The Shrunken World of Lockdown

Photo: Alison Goldie

In the news today I learnt that a wanted man has just handed himself in rather than spend any more time with the people he lives with in lockdown. Sussex police revealed the man said he’d rather be in prison. Those people he lives with must be really awful if he’d prefer to hang out with psychopaths, bullies and the deeply traumatised. I suspect that after a while in jail he might regret this decision, life there being the apotheosis of repetition and restriction.

Some people are loving lockdown but most of us are having difficulties with the limitations of the current state of affairs. Not knowing when it will end makes things worse – at least in a British prison, you’d know your sentence, and might even reduce it with good behaviour. No such luck with Covid. So much possibility has been denied us, so much hope, because we don’t know exactly when our freedom will arrive. Yes, there are vaccinations happening, but it’s increasingly clear that they won’t eliminate Covid-19 completely or imminently. Our mental health thrives on having dates in the calendar that we look forward to, but diaries for last year and this show lots of scorings out of cancelled exciting activities. Not being able to travel very far from home for many months has had a sapping effect. Depression, boredom, stress, frustration and shortened tempers abound. Our worlds have shrunk and we are smaller, pettier people.

I was sitting on a bench overlooking the Thames with my walking partner, and a policeman observed that he was glad to see we were taking a short break in between exercising. He was cheerful enough but his tone belied the warning message of authority: even the time you take sitting on a public bench is limited by law – you must go back to your homes as soon as possible, the need to gaze at a large body of moving water notwithstanding. Do not misunderstand me – I am a lockdown supporter: the number of people catching and dying from Covid-19 is down due to its implementation. But I can still bridle at the downsides and its effect on my body and mind.

Our physical bodies can be cramped by living in one environment and using our spine and limbs in the same ways over and over again, sitting on the bed or the same chair every day, moving around small flats with not enough room to dance or even stretch without kicking the cat or a small child. For every one of us who has a home gym and a jogging habit, there’s another five who’ve taken to slumping glassy-eyed in front of a screen, hungrily seeking some sort of redemption in there, vertebrae crushed and temples throbbing. When we move from one place to another, our bodies use a wide range of motion and benefit in flexibility and improved organ function. Nothing resembles swimming quite like swimming but municipal pools are barred; without the stairs and escalators of normal active everyday life, our hearts quietly atrophy.

The suffering of our bodies adds to the mental load of grief. Those precious daily walks need taking as they really do improve mental well-being, connecting us to nature and letting us see the scale of the world still available to us. Taking some time to watch the clouds scudding across the vast sky expands us and lifts us. When we are continually indoors, we are missing out on fully using our senses – outdoors we can give greater exercise to sight, smell, sound, touch (there’s no legislation against hugging a tree), and even taste (that flask of coffee and a homemade flapjack can be extra delicious as the wind whips round your bobble hat). Without varying perspectives and a sense of spaciousness, bodies close up and so do minds. Even with all the tools of information available to us, I have heard many people talking about boredom or feeling stuck or not being able think. Our imaginations have become circumscribed – and imagination is so important it can keep a person in restricted circumstances alive. Terry Waite, held hostage in solitary confinement for four years, composed stories and poems in his head and emerged with his sanity intact. Our repeated recourse to TV and Netflix dramas in lockdown means we are being spoon-fed stories rather than creating them ourselves. Much though I love a filmed drama, I’m aware that in bingeing on them, my grey matter is missing opportunities to imagine my own stories, with the healthy mental challenges and problem-solving that entails. You don’t need to write stories if that’s not your bag but notice how not being able to dream or fantasise about exciting things that might come true can contribute to a gloomy, closed state of being.

Like the wanted man, we can be driven mad by being cooped up with others who would normally be out and about for most of the day. Some lucky people with ample household room and warm, easy-going personalities might be loving having their families or flat-mates so close at hand, but most people will have times they want to howl at the moon because Andy keeps sniffing or Debbie’s used the wrong saucepan three days in a row. In other lockdown lives, a solo dweller could be loving the peace and freedom of solitude or conversely feel like Rapunzel trapped in a tower with no sign whatsoever of a prince arriving to climb up her hair (though grateful for the occasional brief appearance of an Amazon delivery man).

Some antidotes to despair can be found in assessing the benefits of this strange way of life – appreciating lockdown’s effects on the greater good, enjoying the freedom you can have in your own home, having more time to play with.

And here are some specific ways you can break out of your shrunken world:

  • Like William Blake, fully explore the microcosm, not the macrocosm, “See the world in a grain of sand/And heaven in a wild flower”
  • Turn the radio onto a music station and let the sounds transport you to other realms
  • Slather your naked self in body lotion and say hello to all the nooks and crannies of your form (or do the same for someone else).
  • Take half a day to follow a recipe for an exotic dish very closely
  • Watch a travel documentary instead of the news or drama
  • Go out for your permitted strolls at different times of the day and night (at dawn, for once, or on a night of full moon, or twilight…)
  • Paint one entire room a different colour (a proper colour, not just another shade of grey)
  • Give yourself a theme for taking phone-photos e.g. Mysterious Sights, Red Things, Ghost Signs
  • Become pen-pals with someone you know abroad
  • Have a check-in Zoom circle with friends where each person speaks uninterrupted for 5-10 minutes and the rest just listen. Little windows into other’s worlds can be inspiring or consoling
  • Make a map of an imaginary place
  • Dedicate a day to smelling things and seeing what emotions or memories come up
  • Rearrange the furniture
  • Walk down a street you’ve never been down before
  • Study one famous painting very thoroughly
  • Perch in a public place and make up names and little biographies for people who pass by (dogs included)
  • Buy a food item you never usually eat
  • Have a walk with a bubble-friend and take it in turns to direct ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ at each junction
  • Dress up in some of your neglected lovely clothes to work at home or have dinner en famille
  • Aim to achieve small victories, and recap them at the end of the day

When you look back on these most unusual months, it will be these things that you remember, not the constrictions….

You have it in your power to expand your locked down world.

10 Takeaways from Lockdown

Kids bonding corona styleChildren chat to friends, social-distance style. Photo: Alison Goldie

Realisations and revelations have been coming to me daily in these unprecedented times and I’m sure it’s the same for you. Here’s a summary of mine:

1. Importance of family

Whether you’re isolating with them or just staying in regular touch, have you noticed how we need them? Sure, they can drive us crazy, but when push comes to shove, who would we fight to save, who do we know the most deeply, who can we learn the most from? If we remember how much we valued them at a crucial time, maybe there’ll be less family warfare and more family appreciation in the future.

