Category Archives: Unrelated/Off-Topic

The “F” Word

There’s an “f’ word that comes up a lot when you decide to learn a new language and it can really hold you back. This particular word goes a long way to explaining why I’ve never been able to learn a new language – and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m not the only one. It became such a barrier to progress that I decided to throw it in the bin and not bother using it.

If you think I’m talking about the word “fuck”, well, as you can see, I’m more than happy using that one. “Fuck” is an old reliable when Duolingo’s speaking exercises are refusing to accept your perfectly accurate response. I have nothing but respect for the word “fuck” and for anyone who uses it – even Gordon Ramsay.

Nope, I’m talking about the word “fluency”. I’m sure you’ve been there – feeling as if there’s no point even trying to learn a language because you’ll never be fluent. Or you make a start with barrel-loads of enthusiasm, only to realise how far away fluency actually is, so you sigh and go back to watching Netflix. It’s just not meant to be, you may think.

At this point I’d like to digress to point out that I am about to use the word “fluency” a lot, despite saying I don’t use it anymore. It’s somewhat unavoidable in a post almost entirely on the topic.

Anyway, the main problem with language learning for me was that I couldn’t see any point in trying given how hard fluency is to reach, and I couldn’t see how I would ever actually get there. This partly explains why I ditched French after high school. It explains why I took one 10-hour set of Spanish classes before throwing in la toalla. It explains why I couldn’t even improve my French while living in France, and it explains why my German never got further than a few lessons on Duolingo before I bolted out of there faster than you can say grammatikalischer Fall.

The problem was that, no matter how much vocabulary I picked up, no matter how many declension tables I poured over, I couldn’t use any of what I learned. I couldn’t actually make any of it come out of my mouth when required. Not only that, I couldn’t understand a word of what native speakers said. Not really having a proper understanding of what it takes to learn a language, I chalked it all up to me just not being good enough and that was that.

But the thing is, worrying about fluency is like a gamer worrying about the fight with the final boss while at the very start of the game. Sonic the Hedgehog had a lot of Emerald Hills and Chemical Plant Zones to negotiate before he got to lock horns with the dastardly Dr Robotnik (I’m cool with how uncool this reference is, by the way). As soon as you start worrying about whether you’ll ever be fluent, or about how hard it is to reach fluency, you’ll become disheartened.

I think fluency is a noble goal to set. It’s just that I also think it’s overrated. It’s not worth giving up on what could be the best journey of your life just because you might not ever reach native fluency. Is it essential to reach that level? Do I need to reach it?

I haven’t given up on the idea. I’ve just altered my goals. Realistically, with a full-time job to try to hold down, there’s only so much time in a week that I can dedicate to learning Norwegian. It takes regular practice – to the extent that it’s best to try to do something every day – a requirement I do manage, but not always with ease or with my best thinking cap on. In my case, I decided to stop fretting about whether I’ll ever be a fluent Norwegian speaker and start focusing on what I know I can achieve with the right attitude in the here and now. I set myself the goals of gradually improving the quality of my conversations with native speakers, and massively increasing the level of input I get – through reading and listening – to be able to better understand the language.

I also spent some time reading about the concept of language learning and watching YouTube videos on the subject in order to give myself some understanding of how to actually go about it. And let me tell you – there is a lot out there! After a while it becomes about figuring out what suits you best and what works for you. I’m still working that out, I cannot lie. There’s no getting away from it – some form of immersion is crucial, but in 2021 this has never been easier to get thanks to the internet and computers and enthusiastic native speakers willing to help you.

For the first time in my life, I have developed a proper language learning habit that I have been able to stick to and develop. Unlike in the past, there’s no chance of me giving up this time – and it helps me more than I ever expected to stop worrying about whether I’ll actually achieve what might be termed fluency. Maybe I will – but who knows? You can do a lot without being fully fluent.

Now if I could just find a way to get more comfortable with making mistakes…

In my next set of incoherent ramblings on the subject of language learning, I’ll be talking about the one thing a learner can say that means they’re destined to fail – and why you shouldn’t say it.

Hvorfor lærer jeg norsk? Hvorfor ikke?!

Why am I learning Norwegian? Why not?!

The last 12 months have been something of a downer, but as somebody with alarmingly little going on that could serve as a distraction from the Covid-19 bad-news jamboree and the never-ending restrictions of lockdown, last spring I decided that I’d need to do something – anything – with all this free time spent at home. That something, it turned out, would be to learn a new language. I know that’s very cliché, but I’m never going to learn the clarinet or how to sew, so it had to be a language, okay? I’ve always felt like a bilingual person trapped inside a monolingual person’s body (I know that doesn’t really work but you know what I’m ham-fistedly trying to say), and if I was ever going to do something about it, now seemed like the time.

But why Norwegian? Why a language spoken by only five million people, almost all of them in just one country (guess which one)? Why not Mandarin? Why not Russian? Why not Spanish, a language spoken not just in Spain but throughout the Americas? Why not French, the one language other than English I have some basic knowledge of?

The truth is, I could have chosen any language, but having been to Oslo and learned a handful of basic beginner phrases and rather liked the sound of it, I decided to take that tiny leg-up and run with it. And why not? One day, I’ll go back to Norway and the feeling of being able to speak even a little bit of the language will make it seem worthwhile. Not only that, but Norwegian’s closeness to Swedish and Danish means it’s a good head start should I wish to try and pick those languages up too. After almost a year of learning Norwegian, I can already understand basic written Danish and Swedish, although not their spoken versions.

For a native English speaker, there is much that makes Norwegian quite an accessible language. As a Germanic language, there is plenty of cognate vocabulary, while its grammar is generally quite familiar, at least in the early stages. Indeed, there is very little verb conjugation in Norwegian to wrap your head around. Take the verb å være – to be:

I am = jeg er

you are = du er

he/she is = han/hun er

it is = den/det er (depending on the grammatical gender of the “it”)

we are = vi er

you (pl.) are = dere er

they are = de er

Notice how am/is/are become er all the way through.

Unlike German, there is also no grammatical case system to grapple with in Norwegian, although there are three grammatical genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. That said, the feminine form is somewhat optional and can be substituted for the masculine.

However, for all the similarities that come with learning Norwegian, it is categorically not mutually intelligible with English, and there are plenty of challenges too. To begin with, learning any language is difficult unless you’re especially gifted. Norwegian adjective forms must agree with the grammatical gender and number of the noun they’re describing. Norwegian prepositions are notoriously difficult for learners to get right, as they don’t correspond easily with their English equivalents. I’m not sure I will ever master Norwegian prepositions. As well as this, pronunciation varies wildly depending on which part of Norway the speaker is from, which makes learning to understand the spoken language quite a hurdle.

There is no standard form of spoken Norwegian, which means there is no equivalent of Britain’s Received Pronunciation or Standard American English. Instead, all dialects are of equal standing, and when two Norwegians from different parts of the country meet, they speak in their own dialect to one another. There is no standard language to turn to for help if it gets difficult. In practice, this doesn’t cause too much difficulty for native Norwegian speakers, as they are quite well exposed to most dialects, but it can be tricky even for natives, especially where very rural dialects are involved.

There are, however, two written forms of the language, Bokmål and Nynorsk, and most spoken dialects are closer to or more distant from one of these written forms. Bokmål is comfortably the most commonly used, and is very similar to the Danish written language. Nynorsk was developed when Norway gained its independence and is based on traditional Norwegian dialects in an attempt to pull the language further away from that of Denmark. Nynorsk is more common in western Norway, while Bokmål has a stronger presence around Oslo and eastern Norway, as well as being prevalent to some degree throughout the country. Neither written form is a spoken language, but most non-natives will learn one of these forms – usually Bokmål – before attempting to master a dialect. Were that student to then speak using their knowledge of Bokmål, they would be understood anywhere in Norway, but they can categorically not expect to be responded to in Bokmål. The response will come in whatever dialect happens to be the speaker’s local form. This is not rudeness, this is the Norwegian way, and every single dialect form carries equal weight. This, arguably, is the hardest element of learning the language, especially when outside Norway.

