Friday, 31 December 2010

The Pilgrim's Progress

A couple of recent conversations I had with my mom while staying with my parents over the Christmas break.
(Names have been changed.)

Christmas presents convo with mom

M: You know our friends Bob and Saffron? They don't buy their kids Christmas presents, you know.
L: Oh really? That's unusual.
M: I think it's tight.
L: Well, maybe. Perhaps they've got a reason. Perhaps they don't see the value in wasting money on gifts for the sake of it. Maybe they put more value on spending time with them. I do. I value spending time with my loved ones more than gifts.
M: Hmm. They're not very... Um...
L: Materialistic.
M: Yes, they don't have much.
L: Well, you don't need much to be happy. As long as you've a roof over your head and you're not hungry, everything else is just "stuff".
M: No, I think they're just tight. They'd rather not buy things for their own kids and save their money for the pub.
L: Is that such a bad thing? There's evidence to show that experiences and spending time with your friends and community make you happier than "stuff". They're not just spending money on booze...
M: No, Bob won't drink at home.
L: So they're spending their money on socialising with their friends in the pub, an experience that makes them happy. Better that than buying their daughter a jumper she'll probably never wear, wouldn't you say?
M: No, but don't they want to see her face light up when she opens something?
L: She may not have been brought up to value "stuff", mom. Look at our Edward - he's as happy playing with the box as he is with the present inside it. It's only us and society that will teach him in the next few years to put more value on a £300 X-Box. That doesn't mean you can get away with not buying me anything next year, by the way. You've brought me up for 30-odd years to value "stuff".
M: I'm gonna give you a box.
L: Don't you dare.


Gay convo with mom

M: Why does Angela's gay daughter have to wear football shirts, trainers and jeans, and cut her hair short? She looks disgusting.
L: You've just described nearly every man in Yorkshire.
M: Yes but she's a woman.
L: Oh, mom, I don't know where to start.... People are different. It's not to do with her being gay. You can't say all straight men are the same - look at the difference between the dad from The Royle Family and, say, David Beckham. Maybe that's just how she's comfortable.
M: Well, she wasn't like that before she was gay.
L: Maybe before she came out she felt she had to fit into a female stereotype but now she feels she can be herself.
M: Christine's gay daughter is pretty though. Looks lovely. And she's really bright and bubbly. Not like this one. Nobody likes her you know. Only her girlfriend. She's obnoxious.
L: Maybe she no longer feels she has to try to please everyone. Maybe wearing football shirts and being obnoxious is who she really is.
M: Well I don't know, I'm just saying.
[Pause....] But what I don't understand is why gay men who always dress themselves nice have to put on that gay voice.
L: Not all of them do.
M: Yes but most do. Why do they do that?
L: I don't know. Maybe they're not putting it on, maybe that's how men are supposed to talk but society tells them they have to sound manly and butch.
M: Well they could just talk normal.
L: Maybe that *is* normal to them. Just like Chinese people sound very different to us just because of how they've been taught, it doesn't mean either way is wrong.
M: Well maybe you're wrong, have you thought of that?
L: I'm just trying to give you a different perspective. I'm trying to explain that just because we're used to something being one way it doesn't make it right or better. I'm going for a bath, OK?
M: Alright, don't be long, I want one.
L: Alright. Dad, I'm going up for a bath, alright?
D: [Taking his boots off after returning from collecting his winnings from the bookies] Alright, kid.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Fizz Bucks

An article in the Metro recently stated that, in a blind taste test, 80% of participants couldn't tell the difference between a supermarket's £6 bottle of Cava Brut and the big name Champagnes at upward of £30. I mentioned this on Facebook stating it as further proof of my "emperor's new clothes" theory regarding Champagne - my mother has always insisted it’s overrated and I agree - and received a surprising amount of feedback from friends with several saying that one of the leading big name Champagnes is, and I quote, "shit". Apparently every year it's supermarkets' own brands that come out top in taste tests. Why, then, do people shell out considerably more money for an equal or inferior product?

Take bottled water for example. I get irritated by restaurant waiting staff who ask if I'd like sparkling or still water. Obviously, it's a trick question designed to get us to fork out upwards of a fiver for bottled water. I ask for tap water. Tap water is perfectly potable and tastes fine in the UK and I refuse to allow restaurant staff to make me feel cheap to boost their profits when I'm already in their restaurant paying for food, wine and service.

It makes me wonder: Why are we so easily influenced to spend silly money when something much less expensive – or in the case of water, free! - would be just as good if not even better?

Here's a question for you: If I was holding a Champagne party at my house and I asked you to bring a bottle, how long would you spend choosing it and how much would you spend?

