Category: Life

For the stuff about my life

Aims not goals

I’ve already stated that my main resolution for 2020 is to be more mindful when I use social media. My reasoning is that I want to waste less time aimlessly scrolling, to give me more time to do other things that I get more personal value from, things that I know are good for me but which get pushed aside far too easily.

Which begs the question, what are these things I want to do more of? Well, broadly speaking there are three areas I want to focus on, all of which will make me a happier me. So, in the name of accountability, they are (in no particular order):

  1. Writing
  2. Meditating
  3. Exercising

I’m trying to be sensible about this, so I’m setting myself one primary aim for each of these areas whilst allowing for a couple of additional hopes as well; activities I’m hoping to pick up (or do more of) with the time I’m ‘getting back’ by spending less time on social media.

I’m also being very deliberate with my language here, these are not goals I’m setting with specific targets that I may not achieve, these are things I’m aiming to do (with some level of accountability) and which I hope to build new habits for along the way. It also means I’m not being too prescriptive as I want these things to find a natural place in my life, and I’m willing to concede that there will be changes along the way but ultimately the end point should be the same.

The use of language is a subtle but important difference and I’m hoping it reduces/removes my fear of failure.

Writing

Primary aim: Write in my journal every day.
I’m not bothered about the volume of what I write, it doesn’t have to be much, it just has to happen every day*. It’s been useful to me in the past as a way to process thoughts and emotions, and also (more often) as a way of remembering the good things that happened.

Additional hopes:

  • Write two blog posts a week. One fiction (from weekly prompts), plus one other on any topic. This sort of happens already but every time I sit down to write I want to focus on it properly.
  • Write/read/edit the novel I have in progress at least once a week just to keep it alive. Some days I’ll get an idea and sit and write for a couple of hours, others I’ll re-read and edit, move things around. I’m sure there is a finished novel in there somewhere.

Meditating

Primary goal: Meditate for 10 mins every day.
I pay for an app called Calm for this exact reason but the habit fell away in December as varying work hours/holidays kicked in and I didn’t dedicate the time to it.

I got into meditation a couple of years ago, attending some meditation classes after work with my good friend Andi, and it’s stuck with me it just doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. I always feel better, lighter, calmer, and more aware of living in the present, when I meditate no matter how long for. I’d like to feel like that more often.

Additional hope:

  • Attend some more meditation classes again, it’s a different experience and I think Andi and I would benefit from making it a regular thing!

Exercising

First things first, I can’t really get moving on the longer goal (be able to run a 5K again**) until I get my crappy knee sorted, but there is plenty I could do until then, but I’m going back to some basics.

Primary aim: Stretch every day.
My intention is to build a morning habit to increase my lower back/hip flexibility. 7-10 mins each more, and I’ll incorporate whatever physio exercises I need to do as well. I sit at a desk most of the day and in the last couple of years, specifically since I stopped going to the gym 3 days a week, I’ve really noticed the difference, feeling much stiffer and sorer than I used to (plus, I’m getting old!).

Additional hope:

  • Walk Dave and listen to podcasts. I’ve stopped listening to Podcasts as I don’t really have an hour to dedicate to them so I’m invariably left part way through and don’t revisit them. So I’ll double up on this one and listen to them whilst walking Dave which is always a good way to get a little exercise!

So there you have it, three areas, some gentle achievable aims and some additional hopes.

The next trick is to make these things habits, time will tell if I succeed.


Caveats
* I’m presuming I’ll be able to hit the primary aims every day but I know that won’t hold true. Life will get in the way at times and that’s ok, I’m just going to go with the flow and see what happens.
** My long-term aim to run 5KM is just that, long-term, it may take me all year, or it might not happen until 2021. I am not putting a time scale on it, but it is where I want to get back to in time.

Same hae meat

Welcome to the year 2020! A new year has arrived and with it a new resolve is found and plans are forged; a time of personal goals and improvements, a time to re-invent, to start over, to become a better you!

To help you in your quest you’ll be pleased to find there are many new methods and approaches that will happily take your money to help you achieve (or at least make a start on) your goals, get that shiny new day planner, or a sumptuous new journal, or perhaps take a look at the myriad of apps to help you better yourself, all for the low low price of a tiny piece of your soul! BUY NOW!

Ohh hark at me, on my high horse already. I apologise, I don’t mean to be so pessimistic but it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of such things, with nary every advert that pops up on every website and in every social media feed proclaiming how you truly are only a 6-step plan away from your new perfection! Sign up now and download our app (only £5.99 per month (billable at a discount of only £70.20 per year!)).

And, of course, I really shouldn’t rant and rave against such things, it’s more than a little hypocritical of me given I’ve already, recently, shared my own resolutions for the year.

I am nothing if not inconsistent.

Yet with all that said and done there does seem to be a subtle shift in the focus of these things, it certainly seems like I’m seeing more goals prompting a focus on mental health, alongside the general view that we need more positivity throughout our lives, and I believe this is very much a good thing.

Regardless of what science tells me (a new year is just another revolution of our little planet around the Sun), it still feels particularly prevalent to focus on messages of love, of self-care, of moderation and tolerance in the month of January as so many people are setting themselves up for new challenges, new goals, new words to live by, and it’s easy to get swept along by the volume of people stating they are trying to change.

