Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Reasons to be Cheerful

I thought I ought to write an article about this seeing as it’s what the blog’s about. So, here it is: my reasons to be cheerful right now.

1. Because I can see the sun setting through my bedroom window. It’s spectacular. The clouds are deep, dusky lavender, edged with neon pink streaks that highlight the sky like disco light illuminating a shadowy dance floor. I don’t know whether Someone made it or if it’s a phenomenon of science, but it’s there nonetheless and it’s beautiful. And I get to watch it.
2. Because I’m listening to Billy Bragg, Kobi Oz and Norah Jones. Poets, each and every one of them.
3. Because I haven’t seen anything yet. It’s all still out there, undiscovered and untouched. One day I’ll get on a plane and find something. I’ll trek in the Amazon and ski in the Andes and swim in the Aegean. There’s so much to look forward to.
4. Because if I can’t sleep tonight, I can listen to Artemis Fowl on audiotape. It’s all about the little things in life 
5. Because I am not starving and cold and ill in Africa. I’m going to have squash soup for dinner later, and bread that I baked myself yesterday. I’ll have a hot shower before I go to bed. If I sneeze I get the day off school. I’m a lucky person.
6. Because my guitar skills are improving, slowly but surely.
7. Because I’ve got an inviting-looking pile of books next to my bed, fat and battered and unread. They all have that dog-eared, parchment-paper look about them. When I open them and sniff the pages they smell like old libraries and pine forests and country lanes. And I get to read every single one of them.
8. Because it’s nearly half term and in a week I’m going to Ostia, the home of one of my fictional heroines. It’s the dream.
9. Because Gladiator is the greatest movie ever made. What we do in life echoes in eternity.
10. Because I’m me. I’m nobody else and nobody else is me. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be. Surely this is a good thing.

Why are you happy right now? Let me know. I’m thinking about publishing everyone’s ideas in one post and then we can share.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Live life fully while you're here. Experience everything . . . have fun, be crazy ~ Anthony Robbins

It is one of my greatest ambitions to participate in the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival. For those of you who don’t know already, the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival is an annual celebration whereby 8lb wheels of double Gloucestershire cheese are chased down a near-vertical hillside in Gloucestershire, UK, by fearless athletes from across the globe, such as myself. Although the aim of the race is to reach the cheese, the winner is really the first one over the finish line, as it is impossible to actually catch a cheese that is moving at breakneck speed (cheeses have been known to injure spectators who happen to be standing too near). Naturally, the prize is the cheese itself. Thousands of spectators show up every year (admittedly, most of them are Australian), and of course there are an extensive number of injuries per annum, including concussions, broken bones and sprained ankles, although I cannot find a statistic anywhere that says someone has actually died doing it. They also invariably get a couple of streakers, which is always amusing to watch on the BBC website. This is the kind of dare-devilry I would consider trying.

The kind I would not consider would be, for example, going on Saw at Thorpe Park. Seen the movie, don’t need to experience it, thank you very much. The thing is, I don’t really get the point of rollercoasters, unless – wait, that’s just it. I don’t really get the point of rollercoasters full stop. All you do is strap yourself into a machine and let it shake you around for a few seconds. There is no cause for the high you feel, because you have not risked anything or tried anything. When the adrenaline rush fades, there’s nothing left because you spent all of your time screaming your head off. I do not think that rollercoasters count as Experiences, because, really, what are you experiencing? A very long queue, and then less than a minute’s excitement, which you paid £20 for. All you get is a sore throat and an upset stomach. You are gaining nothing. In fact, if anything, you are probably losing something – your lunch.

The difference with the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Festival is that you actually do something amusing and sociable, and it seems slightly more cultured, in an ‘embarrassed-to-be-English’ sort of way. There’s something to take photos of and show people afterwards, assuming that you want to show people images of yourself tumbling headfirst down a muddy hill after a large cheese. People train months in advance for this event. Yes, it’s true. They practice how fast they can fling themselves down a hillside. And did I mention that every participant has to run back up the hill afterwards? It’s also great exercise. To me, this qualifies as an Experience. In short, you’re making memories that’ll survive long after the adrenaline wears off.

So, in conclusion. If you’re living your life, then you have to really live your life. If you want to do something crazy, you have to do something really crazy. What have you got to lose, apart from a few spare brain cells? Jump out of a plane. Swim with sharks. Roll down a steep hill after an 8lb wheel of cheese. The choice is yours. Don’t spend thirty seconds having someone else make your excitement for you. DO something. There are so many real experiences to be had, why would you waste your time on the fake ones?

By the way, in case you thought I was lying about the cheese rolling: http://www.cheese-rolling.co.uk/index1.htm

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Dementors are that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again.

I was lying in bed at about three in the morning a few days ago with the windows were open, a chilly breeze drifting in and rustling the posters on my bedroom walls. A strip of greenish-silver moonlight glowed on the ceiling, trickling in through the barely parted curtains. The air about me was still and cool, and I was so awake and alert that I could taste the stale dust motes on my tongue. Outside, cats yowled in the distance and cars whirred occasionally from the main road, but in my room it was deathly silent – apart from the sound of the wind, rustling the posters on my bedroom walls.