Fortunately, in the 21st century, the internet helps language learners bridge these gaps in ways that were barely imaginable when I started school in the early 1990s. For a start, the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK has made lots of its content available overseas, which is great for creating an immersive environment. As well as this, there are now numerous apps for language learning – some free, most not – of varying quality and usefulness. And perhaps above all, websites like italki mean it’s possible to access native speakers for language classes and conversation practice from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

I very quickly found that, although apps can be very useful for absolute beginners, they all have deep flaws and, once you reach a certain point, outlive their usefulness. This is not to say I don’t still use language apps – I do. But I quickly realised that what I needed was greater immersion in the language so that I could absorb it and actually reproduce it myself when called upon. For me, there’s no substitute for speaking practice, and I’ve had lots of it, but it’s not just about speaking. It’s very easy with speaking partners to continually reinforce what you know without actually expanding your ability in the language. As such, I also try to consume news in Norwegian, and I cannot stress how important I have found it to read in Norwegian. It’s never the case that I understand everything, but the bits I do understand help me piece the meaning together and introduce new elements of the language and show me how things are structured. I also try to listen to podcasts, radio and other sources, but I’m also careful not to choose material that is not too far beyond my level. I try to gradually increase what I’m able to understand and stretch myself just a little. There’s no doubt that understanding the spoken language is the hardest part due to the wide variety of accent and dialects, so I accept that I may never be great at this.

I’ve also found creating flashcards helpful. I like to have an image on one side and the Norwegian word on the other. I avoid English on my flashcards as much as possible. That way I learn the Norwegian word from its association to a picture, which helps me get out of the habit of constant translation and creates more vivid memories and neural connections that improve recall. I’ve recently begun to focus more on expanding my vocabulary at the expense of grammar study. It’s not that grammar isn’t important, but it’s definitely easier to make yourself understood if you know more words. It’s that simple. I’m still absorbing grammar through my study, but I’ve found that building on my vocabulary is the single thing that speeds up my ability to actually speak and understand.

In nine months, what have I achieved? Well, I can sit and read simple Norwegian texts, especially those aimed at non-native speakers. I can listen to slowly-spoken Norwegian and grasp the meaning, even if I don’t fully understand. And best of all, I can hold simple conversations with native speakers in which I can describe myself, my work, my hobbies and how I’ve been spending my time, and can even stutter my way through higher concepts such as expressing opinions or giving explanations. At times I’ve felt frustrated, sometimes very frustrated. Norwegian is said to be one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn, but this certainly doesn’t make it easy. However, I’ve managed to stick with it and form a positive new habit. I have plenty still to learn. Indeed, with language-learning, there is always more to learn. But when the chance to travel returns and I can take my new skills to Norway and put what I’ve learned into practice, all of the frustration, the hours of creating flashcards and the stilted stumbling Skype calls will seem worth it.

Vi snakkes!

I’m Okay…

It’s 3am in late November 2017 and I’m lying awake in my little bedroom in my parents’ house. I’m a week away from my 33rd birthday, and I’ve been living with Mum and Dad again for two years. On this particular night, the deafening silence is oppressive, like a weight closing in around my head, attempting to crush me. The heating has been off for four hours and there’s an icy chill in the air – or at least it feels like there is. It’s a scary place to be. There might be two other people in the house, but it feels as if they’re an entire universe away at this moment in time.

I pick up the phone and dial 111. If you’re not familiar with 111, it’s basically a way for people in Britain to dial 999 without dialling 999 (if you’re not familiar with 999, it’s basically a common-sense version of 911). It’s a hypochondriac’s dream. A way to call 999 without actually calling it and clogging up the real emergency line so people having actual heart attacks (as opposed to the imagined kind) face an increased risk of, well, death. Medical advice on tap, 24/7. You’re never more than a phone call away from being told you need to see a doctor because nobody can possibly diagnose you over the phone. Superb.

Fast forward to 6am and I’m leaving the house. The weather is a good metaphor for my state of mind – angry, wintry gusts, and spasms of sideways hail. I’m headed for the train station on my way to see the only available out-of-hours GP I can find. Without a car, all I can do is get the train to Southport and then walk a (mentally) agonising half an hour to what I hope will be salvation. I should know by now that salvation isn’t doled out in ten-minute appointments. To cut a long story as short as I can do, I’m told I probably don’t have Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease or any of the other terrifying diseases I’m convinced have befallen me, handed a prescription for some diazepam, and told not to worry. Some chance!

Before I developed this obsession with my own mortality (because that’s what health anxiety really is), I used to think of hypochondria in clichéd terms to do with “attention seeking” and “irrationality”. Hypochondriacs were people with nothing better to do and were just desperate to be noticed. If that doesn’t sound very empathetic, think of how hypochondriacs are depicted on TV. Here’s a hint – it’s never kind. I remember the Harvey Corman character in hospital-based sitcom Scrubs, who used to frequent Sacred Heart convinced of his imminent demise at the hands of all manner of outlandish diagnoses, including, at one point, kuru, a degenerative brain disease not seen outside of tribal Papua New Guinea. His repeated visits and baffling worries illicit mockery and eye-rolling incredulity from those obliged to treat him. Reassuringly, during a medical exam ordered by the taciturn Dr. Cox in an effort to scare poor Mr. Corman off, he is eventually diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. Even hypochondriacs get unlucky sometimes. I forget what became of him after that.

The truth about hypochondriacal breakdowns is that they are about far more than wanting attention. The all-consuming fear of imminent doom – the certainty that imminent doom is coming – is a huge distraction from thoughts about whether or not people care enough about you or not. In fact, if it were possible, you’d probably accept a bargain in which people stopped caring about you, if it meant you could feel well again. To put it simply, hypochondria – health anxiety if you prefer – is hell. It’s a spiral of torment and despair and, in my case, MRI scans and endoscopies, in which each symptom triggers more worry, which triggers more symptoms, which trigger more worries, until you can’t see a way out.

I guess you could say I’m a lucky guy. I have parents prepared to put me up and look after me almost as if I were a child again in my early thirties. I’m sure they felt powerless to help, but I’m much better now, which suggests otherwise. I got better the way countless people get better from anxiety and panic – therapy, medication, patience, and time. I still experience similar thought patterns, but I’m in control of it now. I’ve found some degree of comfort and happiness again. In many ways, my relapse followed a similar pattern to my previous anxious collapse – panic attacks, fear of death, worsening physical symptoms, medication initially making things even worse, therapy, a small chink of light, room to breathe, some semblance of normality, recovery. Perhaps it will happen again, perhaps it won’t. Who knows? I’m not going to worry about that right now.

In a previous post, I rationalised that there was no shame in anxiety disorders because they are illnesses that we don’t choose and we can’t fully control. I absolutely stick to the view that there should be no shame or stigma attached. However, when thinking about my own experiences, I wonder if the notion of anxiety as an illness is insufficient. I am not expert enough to say one way or another what anxiety is. At the end of the day, the mind is a part of the body, and if a part of the body begins to function in a way that leads to suffering, that’s illness, isn’t it? Anxiety has severely limited the last two years of my life. In fact, it’s caused me suffering ever since I was a child. And brain scans show that anxious people tend to have larger amygdalae – the amygdala being the fear-processing centre in the brain. It’s also been shown that there are weaker connections between the amygdalae and the part of the brain responsible for rationalising our instinctual thoughts and feelings. So it must be a mental illness, right?

Well, yes, I accept that it must be. However, when I think of my own experiences with anxiety, I sometimes struggle to see it – and to feel it – as an illness. To me, it feels like a natural part of who I am – a consequence of genetics and environment that mean that this is one way my personality manifests itself. Yeah, I might have an enlarged amygdala, but does that mean having a brain difference means having  a mental illness? I do sometimes feel that anxiety – a feeling and an emotion that everybody experiences to some degree or another – is not like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or depression, where there is so obviously something chemically and neurologically wrong.

If you’re reading this and feel that I’m devaluing anxiety as an illness or as a source of suffering, please know that that is not my intention. I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a neurologist. If thinking of anxiety as an illness helps you, then stick with that belief. You’re probably right. And rest assured that I know only too well what it is to suffer with these debilitiating feelings. I’ve felt so overwhelmed with fear that just getting off the bed feels herculean. Some days, the idea of taking a shower is akin to wading across a lake filled with treacle. Mental energy and physical energy – can they really be prised apart?

