From The Fishbowl

Scribbles about stuff



A few months back, I launched Not Quite Normal, my first short story anthology. It’s done moderately well, probably about as well as I expected, but I don’t think it’s quite lived up to its potential yet. This morning, I had a radical idea which may or may not work.

On this coming Wednesday, 1/8/12, I will be launching a third and final version of Not Quite Normal to go along with the previously released full and free editions. This new version will be called the Abridged Edition. It will contain a new introduction, a new cover, and ten Not Quite Normal tales, as well as a discount code for the full edition. Four of the ten stories were previously exclusive to the full edition.

In essence, the Abridged Edition contains my ten favourite stories from Not Quite Normal and should therefore, I hope, be the ‘tightest’ edition. Its extent is approximately half that of the full Not Quite Normal. It will be available on Smashwords for 99 US cents from Wednesday, and on all other good eBook retailers soon after that, as well as probably some of the bad ones.

So, these are the editions of Not Quite Normal as of this week and their contents:

Full Edition:

19 short stories, plus bonus content for $1.99.

Abridged Edition:

10 short stories, plus a discount code for the Full Edition, for 99 cents.

Free Edition:

9 short stories, free of charge.

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done on Not Quite Normal, and I’ve had some positive feedback about it. If you haven’t yet checked out any of the editions, please do, it really does mean a lot to me. After Wednesday, though, I’m putting it to bed. I don’t want to be accused of constantly recycling the same content, so I will be devoted to my other projects from now on. But this is one last throw of the dice, one last option for potential buyers, and hopefully it’ll be a good one. Time will tell.

While I’m on the subject, until the Abridged Edition comes out (i.e. until tomorrow), you can still download the full version of Not Quite Normal from Smashwords for just 99 cents. Follow this link to buy – because of the Abridged Edition‘s release it’s unlikely I’ll be discounting the full edition for everyone for quite some time, so this is your best chance to get it on the cheap!


The Galaxy – Prologue

In space, no-one could hear them sigh.

They were at cruising speed, no input was required. As kids, they had longed to fly through the skies and the void, imagining the exciting adventures it would bring to them. What they hadn’t factored in were the long and frequent periods of intense dullness.

And the sickness. Oh, the sickness. Travelling faster than a beam of light did not do wonders for a man’s head, or his stomach.

“How much longer to dock?” said Waters.

“Couple of hours,” said Black.

Waters sighed. “Christ almighty.” He returned to his silence, as deathly as the nothingness on the other side of the shield glass.

He leaned forward and flicked a switch on the cockpit. There was a brief high-pitched squeal as the radio resuscitated, followed by steady static. “We’re at least an hour from range,” said Black. “You know that.”

“Sure I do. But even white noise is better than no noise.”

“Yeah, well, it’s giving me a headache. Turn it off.”

Waters sighed again and motioned to flick the switch back. Just before he did, though, the static cut out for a couple of seconds, as though the interference were suffering from interference. The static returned momentarily, but kept dropping out. “Radio’s fucked,” said Waters.

“Yeah, great, well you’re paying for that.”

“It wasn’t my fault!”

“It wouldn’t have broken if you hadn’t’ve switched it on in the first place. Just turn it off.” Waters flicked the switch. The static – and silence – stayed in place.

“Radio’s fu-”

“Yeah, I got that Jimi, thanks.”

As they glided through the emptiness of the cosmos, the gaps between the static started to get shorter and shorter, the white noise becoming a stabbing pain in the two men’s ears.

“I’m gonna smash that thing in a minute,” Black said.

“No…wait…” said Walters. He had the distanced look of a man who has had an epiphany. “It’s Morse.”

Black adopted the same expression for a moment. “Hey…you’re right. It’s a Mayday. But who would be using a static channel to make a signal?”

“B-1-S-E-C-A-1-4-1-5-9-M-A-Y-D-A-Y-M-A-Y-D-A-Y. It’s automated, it must be. Have we got time to check it out?”

“Jimi, we’re an hour behind schedule anyway. I just want to get home.”

“It’s a distress call, Jake. That used to mean something to us.”

“We’re not those men any more.”

