Newsflush – Why I’m giving up news

My brain is skittish, foggy. I can’t concentrate for very long. I get ratty with books (my patience much reduced), and my attention span is microscopic. I need my next fix and I need it now, before I miss out, before something REALLY important happens. I’ve exhausted the BBC, I try Twitter – I need news, I need it like I need a fix of chocolate.

News is bad, bad news is poisonous. This is what I’ve read. I can believe it. I was caught in its toxic clutches. It started off as an experiment. I wondered, will I learn more, be more informed, will I wow people at parties with my knowledge of current affairs?

I liked the (fleeting) feeling of awareness the news gave me. I did the same the following day. Before I know it, I am seeking out new ‘news’ as though my sanity depended on it.

News bulletins are like sweeties. Little bonbons of compelling trivia that we consume without thought or question. We are drawn to it without considering its relevance on our lives. When consumed so passively we barely register whether it’s positive or negative. Mostly it’s negative. Journalists are like pushers – trying to tempt us with their little ‘treats’ which disguise the scaremongering and political propaganda.

So much of it is irrelevant to me. I don’t want the limited capacity of my brain to be saturated with such trivia. The ex PM resigning as an MP, who gives a stuff, really? Does this information affect anyone’s life in a positive way, or offer any kind of advantage?

Negative, tragic news skews my view of the world, makes it into an unsafe, riskier place to be. And this bigger picture that we feed with froth bears no relation to our reality. Apparently, a negative view of the world is further entrenched with every negative news story we hear, despite the lack of first hand evidence to support it.

The recent referendum is a case in point. With the amount of fuss made of the vote you would think an apocalypse was on its way. So much shallow discussion, so much propaganda. I was sick to death of it. Even friends who hitherto I found enjoyable company, who, on the eve of the referendum sought to entertain me with their strongly held views, bored the pants off me. They spent too much time listening to the news, so they’d be ‘informed’ on current affairs in order to have an intelligent discussion, should the opportunity arise. In reality they were taken in by the propaganda or they’d adopted the views of others – perhaps they based their opinions on those of impressing friends and colleagues. It is impossible to know all the facts with so much ‘information’ saturating the media, how can we possibly make an informed choice.

I am yet to see Brexit’s impact on my day to day. Some may call me naïve or blinkered – but if it means I don’t fill my head with fluff then I don’t care. If it’s really important – as in, if it’s likely to affect my life in a big way then the news will find it’s way to me. The important stuff tends to stick around.

We rate the importance of news items by its prominence in the media. We get used to the dramas, grow immune to the death, destruction and violence that is happening elsewhere in the world and increasingly we lack empathy. We have no power to do anything. We just sit, passively absorbing the stench of the frivolous bulletin.

Like an annoying bluebottle that cannot find its way out of an open window, the interrupting snippets of news trivia from every source steal my limited attention and focus from what is important; my children, relationships, books and long-form writing. My brain pathways strengthen in areas that are irrelevant to me, and weaken in its deep-thinking capacities, severely affecting my ability to read a book from start to finish.

I turn off the news. Permanently.

I want to be free of such brain padding. Without the fascism of trivia my creativity is vibrant. Ideas pop in to my mind, uninhibited and unobstructed. There is more room for it to run and be free.







How to make friends in the school playground (a guide for parents)

As you mop up your tears of pride at seeing your little darlings toddle off to big school in their oversized uniform and enormous shoes, just remember you’re going to be in this playground, at the crack, every morning for the next six years so you’d better make some playground buds pretty sharpish, before you become the loser parent in the corner who dribbles crab cakes down her Boden blouse. You don’t have to like these people of course. Their only purpose is to share gossip with you about other mums you don’t like.

As you’ll have discovered, the playground is divided up into those people who have the confidence to chat to others about their little darling’s latest IQ grading, and those who stand looking around them nervously, or feigning an intense fascination with their child’s nose-picking antics. The playground is the sorting hat for people who are sociable and people who like The Archers. So, take my advice – if, in mid conversation, you find yourself talking to the latter, stop talking immediately, introduce that person to another Archers fan and go find someone more interesting, or simply move to the other side of the playground swiftly, as though going to do something terribly important.

The easiest way to make friends is to go up to people and introduce yourself as [your child’s name]’s mum. They won’t remember your name anyway so don’t bother telling them.

Eye contact is vital when trying to make playground friends. No one is going to chat to you for long if you stand there playing Crossy Road on your IPhone while they’re talking. On the other hand, don’t stare too intently, they might think you want to stab them.

Start the conversation with something innocuous like the weather or the price of school uniform (not The Archers) and then pretend that everything they say is really interesting. Be sure to do the motions; cocking your head to one side and bobbing it up and down after every word they say, and repeat “Oh, really!” at regular intervals.

Once you’ve had your initial break-the-ice conversation and they walk away smiling, then, unless you discover they’ve moved their child to a school on the other side of the county you can pretty much guarantee that you’re onto a winner, (feel free to do a Mini Air Punch). However, it might be a little too soon to behave as though they’re your bessy mate. Calling them a ‘crusty old twat’, that kind of thing, is probably too much, too soon.

