Friday, March 4, 2011

Chapter 6: Never Compromise Form

Apologies for the lack of blog in the last while, for there is, and will be for another month or so, the looming threat of a dissertation deadline to meet. Sad times. Anyway, never fear, because today I'm going to go away from the main thrust of the Yes Man generally and tell you a quick one. I’m going to tell the story of how one man and his patter unwittingly helped me through my most difficult of times. How one man, one stacked black machine, transformed my view on aerobics videos (weren’t expecting that were you?). That man’s name is Shaun T.

If you are of a similar disposition to myself, you will probably think that exercise videos are a load of garbage. Imagine spending your hard-earned wage on a DVD, only to get home and see Coleen Rooney or that munter that used to be in Eastenders who got ridiculously thin (obviously got her stomach stapled) bounce about on a ball and tell you what to do. Such things make the best of people physically sick.

This was my view exactly. I much preferred to do my own workout at the gym, at my own pace, in my own time. That is, until one day when Shitebag (who else?) phoned me with another ridiculous offer:

"What's happening?"
"Not much mate, just thought I'd ask you if you fancied doing this new workout video thing I'm doing?"
"Fuck off. I'd rather die."
"Nah seriously, it's well gid - it's called Insanity"
My ears pricked up.
"It's called insanity? Really?"
"Is it insane?"
"Does it have Natalie Cassidy in it?"
"Go on then, might as well..."

And so, with much apprehension I made my way round to Shitebag's bit to 'get insane'. You see, Shitebag was not happy with the way he looked anymore, he was wanting to lose weight and gain muscle without having to actually leave his flat (seems illogical I know). This is when he came across Insanity - a max interval cardio workout of 45 minutes a day, 6 times a week for 1 month, then an hour a day for the second month. I, on the other hand, was doing it strictly for the banter - little did I know how much that would prove to be true.

The patter is ridiculous from the start. Shaun T asks you to jog 'like you holding potato chips in ya hand', to 'never compromise form for speed' and to 'get the butt down, 'cause he ain't playing!' Totally over-Americanized pish right? Right. That would be fair to say if the workout was rubbish. At the end of that first 45 minutes, I was sweating from places I didn't know it was possible to sweat. I still to this day do it, and have tried it out on my brother and various others who claim it is 'the hardest workout they've ever done'. Shitebag and I have since decided to use some of Shaun T's banter outside of Insanity to see if it could be applied to the everyday. Needless to say, 'Never...ever.....EH-EH-EVVVER compromise form!' and the associated squat was an overnight success story, and we took it far and wide to spread the message.

His banter is horrific, yes, the workout is crazy, yes, but there's something about it that makes you want to, as he puts it, 'dig deeper' - to push yourself further than you think you can possibly go. I realise that to all you macho hip dudes, who 'prefer to sculpt their guns in the gym' this probably sounds like the worst/gayest/stupidest thing you have ever heard. I get it. I would have said the same. It was only through yes that I started doing this, and I still to this day do. Exercise has been proven to be good for the mind and is a good way to release stress etc, and with Insanity this has almost certainly given me both in abundance.

In short, all I would say is don't knock it until you've tried it. If you try it and still don't like it, fair enough, it might not be your thing, but it wasn't mine either. 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD IT FREE. No equipment needed - just you, your willpower and a Natalie Cassidy voodoo doll.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Chapter 5: It's All Down(s)hill From Here

- Rodney Collin

Nothing could really follow in the footsteps of a weekend like that. The Summer was never going to be a constant upward mental march to a glorious triumphant peak but, rather, a haphazard mix of peaks and plateaus, flavoured by the random series of events and opportunities of which nobody in their right mind could predict. Such is life. I was confident, however, that so long as I stuck to the game plan, it wouldn’t be long before the next peak.

And I was right. After the extravagance and excellence of the birthday weekend, the waiting game for the next Yes commenced. It lasted all of two days. I spent those days at work wondering only about where the next weekend would take me. On a related note, work and other things which were usually grudgingly done now seemed much more manageable, stress-free now my life was. On the second day of work, I received a text:


The next opportunity had presented itself. It was another one of these invitations that would most definitely have been turned down by the anxious introvert that used to live inside me. But this was no time to let him back in – not today, not any day. Time to grab the bull by the horns and see where it took me.

I have been into mountain biking since I was around 12, where I miraculously lost the fear of hurting myself (also closely correlated to the discovery of alcohol) and have always preferred two wheels to four. This was perhaps also the fault of my uncle (although that is in no way meant to big him up), who could cycle before he could walk, runs his own bike courier company and still to this day (at the borderline OAP age of 40 (ish)) goes out biking every weekend. Did I mention he looks like a chubby milky bar kid?

