The theory & the practise…

I’ve had a lot of questions recently about whether I can talk about how I deal with the day to day in terms of mood variation and so I thought I’d try and cover off a route through the negative…

There are occasions when I generally just feel so very depressed… It sometimes comes from a level of anxiety that enveloped me, given a certain situation or occurrence in my day to day, that said, there are those days when you just wake up and feel like it may be better to hide…

In my instance would say that the ‘wrong side of the bed’ scenario is less often. I generally tend to find that if I’m in a difficult situation, or I’m stressed or frustrated about something, then I will start to feel a surge of adrenaline.

This is the most important bit! The adrenaline control/anxiety level (as some people might contextualise it) is paramount in dealing with the situation, in terms of the eventual calm.

I think the worst feelings come from someone hurting you inwardly, through a flippant comment, sometimes made in haste, or sometimes not even meant within a negative context.

Regardless of cause, there are a few ways to tackle the issue:

  • The Jaunt – For me the adrenaline is the key, and a body standing numb or crumpled behind their computer screen at work is not a good place to be when adrenaline kicks in… With social media so active and email communications or messenger options to colleagues I’d recommend you get the hell out of dodge and do a session around the block. As adrenaline is something we develop when active, it make the most sense to get your body moving and a trudge is a good way to release that tension, reducing the adrenaline rate and enabling you to get back to your original lucid state. (I once saw a film where a man defined trudging “Trudging, to trudge. A slow weary depressing, yet determined walk, of a man who has little left in his life, except the impulse to simply… soldier on!” And that’s what it means to me. When the world hits rock bottom I will take some time out, find my feet and just think, I don’t wrap myself up in the sh*t, I just try and find solution in clarity of vision and while walking, you generally find that’s a possibility. And don’t take your phone with you when you go!!
  • The Journey – An advancement of the jaunt, the journey is useful in the context that an evolution of the level of anxiety has occurred. This could be an argument with a partner, a friend, a boss, a colleague, but generally a journey comes in useful if you’re really feeling cut up by the situation. The way I contextualise a is that it requires a destination, where as the jaunt may be you doing a few laps of the block, the journey should be your lead to a place of solace. For myself I live by the ideal that we should have green in our lives, it’s a well known fact that if you see green regularly this will increase your rate of happiness. This could be with a plant in your office or in this instance of the journey, for me it means going to a park, a garden, a place of considered calm where I can just be with and in nature. To sit or wonder and just to breathe in these environments (again without any phone, stop taking your phone everywhere!!) is a natural release for your body and to be honest it’s a great way to reduce anxiety and try and bring yourself back to a state of normality. This is another good one to consider if you do have one of those ‘wrong side of the bed’ moments, I often walk to the office a different way and the route suits my mood, sometimes changing up the mundane or repetitive elements of our day to day can make a huge difference. (If you want to know more about colour in the context of mood then do take a look here: LiveScience – Colours from Happiness to Depression
  • Buffing it Up! – This requires a certain degree of patience, because we can’t all just run off to the gym when we have issues, we have to learn to control our state and release at the optimum moment. This could be whether you fancy a treadmill as a solution, or if you prefer to take on a martial arts class. And in either context, as you’ll see from the ever expanding yoga craze, just try to find classes that aren’t happy with instructors that got the certification off their back room printer after reading up on the definition of yoga online… That said, I have a huge range of friends and colleague who suffer from all sorts of issues and yoga is a very sound way learning to control your body and it’s state. And if you’re a real man thinking yoga’s too girls for me, then consider two things… 1) Whether you want a 6 pack as opposed to the whole keg and 2) girls much prefer a man with an open mind…
  • Music of Life – This for me is a core part of getting by… Music is a medium I’ve found can completely change my mood in the course of 3 and a half minutes or so… Over the last 10 years, not willing to take medication for my disorder I have relied on the above and on music. There are a number of songs that will send me into a really positive state and played in context with the situation music is a really great stimulant against anxiety or depression. Music has a rhythm that can be used to channel your bodies energy based on the beat and the context of the tune. We must as individuals look at how we change our bodies state, as we perceive it to be, because our perception is a mentally controlled entity and by using music, we can shift the dynamic to a state where our mind is not in control, it just has to let itself be swept away by the music and in doing so we clear our minds, left only to feel the energy we’re feeding ourselves.

A few tunes I love:

Joe Esposito – You’re the Best (also know as the song from the original Karate Kid) – best used in the context that you have a big meeting.

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now – best used in the context that you’re running late or you’ve just had some amazing news!

The Five Stairsteps – O-o-oh Child – (also seen in Guardians of the Galaxy) – best used in the context that you’re feeling depressed or low… This is a good one to bring you through a bad time, it builds you back up gently to the point where you can feel much more positive.

Anyway, apparently my staff are suggesting that I need to head into a meeting now about running a business… The audacity!! So I must away but I want to leave you with one note when considering the context of the above…

The Dalai Lama, if you read his books, says a lot of things that you may think seem relatively obvious… (as with my overview above) But it’s not until you really consider them that you benefit… in life we rarely take the most obvious route, but it’s usually the one that defines a result, our body is a mechanism to the mind and the relationship between the two is such a valuable thing to explore…

 

The Sunday Spot – 17th April

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 5

A Path through the Crystalline Forest

The adventurers continued to run as fast as they could manage through the crystal encrusted trees of the forest that engulfed them. They weren’t sure if they were being followed by goblins from the wall and they certainly didn’t want to risk being captured again. What if next time they were to meet something worse than a witch? “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen” panted William as they finally came to a stop. “I know” replied Samuel “I didn’t think we were going to get away from her.”

Samuel knelt down to lay Bindlebob on the floor before him. “Is he ok?” asked William as he knelt down beside his brother. “I don’t know William, I hope so, I’ve no idea where we are and we must have passed this tree at least five times!” he replied. “It’ll be alright Smello’s” said Bindlebob as he struggled with his words, his chest hoarse from the attack. “Are you ok Bindlebob?” asked Samuel, his eyes beginning to brim with tears at the relief that his friend was conscious again. “I’ll be ok you little rabbit gobblers!” said the hobgoblin as he sat up to catch his breath, hobgoblins are quick healers. “Why don’t we stop here and rest little warriors, this place is safe.” he whispered. The three travellers sat back to relax a while in the small glade, deep within the heart of the Crystalline forest.

Then, out of nowhere came the tiniest ear piercing scream. “Owwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeee!!” They all jumped immediately to their feet, even Bindlebob who was indeed already looking like he’d been healing fast and drawing their weapons they began scouring the area for any sign of a potential enemy. “Who’s there?” announced Samuel, trying his best to sound authoritative. “It’s me you big clumsy!” came the high pitched squeal again. Still none of the friends could see where the voice was coming from. “I’m down here. Why don’t they look down here?” screeched the voice. As they cast their gaze down toward the forest floor they could see what appeared to be a little mushroom waving two small silvery leaves that looked not dissimilar to arms right back at them. He seemed to be beckoning them to come closer. “That’s it, here I am, on your knees if you please?” the creature squeaked as the group drew nearer.

William couldn’t help pushing his youthful face right up to the man in an effort to get a better look. “What are you?” he asked. “I’m not saying a word until big bonce over there gives me an apology!” said the tiny creature pointing a leafy arm at Samuel. “What am I supposed to apologise for?” said Samuel looking confused at the accusation. “You sat on me” said the mushroom man “and it hurted!” “I am truly sorry little one, I didn’t mean to hurt you, we were just so tired that we had to stop and rest” replied the older brother. “I should have been paying more attention.” “You should have” retorted the mushroom man with a squeaky yet gruff undertone. “Now can you tell us what you are little man?” asked William. “He’s a mush man” chimed Bindlebob. “That’s right!” cried the mush man. “The gnome knows! I’m a mush man; a little bit man, a little bit mushroom. My name is Hempleroot.” he exclaimed.

“Nice to meet you Hempleroot” said the boys in unison. “Maybe you can help us?” said William. “We ran into the woods to escape the evil witch of the northern gate, but we’re a bit lost and we don’t know the way out.” “Can you show us a route through the forest Hempleroot?” asked Samuel readily. “Well I might if you grant me a wish?” replied Hempleroot. “What kind of wish?” asked a rather confused Samuel. “We don’t know any magic and we certainly don’t have any powers.” “Well you don’t need magic silly bonce, but you have to promise yes before I agree!” Hempleroot continued, in an even higher pitched voice, eager for the travellers to respond well to his request. “Very well” said Samuel hoping he could fulfil his vow. “If you show us a way through the forest then we will grant you a wish.” “Alright” said Hempleroot, preparing himself “My wish is to come on your journey with you! I don’t mind riding in the pocket of your jerkin and I can show you the way from there.” “Well that’s an easy wish” announced William “We can definitely agree to that, but why do you want to leave your forest? It’s very beautiful here.” “Its rubbish!” said Hempleroot folding his leafy arms in a huff. “All I do all day is wonder around the forest floor; I can’t see anything good because I’m all the way down here and what’s more is, every time someone comes around here they either try to pick me and eat me, or, they tread on me! It’s rubbish being a mush man. I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure, I’m bigger than I look on the outside you know!” he continued.

