Kicking the habit

So I’ve finally done it.

I’ve kicked Facebook.

It’s been poisoning my brain, my relationships, and my life in general, for too long.

It had to go.

For what it’s worth, Twitter has gone too.

There was too much shit. Too much negativity. Too much curation of my world view by a faceless algorithm. And I don’t want to be told what to think by code written by someone who probably has no social skills and can’t use a washing machine.

On the whole, Facebook seems to have taken it fairly well. It’s either that, or an unexpected benefit of not monitoring the email account I’ve got linked to Facebook.

Twitter, on the other hand, has been needy as hell. I’m literally getting several emails a day telling me all the things I’ve missed, in some desperate attempt to make me come back.

But it’s not going to happen.

For the first time in ages, I can think clearly. I don’t go to bed angry at people I haven’t met for saying or doing things that don’t really affect me. I don’t find myself wondering constantly how to word what has just happened in real life into a snappy one liner that will maximise interaction.

I feel like I’ve walked out on a relationship that was making me ill. It wasn’t easy, and there was a bit of Stockholm syndrome going on, but three weeks on (yes it is only three weeks, but when you’re as addicted as I was, three weeks is a bloody long time) I’m in recovery.

So what happens now?

Well, I’m going to focus my time on things that actually add value to my life. Try and rebuild proper face to face relationships with people that for too long I’ve only communicated with through the medium of an occasional ‘like’. I’m reading. Constantly. And I’ll be writing. Because for some reason I still feel the need to share with you the things that fall out of my brain. If you want to stay in touch, check out my blog occasionally. Comment if you want, that’d be nice. Maybe, you know, call me. That’s even better.

If you’ve been thinking about doing this too, I recommend giving this book a read. I was sick of the drama anyway but this book sealed the deal.

Ragnar White Cliffs 2017

Well, team, what can I say?

We ran, we walked, and (in one notable case), we crawled, 170 odd miles from Maidstone to Brighton. We have laughed, cried (although that was probably just me – I forgot to bring any medication with me for the weekend) and created memories that will genuinely last a lifetime.

I’m not often lost for words, but I am struggling to articulate how proud I am of all of us for making it to the end with our senses of humour intact, with two unblemished minibuses, and – most important of all – so many bloody t-shirts and medals! There were undoubtedly challenges along the way, but we all finished with smiles on our faces and that has made me a very happy man this morning.

I’m sure we’ll all take different things from this, but I wanted to share some of my favourite memories as a way of showing how much I appreciate what each and every one of you achieved this weekend.

Beccy – you were my first proper friend, so it seems right that you were runner number one – the first name on my list when I started thinking about the ‘serious’ runners I knew, and the first person to commit. I love you, but I have no idea how your family cope with you! Seeing you bouncing around was a highlight of every major exchange except the last one, where, fittingly, you were asleep in the bus. Your energy and enthusiasm lifted me every time I saw you and reminded me in the middle of the night as you set off for your third leg, and second run in darkness after a difficult first one, that this was supposed to be fun.

Jo – your ‘we’ve already got two strikes and it’s only lunchtime on Saturday’ text was NOT FUNNY AT ALL – but I’ll let you off. Your determination to not just run your bit, but also support and run with other members of the team, inspired our bus to grit our teeth and get out there when the going got tough. Thank you for sharing your very particular knowledge of car park activities with the rest of the team, for hosting the social in such a generous way, and for keeping Beccy in line and on time, not just over the last two days, but the last six months of preparation, and arguably the last several years of her life!

Niki – your inspiration, support and encouragement when I first started running in 2012 was one of the reasons I stuck at it (admittedly after a couple of false starts), and therefore one of the reasons I was able to have an experience like this. I’m so glad you were able to be part of it too.

And that brings me nicely to Richard. Mate – we didn’t know each other before this, and as I wasn’t quite sure why anyone would want to ‘volunteer’ for this job I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! The moment you turned up at the social with notebook and pen in hand though, I knew we were onto a winner. Especially as I’d forgotten to bring mine, complete with all the useful notes I made at the team captains meeting. I said yesterday – thank you seems so inadequate to show how much I appreciate what you did for us over the weekend. It would have been such a different experience without you, and I hope you know how grateful we all are to have had you on the team.

And so to runner number 4 – Rachel. In my head, and even over the weekend, you were the ‘sensible’ one of the Matthews sisters (I mean everything’s relative, right?!). It wasn’t until last night, when I finally gave in and went to bed at about half nine, that I fully appreciated that you were still at least two hours from home, and that unlike me, you had to get up and go to work today. Therefore I can now safely say that you’re both as crazy as each other. Having the old ‘laps round mum’s garden’ crew back together for this seemed strangely fitting. Let’s not leave it another twelve years before we’re back in touch.

Andy. Bloody hell, Andy. Have you really only been part of this team since the 13th of August?! We could have picked up any old muppet from that Facebook post on the parkrun page, and not a day has gone by when I haven’t thanked my lucky stars that you posted first. The Southcliff Hotel will live long in my memory for so many reasons – the delightful interior décor, the stellar customer service, and the luxurious bathroom – but primarily because it was just amazing to feel clean and warm again. I know that I’m speaking for everyone when I say thank you for all you did for the team – not just the showers, but the t-shirts, the knowledgeability of the race bible(!), your willingness to get stuck in and get on with it, and for being first at the bar on Friday night.

Now, bus 2… The only place to start is Charlie. Charlie, who, in her own words, doesn’t like running and has ‘the core strength of a grape’. Charlie, who actually trained for this, for the first time in her life. Charlie, who actually signed up before Dave. Charlie, who in a never-before-seen fit of organisation, started packing for this event nearly a whole week before she needed to leave.  Charlie, who took all our jibes about her legs being ‘twice round the bus and back in again’ in good spirit, and then stuck two metaphorical fingers up at us all by running to the top of Beachy Head at the end of her final leg. Charlie, whose genuine joy at the sight of a dead rat while we trekked for what felt like miles trying to find the hotel in Folkestone reminded me – just in time – that this experience was not about everything going perfectly to plan, but about the little things that happened along the way.

