Long lost summer …

It’s nearing the end of the summer, always a time of reflection and of change. The holiday to Spain is very fresh in the memory – that heat, those breathtaking views, cathedrals and palaces, the food. And of course there’s the friendships, camarderie, shared laughs, the holiday jokes. And last but not least, Graeme the Swan(n).

But summer wasn’t just about the Spanish holiday, it was also about those long summer days at home – about opening all the doors and windows, about barbecues and village fetes. It was also about long, hot runs through the countryside, about cooling showers, about cricket, not football. About sleeping on top of the duvet, not underneath it.

It was also about perspectives, a time to reflect on what has been and what is still to be. And new perspectives make for new promises. Changes aren’t just the preserve of the new year, they’re for the beach too, a time we naturally carve out space to rethink our priorities, to readjust, to recalibrate.

And, soon enough we are back at work. It’s always an odd feeling to put on your work gear after weeks of wearing nothing but shorts, t-shirts and sandals. The socks feel weird, the trousers feel a little tighter, but at least you have a healthy tan, for now.

Logging on to work for the first time is a challenge – forgotten passwords, long lines of unread emails demanding your attention and messy problems that you blithely brushed under the carpet back in July are still there waiting, still unresolved.

And in that pointless meeting on your first day back, your mind wanders, you open your wallet and find a receipt from the coffee shop in Andalucia and you’re fleetingly back in Spain, which suddenly feels a very long time ago indeed.

A concept piece in separating the self …

In truth, there’s only ever us, and then there’s life outside of us.

There’s me – my painful knee, my anxiety, my fear of spiders, my dreams, my guilt, my aspirations – and then there’s life out there – the dripping tap, the thunderstorm, Brexit, a spider under the sofa, a garden full of leaves.

These are two very distinct things. I am me, and those things over there are just, well, those things over there.

I control me – I determine my emotional state, my level of well-being, my industriousness, my laziness – and all that is within my control, but I don’t control all the things happening out there – the rain, the wars, the politics, the insects, the plumbing.

And yet, whilst I don’t control any of ‘that’, only ‘this’, I seem to be often held hostage by ‘that’.

Let me give an example …

I see a spider, I feel frightened. Before seeing the spider I might have been quite content with life, but the moment the spider does an 8-legged trot out from beneath the sofa into my line of vision, I become a pissing, gibbering wreck.

Yet I am still me, still the exact same person I was pre-spider – same body, same genes, same blood, same brain, same thought processes.

So what happened? I am now frightened and scared, whereas before I was happy, before that damned spider appeared. Except the spider didn’t appear, the spider was always there, it’s just that I couldn’t see it. What really happened was the spider had a thought, made a decision to walk left, out from beneath the sofa. Had it chosen to stay put, or turn right, I would have remained happy.

Think about that, a neuron fired randomly in a spider’s brain and it spoiled my day. Go figure.

I spill my tea, I cross the road and a car beeps its horn, it’s raining out, the news on the radio is all bad … and yet, in none of these cases could I have affected the outcome. Other people will always piss me off, whatever I do, rain will always fall when it’s ready, earthquakes will always happen, Brexit is Brexit.

Far better surely to live a life where a spider neuron firing doesn’t make or break your day? Far better to live a life where one feels good or bad because of ones own actions?

If, on my way to work, I call in on my elderly neighbour to check if they’re OK and perhaps make them a cup of tea, then surely I deserve to feel good, because there is a genuine cause and a genuine effect, instigated by me.

And more broadly speaking, through such actions can society not be incrementally improved? Whereas when the spider turns left, well, society doesn’t change one iota …

Nor does society change when the lorry driver angrily waves the wanker sign at me as I cross the road and I do the dickhead sign back. What happens is two people become angry, two people’s health suffers and that part of the world becomes a little bleaker, a little angrier.

Let the spider turn left, let the lorry driver wave his chubby, fat, porky, gammon fingers a certain way, let the rain fall. Throughout I can still be me, only ever me, exactly me, before and after.

I think happiness needs to be earned, dictated by the ‘self’, not commandeered by others (such as a spider). Happiness shouldn’t come from pride, but from action – by making a brew for the elderly lady next door, mending that fence, writing that poem, unblocking that drain. These actions make society better and are in turn worthy of happiness.