So much the better, what does it matter if it’s an arbitrary date change that helps give people a push to try something new? I sincerely hope that if you have made any resolutions this year that you are successful with them, and if you aren’t, I hope that you learn and maybe grow a little because of the experience, just don’t give up, you can try again any time you want!

These days January is no longer only about new gym goers, but is also the haven for those going dry, or vegan (Veganuary) both of which are laudable goals, and one of which I’m already part way into myself.

Last year, around late November, I watched the documentary “The Game Changers”. It’s largely about proving whether or not a plant based diet is a good thing and the bulk of the content focuses on elite athletes (the documentary is also backed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lewis Hamilton and others) and how the ‘eat meat to get protein to build muscle’ is a myth.

Now, I know you are all more than capable of googling facts about the documentary, some of which supports the evidence shown, some of which doesn’t, and for the most part it was just an interesting watch. I found myself watching it with a sense that, sure, if you are an elite athlete and that is your life then adjusting to a plant based diet is just one facet of what you do every day so is certainly more achievable (and measurable). For the rest of us mere mortals, the ones who work in offices and don’t exercise twice a day (twice a week?) just how applicable is it?

Those were the thoughts in my head while I watched, after all this is a production backed by people who likely have some vested interest in furthering a particular view?

And then it got to the section with the New York Firefighters.

Here was a group of 40-something men, mostly over weight, who have a high stress, physical jobs. What would eating a plant-based diet do for them? Measurements were taken at the start of a week long test, and again at the end and one set stood out. Each man who had switched to a plant-based diet lowered their blood pressure, fairly dramatically, in one week.

I have high blood pressure. I’ve been on medication for it for about 10 years. One of the drugs will, eventually, start to damage my liver (so I’m on a second drug to counteract that). It’s been my reality for long enough now that I stopped thinking about it and just accept it’s part of who I am and I’ve let my focus be more around losing weight/fat as that’s what the doctor – when he’s not banging on about leptins – keeps telling me would be the best thing to do; lose weight and lower the dosage of the drugs I take to give my liver a chance.

Watching that section of the documentary made me realise that, whilst I’ve never really been one for diets in a ‘lose weight’ sense, I’ve long known how to eat a balanced diet but I’d never considered it as a specific way to tackle my high blood pressure. It really was a light bulb moment for me.

I live with a vegetarian, she’s been one for a while now and she has a lot of working knowledge on the topic, so we discussed it, and what challenges it might throw up and the next day I decided to give it a shot.

That was 6 weeks ago and, despite the festive season of over-indulgence being slap bang in the middle of that period, I’m happy to say I’ve stuck with it throughout.

My weight has fluctuated a bit, mostly because for the first few weeks I was very focussed on what I was eating and also cut out a lot of snacking, no more sneaky KitKats for me, and so it wasn’t a massive surprise that I also lost weight. That said, I wasn’t really doing much more than that, I was still eating loads, and I was starting to feel the benefit, starting to feel less bogged down and sluggish each day.

More importantly my blood pressure has dropped. Because I’m on medication I take my blood pressure every month and, on average over the past year it’s around the 138/96 mark. After four weeks of eating a mostly plant-based diet it had dropped to 116/84. In other words, it’s dropped from being in the upper regions Mild High Blood Pressure range (and remember this is WITH medication), to the mid regions of the High-Normal range. In less than a month.

A few other things on this then.

  1. I don’t think I’d be vegan. I have switched from cows milk to oat or soya milk, but I still eat eggs occasionally, and have butter on toast most weekends. I’ve never been a big cheese eater anyway so the occasional chunk is about all I’d have anyway.

  2. I take a supplement to make sure I’m getting some of the basic vitamins I might be missing (B12 being the main one) but I did that when I was hitting the gym and lifting weights so that’s not a big deal.

  3. No, I’m not a vegetarian. At least I’m not in my head, it’s more that I’m just unlikely to eat meat again any time soon but I’m doing it primarily for health reasons, not because I think meat is murder. It’s very rare that I buy into one thing so utterly and completely that it becomes canon and I don’t see this being any different.

  4. I don’t like bell peppers (the big red/green/orange/yellow ones). If you don’t either, be sure to check what you are buying if the food is already prepared, they get shoved in a dishes they have no place being.

  5. I am exercising as well, mostly dog walks at the moment (physio on my knee commences tomorrow!) but that has been fairly constant through the last few months so I’m putting the lower blood pressure and weight loss down to the change of eating habits.

I understand this is a hot topic for many people – some people oppose meat eating due to the impact that cattle farming has on the environment (that is part of my thinking as well), others follow the meat is murder mantra – but for me it’s a personal choice, and not something I’ll be crowing about, or nagging anyone else about (yes, I realise I’m writing a post about it).

And, for the complete avoidance of doubt, no I was not made vegetarian by my partner, far from it! She still forgets I’m not eating meat at the moment and points out tasty things in the supermarket or on a menu for me, “Ohhh that chorizo dish looks tasty… oh wait!”

