Tuesday, 2 June 2020

It's not just the American Police that needs to change...

When I was at school, I was often bullied and picked on. Usually, it was because I was too skinny; too 'goofy' (tooth-wise); or didn't have the 'right' clothes, shoes, or haircut. I remember it vividly and the mental-scars remain to this day.

I'm fortunate, though: it was never because of my skin colour, so I don't know what that feels like.

My Upper School was quite segregated, with social groups formed largely around skin colour. I remember the 6th Form Common Room had an archway in the middle, splitting it in two. One side, quite organically, became the 'white' side, and the other was the 'black' or 'Asian' side. Looking back, it was a pretty horrible thing to happen.

As I progressed at that school, my friendship group changed. I became friends with the so-called 'Asians'. (The fact that most of them were probably born in England was lost on us back then.) I think fondly of the times spent with them over the years that followed: five-a-side football and table tennis in the sports centre; doing crossword puzzles or playing chess in the library; drinking coffee in the canteen while discussing video games. Normal things, really.

This group of friends was nicer to me than any group had been previously. I didn't share their skin colour/faith/cultural-heritage, but it didn't matter.

I remember clearly a conversation I had with one of my former white-'friends' (who had also been one of those who picked on me often). He approached me one break-time as I went to the vending machine.

'Why are you hanging out with the Asians?' he said.

I looked at him, slightly puzzled. It seemed obvious to me.

'Because they're my friends!' I said. (I'm proud of my younger-self for that response!)

It saddens me that we live in a world where racist ideas and thoughts are still so pervasive. Almost an entire year group of white people seemed to be growing up with the opinion that race made a difference to someone's value as a person. I don't know where most of them are now, or what their thoughts are. I can only hope they have matured into kinder people, but it's not hard for me to believe that any 'white' population might, largely, have racist beliefs underneath.

Racism is everywhere. It's constant in the unconscious (or not-so-unconscious in many cases) bias that all of us (including me) carry as a result of our culture and upbringing. There's no point denying it: it's there. But, if we recognise it in ourselves, we can challenge it, choose to act or think a different way, and change those biases for good.

We don't live in anything like a fair world: I can walk around with my white wife, without even having to think about what people might think of two people of our 'race' being together. A black or 'Asian' man with a white partner probably wouldn't have that privilege. And that's just one example straight off the top of my head.

The other day, I described the police as people who are supposed to be our 'protectors'. I'm not sure that would be the first word that came to mind for many black people, even before George Floyd's murder.

Yet, it's not just the American Police that needs to change. We all do. Let's start now.


Saturday, 28 March 2020

'My partner is SO annoying!'

I’ve seen a lot of posts about being ‘stuck’ at home with one's partner. These things often go around in the form of jokes or memes, and not just in this time of lock-down:

  • My husband doesn’t pick up his socks.
  • He doesn’t listen to me.
  • They never empty the dryer!
  • She doesn’t let me do what I want.
  • All they ever want is sex!
  • He’s clueless...
  • She doesn’t understand me...
  • Etc.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good joke/meme as much as anyone but, when I see/hear people constantly moaning about their partners, my first thought is: ‘Why are you with them if they annoy you so much?!’

My wife doesn’t annoy me, and I don’t believe she gets annoyed by me, at least not for more than a minute or two. Then, we go back to being daft, talking in stupid voices, or making jokes about death (we do that a surprising amount, really).

I’m happy we get this chance to spend more time together. Life is short (that’s why we make so many jokes about death: it’s going to happen, so we might as well have a laugh about it!). I got married to share my life with her, why would I complain now we get to spend more of that precious-little-time together?!

It doesn’t mean we don’t like to do things separately. Of course we do: she’s downstairs doing Zumba right now, while I’m thinking about whether I can squeeze in a quick game of Plague Inc. before lunch. Time apart is healthy, but don’t squander this chance to enjoy extra time together.

You never know if you’ll get the chance again.