Here's a slightly different question: If I was holding a Champagne party at my house and I asked you to bring a bottle and I categorically instructed all of my guests IN ADVANCE to remove all labels from the Champagne, bring it in a brown paper bag, pool the bottles together on the kitchen worktop upon arrival, and stated that guests are forbidden to discuss which drink they brought, how long would you take choosing it and how much would you spend?

Did your answers differ? Does this help us to understand our reasons for buying branded products? Feedback and comments invited. :o)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Every day, Nirvana

My 3G connection failed - as it regularly does - on my walk to work this morning, interrupting my joy at listening to a Tubular Bells/Christina Aguilera mash-up on YouTube. Unenthused with most of the music on my iPhone at the moment, I put on a meditation recording.

Instantly I was whisked away from the cold, the traffic and my fellow commuters, and the soothing voice took me up and away to a higher place where I started to feel untouchable. I felt surprisingly relaxed very quickly and was beginning to feel connected when suddenly the voice was cut off and my phone started ringing into my earphones. Urgh. It was the estate office where I live so I figured it could be important - was my flat flooded or on fire? Reluctantly I answered it. When am I going to pick up the parcel that was delivered last week? So, not even slightly important. How irritating to have been grabbed from my path to Nirvana and thrust onto the concrete plaza in front of Canary Wharf station.

Not that the estate office shouldn't have made the call, they're just trying to clear some space for the inevitable rush of Christmas deliveries. But the point of the today's rambling is that this just made me realise how much I need to be away from what is increasingly appearing to me to be pointless, banal crap.

It's not that my life is stressful, oh no, far from it. I've got it pretty easy at the moment, things are going well for me, I have nothing whatsoever to complain about. It's just that I feel the urge, the need, to be in a higher place. I'm starting to see a lot of stuff that goes on around me as truly worthless. Not that I'm coming from a negative place; I'm certainly not seeing things from a depressive perspective, and I don't feel at all jaded. Just a lot of things I once took as red and never questioned seem so superficial to me now.

Seven years ago before I moved to London I stared at the ceiling above my bed and said out loud to myself, "There has got to be more to life than this." And I found that there was. I removed myself from the Northern town I lived in and discovered the exciting metropolis that is London. I've travelled and partied, met some incredible people and done and seen things I'd never imagined I would or could. And I'm still discovering and learning and it's still exciting and I do still love it, I really do. But in parallel to that I find half of me in a similar headspace to seven years ago, only a step up, if you like.

I need to connect with our life force and I need to be around people who understand this. I don't mean I want a weekend at Centerparcs, I mean I need to get right back to basics, to the very root of what we're made of. I want to be creative and feel I must listen to the voice inside but, I'm struggling to hear what it's saying. But I do know it's speaking.

I'm going to a meditation workshop next week presented by one of the practitioners who introduced me to reiki. I'll use this to help me decide whether I will take the opportunity early next year to cut myself off from the outside world and spend ten days at a meditation centre. I want a piece of Nirvana and I want to be able to access it every day. Only then, I feel, will I be able to hear what my inner voice is telling me.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Can't get no sleep?*

Got a hamster wheel in your head?

Tossing and turning and fidgeting?

Try my strategy for a quick trip to dreamland...

Get up.
Open a window and pull back your bed sheets to cool down your bed.
Fluff your pillow and turn it over.
Have a drink of water.
Go to the loo.
Wash your hands and feet and apply moisturiser.
Shut the window and go back to bed.
Tense up all the muscles in your body one by one and release them.
Envisage drawing a chalk outline on the floor around your body starting and finishing with your head.

I hope it works for you.

*Please don't point out the double-negative in the title; you should know me well enough to realise I'm painfully aware of it. ;o)

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Eternal sunshine

Well, that's it; it's over. Summer has well and truly delivered us her Dear John letter. (Don't worry, she'll be back in a few months' time, she's fickle like that.) Clocks have gone back and we go everywhere in the dark. No more festivals, barbecues or going to the pub without your big coat on: boohoo: rubbish.

It's no wonder so many suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I don't know about you but the thought of going out in the dark and miserable weather is more than enough to make me want to hibernate in the duvet and eat mashed potato sandwiches. But although slowing the pace a bit for the winter months is inevitable, unless we have the luxury of b*ggering off to warmer climates for a few months (I don't) we have to grin and bear the sh*tty weather and the dark nights and just get on with it.

So it got me to wondering: what tangible things can we do to ease the transition from Summer into Autumn and Winter?