You know when I sent that questionnaire round, asking people to assess each of the potential run slots, and indicate whether they were in their comfort zone, a bit of a stretch, or a step too far? I knew I’d filled the ‘slot of death’ when Naomi didn’t even bother answering the question for the shorter legs. I was told you were hardcore, Naomi, but my word, you proved it. Your willingness to climb out of a bus on Beachy Head after less than an hour of sleep, feeling sore from the earlier legs, and set off across the Seven Sisters in the sunshine with a smile on your face is a feat of quiet determination that I will never forget. It motivated me to run faster along Seaford seafront than I ever have before (according to Strava) and it will inspire me on many a future running adventure.

And while we’re talking about quiet determination, let’s talk about Tracey. Tracey – I know you were nervous about the night run. After hearing from Andy about how poor the signage had been for the others, we were all feeling anxious about what we would find, and you had your reasons for being more anxious than most. I wouldn’t have blamed you at all for opting to skip your leg, and having talked about the various options for one of us to pace you, I was utterly amazed to find you standing alone at the handover point waiting for me. You overcoming your doubts to finish that leg – with all its ridiculous challenges (including, for anyone who didn’t hear, 1.5 miles of running on a shingle beach,  right on the water line, in pitch darkness) is one of the things that I feel proudest of from this whole experience. You’re made of very strong stuff, Tracey Harwood.

Right from the start, I knew that on this event, I wanted to have someone on the team who I could completely rely on to help me sort things out if the shit hit the fan. The name at the top of that list was Patrick Galpin. I tried to convince him to run, knowing that it was a longshot – but he left the door open by offering to help in some other way… Aside from his excellent driving/parking skills, my instincts were vindicated when at exchange 19, at about 4am, when all of our brains were starting to feel addled through lack of sleep, I met Charlie, who had an expression on her face that was approaching awe. She told me Tracey had called, that her route was very poorly signed, and that she was lost, but that Patrick had (and I quote) ‘just been amazing. Stayed completely calm, and started sorting it.’ I look round, and there’s Patrick, standing in hi-vis, talking to a group of runners who had just finished the leg, with Tracey on the phone, advising her (and the other runners who were also lost) how to get to the exchange – while also urging them not to take unnecessary risks and just to stay safe. I wasn’t shocked, because this is why I wanted you on the team so much Patrick. When stuff like this happens, there’s nobody else in the world that I’d rather have around.

David. I know you’re not comfortable with public displays of sibling affection, so fuck off, pooface.

I’ve waffled enough, and I don’t want to completely embarrass myself – so it’s nearly over, I promise.

Thank you, all of you (even Dave), for being crazy enough to sign up, and for having the sheer bloody minded determination to make it to the end. I hope that you’re all very proud of what we achieved together. I also hope you had as much fun as I did – I laughed so much this weekend that my stomach muscles are sorer than my legs today.

You all helped to make this experience one of the things that I will be proudest of when I look back on my life. Big love.

Now, is it too early to start talking about next year?


Coming out fighting

I’m angry. This may involve some swearing. And, it seems, some really long paragraphs.

Stop. Take a deep breath. Are you sure you want to do this?


And Yes.

And fuck it, just get on with it.

Last night BBC Two showed a documentary provocatively titled ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?’. If you’re interested in such things it’s available on iPlayer here for the next 30 days. To be honest if you’re not interested in such things it’s probably not worth you reading the rest of this post, because that’s pretty much the subject I’m going to vent on for the next who-knows-how-long.

I love the BBC. I mean properly love it. It virtually raised me. I learnt about what secondary school would be like from Imelda Davis and Gonch in Grange Hill. I learnt what it was like in ‘The North’ from Spuggy and Winston in Byker Grove. Tony Hart taught me to draw. You and Me taught me about vegetables. Let’s Pretend and Blue Peter showed me the many things you could do with empty cardboard boxes. Des Lynam helped me through England crashing out of Italia ’90 on the BBC and many, many years later, I had a grand old time on Twitter taking the piss out of the London Olympics opening ceremony while watching yes, you’ve guessed it, the BBC (#shutuptrevor). It’s an institution that I trust, that I believe in, that I don’t remotely object to paying for and that I would fight to defend.

And yet today, I feel horribly let down by the BBC. Not because they aired a documentary on a subject which is contentious and emotive. Nor because the views put across in that documentary were contrary to the increasingly popular views on the subject, not to mention contrary to currently accepted clinical practice. I am always open to, encouraged and informed by diversity of discourse. The subject of how to deal with gender dysphoria in children is difficult and complex, with no clear answers or easy solutions. It’s one that we need to talk about, because only by talking and sharing knowledge and experiences can we hope to find a way forward that is ethical, and gives the best possible chance of a successful outcome for the child, regardless of what the outcome may ultimately prove to be.

Do I feel let down because the BBC’s own editorial guidance on impartiality seem to have been ignored in the making of this programme? You know, BBC, the ones that say (section 4.4.7): When dealing with ‘controversial subjects, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.’

There are no such things as ‘facts’ in this debate. There is no blood test that can tell you whether you’re trans or not (more on that later). All we have are opinions based on experience and a tiny amount of research. And yes, I was interested in the opinions of Kenneth Zucker. He may not be popular, and his approach may have been discredited, but putting him in a vacuum and refusing to listen to anything he has to say on the matter is, in my opinion, not a good enough answer. What I had difficulty with, BBC, was that his opinions were quoted as fact. That he was described as an ‘expert’, where trans people (who, let’s remember, have lived this first hand) warranted the slightly less agreeable label ‘activists’.

No, I feel let down by the BBC because they chose to handle this subject in a way that could cause immeasurable harm to those for who this is not just an ethical discussion – but life. Real life. Being tackled on a minute by minute basis without a user guide.

If you haven’t already worked it out, I’ve got a vested interest in the subject. It seems a little strange at this point to say that that might come as a surprise to some people who I consider to be very good friends. My own trans history is something I share carefully, now that I am privileged enough for the sharing of it to be a choice. In most situations, quite frankly, it’s none of your business. It’s not relevant to how good I am at my job. It’s not relevant to how good I am as a friend. If you met me since I transitioned at the end of my 20s, there’s a pretty good chance I haven’t told you. But I’m not ashamed of it, and I don’t actively hide it. Remember that time in the pub where you jokingly asked me if I was in the Brownies as a kid and I said yes? I wasn’t joking.

