One way to avoid depression: no negativity!

What is negativity?

Negativity is a state of mind, which includes pessimism and blame, low expectations, beating yourself up and passing the buck. You can easily fall into it, but people find they can’t climb out of it so easily.

What has negativity got to do with depression?

As I have said before, you can talk yourself into being depressed, if you see only the worst in situations, in other people and in yourself. It generates anxiety and stress, making you feel worse. You can suffer at least some of the pain for something that hasn’t happened yet and might not, because you convince yourself it will. Perhaps you fail to see the upside of failures, mistakes and setbacks, and, rather than learning from them, you wallow in them.

Where does negativity come from?

There are three main sources:

  1. your personality
  2. your experiences
  3. and your environment
Happy and sad masks. Is happiness a mask or is negativity?
Happy and sad masks. Is happiness a mask or is negativity?
What can you do about negativity?
  1. You might think your personality is fixed, but you can change if you want  to, if you are aware. Decide to reject negativity and look for the upside. Forgive others, forgive yourself, learn your lessons, move on.
  2. Re-evaluate bad experiences and learn from them. Don’t accept that the past controls the future, but think how you could act or react differently next time.
  3. Try to avoid negative people. That’s not always easy, if you’ve got a lot of negative colleagues, relatives or friends, but try to mix with a few more positive types when you can. Also, try to take negative comments with a pinch of salt, whether they are about you, about others or about life.
  4. I have become more positive since I left work in a corporate environment, where most of us didn’t make important decisions. Since then, I have got involved with self-employed people, who accept responsibility for whatever happens and see opportunities rather than problems everywhere.
  5. When you feel yourself getting depressed, make an effort to think more positively. General Bill Slim led the British Army in Burma in World War II. He always said things weren’t as bad as they looked, although they looked pretty bad, most of the time. Slim kept up his own spirits and those of others. Looking back, we can see that he was right. Things were not quite as bad as they looked. They seldom are.

How, when and where did I find faith?

I often write about faith.

Faith is the subject of a number of my blogs and is one element in my book, How to Cope with the Church, but I don’t say much about my own journey. That is because I think the important thing isn’t myself, but the things I believe. Anyway, your journey will be different from mine, because you aren’t me. God knows that. However, I am not hiding it, and if you want to know, here it is.

I found faith in Bristol.

I was a student at Bristol University. In my first year, I was surprised to find that many students went to church, voluntarily, even getting up early on Sundays and/or having an early tea to get to evening services. Right from the start, some tried to invite me to things, including Bible studies and chaplaincy groups. I ignored them, or thought I did.

There was a mission to encourage faith, and a conspiracy.

It lasted a week, but there was a lot of publicity beforehand, leading to a good deal of discussion all over the university for a long time. You could hardly ignore it. I kept finding people who I didn’t know were Christians talking about their faith. I felt I was the subject of a conspiracy. The strange thing was that a lot of these conspirators didn’t know each other, and most of them couldn’t conspire to catch a bus. There must have been some superior intelligence behind it.

Did I find faith at the mission?

Yes and no. Mainly yes. The No is because I didn’t make a decision then and there. However, during that week, I had lots of conversations and gradually wrote off several other options. It was like painting yourself into a corner. For me, the big question became, ‘Is Jesus the Son of God or what?’

The ‘what’ comprised:

  • He never existed
  • Deluded
  • Phoney

I steadily  demolished all the arguments around each of these three options. This left me with an awkward choice: to ignore it all or to act on it.

My faith waited while I sat on the fence.

After the mission, I sat on the fence for a few weeks. I was aware that it could all be illusions, and I could waste my life believing in something that wasn’t true. How could I be sure? At this point, one of the conspirators, one of the quietest of them, learnt how I was feeling and handed me a magazine that had reprinted two letters from several years before. They hit the nail on the head.

From fence to faith.

One was from a student who expressed the same misgivings I was having. The other was from C.S.Lewis, whose main point was that you couldn’t prove God without taking a chance, just as you can’t swim without getting into the water to see how you float. He also said that to turn away was to risk the equal and opposite fate of living as if God didn’t exist, when he actually did. You have to take a chance. There was a third letter, from the student, to say he had jumped into the dark and landed in the light. So did I.

Was that the end of my journey of faith?