So, with a renewed spirit and confidence, the adventurers decided to continue their route north through the forest with Hempleroot as their guide, never having thought that they’d ever be lead by a mush man. The band of four wandered for quite some time, continually with the feeling they were being watched at the back of their minds as shadowy figures moved back and forth through the trees all around them. They quite enjoyed the company of their new found friend with his odd little stories of growing up as a mush man and how his family were all but eaten or squashed some years before, in a terrible accident while trying to cross a footpath.

After a short while Samuel spoke “are you sure you know exactly where we’re going Hempleroot?” he said. “Of course I do” replied the mush man. “We’re coming towards the river of red, we will have to cross it, but with you so big I don’t know how.” he squeaked. Sure enough, just as his sentence ended, the crystal trees parted to reveal a vast river before them. The river ran crimson and thick dark, like the blood of a thousand men and William felt a shudder run throughout his body, a lump in his throat as he recalled his father’s body, soaked in blood in the village square several days before.

The river must have stretched for at least twenty feet in front of them and on the other side they could see the remains of what must have been a bridge some years ago. One thing was certain; they were not going to be able to cross without some sort of raft. But before Samuel had chance to consider a solution, his thoughts were interrupted by a poignant howl in the darkness, like the cry of a banshee, piercing the air with its eerie scream.

The friends huddled together back to back, as slowly and silently from the shadows they could see at least eight pairs of silvery eyes moving towards them. A voice spoke from the dark. “What do you think you’re doing in my wood” rasped the voice. “Do you think you can just pass through without my say so?” it snarled. “Why don’t you show yourself scum toes!” Bindlebob called out into the shadow. “Very well” replied the voice. And the eyes began to move forward until the creatures were stood before them, surrounding the band completely with their backs to the crimson river.

As the travellers slowly peered about them they could see quite clearly that the voice that they’d heard was that of a wolf and his pack of snarling followers. The wolves all looked quite similar, great muscular beasts, with silvery flesh that seemed to glisten as they prowled around drooling, their sharp crystal fangs bared at the boys and their friends as if waiting for the order to tear them apart. The leader however was different, his flesh was a duller than the rest, it was torn and scarred as if from a great number of battles and his eyes bled black, as dark as the deepest of chasms, allowing any onlooker to become lost in the dark pool as they peer within.

His face was almost bloated though he had a slim pointed snout, upon which Samuel could see that there were what appeared to be crystals growing from his nose and up across his face, stretching down his back to become barbed crystal spikes that stuck out around his ribs and spine giving him the appearance of a creature of purest evil. “Looks like it’s time for us to feed, doesn’t it boys? Why don’t you come a little closer and say hello…” snapped the wolf, as he steadily began to approach his prey.

The brothers weren’t sure what to do, Bindlebob had vanished again, but they knew he must be somewhere nearby, though there was nothing that Hempleroot could do to save them, as he buried his face in Samuels pocket lining. In trouble again they found themselves wondering whether they’d ever make it to their mother and even if they did what good would they be? They couldn’t take on an army! William’s hair stood on end on the back of his neck; he reached out to grasp his brother’s hand and the boys held one another tight as they stood waiting for the inevitable; the wolves to attack.

Yesterdays Sunday Spot -11th April

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 4

The Witch of the Gate

Bindlebob skimmed quickly round the outskirts of the forest edge. He could see the two boys being carried into the vast wall through a crooked wooden door next to the smaller goblins guard hut and knew that despite his power of invisibility, he would never be able to just walk out across the clearing in broad daylight without being spotted. There were more goblins here than he had ever seen before and they would most definitely notice his footprints in the dusty earth beneath him.

Despite looking terribly stupid, goblins were actually quite bright creatures and expertly cunning when they wanted to be. Bindlebob decided that the best course of action was to try and create some sort of diversion so that he could slip past un-noticed and get closer to the door where the boys had been taken. He had no idea what he could possibly do that would draw their attention for long enough; but he knew that if they were all focussed on one thing then he’d easily be able to get across the courtyard un-seen.

He quickly started rummaging around in the array of coloured leaves that lay before him, until he stumbled across a sharp rock between his feet. Very subtly Bindlebob stooped to pick up the rock, trying to remain as casual as possible, completely forgetting that no one could see him anyway so his covert actions were completely un-necessary. In his mind he was a spy, a shadow dweller who was on a mission of espionage to save his friends and he wasn’t going to be seen by anyone or anything. Then, before he had time to carefully consider a course of action, his impatient nature got the better of him and he clumsily hurled the rock through the air at one of the goblins on the far side of the main gate. The goblin in question was cackling to himself while quaffing away at spider grog, a poisonous, putrid liquid to all but the goblins.

Spider grog was made up of the bodies of dead spiders and birds that had been puréed together into a foul smelling paste, the one thing that all goblins found hard to resist.

Though, despite a moment of merriment on his part, he was swiftly interrupted as the stone from Bindlebob’s tiny hand hit him square in the temple, causing him to squawk in agony as a greenish clotted blood pulsed from the wound. Without hesitation he whirled around and immediately accused the first goblin that he saw. The accused was a sort of rough looking hulk, with huge dark blue skin wrapped around tightly formed muscles, rippling beneath his partial armour chest plate. He stared almost completely without emotion at his accuser as he began to draw his giant sword from its scabbard.

Goblins were notorious for bickering and fighting amongst themselves; after all, this was how they made decisions about things like leadership and who would get the most food, or even treasure, when that was being divided amongst the horde after sacking a village or pillaging a band of travellers. “What do you fink yer doin’ scrag ‘ed?” said the first goblin Fangscuttle, while nursing his temple. “What do ya mean by that stinkpot!?” said the bigger goblin, totally unaware of why he was being targeted. “You it me! And yer gunna pay fer that!” said Fangscuttle, quickly whipping out his blade before his victim had time to draw and driving the cold jagged steel deep into the stomach of the accused, which was followed by a gurgling, spluttering, thud, as the now lifeless figure hit the floor. Bindlebob stood there in a stunned silence, barely able to contain himself following such luck and he watched on as an immense riot began to ensue.

Goblins everywhere were screaming at one another, many of the smaller ones were cut down by their larger allies as they scrabbled about the courtyard trying to defend themselves; the clattering of their weapons and clashing of armour was raw in the air around them. As the chaos erupted before him, Bindlebob was able to gather his senses, realizing that he might not have much time and he picked up a hefty looking stick for protection as he scuttled quickly across the left flank of the courtyard and up to the door, a little surprised that despite the distraction, none of the goblins noticed the stick bobbing up and down in mid air before them.

When he reached the door he tugged hard on the warped brass handle, pushing and pulling with all the might he could muster, but to no avail, the door wouldn’t budge. “I must need a key” he thought as he turned slowly and began to creep towards the guard hut. As he craned his neck around the entrance, Bindlebob could see the small purple goblin dozing away, while seated on a clumsy wooden stool with a large set of keys strapped to his belt, oblivious to what was going on outside. Ever so slowly, Bindlebob crept closer to the goblin, gently raising the hefty stick above his head ready to strike. But before he could attack, the goblins eyes snapped awake and stared eerily at Bindlebob; the stick flew down with a force! Still sitting up straight he lingered briefly in silence almost as if he was unscathed following the incident, this went on to the point that Bindlebob thought he should give him another bash, but there was no need, as after a few long seconds he wobbled slightly and fell off his stool and onto the hard stone floor of his hut, unconscious. The hobgoblin quickly grabbed the keys and ran outside again to the door where his friends had been taken. After failing with several of the oddly shaped keys, he eventually managed to unlock the door and cautiously began to open it. Bindlebob wasn’t sure where the goblins had taken the boys, but he knew he must find them and rescue them. He closed the door behind him and locked it tight so that no one was able to follow him in; he then proceeded along the dark, dank corridor that stood before him.

Almost cavern like in its shape, the corridor was grim, with stalactites encroaching from the ceiling above, lit only by tiny candles hidden in crevices in the walls. The tiny figure continued onward for a while before coming to a corner that led him to his right, revealing a long, winding staircase. “This must be where they went” he thought, as there were seemingly no other doors or hallways that he could make out in the miserable light. He began to move ever so quietly up the stairs; they too were made of stone, just like the walls, but they felt cold and sticky like the slimy skin of the goblins as he almost had to peel his feet from the floor with every step. Bindlebob was still with fear. He knew that while he was invisible no goblins could see him, but something inside him was making him fearful and danger felt too close to remain at ease. As he crept closer to the top of the winding staircase he heard voices growing louder as their owners moved further along the hall towards him. Despite his invisibility, Bindlebob became so nervous that he darted quickly behind a rotting wall hanging so as to be quite sure he wasn’t seen. Then, as the voices were almost upon him, he sneakily poked his head out to see the goblins from the wood strolling leisurely past him and back down the staircase he’d ascended. “What do ya fink she’ll do wiv em?” said Grelbog. “Dunno mate, don’t fancy their chances though” growled Bolrag in response, as they passed down the stairs and out of Bindlebob’s earshot.

