100happydays – day 101

I don’t like internet memes as a general rule.

My default position is that if you need a hashtag or inspirational graphic to tell you how to live a better life, you’re doing something wrong. Even if it involves an air-punching baby.

And then I tried #100happydays.

Right from day one, I was curious. Would I make it to the end? Apparently 71% of those who start don’t cross the finish line. How would it feel? What would be different? The official website of the movement makes all sorts of ambitious claims about people noticing what makes them happy, being in a better mood every day, getting compliments from others, realising how lucky they are to have the life that they have, being more optimistic, and even falling in love during the challenge.

From about day 60, I started getting nervous. What if, when it all ended, I stopped being happy? What should I do next? Should I just carry on indefinitely spamming people’s social media with pictures of my ride to work, of my mum eating chips, of me on the beach or all of the other stuff that’s made me smile over the last few months?

Now it’s here, now it’s really over, I know the answers.

I’ve looked back at those ambitious claims.

And I’m still single.

But other than that, every last one of those things has come true.

And it doesn’t stop there.

HappinessI finally understand that saying about happiness being a journey and not a destination. That it’s fine, even essential, to have goals and targets to work towards that will give long term gratification. But that it’s just as important to appreciate the things you already have – particularly the little things that are sometimes hard to notice. And that the days when nothing feels good about the world are when it’s most important of all to find or create something that makes you feel glad to be alive.

I haven’t just learned what makes me happy. I’ve learned what happiness is.

So where do I go from here?

I dabbled with the idea of extending the challenge (#wholeyearofhappy crossed my mind) but decided against for two reasons. Firstly I’m going abroad on holiday in a few months and the mobile data roaming charges would’ve been horrendous. But more importantly, at some point I’d either have to stop on my own terms, or fail. I don’t want it to end like that, so it makes sense to stop here, after 100 days, where I’d originally intended it would.

That doesn’t mean it’s over. What I’ve learned over the last 2400 hours will, I hope, stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m considering making it an annual event.

We’ll see.

A number of people started this challenge with me. None of them made it to the end. I’ve wondered why. Maybe I’ve been lucky. Maybe my 100 days were easy. I’m physically and mentally healthy. Nobody I love died, had an accident or got ill. I’ve still got a job, and somewhere nice to live. Maybe if I’d had to deal with some of those sort of challenges along the way, I wouldn’t have got this far. Who knows. What I did learn is that there are days when it takes more effort to be happy than not. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

So if you’re one of the people who’s been playing along, or quite fancies having a go but doesn’t think they can make it, my challenge to you is to go for it.

You never know where you’ll end up.

Won’t someone think of the children

I didn’t write Fever Pitch. Nick Hornby did. It’s rather good actually. Not as good as About A Boy (‘are we having duck?’) but a decent read. I recommend it. What I’m trying to say is that meandering pieces about the beautiful game aren’t my thing. In fact, I’m not that keen on football at all.

Even when you could watch it on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, I don’t remember professional football being a huge part of family life.  I learnt all the words to the Anfield Rap in 1988, in an effort to impress one of my siblings, and we occasionally played football in the garden (jumpers for goalposts and all that) but I was always in goal.

‘One Muzzy Izzet, there’s only one Muzzy Izzet’

I dabbled with it a bit more in my teens, like most kids do, to fit in with the crowd. For a while I had quite a lot of Leicester City branded clothing, and, when Walkers were still their shirt sponsor, spent several notable years dressed as a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

But the fact that England have just delivered their worst performance in a World Cup finals since 1958 holds no particular emotional significance for me.  I’d struggle to name anyone much in the squad, in fact. Even the goalie, although I recognise him from the Head and Shoulders advert.

I don’t particularly like what football does to the people of this country either. Normally rational, decent friends of mine start getting quite sweary on Facebook, and it becomes very difficult to establish which pubs are showing the matches, and which are hosting BNP meetings (are we meant to call them ‘Britain First’ now? I’ve lost track).

But I join in, in a light-hearted fashion, feigning some sort of interest and participating in the sweepstake at work (admittedly I drew Brazil this year, which suddenly made it considerably more enjoyable). I do this, because England’s semi-final loss against West Germany in Italia ’90 was one of the formative moments of my childhood.

For a start, the England team that year had a great song. As we’ve already established (see: ‘Anfield Rap‘), I was a sucker for a good song. World In Motion remains, in my view, the best football song of all time (I mean, I like Three Lions, but it hasn’t got ‘Arrividerci’ in it).