There’s a language issue here, which someone on Twitter last night accidentally hit on while trying to point out the weaknesses in the ‘trans agenda’. I won’t link the actual tweet because who wrote it isn’t the point, but the statement was: ‘Language is so revealing. Cliches from trans activists. Careful nuanced complex language from Zucker and parents’. The statement itself made me angry – suggesting that trans people are incapable of explaining themselves properly while the medical profession, and the parents, have thought this whole thing through – but fundamentally in the context of the editing of this programme, I agree. The extracts from trans voices were full of tired statements that showed them to be closed minded and limited in their thinking. Were the statements used reflective of those people’s real views? Who knows. But for me the problem runs deeper than editing. The cliché that’s most often trotted out, for example, is ‘born in the wrong body’. Now, trans people don’t use these sorts of phrases when they talk to each other. We moderate our speech when talking to cisgendered people in the same way that I moderate my speech when talking to non native English speakers at work. We use phrases that we know you can relate to because it is extraordinarily difficult to articulate how gender confusion feels to someone who’s never experienced it. The phrase ‘born in the wrong body’ equates the sense of abject despair to something like wearing the wrong size shoes. It’s an inadequate, massive oversimplification of the truth, but sometimes it’s all we’ve got to work with.

There is no one way to be trans. No single, uniting experience. The community (if such a thing really exists) is as diverse as the world from which it is drawn. I don’t speak for everyone with a trans history, I can only speak for myself. Gender dysphoria for me meant knowing, from an early age, that my entire life would be founded on a compromise not of my making. That even if I achieved everything I wanted to achieve, it wouldn’t be like the picture I saw in my head. Because the person I saw when I looked in the mirror, and the person everyone else saw when they looked at me, wasn’t really me. I could grow or cut my hair (and I did), lose or gain weight (and I did), wear anything I wanted (and I did). But I would always be invisible. I lived with that compromise for as long as I could. Initially I lived with it because I thought I had no choice, and later I lived with it out of fear. Fear of rejection, ridicule, ostracism, fear of going through all this and still not being happy. When I could live with it no longer I transitioned. It was a process that took years, from finally gaining the confidence and the means to get on with it, through to telling family and friends and work colleagues what was going on, to learning how to live in a new reality. It was fucking hard. It’s still hard sometimes. But I haven’t regretted it for one single moment.

If you ask me now, I’d probably say that my gender identity leans towards the non-binary, but it’s still evolving – and I’m comfortable with that. Having lived on both sides I see gender largely as a social construct. I know who I am, and I look like me now. If you read what you see as male, then great. Perception is reality, after all.

For a long time I was desperate for someone to tell me if I was trans or not. To look into my future and reassure me that the process of transition would ultimately make me happy, that it would ease the profound sense of being incomplete that I had lived with for almost my entire life. But as I said before, there is no revealing blood test, and nobody has a magic crystal ball. No medical professional, no counsellor, no religious leader, no parent, can cheat the laws of physics and tell you that this is the right or the wrong thing to do – even if some of them might try.

Ultimately it has to be the decision of the individual. They are the ones that will live with the consequences. In the case of adults, this is reasonably straightforward, thanks to the concept of informed consent. However – the necessary involvement of the medical profession in transition has created a scenario where a range of gates must be passed before the necessary treatment can be accessed (unless, to some extent, you can afford to sidestep them). This is, in theory and in my opinion, largely sensible and appropriate. It encourages the individual to think properly about what they are taking on and reduces the possibility that a wrong decision will be made, for whatever reason. Sometimes getting through those gates takes longer than we’d like. Sometimes the gatekeepers are not as open minded, or – damn it – as polite, as we’d like. That’s a separate discussion for another time. The problem is that getting through those gates has become akin to passing an exam. In some situations – honesty and a genuine examination of thoughts and feelings can be secondary to giving the answers needed to pass the exam and get on to the next stage. It’s not ideal, and it could probably be better, but it does on some level seem to work.

Children, though, can’t legally give informed consent. They’re unlikely to know which buttons to press, which answers to give, in order to pass those exams. They’re arguably more vulnerable to suggestion and influence and some of them may struggle to articulate their true feelings just as much as the rest of us do. How on earth do you make a decision on their behalf that could affect their entire future when you’re scared that next week they’ll have moved on?

I don’t bloody know.

Fortunately, it’s not my job to know.

What I do know is that so called documentaries like the absolute bobbins that the BBC put out last night do nothing to support or inform parents in this situation.

Rant over.

Post script:

If you’re one of the people who ‘didn’t know’, I’m sorry that this was how you found out. Normally my preference is to casually drop it into conversation, or have a quiet face to face chat. These days, it’s not a big deal to me, and I hope it’s not for you. Please don’t take it personally, nothing’s really changed, but don’t feel it’s a taboo subject. If you’ve got questions, ask them. I promise not to be offended by you asking, as long as you promise not to be offended if I choose not to answer.

I’m sharing this now because I think it’s important, in this changing world, for us all to stand up and be counted for what we believe is right. I cannot, and will not, live in fear again. If you don’t like it, that’s your choice, and says more about you than it does about me. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out of my life.

And finally. A message for my ex, if she ever reads this. Because from day one she always saw me, especially on the days when I couldn’t. Thank you. Even if it didn’t work out for us, you are a truly amazing person, and you can and will achieve anything you want to. I hope you’re ok.



Unless you’re living in a cave, or a foreign country, you’ll have noticed it was bonfire night on Saturday. I’ve mentioned before that bonfire night was my dad’s birthday so that seems like a good enough reason to write the post that I’ve been meaning to do since April, but never quite got round to.

Yesterday, I had a hospital appointment (related to August’s health drama rather than the recent one, it’s been one of those years). Since St Wilf’s is just around the corner from the hospital mum and I decided to pop in for coffee and take in the last bit of cash from the fundraising efforts of the last two years.