Once he was sure that the coast was clear, the hobgoblin gently began to move along the hallway once more. He knew he must be going the right way now, but there was an urgency about his pace as he drove forward, knowing that the boys were likely to be in trouble. He swung fast around another corner, this way to his left and before him stood another staircase. This one was much, much wider than the last one had been and a tattered blue carpet made it look almost grand in the glimmer from the candles against the damp glistening walls. As well as the addition of the carpet, another difference between this as the dingy surroundings he’d passed through on the stairs before hand, was that the steps themselves were much steeper and each very high; it took Bindlebob quite some time to clamber up from step to step with such little legs. Also on the walls around him as he pushed on ascending the stairs, there were hundreds of tiny paintings. Some were of goblins, some were of men, but there were also a number of paintings that represented oddly misshapen animals, far too numerous and grotesque to describe, none the less sending a shiver down Bindlebob’s back. It was a very strange feeling to the tiny traveller, but as he climbed on, they all seemed to be staring in his direction as if they were watching him from their frames. This was somewhat un-nerving to Bindlebob, as he swallowed hard while his stomach bubbled with nervous energy but made a conscious decision to try not to pay attention, as their ghoulish dead eyes followed him up the steps. When he eventually did reach the top he could see a leathery looking door, studded with metallic spikes that jutted out sporadically at awkward angles. Bindlebob pushed himself as close up against the door as he could, craning up on tip toes to push his eye against the keyhole on the left of the doors dramatic Gothic handle. As he did so he discovered that what lay beyond the door was a large room, lightly furnished with a range of tables and chairs, armour statues, wall mounted weapons and to his surprise he could even see the boys. Samuel and William were both hanging from a thick ‘hemp like’ rope that had been bound tight around their wrists; they hung from the far wall of the room.

Bindlebob wondered how he was to help them, but after another quick glance around he realized that he couldn’t see anyone else in there, so drew his small blade from it’s sheathe and decided to try the door. To his amazement it opened with ease and the hobgoblin wondered cautiously through the centre of the room, towards where the boys hung. What Bindlebob hadn’t seen through the keyhole, was that the room was covered from wall to wall with bookshelves; they were brimming with old and tattered books and seemed too far off the ground for any human or goblin to reach. Before him stood a large wooden table with a host of assorted archaic chairs scattered clumsily around it and as his eyes roved around the room he also noticed that one of the walls hosted a thin window, through which he could see out onto a sliver forest and the rocky plains of the Darklands in the distance. As he whirled about in awe he noticed that on the wall behind him, above the entrance was a large antique portrait.

The portrait was of a beautiful young woman wearing a green silken dress and her face looked almost as if it was filled with the deepest of sorrow while he watched on, mesmerised. As Bindlebob stood before him gazing at the portrait, Samuel’s eyes opened slowly to see a host of muddy footprints dotted around the room. “Bindlebob!” he cried. “Thank goodness you’re here; we thought that you’d left us!” “Not to worry smello’s, it takes more than a goblin or two to stop old Bindlebob!” he jeered as he scrambled up Samuels leg and swiftly cut the boys loose allowing them to drop to the floor rubbing their wrists.

Suddenly a voice rose from across the room, filling the air around them with an almost unbearable echo. “Do you think that I can’t see you master gnome?” sneered the voice, from behind Bindlebob. “Do you think that your foolish pixie magic will work on me?” As the three friends looked up at where the portrait was hung, they saw woman, floating before them above the doorway. There was no longer a figure in the portrait, but the woman they saw was not what they remembered from the painting. This woman was not beautiful at all. She was haggard; her face was difficult to gaze upon as it was creased and shadowed with age, almost like her soul was lost and had taken the colour of her life with it. She did indeed wear a green silken dress as the girl in the frame had, but this dress was not as it had been, it was tattered and worn, grubby and gnarled with the ill-keeping of years; tormented as its wearer. The woman had long grey wispy hair and her eyes glowed golden, like the crimson fire of their village as it skipped about and drifted to ash. Samuel and William stared at her, their thoughts beginning to grow black as they saw their father, he was fighting wildly with passion as he was struck in the chest by an arrow and run through with a darkened blade; they saw their mother screaming as she was beaten by a man clad in black armour and loaded into a caged wagon.

The brothers felt weak, recalling how far they’d come, hearts racing against their will, sweat beading across their brows as they felt like they were choking, swallowing their own tongues as they suffered for air, it felt as if death was slowly taking the boys forth into his world of fire and anguish, snatching their lives from about them as a reaper in his corn field. The room had become hazy and distorted as the pair fell to their knees; a scream broke the silence, dragging the brothers from their trance. “Don’t do it smello’s! Don’t look at the eyes; she’s a witch with spells to cast! Don’t look at the eyes!” cried Bindlebob as he thrust the boys to the floor, breaking their gaze. As the last words left his lips, the witch raised a long skeletal finger and the hobgoblin flew immediately across the room and into the far wall by the window with a crunch, falling to the floor into a silent, motionless heap, bruised and bloodied after the attack. “Silence you pathetic little imp! You think you can stop me having my way?” she whirled back around to face the brothers. “You think you’re safe, you think you can escape? No one escapes me! You will go to your death just like all the others!” she cackled. As she grimaced away still cursing them, Samuel and William began to sink into the floor.

What once was stone was now more like a thick concrete and the deeper the boys got, the more their bodies felt as if they were being crushed, as they were slowly enveloped against their will. “William, your sling!” gasped Samuel. “You have to strike her!” William didn’t wait to ask any questions, he quickly removed the sling from his belt and fitted a stone from his pocket into the pouch at its centre. Then, before the Witch could comprehend what was happening, William loosed the stone hard at her face, striking her just above the right eye, leaving her screeching wildly as she fell to the floor. Still reeling from the wound she too began to sink into the floor as it bubbled and slurped away, thick as the quick sands of the northern plains, always eager to feed upon their prey.  Samuel had managed to reach out and grasp one of the chairs next to the table and drag himself from the engulfing mass, skipping expertly onto the vast table and reaching out for his brother still struggling before him. William took hold of Samuel’s hand and between the two of them they managed to mount the table.

Without wishing to linger too long as it slowly disappeared into the floor the brothers gingerly jumped off the table and from one piece of sinking furniture to the other until they reached the stone window ledge; then sweeping down to scoop up Bindlebob Samuel realized what awaited them as he looked down from the window at the drop below. It was a very long way down and they were clearly out of options until the faint voice of their injured friend whispered at them, not making much sense but trying to hand something to the boys from one of his pockets. “What is it Bindlebob?” asked William, but the response was garbled, though they thought they heard the word magical before he fell out of consciousness once more.

William opened his hand to show Samuel what he’d received and it appeared to be a small reel of golden cotton. Samuel looked visibly worried “and what exactly are we supposed to do with that?” he exclaimed with a hint of cynicism. “Didn’t you hear him brother, it’s magical” said William as he began to tie one end of the cotton to a suit of armour, the body of which had almost entirely disappeared into the floor. Then he took the reel and threw it from the window, letting it fall further and further until it was out of view. “What are you doing?” cried Samuel. “Trust me” replied William and he started to shimmy down the cotton as if it was the toughest of ropes. Samuel began to follow his brother carefully, with Bindlebob under one arm, navigating his way down the tower and the following wall. The brothers zipped quickly down the golden cotton, surprised at its strength and the soft feeling while clutched in their hands. They could hear the squeal of the Witch as they descended and good natured as the two were, they couldn’t help feeling lifted as she sunk to her death in the chamber above.

When they reached the bottom they saw the most beautiful silvery forest, all of the trees seemed to be made of the purest crystal, twinkling in the light of the afternoon sun as they would sway in the gentle wind from the East. No sooner had their feet hit the ground, the boys ran as fast as they could into the thickets and while a growing feeling of relief began to take over their bodies, the brothers knew that their adventure was once again on the move.

Mental Health awareness week…

Please Note: This blog post is in support of the Mental Health Foundation

Every year, thousands of supporters across the UK take part in Mental Health Awareness Week. This year the week will take place from May 16-22 on the theme of relationships.

Healthy and supportive relationships are key to good mental health. Join us all in celebrating the people and connections in our lives that add to our wellbeing and help us thrive.

Hold an event

Think about ways you can bring people together and start conversations around mental health. Some suggestions could be to:

  • Host a wellbeing walk – with friends, colleagues or people in your community
  • Set up a stand in your local hospital, community centre, library or supermarket
  • Hold a series of lectures or talks on mental health – make it interactive as possible and get the audience involved!

The Mental Health Foundation fundraising team have got you covered with more event ideas for the workplace, schools and your communities.

Don’t forget to add your event to our activity map – you can also see what other people are planning during the week.

Spread the word

During the week the Mental Health Foundation will be posting stories and information on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Please follow them to help them share their messages and to join in the discussion. You can also let us know what you’re getting up to by using the tag #MHAW16.

Share your story

If you have a personal story about how relationships have been a source of strength in your life and would like to share it with us, please send through 400 words to stories@mentalhealth.org.uk

Mental Health Awareness Week FAQs

Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 will take place from 16-22 May on the theme of relationships.