Almost a year on from that horrible episode (trust me, I’ve only skimmed the surface here), I’m back on my feet, back in work and doing my best to function like a normal human being (whatever that means). I live in Belfast again, which is a place that seems to be good for me and the hamster-wheel that is my brain. My parents can breathe a sigh of relief that, for now at least, their 33-year-old son has found something to enjoy and be happy about and isn’t running back and forth to the hospital looking for the magic words that never come. I have good and bad days. Sometimes the bad days are still quite bad. But they aren’t torture. They’re something to be gotten through by focusing on work or breathing the fresh Irish air or listening to the rain or eating a giant cheeseburger. Things are looking up. And they will for you, as long as you remember to breathe.


Site Update

It can’t have escaped your attention that a blog dedicated to an English guy’s reflections on living in Belfast and Northern Ireland almost never talks about Belfast and Northern Ireland. There’s a reason for this and I’m going to have to come clean about it – I haven’t lived in Northern Ireland since September 2015.

The original idea was to share with the internet how fond I was of my adopted home on the other side of the Irish Sea. The problem is that, not long after getting started, I took a job in London and the whole premise of the blog was compromised. And by compromised, I mean ruined. Fundamentally altered.

Church near where I lived in South Ealing, west London

Given that we’re approaching 2018, I probably should’ve gotten round to rebranding the blog by now (apologies if “rebranding” sounds a bit grandiose), but it just never happened.

These days I live back on home territory in Liverpool, but the option of a return to Northern Ireland at some point in the future is something I keep open as I was very happy over there and think I would be again. What I don’t fancy is redesigning the blog just to have to change it all back again if and when I move back to Belfast. So you’re just going to have to accept, for the time being, that An English Guy in Belfast is written by an English guy in England.


A couple of years ago I did one or two posts about anxiety – a condition that, since leaving Belfast, has had a major impact on my life. I prefer not to talk about it too much on the blog as I came to a conclusion pretty quickly that I don’t want to give this pain in the arse of a condition any more attention that I absolutely have to. But I did write a piece that used a pretty terrible boxing metaphor to describe what having anxiety is like.

Since then, I’ve noticed that I often get referrals from Google from people searching the terms “boxing” and “anxiety” together. I did wonder about removing the piece or altering it in some way so as to prevent anxious young boxers finding their way to what is mainly a travel blog and wondering what on earth happened and how a story about my underpants in Norway is meant to help them. But then I thought, you never know, the stuff about anxiety might help someone somewhere (boxers or otherwise), so I’ve left it up, but I wanted to let anyone who finds my blog this way know that I am sorry if you arrive here and feel misled. It’s interesting that boxing is so often about bravado and machismo, yet clearly there are plenty of amateur fighters out there for whom their chosen sport can lead to levels of tension and anxiety that cause them to seek help online.

Anyway, I just wanted to clear a couple of things up. Oh, and part three of our trip to every country in the world is on the way. Eventually. It’s a lot of research and I get tired. I’m a bit stuck on India. Can you imagine trying to condense India into a bitesize chunk? It’s one of the most complex countries on earth and I’m terrified of excluding anything important for the sake of brevity. Also, I’m getting more nervous the closer I get to Israel. I’m gonna piss someone off no matter what I say there, aren’t I?

Thanks for reading,


Formby Point, Formby, Liverpool – home


Papin to Pogba: The Story of the Football Transfer Record

I originally wrote this piece earlier in the summer when Neymar’s move from Barcelona to Paris-Saint Germain was a swirling rumour, but as I couldn’t find anyone interested in publishing it, I’m breaking my golden rule and writing a football-related post on here. I found myself wondering how often breaking the world transfer record works out, and how often it doesn’t. Since this was written, Neymar has made his move to the French capital in the first deal to exceed £100m (and, indeed, the first to hit £200m), while Barcelona have also smashed the £100m barrier to bring in Borussia Dortmund’s exciting young forward Ousmane Dembélé.

It came to my attention prior to publishing this that Sky Sports had had the same idea. But someone was always going to, so I make no apologies for publishing this anyway!

Brazilian superstar Neymar is seemingly on the verge of a £200m move from Barcelona to Paris-Saint Germain, though it remains to be seen whether the eye-wateringly expensive deal ultimately goes through. But just how successful have world record signings been in the modern era? Beginning with the advent of the UEFA Champions League in 1992, I ask whether buying clubs received enough bang for their world record buck.

1) 1992 – Jean-Pierre Papin – Marseille to AC Milan – £10m

No year has seen the world transfer fee record broken more times than 1992. The first of the trio of unprecedented big-money moves saw AC Milan become the first club to break the £10m barrier by bringing in French forward Papin from Marseille. Papin had a remarkable record in France, scoring plenty of goals and winning an array of domestic trophies, as well as the Ballon d’Or.

However, things didn’t go quite so well in Italy – arguably Europe’s strongest league at the time. Papin did manage a decent scoring rate for the Rossoneri, but injury problems hampered his attempts to settle into life at the San Siro, and he left for Bayern Munich after just two seasons. Despite his struggles in Italy, Papin still achieved a strike ratio just shy of one goal every two matches, not bad considering the player’s fitness battles.

VERDICT – A quality player worth every penny on paper, injuries prevented Papin from truly living up to the world record price tag at Milan.

Jean-Pierre Papin
Jean-Pierre Papin


2) 1992 – Gianluca Vialli – Sampdoria to Juventus – £12m

In a sign of the strength of Italian football during this period, it wasn’t long before Juventus eclipsed Milan’s outlay on Papin by splashing out £12m to bring in Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli. Vialli’s prolific partnership with Roberto Mancini had helped deliver Sampdoria their most successful period, so it was no surprise when a giant of Italian football stepped in to claim the club’s prized asset.

Vialli’s first two seasons with Juve saw him struggle to find the kind of form that made him such a hot property at Sampdoria, while injury problems meant he was restricted to just 10 appearance in his second season. However, after working hard to improve his strength and fitness, Vialli’s third and fourth seasons with the club were much more prolific, helping endear him to Juve supporters. His goals would help Juventus to a league and cup double in 1995, followed by Champions League glory a year later.

VERDICT – After a difficult start, Vialli ultimately proved to be money well spent as he helped fire the Old Lady to glory.

Gianluca Vialli
Gianluca Vialli (left) takes on Parma’s Fernando Couto


3) 1992 – Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan – £13m

It wasn’t long before Milan reclaimed their title as the game’s biggest spenders from rivals Juventus, but the story of Gianluigi Lentini is laced with sadness. The winger had built up a stellar reputation for pace and trickery during his time with boyhood club Torino, helping them achieve promotion to Serie A and then challenge towards the top of the table.

A year after signing for Milan for a world record fee, Lentini was involved in a serious road traffic accident that left him with a litany of injuries, including a fractured skull. Remarkably, he recovered sufficiently to return to action, but health issues in the wake of the accident continued to hinder his game and prevented him from performing at his previous best. Despite this, he still claimed an impressive list of honours during his four seasons with the Rossoneri, including the Champions League, three Serie A titles, and the Italian Super Cup.

VERDICT – To come back from the injuries sustained in his car accident and play for Europe’s best team at the time attests to Lentini’s strength of character. Although he may not have hit the heights he was surely destined for, his list of achievements despite such challenging circumstances makes it churlish to declare Lentini anything but a success.

Gianluigi Lentini
Gianluigi Lentini


4) 1996 – Ronaldo – PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona – £13.2m

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is one of only two players to break the world transfer record twice (the other is Diego Maradona), during a career which saw him become, for many, the greatest ever out-and-out goalscorer. The Brazilian arrived in Europe as a teenager at relatively unfashionable PSV Eindhoven, and his record of a goal a game during his two seasons in the Netherlands caught the eye of Europe’s biggest clubs. There seemed little doubt that, as the world record fee was broken for the first time in four years, Ronaldo would be a hit at Barcelona.

