Today Is A New Day

When it wins, it wins big, so I must start again. It’s all or nothing where I’m concerned and this morning I find myself sick and tired, full of loathing and regret. OCD fights a guerrilla war now, striking hard and fast before skulking back into the shadows again to await its next contact. There are no unfurled banners and sparkling uniforms. This is the dirtiest of dirty wars. It takes no prisoners and seeks no parley.

I’ll pick up the pieces, batten down the hatches, bury my dead and face the day, afresh. This is a silent war, there are no booming cannons or clashing swords to herald the coming conflict. It’s an internal struggle, a ten steps forward, nine steps back war of attrition. I play the long game, ceaselessly patrolling the borders of my psyche, ever vigilant, my finger twitching on the trigger.

You will not see it coming. A blade in the back and a second of recognition before the darkness descends is the best you can hope for. Mental health is the most fragile and fickle of commodities. We preen and pose to attain physical perfection, while inside our neglected minds wither on the vine. It laughs as I lace up my running shoes and prepare to pound the pavements once more. For it knows. It knows.

I have my allies. Defences have been bolstered and ramparts manned. The long watch begins once more as I scan the horizon, watching the weakest of suns peek above the treeline in the distance. It’s out there, watching me watching it. We are in this for life, joined at the hip. It will not stop and I will not give in. A fight to the death. Every war has its casualties. Yet, today is a new day. Today I start again.

How is your mental health today?

Another Day….Another Mountain Of Food

I woke up to a bounty of Fathers Day presents this morning, many of which were edible. Hmmmmm….what are my family trying to tell me? Double Decker bars, German Biscuits, Coconut Mushrooms. Not to mention the huge tub of honeycomb ice cream already taking pride of place in the freezer. I sure have ‘a whole lot of eating’ ahead of me but I’m sure I’ll have several willing helpers, if required.

I was also super excited to get a writers mug, monogrammed pen and selection of sharpies. Apparently I have to practice my autograph for future book signings. We will see how that goes. For now, I’m just grateful for my family continuing to put up with me. I’ll blog again later but, for now, here’s some photos to keep you all occupied. Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers and godfathers out there.

My 30 Day Coffee Challenge: Failing Day 1

I read somewhere, or possibly just imagined it, that if you eat or drink a foodstuff you despise for 30 days straight, you will end up liking, or at least be able to tolerate, it. Well, you all know I love a challenge so this was one that had me straining at the leash to attempt. When faced with the food or drink in question, there was only ever going to be one candidate. My arch nemesis, the Moriarty to my Holmes – coffee.

I’ve written in the past about my rollercoaster relationship with coffee. I love the look of it, the smell of it, the whole concept of it. I dream of lounging all day in a cosy cafe, sipping a frappy-cappy espresso whatever, while pretentiously tapping away at a laptop, as I pen my latest bestseller. The one slight fly in the ointment? I hate the taste of the stuff. As in, physically retch the second it touches my taste buds.

Believe me, I’ve tried down the years. I so want to be in the cool coffee quaffing club, but remain the perennial bridesmaid, telling people I’m meeting a friend for a coffee then sadly sipping from my tea or Diet Coke as others load up on espresso shots or assault frothy concoctions piled high with whipped cream and marshmallows. Baristas smile politely and look mildly disappointed whenever I place my order.

Yesterday, I struck out again, more in hope than expectation, on my latest familiarisation programme. It was my first meeting with the other BIG BOSSES in a nearby city centre hotel. I sidled nervously into my seat around the impressive conference table, before the Chief Executive encouraged us to avail of complimentary coffee from a rather complicated looking contraption spouting steam in the corner of the room.

As I edged nearer the front of the queue, I eyed up the machine with some trepidation. It sported an impressive array of buttons. I intently observed those in front of me, determined not to screw up when my moment in the limelight came. There was a BIG BIG BOSS immediately behind me. The back of my neck broke out in a clammy sweat. This was more nerve wracking than the recent job interview itself.

I placed my cup under the ‘tap’, selected cappuccino, the only selection that looked vaguely familiar, and hoped for the best. A creamy looking substance began to fill the cup, before spluttering to a stop near the brim. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I picked up the cup and returned to the conference table. I was a proper adult now, punching my weight with the organisation’s high fliers and go getters. Stephen had finally arrived.

All that abruptly ended, the second I raised the cup to my lips and supped the foul liquid within. I grimaced, swallowed and forced myself to take a second mouthful. I now resembled a constipated water buffalo and was attracting concerned looks from the Head of Corporate Services. I smiled tepidly and pretended to look busy, organising my pens and picking at an imaginary fleck of fluff on my jacket lapel.

After the third torturous attempt I accepted defeat, set the cup aside and slyly opened a can of Diet Coke when nobody was looking. I had fallen at the first hurdle, a Frappuccino fraud of the highest order. Maybe I’ll try beetroot next time, or possibly brussel sprouts. Nothing could be worse than death by caffeine. Failing that, it’s back to the honeycomb ice cream and coconut mushrooms. Oh well….

I’m No Gordon Ramsay But….

A rare event occurred this afternoon. I cooked Sunday dinner. Yes, you read that right, and what a triumph it turned out to be. A massive success. And by success I mean I didn’t set the house on fire and managed to create an edible dish. I watched anxiously as the Black clan took their first tentative mouthfuls and blew a sigh of relief as nobody spat it back out again or collapsed in a writhing heap on the floor.

The occasion? For there has to be an occasion. Stephen cooking Sunday dinner doesn’t just happen. I normally give culinary duties the widest of berths. I can boil an egg and haven’t burnt water yet, although there have been a few close shaves. Well, it’s Mother’s Day on this side of the Atlantic so I felt duty bound to don my apron. I didn’t wear an apron by the way. That line was just for dramatic effect.

I had been anxious all morning about what lay ahead, just as I’m anxious about anything I have to tackle looming up on the horizon. A dry run of bacon and sausage sandwiches passed without incident and a 5K run also helped to settle the nerves. Once I got into the swing of it though, reverting to Fionnuala for advice where required, I settled into the job and began to enjoy myself.

I peeled and stirred while Hannah helped by mashing the potatoes. It’s all a matter of timing really, ensuring that the vegetables come to a boil at exactly the second the stuffed pork chops are ready to take out of the oven. I watched the clock like a hawk while busying myself setting the table and pouring drinks. I felt like the conductor of an orchestra, bringing the piece to a rousing crescendo.

Cooking is hard work and takes me many miles out of my comfort zone. But it does me no harm to slave over a hot hob now and again. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate all the countless meals Fionnuala prepares for us the rest of the year round. It’s all too easy to take for granted those nearest to us who do the most for us. I’ve offered to cook Christmas dinner in the future, which was met with sceptical glances from the rest of the family.

A bridge too far perhaps….

Step Away From The Ice Cream

It is finished….

Yesterday afternoon I consumed the last of the gallon tub of honeycomb ice cream which has taken up residence in our garage freezer. Taunting me, tempting me, luring me onto the rocks of overindulgence like the most seductive of sirens. I have battled the urges, wrestled with the need, but finally succumbed to its delicious, sugary, ice cold charms. I write this a broken, but satiated, man.

The Omagh Half Marathon is now less than three weeks away so I have slapped a self imposed ice cream ban on myself. The Black household has gone into training lockdown, meaning Maud’s Pooh Bear is now a banned substance. Random freezer inspections will be taking place to ensure this ruling is adhered to; any infractions will be frowned upon and dealt with sternly. I have been warned….by myself.

My addictive nature of course snorts in derision at these feeble attempts to lay down the law. He’ll crack, it tuts knowingly. Pay day is less than a week away and he always likes to treat himself at the end of the month. A new book for the Kindle? Stylish running attire? His own body weight in honeycomb ice cream? Yes, it’s only a matter of time, you wait and see. He’ll fold like a deck of cards, just like he always does.

Well, maybe so. And, as I write this, I already feel anxious at the thought of life without ice cream. I’m entering (ice) cold turkey and don’t fancy my chances. But if I’m to have any hope of running 13.1 miles at Omagh without stopping, then Winnie has to go. No more sitting on the sofa, digging into its sugary goodness with my trusty spoon. Nay, nay and thrice nay. I say.

I still have my beloved Diet Coke. To deprive myself of it would be a bridge too far and I fear my body would enter some form of anaphylactic shock. My central nervous system would shut down and I’d take to my bed, turning my back on society like a 21st Century Miss Haversham. Without the creepy wedding dress, of course. Creepy wedding dresses are not my best look.

The running has been going quite well. I’ve been steadily upping the mileage and, while my times haven’t been spectacular, they’ve been respectable enough. But there’s little point slogging ten miles in the wind and rain, to undo all your good work in a feeding frenzy last witnessed when Roy Schneider hollered ‘Get out of the water’ in ‘Jaws’ all those years. I’m no Great White and I don’t want to turn into a Great Black either.

Fionnuala and I are going to take a potential new car for a test drive this morning. Afterwards I’ll head out on a training run, weather permitting. Both of which should distract me from all things ice cream. Crisps, biscuits and chocolate are also to be consumed in moderation from this date onwards as I work towards a lean, mean running machine turning up on the start line at Omagh.

I expect the blogging community to fully support me in this venture. If you detect even the slightest whiff of backsliding on my part, then I fully endorse a ‘naming and shaming’ WordPress intervention on your part. This is no time for pandering to my doe eyed, whimpering, needy self. Tough love is required and I know you’ve got my back on this one. I thank you all.

Are you willing to drop everything and intervene?

Have you ever wrestled a fully grown man to the floor over a tub of ice cream?

What are you willing to give up to support me in the coming weeks?

The Morning I Regretted Making Breakfast

As it was Fionnuala’s birthday the other day, I bounced down the stairs and grandly announced I was going to make breakfast for everyone. I zoomed off to the village shop, returning with bacon, sausages and fresh bread. Throwing them onto the grille, I began to probe the Black clan for orders as they blearily emerged from under duvet covers. Everything was going swimmingly. Or so I thought.

Fionnuala queried what type of bread I had purchased. If it was a pan loaf, she wanted it toasted, but untoasted if a plain loaf. Lightly buttered, bacon and sausage. Sorted. Hannah wanted sausage, not bacon, while Rebecca wanted bacon as opposed to sausage. Even though the former likes bacon on her burgers and the latter sausages in her hot dog. Er….right.

My head was already starting to spin and the anxiety levels rising as Adam emerged from his lair. He wanted bacon on plain bread. Or was it sausage on toast? I looked despairingly at Charlie the border terrier who sat patiently at my feet awaiting his sausage. Bacon? Either way, his dog food would sit uneaten while there were tastier treats on offer from his human masters.

Had there been vegetarians or vegans in the house, I fear my brain would have imploded. I slaved over the breakfast counter, sweat lashing from my brow, muttering under my breath, while simultaneously ensuring all and sundry that everything was under control and I was ‘just fine.’ There was nothing could tip me over the edge. I was on the brink of a culinary conquest of epic proportions.

Until I asked Fionnuala if she wanted a cup of tea. Why, yes she did. Not too weak and not too strong. With milk. No sugar. Oh and when it’s made, can you top it up with cold water? Which necessitated making the tea, then pouring half of it down the sink again. My mind was well and truly boggled. I eventually slumped into an armchair, mission accomplished but utterly exhausted.

I eat most things. Apart from Brussel Sprouts, don’t get me started on them. And beetroot. But I now understood how frustrated Fionnuala would get when she compared making dinner in our house to working in a hotel, cooking five different dishes at a time. Why couldn’t we all eat the same thing? Spoilt rotten we were. I can only now nod in agreement at the varied palates of the Black household.

We are all very different people, with eclectic tastes and preferences when it comes to most matters. Yet, we are all part of the one family and somehow, despite all said differences, we somehow make it work. We are one. A largely functioning one, despite all the hiccups and glitches along the way. We can’t choose our family, unlike our friends. So we have to make it work, knuckle down, and get on with it.

It’s all about compromise. Compromise and a generous topping of patience. We adapt, we agree to disagree, we give and take. Yet the central core remains intact, the bond that holds it all together. Love is the glue. A love which forms the cornerstone of this crazy, chaotic household. Although it might be a while before I volunteer to cook breakfast again. I think I need a lie down after all that.

Sausage? Bacon? Veggie? How divided is your household when it comes to breakfast?

The 12 Blogging Days Of Christmas – Day 7 – What Is Your Favourite Christmas Food?

Fionnuala was up at the crack of dawn this morning to hit the supermarket for the traditional pre-Christmas big food shop. At the mention of food, Adam leapt out of bed to accompany her. If only he could be roused so easily on a school morning. Rebecca also joined them, but I remained in bed due to my continuing illness. Even climbing the stairs is hard work at the minute, let alone battling through the festive hordes.

Next thing I knew, it was 10:30 a.m. and they back, laden down with bags of shopping. I can’t remember the last time I slept so late. I stumbled down the stairs to find the kitchen table, laden down with all manner of treats. Foods that we only ever get at Christmas. My favourites are always the various cheeses, crackers and pates. Last year the girls and I set up a cheese society to sample the various produce.

Have you done your Christmas food shopping yet? Or are you a last minute.com person? Perhaps you stick to the same foods all the year around and Christmas is no different? Share your comments below and I’ll read them later, while eating a mince pie or three.

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day Three – What’s Your Favourite Breakfast?

The Boss took us all out for breakfast this morning. He does this as a thank you to the team for all the hard work they put in during the year. It’s a lovely gesture, even though I feel like a stuffed pig at the minute. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. For wouldn’t you feel the same if you had just consumed this.