How can I get involved?

During the week we encourage our supporters to hold events and campaign to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing. You can find out how to get involved as an individual, within a workplace and as a community here.

You can also find events to attend in your area through our activity map

Can you send me materials supporting Mental Health Awareness Week?

We will be producing a range of materials to support your events which will be released closer to the week. This will include a poster, leaflets, and a donation box. You can pre-order your pack here.

We will also be producing digital materials in the run up to the week such as infographics and banners which we encourage you to share to help raise awareness and get more people involved!

How can I fundraise during the week?

The Mental Health Foundation is a charity that relies on public donations and grant funding to deliver and campaign for good mental health for all.

You can find out more about fundraising for us and get inspiration for the types of events you can hold here.

Do you have any funding available for my event?

Unfortunately as a charity with limited resources, we don’t have the capacity to provide funding for events held during the week. However, you can publicize your event through our activity map, and we can also send you a free pack of materials including a poster and leaflets. Please sign up to our mailing list to be the first to know when these are available for pre-order.

Can you help me publicize any events I am holding during the week?

You can submit details of your event to be displayed on our activity map. We will be publicizing this map in the lead up to the week so that supporters can find out about and attend your events.

How can I become a partner organisation during the week?

If you would like to support Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 as an organisation, please get in touch at awarenessweek@mentalhealth.org.uk. You can also find out ways to get your workplace involved here.

The Sunday Spot – 3rd April

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 3

The Northern Gate

After a few long hours travelling along the northern path, in the overbearing heat of the midday sun the three friends began to grow weary. The brothers hadn’t eaten for quite some time and their stomachs felt bloated and painful as they pressed on, trying to ignore their blistering feet from the endless trudge toward their enemy and the freedom they meant to offer their people. The road seemed like it would never end as they came to rest in the shadow of a nearby cluster of trees.

“Let’s find some food” said Bindlebob, “I’m starving and rumbly!” “I think we should” replied Samuel, glad that he hadn’t been the first to break the deadlock. Slowly, the travellers began to forage in the bushes either side of the path for things like mushrooms and cabbages, the most common food to be found among the dead branches and spindly twigs that made up the forest floor. Before very long William had pulled up two whole cabbages, almost the size of his own body and Samuel had found a whole host of wild berries and mushrooms for them to enjoy. The boys piled their findings together, using a fallen tree bow as a makeshift bench, while they began to prepare the vegetables for cooking, nibbling cheerily away as they did.

While they continued in their preparation, William was the first to speak. “Where’s Bindlebob?” he said. But scanning the area that surrounded them, neither of the boys could see where their friend might be hiding. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe he’s still just looking for food?” replied Samuel. “That’s right smello’s!” a voice bellowed out as if from nowhere. “Bindlebob! Where are you?” called William, his head still roving around, unsure of where the voice had come from. But instead of a response, Bindlebob appeared, like a flash, directly in front of the two brothers. “How did you do that?” asked Samuel, still stunned that they’d not been aware of this unlikely skill before. “That’s easy!” replied Bindlebob. We hobgoblins have always been magical folk, able to make ourselves invisible so as to keep us from harm. Plus, it means that we can get up to things that others can’t” he said with a wry smirk forming across his scaly face, as he pulled out two dead rabbits from inside his dressing gown. “Where did you find those?” said Samuel, with a hint of concern in his voice. “Never you mind master Samuel” said Bindlebob, as he stripped the skin from the tiny creatures. “It doesn’t matter brother” said William, “as long as we have food. I’m so hungry I could eat a whole family of rabbits!” “But how shall we cook all of this food?” asked Samuel. “Not to worry, trust old Bindlebob!” and at this, Bindlebob drew from behind his back a large, rounded saucepan. “I don’t think I want to know…” said Samuel and he stooped to light a fire with a few pieces of kindling wood he’d gathered from the base of the nearest tree. Bindlebob immediately began fussing and muttering away as he circled the pot, adding mushrooms, then cabbage, then rabbit, followed by more mushrooms. He then drew his knife and held the pot up against the woody coat of a tree, while he thrust the blade deep into the flesh of the bark, allowing a delicate flow of sweet saps down his blade and letting it drip gently into his rabbit and vegetable mix. Then, almost without seeming to move he gave it all a quick stir and the pot was over the fire, simmering slowly into a beautiful rabbit stew.

“That was very good Bindlebob; but I feel so tired” said William, as he finished his share of the stew. “Go to sleep brother” said Samuel, “I will watch over you.” But as time passed them by, in his peaceful ignorance Samuel’s eyelids began to droop, while a heavy, numb feeling washed over his body and he fell silently into the deepest of dreams.

After a short while of lying peacefully, the boys were startled awake by a sharp crack as they jumped to their feet almost simultaneously to see a gnarled wooden arrow embedded into a fallen tree, not far from where Samuel had lay. But before they could even gather their senses, the two boys were swept off their feet and into a large mesh bag. As they began to focus on what had caused the chaos, they realised that holding the bag was a giant goblin. The boys froze; their hair almost on end as their bodies tingled with fear, shuddering at the sight of the beast that stood before them. Neither of the brothers had seen anything like it, but they’d heard their father talk often of the goblin wars, where all men had gone to fight for their land and for freedom, against the monstrous, grotesque creatures. This was until one day a cunning warrior came to end the plight, before he was crowned King of all Earthengale, later to disappear mysteriously forever, dividing the plains between North, West, South and East.

The goblin before them was a good seven feet tall in Samuel’s eyes. It had green slimy skin as dark as the leaves of an Oak, at the height of summer. It had jagged, rotten teeth, that were pointed and sharp; they were stained deep yellow and were clearly not looked after, which was confirmed by the stench from the goblins breath as it crept like a foul elixir through the air, choking their lungs with its thick smell. The goblin wore chain mail armour, which hung loosely over the bloodied fur of dead animals that clung to his broad, bony shoulders, like a vile robe. In his right hand he had a crooked wooden bow and strapped to his back was a ‘leather like’ quiver, full of twisted and distorted arrows. “Bolrag! Come look what I’ve found!” squawked the goblin, raising the bag up in front of his wrinkled, slimy green face to get a closer look at what he’d caught. “What is it Grelbog?” said another haunting voice from beyond the trees surrounding them, as another goblin appeared.

The second goblin was distinctly shorter than the first, though he was dressed in a similar chain mail which again hung across some bloodied fur pelts, almost like a miscreant uniform. However, this second goblins skin was more of a muddied brown colour and William let out the tiniest of whimpers, as he noticed the huge jagged sword he had strapped to his belt. “These look like the blighters what stole our rabbits!” said Grelbog, indicating the skins that Bindlebob had stripped from the corpses and subsequently cast aside. “And that’s my pan!” cried Bolrag, as he stooped to grasp the saucepan from the fire swilling the mix into his mouth only to spit it immediately to the floor. “Yuck! It tastes all nice!” he snarled. Samuel slowly, noiselessly drew his knife and tried to slice through the mesh of the bag, but it seemed to be made from some sort of metallic wire and his efforts were useless. “Awww you won’t cut through that in an hurry you little blighter!” said Bolrag, spotting Samuels feeble efforts. “Why don’t we take ‘em back to ‘er chamber?” cackled Grelbog, as saliva dribbled from his bloated lips. “Good idea, let ‘er deal wiv ‘em.” retorted Bolrag. And the two goblins began to stomp off along the path where the boys had originally been travelling. “Where’s Bindlebob?” whispered Samuel to his brother. “Look” replied William and he pointed in the direction of some steadily emerging footprints that seemed to appear in the earth behind them, as the goblins trounced clumsily along unknowingly. Samuel smiled. “Don’t worry smello’s Bindlebob won’t let you get taken by these uglies!” whispered a reassuring and friendly voice from mid air.

It wasn’t long before the road before them seemed to widen and the goblins turned a corner just as the trees tailed off to reveal, in front of them, a vast wooden gate, fortified by a castle like structure that enveloped it. The gate was set right in the middle of a huge, worn, grey brick wall, with a range of battlements resting jauntily above it. At the left of the battlements there stood a winding, crooked tower which grew almost completely lopsided as their gaze drew nearer to its peak and the boys couldn’t comprehend how the structure stood firm with its cobbled wonky edges and rickety ramparts. Above the centre of the gate was a large metallic plaque, and upon it was written is bold black ink ‘The Northern Gate – May luck be with those who travel forth and beyond!’ Below this was also a smaller plaque that read ‘Entrance to the Crystalline Forest and the Darklands of the North.’

There were goblins everywhere! The battlements were brimming and the courtyard teeming with the filthy creatures, that until recently Samuel and William had never really believed existed. They were short, fat, skinny, tall, vile looking creatures, all with a different and more disgusting shade of skin than the last that let off a smell which sort of amalgamated in the air and was not dissimilar to that of vomit. It was all the boys could do to stop themselves from gagging at the sight and smell of what lay before them. The majority of the grim creatures were crowded around a fire to one side of the main wall and Samuel was no longer feeling as comfortable as he had, when he’d thought there were only two of them to outwit. Also, he could no longer see the footprints of Bindlebob in the dirt around them and he began to wonder if their new found friend had changed his mind about helping them out of danger. The brothers remained silent and steady in their captive state, ever watchful of an opportunity to escape, but both of the boys knew that now was clearly not the time. They would get nowhere if they tried to struggle free and besides there were too many enemies for them to ever make it out alive.