It was only meant to be a year, you see. The plan was that I’d spend 2015 on five completely out of character sporting challenges and raise some money for the hospice to mark the 20th anniversary of dad’s time there. And 2015 was brilliant. My friends and family got behind me in a way I’d never imagined, coming to the quiz night, buying cakes and books, swimming the channel, selling hand made  goodies, and cheering me on as I put myself through a range of River Ness 10kactually quite enjoyable feats. It started with the Poole 10k in June, which now feels a bit tame. At some point between the start of last year and now I became the sort of person that not only runs 10k races just for the fun of it, but is willing to travel the length of the UK to do one just because there’s a good medal at the end (as demonstrated in the picture – and if anyone’s interested, the River Ness 10k is brilliant. Down hill all the way).

After the 10k came something I never thought I’d do (you’ll notice a recurring theme here) – a half marathon. Now, admittedly, four laps of Seaford seafront was not the most picturesque setting (and I’m a big fan of Seaford seafront, just not maybe in the rain with wet feet when you’ve already run up and down it three times) but it was nice to do something close to home. Seaford HalfMy brother David, who it turns out is a bit of a sneaky bastard, turned up the day before and announced he was doing it too, having been telling me for weeks how terribly injured he was and that he hadn’t been able to run for ages. This was my big target for 2015, and being able to cross the finish line arm in arm with my brother was a special experience that I will never forget. Even if I did shout at him at the beginning of the third lap for running five yards ahead of me and he told me off for crying at the end.

The third challenge of the year was at the other end of the country – the Great Scottish Swim. I’d been signed up a few years ago for the Great North Swim but for various comedic reasons that probably deserve a blog post of their own never got to complete the swim. This time though, everything went to plan. I flew up from Bournemouth to Glasgow, got a bus into the city and then a train out to Dumbarton. Quite the adventure. My sister in law, niece and nephew met me at the hotel for the night and then the following morning I donned my Speedos (yes really. You try and wear board shorts under a swimming wetsuit) and we drove over to Loch Lomond.

Great SwimNow, I’m a strong swimmer. In my early twenties I spent a few years working as a lifeguard and a swimming teacher and the idea of swimming a mile without stopping doesn’t phase me. But this was so much tougher than I had anticipated. For one thing – it was COLD. The water temperature was only 12 degrees and as soon as you put your face in it, it took your breath away. While I knew the water quality would be completely different compared to pool swimming or even sea swimming, I hadn’t appreciated that I wouldn’t even be able to see my hand when my arm was at full extension. I’d wanted to enjoy this one, in the end it was about getting round and surviving. By the time I got to the end my legs were cramping up and my teeth were chattering, but I made it.

A week later, and still in Scotland, was the fourth event of the year – the ‘Beast Race’. A 10k obstacle race on the shores of Loch Ness. For this one I was part of a team of four – my brother David, sister in law Charlie, and their friend Julie. All three had been raising money for St Wilf’s despite not living anywhere near it, which was genuinely touching. Beast RaceOnce again, I was guilty of having underestimated the scale of the challenge. I knew I could comfortably run 10k, but I hadn’t factored in the additional demands of getting under/over/through the various obstacles. I also hadn’t eaten enough breakfast (note to self – two slices of toast doesn’t really cut it).  For me though this wasn’t about getting round as quickly as possible, this was about doing something that I had never seen myself doing (I don’t even like getting sandy feet on the beach, so crawling down a tunnel into a bog full of pig poo was something of a departure). We finished, together (despite Charlie nearly drowning after sliding into Loch Ness and seemingly forgetting how to breath), and were rewarded with technical t-shirts, a unique custom medal, and a dirty burger. Only fair to say Dave looks knackered in the picture – but he finished the strongest of all of us.

Great South RunAnd so on to the final event of 2015, the Great South Run. A 10 mile jog around historic Portsmouth. Kind of poetic for me, as my previous forays into running had seen my first ‘proper’ race as the GSR 5k, which happens the day before the main event on part of the same course. This event has a reputation for crap weather – it’s normally cold and windy. On this day however the sun shone, the weather was glorious, and I wore my terminator sunglasses all the way round. As I crossed the line I knew my year of fundraising was over. But there was still an open question in my mind…

On 22nd December mum and I popped in to St Wilf’s to drop off the next instalment of cash. As we sat in the coffee shop (great cheese scones, by the way, if you’re passing) waiting to meet Darren from the fundraising team, a nearby TV screen was scrolling through Powerpoint slides. One of the slides enticingly suggested that running the Brighton Marathon might be an excellent way to raise money.

Now, let me talk to you about me and marathons. They’ve always fascinated me. Every single year since I don’t know when I’ve watched the coverage of London on the BBC and told myself that one year, I’d do that. Bear in mind that until 2015, I had never run further than 3 miles, and even that very very slowly and only very few times. But here I was now, in the habit of running, knowing that I was capable of anything as long as I put the effort in on training. Also, on both the Seaford half and the Great South Run I’d been wearing a branded Brighton Marathon t-shirt that I’d been given by my buddy Patrick. To be honest, while I loved the shirt, I felt like a bit of a fraud wearing it. It was time for me to prove myself worthy. The challenge was on.

So (after exchanging various emails and filling the forms in) I had a place in the 2016 Brighton Marathon running for St Wilf’s. Training started in January, in the rain, in Poole. I was following a training plan I’d downloaded from somewhere and had created a whole new iCloud calendar with all the required runs in it. At the same time though, I was starting a new job. For the first month of the training plan everything went well, I managed to fit my training runs in around my new work schedule (which involved quite a lot of European travel) and could feel my fitness improving. Then in early February I got what we now believe to have been my first bout of pneumonia (not that I knew it at the time). This took me out of training for three weeks. When I got back to training, my travel plans took me mainly to cold countries where there was snow on the ground and where running outside definitely wasn’t advisable (I did ask the locals, who suggested I go and buy some special snow running spikes, but I figured airport security probably wouldn’t like those in my hand luggage). At this point I was just trying to do as much as I could. I managed to stick with the weekend long runs, but once we got up to about 18 miles the mid week conditioning runs that I’d been skipping started to catch up with me. I was comfortable running to 15 or 16 miles, then I was walk/running to finish the distance.