I guess the clearest way to state what I’m currently doing is that I’m making a conscientious decision to eat less meat and have a mostly plant-based diet, with the aim of reducing my biologically high blood pressure enough that I can lower my potentially liver damaging medication intake.

But I guess saying, hey I’m vegetarian at the moment, is a bit simpler.


And for those wondering, post title courtesy of The Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

2020

A new decade lies before us.

And I have a resolution for this coming year (and goals for the next three).

Let’s start with that resolution: I resolve to limit my time on social media.

I acknowledge that I won’t ever be fully off-line but I’m determined to step away from the mindless scrolling and refreshing of feeds that have become a bad habit. It has a time and place, but for me it’s starting to feel like a waste and I can quickly go from a ‘quick check’ to 30 mins of idle nothingness. I know this is exactly what these apps are designed to do, they are built and engineered to keep me locked in, and they are very good at it, so I need to develop some ways of combating that.

I am not against idle nothingness of course, it most certainly has a time and place of its own and I think more people could do with learning how to be idle, or perhaps even bored. It just seems that my own instinct that kicks in to counter those thoughts and emotions, that knee-jerk reaction to reach for my phone has become the norm and that’s what I’m trying to break.

There are plenty of other things I can do with that time and I’ve already proven that they are more beneficial to me;

  • Rather than scrolling through my Twitter feed, I could meditate for 10 mins.
  • Rather than scrolling and reacting to my Facebook feed, I could play the piano for 20 mins.
  • Rather than liking post after post on Instagram, I could do some much needed stretching to better prepare my ailing, stiff, body for going out in the beautiful places in the world so I can take my own photos (to post on Instagram… I realise that one might be a bit self-fulfilling).

I have already experimented with a few gentle barriers, I don’t have any social media icons on the home screen of my iPhone, and both Facebook and Twitter have time limits set against them (a handy iOS feature). Neither of these are insurmountable blockers of course but hopefully they will provide enough friction to at least make me pause and consider what I’m doing.

So what else could I do with my time?

For starters I’m part of a book club, I’ve always enjoyed reading and a couple of years ago I was fully invested, reading 40+ books a year but now I can barely manage half that, and that’s me making an effort! I’d wonder what happened, what was keeping me away from reading books whilst watching yet another Facebook video of people pranking their friends, or dogs falling asleep in funny positions.

And it’s not all about the amount of time I spend on social media. In the week running up to the General Election I largely stayed off Facebook, knowing that the increasingly negative tone that would dominate my feed was something that would impact my own mental health so I opted out.

I also know I get more personal value from spending my time doing something that is absorbing, something that demands my attention, that pulls me towards it, rather than the constant noise that social media offers. There are many good things about Facebook and Twitter and I do find things there that capture my interest but, more often than not, I can spend 20 mins not doing much of anything and I’m increasingly finding that to be a negative experience.

I’ll still be around of course, and those who need to contact me can do so, and I admit it will be interesting to see how my ‘social’ interactions change as my visibility on social media diminishes. Be that what it will.

And yes, I know that the New Year is arbitrary and truth be told I’d already started to cut down on such things over the past few months. I can already see that Instagram will be my preferred ‘feed’ as it provides beauty and connection in a way that Facebook and Twitter don’t, and I’m genuinely curious as to how this year will progress, if I will hold true to my resolution and, if so, what that might mean for my online persona.

Only time will tell.

Walking Dave

Picture the scene.

I’m sitting on the sofa watching TV. There is a small brindle dog lying next to me, gently snoring. At my feet a small black dog lies on a rug, knawing on a chew toy. He stops, stands up, and turns around to face me. He whines pathetically, his bottom lip petted. He needs out.

“OK then,” I say as I stand up, “let’s go”. He steps back and then follows me out into the hall.

I slip on my shoes, pull on my jacket, check I have my keys and some poo bags, and reach for his harness and lead.

He does not like putting his harness on. Honestly you’d think it was full of spikes or something; the second you lift it off the hook, he turns and heads back to the living room only to remembers he needs out, upon which he turns round and walks back into the hall, stopping a few feet away from where I stand.

I beckon him forward. He takes one more step forward and waits.

I reach down and slide the harness over his head, click both fasteners closed, wait for him to do his usual circle around me (no idea why) and open the front door.

All the while, the snoring from the living room continues.

Dave and I step out and head for our first stop. It’s not far, he needs to pee after all, but he’s pulling on the lead. I can sympathise, we’ve all had that feeling when the cool air hits you, so I pick up my pace. After checking there is no-one around, no other dogs at least, I unclip the lead from his harness. He quickly heads off to find a spot and once he has he leans forward, head held aloft, striking a very regal pose for a most unregal activity.

Don’t worry, this is not a post about taking my dog out for a pee.

But it is about the simple joy of being outside, rain or shine, with a faithful companion.

We are lucky that we live where there are a few small parks dotted around nearby. In less than 10 mins we can be in leafy green area where Dave can be let off the lead (after checking we are mostly alone of course) to roam and wander and explore. We also have a larger park near us, big enough to host a Parkrun (5km weekend run), where I occasionally take Dave and, once he realises where we are heading he knows that a tennis ball will feature soon and, once that wonderous yellow orb has made an appearance, it’s all he cares about. I’ve yet to see him distracted for more than a few seconds when there is a tennis ball involved.

But mostly his walks are around the local neighbourhood.

He is well trained and loves loves LOVES being on a walk. He is handsome, has a glossy coat and a ready smile for passers-by and sometimes, if you are lucky, he’ll want to stop and say hello but mostly he is DOING A WALK and can be very single-minded on this so let’s be clear, unless you have treats, he may not care that you think he’s a good boy, or that he’s handsome, or a ‘wee cracker’, because he is DOING A WALK. It’s nothing personal but he ain’t stopping, he has places to go, smells to seek out and who knows, maybe a squirrel friend to make!

You get pretty good at reading the body language of other people when you are walking a dog. I know not everyone likes dogs (aka weirdos) and so if I see someone we are approaching trying to eek out every centimetre of the pavement, hugging the kerb, then I’ll make it obvious that Dave is not able to get anywhere near them. He’s also a very good boy at STOPPING and WAITING if that’s what is gonna be less hassle for everyone else.

There are several places where he gets let off to roam. These parts of the walk are the best and the worst. They are the best as it’s clear Dave loves exploring all the wonderful smells, and they are the worst because I’m constantly scanning around for any possible distractions or anything that might cause an issue – a jogger, another dog, a squirrel (!) – whilst keeping an eye on Dave as he meanders around, following his nose.

All of these places are reasonably enclosed, small parks or areas of grass, and Dave will happily roam around and follow commands if he wanders off too far. He loves to chase birds and squirrels, because he wants to be friends with them, and occasionally that can take him a little too close to a gate or road for comfort. My heart races as I holler his name in the right tone, the one that (so far!) has made him stop dead and turn round.

He really is a good boy.

It’s something I tell him often whilst we are out walking, rain or shine, as he walks on with a dogged determination to get where he is going even if that means sometimes we will both have different ideas of where that is when we get to a particular corner or a crossing, and so you may see me standing with a small black dog leaning all his weight in one direction, whilst I stand pointing in the other direction and suggesting that ‘No Dave, we are going this way’. Some days I let him win, it’s his walk as much as mine.

Dave and I will chat most of the time when we are out on a walk, and whilst it’s a pretty one way conversation – not because he’s rude or anything but he is DOING A WALK and just doesn’t have time for idle chit-chat – I always come home feeling good about myself.

Perhaps it’s because there is such a singular purpose to taking him for a walk, a focus and purity to the activity that I don’t get elsewhere. There is me and Dave and the walk. Nothing else really matters, as long as I keep him safe and he has fun then I’m happy, and somewhere along the way my own mind clears and some days I find myself taking a longer route home just to enjoy my time with him.

Considering he’s only been in my life for about a year it’s safe to say that we’ve bonded pretty well, and whilst the old adage likely holds true – you are only as good as your last walk – and I have to battle for his affections with our dog walker, I still look forward to taking him out.

It also makes me appreciate our corner of this beautiful city we live in all the more, and how many small green places it has, some hidden away in odd corners or dead ends, and on the days the sun is shining and the plants are in full bloom it is utterly glorious. Just me, the fresh air, nature all around us, a small furry black dog who sometimes turns to look at you with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.

It’s quite simply the best therapy I’ve ever experienced.

We finally get home, and as soon as the door is unlocked and opened Sasha sprints through from the living room to greet us with her usual frantic abandon. She runs in circles, tail wagging madly as I unclip the harness and let Dave wander off to get a drink and rub up and down the sofa to get the feeling of that horrible, terrifying harness off of him.

I’ll grab a glass of water and sit down myself. Sasha will rush over and promptly sit on my lap (to make sure I don’t leave again), and I’ll sit there a while, telling her she’s a good girl whilst I rub her tummy.

In nature

The air is cool as it moves around us. Under foot, crimson leaves lie fallen, their work done, and far above our heads the empty branches whisper in the wind. Decades of stories are whispered back and forth above our heads, as we stand below them, looking up as they sway and talk.

On we walk, enjoying the crisp air on our cheeks, our hands warm in gloves, feet swathed in socks and boots. The path changes to gravel, then grass and back again as we meander our way through the forest. Mushrooms peak from fallen logs, fir trees stand vibrant in the morning glow, in the distance a burbling stream tumbles its way to meet the river some miles from here. There is a quiet murmur of nothing all around us as plants and insects and animals go about their day.

As we walk we chat about this and that, nothing of importance for that is not why we are here. For us this is a hallowed place, a church bigger than any other, a nurturing land with gentle qualities, that can be as harsh as it is tender, as beautiful as it is stark.

There is no place for religion here, only nature in all its glory. Even at this time of the year, with winter setting in it is quietly powerful and beautiful in more ways than I have words to describe. Stand under a large tree and let your eye travel up that gnarled and weary trunk, decades old, strong and solid. Look at the branches as they spread out to capture the sky, the twigs that twist ever higher, and even now in these early winter months there a few leaves who haven’t quite finished their work, not yet but soon.

Look up through the branches to the sky.

How small we are, how insignificant.

Walking on we turn a corner and a single mirrored sheet stretches out before us, reflecting the clouds as they scroll across the surface to the other side before disappearing into the reed beds. Some ducks emerge from the shore and send ripples across the water, rendering the sky surreal yet no less captivating.

We stand and breath in the clean air, sharp and cold on our lungs and cheeks.

We smile as Mother Nature looks over us.

The Blip

I’m standing in the room. It’s a room I’ve heard described by many others but here I am, finally. I can’t quite believe what’s happening, it feels surreal, like I’m still in a dream, which is oddly apt I suppose.

The message was waiting for me when I woke, as I rose from my bed the everyscreen on the wall chirruped its notification and up popped the message “YOUR BLIP DAY IS HERE” in the official corporament lettering, large and bold in the middle of the screen. It’s odd seeing something you’ve seen so often before, all those images posted to social feeds over and over, suddenly there in front of you, on your screen, in your reality, in front of your own eyes. It doesn’t seem real. I sat on the edge of the bed for the longest time just staring at the image.

Underneath it read, “Please report to The Centre by 10:00 today”, so I eventually rose, showered, and left my pod.

I was still a bit unsettled as I got on the shuttle, with all the other commuters heading to the Inner, and as it whisked silently along I looked around. Row after row of citizens minding their own business, headscreens in place here and there, eyes closed elsewhere. I rarely got the shuttle these days, my job being transferred to the Outer a few years ago, and it just added to the air of excitement that was slowly building as the Inner loomed closer and closer, with the grandspire of The Centre looming larger and larger.

The shuttle chime signalled the end of my journey and as I stepped out from the station into the street I could feel the nervous knot in my stomach churning tighter and tighter.

No-one walking past me knew what I was about to do today, yet I wondered if anyone would guess. Why would someone like me, clearly not a frequent visitor to these parts, be here at this time of day after all? But then part of the rules to avoid you being corrupted by people wanting to use your Blip for their own ends was to keep it secret, and we’d all seen the warnings and read the stories – that, one about the person who ended up being hit by a shuttle moving at full speed, still makes me shiver! – so I kept my head down and walked on.

I reached The Centre just before 10am and, after the usual rigmarole of scans and ID checks were passed, I was taken by a very polite assistant to a waiting room who told me someone else would be along soon to take me to the Blip Room and that I should take a seat. They said a lot of other things about the building we were in and the corridors we were strolling and the offices we were passing as walked from the entrance to the waiting room, all in the same breathless monotone that I daren’t interrupt.

I sat in the only seat in the room, my mind racing as I absent mindedly drummed my fingers on the soft leather of the arm of the chair.

A couple of minutes later another assistant, dressed in the same gentle green as the previous one, appeared and asked me to stand up and follow them. I stood up and almost walked into their back as they hadn’t moved, but then peering past them I saw it, just beyond them on the far wall, a door had appeared and was sliding open. I followed the assistant through into the darkened room, and stood where I was told. After a brief explanation to confirm why I was there and what I was to do and what to expect – entirely pointless because everyone already knows what Blip Day involves – they turned and walked out, closing their part in my day with the final parting words that I already knew they would say, “Take your time, start when you are ready”.

So there I stood, looking at the computer terminal in front of me. Set on a pedestal with a small keypad in front of it. At the top of the screen was the current date and time, which told me it was 10:01 and underneath in vivid neon green words splashed across the centre of the screen were the words; “Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.” Underneath the words was an empty line at the start of which was a blinking cursor waiting for me to make a decision.

It was as underwhelming as it was intoxicatingly exciting.

My Blip was finally here.

I’ve spoken to others who’ve been through today, and they all say similar things about wishing they’d known when they would be chosen, even though we all know it’s a lottery for a reason. Can you imagine living your life with the knowledge of when you would be the one standing here, in this place, with the cursor beckoning you to enter a date from your immediate past?

Imagine the havoc it would wreak, as you planned your “blip time” and did everything in your power to make it as perfect as you’ve ever dreamed. Just the stress of getting things right, knowing that you’ll only have one chance to relive that exact moment, that perfect hour over again, would surely be crippling.

That’s not to say I’ve not fantasised about what my perfect hour would be, we all have and anyone who says they haven’t is a liar, or they’ve already Blipped and are living with the regret of making the wrong choice.

My own fantasies veer from the ridiculous; a deserted beach, cocktails at sunset, and then a descent into as much lewd detail as I can cram into an hour (which, it turns out, is a quite disturbing amount), all the way through to a quiet lazy Sunday afternoon, lying on the hover sofa in the warmth of a summer breeze doing nothing much of anything. The latter is far more achievable than the former but hey, isn’t that what fantasies are for?

Then I realise how selfish I’m being and surely if I could reclaim an hour and do it all over again it would be better doing something productive, or something that will help other people? And then I realise that those people will also get to do an hour over so it’s ok to focus on myself for this and round the cycle goes.

They have counselling available after you Blip, if you want it, but imagine what the psychological damage would be like if knew when it would be your turn? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

All of this is flashing through my mind as I stand there, watching the cursor slowly blink.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

They said I should take my time, I’m not sure they meant quite this long.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

My palms are sweaty now and I force myself to focus, trying to recall every detail of the past week? I had a nice lunch on Tuesday with my sister, that was a nice hour? That walk at sunset on Sunday evening was beautiful, and… god what else did I do? Maybe I should go back and undo something rather than re-experience something I enjoyed?

There was that slip up at work that cost me an afternoon, I could go back and fix that. That homeless person I walked past that I ignored, maybe I go back and buy them some hot food and chat with them a while?

My brain was spinning and it was hard to focus and I started to realise how lucky I was. Here I stood, on my Blip Day and despite being able to go back and relive any hour of my life from the past week I didn’t feel any compulsion to do so? The things that didn’t go so well were not so bad that I need to fix them, and the good things were all with people I will see again in the future.

I wonder then if I could trade my Blip Day, hand it in and give someone else, maybe someone who had already used there turn many years ago. Someone who since then had had something bad, something you would want to undo? Perhaps the death of a loved one? Could I give them a chance to go back to the days before so they could say all the things they wanted to say?

Or that homeless guy, if he’s had his Blip Day already, maybe I can go back and let him make a different decision that saves him ending up cold and alone on the pavements of the city? One of my work colleagues recently ran over and killed a cat, maybe they get to go back in time to brake sooner?

The possibilities were endless, and the longer I stood there the more I realised how futile this choice was.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

It was impossible, how could anyone, any single person, make a good decision? Especially someone like me, who by and large lived a privileged life, full of happiness and laughter? Surely there should be some level of worthiness, or need, considered when they selected the next Blip Day recipient.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

Again the random nature of all of this struck me. I had been chosen so I should just make the most of this opportunity rather than waste it.

Yet still my brain struggled to latch on to anything of note from the previous week, no matter how hard I tried I drew blank after blank. I replayed every waking hour day by day, retracing my steps through time and there was nothing. I’d been doing this for my entire journey from home to the Inner and the walk to the Centre. I’d had a nice lunch one day but couldn’t recall if it was two or three days ago. There was a nice sunset last Wednesday I think? Or was it Friday? The harder I thought the more I struggled to recall any details at all from the previous week of my mundane life.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

The room was warm, or maybe it was just me, and I could feel the panic rising. What happens if I can’t think of a time? Do I just leave the room? Do I get another chance or is this it? Why is my life so boring? All those people who talk about living your best life, and parrot that ancient phrase over and over – You Only Live Once – were right, I’d not been paying attention and so was faced with almost no choice at all, there was nothing from my last week that was of any interest or of any note.

My heart raced faster and faster as I tried to think. Surely there was a time limit, but then how long had I been standing here? Did they come and get me if I ran out of time, or do I just leave? I couldn’t even see a door for that matter, as soon as it had closed it had merged seamlessly with the wall. I looked around the room again but could see nothing bar the screen in front of me and that incessant, blinking, cursor.

I’d just need to choose something, anything. Pick a time and date at random and live with it.

God, what a laughing stock I’d be, but then is anyone any different, all those people who stood before me at these screens, surely they all went through the same experience? And how many people actually took note of their life in such detail that they could pinpoint an exact hour to relive? I remember reading about one person from the Outer 47th who went back to try and save a friend from a bad accident and ended up in the accident themselves because they got the time wrong by a few minutes, what if I did something like that?

I took a deep breath, forced my mind to slow. I am here now. I have one choice to make. Fundamentally that choice makes no difference to my life as it is, at the end of the hour I will be back here and I will leave and go home and tomorrow I will go work as normal and people will ask me what I did and I can tell them anything I like, even though I know I’ll tell them honestly that I didn’t make the most of this experience. And that’s ok too, not everyone has to have a great Blip, right? Surely the majority of them are all going to be like mine, an unremarkable hour of an unremarkable life.

How long had I been standing here? I glanced at the clock at the top of the screen which read 10:59, almost an hour! Are they watching me and wondering what I’m doing? No, don’t panic, just breathe. You aren’t the first person to stand here and the assistant said to take my time. It was no use, almost an hour of wracking my brain and I was still no closer.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

My hands hovered over the keypad.

If only I had more time.

Humbug

Deck the halls

It is December, let the festive season begin!

There are many parts of this time of year that I enjoy, the sparkly lights that make the darkness a little more bearable, the abundance of hot chocolate options, stodgy foods, and the fact that for many of us it’s a holiday and a chance to have a few days off with few expectations.

It is a time for friends and family, first and foremost. After that, if you are lucky enough, there is simply a few days of doing comparably nothing except staying warm and eating too much food.

This year, as we have for the last few years, my family are limiting the number of presents we buy. None of us really need anything, so the most recent addition to the family is where we focus and no doubt my wonderful niece will be spoiled rotten. Part of me hopes not too much though; is it too early to start reducing the expectation that Christmas Day is all about many many presents, and lots more stuff? Perhaps, she’s not even four years old but still, perhaps.

Mindful purchases will be made, and again I will fight the desire towards excess (I still have three bottles of Baileys from last year) but know it is part and parcel, manufactured or not, of the season.

