So long and thanks for all the fish…and everything else!

Well it’s been some ride. Certainly this has been one of the most interesting seasons of my life. Around 15 months of unemployment draws to a close and whilst I am mighty relieved and excited, there is also an element of sadness, with a touch of nervousness, and a hint of wondering if I can remember how to dress myself appropriately! Currently searching through my wardrobe to check my stocks of business casual wear. And shoes, what’s shoes should I wear? Tough decisions to come.

So the job – it’s a project management role for a company called Catalent, based in Cham, up near Zug. Starting on November 5th, and I will start off by commuting weekly and see how it goes. It’s already been suggested to me that working from home will be an option after a period of getting to know the people, the business and the tasks in hand. But we shall see, just stoked to be back in work to be honest!

Someone asked me a question the other night, one that I had been contemplating for a while; what have you learnt during this journey?

So, so much! It’s could be said that you learn a lot in adversity, but I guess one thing that I have definitely learnt is I would not call my situation as adversity. It has been an opportunity. Yeah some of it has been a bit shit, but the reality is that your mindset makes a massive difference in walking the path of redundancy, and the subsequent time on you hands. You may remember a blog I posted soon after my parting of company with Nestlé (https://ontheswissrockandroll.com/2017/09/05/on-the-swiss-rock-and-roll-5-days-in/) where I talked about positivity and mindset. Is it narcissistic to quote yourself? Probably. But I stand by this.

“Let us be relentless in our positivity. Let us look for the good in people. Then you will be rewarded. With a smile, with a job, with love. It’s all out there. We just need to look with an open heart.”

Learning number one – stay positive. OK we are human and this is not possible 24/7. Over the last few months this has been tougher, but I have continued to refer back to these words. Without a positive attitude and thankfulness it would be very easy to wallow constantly in self pity, self loathing and regret. Don’t get me wrong, I am not belittling those suffering, or subscribing to the ‘man up’ and ‘just snap out of it’ school of thought. We all have our coping strategies, and I choose to take a positive outlook. This is not possible for everyone I know. Mental illness, depression and anxiety are way more complex than that! However I have sought help to get me through this from professionals, and have been seeing a therapist and also taking antidepressants. I guess this is learning number two – do not be afraid to ask for help. This applies to so much more than mental health, but also to practical things, to looking for work, just about anything. Develop and grow your network. Not just for work, as one of the things that has been a highlight for me over the last 15 months is the development of my mens mental health initiative, Blokes and Black Dogs. The people I have got to know whilst working on this project are fantastic, really interesting and kind individuals. They bloody care about this stuff, and are prepared to give up their time and energy in supporting me. That leads me onto the next learning, number three – the importance of community and relationships. Despite the drive for positivity, and asking for help, I think it is fair to say that my community have been so important to me, to my ‘survival’, and to my mental health throughout my journey. People from church, from outplacement agencies, from the Impact Hub, from sport, from the gym, new friends, old friends, new relationships, family, I thank you. I am not going to mention you all by name, but you are all so special to me. I have felt your love and support, and it is totally reciprocated! It would be easy to become isolated without both giving and receiving support to those around you. Don’t be alone. Believe me it can happen all too easily and there have been the occasional day which have featured Netflix, crunchy muesli and a lack of trousers. However, there always those who encourage, invite you to places, This helps, but I guess we all need to take a degree or responsibility in seeking some company. This can be a stretch for sure, especially for the naturally introverted. Learning number four – care about those around you. Give a little of yourself to either your contemporaries, or to those who are in need. Go volunteer – my time at Medair and Impact Hub are both, in very different ways, incredibly stimulating and I have met some great people – again too many to name check, but you know who you are. Check on your friends who might be having a hard time, or out of work, or sick, or just unhappy. Lunch, coffee or even a WhatsApp message could be the only contact someone gets on any given day. And when you doubt whether it is the right thing to do, put yourself in their shoes – what would you want? A little warmth and human contact is so bloody important. Finding something positive to do, giving yourself tasks or objectives to achieve is so good. Sometimes, getting out if bed can be an achievement, so do not beat yourself up if you havent done very much. I know, because I often did this! So track a little what you do. To do lists are not that onerous if you don’t get over complicated or over zealous. Keep it simple. Learning five – give yourself credit for what you achieve. There are so many tools and processes to help you do this. My method, as mentioned in an earlier blog, (https://ontheswissrockandroll.com/2017/09/05/quadrants-of-my-life/) worked for me, but the back of a fag packet might help! One thing I have done quite a few times, even if I haven’t consciously tracked anything, is look back over a day, and write down what you have done. Try it, it helps.