My last long training run before I started the taper was due to be 22 miles, and I was in Seaford, on familiar territory. I set out though on a route I’ve never run before (the off road path from Bishopstone, through Norton over to Denton), found it waterlogged and very poor terrain, and wasted a massive amount of energy. By the time I got to Newhaven lifeboat station I’d done 13 miles, it was chucking it down with rain, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it to 22. I ran home, gutted. My last training run was five or six miles shorter than it should have been, but having finished the Cranleigh 21 miler the weekend before I knew I could make it that far, and then I’d just have to dig deep for the last five miles.

As the big day dawned the sun was shining and I was more excited than nervous. We decided to get the train over to Brighton (but I wouldn’t recommend it – park and ride in future, people) and I got in a last minute wee after queuing for the obligatory hour. I was in the slowest start group, and hung about at the start line to get a high five from Zoe Ball (which got me through at least the first 10k) which meant I was right at the back of the pack. I like that though, I’m not quick, but I’m not the slowest one out there either, so I was gradually picking people off and moving up through the group.

The first six miles, it’s fair to say, are easy. There’s lots of support in the town, lots to look at, and it’s not hard to stay focused on things that are happening outside of your own body. It doesn’t start to get hard until you’re on the coast road running out towards Roedean school, and by the time I’d finished that section and was coming down towards the pier again (at about half way) I was just thinking I might have a little rest and walk for a bit. Then the crowds kicked in.

There were people EVERYWHERE. It seemed like they were three or four deep. At that point the faster runners would have been finishing in about the same location and the noise was incredible. I felt amazing. Mid way pointThen I heard someone call my name – it was my friend Triona, who had inspired me a few years earlier when she took up running and finished the marathon herself. Hearing the crowd support (and I’d had my name printed on my running vest, so lots of people were calling my name) and seeing a familiar face gave me a boost of energy far greater than the gels I’d been sucking for the last hour. I knew my mum and my girlfriend were only a few miles away now so I lifted my head, sucked in the atmosphere, and just kept going.

If Hove nearly killed me, it was Shoreham power station that finished me off.

The outward loop in Hove was lovely. A residential street full of families in their front gardens handing out jelly babies and playing ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. I felt great, I was smiling, dancing, and high fiving. I knew I’d already run further than I’d ever run before and I was feeling confident. Somewhere between miles 18 and 19 though, it got quiet. I lost my mental strength, and I did something which I knew it would be very difficult to come back from. I stopped running, and started walking.

At some point in the future I’ll run a marathon again (me and London have unfinished business). When that happens I’ll know how to deal with the mental low that I hit somewhere in Hove in April. Just switch it off. Don’t listen. I’d had a mantra I my head which I’d written on my arm which I’d been repeating over and over again ‘I am fit enough, I am strong enough, I am prepared enough, I can do this’. When my legs were screaming at me to stop I could use this to drown it out and just keep going. But I let it go.

There was never any question of me not finishing, I knew I could make it, but at that point I was mixing running and walking, and mainly walking. Once I got on to that horrendous loop up round the power station my legs had given in. The electrolyte drink I’d been carrying was now so diluted it was basically just water and cramp was starting. I walked that whole loop. I passed three people passed out (they had medical help with them, I didn’t just step over their lifeless bodies) and one young guy with his head in his hands. It was hot, There was no support there. It was the closest I have been to hell. Well not really, but it was pretty shit. If you ever support anyone running that marathon, whatever they tell you, make sure there’s some support for them in that section. It’s tough.

Somewhere along the seafront when I knew I was on the home straight somebody offered me a sausage from their barbecue. For some ridiculous reason (probably British manners) I took it. I took one bite, then realised how foolish that was, and chucked it in the next bin. People of Brighton – offering sausages to delirious people who’ve just run/walked/crawled 23 miles is not wise. Stick to Jelly Babies.

At 25 miles something weird happened, which is difficult to talk about. At 25 miles, when my feet were killing me and my legs had nothing left, I heard a voice say ‘come on then, let’s go for a run’, and I started running. As clear as my computer is in front of me now, Dad was by my side. I was in the last mile of a marathon. People were calling my name and cheering me on. And Dad was running next to me. I had a little cry at that point. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, or to make it more emotional than it needs to be. It’s just how it was. We ran the last mile together.

Home straightAs I got to the very last section, even though there were lots of people watching, the crowd was really quiet. They were all waiting for their own runners to come through. I remember reading somewhere about not being afraid to egg the crowd on a bit to help you get over, so I pumped my arms a bit and got them cheering. Well screw it. How often does an overweight IT consultant get to cross a finish line with hundreds of people cheering? I crossed the line in just over five hours and thirty minutes and collected my medal, then walked another half a mile to get out of the finish area and the bag reclaim to go and find my family.

I have never been prouder of anything in my life.

This started out being about raising some money. It finished with me doing something that I never thought I would be capable of, and which changed the way I thought about myself. Every so often in life we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, get out there and find out what we’re really capable of. Three months later, I finished my first triathlon, and a week after that, I finally got to do the Great North Swim. The sense that ‘anything is possible’ has infiltrated every part of my life, and it’s all the better for it.

So yesterday, when we dropped the last bit of cash at St Wilf’s, we finished my ‘year’ of fundraising, at least for now. It’s time I stopped asking my friends for money every time I put my trainers on.

By my calculations, the final total which we raised (and it is we, rather than I, because this was very much a team effort) was a completely unexpected £2641.60.

Thank you, all of you, for your time, your support, and your generosity. It has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my life, and I’m grateful to you all for being a part of it.

The final thank you is to St Wilfrid’s. Again. For being there for us when we needed you, and for being there now and in the future, for those who are lucky enough to find you. There isn’t a vocabulary to describe what you do, the closest that I can get is that you bring light where there is darkness, literally and metaphorically, through love, care, and cheese scones. Thank you.





Five things I’ve learned about running since I started doing it

In October last year I went on holiday to Turkey with my brother and his family. One day at breakfast my sister-in-law Charlie took great joy in mocking the t-shirt I’d worn to bed – a ‘finisher’ t-shirt from the Great South 5k in 2013.

Now, I was really proud of this t-shirt. I’d never been a runner, and to finish a timed event that justified not only a t-shirt bud a medal as well had felt like quite an achievement. I’d actually completed the event the previous year fuelled by the Olympic spirit, and both times had promised myself that it was a start point to more running exploits, not a goal in itself. But then the evenings would get darker and colder, and I’d find more ways to talk myself out of popping out for a quick trot round the block.