My friend Susan has a great suggestion: fake tan! You may laugh but when you're feeling a bit fat and miserable from too many evenings tucked up in your duvet scoffing comfort food, seeing what you were born with, in mahogany, is quite a pick-me-up. You'll look slimmer and healthier - yay to that! They do special ones for men now as well, probably the same stuff with less perfume and a really hard name, and sold in penis-shaped bottles.

Make some wardrobe space by packing away your Summer clothes (I put mine in a case under the bed), and dig out your winter clothes. Sort them into outfits with bags, scarves and other accessories, and getting ready to go out into the cold will seem a bit less of a chore - exciting even! Or maybe that's just me. Well, you can try it. I'm not making any promises here.

There's not as much opportunity to get sunshine which, as you know makes us happy, so do your absolute best to go outside at lunchtime, for at least 10 minutes. It will not work through your balaclava so you'll have to take it off.

Keep your pecker up by watching comedy TV or reading funny books. Stay away from anything depressing. Like the news. If anything big happens someone will tell you, I guarantee it.

Over the Summer I always find myself either eating out, or chucking a few salad ingredient together for dinner, and so by the time Autumn comes around I've forgotten how to cook and am horrified at the thought of spending more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. Very tempting to order in junk food or chuck a pizza in the oven, but this cr*ppy food will make us feel worse so pull out your recipe books and re-discover some comforting but healthy winter recipes. Do not be tempted to replace the Summer salads with white carbs - you will be sorry! The free Asda magazine always has some ace recipes that are proper easy and don't contain ingredients you can never find like figs, lemongrass and rocking horse sh*t.

While we're on the subject of cooking, as you'll be spending less time in the beer garden, invite your friends over and cook for them. A great excuse to drink red wine. Someone told me recently they did their own version of "Come dine with me" with a bunch of friends. You'll probably get very p*ssed. You may even win a prize. Or get food poisoning. Bl**dy brilliant!

Alright, there'll be times when you REALLY can't be bothered having people over because it's way too much effort to push the vacuum cleaner round and wear something other than day four pyjamas. On days like this it's more important than ever to connect to stop you getting down, so ring your friends and family. It'll cheer you up a bit, and them. And over the phone they can't smell you or see the piles of washing up.

Relaxing and getting enough sleep in winter is EASY. Bath, book, bed. Simples.

Now this is one I use myself a lot. When I step outside and the wind is blowing and it's drizzling and I realise half way to the bus stop I should have worn different shoes there's a whiny little voice in my head which starts. "I'm freeeeezing!" or "Sh*t my hair, why did I bother?" or "F*ck these f*cking shoes." But then I stop the voice before it continues and turn the message around to something a bit more positive like, "Ah, the boss will probably not realise I'm late." or "Hmm, which flavour coffee shall I have this morning?" or "I actually look really hot in these shoes." It helps to stop a negative downward spiral of thoughts, changes your perspective and plants positive messages which affect mood. It's all good.

EXERCISE (You hoped I'd forgotten, didn't you?)
Oh, I caaaaaan't, I'm tiiiiiired, it's coooooold, I just want to go hooooome. I know. I do, I know. But we still have to do it. I can't tell you what exercise to do, as it's personal to you but you must continue to do it for your well-being. That boost of happy-chemicals makes everything else seem so... pleasant. Force yourself, you'll be glad of it. I schedule my exercise into my paper diary in Sharpie marker so I can't scrub it out. Or if I do you can still sort of see it. Especially if I draw a box around it and block it in. It's really obvious.

So those are my tips for getting us over the Winter months. If you can think of any more feel free to post them up and we can share them with everyone. And we can all skip to work in the sunshine in our heads!!!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Why do people who get everything become the most unhappy?

A young lady asked a great question recently:

“Why do people who get everything become the most unhappy?”

She went on to explain,

“My friend is spoiled. She's not a brat and doesn’t have a bad attitude and I wouldn’t call it depression or anything as she's usually super happy but then when she does get sad she says she's missing something. And she's not the only friend like that. Why do spoiled people think they're missing something that'll make them happy?”

Here is my response:

This is an excellent question, Jessica!

It appears that in Western society we're led to believe that if we have more material possessions it will somehow make us feel more fulfilled inside. If we have a bigger TV, a better car, more jewellery, fancy clothes, etc., we will somehow miraculously feel happy - and that's not true at all!

Of course having "some" money and possessions can make our lives a lot easier and less of a struggle but possessions themselves do NOT make us happy inside. Fact.

Sadly, a lot of people spend their lives trying to obtain more and better material possessions in the hope that it'll make them feel happy and fulfilled (like the TV adverts tell us they will) and they then neglect the things in life which will genuinely help them with their happiness.