In a similar vein, nor should we be defined by our jobs or careers. We weren’t born as Accountants, Shopkeepers or Teachers, we became them. But we didn’t change into them, we didn’t switch from being a human being to suddenly being an angry lorry driver – the two things co-exist.  And whilst one is permanent, the other is only ever temporary.

I happen to be a Yorkshireman and I work in Sales. I will always be a Yorkshireman, but I won’t always be working in Sales. At least I fucking hope not.

Our occupations are simply cloaks we wear, uniforms if you like, but the mistake many of us make is that we rarely take them off. Many of us might have been working for so long that we feel like we’ve become someone else, like we’ve shed our original skin and grafted a new one, that of an Accountant, for example.

Think how we often greet strangers:

Them: “Hi, what do you do?”
Me: “Hi, I’m an Accountant”

Time to stop, perhaps. Time for a different tack …

Them: “Hi, what do you do?”

Me: “Hi, I do life”

Them: “Oh. You’re weird, a bit of a dickhead in fact.”

Me: “Look! A spider!”

Hmm, perhaps this ‘concept’ piece needs more work …

Ken and Katerina Brexit – a tragic love story

Ken and Katerina Brexit had been together more than 45 years, having wed on 1st January 1973, but over recent years their relationship had become rather tumultuous and rocky.

Friends and family always thought it was a rather odd marriage in the first place. Ken Brexit, quintessentially British, happiest when at home watching TV and eating simple, British food – bangers and mash was his favourite – whereas Katerina Lautenschlager was always looking outwards and upwards, looking for new experiences and new horizons to explore. Katerina loved nothing more than to socialise, meet friends and to holiday on the continent where she truly felt at home. She loved to party, loved to meet new people, experience new cultures, try different foods – exotic, exciting foods like snails, frogs legs, calamari, paella – all things that quite frankly kept Ken awake at night, the stuff of nightmares.

And so when they tied the knot on Jan 1st 1973, there were a few raised eyebrows, but to their credit, Ken and Katerina were adamant they could make their marriage work, and work it did, for many years. For sure they argued, doesn’t everyone, but they found a way. Katerina admired and respected Ken’s traditional lifestyle, his love of home cooking, his yearning for routine and familiarity. Ken was Katerina’s anchor, always there for him, reliable and dependable, and in return Ken let Katerina do her own thing. She planned all their holidays to places like France, Spain, Italy, Greece and her homeland Germany, and Ken became a little more adventurous and definitely was a richer person as a result.

It was a relationship that worked and life was good, but then in 2016, this all started to change. After 43 years of marriage, Ken started to feel somewhat ill at ease, slightly unhappy in their relationship. He became rather mawkish over his bachelor days and he began to question whether his marriage was actually giving him all that he wanted from life. He started to become a little distant and somewhat awkward with Katerina, and so after some thinking, admittedly muddled thinking, and without much of a plan at all in fact, he sat Katerina down and reeled off a list of demands he wanted from their marriage going forward.

Basically he wanted more say and more control over matters. He wanted more holidays at home, on British shores, and whilst he was OK with a few foreign holidays, he insisted they be to British themed resorts where you could still get fish and chips and a decent pint. Of course Katerina rather baulked at this, but in the spirit of true partnership and compromise, she tried her best to accommodate at least some of his needs. She respected Ken’s desire to retain a strong sense of Britishness within his identity, but in return she wanted to also continue to enjoy her more cosmopolitan life too. She tried to meet him in the middle, but he flatly refused, and for more than a year they fought and bickered back and forth, trying hard to reach a compromise solution, but sadly it was all to no avail, and in the summer of that year – 23 June 2016 in fact – they formally agreed to separate.

When friends and family woke the following morning, no-one could believe the news. This came as a huge shock to everyone, a bolt from the blue. The very foundations of their long relationship had been torn asunder, and there was no going back. Ken was adamant this was what he wanted and there was nothing Katerina or anyone else could do or say (although everyone tried).

They agreed on an official divorce date – 29 March 2019 – and throughout the intervening two years as they approached D-day, they continued to live together whilst working out the details of their separation. But after more than 40 years where everything had been shared, this was proving very difficult indeed, and finances in particular became hugely contentious.

