Happy New Year

Hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas and New Year and has now strapped into their seats ready for the ride 2019!

Did you feel Christmassy this – sorry, last year? Did you get a warm glow and that nice feeling where you think that anything is possible? I heard friends and family say they “didn’t feel Christmassy” or that “it doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore”. I will admit that I used to feel like this. It’s impossible to get that excitement and anticipation you used to feel as a child but that doesn’t mean that the special Christmassy feeling has to disappear.

What is that feeling and where does it come from? The shops try and sell their version of Christmas, advising us what we should be wearing, what gadgets we must have, what foods everybody is eating this year. Those same shops who tried to sell the magic last month are now selling us goods and products to beat the New Year blues and selling products and foods that we need to get back in shape after over indulging in their products last month!

I sometimes feel a bit Christmassy from watching certain programmes, not EastEnders but Call the Midwife does get me every year! There is a film that I watch every Christmas that always leaves a massive impact  – It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a film set at Christmas but for me it’s about life, it’s about the impact we can all make and about the footprint we leave behind and what would happen if we weren’t around. It’s a truly beautiful film.

After my trials and tribulations of the last 18 months I appreciate this film and it’s message even more. The main character isn’t perfect, he has his faults but he puts others first, he got satisfaction from seeing people happy and doing what he could to make a difference and help people and his community. Without giving too much away, the ending is about what can happen and what people will do for us if we live that kind of life.

This is what I now think about when I think about Christmas but even better these values and the feeling that comes from them doesn’t have to be confined to Christmas. They can be applied every day. Little things can make a massive difference. I had a bit of a de-clutter this weekend and took some clothes and coats that I don’t need anymore to my local clothes bank today. The lady there explained that they were expecting a homeless guy in later who will really appreciate the coats. That’s blown me away to be honest and given me such a nice feeling – see, we can have Christmas everyday!

So when we took the decorations down last week I didn’t get that flat feeling that I used to get. I’m ready to face the year, to do what I can and to be ready to deal with the ups and downs that will inevitably come.

Bring it on!!

It was Christmas Eve Babe

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

My favourite day of the year. Today is just one of those amazing days where we get to suspend belief and any kind of logic and we get to believe in magic and hold on to that sense of anticipation and excitement.

I don’t care how old you are, don’t let anybody tell you that the big guy in the red suit isn’t real, of course he is! A big jolly guy who spreads joy, love, gifts. A guy who can make children behave just by mentioning his name and letting them know that he might be watching and making a list. A guy who doesn’t discriminate who can bring smiles to faces and turn tears to laughter. Nobody is going to tell me that he isn’t real. The reason I know this? It’s because we can all have these feelings we can all be the person who spreads, joy, love, happiness and makes people smile, who looks for the best in people, not the worst. We can all be Santa, especially at Christmas. It’s the perfect time to try. I know it’s hard but we can all find the motivation to be better people and to be kinder to people.

The other reason, I love Christmas Eve is because of something that happened over 2000 years ago. I can’t give you any evidence that it happened but I just believe that it did. I believe that we were sent a gift from God to show us light and to show us hope and to show us love. This gift didn’t arrive gift wrapped in fancy expensive paper. He was delivered to us in a manger, witnessed by shepherds, angels, wise men and animals. This gift wasn’t given to kings and queens to look after, an ordinary man and woman were chosen. This gift wasn’t for only those who could afford it, he came for everyone.

This Universe and the people within it are amazing, are beautiful, are special, are unique. Having my faith in this event that happened on this day helps me see just how great this world can be and helps me see the beauty that surrounds us each and every day.

I hope you have an amazing Christmas with the ones you love. If you have little ones, share their joy, their excitement. Have a look through their eyes, it’s amazing.

Peace x

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Birthday Blog

It was my birthday last Friday. I’m now nearer 50 than 40! I feel like I should be sharing some of my wisdom and knowledge onto you youngsters. But everyday I learn more about how to approach life from young people and it is mainly young people who constantly inspire me and give me hope for the future. Which is just as well because they are going to have to deal with a lot of shit that older generations are going to leave behind.

Passing my birthday milestone this year has helped me reflect on the events of the past 12 – 18 months and helped me realise that I have probably learnt more about myself and what truly matters over this period than over the previous 44 years. So for today’s blog i hope you don’t mind me indulging in these reflections and processes that have got me to this point.

1 – I’m a survivor (there’s a song title somewhere)                                                         

I came through a major 10 hour operation which was the trigger for my re-evaluation. It wasn’t meant to be major but things went wrong I ended up in ITU, needed another 3 “procedures”, got sepsis, went back into ITU for a week and ended up staying in hospital for 6 1/2 weeks. I was on some big drugs that meant i saw quite a few freaky things. But I survived, it’ll take more than that to finish me off!

2- I’m no longer afraid to try new things.                                                         

I’ve always wanted to try Yoga but never thought it would be for me. This year i tried it and love it! It’s the perfect exercise for me. I would never have previously thought about writing a blog but this year i gave it a go. It’s cathartic, it’s helpful. I still don’t know where i’m going to go with it, which is actually one of the great things about it. If nobody else reads this, it’s still helped me.