There is much research and discussion about what makes us feel "complete" (i.e. like we're not missing something) but generally having a sense of purpose and belonging are key to this. A few years ago I read a great book called Dare to Connect by Susan Jeffers (Piatkus Books, 1995) which helped to get me on the right track to start to understand this.

Please do feel free to talk to me about this if you want to discuss it further.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

"We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

ALAN! Who the f**k is Alan?!

You know what a Mexican wave is, right? Where the crowd in a stadium creates a wave effect by standing up and raising their arms then sitting down again, in turn? Well, I found a different version of this at The Big Chill festival this weekend.

I can only imagine it all started when someone wandered off from his group of friends and they were trying to get his attention to rejoin them. It probably began with one friend shouting, “Alan!” and when Alan didn’t hear the others joined in. Passers by, thinking it would be either helpful or amusing joined in too and for some reason this caught on and, in no time, people throughout the entire festival were shouting, “Alan!” just once each which created a wave of sound rippling through the crowds, even reaching the far corners of the campsite.

But it didn’t just happen once. Every now and again somebody would start the Alan game again and within a minute or two it had rippled around the festival grounds, each of us yelling, “Alan!” at the top our of voices and then collapsing into laughter and, like a baby playing peek-a-boo or a dog chasing a stick, we didn’t tire of it and it was fun every single time, even at 3am, tucked up in our sleeping bags, trying to sleep; we’d hear the Alan wave approach, yell, “Alan!” then there’d be giggling from all the surrounding tents. Genius.

But it begs the question: Why did we join in?

Because it allowed us to be silly and childish and playful without the fear of being frowned upon
Because each of us aches to belong and feel connected and this daft game connected us almost instantly to 30,000 people
Because sitting in the countryside and yelling at the top of our lungs is brilliant stress relief

How often are we allowed to shout? Not often really if at all and it’s only a sidestep from singing (loudly!) which we can sometimes get away with.

So, what have we got here?

Silliness – by letting go of our inhibitions
Connectedness – by joining in with others
Stress relief – by letting go of our voices

This reminds me of the famous quote (which I happen to have on my Facebook page):

“Dance as though no-one is watching
Love like you’ve never been hurt
g as though no-one can hear you
Live as though heaven is on earth.”

Thanks, Alan. (Whoever you are!)

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Words of wisdom

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: Let it be."

Well, not exactly; I'm not a religious sort and although my mother *is* called Mary, it's not about her either, but I think there's a lot to be said for these wise words.

Life can be stressful and difficult and I wonder, wouldn't we be bored if it wasn't? But it's necessary to evaluate a situation and decide: Does it matter?

Small case in point, recently a colleague missed the check-in for her flight by only two minutes and called me in some distress from the airport. She was clearly very upset firstly because she feared she'd miss her meeting with her client and, secondly I imagine, because she knew it would cost the company a fair amount of money to rebook her non-flexible flight. I can fully understand her frustration; she had given herself plenty of time but the public transport had been unreliable resulting in her narrowly missing check-in. I've done this before, missed a train to see my family in Yorkshire by three minutes due to unreliable public transport, even though I'd given myself what should have been more than enough time. I was going through a difficult period of my life and I remember the sinking feeling as I saw the empty platform, the worry I felt that I wouldn't get to see my family and the annoyance at having to pay a small fortune for a replacement ticket for a later train. I stood in the station and cried with frustration and helplessness and imagine that's pretty much how my colleague felt standing on her own in the airport.

My train experience was five years ago and I drew on it to assist my distressed colleague. Within 15 minutes I had booked her onto a new flight leaving in a couple of hours and I also emailed her to say, "C'est la vie. Don't sweat it, nobody died. In five years you probably won't even remember. ;o)" I hope that helped her to relax about a situation that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't really matter. Yes, some money was wasted which is not ideal but it's a mere irritation and can be written off as "one of those things".

There are quite a few books telling us the same thing ("Don't sweat the small stuff" by Richard Carlson, and "F**k It: the Ultimate Spiritual Way" by John Parkin to name two) which for all intents and purposes teach us: When things seem a bit sh*t and out of your control, step back, put it into perspective and, where possible, just let it be.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

What's the worst that could happen?

As I see it, there seems to be a preoccupation in our society with extremes – you’re either a drinker or you’re teetotal; you’re either a smoker or you’re a non-smoker; you’re vegetarian or you’re not, those of us who want to lose a few pounds go on a fad diet... (No finger pointing here, by the way, I’m just as guilty as the next person.) We seem to struggle if we can’t put a label on it.

What happened to balance? Why do we feel we have to swing wildly between black and white, or feel that we have to set up camp in one particular field?