No. It was the beginning. Or so I often thought. Now I see other steps on that journey, starting long before. There were many more ahead.

How to cope with Church by [Murray, John]



Is Christmas an unhappy time for you?

This should not be a time to be unhappy but it can be.

There are many reasons to be unhappy at Christmas.

  • It can bring back bad memories.
  • Even good memories can make you sad if you think those days won’t return.
  • Perhaps the pressure gets to you.
  • You might find relatives hard to get on with.
  • Some people don’t cope well with any break in the usual routine, even if they want a rest from work or whatever.
Are you unhappy because you try too hard?

I went through a time when I thought I ought to enjoy Christmas more than I did. This was partly because I was not a natural party animal but thought I ought to be. You might be surprised to learn that I often got less benefit from Christmas services in church than from a normal Sunday. The long build-up and excessive hype around all aspects of Christmas tend to make it almost impossible for the reality to match the expectation.

The trouble was that I was setting my own expectations too high and trying to be someone I wasn’t.

Happy and unhappy masks. Are you being yourself at Christmas?
Happy and unhappy masks. Are you being yourself at Christmas?
Why am I not unhappy at Christmas nowadays?

I recognised the problem and began to laugh at myself. Now I just accept everything for what it is and decide to enjoy whatever events, religious or social, I go to, and to equally enjoy my time at at home. This lets me reject the pressure. Above all, I don’t beat myself up for not being as happy as I should be. I also try to remind myself of why I should be happy: Jesus’s birth.

So don’t be unhappy.

You might like to remind yourself of things I have written about happiness and to watch out for more on the subject in the New Year.




An invitation to some Christmas events in Penketh

Is this invitation too early or too late?

When do you think an invitation to Christmas events should go out? Early enough for people to include it in their plans, but not so early they will have forgotten it by the time of the event? Some people don’t like the way Christmas seems to start earlier every year. After all, the traditional twelve days of Christmas begin on 25th December and end at Epiphany, 6th January. Others like to enjoy the build-up and want it over in time for the January sales. (They’re getting earlier too, I notice).

What does this invitation cover?

Here’s a list of all the Christmas events at St Paul’s Church, Penketh, Warrington, most of which I’ll be attending. I don’t suppose many people will come to all of them, but you are warmly and sincerely invited, whether you live in Penketh or wherever and whether or not you usually include Church things in your Christmas schedule.

Sunday 16th December,  Carol Service, 7.00 p.m.

Sunday 23rd December, Holy Communion,  9.00 a.m.

Monday 24th December, Christmas Eve, Crib Service, 6.00 p.m.

Christmas Day, Family Service, 10.30 a.m.

Where?  The Oaks Centre, Stocks Lane, Penketh, Warrington, WA5 2QS

This is a personal invitation from me.

If you are coming to any of these events, let me know and I’ll meet and greet you. Of course, you can just turn up – no tickets required. If you can’t get there or can’t find it, ask me and I’ll sort it out. Contact me on the Comments Section of this blog, the Contact Form on my website, by e-mail or phone 01925 445215 or 07726 490639.

For more about St Paul’s Penketh, follow this link.


Depression? Join me as I’m revisiting my series on happiness.

This is the time of year for depression.

If you’re prone to depression, now’s the time you’ll feel it. Apart from the weather, the dark days and long nights can get you down.  Summer’s long gone and it feels like Spring’s far off. I’m not usually miserable, but this is the time when I find it hardest to keep cheerful.

Happy and sad masks. Is one hiding depression?
Happy and sad masks. Is one hiding depression?

Did my series on happiness help fight depression?

Try re-reading some of my posts about happiness, preferably before you get too depressed. But I’ve been thinking about it too, and I’m going to write another series, because I know I left a lot of useful stuff out, and I’ve come across a few tips I hadn’t thought of before. If you’ve any comments, they’ll be welcome. Let’s help each other.

Why does depression affect young people so much?

Research shows teenagers and twentysomethings suffer from depressive illnesses, even to the point of suicide more than the rest of us. It seems odd, when they should have more to look forward to. I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but here’s a thought. When I’m feeling low, I remember that I’ve been through this before and came out the other side. That itself is a help. Perhaps you just need to hang in there? Winston Churchill said, and I think he was quoting someone, “when you’re going through hell: keep going!” 