The goblins halted as they arrived at a smaller wooden side door, which lead directly into the base of the great wall. They stood for a moment next to what must have been some sort of guards hut, then, after a little scuffling from inside the hut, out popped a very small goblin. The miniature beast wasn’t a great deal taller than Bindlebob, but he had a head of thinning grey wispy hair and purple skin, with mottled glasses, which almost hung from a crooked pointy nose. “We’ve brought a couple ‘o prezzies for ‘er mistress!” announced Grelbog. “Well you’d better get a move on and enter then” replied the little purple goblin, as he unlocked the door which swung steadily open to reveal a black tunnel before them, lit only by the tiniest if candles. The boys were now stiff with fear, the hair on their necks stood to attention as they trembled, each almost lifeless in their captive state.

Where were the goblins taking them and who was this mistress they spoke of? Where had Bindlebob gone, was he coming back and could they even trust their new friend to help them? The brothers clung to each other for comfort, but neither of them knew what fate lay in store, as day became black and the door crept heavily closed behind them.

Boys, Girls & taking care of business…

A useful thing to note is that while I’m writing a blog surrounding my life as ‘The Bipolar Businessman’ the chaps are not the only ones suffering in this area of mental health…

Both males and females are equally at risk of issues surrounding mental health, depression and anxiety and it’s important that we’re aware of anyone within our businesses that may potentially show cause for concern.

I started this blog originally because around only 19% of men who actually have a mental health disorder, come forward to try and seek help or advice, and still fewer of that 19% actually put their name to it, so most remain anonymous. The shocking thing is, that the female statistic is only around 29% which means in both the male and female categories we’re still seeing that around 70-80% of people with a mental health issue will not seek help or maybe don’t even know how to.

A staggering 45% of mental health issues surrounding depression and anxiety are actually caused or develop because of people’s working environments and work lifestyles, that means nearly half of the mental health issues in the UK to date could potentially be remedied if companies were to employ steps to make a change!

The statistic in 2009 was that 1 in 6 workers is experiencing depression, anxiety or stress at a cost of approximately £26 billion to the UK economy, or around £1,035 per employee (a statistic from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007).

This means that mental health at work is a pretty significant problem, yet we still, as a nation, take this stiff upper lip/elephant in the room approach, meaning that the costs spiral for individuals and businesses.

My focus as an individual is to create awareness of the issues, share my story (to give an indication of where others might have come from, or what they might be dealing with) and to help companies both large and small to remedy the issues, at least to a degree, in implementing changes & policies that aid their staff development long term.

A study by Mind indicated the following divisions to consider are: What the Government can do, what your average employer should do, what your large scale employer should do and what the Owners/Managers of SME’s should do and in these four groups there are some areas to focus on below:

The Government should:

• explore financial incentives to encourage employers to prioritise mental health awareness and support at work – such as a feedback incentive loop where insurance premiums would be lower if employers had good mental health training for management in place

• keep the current tax-exempt status of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) as welfare counselling to encourage employers to provide EAPs, which act as support and prevention services for mental ill health

• research and evaluate extending tax reliefs or reductions for a range of employer-funded interventions that promote mental wellbeing, and ensure exemptions are applied and publicised consistently by HMRC and other agencies engaging with employers, such as Business Link

• explore how to improve GPs’ use of the fit note – for example, by increasing the amount and quality of compulsory occupational medicine training available at medical school and as ‘refresher’ modules and by working with the Royal College of GPs to raise awareness of best practice

• along with organisations such as Mind etc. consider the specific needs of different sizes and sectors of business and ensure recommendations and resources are tailored to a range of needs

• ensure sustainable provision of occupational health support for small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) at local level – for example, by implementing the NHS Wellbeing Task and Finish Group’s recommendation for NHS occupational health to provide spill-over services for local businesses.

All employers should:

• build relationships with local GPs or charities in order to improve their awareness of workplace environments and appropriate adjustments, by inviting GPs and charities into their business or visiting GP surgeries/charity offices

• make it their policy to talk with staff before they see a GP in order to explore possible workplace adjustments to discuss at their GP appointment

• incorporate safeguarding mental wellbeing into change-management processes and during other challenging periods – for example, through training from the leadership level down, proactively offering additional support to staff, or simply leading by example – as appropriate to the business; safety net support such as occupational health and EAPs should also be built in where possible

• take steps to create an open, supportive workplace environment and facilitate disclosure of mental ill health – for example, by raising awareness of mental health among staff, introducing mental health champions or buddy systems, or ensuring regular ‘temperature checks’ are built into management practice to open up dialogue – as appropriate for their business

• have a communications policy for staff absent through ill health which balances semi-regular contact to provide reassurance while not placing pressure on staff to return to work prematurely; where possible, frequency of contact should be discussed, tailored and agreed with individual employees.

• move from a default performance management approach to a more flexible ‘well conversation’ model, which focuses on employees’ capacity rather than incapacity, to avoid adversarial situations from developing, and provides a case-by-case response to each employee’s strengths and needs

• introduce and promote an EAP – SMEs can explore pooling resources in a local area to share the costs, supported by groups such as local Chambers of Commerce. At a minimum, employers should be aware of and able to signpost employees to appropriate sources of independent and confidential advice, such as the Mind infoline, local Mind or Citizens Advice Bureau.

Large employers should:

• prioritise employee mental health as a boardroom issue – on a par with physical health; this should include regular monitoring of progress or issues by senior leadership, reporting back to the board

• include details of proactive management of psychological health in their public reporting data, in line with Business in the Community’s public reporting guidelines

• ensure supporting mental well-being is embedded in management practice by facilitating regular supervision and appraisal, in line with the best practice outlined in Mind’s employers’ guide (2010)

• introduce, where possible, comprehensive, mandatory mental health awareness and management training for line managers and embed this into learning and development plans, using models like Business in the Community’s ‘Managing emotional well-being – Building team resilience’

• ensure line managers are central to absence management and trained to work in partnership with human resources, occupational health or legal colleagues, to provide a person-centred, rather than procedure-led, risk-based approach

• train line managers in making referrals to their EAP and evaluate their occupational health provision to ensure it plays an integral role in prevention and proactive absence management.

Owner/managers of SMEs should:

• promote positive mental health with staff, keep levels of employee health and well-being under regular review and report this to investors, lenders and/or partners as appropriate

• ensure they demonstrate positive management behaviours, hold regular reviews with staff to explore issues or development needs, and follow the simple steps to good management of mental well-being outlined in the Mind and FSB guide

Now if you’re NOT employing some of the elements of the above I hope that this indicator will provide some detail as to the types of things that you should be looking at across your business, regardless of size and scale.

Some of these elements since the reports from the above were established have been put into play, specifically on a government front and we’re becoming better supported by the current government and the Royal families Foundation, lead by Princes William & Harry to highlight potential stigma and implement change.

A colleague of mind Chris Cummings, through an initiative I’m involved with called Minds@Work, has asked me to speak at an event that he runs called Well-Being at Work

There will be one event in Edinburgh on the 26th April 2016 and another in London on the 19th October 2016, so do take a look at the link above for details on that, because it will act as a useful opportunity for you to explore what we’re talking about.

If you’d like to get involved in either of those events either from a sponsorship perspective, simply attending with your colleagues, or even rolling your sleeves up and helping to set up bits and pieces on the day, then please do contact Chris direct on chris.cummings@wellbeingatworkevent.com

Fundamentally we can all be doing something, it’s just about that one thing you might be able to do to improve a persons day to day lifestyle, especially if we look bag at that staggering 45% statistic at the top of this post.

What could you be doing to highlight/remedy the issues within your business?

The Sunday Spot – 27th March

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 2

A Newfound Friend

With the death of their father still filling their hearts with torment and fear they had to stop. It had grown too dark for them to continue travelling by the light of the moon and Samuel had decided it was time to find shelter. This came in the form of a makeshift tent, made from the bristling crooked branches of fallen trees, held together with vine and shrub, from the matted undergrowth around where the boys stood. Samuel did the best he could, but the awkward form of his creation was barely wind tight as the boys, exhausted, scared and beaten by the elements, had settled down to spend the night.

Once again the brothers woke to find themselves in what felt like a strange yet familiar place. The area was vibrant with colour; a cacophony of pinks, yellows, crimson and lilac lead their eyes astray, while the shrill sounds of the forest were alive in their ears, as the boys set about foraging for food. Their father had taught them to feed themselves in the woodland as part of their training, so they were not un-experienced when it came to seeking out sustenance when provisions were sparse; though it seemed very different without the voice of their father to guide them. William had clambered nimbly up a small tree and began picking fruit, while Samuel pulled up mushrooms and gently broke up bits of fallen tree bark to find grubs, a simple but effective substitute for protein. Together the brothers gathered dried wood and grass for kindling, carefully arranging it in the circular centre of some mossy rocks they’d arranged, before Samuel, striking a small piece of flint against his shimmering knife blade, expertly managed to induce a fire. William took his brothers knife and began to segment the fruit into smaller pieces; then the boys mixed it with the mushrooms, berries and grubs that Samuel had gathered, wrapped it tight in to packets of woven leaves and then used these as parcels, to shield their breakfast as they placed it upon the fire to simmer.