Sadly for the Catalan outfit, they couldn’t keep hold of their prolific new signing for more than one season. Ronaldo was indeed a phenomenal hit at Camp Nou, scoring a procession of often breathtaking goals, winning World Footballer of the Year, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. While observers struggled for superlatives to describe the young Brazilian’s exploits, behind the scenes, there were problems. Attempts to renegotiate his contract broke down, and Barcelona were forced to part with the man they called O Fenômeno, as he departed for Inter Milan, admittedly with the consolation of another world record fee.

VERDICT – Barcelona got one season of sheer brilliance out of Ronaldo. However, their failure to tie the player down to a stay of longer than just a solitary season means his time at the club is tinged with a hint of regret.



5) 1996 – Alan Shearer – Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United – £15m

When powerful striker Alan Shearer left Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers to join boyhood club Newcastle United, an English club broke the world transfer fee record for the first time since 1951. Shearer’s goals, allied to his formidable strike partnership with Chris Sutton, had fired Blackburn to the title in 1995, but as the club struggled to recapture that form in the following season, it seemed increasingly inevitable that Shearer would leave. Perhaps his strongest suitor was Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but with Blackburn reluctant to sell to their closest rivals at the top of the Premier League and Shearer himself set on a move home, it was Newcastle who found themselves in pole position.

Shearer was made for the Magpies. A local hero the passionate Toon Army could worship, and willing to disregard the overtures of Manchester United, Shearer went on to become the Premier League’s all-time highest goalscorer, revelling in the adulation of the supporters to whom he could so readily relate. Sadly, the Premier League title at Blackburn was Shearer’s last ever trophy – he won no silverware during his time with Newcastle. But you can bet he has no regrets.

VERDICT – They may not have won any trophies, but Shearer’s goals were a source of endless joy on Tyneside and provided a generation of Newcastle fans with some of their most treasured memories. A snip at £15m.

Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer gracing a banner at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park


6) 1997 – Ronaldo – Barcelona to Internazionale – £19.5m

As we’ve already seen, Ronaldo’s one season with Barcelona was an unbridled success. However, with his contract wrangle unresolved, Inter Milan were only too happy to stump up a world record fee to bring in the best striker in the business. The Brazilian’s time with Inter began exactly has his Barça spell had ended, with goals galore and personal accolades that attested to his sheer brilliance.

Sadly, it was at Inter where Ronaldo’s injury problems began, robbing him of some of his explosive power and keeping him sidelined for the entire 2000/2001 season. Ronaldo only won one trophy during his time with the club – the 1998 UEFA Cup – and he never recovered the form that pre-dated his knee issues. It wasn’t until his move to Real Madrid in 2002 that he recaptured some of his old magic.

VERDICT – Ronaldo’s early form in Italy suggests he would have been a huge hit, were it not for his serious knee injuries that ultimately took some of the shine off his time at Inter.

Ronaldo (left) celebrates a goal with Diego Simeone


7) 1998 – Denílson – São Paulo to Real Betis – £21.5m

One of the more leftfield world record breaking transfers saw Real Betis become the first club to break the £20m barrier when they splashed out on up-and-coming Brazilian winger Denílson, in the hope his mercurial talents could help them penetrate the upper echelons of La Liga. Just a teenager when he made his debut for the Brazilian national team, Denílson’s displays of skill and trickery saw him labelled as one of the games great prospects, but it was still a major surprise when the club that swooped to bring him to Europe was Real Betis.

Unfortunately for both club and player, Denílson did not live up to expectations. Despite establishing himself as a regular in the Betis line-up, his difficulties in adapting to life in La Liga saw him loaned to Flamengo in his homeland in 2000. He did return, but failed to nail down a regular starting place, eventually departing for Bordeaux in 2005. Denílson’s career tailed off after that, and the former world record signing now includes Hải Phòng of Vietnam and Greek side Nea Kavala among his former clubs.

VERDICT – It would have been fascinating to see Denílson live up to his potential in the green and white of Real Betis, but it wasn’t to be.



8) 1999 – Christian Vieri – Lazio to Internazionale – £32.1m

Just a year after Real Betis became the first club to break the £20m mark in their signing of Denílson, the world record jumped above £30m as Inter snapped up prolific striker Vieri from Lazio. Unfortunately for Vieri, he joined a club struggling to challenge for titles in Italy, and the managerial merry-go-round at the San Siro often seemed to affect his form. The player was further hampered by injuries – especially during his earlier seasons with the club – that prevented him from forming a consistent partnership with Ronaldo.

Nevertheless, Vieri did flourish under the tutelage of Argentinian manager Héctor Cúper, scoring 25 goals in all competitions in 2001/2002 as Inter narrowly missed out on the title. Following Cúper’s departure, Vieri again began to struggle and his star ultimately waned, before a move to city rivals AC Milan that yielded just eight appearances.

VERDICT – A qualified success, but Inter could have hoped for more from a player for whom they smashed the world transfer record.

Christian Vieri
Christian Vieri (left) with Inter strike partner Ronaldo (and a football)


9) 2000 – Hernán Crespo – Parma to Lazio – £35.5m

After winning Serie A in 1999/2000 under Sven-Göran Eriksson, Lazio sought to bolster their efforts to defend their crown by splashing the cash on Parma’s gifted Argentinian forward Crespo. Despite failing in their efforts to retain the title, Crespo’s first season in Rome was a success as he scored 26 league goals, appearing to justify the huge price tag.

However, injuries curtailed Crespo’s influence in his second and final season at the club as several of Lazio’s big-name signings failed to make an impact. As the club began to feel the financial pinch, it became increasingly clear that they would need to sell. On the final day of August 2002, Crespo departed for Inter.

VERDICT – Having spent so much, Lazio would have hoped to have kept hold of Crespo for longer. However, the club’s financial problems forced their hand and meant the player never really had the time to make the kind of impact expected of the world’s most expensive player.

Hernan Crespo
Hernán Crespo


10) 2000 – Luís Figo – Barcelona to Real Madrid – £37m

Portugal’s graceful, supremely gifted midfield maestro was the centre of one of the most controversial transfers of all time when Real Madrid, setting out on their Galáctico adventure, prised the player from bitter rivals Barcelona for a world record fee. The move turned Figo from a Camp Nou idol into a hate figure, and the atmosphere during visits to his old stomping ground with Real could be described as seething. Invective would rain down from the cavernous stands, accompanied by all manner of missiles, from liquor bottles to mobile phones.

Figo had been a star in Catalonia, helping Barcelona win two La Liga titles during his five seasons, as well as the Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He had already secured his place among the pantheon of the game’s greatest players, owing to his silky passing and elegant movement. Despite the controversy and furore surrounding his move to the Spanish capital, Figo settled in instantly at Real, taking his game to new levels, winning two La Liga titles, as well as the Champions League in 2002.

VERDICT – After one of the most acrimonious transfers in football history, Figo slotted into Real Madrid’s midfield with aplomb, helping to deliver trophies and establish the Galáctico phenomenon. A complete success.

Luis Figo
Luís Figo takes to the air in a clash with Galatasaray


11) 2001 – Zinedine Zidane – Juventus to Real Madrid – £46.6m

With the Galáctico era in full swing, Real Madrid signalled their status as the most powerful club in world football by smashing the world transfer fee record to sign Zidane from Juventus. The French international midfielder would go on to cement his place as one of the greatest footballers of all time, peppering his career with moments of sublime genius that often defied belief, possessing an ability to make the game look easy. Zidane’s first season at the Bernabéu ended in glory as he scored a spectacular volley in the Champions League final – one of that competition’s best ever goals – to secure victory.

Zidane, together with Luís Figo, ran the engine room at the heart of the Real midfield as the club won La Liga in 2003, and he also won FIFA World Player of the Year for the third time. Zidane went on to retire from football in 2006, having scored 49 goals in 225 games for the club. In January 2016, Zidane replaced Rafael Benítez as Real Madrid manager, and has already guided them to two Champions Leagues and one La Liga title.

VERDICT – A resounding success as a player, Zidane has only bolstered his standing among Real Madrid fans since becoming manager. There will never be another player quite like Zinedine Zidane.