Exhibit A

It also had a great mascot. (Exhibit A). The mascot was basically a load of Tetris bricks with a football for a head. I was, at the time, desperate to own a Gameboy. I was hooked. (I have also literally JUST realised these bricks formed the component parts of the Italian flag. Oh the shame).

To tell you the truth, I can remember nothing of the group stages. Wikipedia tells me that England topped the group with one win (against Egypt) and two draws (Ireland and the Netherlands), so I imagine things weren’t looking hopeful. Apparently it took extra time to get past Belgium with a one-nil win in the last sixteen, so maybe the rose tinted glasses through which I see this tournament have much to do with the fact that I didn’t actually watch any of it until the quarter final against Cameroon. 

I say ‘watched it’. I didn’t, in fact, watch the quarter final.  Mum and dad had chosen the day of England’s world cup quarter final to go and visit some family friends who lived about a 90 minute drive away in Surrey. As an nine year old, I remember thinking it odd that my normally sociable older brothers, then 17 and 19, didn’t come with us. As we got in the car to come home, dad put the radio on, and I realised why…

There’s a quote in the film, The History Boys, that I’m rather fond of. Daykin is talking to Mr Irwin about moments when history ‘rattles over the points’ – and small, seemingly insignificant factors from the past turn out to have had massive impact on the present (‘If Halifax had had better teeth, we might’ve lost the war’). England’s game against Cameroon went to extra time, and I might’ve made it back to watch my hero Lineker’s penalty put England through to a World Cup semi-final for the first (and so far only) time in my life, had we not had to stop on the way home so I could be car-sick into a window cleaner’s bucket outside the Happy Eater at Broadbridge Heath.

And so that semi-final, that pivotal moment, that game which taught me so much about hope, and disappointment, was the first and only game of the entire tournament that I saw live.

I could recount every moment of that game. Tell you about the flag I made, about how many times I replayed West Germany’s first goal in my head, about how much I loved Gary Lineker when he scored that equaliser in the 80th minute. But all you really need to know is that after extra time and penalties, when not even the genius that was Peter Shilton could save us, I went to the downstairs toilet, locked the door, and cried my eyes out.

At that moment, I needed to be alone. Because in a house full of people, I was the only one who had really thought we were going to do it. I was too young to be cynical. Hadn’t yet learned to expect disappointment. I had hope. Real hope. With a tinge of expectation. Based on nothing more scientific than childish optimism and a cheesy song by New Order.

So yes, England have finished the group stage with one point. Yes, they were rubbish. But if you’ve got small people in your life, remember that learning to deal with disappointment is nowhere near as important as learning the value of hope.

Chin up. It’s only four years to the next one.


Socks are the future

Unless I was dreaming, this morning I saw an item on BBC Breakfast  about socks. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming, because I saw the same item about three times (I’m on a course this week and my morning timing is completely shot), but I can’t find any evidence of it anywhere online now apart from on the Daily Mail website.

Clearly, I have morals, taste and integrity, so I’m not going to link you to the Daily Mail website. If you really want to read the original article, let me google that for you.

The gist of the item, which featured an interview with an eager looking man, who may or may not have been blessed with a splendid beard and eyebrows to match (in my head he is, but I might have made that up) was that not wearing shoes in the classroom helps children learn. Apparently it makes them more relaxed and ‘it’s very hard to bully anyone when you’re not wearing shoes’.

Now, if I’m honest, I think that anyone with that attitude can’t possibly have been anywhere near the internet (much less the Daily Mail website), a place awash with faceless, argumentative, numpties who it must be assumed spend large parts of their day sitting in tracksuit bottoms looking for things online that they can vehemently disagree with. I can’t imagine many of these people are capable of dealing with velcro, let alone shoelaces, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

Leaving aside this, and the obvious practicalities about fire drills and the point at which sharing a room with 20 odd shoeless, hormonal teenage boys becomes hazardous to health, I think this is a stroke of pure genius. It started me wondering what other activities could be improved by the absence of footwear…

1. Weddings.

When you’re about seven, there’s a well known window of opportunity at any wedding. It’s after the speeches, when the lights have gone down, and your parents have had just enough free table wine to stop noticing exactly what you’re doing, and before they’ve had so much that the lure of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘YMCA’ becomes irresistible.

You’re over-dressed (come on, you’re seven, wearing ANYTHING feels like being over-dressed), probably a bit sweaty, and high on fizzy drinks and whatever confectionary you were bribed with to stay quiet during the service.

The dancefloor beckons, polished, shiny, and oh so slippery. You kick off your shoes (they’re probably new, so pleading blisters is absolutely feasible), edge away from your parents’ table (aim for the table full of inebriated friends of the groom, they’ll enjoy this) get a good run up, and…

You get the picture.

