciting happens, I have this urge to take a photo and upload it to Facebook, often lessening the experience of the actual life moment itself as a result. I see life’s exciting events through a lens rather than just experience the event itself.

I also, rather ironically, get really annoyed by other peoples updates – people that show-off, people on beaches, people in schmalzy restaurants, people in airports mysteriously omitting their destination, making us guess where they’re heading. People posing in a selfie, people posting YouTube songs, like we care!! Yes that’s right, people identical to me, I’m a hypocrite.

I try and justify this nonsense to myself and it goes something like this – I work hard, I need to relax, I deserve to relax, and so this is my relaxation, playing SimCity. Therefore I wake at 3am to fill my factories with metal and wood, to build tools and equipment, ready for the morning. Perhaps I’ll even play a bit of CandyCrush too, then realise I haven’t played Words With Friends for a few days either and my Scrabble friends will be getting annoyed with me, so I’d better do that as well. I’m exhausted, but hey this is my relaxation time, I deserve it.

How warped and flawed is that thinking?  Of course work is hard, and yes family life can be hard – thinking ahead and planning meals, cooking, cleaning, all this on top of a draining and demanding job takes time and effort, but it’s the same for everyone. So why then, when I have so little time for anything these days, do I feel the right thing to do is sit down and check my SimCity? My hammers and spades are ready – Yay! So I make more, but oh no my SimCity police force is understaffed and my SimCity citizens are getting antsy, my mayor approval rating is falling!  So I switch to Candy Crush but this is such a hard level …

And no matter how hard I try, my SimCitizens are always pissed with me, because that’s how the game works. I built a police station but now they want fire protection, I build a fire station but now they want improved sewage and waste collection. It’s so insidiously stressful and it’s 100% self inflicted.

Meanwhile, I’ve only got 3 bloody likes for that YouTube video I posted on Facebook? What the HELL is wrong with these tone-deaf idiots? And on and on it goes.

All these things we do seemingly for pleasure, but somehow I manage to make them my life. I become enveloped, my head is spinning – what to do next? Water my strawberries on Farmville or build more chairs to sell in SimCity? Those candies won’t crush themselves and if I’m not careful I’m going to lose at scrabble again. I’m not good enough, I’m failing at everything. Now I have traffic jams on my SimCity streets – sadface #sadface :-(.

evolution_of_man

Of course, to any sane person, none of the above is real, none of this is life, none of it is living. In the meantime, outside of my self-promoting digital world, out there in the real world, real people are feeling ignored, real bills are left unpaid, real relationships left untended, real problems unresolved. Life is hard, Damon Albarn was bang on, modern life is rubbish, so adding to this with digital nonsense is so utterly, unspeakably facile, I think my head might explode, and so it’s time to make some changes.

Click, whirr …

Facebook – deleted
Messenger – deleted
SimCity (BuildIt) – deleted
CandyCrush – deleted
Words with Friends – deleted
Google+ – deleted
Snapchat – deleted

=== The End ===

It’s all about me … (yawn)

Friends of mine will already know I’m a bad sleeper.  It’s one of my favourite dinner party conversations.  All I need is someone to make the first move … “I didn’t get much sleep last night” … and I’m in, like a ferret up a ginnel.  I sometimes talk over them in my enthusiasm to tell them how badly I sleep all the time.  My lack of empathy knows no bounds as I take control of the conversation droning on about how I manage to get off to sleep but then wake up at 3am and can’t get back again.  My routine can be quite funny, I’ve been practicing it for years now.  I explain how I don’t really have much to worry about when I wake, and at this point I look around the dinner table to gauge people’s reactions to this amazing fact.  I’m such an enigma.  I tell anecdotes about how my mind obsesses over trivia, like cutting the grass or shredding paperwork (snigger). As you can imagine it’s quite hilarious, I’m quite hilarious.  Meanwhile the poor sod who first broached the subject about being knackered is consigned to being a spectator, unable to counter my tsunami of funny sleep stories.