2. Joy of nature

We’ve been blessed with lots of sunshine in the U.K. and our daily walks or gardening efforts have resulted in a deluge of flower photographs and delighted social media posts about the pleasures of scenery and greenery. You don’t need much – other people’s tiny front gardens can be little patchwork squares of marvellous wonders – strange leaves, fat buds, delicate blossoms. We’ve slowed down and we’re seeing things – and those things are often natural and lovely and nourishing to the core.

3. Value of creativity

Where would we be without the wealth of drama, documentary and comedy on our screens? Those programmes were made by creative people. And creative people need to practise their crafts to become really, really good at what they do. Maybe we’ll honour the arts and media more after this – and see the need for supporting them. On a personal level, we’re finding occupation and meaning in making aimless art. Indulging ourselves in painting, crafts or ukulele lifts the maker, and maybe even an audience of family or FB friends too…

4. Spending little

So you’re earning less, or scrabbling for grants and benefits, but luckily you didn’t need to buy a new spring wardrobe or fill the house with new kitchenware or electronica or a new cushion you just happened to see in John Lewis as you passed through home furnishings in your lunch hour. Maybe you didn’t really need most of that stuff anyway and the stuff you have is actually fine and you’ve found out how to repurpose it or repair it or zhush it up with some of those new artistic skills you’ve discovered. Less is more.

4. Even you can exercise

Confirmed couch potatoes or workaholic office-livers have discovered, now that we have government-sanctioned exercise time, that they can do a few stretches every day and it doesn’t kill them. Quite the reverse. Do you see now how exercise creates endorphins and has effects on your skin and bones which make you feel better in mind and body? Do you notice how doing a little every day is the best routine? Do you get it now?

5. Books are wonderful

Since lockdown 31% of all British adults and 45% of 18-24 year olds are reading more books. Maybe we’re finally realising the alternative to being screen-sick. We’re reading books we’ve had piled up unread on our bedside tables for years, we’re rereading books we loved once, we’re ordering books from a megalithic supplier and making it even richer (other booksellers are available) – but we’re reading more. And that is because books are comfortingly escapist and educational and wonderful.

6. Neighbours are people too

Even in urban centres, where a cursory nod is customarily the most frequent form of neighbourly interaction, we have started to talk to each other. Maybe out of sheer necessity – if you can’t ask someone to shop for you when you’re ill, you could starve – or maybe because when we’re all in this together, perceived barriers between us melt away, and a little natter with a neighbour feels warm, natural and important. The more you get to know someone, the less you want to hate them. Fact.

7. You can do your own nails…

…and you don’t need plastic surgery, tanning bars, five kinds of exfoliating body scrub, ludicrously overpriced and dubiously effective vitamins, crystal therapies, astrology readings or scented candles that cost £100 each. Or anything at all from Goop.

8. We need experts

In Government, science, medicine, mental health, food distribution, education, we need people who know what they’re doing to help organise and deliver the fundamental tools for our survival as a species. When the NHS need PPE, when we want to understand the likelihood of a vaccine being found, when the shops are plundered and we have to do homeschooling, we suddenly see how highly trained and experienced people are the ones we need running the show, not armchair conspiracy theorists and inept world leaders.

9. If we mess with nature it messes with us

This whole thing started because of unsound practice around the procurement, buying and selling of animal products. Nature is merciless – it doesn’t need or want to protect us, and will go on without us. If we treat its creatures, their environments and ecosystems with contempt, we risk destabilising the natural world and its cruelties being inflicted upon us. With climate change, floods, fires, bacterias and viruses are running rampant. This is a wake-up call.

10. Self-knowledge

Look at what you’re learning about yourself. Who’d have thought it? New insights every day about your own flaws and virtues, your good and bad habits. Write them down. Remember them. This is one of the greatest opportunities you’ll ever have to see how you cope when all the props and distractions prove unfit for purpose, when you’re thrown onto your own physical and mental resources. What’s at your core? Where’s your strength and resilience found? Note it, work on it. This is good stuff.

The Coronavirus Challenge: my personal report

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Coaches are not supposed to talk about themselves. Coaching is ‘client focused’, and when you come to me for help, our time together is about your story, your needs, your fears, your resources, your dreams of a better future. Of course, I can’t hide all information about me: my room, my appearance and my personality will give all sorts of clues. But when clients come to see me, they are seldom very interested in what novels I read or whether I like football – they are there because of a pressing urgency to change something, and their words often tumble out of them in their gratitude for a neutral listener who is paying full attention, and not interrupting them to impose their own story into proceedings.

It is unprofessional to talk about myself. But in this blog I’m about to do that. And I am doing it because I have been ill with coronavirus and come out the other side and I want to tell you about the experience to offer a story which might be helpful if you are suffering with it yourself, or if you are anticipating it and are scared. I also want to communicate some of what I learnt about myself whilst it was happening – there’s nothing like being ill with a potentially fatal disease to wake you up to what matters in your own little life.

My illness kicked in at the same time as it did for our Prime Minister. I had been feeling a bit strange for a few days with a sore throat and swollen glands but was otherwise active and presumed those symptoms were stress-related: I had lost all my group coaching and teaching work, and was very concerned about my elderly mother and how she was to keep fed and happy whilst far from me with  a bunch of enfeebling conditions and no computer skills. On the evening of 26 March, after a jolly Zoom social with friends, I suddenly felt wave after wave of vibrations in my body – it was peculiar and ominous. My brain went into practical mode – ‘This may well be IT. Take paracetamol, go to bed, it’ll be fine.’ Sure enough, the next day I woke with what felt like a bad flu and was pretty sure this was the dreaded universal bug, particularly because I had had a flu jab – a winter habit which has kept me flu-free in previous years.

I live on my own and was immediately thankful as I knew if I had had to deal with another’s concerns, and the possibility of them becoming infected, on top of my own sickness, I would have had my focus split and I needed to put all my attention on monitoring my health and nurturing myself. I cancelled my clients, whom I’d been planning to see on Skype, as I sensed there was going to be no bluffing of my wellness possible. I told a handful of trusted friends so that they would check up on me regularly – I wasn’t planning on dying alone and neglected, but this felt wise, and of course, they would cheer me up with contact which was vital. I had not stockpiled food but I had enough to survive for a week or two at a pinch, and whilst well I’d become uncharacteristically homely and cooked a batch of vegetable soups, now snug in the freezer and perfect for the ailing cook.

I read a few choice articles online about what was emerging about the illness. There was a real shortage of personal records. I was an early adopter, infected before lockdown, and a lot of the earlier victims were still in the midst of their illness and not writing blogs or public diaries about what was going on for them (I certainly didn’t feel like writing this whilst under). I went onto the NHS 111 website and after a couple of brief questions about my symptoms, it informed me I was almost certainly suffering with it and I should stay put. No exercise hour for me – it was bed or couch – with one eye on changes in my breathing which my reading informed me could be a prompt to dial 999.