For those of you not educated in the finer delicacies of Irish cuisine, it’s called an ‘Ulster Fry.’ Sausage, bacon, fried egg, tomato, black pudding, potato bread and soda. With a side order of toast and all washed down with a pot of tea. I can barely stand, let alone type.

Which leads me onto today’s question. What is your favourite breakfast? What fuels you up for the day ahead? Is it a belly buster like I’ve just consumed? Or do you prefer a healthier option? Porridge? Yoghurt? Grapefruit? Or what about last nights takeaway heated up in the microwave?

What is your favourite breakfast?

Life is Meh. But At Least We Have Doughnuts

I pride myself on being positive when I blog, but when I sat down to write today, I was struggling to find anything. The well was empty . The last few days have been quite disheartening for us, with very little seeming to go our way. Fionnuala saved the day, though, by bringing these bad boys home for from a shopping trip to Dublin. Everything seems (slightly) better after a Krusty Kreme Doughnut.

What treat makes your day less meh?

I’m Not A Fussy Eater But….

When it comes to food, I’ve always prided myself on being able to eat pretty much anything. I’m not a fussy diner. Place a plate of food in front of me and ten minutes later, possibly sooner as I’m a quick eater, it will be gone. I inherited that from my father, although Fionnuala has performed wonders with my table manners and eating habits in the years she has known me. I even chew my food now, before swallowing.

Yes, invite me to your home for dinner and you will not have to worry about special dietary requirements. Because I eat pretty much anything.

Er……apart from mussels. In fact, better make that most shellfish. And prawns. I don’t like prawns. I think it all harks back to an unfortunate afternoon spent eating fresh oysters in a bar in Dublin many years ago. Followed by two days of shivering uncontrollably in bed, drenched in a clammy sweat. Although that might possibly have had something to do with the eight pints of Guinness which accompanied the oysters.

But apart from that, I’m good.

Oh beetroot, I forgot beetroot. Horrible, slimy, yucky, purple beetroot. Which no matter how hard I try contaminates my otherwise perfect restaurant salad, it’s juices infiltrating every mouthful. Why did God invent beetroot? It serves no practical purpose other than to irritate me. Right up there with wasps. Don’t get me started on wasps. They don’t even produce honey. They just sting you and then die.

Olives. I can’t stomach olives. We sometimes have breakfast in the office where everyone chips in a few pounds and ‘Fast’ Eddie dishes up bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, tomatoes….and olives. I think he’s trying to impress us all but I’m not having it. They resemble alien eyeballs and I sure ain’t putting one in my mouth. They should stick to floating about in fancy dan cocktails. Not on my breakfast platter.

Brussel sprouts. The most pointless addition to the long list of Christmas traditions which will be descending on chez Black from 1st November onwards. Fionnuala is already checking out the Christmas movie channel. I am a reasonable man. It takes a lot to get me wound up. I rarely lose my temper. But the sight of a brussel sprout nestling amidst my Christmas dinner might just be the straw that broke the camels back.

Hmmmmm. This self inventory isn’t going so well is it? And that’s just the subject of food. What else do I dislike? If I sat down and took a long, hard look at my prejudices what would I unearth? On other people, their beliefs, values and morals? Their faith, culture and social norms? Am I as open minded and liberal as I like to think I am. Are any of us? For once you start to scratch beneath the surface, all sorts of nasty surprises are revealed.

Often the person we portray to the world bears no resemblance to the one we face in the mirror every morning. We slip on a mask before we open the front door and face a new day. We put on an act as we worry what others would think, if they knew the real us. Would they be disappointed, embarrassed, angry? Some of us don’t even know the real ourselves as we bury the truth beneath layers of denial and self loathing.

Be you. Recognise your flaws. Embrace them. And then, where possible, take steps to eradicate or minimise them the best you can. Because nobody is perfect, nor does anybody expect perfect. Pretending to be somebody you are not is a bit like pretending to like a food you actually despise. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it doesn’t impress anyone. Food poisoning is bad enough. But poisoning your mind and soul could have much more far reaching consequences.

Which foods can you not stomach?

Are you true to yourself and the watching world?

How often do you reflect upon your beliefs and values? Are you more prejudiced than you first thought?

Flash Fiction Challenge

So there I was at the self service check-out yesterday purchasing my body weight in Diet Coke and waiting for the receipt. I refuse to walk out of the store without it for fear that the long arm of the law will collar me, accuse me of theft and I’ll be hauled off to the nearest police cell quicker than you can shout ‘But honestly officer. The receipt is sitting on the counter if you’ll only just let me……AAAARGHHHH……… those handcuffs really chafe!’

As the check-out spewed forth said proof of purchase I noticed that not all of my fellow customers were as paranoid as yours truly. There were half a dozen discarded receipts lying in front of me. It struck me. I wonder who made these varied purchases and then wandered out of the store back to the trials and tribulations of their everyday lives? What kind of days were they having? What kind of lives?

I am an avid people watcher. It must go hand in hand with commuting to and from work every day. When I was on Twitter, back in the day, I ran a daily series called ‘Train Tweets’ where I created imaginary lives for the regulars who shared the 7:13 express to Belfast with me. I was the original geek on a train until Hollywood turned me into Emily Blunt. Serial killers, angry solicitors and Arsene Wenger lookalikes. We had it all on the 7:13.

Earlier this week I was educated as to what ‘flash fiction’ is. A light bulb popped on in my head as I realised I write a lot about writing fiction on the blog but don’t actually write a lot of fiction on the blog. Did that last sentence make sense? I sincerely hope so. For otherwise you might struggle with the rest of this post. Which would be a terrible shame for everyone concerned. Most of all me. But also for all you lot.

Because….

I have a challenge for you all. Should you choose to accept it, in true Mission Impossible style. Below are two of the receipts that I ‘borrowed’ from the Tesco empire. All you have do is write a piece of prose describing a day in the life of the person who made the purchase. Oh….and post it on WordPress. If this takes off then I will run it on the blog as an occasional feature. If not, then I will probably sulk for a day or two but then forgive you all and we can awkwardly agree that this was a terrible idea that should never have seen the light of day in the first place.

Over to you now. Gauntlet thrown. If you choose to accept the challenge then feel free to name check fracturedfaithblog on your accompanying post. If not, then at least leave a comment and say hello. We can talk about the weather. Or maybe the extortionate £2:50 that Tesco charge for a coffee. And what’s a San Pellegino anyway? I had to Google it. Sparkling mineral water apparently. Hmmmmm. Somebody must have had a sore head.

A Little Taste Of Sweden

Northern Ireland traditionally grinds to a halt this week for the 12th of July band parades as the Unionist community celebrate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 where the army of King William defeated King James and so began over 300 years of political and religious hatred between the two communities. It’s a long, long story but suffice to say Fionnuala and I are seeking to raise our own kids to turn their backs on these cultures and traditions. We believe there is a better way.

We don’t need flute bands, bonfires and gallons of alcohol to have a good time. Nope, for today we took the kids to IKEA, the huge Swedish furniture and home fittings store just outside Belfast. Who needs DisneyLand or Universal Studios when you have fun factories like this on your doorstep. The kids were a tad underwhelmed but Fionnuala needed some raw materials for her crafts business so off we went.

No need for expensive rollercoaster rides when you can have your father career up and down the ramps of the largely deserted multi storey car park in a Fast & The Furious stylee. Even better was to follow when we got inside the store. The dual English/Swedish signage caused much mirth as the kids attempted to get their tongues around some of the more exotic Scandinavian pronunciations. IKEA also kindly place arrows and maps throughout the store so you cannot get lost. It was just like a huge treasure hunt. With walk in wardrobes!

The relief that we were not actually purchasing any of said flat bed furniture was a huge personal bonus. I can barely dress myself in the morning, never mind deciphering impenetrable instructions. The last wardrobe I assembled resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and could barely survive a mild breeze, let alone two teenage wrecking balls and an eleven year old tornado. I’m more DOA than DIY when it comes to home improvement and any act requiring a semblance of hand to eye coordination is normally beyond me.

The highlight of the trip, however, was undoubtedly the visit to the IKEA bistro after the shopping was concluded. Hot dogs, Swedish meatballs and French fries for five people. For under a tenner! The tomato ketchup dispenser was a personal favourite. And as for the bottomless refills of diet soda. Well let’s just say if I hadn’t already got my money’s worth beforehand then I certainly did then. Four visits to the drinks machine later and I was fit to burst. Sorry, too much information I know.

We drove home a happy bunch. Well I say that. The kids were bickering in the back seat by the time we hit the motorway but that’s par for the course. The entire day cost very little money and all our needs were met. Fionnuala made her purchases, the kids were fed, watered and entertained and yours truly obtained more blogging ammunition. What’s not to like about IKEA and the Swedish? I could almost forgive their football team for their abject showing against England the previous weekend in the World Cup. Almost.

It’s the people you are with who make the memories as opposed to the lavish location or amount of money spent. It has taken me a good part of my life to realise that. I spent years down no end of rabbit holes seeking happiness when it was right before my eyes the whole time. As long as I have my loved ones around me then I have everything I need. Nothing else really matters in the end. There’s a lot to be said for cheap and cheerful.

Have you had any memorable day trips recently?

The Secret Of My Excess

When it comes to weaknesses, ice cream has to feature fairly high on my list. My favourite is Maude’s Pooh Bear honeycomb flavour. Plonk a large bowl of that good stuff down in front of me and I’m one happy camper. I could eat it until the cows come home and probably keep going until they have to head out to the fields the next morning again. Brain freeze frightens me not. It requires a brain to freeze for a start.

The down side about downing industrial vats of icy heaven is it’s high calorific content. I reckon if I didn’t exercise the local Fire Service would be required at some point to winch me from the sofa and out of the house through a Stephen sized hole. I’m not greedy but I do have a big appetite. My addictive nature doesn’t help either. Me and the word ‘moderation’ are not on first name terms. I am creature of excess.

I was watching Man v Food tonight where the presenter tried, and heroically failed, to eat a restaurant’s signature ice cream dish which was roughly the size of a small barn. I remarked to Fionnuala that I would have given the challenge a serious rattle. That’s how much I love ice cream. Ploughing through buckets of the stuff would be my idea of bliss. Even if it meant me ending up in the emergency room having my stomach pumped.

Thank goodness I discovered running then. I am pretty much in permanent marathon training this year which means my ice cream fetish can be fuelled with only minimal pangs of guilt. I consume a lot of calories but I also burn off a lot of them. On average a marathon will burn off 3500 of those bad boys. And, believe me, that’s a lot of honeycomb ice cream. Which is a great comforter for aching limbs and blistered feet.

I’ve been known to think of nothing else but ice cream from the 20 mile point onwards in a marathon. It makes the pain worthwhile. The old Stephen would have wanted nothing but an ice cold pint of beer at the finish line. The new me heads straight to the freezer in search of frozen dairy products. The endless miles lead to endless smiles at that point. It’s a temptation that I’m happy to succumb to. It’s harmless and I’ve worked hard for it.

The running and the ice cream balance each other out. The key word in that last sentence is balance. For many years I had no concept of the word. I lived a selfish life where all the cards had to be stacked in my favour. I gorged myself on alcohol, junk food and social media. There were no restraints, no curbs, no brakes applied. It was all or nothing. I wanted it all and pushed and pushed until I was left with nothing.

All of us have weaknesses. We are all flawed, imperfect creations. Some of us have Achilles heels whereas for others this vulnerability occupies their entire body. When it comes to addictive behaviour it is vital that we have checks and balances in place to control our baser instincts. We cannot afford to allow our runaway trains to hurtle uncontrollably down the mountain side. It will only end in carnage.

So I’ll continue my love affair with honeycomb ice cream. But I’ll also keep pounding the roads in order to offset the extra calories. We all deserve a treat or two but it’s important we temper our permitted excesses with discipline, transparency and accountability. Failure to do so can only lead to tears and recrimination. Excess kills success. Control your cravings. Before they control you.

What is your Achilles Heel?

Do you struggle with excess and temptation?

Taxi Drivers, Funerals And Awkward Conversations

Fionnuala and I travelled to England today for the funeral of a very dear friend who died suddenly a few weeks ago. I wrote a little tribute to him back then. Our friend was a highly decorated detective who held senior ranks in England, Northern Ireland and Canada. He also had a wicked sense of humour and I know he wouldn’t want me writing a depressing post today. So I won’t.

I have a reputation for saying the most inappropriate things at funerals. Usually to the family of the deceased. I invariably put my foot in my mouth which I suppose beats putting it in the grave but only marginally. I am the King of the cringeworthy comment, the Master of the awkward silence. Today was not going to be that day, however. I was determined to be on my best behaviour throughout proceedings.

Upon touching down at East Midlands Airport we had hired a taxi to take us to the crematorium. Our smartly dressed driver was of Middle Eastern descent but initial communication issues were quickly resolved and we were soon on our way out of the airport. At which point our driver politely asked if he could make a private phone call using his hands free kit.

‘Of course’ I replied. Our driver nodded, inserted an earpiece and then commenced a very lengthy conversation in his native tongue with the person he had called. We had no idea who this was, of course, because a) my Arabic is non-existent and b) his earpiece meant we were only privy to half the conversation. The only word I could make out was ‘Allah’ which he regularly said, a stern expression on his face.