I do the same with booze stories. Tell a tale about your hangover in my company, then step aside, because Andy’s in town. You think my sleep disorder stories are funny? Wait until I tell you about the time I shampoo’d the walls at university with Geordie Graham, or that time in the late 90s when I walked home from the Oktoberfest by following the train tracks, walking inside them to keep in a straight line. I did live near the train tracks at the time in Munich, so it wasn’t as stupid as it sounded, although of course it was ridiculously dangerous and very, very funny. At this point I have to resist telling even more anecdotes, for there are many, but I risk falling into the trap about about which I write, my narcissism.

In my defence, I try to be a funny narcissist, and I can be quite entertaining in small doses, but I do tend to overdo it.  I also inherited a gene which means I tend to inflate my tales somewhat, perhaps to heighten the interest, to assuage my guilt at having dominated, nay, stolen, the dinner conversation conch shell from some other poor soul.

My sleep, for example, whilst it has always been poor, had never been a serious problem.  Yes, I had difficulties getting off to sleep, and yes, I had a habit of waking in the early hours and struggled to get back, but generally I muddled through. Just like millions of others, most of whom don’t bore all and sundry with their sorry tales of mild sleeplessness at dinner parties.

This past month has been different.  My sleeplessness has been much more severe, much more prolonged.  Initially this gave me a huge pile of stuff to bang on about.  I had closed my Facebook account so couldn’t post hilarious 3am threads any more (as was my wont), so instead I told my family and friends, even people at work, at every occasion that presented itself, I went on a diatribe relaying my latest poor sleep exploits like a splurge gun.  I was on a roll with all these new tales of woe. “I literally had 2 hours sleep last night” and I would wait for the pitying replies … “Poor you”, “You must be shattered!”, “Take care mate”.  It was comforting, I was struggling, people needed to know, I was like a pig in shit.

The quality of my sleep continued to decline and plumbed depths I have never been before and I went beyond being “knackered” to feeling really quite ill.  I had phantom pains, I was occasionally hallucinating, I could barely string a sentence together.  I ended up at the doctors out of sheer despair.  My work was suffering, and suddenly it wasn’t funny any more, not even to me, the king of sleep comedy.

I am too tired to tell my witty sleep anecdotes any longer, I am sick and tired (very tired) of hearing my own voice bleating on about how bad my plight is.  I now have a proper sleep problem, one which requires medication and scares the shit out of me.  I’m seriously scared that I may never regain the art of sleeping naturally and soundly again, and that’s why I will never hijack dinner parties with my banal sleep stories any more.  Sleep is no longer a comedy routine of mine, it’s a serious, debilitating issue, and so if we do ever meet, over dinner or elsewhere, if you want to talk about your sleep problems, I promise I will keep my mouth shut and just listen.

A new beginning, again …

It’s that time of year, the end of the year, my favourite time of the year.

As a child I always enjoyed moving bedrooms. I can’t remember why we did, but we seemed to do it with some regularity. Not mum and dad, they didn’t, but me and my brother did. It was a 3-bedroomed semi so the choice was simple – he took mine and I took his. The reason I liked it, is that the reasons underlying my motivation to switch rooms, are the same reasons I enjoyed starting a new exercise book at school, the same reasons I like the beginning of the new year – it’s a chance for a new beginning.

I got bored of staring at the walls of my bedroom, bored of the view out of my window, sick of the clutter I had amassed. My old school exercise book was messy, full of untidy scribbles, ink stained, error strewn.

A new bedroom meant starting again, a new exercise book was an opportunity to get it right this time. In hindsight it never worked. My new bedroom became, over time, just like my old bedroom – messy, cluttered, boring. My new exercise book just like the old one – still smudging the ink with my clumsy right fist, still getting answers wrong, still crossing out.

Now I am older, and a parent/adult rather than a child, I tend not to switch bedroom unless we move house, and I don’t use exercise books that much, and so the new year is my outlet, my way of serving this in-built desire for a fresh, clean start.

And yet what is strange, is that the pattern is alarmingly predictable. Every year I make plans, and every Jan 1st my head is buzzing, awash with new goals, targets and objectives for the coming 12 months. The resolutions do vary, a little, but are largely centred around health, family, work and personal development. And every single year I fail, often spectacularly, occasionally moderately, but almost always never reach any of my preset targets.

So why bother? People often ask me that, bemused why I haven’t grown up and out of this silly practice dictated and driven by the turn of a page on a calendar. Such nonsense.