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane


12) 2009 – Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United to Real Madrid – £80m

Real Madrid’s record fee paid for Zinedine Zidane stood for eight years before they decided to almost double it in signing Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. In the wake of the prospective Neymar deal, it’s easy to forget how staggering the £80m it took to capture Ronaldo from a very reluctant Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp seemed in 2009. But it’s fair to say that it has been money well spent. A flashy winger in his early days, Ronaldo developed at Old Trafford from a player who at times flattered to deceive into an attacking tour-de-force – a winger whose trickery, pace and awesome physical strength made him a formidable opponent. He also began to demonstrate an eye for goal well beyond that expected of most natural wingers.

After clinging on for as long as they could, United eventually relented and allowed the player to switch to the Spanish capital, and he hasn’t looked back since. Ronaldo’s physique and presence in the penalty area has seen him develop from a winger into a more orthodox centre-forward, and, at the time of writing, the player has scored a scarcely believable 406 goals in 396 appearance for Real Madrid. Ronaldo’s goals have helped the club to win two La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Reys. In his ongoing rivalry with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi for recognition as the world’s best player (or even the best player of all time) Ronaldo has also won three Ballon d’Ors during his time at Madrid and, at the age of 32, continues to perform at the very highest level.

VERDICT – Real knew they were investing in a supreme talent when they lavished £80m to sign Ronaldo, but even they probably didn’t realise just what he would go on to achieve.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo


13) 2013 – Gareth Bale – Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid – £86m

For the fourth time in a row, Real Madrid demonstrated their awesome spending power by breaking the world transfer record, this time to secure pacy Welsh winger Gareth Bale from Tottenham. Bale had emerged as a talented but raw young left-back at Southampton, before a move to Spurs that initially saw him struggle to make an impact. A move to a more advanced, wide attacking role saw Bale develop into a player whose frightening speed made him one of the most feared players in the Premier League. A Champions League hat-trick in the San Siro against Inter Milan in 2010/2011 announced the player onto the world stage.

By the time of his move to Spain, Bale had added real physical power to his game. The pace that was his trademark remained, but he had also discovered an eye for goal. However, despite this progress, Bale has never fully endeared himself at the Santiago Bernabéu. Often treated as a scapegoat and sometimes frustrated by injury, Bale’s Real career has sputtered, rather than roared, into life. Almost since the day he signed, he has been linked in the press with a move to Manchester United, though this has always been vehemently denied by the player himself. Despite these issues, Bale has scored some important goals for his club, including a Champions League final winner against city rivals Atlético, and his tally stands at a creditable 67 goals in 150 appearances at the time of writing.

VERDICT – Some of the criticism aimed at Bale from sections of the Real support has been harsh. It is debatable whether Bale has lived up to the tag of world’s most expensive player, but he has proven to be a qualified success in Spain.

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale


14) 2016 – Paul Pogba – Juventus to Manchester United – £89m

The most recent world record fee was not without its share of controversy and intrigue, and involved Manchester United paying £89m for a player they’d allowed to leave for free just four years earlier. French midfielder Pogba’s departure from United in 2012 was acrimonious, with Sir Alex Ferguson critical of the emerging talent’s decision not to sign a new contract at Old Trafford. After signing for Juventus, Pogba developed into the engine at the heart of Italy’s dominant force, winning the Serie A title in each of his four seasons at the club. As his power and drive began to increase, Pogba also secured a regular berth in the French national side.

Meanwhile, Manchester United appeared to be crying out for a midfield general to help boost their waning fortunes, and there was some regret about letting Pogba leave so easily. When José Mourinho came to the helm in summer 2016, bringing the player back to Old Trafford became a priority, even if that meant breaking the world transfer record. Indeed, some reports suggested a bid in excess of £100m may be necessary to convince Juventus to part with a player they desperately wanted to keep. Pogba’s first season back in a red shirt saw United finish a disappointing sixth in the Premier League, but two trophies were secured in the shape of the Europa League and EFL Cup. Pogba came in for criticism, with many suggesting that his performances did not befit the world’s most expensive player. At 24, however, Pogba has plenty of time to raise his game.

VERDICT – Far too soon to say whether £89m is money well spent, but United will be looking for far more from Pogba than they saw in his first season back at the club, and will hope the recent signing of Nemanja Matić can free the player from his shackles.

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba celebrates a goal with his teammates


A warning to PSG then: breaking the world transfer record doesn’t always guarantee success. As many of the above demonstrate, injuries can seriously disrupt even the most promising of careers, and some players just don’t shine as expected. Nevertheless, when a player lives up to the price tag, it usually equals trophies. If Neymar does make the switch to Paris, he will almost certainly dominate the French domestic scene. The success of the deal will be measured by what the club achieves in Europe. Bonne chance!

Anxiety, and why you shouldn’t get into a boxing match

I know I said I wasn’t going to go on and on about anxiety, but at the end of a year which began with my mental health crisis and Generalised Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, I hope I can be forgiven for looking back and taking stock of just how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. In the months that have followed my first panic attack and subsequent hospital stay, doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions, I’ve learned a lot about the nature of anxiety, the ways it affects people, the challenges it presents, the impact it has on the lives of good people, and also about myself and the reasons why I ended up in such a mess.

There is no one single way of coping with anxiety or of recovering from a period of nervous illness, and it is certainly not the case that people, like me, who suffer with anxiety just need to allow more positivity into their lives and all will be okay. That said, I personally began to get better once I started taking steps to improve my mental health, to challenge my long-established ways of thinking, and, yes, by taking a more positive approach to life in general. I hope the next few paragraphs might prove helpful to anyone currently trapped in their own spiral of suffering, and that, if you’re not an anxiety sufferer yourself, this might illuminate what it means to have a disorder of this nature.

Firstly, I want to make one thing clear to anybody who, for whatever reason, doesn’t understand that anxiety is an illness. It is. The problem is that the term “anxiety” also applies to a perfectly natural, normal, often healthy (if usually unhelpful) human emotion. We all experience anxious feelings from time to time, whether it’s over a first date, a job interview or a medical procedure, and many other things besides. This is normal and appropriate to the situation and usually doesn’t cause any extended suffering or harm. But an anxiety disorder is a whole different ballgame. I always felt that my own diagnosis should really have been “Unspecified Relentless Terror Disorder” (but that doesn’t exist as a diagnosis.. yet). An anxiety disorder is all-consuming and the worries and fears that go with it tend to lack any grounding in rationality. Even where it may seem rational to have a particular worry or fear, those worries and fears will be totally out of proportion to the situation, or the sufferer will ruminate on them constantly and obsessively and will feel as if they are unable to handle them. The may need constant reassurance from healthcare professionals or friends and family, but this very pattern of reassurance-seeking only keeps them trapped in their deepening anxiety spiral.

There are many different diagnoses that fall under the anxiety umbrella, from Generalised Anxiety Disorder to Panic Disorder to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (one of the most misunderstood, having absolutely nothing to do with liking things to be tidy), and many more besides. It’s not uncommon for them to overlap. Panic attacks, for example, are a common feature of almost any anxiety disorder you can name. But the point I’m trying to make is that these are potentially serious and very real illnesses that can, at their worst, leave people bedridden and miserable.

They also come with an absolute smorgasbord of grotty physical symptoms, from lightheadedness to breathing difficulties to stomach upsets and plenty more. You can spend all day and all night with a general feeling as if you’re on the verge of collapsing and dying, as if you’re literally just waiting for it to happen. They can also lead to strange psychological sensations characterised as brain fog and depersonalisation/derealisation. These are not dangerous states, but they are incredibly frightening to the sufferer, who experiences feelings of being disconnected from their own body and from a world that seems hazy, distorted and strange. All this really means is that the anxious mind needs a break, but the strangeness and unpleasantness of the sensations causes most anxiety sufferers who experience them – including yours truly – to worry that they are losing their sanity, which only makes the symptoms worse and more entrenched.

