Natural born worrier

Natural born worrier

The sun had set over the mountains after a hot and lazy day in Andalucia. We had eaten some great food and savoured some lovely wine. We’d enjoyed a slow walk back to a pretty and spacious villa at the edge of the picturesque village of Montejaque. After some laughs and a game of cards, everyone retired to bed and the villa was quiet. And I lay in bed. Awake. Worrying.

Yes, in the midst of a really great holiday in the mountains of southern Spain, I had found so many things to occupy my mind. All things being equal, I should have been the most relaxed I had ever been. I was in the middle of a six-week sabbatical from my job, so I didn’t have to go through the gradual switch off from work (I’d done that three weeks before), nor did I need to face the realisation that I had to go straight back to work (I still had two weeks off). So, what on earth was I doing?

Well, God taught me lots of things over that glorious sabbatical: how the less preferable option is sometimes the right one to take, that doing nothing is not necessarily a bad thing and that health and safety is sometimes not quite as rigorous in Spain as it is in the UK. But the biggest thing was that I worry too much, about the most ridiculous things.

That Spanish holiday was the culmination of a few years that had seen me worry about my health, my work, my home situation, church, friendships… I had become something of a hypochondriac, with every ache, suspicious mark and unusual shape turning into an incurable, terminal disease. And when you’re single, you don’t really have anyone whom you can show an affected body part and say, ‘What’s that? Is it serious?’ so that they can reply, ‘It’s fine, don’t be an idiot.’

Without that brake, your mind races into overdrive and the night (worry is always more severe and outlandish in the middle of the night) turns into a sleepless, nail-biting marathon. Because when you speak worries out loud they somehow lose some of their power. And by telling someone else, you start to gain some perspective. If you don’t, then worries fly unfettered around your head.

Yet, when you’re a single man, society sees you as strong, self-sufficient and sorted. Admitting you’re in danger of being overwhelmed by worries – worries that to others would probably seem insignificant – doesn’t seem an option. Or is that just me? Maybe I’m too proud to admit that sometimes I’m not as sorted as society thinks. However, I suspect I’m not alone.

Anyway, back to the Spanish holiday. There were two other villas around our pool and over the week, I worried about two things:

>>When those two villas were empty, I worried that someone might break into our villa, murder us all and no one would know for days.

>>One night, a group of lads stayed in one of the other villas and they ended up have a conversation outside my bedroom window. They disappeared off after a few minutes, but for the next hour or so, I worried that they might come back and I would have to go outside and ask them to go away.

Ridiculous, I know, and it was at this point that I realised how foolish I was being. If Jesus really was Lord over my life, then what did I have to fear (particularly from outlandish worries like these)? Over the rest of the holiday, and during the final days of my sabbatical, I started to recognise the signs of the onset of unwarranted worry. I began to understand how my mind worked and was able to head worry off before it took hold.

I bet that in our churches, there are more than a few people who struggle with worry like this, so how can we support them? Well, we need people willing to admit publically that they worry more than is good for them. We need to get good at listening and not judging. We need to help single people find supportive networks where they can chat through what is concerning them, voice those worries that threaten to overwhelm them and yes, even get an opinion on that potential life-threatening illness…

So, these days, worry is not as much an issue for me as it once was. There are still a few times when strange worries catch me by surprise (I woke up in the middle of the night last week and spent an hour fretting about Brexit) but these are few and far between. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange pain in my knee which I need to get someone’s opinion on…

This article first appeared in the July-August 2016 issue of Families First, the magazine of the Mothers’ Union.

Welcome Europe!

Welcome Europe!

If you know me at all, you’ll know about my obsession with the Eurovision Song Contest. I love everything about it. Now I’m not an idiot – I know that most of the music is terrible, I know the contest is mostly outrageous nonsense. But there’s something about it which I find captivating. It combines my love of questionable music with maps, flags and pointless statistics.

