Sunday, May 19, 2013

Thank you for coming to look for me here.

Hands up, for the first few months, 2013 was not looking anything like a best year for me.

Radical action was called for, so as of April my sister and I committed to heading north to do a couple of legs of the Coast to Coast Walk each month from now until we complete the 190 miles.

Consequently, for the rest of this year I am not blogging in this space but over at my Skin and Blisters blog - set up to record the journey across Britain.

And no doubt in our lives too. See you over there?

Posted by Jane Matthews on 05/19 at 03:42 PM
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Lighten up!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It’s no secret that laughter is good for us, lowering our blood pressure, reducing stress, and firing up our immune systems. Which would be reason enough to do it, quite apart from the fact that very little beats a really good laugh.

I’m not talking about wry smiles or smug titters: the kind of response we feel to a lot of the cynical humour we see on screen these days.

No. I mean that helpless kind of laughter that comes from somewhere deep inside and has us at its mercy, even though our eyes may be streaming with laughter tears and the sound we’re making is completely embarrassing.

Think back for a moment. When was the last time you laughed so much and so unexpectedly that your muscles went weak and you couldn’t speak? You really let go and to hell with how you looked?

According to scientists, we laugh on average 17 times a day, but I suspect they must be counting chuckles. For a really good belly laugh workout seems to me as rare as a newscast reporting good news.

Those same scientists claim that as children we laugh on average 400 times a day, which is, ironically, a rather sobering thought. It’s not that life isn’t serious sometimes, and there’s certainly plenty going on to make us weep. But the truth is that letting laughter into our souls makes us so much better able to deal with life’s challenges. And perhaps take ourselves a whole lot less seriously too.

The best thing about laughter is, of course, that it is hopelessly contagious. Hearing or seeing someone else get the giggles sets us off. So today, let’s hear it for the kids in this wonderful video shared by my good friend Lizzie.

Lighten up and let yourself go. You’ll feel better for it.









Posted by Jane Matthews on 11/15 at 09:58 AM
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Pay the good news forward

Monday, October 22, 2012

Readers of Best Year will know that I have a particular beef with my former colleagues working in journalism. When did the idea of ‘news’ get hi-jacked to mean only a certain sort of news: the bad, the disastrous and the downright ugly? And how interesting it might have been to monitor the effect that a different news agenda during the few weeks of the Olympics had on our public mood. Of course bad things were still happening in the world, yet the headlines that greeted us every morning were about people achieving their dreams; about success and co-operation and friendliness and belief. In which frame of mind I wonder - despair and cynicism or joy in other’s success and the potential of individuals to make their dreams come true - we are more able to address the bad stuff and deal with the disastrous?

With which preamble my mission today is to deliver one activity I suggest in the book, to share and spread good news rather than bad, and to ask you to pass it on. It may not banish the autumn fog and rain that we’re looking out on at the moment, but perhaps it will light a small warm glow inside that will remind you that sometimes it takes very little to turn a bad news day into a good one. And very little to make a big difference in people’s lives.

Here it is, a short video showing how something as insignificant as a plastic bottle is changing lives. Enjoy!  Film: Bringing light to dark places



Posted by Jane Matthews on 10/22 at 10:59 AM
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Welcome Home

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just had to share a moment that is still bringing a small lump to my throat when I think of it.

I’d just got back from another amazing week at Serenity Retreat and even at Gatwick Airport a little of the energy our workshop had generated seemed to be in the air. We arrived early, there wasn’t even a trace of a queue at passport control and no-one glaring at us in the customs hall.

As I emerged into the greetings area I spotted three young children, each fidgeting with excitement and holding a hand drawn sign, which together spelt out ‘Welcome’ ‘Home’ ‘Nana’ . Someone was in for a lovely welcome, as were many others judging from the eagle eyed relatives and friends lining the barriers. I’ll let you into a secret here: I’m such a sucker for the emotion of such homecomings that I almost always plan to arrive half an hour early to meet any flight so that I can enjoy the people rushing into each other’s arms, the hugs and flowers and tears of homecoming.

Mine had been a working trip, and one I’ve now made many times, so there was no-one to greet me. Or so I thought.

I was wrong.  It was the last day of the Paralympics and the army of volunteers who have given up their holidays to welcome the world to London were still in attendance.

As I headed beyond the barriers a group of three London 2012 hosts, dressed in the distinctive pink and purple I’d only seen in TV images, caught my eye and beamed broadly at me.

“WELCOME HOME,” they said with shining eyes and big grins.

“Thank you.” I smiled back. It was something so simple and yet the joy and sense of connection it fired in me was enormous. The joy of being welcomed. The pleasure of connecting to others through a smile. My gratitude to them for that act of kindness, and no doubt thousands more over the last six weeks.

