Tuesday, 20 January 2015

In which I attempt to vanquish a mood through the power of the list.

I had a whole lot of words for you today. I even started. Everyone was so kind yesterday and I was rather inspired. I was going to write about something interesting, and use my brain. Then I ground to a shuddering halt. It’s minus six here, and the ground is like iron, and I can’t ride. I just give the mare her hay and gaze at her with love for a bit and then stump off to my desk. It is tax time, and as usual I can’t find the correct pieces of paper and have to send grovelling emails to my poor accountant. There are at least three bits of vital and crashingly dull admin that I have not done and the fridge needs defrosting and there is a very, very strange smell in the car. Only Stanley the Dog does not care, because he’s got mice to hunt and pigeons to chase and sticks to find.

You know I’m pretty good about the perspective police. I have all the damn luck. I really do count my blessings and make out gratitude lists and never take anything for granted. But somehow, today, I can’t shrug off the January blues. I’m cold and cross and sluggish and blah.

Oh, pull your socks up, shouts the impatient sergeant-major in my head. (Very shouty, that fellow, and absolutely no time for any weedy self-pity, because worse things are happening at sea.) Pull your head out of your arse and do something useful, he bellows.

As I get older, I notice that I write the words useful and utility more and more. I think I like things that work. Even though I adore a theory, an exploration of ideas, a bit of a muse and a ponder, the impatience that flying time brings means that I do prefer usefulness. Sometimes, a kind Dear Reader will say that they were having a crappy day and then the blog put a smile on their face. This is usually due to a good picture of Stan the Man with ears ahoy. After that, I can think, well, I achieved something today. It’s all about adding rather than subtracting. Did you put something into the world?

At HorseBack, where I see men and women who must climb rock faces that I shall never know, the idea is that the best way to help yourself is to help other people. That’s why the veterans come back to volunteer and help their comrades on the path to recovery. The awful thing about bad moods and the furious moments of bugger everything and the days when you can’t see the light is that they tend to put you in a defensive crouch. You can hardly be bothered to make a sandwich for lunch, let alone add something to the sum total of human happiness. The vicious circle has you in its grip, you clench into immobilised despair, and before you know it, you are saying: what’s the fucking point?

It is at this moment that the sergeant-major comes in handy. After I lost my inspiration and came to a stop, I did not want to write a blog at all. I was going to cop out and just throw a couple of hill pictures at you and hope you would not notice. But my square-bashing friend won’t have it. Stop being a weedy wimp and do something, that shouty voice is saying.

There’s a list going round at the moment, about how to make your life slightly better. It has things on it which don’t speak to me, like having a fruit bowl on your counter. I hate fruit bowls. But I love the idea of it, because it’s all about the small things, and you know what I am like about the small things. So, in the spirit of bashing aside the curtain of negativity and forcing myself to offer, I’ve made a little list of my own. For you.

1. Breathe. I’m really, really bad at breathing. I’ve never done yoga, and I tend to hold my breath when I get excited, scared or cross with myself. But it’s free and anyone can do it and it really makes a difference. I’m breathing now. My shoulders are coming down.

2. If you can, try and do the thing you dread without thinking. Fool your brain. Point out something else, over there, and while the cross part is looking away, quickly write the email you have been putting off. I used this pathetically tragic technique this morning, and did finally manage to send some information to the accountant. Why I can’t just WRITE THE BUGGERY EMAIL I have no idea.

3. Say something nice to someone. I know the jades and the cynics are now screaming with laughter, but I don’t care, because this really, really works, however sappy it sounds. As my filthy mood had me in its crocodile jaws, and I was getting crosser and crosser, I made things worse for myself. Instead of goodly working, I went and looked at pointless things on the internet. Then, obviously, I could lash myself even more for being feckless and hopeless and useless.

However, the universe was on my side. I found the most enchanting post on one of the horse forums I like. It was from a young girl, incredibly excited because she had just learnt a new technique and applied it to her pony and it had worked like a dream. She wanted to thank the gentleman who had taught it to her. Not only was she brimming with delight and enthusiasm, she was also polite enough to start her grateful message in the formal manner: ‘Mr Schiller,’ she wrote. I was so overcome that I sent her a message, congratulating her on her brilliant work, telling her she had rescued my grumpy self from frozen fury, and making a little joke about how her use of the polite Mr had warmed the cockles of my old-fashioned heart. So, in the world today, a grouchy, creaky, middle-aged Briton in the north of Scotland sent a message to a completely unknown young person in Geelong, and felt better. There is a risk the young person in Geelong will think I am a bit nuts in the head, but I don’t care. Send a compliment, say something good, even if it is to a total stranger. Perhaps especially if it is a total stranger.