“I know we’re not. But we’re still good men.”


Mostly good men. Come on, it’s not far off-course. Might be a reward!”

Black maintained course for a few moments. Walters just stared at the side of his head, in the hope that it might irritate his partner into submission. “Fine,” said Black. “But if I’m late for dinner you’ll have Margie to answer to.”

“Oh God. Well, we’ll just have to be quick then, right?” Black snorted out a laugh and turned the control stick to the left. The glowing red circle that they were heading for – like a neon light guiding weary alcoholics – rotated and vanished from view as their craft banked.


The pulsing static got stronger and faster as they approached the co-ordinates in the Morse. Walters pulled down a small screen from the ceiling while Black flew towards it. The screen flashed with many red dots, scattered liberally around a white arrow in the middle. “This place is a junk zone,” Walters said. “Might want to bring up long-range.” Black nodded. Walters flicked switched and pressed buttons on the dashboard. He seemed to be operating at random but, like a lab monkey, knew exactly what he was doing. The scruffy hair and unkempt clothes belied a man who knew more about the innards of a computer than how to use a razor efficiently.

A silver sheet-metal screen slid down in front of the window, effectively blinding the two men for a moment. The lights inside the cabin dimmed as the screen began to crackle with energy. It turned from silver to pure black. The hundreds of millions of stars in the sky reappeared one by one. Then, thin red lines began to outline various rocks and pieces of metal, previously completely invisible. Walters fiddled with more buttons. A yellow scan line intermittently began to rise from the bottom to the top of the screen. Black maintained his direction, except for the occasional bank to avoid junk.

A few minutes later, the yellow line stopped scanning and outlined what was unmistakeably another ship in the middle-distance. When they got closer, Walters retracted the screen so that they could see it for the first time with their real eyes. Black flicked on their ship’s searchlight.

It was the colour of static and had two cigar-shaped engines on the bottom. On top of these engines was a large storage container, rectangular except for a narrow ‘tail’. At the front was a box, about half the size of the container, which appeared to be the cabin. It looked to have been added almost as an afterthought. Chinese characters on the side marked it as a cargo ship. Overall, the vessel was roughly four times the size of the personal ship that Walters and Black approached in.

Black lined up his port side near the front of the ship. As he did so, the static – which was now almost deafeningly loud – completely cut out. “Thank God,” he said.

It was a meticulous process, lining up docking ports. Both ships used the standard connection shape and size – like a large door with its top two corners sheared off – but getting them in perfect alignment was a challenge even for a pilot as experienced as James ‘Jake’ Black. He’d seen more action than ten men put together, but it still took every fibre of his being to make sure he could create a tight dock.

But he did it. There was a slight hiss and one green bulb lit up on the dashboard. One next to it began to pulse amber, and it continued to do so for about ten seconds before it too turned solid green. “Pressurised,” Black said. “You’re good to go.”

“Me?!” said Walters. “Why can’t you go?”

“It’s was your idea to come here, Jimi. I’m not putting my neck on the line to satisfy your curiosity.”

“But of course, you’ll take all the credit if we look like heroes?”

Precisely,” Black said with a chuckle.

“You’re a dick, have I ever told you that? It’s a good job you’re my best friend, or I’d be in prison for murder by now.”

“You love me really.”

“That remains to be seen.” Walters stood up. As he did so, he held his stomach and groaned a little.

“You OK?” said Black.

“Yeah, just the Barrs. I’ll be fine soon.” He grabbed a headset microphone from a shelf above his seat, then he walked down the stairs and out the cockpit door. “Later, alligator,” he said as he crossed the threshold.

“While, crocodile,” came Black’s voice in his ear. Walters walked along the corridor, his heavy boots echoing on the steel lattice floor, and down another stairway. On his right was the airlock door.

“You’re sure this thing is pressurised?” he said.

“Yes,” said Black. “You will not die this day, Jimi.”

“Because, you know my worst fear is being sucked into the vacuum.”

“I know, I know. You can bridge without fear. Now, go.”

Walters took some deep breaths. His hand hovered over the door switch. He closed his eyes and pressed it.