I began to worry for the man. Had he received bad news? A death in his own family perhaps? A relative taken suddenly ill? The conversation continued and he looked increasingly irritated and unsettled. At any moment I expected him to break off the call and dump us at the roadside, apologising profusely that he had to shoot off to deal with a family crisis. I braced myself for the worst as he terminated the call at his end and turned to face me.

The conversation that followed went a bit like this:

Taxi Driver: I’m sorry about that but wife’s car has broken down?

Me: Oh dear, is she alright?

Taxi Driver: Yes, yes. She’s fine.

Me: That’s good. Where did she break down?

Taxi Driver: In the car wash?

I paused briefly with images of the poor woman stranded in her vehicle as the spinning rollers descended over the windscreen. And then I spoke these words of wisdom.

‘Oh well. At least the car will be clean’.

Oddly enough the conversation petered out quickly at that point. The remainder of the journey passed in silence and, despite wanting the earth to open up and swallow me, we arrived at our destination in one piece. The funeral itself passed without incident and I managed not to drop any more verbal clangers. For my work had already been done. And somewhere up on a cloud our old friend would have been laughing his wings off.

What’s the most embarrassing comment you’ve ever come out with at a social gathering?

On a scale of 1-10 how socially awkward are you?

I’m Stephen. I’m Sober And Socially Awkward

My anxiety levels were fairly high yesterday morning as we set off to attend the wedding of Fionnuala’s brother, Gearard, to his fiancée, Emma. Ever since I gave up drinking five years ago I have struggled at social events, especially those where I have to interact with people I don’t know. Alcohol was my crutch to get through these occasions. I was always the first person to get drunk and usually ended up sleeping in the corner just as the party was getting going.

My strategy yesterday was to keep busy and ensure Fionnuala and the kids had a great day. Hannah had to be a bridesmaid and the other three all had roles during the church service. All I had to do was turn up in a suit and not embarrass my daughters with my ‘dad dancing.’ I had been well warned beforehand. The second I started busting out my moves was the second I would be forcibly evicted from the venue.

I spent the morning performing taxi duties ferrying Fionnuala, the girls and my beloved mother in law to and from various hair and beauty salons. I also paid a visit to the florists to collect button holes as well as ferrying the worryingly relaxed groom from his house to where the car would be coming to convey him to the chapel. Some of the men had a beer beforehand but I stuck to the Diet Coke.

The service ran smoothly. The bride turned up five minutes early. Hannah looked amazing and performed her role perfectly while a bird flew around the rafters of the chapel for the entire service leading the priest to comment that the Holy Spirit was well and truly in the building. The weather was mild and dry which is basically all you can ask for in the land of driving rain and bitter cold.

When we arrived at the reception venue there was iced beer and sparkling wine on the patio overlooking the lawns. This would have been the beginning of the end for the old Stephen as I would have enthusiastically launched myself into the complimentary alcohol. I would have been drunk well before the meal and speeches and no doubt making a total fool of myself in the process. Weddings were always a disaster for me in that respect.

I had no internal shut-off mechanism when I drank. I was a binge drinker and would consume as much beer as I could as quickly as I could. My sole objective was to get inebriated as this killed my innate shyness and social awkwardness. I thought I was the life and soul of the party when in reality I was the talk of the party. And for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Even worse was the sight of me the next day. Horribly hungover and gripped by self pity and a fear as to what I had said or done the previous day.

Today, however, I woke with a clear head. Tired, yes, but still able to run 10K, my final training run before the Belfast Marathon. I was out of my comfort zone yesterday. I’m not very good at small talk and feel uncomfortable around people drinking alcohol. The temptation is no longer there but it brings back a lot of bad memories. I did my best, however, to get into the party mood and, most of all, ensure that Fionnuala and the kids had a great day.

In the end they did. And so did I. The meal was great and the speeches entertaining. I even got a mention in the groom’s speech. Afterwards there was cake, a magician and Star Wars figures. Well it was May the Fourth after all. Hannah even allowed me on the dance floor to shake my thang towards the end of the night. There is video evidence of my shape throwing somewhere on Facebook apparently. We didn’t get home until almost two in the morning. A great day.

Who needs alcohol?

Are you socially awkward? How do you deal with it?

Cheap Date

I had another long work day yesterday so booked today off in order that Fionnuala and I could go shopping for new outfits for her brothers wedding next week. We hardly ever get time together alone so vowed that we would make the most of it. A romantic lunch perhaps? It was pay day after all so the world, or at least Belfast, was our oyster. I hate oysters by the way. Most seafood actually.

I think the last time I went clothes shopping was 1998. It was a Tuesday afternoon if my memory serves me right. I used to be a right clothes horse. I would only wear designer brands. Everything was a label. I thought I was Noel Gallagher. In reality I was a bit of a prat. But clothes shopping was a major pastime for me. I knew where to go for all the best brands and bargains.

Fast forward twenty years and I am clueless. All the shops I knew are gone, replaced by retailers that mean nothing to me. I’m less fussy now. I just want a blue or a grey suit. That fits me and is machine washable. As quickly as possible please. With the minimum of fuss. And none of that skinny fit nonsense. I want to be able to walk around without flaunting my junk for the world and her auntie to see.

Fionnuala guided me through the fitting room hell with the patience of a saint. Eventually we agreed upon a reasonably priced grey suit with white shirt and purple tie. I couldn’t get out of the shop quick enough. My days of being a fashion doyen are long gone. Nowadays my wardrobe consists of 1) loungewear 2) running gear or 3) work clothes.

I have no ‘going out’ clothes probably because we never go out anywhere. But we resolved today to ‘do lunch’ together. So where did we end up? You guessed it. Sitting in the car eating sandwiches we bought in a garage and sharing a packet crisps. Listening to 1980’s ‘golden oldies’ on the radio as we stared out at the rain battering against the windscreen. With the heat on full blast. It is late April after all.

And you know what? We were as happy as two pigs in a big pile of poo. If we could have changed into our pyjamas we would have. An hour alone with food (which we chose ourselves), music (which wasn’t the new Shawn Mendes song played for the billionth time) and best of all not having to separate three hatchlings from tearing each other’s throats out. What’s not to love about that.

We all have hopes and aspirations. Fionnuala and I are no different from anybody else. But we should also appreciate the simple things in life as well. Sometimes it’s nice just to pull over and let life flash past for a while. It can wait for an hour. When your every waking moment is fretting about family issues or work worries. When you’re pushing yourself to run marathons or write books.

Sometimes doing nothing is the best choice. Or as little as possible. I constantly feel like I’m running out of time rather than appreciating the time I have. I’m falling over myself straining to see what’s down the road instead of looking around me and enjoying the moment. Who needs fancy restaurants and designer clothes when you can share a bag of crisps in a deserted car park?

What’s the cheapest date you’ve ever been on?

What are your simple pleasures?

What Bloggers Would You Invite To Dinner And Why?

I’ve posted some heavy duty stuff in recent days so thought I would lighten matters up somewhat. The weekend is just around the corner and sometimes us bloggers take life just a little too seriously. I know I’m the worst offender. So to kick off ‘Fun Friday’ *cringe* I thought I’d pose you a few questions.

I’ll probably be Mr. Miserable again by Monday so make the most of it 😂

If you were to host a dinner party what three bloggers would you invite and why?

Feel free to post the links to their blogs in the comments section below.

Binge

Sometimes a word settles in my mind and refuses to budge. I suppose that’s the joy of writing. We get obsessed with words. They are our tools, the vehicles or medium through which we communicate our thoughts to the outside world. It’s my birthday at the end of the month (please no need for presents) and if you asked me what I truly needed at the moment (as opposed to wanted) then I’d probably plump for a thesaurus.

Rock & Roll I most certainly am not….

Todays word? Well the clue is in the title. Well the clue is the title. It’s binge. So I googled it as I don’t have a thesaurus….yet; and discovered that it originates from a 19th Century English practice where wooden vessels were immersed or soaked in water in order to allow the wood to swell and seal up any cracks so as to prevent leaking. Mind. Blown. It was a positive, practical activity in order to stop boats sinking when launched.

Of course all good things come to an end and the word soon became slang for excessive drinking; people would literally immerse or soak themselves in alcohol. And today the term has been expanded to include any excessive activity. We binge. Be it alcohol, drugs, food, Netflix or whatever. It is when we consume something or someone to excess. The positive, practical meaning of the word has largely disappeared. It has been replaced by more negative connotations.

I have binged throughout my adult life. I am impulsive and display obsessive, compulsive traits that verge on addictive. I do not know the meaning of the word ‘moderation’. With me it is a million miles per hour or not at all. I have binged on food, alcohol, social media and people. My foot was permanently on the accelerator and before I knew it, too late, I had caused another car wreck. I need and I want but I rarely think. Think of the damage I am causing myself and others through the act of binging.

When we binge the object of our excess becomes an idol. It becomes an all consuming sun that blinds us from reality and obscures us from the people and activities around us that really matter. We have no internal alarm system that tells us to slow down or stop. We fly too close to the sun and, like Icarus in the famous fable, our wings are burnt and we plummet to our doom. We are destroyed by that which we loved. Our act of love towards the idol becomes an act of hatred towards ourselves.

The people that used to matter no longer seem to matter. We binged. Our wings singed. And we fell. To our hell. Our idols made us idle. To the truth. We become disoriented and end up lost and confused. To binge is to run in an ever decreasing circle. A maddening maze from which there is no escape. It is as infuriating as it is illogical. When you binge it is like running a race wearing blinkers. You are oblivious to your external environment and can focus on nothing but the object of your desires. The object of your destruction.

I’m not quite sure how the original positive meaning of the word ‘binge’ was contorted into the largely negative associations it has now. Why can’t we binge on the good stuff? Family, friends, exercise, art, literature? Why can’t we binge on loyalty, love and life? I guess we can and do except we use different words to describe those actions and emotions. The difference as I see it is a loss of control. When we binge we lose control. And loss of control will invariably end in heartache and despair.

It’s time to take control again and bin our binging proclivities. I still am vulnerable to binging tendencies but the good days now far outweigh the bad. If you are currently in a binging cycle I want you to know that it can be broken and you can emerge on the other side. You might not be unscathed but you will be alive. Freedom is a possibility. I can’t wave a magic wand and make it all disappear but I can offer hope. There is always hope. Cling to it. You are better than the binge.

Do you binge? Or have you in the past? Our community would love to hear your stories. We are non judgmental and supportive. Please comment below if you would like to get involved.

Alternatively if you would feel more comfortable communicating in private we can be contacted via the blog’ ‘contact’ tab.

What Is Your Worst Habit?

Fionnuala often affectionately tells me (at least I hope it is affectionate. Can you be affectionate and annoyed at the same time?) that if there is an awkward way to do something then I will find it. Take Lent for example. My sincere intention to refrain from biscuits, chocolate and crisps lasted all of…oh….let me see now….around 4 minutes. I displayed all the willpower of an anaemic gnat before I went snuffling off to the cupboard in search of sugary sustenance.

My ‘problem’ reached new heights (or depths depending on your perspective) over Easter itself when I devoured anything remotely unhealthy within arms reach. My eating Everest was a huge (as in HUGE) Cadbury’s chocolate Fruit & Nut egg which Fionnuala bought me as otherwise I would probably have sulked when the kids got their eggs. Or stolen them. So it’s my wife’s fault really. She forced me to cram every last chunk of it into my greedy gullet. I’m the innocent party in all of this don’t you see? Don’t you??

A chocolate egg. With raisins in it! And nuts!! What evil genius created this delicious delight. I was powerless in its grasp. Fast forward to the following morning and I woke up with a momentous food hangover. I felt nauseous, sluggish and very, very guilty. I’m a binge eater and with my running I can largely get away with it. I don’t put on much weight and if I do I tend to lose it fairly quickly again. Yet that morning I felt rubbish and resolved I was going to eat healthily between now and the marathon in just over a months time.

That’s right. I’m giving up chocolate…..after Lent!

It’s back to front thinking of the highest order but that’s the beauty of life. You can make a decision to change at any time and contrary to popular belief it doesn’t just have to be on 1st January. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad habits down the years. I’ve successfully knocked some on the head while others have proven more difficult to shake off. I would include a chronic Diet Coke problem, nail biting (just fingers, not toes) and binge eating in the latter category. Fionnuala has also mentioned my talking and breathing at times but I’m pretty certain this was in the heat of the moment and she didn’t really mean it.

I am proud that these bad habits are relatively minor in the greater scheme of things and that the bigger demons I have slain have far outweighed them in terms of significance. I also contend that my good habits now outnumber the not so good ones. It’s all part of the process of trying to become a better human being as you battle through life. You mess up, you learn from it and you resolve to do better the next time. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. The day you stop doing that is the day you might as well throw them towel in.

So I have a challenge for you all. I’m off all the aforementioned junk food until 7th May. I want YOU to join me. What bad habit are you willing to kick into touch for the next month and possibly beyond? Comment below and we can create an online accountability network. If it is a sensitive or private issue then feel free to send an e-mail. You are greater than your worst habit. Give it up rather than simply giving up. You will be shocked and surprised with the levels of willpower and discipline you can dredge up.

What is your worst habit?

What habit are you prepared to give up for the next month and possibly beyond?

Everything You Wanted To Know About Ireland But Were Afraid To Ask

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Black Family in a wet and windy Northern Ireland. Just for a change….

Okay he was probably Welsh, didn’t know a shamrock from his elbow and never saw a snake in his life but those are just details right? Today is a big day on the island of Ireland.

Later today I’m going to write about living in Northern Ireland after a fellow blogger suggested this topic. So if you have any questions about the country then please feel free to comment below.