After a short term in the glistening heat, a fruity scent filled the air and the soft aroma of the earthy mushroom made the boys mouths water at the thought of the meal to ensue. After very swiftly finishing, each, their entire portion, the two brothers were unsure of what to do next; they were alone for the first time in their lives, with no home and no one to aid them.  “Where do you think those men took our mother and the people of our village?” said William; hoping that his older brother would be able to provide the answer. “I don’t know little brother. They took everyone in those cages away to the north maybe even as far as the Darklands.” Samuel replied.

The Darklands were a place of myth and legend to humble people, like those of the brother’s village. This was a place of adventure and destruction alike, where many a fierce warrior who set forth on the road into the foul realm beyond the northern blockades, never returned.

“What are we going to do?” William chimed on, again hoping that Samuel would be able to offer some sort of solution. “What if they harm them?” he continued. “We must aid them” Samuel started. “We will follow the carriage tracks in the earth as far as we can and continue onward from there” he said, rising to his feet. “But what if it’s dangerous?” said his younger brother, trying hard for his sentence not to sound too wobbly as he delivered it. “We have each other William. We must stick together and keep our courage about us. We will find mother and the villagers and what’s more we’ll free them, no matter who or what stands in our way!” William; renewed by Samuel’s spirit, got to his feet, picked up a few rounded stones from the campfire side and put them in his pocket. Then, clutching his sling tight in one hand, the other one white as he stood with fist clenched, in a state of pure readiness, he took one long look at his brother and the two began to stride forth with conviction into the brush. Without truly knowing what they were facing, the boys knew only one thing; they must protect the people that they cared about. Their mother and the villagers must be set free and the brothers felt in their hearts, that their journey had begun.

They began to find their way through the trees, to the winding road that led on from the north side of the village. After a while of walking through prickling undergrowth and densely packed branches at the bases of the trees of the wood, they found what they were searching for. Along the road as they drew closer, the boys could make out that the wagons had left tracks inset deep into the earth along its centre and they began to follow these slowly, constantly aware of anything around them that might seem odd or out of the ordinary. The tracks of the wagons had soon enough begun to draw faint as the road became partially cobbled and the boys saw a bridge stretching forth across a winding river. Neither of them had been this far away from home before, but they knew that they must continue onward if they were ever to find their kinsmen or their mother again.

When they reached the bridge the tracks had finally disappeared completely, as if someone had just washed them away and the pair decided that the men must have continued onwards over the bridge as the path drew far north into the distance, so they decided to cross. All of a sudden and no sooner had Samuel set one foot onto the structure, a strange little ‘gnome like’ figure sprung up, out of a small trapdoor at its centre. The boys stayed where they were, dead still, though both seemed visibly nervous at the unexpected appearance of the queer being, now standing before them. Without considering his father’s sword laced tight across his back, Samuel slowly began to draw his dagger from its sheathe, while William, still clutching his sling tight, slid his other hand down,  drawing a stone cautiously from his pocket and adding it to the weapons pouch, ready to loose.

The figure was about two feet tall, with orange scaly skin much like that of a snake or lizard. He had bright purple eyes that shone skittishly in the daylight and skipped around like marbles as they enter a fray. He also wore a smile that stretched from what must have been cheek to cheek and curled up slightly at each side giving the boys the impression that this creature was not necessarily to be trusted. He wore what appeared to be a black merchant’s cap with a tassel at its centre and a short grey dressing gown with a thick brown suede belt around his podgy little waistline. The ‘gnome like’ figure was carrying in one hand what seemed like the skeleton of a fish, which he used to awkwardly comb bristly tufts of hair that crept from beneath his cap at either side and attached to his belt was a pale leather sheathe containing a small blade, not much bigger than Samuels knife, yet looked more like a sword in the company of the odd little man. “Hello smello’s!” he cried, as his eyes roved around, seemingly scanning as much of the boys as he could manage. “You can put those away, there’s no need to be afraid of old Bindlebob!” he continued. “Who are you?” asked Samuel, still clutching his knife tight with one hand. “I told you silly. My name is Bindlebob!” replied the creature. “And what are you doing here?” said William, trembling slightly with nerves at the thought that this new presence might be a foe. “No need to be scared little one, I am the keeper of the bridge, the bridge riddler! People can only pass this way to the north with my permission!” “May we have your permission?” asked Samuel steadily trying to hold his nerve. “Nope! Sorry, can’t let you go unless you answer a riddle!” replied Bindlebob, almost confused that they hadn’t grasped the concept sooner. “Those are the rules you know!” “What kind of riddle?” asked William. “Well, the riddled kind of course!” said Bindlebob, skipping from one foot to the other in a sort or merry jig, clearly excited by the prospect of his game to commence. “Are you ready to begin? I haven’t done this in such a long time.” “Well if we must, then we must.” said Samuel, putting his knife away carefully back into its’ sheathe, which seemed to relax his brother. “Very well” said Bindlebob, “here we go!” “What goes up, seldom comes down, wear’s lots of green and in the winter brown?” he chanted. “That’s an easy one!” said Samuel, slightly puzzled as to why the riddle hadn’t been harder. “What is it then clever clogs?” cackled Bindlebob, visibly un-nerved that Samuel might actually have the answer. “Well it’s a tree of course!” announced Samuel with a smile. “What!” cried Bindlebob. “How did you guess? How did you guess?” “May we go now little man?” asked William. “No you may not; and I’m not a little man, I’m a hobgoblin and no one ever guesses my riddles, best two out of three!” Samuel, still glowing slightly from his previously swift triumph over the first riddle, was feeling rather confident. “Go on.” he said, winking at his brother. “Very well then, but you’ll be sorry, this one is much harder.” said Bindlebob. “In water I sink, on dry land I rest, in structure or shelter, my kind are the best.” “That’s a stone!” said William without hesitation, excited at the idea he’d managed to match his brother by guessing this one. “What?!” screeched Bindlebob again, still hopelessly shocked that his riddles seemed like nothing more than a joke to the two boys. “Even the little one gets it now” he muttered to himself as his scaly face began to turn a sort of beetroot colour, a mixture of both anger and embarrassment. Before the brothers could utter another word he began again. “You will never guess this one!” he shouted, almost with a squeak. “Very well” said Samuel, beginning to enjoy and to humour the strange creatures company. “What is blue, sometimes black, reigns over all, in house or shack?”

The boys pondered this for a while as it was certainly a little more tricky than the previous riddles. “Can’t get this one can they, cheeky pipsqueaks aren’t they!” Bindlebob grunted to himself gleefully. But before he could continue, his face dropped as William, once more, began to speak. “Is it the sky?” said the youngest of the brothers.  Bindlebob’s frustration seemed at this point to grow out of control; he began to prance up and down the bridge, restlessly repeating himself over and over again. “How does the little one know? How does the little one know?” he wailed. Then, without any warning he stopped. As if something had popped into his mind, striking him as suddenly as a lightning bolt to the brain. He turned slowly to face the boys, his little purple face slowly fading back to its original sunburst orange complexion. “You guessed all of my riddles.” he began. “When I first became a bridge riddler, my master said to me that if a day should come where one might guess all of my riddles, then I must aid them in whatever way they so desire. I swore then to uphold this oath and that means I must help you, in whatever way I can, as you are the cleverest I’ve met! You’re on a quest I feel?” “Yes we are” replied Samuel, but it is a perilous one and we are not sure if we will ever return this way again. “An oath is and oath my young master and I will do all I can to aid in your journey.” “Very well” said Samuel, “we know what it is to honour something that one believes in. You may travel with us.” “And where is it you are travelling to young warriors?” said Bindlebob, briskly taking off his hat and combing his hair again with the fish skeleton, before replacing the hat carefully, as if endeavouring to make himself a little more presentable for the journey ahead.

“I am Samuel and this, my younger brother William. Last night our father was murdered by men in black armour. They took our mother and many of our villagers, burning our home and our village to the ground. These men were travelling north. We must find our mother and the villagers to set them free, this is our quest.” announced Samuel. “They passed this way, young warriors” said Bindlebob, “too many for old Bindlebob to ask riddles, so I stayed all safe under my bridge. But I will help you! Though the road ahead is full of danger, we must remain careful and never ‘ever’ wonder too far from the path.” He said ‘matter of factly’. Then, without further ado, the small hobgoblin placed the unusual fish comb into his pocket, set his hat at a jaunty angle, as if to make himself look a little menacing, but to no avail, and the three travellers set off together across the bridge and onward down the road to the north.

The two brothers were happy to have found a new friend, and although he kept it well hidden from the boys, Bindlebob was glad to have found some friends too.