But earlier in 2014, Charlie, who I had never previously seen embrace any sort of regular physical exercise, had completed not one, but two 10k races. One of them involving a dip in Loch Ness and some kind of activity in a bog. You have to know Charlie to understand how out of character this was. She usually requires no small amount of persuasion (not to say peer pressure and, on the part of her children, downright bullying) to get her into a heated swimming pool on holiday. As was only right and proper, I conceded the bragging rights – which she still holds to this day, and isn’t afraid of using – and resolved to reclaim them in 2015.

And so, shortly after returning from Turkey last October, I dug out the old couch to 5k programme for the third time and set myself the target of finishing a 10k at some point before the end of this year. The last 8 or so months have been a learning curve, and here are five things I thought I knew when I started out.

1. There are no fat runners
It’s fair to say you don’t see many larger people out running. That’s not to say everyone’s built like a twiglet, I quite often pass fellow heavyweights, and we give each other that sympathetic, knowing nod. But the regulars you see are all pretty trim. I used to think that was because all the fat people stayed at home on the sofa. I now believe it’s because it’s very difficult to stay porky when you’re running four times a week. I don’t weigh myself, but I can tell from the fact that a pair of shorts I bought in 2009 now fits me for the first time ever (actually they’re a bit too big) that I’m lighter than I was when I started. Believe me, that was not the goal. I haven’t really changed what I eat and can still consume the weight of my own head in maltesers without pausing for breath. But I’m also covering about 30km over the course of an average week and that seems to be having an effect.

2. Cross training is for masochists
On one of my previous dalliances with running (see ‘Olympic Spirit’) a work colleague lent me a book that contained a range of training programmes for every distance up to marathon. I ambitiously photocopied all of them and would occasionally glance at them before returning to week three of the ‘just get me to run non-stop for half an hour without dying’ section. I noticed that every single one of these programmes gave slots over to ‘cross training’, and I didn’t really get it. How did people possibly have the energy on a non-running day to think about doing anything other than binge watching Netflix for three hours? But more recently, my body has got used to (and, whisper it, started to enjoy) going out four times a week, and I’ve had a little dabble with proper cross training. It’s amazing. Half an hour on the mountain bike on one day, a mile in the pool on another, and a yoga session on the third – my joints feel less sore, my muscles are looser and when I do get out for a run again there’s a noticeable benefit. Who’d have thought?

3. People who run on Christmas Day have something missing in their lives
A controversial one, possibly, but I used to sit at Christmas dinner with the family and look out at the road outside my mum’s house at the occasional jogger going past (usually in the dark and resplendent in neon clothing) and think – what are you doing? Is your life so empty that on Christmas Day you feel the need to go out for a run? Last year, Christmas Day fell on a Thursday, which at the time was one of my running days. I hadn’t skipped a session for any reason since October, my brother David was visiting from Scotland and had his running shoes with him, and I knew that Christmas dinner would be much more enjoyable after a run. I became one of those people. And I’d do it again.

4. Running is boring
Running in the gym, on a treadmill, is boring. Staring into space, trying to avoid eye contact with the person on the rowing machine at the other end of the room, big digital numbers taunting you with how much further you need to go to run off the chicken korma you had last night. Running outside is anything but. I’ve got favourite routes, of course, tried and tested that I know will take a certain amount of time that I can fit into my schedule. But the best days are when you head out of the house not really knowing where you’ll end up.

5. Some people just aren’t runners
I used to say ‘I’m not a natural runner’, and I still believe that’s true. Charlie completed her 10ks with virtually no training, her attitude to it summarised as ‘you just keep going’. For me, every mile is hard earned. Sure, I’m fit enough now to go out for two and a half hours and just see where my feet take me, but I’ve earned that freedom through sweat and slog. I may never be a natural runner. But I am now a runner.

On January 1st 2015, rather earlier than I had anticipated when I set myself the challenge for the year, I ran 10k.

I had to review my targets slightly.

This year, as part of my year of fundraising, I’m aiming to complete three running events in aid of St Wilfrid’s Hospice:

  • Poole 10k (Poole Park, 7 June)
  • South Coast Half Marathon (Seaford seafront, 5 July)
  • Great South Run (the full 10 miles this time – Southsea, 25 October)

If you’d like to sponsor me, you can do so on my Givey page (it’s like JustGiving, but unlike JustGiving they don’t take a cut of your donation) or in person when I next see you. If you’re in the Seaford area on the morning of Sunday 5 July, it would be great to see you on the seafront where my family will be accepting donations. I need all the help I can get!

I fecking love you, Ireland

On Friday, just after one o’clock, I popped out for a bit of lunch. It being nearly the weekend and a bank holiday to boot, I bypassed the pre-packaged monotony of the Sainsbury’s meal deal and ordered a pulled pork with apple sauce bap (brown) from my favourite sandwich shop.

A pleasant stroll round the corner to my preferred park bench later, I found myself scrolling through Twitter. After five minutes, I was in tears. Big, manly tears, you understand – because of a hashtag.

You see, yesterday, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same sex marriage (or as a good friend of mine quite rightly describes it, ‘marriage’) as a result of a public vote.

On Friday, in anticipation of a close fought battle (Scottish independence, anyone?), Irish expats – or at least those who’d been out of the country less than 18 months – were returning to the motherland to make their voices heard. As is the modern way, many of those making the journey documented it on all the usual social platforms, and the #hometovote hashtag was born. Within a few hours, it was trending (for the uninitiated, this means it was among the most highly discussed topics) across Europe, the USA, and Australia, among other places.

There were posts and pictures of people on trains and planes, boats and buses, of queues at baggage reclaim, at taxi ranks, and views of tail lights through rainy windscreens. There was one particularly endearing picture of a childhood bedroom, lovingly bedecked in rainbow flags by an excited mother for her returning son.

The optimism in these posts was palpable. The sense that change was not just achievable but almost within reach oozed from every share and every retweet. People from across the world were getting involved and showing support. I dabbled in it myself (a post that as of six hours ago had earned 223 retweets, 331 favourites, and been viewed by over 17,000 people – not bad for someone with only 138 followers who mainly posts about brass bands and whatever’s on the telly).