There is so much more too, but some of it I cant and won’t document, but I think these five learnings have been incredibly important in helping me through tough times. Underpinning this has been my faith, despite this taking the occasional hammering, and despite some decidedly ‘non-Christian’ behaviour at times (what does that even mean? A discussion point for another time I think…)

So, keep on believing. Believe in yourself, your family, your friends, your God. Without them life would be less interesting and less fun.

It’s OK if it ends in tears

BBC news caught my attention this morning. No, it wasn’t Louise Minchin (secret crush maybe…) but it was the announcement that the British Government had appointed a minister for Suicide Prevention, and was providing funding to the tune of £1.8 million to the Samaritans organisation. A good way to start World Mental Health Day, and it’s a step in the right direction. One step. It’s not enough, but at least it is some form of recognition of a problem. Not about to get into a political debate today, so let us just be grateful for this action.

So much communication and social media activity on Mental Health! I hope some of it sticks in peoples minds, and that they are encouraged. I hope that there is another chunk of the stigma that prevents open, normal discussion on our mental health being chipped away. As 25% of us will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point, we should accept that it is part of everyday life as opposed to a strange cousin that’s hidden in the attic. There are well worn clichés comparing physical and mental health, but the reason they are worn is because they are the truth! We all know how to help our mates if they have, I don’t know, Man Flu. They need to go to bed for several days whilst receiving sympathy, chicken soup and hot toddies (with the good whiskey) and access to your Sky Go app or Netflix account. That’s easy. But if your mate is anxious, depressed or, worst case, suicidal what do you do? Not so straightforward is it?

It starts with a conversation. And listening. And sitting. It might involve a lot of these two things. For men the hard thing is starting this conversation. Standard answers include :

• I’m fine

• I’ll be ok tomorrow

• Nothing to worry about

• These things happen

• Don’t want to add to your problems

Just a few of the things we might say in order to evade what we consider a potentially embarrassing show of emotion, or vulnerability.

OK, I’m going to keep saying this, and I don’t give a shit if you get bored of me saying it.

IT’S OK TO TALK ! YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN ! YOU ARE NOT AN EMBARRASSMENT ! YOU ARE NO LESS OF A MAN FOR TALKING ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL ! YOU ARE STRONG !

That felt good. Imagine how good it would feel to open up about the difficulties you are facing and are avoiding discussing !

I read this this morning, from an article in an Aussie news organisation who are fronting a campaign on ‘The Silent Killer’.

While much of the focus of suicide prevention has been on those diagnosed with a mental illness, around 80 per cent of male suicides are not linked to any mental health diagnosis according to Glen Poole, Development Officer at the Australian Men’s Health Forum and founder of the Stop Male Suicide project.

Instead many men are simply struggling to deal with different types of life crises including relationship breakdown, work issues, financial stress, health and other issues.

He believes the key is to focus on helping men to deal with those life crises.

Gotcha4Life co-founder Gus Worland agreed and said having someone to talk to when times got tough, had helped him to manage stressful or emotional situations in the past.

“You’ve got to have someone in your life that you can talk to, warts and all,” he said. “Someone you can have a discussion with about anything and know that you won’t be judged. That person may not have an answer but you will have their heart and their ear, and it will allow you to get stuff off your chest.”