The door slid to the side and revealed a short walkway. The sides were made of black rubber and looked much like the vestibule of a train or bus. Making a transition between two ships in deep space always terrified Walters – just the thought that he was a few inches away from the freezing non-atmosphere of the void was enough to set his stomach rumbling again.

He walked, half a step at a time, towards the other ship’s door. The whole walkway wobbled with every footstep. After an eternity, he reached the foreign ship and pressed the entry button.

The ship was dark as closed eyes. Walters fetched a small torch from his belt and shone it around the immediate area. Directly in front of him was a steel lattice staircase leading up, he assumed, to the cabin. A gun barrel-shaped corridor extended far beyond his torch’s range to his left. “What are you seeing, Jimi?” said Black over the radio, forcing Walters to jump.

“Christ, you scared the crap out of me! Jesus…give me a chance, I’ve only just got in.” He decided to take the stairs. He moved with stealth, attempting to make as little noise as possible. His boots still sent sound waves bouncing off the cool walls, however, making him flinch with every step.

At the top was a door on his right. Walters put his hand on the handle and turned. He held his breath as he opened it to reveal…


Well, there was, of course, a typical control panel, filled with hundreds of, at a glace, meaningless buttons, switches, screens and bulbs. All of these were blanked out. No power surged through them whatsoever. They were ex-buttons.

“There’s nobody in the cabin,” Walters said. “No power at all, either, from the looks of things.”

“None at all?” said Black. “No, you must be missing something. There must be auxiliaries. A dead ship doesn’t just send out a Mayday.”

“Jake, I promise you, this thing is juiced out. I’m going to look in the cargo hold. Maybe the crew are in there.”


“My name’s Jimi.” There was no response.

Walters went back down the stairs, a little more quickly than he’d ascended, and walked down the corridor. It ended with a door on the right, which was stuck half open like a broken blind. He put his torch in his mouth and grabbed it with both hands. With a good tug, it pulled open completely.

It was freezing cold, and for a split second Walters thought that he’d accidentally opened himself onto the vacuum, before he realised how ridiculous that would be.  “This place is like a fridge,” he said.

“What’s in there?” Walters took his torch out and shined it around. The sight was enough to let his stomach get the better of him. He vomited on the cold hard floor, the sick mixing with the congealing blood that lay there.

“You OK mate?” said Black.

“Fuck…” Walters spat out the last of his bile. “Jake…Jesus Christ.”

“What is it?”

“There’s…you might want to call someone. They’re dead Jake. They’re all fucking dead.”




The next post on this blog – which will be up later tonight – will contain the first part of a story I’ve had brewing in my mind for nearly two years. This story is called The Galaxy and it’s the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted. It’s only since the release of Not Quite Normal that I’ve had the confidence to put it into motion. So allow me to set the scene.

The Galaxy is set in a distant future where humanity has expanded into the stars and settled on three extra-solar planets, named Barrington, Barrington II and Eden. But even with this brave new dawn, old problems have not gone away. Drugs, gangs and piracy rule the skies and the planets below. Amidst this, a galactic police force attempts to maintain order, while those who seek only profit fight against imprisonment. And in an age of technological revolution, the next step in human evolution is always just around the corner…

The story is, in essence, a combination of science fiction and crime drama, filled with a cast of good, evil, and grey. To say much more would be to spoil it. I would be lying if I said I had every single intricate detail of the fictional universe planned out, but I have enough to get going. If I do not start now, I never will.

The next post contains a short prologue. That’ll be the first and only part of the story you’ll be seeing for a while – think of it as a trailer. But soon – hopefully in a month or so – I will be serialising the story. Hopefully I’ll have some sort of routine. The aim is to, eventually, have enough content in both The Galaxy and This Immortal Coil to be able to produce a piece of each story on Plastic Castle Magic each week. But I’m not going to promise anything right now. All I will say is that more is coming, and soon. And hopefully it’ll be good. But I guess that’s up to you to decide.

So then. Here goes nothing. Enjoy.

I Done

I done a good thing? I done a bad thing?

I done a ‘I don’t know’ thing. But it felt right. And feels right still. But it could be wrong. I worry too much. But I set out to make myself happy this year. I haven’t been.