So if you ever hear of a colleague needing time off work due to “anxiety” or perhaps a friend lets you down due to feeling too anxious to do something you had planned, please bear in mind that this person needs only the best support you can offer. They are not lazy or weak. They are ill, and they are struggling. But please also remember that this person, unable to attend work or throw themselves into social activities, doesn’t necessarily want to be alone, either. If you know someone in your life who has been diagnosed with anxiety, don’t judge them. Do your best to be there for them. Remember that, in the UK and many other countries, mental health services are woefully underfunded in comparison to physical health services. Your colleague or friend might be receiving the bare minimum of treatment and care. They might be on a months-long waiting list for therapy. You could easily be the most important thing in their life and their recovery without even realising it.

A few weeks ago, I posted an analogy in a Facebook group for anxiety sufferers, in which I attempted to explain how I believe one can best live with anxiety and begin to get better, which I’d like to repeat here. It’s a boxing analogy, so please forgive me if any of my boxing references or terminology are inaccurate. It’s not a sport I follow.

Picture yourself being confronted by an angry heavyweight boxer. Let’s go with Mike Tyson, because I can’t think of anyone else right now. For whatever reason, Tyson has taken an exception to you, and has decided to confront you. You find yourself with three possible responses:

The first response is to step into the ring with him. He’s a boxer (okay, he was a boxer) and it seems like the obvious thing to do. But there’s an obvious problem. You’re not a boxer (if you are one, please just go with me on this). You can fight and fight as hard as you like for as long as you like, but Tyson is bigger, stronger, and knows all your weaknesses. All your fighting will do is wear you out and grind you down. Tyson, meanwhile, is still standing, still tormenting you. Was it worth all the expended effort? I don’t think so.

The second option is perhaps the most obvious – try to run away. But this has something in common with the first option: it’s exhausting. While you might feel better temporarily, having escaped the thunderous uppercuts of the erratic heavyweight pugilist, you’ll still be worn out at the end of it all. And he’ll always catch up with you eventually. So this is really no option at all.

Then there’s the much less obvious third option – the one that offers you the best hope of results: realise that Tyson just wants to be friends. He isn’t going anywhere fast, so instead of inviting him into the ring or trying to run away from him, welcome him into your home. I mean, yes, it might be incredibly inconvenient. He’ll crash about and demand your attention and generally make life difficult for you. But at least you’re still living your life while Tyson’s around. You’re living even while he prepares in his room for his next bout or stomps around the building in his enormous boxing shoes (if such things exist). And then, one day, once you’ve gotten used to your new routine and have figured out how to tolerate it, you notice that you’re seeing less and less of Tyson. He’s gradually moving on and getting bored of life with you. Oh sure, he still comes home from time to time to torment you with his cacophonous ebullience, but at least you get the occasional break. And then you realise that you’re seeing even less of him. At long last, Tyson has moved out! He might call in occasionally to pick up his things and see how you’re getting on, but before long, it becomes apparent that he’s gone for good! You get your life back. Tyson is no more.”

If you can’t see what I’m getting at, Mike Tyson is anxiety, your house represents your life, the general noise and inconvenience of having Tyson for a roommate are your anxiety symptoms, and the consequences of running away or fighting him are what happens if you try to run away from anxiety or to fight it. Oh, and you… are you.

It was late January into early February when I had my breakdown. I don’t mind calling it that. That’s what it was. It came out of the blue with a massive panic attack while at work, which was a winning combination of terrifying and embarrassing. I don’t want to focus too much on what I actually experienced as I’ve covered it before and it’s history now. But I did end up in hospital and went through a spell of deep, deep fear and desperation for some kind of release from my suffering. I went through a three-day spell where I presented to A&E each evening, convinced I was developing a severe mental illness and begging the doctors to admit me to a psychiatric ward. All I came away with each time was a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder and a handful of diazepam (Valium).

I began to get better only once I achieved some insight into what was actually wrong with me, combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and an SSRI antidepressant (specifically sertraline, also known as Zoloft and Lustral, among other things). I was very lucky to get into therapy so quickly as even people deep in despair can be forced to wait six months or more before a slot becomes available. I only had to wait two weeks after referral. I built up a rapport with my therapist who helped me understand what was happening to me and taught me ways to relax, to calm my mind and to tolerate and accept the way I was feeling. His help was invaluable.

I recently returned home to live with my parents again. At 31 years of age, I could, if I wanted to, feel insecure about needing to do this. However, I feel it’s important to be honest about mental health. Anxiety is one of the most commonly-diagnosed conditions, and anyone can get it. I am not currently convinced of my ability to handle the day-to-day stresses and responsibilities of work, so moving home and focusing on my continued recovery in a caring and relaxed atmosphere (where all my meals are cooked for me by my ever-dedicated mother) is the best thing for me right now.

I’ve also picked back up my running hobby, something which I got into while in Belfast, but which fell away completely as my mental health declined and collapsed. In a very short space of time, I’ve noticed improvements in the way I feel both physically and psychologically. It’s great to have a challenge to focus on, something that draws me away from ruminating on how I feel and whether or not I’m about to die. Exercise is not an anxiety cure, but science shows that it plays a part in mental health management – and everybody, no matter how well they are, manages their mental health. I’ll be running the Liverpool Spring 10K in Sefton Park in May, which means I have something to look forward to and to devote my energy and effort towards. Am I back to full health? No, but I’m on the right road.

Thanks for reading. Please be kind to people. It’s been a shit year, hasn’t it?


I am not anxiety

A couple of months ago, I decided to begin what I would call my “Anxiety Diary”, in which I would document my thoughts, feelings and experiences of the condition. Well, this will be the second and last ever entry into the diary.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought it would help me get things off my chest and to relieve tension and stress. Writing your thoughts down is a pretty common part of treatment for anxiety and other psychological conditions. However, since I had my first panic attack in January, I’ve done a lot of thinking. At the time, I didn’t really know anything about panic attacks and anxiety disorders. I would probably have to confess that my ignorance left me unsympathetic – as if people needed to ‘snap out of it’. But here we are in the month of May, and I can now say that I am well versed in the subject, both through personal struggle and my own research, and I can say that it certainly isn’t that simple. The one thing I now want to avoid is giving anxiety too much respect. It’s not a heavy load I have to haul around. It’s not an inevitable part of my character that I have to be proud of. It’s not a part of me at all. And it certainly isn’t me. I started this blog because I felt I’d found a subject – travel – on which I had something to say (feel free to disagree with me on that one!) and which I would enjoy thinking about and writing about. So why inject more anxiety into my life by making the condition a part of that? Why spend hours or days coming up with blog posts about something that doesn’t matter? If you blog about anxiety and panic, I’m not saying that you too should stop. Anxiety is an extremely subjective and personal journey and we all handle it in different ways. What helps one person may not help the other. But I thought, to draw a line under the issue for me (at least as far as blogging goes), I’d share some things I’ve learned as a result of the condition, whether it’s about what helps me to feel better, what anxiety is really about or just what I’ve found out about myself, and then leave it at that. All of this is based on personal experience rather than expertise or study, but if it helps even one person feel better, that would make it all worthwhile. It would even make my own suffering seem worthwhile.

Anyway, in no particular order…

A) I’ve been doing this to myself: Nobody asks to have panic attacks. Why on Earth would they? Nobody asks to feel ill all the time, to feel anxious, to wrestle with unpleasant thoughts. So when I say that I have done this to myself, I don’t mean that I have made a conscious choice to suffer, or that you have. However, anxiety is not an external force or a nasty infection about which I can do little other than to wait out. I’ve not been randomly chosen to suffer. I have, however, created my own anxiety through years of unnecessary worry and fear, of unhelpful thought patterns and too much concern for things that may never happen. Of course, there are genetic and environmental factors about which we have no control, but neither of these things mean we have to suffer. I can now see how everything in my life has been leading to this moment. And being able to see this is extremely powerful, because it allows me to begin to change it.

B) The right information is crucial: For such a common condition, it is astonishing how many people receive that wrong information and go on to fall into a cycle they don’t even know they’re in or cannot break free from. I’m still waiting for a medical professional to give me a proper explanation of the condition. Doctors seem to want to throw pills at you and call it good. Of course, what works for one person out there won’t necessarily work for another for all sorts of reasons, but at its heart, anxiety and panic is easily understandable, can be treated, and would hold far less fear for sufferers if they could truly see what is going on. There is so much self-help information out there, some of it excellent, some absolutely useless. I’m of the opinion that you don’t need shelves full of anxiety literature. The last thing I want is to come home from work and see bookshelves full to the brim with the subject. For me, the work of Dr Claire Weekes and Paul David is all I needed. All the information that would allow me to begin to recover is in their books.