Relationships. Work. Money. Health. Four things that are common to us all. They can all go pear-shaped. Indeed a few of those are hitting me right now. Dealing with these fundamental parts of our life is challenging but no reason to be embarrassed about talking about them. I am not going to deny that I have been through a tonne of crap over the last few years and the thing that has helped me through the challenges thrown at me is talking. Spending time sharing how I feel with friends.

Also happy to share that I am currently taking anti-depressants and seeing a therapist. See? It’s that easy to admit to a supposed weakness. It’s a stigma that MUST be broken it we are to become the the best that we can be as humans.

When I meet with the guys at Blokes and Black Dogs meetings, this also helps. These meetings are SO beneficial. It’s a safe space for men to share what they are facing in their lives. It may not solve all the problems that you are facing, but it will help to get it off your chest and stop bottling it up. Let the emotion out. Ease the pressure and don’t explode. One way or another, that will not be pretty.

Talking in a safe space – what’s the worst that can happen?

Link to Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/blokesandblackdogs/

Expat Expo – Blokes and Black Dogs will be there

https://www.expat-expo.info/geneva

Busby was right. It’s good to talk.

April 26th 2018 was the day it began. The first meeting of Blokes and Black Dogs, an initiative that encourages men to talk about how they feel, with the goal of staving off mental health issues and, ultimately, helping to prevent guys committing suicide. A secondary aim is evolving, that of promoting awareness of mental health and trying to normalise conversations on the subject. But firstly, let’s get talking!

So the day arrived. I was a bit nervous, never having done anything like this before. Actually I was bloody terrified. What was I going to say, how many would turn up, what were their expectations? Was the room too big, or too small, too hot or too cold? Conference room set up or a circle? Would people find the Impact Hub, would they be able to park? Fortunately, for me I knew that some good friends were definitely going to be there so I wouldn’t be sitting alone in a darkened room doubting myself…. It is amazing how easily you can slip into a negative mindset, doubting, lacking confidence both in yourself and in what you are trying to achieve. This is what we are trying to prevent! And this shows that sometime we have the potential to become paralysed, scared to act because we might screw up.

Let’s turn that around though. Sometimes you have to back yourself and what you believe in, see the opportunity rather than the pitfalls. The idea and the concept of blokes and black dogs was not new, it was effective in UK (AndysManClub) and it was only really costing me time. I just had to trust the process, and learn. Learning from the experience was really important, and over the last few months I have learnt a huge amount, especially surrounding communication and of course, mental health!

Back to 26th April. To my surprise, 10 chaps arrived. We had hard conversations about the challenges we face in life. Real conversations, and genuine feelings. Outpourings of emotion. Not very blokey at all you might think, but it was! In terms of language, and context. So incredibly open. It was so encouraging to see that we CAN talk. Some were strangers, and some guys I had known for years, but we were all in it together, listening and encouraging. You also got the sense that some of the conversations were being had for the first time!

The evening closed and I went to the pub to decompress a little. There had been a lot of emotion in the room and I needed a pint and some reflection. My reflection being that the meeting had achieved its objectives!

The next day, I booked the following meeting, though this time I felt a lot more confident, like what we were doing really had the potential to make a difference. I was getting feedback through the What’s App group telling me that this was the case. Eight guys at the next meeting, similar conversations, but encouragement and positive vibes too. Some really hard stories, but uplifting moments as well.

And we continue, just about to hold our 5th meeting on 26th July, exactly 3 months on. In relative terms, this group, this idea is still in it’s infancy. It has had a positive impact, and we are talking. Conversations are beginning, and I am sharing the idea, and increasing awareness via social media and personal testimonies. Mental health professionals are taking interest and the concept is being shared and supported by them.

So please help spread the word, please help us to encourage men to open up. They don’t have to come to a meeting to talk, to stop themselves from being isolated.

75% of suicides are men. 25% of us will suffer a form of mental illness. There remains a stigma.

This wont be fixed overnight.

But I am in this for the long haul.

Do you even?