Weddings would be so much better without shoes. Then we could all join in.

2. Supermarket shopping

To put this into context, my nearest supermarket is a large Asda with a massive catchment area. I rarely go in if I can help it (the slogan for their click and collect service should be ‘Asda prices without the Asda people’).  It’s always full of people with no spatial awareness whatsoever. That’s really all I can say about the clientele without being rude.

If, at the door, you were made to remove your shoes (possibly checking them in at some sort of kiosk, like when you go bowling), the whole thing would be much more civilised. People would be more careful with their trollies, because you’d be able to exact a retribution much more painful than a tut and a disapproving look. Supermarkets would be cleaner, quieter, and, on reflection, breeding grounds for verrucas and athlete’s foot.

Might need to rethink that one.

3: Televised sport

Admittedly I’m mainly thinking about football here, where the amount of pointless rolling around on the floor every time an opposing player so much as breathes in the same direction is, frankly, an embarrassment, but imagine the fun you could have with other sports. Professional basketball in socks would be a much more challenging endeavour, and there would be scope for the addition of many more Olympic events (see ‘Weddings’, above).

4. Job interviews

Take a look at the guy in the picture above. What are you thinking?* Me too. You can tell a lot about someone from their socks.

Imagine how much more effective job interviews would be if everyone took their shoes off. We could just walk in, do a quick sock comparison, realise that my George at Asda, £2.99 for 5 (with the days of the week on them) are never going to be compatible with your Joseph Turner, 89% wool, £16.99 a pair argyles, and save ourselves the bother.

5. Work in general

I’m probably not the best judge, because I will readily admit that my ideal job would be one where trousers are optional, but if it works for primary school children, why wouldn’t it work for adults? I mean obviously, if you’re a bricklayer or something, it’s not very practical. But I basically sit at a desk all day, with the occasional pause to secure more tea, more cake, or deal with the obvious after effects of the aforementioned tea. All of which I could happily (and safely) do in my socks. Except maybe for the last one. Although I’m sure providing those little blue overshoes that they sometimes make you wear at swimming pools would work in such unpleasant situations.

Right. Who do I need to write to to make this happen?



*If you’re thinking, ‘he looks a bit like someone I know’, then we probably used to work together, and I was thinking the same thing.

100happydays – day 32

On Mother’s Day this year, I realised I was a bit down in the dumps.

I wasn’t depressed. I know enough about depression to not use that sort of language lightly. But a lingering, low level negativity had crept up on me in the cold, dark, and seriously wet days of early January, and hung around like a bad smell in a seemingly clean fridge.

It took me a while to notice, but I was gradually turning into a miserable git.

When, at the end of March, the clocks changed and the sun came out after what felt like three months of constant rain, it was like I’d suddenly taken a breath of fresh air after weeks indoors (actually, given the biblical flooding that we’d all had to put up with, that probably wasn’t far from the truth). By way of an explanation for my apathetic malaise, all I could come up with was this:

  • Work was a bit frustrating – with a new project that was taking a while to get interesting.
  • The weather had been rubbish for about three months (with one particularly dramatic experience on Valentine’s Day, when I filled the bath up with water before I went to bed because a website told me that’s what you do with flooding).
  • I was skint. Not sell-the-TV-and-start-buying-pants-in-Primark skint, just think-twice-about-going-out-for-a-takeaway skint.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it now, because there are people in the world who have real problems, but that’s it.

Yes – I am a lucky bastard.

Clearly all I needed was to give myself a kick up the arse and start appreciating all the positive things in my life.

I’d been aware of the ‘100 Happy Days’ challenge for a while. When I first saw it I dismissed it as another one of those cheesy internet memes that life’s too short for. Various friends had spammed me on Facebook with pictures of lego/animals/their children (delete as applicable) accompanied with the hashtag, but to be honest, I didn’t really buy it and most of them didn’t make it past the first week.

The idea is cheesy, but simple. Every day, you take a picture of something that makes you happy, and post it somewhere online. I guess the posting is somewhat optional, but it beats adding to the mountainous sludge of twaddle that normally works its way round the interweb.

The website 100happydays.com made some rather ambitious promises – and I was pretty sceptical, but hell, it was that or continue to wallow  in my very middle class, first-world ‘non-problems’.

I started on Mother’s Day, with the humble beginnings of a cup of tea in the park on a sunny day. And before anybody scoffs at how easily pleased I am – showing off is verboten, OK?