Good advice. And keep reading this blog! 



How I experienced the Centenary of the Armistice

What did I do on 11 November 2018?

Here is an item I wrote about a Remembrance Day event I went to. I have submitted this to the Warrington Guardian, but I am putting it on my blog as not everyone reads that paper.

Penketh and Great Sankey Remember

On Sunday the 11th November at 11 a.m. hundreds of men women and children of all ages stood in silence in St Mary’s cemetery to remember and to mark the centenary of the Armistice which ended the First World War. Some had come direct to the cemetery, but others had gathered first in Honiton Square, Penketh and had formed a procession led by a marching band. After the silence,there was a service led by West Warrington Team Rector, Jeremy Tear, assisted by Team Vicar, Sarah Peppiatt. There were prayers for peace and reconciliation as well as for the victims of conflicts past and present. There were also readings from the Bible, from the (national) Guardian of 12 November 1918 and from the poet William J Bailey.

The names of the forty men of Penketh and Great Sankey who died in the First World War, the thirty-three in the Second World War and two in recent conflicts were read out, and wreaths were laid by representatives of numerous organisations,including the Scouts, Emergency Services and local schools.

One of those attending, John Murray, said, “Seeing the number of organisations taking part, and the number of ordinary people of all kinds, made me think how war affects the whole community, not just soldiers. The lists of names brought home to me the impact war has had right here in a way the big national events can’t.”

Jeremy Tear, the Team Rector, said, “It was fitting and appropriate that on this significant anniversary we gathered to pay tribute to those who had died in the First World War and in other conflicts. It was also important to remember in the words of our bible reading that, ‘neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’. I would like to thank the Royal British Legion who made the service possible and all those who attended”.

Here’s why Danny Dyer’s royal ancestry is no surprise to me

Why is Danny’s ancestry in the news?

The BBC have chosen Danny Dyer of Eastenders to present a history programme for children. He has looked up his ancestry and found several famous people, including William the Conqueror. I assume something connects these two facts.

Why would I be surprised at his royal ancestry?

This is certainly not in any way a comment on Danny. What surprises me is that he has managed to trace his ancestry as far back as he has. Most people hit the buffers after a few generations. How diligently did your ancestors keep and hand on relevant records?

A cartoon man looks at a computer screen with a magnifying glass. Looking up his ancestry?
A cartoon man looks at a computer screen with a magnifying glass. Looking up his ancestry?
Why am I not surprised at his royal ancestry?

I wrote an article some time ago which shows how closely most of us are related. All of us in Britain, excluding recent immigrants, go back to the island’s original few inhabitants. Well, not original. Originally nobody lived here. Just when a few people had settled here, they all left because a lot of ice arrived. All our ancestors came here after the Ice Age. However, the population shrank a lot in the fourteenth century due to bad winters and the plague. The survivors became our ancestors. Since the population is much bigger now than it was then, the same people must occur on most of our family trees many times over, whether or not we know who they are.

Are you proud of your ancestry?

As we all have two parents, we must all have four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. The number must double each generation and, however far back you go, famous people, nobility and even royalty will all have the same number of ancestors as common people, and many of those ancestors will be the same.  Of course, if you could get the full picture, you would almost certainly find a fair number of rogues, vagabonds, ne’er-do-wells and lunatics as well as the great and the good, on your family tree.

This means that nobody has any right to be too proud of their illustrious ancestors or too ashamed of their notorious ones. We’re all in this together, Danny.


What’s wrong with the cover of my book, ‘Accounting for Murder’?

Don’t judge a book by its cover

That old saying is good advice, but I believe most people ignore it. In the same way, we too often judge people by their appearance, accent or other superficial features. They say the cover and the title are the most important elements influencing book sales.

What about the one for Accounting for Murder, Double Entry? 

The cover of Accounting for Murder: Double Entry
The cover of Accounting for Murder: Double Entry


For more about the book go to my books page or  the Amazon website

Why did I choose this one?
  • The title is clear
  • So is the subtitle
  • So is my name
  • It suggests accounting
  • It is reasonably modern (no bound ledgers)
  • The tone is bright/light like the tone of the book
What’s wrong with this cover?