Anyway, I went online and booked the tickets straight away. The annual event at the Nevis Range in Fort William is the flagship stop of the mountain bike downhill world cup, and, at 2.8km and a drop in altitude of 555m, is the longest and generally regarded as the most difficult course on the circuit Running over the course of a weekend, it consists of practice runs, qualifiers and finals for both the men’s and woman’s downhill, as well as short-course mountain bike cross (where 4 riders race at one time) and various other things around the range to busy yourself with.

Jack and I would drive up and camp wherever we could find space, and Caz and Simo would drive up and stay at a camp site. Only trouble was, we could only stay for the Saturday night and to beat the queues on the Saturday morning you need to be there mega early. I asked my Maw if I could borrow the car for the weekend (which, amazingly, she granted without question – in retrospect probably because she didn’t want my newly road-legal little brother driving it) and got ready.

At 4am on a Saturday morning (normally around the time I would be returning from the pub) I left Lanark and drove to Glasgow to collect Jack, managing to make it to Partick in a (suspected) world record time of 27 minutes. The heat of the Summer was already apparent as we left the Friendly City and we were on the A82 in no time.

The drive was a remarkable one. From Dumbarton to Fort William we must have saw 20 cars at the most. You tend to forget when you are a lowlander what a ridiculously beautiful country you live in. I can honestly say that speeding across Rannoch Moor at 125mph at 7am with the windows down and system up  (listening to Snoop Dogg and Gorrliaz like the wannabe pimps we were) was the most alive I have ever felt. Well, sober anyway. And yet, I had only left my house a mere 3 hours before. Normally, myself and Jack wouldn’t even be thinking of getting up yet, dreaming away for another x hours before waking up to another beige day full of procrastination. And yet here we were, hurtling towards the Cairngorms with a reckless abandon for life not heard of since Thelma and Louise.

We arrived in Fort William at 8am, starving, to find no shops open yet. This was not as pressing a concern as trying to find somewhere that we could actually sleep for the night, so we resolved to do that first. Driving into the main car park at the foot of Ben Nevis, the Wee Guide Guy informed us that we could technically pitch our tents anywhere as the land was owned by the forestry commission. We were also advised to get a midge net, a suggestion which we did not take heed of and one which was to come back and bite us in the arse and, for that matter, the rest of our bodies, later. From the car park to the arena was about a 15 minute walk and at some point down this walk we found a field which, to our amazement, was empty. Flabbergasted, we set up our tent, the first of what would surely be many – this was a prime position!

At 8.30 the gates opened. We were front of the queue and I personally felt like some sort of weirdo – like a shopper waiting for the doors to open on Boxing Day, a Harry Potter enthusiast, in cloak, waiting on the book to be released at the chime of midnight, or like a geek waiting patiently outside the classroom on the first day of term. But feeling like that was worth it. First ones up the gondola, we got to the mountain cafĂ©, about 3 quarters of the way up Ben Nevis, just before 9am. The sun was starting to poke its way through the mountain mist, spraying across the horizon, paving the way for a view like no other; maybe it was the drive. Maybe it was the altitude. Maybe it was the fact it was 9am and I’d been up for 6 hours. But I felt drunk on cheese. And we hadn’t even watched any biking yet.

Now, I have done a fair wee bit of biking in my time, at an amateur level at best. And I’ve seen it on the telly and thought ‘I could do that, nae bother’. But seeing it up close is really something else. These guys and girls do shit with their bikes that at times seems superhuman, and at such speed that you are left in awe. We watched the morning’s practice and qualifying sessions on the way down the track, and met Caz and Simmo at the bottom to start drinking in the sunshine.

After watching a bit more of the practice sessions, we found ourselves a good spot up the hill where we could watch the four cross and get drunk. We were positioned directly behind a large jump and this resulted in the practice sessions consisting of some guys in the crowd persistently shouting to every rider who stopped ‘here mate, dae a trick!’, then laughing wildly at anyone who managed to fall. The same guys were also the ones who decided it would be a good idea to climb up 100ft high trees for a laugh. Heroes amongst men, some would say...

Hilarity aside, the 4x is a great spectator sport, and the men’s and woman’s events were won by Aussie Jared Graves and Jana Horakova of the Czech Republic respectively. Plenty pints were drunk, much skin was burnt and many gay pictures were taken throughout the afternoon.