Then commenced an extraordinary roller coaster of physical and mental states. The first two days felt like manageable flu and I thought I’d be right as rain in no time, if I stayed in bed, popped paracetamol for the fever and drank hot honey and lemon (probably more a comfort than anything else, but it always feels like Vital Self-Care). Then a slump blindsided me, ushering in worse headaches, more need for sleep, crazy dreams, a harsher cough. Then, on about day 5, a sudden rush of energy! I leapt out of bed, did some ironing, danced round the living room, texted my favourite morning DJ on the radio saying I’d recovered from coronavirus and she gave me a shout-out then and there. My joy knew no bounds! I was clearly so healthy I could defeat this bastard in a matter of days. That’s hubris for you. After lunch I collapsed. Crawled back to bed, achy and humbled. Corona wasn’t beaten so easily. Slept a lot more. Ate vegetable soup.

I spoke to one or two friends a day but not for too long – my customary loquaciousness was stymied. Mercifully, my brain cogs and sense of humour were still working quite efficiently and I could take in a drama series on Netflix and lots of really funny items on Facebook and Twitter (media I felt less inclined to malign when they were such a fertile source of amusement to a woman who could have been very despondent indeed). But I couldn’t read a book till the very end of it all – my eyes skittered over the page and wouldn’t rest to process the grey words on white, full of meaningful content and layered arguments and plots. The large pile of unread novels and improving tomes I’d gleefully posted on FB as my happy antidote to enforced seclusion sat ignored.

The moodiness of the bug continued. One night I woke up at 3am, got up, felt great, did a stack of washing up, wrote a rough draft for a comedy monologue and went back to sleep. The next day, I woke in a fug again and shuffled to the kitchen for tea in a dirty dressing gown with what felt like a hippo sitting on my head.

I was scared a couple of times, when I had setbacks and couldn’t see a logical progression to it all (how often have my clients felt dispirited when their plan for change encountered obstacles and wasn’t a straightforward ride to success!). Once I woke up with the dreaded tight chest that some sufferers had said presaged a decline – I employed all my resources: deep breathing exercises, self-shiatsu, intoning positive mantras, visualising the goodie white blood cells destroying the baddie corona bugs (it looked like Space Invaders, which dates me). The next day, the tightness had subsided.

On the 10th day I had the worst of the relapses when I felt very headachy and frail and had to go back to bed all day after having graduated to the sofa in the daytimes. It transpired that this a critical day for everyone who still has the virus at that point – the immune system goes into overdrive and discomfort can increase quickly. Hospital admissions accelerate on that day, and indeed, that is when Mr Johnstone was admitted. After I came back from that, for lucky old me progress was made quickly. On the 11th day, I managed to speak to my doctor, who was comforting, and told me interesting new information such as that GPs were observing from patients’ reports that the bug was more likely to be a 3-week illness from start of symptoms to total recovery, rather than the 7 days initially thought. He told me I was a ‘mild’ case to which I responded that if that was mild, I dreaded to think what ‘moderate’ was. He said, in a tone of voice that warned against hysteria, that ‘moderate’ is when you have to go to hospital; ‘serious’ is when you need a ventilator. The worst illness I’d ever had, and the longest time I was ever trapped indoors (14 days) and the word for it was ‘mild’! Humph. I wanted a silver medal at least. On my last Thursday in the foetid warmth of my little flat/sickroom, I opened the window wide and pretended that some of the clapping for the NHS was applauding my very personal return to health.

What did I learn about myself from all this? Here’s a little summary:

  • I know how to look after myself pretty well. All that independent living and resilience and practicality paid off.
  • I’m impatient. I knew this, of course, but on this occasion, I saw how the rush to wanting it all to be over (or completed) set me back in a way that may even have been dangerous. I could have respected the process of the virus more and waited to do that ironing.
  • I love my family and friends very deeply. They cared, they love me, they were there for me, lack of their physical presence notwithstanding.
  • When I only have a tiny bit of energy to spend, I like spending it on comedy, drama, hot showers, changing my pyjamas, eating nice food, checking in with the wider world in my online newspaper of choice and staring out the window at the sky and next door’s garden. I didn’t write a memoir, plan my future career, practise transcendental meditation or learn Mandarin on YouTube.
  • It’s nice to cry every now and again.
  • I have a strong awareness of my bodily sensations when I give them my full attention. I could feel every shift of the illness in all its tempestuousness, though I couldn’t often predict where it would go next. But I was calmly ready for a crisis and had no fear of calling the paramedics if I felt on the edge of a big downturn.
  • I crave doing creative things. As soon as it was over, I knew I’d want to make something and the first thing I did was this:       #GettyMuseumChallenge:Alison Goldie #gettymuseumchallenge
  • I love to move, and be supple and limber. I’m no athlete, but I am active and my new identity of Bed-Bound Lump didn’t feel very natural. After I came out of it all, I cycled round all the leafy streets of NE London and had satisfyingly achy legs the next day.
  • Music is one of my greatest healers. Every day my weak little fingers would stray to the radio knob and my grateful ears would mop up whatever BBC6 Radio happened to be playing that hour, my invalid’s knees jiggling under the blankets to the disco numbers.
  • The internet makes worldwide plague lockdown much easier to tolerate.
  • Knowing the NHS was there – free and accommodating – was a huge fat cushion of comfort and reassurance, as embodied in my own kind, informative doctor.
  • On the whole, life is really worth living.

Stay safe everyone. And if you get it, be true to yourself and take lots of paracetamol.


I am taking a short walk in my neighbourhood. I am looking around, like I always do, checking out the shop windows, seeing autumn’s evidence in the coloured leaves, the pale sun, noticing the people and their clothes and their behaviour. The people aren’t as interesting and varied as they used to be – a lot of them have the same body language and the same expression: scrunched up shoulders, one hand raised to hold up an object which their chin and eyes tilt down to see, even as they still have forward propulsion. They move like automatons and their expressions are intense and concerned, as if whatever is on the object is worrying or very important and they’re trying to work out how to solve the problem.

If they’re not staring down at an object, they might have plastic plugs in their ears and a faraway gaze as they listen to whatever is being communicated – as I pass them, the bleed from the earpieces inevitably sounds like fast, repetitive electronic music. Other people walk down the street on their own but talking very loudly, clearly in conversation with an absent other. I check to see if they seem mentally ill, or have Tourette Syndrome – no obvious signs, just the shouting, and oh dear, this one is obviously breaking up with his girlfriend – he’s telling her she can’t do that to him, and she doesn’t understand, and what is he going to do now? All at top volume, in front of many strangers. I am embarrassed for him – he has lost his dignity – but I am also annoyed: I don’t need to hear his distress, I just came out for a constitutional and to go to the library and buy some eggs.