Katerina had always been the bread-winner, earning the big salary from her global marketing role which took her all over Europe. Ken, meanwhile, brought in a more modest but steady income from his civil service job in London. He’d been there forever, man and boy, his father worked there before him.

There were many details to be sorted, things they just hadn’t thought about. For example, Katerina had already booked their June 2019 summer cruise out of her salary, and as they would now have to cancel, she insisted Ken pay for his share. Ken refused.

And then there was the much thornier issue of the house and the mortgage which was in joint names. But again Ken refused to pay anything, for he had little money. He felt it was unfair that he should have to pay anything, after all he earned less, whereas Katerina earned shit loads.

‘But you have to pay your share, these are commitments you already made, and you want the divorce!’ Katerina kept insisting, but Ken steadfastly refused. Gradually things got worse, to the point where Ken was prepared to just walk away from the marriage, a ‘no-deal divorce’ as he coined it, thinking himself rather clever.

Nevertheless, in the end, he realised he was being unfair and with his back to the wall, even his friends were disagreeing with him, and with nothing else to negotiate, he finally agreed to pay all his outstanding financial debts.

‘Good’ Katerina said. ‘We’re making progress finally’.

But when Ken actually did the sums he realised his debts were rather large, much larger then he had expected. And when he looked at his income, he started to realise he had absolutely no way of paying these debts back. This was getting very messy, this wasn’t how it was meant to be.

Katerina insisted they only pragmatic thing to do was to sell their house. She would buy her own place out of her share of the proceeds, and suggested Ken do the same. But Ken couldn’t afford a house, not even a small one. In fact all he could afford was a rather small, damp looking bedsit on the high street, and so he came up with a cunning fallback plan – his plan B.

Ken suggested they continue to live in the same house, but sleep in separate rooms. And as Katerina earned the most, he said she should pay most of the bills because that was only fair. And as she was the better cook, it would be jolly decent of her if she continued to make Ken’s dinner each evening, but nothing too fancy and foreign, obviously.

Katerina listened to this and was gobsmacked, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

‘So let me get this right. You want a divorce, but you want us to continue living in the same house, under the same arrangements as we do currently, the only difference being that we sleep in different rooms, and I pay for everything?’ She added.

‘Yeah … and you cook tea as well’, he said. Katerina glowered at him. ‘And in return I’ll put the bins out on Monday morning’ he added, sheepishly.

‘You’re not taking this seriously Ken, you’re an idiot. You’re making this up as you go along. You have no plan at all. You want your independence yet you don’t want to leave, you want to do things your way yet you want me to do them for you, this is a fucking joke, you do realise that don’t you?’

‘Divorce, is Divorce’ he replied, crossing his arms crossly, wondering what the fuck that actually meant.

But Katerina had had enough. ‘Fine, if that’s how you want to play it.  But you need to know I have found someone else’

‘What?’ Ken said, looking rather wide-eyed and panicked.

‘I’ve found someone else. He’s called Luigi and it’s serious, he wants me to move in with him’

‘What the actual fuck?’ Ken stuttered.

‘Ken, this was your idea you insisted on the divorce! I have a life to live too you know. There are two sides to this and two sets of consequences’ she continued.

‘Are you and Luigi having sex?’

‘Oh grow up Ken. Anyway, haven’t you met anyone else yet?’ Katerina enquired.

‘No I bloody haven’t, believe me I’ve tried but I can’t find anyone. I did meet a girl at Tesco’s but she said I was too small-minded, what a cheek! It’s difficult, harder than I thought if I’m honest. Oh and I don’t want that bloody Luigi staying here!’

Katerina bit her tongue and remained calm. ‘OK so we have no choice. We will have to sell up and we will have to get our own places’, she insisted.

But this stark realisation panicked Ken. Suddenly reality smacked him across the face like a piece of his most favourite wet Grimsby cod …

‘But … I can’t afford my own place! … Oh Katerina what have we done’ he said forlornly. ‘I will miss you so much … I think … I love you Katerina … please don’t do this .. can’t we try and talk this through? Let’s not be too hasty, what do you say we give it another try?’ Ken was now coming across rather pathetically.

But Katerina had had enough, and true to her word, and their agreement, on 29th March, 2019, she walked out of their house and their relationship for the last time and drove into town to meet Luigi for a coffee. Afterwards they visited an art exhibition and then enjoyed a walk through the park before returning to Luigi’s apartment where they celebrated D-day by making love  to each other for the first time.