Some people think it suggests an accountancy textbook, perhaps How to produce crime statistics for the Police or the Home Office, because it does not tell you it is a novel. If many people think that way, it will be bad news for me, in losing sales, and bad news for them in missing an enjoyable read.

What do you think?

I would welcome your views and any suggestions for an improvement.

How about this?

A detective with a magnifying glass. Should he be on the next cover?
A detective with a magnifying glass. Should he be on the next cover?

How true to life should fiction be?

Fiction on TV and in print usually reflects real life.

If you exclude some kinds of fantasy, you will probably find that most fiction writers try to make their stories depict life as it really is. However, we do allow some ‘poetic licence’to make a story more readable or watchable. Some people say that drama on TV is closer to real life than any ‘reality TV’ as the latter is so contrived.

What aspect of modern fiction is not real?

Most people have loved a lot of the recent dramas on BBC and some on ITV, especially Bodyguard. One of the few negative criticisms has been that Bodyguard and several others show women in important roles, such as home secretary and senior figures in the police. The critics point out that in real life there is still a lot of discrimination against women and that the successful ones are the exceptions. Most modern novels also show women in powerful roles, not just as victims or heroines to be rescued. I hope you like the way I dealt with my female characters in Accounting for Murder. What about ethnic minorities? Do provide feedback.

Accounting for Murder. Is this fiction realistic enough?
Accounting for Murder. Is this fiction realistic enough?
Why object to this kind of thing in fiction?

You might think that the complaint came from misogynistic males, who wanted to see women in their ‘proper place’, but you’d be wrong. The critics are mainly women who think it’s wrong to give young people the impression that the glass ceiling has gone away. You could think it’s now easy for women to rise to the top. This will lead to false expectations and thus severe disappointment. They want more dramas about women struggling to overcome prejudice. (It’s never easy for anyone to get to the top of anything).

This reminds me of the way black people have been depicted in fiction.

I remember the days when black actors complained that they were offered only roles which required a black person. These were usually in dramas about racialism. Of course, there have been some important books and films about the issue. However, black people complained that it gave the impression that they were always part of a problem. They were not just ‘people’. Lenny Henry once complimented Eastenders for allowing black characters to be involved in plots that had nothing to do with race. Others have expressed approval of the modern trend to show black characters in all kinds of roles. Some have played successful business people, politicians, professionals and police officers. That’s not fiction: they do exist, even if they are still the exceptions.

Can’t fiction help us see society at its best?

Showing women, black people or others in important roles can surely help encourage young people to be ambitious. They need not be defined by their sex or colour. It can also help everyone to accept social change. Nobody should think it odd to see a person in authority who is not a middle-aged, middle-class, white male.  It might also be good to remind some women and black people that not everyone else is a misogynist or a racist.

Society is changing. Let us writers play our part in hastening the change.



Would I have made a good detective in reality?

I learnt a bit about reality recently

As I mentioned recently, I encountered the reality of detective work, when I was talking to a former detective, who now writes crime fiction. I noted that his knowledge of police procedures and culture was an advantage. He recognised that my background in risk management was also relevant to my writing. I have spent a lot of my career investigating insurance claims, auditing accounts and looking for the real causes of accidents or losses. That is similar to my fictional hero Frank Hill in Accounting for Murder, Double Entry.


Accounting for Murder

What part of reality am I missing?

However, we agreed that I would not have made a good detective in reality. To be a detective in the police, you have to begin as a police officer in uniform, carrying out all sorts of duties. You would have to break up fights, drag bodies out of canals, search premises, search woodlands and chase cars. You would have to advise members of the public on all sorts of matters. It helps if you have limitless patience for tiresome people and the ability to defuse potentially explosive situations. Doc Martin would not hack it, and neither would I.

Is that the reality for detectives too?

If you could survive an initial period as a copper on the beat, would you then enjoy being a detective? Unfortunately, detectives also find themselves having to do a lot of the things I mentioned. Sometimes they are helping their uniformed colleagues, but, even in the course of actual detective work, life can get messy.

A detective with a magnifying glass. Is this reality or fiction?
A detective with a magnifying glass: fiction or reality?
How about a reality check?

If you think you are good at solving real or fictional crimes, and enjoy puzzles, don’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion you’d make a good detective in reality. Think about all the other aspects of the occupation. I’ll stick to reading and writing about it.

Don’t give up the day job!