Always compliment your new friend, especially in the early stages of the friendship. For instance, tell her that she has lovely skin (yes, even if she has pig-trotter skin, especially if she has pig-trotter skin) and she’ll stroke her face and say “what this old thing”. Be warned, a response of “don’t talk bollocks” probably means she’s not buying it, and you should probably try someone else for a NBM (New Bessy Mate). However, if it’s a man you’re trying to compliment, simply tell him he’s a hunk of Brad Pitt proportions and it’s highly likely he’ll believe you, even if there’s a bulging weight of evidence to the contrary.

Be sure to say nice things about your new friend’s hair, clothing, weight and sense of dress. But be careful with this. Saying “What a lovely dress, it suits your skin colour’ is good. But “Your shoes make you breasts look huge”, not so much.

Everyone loves to be funny so laugh out loud at everything your new friend says (unless they tell you their dog just died) and they will forever seek you out. (Note: if they start knocking on your door to recite their repertoire of gags about blobfish, you’ve probably gone too far on the laughing-at-their-jokes front, so tone it down a little.)

Contrary to popular belief, arriving at the school gates wearing your PJs is a definite No No, unless you own Gucci slippers and an Yves St Laurent onesie. Remember money will always buy you friends, even if they want only your money and not your sparkling repartee.

The lesson – if you want to make playground friends then you have to talk to people. Don’t hide at home. It’s hard to make friends if you send your husband/mum/postman/dog to pick up the kids.

Do you have any stories of winning new playground friends? I’d love to hear it.

(Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely co-incidental.)

Don’t give up but know when to quit

My pointy finger hovered above the arrow. Do I send it? This letter of resignation that contained only two sentences but still took me two hours to compose (the wording had to be spot on, obviously). Do I quit? Am I a quitter? Does that make me a loser?

Many of us are told, in our formative years, mainly before we realise what hypocritical mothers we have as parents, that we ‘shouldn’t give up’ when the going gets tough? That we should persevere to get to the good stuff of life that makes us want to jump out of bed in the morning and do 20 star jumps, just for the hell of it.

But how long do we endure the depths of seven hells (slight exaggeration, it was in fact a highly unsuitable job, that I took when my chosen career was proving rather challenging) before we finally surrender and realise that this situation we’re in, this job, relationship, friendship or venture is just pants?

Biographies, autobiographies and self-help books abound with tales of individuals who have persevered, who were not to been beaten down by adverse circumstances, suffering and oppression. Who yelled up to the gods, “We will not go quietly”. They didn’t quit when things got tough.

Quitting is for losers these stories tell us. It’s just a hump, a hill, to get over before we reach golden fields and paradise. This is reinforced by theories promoted in books such as The Dip.

So how do we know if it’s a ‘Dip’? What if it’s simply time to quit?

I tested the theory to ‘not quit’, I aimed to ‘persevere’ so that I could ‘get over that dip’. It didn’t go well. It made me unhappy and frankly it just felt plain wrong. I clung tenaciously to a job that was wrong for me, in the hope of an eventual prize – my dream job. It turned out that the longer I stuck at it, the more toxic the current job was for me, and the further into the distance my ultimate dream job receded.

My pointy finger engaged. I clicked ‘sent’. I did what I’d told myself I’d never do again and I quit. Yet I have no regrets. The idea of staying in that job there another year, another month, even another week was more abhorrent to me than sticking something sharp and shit-covered into my eye.

So when the darkest times come looking for us, when it’s a struggle to get out of bed – do we quit then? No, because quitting is for losers. When the people who are supposed to support and work with us to help us grow and improve, look at us like we’re hapless losers, no matter how hard we try – do we quit then? No, quitting is for losers. When the job that had once been exciting and challenging has become a grind and drains the life force out of us, do we quit then?  No, quitting is for losers. This kind of thinking makes us feel more trapped than ever. Which is precisely when the desire to quit increases its hold over us.


All those biographies, autobiographies and self-help books also show us that quitting can lead us to a new place. Sometimes we have to let go, to create a space inside for new opportunities, to get rid of the deadwood. Yes, we need to persevere, but we also need the wisdom to know when enough is enough and not to blindly and tenaciously cling to something that just isn’t working. To get where we’re going, we first have to leave where we’ve been.

While every story of wanting to quit will be different, I believe that just because we stop doing something doesn’t mean we’re quitting, it simply means we are moving on, we are keeping our options open, looking to the horizon, being fluid in our motions (and a million other clichés that all mean the same thing). Sometimes this takes big balls. Letting go doesn’t mean we’re quitting. Quitting does not necessarily mean we are losers yet society admonishes quitters and celebrates those who endure the shit.

If you know you’ve done your very best to make it work but cannot see a future in it, don’t think of it as quitting, just be assured that you are moving forward in your search to find the job/relationship/friendship/venture that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and do 20 star jumps, just for the hell of it.