4. Kindly give yourself a choice. I find this very potent, although I can’t always apply it. I say: well, you can go on wallowing in your vile mood and making lists of everything that is wrong with you. It is a free country, you absolutely have that right. Or, you can eat some cheese and take a deep breath and think of baby pandas and Stanley’s ears and the soft, whiskery face of the red mare, and remember that while you are crap at admin you are really good at the placement of the semi-colon. Which is not nothing.

5. Compare yourself down. There is a terrible temptation, when in a low mood, to look up to the peaks, where the shining, organised, glittering people are being wonderfully good at everything. They are winning prizes and making vast piles of cash and saving the world and dressing well and discovering inner peace. You will never do any of these things. So you might as well give it all up and go into the garden to eat worms. Comparing yourself down instead of up is quite salutary. It is in part a division of the perspective police, the one that says: you do not have to walk seventeen miles every morning in order to get fresh water. It is in part a sigh of relief that you do not have to be a bore or a boor. There are many ostensibly successful people who are absolute arses. I was going to name names, but I must stick to my ad hominem rule. You can make your own list. You know perfectly well who is on it.

6. Did I mention baby pandas? They are on the internet. Everyone can see them. If they don’t work, try the floating sea otters who hold hands whilst they are asleep.

7. Make soup. Obviously. This does not have to be a complicated ritual, involving sweating onions and measuring ingredients. You can throw some watercress and spinach and a bit of leek into a pan of water, add some magical Marigold bouillon powder and a dash of olive oil and even a pinch of chilli if you feel like it, simmer for ten minutes, and then liquidise. You have health-giving green soup. You are a domestic goddess. Or god.

8. A quick canter through the obvious ones. Go out in the air. Look at some moss. Forgive yourself. Remember the power of hope. Be nice to your old mum. Don’t believe everything you read in the Daily Mail. Steer clear of conspiracy theorists. Read the first line of The Great Gatsby, which contains some of the best human advice ever given, although I admit it did not do poor old F Scott much good. Dare to eat a peach; or, remember your Prufrock. Give thanks for the glories of the English language.

9. Accept that some days you will feel perfectly shitty and that it’s not the end of everything. You know I believe in striving, and I generally think that one should not sink into self-indulgence. But humans are flawed and you can’t do jazz hands every damn day.

10. Try not to give advice. See what I did there? I am now committing the cardinal British sin of laughing at my own unbelievably poor joke. BUT AT LEAST I AM LAUGHING.

Love and trees, my darlings. Love and trees. Thank you. Because you are there, I have written this, and it really has made me feel better.


Today’s pictures:

Again from the archive. I’m still far too grumpy to go out and take an actual picture. Are you mad?

20 Jan 1

20 Jan 2

20 Jan 4

20 Jan 6


  1. Self compassion is the new big thing apparently. I'm trying it out myself.

  2. !. Not, not mad at all.Look at those faces…
    2. I practice yoga and am forever having my shoulders gently pushed down from around my ears. It seems I did not come into the world breathing correctly.
    3.I am completely and enthusiastically on board with being kind and saying something nice to someone, anyone, and I don't care how that sounds.
    4. Oh dear god, why have you sent me to baby otters? THEY HOLD HANDS WHEN THEY SLEEP!
    5. I adore lists. They make me calmer. I also like my lists to end evenly or in blocks of 'acceptable' numbers. Five does it for me. xx

  3. I read your post just before leaving work and as I walked down Bow St I passed two lost and worried overseas tourists asking a gentleman for directions. His reply was clearly that he didn't know as their faces fell even further. So I stopped and asked them what they were looking for. Mamma Mia. Rather than give directions to get lost in translations, I said I was going that way, I would show them where it was. We walked along passed a few words, they got to Mamma Mia in time and I got thanked and blessed! So I am passing those back to you as that's where the blessing belongs! So two potential last curtain call Cinderellas got to be Dancing Queens tonight due to your inspiration and words.
    ( And I always read with a smile and extra anticipation when you say you have no words today as I know I am going to find something extra wonderful down below those words of protest!)

  4. Ditto re the yoga and the shoulders, Em...
    Also love it when you say there are no words because it promises a goodie...
    Though Stanley's ears are fine just on their own,

  5. Oh, the Dear Readers. Your words are making me smile so much. And hurrah for the Dancing Queens!!! :)


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