3 – I can live without alcohol.

True – this one has kind of been forced upon me as a result of the op but if somebody had said 2 years ago that I would be one of those people you hear about who don’t drink I might have looked at you a bit funny. It’s actually ok, i’ve been on holidays to a music festival, nights out and still had a great time. To have the option would still be nice and there are lots of occasions when a little drink helps but I know I can do it.

4 – I  don’t feel guilty for finding more time for me.                                                                   

I practice the piano more, I go to Yoga classes, I find time to make sure I read and set myself some time to do this. Before I might have felt a bit guilty but now I know how important it is! I still make sure I don’t neglect anyone or anything, it’s all about the balance!

5 – The Universe is beautiful!                                                              

At the end of May I go away camping for a weekend, no internet/Wi-Fi, no tv, we get washed in a river, it’s amazing. This year I found myself finding a quiet spot where all I could hear, was the sound of wind on the trees, the birds singing and the sound of the river. It was beautiful and I found it more spiritual than ever before. I found myself being able to appreciate the power of the universe. The nature that surrounded me was there long before I came along and it will be there for a long time after I’ve gone. It makes sense to appreciate it and enjoy it.

6 – I haven’t reached my potential!

Not by a long way. My best years are still ahead of me, not behind me. I now feel more confident to grasp opportunities that come along and to truly find out what i’m capable of. The really exciting part is not knowing when these opportunities will come along or how they will happen but bring it on, I’m ready!

Change Your Vision – Part 2

For those of you who have been following my blog -firstly thank you it really means the world to know that people are reading my content and see fit to leave some really nice feedback. For those of you who haven’t – why not? I’m knocking out some good stuff here!!

Anyway  – some of you may remember that last week I wrote about how great it would be if we could start to see the world through a child’s eyes, to think without prejudice and to question when we see something wrong.

Change Your Vision

Today I want to talk about children who don’t get to be children and have a childhood. I recently learnt that there are 160 million children forced into slavery. That figure blew my mind, 160 million children who don’t get to play, who don’t get to learn, who don’t get to dream about what they want to be when they grow up. Children who are trafficked into slavery where they get physically and sexually abused. These children might be making the clothes we wear. They might be making toys, games, footballs etc for other children but never get to play themselves.

I don’t want to bring the mood down too much because there are people who are doing amazing things and there are little things that we can all do.

An amazing man called Kailash Satyarthi has dedicated his life to eradicating child slavery and to make sure that every child is free, safe healthy and educated. He has already freed an amazing 80,000 children from a life of slavery. Children who can get on with having a childhood and learn to dream and play.

Last month a film was released on YouTube – The Price of Free. It features the life and work of Kailash and shows some of the operations that have been carried out to free child slaves. To be honest  – I haven’t got round to watching it yet! I will do over the holidays. So that’s one thing we can do. Watch this film, share with friends and raise awareness. I know some of you write some fantastic film review. Why not promote this?

The Price of Free

Another is to be more mindful about how we shop. How do we know that the clothes we wear, the toys our children play with haven’t been made by a child kept in slavery? One way would be to email, tweet the CEO’s of our favourite brands and seek reassurances. If our products can show that they haven’t been tested on animals is it too much to ask companies to display their guarantee that they haven’t used child labour?

The third way is the usual way, to donate what you can to one of the causes that are trying to end child slavery. What I love about Kailash is that he reminds us that we all have the love and compassion to bring about change and we can all do a bit no matter how small.

Thank You

Change Your Vision

For today’s blog I want you to come back in time with me – cue dream like music and wavy filters!

I want you to picture yourself in primary school between the ages of about 5-8. I have to go back a lot further in time than most of you!                                                          

Now – think of your friends. How did you choose your closest friends? Was it based on where they lived, what clothes they wore – the colour of their skin? Or was it based on how they behaved towards you and others?

If somebody joined your class who was from another country or another culture, how did you react? With fear, with suspicion, with judgement? Or with curiosity, with a load of questions that you wanted to ask, with excitement, with a desire to get to know this new person and be the first to include them in your group.

Did somebody in your class have a disability? Were they in a wheelchair, or struggle with communication? What happened? Were they left to get on with it or did you look for ways to include them? Did you adapt so you could fit in with their world? Did you get excited by learning a new way to communicate?

If somebody in your class was hungry and didn’t have their dinner how did you react? Just leave them, or did you look at your lunchbox and realise that you had more than enough and could spare something? Then did you tell someone that your classmate did not have any food with them?

If one of your best friends was feeling sad what did you do? Did you tell them to get over it, or did you try and make them feel better and if they were still feeling sad did you go and tell someone so you could get some more help so your friend started to feel better?

Ok by now I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Seriously, what happens to us as we leave our childhood? Why do we turn to suspicion, why do we start to judge people based on anything other than how they behave towards us. Why do we look for reasons to exclude rather than include. Why do we stop questioning and just accept? What happens to compassion?