‘Happy Divorce Day’ said Luigi, stroking back Katerina’s hair and kissing her softly on her cheek.

Meanwhile, across town, at the same time as Katerina and Luigi were making love, Ken was finishing off a packet of Cheesy Wotsits for his tea, and with stained orange fingers, he watched low grade porn on his phone and wanked into a dirty sock as tears rolled down his lonely, British, gammon cheeks. As he sobbed and wanked simultaneously, he wondered what the fuck he had done with his life.

Ken Brexit was a fucking disaster of epic proportions, you really couldn’t make this shit up.

 

 

 

Petitioning for a better life …

We all have a choice – we can choose the red pill or the blue pill.

When we choose the blue pill …blue pill

These dark, wintry days can get to us and if we’re unsuspecting they can affect our mood. Sadness typically requires very little effort, just passivity. Sit back and let all the bad things wash over you – the weather, the current political landscape, getting old. Focus on all that wasted time, on all those other, more successful people out there, and bingo, life feels overwhelmingly grim.

We can watch the news a certain way too – Brexit, this hapless government, Donald Trump, all the greed, violence, terrorism, food banks, homelessness, death, immigration – wherever you turn it’s bleak, it’s nasty, it’s dystopian. It’s a terrible time to be alive.

We look at ourselves critically. We’re getting older, fatter, we ache more, we sleep worse, we make noises when we bend down all of a sudden, we forget things, books take longer to read, ideas take longer to digest, food takes longer to digest, we increasingly need to wear glasses, we can’t run like we once did, we can’t fit into those trousers any more, our hair has gone thin and grey. Yuk.

And we build our barricades to suit. We choose our friends and colleagues, all our newsfeeds, all our social media timelines raining down on us, echo chambers playing back that which we already feared. It’s true, this is what we have become, a worried, complaining spectator on life. A gloomy, sombre onlooker passing comment, occasionally shaking our soppy fists, but always helpless, entirely hapless and seemingly clueless.

When we choose the red pill … red pill

Yes the days are short in January, it is dark and cold out there, but it needn’t stop us. We can dress for the occasion, both metaphorically and literally. This is England, it’s about as moderate here as anywhere on the planet. It’s sometimes a bit chilly, a tad breezy (nay, blustery even) and quite often damp, but that’s about it. We don’t generally suffer from tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts, flooding and bushfires. In fact there’s nothing in any of our weather stopping us gearing up and getting out there and enjoying the world. We grow accustomed to summer being good and winter being bad, but winter needn’t be enduring, it has just as much to offer us as summer. We can stop wishing the winter days away and instead enjoy them now. We can open your eyes instead of closing them, in the same way we can look forward to opening the curtains on a morning, not closing them on an evening. With the red pill we can approach things differently. A winter sky has far more to offer than a summer one if you just look with fresh eyes.

And we can choose instead to properly watch the news and instead of feeling overwhelmed and helpless, we can think of all the things we can change. We can think of the people who could really benefit from our help. We can start locally or we can start small, we can look around us at our neighbours and friends, even strangers. And we can soon realise we’re not the unfortunate homeless ones, we’re not the alcoholic in the park, we’re not unemployed, and despite what our bloated western bellies are telling us, we’re certainly not the hungry ones begging for food. The news can often be grim, but instead of letting it dictate our mood, instead of just sighing and rolling over or turning over, we can dictate the news, we can act and react. We can help make change.

And so what if we are getting old? That’s not news. Nor is it even a choice. It’s just a fact of life, of all our lives. I’m no longer 30 years old, so why strive to be 30? Surely its better to be the best 53 yr old I can be? Time, perhaps, to stop focussing so much on what I was, poring over what I have lost, and instead to focus more on what I have become – older yes, but also wiser, calmer, kinder? Perhaps focussing my energy on how I can grow spiritually, become better. A time maybe to seek out those who could really benefit from my advantages – family, friends and strangers alike. A time to stop taking, a time to give.

Although it often feels easy, we don’t have to complain, we can choose instead to campaign. To petition for a better life, not just for ourselves, but for those around us too. We don’t have to passively watch, we can, instead, actively participate.