But be warned, I’m not your stereotypical Irishman. I hate Guinness, can’t speak Gaelic and green is most definitely not my colour. But Fionnuala and I are born and bred Irish so we will do our best to answer any questions you might have.

What questions do you have for us about growing up and living in Ireland?

Our Next Blog – You Decide

It’s a wet, grey day in Belfast and my brain cells feel equally overcast. Maybe it’s because I’m diverting all my creative juices into the novel at the minute but the ‘ideas well’ is well and truly dry on the blogging front. Which got me thinking. Why do I have to do all the hard work when our wonderful WordPress family can get their thinking caps on as well.

So as a one off I’m opening it up to the floor and asking the question – What would you like us to write about? It can be as obscure or bizarre as you want. But please keep it clean. We will pick the best two suggestions and then post on the topic over the next few weeks. Current affairs, Fiction, Biography. You suggest it and I’ll give it a rattle if it rocks my boat. Extra bonus points for the most innovative and imaginative comments.

Dr. Hell’s Emporium Of Pain

I cut a sorry figure as I staggered out of the dental surgery three days ago. I had been booked in for a routine filling. Something about me consuming too many fizzy drinks. Who me? I had innocently enquired when asked. I may be partial to the occasional Diet Coke or ten but other than that I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now just give me a jab to numb my mouth, fill the tooth and I’ll be on my way. Fionnuala and I were meeting my sister immediately afterwards for breakfast and the prospect of a sausage and bacon filled soda was all my mouth was focused upon.

‘Are you numb?’ my ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’ dental surgeon asked after administering an injection to the offending area of my mouth. ‘Er yes I think so’ I replied. It did feel a bit numb, but anyway I had been through this before and it wasn’t that painful anyway. Just crack on and let’s get this over and done with. I’m a busy man don’t you know. After breakfast I had to go to work. Plus I still had to buy Fionnuala flowers for her birthday. That magnetic spice rack she had been after. And a million and one other things to do. This filling was a trifling inconvenience.

Twenty minutes later I was squirming in the dental chair, eyes rolling in my head as the Butcher Dentist of North Street (for that is her new name) wreaked havoc in my mouth. ‘I’m afraid the hole is too deep to fill’ she sweetly simpered. ‘I’m going to have to remove the root in order to save the tooth.’ And with that she threw back her head and emitted a blood curdling cackle before falling upon me with demonic relish, her instruments of mouth destruction reflecting maliciously off my terrified retinas.

Okay I might have slightly exaggerated that last part but, hey, I’m a writer and artistic license is my prerogative. What I’m not exaggerating was the pain. I very quickly realised that my mouth was nowhere near numb enough and I needed another injection. In fact I needed all the injections. The second her drill came into contact with the exposed nerve I entered a whole new universe of pain. Searing, white hot agony that made my toes curl and my innards turn to mush. On a level of 1 to 10 it was a 37. The next five minutes or so seemed like days. I’m convinced I aged several years in that chair. If not decades. Which I can ill afford.

At one point I let out a high pitched whimper which must have alerted her to the fact that her patient was a tad distressed. ‘I think I’ll stop there for today. I haven’t got near the root and you’re in too much pain.’ She almost seemed slightly disappointed as if I had ruined her morning. ‘We’ll have you back in a few weeks and, between now and then, you can decide if you want root canal treatment or the tooth removed.’ And with that I was being ushered out of the room by the dental nurse. Shell shocked but alive I shuffled to reception where I was given my new appointment card and charged £14 for the experience. Ain’t life grand?

‘What happened you?’ asked a shocked Fionnuala as her ashen faced husband emerged from Dr. Hell’s Emporium of Pain formerly known as North Street Dental Practice. As the delayed onset shock set in I just gestured for her to drive. Anywhere. Half an hour later as Fionnuala and my sister tucked in to French toast and bacon I made do with two Ibuprofen and tentative sips of tea which then dribbled down my chin much to the unease, no doubt, of adjacent cafe customers. My jaw felt the size of a house and arrows of agony were still shooting through the tooth in question.

Brave little soldier that I am I headed into work afterwards where the sympathy was predictably underwhelming. I resembled an extra from The Walking Dead for the remainder of the day and was in bed before eight. It was the best nights sleep I have had in months. Every cloud has a silver lining I suppose. I don’t know if I learnt anything from the day so prepare to be disappointed if you are expecting some deep, spiritual learning to be be revealed in the final paragraph. Because it’s time for the final paragraph.

Well here goes anyway. Always be prepared for the worst. Never trust a smiling dentist. All dentists lie. Dentists are liars. Have I made myself clear on that last point yet? Take the pain relief. As in all of it. Give me all the drugs. Now. Never attempt to drink hot tea after a mouth numbing injection. You’ll just end up looking like a drooling idiot and will frighten any young children in the immediate vicinity. Also never arrange a dental appointment if it is your wife’s birthday the next day and you are not yet completely organised. Pain and present buying are not a good mix. That is all.

What’s been your worst dental experience?

What Are You Up To This Weekend?

Storm Emma has now arrived in Northern Ireland and we woke up to strong winds and drifting snow. The road out of the village is impassable and the police have been telling motorists to turn round and go back home. There was no chance of me making it into work today and the schools are shut again. So the five of us (six of you include Charlie the border terrier) are holed up in the house for another day. Given the weekend forecast I don’t think we will be going very far this weekend.

I doubt if I’ll stray very far from the sofa. We will just focus on keeping warm and look out at the chilly conditions from the comfort of our home. I’ll be making the most of this unexpected down time and will spend some time working on the book which is flowing quite easily at present. I have a plentiful supply of Diet Coke and various nibbles. And later on Fionnuala and I will no doubt get caught up with our shows on Netflix and Showbox. I’m also working my way through ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath. Not the cheeriest reading material I know but beautifully written.

So an abbreviated blog today. We are stranded so want to know what your plans are for the weekend. Where are you going and who with? What will you be up to? Are you looking forward to it? Or a little anxious? What are you reading? Watching? Eating and drinking? Let us know by commenting below.

What Are You Going To Stop Doing Today?

Stop it.

There is something you are doing today that you should not be doing. I don’t know what it is and I don’t particularly want to. The point is you do and you know that it is wrong. Wrong to yourself and wrong to others. Damaging and destructive. You know you need to stop and that thought nags away at you constantly. Well that’s good for that’s your conscience talking. If you care enough to know it’s wrong then you can find the strength to stop doing it.

Think of all the times you have tried to stop before and failed. How did you feel when you relapsed into your old ways? Beaten, despairing, self loathing. Not a great way to live is it? Now imagine a world without that ‘thing’. Imagine the freedom, knowing that it no longer had a grip on you. Write a list if you need to outlining how you currently feel and how you would feel if you stopped. I wager that the pros far outweigh the cons. Which is why you need to stop in order to kickstart your life again.

You are better than this. You know that deep down. It needs you more than you need it. You were created for better but life has just temporarily derailed you. It’s time to dust yourself down and get back on track. It’s time to cross over to the other side. I know you can do it. Why? Because I did. I stopped and it turned my life around. And if useless old me can stop then so can you. What’s more I’m by your side and you can be accountable to me. For as long as you need me. Here’s what we are going to do.

Small bites. Commit to stopping for 24 hours. Don’t look beyond that. But for those 24 hours give it everything you’ve got. You will be tempted but that’s ok, that’s normal. The key is that you don’t give in to that temptation. Fill the void in your day that the ‘thing’ consumes with something else. Anything else. Stay busy and push on through. I am here if you need to talk. I will be thinking of you and praying for you. Just get through that first 24 hours. Then we can think about the next 24.

Will you join me in stopping today?

Unhappy New Year

I hate New Year! There I’ve said it.

No, hang on, hate is too strong a word. But I really don’t like it. For all sorts of reasons. The overpriced taxi fares, the fake bonhomie, the soul withering hangover the following morning. All these memories from my past cause me to break out into a cold sweat. This post, however, is about New Year much as I dislike it so I’m not going to focus on the past. Call it one of my New Year Resolutions ha!

Everywhere I look people are making resolutions. They’re going to eat less, exercise more, save the planet, yadda yadda yadda. I’m sure all these declarations are well intentioned and heartfelt at the time but, let’s face it, how many of them last beyond January 7th. By then most of us, myself included, have fallen off the wagon in spectacular fashion, and can only sit on our bruised backsides and egos, watching it roll on into 2018 without us.

This makes us more unhappy than when we started out. For in order to make a resolution you have to be unhappy or dissatisfied with some aspect of your current situation. You are resolving to make a change, to improve your circumstances, to move forward. Yet when the resolution invariably crashes and burns you find yourself more unhappy than when you started. You consider yourself as weak and a failure. Your resolve has dissolved and you haven’t evolved.

You’re back to square one. Make yourself comfortable and take in your surroundings as this is where we spend a good part of our lives. Maybe eat another mince pie while you reflect on what a useless human being you are. Except you’re not. It’s the New Year Resolutions which are useless. You build yourself up all December for this chance, this hope to turn your life around in 2018 only to fall flat on your face at the first hurdle. New Year Resolutions well and truly suck.

This propensity to fail sets us off on entirely the wrong mental footing. New Year and I’ve already flunked out. Just like last year and the year before. By striving to change and move forward we find ourselves ruminating on the imperfections of our past. Which kind of defeats the whole point of the exercise. You sit there with your head in your hands thinking you have to wait another twelve months before you can try again to get a foot on the bottom rung of whatever ladder you are hoping to scale. Right?

Wrong. Why wait a year or a month or a minute for that matter? If I ruled the world (a disturbing thought I know) I would do away with New Year. Who says you can only make resolutions on 1st January. Why not 2nd January, 3rd January or 18th October for that matter. Any day, hour or minute that you choose. Change is a constant process, a state of mind that should run through your veins 24/7/365 not just once a year. So what if you screw up on 2nd January. Dust yourself down and try the next day and the day after that.

Change requires determination. Old habits need broken and new ones formed. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Transformation is a life long process. Do not allow yourself to be defined or confined by your perceived failings on a set, pre-determined day of the year. Every defeat is actually a victory. You learn more about yourself, where you learn from what went wrong the time before and then tweak and tailor your tactics in order to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistake the next time you try. For there will be a next time.

And a next time, and a next time, until it sticks and you nail it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or New York, Paris or Belfast for that matter. They are living, breathing cities which continue to grow to this very second. They are works in progress, as are you. Beautiful creations with a plan and a purpose greater than the sum of all your broken resolutions put together. Make your life one of constant resolution.

For within every resolution lies the solution. To unlock the person you were born to be.

Unhappy New Year everyone! Happy New Rest of your Life!!

Have you a track record of broken resolutions?

What are your 2018 goals and targets?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part One

I don’t have a bucket list but if I ever compiled one I reckon that growing a beard would have been on it. I’ve never had a beard, stubble yes, but never a full one. I’ve always wondered what it would look and feel like. Would I resemble a mighty warrior from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones? Or a sad, middle aged man who should really know better.

Fionnuala hates all things face furniture and has always been strongly against the idea of me growing one; anything beyond a two day stubble and she looks at me disapprovingly. She thinks they are dirty but finally relented a week ago and said I could grow one over the Christmas holidays. So it was with much excitement that I banished my razor and shaving foam to the back of the bathroom cabinet. Operation Beardy McBeardyFace was go go go!

There was little to report over the first few days but, as we now reach the week mark, I have become fixated by my facial hair. I have been caught examining it in the mirror. This is bizarre as I normally hate looking at my own reflection and avoid doing so whenever I can. Yet the beard has an eerily hypnotic pull and keeps drawing me back. I find myself stroking it without realising that I am. I even shampooed it the other evening. If this were to continue beard oils and combing may enter the equation. I am like a child with a new plaything.

There are pros and cons to growing a beard. I considered working out how much I would save in toiletries over the course of a year but then decided this was a step in sadness too far. The same goes for the 3.475 days a year I now have to spend on other activities. Like staring in the mirror at myself. Or shopping for beard oils and other related products. The beard is saving me time and money. All I have to do is sit back and do nothing. What’s not to love about that?

The experiment has also reassured me that I do not possess a ginger gene. Being Irish this has always been a concern of mine. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against redheads. Belinda Carlisle was the first love of my life. I used to stalk Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones around Belfast city centre. And Ed Sheerin and Prince Harry have made it cool to be ginger again; no, this all comes from the darkest recesses of my school days when to be a ginger was akin to having social leprosy; you were a pariah, an outcast to be mercilessly mocked for all the days of your life. Duracell Head, Carrot Top, Ginger Ninja and so on and so forth.

I was tubby, shy and wore glasses but at least I wasn’t ginger. Or was I? Thankfully the beard has allayed any concerns I might have had. Not even a hint of copper. It has sprouted up reassuringly dark apart from a grey section around my chin which I think makes me look most distinguished. George Clooney eat your heart out. Why didn’t I think of this years ago. I could have been modelling for Armani. Not only does the beard turn me into a Holywood sensation but it also covers the many parts of my face that I am not so enamoured with. Everyone’s a winner.

Yes a week in and everything is going swimmingly. When I started writing this post I never envisaged it developing into a two parter. Yet it has. You see the beard is taking over. It has developed a life of its own. It is like an alien life form that has attached itself to my face and taken over my mind. And for all the advantages I have listed above there are as many, if not more, disadvantages. The beard is most definitely not beardier on the other side. Part Two will cover all that so try to contain yourselves.