It’s early days.

But my happy is coming back.


I’ve learnt a lot about myself this year, both good and bad. Hopefully, by the time the year is out, I’ll be able to look back on all this and work out if/how I’ve improved as a person.

I’ve learnt that I’m a lot more emotional, and emotionally sensitive, than I thought I could ever be. I’m a big softy, basically. I think that’s good. But it can turn bad.

I’ve learnt that I can get obsessed with things quickly. I knew that, but not to this extent. It sort of frightens me.

I’ve learnt that I enjoy listening to people and helping them. I enjoy it a lot. So much that I’m considering volunteering for the Samaritans.

I’ve learnt that there are some important pieces of my life that are missing, and while the holes are slowly being filled, I sometimes fear that if I leave them empty too long they’ll warp out of shape and nothing will ever fit there again.

I’ve learnt that I was more miserable than I thought I was, and now I’ve realised that it’s made me even more miserable. A downward spiral of sadness.

I’ve learnt that being an adult isn’t the same thing as being mature, but that neither one should be the be all and end all.

I’ve learnt that the things I like most in life aren’t necessarily the ones that are going to make me happiest.

I’ve learnt that I’m not as intelligent as I thought I was.

I’ve learnt a lot.


There are some things in life that I don’t understand.

The unfairness of it all, for a start. I don’t get why bad things happen to good people. It’s a cliché, I know, but clichés are normally clichés because they hold more than an ounce of truth. Let me give you some examples.

First, my uncle. If you’re reading this blog as a friend of mine, you’ll already know parts of this. One of my mum’s brothers was born with Cerebral Palsy, quite a severe form of it. It means that he’s high tone deaf, can’t speak properly, can’t walk well and has the mental age of a child. He did nothing to deserve such a curse, but he’s been vindicated and victimised for it his entire life. Like the time he got arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and couldn’t explain his innocence. Or the time the Department for Work and Pensions tried to take away his disability benefit because he couldn’t talk over the phone.

Another example is my best friend. If you’re reading this, I hope you don’t mind me talking about you – text me if you do mind and I’ll take it down. A little over a decade ago, when we were 12 and didn’t know each other too well, he suffered a stroke. Doctors still don’t know what caused it. But he’s had to go through years of physio and other treatments, and still can’t walk long distances. Plus, there are a multitude of related issues he has to cope with every day, and probably will for the rest of his life. But he is my best friend for a reason. He’s the best bloke I know, a true individual and he doesn’t let his illness get in the way of having a good life. He inspires me every day. Again, he doesn’t deserve the cards he was dealt.

There are other examples I could give about people I know and the hardships they’ve suffered. Some people very close to me, others more distant but still forever on my mind. I neglect to mention them not because I don’t care – I love all of my friends and family, old and new, more than they will ever know – but because of privacy.

The flipside of the coin makes me angry.

All the time, you see in the newspapers, on the television, anywhere you care to look, people who have been given it all but just throw it away. The countless awful parents on the Jeremy Kyle Show who neglect their kids in favour of drink and drugs, while there are people out there who want nothing more than a child of their own to love. The wife-beaters who are somehow irresistable to almost every woman in the world. The ‘celebrities’ with stacks of cash who blow the lot on hookers and bling. These are morally corrupt, vacuous excuses for human beings who I hate having to share the planet with sometimes, quite honestly.

What about myself? In comparison to many, I have had a good life. And so I get cross with myself when I get upset. Because I know so many people who have had much worse things happen to them, and yet the selfishness of depression means I feel my problems are the biggest in the world. I’m a bad friend and a worse relation. I hope that I can be forgiven for my selfishness, but I suppose it’s just a quirk of my character. I’m trying to be better, to evolve as a human, but it’s hard.

I’ve spoken a little on this blog before about a vlogger called Ze Frank. Yesterday, I watched this video of his about ten times. Every single line of this invocation is beautiful in its own way. Something about it really strikes a chord with me. One line in particular really resonates:

“Let me think about the people who I care about the most. And how when they fail, or disappoint me, I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.”