Here's Frank, who says it better than I can:

Thursday, 14 June 2018

You or I can't change the world (but maybe WE can...)

If everyone looks after the corner of the
world they're in...

Most of my views on things boil down to one thing: ‘it’s nicer’. I look at the world and wonder when (and why) people started thinking it was better to build walls, create borders, and become so protectionist.

Personally, I think it’s always nicer to help people (refugees or immigrants, for example, or the sick, elderly, or lonely.)

I cycle to work these days and see a lot of what I will call 'bad character'. It seems people show their worst side when they’re at the wheel of a car: selfish, me-first attitudes. ‘You’re in my way,’ or, ‘My journey is more important than yours.’ (I’m not blameless myself, of course, and I absolutely love cruising back past the particularly impatient drivers when they’re later stuck in traffic!)

It makes me sad to see how many people seem to care so little about other people.

On those cycle journeys, when I start to feel particularly down about it, I try and remember it’s not my job, nor would it be possible if it were, for me, or any other person on their own, to fix the whole world. It’s too great a task and too many people aren’t interested.

All we can do is look after the little corner we’re in to the best of our ability. 

Frank Turner released a new album recently: Be More Kind. Ignoring the grammatical problems with the title (‘Be Kinder’ wouldn’t have been a good rhyme, after all), I think the sentiment sums it up perfectly. No matter how kind we already are – a little or a lot – we can still be more kind.

Be more kind, my friends...

The more people who do that, through small deeds, positive words, or little changes, the more the world might just shift as a whole.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018


It's not like a popular 90s' sitcom...

Friends. They’re hard to come by. And, as we get older, it becomes even harder to find, and keep, them.

When we do find them, all too often we let them go. A band I used to listen to a lot said: ‘I lost all my friends to a lack of commitment’ (Ballboy, I gave up my eyes to a man who was blind, 2003).

I’ve been thinking about my friends – those I’ve known for  years, and those I’ve met more recently – and trying to figure out how to make sure I don’t lose them. I think everyone struggles with the same doubts: they’re probably too busy to talk; I’ll just be annoying them if I message; if they wanted to speak to me, they’d have messaged me.

The latter, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We could all end up sitting around thinking the same thing, then no one would contact anyone and we’d all lose the friends we have.

I think we’re all too quick to assume we know what’s going on in someone’s life:

‘Oh, they’re married, they won’t want to come out.’
‘We’re different ages; we’re in different life-places.’
‘They have kids, they’ll be busy.’
‘They know loads of people, they won’t need me.’

Don’t assume anything; none of us are mind-readers. Don’t assume your friends don’t like you or want to hear from you. They probably do, otherwise they wouldn’t be friends.

The friends I’ve had throughout my life have always been very important to me. I totally accept I’m needier than most and, over the years, I’ve become more aware of the need to reign it in a bit. But it’s easy to go too far, I’ve found, and never contact people at all.

Since the majority of people who read this will be my friends, it felt like this was a good way of re-launching my blog (I’ve been wanting to for a while) and getting the message out there: you guys mean a lot to me.

I don’t think it’s said enough. Don’t assume people know it.

 Elbow - Dear Friends - 2011

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Only Half Over...

We’re all only half over. Whether we’re young or old, just starting out, or already successful, none of us is finished. There’s more we can do, more we can be.

In life, it’s sometimes hard to see the good that could come. A day starts badly and it’s easy to give up on the rest of it: ‘It’s going to be one of those days.’

We might not be able to imagine that a humble beginning, the first words on a page, could ever take us anywhere spectacular but, you never know.

If success comes – we get the job, or our painting, novel, or album, hits the big time – it’s easy to stop there. We’ve made it. But, now what? Turn on the news: the world still needs us to be at the top of our game.

Or, we might look back on life and see a bright young future that never quite blossomed. Or maybe we’ve let someone down, or feel a failure in our own eyes. We might be at the edge of our world, ready to fall, the bridges on our way home seem burned. It’s not too late.