  • AAs part of my continuing journey of self improvement and change (ok, translating as having a lot of time to explore new and different things…) I have been frequenting the gym. In fact a mixture of gym and classes, with many varied experiences. My ‘home’ gym is Let’s Go Fitness in Vevey, but a great benefit of the membership is the opportunity to use any of the Let’s Go gyms around the country. So when I am out and about, my trusty personalised Riviera Rugby kitbag is always in the car, thus ensuring I have no excuse to skip leg day. Actually, currently loving hitting the squat rack and the relevant torture instruments! Despite creaking, cartilage free knees, new confidence in performing leg exercise has developed, thanks to the support of Will at Core Training (more about them later) and I am squatting. Not deep nasty squats, but getting some of the way down, and most importantly, all the way back up again!

As anyone who has the patience and high boredom threshold to follow me on Facebook realises, I avail myself of the fitness facilities on a regular basis. I usually train four to five times a week. Montreux, Vevey, Ecublens, Lutry and Gland have all been on my shopping list, as well as the team at Core Training, also in Vevey. These guys are great by the way, young folk working hard to make a difference in people’s attitudes to well being. (Kudos Will and Laura). I think this qualifies me reasonably well to make a few observations on people and behaviour whilst training…..

Leggings. On men. No. Please. They are both unbecoming and unnecessary. Granted, there are some proper athletic types that they suit, but they are in the minority! Also, you are indoors. Gyms are not know for being especially cold places. We are all prone to sartorial gaffs (I am of course well known for my fashion sense) but please, no one wants to tell if you are circumcised or not in the gym.

Full make up and fake tan. Ladies this one is for you. I get that you want to look at your best, and going to the gym is part of that process. Respect. But you are in the house of pain, not the (insert name of well known night club here – no, not a clue…)

Leaving weights out or on the bars. This drives me up the pole. It is pure laziness and a lack of consideration to other gym users. No one is impressed if you are doing lateral raises with 32kg dumbbells (actually I would be a little impressed) if you just leave them lying around for someone to fall over. Because they will, seen it happen. And take your plates off the barbell. Do not assume that the next one up is going to lift the same as you. Just be a little considerate to the other users.

Ok, this one is a little difficult. Personal hygiene. We are there in the gym to work, a by product of work is sweat, and left untreated, can be a bit whiffy. Fact. However, there is the occasional gym-goer who reeks like the N109 coming through Streatham at 02.00 after everyone has visited the Kebab house. Not so much a delicate pot-pourri, but an odour that you can taste. Seriously, dude, I don’t believe you cannot smell yourself.

Talking. Ok this is me, and I am sure other people don’t feel the same. One guy in the Vevey gym seems to know everyone. He’s a big unit so I guess he lifts, but I have never seen him do anything! Call me a miserable old sod, but I am not there to chat or improve my French. I am there to fight against the ravages of time and too many cheese sandwiches. I have my ear buds in for a reason. Not just to listen to music but to STOP PEOPLE FROM TALKING TO ME…..

Wannabe gangsters. You know the type. All in black with the silly tapered jogging bottoms. Standing around cheering each other on whilst wearing a) a black SnapBack, b) a black hoodie without sleeves to show off the tribal tattoos, or a combination of both a and b. You’re not from the street, guys. You are from the quaint Swiss town of Vevey, where living dangerously is mowing your lawn on a Sunday. The only gang I have heard of are the Old Fogeys, a bunch of really nice guys, teetering on middle age, who ride Harleys when the weather is sunny. (No disrespect guys, I don’t want you coming round, and you know, making me a cup of tea or something)

So, just a few thoughts. I love the gym, and love nearly everyone who is there with the intention of improving themselves. Or proving themselves. But the most important battle in the gym is with your self.

Keep working on your self!ch

Blokes and Black Dogs

Men and mental health. Most of you will already know that I can bang on about about the impacts on our inability as men to to communicate truly how we are and the reasons behind our lack of desire to appear vulnerable and so on for hours at a time. I make no apologies for this, because its bloody important! I also make no apologies for repeating statistics and facts. Some of these numbers are a stark reminder of the pain men can go through, and their occasional final and terminal response.

  • Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in UK (and other countries)
  • The highest at risk group in UK in 2014 was age 45-59. (23.9 per 100,000)
  • 4630 men died by their own hand in 2014
  • In 2014, the male rate was 16.8 suicides per 100,000 people, versus 5.2 female deaths.Capture Suicide 1

Source is 2014 Samaritans report

So what is the answer? Much cleverer people than me have thought and worked on this in recent years, but ther is no silver bullet or panacea that will suddenly transform us! We are conditoned from a young age. ‘Big boy’s dont cry’ ‘Man up, mate’ ‘Stiff upper lip, old boy’ I could go on, and I am sure we all have examples, and I am sure we have all used these and similar expressions when referring to ‘over emotional male behaviour’! Again, you may have read on my blog and Facebook feed of the work of Luke Ambler and AndysManClub in the UK. Sterling work. Around 200 men meet in 15 groups every Monday night to talk and have a cuppa. So simple yet so effective.

Whats to stop us taking up a similar initiative? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Which is exactly why I am going to do so. English speaking men in the region of Lake Leman (Lake Geneva to us non-locals….) will soon have the opportunity to meet, and share how they feel. To talk, to listen to each other, to be vulnerable, to get stuff off their chests. To cry if they feel like it. Yes I said cry. Some may want to shout and curse. Thats ok too. Express emotion and feel the release and relief of having shared the issue (issues…) that are making us feel so crap!

Working name for the group – Blokes and Black Dogs. 

First meeting planned for 26th April at the moment, venue to be clarified. Publicity and detail will follow, Facebook and Twitter accounts will be set up. 

Bear with me, I will probably overcommunicate on this. Some of the communciation will be distinctly amateur to all you professionals out there. Sorry, not sorry!

So why do we talk about the black dog? Feel a bit sorry for the dogs to be honest, they are getting a bit of a bad rap, but I guess this is the expression that has entered every day usage! Black dogs visit so many of us, and can be debilitating and destructive in many different ways. Check out the YouTube clip below to get some sort of idea how the canine metaphor can manifest itself in our lives

There are a few important tips contained in this short film, that are definitely worth repeating. I know a video 4 minutes long seems an eternity in the sound bite culture that we currently inhabit, so here are just a few points that I picked out that can help put the black dog out into the garden!

  • Be open and authentic, to friends, to family, in a peer to peer suport group.
  • Exercise. Run, walk, lift weights, play touch rugby or 5 a side football.
  • Journal. Write down how you are feeling.
  • Be thankful for what you have in life.
  • Get medical help if required.

Lets try and create a culture of helping men.

Off our trolleys?

Last night I heard some sad news. In fact more than sad, it was one of those moments when your stomach lurches, and you are hit by a wave of emotion that you are really not expecting. Claude had died. Those of us who live in and around Vevey may have been acquainted with him; he lived on the street. Just writing those words causes me to pause and reflect on what circumstances someone is forced into that situation. Stop and think about it as you step out of the shower and turn on your Nespresso machine, and decide what capsule to have with your bowl of granola.

Living. On. The Street. No bed, no bathroom or laundry. Maybe you have some food, maybe you don’t. No smartphone to check the weather and see if you are likely to die from hypothermia and related complications that night. We can’t comprehend this really. Sometimes our personal circumstances are less than perfect. OK they can be downright dreadful, relationships, work, family money all going pear-shaped. Sometimes all at the same time! The vast majority of people I know deal with struggles. As well as the material things we are blessed with, we have friends, family, a community, that surrounds us and pulls us up.