That line, right there, is the secret to life on this planet. What it says to me is that, even if the world is unfair, even if all this bad stuff happens to good people, you can’t let it get in the way. We’re on this planet with 7 BILLION others, and there are only a handful of them that we can possibly hold close to us. They are too precious to let go of. Everyone has hard times, everyone makes mistakes, everyone can sometimes piss everyone else off, but we have to see past that. Because the people we care about the most define who we are. Without them, we are nothing. I guess you have to just try your best to help define them, too.

Some things in life may not be understandable, and a lot of it is not there to be understood. But what is there, we have to make the best of, whatever our situations. Find happiness. Find love. Find life.



Earlier today, I sat down and started freewriting. That being the process of jotting down whatever comes to mind without a second thought and just seeing what happens. Ordinarily, the process turns out utter crap, but at least helps the creative juices get flowing. Today, my freewriting session turned out something that I actually quite like for some reason. I don’t really know why. I thought I’d show you. Have fun.

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Four white Beatles, walking ‘cross the road.

Four white Beatles, walking ‘cross the road.

And if one white Beatle, should accidentally something

There’d be three white Beatles, walking ‘cross the road.





Never before have I thought I’d be doing this at random, making silly words into silly sentences that barely make sense except for the fact that they run in formation and use a level of syntax synonymous with the creation of English Language sentences. One could almost call it poetry, were it not for the fact that poetry is dull and boring and leaves more to the imagination than a piece of writing should. But then again, there can be some beauty in that, in the not knowing, in the reading between the lines and the flow of letters and syllables up and down a page.

I don’t know if this is supposed to be some sort of healing process, or perhaps is just my fried creative juices crying out in pain and shouting WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?!?!?!? and this is the only way that I can control them. Maybe I’m finally realising there’s more to writing than prose and poetry and there can be something inbetween. Something with flow, that is beauty epitomised, but also something that I can do.

It could just be me rambling. I am sat staring into glass onto ‘ink’ formed of 1s and 0s that doesn’t even exist. I am focussed for the first time in God knows how long, and I am not even doing anything but writing. Just writing. The words flow from finger to page without second thought, or even first thought, and all that exists in my mind are words and fingers and the joyful despair of everything around me.

I do not know if this feeling will last, or even if it exists at all, for I am focussed and nothing will stop me until I stop myself.

And I have.

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Top Ten Games

…because why not? Here’s a list of my top ten video games of all time and why.

1: Mass Effect 2 – Because this game is basically perfect. They trimmed every ounce of fat from the original game, but kept in all the good stuff. They tightened up the combat mechanics so much that the shooting is more satisfying than in a lot of games designed just for shooting. Combine that with an awesome story, amazing characters and a campaign that lasts over 40 hours and boy, it’s a doozy.

2: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Because it pretty much set the bar for every adventure game that came after it. Emotional, complex and stuffed with ten times as many great moments as most other games.

3: Burnout 3: Takedown – Because it’s the most fun it is possible to have while playing a video game. Especially with friends, but even alone. It’s just FUN. It’s impossible not to smile while playing it.

4: Portal 2 – Because, although it’s not as original as the, uh, original, it took everything that made that game so classy – the humour, the tricky but immensely satisfying puzzles – and made a proper game out of it, rather than an experiment. Also features the funniest dialogue you’re probably ever going to hear in a game. It’s all just so clever.

5: Grand Theft Auto IV – Because although no-one else in the world likes this game, I love it. It takes all of the core tenants that made the series a success, and in doing so created probably the most ‘mature’ game the medium has ever produced.

6: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Because it’s got bags of class. It successfully implemented the narrative structure of something like Half-Life into a platforming game and mixed it with a great combat system (although many would disagree…) and a perfect Arabian Nights setting.

7: Rock Band 3 – Because it’s rhythm-action perfection. An amazing soundtrack that’s still being updated years after launch, and a ridiculous amount of fun with a couple of friends.

8: Gitaroo Man – Because it’s so damn crazy. You probably haven’t heard of it. Look it up on YouTube. You still won’t understand it, but it might just make you want to check it out. Sequel, please?

9: SSX 3 – Because it’s the pinnacle of the extreme sports genre. A big mountain, bigger tricks, huge levels of customisation, tonnes of stuff to do…it just doesn’t get boring.