Ultimately we are always free to choose the red pill over the blue.

Better lives don’t just arrive and happier lives aren’t searchable on Google. We have to make them happen, through our action and intent. There comes a time when we perhaps need to turn off the TV and the computer, a time to throw those curtains wide and open the front door, to start our campaigns for a better life, starting today, right now in fact, small steps, with a cold, damp, blustery, but beautiful wintry walk. All we need are our coats and sensible footwear …

The choices we make, every moment of every day, are always ours to make … the red pill or the blue pill?

morpheus-red-pill-blue-pill

 

 

Stepping onto the pitch …

There’s total abstinence on one extreme of the axis, hedonistic indulgence on the other, and somewhere in between lies moderation. But exactly where moderation is on that axis is debatable, and that’s always been my problem with it.

Whereas abstinence is ‘0’, and indulgence is ‘1’, moderation is 0.x where ‘x’ is something that can never be defined. There’s no slippery slope with ‘0’ and ‘1’ extremism, no grey area, no line in the sand to keep to one side of, making decision-making very simple.

I stop drinking booze, ergo, I simply don’t drink alcohol. I quit eating meat and I open a vegetarian cookbook. But if I cut down, I still ‘do’, and I’m standing in no-mans land betwixt and between the end zones of abstinence and indulgence. To extremists, moderating your booze means you can still have a drink any-time. If you cut down your dairy intake you can still eat some cheese. Whatever the underlying reasons, be they ethical, moral, health related or financial, to the extremist every time you ‘do’, you fall short of that ‘reason’. You can also no longer measure success or failure in the middle, because in this analogue no-mans land everything is still possible and both failure and success continue to compete for attention, whereas in the digital end-zones of abstinence and excess everything is crystal clear, you either do or you don’t.

This is why I have always tended to operate in the end-zones.  If I choose to run I want to become a total runner. I buy books on running, I download running apps, I listen to running podcasts, I research running shoes to PhD level, I dream about running, I blog about running, I seek out running people, I bore other people with my running and I create pro-running echo chambers on social media. I run every day and I become a true running bore living wholly within the indulgent ‘1’ end-zone – a running legend in my own head and my own lifetime. And then I get injured and I can no longer run, but instead of cutting back I stop running altogether – apps are deleted, podcasts are unsubscribed, running gurus are unfollowed on Twitter – and I gather up my belongings and up sticks to decamp in the opposite ‘0’ running end-zone of total abstinence where I live as a complete non-runner, eschewing all running related facets in my life, mixing with like-minded sedentarists.

And that’s the problem with extremism. End-zone living might be very clear and very simple, but it does come at a cost. Most importantly, it’s extremely difficult to comply with. To never do anything ever again takes remarkable courage and commitment. But worst of all, when you fail, when your toe silently and subtly edges over the end-zone white line it’s over, gone, completely and forever.  You can’t ever be a little bit pregnant in the same way you can never be a vegetarian who eats the occasional chicken nugget, or a teetotaller who enjoys a sherry at Christmas. Extremism is a lifestyle not to be taken lightly, and it’s utterly exhausting.

Extremists eschew moderates, seeing them as weak and ill-disciplined, rudderless, with no rules or signposts for living. Extremists stand in both end zones, arms folded, tutting and sighing at the fickle-natured moderates who smile and giggle their way through life like it’s some kind of light-hearted and flippant game.

Take nutrition as an example. Not wishing to generalise too much but it’s fair to say that, generally speaking, Americans are extremists where the French are moderates. American food is covered in labels telling us they’re ‘sodium-free’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘zero-calorie’, ‘cholesterol lowering’ and so on. French food on the other hand, if it is labelled or packaged at all, is marked ‘cheese’, ‘beef’,  or ‘snail’.

And you don’t need me to tell you who are the healthiest and happiest nation. That’s right, it’s the one that sits out in the middle drinking wine, smoking Gitanes, eating fatty meat and indulging in sugary desserts. Meanwhile the extremists are drinking litre buckets of zero cal sodas through plastic straws and eating foods refined within an inch of their lives (but stripped of all devilish ingredients such as salt and sugar).

And the act of eating itself – a social construct to be enjoyed and shared with moderates, becomes a sin for extremists who hide behind their desk or the wheel of their car (whilst parked up in the end-zone). One is a meal that is also a social occasion lasting a couple of hours, not something sinful you endure for ten guilty minutes in isolation behind closed doors.