In truth, I also came out to see the people in my neighbourhood and feel a sense of community with them as we create the warp and weft of invisible threads of connection by sensing one another, with our eyes and ears and noses, and acknowledge each other’s presence in the way we move to accommodate each other. Bam! I just walked into the back of a woman who stopped for no reason other than to tap her object (I had glanced at the programme posted outside my local theatre having unconsciously made the judgement that people were flowing predictably along the pavement). “Oof!” I exclaim, and inevitably, because I’m British and polite, “Sorry”. She ignores me, completely and totally. I appear to have ceased to exist to her, and to all the others scrunched over their objects, and the ones listening to futuristic sounds, and to the conversationalists who don’t care if I hear all their pain, their arguments, their arrangements. I return home a little lonelier than before I went out. And I pick up my object, which I had deliberately left behind for my walk, and I enter into its little worlds in the hope of finding some solace.



Modern Work is Destroying Us

I am not a permanent member of the world of work I’m about to describe. I visit it, sometimes, if I go to a company to run an enlivening workshop, or train workers in confidence-building or presentation skills. Mainly though, my perspective comes from my individual coaching clients, a significant majority of whom come to me because they are suffering at work. Through them, I have some insight into what is happening in modern workplaces, and enough evidence to detect recurring patterns. Contemporary commentators on the subject bear me out. As my natural inclination is towards positivity, it pains me to dwell in miserable territory. But I write this because I want to see change for the better. I know there are good employers out there, inspiring leaders who motivate their teams and invest in good working conditions, and who are doing their very best. My critique is not about them – it’s about a bigger system of values that is not serving people but demeaning and reducing them. What I would like to do is empower workers to ask for, and embody, the change they would like to see happen. But first, the grim stuff…

In the last 30 years, the world of work has changed significantly. The U.K. does not make much anymore; instead, we’re a nation of administrators and baristas. Compared to our parents’ or grandparents’ generations, people work longer hours, have less job security, work in bigger, more impersonal organisations and have less spending power for the big important buys that traditionally provide a foundation for life viz. homes. Too many organisations have toxic cultures which means it doesn’t matter how virtuous or hard-working an individual worker is, they can never reach their full potential or feel sufficiently valued. Job satisfaction is poor. Workers suffer from lack of resources, guidance or support. People change from one unsatisfying job to another at intervals that would have seemed crazy to workers in the 1950’s and 60’s. Work chiefly happens on computers and often involves very little contact with other humans, even those sitting at a desk a metre from you. Lunch hours have gone, to be replaced by eating at your desk, or a grudging half hour from management, in which you rush to a café and back not wanting to be seen to be ‘lazy’. Eyes glazed from staring at screens by day, workers also take their recreation on screens, scarcely looking up to see the sky or idly daydream. We’re constantly on call – colleagues or managers send us emails or texts at home at night or through the weekend and expect swift replies. Our phones accompany us everywhere, potent accessories that rebuke us for not checking them even as we attempt to lounge on the sofa with a loved one, who needs us (as we need them), but is also distracted by their phone. We are short of freedom, of relaxation, of joy and of meaning. Work is destroying us.

The Impact on Workers

Some people can cope with a lot of punishing work demands and bounce back, other people less so, but no human body is made to sit at a desk every day, getting tendonitis in their wrists from moving nothing but their fingers (or indeed, stand on their feet all day, cranking up their adrenaline over and over again to make espressos for impatient desk-workers). Our bodies are simply not evolved to do modern jobs. If a desk-worker who manages to hear the anguished call of their body for some movement then fits some gym-time or jogging into their routine, they attack it as they do work, wanting to push themselves hard and be the best as they rack up the steps on their fitness apps. Coupled with the narcissism encouraged by an image-obsessed pop culture, what could be pleasurable exercise becomes invested with a drive to attainment that compromises its efficacy as it triggers stress about not being ‘good enough’.

The modern workplace is a nightmare for perfectionists who can never reach the sustained excellence they crave because someone in the hierarchy above them will take their efforts for granted, or they’ll fail to distil ALL of the relevant online knowledge into their project or they can’t get their beaten down colleagues to collaborate effectively. Unfortunately, modern work practices demand perfection in us all. Work is obsessed with ‘goals’ ‘targets’ and ‘appraisals’ and must be constantly measured and evaluated instead of given time and space to develop in line with human rhythms. As unrealistic expectations are forced onto workers, it leads to excessive stress and anxiety and the body/mind becomes at severe risk of burn-out, a debilitating state of exhaustion akin to being a broken puppet.

Work is more tiring than ever before, a dreadful irony given developments in technology that were meant to reduce work-hours. Other ironies:

  • In families both parents need to work, but must pay for childcare, cleaners and other services that they could do themselves if they weren’t working so hard. (There has been a big drop in parents reading to their children because parents are too tired – our family lives and the home-education of our kids is being sacrificed for The Work Machine).
  • Workers are so exhausted that they use licensed and unlicensed drugs and excessive food or alcohol to speed them up or calm them down, at significant cost to the body and bank balance. The £3 coffee is everywhere, the £7 large wine is typical (since when did a ‘large’ wine become a normal-sized wine?). And our high streets are full of cafes and takeaways in which we can buy overpriced supposedly healthy food or the quick stimulus of junk food, in lieu of homemade unprocessed fare that we could prepare and eat at less cost and to greater nutritional benefit if we had more time.
  • As a means to pay us to provide for our basic needs, with some spare money for fun, work just isn’t working. Almost two thirds of those in poverty in the U.K. – 8 million people – are in work. Without working tax credits and other state additions, many people couldn’t pay for the absolute minimum needed for functioning life.
  • The quality of the work we do does not match our aptitude: half of all university graduates are working in ‘a non-graduate role’ according to a 2017 survey. People with extraordinary imaginations (that is, everyone) are squandering their creativity in repetitive, hollow tasks. As David Graeber, an anthropologist and critic of modern work says, “Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at.” 
  • The NHS has a shortfall of 100,000 jobs, in which by far the biggest sector is mental health. As work makes us more mentally and physically ill, there are fewer people to care for us. Those who can afford it opt into private medicine, and see therapists and coaches (like me). Those who can’t enter the nightmarish world of NHS waiting lists. (A solution: the state makes it more financially and practically viable to work in the field of health and improve the lives of those who really need it, than in jobs which only really improve the lives of a handful of obscenely rich company owners).

What Workers Need From Work

Workers need a decent living wage, a feeling of belonging, a sense of achievement and meaningfulness. The latter, in other words, is proof that their jobs have positive impact and that they are valuable and important. A recent YouGov survey discovered that 37% of working British adults think their job is not making a meaningful contribution to the world. Another 13% were unsure. This is especially worrying given that humans have an innate propensity for finding meaning in what they do. A percentage of those who do think their job has meaning are almost certainly exaggerating the impact their work has in order to stop themselves feeling utterly disillusioned.