10: Halo Reach – Because I wanted to select a Halo game, and this is probably the best one. But the whole series is fantastic – FPS perfection.

Done! 🙂

It’s A Mystery


This post is going to be about something that I’ve always had a mild interest in. Because it is late, I am not tired, and I have nothing better to do. Well, I probably do have better things to do, but I can’t be arsed to do them. That topic is…

History! Random, I know. But the more I’ve been looking back on my life recently, the more I realised that I should have done a history degree. Too late to do anything about it now. I guess I could start another degree but I’m already 10 grand in debt. Don’t really need any more.

I wish I’d come to that realisation earlier. As it was I sort of fell into a degree in creative writing and media studies (2:1, thanks for asking). I wanted to do media because it was the thing I was best at during my A Levels. Turns out studying it at degree level is about a billion times more complex, much less fun and I was a bit rubbish at it. I only took creative writing because I needed another class to fill the timetable, but it soon became my de facto ‘number one’ (although I was equally weighted between it and media). I even did my dissertation in it. A Perfect Endeavour, which you can find in Not Quite Normal (incidentally 50% off this week, check my Twitter for details because I can’t be bothered to repeat myself).

So why didn’t I do history? I mean, it would have been a perfect second option to media. Well not perfect, it’s not like they go together like peanut butter and jelly (although I can only assume they go together because I dislike peanut butter and am not American…), but it would’ve plugged the gap I needed. Although then I never would have written so much. Weird how things work out.

I didn’t do history because I got bored of it at college.

Now, I’ve always found it to be incredibly interesting and I still do, of course. But we have a pre-occupation in the UK when it comes to learning history. Because you learn a lot about World War II.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, it’s almost certainly the event that has had the most impact on the shape of the world since 1945. But when you learn about it every year for the best part of 10 years? Yeah, I kind of got bored.

The best example is how my History A Level panned out. There were three modules each year, across two years of course, each weighted equally.

First year: The Russian Revolution(s) – not directly related to WW2 since the module covered approximately from 1890-1917, but undoubtedly had a huge impact on the War and acted as a precursor to another module. Fascist Italy – Hitler picked up a lot of ideas from Mussolini and, obviously, was a major ally to Nazi Germany in the War (point of disclosure: I really loved this module, to be fair – Mussolini, despite being a clearly evil man, is my favourite ‘character’ from history). And German Foreign Policy from 1930-1939 – if you need me to tell you how this is related to World War II well, God help you.

Second year: Life in Nazi Germany – see my last point. Russia Under Stalin – Stalin, of course, being a major player in WW2 and beyond (it still fascinates me that the Soviets had a pact with the Nazis pre-war. That was always going to work…). And finally, The British Empire, from 1850-1950(ish) – Again, the link is pretty obvious.

So basically, I spent two years learning about World War II. And I had had enough. I didn’t even look at history courses because I’d been put off so much. I want to just make clear that there was nothing wrong with the education. In fact, I had one particularly fantastic history teacher at college – one of those teachers that leaves such an impact on you that I’m unlikely to forget him – but the topics just really turned me off.

But there’s so much more to history than the War. I’ve personally always had a huge interest in American history. I guess I find it fascinating that one of this planet’s youngest countries has grown into undoubtedly the most important in the world. The Romans have always interested me too – although Roman history is something of an obsession in the British curriculum as well, especially at Primary level – but there’s quite a lot that I’m interested in that I barely know anything about. Like Japan. Why I find that interesting is because in terms of its location, size and nature as an island, has a lot of similarities to Britain. But whereas Britain took onboard a lot of influences from the continent and beyond (not least in our language), Japan has traditionally always been very isolationist and solitary. I have no real idea why that is, although I’d love to find out.

There’s so much to learn about this world and so little time to learn it. I guess I just wish I’d spent a few more of my years doing that, rather than faffing around writing essays on postmodernism and stories that no-one reads. I guess I wish I’d realised this passion in myself sooner.

I don’t want to end on a downer – it was fun writing that. Maybe I should do a bit more amateur history work. It’s not like there aren’t enough books and websites. Yes. Yes, I will do that. Thank you, random midnight blog post.