And the moderate who enjoyed steak and chips with red wine for lunch, may just have a small cheese dish for supper. He rarely if ever goes off the rails. He drinks most days but never more than a couple of glasses, although it’s perfectly fine to indulge too every now and then. After all life is for living. Everything goes when you’re in the moderate centre, nothing is banned or out of reach, and it is precisely for that reason that things are rarely abused out there in the middle.

The extremists future is by definition dystopian, a field of landmines to be delicately negotiated, whereas the true moderate’s presence is utopian, a busy road to be enjoyed and shared with others. Extremists fear the future, whereas moderates enjoy the present.

I’ve been a life long extremist but it’s time for me to move out of the end-zone and onto the pitch. I’m going to try and mingle, shake hands with some moderates and see what happens.

And I really, really hope I don’t end up in jail, hospital or rehab.

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 17.07.03

 

 

 

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

 

Running to stand still …

Today was one of those special days when the sun came out and shone brightly all day long. Supermarkets were selling BBQ food by the skip load, lawnmowers were purring, the birds were singing and everyone appeared to be in a good mood.

And I had to go for a run. I just had to. There was no freewill involved, this was an executive order issued from upon high, and so I strapped on my lime green running shoes and I ran …

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 15.33.00

Within seconds of starting my run I felt real joy, which sounds a little stupid and Hollywoodesque, but its the most accurate word I can come up with. It was like I was in sync with the world (there I go again). I felt the cool breeze on my skin (stop it), marvelled at the blue sky and cotton white clouds (no really, stop it), smelled the flowers in the fields (oh ffs), heard the birds in the trees (tra-la-la) and felt like an integral part of this sunny day, like I was somehow a piece of the jigsaw, instead of the jigsaw builder (better).

And that’s what running does to me, it’s what running does for me. It makes me feel whole. Running for me is an inclusive experience because it connects the dots and joins up the pieces. Running is the thread that binds me to the world, and for a few moments I stop being the passenger who watches the world go by, instead I become part of the world’s fabric.

I often consider myself a spectator. In a meeting room full of business people, I’m continually scanning the room, trying to work out or second guess people’s back stories, trying to see what lies behind their corporate facade. I’m the same at a party, on the outside looking in, searching for clues, gauging the atmosphere, trying to read between the lines. I float around the edges of conversations, a few feet above my own right shoulder, looking down on and witnessing events, but never really being part of them.

A consequence of such behaviour is a feeling of disengagement. I berate myself for not participating more in meetings, or for not chatting more at parties where everyone else appears so much more involved. Instead my mind appears distracted, in absentia, rarely in the ‘now’, usually to be found trying to guess the future or poring over the past.

Except when I’m running.  When I run I flow within the world (don’t go there). There is no third person at these times and no shoulder to sit on. The world is running with me and I’m running with the world. The world is running within me, not without me (another U2 lyric?).

Running won’t make me rich or make me a better person, but it does give me a sense of connectedness and purpose. Running opens up a brief window into a place where I suspect many luckier people already inhabit – people in meetings, people at parties, many of my friends and family, I suspect they’re all there already.

I wonder if a life can ever be lived wholly in flow.

In the meantime I look out of the window, somewhat disengaged, looking forward to my next run.

IMG_0868 (1).jpg

This post was written on Sunday 9th April, hottest day of the year so far …

Our friend Dave

Dave and I grew up together, we were part of a group that hung around in playground huddles – me (Rammo), Westy, Youngy, Hossy and Sykesy (Dave).  We went through infants, junior school  and then secondary school, and from the ages of around 6 to about 16 we were a fairly tight knit team.

I remember fondly going to Dave’s house one schoolday lunchtime when we were around 14, to listen to his Monty Python records – yes we were the kind of brats on the school bus that would recite the Election Night Special sketch with Tarquin Ptang Ptang Ole Biscuit Barrel. We also had a collective love for rock music and attended many concerts together in our teenage years at glamorous venues such as Sheffield City Hall and Leeds Queens Hall to see bands like Rainbow, Whitesnake, The Scorpions, UFO. We all wore wrangler jackets, we all had band names embroidered on the back. But Dave preferred a leather jacket.