It may be that the job is genuinely pointless but if not, one of the chief ways that employees can feel that their jobs are meaningless is that managers are not communicating to them how they are meaningful. In Byzantine organisations with huge hierarchies, it’s easy to see that a worker on a lower rung might be hopelessly out of touch with the effect of their actions. It is hard to picture such places and not think of Orwell or Kafka, writers whose terrifying satires of organisations and systems seem increasingly prescient.

Let’s be more cheerful and imagine an ideal job. It would fit your skills and offer training to help you learn new ones. Sometimes it would be relatively straightforward, sometimes it would challenge you enough to be stimulating and give you the satisfaction of problem-solving.  You would feel that your brain and body were being employed in creative and helpful ways without causing yourself mental or physical ill-health. It would involve civilised work-hours, break-times and holidays, and honour your free time. It would be paid above or in line with what is reasonable in the market. Your managers would be inspiring leaders who treat you respectfully, value your talents and consult you on how to improve the job, the workplace and the product or purpose of the work. You would be given constructive feedback on your work and developed within the job to gain promotion if that is what you want. You would be trusted to take initiative. You would work well with your colleagues, and at least some of them would become friends. You would look forward to going to work. If you had difficulties with work or your personal life which affected your work, your managers would be empathetic and help you to overcome problems by providing resources, support or paid time off. You would know that your work was helping humanity, other living things and the planet and not contributing to the pointless destruction of any of those. When you are old enough to stop working, you would know that your working life was worthwhile, that you had enough money to live on and could enjoy the freedom of not working.

I could go on. You will have different ideas, of course. You may think I haven’t factored in any suffering, but I was thinking about the ‘ideal’ job. Suffering will happen in life, that’s a fact, but why can’t it be lessened in our work? Is the above an impossible dream? If work is meaningless and painful, is it worth doing? (In the increasingly automated future that question will become ever more pertinent).

How to Improve Your (Working) Life

Here are a mixture of suggestions, some radical, some very manageable, some both manageable and radical, that could stop you wasting your life in unproductive and gruelling activity:

  • Find a manager you like and respect and ask for some changes that would make your work more interesting/fulfilling or less knackering/traumatising. If you can’t find a manager you like and respect in your organisation, why are you still there?
  • Cut a deal for a shorter working week. Use your time off to consciously do things that enrich your soul.
  • Band together with your colleagues. Present suggestions for change as a team. If you are lucky enough to have a union, enrol it in helping you.
  • Set harder boundaries. If your contract specifies reasonable work hours, stick to them, with only a very occasional exception if necessary. Refuse to answer work emails at weekends. Take enough time for lunch to source it and digest it comfortably away from your work station (I know I talk a lot about food, but that and sleep are the two things we can’t live without).
  • Take a good look at your incomings and outgoings. Can you live with less money and do more satisfying but less well-paid employment? Are you wasting money on comforts to compensate for your icky job? Can you move somewhere that’s cheaper to live but delivers better quality of life?
  • Stop being defeatist. Often people have power over you because you let them have it. Do not collude in your own disempowerment. If you want to change the way your workplace operates, do something about it. If you genuinely can’t, leave and go somewhere healthier.
  • Observe your own fear. What are you frightened of, really? Is it a life-or-death situation? What’s the worse-case scenario? Is it really as bad as you think? Really? Is your boss or difficult colleague a fairy-tale monster with lashing tentacles and a fire-breathing maw or a human being? Realise that fear is a primitive physical response that may bear very little relationship to the actual danger you’re facing if you challenge the status quo (or just deliver a report late).
  • Go self-employed. If you’re not a lone wolf, do it with other people (take time to find them and make sure you like and respect them enough to give your own ‘office politics’ a flying start). Take it step by step and never fail to appreciate what having control feels like.
  • Come out of your little bubble of despair and look at the bigger picture. Tell employers what you could do for them, and don’t just fit into their specifications. Change your career path entirely – retrain to be a chef or an acrobat. Go and work in another country. Do some volunteer work in a field which interests you, which could lead to paid work. Make your personal life so fantastic that it has a knock-on effect on the day-job. Make your hobby your job. Invent something the world needs.
  • If you think it’s too late for you to change (I can coach you on that) help your children, or other young people you know, to do positive things with their lives. Read your daughters Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls for alternative female role models; give your sons the option of not being alpha males. Know your own values so you can model them for your kids. Let them know about the range of jobs in the world that serve humanity, and if they don’t exist, encourage them to create them.
  • Be the change you want to see in the world. For example, try being incorruptible, compassionate, forgiving, friendly, generous and open-minded. Beats contributing to a world of corrupt, cruel, revengeful, anti-social, mean and bigoted people doesn’t it? Notice when you stray into the dark side. What was the reason for it? Something you can tackle and transform? Acknowledge you’re not perfect but keep noting the effect on others and yourself when you’re a kinder, more understanding and more reliable human being….or the reverse. All of this will impact on your working life. Note: This is a lifelong voluntary practice and will not be formally measured.

Finally – the world of modern work is not your fault. It has been made by forces larger than you – globalization, dishonest governments, world events we can scarcely understand with roots in history before us. You can buckle under the iniquities of it and stay tortured in a job you loathe, or you can try to do something about it. Lay your focus onto your own health, in body and mind – health is power, and you’ll need that to change things. Take some risks and try different approaches towards a new working life until you find something that feels right, most of the time. When you run away from something you don’t like, run towards something that looks promising: don’t stagnate in the middle. Ask other people for help, and be available to help them. Think big – maybe you can help to create a world that functions to serve its inhabitants. Make a plan and take it one step at a time…

Photo: Alison Goldie, Hull 2017


It’s Never Too Late to Flirt


When I was young, I didn’t realise I might be good at flirting because I didn’t know I was doing it. I’ve always had a healthy interest in the male of the species, enjoying men’s company and loving a good old grapple in the bedroom, but when I was young, if I’d been asked, I might have attributed my success with men to having blonde hair, or liking a laugh, or being hungry for contact – all of which can help when flirting but don’t explain its subtleties. In my early forties, I was asked to facilitate a workshop on ‘something to do with relationships’ and remembered an occasion not long before when a theatre director had me and another actor flirt with him as an improvisation exercise. I did this so well that the director said he was seduced by me (in spite of being utterly gay). I thought, ‘I must have some sort of flair for this art!’ I decided I would teach flirting, deconstructed my own behaviour for content, and Flirtshop was born, a weekend course I ran for groups of people who had never flirted or had forgotten how to flirt, often because they had only just emerged from long, stagnant relationships, and were shy and demoralized with tiny egos.