I have my own theory. As children we put our trust in authority, in grown-ups. We believe that people with knowledge and power tell us the truth and have our best interests. Our lives become harder and more stressful. The papers will come up with reasons why our lives aren’t perfect, the politicians will tell us it’s nothing to do with them, it’s always the other lot. We’re conditioned to become fearful, to be suspicious, to look for evidence to reinforce views that we’ve been fed. We’re told to look after No1.

But wouldn’t it be great to start seeing the world through the eyes of a young child again? To question, to use our eyes and our ears to see the world around us. We’re coming up to Christmas, one of the most magical times for most children. Let’s embrace that joy and wonder. Find your compassion x

Fellowship

I was struggling to decide what to write about this week. With Brexit and the news today that Trump has been firing tear gas at children who are trying to escape the most horrific of circumstances the world seems pretty dark at the moment. I don’t want to write about things that get me annoyed and wound up, that’s not going to serve any purpose at all.

Instead I’d much rather write about  things and people that inspire me, events that remind me that the world is an amazing place full of hope, joy, love and possibilities. Yes, there’s a few doyles around who have different agenda’s and would rather spread fear, division and intolerance but on the whole there is so much more light and positivity in the world – fact.

So today I want to tell you about an amazing group of people who I had the pleasure of spending a week with every year from 1990 to approx 2005. I was a volunteer for the Eston Fellowship and every year we would take a group of children and young adults who had a range of physical and learning disabilities away for a week. The guys that we took on holiday were from a deprived community and the week away was a break for them and their carers. It was also the highlight of my year. It was without fail a week filled with laughter, joy, friendship, singing, dancing, and fellowship. It also had a fair amount of going to the pub and enjoying a drink!

The guys that I spent the week with taught me more than they will ever know. I learnt the positivity that comes from volunteering, from giving something back and helping others. Some of the parents and carers were so grateful that we had given up some of our time so they could have a break. The guys also gave me a reminder on how to approach life.

Here was a group of people who all had a range of disabilities who just laughed, smiled, gave the most amazing hugs and just spread warmth and love wherever they went. They danced like no one was watching and when it came to karaoke they certainly sang like no one was listening!! They inspired me so much and gave me some of the best laughs I have ever had and provided unforgettable memories.

So whenever I feel down about the state of the world I’ll remember these times and these guys, some of whom are sadly no longer with us. I’ll remember that we never have to take life too seriously, that smiling, laughter and hugs are the way to go!

Apologies for the quality of the pictures, they were from a long time ago and usually taken at the party to celebrate the end of the week!!!

International Men’s Day

So today, Nov 19th is International Men’s day. Be honest  – who knew? I certainly didn’t until I saw it trending on Twitter this morning. I mean after all, every day is pretty much men’s day. We’re not an endangered species, we don’t need protecting or any campaign groups to start crowdfunding for us. We’re doing pretty well. We hold nearly all the top jobs, we make up the majority of the boards of directors, we’re still much more likely to be paid more than a woman, even when doing the same job. We don’t have the same pressures to constantly look good, to be constantly judged on our appearances, we don’t have the same expectations when it comes to raising a family. To the women reading this, I sincerely apologise for not listing all the many, many ways in which it’s easier to be a man but that blog would take weeks! It is still very much a man’s world – love that song!

The fact that it is still a man’s world does come with it’s problems, not least of which we are a long, long way from having an equal society. Another issue comes with the expectations and labels we place on men and the roles that we expect them to play. Toxic masculinity is a huge problem.

Toxic Masculinity

Not every man is going to want to fit into stereotypes of what a “real man” is meant to be and yet the pressure to do so can be crushing. If we’re struggling there is an expectation to “man-up” (hate that phrase). Crying is seen as a sign of weakness but why give us tear glands if we’re not meant to use them? Asking for help and speaking about your feelings is still frowned upon, real men don’t do that – right? Is it any wonder male suicide is a massive problem, my home town of Middlesbrough has the highest suicide rate in the UK. Bottling up your feelings is never good, suppressing your emotions is going to cause problems eventually. Not asking for help – why would you do that? In every other part of your life, especially if you were struggling physically you would ask for help. (Man-flu)! Why should your mental health be any different? It takes strength to ask for help but help is out there, I know!

Thankfully the conversation around men’s mental health does seem to be slowly improving. The conversations on Twitter today are mostly positive and encouraging, lots of people offering help and support, encouraging fellow men to open up. You still get the odd doyle who is worried about any perceived attack on his masculinity, probably the same person who is scared of a woman boss, or who has never watched a romcom! We are getting better at talking but there also needs to be better mental health services for everyone so people don’t have to wait a long time to access help.

The other thing that comes to mind for me on International Men’s day is all the great men who have had a bearing on my life. The fantastic dad who raised me and is still there for me, the great teachers who educated me, who taught me music and encouraged me, the men who gave me opportunities, who advised me, who influenced me.

So maybe International Men’s day isn’t such a bad thing. After all, we need all the help we can get!

I give the final word to one of the greatest men in history.