Remember the old adage: “A little bit of what you fancy does you good”? I’ve been living by that rule for a few months now and it seems to be serving me well; I don’t feel at all deprived; life is feeling pretty balanced.

But, well, balance and moderation is all well and good isn’t it, for some areas of our lives? What happens when the thing we’re approaching has no half-measures?

Just like you can’t “kind of” do a parachute jump, you can’t “a bit” have children, and you can’t “sort of” quit your job to work for yourself – it’s all or nothing, isn’t it? And “all or nothing” can seem truly terrifying: it’s a total commitment. What in God’s name do you do if you don’t like it? You can’t float upwards and get back on the plane – once you’ve jumped you’ve got to deal with the consequences.

But what if all you’ve ever wanted is to experience that exhilaration of throwing yourself out of a plane? What are your options? Either you go up in that plane and you jump out – embrace the fear that, yes, it could all go horribly wrong - or you stay on the ground and know that you’ll never get to do it and, worse still, watch others experience what you crave.

How many of us shy away from something we know in our hearts we want, simply because we fear it may be the wrong choice? I’ve done that so many times. I fear I may mess it up or realise later that I made the wrong decision and it feels like there’s no going back. How often, though, is it REALLY the case that there’s no going back?

Well, this is where, again, we turn to balance – a balanced perspective. Yes, there ARE extreme circumstances where there’s absolutely no going back but really, they’re few and far between. What about what you’re shying away from? (I believe most of us are shying away from something, come on, admit it.)

Look at whatever it is you’re denying yourself because of fear and honestly ask yourself:

“Is it really an extreme circumstance? If I do this is there truly no going back, or is it something that potentially I could change my mind about at a later date if I decide it’s not for me?”

Dig deep and ask yourself,

“What’s the very worst that could happen?” and then, “If the worst happens, is that even worse than me leaving the earth having never tried it?”

If the answer is no, then you know what you must do.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hearts for sale

The thing about online dating is that there are no guarantees. Unlike eBay or any other online shop for that matter, if the item you invest in doesn't turn out to be as described, there's no come back.

Still surrounded by baggage - physical and emotional - I fell into internet dating from a position of vulnerability. Another unsatisfying three year relationship over, another suitcase in another hall.

After I moved out on my own, when I wasn't making myself unsustainably busy to numb the pain, I'd be online, looking out for my next potential life-partner. A few guys said hello, I liked the look of some of them, too, but it all felt empty; none of them made me feel anything inside. That is until one evening, about a month in.

I'd trawled about a hundred or so online profiles, as I usually did, clicking one or two as "favourites" - maybe he liked art, maybe he was sensitive - but I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this particular one. I remember, I actually stood up and said, "Wow, I have got to speak to him."

"Relax, smile and be happy" his profile instructed me. That spoke to me, so I read more. You know when you're on a beach looking for pretty pebbles and one catches your eye and you're so delighted you reach down to pick it up? Well, this was no pebble - I believed I'd found a diamond, right there at my feet. As I read what he had to say in those few short paragraphs, all the emptiness was filled, and the agony I'd been carrying around for months just dissipated.

Within two weeks we had exchanged probably 50 emails and had arranged to meet. His online photos were slightly obscure so I wasn't certain I'd recognise him but as soon as we saw eachother we smiled, he scooped me into his arms and squeezed me. "It's good to meet you." It was. Instantly I was hooked.

We had an amazing first date, spent all afternoon together in the sunshine; we walked, ate ice cream, wandered the markets and canals, shared food in a cute organic cafe... Could any first date have gone better? I thought probably not. At the end of our date he walked me to the station and gave me another of his giant hugs. I hadn't known if we'd kiss but no, we didn't. Maybe it was too soon, there was time for all that.

His emails after that point dropped off a bit - always "manic" at work - but still we met for dates; five wonderful afternoons over the course of about ten weeks. The last time I saw him I felt we had become close. He'd mentioned previously that he hadn't been ready for anything serious so I had backed off and left him alone - neither was I, if I was really honest with myself. But after a couple of weeks he came back to me, wanted to see me again, and I was glad. He'd clearly been doing a lot of thinking and he told me his plans; his dream of moving back to his home country, a friendly community, sunshine, kids, beachside living; in a few years, after he had worked out how to make more money.

Why did he tell me this? Was he looking for my reaction to gauge whether I'd like to be a part of his future?

When I left him that day his words and actions told me we'd see eachother again very soon. That was almost two weeks ago. Since then it's like nothing has changed. He's again busy at work, no phone calls, few emails and no plans to meet up.

Why, then, is this extraordinarily beautiful and confused man in an online shop selling himself as potential relationship material?