And no before you ask I’m not posting a photo of my bearded self. Some of you may be of a nervous disposition and I don’t want to scare you.

Men – do you have a beard? What have been your experiences with facial hair?

Women – are you a fan of face furniture? Beards? Moustaches? Hipster goatees?

The Outsiders

I’ve felt an outsider for most of my life. At school I was bullied, mostly by fellow pupils but also some teachers, because I was chubby, quiet and shy. I was no good at sport, despite trying hard, which meant I was never part of the ‘in crowd.’ I didn’t go to our school formal and don’t think I spoke to a girl until I was eighteen. I had few friends and didn’t go out much. I was a loner; happy sitting in my room reading Stephen King novels and listening to heavy metal music.

My university years did not fare much better. These swayed between alcoholic excess in my first year to hermit like abstinence in my final one when I finally realised I needed to knuckle down and study in order to get a decent degree. It was during this final year that I began to exercise excessively and then secretly binge eat during all night study marathons. An unstable home life at the time also left me permanently anxious and worried. Looking back it was a deeply unhappy and lonely year of my life.

When I left university I gained a place on a post management graduate course where alcohol reared its ugly head again. I was now living in rented accommodation in Belfast. It was the social crutch that I leaned on heavily for the next twenty years or so. I secured a good job and worked my way up the corporate ladder. When I tell people what I do for a living now they look genuinely impressed. I met a wonderful woman who has stuck with me through thick and thin. I don’t deserve her but that doesn’t make me any less grateful for her.

We have three amazing kids and live in a lovely house in a quiet village. We are financially comfortable and on the face of it I epitomise what ‘fitting in’ to society should look like. Then why do I still feel such an outsider at times? Why am I still plagued by feelings of insecurity and low esteem? Why do I still periodically battle with OCD and the demons from my past? Why do I struggle to make friends and sabotage the few genuine friendships I have formed in my life? Why am I still so socially awkward? Why do I feel such a failure at times?

While people might look at it and think I’ve got it made, I still feel as if I am fighting a losing battle where time is not on my side. I desperately want to please people; the problem was that I always set out to please the wrong people, not the ones who mattered. I donned various personalities in order to curry favour but these all ended in disaster. I disliked myself so intensely that I would do whatever I could to be someone else. I still do at times but the purpose of this post is not to indulge in a pity party.

The purpose of this post is rather to celebrate where we have come as a family in 2017. It has been a long and often very rocky road. There have been slips and stumbles along the way. I am learning to live in my own skin. I am me. Glorious, imperfect, messed up, wonderful me. I am proud to be an outsider as I have finally realised that most of my problems in life have been when I have tried to be somebody I’m not in order to fit in.

I’m a square peg. I’ll never fit into that round hole. I’m learning not to look through the window and focus on what might have been but instead concentrate on what I have. On the outside. There is safety on the outside. There is safety in numbers. For we are many. This last year has taught me that in order to heal I need the clear, crisp air of the outside. I need to breathe in the truth and purge myself of the lies from the past. I need to take a step back in order to move forward.

Detoxification can be intoxicating on the outside. I want to be drunk on life. I want to run and write and love. I want to laugh more. People say I don’t laugh enough. Yes I’m a weirdo, an oddball and the most infuriating man in the world at times. But at least I am me, at least I can look at myself in the mirror and not have to avert my gaze in disgust.

And I have finally found my social media home with you – my fellow outsiders.

Viva la difference!

Do you feel like an outsider?

How have your efforts to fit in damaged others and yourself?

Spin Class Stories

I’m a runner. I like to run. Preferably in a straight line at around 8:30 minute mile pace. I don’t like sprinting or being pressurised into running faster than I have to. I like long, steady paced runs. My favourite distance is the marathon. I don’t particularly enjoy hills but put one in front of me and I will run up it. I will not stop. Call me determined or call me stupid but I will not stop. I’ve ran seven marathons and I hope to run more in 2018. It’s what I do.

When I decided to get fit and lose some weight three and a half years ago I dabbled with all sorts of other physical activities before I plumped for distance running. It was all part of the mid life crisis. My fourth that particular year. I took up Taekwondo and pranced around the village hall in a pair of oversized white pyjamas. I reckon I could have been a black belt by now if it wasn’t for my startling lack of hand/eye coordination and flexibility.

I had a go at weight training but was intimidated by all the muscle bound hulks at the gym. I have quite strong leg muscles from running but as for my upper body, forget about it. I looked like a jerk at the clean and jerk. My kettle bell technique was the talk of the place. For all the wrong reasons. My arm curls were toe curlingly embarrassing and my squats were sqawful. I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

Finally I tried spin class. I skulked at the back of the class and hoped that the instructor didn’t notice that I was pedalling at a lower resistance than the rest of the class. Everyone pumping furiously around me seemed so much leaner and younger. I was up and down out of the saddle but never seemed to be getting anywhere. Quite literally. Spin class depressed me. I didn’t like being shouted at and being told what to do. My heart wasn’t ‘spin’ it.

Spin class was like my grief. It hit me in waves but I never seemed to get anywhere with it. I worked harder and harder but there was never an inch of progress. All that pain for nothing. A day or a week or a month later and it would hit me anew as if for the first time. Grief is a thief. It slips up on you when you least expect it and brings your world to a jagged, juddering halt.

Spin class was like my drinking. Binge followed by hangover. Over and over again. Ad nauseum. I drank to forget but at some point forgot why I was drinking. It became a sickly cycle and the wheels had to come off eventually. They did so in spectacular fashion. Alcohol is no longer my favoured form of transport. Drinking and cycling are a definite no no. When I run my body and mind are cleansed. Alcohol poisoned me. I’m still detoxing I suppose. I always will be.

Spin class was like my OCD. An endless circle of obsessive, intrusive thoughts followed by baffling, heart breaking routines. It’s the most orderly of disorders. It will grind you into a pulp. As your routines become slicker so the thoughts become sicker. Always one step ahead of you. Pedalling furiously to keep up but never quite getting there. Hurtling through the fog not knowing what mental pothole lies just ahead waiting to throw you headlong over the handlebars.

Spin class was like my addiction to social media. Never learning. This time I would get it right. A new account, a new Stephen. A new creation doomed to slide into familiar patterns of behaviour. Ever so gradually until I was trapped again. Watching myself as if in a dream, an out of body experience. Wanting to stop but unable to. Always cracking, always relapsing. My soul spiralling downwards as my follower count spiralled upwards. A thousand likes as I despised myself.

Are you trapped in or on a cycle? Are you pedalling at breakneck speed but getting nowhere? Are you tired of the the same, endless, pointless routines? Take a health check. Are you physically, mentally, emotionally running on empty? Then step off the bike. Stop what you are doing and look around you. Breathe. Observe. Live. You are better than this. You deserve better.

Do it today. Now. Stop spinning. Start winning.

Is your life spinning out of control?

Are you trapped in an endless cycle?

What are you going to do about it?

Death By Cupcake

The Black Family hit Belfast’s Christmas Market yesterday afternoon. As you can see this involved food, food and more food. I took some pictures but, ever since, have barely been able to move given the ginormous burger and cupcake I consumed. I am currently lying in a darkened room and normal blogging duties will be resumed shortly.

Fionnuala created this wonderful collage. She’s the talented one in case you hadn’t worked that out yet. There’s also a few of our wedding photos from 15 years ago.

Why Do You Blog?

My social media profile used to be entirely self centred. All I was interested in was getting more likes, more followers and more retweets. I used to have almost 10,000 followers on Twitter. But that was never enough, I always wanted more.

I portrayed myself as the wittiest, cleverest person on the internet. I craved the spotlight like a sponge soaks up water. My online life became more important than my real life. I ignored the people who mattered as I was more interested in myself and my own ravenous ego. I was consumed by the self to the expense of my spiritual and mental health.

The wheels came off in spectacular fashion and, after that, I stayed off social media for a long time. I was ashamed of the person I had become. I was embarrassed by my online activities. I was a fraud, a liar and a joke. I never wanted to see another tweet or Instagram photo for as long as I lived. They epitomised everything I hated about myself. They were the blackest of mirrors reflecting a side of me I despised.

So why do I blog? Well…. Fionnuala encouraged me to come back as she felt I had a story to tell. And yes, it has been for partly selfish reasons. It has allowed me to write, to express my hopes and fears; to exercise my creative muscles; and to exorcise some demons from the past. Through the blog I have learnt more about myself and those I love. Blogging has become an important part of my life. But not the most important part.

This time round I have reflected on my past failings but moved the spotlight from myself onto others. My past online career thrived in the shadows but this blog is about shining a light that will cut through the darkness; to expose the demons and shine a path to restoration and healing. To offer a lifeline to others who are suffering and struggling in silence. Too damaged to reach out for help in the real world.

Too hurt. Too many confidences betrayed. Too many promises broken. Once bitten twice shy. I know, I’ve been there. But broken bones can mend. A fractured faith is still a faith. Belief can be restored and hope can grow back even on the most rocky, barren soil. Recovery is possible. Believe me I know.

I see such pain and loneliness online. I see people consumed by addiction, illness and abuse. They need to know they are not alone. They need to know that there is life and freedom on the other side. I’m here to guide them there in any small way I can. I don’t have qualifications but I do have experience. I want to help. I need to help.

So I blog. And I pray for people who don’t even know I read their cries for help. That’s why I’m here. A passion needs a purpose. This is mine online.

Why do you blog?

What Do You Dream About?

Did I tell you that I ran a marathon the other day? *collective sigh and eye rolling from my fellow bloggers*. Well the good news is that this post is not about the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon which I ran/endured on Saturday. Well it is a little bit but bear with me. It’s more about the aftermath. As in right now, this very minute.

If there are two things distance runners love after a race it’s food and sleep. We can’t get enough of them. As I write this, however, it is 4:17 am and I’ve been awake for almost two hours. As in wide eyed, bolt upright, five trillion thoughts whirling around my head awake. Ideas for dialogue in my novel are bursting into my consciousness like a meteor shower bursting through the earth’s atmosphere in one of those big budget Holywood blockbusters.

I’m also hungry. Very hungry. The only feeling outweighing that hunger at present is laziness. I’m too lazy to go downstairs to make something to eat. Note to self – we need an upstairs kitchen; or at the very least a bedside toaster. I promise not to leave crumbs in the bed, Fionnuala, if you buy me one for Christmas. Pinky swear. Or at least not on your side of the bed anyway.

If you’re still with me as we meander into paragraph four of this post then thank you. You deserve so much better but thank you anyway. The point I wanted to make is that before I woke up I was having a recurring dream. Fionnuala has the most vivid, lucid prophetic dreams. She sees stuff that is both freaky and amazing at the same time. I hope one day she will write more about her dreams.

I on the other hand dream nonsense. But amidst the nonsense are three recurring dreams which are as follows:

1 – I am sitting in an exam hall but my head is blank. I haven’t studied for the exam and a growing sense of anxiety and panic grips me as I stare at my blank paper and the clock on the wall as it clicks relentlessly on.

2 – I can’t see because I have a ridiculously long fringe down to the bridge of my nose. I freak out and feel claustrophobic. I walk into inanimate objects, fall over quite a bit and have yet to make it to a barber’s shop.

3 – This was the dream I was having before I woke up tonight. I am either hungover, drunk or thinking about drinking. In all three scenarios I feel incredibly guilty but that doesn’t stop me from drinking. These are the worst dreams.

I haven’t had an exam in over 20 years. I haven’t had a drink in over 4 years. And I haven’t had a haircut in er….about 4 weeks. Those of you hoping for deep or witty insights at this stage of the post are about to be bitterly disappointed but I’ll try anyway. Here goes…

Fionnuala dreams about the future whereas I dream about the past. She predicts future events (crazy but true believe me on this one) and has dreams about people and insights into their lives that, when imparted to them, offer hope and light. I dream about failure and inadequacy. And stupid haircuts.

I want to have her dreams but when God was dishing that gift out she was at the front of the queue and I was probably on my third pint of Budweiser. The same thing happened the day of the ‘brains and beauty’ queue. We all have gifts. I got words. Could have been better, could have been worse. But they flow from me every day now.

My dreams might be in the past but my daydreams are today. Now. I dreamt about running a marathon one day. Two days ago I ran my seventh *yawns*. I dreamt about having a semi successful blog that people read and enjoyed. It’s kind of happening now. I dreamt about writing a novel. Ditto. I dreamt about being a decent husband, father and human being. Work in progress but I’m getting there.

Dreams don’t have to remain dreams. You can make them your reality. It just requires a tonne of hard work and a sprinkling of talent. You are special and unique. Seize the day and squeeze every last drop out of it. Live the impossible. Follow your destiny. It’s within touching distance.

Sweet dreams. I’m off to make some toast.

Do you have recurring or prophetic dreams? Or can you interpret any of mine?!?!

What is your dream for 2018? How are you going to make it happen?

The 26.2 Mile Turkey Trot

As I’m not the sharpest tool in the box (just ask Fionnuala) it only struck me this morning that the marathon I have been training for (and boring you about) these last few months falls during the Thankgiving Day weekend. This is not celebrated in Northern Ireland but as most of our followers live in the USA I thought it appropriate that I mention it.

So while most of you will be eating yourselves into a food induced coma I will be trudging 26.2 miles. It will more than likely be raining (it is Northern Ireland after all) and near freezing temperatures are forecast for this Saturday. I will be wet, cold and aching from every joint. And what’s more I’m paying the race organisers for the pleasure. So what is there to be thankful for about running a marathon on Thanksgiving weekend?