And yet, as I get older, it seems to become even more important. Maybe as time becomes a scarce commodity, which means the future does too, I feel the need more than ever to plan my time properly. I wish I didn’t. I look admiringly at people who seemingly live life with gay abandon, meeting new challenges head on, as and when they occur.

It’s a double edged sword as this annual exercise includes a fair degree of reflection as I look back on the year that was, listing my faults, my mistakes, my failings along the way. That’s not a very uplifting experience and can be quite depressing, but that’s counterbalanced and wiped away by the thought of the new year – when I can start again and put right all those wrongs!!

It’s Dec 31st as I write this, and I am starting to realise I have so much to do in 2014, I just don’t know where to start. I have no list of New Years resolutions prepared and I feel sightly panicked. Tomorrow means I move into my new bedroom, start my new exercise book and start all over again.

But what will the view be out of my new bedroom window? What should I write in my new book?

Happy new year.

A very dry January

So, I did it.  I managed to go an entire month without any alcohol, an oft attempted NY resolution with a 0% success rate until now.  In fact I have never reached 3rd January before without falling off the wagon which is spectacularly bad, although in my defence 2nd January is my birthday.

Not wishing to go over old ground from my previous blog, let’s skip straight to the key points.  What have I learned?

I now know I can go a whole month without alcohol.  Whit-whew, whoop-di-doo, get me.  The objective in itself is meaningless without looking at the tangible benefits so here goes:

1) Financial
I estimate I drink 4 bottles of wine a week normally @ ~£6 a bottle, with one visit to a pub for a couple of pints @ £3.50 a pint.  Add to that a couple of G&T ‘sharpeners’ to kickstart the weekend and perhaps a cheeky late night Malt and that’s another £3-ish, so approx £35 a week.  £150 a month.
Impact: Significant

2) Weight
I lost around 4Kg from 1-31 Jan, approx. 9lbs, but there are a whole load of caveats here.  Firstly, it was January and I always begin the year at my heaviest after a libidinously indulgent festive season, and so by doing nothing different I would expect to shed around 3lbs anyway.  I also watched what I ate and did some 5:2 fasting and whilst I don’t enjoy the success my wife does, I suspect this also contributed to a couple of lbs of weight-loss too.  I’ve also been exercising a lot, although when I was training for the London Marathon in 2008, averaging 30-40 miles running a week, I still didn’t lose any weight, so not sure I can attribute much weight loss to exercise.  I would therefore suggest around 2lb in weight loss attributable to not drinking.  That’s still 24lbs extrapolated over a year.
Impact: Significant

3) General health
I definitely exercised more due to feeling good each day and not hiding behind the hangover.  I also saw a marked improvement in long term running injuries for the first time in years, which I would say is an indirect consequence of not drinking (not drinking -> more exercise -> improved strength & conditioning).  I have felt pretty fit and perky throughout, certainly more than usual and this might be psychological. Sometimes after a boozy session I just assumed I would be tired and therefore probably was.  Conversely now I expect to feel better and therefore do.
Impact: Moderate

4) Sleep
A big problem of mine traditionally.  Interestingly I have had a lot going on with work this month (a usual cause for poor sleep) and yet despite this I have definitely slept better than average.  Still had a couple of bad nights, so not a cure but a marked improvement in the quality of sleep if not the duration.
Impact: Moderate

So some tangible benefits there, the main one being financial followed by some weight/health benefits.  I haven’t done detailed blood tests which could add extra weight to these arguments.  For example a reduction in cholesterol or BP or glucose levels would certainly push this category more towards ‘Significant’.

Conclusions?
Much easier than I ever imagined.  During the last two weeks I even forgot to count and I had days where I don’t think I ever thought of having a drink.  I only went to a pub once and found that really hard.  I did stare a little too longingly at some blokes drinking pints of what looked like gorgeous tasting ale, but what I missed more than the taste was the ‘occasion’.  Going to a pub with friends/family and not drinking feels odd in a “why bother?” kind of way.  The best way to describe this is to say that I felt a bit sad.  I missed that chilled feeling, that warmth and relaxation, that light, heady fuzz that comes from the first pint, that feeling of walking back to the bar for a second one because you’re in the zone.  I really missed that as I drank my orange juice and tonic.  I also missed a glass of red with certain meals.  Wine just goes together with food like no other drink can. That wasn’t so much the need for alcohol, but the need for a full flavoured drink that isn’t gassy, suger laden or just plain bland.