I've decided today that I must move on from him for my own emotional safety. He's a risky venture and my well-being is at stake. I'm having conversations with some wonderful men who are very keen to meet me.

But what about my ten week investment? And far more importantly, what about that aching, gaping hole he left in my heart? I hope that one of these other wonderful men can help to fill it in, and soothe it better. But the thing about online dating is that there are no guarantees.

Monday, 28 June 2010

"Did you ever think life was incredibly beautiful?
Did you ever get frightened by the passing of time?

Were you ever helpless in the face of love?

Don't you know we're all part of something eternal?"

~ Ivor Tymchak
, Gentle Ihor's Devotion

Sunday, 27 June 2010

All four one

Someone told me recently that they wished they could love football. I didn't need them to elaborate; I think I understood; I've often wished it for myself: that feeling of belonging and loyalty through thick and thin.

I spent this afternoon in a riverside pub with three friends and a big group of strangers, to watch England play Germany in the World Cup. I don't *do* football but somehow have allowed myself to be swept along this time by the enthusiasm of friends and colleagues, alongside that little bit of hope I have that it'll give me a sense of belonging.

I'll be honest, I don't understand half of what's going on but football fans are only too willing to indulge my questions, explaining about penalties, the point-scoring system and who the players are. That's the thing about enthusiasts - they love what they love so much that they'll gladly pull you in and make you welcome in the hope that you'll love it, too, so that they can share it with you and make you a part of their "family".

A hundred or so people crowded around a TV screen in the back room of a pub, on a hot day, connected by our support for our team. Each of us sharing, in varying degrees, the joys and disappointments of the game. When England scored I was genuinely pleased, not least to sense the joy of those around me. I felt frustration and disappointment at our disallowed goal (seriously, WTF happened there?!) and I shared a bit of the pain of those around me when Germany scored (all four times...) And I knew that millions and millions of people the world over were also sharing this with us.

Some of us were texting friends about the game, some were updating Facebook and Twitter and some of us made friends with strangers in the pub - how this game brings us together! And what struck me was, the more people shared and connected, the better it felt: it doesn't become diluted by sharing, on the contrary, it becomes stronger.

While the game was on, the world kept turning, shit happened like it always does, but we forgot about all that for a couple of hours, because we were supporting something that we were a part of. And we didn't win, far from it, but we were united in our defeat and, because of that, none of us were alone. How comforting.

I wonder, how can we apply this outside of football? What can we do to recreate and maintain this community, friendship and support long after the World Cup is over?

We're all a part of something: a flatshare, a family, a workplace, a group of friends, an exercise class... What is each of us actively doing to create a community of friendship and support?

In London, as in most cities, it's easier to go about our business without a thought for or acknowledgement of the next person, particularly as life is so fast-paced. But if we can take a moment to reach out with kindness and friendliness, especially to those we don't know, maybe we could be the force to change the cycle for the better and help to create a community similar to that I saw in the pub this afternoon.

Friday, 25 June 2010

"Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them."
~ O
scar Wilde

X Goodbye

Do you remember the last time you were turned down for a place at university or for a job?

You received a letter, the anticipation when tearing open that envelope, your future in your hands, replaced by emptiness when you read those few lines. Or the thrill in your stomach when the recruitment agent called, quickly replaced by disappointment when she broke the bad news.

Felt pretty rubbish, didn't it?

Or could you take it in your stride? Plenty more fish to fry? No big deal? Depends how much you wanted it, I suppose but, even so, I know myself when I've been turned down for jobs I didn't even really want, it's still a little knock to the ego; made me feel a tiny bit worse about myself.

My friend got free tickets to the X Factor auditions last night so three of us went along. We queued for a VERY long time to get in but eventually there we were, in the audience of this massive, popular, national TV show. Thousands of excited fans, the lights, the music, TV cameras and, there at the front, Dermot, Louis, Cheryl and of course Simon - wow!

The first few acts I have to say were bloody great, very talented young people - no older than their teens. How anyone could pick holes in their performances is beyond me but if they've to get through they have to be exceptional and they know this, so the criticism helps them.

Next up we saw a 50 year old Indian gentleman in a tan suit. He looked pretty out of place and had with him a large rucksack which, when questioned by Simon, he explained quite seriously contained tapes and CDs. The audience laughed. I laughed. The Indian gentleman didn't laugh, he just looked a little uncomfortable and put the bag down to one side.

I couldn't tell you what he sang but it sounded appalling; just utterly awful, out of tune. The audience laughed. I laughed.

He was told, of course, that he didn't get through. Cheryl's a good girl, she's been there herself and knows how it feels so she chooses her words carefully so as not to hurt anyone's feelings. The other two, particularly Simon, not so much.