It was then back to the tent to get ready for the night ahead in Fort William. Where we thought there would be hundreds of tents in the field we were camped, there still only a few which were pitched. As I annoyed Jack while he brushed his teeth (see video below), we were starting to see, or more accurately, feel why this was the case. As soon as the sun was out of sight, the midges became horrendous and inescapable.

We got into Fort William and toured a few pubs, got horrendously drunk and then went to a ceilidh. I have always been quite partial to a ceilidh, enjoying the drunken stupidity of dancing like an idiot with people you barely know, flinging girls round in your hands and such like – perhaps harking back to the good old days of the dreaded Christmas Dance. Braw. This ceilidh was a particularly large one, one which I, ahem, reveled in (I’m going to use the excuse of sunstroke before I tell you what – so I’m told – happened next).

There are times when you can’t do the sensible thing, when you can’t act like a responsible adult at all; you just have to do whatever insane thing comes into your head. When bad people do it they end up murderers, when good people do it they end up heroes, and when the rest of us do it we end up looking like total idiots. But when’s that ever stopped us?

Ceilidh dancing with a down’s syndrome sufferer was one of those times.

I don't remember taking that video, but apparently the boys were struggling to keep me still in one place throughout the night's festivities.

I awoke in the morning still drunk, adamant that we were going to catch the first run at 9am. What I was not prepared for was the fact that my face, arms and legs were alive with midges. I got out of the tent (ours was one of 3 in the field – now you see why) and tried my best to fend them off, but it was like being caught in some sort of midge-based nightmare: there was nothing that could be done. I tried to awake Jack from his slumber, but to no avail, so I took drastic action in the form of pulling his sleeping back out of the tent with him still in it. He did not in any way appreciate the hilarity of the situation and we had a bit of a fall-out. It was understandable – I would have been pretty annoyed if I was dragged from the comfort of sleep into Midge Hell.

We met Caz and Simo, who relayed to me the bad news of my behavior from the night before (Caz hadn't fared much better apparently - he was dancing with a guy in a wheelchair), and went up the gondola. On our way down the mountain, my hangover began to kick in. This would not normally have been a problem, but postponement in the form of alcohol was not an option as I had to drive back home that day. Nae luck.

We got down to the arena in time to see the top men’s qualifiers come down their final run. It was a hotly contested final, eventually won by Britain’s Gee Atherton (much to the crowd’s, and our own delight) in a track record time of 4 minutes 35.7 seconds. To see a full review of the event, click here and to see (actually good) videos here.

The drive back was the polar opposite of the one on the way – never before I have been so disinterested in scenery. I was glad to be back in the comforting, midge-free surroundings of home. That said, midges and bad dance partner choices aside, it was a good weekend – something a bit different rather than just pubs, clubs, chips and cheese. More importantly, it was another notch on the bedpost of Yes, another experience that I’m more glad than sad that I partook in. The cramps of conscience I had felt not all that long ago were starting to diminish: I could feel a new sort of life entering my body with every breath – a life where the barely feasible had become the entirely doable, where the can’t be bothered had become the go for it and, at the most basic and important level, the No had become the Yes.

NEXT WEEK: Insanity!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chapter 4: INXS - Too Young to Grow Up, Too Old to Care

 “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”
-          Oscar Wilde
By the time my 22nd birthday arrived the following weekend, the Yes Locomotive was powering on full steam ahead. I am lucky in that my birthday falls in the last week of May, usually around the time when people have just finished their exams and are therefore looking for any old excuse to destroy their livers. This time around it would be a weekend special, but I was unaware exactly how special it would be, and how special I would be looking once it was finally over.

It was to be a three-pronged attack on the body and the mind. The Friday night was to consist of drinks at the flat followed by Moskito on Bath Street (our favourite pub). Those who were alive enough in the morning would go back to Lanark, play some vomit-inducing five-a-side then go on a pub crawl (to as many of Lanark fine drinking establishments as possible). The final push would then be back into Glasgow on the Sunday for our most beloved all-day beverage and mess-filled techno fest, Sunday Circus.

Before I start to describe what can only be described as absolute and utter carnage, I must point out that there are gaps in my knowledge, filled in only by pictorial evidence. I will supply an alternative, and much more articulated version of events (by one of my esteemed fellow bloggers – on whom I will be relying heavily in following chapters) at the bottom of this chapter. I can only tell of what I myself experienced and saw on that most fateful yet excellent of weekends back in May. 

It is safe to say that it was one of those rare weekends in Glasgow you realize you will point back to when reflecting during some mid-life crisis on whether you made the most of your youth or not. After what transpired, only a fool could conclude negatively.