It was a reminder that sometimes the smallest acts can make more difference than we ever know. Why not dust off your copy of Have the Best Year of your Life and choose an activity in the ‘give’ category to practice right now?

Posted by Jane Matthews on 09/11 at 07:46 AM
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When Scottie met Rottie

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

My morning jog along the canal always yields some lovely cameos and today was no exception: a huge Rottweiler sauntering along with her owner, when along bounces a small white Highland Terrier.

The Scottie did what every self-respecting male dog would do on a peaceful sunny morning: went straight for the Rottie’s hindquarters, wholly undetterred by the difference in size, and, more critically, height.

I’d passed them too quickly to see what happened next, but I couldn’t help thinking what a great lesson that short scene was in being yourself. There was only one thing on the little dog’s mind and it had nothing to do with him being too short or too long-haired or the wrong breed or colour.

If a tiny little dog is able to set its sights so high, happy inside its own skin, why can’t we?

Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/01 at 03:28 PM
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Who’s kidding who?

Monday, July 30, 2012

There’s a fashion at the moment for people to write letters to their 18 year old selves, sharing the wisdom of how things turned out to reassure their young selves that they would get through.

But I wonder if a more interesting letter might be from our 8 or 10 year old selves to who we are now?

I say that having just watched Disney’s The Kid, in which 8 and 40-year-old versions of Bruce Willis get to meet and learn about each other. Both are dismayed.

To the 40 year old ‘image consultant’ (‘so your job is to make people be someone they’re not?) the 8-year- old is an embarrassing failure: overweight, under-achieving, friendless and clueless.

Through the 8-year-old’s eyes the sins of the 40-year-old are far greater. “So we never flew planes?” “We’re not married; we live alone?” “We never even got a DOG?!!” In the child’s eyes you can see fury and disbelief. What were all those years of struggling for, miserable, being bullied, losing his mum to cancer before he was 9, if he was STILL going to end up friendless and clueless.

The adult’s designer suits, immaculate apartment, successful career: none of them impress the boy. Shaking his head he delivers his verdict. “I’m going to grow up to be a loser.”

A moment with my 8-year-old

I wonder, what would an 8-year -old version of me think?

Of course some of the things we dream for ourselves change. I think the 8-year-old Jane would be fine about me not becoming a showjumping champion. Her heroes and heroines - David Brooome, Harvey Smith and co, were from a world so different from her own she never identified with them enough to believe in that dream. Instead, she’d be thrilled to know she was going to write books, if a little puzzled by their serious subjects. Her taste was for Enid Blyton and Just William and anything that promised adventure. 

As for being told alongside the books there were almost two decades ‘in communications’: she’d simply look blank. I’m not sure that job existed five decades ago, and even if it did she’d have thought it boring. Which is sort of the conclusion I’ve come to too.

She’d also be puzzled, and maybe sad, to discover there was no great love story ahead, no happy ever after as she understood it. But then at 8 she didn’t know what lay ahead in her parents’ lives, and how profoundly its fallout would determine her own ideas on relationships.

Putting my older and wiser hat aside for a moment I return her sadness. As Bruce Willis decides, maybe the child is right on that one. Maybe that’s an area where it wouldn’t hurt to hear the 8-year-old out sometimes, and let go a little more.

Growing pains

On the whole I think she’d be excited to know what adventures lay ahead: the travel and moving around the UK; the journeys and the jobs and the people and the huge richness of it all. AND we’re still only 55.

But there’s one area where I know she’d be disappointed. One of the reasons she’d be happy to let the showjumping go is because however much she loved visiting the riding stables she never felt she was good enough or that she fitted in, however hard she tried. 

It was the same at school, where she was nervous and uncertain, attaching herself to those who seemed to know what they were about, wanting to be liked, but so fearful of so many things.

Like every child, she thought that it would all be different once she’d grown up. How devastating to discover life would only bring more and more growing. Never a point at which she’d be able to dust off her hands, look around at her life, and say ‘job done; I’ve finished growing up and I’m not scared anymore’.

I need to talk to her about this and tell her that while she’s right - I should be less fearful - the thing I’m working on now is NOT trying to fit in. Being who I really am, and letting go of the internal ‘image consultant’.

From the mouths of babes

I love the way this film turns growing up on its head. At 8, 10, even 18, we can be forgiven all our fears and failures. We don’t know any better. We’re the products of our upbringing and our society and we’re simply doing our very, very best. We deserve understanding and compassion. And we deserve the grown-ups around us to believe in us - precisely what Bruce Willis fails to do for his young self.

At 40 we still deserve compassion and understanding. But if we’re looking for people to believe in us we need to start by believing in ourselves.

And maybe a good place to start is by asking ourselves what the child we once were would make of what we’ve made of our lives. And perhaps even give them a say in what happens next…

Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/30 at 10:24 AM
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