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I found this outpouring of positive emotion hugely moving. Yes, there were genuine tears. For quite a few minutes. At one point on the way back to the office I had to give myself a bit of a talking to in case my colleagues thought something terrible had happened while I was out.

Actual, genuine, heart warming emotion caused by #hometovote #happythoughts

A photo posted by Tom Elliott (@t0melli0tt) on

Putting this sort of decision over to the will of the people is a risky move, in all honesty – as reflected in this Guardian article about why minority issues should never be decided by a majority. But to assume that the people of the nation would be unable or unwilling to recognise that love is love, regardless of gender, would be to reckon without the compassion and empathy that makes us all human.

Of course, this international online love-in would’ve been somewhat dampened had a silent majority emerged from its shaded cloisters and voted no. But it didn’t. Of nearly 2 million votes cast, over 1.2 million of them, more than 60%, were in favour of marriage rights for all.

And so through the actions of a small but significant country whose people can be found in all corners of the globe, we are reminded that when we take a risk, lay ourselves bare, are honest about who we are and allow ourselves to be judged, this is when humanity shines through. The positive embrace of a supportive public is more validating, life affirming, meaningful and ultimately sustainable than any dry legislation forced anonymously onto the naysayers.

This was not just about marriage. Matters of equality are never about just one issue. This was about acceptance, dignity, and love. And who doesn’t want a bit more of those in their lives.

People of Ireland, you happy, hopeful, home-to-voters, you courageous, confident, never-lefters, you have made the world a nicer place to be for all of us.

Thank you.

I did say I’d start at the end…

Today is Tuesday December 30th, and I’m sitting on a bench in Seaford cemetery, where my dad is buried.

(Yes, this is a post about a cemetery. I’m not going to apologise for it, because it felt right at the time. It’s a bit deep, but not quite as depressing as you might think. That said, if today’s not a good day, maybe skip it and come back later.)

I don’t like cemeteries. That probably goes without saying. I’m pretty sure than no sane and reasoned individual would consider them a good place for a day out. Seaford cemetery, even if it wasn’t a cemetery, wouldn’t be a great place to spend an hour on a December afternoon. It’s a series of grass squares on a relatively exposed (and therefore somewhat bleak) hillside. It’s bordered on one side by an industrial estate and on the other by housing. It’s a stone’s throw from the local council rubbish tip. You might think that would be undesirable, but I like to think dad would see its proximity to the dump as an unexpected bonus.

This used to be somewhere I would come to cry. I thought that was what you did at graves. You brought flowers and a jay cloth, did a bit of tidying up, wiped bird poo off the headstone and then sniffed a bit. For the most part we were a stiff upper lip sort of a family. You didn’t really acknowledge that life was a bit shit, you kept calm and carried on (and sought counselling for it later in secret – that’s another story for another time). But this was somewhere it was acceptable to show emotion, and I did so readily.

In my early twenties I went through a stage of not really knowing what it was there for. Although I would sometimes talk to dad while I was there, there were places where that conversation came more naturally and felt more appropriate. In the garden at home, out walking on the South Downs, or anywhere there were caravans, steam trains, or steam engines. His grave became a focus for grief, rather than memory, and once I had got to the stage of wanting to move on it didn’t feel right to spend time there. Equally though, it didn’t feel right to stay away.

At some point, and – at least initially – not consciously, I got into the habit of an annual visit. The cemetery is about a 30 minute walk from my mum’s house, and if you know where to go you can do most of it on country lanes and farm tracks. The annual ritual, usually performed in December, was to walk up to the cemetery, stand at dad’s grave for a bit, then go for a walk round and check on some of the other familiar names in there. Relatives of friends, or other people on the periphery of my life. I’d imagine other people walk round such places in the towns where they grew up and can find other family members, however distant. That’s not the case for me, my family are somewhat nomadic, and I’m not sure if the ‘other people’s graves’ thing is a subconscious substitute, or just morbid curiosity.

In any case, over time the ritual changed how I felt about remembrance and memorial. During the couple of hours I was walking to or from this bleak hillside I could immerse myself in the memories – good and bad, and it was these walks that helped me process a lot of what had happened. I didn’t allow myself to dwell on it at other times, but on those trips I could indulge any morose tendencies I had been harbouring. On one of those trips I came to the crucial realisation that by the time dad died, I had already grieved for him, alleviating years of guilt that I had felt about my emotional response (or relative lack thereof) in the aftermath of his death.

I still perform the ritual. Not quite annually, but when I can. This cemetery now for me is a place where I confront my own mortality, rather than mourn that of other people. As I walk past headstones I find myself imagining the lives of those they commemorate. Lives cut short, or long and hopefully happy lives that end the way that, perhaps, we all aspire to.

I don’t want to be buried. Assuming when the time comes I am fortunate enough to have people around who want to remember me, I don’t want that act to be confined to a single place where the only socially acceptable emotion is one of sadness. I want people to remember me in the places we were happy together, in the activities I enjoyed, or with the people I was close to. If something must be done with my earthly remains after I have gone on to whatever the next awfully big adventure is, I would like them to be spread across as many of my favourite places as those left behind can manage.

If I’m lucky, that moment is a long way in the future, and I’ll have time to not only leave them a list, but make sure it’s inconveniently lengthy.

A very fine place to start

There’s a long-running joke in our family of which I am unavoidably, inarguably, and unrelentingly, the butt.

Actually there are several, including one involving yoghurt that’s been going for over 30 years, but they’re not relevant to this particular story so I’ll save them for another day.

It all stems from one Sunday afternoon in mid-1997, when we were sat round the dinner table at my mum’s house having just polished off a roast dinner. Both my older brothers (at that point in their mid-twenties) were there, which probably explains why this particular anecdote has stuck around like an unwelcome relative on Boxing Day. The scene unfolded something like this:

Older brother no. 2: Have you heard about that film that’s coming out at Christmas, Titanic?

Me: Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing it. It sounds like it’ll be good.

Older brother no. 2: Me too.

Me: I wonder what it’s about.

Cue both older brothers wetting themselves laughing, and mum doing that smirking thing that means she knows she shouldn’t laugh really, because they are after all taking the piss out of me, but she is powerless to resist at least a snigger in response to such a dimwitted statement.