Today is day 32. I’m posting my pictures on Facebook for the people I actually know (Facebook is sacred – more on that later), and on Twitter for the benefit of the general public/whatever sinister monitoring the official 100happydays people do.

And unbelievably, it has completely changed my state of mind.

The first few days were really, really hard, and I completely understand now why so few people make it through the first week. On the second day I was so stuck I had to use the album cover from a Proclaimers song that I’d listened to on the walk to work. Now it’s a cracking song, but I’d hoped my life was a bit better than a twenty year old song nobody’s ever heard of by a band most people don’t like.

Day 15

But – and this is the thing – the fact that it’s not easy to start with is entirely the point. Too often, we bounce from major event to major event, without realising that the tiny little things that fill the gaps in between are what life is really all about.

Several things have changed since Mothers Day.

Rather then spending every spare ounce of mental energy trying to work out what I need to do to have the amazing life I’d envisaged myself with, I spend it thinking about what has already made me happy today, and how I might represent it in photographic form (unless it’s a cake, in which case that’s easy).

If I get home from work and I still really can’t think of anything, I make sure I do something in the evening that I can use. Which, obviously, means doing something that will make me happy. A bike ride, a walk on the beach, a phone call. Whatever.

After the first week I realised I was – weirdly – starting to plan my happy thoughts in advance.  I hadn’t originally understood what the website meant about ‘having time to be happy’  – but that’s just it; sometimes the universe doesn’t present much, so you have to create something.

I notice everything that makes me smile – because I’m instantly making an assessment of whether I should take a photo of it. Seeing a moving ferry on my way to work (yes really. Stop it). Smelling the sea while out walking on my lunch hour. I nearly used a random small child who started a conversation with me the other day, but I figured taking photos of children you don’t know is probably not the done thing.

I was about to write that nobody else had yet noticed the change in my outlook, but that’s not strictly true. Four different people have so far asked me about it. Three of them are now having a go themselves. One in particular sent me a note about how nice it was to see some positivity on Facebook, which made my day. In fact, it nearly was my happy thought for the day. But that would have caused some kind of tear in the space/time continuum, and I don’t watch Doctor Who, so I have no idea what I’m talking about.

There are 68 days left. Judging by the way it’s gone so far, by early July people will think I’m on drugs. I’ll have to go and get a job at Disneyland or something, just to blend in.

I’ll keep you posted.


What they should tell you, but don’t, about careers

The lack of girls in engineering jobs has been in the news again today, with the requisite wailing and wringing of hands about how traditionally male sectors can attract more female recruits. The trouble with most discussions on this subject though is that they’re founded on a false premise – that the careers advice given out rather halfheartedly to disinterested teenagers in schools (usually consisting of a computer program that tells everyone to take up midwifery) is remotely worth taking.

Here’s the stuff that league table obsessed schools and academies won’t tell you.

  • Follow your dream
    That your school think your lifelong ambition is unrealistic or too competitive is completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether or not you’re prepared to put the effort in. If there’s something you want to do more than anything else in the world, don’t let anybody else tell you it can’t be achieved. Go for it.
  • University isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
    Sure, it makes them look better if as many people as possible trot off on to post A-level degree courses, even if they do so utterly devoid of any sense of what to do with their lives. But then their statistics don’t show the drop out rate, or the crippling debt – even if they do turn out the most over-qualified call centre staff the local education authority has ever seen. If you have a burning interest in a subject, or need a degree to pick up your dream career (see above) then you’ll have the time of your life. Otherwise – stop. Think. A university education isn’t what it used to be and you can always come back to it later – which leads us nicely to…
  • if you don’t know what to do, give it some thought
    Bizarrely some people seem to put more thought into their first car than their first ‘proper job’. Get out there a bit, try some things, talk to people. Work out what you like and what you don’t like. Ask people what you’re good at. Dabble. Diversify. Then decide.
  • Mix and match
    The idea that you have to be one thing, and can’t be several things until you work out which one you like, is a strange one. When you’re a teenager it’s perfectly acceptable to walk next door’s dog while doing your paper-round. Continue that theme into adult life. Makes life interesting
  • It’s never too late
    Just because you’ve spent the five years since dropping out doing one thing, doesn’t mean you have to do it for the rest of your life. Even when it might seem complicated (mortgages will do that to you) there’s always a way. You’re only going to get one shot at life, don’t spend it doing something you hate.

Love loneliness

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that loneliness is bad for you. But for those of us who live alone and spend long periods of time away from our family, here are five top tips to embrace solitude and stay happy and healthy.