In the darkest times, when we’ve been left, lonely and without answers, living feels like a torment and time drags on: ‘When will it end?’ Keep breathing, even if it’s all you can do. It’s a start.

No matter what has gone before, the mistakes we’ve made, or the roads we’ve taken, there’s still time to change. We can change ourselves; we can change our reactions to the things we see. We can change our future.

Only Half Over is a new collection of songs that are best of my work so far. Some of the songs are old and updated as, over the years, I’ve realised they themselves were only half over. Yet, while this album is a ‘best of’, some of the songs are new: my ‘career’ is equally only half over – there’s more to come.

And maybe somewhere, either in the lines or between them, there’ll be something to help you get back out there. We could still win. It's only half over.

The new album - Only Half Over - by Martin Flett. Out 06/03/2016

Friday, 9 January 2015

A happy 2015?

When you think of happiness, what comes to mind? A holiday? A larger house? A better car?

I think we spend most of our time, energy and money, not on trying to be happy, but on trying to be comfortable. We save for a new PC, or a bigger TV; we want efficient heating, and a nice car to take us places, dry with the minimum effort.

In a new year, we tend to think of things we hope will make us happy in the coming months. The problem is many of the things we think of won’t necessarily make us happy, they’ll just make us more comfortable. And there will always be someone more comfortable than us, no matter how big our TV is, so we’ll keep on chasing ‘happiness’, never quite reaching it.

Instead, we should probably spend more time making memories, building friendships, and enjoying experiences. Those are the things that make me happy, for sure. Just today I was reminiscing about the times I had in a previous existence (at least that’s how it feels), when I had friends and experiences that will stay with me forever. I miss them, and know that, when I reach old age, I will look back and be glad I had them.

Lying on my death bed, I doubt I’ll be wishing I’d had a better sofa. But I’m sure I’ll wish I had more time with those I love, and lived more stories with them.

My advice at the start of 2015 is to stop seeking comfort and go after real happiness instead. Do things that will last, make memories, write stories in time, with every day a new chapter.

This time next year, it will be far better to look back on than any Blu-ray movie.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How to be a success.

Is this all success is?
Success is elusive. It can be really difficult to achieve, particularly if by ‘success’ we mean writing a best-seller, earning a fortune, or having loads of people queuing for our autograph.

I confess I felt a pang of envy when I saw a line of people snaking through a shopping centre recently, all waiting for a book-signing at a nearby store.

I haven't yet considered my novel to be a success because I haven’t found an agent or publisher or sold many copies. And, by that yardstick, I may never be ‘successful’, which might be a bit depressing.

But success can take many forms. I can consider it a success I even finished the bleedin’ book at all, seen as I was working on it for four years among all sorts of other life events. And it’s a success it’s available for the world to buy, even if it is only on Kindle at the moment.

I think the modern world throws us so many ideas of what success looks like, and they’re not all helpful. Particularly in a world skewed towards helping those who have already reached that financial/popularity kind of ‘success’. (Publishers only accepting submissions from known contacts/bookstores only stocking books from established authors/marketing difficult to come by unless you've produced a best-seller already…)

It’s tempting to judge ourselves by that standard. It is, after all, quite tangible, and can bring a desirable level of comfort. (I have another blog-post in the pipeline about comfort and happiness, so let this sentence serve as my little ‘teaser-trailer’!) But we can be different; we can judge ourselves a success by meeting our goals, by completing our part of the bargain, by doing the best we can.

It might not bring the recognition of ‘the world’ but, ultimately, when the day is done, the lights go out and you’re lying alone with your thoughts, the only person you really have to answer to is … you. And if you’ve managed to be ‘successful’ in the work you had before you that day, then you can probably sleep a whole lot easier.

Because that’s all we can do: our work. It’s not up to me whether an agent picks up my book, it’s not up to me whether people buy it (did I mention it’s available on Kindle…? ;) ), but it is up to me  to complete my job, the writing, to the best of my ability.

If I’ve done that, then I’ve been a success.