Well firstly is the fact that I can run at all. I struggled with injury and illness throughout the summer so the fact that I am participating at all is something I am grateful about. My training has been tough and it’s only over the last month or so that I’ve begun to regain a semblance of my former fitness and form. I’m thankful that my body has healed and that at this stage in life (I’m no spring chicken anymore) that I can even contemplate such a challenge.

I’m running the race for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus) and have been raising funds for the cause which is very close to our heart. Our daughter, Hannah, was born with both disabilities and is a wheelchair user. She can’t run….yet. I can. So this race is for her and all the other kids in wheelchairs. She hasn’t let her disabilities stop her from living life so why should I let a few strained ligaments and a virus stop me from running my race.

I’m thankful I will have my family on Saturday. I take them for granted too often. They have supported me at my very best and my very worst. I will be thinking of Fionnuala and the kids every step of the way. I’m thankful that, whatever happens during the race, I will be going home to a warm home with people who I love and who love me back. I don’t deserve what I have but I suppose that is what grace is all about. Undeserved favour.

I’m thankful that I have this forum to write. I’m thankful that people read the blog and take the time to comment. I’m thankful that I have a good job and have been blessed with a modicum of talent. I’m thankful that the crazy ideas that bounce about my head are solidifying into a novel. I’m thankful that I’m free from the demons of my past. I’m thankful that my eyes have been opened to past mistakes and poor decision making. I’m thankful for the friends I have and thankful that others are no longer part of my life.

No life is perfect but we still have much to be thankful for. I thank God I’ve been given a 473rd chance.

To all our American friends Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

What are you doing for Thanksgiving Day? Running a turkey trot? Or eating lots & lots?

What are you thankful for?

Phone Moan

I have the most temperamental of mobile (cell) phones when it comes to charging. It will only charge if I use Fionnuala’s charger (I go through phone chargers like Donald Trump goes through aides) and place it at a certain angle until the charging icon comes on. A millimetre to the left or a millimetre to the right and it will switch itself off. I need the steady hand of a surgeon and the unblinking eye of a fighter pilot to complete my task.

I’m on my phone a lot as I use it for my blogging so half of my life is spent either charging the phone or thinking about charging my phone. This is particularly tricky at work where we are not allowed phones in the office for security reasons. While I am hardly ever on my phone at work as I am a model employee the corridor outside often resembles an obstacle course of texting colleagues and charger leads. It’s a wonder there is ever any work done in the place.

I know I spend too much time on my phone as many of us do if we are honest with ourselves. If our most valuable possession is our phone then our phone charger can’t be too far behind. We see them as our lifeline to civilisation and without them we feel naked. It is as if we are missing a limb. When I commute to work in the mornings nobody on the train reads a physical newspaper anymore. They obtain their news fix from their phones or tablets. Do people even talk anymore? We are the walking dead, shuffling along oblivious to what is going on right before our very eyes.

If we only we were as disciplined at checking our physical, mental and spiritual charges? How many of us are running on empty in respect of these areas. Running around at a million miles per hour attempting to stick to unrealistic schedules. We eat the wrong foods, neglect to exercise and become weighed down with stress and the worries of the world. We compensate by worshipping at the altars of money, sex, alcohol, bad food and a thousand other false deities. We are running on empty and desperately try to fill the aching chasms in our lives with activities guaranteed to damage our hearts, minds and souls even further.

We need to take more care of recharging ourselves and spend less time recharging our electronic devices. Take time for yourself and the people around you who truly matter. If you are a Christian spend time praying and reading your Bible. If you’re not find something, anything, that will help you switch off from the ratrace that is life and switch on to your own well being and state of mind. For otherwise one day your battery will run flat and no charger on earth will be able to blow life into it again.

This blog post was brought to you by my I Phone 6 which is currently sitting at 94%.

How much time do you spend on your phone or tablet every day?

Do you spend enough time tending to your own charging needs?

A Sea Of Words

I hadn’t expected to blog a massive amount this week but I’m wide awake at 05:00 am so thought I would update you all on my first day of serious writing. I had been putting this day off for some time for a multitude of reasons; chief amongst these was a fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I would open the laptop and stare at a blank screen all day devoid of inspiration and unable to transfer my tangled thoughts into flowing prose.

Well I guess I slew that dragon yesterday. The words did flow, to the extent that at end of play yesterday evening I had passed the 5000 word mark. They could well be the worst 5000 words ever written but here’s the thing – they are written. My worry over writers block reminded me of my concerns about hitting the wall during my first marathon; in each case it never happened because I didn’t allow it to happen. Sometimes we forget the amount of control we have over our own destinies.

The other thing I learnt yesterday was the amount of time people talk and think about writing. When I first got the idea for the book I talked for months about writing it to anyone unfortunate enough to be within hearing range of me. I thought about writing almost as much as I thought up excuses not to write. I read books about writing which often seemed to advocate doing everything bar actually writing. They spoke of endless months of plot structuring and character development in order to create design documents that would eventually be crafted into the finished article.

I realised yesterday that whilst this approach might work for a lot of people it doesn’t work for me. I need to write. I need to get the words out of me that have been festering inside all these years. I need to be purged of them. Sometimes when you are ill and feeling nauseous the only way to get rid of that awful sensation is to actually be physically sick. I feel the same when it comes to my writing. I want my words to see the light as opposed to festering inside. For if they stagnate in the darkness for too long they become something else. Beauty will rot if unattended for any length of time.

I realised that I am a back to front and upside down writer. My first draft will be raw, manic and spontaneous. It is only at the end of the process that I will sit down and begin to smooth out the many rough edges. I will edit and redraft until the cows come home. And when the cows have come home and I have checked that they are fed and watered I will edit and redraft some more; until it is complete, whatever it is. Which leads me to the final (I promise) point I want to make in this post. What you sit down intending to write and what you actually end up writing are often very distant cousins.

Yesterday morning I sat down at my desk with every intention of birthing an introductory chapter which has been germinating in my grey matter for some time. I could almost recite it to you verbatim. All I had to do was transfer that mental screenplay onto a Word document and hit save. A gentle start to my writing career before the real work started in earnest. Did it work out that way? No of course it didn’t. Instead my main character demanded that I delve into his past and explore his past. Over the next few hours he taught me much about himself that I had not previously known. He explained to me how he had turned out the way he had. He educated me.

I had heard other writers talk about their characters writing the book for them once they started and maybe that will be the case with me. The 5000 words I wrote yesterday bore little semblance to the 5000 words I thought I was going to write. My main character asked me to let go of the steering wheel and trust him. That was kind of a liberating experience and took a lot of pressure of me. It was as if he sensed my trepidation and decided to show me the ropes on my first day at a new school. I hope all my characters are as kind to me as he was. Although I have my doubts as some of them are bad, bad people.

Did I say that was my last point. Sorry, I lied. My last observation is that no matter how wrapped up in your literary muse you become don’t lose an awareness and appreciation of your present surroundings. It is our here and now that fuels our pens and allows our creative juices to flow. Yesterday was a great day for the Black Family. Hannah got her new motorised wheelchair which Fionnuala wrote about in the last blog; and Adam and Rebecca both had encouraging days on their respective sports fields. I have been blessed with an ability to write but it is they who have turned that ability into a reality.

They are my lighthouse. I must never lose sight of them no matter how adrift I become on this sea of words in the months ahead.

How do you write?

What writing projects are you working at present?

Cloudy With A Chance of Grace 

I cannot remember the last day I went for a run when it didn’t rain. Ireland is renowned for its beautiful green countryside but I mean really? Could we have one day when I can go out for a run and not come back looking like a drowned rat? At this rate I will turn green myself. Or at the very least develop webbed feet. Which is not a good look for a middle aged man training for a marathon in just under five weeks. 

I keep telling myself that this will benefit me long term as come race day I have to be prepared to go out and perform, whatever the weather conditions. I doubt the race organisers would take kindly to me asking them to reschedule were the heavens to open. Wet weather does have its benefits. It cools you down but try telling that to the bespectacled man setting out to run 26.2 miles without windscreen wipers. How I haven’t ended up in a ditch yet I do not know. 

So when the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon comes around on 25 November I will have no excuses if I awaken to wet roads and grey skies. I will have to don my wet weather gear and dodge the puddles the best that I can. Failing that I will probably end up in the lough but I will give it my best shot anyway and will have no excuses.

Recently I have felt that it has been Fionnuala and I against the world. I won’t bore you with the details (as I’m seeking to be positive here) but it sometimes feels like once we overcome one obstacle there is another larger one in our path. It has been disheartening and frustrating. I pray about it but, at times, feel as distant from God as I have ever been. I ask him for wisdom and guidance but often feel as if we are fighting a losing battle.

I’ve lost a lot of friends this last year. This has been largely my own fault but I do feel let down all the same. I have trust issues and am struggling to make friends. Which is hugely hypocritical given the trusts I have betrayed in the past. I cling to God, Fionnuala and the kids as they are really I have. This initially deflated but then I realised that they are really all I need. All the more so as I so nearly lost them.

I am making a big effort to feel less sorry for myself in both my writing and thinking. Before I adopted this new approach a Taylor Swift song constantly resonated round my brain – I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me. Except I added an extra line – I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….especially myself. I’m trying to move past that now because, otherwise, I am no good to my family. And I will never open up again to the possibility of new friendships.

I used to walk through life with a permanent rain cloud over my head. I truly was Mr. Doom and Gloom. The pity party was permanently raging in my head. And, just has been the case with my recent training runs, I was regularly soaked to the bone in sadness. I try to think of it differently now. I am still getting soaked but this time it is by the grace of God. Who drenches me on a daily basis. He has given me a loving family, a home, a job and a healthy body and mind allowing me to write and run.

I have a lot to be grateful for. Thank you God for raining on my parade. The grass is always greener or His Side.

Psalm 72:6 – ‘May He come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.’

How was your day on a scale of 1-10?

Where are you today and what is the weather like?

Did God shower you with grace today?

Be A Zero

My OCD has flared up a bit this week and I think it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of OCD related books for the novel that I am supposedly researching. So I’ve decided to take a break from all that and am currently reading a fantasy novel about a post apocalyptic world where the remnants of society are governed by an all knowing, all seeing computer.

Your position within this world is determined by a wristband which gives you a digital reading of between 0-10 based upon your attitude and loyalty to the ruling regime. The more you adhere to the rules and regulations of the regime and ‘tow the line’ the higher your rating will be. In order to scale the social ladder you need to conform. Show the slightest sign of independent thinking or emotion not in accordance with accepted values and your rating will plummet.

Hence those with ’10’ ratings are viwed as almost god like; perfect and flawless in every respect. They are effectively automatons devoid of feelings; living a dull, zombie like existence in their ivory towers oblivious to the myriad of possibilities that life holds if they would only open their eyes and ears to what lies beyond. Theirs is a miserable existence yet they lack tbe self awareness to recognise this. Their perfection is an ugly one. Their success is their downfall.


The large majority of the population aspire to be a ’10’ and live a life of luxury. Their sole purpose in life is to improve their scores. A ‘7’ will do whatever it takes to become an ‘8’ even if it means eradicating every last trace of the personality they were born with. It is a bitter rat race. At the other end of the scene become a ‘3’ and you are referred for medication in order to correct your independent behaviour; a ‘2’ and you are institutionaled for ‘behavioural reprogramming’. Think lobotomies here. And if you drop to a ‘1’ you tend to disappear, never to be seen again.

It is a bleak picture of a future world where creativity and innovation are frowned upon. Emotions are abhorred and shows of affection are almost non existent. Free thinking is despised and harshly punished. Thank God we don’t live in a world like that right? Thank God we are free to be ourselves and don’t have to conform to such crushing peer pressure. Hmmmmm….

How many of you have buried your own opinions and thoughts in order to fit in? How many of you have said ‘yes’ when you wanted to say ‘no’ just so that you weren’t the odd one out? How many of you are currently unhappy living your life a certain way in order to please your family and friends? We become boxed in and trapped. In our relationships, in our schools and workplaces, even dare I say it in our churches. On the surface we smile and nod when deep inside all we want to do is scream and run as far away as we can.

Our lives become performances. We play a role and lock our real selves in darkened dungeons within our souls which never see the light. We use money, drugs, alcohol, power, exercise, sex, anything really in order to construct these false creations for the outside world to marvel at. While inside we slowly rot away. Anything to become a ’10’. Don’t believe me? Just scan down your social media feeds or look at all the ‘perfect’ people parading around your office, your school, your church. 

Jesus wasn’t interested in ’10’s. He came to earth to rip up the rule book. He realised that man made systems were irrevocably flawed. He sought to transform lives and encouraged people to think outside of the box and turn their backs on the rules and regulations which were suffocating them. He wanted people to step off the ‘hamster wheel’ of life, to show a little faith and follow him instead. People who were willing to walk away from the trappings of social status and give it all up for him.

I’ve spent the large majority of my life aspiring to conform and become a ’10’. This resulted in years of misery for myself and others. Since becoming a Christian I have been taught a few hard lessons. God has had to break me down in order to restore me. It has been a painful process removing layer and layer of arrogance and selfish behaviour. I’m a work in progress, still far from the finished article. But I’m slowly learning that true freedom is not being an earthly ’10’ but instead working in the opposite direction.