I’m pleased with the results and pleased with my ability to remain resolute throughout.  Now I face a dilemma of what to do next.  My inability to moderate worries me – the ‘cheesy wotsit’ syndrome (see last blog) worries me.  I certainly don’t miss hangovers but I do miss the social side of drinking and the sensible answer is to resume drinking but in moderation.  Easier said than done in my case.

We’ll see.

A revolution in new year’s resolutions …

Part I – History

When I was a school-kid, I loved it when I finished my exercise book and needed a new one.

Me: “Eyup Sir! ‘Av finished me book Sir!
Sir: “Then get a new one Ramsbottom! Cupboard!
Me: “Aw nice one, thanks Sir!
Sir: “And put that bloody bird down!

And I would giddily run over to the bleak looking store cupboard and select my new, clean, shiny, blank, untarnished exercise book.  It was exciting, an almost spiritual experience. That first page felt so soft and spongy, with all those other cleanly ironed pages behind, cushioning it. Tactile-tastic. Writing your name on the front in best handwriting “BILLY CASPER, 3BG” before opening it up to that fresh, virgin, welcoming first page.  Time for your first words, “12th January, 1973, in the top right hand corner.

I probably wrote the date in a special colour. And then next came the title, best handwriting, “How I Spent My Christmas“, perfectly centred, underlined, (oddly capitalised?). My shiny new exercise book was so soft, so easy to write on. This book was going to be different.  A game changer.  This was going to be neat all the way through. Best handwriting ever. And it would change my life, or so I thought. This must be where the saying, “Turning a new leaf comes from?” I jauntily mused in a light humoured and good natured fashion.

And then you turned the page, side 2 of page 1, the hard, cold, bare, unpleasant and most difficult page of them all. Oh you could rest your old exercise book underneath to provide some cushioned support, but it wasn’t the same, not like those pristine pages cushioning page 1 side 1. And the old exercise book didn’t quite fit all the way to the spine and so what cushioning you had disappeared two-thirds along the line, causing your words to fall off a precipice into the abyss of mediocrity, unpleasantness and typical untidiness.

And that was it. The love affair was over. Ink now rubbed from the page to your hand and back to the page again. Blotchy, scratchy, untidy, side 2 of page 1 had ruined the entire exercise book from hereonin.

Me: “Aw Sir!!  Can ar gerranother Sir? Av mucked it up Sir!
Sir: “Do you think I’m made of money Casper? Do you!? Why don’t you sell that bloody bird and then you can buy another book, eh?  How about that!?
Me: “Fcuk you Sir
Sir: “What did you say Casper?
Me: “Err, ar dint seh nowt Sir!

A memory from childhood, but a recurring theme throughout life, in various differing guises. And in a similar vein, that’s why New Year feels significant now, much more so than Christmas ever will for me. January 1st represents a brand new start, a full reboot, a metaphorical clean first page in a new exercise book, side 1 page 1.

I relish the chance to start again, looking forward to New Years Day when I can put all these foibles, errors, mistakes in life, all behind me, to start afresh again. Having said that, I am still appallingly bad at keeping new years resolutions, and in truth I have stopped talking about them as it got quite embarrassing, often failing, sometimes epically, occasionally spectacularly.

For years I have been going to write a book. I could see friends’ eyes glaze over when I trotted this one out, drunk, on 31st December around midnight.  Usually that was a sign that my wife needed to sort me out, not just for my sake, but for everyone else’s, as it was a strong indication that I had crossed the rubicon and was about to tell everyone all my plans for the new year, again:

Gone midnight and then some, NYE, every year:
Me: “Sod it, I’m gonna jack in my job next week and write a book.  This is it.  A new start.  I’ve seen the light and I’ve had enough.  I’m sick of it, sick of leading a hollow life, a slave to the corporate machine.  I want to break free, I know … I’m gonna write a novel!