It all started in 1990. My family went to a wedding on the weekend of Eurovision (the 35th contest, all the way from Zagreb), meaning I couldn’t watch it. So I set the video recorder so that I could watch it when I got home. But after I’d seen it, I didn’t want to record over it and I hid the tape away in order to watch it again. Later that year, we went on holiday to Cyprus and I found a bootleg copy of all the music from the 1990 contest (among all the other bootlegs – Paphos seemed to be a hot bed of musical piracy). Suddenly, joy of joys, I could listen to all the songs on my Walkman! That is, apart from the Turkish number, which was strangely missing from the cassette…

From then on, I watched each contest, I recorded the songs off the radio and listened to them again and again. And then, when the EBU starting releasing official CDs, I bought those too. It might be hard to believe, but there are people who are more obsessed than me. I don’t buy the DVD, I don’t religiously follow the song selection process in Cyprus or Lithuania, nor do I listen to the songs in advance (I like the surprise when something absolutely baffling happens, such as this Israeli entry from 2000 – I distinctly remember staring at the screen in disbelief). Though, in the grand scheme of things, you could legitimately call me obsessive.

But, whisper it quietly, I think I’m getting frustrated with it all. The contest is now too big and self-important, too many countries try to use the contest as propaganda, the voting goes on too long, the semi-finals mean that all the surprise is gone. I kind of yearn for the days when I first started watching, where 22 countries sent a song, and the first time you heard each one was on the night (or on Gloria Hunniford’s preview programme on the preceding Sunday afternoon). This was a time when a new country was a thing of genuine excitement. In 2016, there are 42 competitors: Australia is here again, and South Korea, China and South Africa are only too desperate to join in. Where will it all end?

Maybe I should just go back to watching shows from the 90s, when Ireland reigned supreme and Katrina and the Waves won the contest for the United Kingdom. Or perhaps, if the Eurovision Song Contest continues the way it’s going, I should just say ‘What’s another year?’, turn the TV off and go and do something less overblown and ridiculous instead. Like panto.

Memories, like the corners of my mind…

Memories, like the corners of my mind…

I’ve been reflecting recently on memories that are stirred up by music. I discovered a couple of mixed tapes from university the other week. Each one represented the music from a year in a shared house with my friends Paul, Beccy and Rachel. As you might expect of music gathered from four different tastes, the tapes are eclectic (the transition between Blur’s ‘Song 2’ and ‘Jack in the Box’ by Clodagh Rogers is genius). But listening to them both brought back so many memories.

I often find that individual songs or singers remind me of a person or a time. The terrible 2004 Eurovision entry from Belarus and the much cooler Estonian song from the previous year both remind me of my wonderful friend Anne, as we laughed at/appreciated the strange lyrics of the two songs. Cliff Richard, Queen and Status Quo remind me of my parents, tapes that were around the house when I was a child. Last night, I went to see Josh Rouse, an American singer-songwriter, in London. I went with my friend Adam and his wife Hayley – Adam and I discovered Rouse around the same time, and every time I hear Rouse’s music, it reminds me of Adam, the other times we saw him live and when we listened to his new material.

Listening to old records, tapes and CDs is the musical equivalent of looking through old photographs. It’s impossible to listen to without getting totally distracted by memories of the times when the songs in question were important to you. And they’re a great source of creative inspiration too – links that you wouldn’t normally make are found in music memories. If you’ve got a bit of creative block, pop a few old songs on, and see what comes flooding back.


Photo: Josh Rouse’s facebook page


Writing a story

Writing a story

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the virtual world pitch that I started to develop for a children’s website. Reflecting on how much I’d enjoyed creating it, I’m now wondering about the possibilities of developing the idea into a children’s fiction series. The concept lends itself to a series of seven books, so I’ve begun the creative process of planning what might happen in each book, and in the overarching story that links everything together.

There are some drawbacks to writing such a long series. As a children’s fiction editor at Scripture Union, it was always the case that the first book in a series sold really well but the sales of subsequent books were significantly lower. And, having read a seven book series by a favourite young adult author, Garth Nix, I found that I’d forgotten what had happened in previous novels by the time the next one in the series had been published. Indeed, before I read the seventh and final book, I went right back to the start and reread numbers one to six.

Yet other long series have grown as they’ve gone on, the most obvious example being Harry Potter – children didn’t seem to mind to read overlong books to see how the story ended.

So, what’s the worst that could happen? I’m going to get some lining paper (an amazing aid to creativity, trust me!) and plan out seven books, to see if the story can be sustained over that amount of novels. Then, it’s time to investigate the self-publishing options on Amazon! I’ll let you know how I get on…

To get hold of Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, click here.