It’s such a shame that flirting dies in long relationships (it doesn’t have to, but you’ve both got to want to do it). We usually associate it with the beginning of a potential romance. Does flirting always signal sexual interest? I think so, but it doesn’t have to have serious intent or a discernible outcome: it can be a fun bit of business with an attractive passing stranger like a cheeky waiter, or with a friend where the boundaries are clear and you’re free to tease. One of my ways of describing flirting is ‘talking with a twinkle’. This is helped by awareness of how sparkling conversation works (to and fro not monologuing, employing lightness and wit) and of how to listen and show interest (be sincere, find genuine curiosity in someone’s story, show them they’ve been heard). Flirting also uses body language in certain expressive ways, to draw attention to our best physical features (legs, chest, hair) or to show fascination with the other (playful eye contact, open gestures, subtle touching). There are degrees of flirting. If you’re a pair of curmudgeonly old gits, just having a moan together on a park bench might constitute a flirt in your world. Or if the atmosphere is right, the fizz is flowing and you’re both feeling beautiful and wild, a flirt could be oozing with bon mots, lavish compliments, double entendres and a feeling of sublime connection.

Theoretically, flirting shouldn’t be any different with age. And yet, I’m flirting less these days. I rarely meet men of my age (56) through work – currently I’m running improvisation workshops for lots and lots of younger people, who have a tendency to de-sex me because, naturally enough, they’re not interested in their mum. On my way to Lidl recently, a ruddy-faced drunk weaved his way over to me and said, with frank appreciation, ‘Where’ve you been hiding all my life?’ Beer-goggles or not, I was genuinely cheered. I didn’t stick around though – I have my standards (and Lidl was about to run out of croissants).

Finding my own flirting skills blunted is concerning for a person who was a bit of a natural. There are good reasons for the decline, not least having had two longish relationships taking up most of a decade. But it’s also because I’ve lost confidence, the face and bod being a bit ravaged and the energy occasionally flagging. So, I am writing this to rev myself up and get back in the saddle. Here are my tips for Flirting in Older Age, as a spur to both you and myself to keep this delightful and life-enhancing form of communication going, dodgy knees and thickets of ear-hair notwithstanding.

Get Out More
You can’t flirt with the cat. There are innumerable ways to meet people, some of which such as speed-dating or tantric love-fests positively encourage flirting. If you’re looking for fellow oldies, hunt for your peers through Meet Up groups (walking ones are good), University of the Third Age, am-dram, Five Rhythms, group holidays (Skyros, Cortijo Romero) or age-streamed singles events. I haven’t tried Tinder yet but personally prefer hitting groups of potentials rather than sifting laboriously through scores of individual charlatans, exhibitionists, and nut-jobs to find my gold.

Get Real
Stop ogling the svelte/teenage/film star type. They’re out of your league. Pick on someone with your own girth/faded glamour/air of decrepitude – MUCH better chance of success.

Wear Nice Clothes
It’s a truism that image counts for more than anything when we first encounter someone new. You don’t have to be lustrously beautiful but good clobber will invite eyes to be drawn to you, and you need that to get started. When on the pull, go for something very flattering that’s not dull. We wrinklies can still have sexiness or swagger in our dress – silk shirts, glimpses of flesh through the translucent material, a jeweled walking stick. Go crazy with the shoes – for women, loud colours, a bit of a platform or lots of straps, for men, an elegant polished brogue (sends shivers down my spine), biker or Chelsea boots. Sexy signifiers don’t age, so if you can get away with it, go for it (I’ve yet to see a woman who doesn’t look hot in fishnets, a fur stole and long gloves). Wear conversation pieces – a T-shirt with a cool slogan or image, a stylish hat, unusual accessories like cascading earrings, a cape, a fan.

…stop grooming because it’s all a bit of a bother. A huge percentage of what attracts us to others is smell – make sure yours isn’t Eau de Rancid.
…go out wearing the same crap you wear for slopping around the house in the hope that someone will see through the exterior to your inner beauty. They won’t get near enough to try.
…wear a T-shirt saying Please Don’t Interrupt Me While I’m Ignoring You which I saw on a mature man in the street – who looked like he could do with some friends.

Definitely Do…
…look at for inspiration. It is GORGEOUS.

Have Creative Conversations
Flirting isn’t rocket science. The most important aspect of it is simply talking. To keep interest, make the conversation creative. I once went to a boring party where I knew no one and made it fun by going up to people and asking them how they would decorate their ideal bathroom. I was a hit! People love being invited to use their imaginations. As oldies, we also have massive memory banks to plunder, and the most crystalline memories are those of our youth so exploit those. Have a mutual rave about the music/fashion/food of olden days (that’s punk, sculptural hair and fondant fancies for me). Or find a specialist subject that you both like (there’s always one) and compare years and years of notes. Let the talk lend itself to humour and take the piss out of young people, or of modern gastronomic phenomena viz. coffee shops, artisan bakers, clean-eating. Have a funny, self-deprecating conversation about aches and pains (whilst paradoxically looking fit as a flea and twinkling fetchingly). Give all your attention to the other person and concentrate on helping them to feel good. When it’s all going swimmingly, drop a little sex into the ebb and flow, and see if they bite.

Do Intimate Actions
Invite someone to sit down with you. Ask to borrow their reading glasses. Touch their arm, naturally whilst chatting, and if they seem to warm to you and divulge more personal information, touch it again for a little longer. Ask for a sip of their drink. Offer them a chocolate. Watch their mouth while they talk. Look into their eyes for a beat or two longer than is seemly. Pay them a compliment, disappear, and let them come and find you.

Value Yourself
Just because you have a soggy bottom and no discernible jawline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be treated like a god(dess). If someone is mean or insulting or expects you to be grateful for their attention, summon all your dignity and walk away from their poisonous emanations. And if flirting online provokes unsolicited dick pics and aggressive messaging, consign those plonkers to the digital wilderness.

Online Wisdom
If you’re going down the computer dating route, have a crib sheet of deal-makers and deal-breakers so you’re clear on the qualities you’re looking for that really matter to you. Recently I posted my profile on an online magazine’s dating page to gauge the lie of the land. I disguised myself with a platinum blonde wig, lots of eye and lip make-up and a false name. I was besieged by scores of men (see what I said about sexual signifiers not changing?). My first deal-breaker quickly became apparent: anyone who had a bad photo was out. It was shocking how many men posed in front of a peeling garage door or their fridge, in long shot and out of focus. If you can’t get an ok photo taken in the age of smartphone cameras, what hope…? Then I eliminated bad spellers (I’m a word-nerd, what can I say?). Then I struck off men with job descriptions I didn’t understand. Then I withdrew because I couldn’t bear people falling for a fake me and wasn’t ready to show the real one.