Friends: “Donna?  Can you come here a minute? Quickly!
Wife: “Oh, there you are.  Shall we take you to bed?  It’s getting late and you’re tired
Me: “Wait I haven’t finished, things are changing, I’m serious this time.  I mean it.  I’m lost in a lullaby, caught by the side of the road, melted in memories, sliding in solitude, I want to read by the moon
Wife: “I know you do.  And you’re all of those things, really you are, but you’re tired, why don’t you get some rest?
Me: “I love you .. and her … and him .. he’s my best mate
Wife: “That’s a microwave, come along, say good night to all your friends?
Friends: “Night Andy!  Sleep tight! Happy New Year!
Me: “I LOVE YOU ALL!

My resolutions are usually thus:

– write a book
– change my job
– lose weight
– do voluntary work
– be less materialistic
– be a nicer person
– stop drinking

I have to admit it is getting a little boring, even to me, so I can only imagine what it’s like for everyone else, and sadly this year was no different. I couldn’t sleep as I made my plans for 2013, the list was forming in my head, this was it, I was adamant that this time it was going to be different after all, this was the year it would all change!

My list was revised and rewritten, it was much more pragmatic:

– forget ever writing a book you delusional idiot
– change my job
– lose weight
– do voluntary work
– be less materialistic
– be a nicer person
– stop drinking

So not a huge change then.

That my birthday happens to be 2nd January is somewhat problematic, as I often get drunk on my birthday, eating my take-away (birthday treat Chicken Dhansak) as I open my presents, which means stop drinking, lose weight and be less materialistic can be crossed off the list straight away, not even 48 hrs into the new year.

By the time January is completed, I’m usually left with “change my job” and “stop drinking”, and the whole resolution thing kind of fizzles away for another 11 months.

Part II – Present

The “stop drinking” resolution is a real pain.  I keep records and track my progress using a metric of “Alcohol Free Days” hitherto known as AFDs. In the 80s I used to note them in my paper diary, more recently I have developed sophisticated spreadsheets to track progress. I set targets – AFDs/year. In 1987 I achieved 32 AFDs, so just over 2.5 AFDs a month.  One year, 1991, I hit 100, over 8 AFDs a month.  They were my lowest and highest since records began, and they make pretty shoddy reading as I never once hit my target of 120 (10/month).

Over the last few years I changed tactics slightly and started to monitor Consecutive AFDs (CAFDs) on the premise that these were a) easier to track and b) healthier for you.  Someone once told me your liver starts to go into repair mode after four CAFDs, and that spurred me on.  I don’t want to know if that’s true or not, but it sounds good and it’s motivational.

Conveniently, four CAFDs also fits nicely into the working week.  Mon to Thurs means a mild liver detox and makes work a little more bearable ‘sans hangover’.  There was a slight problem though, as I usually got so excited at such a monumental achievement, that I got so drunk on the Friday, I undid all the good I had done over the previous four days. This ‘rebound effect’ is a bummer.  It’s like I have a new years resolution deathwish.

My wife is completely different.  For a start, she is only a light/moderate drinker, but if she ever feels she is drinking too much, she just cuts down. Instead of having two glasses of wine she has one, and I can only sit and stare in admiration at this alien concept of moderation. I can see it’s so healthy, and I am respectfully envious of people that can do that, but I know that if I open that bottle of wine, I finish it.  One glass is all it takes to sound the klaxons – PARTY TIME! LET’S ROCK! and before you know it, it’s 2am and I’m sat in the dark, in my underpants, eating Wotsits and playing Championship Manager on my iPhone.

Next day
Me: “I’m fed up, I’m never drinking again
Wife: “Oh really? Again? We’ve been here before though, haven’t we?
Me: “Yeah but, no but … no!  I mean it this time!  This time it’s for real! I’m never drinking again!
Wife: “Ok, by the way I found your underpants down the back of the sofa … inside an empty pack of cheesy Wotsits?
Me: {Awkward} {Embarrassed face}

2007 was a major milestone for me, I achieved 22 CAFDs which straddled Jan/Feb.  From 20th January to 10th February I was alcohol-less, and in so doing, I had achieved the longest CAFD run since records began.  One mistake I made was starting mid-January, so I lost the incentive as there was no symmetry to it.  I also remember we were invited to a neighbour’s for dinner on the Saturday, and I got all panicky and ended up drinking so much that I loathed myself for ending my record breaking CAFD run in such disappointing, crash and burn circumstances.  You can probably guess what happened next, suffice to say a fair few Wotsits were consumed.