The Indian gentleman picked up his rucksack and left.

I left a little before the end of the show; managed to completely avoid the crowds at the station. As I descended the steps to the DLR platform I noticed a figure slumped on a seat - an Indian gentleman in a tan suit, with a large rucksack. He was completely alone and looked a little sad. No big group of friends and family around him showing support, hugging him, drying his tears, you know, like they always show on the TV when someone doesn't get through.

Just a man on his own in a train station going home after being laughed at and told he didn't make the grade. My heart sank. As I walked past I slowed and he looked up. I smiled and nodded and said, "Good effort. Good effort." He smiled back, "Thanks."

I didn't feel much like laughing now.

How did he feel, do you think?

I met someone...

... in the park today; a man.

I was enjoying the sun, reading, on the grass; he was fidgeting, shoes off, trying to get comfy on a bench. I watched him, on and off, for maybe 30 minutes. He was unremarkable in appearance - perhaps 30-something, slim, dark hair, black jeans, white teeshirt. There was something about his being alone and his apparent inability to get to sleep on the bench that eventually drew me to pack away my book and go and join him, also barefoot, on the bench.

My sitting disturbed him. He had his head buried in his arm which he lifted when he felt me sit down, and he shuffled over. Can't remember what I said, "Nice day." I think, and maybe, "You OK?"

Transpires he'd woken up too early as he forgot to shut his curtains before bed and had come to the park to sleep.

We exchanged easy small talk and within minutes had fast-tracked to discussing culture, diversity, global city-life, the emptiness of the Canary Wharf lifestyle, materialism... It started to rain so we took cover under the branches of a tree and continued to talk... About where we are in our lives, what we hope to achieve, religion, society, the craving to "fit-in", the need to fill the void inside, Eastern versus Western cultures and values and happiness.

We walked the park between rain storms, ducking under buildings and trees as the need arose. We talked for maybe three hours, then we exchanged contacts, and went our separate ways.

In the three hours, this young man from Eastern Europe, who has traveled the world, spent a short time studying society in Nepal, and spent 12 years studying the core values of the Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic faiths (among others), taught me that it's OK to be lonely.

He explained that it's Western society that trains us to believe we should be happy all the time and that if we're not we're failing. He told me that "personal identity" doesn't exist; that it's a false creation of Western society, and how many of us try to fill the void we feel inside with three things: career, relationship, material possessions. I pointed out that, for me, it's "keeping busy". I keep myself busy all the time because I'm terrified of feeling lonely.

He believes the void inside cannot be filled but that each of us simply has to learn to become comfortable with it.

Back off, buddy: A rule that some women need spelling out

I want to make it clear that this is not related to my relationship, it's just something that I've observed.

OK, so most of us have (or have had at some point in the past) a best or very-close friend of the opposite sex. You hang out together, are eachother's platonic "date" at weddings and dinners when everyone else seems to be in couples, and you snuggle up on the sofa to watch movies. You try out new restaurants/bars together, provide eachother with advice about the opposite sex, and are the comfortable shoulder to cry on and moral support when the other gets dumped. You can and do talk about anything and everything. During lonely periods, you've maybe even toyed with the idea of the two of you as a couple - heaven forbid - but realised you're missing the X-factor to be anything more than great mates.

And then he meets someone special. You're excited for him, prepare him for dates with her, listen as he tells you all about her. You can't wait to meet her - if she's good enough for your best mate, she's got to be wonderful. As time goes on he, understandably, has less time for you and more time for her. And that's exactly how it should be.

But here's where some women get it wrong. It's at this point that you should BACK OFF. He has found someone special to hang out with, to be his date at weddings and dinners, to snuggle up with on the sofa, to try out new restaurants with. He doesn't need relationship advice (unless he asks for it), and you certainly can't go phoning his mobile at midnight when your date from turns out to be a loser.

You can still be his friend but you must respect his new relationship and his new girlfriend. He's a boy and you're a girl; it cannot be the same between you; them's the rules!

If you try to continue things how they were - wanting to hang out with him all the time, being affectionate with him, calling and texting on a daily basis - you're going to seriously annoy his girlfriend and this puts him in a difficult situation; either he risks upsetting you by having to ask you to back off a bit, or his girlfriend has a strop every time you throw your arms around him in public.

So do the decent thing; respect their relationship, and back off. Get on with your life. Everyone knows that relationships can be hard at times and he doesn't need you throwing a spanner in the works and spoiling things for him. And remember that what goes around comes around; when YOU meet someone special, do you want his pretty, flirty, best friend sitting on his knee at parties?

Think about it.

Don't ask about work!