By killing your self and rejecting societal norms you can do this. Think of others first. Give don’t take. Learn to forgive. Love don’t loathe. Become selfless and not selfish. Here lies the key to becoming a better person and acquiring spiritual riches, real treasure. Money and power won’t get you there. Neither will looks or the number of followers you have on Instagram. It’s all a dirty lie. The truth is right before your eyes. All you have to do is walk away from your present life. Give it all to to God. The addiction, the temptation, the anger, the depression. Surrender it all to him as you’ll never do it on your own.

Let go of the greasy pole of success and freefall. Fall towards your destiny. One where you can start all over again. Free from guilt and anguish. Start again. Become a zero.

Romans 12:2 – ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

Where do you lie on the 10-0 scale?

Do you feel trapped in your current life? Are you living a lie? Performing a rule?

What do you need to do in order to break free?

Modern Life Is Rubbish

It doesn’t take much to annoy me and I got very annoyed at work yesterday. I felt left down and undermined by the actions of a colleague who had taken an issue to our boss rather than first discuss it with me and find a way to resolve the problem. I’m even getting annoyed as I type this now. So much for writing being a cathartic experience.

I lost a lot of respect for the person in question and, as for ever trusting them again, well don’t get me started. It was the trigger for me to look back over the last year or so and reflect on a number of people who I perceive to have let me down. People who I thought were friends but have subsequently been revealed to have been indifferent and uncaring. Others have attempted to dictate to me; throw my past in my face at every available opportunity.

I have very few friends now. I have massive trust issues given the events I have described above. The thought of establishing new friendships now fills me with dread. Why go to all that effort when ultimately it will all end in ruin. At this stage of life people have formed their inner circle of friends. They don’t want any more. I feel like an intruder and an interloper. Unwanted and excluded. 

My pity party was promptly ended by God. He has a habit of doing that. And I realised I was being a massive hypocrite. How can I be expected to trust others when I don’t trust God. When I don’t trust myself. What about the number of times I have betrayed the trust of my family down the years. Ripped it up and thrown it in their faces. Lived in the shadows and hid from the truth of who I really was.

Yesterday I told Fionnuala what was the point forgiving others when they just let you down time and time again. Why bother? Yet Fionnuala persisted with me when I didn’t deserve it and I hope that it was worthwhile in the end. Her love and courage dragged us through the mess I had created. She didn’t have to but she did. Just like Jesus dragged mankind out of its self inflicted mess at the Cross.

Recent world events do nothing but reinforce the mess we are still in. But God has not given up on us just like Fionnuala has not given up on me. She displays more Christ like attributes in her little finger than I do in my entire body. I do most of the writing for the blog and, as such, receive a lot of positive comments. But really they should be reserved for her. Without her I am nothing. I see Jesus in her every day and that keeps me going.

It is 6:00 am as I write this. Today is a new day. I hope and pray that my frustration and resentment do not get the better of me today. I hope and pray that I can rise above petty office politics and be the better man. I hope and pray that I can focus on those who choose to love me despite my many inadequacies. I hope and pray that I can be more like Jesus and less like Stephen. 

I hope and pray….

John 14:1 – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’

Have you woken up feeling frustrated and resentful?

Do you have trust issues? Have you been let down recently?

How do you feel now after reading this post?

Be A Painkiller

I rarely get headaches but since my return on Friday from a work trip to England I have had a persistent one just above my right eyebrow. It niggled away at me for most of Saturday before flaring up again in church this morning. Was the sermon that bad? Well it wasn’t great to be honest but I doubt very much if it was the reason for my discomfort.

It was so bad that by the end of the service I had my eyes clenched shut and a pained expression on my face. To the casual observer it looked as if I was immersed in earnest prayer. Or constipated. Or both. On the journey home afterwards we stopped off at the supermarket to get some supplies and I consoled myself with two paracetamol and a giant honeycomb cookie. Fionnuala suggested my recent decision to cut back on my Diet Coke intake might be the cause. I felt like Renton in that ‘bucket scene’ in the first Trainspotting movie.

As the day has unfolded the pain has receded quite a bit but I can still feel it lurking just beneath the surface of my forehead, waiting to erupt again when I least expect it. It is an unwelcome guest and I wish it gone. I had always marked headache sufferers down as slightly theatrical attention seekers who were invariably struck down when asked to do something they didn’t want to do. I now realised that headaches were neither big nor clever. They sucked.

How many headaches have we caused down the years? How many tears have we created? How many hearts have we broken? It’s not so great being on the receiving end is it? For many years I was a constant headache for our family. A one man wrecking ball. Back when Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana and Billy Ray was singing about achy breaky hearts. Back then I was the sorry source of many such a heart. 


Every morning I wake up now and try to repair the damage that I have caused. It is a slow, arduous process. It only takes a second to say sorry but it takes a lot longer to prove to your loved ones that you mean it. Headaches are hard to shift. But not as hard as mending broken hearts and erasing painful memories. You can’t just pop a couple of painkillers and hey presto. Love is the ultimate painkiller. But true love isn’t flowers and chocolates. It is turning up day in, day out and being there for the people you care about.

It is doing the little things, the mundane and the routine, over and over and over again. To the point where trust is re-established. Where healing can begin. Where forgiveness can be allowed to wash away the hurt and the pain. Where fresh roots can be put down and new foundations laid. Our actions will never make our victims forget what we have done to them. But they will cause them to remember less often. 

I encourage you to be a painkiller today. Think of the one person you have been a headache to; it could have been yesterday or it could have been years ago; it could have been one act or it could have been decades of hurt. Then do something to ease that pain. Talk to them. Show them that you care. Love them through your actions. Create new memories with them and, in doing so, allow the old ones to fade away.

The world has enough headaches without us adding to them. Kill the pain today. Inside of yourself and inside of others. With love.

What is the worst headache you have ever had?

How are you going to be a painkiller today?

Running Scared

I ran the Belfast Half Marathon this morning in 1:56:29. My target was to complete the course in under 2 hours. The time was 21 minutes slower than last year but given the summer of illness and injury I have had I was just happy to get home in under my target time. 

My confidence was very low going into the race. I knew the virus had taken its toll and I’ve been slowly increasing my distances over the last month, ever cautious of a fresh relapse. I had ran for four years with hardly any problems until this summer. It has taught me that being healthy and able to run is a gift that I will never take for granted again.

I try not to refer to OCD as ‘my OCD’. Whenever I do, Fionnuala quickly corrects me. To do so is to define who I am in respect of it. OCD is not part of me. It is the enemy, an alien invader which I have battled against for years. I do not own it nor do I want it. It is the outsider seeking to creep into my mind on a daily basis and lay siege to my every waking thought. It scares me silly.


I take 20mg of Escitaloprem a day which has helped massively in blocking the intrusive thoughts. Combined with prayer and being more open about my mental health has allowed me to lead a relatively normal life. I also believe that running regularly has helped. After a run I am too exhausted to humour such thoughts. Running has replaced alcohol as my numero uno OCD buster.

It is never far away, however, and I have felt it prodding at my defences over the last week or so. I have been eating badly and food is something I would obsess over. I count every calorie I consume. My daily limit is 2500 calories. If I have run that day and my Garmin says I have burned 1000 calories then I’m allowed 3500. With me so far?

If I go one calorie over the target figure then I regard the day as a ‘fail’. I cannot ‘fail’ an odd number of days. To do so leads to mounting anxiety and never ending thoughts about food and my weight. This is the ‘obsession’ part of OCD. It is an endless loop in my head that plays at a deafening volume, drowning out the rational voice in my head which tells me I am being ridiculous.

Let’s say I go 500 calories over my target on Day 1. 1 is an odd number which is bad. So I need to binge eat the following day and deliberately go over my target in order to end the ritual on an even number of days. Screw up Day 3 and the ritual trundles on to Day 4 and so on. It sounds insane because it is insane. But unless I finish my eating binge on an even numbered day I feel so unsettled and anxious that I struggle to function. This is the ‘compulsion’ I must perform in order to ease the anxiety.

There are few worse feelings than forcing yourself to eat in order to accumulate calories as part of a ritual. You don’t enjoy the food. You just chew, swallow and repeat. This process is accompanied by guilt, shame and self loathing. I cannot look myself in the mirror after such an episode. I used to binge eat in secret so as to not raise suspicions. Buying extra chocolate bars when I was at the shop, snacking continuously at work.

Waking up the ‘morning after’ with a food hangover is horrendous. If the previous day was an odd numbered one then I face another day of eating food I don’t want to eat. If it was even numbered then I face a day of feeling fugly while struggling to stay within my daily target. My stomach is unsettled, I feel groggy and have a headache. The only means of allaying this misery is comfort eating. Which brings me back to where I started. Catch 22.

This week has been a bad one. I have had five consecutive ‘fail’ days. Which meant when I woke up this morning I felt compelled to go over my daily target. And as I was running a half marathon this equated at over 4200 calories. The thought of having to eat that much sickened me. I got out of bed with a feeling of imminent dread as opposed to looking forward to the race which I should have been.

The old me would have suffered in silence and succumbed to the obsessive thinking. I would have taken the beating and said nothing to anyone. Today, however, I am a different man. I talked it through with Fionnuala and realised it no longer has the power over me that it once did. I rebuke it and I hand it over to God. Who loves me just the way I am, warts and all.

I’m not going to binge eat today. Tomorrow might be different but that’s another tale for another day. Today I might not have run a personal best. But I bested OCD. And that’s good enough for me.

1 Peter 5:7 – ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’

Do you struggle with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour?

What is your understanding of OCD?

How do you vanquish feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing?

Can you spot me in the photo?

Battle Of The Biscuit Tin

I once consumed an entire packet of ginger snap biscuits in the space of a few minutes because the voice in my head told me to. It is one of my most distinctive OCD memories. I didn’t want to eat them. I don’t particularly like ginger snap biscuits. But I had to eat them. Either that or be consumed with overwhelming waves of anxiety for the remainder of the evening. When OCD is master of your mind you learn quickly to bend the knee. Or it will destroy you. 


You see OCD is a sly and slippery adversary. Just when you think you have it pinned down in one respect, it will seamlessly reshape and attack you from a different angle, effortlessly sliding its rapier blade beyond your defences. Cutting deep and drawing blood. It is a relentless opponent. It never tires and it never grows bored. It will grind you into the ground. It knows no mercy.

On this occasion (many, many years ago before I met Fionnuala) it was preying on my obsession with my weight. I have always worried over this and, as such, have often had an unhealthy relationship with food. Before I discovered running I would indulge in crash diets interspersed with sporadic outbreaks of binge eating where I would comfort eat in order to allay the feelings of despair threatening to submerge me.

Just as much of my OCD is numerically triggered so it was with my binge eating. On this occasion I had set my latest diet a wholly unrealistic target of 1500 calories a day. I meticulously maintained a record of how many I was consuming and if it were to go even 10 calories over the prescribed amount the day would be constituted a failure and I would have to face the consequences. In this instance not one but two days of chaotic binge eating, where I would literally wolf down everything within sight.

It had to be two days. And if at the end of those I had failed again then the next punishment would be four days. And so on. Odd numbers would not suffice which I found wryly ironic as so many of my other obsessions focused around the numbers three and five. But OCD is not a rational adversary its unpredictably making it an even more formidable foe. How do you defeat an enemy who penned the rule book and who can rip it up and start again at the slightest whim.

To make the challenge even more fun, at the end of the two days (or four or maybe eight if it were feeling particularly mischievous) the OCD would make me follow a bewildering series of routines in order to kill the obsession to binge. This is where the compulsion bit comes in. I would have to eat two biscuits before I went to bed so that I could go to sleep with a clear head and wake up the next morning ready to climb back on the crash diet wagon again.

The biscuits would have to be from the same packet. I had to memorise the brand of the biscuit and the company that made them; right down to the exact spelling and any punctuation on the packaging. If I forgot or the fog of OCD tricked me into thinking I had forgotten I would have to start again with another two biscuits. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

I would have to hold the biscuit a certain way before I placed it in my mouth. My feet would have to be positioned in a certain manner with all my toes in constant contact with the ground. I was not allowed to spill crumbs. Nor leave the room until the entire biscuit was consumed. I was not allowed to perform the routine seated. Nor talk to anyone while performing it. If I fell prey to any of these rigid regulations I would have to start again. 

The routine was mentally exhausting. Every time I thought I had nailed it the voice would rhyme off some petty misdemeanour and coldly order me to start all over again. There was no margin for error nor appeal process. Before I knew it, minutes would have become hours and I would find myself surrounded by dozens of biscuit wrappers. I ate until I felt physically nauseous while on the inside my soul curled into a tight foetal ball and weeped silently for it all to end.

That was then and this is now. Thanks to prayer, the support of loved ones and medication the OCD (not my OCD as I disown it) rarely flares up now. Like alcoholism though or drug abuse I do not believe you can be totally cured of it. It is still there, lurking, just waiting for a chink in your armour where it can burst through and wreak havoc. It is dormant but not dead. It fights a guerilla war now, sniping from the fringes of my consciousness.

Even to this day I don’t like ginger snap biscuits. The memories repulse me. It was a type of self harm. I performed the compulsive rituals in order to gain temporary release from the unrelenting pain that this mental illness brings. And like any form of self harming it has left scars. Scars heal but they never truly go away. Which is good because I don’t want them to. I need them. 

I need the memories. I need every last excruciating one in microscopic detail. So that I never go back from whence I came, so that I never allow the passage of time to dilute or gloss over the horrors of those evenings standing by the biscuit tin. I won that battle but it was a pyrrhic one. Because this is one war that will never end and one enemy who will never surrender.

