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.