Cows & causes…

A lot of company directors ask me how they can best get involved with a mental health charity…

I’m asked regularly what companies can do if they don’t just have money to give, and the answer is so much simpler that just handing over cash.

Charities within any sector, as within mental health, rely on long term finance to continue the distribution of their services to local community.

The biggest issue with raising money to run is that you’ve got to constantly spend money and market the business in order to drive higher returns for the benefit of the charity.

My mentality is slightly different. If, as business professionals with skills, we can impart knowledge and sustainable plans with these charities then we can help them to broaden their development and remain more sustainable in functioning long term.

What we forget so easily is that charities are sometimes exclusively made up of volunteers and those that aren’t may still not have a wide range of skills within their teams in order to innovate, because they’re usually tasked with making the day to day moves they need to survive as a not for profit.

Therefore the answer as to what we can do to aid these charities is to get involved and use our time to train staff in commercial planning, or marketing, sales etc. give them the tools by using what your company or you do well and impart your years of knowledge in fields where you feel comfortable and can add value.

What the charities gain from us doing this is the ability to run their operation more nimbly. To develop skills as working individuals and to use those skills to enhance every element of how they run as a unit. In training charities in commercial thinking, we show them how they may be able to better partner with businesses locally in raising money and awareness, without any cost to increase the resource; we might be able to show them how they can sell clothing to those who run events on their behalf, thus generating revenue when fund raisers are out canvassing.

There are so many things that commercial businesses can offer to charities and it’s only down to your imagination as a business as to how you could be involved! So don’t just give money, think outside the box!

As an example I recently became involved in an event called the Surrey Hills Cow Parade, the premise being based on companies across Surrey buying a giant, life size, plastic cow, for around £3500+ donation and that cow is then designated to an artist to paint, sculpt around etc. on the companies behalf; following which, the cow is auctioned off and the money given to the companies chosen charity.

Now as my company is an SME we don’t have lots of money to invest in these types of activities, however we’re always really keen to be involved if we can because they’re fun and you meet lots of new people…

In this instance what I did was sign my company up as an artist, because my company specialising in printed, embroidered and bespoke clothing, so I thought that a fabric based cow could be quite interesting.

Now, along comes Guildford’s major shopping centre and says that they’re keen to work with a local company, and because my colleagues and I are all former University of Surrey students in one vein or another, as well as running a company based around clothing and textiles, they’d like us to design the cow for their addition to the event!

Brilliant news, so, what I did was call up the local college of technology; with whom I’d been looking to run an outreach project for students interested in fashion, and I said, I’ve got a challenge. Why don’t we have a competition among the graphic design and fashion students to compete for the chance to design this cow for the shopping centre and then we’ll choose a range of the students designs and we’ll all get together with my staff and the students and we’ll design this cow and present the finished article back to the shopping centre for display.

So that’s what we did! What I also did up front, if a little bit cheeky, was suggest, when I found out the shopping centre were interested in us as an artist, I suggested my charity Oakleaf Enterprise who are a local mental health charity in Guildford, who run vocational training to those with mental health issues all over Surrey, as the designated charity.

And the shopping centre have now come back and said that they’d definitely like us to be their designers, they love the current student design concepts so far and they want to work on a professional brief for the students to follow, while donating their money to Oakleaf my charity… so all in all we’ve got a great looking project on the go that brings together local students, a student led limited company, a local charity and large local company. What’s also very exciting is that the students will see their designs go from concept through to finished product sitting in a huge shopping centre.

In addition all of the cows in the parade will have a tracking device and be situated in locations all over Surrey, so you’ll be able to have a sort of geo-cache challenge through an app on your phone to find them all with the kids at the weekend, which again brings families from all over the county and beyond together, both on and offline.

I guess my point is, that in spending a bit of time thinking about what you could be doing to better support your local charities, you could discover the value in something that you do day to day… And if it’s simple, why not get involved…

 

The Sunday Spot – 20th March…

Every Sunday I will drop the businessman in me and put down a piece of fiction… This could be something you enjoy yourself for a bit of escapism, or just read the kids before bed…

This Sunday we begin:

Darklands – Journey for Freedom (One of The Questor Chronicles – by Thomas Duncan Bell)

Chapter 1

An Un-Expected Sorrow

Amongst the woodland plains of Southern Earthengale, Samuel woke to the smell of fear on the air. Charcoal ash and luminescent flames rose eerily from a clearing in the distance, whist the ground around him thundered; rumbling to the rhythm of horses hooves that swept along a dirt scattered forest path somewhere nearby. His younger brother William had slept silently in the brush to his left, but as the earth began to tremble, he too was cast from his slumber only to endure the reality of what was to come.

Without hesitation, Samuel struck out to gain hold of his brother, clutching him tight by the wrist of his worn woollen sweater and dragging him almost effortlessly, deeper into the pale mottled undergrowth away from the cobbled road that ran through the centre of the forest.

The two brothers had been fishing no more than a mile from their village since the early hours of the morning and having grown hungry they’d found their way to a blueberry patch where they set about supplementing their stomachs. Shortly after taking their fill the boys had sat down to relax in the softened moss beneath the blueberry bushes, whilst the dappled sun rained through the trees creating gentle shadows that skipped in the breeze. Thus they came to sleep.

Samuel was the older of the two and cut a slim figure with his matted dirty blonde hair, which stood almost at attention at least an inch or two over his regular height. He wore a fitted leather jerkin over a cream coloured cloth vest, almost giving him a gallant sort of appearance, if it hadn’t been for his murky brown trousers that rode just a little bit high above his ankles. His belt was a simple leather strip with a wooden buckle and a coin pouch he filled with oddly shaped stone figures he’d moulded with some sort of crafting tool over time. He also had a short knife in a darkened sheath; the sheath was made from a boar’s tusk and had been given to him by his father as a gift after his first hunt. Samuel’s flesh was pale, giving him an almost gaunt appearance, but his green eyes were keen with a soul of their own; the soul of a spirit within, that shone as emeralds do in the bright of the day. This was the spirit of a boy destined for something greater than even he could imagine.

William was the youngest by a couple of years; he wore similar trousers to his older brother, almost jodhpur like, but on the opposite front, his were ever so slightly too long, meaning that he was constantly catching them on his heels. His thick, baggy woollen sweater was a sort of grimy blue and was held tight around him with an oversized blackened belt that had clearly been meant for someone twice his size. He’d also never been on a hunt so did not have a knife like his older brother, however, he did have something else attached to his belt; almost like a folded, lost strip of leather, with a thickened pocket at its centre, it was a sling, the weapon of the youth of his village. A sling would be used before their coming of age to train their senses and their eye as the boys grew to become young men, “to feel the wind as you poise to swing and the elements that affect your hand as you loose a stone upon your target; these are the foundations of a warrior”, they were told.

As they knelt side by side, deathly still; keenly listening for signs of movement beyond the tree line, the silence was shattered by the shrill cry of more horses and the clacking of the riders armour while it twisted and buckled as they rode. The boy’s hearts beat faster and faster, blood pulsing through their bodies, barely able to breathe for the fear that they would not be passed un-noticed. They retained their state until the final rider was no longer audible and once again the silence of the forest was restored, as the hooves that had been so close echoed at a distance and away into nothing more than memory. Still aware of any potential threat that may be lurking nearby, Samuel drew his brother close and the boys retained all sound for what seemed like an age. After some time, William was the first to speak, “I’m worried Samuel, were those riders heading toward our village? What about father and the others?” he said. “I don’t know William, but we must find our way back and aid them if we can” replied Samuel. And without further conversation the boys were gone, drifting through the trees on the keenest of hidden trails and back to their home; their footsteps as silent and soft, as autumnal leaves in the wind.

The boys steadily broke from their run as the trees of the forest fell away to reveal the outskirts of what had previously been their proud village. Stood before them was a wall of flames and the crumbling brittle structures of what had once been people’s houses. The smell of death slid thick through the air and their lungs hurt to breathe in the heat that surrounded them, as they moved forth into the centre of the village.

Most of the buildings had already been destroyed when they reached the central square, with none but the bell tower and the crooked frame of their home on the edge of the square standing firm; but for how long? Both structures were covered in speckled blackening ash, as thick grey smoke poured out of the tiniest crevices in window frames and doors, then up into what was now swiftly becoming a sprawling night sky. The moon shone bright and almost full above their heads, illuminating the majority of their surroundings. In the distance they could make out the thick ‘stock like’ figures of men in black armour, loading the people of the village into a heavy set wagon topped with what could best be described as a wired, wooden cage. The faces of the men and the villagers were too far away for the boys to make out, but they knew any attempt to save their people would be futile. The blackened figures seemed too large, even in the distance, for the brothers to match them in battle and besides, they were vastly outnumbered and without any real weapons to serve them.