C) I can have the life I want right now: Anyone who’s read Paul David’s books and follows his blog might recognise a lot of what I say, so for the record, I’m not looking to pass off other people’s ideas as my own. However, I cannot escape the fact that this man’s advice has proved invaluable. If you can truly understand his message, you will begin to recover. His central message is that, despite the awfulness of anxiety, you don’t need to stop. Claire Weekes was saying much the same as early as the 1960s. So many people put their lives on hold because of how they feel. The problem with this is that it can make things worse. If you take to your bed because you feel unwell, you’ll create behaviour patterns and safety methods that mean it will get harder and harder to get out of that bed. I was headed that way before I picked up ‘At Last A Life’, the first book by Paul David. His simple message that I didn’t need to wait to feel better to do things got me back on my feet almost immediately. I know it’s done the same for others. I’m not saying it made me feel instantly better. I had to go through some hard times, and I still feel rubbish occasionally. But it showed me that none of what I felt was actually a barrier to me getting out of bed and living. This in turn helped me to create the right kinds of behaviours.

D) Anxiety isn’t actually that bad: Anxiety is a massive lie our minds and bodies tell us. If you’re healthy, feelings of anxiety are an accurate reflection of how you feel and the feelings associated with it make sense. But if you’re like me, it pops up in the wrong situations and dominates your entire day. It’s a great big lie! I’ve felt an absolute array of symptoms, from loss of sensation in my limbs and face, dizziness, feelings of inhibited consciousness, depersonalisation, derealisation, a total and complete loss of my ability to feel emotions, nausea, muscle pain and spasms, perceived (but not actual) loss of bladder control, jelly legs, headaches, eye floaters, insomnia, hot spells, cold spells, crippling but unspecified fear, stomach pains, choking sensations, palpitations, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, upsetting thoughts, low mood and more. So I’m not going to say that anxiety isn’t horrible. It is. But when I rationalise the situation properly and truly, from the very pit of my being, accept and believe that it is all being caused by anxiety rather than anything more sinister, it loses its power. I’m not saying it goes away, but you stop fearing it. Without fear, it has so much less to feed on, and recovery begins. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve suffered for a short time or if you’ve been struggling for years, recovery is possible for anybody. But you have to lose that fear and allow yourself to feel rough at times. Anxiety and panic can’t and won’t hurt you. See through the lie and you’ll begin to beat it.

E) Worry is a waste of time: Again, Paul David is my guru here. It’s human to worry, of course. It’s all part of our make up. But how often do the things we worry about come true? And when they do, how often is it as devastating as we anticipate it to be? I’ve always been a worrier. I can’t always put my finger on what my worries really are, but I’ve always lived with one eye on what could go wrong. You can’t live your entire life on guard like that and not expect your in-built defences against threats to ignore it forever. That is what has happened to me. I’ve triggered that ancient part of us that prepares us to fight or to run away, and it won’t go away unless I allow it to. The way to allow it to do that is to stop living as if there’s a threat around every corner. I’m not going to start bungee jumping and I do still plan to look when I cross the street, but I don’t plan on seeing distant life events or minor issues as something to spend hours trying to figure out.

F) Trying to chase anxiety away only makes it worse: I absolutely believe in seeking help when you need it, and there are plenty of treatments for anxiety, from various forms of therapy to medications. I take anti-depressants and beta blockers and have been having a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I have found the pills useful in so much as they have given me the space to see so much of what I’m explaining in this post. The therapy has helped me to see how thought triggers emotions that trigger behaviours that trigger physical sensations. However, I have no interest in chasing around hundreds of therapists trying to find the one who’ll say the things that make it all go away. Nor do I find the constant burden of carrying pills around, trying to remember to take them, especially helpful. Ultimately, I can see how this creates behaviours that actually teach your mind that something is wrong, which only sustains anxiety. And that is why this is my last post on the subject (unless I feel very strongly I have more to say on the matter).

G) What people think about you is not the be all and end all: I’ve had to wait until 31 years of age to finally realise this. No matter who you are, you’ll never suit one hundred percent of the people you meet. If you get over fifty percent you’re doing quite well. Obviously, if you’re going for a job interview, you should be trying to give your prospective employer a good impression and you won’t win many friends if you’re not a half-decent person (is that true? Some of the most popular people I’ve known have been absolute shits).But the point is, stop worrying about what people think. This is especially important if you have anxiety, because it means you’ll stop fighting to keep control and you can drop the veneer of calmness and allow however you feel to just be. I’ve always hated situations in which you have to make a first impression. I never feel comfortable and this makes me feel awkward and brings unpleasant sensations. It makes it hard to concentrate on what someone is saying to you if your focus is entirely on yourself. I find that it triggers a real slowing down of my cognitive functions, to the point where I’ll slur my words and suddenly struggle to think of a single interesting thing to say. I guess you could call it Chandler Bing Syndrome. All of this is caused by nothing more than worrying too much what people think.

H) Just because you think something doesn’t make it true: This is a really important realisation that everyone with anxiety needs to have. Anxious people tend to make everything into a catastrophe. We over-analyse and worry what certain thoughts could mean about us. We sometimes feel a loss of control in our thinking that makes us worry we are experiencing something more serious such as psychosis or Schizophrenia. Or it could just be that you turn every sensation or blemish or symptom into its most dire possibility. A freckle you’ve never noticed before (or even one you have) becomes melanoma or your churning digestive system means cancer. This is one of the ways in which anxiety bullies us, and if you don’t break the cycle that begins with these unhealthy thought patterns, you’ll do yourself no favours. I was heading in this direction until I saw through the anxiety lie. Too many people – even those without anxiety – give their thoughts too much credibility. And by doing this, you can make things worse. If I have a worry or a thought I don’t much like, I examine it for what it is and now I just let it go. Instead of worrying about every little feeling, convincing myself I have a brain tumour and letting Dr Google ‘confirm’ it, I accept that almost everything you’ll ever feel will be benign and that, if one day I do have to receive bad news, I’ll find out the old-fashioned way – through a doctor. In the meantime, my mind is allowed to create whatever fictions it wants because I’m no longer listening.

The key to my progress has clearly been the message of understanding and acceptance. This is not some kind of newfangled method I’ve hit upon that is going to change the world. Dr Claire Weekes, who passed away in 1990, was writing about it for decades before her death and her work continues to help people to this day. Paul David, a former anxiety sufferer who spent ten years in the absolute mire, follows up on that message. I don’t believe sufferers need much more than the work of these two people and then to truly buy into what they have to say. That’s what I’ve done, and it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope that what I’ve said here proves helpful to someone and I can go back to writing about my holidays. No, I am not anxiety, and neither is anybody else.

My New Friend

This is the first in a series of pieces about my experience dealing with anxiety. If anyone suffering with anxiety/panic attacks comes across it and wants to comment or contact me, please do.

I recently made a new friend. I say ‘friend’ – I actually mean callous, mean-spirited, wearying and troublesome bully. But I guess I’m going to characterise him as a friend anyway. Perhaps it will make things a little easier, because we’re going to have to get along.

A couple of weeks ago I was sat at my desk at work, doing what I do on a daily basis, probably feeling quite happy with where I found myself in my life. It was Monday lunchtime, I was tired from my usual Sunday night lie-awake-athon, and was just getting ready to go to the canteen. The next thing I know, I’m calling out for an ambulance. I’d felt a strange feeling or tingling in my left arm which somehow got to me. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t in fact having a heart attack and that it was probably just the position I’d had my arm in all morning, or perhaps my blood pressure was low. Sadly, my sympathetic nervous system didn’t get the message.

So I end up hyperventilating, feeling as if I’m grappling to stay conscious and, by this point, causing plenty of concern for my colleagues (who I’m sure could do without all this drama on a Monday). As dire thoughts of my imminent and permanent demise flashed across my mind, I could just about make out the presence of those around me as they placed me on the floor and raised my legs. I don’t recall actually losing consciousness at any point, but I’ve never felt so lightheaded and everybody’s voices just sounded so far away. My brain filled with the most intense fear – I really did believe I was dying. I’m only 31. I’ve never even been to Ibiza! I’ll never forget the moment of instant relief when the paramedics showed up and I was suddenly able to get up and walk to one of our side offices. Looking back, that should have been a sign.