Friday night came at last, and the boys and girls were looking ready for action. With a steely glint in their eyes, a care-free attitude and some cash in the backburner it was all systems go. Some people came up to The Matrix for a pre-start meeting consisting of beers, squeezy, vodka and, most notably, sambuca (herein referred to as Sammy). The Chat from everyone was good as always, but the bleach left me looking like a munchkin to whom puberty had been rather unfortunate.

Drinking began in earnest. El Sammy did flow. I must explain at this point what you will all know and no doubt have experienced at some point in your lives - the curse of the birthday boy/girl. Because, of course, it is your birthday on said night, and your friends have gone to the effort of coming out to see you for such an event, it will simply not be tolerated  by them if you are not the drunkest man in Scotland. This is the Scottish or, at the very least, the Glasgwegian way.  If you do not vomit, you are a disgrace – illogical though it may seem. If you do not spend any amount of time on your birthday with your head down a toilet wishing you had stayed in then, clearly, it is not your birthday at all. It would be hypocritical of me to say this is not how it should be done.

The way this worked in practice on the Friday night was that for every one shot of sambuca that everyone in a circle must drink, you must drink at least two: I could hardly say no.

It was a classic case of ‘I’ve peaked too early’. I say that, but it was still an awesome night. There’s something you learn to appreciate more when you’re older about being in a pub, rather than a club, with all your mates in the same place. Everyone in high spirits, drinking good booze (not watered down vodka) and generally having a laugh. Although I did end up with my head down a toilet, I didn’t say no to anything and, anyway, this was merely the calm before the storm – a practice session before the main event.

Saturday morning was like any other Saturday morning in The Matrix: walk into the kitchen to find half-drunk bottles, half-eaten kebabs and half-dead humans. A quick tidy up and a hair of the dog and we were on our way back home to grudgingly attempt to play football. Of all those who were supposed to be staying, there was one notable absentee in the form of Cammy (pictured far left above). He was to make a miraculous reappearance later on.

On an unrelated note, it’s also a good laugh when you check your camera the next morning and find this staring at you:

They're not mine by the way.

The turnout for fitba was good – some of the Lanark lads who did not come to Moskito were there and were up for the pub crawl later on. Even Shitebag was there.  After adequately halving Shitebag as many times as was feasible, my hangover began to disappear.

We met at the Crown in Lanark at 7pm (early start) and were to drink a pint and a shot in every pub which, if we were to make all the pubs, should be done every 26 minutes by my own and Jamie’s calculations - a rule that was never going to be adhered to in reality. This wasn’t something that had been attempted in Lanark in living memory – the usual Saturday night consisting of Wotherspoon’s and/or Maisie’s then the mosh pit that is the Woody. The Crown went according to plan, we had about 20 folk with us, so it was onwards to the Wee Man’s, where an idea of an (even quicker) way of drinking Guinness was to be born, still used in the finest drinking establishments to this day.

The rules are as follows: you have 4 drinks to drink a pint of Guinness. If you have two swigs and you think you can finish the pint in the next swig, you must lift the pint up with your elbows and finish it that way. Each pint is a par 4, therefore finishing in 3 is a birdie and in 2 is an eagle. Makes for an interesting spectacle and, on this night, some blootert boys.

We made our way round all the classics: Maisie’s, the Horse and Jockey, Wotherspoon’s, the Cave and the Market Bar (where a group rendition of Phats n Small's Turn Around on kareoke was a particular highlight). It was at Wotherspoon’s where Cam caught up with us. He hadn’t slept yet and was looking like death. Introducing him to the Guinness game was the best thing we, as his friends, could do for him. Just notice the difference in him from the first to the fourth picture below. Also notice how his clothes have not changed since the previous night, thus rebuffing the authenticity of his story. Remarkable.

God only knows how many pints and shots were consumed that night, but when we finally got to the Woody, speech, balance and sight were becoming a major problem.

Myself and Dearie awoke in the morning after a few hours sleep still drunk. If this day was going to reach its full potential there were one thing I was going to have to grudgingly do, reserved only for occasions where full-blooded excess is the only option:

Yup, buckie. Wreck the hoose juice. Commotion lotion. Coatbridge table wine. Stingy pish. Whatever you want to call it, I was on it. It was the only way and, besides, the Yes Manifesto had to be adhered to at all costs. We got onto the train in earnest and headed into Glasgow for circus like the clowns we were. Making sure on the phone that everyone else was game - the sun was shining, I was drunk on a train to meet my mates and listen to techno and I was drinking Buckfast: nothing could ruin this mood.