We borrowed albums off each other, we talked about girls, we drank, and we did all the things lads do growing up together, but after O-levels things started to change.  Some of us went on to further education, some of us didn’t, some moved away and went to university, some stayed at home, getting jobs locally. Dave, despite having the intelligence to continue his education as far as he wanted, for he was as bright as any of us, stayed in/around Barnsley.

Fast forward to 2015, we were all 50, and we had a school reunion borne out of Facebook. Many of us hadn’t met for around 35 years and it was scary as shit, but it was also a beautiful moment, not least because most of us had appalling memories of our secondary school days at Kendray Oaks. It was a rough school by anyone’s standards, there was horrendous bullying and violent beatings dotted through our school years and many of us carried that baggage with us well into adulthood.

We all had people we were scared of, our own personal enemies, and there were always groups, ‘us’ and ‘them’ factions throughout. Most of us lads got into scrapes at some point or other, and many of the girls too. All of us in fact, except Dave. Dave was neither Ardsley or Kendray, Dave was Dave. At the reunion we all regaled tales of who we liked and didn’t like, and to a man (and woman) I think I’m right in saying everybody liked Dave.

Some people had forgotten me, some remembered me fondly, some remembered me then ignored me and this was probably true for everyone one on reunion night. Except Dave. Everyone knew Dave and everyone liked Dave.  I honestly can’t remember him ever having a bad word for anyone, or ever getting into any kind of scrape.  Whilst we hid in our cliques, Dave could walk freely between Ardsley and Kendray, knowing he had friends in both camps.  Dave was our bridge, he was our rock, he was what held us together 35 years on.

Despite some fairly serious health issues Dave was pivotal in organising the reunion. He helped sort the venue, he sorted the DJ equipment, he was also the DJ and he was the liaison between Kendray and Ardsley. I remember helping him set up the sound system for the big evening – he was clearly in a lot of pain but never grumbled. He could have easily let others organise things and everyone would have understood perfectly, but he didn’t. When it came to saying a few words, Dave threw the microphone to me, although I helped behind the scenes, Dave was the catalyst that brought us all together, but in true Dave style, he didn’t want any of the glory or praise.

In the photo below, that’s Dave and me at Scout Dyke circa 1981. I’m the gobby twat singing lead vocals and hogging the limelight, Dave is the cool dude playing bass with a snooker cue at the side. That was Dave – always there, always contributing quietly but essentially, keeping the music playing, but never, ever seeking the limelight for himself.

me-and-dave

We all knew he was ill. I called in to see him on a trip up north earlier this year and he was clearly struggling but managed to wear his trademark smile and brave face. He told me he was fine, we chatted, reminisced, hugged briefly and I went on my way.

Dave passed away two days ago, aged just 51. He lived a private life, often alone, yet he had a warmth and compassion that connected and united many of us. It’s ironic that someone could live alone yet touch so many others at the same time.  Without Dave we had no reunion, without Dave I may never have become such a Monty Python fan, but I have so much more to thank him for – his warmth, his humour, his humility, his friendship.

I know I speak on behalf of everyone in the class of ’81 when I say this – we miss you Dave, you were all our best friend and no-one’s enemy and we miss you terribly.

Take care big man.

From all the class of ’81
xx

 

A letter to my 17yr old self …

In response to A letter from my 17yr old self.

2016

Dear 17yr old Andy,

Thanks for your letter. Well, here we are. We survived, we are still alive and kicking! The good news is we generally did pretty well. I’m not going to tell you the details as it will spoil it for you, but we get through, so keep on keeping on young man.

What I will say, is that those guilty pleasures of yours – singing in the band, making people laugh – they’re not just lusty and pointless, so don’t keep dismissing them. Those are beacons in the dark, sirens in the quiet still of night. Despite what you might think, they are your soul speaking to you.

I just realised that last sentence might freak you out. Sorry, let me rephrase. Those are the things that make you what you are. Reading your letter brought back many memories for me, how we believed and trusted unerringly in our elders, and by consequence, how we felt anything we experienced that didn’t align with them was somehow incongruous, somewhat deviant and unhealthy.

I remember now, thanks to your letter, how we lived our life by a set of rules devised purely by teachers, parents, lawmakers, guidelines always laid down in tablets of stone. Our success was measured not by happiness, but by how well we stayed on that path of righteousness as prescribed by ‘them’.