Once you’re exchanging messages with someone who seems half-way decent, don’t spend weeks working your way into a fever pitch with increasingly flirtatious texts, or even phone calls. I did this years ago and on the instant I met the man in the flesh, I knew it was a no-go. He had a pudding-basin haircut, a goofy demeanour and was as sexy as cabbage. I’m not saying people can’t grow on you, but let connection develop in the meat world, not the robot world. Unless you only want cyber-flirting, in which case, knock yourself out.

To Close
Goodness knows there are a bunch of things about getting older that can be a (literal) pain in the neck, but age can make flirting a lot more fun than it was when we were striplings. Here’s why:

• Without rampantly out of control sex hormones dictating every move, we can enjoy more refined badinage and make flirting less about conquest. If we’re after physical contact, flirting can be more about finding someone with whom we can share loving touch rather than a rutting mate.
• With a lifetime’s knowledge and experience we have more in common with more people, and more conversational scope.
• We know our own boundaries better, and can listen to our own needs, so we can say ‘No’ more easily – which makes it a lot easier to say ‘Yes’ when we want to.
• We care less about looks and more about the quality of a person. We make more effort to find out who they really are, which can progress repartee beyond the superficial.
• We’re less proprietorial with age. We can flirt with lots of people and have many different individual friends, for sharing different activities.
• The appalling self-consciousness of youth has gone. Our priorities have changed, we know the true value of things. We can be measured and gentle and reasonable. So, we can indulge in a little flirting fun without the stakes being too high.

Still feeling bashful? Just remember: there is no such thing as failure. If you attempt a cheeky sally or two and receive no response, do not feel defeated – flirting is not an exact science. If your target responds with a look of aghast incredulity or a slap round the face, you may want to recalibrate your style. But short of those, it might just be that they weren’t in the mood or you’re not their cup of tea and that’s not the end of the world. Nothing ventured etc. Ageing is potentially dangerous. It can lead to closing down rather than opening up. Let’s avoid loneliness and get out and flirt more.

Hello handsome…what are you doing later?

This piece was first published in The Advantages of Age,

5 Tips to Make Self-Employed Work Fun and Effective

  1. Talk to people you meet about your work. No business person ever sold anything without communication, and the best, most memorable way you can connect with others is by talking to them in person. And don’t censor who you talk to. It’s tempting to select only those who you think would be interested in what you do, but let yourself be surprised! Tell anyone and everyone! It’s amazing who will suddenly come up with a lead for you, or be directly interested in purchasing what you do or make.
  1. Think about how the product or service you’re selling reflects you. What does it say about your values, what you believe in? What does it say about your personality or character? If you don’t love it and believe in it, maybe that explains why business isn’t so good. If you do, are you really selling it like something you love, or have you been influenced by your fears to do a weedy sales job, with ‘safe’ branding, and cautious marketing? Get some people you trust, who know you well, to give you some feedback on who you are, and do a frank self-evaluation. See if your identity fits with the image of your product.
  1. Get away from the computer. It’s useful, without a doubt, but it is also a tyranny. It freezes up your body and makes your mind rattle. It affects your sleep, and its multiple distractions lead to lack of focus. Ration the time you spend on it. Get out into the open air or a quiet café and take a notebook for writing work stuff in. Yes, a notebook – remember those? Tactile things with bright covers that you can doodle in and which let creativity flow…
  1. Look after your body. Without a routine, like people who go into a work-place each day, it’s easier to graze on snacks, forget exercise, hit the bottle before cocktail hour and forget what fresh air can do for you. Schedule in breaks to walk or cycle, do stretches or meditation. Get massages, fitness classes, osteopathic check-ups, doctor’s appointments in the diary and give them the same (or greater) status as all the worky stuff. Don’t wait until you feel fuzzy with tiredness and aching all over to stop and pay attention to what your body needs.
  1. Whether it’s having occasional work-chats with a friend in a similar position, working closely with a website designer or other techie, making or refining a product with other people, having training that will improve mastery of your work, sharing your own learning with others, or having a coach*, being in the same room as other people who give you confidence and improve your business can make life much more enjoyable, and open up wider horizons than you can think up alone.

Onwards and upwards, my self-employed friend…..happy-at-work

*Look no further


Love is What You Make It

Here are some of the reasons for failure I have heard from friends who are looking for love but not finding the much-prized ‘committed relationship’:

  • All the good people have been snapped up
  • Modern dating – on apps and the internet – is awful
  • I don’t like people who are needy/too keen/want to rush things
  • I don’t like people who don’t reply to my emails/texts/phone messages immediately
  • Men only want younger women
  • Women only like ‘bad boys’
  • Men are bastards
  • Women are mad
  • Women just want men with loads of money
  • Men just want mothering
  • All the people I date are f***ed-up

I could go on.

These people are not idiots. They are educated people who function effectively in the world. But after years of failing to find the elusive ‘One’ they feel dispirited and jaundiced. Some have had relationships that lasted a few months or a few years but didn’t endure; some have come out of a long marriage only to discover that dating is different from when they were younger; others are still young but in thrall to the dream of a fairytale romance. They have not given up hope, but often succumb to gloominess about their prospects for love, and indulge in prolonged grumbles.

Grumbling has its place in letting off steam, but it’s important to notice when you are stuck in it, repeating the same sort of grievances over and over again. The supposed reasons above are actually just ways of blaming others for your situation. Can it really be true that ‘all the good people have been snapped up’? You are a good person and you are still looking. There are millions of single people in the U.K., billions in the world – are you seriously saying that there isn’t one whom you would find loveable? I expect you will say, in a defeated voice, ‘But how do I find them?’ with the implication that the one suitable person for you is a needle in a haystack. I want to tell you to stop going into the same negative thinking and approach the situation differently.

Take a good hard look at yourself. What are you doing that is sabotaging your bid for love? Here are some common ways of blowing your own chances, and suggestions for new action:

When you go on a date, do you allow your date to be themselves with the minimum of judgement or are you assessing their child-bearing prospects or gauging their income before you are half-way through your first drink? In other words, are you making the stakes too high? This is just a meeting, not a job interview – relax! It may or may not turn into something bigger, but if you just look at it as a chance for a good conversation with a new person, you might discover more about them than if you turn the beam of interrogation onto them and make them feel uncomfortable.

Stop being unrealistic. Are you going to marry a multi-millionaire movie producer if you’re working in social services in Basingstoke? Can you score a woman like Beyoncé if you have a pot-belly and a comb-over? With the constant bombardment of media showing us all this choice, it’s easy to become like a kid in a sweet-shop, yearning for more and better, beyond what is feasible (and what is good for us). The most successful relationships are those between people who have roughly the same level of attractiveness, who come from similar backgrounds, who are happy with the same sort of lifestyle and have similar values (i.e. what they care about in life). Take a good hard look at yourself, or get your friends to give you some feedback. Who are you? How do you come across to others? Know yourself, and look out for someone who fits with you, in looks and personality.