There will be gatherings throughout this time, families will come together, friends will catch up after far too long apart, and the comfort those activities bring only adds to the sense of comfort and warmth and love.

We will get a tree and decorate it, we will string lights up to proclaim our happiness, and confess our luck all the while counting our many many blessings and all the shapes and forms in which they are delivered.

And all too soon it will be over, 2020 will have arrived we will start searching for new distractions and invariably end up back in the same routines as before.

Ohhh to find a way to hold on to the quiet joy that December holds, the gentle uplift of the soul by all those coloured lights bedecking halls, gardens, and buildings, the cheery optimism of Christmas songs.

Thoughts too for those less fortunate, and a desire to retain the awareness of those who need a little help and support throughout the year, even whilst it is keenly felt in the cold winds and frosts of our winter.

I’ve always liked December and the sense of joy and silliness it allows, adults can indulge their more childish impulses (yes, I have trifle for breakfast on Boxing Day!) whilst indulge their children even more. Pets are pampered and spoiled and everything feels a little more relaxed, almost like the relief of getting through to the end of another year is lifting from all of us.

I hope for snow to walk in on a frosty winters morning as much as I loathe the messy slush it becomes. I long for my childhoods of sneaking chocolates from the Xmas tree, and the open fire in our living room. I look forward to laughing long and hard, making the most of the short time that we all come together in one place for a while; even though the jokes are old they are ours and always raise a smile.

I realise that the mere contemplation of all of this is making me smile.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Loss

The hurt of loss, the longing of one, the distance from those, the untouchable.

I wrote those words a long time ago.

Time is a great healer yet those who have lost loved ones will know, all too well, that it only takes a tiny moment to bring memories snapping back into vivid view in a heartbeat, all to remind you once again of the gap they have left in your life. It hurts, and while that hurt softens it never leaves you.

I can’t really remember all that much about my Grandpa passing. He’d been ill most of my life, suffering a number of strokes that left him in a wheelchair and able to speak. He remained a presence in the room though, and my earliest memories of him veer from the happiest as he laughed along with the rest of the family, to the darker ones. As he couldn’t express himself verbally he got easily frustrated and would bang the table loudly, it was frightening for a young boy to see.

I was sad when he died, he was still my Grandpa, and that meant something to me, even if I wasn’t sure what.

I was sadder when my Gran died. She looked after my Grandpa for the remaining years of his life, but still had time to look after me on occasion, and she was always happy to spoil her only grandson with ice cream and a toy from the local shopping centre. Towards the end, as she lay in a bed in her room in a local hospice, I would visit and tell her about my day and do my best to make her laugh, I usually managed it and I would leave slightly sad but comfortable that she was in the right place and knew that I cared for her. Her death is still keenly felt and, as my own mother has been in and out of hospital over the past few years, I find myself thinking back to my Gran.

Grief and loss felt very isolating. My approach to grief has been to lock it away from others, almost as if I’m trying to protect it from hurting anyone else, and most definitely because loss is a very personal thing. I know the things that I missed when my Gran died will be different to those the rest of my family felt.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, just as there are no right and wrong emotions when that moment comes. I can remember a sense of relief when my Gran passed; seeing someone you love dearly lying in a bed in a care home in her final days are not how I want to remember my Gran. So in a strange way it was, alongside the sadness, a weight off my mind. Now I was free to remember the Gran I knew as a small boy, spoiling me with ice cream and toys, and in later years as I grew older, telling stories of how she and her friends would dress up in their finest and deliberately wander past where the American soldiers were camped out during the war!

Loss is unique, and overwhelming, and natural, and sad, and an opportunity to remember the good things, and the further we get from the moment of loss itself, the more I find solace in the happy memories, the laughter and love that I still carry in my heart.

Shoes

There is an old joke that goes: “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes. After that who cares? They’re a mile away and you’ve got their shoes.” Badummtshhh!

It is, of course, a riff on the idiom that is typically stated as “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes” the idea being that you shouldn’t judge people until you better understand their life experiences, the challenges they carry every day, and how they view the world. It’s about developing empathy and perspective or, to put it another way, it’s about learning to manage your own emotions.

To wit, the shoes in question don’t really matter (history suggests the idiom originates with native Americans so likely they’d be wearing moccasins or some such), so perhaps these days it’s probably fair to say that with the astonishing designs, prices, and sheer volume of the range of shoes available to those who can afford them, it might be a more apt phrase than ever.

The other day, as I left work, I saw a long queue of people waiting outside a store. It’s not a store I’ve ever stepped foot in, but I’m pretty sure it’s a clothes stor… sorry, “fashion boutique”. It’s 4pm and there is a security guard in attendance at the front door, with a long queue already standing in orderly… er.. fashion.. behind a red velvet rope cordon.

It’s not something you see ever day so with my curiosity piqued I altered my route to wander past.