Do you have that living on the streets? Maybe. You see videos on YouTube of homeless folk sharing their good fortune with others when they get some cash or food. Here’s one, no idea if this is a set up or not, but it certainly brought a tear to my eye!

https://youtu.be/AUBTAdI7zuY

Anyway did Claude have that support around him? At least one good friend of mine looked out for him and occasionally bought him food – I won’t embarrass him, but his love for Claude was typical of the man. We at All Saints know a little about him, and our pastor Clive certainly did some digging and tried to help find a solution with the Swiss authorities. You see Claude took up residence in the bushes in our church car park. He wasn’t really a problem until his collection of shopping trolleys began to expand…..it does raise a bit of a sad smile to remember his corner of the car park. He wasn’t choosy, COOP, Migros, Denner, he had them all. Car parking was hazardous (OK first world problem…) By the way I am not trying to make fun of his plight, and his clear need for support and treatment. Solutions were there within the Swiss Social Services System. (So sorry, such sad alliteration) but Claude had issues with alcohol and mental health. He was a big man, and he could appear to be intimidating (though I never heard of this manifesting itself in any sort of threat) In short, he was the sort of guy that if he didn’t want to do something, persuasion might be tricky. Anyhow I am not sure how all this went down, but the bottom line is that Claude ended up back on the streets.

Could we have done more? It is pretty difficult to know. Mental health issues plus addiction equals complexity and a very messy situation. Something that needs expert care and attention, and the Vevey Commune tried. We tried. But my gut feel is that we didn’t do as much as we could. This is not criticism of any individual or organisation by the way. This brew of issues can spiral downwards, out of control and get to a point where no one knows what to do. We can all be compassionate, but it seems even professionals were at a loss to find a solution.

Claude dieds a few weeks ago. His ashes are interred at the Remembrance garden at St Martins in Vevey. A few of us will go and honour him. Let’s try and honour all the Claudes that we walk past each day.

So I will choose to remember Claude at the lakeside with his fishing rod, sunburnt, cigarette in hand. His belongings and his bottles by his side, in his shopping trolley. That seems to be where he was most at peace.

Until now.

Princess Leia was right all along

A time of joy, of goodwill to all men, peace on earth. A celebration of the arrival of our Saviour. Families reunite, warm hugs and mince pies, making all things well together. In many cases this is how Christmas happens, bonds that have perhaps loosened a bit during the course of hectic day to day existence whilst everyone strives to achieve their goals (personal or corporate!), are re-cemented. Joy is a prevailing emotion that carries us through. Ok this is perhaps a romanticised view on Christmas, with families in matching Seasonal jumpers, perfect symmetrically decorated trees, a bit of coordinated tinsel garnishing the labradoodle’s collar, and a jolly game of Trivial Pursuit after the Queen’s Speech.

If only. For me Christmas is a time of fun, family and celebration, but it’s easy to forget two things: the birth of Jesus Christ, and the many, many people to whom the aforementioned vision do not apply. Firstly, Jesus. We are often, quite correctly, reminded of why we celebrate. However it would be a great opportunity for Christian communities to love, for example, the homeless for the longer term, to make more sustainable contribution to the needy above and beyond the 12 days of Christmas. Homeless people are still likely to be facing the same challenges on the 15th January. We need to do something.

Secondly, how about the increasing number of people for whom Christmas is stressful, trying and in some cases downright miserable. I’m not talking about Jeremy being told off by Nina because he couldn’t find the Christmas pudding recommended by Nigella Lawson in Waitrose. I refer to those who go into debt to provide THE present for their kids. The single parents desperately trying to scrape out some time with their children over Christmas. The recently bereaved, dreading the first ‘celebration’ without a father, husband or brother. There’s a lot of pain. Many other reasons and events can transform Seasonal joy into heartache.

What’s the answer? How do the millions whose stomachs drop as December approaches cope? For many, and I count myself amongst them (and I am also one of those to whom the customary vision does not apply), the answer is Hope. The birth of Jesus brings us Hope for peace and salvation. We know that path is not always straight and without obstacles. For those who don’t believe? Hope. There will always be Hope. A positive vision and view. A belief that this too shall pass. Because it will. Choose hope, choose a positive outlook, choose how you react to obstacles.

I think I understand that when all is black around you that occasionally it’s impossible to see light. It will break through at some point. Day follows night. Prepare for the daylight.

International man of action, mystery and the labour exchange

Been a while folks. Time to unburden myself once more, and let loose on a keyboard, or whatever it is you would call it on an iPad….