So, onto today, January 24th 2013, which is significant for me as I have now gone 23 days without a drop of alcohol (CAFD = 23*).  And it’s symmetrical.  I haven’t had a drink since 2012.  I like that and it appeals to my Aspergers need for neat lines and numerical orderliness.  It even included my birthday, and it’s the longest I have ever gone without alcohol since I was a boy. Fact. On. A. Stick.

A shameful record for most adult humans, particularly a 48yr old human, but nevertheless a milestone for me personally. I do worry about the inevitable day when it all ends, so if you see me out shopping in the next few days, and I have a bumper pack of orangey coloured, cheesy flavoured snacks in my trolley, I suggest you duck down the next aisle and give me a wide berth.

Me: coming shortly (date: TBC)

* and counting …

Isn’t it ironic …

As I get older, I find it even more frustrating that the precious, and increasingly scarce time I have left on this planet, is taken up being a corporate drone for someone else.

When you break it down to basics, being an employee is basically trading your free time for money.  Here’s how it works – I give you my time 9-5, five days a week, and in return you pay for my house, utility bills and a few treats, deal?  That’s 21.9% of your life incidentally (taking holidays into account).

Except it’s not quite that simple.  I don’t know many people that only work 40 hours a week. Most people in my industry work at least 8-6 (and many work more, but let’s be conservative here), and you can probably add 2 hrs a day commuting to/from work (1hr each way). For many that’s much higher and for some much lower, but let’s stick with the average here again. We are now up to 32.9%.

And if, like me, you worry about work, plan for work, check emails in the evening, send things over the weekend in readiness for the following week etc, let’s assume 1 additional hour a day given over to work and we find ourselves up to 39.8%. That’s over a third of our lives given over to our jobs in reality.

Hopefully you sleep well and get the average 8 hours sleep, but even if you sleep badly you probably at least try to get to sleep, and therefore we all spend somewhere in the region of 8 hours each night sleeping or trying to sleep.  That’s exactly 33.3% of our lives then, bringing the total time dedicated to working and sleeping to around 73%.

So for an average of 40 years, the best, most healthiest, most sociable, most family intensive years of your life, you have around 27% to yourself.  Except it’s not to yourself because much of that 27% is taken up with other jobs that have been neglected during the 73% of stolen time. You still have to clean the house, do the washing, vacuum, wash the dishes, empty the rubbish, inflate car tyres, fix leaky taps, clear up dog shit, etc. So let’s say we spend a very conservative 1.5hrs a day doing all those routine DIY/maintenance things – that’s another 6% stolen, taking our genuine free time down to a rather sorry looking 21%.

But of course for much of that 21% you are tired, or sick, or distracted, largely because of that 39.8% that insidiously creeps into other parts of your life, affecting your health, affecting your sleep (which further affects your health), further affecting your relationships with your spouse, your kids, your friends (how many times have you felt too knackered to go out?), and so that 21% ‘quality time’ is actually pretty poor quality after all.

If you’re like me, genuine free time is so valued that you waste much of it trying to work out what to do with it.  I immediately feel guilty and feel I have to fill it with more of those DIY/maintenance tasks (making that figure of 6% even bigger in truth).  So instead of watching the replay of Match Of The Day on that spare hour on Sunday morning, I do paperwork, bills that need paying usually.  So that 21% is actually less than 15% of genuine quality time.

And after all that, I really want to savour that quality time, and therefore I fill it with treats. I want to drink fine wines, I want expensive foods, I deserve those things after a hectic day don’t I? I want to eat in fancy restaurants on the weekend, I want to holiday with my family in sunnier climes thousands of miles away, flying on a big silver aeroplane to get there really quickly – after all, time is money.