That day will live long in my memory as one of the best I have ever had in Glasgow. My memories after the train journey are blurry at best, but at least I know that. What followed was 9 hours of Sunday Circus, 4 hours of an afterparty, then another 4 of an after afterparty, waking up on a petrol forecourt in the South Side of Glasgow, coming home, going out to the park, then to the pub. I got to my bed at midnight on Monday night. That’s the extreme short version. In order to make up for my lack of memory, I am going to entrust your understanding of events to both the pictures that were taken, and my esteemed colleague’s blog, which I highly recommend you read here.

I reiterate that this was one of, if not the, best day I have ever had in Glasgow. The will to keep going, to defeat moderation, had got me there, and by God I was grateful for it. I have never experienced a more affectionate atmosphere – everyone was in this together, each person cared as much for you as you did the next. In the words of Lady RaRa, “we were like one big, disgustingly wasted and worryingly over-affectionate family”. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Excess may be a foregone conclusion when you are bound by Yes, but nonetheless the weekend had taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes, very very rarely, you experience a moment, a day, a weekend, where you realize just how much you value your friends, how much they care about you, and how great your life can really be if you just let it.

And then you forget about it and birdie a pint of Guinness.

NEXT EPISODE: The Fort William Adventure

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chapter 3: Onwards, Into the Breach

"Do one thing every day that scares you. Sing. Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. Floss. Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself."
(Baz Luhrmann, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), 1998)

The day that followed was a strange one. I walked into Strathclyde Police HQ on Pitt Street and the desk clerk looked sure I was about to hand myself in. My hair was orange, and I summoned up what personal pride I had left and said I had a meeting with a policeman. This seemed to startle him and he looked around for something (maybe, I thought, his specs so he could examine my atavistic traits) which turned out to be a form I had to fill out to get a visitor's pass.

I filled it out and was seated in the waiting area when the policeman came out.

"Right, Thomson, just get out! We only accept criminals here if they are wearing handcuffs!"

Ha ha ha. Good one. I had a horrible feeling I was going to have to get used to this type of thing. The meeting which followed was a strange one. I couldn't help noticing him continually noticing my noticable orange dome, and it seemed to put him off. Further to this, I was extremely hungover and just wanted out of there. It was the final handover of the project which I had long slaved over and he seemed genuinely pleased with it, if not my aesthetical beauty. I walked out to the sound of the officer's superlatives, scoring a tactical victory over the desk clerk on my way by.

For the rest of that day, my mindset was in a position to laze about, but the weather was good and I fancied an adventure, something to really challenge myself, to see what possibilities were out there. Taking heed of Baz Luhrmann's advice to 'do one thing every day that scares you' (from Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)), I phoned a friend I will only refer to as Shitebag, seeing as that's what he basically is. I relayed to Shitebag my vague plan and, to be fair to him, he came up with the goods. When I say 'goods' I mean a terrible idea. And when I say 'a terrible idea' I mean jumping from a massive waterfall into a less than shallow pool.

The plan was thus: myself, Jamie, his girlfriend and Shitebag would take Shitebag's car up to Lenzie (just North of Glasgow) to meet Shitebag's friend, McPhee (or McFritzel to those who know him), drive into the Campsie Hills, find these waterfalls and gleefully jump off them - nae bother. This is known as tombstoning, and we were very soon about to find out why. We arrived in the Campsie Glen to glorious sights and sounds - not a cloud in the sky, running water, and birds chirping in the trees. As we walked further up the path, however, this was slowly but surely replaced with empty cans, buckfast bottles, cigarette ends and the unmistakable sounds of neds in the distance. We had been beaten to it. These neds, however, were not the usual joyous, happy-go-lucky neds you come to expect when you were brought up in Lanarkshire, but ones who looked genuinely concerned, almost vexed.

I approached the gentlemen with caution and, in that way I always subconsciously do, spoke to them as if I actually was them, lest they be (by my ridiculous logic) unable to understand me:

"Awrite mate."
"You, eh, you been jumping off those waterfalls aye?"
"Aye mate, it's fuckin crazy! Oor mate just goat lifted out ae here by an air amblance. Jumped aff that big wan and fucked it. Broke his back they hink."

This threw me and, by the looks of their now white faces, also threw my fellow compatriots. This was serious now. I had gone in way over my head - not even two days of the Yes Man had passed and already I was being faced with paralysis! But which was better - paralysis of the body, or paralysis of the mind? My sterling logic, which had served me so well in the previous couple of days, told me paralysis of the mind was worse and, as the boys instructed me on where to jump, how to land and how not to break your back, the Yes Man was ready to do something very, very silly.