To try and cut a long story short, I was checked over by the heroes in green and given a clean bill of health. They didn’t even see a point in taking me to hospital. I found this odd – I’d just collapsed, for god sake! Fifteen minutes ago I was wondering what my funeral was going to be like! And now you want to take your expertise and your fancy kit and tootle off into the afternoon! Needless to say, the whole episode repeated itself as soon as they were gone.

The next few days saw me living in a state of perpetual, bone-chilling terror: lying in bed shaking like a leaf in a blizzard, running through scenarios of what could be wrong with me. Did I have a brain tumour? Some other kind of cancer? Had I had a heart attack? Was I developing a serious mental illness? So many symptoms, so much fear. I’d never known anything like it and I couldn’t understand why there seemed to be so little inclination to help me. I took myself to A&E twice and was told that I was in rude health. Well that’s great,  I thought, but I feel like every cell in my body is about to explode.

I eventually managed to get myself admitted. Who knows why they finally decided to do this? Perhaps they thought it better than having me constantly bothering them at A&E. I was observed overnight and my vital signs all checked out. I was hooked up to a heart monitor for about 30 hours and had blood tests taken and some poor soul was even given a perspex pot of my urine to have a think about. I was given a CT scan – a procedure which doesn’t help when you’re wrestling with generalised feelings of doom. But no, everything looked fine. Funny really, that everything should look fine, while I feel like I can’t walk, like I’m losing feeling throughout my body and trying to decide whether I’d rather be told I had Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease. Several times I was tested for a stroke for no other reason than my brain thought I might randomly be having one. I also entertained the idea of early-onset Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t even know I knew all these things existed.

And then, the next afternoon, a junior doctor who contrasted a pretty smile with a professional, stern tone, came along and told me it was time to go home. I think she could tell this was a shock to me because she paused at this point, broke from her brusque demeanour and placed her hand on my arm. “We wouldn’t release you if we thought it unsafe. I know it’s not easy, but try to stay positive. Are you someone who feels anxious a lot and worries a lot?”

And there it was. I could have said ‘no’, but I would have been lying. And then the time came to detach me from the various medical paraphernalia that was stuck to me or stuck in me, and I took my papers and shuddered off out of the ward in a brain fog to the hospital foyer to try and figure out what to do next. Preliminary diagnosis: anxiety/panic attacks.

It’s just over a week since I left hospital and I’m having to deal with the way I feel on a daily basis. I still have an MRI scan to attend, just to be on the safe side, but it looks like I’ve had my first panic attack. I’ve also since had my second, third and probably fourth. Most recently, I ended up back in A&E because I thought I was literally going mad. Needless to say I wasn’t, and if you have anxiety and feel like you’re going mad, you’re not either.

I’ve since allowed my GP to prescribe me some medication, although I can’t escape my own scepticism in this area. Maybe it’ll help, maybe it won’t. I’ll take it for the time being, even though it means I can’t drink, which seems like as good a reason to panic as any.

I have no idea if this will be a long or a short journey. I’ve already discovered Paul David’s book ‘At Last A Life’ and feel very lucky to have come across it so early on. I find his arguments and suggestions very persuasive and would advise anyone with anxiety or panic to at least give it a read. In the last 48 hours it’s already given me a new outlook on this condition I’m stuck with for the time being. Crucially, I understand that I can’t allow anxiety to control me or make decisions for me. And that means trying to live my life as normally as possible, bringing the symptoms along with me if I have to. I guess that’s what I mean by a new friend.

I feel like the internet and this blog gives me the perfect place to put down my thoughts and feelings as I deal with this. Even just sitting here writing about it has proven therapeutic. Anxiety happens to have struck at a point in my life where I couldn’t be happier. Now I could curse that fact and retreat into myself and away from my life and the people who make it so great. But I won’t. I have too much to lose.

Can you still feel the butterflies?

It’s been a little while since I decided to start this venture. There’s been no lack of inspiration, and a number of new posts are planned over the next week or so that should demonstrate that. I’ve chosen to return to action with my first ever off-topic post. It might seem a strange choice on a travel-centred blog, but I’ll be discussing my thoughts on what is probably my favourite album, why I like it so much, and what impact it has had upon me.

There are two things I can remember best about 1999. The first is Manchester United snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to secure an unprecedented treble. The other is the release of Jimmy Eat World’s third studio album, Clarity. It’s safe to say that the latter has had a considerably bigger influence on my adult life than the former, for while the 14-year-old me might have thought it doesn’t get any better than watching your footballing heroes win three trophies in a season, the grown-up in me, such as it is, knows there’s a little more to life than that.

Of course, like most people – including plenty of the band’s fans – I don’t really remember the release of Clarity at all. Aside from a modest collection of dedicated fans who’d found the band in their early hardcore days, this was well before they had achieved any commercial success. As Clarity flew under the radar in the United States, the chances of a 14-year-old kid living on the north west coast of England coming across it were pretty slim.

Fast-forward sixteen years, however, and what you have is a record often regarded as one of the finest of the 1990s, not just within its genre, but of the decade as a whole. Whether that holds true or not, I don’t care to say. But what cannot be ignored is the influence that the record has had on a plethora of younger artists and contemporaries alike. Clarity is often cited as a personal favourite and a source of inspiration.

I only found out just how highly the album was regarded well after I’d fallen in love with it in my own right. I’ve often wondered if there’s something odd about my relationship with music. I can count on the two hands I was given the amount of records that I return to on a regular basis. Beyond that, I find it a struggle to really connect with most of what I hear, no matter how objectively worthy it might be. So why does Clarity speak to me in the way that it does?

It’s a remarkable piece of work in terms of scope, especially given that the band members were barely out of their teens when it was produced. Jim Adkins’ vocals soar – he has an ability to tug at the heartstrings without ever sounding insincere or overly-wrought. The album possesses beautiful harmonies, raucous louder moments, considered and sometimes thought-provoking lyrics (Your New Aesthetic rings even more true today than did in 1999), and strings and piano to die for (For Me This Is HeavenJust Watch the Fireworks). The experimentation with electronic elements enhances rather than cheapens the sound, perhaps because it is employed only sparingly and rather deftly. Meanwhile, closing track Goodbye Sky Harbor takes the listener on a near-twenty minute journey, beginning with chugging guitars before descending into an instrumental loop interspersed with vocal harmonies, rounded out by an electronic beat that makes you forget it’s the same song as the one that started a quarter of an hour ago.

Picking highlights from an album I’d consider near-perfect is difficult. The most obvious radio fodder is lead single Lucky Denver Mint, easily the most recognisable track from the album, having found its way onto the soundtrack to Drew Barrymore masterpiece Never Been Kissed. But in truth, it isn’t indicative of the album as a whole. Your New Aesthetic is the darkest moment, a crunchy, snarling condemnation of the era’s watered down commercialised radio output. Believe in What you Want offers an enthusiastic, charming bouncy stop-startiness, with some of the most striking harmonies on the album. A Sunday slow-burns its way to greatness, while Just Watch the FireworksFor Me This is Heaven and the album’s title track keep it interesting all the way to the end.

When all is said and done, perhaps my affection for this album stems from the fact that there are truly no low points. The band was in sparkling form – comfortable enough to experiment, to eschew the overly-polished and safe sound that has become their trademark in more recent years, this was a band without the shackles on. It was 2001’s Bleed American that brought Jimmy Eat World mainstream recognition. It’s fair to say a sizable chunk of the band’s following, myself included, came along during this period, which turned out to be their high point in terms of popularity. A more commercial and polished sound, Bleed American also curried favour with critics, though in a rather different way to its predecessor. It signalled a change in direction which probably contributed to maintaining Clarity‘s place in the band’s back catalogue – as the hidden gem that only those of us lucky enough to know of its existence get to enjoy.

Clarity, a modern masterpiece.