As some of you may recall Nestlé and I parted ways amicably a while back. As you also may recall, I was planning on meeting this next season of my life pretty much head on, with positivity and gratitude. This was in the summer, good weather, lots to do, chilling by the lake. What’ll happen in November when you’re in the cloud, it’s 3 degrees and miserable? Few people said this, probably thought it myself. Well November 23rd today – Pah, I laugh in the face of your November! Ok the months not yet finished. Ok we have had a couple of sunny days. But the bottom line, is I am still doing well, happy and keeping busy. Still don’t have a job, really not seeing my kids as much as I would like (though this is a decision I reflect and consider often – there is a kind of logic to this in my mind…something for another day maybe), frustrated by the speed of administration in certain quarters (ok Nestlé…) but in spite of these potential show stoppers, the show goes on. Had a great trip to New York, with Anya (post to follow on this), a few days in the UK with Jacob – real highlights these, quality time, and a trip to Malaga to see Big John Moore which involved tapas, San Miguel and sangria. Oh and culture. Lots of culture….

I have some interviews coming up, still volunteering at Medair, training in the gym and lifting some decent weights. Time on the job search is escalating. It is astonishing how much of the day this can eat up. But it is time well spent.

Revelation: definitely ready to go back to work. Mind is now atrophying and I need to reverse this before I spend too much time planning the optimum method of loading a plate at the salad bar in Manor or Coop. (For the record I am currently going with the method of putting light pliable foods such as lettuce at the bottom so they get compressed as you load the heavier meat/fish based components into a tower….)

Starbucks call me to see if I am ok if I don’t appear during the day.

All being equal, I am excited by the new challenge, whatever that might be. Humanitarian sector looks to to be the favourite, with interviews at Medair and International Red Cross, but maybe pharma (Bayer). We shall see.

However, a recurring thought is continuing to plague me. Really encouraged to see that the suicide rate for men in the U.K. has declined. But only slightly. I attach an infographic to make a few points from 2014. Some of the key points are clear; 42% (yes you read that correctly) of men between 18-45 have considered suicide. Really, really frightening. Here’s another one; 41% of men who contemplated suicide didn’t feel they could talk about it. Man, I feel so bloody sad reading these (and other statistics). Epidemic levels.

Samaritans are great for giving opportunities for people to reach out.

https://www.samaritans.org/

Small talk saves lives

Another organisation is following, led by the inspirational Luke Ambler, is Andy’s Man Club

http://andysmanclub.co.uk

#itsokaytotalk

Ok why am I bringing this up again? The idea of Andys Man Club is to give men the chance to meet and talk, a safe, non-judgemental place to open up, to share.

I want to use some of my time and energy on a similar project in Switzerland. All around, I see men who are struggling. High pressure expat jobs, high cost of living, job insecurity is growing, adjustment to life in a different culture, family dynamics changing, all of these things and more are contributing to mental health issues. And worse case? Taking the easy/tough option.

So watch this space. I have ideas, time and energy. I want to help those struggling, not by offering a panacea for all of life’s challenges, but by offering a cup of tea and a sympathetic ear. Of course it will be non-profit, and I want to build on successful concepts already in place.

Just listening to those close to a breaking point. And offering hope.

You too?

Twelve years old. Maybe thirteen. Long, long time ago anyhow and the memory isn’t quite what it was. My school was a comprehensive school on a council estate, just outside of Croydon. Sounds pretty forbidding, but the reality was it felt ok. No worse than other state schools in the area, and I am pretty sure there weren’t any league tables for academic achievement. I think we’d have been of similar stature as Crystal Palace in Premier League terms….

Anyway, twelve, thirteen years of age, hormones raging, acne and armpits, when something came to our attention. Yes, girls started to change too. Not for them the awkwardness, the smell, the fluctuating voice, and, yes let’s face it, a semi permanent state of arousal. They were glorious, confident and curvy. Ok they probably felt as gauche as we did, but they looked… more interesting. So how did we respond to this excitement? Pulling pigtails evolved into pinging bra straps. Vague, casual contact, exciting and illicit. Everyone was doing it, so it must be ok right?