What are your thoughts on this post? Please comment below as I would love to hear them.

I’m Stephen The Sailorman

As I have mentioned once or twice (oh alright then incessantly) in previous posts I have been struggling all summer with a viral infection which had effectively knocked me for six. In addition to chest and ear problems I was also living under a cloud of fatigue which refused to budge no matter what antibiotic or multivitamin I was prescribed. At one point I was popping so many pills that if you had shaken me I would have rattled like a baby’s toy.

This resulted in a number of visits to my doctor’s surgery where I was poked, prodded and eventually pierced. Blood samples were taken (I was a brave little soldier when the needle went in) and I was told to contact them the following week to get the results. As I was by this stage starting to feel better and back at work I promptly forgot all about it until I received a phone call at work earlier this week from a concerned sounding Fionnuala. ‘The surgery called. Your blood results are back. They want you to phone them.’

Having diagnosed myself as fit and well again my over active imagination of course went in hyperdrive conjuring up the worst possible case scenario as I nervously punched the numbers of the surgery into my mobile phone. By the time I got through to the results line I had convinced myself that I had the Ebola virus or, at the bare minimum, a rare blood disorder that would ensure I never saw Christmas. I was relieved therefore to hear the receptionist assure me at the very outset that the results were in but it was nothing to worry about.

She informed me that my folic acid levels were low and I was being prescribed a four month supplement to bring them back up to normal. I was slightly bemused by this as my only awareness of folic acid prior to that had been that women trying for a baby took it in order to minimise the child being born with certain physical disabilities. My ignorance of the subject was such that I did not know that the human body (and in particular the male body) even produced it. Every day is a learning day.

Upon terminating the call I fell back upon good old Dr. Google to learn a bit more about folic acid. Apparently it was naturally present in a whole host of foodstuffs – rice (check), pasta (yup I eat loads of that), bread (oh this is so easy) and dark green, leafy vegetables. Hang on, run that last one past me again? My eyes scanned down the list in question. Broccoli (manageable), Brussel Sprouts (I would rather eat hot coals) and spinach. Spinach? What like Popeye the Sailorman. Is that even a real food? 


Apparently it was. I glumly accepted the inevitable like a condemned man on his final walk to the gallows. My immediate future was going to contain lots of unsexy food. Lots and lots of unsexy green food. My spirits lifted somewhat when I realised that (a) you did not have to eat the spinach raw, (b) it did not involve squeezing it out of a can and guzzling it all in one go whilst laughing maniacally and (c) the aforementioned guzzling did not have to take place while dressed in dodgy nautical attire and smoking a pipe.

When it comes to cartoon characters I had always modelled myself more on Homer Simpson tbsp Popeye. And I most definitely would rather be consuming donuts as opposed to spinach. Why is it that all the tasty food is bad for you yet all the healthy stuff tastes like soggy seaweed. But needs must and I was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that those pesky folic acid levels soared again. I never wanted to revisit the summer that was; one of phlegmy coughs, aching ears and levels of fatigue that had driven me to the end of my tether.  

The spinach analogy can be applied to my life in general. All the activities that I revelled in were ultimately bad for me physically, mentally and spiritually. Alcohol, social media and unhealthy relationships to name but a few. I craved them like Homer craves a box of chocolate frosted donuts. So satisfying at the time but long term they only lead to ridiculous cholesterol levels and ever expanding waistlines. I was heading in that direction with regards to my family and faith. It took several harsh wake up calls to bring me to my senses again.

Spinach sounds boring. It sounds tasteless and hard to stomach. Just like some mornings when I get up and I can’t be bothered with the kid’s petty arguments; or I stumble out of bed dreading the prospect of spending another eight hours chained to my desk at work. These seemingly mundane chores may seem a pain  when there are so many other ‘fun’ activities we could be participating in. But at the end of the day they are the bread and butter of our lives. They will form the backbone of who we are and the legacy that we want to leave behind us. It might not be appear the most glamorous of lifestyles but the long term benefits far outweigh the short term pain. 

Sometimes you just have to suck it up. All that glitters is not gold. The real miracles are in the everyday grind. So I pray. I pick up my Bible and study. That might not rock your boat but you do need some kind of anchor in order to keep your ship on an even keel. All I can say is that after forty years of  running aground that my faith works for me. Whatever tools you decide upon I encourage you to do your utmost to remain rooted to the key values and morals that define your being. Because whatever your belief system the demons are real and are never far away, waiting to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

Seek out what  you need not what you desire. And always remember to eat your greens.

What are your thoughts on this post?

What everyday things keep you focused and on an even keel?

Do you love your greens? Or do they turn you green?

Burnt Offerings 

With Fionnuala away for a good part of last week visiting her mother in hospital she had little option but to leave me in charge of the kids. Or hatchlings as I ‘lovingly’ like to refer to them. And as they are bottomless pits when it comes to food this included culinary duties in tbe kitchen. I am a 21st century father after all.

Now my kitchen skills are let’s say basic. Knowing this Fionnuala had left strict instructions as to how to heat up a couple of chicken and bacon pies in the oven. Turn it on, set the temperature to 200 degrees celsius and leave for 35-40 minutes. Et voila! Even someone with my information retention issues could crack this meal. Plus the cooking instructions were even printed on the packaging. Easy peasy! What could possibly go wrong? Errrrrrr….

After a strenuous afternoon on the sofa binge watching ’13 Reasons Why’ I strode into the kitchen like a gladiator poised for combat. The kids, still recovering from previous cooking debacles, muttered sarcastic asides which hardly filled me with confidence. But as the hunter-gatherer of the household nothing would stop me from bringing home the bacon. Or chicken and bacon in this instance.

Setting the oven temperature with forensic precision I confidently awaited the taste sensation which was to follow. After 20 minutes, however, I opened the oven door to be faced with a dilemma. The pastry on the pies was cooked. As in overcooked. And when I say overcooked I actually mean it was starting to turn black.

I sought the advice of my son, Adam. ‘Looks cooked to me’ he shrugged. So, ignoring the cooking instructions, I removed the pies only slightly burning my fingers in the process. Seriously?! No wonder Gordon Ramsey always gets so grouchy. This cooking business is a logistical nightmare. I bet Jamie Oliver pays people to burn their fingers on his behalf!


I tentatively cut into one of the pies and was initially reassured as a waft of heat emerged from it. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered the middle of the pie was stone cold. After a frantic telephone call to Fionnuala I was left with no option but to place the pies back in the oven for the allotted remaining time. I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Undercooked pies = food poisoning fun for all. Overcooked pies = no hospital visits but a largely inedible meal.

As it was the latter was served up to the kids some 15 minutes later. With a side of oven chips and muttered apologies on my part. The kids made the most of it, hacking through the charcoal pastry to at least find the chicken and bacon were palatable. And the oven chips were a triumph even if I do say so myself. Charlie the border terrier made short work of the leftovers so in the end I viewed the meal as a win-win for all concerned.

What heartened me most was the attitude of the kids. Joking aside I was embarsssed and annoyed at myself. I had messed up the most basic of parental tasks. But they did their best to make me feel better with comments such as ‘It doesn’t taste that bad’ and ‘The chips are great.’ They realised that I had been out of my comfort zone but had did my best to provide for them. And they had lovingly overlooked my attempts to poison them. 

In tbe Old Testament the Israelites spent about half their lives disobeying God and the other half offering up sacrifices to him seeking forgiveness from said misdemeanours. I think I would have fitted in well on both scores. Especially when it came to the burnt offerings. God must have tired of this (in the most holy of ways) neverending cycle which is why he provided the ultimate sacrifice when he sent his son to the Cross.

No matter how hard we try to impress God or live according to his will we will invariably fall short. But thanks to what Jesus accomplished on the Cross we can be presented to God unblemished and pure; he is enough irrespective of our sinful lives. Just as my kids lovingly overlooked my cooking catastrophe so God overlooks the burnt offerings of our pasts. Just like my kids graciously forgave my failings so God will forgive us no matter how big a hole we have dug ourselves into. 

Isn’t it amazing how God can teach us through our kids. Now can anyone teach me the difference between celsius and fahrenheit settings on an oven?

Hebrews 10:14 – ‘For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.’

Tell me about your greatest culinary disaster?

Are you willing to hand the ‘burnt offerings’ of your past up to God and start afresh? 

If you require prayer in respect of issues raised in this post then please let us know. We would be honoured to pray for you.

Yemeni Fish With A Side Of Sprouts

I returned to work today and, without thinking, put two slices of bread in the toaster as part of my morning routine. I love toast. In fact I love all things bread. I could live off bread. And cheese. And er….Diet Coke.

Maybe it is because I am Northern Irish but I prefer plain food. I am not a fussy eater and will eat most things set down in front of me. Apart from Brussel Sprouts. Euuuurggghhhh! I hate Brussel Sprouts. They are the one food I cannot have on my Christmas dinner plate. And people who eat them the other 364 days of the year are just plain weird.

No the plainer the better as far as I’m concerned. Take me to an Italian restaurant and I will order pasta. Take me to an Indian or Thai restaurant and I will flee. African eateries are also a firm no-no after an unfortunate episode in Djbouti involving some Yemeni fish which I care not to dwell on. Other than to say the aftermath has scarred me for life.


It is a running joke in our household that if we order a Chinese takeaway I will order a bag of chips. Or at my most adventurous the most basic of curries. And a bag of chips. I buy running magazines that advocate all kinds of super food based pre-race meals which boost your stamina and strength. I invariably have some toast with a side of jelly babies. And hope for the best.

I have always been this way. It is just me. Fionnuala is a fantastic, creative cook. But she knows my culinary limitations. I am not a foodie. She is teaching me to cook (yes I know I owe you a dinner!) but again they are the most basic of recipes. It is no coincidence that one of Hannah’s earliest memories is of me almost burning the house down while trying to cook for the kids. An episode which still embarrasses and shames me.

I often wonder then why I could never be satisfied with plain living. Taking pleasure in the simple things. Being happy with my lot in life. Loving wife, three great kids and a decent job that affords us a comfortable lifestyle. Reading my books, watching my teams and running my runs. But, no, I was never satisfied and always searching for more to feed my ravenous ego. More followers on Twitter, more crazy and unsuitable friends, more alcohol fuelled evenings. The plain life was never enough.

I know that eating foods you are unaccustomed to can lead to all sorts of digestive issues. I refer you back to the Djbouti affair. But living the  lifestyle I was only temporarily fixed the deep insecurities within me. And ultimately led to deeper depression, appalling life choices and a seemingly bottomless pit that try as I might I could not scramble out of.

Jesus advocated the simple things in life. He loved his food and hanging out with his closest friends. He was no prude and enjoyed a party as much as the next man. But he was content leading a humble, prayerful life despite the pandemonium that surrounded him during his ministry. He expounded mind blowing, revolutionary thinking in simple parables that the people could understand. He broke down his message to the simplest components parts. Love God, love your fellow man and, in doing so, learn to love yourself. 

I crave the simpler life as a follower of Jesus. I crave a life of prayer, study, worship and service. It is tantalisingly close at times but at other times a universe away. But I am trying. Always trying.

I do not however crave Yemeni fish and Brussel Sprouts.

Mark 12:30-31 – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’

What food can you not stomach?

Have you ever had the ‘Yemeni fish’ experience?

Do you seek to live a simpler life. If so, how?

Feeding Time At The Zoo

How many of you say grace before eating a meal? Ok hands down. But how many of you have a sneaky mouthful of the meal beforehand. My long suffering wife, Fionnuala, is a wonderful cook. And a selfless one too. She always makes sure she has dished out dinner to the kids and myself before she serves herself and we sit down to eat together.

This can take several minutes in the chaos that is our kitchen at meal times. And it is in that tea time ‘twilight zone’ that I find myself staring at a plate of delicious food. My stomach is growling. It feels like my throat has been cut. Fionnuala’s back is turned on me. The kids aren’t looking either. Surely God wouldn’t miss one mouthful….

One mouthful invariably leads to two and then three. And before you know it my plate is considerably depleted by the time we are all seated together and join hands to thank God for the food we are about to eat.

About to eat? Er…..sorry God. Sorry that I have the willpower of a flea. Sorry that I put my hunger pangs before honouring you for the gift of grace. For the million and one things that I take for granted in my pampered, privileged first world existence. Sorry that I constantly stumble and put my own base, material urges in front of serving and glorifying your name. 

As a Christian the numero uno in your life should be God. The rest will take care of itself. Family, friends, football. Oviously in that order. God came to earth in human form to rectify the horrendous mess we had made of our lives. No flood to cover the planet this time. Not water anyway. Instead Jesus came to wash away our sins, to drown us in love and to shower us in grace.

His grace overcame the grave. We did not deserve it. We could never earn it. But God delivered it anyway in the form of the Cross. And he keeps dishing it out every time we mess up. Every time we take him for granted. Every time we take a seat at the banquet of sin and start gorging ourselves on ungodly delicacies.

That’s the beauty of grace. It’s bottomless. It makes no sense. It’s beyond our understanding. But it’s there all the same. Day after day. Meal after meal. And the more of it we receive the more we should want to dispense it to others. Our neighbours, work colleagues, in fact anyone we encounter in our daily routines. We should be full of God’s grace yet hungry to spread justice and mercy throughout our sphere of influence.

Now that’s worth working up an appetite for.

Romans 3:23-24: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified free through his grace that came through tbe redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

How has the grace of God changed your life?

Are you hungry to serve God?

Ever had a sneaky mouthful before saying grace before a meal?

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