I’m getting really prickly and defensive now. Fcuk you, I deserve it, I work hard. I want gadgets too. I deserve them, they’re my treats and hey I earn the money (said in an increasingly hostile and defensive tone). I’m also going to treat the kids because I feel guilty I haven’t really been there for them. I know, I’ll get them all an iPhone at Xmas too, they’ll be chuffed to bits. I noticed that family over there are going skiing because they just posted on Facebook, bastards, sod it, we’re going skiing too, you only live once! And in the summer I want some bloody sun. I deserve that. Yes, a villa in Spain with a private pool, that sounds awesome. I’ll post my pictures on Facebook so everyone can see how great and happy we are. I’ll upload photos from the airport, and then again when we land, and then again from the villa, and then from the poolside, and then from the restaurant, and then from the beach (remember to wear a t-shirt, do not show your belly and man-boobs, ffs).

Phew, that was good!  Damn, I’m skint, overdrawn again.  Life is such a chore.  I need a better job, one that pays more.  Yes it might mean more hours but think of the upside?  Ok, ok, so my 15% of spare time falls down to 5% because it’s a really stressful job, but what a 5% I will have!

That’s 72 minutes every day.  Awesome.  Now I really must make the most of that ever so increasingly precious time.  I need more treats.  Perhaps I should try drugs, they say the buzz is really quick and truly amazing.

And drugs is where the materialistic avalanche usually ends, for this is where people with too much money, usually the rich and famous, the celebrities to whom we most aspire, the people whose lives fill our TV screens, our magazines, our social media newsfeeds.  These are the people who become immune and hardened to treats, people who raise the stakes to such dangerous levels that it actually kills them.

And what differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’ is poverty.  Not real poverty, but western poverty.  We have to run the hamster wheel constantly, we can’t stop, whereas they can.  Apparently sharks have to keep moving or else they die, and humans are no different, for when they stop, when there is no chase left, when they have everything, the real irony is that they lose everything.

Only humans could lead such messed up lives.  Kurt Cobain, Keith Moon, Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Jim Morrison, George Best – the list is endless.  Humans with immense, prodigious talent, people who had it all – fame, sex, money, mansions, fast cars, all those things to which we all aspire.

But of course that’s the nub of it all, because as much as we may whinge and moan, as much as we might stare in awe at the rich and famous, it’s the aspiration that keeps us alive, and not the acquisition.

Believing …

When I was a kid I genuinely thought I could influence the outcome of sporting events.  I used to watch a lot of test match cricket, and if England were doing badly, for example needed to take a wicket, I would convince myself I needed to leave the room for 5 minutes and it would happen. Sometimes it did happen, and if I had been having a wee when I was out of the room, I believed it was my wee that forced the outcome.

By the time of Headingley, 1981, when England did the unthinkable and came back from the brink to beat Australia I was drinking tea by the bucketful.  I did it for my country, pissing like a racehorse throughout the day, and I have to say I felt rather peeved when Botham and Willis grabbed all the headlines the next morning.

Same thing used to happen with football.  If it was a penalty against my team, I would shout loudly to anyone that would listen, “He is bound to score! 100% guaranteed!”, whereas if it was my team taking it, I would proclaim “He’s bound to miss! He never scores penalties!”.  This reverse psychology occasionally worked in effecting the right outcome.  Onlookers thought I was a fool.  “You were wrong!” they would shout.  But I knew they were just idiots.  Little did they know that I was applying reverse psychology to the penalty kickers to influence the outcome my way.  Of course sometimes I failed, and the result went against my team and I felt sick, but at least I looked knowledgeable by making the right call.  

The worst thing was if it was a big sporting event of national importance where I was no longer in control.  If it was perhaps a big Euro Finals game, maybe a semi-final match for England, where people generally not associated with football would become interested as the whole country readied itself for the match, and many people not normally associated with football would often say “Oh England should win comfortably tonight against Germany”, and I would look on angrily, muttering under my breath that this cockiness and arrogance was misplaced and was going to get us knocked out.  I would reply with a barrage of reasons why we would lose in the hope of cancelling out their ill-educated and misplaced optimism.  If England won, I had done it, if they lost, it was those cocky amateurs that spoiled the party for the entire nation.  