It was so very dark, yet I could still somehow see the outline of the curtains on the opposite wall from where I lay. They swayed gently, dark grey in the moonlight, reminding me of wraiths haunting a graveyard. Don’t be so silly, I told myself; they’re pale blue with white and navy dots on them and you bought them three years ago in John Lewis. But they continued to waft eerily, and I found myself pinned to my bed with fear. The hairs on my arms stood on end. Invisible, skeletal hands were grasping me about my throat. I couldn’t even bring myself to sit up and turn on the light. They look like ghosts, I said to myself. No, not ghosts – dementors. And for a moment I fully expected to see a cloud of cloaked soul-suckers drift in through my bedroom window and leech me of my happiest memories.

In that moment, I considered quickly how to defend myself in case of an attack. A Patronus charm seemed like the obvious answer. Well, I didn’t have a wand, so I could forget trying to cast the actual spell. Hmm . . . would just shouting the incantation work? No, I remembered. “It will only work if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory”. I thought that, if a battalion of vicious dementors should invade my fortress, I ought to be armed with a squadron of happy memories with which to protect myself. So then, let me search about in the caverns of my mind for memories strong enough to defy Misery itself.

The only problem was, none of the happy memories truly gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling – the sensation I believed necessary to repel a dementor. Sitting in the sun with friends? The thought was good and it made me smile, but it wouldn’t drive away the tattered rags lurking in the corners of my imagination. What about the prospect of summer, drawing ever nearer in a golden haze of sunshine and excitement? No; I even had my doubts about that, because two more weeks of school stood in the way and the morning seemed distant and pale compared to the pressing, consuming darkness of night. Even the thought of getting a position on one of the school newsletters, Brown Army, didn’t fill me up with confidence when I felt weak and vulnerable.

It terrified me beyond belief that I had no memories powerful enough to protect myself from what is, JK Rowling explains, depression personified. It seemed incomprehensible to me that the one thing I would not be able to withstand would be sadness, just because I couldn’t think of a happy enough thought. How could it be that I was facing this problem, even with my new Cheerful Thinking resolution? I fell asleep, worrying pointlessly that the core values of my life had fallen away beneath me, and the dementors haunted my dreams.

Today I had an epiphany. I remembered a time last Christmas, when I sang a song that I had written to a group of about twenty people, in a small room in the Students’ Union at Warwick University. I introduced myself, sang for under two minutes, took a bow, and went to sit back down again by my friends. But a woman stood up as I passed and said to me, “Did you say you wrote that?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I did.”

“You are a poet, girl,” she told me. “Don’t forget that.”

Something about that moment changed the way I saw myself at the time. It was the highest compliment anyone could’ve possibly paid me, and it hit me, other people actually think I’m good at something. Someone who isn’t my mother thinks I’m talented. It made me really, truly happy, and I walked for the rest of that day with a spring in my step.

But by the next morning I’d forgotten what she’d said; or, more to the point, I’d forgotten the true meaning of what she’d said. I had forgotten that when she told me I was a poet, what she meant was, “It is a gift.” I had forgotten to take joy from the fact that I had somehow, inexplicably, touched her with my words. I let my happiness slip away, despite the fact that it had been handed to me on a silver platter, ready and garnished with a cherry on top. And so, when I might’ve needed it most, it wasn’t there for me, because I’d let it fall back into the drudge of everyday life, instead of holding onto it as a jewel that, once upon a time, gave me such joy and content.

I suppose the moral of the story is, hold onto happiness. Don’t let go of things that give you the warm, fuzzy feeling. But most importantly, keep reminding yourself of why it is special. It won’t be enough to just present the memory of what physically happened; you have to remember what you felt like, what your reaction was, how you turned it over in your mind for hours afterwards. Did it fill you up with champagne bubbles? Did you smile until your face ached? Or maybe you found yourself floating on a fluffy cloud? There’s more to it than the actions – you have to be able to relive the feelings. That’s what a strong memory is, in my opinion; only such a memory could support a Patronus. Hopefully now, when the dementors come to get you, you’ll be better prepared than I was.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Supposedly the meaning of life. I’m not so sure. I think humanity has let itself down a wee bit. I was thinking the other day, we have wars and stuff. No other species do that, just like no other animals murder children or pollute the environment. I mean, I know cows do, but they can’t help it. Anyways. What I’m trying to say is that humans have a responsibility, as the most intelligent creatures on this planet, to act with a little integrity and look after it. Something we are failing at dismally (cue angry discussion about the oil spill).

Anyways. But then I thought, there’s good stuff too. Have you ever watched little kids finger painting? They get quite into it. It’s sort of cute. And music. Humans make the best music, in my humble opinion. Whales and dolphins do it OK but on the whole I tend to go with Ella Fitzgerald or REM. And warm summer evenings in the park with pizza and friends. Snowball fights and home-made birthday cards and catching leaves as they fall, amber and crimson, from trees in a dense forest all make life worth living. I remember sitting on a cliff top in Portugal watching the sun go down over the Atlantic. The ocean was blue and green and red and orange and gold all at once, and it really was something to see. Sometimes it’s pretty good to be human.

So as I was thinking about all this I made a resolution. I’m going to try to see good in everything and be happy about the little things in life. I’ve always found that being cheerful is much more fun than being sad. Whenever I feel grumpy or sorry for myself I’m going to think of something that makes me happy, like star gazing or Hampstead Heath or chocolate and banana crepes. Maybe along the way I’ll figure out the meaning of life. I’ll let you know if I get anywhere.happiness