There are two topics it's commonly acknowledged that you steer clear of in polite company: politics and religion. And for good reason; they can incite heated debate, particularly when fuelled with alcohol, and nobody wants that at their birthday drinks. But I believe there's a third subject we should also exclude at social gatherings, and that's what people do for a living. It never delivers a positive result.

It starts off the usual, safe way, "So how do you know Jeremy?" "We've recently moved in next door, you?" "We were at university together." A bit boring, but harmless. But this is where you have to be very careful because quickly it can lead you down the route of, "So, what do you do?" Oh, how I dread that question. Why do people go there? A potentially interesting and fun conversation shot dead right there on the spot. The very best conclusion to such an exchange is that you both come away with a rough understanding of what the other does for 40-odd hours a week to meet the mortgage payments, and have made a new business contact (yippee, fun party, huh?!)

But, much, much worse, at the opposite end of the spectrum you find yourself desperately fishing in your panicked yet oddly bored brain for a fascinating response to, "I'm an IT Project Manager" or "I work in accounts and studying for my CIMA." And you, the usually articulate and witty creature that you are, the absolute best you can come up with is, "Really? That sounds so interesting, tell me about it." And, oh God, so it begins. That poor bastard who was so looking forward to a night off has to explain his job to someone whom he highly suspects doesn't give a shit, while you scan the room for bowls of crisps and make all the essential polite noises, and the pair of you jointly and silently pray for something, anything (a birthday stripper, a ground tremour, an excitable dog) to come along and end the excrutiating pain.

As a sidenote, if you meet an Office Manager at a party and end up making her talk about her job (shame on you), PLEASE don't ask her to explain in detail what her company does; it's like a Saturday night showing of Endurance watching her try to recite the corporate brochure after three strawberry daiquiris. She MANAGES the OFFICE. It's an office; they're all the damn same to an Office Manager. What else could you possibly need to know?

So my advice is ask if they've seen the latest blockbuster movie, ask them what they like to do at weekends, ask them what they've done today or are doing tomorrow, what was the last gig they went to or CD they bought, find out about their hobbies and interests, what sports they play or watch, their favourite restaurant or food... And watch their faces light up, see how animated they become. And this way there'll be much less tension, there's a good chance you'll find it interesting, and you'll learn something about the REAL them, and they about you.

Lisa's top ten happy tips

This is not an extensive list by any means but, when I start to feel blue, this is my checklist. I hope it's useful to you... x

1 Get to bed

You must get enough sleep – without it, everything feels wrong. Aim for at least five sleep cycles per night. A sleep cycle is about 90 minutes, so that’s at lea
st 7.5 hours.

2 Eat your greens

They make you feel - and look - so much better. You need to be having at least three portions of vegetables a day, and at least two portions of fruit. Fruits with happy-inducing stuff are bananas and kiwi fruit. Other happy foods are mung beans, asparagus, pineapple, ginger, lemongrss, spinach, bla
ckberries, soybeans, sunflower seeds and tofu.

3 Go outside

The sunshine gives you vitamin D which helps to make you happy and healthy. You need at least 10 minutes in the sunshine every day. It doesn’t work through your coat so show some skin.

4 Take a hike

Or run, cycle, swim, play on your Wii, get off the bus two stops early… Whatever it takes to get your heart rate up so you’re a bit out of breath, for 15 minutes, three times a week. Exercise releases hormones which improve your mood.

5 Love thy neighbour

Do something nice for someone else (hold the door open for someone, make a colleague a cup of tea, help a harassed mother off the bus with a pram…) without expecting anything in return, just for the joy it gives you to do a selfless act.

6 Take time out

Take 30 minutes every day to completely relax. Read your book, have a bath, listen to some music, go and sit in a coffee shop, go have a massage/manicure… without interruption. Do something relaxing for yourself, on your own, every day.

7 Have a comedy moment

Comedy is a great mood booster, so watch humourous TV, read a funny book, or call/spend time with a friend who makes you laugh; it’ll help to lighten your mood.

8 Love and be loved

Spend some time at least a couple of times a week with people you know love and appreciate you. If you can't be with them, get them on the phone.

9 Appreciate the good stuff

It’s too easy to focus on the bad stuff, so an easy way to focus on the good stuff is to keep a happy book. A small book in which you write three things a day which have gone well, e.g. I got a seat and a Metro on the train, I’m having a good hair day, a friend texted to ask how I am. Doesn’t ha
ve to be a lottery win. Try it for a week, you’ll be amazed at your change in perspective.

10 Have a word with yourself

You don’t have to be the best of the best to be wonderful, you’re already wonderful; you’re a special, unique package of all the things that make you YOU. Keep reminding yourself that you deserve to be happy.