To think Stuart Pearce blasted high and wide because I hadn’t had time to shout “He will miss!”. He was crying and it was all my fault.  I barely slept a wink that night through guilt.  40+ years of hurt and still counting …

I know it feels silly and stupid but I still do it.  When Alastair Cook carried his bat through to 160 not out on Saturday, I was watching the match on my iPad.  I have a large wired HD TV in the lounge, but Sunday morning I felt I should continue to watch the final day on my 10″ iPad via dodgy WiFi.  I convinced myself that this was just silly superstition, and I settled down in front of the TV, only to see England fall apart, 5 wickets for 60 runs or something, who cares.  We lost, and I scolded myself, ‘If only I had watched on my iPad’ it might have been different.

Now let’s pause for a moment at this point and reflect on this.  I am fairly sure every single one of us would agree that such behaviour is misguided, illogical, juvenile and rather silly.  We’re all agreed, right?  We’ve probably all done it and then reprimanded ourselves afterwards. No?  Just me? 

I think today the establishment have a name for this condition.  I don’t know what it is, but it’s almost certainly a mental flaw, something related to paranoia perhaps.  To actually believe you can influence the outcome of an event 3,000 miles away in Ahmedabad from your settee in Buckinghamshire, simply by thought alone makes you look a bit silly. Fact.

I know it’s ridiculous, and as I get older it becomes even more pathetic.  It’s kind of endearing when an 8 yr old girl closes her eyes, crosses her fingers and makes a wish, but when a middle aged adult does it, it suggests mental health problems.  

And that’s because it makes no logical sense.  If my neighbour does the opposite to me, do we cancel each other out?  If Germany have 50,000 people doing it but England only have 49,999 people doing it, does Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce miss? Of course not.

Call it superstition, call it belief, but whatever it is, it’s certainly illogical.  I mean who do I think I am?  To have such talent I must, by deduction, be at the centre of the universe. I must actually be, or very closely connected to, God. There can be no other explanation unless you can put your faith into something we don’t yet understand. “We don’t know how it works, it just does” some might say, but that kind of suggests there is a God-like person, a superior something that we can’t comprehend so it all comes back to the God argument anyway.

I think I might have mentioned before that I have a problem with religion.  Try as I may I struggle to believe in a monotheistic God.  I’ve tried but I just can’t.  And yet, I look at nature, the wonder and absolute beauty of the universe, the sheer complexity of it all, how everything just works, everything comes together to make the world operate, and I think it can’t be entirely accidental, there has to be something preceding it all, something must be in control.  Yet believing in a monotheistic God doesn’t make any logical sense to me. 

I do admire, and genuinely respect religious people.  It must be nice to have that feeling of being overseen, of being protected.  I worry about death, I think many of us do, but religious people seem to be able to at least find peace with it, reconcile it somehow, and that must be great.  I just don’t know how they do it.  

I think my biggest failing is that when confronted by religion I try to reduce everything down to logic and science instead of just applying faith.  Take prayer.  I’m not sure of the strict OED definition but prayer seems to be about communication with your God, one to one, private communication, but I can’t see past the physics.  I don’t understand how He hears prayers? How does He handle 2 billion people all praying at once?  Do your palms have to be together, fingers pointing upwards? Or can you cross your fingers?  Must your hands be touching?  Must you ‘speak’ your prayer or can you ‘think’ it? And if you can think it, what about all my other not-so-nice thoughts, does He hear those too? Uh-oh.

And how do you sign off from a prayer?  I normally use the word ‘Cheers’ on email but that sounds a bit rude, a bit casual for Him.  And are prayers assessed? Is there a criteria one has to pass or are they all answered?  Actually, I know they’re not all answered because I have prayed and yet Barnsley still lost to Ipswich at Wembley, although I have to admit when Craig Hignett’s goal went in I did for a brief moment think that maybe, just maybe, someone was up there listening.

And what if people involved in a war pray for a successful outcome for their side?  What about people on the other side of the war praying for the opposite outcome?  Are we back to the Germany v England scenario where biggest vote counts?  

I see athletes on the starting line making the sign of the cross.  So how does that work?  What if all 8 people on the 100m start line all pray, who wins then?  And anyway I’ve seen footballers make the sign of the cross as they stepped onto the pitch and they were shit. 

So is there really that much difference in me thinking that having a wee causes a wicket at the cricket, versus me praying for that wicket to happen?