If I can offer one piece of advice, it’s to stop always looking to others for guidance – instead start to look inwardly at your self, at our self. You know that ‘gut feel’ you get, but always push back if it doesn’t conform to The Book? Well, stop doing that. Stop it now. Immediately. Listen to the voices inside – I bet that spooks you too? Don’t worry, I am sane of mind, I just see life differently, through a less filtered lens.

I don’t mean to suggest you ignore The Book altogether – there’s a lot of great and sound advice out there, advice that’s built on thousands of years of hard earned experience – but complement it with your own thoughts and beliefs. Believe it or not you (we) are unique, and we do have talents that would horrify you if I were to tell you them now.

And so I won’t tell you, for you must find them on your own, because the journey is the biggest part of any experience, not the destination. That obsession of getting somewhere, stop that too. Retune your beliefs, redefine your passions and act accordingly. Most importantly, stop obsessing with trying to define the end point all the time. Instead set the rules (your rules), and let your own moral compass navigate.

By the way – I still don’t get electricity, it just works, and the sooner you get comfortable with the fact that you don’t need to understand everything, the better it will be.

Forget destinations and just enjoy the journey, young man, just make sure it’s your journey and not anyone elses.

Love,

Me (2016)
x

 

A letter from my 17yr old self …

1982

Dear 51 yr old Andy,

I’m sitting here in the common room at Sixth Form college. You remember this place? Defender video machine in the corner, table football, comfy chairs, coffee shop – we even have a radio, pretty cool.

I feel so much more grown here compared to Kendray Oaks Comp. I feel a hell of a lot safer too – there’s no bullying, everyone is here because they want to be (by and large), everyone wants to learn (by and large) – you know what I mean, you remember that don’t you?

Yeah, it’s cool here, I like it, but the work is so hard. A-levels are like ten times harder than O-levels. I’m struggling with Physics – I can’t grasp ‘electricity’ no matter how hard I try – electrons moving along a wire make a bulb light up – are you serious?? Economics is kind of interesting, it’s different, but some of the concepts seem a bit alien and I’m not sure what the point of it is? And maths is maths, just maths, although it’s much harder, much more abstracted than O-level.

That’s the thing about A-levels, it feels all rather ‘disconnected’. At school, working out the price of apples and oranges knowing that John bought 2 apples and 3 oranges for 19p whilst Jenny bought 1 apple and 3 oranges for  17p seems like a worthwhile thing to do. It has practical meaning. However, working out the value of ξ in a Fourier Transform that ranges from minus infinity to plus infinity seems somewhat unnecessary and unimportant to me:

\hat{f}(\xi) = \int_{-\infty}^\infty f(x)\ e^{- 2\pi i x \xi}\,dx,   

Quite frankly, as much as I like Sixth Form (I have a girlfriend!), I’m gutted about my subject choices. Anyway I’ll plod on because Dad said it’s the right thing for me and he’s always right. Besides, what else would I have chosen? The Arts subjects aren’t going to get anyone a job, jobs come from engineering and mathematics. That’s how the world works. People that study the Arts are a bit … well deluded, and silly. How hard can Arts be anyway? Drawing pictures and writing stories – these people will never get a job!

I plan on going to university. I have no idea what subject I will study, but I will go. It’s the thing to do, the teachers said so, and besides what else would I do?

Some friends of mine have formed a band, they play stuff I love and it’s cool, but what about their homework? They practice on school nights! Such a waste, they’ll regret that in later life. Although I am a bit jealous deep down – I’d love to be the singer in the band but I have to push that thought deep down inside, it doesn’t help anything.

I also really love The Young Ones – its a new comedy series on TV and Rik Mayall is brilliant. I have all the episodes on VHS tape and I know every word, every joke, every line from every episode. Mum and dad think it’s a bit odd, older people don’t generally like it and so I feel bad about that as older people are almost always right. They call it Alternative Comedy. I watch it when they’ve gone to bed. I’d love to tell jokes like Rik but I have to push that thought deep down inside, it doesn’t help anything.

So how’s life at 51, older me? I feel a bit nervous writing that – how did we do? And do you understand electricity yet!?

Andy, 1982