Ten seconds later, I looked up in agony at the rich blue sky, unable to feel my hands, legs or feet, my life flashing before my eyes. Or, to be ever so slightly more accurate, I splashed down, my shoes (worn on the neds advice) softly hitting the rocks at the bottom of the pool. Nice one. This was easy. How did a guy manage to break his back doing that? I watched Jamie, his girlfriend and McPhee all do the same as me, before the inevitable 10 minutes of convincing Shitebag that it was fine and he wouldn't hurt himself (what a 
shitebag eh?). He made it down ok, after which the two neds came up to us.

"Right, that's yooz done the baby wan."

Oh shit.

We proceeded with caution further down the glen to a waterfall which dwarfed the previous one we had jumped off. Not only that, but you had to jump through overhanging trees to land safely! We listened carefully to the colloquial instructions in a state of utter petrification. Regardless, in keeping with the Yes Vibe, the force was strong (except in Shitebag, who told me to take a run and jump, which was exactly what I was mentally preparing to do).

To use this example, what you will notice throughout this story is a constant battle between heart and mind, something which for myself seems to have always been part of my inner monologue. Do you do the thing that your heart, your gut, your instinct, your very being compels you to do, or do you instead listen to the gods of logic, where doing something on the spur of the moment is to commit the most grievous of sins against your adult mind, which should, at your age, know better.

Of these two opposing schools of thought, I was always a pupil of the latter, preferring instead to let my mind tell what was right and wrong. As previously alluded to, I didn’t take many risks. I was a hardcore pessimist, always looking at the risks of a decision before the rewards. But recent events had seen the tide of the Everlasting War of Within slowly shifting. The Yes Man had given me an oasis of hope in a desert of pessimism. Again, I took solace from Baz Luhrmann:

the race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself’.

And that was it, pure and simple. If we can overcome the over-cautious man within, then can we conquer all? I would be prepared to say yes, I think we could. But, as with most things of this nature, they are easier said than done. I am very conscious here of over-glamourising what, in effect, is just jumping off a waterfall, but the fact is this is just a silly wee example. From my experience (which is all I can go on) it applies to all things, and transcends the gaps between the physical, social, mental and emotional parts of our lives, making just as much sense for jumping out of a plane as it does for telling someone how you truly feel about them. It is about breaking down these boundaries, acting on who you really are, rather than who you think you should be, that 
is the ultimate goal.

I realize that all this sounds a bit patronizing and holier than thou. And I am not saying for a second that if we were to all act in this way that bad things would never result. For then this story would all be about good things, and it is not. Far from it. Shit happens. But consider whether you would rather accidentally step in shit or be forced to eat it. Of course, you would rather accidentally step on it, and you would accept the consequence of which is a shitty shoe. The problem with listening to your head too often (if you are/were a pessimist and introvert like me) is that you get used to, if not feel compelled to, eat shit: to do and say things that aren’t really you. And you know it’s not right, you know your life would be better if you just went for it and jumped or said it or whatever, but you don’t. You listen to your head and not your heart, because you’re scared of the consequences. Because you know that the one thing that can really hurt you when you listen to it is your own heart. But perhaps what you (and certainly I) did not realize is that being true to one’s self carries with it, as well as crippling lows, unimaginable highs. When your heart gets it ‘right’, it is amazing. When it gets it ‘wrong’, you feel like you’ve been shat on, but at least you won’t constantly have the taste of shite in your mouth. The race is with yourself, and deciding whether the lows are worth the highs is the crux. I am perhaps biased towards one side, but this is not meant to be a lecture, kids.

Anyway, to escape from that (oh so terrible) metaphor and slip back into the real world, we were standing atop the waterfall, with a growing feeling we were about to step in some serious shit (sorry, last time). After some deliberation, we went for it (see video here). Looking back at it now, I would never have done it before my epiphany. Having said that, were that the case I would now be remembering the day and wishing that I had just thrown my intuitions out the window and done it. I guess what I am trying to say is that experiencing something, even if you get physically or emotionally hurt, is better than not knowing what it could have felt like.

After a trip back to Glasgow, a China Buffet King with some questionable mousse and a couple of pints, I felt nothing of the hangover I had woken up with. I went to bed that night for the first time in months a happy man, with a new kind of satisfaction - of knowing that I had said yes to the day. And already I could not wait to see what was in store for tomorrow.