And thanks, as ever for reading.

(Aside: if anyone has read any particularly fascinating history books – but preferably not about World War II, please – do get in touch. Any and all ideas greatly appreciated.)

Don’t Worry

This blog post is going to be very personal. I know that the nature of blogs mean that they should be, but for the most part this place has always been about my writing. Primarily, anyway. This one’s about me. I’m gonna share some stuff that I’ve never really said before to many people, and some of it might shock you. If you’re uncomfortable with that, then don’t read it. But yeah. Let’s go.

Essentially this is about depression and its antithesis. Broadly speaking, it’s about being happy and being sad.

I had a happy childhood. I was popular and good at school, I didn’t have a care in the world, I had (and still have) a fantastic family. The only thing that wasn’t quite normal was that I was particularly shy and introverted. But some kids are, I guess.

Then I went to college to do my A Levels and I came out of my shell quite a lot. Those were genuinely the two best years of my life. If I could pick one point in time to go back to, it would be when I was 16 and about to start at Brockenhurst. It was perfect for my requirements at the time and I’d recommend the place to anyone.

Then came the leap to University. I’d always wanted to go to Uni because, to be frank, the only thing I’ve ever been good at is learning. I’m a bit rubbish at putting what I learn into practical use, but I do enjoy finding out things about the world. What I wasn’t so happy with was moving out. All of the Unis I applied to were within an hour’s train journey of my house – Bournemouth (in this case, literally five minutes walk from my front door), Southampton Solent, Winchester and Portsmouth. I intended to commute. And then, on the advice of my personal tutor at Brock, plus my parents, mixed in with a bit of my newly-discovered self-confidence, I decided that I would try and live on-campus at Winchester.

That decision, I can say categorically, is the worst decision I have ever made.

I was in no way ready to make that leap, even at the age of 18. I didn’t even stay my first night in my Hall, I went back home. The rest of the year, I spent 2 nights a week on campus and the rest back in Bournemouth. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but the simple fact is that my first year at Winchester sapped every single molecule of self-confidence that I had ever built up, and forced me back further into my shell than I ever had been.

The next two years were better but I still didn’t creep out into the world. And then I started work, and that – as is pretty well documented – didn’t exactly help matters. The day I broke down in tears in my office was the day I realised I’d had enough. So I left a month later.

And here I am.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been very depressed, upset, and worried every single day for the past five years. That might sound like a ridiculous hyperbole, but it’s true. Every. Day. I’ve just gotten exceptionally good at wearing my mask. Nobody has ever really picked up on it.

So why I am I bringing this up now?

Well at the start of this year I decided that enough was enough. I was going to be happy. More than that: I would endeavour to make as many other people happy as possible. Because there’s too much sadness in this world.

And things were going well. On the whole, I’ve been much happier. In fact, since March, I’ve been ecstatically happy, because I’ve found someone who makes me happy. Which is such a nice feeling I can’t begin to tell you. (No details, sorry, I know I said this was going to be personal but there are still some things I like to keep private, at least for now.)

But this week…this week has been tough.

There’s no real particular reason for it. That’s the irritating thing. It’s just a general sense of hopelessness and failure and worthlessness. My happy has gone. But what’s even more irritating is that I’ve lost my mask. I can’t seem to remember how to wear it any more. Most of the people I’ve spoken to this week have said something to the effect of ‘Are you OK? You don’t seem very happy.’ Which I’ve never had before. I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t like wearing a mask, though, I’d much rather be myself. Although if I was myself I don’t think anyone would like me at all, so I don’t want to take the risk.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this any more. I just wanted to write something. But there is one thing I want to say.

If you’re reading this right now, think of something that makes you happy. A person. An object. An activity. A pet. Anything. Close your eyes. Keep that thought. Don’t let it go. Imagine that thing in front of you. Imagine it so hard that it could be there. Reach out and grab it. Bring it close to you. Smile.

Be happy.

We don’t have very long on this planet. You might as well try and spend it with a smile on your face.

I can’t do that for very long. But I hope you can. I’m jealous of you.


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