Samuel drew William into hiding behind a warped, craning sycamore tree at the edge of the clearing, where their now decimated village had once stood firm. There they remained, as still as the bestial bark upon its branches, until the wagon and the armoured figures had parted from their gaze. When they were quite sure they were alone, the anxious pair crept gently back to the centre of the village into the path of destruction that lay before them, edging towards the remnants where there home had once stood. There was little to be seen amongst the ash and rubble at their feet, a few clay bowls and the charred remains of what was once their dining table; the walls of the building were nothing but fallen stones offering a grim outline that merely gave anyone looking on a glimpse of what used to be. In one corner William saw that his short bow had fallen from the wall it had previously clung to; though despite being a little darker than before, it remained relatively unpunished by the elements that had befallen the rest of the house. William shouldered the bow and his quiver that lay beside it, before returning to his brother’s side. Samuel had found nothing much left of use within the remains, though he had picked up a small leather satchel which he clutched tight in his right hand as the boys left the building.

As the soft wind of the evening let slip a gentle clang from the broken bell that still swung from the now gothic ridden bell tower, Samuel found his eyes drawn to the well near the squares centre. Standing there, upright, as if from a story of old, Samuel saw a familiar sword driven fast into the earth. He knew this sword! He knew this sword because he’d felt it, he’d held it in the past; he had wielded the sword aloft like a knight; like a King. At the centre of its intricate golden hilt was in-set the most beautifully crafted ruby, basking in the light set down by the stars, with the swords blade, a solid ‘silver like’ steel, glinting at him as if not wanting to be left alone. Despite its familiarity and the beauty of its features, Samuel could not stop his stomach from sinking or his heart from throbbing as if it was in his mouth. His eyes began to rove around as they drew away from the sword and he came closer to the large, yet silent frame of a man clad in bright red armour, crumpled alongside it and soaked in blood.

Samuel never heard the screams of his brother, who threw himself upon the body and began to shake it as if trying to rouse the lifeless figure; he could not hear the sound of the wood, crackling, spitting and then disappearing into the deepest crimson that rose all around them; and he could not hear the sound of the creatures that watched on, blissfully unaware of their ignorance during routine wanderings. His throat was dry as if full of dust and his palms damp with beaded sweat, as the word “father” brushed silently past his thin lips. Suddenly, without thought or sorrow something flashed throughout Samuels mind. It was his most base of instincts, he knew he must act, but he could barely gather his senses, he felt weak, numb. He knew that the area and the village were no longer safe and that he must protect William. A sickening sense of fear and responsibility, coupled with adrenaline washed over Samuel; he did not know what it meant, but he had never felt it before. This feeling began to grow and to grow inside of him, until it became so vast that he began to drown in it. The adrenaline had taken over his body and was racing through his burning veins as he grasped his brother’s hand, pulling him to his feet. With William in tow he swept up the sword from the earth by his father’s body, pulling the sheath free from the armour of the heavy figure before he and Samuel began to run.

The fear was gone and he knew what he must do, pounding through the village; through burning embers and wall after wall of wispy, sickening smoke and dust he thrust himself, with William by his side. At this point Samuel could hear his father’s words echo in his mind, “There is nothing to fear in this world Samuel, but your fear itself. The only thing that allows evil to triumph over the good and the true is for men of honour and courage to do nothing. One day you will be a man Samuel, and I will be a proud father to know you hold courage in your heart and all fear at the gates of your soul”. As a single tear ran solemnly down his cheek at the thought of his father, he turned briefly to take one final look back across the debris to the body at its centre; still motionless in the chaos and Samuel remembered that the most important thing of all was to survive. Almost without thinking he drew his brother forth, swept him up under his arm so his feet were barely touching the floor; then, as swiftly as they’d entered the burning village, the brothers ran, deeper and deeper into the hazy green shadow of the forest night.

Get rid of the ROBOTS…

At the moment I’m doing a lot of research into how to change the stigma within a workplace…

What really frustrates me is that there’s loads of information out there that tells businesses why they should be looking at the better mental health of their staff, they stick on-line all sorts of graphs and figures that state how your company can be more productive, you can make more money etc. etc.

What they don’t tell you is that you should be focussed on the change because it’s the right thing to do, because your employees aren’t statistics, that equate to revenues, or returns on investment, they’re human beings, they’ve got families and daily pressures just like you do, they just don’t have your money, your dividends, you’re share of a successful company…

The average person in work today, with a normal job, a normal wage, only has approximately 1 months worth of savings, making even more people than ever before, that much closer to living on the streets… Now that’s anxiety!!

Now my companies monthly revenues fluctuate, probably more so than most my size, but because I am open with my staff about the company growth, as well as talking to them more about their issues with kids, wives, lifestyle, health, they’re more attached to the way we drive as a unit.

Now this is OK for an SME where the MD can have a eye on the individual, and I’m also a guy who cares deeply about people and that comes naturally to me, probably because of my sketchy history, however, I’m also aware of the fact that some MD’s will not feel as comfortable dealing with these types of issues…

In addition, as we look at bigger and bigger businesses it’s important to understand our limits and know that a multi million £ organisation can’t afford for the CEO to spend an hour with everyone one a week trying to understand about everyone…

But is is important we try to find where we set the happy medium!

Mind, the mental health charity did a business study, they asked a range of questions based around taking care of staff and the responses were as follows:

  • More than one in five (21%) of staff said that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them…
  • 14% of staff said that they had resigned and 42% had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them…
  • 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
  • 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff well-being but don’t feel they have the right training or guidance…

So, what’s to be done… I believe it’s simple…

I recently set up this blog just to vent about my mental health issues within business, within a week I had over 10,000 people across the UK and Internationally following me…

I have had proactive CEO’s and MD’s getting in touch who do feel confident in approaching the topic and are implementing change for the better, allowing their staff more access to things like free confidential counselling, a non-invasive opt in process that’s simple to set up…

I’ve had individuals getting in touch telling me that they felt it was like reading their own blog and that they’d never known what was really wrong with them until now; thanking me and telling me that they’re going to seek help, learn more and go to their doctor so check on their blood pressure and other likely causes of every day anxieties to define an appropriate route forward…

I’ve had People working with government asking me to come and define ways to support other SME’s like mine to understand what they can do to brave the storm…

The secret is clearly the story… I feel that we can do a number of things to start to rectify how you can approach this topic within your business without then need to send out a white paper, or try and make people fill out an awkward questionnaire while they’re watched over by Debbie in HR…

  1. Get a speaker in! Go and find someone who’s making waves in the Mental Health world and draft them in for an afternoon to tell an inspirational story about their battle through the darkness… You may be able to find someone who directly relates to your industry or to a role within your business, so much the better… What you’ll find is that people are much more ready to relate to an individual… As humans we don’t want to be asked loaded questions by people who may or may not have their own issues, only to feel like we’re being judged and graded; working for any company trying to feed our families is hard enough, without the added pressure of wondering whether you’re boss thinks because you’re a bit ‘mad’ now he may need to get someone new in to fill the role… What a speaker does is lightens the load, they set your staff free and although they may not immediately stick their hand up and call out their problems, you can offer them support mechanisms off the back of that appearance and you’re definitely more likely to see an uptake than lose an employee.
  2. Think about your culture! How do you run your business at the moment? Are you as an individual accessible to people? You may have thousands of employees you may have 4. If you have 4, are you accessible to them, do you care? If you have thousands, are you accessible to your top Directors, do their teams have access to them? What does accessible mean? Accessible means, how do you interact? If you can’t speak to someone then you can’t evolve in the sense of a relationship with that individual… Team building may seem a bit old had so lets chuck that in the bin and go skiing for god sake, break you business down into segments, you can’t eat an elephant in one go so find things that people are passionate about and stop making every day about work… Your staff across the board will be vastly more productive if their lives at work allow them to fulfil their potential as individuals as well as blow off a bit of steam and perhaps do some of those things they don’t get to do at home… Remember, on one end of the spectrum you may have junior staff from a background that means they never got to ski, you may have a married chap who spends the weekends looking after his kids and doesn’t get time to take 2 hours our for a few games of pool… Give your people time, and they’ll give you their spirit.
  3. Surprise people! Why don’t you surprise the staff by putting your head on the block? There are a number of ways to be more open in your business, but a good one could be something like a video diary… Set up your own video diary or on-line blog that’s run through your company intranet or mailed to your staff once a week, where they can see the reality of what you go through… I can guarantee if I saw my boss in the reality of the day to day grind, I’d definitely feel more empowered to open up about how I feel… Then you give them the resources to follow up on that, with free confidential counselling in the office; a massage therapist in a room a couple of times a week where you can go and have an informal natter and a back massage… there are any number of ways to evolve as a team and I promise you it always comes back to being human.

I asked someone I have a lot of respect for what they thought of the blog and I gave them some of the feedback I’d received from people all over the UK… he sat there and looked at me, drawing on one example specifically and he said, can’t you see Thomas, you’ve saved a life…

I don’t say this to blow my own trumpet, I say it because that single solitary sentence really made me sit up and listen…

I felt a resounding pride at that moment, that’s not the way I’d even considered what I was doing…

But lets image, if every FTSE 500 company CEO got up on Monday morning and instead of considering “How much do I have to spend to rectify this mental health thing?” they started thinking, “What can I do to save more lives today?” then wouldn’t our country and our economy be heading in beautiful new direction!

As Bruce Almighty would say – #BETHEMIRACLE