IN NEXT WEEK’S CHAPTER: ‘That’ Birthday Weekend.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beginnings: Prologue, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

"Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you."
— Eckhart Tolle


These are 3 words I have attempted to train myself to think, believe, preach and ultimately put into action over this past Summer. The resultant effect on my life(style) has been fairly dramatic: it has led to me to highs I never thought possible and lows I never hoped were feasible; to trains, planes, boats and weans (not really, but it rhymed); to love, to friends, to beginnings and ends; to drugs, to booze (lots), too wasted, "two shots". Anyway, you get the picture.

I'm not going to try and tell you about some wacky Summer where I travelled the world, 'found myself' (whatever that means), and saw the most amazing sights (in fact, I didn't even leave Europe). I'm also not going to tell you about how my whole perspective on life completely shifted and I am now a different and wholly 'better' man - I am still the same guy in the same very oddly shaped body. Indeed, the results of 'saying yes more' also led to some negative (mainly financial) effects as well as positive ones. What I am going to attempt to tell you, as briefly as I can, is a story - a story of a guy who, at 21, and unbeknownst to him, had to start appreciating the amazingly privileged life he had previously been (complacently) living, where opportunities to say Yes literally ran into the hundreds each day, and where each one missed represented a chance to experience and fulfill something new and exciting.

This may sound like utter bollocks to you. In fact, reading it back I realise I sound like a total vagina - like someone blethering shite to anyone who will listen on Buchanan Street about 'The Endless Possibilities of The Freedom of The Mind, man', and who you would deeply love to punch square in the jaw. I realise this. I, too, being a former hardcore pessimist, would have told that man to shut up. Then I would have gone up to my flat, sat about watching telly, playing Football Manager and smoking fags, before retiring to my bed to sleep until the following lunchtime. A nice life, some may say. But is a nice life ok? I may have been contented with my nice life, but with the potential opportunities I had in front of me, was it right, or morally responsible, to sit in and play Football Manager with my 'nice' life? Was 'nice' enough? I thought nice was good. I thought it was fine. In fact, I managed to convince myself it was worthwhile. And that was nice.

But then a few things happened. I came to a metaphorical fork in the Road of Life, a fork with many tines (look it up, like I did). I had to pick a tine, but could I pick the 'right' tine? Were any of the tines the right one, and did I even have the right tine-choosing capabilities? Despite what skills I may or may not have in the tine selection department, I realise I am again starting to sound like Buchanan Street Man, so will move quickly on to the start of the story and I explain these tine-related ramblings in due course.

Chapter 1 - A Big Yellow Taxi Took My Girl Away

Picture the scene - I am coming up to the end of my 3rd year at university, getting increasingly good marks and generally putting most of my spare time into university. Further, I am two and a half years into the only lasting relationship I have ever had. I stay in a lot. I watch many DVDs (including, and especially, the complete works of David Attenborough), watch a lot of television and, as previously alluded to, am addicted to Football Manager. I am quite an anxious person and generally do not take many risks, although this, I feel, was only borne out of staying in a lot. I know this, and I don’t care. It is nice. I don't really answer my phone (only to my mum) and I like having time to myself. I am passive in my approach to most things. I am Ross Donaldson Thomson.

Now, take that information and delete it from your brain. Delete it, because one day towards the end of March this year, that man ceased to exist. That man died an agonizing death just when he thought everything was going nicely. He had been taking his girlfriend for granted and when she finally got fed up and ended it, he felt he had nothing.

This truly was something that man did not expect. It completely blindsided him. Naivety? Possibly (in fact definitely) to the extent that he figured they could just get on with their lives, remain friends and he would meet another girl eventually. Problem solved. But, by the time he had realised how big a part of his life she was, it was too late and so, after a couple of (failed) attempts to get her back, he had to accept reality.

I do not want to dwell so much on this part of the story (not as much as I did in real life anyway) as it isn't greatly important, the main point is that something happened which meant I had to take a step back and (re)configure my life. The options were clear: stick (i.e. continue the same life as before (obviously minus the girlfriend)), or twist (i.e. try living a little bit differently).

I was anxious now, extremely anxious. I didn't sleep, I hardly ate and my heart was constantly racing. I had a fear of the unknown, a fear of having to make that choice - to choose my tine. I wanted to turn back time - to go back to a point where I didn’t have to think about what could broadly be referred to as 'my future'. But I couldn't. It was high time that I got my finger out. And then, in the darkened depths of one ashtray-filled night, just when all hope was lost, just when  I had consigned myself to a life of being a bumbling mess, I got an idea...