The queue is largely made up of young faces, teenagers and twenty-somethings, their faces lit by the screens they bow to view. As I get closer I peer inside the shop and can see that the red velvet ropes extend into the store, where there are more people waiting in a queue that snakes round one side of the store and up to the rear where there is a tall clear glass display cabinet, spot light in dazzling white, that contains two pairs of trainers set at jaunty angles as they rotate slowly on a pedestal. Each pair look identical in design and only differ in colour; one is a shade of olive, the other a light salmon pink. There are no other discernible factors or uniqueness and, from a distance, they look like they could be any other pair of trainers, render into these colours. In the queue of people waiting inside, most have their phones raised as they capture their latest Instagram, or Snapchat, or TikTok, or [insert latest fad].

I’ll admit that, as I walked past, I made judgements about those people. I judged them based on their age, I judged them based on their clothes, and yes I judged them because they were queuing to buy a pair of trainers at what I could only presume was an exorbitant price or, as I’m sure the designer would suggest, at a ‘premium’.

Part of me feels ashamed at that. I don’t know any of them, I don’t know if this is a purchase for them, if it’s the only thing they are treating themselves to this year, I don’t know if they don’t have any other hobbies and this is part of their social life. The other part of me wonders what on earth the world has come to when people will queue up to buy a pair of, to my eye, fairly non-descript trainers at what I’m presuming is an inflated price and which, again I’m presuming, have been endorsed by a celebrity whom I’ve never heard of.

Wow, listen to me, the out of touch and angry old man, raging against a world he doesn’t understand.

Sometimes it’s hard to gain perspective, or at least hold it, when you are seeing things that fundamentally just don’t seem right and definitely don’t feel relatable to your own world view. Admittedly this is a terrible example to use but the point stands, I only see the world from my own perspective, through my own experiences. I am applying my own morals to others and that isn’t right or fair.

Learning to put all that aside requires a lot of effort but it is possible. Emotional labour, as Hannah Gadsby recently said, is something that many millions of people do, multiple times, every single day. Those people are mostly women, so I think it’s about time that men took a turn.

It can be easy to start too, honestly, you just need to fight a basic urge. The next time you want to voice an opinion, ask yourself this, did the person I’m talking to ask for my opinion in the first place?

Simple. Right?

And it’s from there you realise that un-requested opinions tend to come from one place, with one point of view in mind, one perspective. Moving that view can be hard but it is possible.

Then, when you have walked a mile in another persons shoes, you’ll understand why their feet hurt, how sore their blisters are, and realise that your legs are aching.

‘How on earth did they manage to walk in these things?’ you’ll wonder.

And then you’ll realise.

These aren’t your shoes, and whilst you now have some aches and pains you’ve never had before, you’ll maybe start to appreciate that the way other people walk, and the shoes they were, aren’t wrong, or bad, just different.

Toast

It’s the simplest of things.

Take a slice of bread, put it in the slot, drop the lever and wait. After a short time the lever POPS! and there you have it, perfectly browned toast, yours to adorn it however you wish, and ohhhh the choices are myriad.

My usual toppings for a breakfast slice or two involves butter and whatever sweet condiment I have to hand, most often it’s honey, occasionally it’s jam and if the mood has taken me as I wander the supermarket isles, there may even be the option of a lemon curd or bramble jelly. But it all starts with butter, and sometimes that is all that is needed.

The bread is, of course, important, and again the mood and circumstance dictate. A few years ago, with a hangover looming over my day, I ventured to the shop across the road, purchased a loaf of fresh sliced white bread and retreated home, there to consume it, slice by delicious buttered slice, through the rest of the day.

These days I tend to treat myself a little better, and love nothing better than thick cut seeded loaf of some sort. We also get responsibly sourced heather honey from a Scottish producer which, along with a smear of butter, brings a little bit of luxury to my weekend mornings.

Eating out is a different matter and I recently bemoaned the distinct lack of choice when it comes to some of the places we visit, with any form of brunch or breakfast invariably served on toasted sour-dough which, whilst not a bad choice most days, is becoming so ubiquitous it’s getting a little boring. I like a nice sour-dough loaf as much as the next person, but c’mon folks, let’s mix it up a bit!

A few years ago I went through a spell of making my own bread which is as simple as it is therapeutic, even if living alone meant I’d end up consuming the entire thing myself, with the first half usually gone during the ‘fresh from the oven’ phase… oops.

Be it plain, white, brown, or any of the myriad of regional variations, whether it originated in the British Isles or hails from over the sea (I do love a brioche, merci la France!) the simple act of toasting bread and adding butter remains a simple and underestimated pleasure.

So, next time you pop a couple of slices in the toaster, take time to marvel at what is going on. The chemistry involved in the baking of the bread, with that wonderful soft flesh inside that is rendered new into a warm, crispy, deliciousness, by what very well may be the invention of the century, which is only further heightened simply by applying butter.

Toast, it really is the breakfast of champions.


And for those of you of a certain age, have an earworm…

Morning all. I’d like to tell you about when I was a young boy. Must have
been three or four months old at the time. I didn’t really know what I
wanted, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to tell anybody, ’cause all
I could do was gurgle.
So, I sat there in me highchair, thinking one day, looking at me tray and
thinking what I’d give for a meal on there.
So, I started looking round to see what I could have.
I was rubbing me eggy soldier in me head, trying to think, and I looked in
the corner and there’s a little breadbin with its mouth open, just staring
at me, like.
Toast by Streetband (and yes, that’s Paul Young)