With a little help from my friends

The song says it all. It can sound cheesy; but it ain’t… This week, I got by with a little help from my friends.

The genuine care, interest, support and love of friends has gently and kindly steered me to a much better place. If last week ended in comparative darkness; this one ended in light.

A good friend briefly home from abroad, walked with me, talked with me and in the process put a supportive arm around my shoulders. The world of men can be a lonely place, but together we stared unblinkingly at the facts. And in so doing he gave me solace and strength – and followed up with a new opportunity.

More joyfully, with my great friend from closer to home, we celebrated our mutual success at goading each other to shed a few pounds – with a big fat gourmet cheeseburger each.

Today I’m wearing a sweatshirt the missus bought me for the Xmas before last – which for the first time in all that time, I fit in; trimly and unselfconsciously. Happy days.

Finally the missus herself. She knows I’ve been struggling and has been there for me all week. A kind word, a cuppa, a conversation – and a great big uninterrupted lie-in this morning.

The moral of the story; we all get by far better with a little help from our friends.

The Comforts of Family


They know us too well,
But in some ways, not at all.
We share most everything with them
But fear to share the worst.
They see us change
But always want us the same.
They effortlessly hurt,
But love us blindly.
And when you fear you have let them down,
You haven’t,
Because they are you
And they are yours.

I helped someone this week, and in the process we reflected on the comforts of family. Our families sometimes constrain and limit us – but mostly in our own heads.

We sometimes fear they expect more from us. But generally they just want us to be there and with them. Careers and success can be gaudy wrappings; families care most and know us best.

Poetry in Motion

A few weeks ago, newly enamoured of poetry, I wrote a short ditty to capture what I think increasingly drives my life. It came out quite easily so I guessed it might be quite close. But then I forgot about it. Sat in traffic in the rain today, the last two lines came back to me unbidden. It has clearly lodged in my subconscious. So here it is:

Pay attention to life with bright eyes and keen ears.
Helped by poets and thinkers, refine hopes; master fears.

Embroider each minute and day of my years
with friendship and love and knowledge and ideas.

And the main credits are: for line 1) Montaigne and Aristotle; line 2) Aristotle, Kay, Csikszentmihalyi, Nietzsche, Homer, Armitage, Aquinas, McCabe, Socrates, Stoics, Sceptics; line 3) Me latterly; and line 4) Aristotle, Aquinas, my Friends in Contemplation, my family, reading, writing, work.

I’m not sure I’ll get a poster on the subway for these lines of rhyme, but they are pretty much where Eudaimonia lies for me I think.


Against the grain today I put on a smiling face. In so doing I added measurably to the sum of human happiness. So simple, yet sometimes so hard. Why don’t we all do it more?

I can’t take all the credit. I was kickstarted by two people – one I know well, one I don’t. After a shirty start and shouting at each other, my son and I made it to nursery on a cold, grey, damp morning. He was glum, I was in a bit of a rush. As I turned to leave he asked for a cuddle and I knelt down and gave him a big all body hug. We smiled. He was ok, I was ok. The cascade of smiles began. 

I smiled at my daughter in the schoolyard and at the teachers who smiled back. I chose a smiley stripy shirt for work and then whistled Christmas tunes through the drizzle on my bike in. I went to buy a coffee and as I waited the friendly young foreigner behind the counter gave me a winning smile and asked me how I was. It was such a winning smile, I gave him a winning smile back and exchanged jovial small talk about the coming snow and all the customers and servers joined in. We all smiled.

I walked round the corner to work whistling ‘Walking in a winter wonderland’. Once in the office I smiled at the security guards and receptionists and walked past the lifts to the seven flights of stairs I hack up every morning. I decided to whistle ‘Walking in a winter wonderland’ as I climbed the stairs to see if I could a) not be embarrassed or cowed by reproachful looks into glumness and b) get a smile out of the random selection of people I might pass.

Tricky start. First up I bumped into a chap who hasn’t made eye contact with me for 6 weeks since my new organisational strategy consigned his section and personal passion to frozen assets and deep cuts. He’s furious with me, and how ever much I’ve tried he won’t acknowledge me if we pass in the building. The whistling got him though. He looked, I captured his curious and unsuspecting gaze and flashed him a winning smile and a cheery salutation. He couldn’t resist smiling back and finally saying hello.

Next I whistled past another urgent faced, rushing, anxious looking senior colleague. He was equally surprised and switched from frowning to smiling. I passed another person I don’t know who also by the alchemy of Christmas went from neutral to smiling within nine whistled notes ‘Walk-ing in a win-ter won-der-land’. 

By the fourth flight of stairs my whistling was getting a bit uneven as I ran out of breath. By the fifth I gave up. On the sixth I bumped into another colleague and told him what I’d been up to. He was both bemused and amused. But it got him smiling. Onto the seventh flight and into my office and I was full of good cheer. The day started well, I performed well, did some important things and remained cheerful throughout. 

I ended the day with a woman I work with who can be challenging and confrontational. She is also a person of genuine conviction and intelligence. We were on the topic of making an impact and being true to yourself whilst speaking the truth to power. I told her that whilst being far from the finished product myself on this, sometimes a lot hinges on how you decide to ‘be’. If you decide to be high energy you can bring energy, if you decide to be aggressive you can scare people, if you decide to be warm you can attract, if you decide to be cold you can chill. 

We are all affected by how others are ‘being’ too but to some degree we have a choice about how we are. She had been open, supportive, thoughtful and measured when we met in an important meeting earlier in the day. She had got much of what she wanted without confrontation or a furrowed brow. As I said to her, when I was asked, my main memory of her in the meeting was relaxed and open with a smooth forehead, high eyebrows and a smile. We had all warmed to her. Maybe I had helped a little as I gave her a big encouraging smile when she came in the room.

If so, it had all started with a big hug from a small boy and a smile from a complete stranger. Smiling, it’s powerful stuff.


With a heavy heart my partner and I agreed today that we would have our old retired racing greyhound put to sleep next Tuesday morning. He has a tumour which has grown to the size of a half football on his side which hasn’t bothered him much until now. But he’s in pain today, I can see it.

I spent the day with my son, who’s very small, but quite wise for one so little. We took a bus, a train, a boat and a taxi and then went out for a scoot together. Two nights ago he asked me if I would die. I didn’t really know what to say. I put my hand on his chest and said I will live a long long time and that we all live on through the people we love. His hand rested on top of mine sandwiching my hand on top of his little pumping heart. Since then he’s raised the topic of dying several times with me. Tonight we decided we would both live forever and this made him happy. I can save the truth for a bit.

I was talking on Friday to a friend who lost his father quite quickly and painfully. His demise hadn’t been a good one – messed about and messed up by the health service. His mother has developed a heart condition in the process. This got us talking about cardiac coherence – a concept I picked up in David Servan-Schreiber’s book Healing without Freud or Prozac. Cardiac coherence is when the physiological systems which accelerate your heart are perfectly balanced with those which brake it – you are in balance and your immune system is fully optimized.

He writes about a boy and his dog who happened by his lab and for fun they tested for cardiac coherence. Sure enough when the boy and his dog were together the electrocardiogram showed each of them to be in the state of chaotic balance which is cardiac coherence. When they were moved apart they kept a healthy heart rate but came out of coherence. Brought back together and the coherence returned.

I’m not sure my dog ever did that for me. He’s a lovely old chap, but he doesn’t bring me inner peace. One person that does though is my little boy. Like the boy and his dog, I have become aware that simply being physically close to him often swings my heart slowly but surely into perfect coherence – I am happy, at peace and have a full heart.