Chapter 2 - The Yes Man

I must firstly admit, for those of you not in the know, that it was not entirely my idea. It was a stolen idea, a borrowed idea that I figured I could at least try to piggyback on for a while if nothing else. To be honest, it seemed a bit outlandish and immature, but by this point, at this tine (sorry, last time, I promise), I was desperate. I had watched the film The Yes Man (if you've never seen it, it's pretty rubbish, but my favourite scene is below) and had decided that it would be pretty fun to try it, if not for a sustained period of time, then at least for a week or a day. I ordered the book (an excellent read - way better, and completely different from the film - although I'm no book critic) from the ever-trusty Amazon and decided I would endeavor to say Yes to any opportunity I was presented with. This would mean, in effect, that someone else, something else, was making my decisions, that it didn't matter where I ended up, because I was bound by Yes. The unknown no longer mattered because it was already pre-determined - set out for me with a series of Yeses, where one Yes led to another one. I could just relax and let Yes do it's magic, without having to worry about the consequences or the Big Bad Future. It was my 'get out of jail' card.

But this posed several problems. As previously mentioned, I didn't take many risks. I liked to be in control. Submission to Yes meant I would lose all control over my life as I knew it. This would be not just a timid step into the world of the unknown, but a massive leap, and one which I wasn't entirely sure I was ready for. Added to this, anyone who knows my personality knows that a decision like this could have potentially catastrophic consequences. When I go for it (as I tended to do when I was previously a single man), I tend to go for it, no holds barred, no prisoners taken and no expenses spared. Anyone who I explained my new venture to seemed to put forward the proposition that it might, in fact, lead to my death. All of a sudden, this didn't seem like much fun at all. Nonetheless, after taking all the advice on board and (like any self-respecting machismo male would) fucking it all out the window, I strengthened my resolve and vowed to engage with this most glorious of quests.

I was going to have to do a little bit of work before I could start though. First of all, there was going to have to be a set of rules, a manifesto written in plain English which I could consult in times of need. After wracking my brains for several hours I looked down at what I had created:

The Yes Manifesto

Rule Number 1: Say Yes to everything.

And that was it. Ok, it was a bit basic, but adding too many rules would just confuse things and, anyway, how hard could it really be???

Around this time, I thought of a good entry level test for myself, just to check that my heart was really in this and it wasn't just some stupid game. If I was going to become a new person, then it would surely follow that I needed a new image? Something which would symbolically and aesthetically start me off on my adventure, so I could look back and say 'YES! That was the exact point whereby I became a Yes Man!' My thoughts immediately turned to bleach. I had had many battles with this most ferocious of chemical-based foes in the past, any only a few where I had emerged the victor. But this time, I was determined to conquer and overcome it. I went to my local Boots in earnest and bought the deadliest hair dye I could find (you can usually tell by the number of warnings on the pack, and by how thick the gloves you get with it are). The one I selected came with mandatory body armour - this was going to be a fight to the death.
I was quite pleased with my purchase. I was going to turn over a new leaf, be a blonde idiot, and one who actually enjoyed his life. On my return to my flat I was welcomed by my flat mate, Jamie, in the usual way:

"Want to do something tonight?"
"Hmm, dunno man - like what?"
"I was thinking about snooker - always wanted to play it and would like to give it a bash."

To tell the truth, as was the norm, I really couldn't be arsed (no offence Jambo). But then I realised, what was I doing? I had forgot already! This was my first opportunity (even although my Yes Man image was not yet fully established) to Say Yes, to do something I wouldn't usually do. I put the thought of burning bleach deep into my scalp to one side and said that immortal word.

"Yeah, okay" (well actually that's two words, but it doesn't really go into general conversation very well if you just say 'yes' - it is always followed by an awkward pause)
"You want to just head out just now? I'm pretty bored."

Again, Yes was the answer and off we went, like two little tiny ducklings swimming in a sea of snooker-based friendship.

I'm not entirely sure on the specifics of said night, but I know it involved a lot of guinness, whiskey, and very poorly played snooker. It was a good laugh.

I awoke early in the morning, cold, naked and alone, feeling like I had spent the last 12 hours eating nothing but cardboard. It was 8am, and I grudgingly got out of bed as I realised that I had a meeting at 9 with a V.I.P (a very important police officer (or pig if you like)). Before you jump the gun, I was not in trouble with the law but was, in fact, to meet with said policeman about a research project I was doing at university which he was supervising. I went upstairs, forced some water down and went to turn the shower on.

The image I saw in front of me when I turned the shower room light on was one which absolutely, utterly and completely horrified me.

Bleach 1, Ross 0.

The Yes Man was born.