No. It bloody isn’t.

It was appalling. It was the law of the jungle, only one where the animals wore green jumpers, three button trousers and green and silver ties.

Innocent girls were subjected to sexual harassment and assault on a regular basis. I feel nauseous reflecting on this. What gave us the right to strut around like rampant, foul smelling baboons? Our gender. Our utter lack of sensitivity to fellow young people growing up alongside us. Who knows what damage we did? For every teenage girl laughing it off as high jinks, there may have been one crying in the tiny toilet cubicles. Who knows? I am ashamed that I witnessed this and said nothing. I laughed heartily alongside the rest of the troop.

So what about those who knew what was happening in Hollywood? The predator/producers allegedly up to terrible things, far beyond what even a teenage boy can imagine, and that doesn’t leave much. Control and power wielded over hopeful young women. I hope they are ashamed that they witnessed this and said nothing. Just howling along with the other primates. Speak up. Now. Please do not remain in the background saying nothing. That is tacit approval. Not as bad as the predators themselves, but not by much.

To all my female friends, acquaintances and relatives, I am so so sorry. I feel a great shame.

And shame on those too scared to stand up for decency.

‘Me too’ – brilliant that women are standing up and highlighting just what a bunch of shits men can be. Stand by them, support them. We all have the right to go about our business, professional or otherwise, unmolested. Gender shouldn’t come into it.

Please please forgive us, and forgive the howler monkeys who brayed from the wings.

Go Gentle? Not today

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

When Dylan Thomas wrote these words in 1947, it was an ode to the unquenchable strength of the the human spirit. I am not a student of literature by any stretch, as I presume my dodgy prose makes quite clear to those unfortunate enough to stumble upon it, but I imagine that inspiration for this piece came from WW 2, and the extraordinary courage that characterised the British people during dark times. (No doubt other nations have times in history when their people strode on in the face of intolerable circumstances, and I do not mean to offend by omission. Just writing about what I know!)

When we learn about literature at school or college, meanings and interpretations are foisted upon us, but one of the great things about any art form, is that each of us can choose how we perceive and understand a piece of work, be it a painting, song or poem.

Some years ago, for artistic reasons which shall remain clouded in mystery, I was researching some poems. Like many of us, I had come across Thomas’ work in passing, but not really thought of it very much. However, this time, it caught me, really blew me away. Maybe a consequence of being older, of having seen people close to me pass away. A realisation of mortality. A personal call to arms, a need to not give up and roll over. As a Christian, I can face that day of reckoning with Faith and confidence, but that doesn’t mean I want to give up on the here and now! Life should be enjoyed not endured, celebrated not tolerated. I know we don’t all that luxury, but make choices….you know my thoughts on this.

Today, a mate of mine, N , shared an article (I will spare the technical detail – E at O Level physics was the peak of my scientific achievement…) but the essence is that high intensity exercise formats, HIIT, circuits, Crossfit type stuff, fires up ‘telomeres’, bits of protein on the end of our chromosomes, and somehow rejuvenates them. Potentially adding up to 10 years on your life. Don’t ask me, the folk at Brigham Young university say so. Working on the assumption that they are pretty smart, I’ll take that!

N is another guy, who is raging against the dying of the light. He is a bit younger than me, but we are sharing the same journey. He looks amazing and is achieving great things (though my deadlift is better than his…) All these exercise regimes don’t just give your telomeres a boost, they give confidence. You lose weight, you rediscover muscles that have lain dormant for years. Your balance is better, you feel strong. Back and knee pain is reduced. And hey, your ego gets a bit of a boost. I would be lying if I said that outdoing guys 20 years younger in the gym is not a motivating factor. Outdoing a younger version of yourself is pretty cool too – I am lifting heavier than a 27 year old Carl.

So go to the circuit classes, get the pulse racing. Lift. Yeah it hurts, but the day comes when you are warming up with what was your one rep max! And that, my friends, is a sense of achievement.

Don’t accept the slowdown.

Just rage.

N & I training 😀

How he really looks!