  1. Keep in touch
    Yep, sounds obvious, and it’s probably easier said than done, but if you want to avoid the feelings of isolation that can creep in, make an effort to keep in touch with friends and family. There are so many ways to stay involved in other people’s lives when separated by distance – phone calls, Skype and social media. Pick your favourite or mix and match, and get cracking.
  2. Have a hobby
    If you haven’t already got one – find one, quick. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as you find it vaguely interesting. You’re more likely to meet people you have something in common with if it’s something you like. You also won’t resent spending time on it, so the chance are you’ll stick at it.
  3. Stay social
    This one feels a bit weird at first but you get used to it. One of the reasons loneliness is self perpetuating is that often when we feel down all we want to do is stay at home in our PJs eating Maltesers (just me?). Here’s the thing – doing something, even on your own, is going to make you feel better than just sitting around. Join a gym, go to the cinema, take a walk – whatever. You never know, you might bump into someone nice.
  4. Volunteer
    Charities all over the country are looking for people to donate their time to help make the world a better place. Give yourself a rosy glow on the inside and get involved. There are a lot of different options available so choose something that reflects your own interests. Age Concern run a ‘befriending’ scheme, so you could even help someone else avoid loneliness.
  5. Make the most of it
    Being on your own has a number of advantages. You can pick what you want to see on the TV. Everything stays exactly where you left it. Having breakfast cereal for dinner and spending large amounts of time in your pants are both perfectly acceptable. Learn to love it.

Downton Live Blog

Given my particular talent for sitting round in my pants doing not much at all, I’ve decided I really ought to see if it’s possible to earn a living doing so. Seeing as live blogging essentially seems to involve two of my other favourite things (watching TV while being sarcastic on the internet) that’s the logical place to start.

I’ve sort of watched Downton but spent most of last week’s episode a little bit distracted by Twitter, so watch me hilariously try and simultaneously type, work out what’s going on, and be funny.




Right. What have we learned.

  1. It’s not as easy as it looks.
  2. Preparation would help (having some key points, thoughts and observations prepared
  3. Some episodes of Downton do not lend themselves to piss taking. I’d have struggled even on Twitter tonight.
  4. Next stop – Great British Bake Off on Tuesday.

My Rules

It’s Saturday morning, it’s raining outside and the flat desperately needs cleaning (there’s an unrecognisable smell which is in just about every room now) so it must be time to start a new blog. I’ve been thinking about doing this for ages, and a couple of recent developments have persuaded me that now’s the time.

I’ve done this before, written a few posts just to get started and then abandoned it, but this time I’m going to persevere. To help me with that, here’s a few first thoughts to sum up what I’m going to try and do:


1. I will write like I’m talking to a friend.

I’m going to work on the assumption that if you’ve ended up here and you’re reading, it’s because you’re interested in what I’ve got to say. I don’t imagine for a minute that you’re going to agree with everything that comes out of my keyboard, that would make life very dull indeed, but because we’re friends, I’ll respect your opinions.

2. I will not compartmentalise my life and write selectively about it.

I am a real person with a family, friends, hobbies, a job and a past (and hopefully a future, fingers crossed). All of those things influence how I think and feel about stuff the happens in my immediate surroundings and in the world in general. When I’ve started blogs before I’ve tried to separate off these things, tried to write about them in neat little packages that don’t interfere with each other. It didn’t work. The only way this is going to be fun for all of us is if I chuck it all out there. With a bit of luck I’ve learned enough lessons by now to do that without hurting anyone else or myself. That links in with…

3. I’m going to be honest, but I will be constructive.

Part of not compartmentalising means I’m going to occasionally write about real people who might read this. One of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way is not to write anything you wouldn’t have the courage to say to someone’s face. Let me get over a few taboos straight away by saying:

  • I watch gymnastics on TV and criticise (and steal jokes from Victoria Wood) even though I’ve never been anywhere near a parallel bar and my school PE report said I had difficulty with forward rolls.
  • I sometimes have unrealistic expectations of others (and myself)
  • My oldest brother is late for nearly everything and has been since birth. I said this in my best man’s speech at his wedding and everyone laughed knowingly, so even he must realise it’s true.
  • The younger of my two older brothers and I spent much of my teenage years ganging up on the oldest brother. Sometimes it must have felt a bit like bullying. I’m not proud of it. Sometimes we still do it. I’m not proud of that either.
  • I have bad days at work.
  • I don’t like everyone I meet.
  • Brass banding is a bit like the Masons and I don’t understand most of what goes on.

4. I will preserve my personal safety.

This probably sounds a bit random when compared to number two but if you stick with it, all will make sense.


That’s it. Onward.