Let’s be clear – despite what my brothers may tell you, I am not now, and never have been, one of those idiots who supposedly didn’t realise that the 1997 blockbuster was based on a true story.  The point I was making, if any of them had stopped laughing long enough to listen (either at the time or since), was that everyone already knows the ending to that story. How does James Cameron persuade enough people to part with enough cash to recoup an estimated $200million budget when even primary school age children can summarise the plot in five words – big boat, hits iceberg, sinks.

I feel his pain.

Last week I wrote a post that sort of spoiled the ending to my own story.

I love a good plot twist. Jeffrey Archer books always have them (at least until you’ve read enough of them to realise they’re all the same). I loved the ending of The Sixth Sense so much that I spent quite a lot of time trying to buy a T-shirt with the phrase ‘I see dead people’. If you don’t get that, as my 13 year old niece would say, you need to get yourself a ‘moviecation’.

My story doesn’t really have a plot twist. I could invent one, but that would kind of defeat the object. And probably upset some people. Either way, it’s not an option.

So since James Cameron managed to tell a story to which everyone knew the ending – to the tune of over $2billion and counting – I have been looking to his example. Admittedly, he had the assistance of Kate Winslet in the buff and a virtually pre-pubescent Leonardo DiCaprio, but he also had to contend with the warblings of Celine Dion and Billy ‘the wardrobe has more facial expressions than I do’ Zane (honestly – Google him, it’s disturbing).

What follows over the first few weeks of January therefore, until the story picks up fully in February and March, is henceforth to be known as the ‘Lewis Abernathy period’. Lewis Abernathy is this guy:

LewisAbernathyPicHis job in the film is to state the obvious right at the beginning. To confirm the bits we already know, while adding a few details we probably didn’t, so we can get on with what the film is really all about – Kate’s battle with kleptomania and Leonardo’s kinky drawings. He removes any uncertainty, or suspicions we might have had that there will be a plot twist of epic proportions, and allows us to focus on the important bits.

All of which is a slightly long winded way of saying I’m going to start this story at the end. The first few posts you’ll see will be me filling in a few gaps, bringing you right up to date with what happened immediately after 22nd December 1995, and a few things that happened in the following couple of decades.

There will also be something about how you can get your hands on some coconut centred Quality Street, since that seemed to capture people’s imaginations (and a worrying number of you apparently like them).

Public service announcement

Three more sleeps. The shopping’s done, wrapped and ready to be loaded into the car tomorrow night when I head home to Mum’s place for Christmas. I’ve had three turkey dinners already this month and am looking forward to a fourth on Thursday – them’s the rules. Everyone at work is ‘winding down’ (leaving early, spending more time chatting than working and filling their faces with tins of chocolate brought in by well meaning heads of department trying to buy their way into our affections).

I love this time of year. To be honest, Christmas Day itself, with all its pressures and protocols, is usually a bit much.  Everyone’s trying a bit too hard. You can’t possibly keep everyone happy but you feel like you ought to, and the end result invariably is that everyone over a certain age is a bit awkward and uncomfortable and kind of wants it to be over.

The lead up though, now that’s different. A lot of it for me starts with lights. Lights in the street, in houses, in shops. Twinkling ones. Multi-coloured ones. Ones shaped like Father Christmas. The ones in that video that does the rounds every year that are shaped like willies. (They’re not real by the way, it’s a spoof. But it’s funny). All of them. Then there’s the band jobs. Standing in the street or outside a supermarket playing the same tunes you play every year. Some people hate it. I love it. Because it only takes one small child jumping excitedly up and down to Jingle Bells, or a big scary looking bloke putting a fiver in the tin during O Little Town of Bethlehem, or an elderly couple knowing all the words to Rudolph (including the rude ones), and it’s Christmas. Even that bit of Gavin and Stacey where Smithy sings Band Aid down the phone to Gavin brings a bit of a happy festive tear to my eye.

And Boxing Day – ever the underdog – is the very best day of the year. There’s still plenty of good food around and it’s perfectly acceptable to spend the day in your PJs polishing off the old selection box if that’s what takes your fancy.

I think you’ll have gathered by now that I’m a fan of Christmas.

So, sorry to put a bit of a downer on things, but there’s something I need to tell you.

Today marks 19 years to the day that my dad died.

I was only just 15 at the time – so you don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that on the seesaw of life the adult me is now firmly rooted to the floor, looking up at a child I barely recognise as myself and a man who was gone before I really got to know him.

There are a lot of good memories. And there are others too. They’re not bad memories exactly. I’m not sure memories can be bad. They’re just there. And sometimes, bringing them to mind makes the bottom fall out of my stomach.  If I let them, they can ruin a day. Dwelling on this particular day isn’t good for me at all. 

We don’t tend to do anniversaries. At least not collectively. Bonfire night this year marked what would have been his seventieth birthday. But we’re all spread out across the country these days so all we managed was a Facebook message, a phone call, and a little private drink and a smile. 

But by virtue of the fact that this is the 19th anniversary of that Friday night in 1995 that marked the last time I heard Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger without a lump in my throat, next year will be 20 years.

And I’ve decided to celebrate it.

Next year, all year, I’m going to be fundraising for St Wilfrid’s Hospice.

I’m not going to lie to you, you’ll probably get sick of hearing me talk about it. You will almost certainly tire of me asking you for money. You might even grow bored of me asking for your help.

But here’s the thing:

That won’t stop me.

There are trendier charities. There are bigger charities, and smaller ones. There are charities that get less exposure, and charities that get considerably more. There are charities that come up with catchy internet trends that have half the world chucking buckets of cold water on each other, or that inexplicably raise several million just because a few people took pictures of themselves without makeup on. But there is not a charity in the world, let alone in East Sussex, that has had a bigger impact on my life and my family than this one.

Over the course of next year, as well as occasionally asking you to put your hand in your pocket for one reason or another, I want to try and share with you what this charity means to me and my family. I hope you’ll stick with it, get involved, and understand.

I’ll let you know more of my plans in the New Year. In the mean time, I wish you all a peace filled and restful festive season and hope that every home has someone who’ll eat the coconut centred Quality Street. If you do, let me know, I’ll post mine to you.

Happy Christmas.

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.