What about your own history? Consider the family you came from. What were the dynamics like? How did your father or mother treat you? What was the atmosphere like in your house as a child? Now look at what has happened when you are in intimate relationships as an adult. If your past was chaotic or difficult, can you see that you might be creating the same problems in your relationships because this is familiar? All of us, to some degree or another, are working with the legacy of our past in the present, and when it comes to relationships, it pays to look at our childhoods and acknowledge what we are replicating now. It’s not just about the bad stuff either – look at what you liked about your childhood family, and see what you want to keep from it in your new ‘family’ (whether that be just the pair of you or more). But most importantly, notice when you are modelling your angry dad or your neglectful mum, or making the other take on those roles. It’s complicated, but you have to own your past, or you’ll keep operating unconsciously and repeating the unhelpful stuff.

Stop expecting the other person to rescue you. Life may be hard, work might be difficult, you may not like where you live – there are endless ways to suffer. But you are the only one who can enable yourself to have a calm, contented feeling deep inside. Of course, having a good relationship might be a part of that, but that relationship will only happen when you have some good stuff to bring to the table such as compassion, a sense of humour, curiosity, warmth. If you are so eaten up with your own misery that you cannot give someone else your loving care and attention, go away and get some coaching or therapy and come back to dating when you’re on an even keel.

Consider the unconventional. The model of the nuclear family as the only set-up in which to live happily has been blown apart in the modern age (pardon the pun). Many relationships work fantastically well when a couple live independently, or within a communal setting, or where one or both partners work away from home for big chunks of time, and meet up when possible. If you are worried about what other people will think if you have an unorthodox arrangement, you’re worrying about the wrong thing. What matters is the happiness of you and your partner, and children if you have them, not the in-laws, not your friends, not the neighbours. If you are afraid of commitment because you fear being stifled or smothered, find someone who feels the same and negotiate together how to have both independence and togetherness. Pretty much anything is possible now – go for what you really need – and be adaptable when the needs of you or your partner change over time.

I hope this is helpful to you if the search for love is feeling herculean. Let me know how it goes. Be bold, be resolute, but mainly, be kind – to yourself and others. There is love out there – just don’t try and force it. And take some responsibility…

Nifty Tips to Improve Your Relationship

For Women:

  1. Stop criticizing him – praise the good stuff instead
  2. Give him more space
  3. Ask him for help with tricky tasks
  4. Don’t bracket him in with ‘all men’
  5. Adore his body

For Men:

  1. Appreciate what she does for you – regularly
  2. Enjoy her intelligence
  3. Respect her work
  4. Do housework
  5. Adore her body

Readers: Let me know if you have other tips for either men or women, and also tips that might apply more specifically to non-heterosexual relationships (not my area of expertise). I want the world to run more happily – and if we start with our own relationships, I think that work on our little microcosms could have a massive impact on the macrocosm of human relationships on a wider scale. No more wars because he cooked the dinner and she said it was delicious. Crazy? I don’t think so….

100 Ways to Make Friends (in real life)

  1. Say ‘Good Morning’ with a big smile
  2. Make them a cup of tea
  3. Ask their advice
  4. Lend them something
  5. Ask them the time/directions/where they bought that nice thing
  6. Share food with them
  7. Ask them about their family
  8. Buy them a drink
  9. Talk about TV you both like
  10. Tell them about something goofy you did
  11. Ask them on what would they spend a lottery win
  12. Gossip together
  13. Comment positively on their décor/car/bicycle/taste in desktop stationery
  14. Ask what they did/will do at the weekend
  15. Choose to sit next to them
  16. Ask if they can recommend a tradesperson/hairdresser/yogic guru
  17. Tell them about a crush you have
  18. Ask for help with a crossword clue
  19. Invite them for coffee
  20. Buy one, get one free, and give them the spare
  21. Show them a funny cartoon
  22. Ask their opinion on world events
  23. Go shopping together
  24. Catch their eye and smile
  25. Encourage their creativity
  26. Compliment their jewellery/hat/shoes/bag
  27. Ask for their support
  28. Tell them about something you love doing
  29. Ask where they’re going on holiday
  30. Do something naughty together
  31. See their point of view
  32. Ask them about their childhood/college years/first job
  33. Discuss favourite writers with them
  34. Ask what groups/clubs/organisations they belong to
  35. Ask to borrow something (and give it back soon)
  36. Let them talk
  37. Tell them about your love life
  38. Invite them to your birthday do
  39. Ask what art/music/film they like
  40. Share stories of injuries
  41. Talk about travel
  42. Talk about food
  43. Create a running in-joke with them
  44. Do karaoke together
  45. Treat them well
  46. Remember stuff they tell you
  47. Tell them they smell nice
  48. Have welcoming body language with them
  49. Talk conspiratorially with them
  50. Use their name
  51. Buy them a cake
  52. Doodle a cartoon of them and gift it to them
  53. Think about their comfort, not yours
  54. Ask if they collect anything
  55. Go swimming together
  56. Ask them to scratch a place you can’t reach
  57. Take their turn at the washing up
  58. Sing a song together
  59. Touch their arm
  60. Let them go first
  61. Help them
  62. Look pleased to see them
  63. Enquire after their health then listen to the answer
  64. Laugh together
  65. Play a silly game together
  66. .…or a clever game
  67. Teach them a useful skill
  68. Share an umbrella
  69. Assume they are a good person
  70. Empathise with them
  71. Find something esoteric you have in common
  72. Tell them a secret
  73. Tell them when they have a cappuccino moustache
  74. Show them your weird birthmark/tattoo/hairy mole
  75. Swap childhood tales
  76. Jog together
  77. Give them a lift
  78. Notice the colour of their eyes
  79. Compliment them on an unusual quality or skill
  80. Be genuine with them
  81. Make them feel useful
  82. Remember their tea, milk and sugar needs
  83. Recommend a good show to them
  84. Compare feet/hands/ears
  85. Let them be nice to you
  86. Bring them back a free or silly gift from your holiday (a shell, seaside rock, a beermat)
  87. Offer them your warm jumper/hat/scarf
  88. Compromise on something together
  89. Write something personal on their birthday card
  90. Thank them
  91. Ask them if they need a hug
  92. Confide in them
  93. Look out of the window together
  94. Ask them to join your team
  95. Work together in companionable silence
  96. Defend them publicly
  97. Be compassionate to them
  98. Gently tease them
  99. Give them the best chair
  100. Go somewhere beautiful together


Further tips on making friends: