Tuesday, 22 October 2013


The cool, calm autumnal tranquility of the Cotswolds is one which is shattered around 12 o'clock that afternoon. 

There's a crash against the front door of a small cottage. A rasping at the window and a grasping at the handle. Someone is desperate to get into the house. Fighting the weight pushing down on his chest, and the sensation that his legs are walking through treacle, a poorly dressed, socially awkward man fumbles his key into the door, and bursts in, gasping for what little air he could drag into his lungs, and collapses on the sofa. His eyes losing focus, and ears struggling to cope with the pounding in his head and his and heart, the man drags himself across the floor, props himself up against a nearby table, and hoists himself up to eye-level with the fridge. Scanning the contents, he spots a chilled beer, and all is well again. Slung over the sofa, the man swigs away and lists off into a Sky Sports-induced slumber.

It is safe to say that the training for the run isn't exactly a shot-for-shot remake of Rocky IV. Each burger purchased is justified with the phrase "But I'm going to do some exercise tonight, so it's okay", and each session of exercise is concluded with "Brilliant! Now I can have a burger and a pint!".

No, if I'm going to succeed in finishing this 11k run for the Royal British Legion, I'm going to have to use my cunning and wit over brawn and stamina. Mind games is what I need. Pure and simple 'Positive Mental Attitude', as my brother (who studied the great art of rugby at Hartpury, no less) would re-iterate if he were here motivating me. 

Though a noticeable problem is, I don't have anyone to motivate me. Hardly anybody seems to believe I can complete the course, and the minute percentage that do believe it'll be in such a slow time, the organisers will call off the search for me, pack up the event and start looking forward to next year.

In desperate need of a gee-up, I seek out our competitive friend, who, it transpires, is a bit of a half-marathon aficionado, and still believes that this whole event is some sort of race, despite my pleading with her that it is not a duel, it is simply a charitable event. 

"You'll be fine- what sort of times are you doing?"
"Yeah, like obviously the distance isn't the issue [excuse me?!], what sort of time do you think you'll do it in?"
"Oh, erm... (desperately trying to work out what a respectable time might look like), I was thinking of aiming for about an hour?"
"Hmm... Yeah a couple of the girls last year managed it in 55 minutes, but I'm sure an hour's a good target for you."

Deciding to ignore her Alex Ferguson-esque toying with my morale, I decide to take a work social as an opportunity to canvass a slightly more objective opinion of my chances. 

Them: "It's not so bad once you get into a rhythm, I was fine up until about 10k then it really started to burn."
"You'll be fine, but I don't think you'll beat our competitive colleague."
"No, he's right, she's really good, I wouldn't aim to beat her"
"No, just run at your own pace, I'm sure you'll do fine"
"Mind you, how far have you run already?"
Me: "I haven't"
Them: "Oh! Oh, okay, you may struggle"
"Yeah, definitely don't try and make it a race"
"Yeah, our competitive colleague (obviously when this conversation was happening, we were all addressing her by her name, else it would have made for very uncomfortable listening for her, as she was right there the whole time, silently eyeing me like a hawk would a little shrivelled, defenseless worm secreting itself with fear) will probably just thrash you"
"Yeah, you're not going to fare well"
"Haha! We should all come watch and cheer our competitive colleague on!" 
"Yeah, but this is a bit easy for her, she's used to doing twice that length!"
"You're right, but don't worry about cheering James on"
"Nah, he'll be alright"
"No he won't!"
"I don't think he'll manage"

I politely excuse myself from the conversation. 

This is utterly dreadful, I tell myself in the mirror. What the hell am I going to do?! I can't run 11km- I can barely run 1km! The last time I fully engaged in any physical activity was refereeing a tag-rugby tournament that definitely wasn't tag-rugby at the end (hence my conversion to whistle-blower). I'm so screwed. 

In order to bail some water from my capsizing vessel of self-esteem, I decide there's nothing else for it: it is time for me to rediscover my hatred for the gymnasium. 

I shuffle in through the door of a new gym which has opened in the same town I work in, Cheltenham. It's a hive of finely-honed specimens, a hub of heavy lifting and a centre of muscular excellence, and, of course, myself. I stand at the door, my "small" Stevenage F.C (you may have to Google them) football shirt hanging off me in the same way a tent canvas hangs of a quivering telegraph pole. But I can afford myself a moment of private smugness: my motivator is waiting for me. A personal trainer who, for 60 gloriously agonising minutes, puts me through my paces and pushes the very limit of what I am capable of. 

Five minutes into the warm up, the ace in my deck says, "Right, as this is your first session, we're just going to do a couple of regimes which will just let me gauge your stamina, and then we can work from there." I wheeze something back to him, but I can't remember what it was, and it was probably unrepeatable anyway. Sweat was dripping into my ears after about 25 minutes, and festering more self-doubt about my ability to put one foot in front of the other for eleven thousand metres, which sounds like a lot when it's written out like that. 

However, upon returning home, having a quick sob in the shower and a blub into my beer and bowl of Coco Pops (which is perfectly legitimate at night, don't stand for convention!), my body suddenly feels like a million dollars! This is what it feels like to be trying at something, to be making an effort, and it feels fantastic. Expectations raised slightly, I quickly search for the 10,000m world record. 26 minutes, 17 seconds, set by a man called Kenenisa Bekele. Wow. Mo Farah, Britain's go-to distance runner, has done it in 27:44. Usually, such numbers would demoralise me back into submission- it took me 40 minutes just to watch Mo Farah win at the Olympics last year. Okay, those two pretty fast, but if I get inside half of that- that's 54 minutes! Plus I'm doing an extra kilometre, so it wouldn't even be that bad! There we go- all I have to do is be twice as rubbish as the fastest man in Britain. I literally have to be half the athlete Mo Farah is!

How hard can that be?

and how hard can it be to donate to this magnificent cause? Not very, all you have to do is click on the link below and then part with some of your very undeserved money. We all know you don't deserve it. These people do. Fix this mess right now and donate as much as you can or a little as you want, it all goes to a great cause. 


Sunday, 6 October 2013


I say the word 'no' far too many times. 

I'm not alone in thinking that, I'm sure. Which is strange, because that very toxic word is the reason I find myself alone now, in the office, with nobody to talk to. 

It's a dreary, autumnal Monday, and as I make my lonesome weekly (alright, daily) mid afternoon stroll to a local, multinational, tax-avoiding (probably) employee-thrashing (possibly?) bile-regurgitating (definitely) fast-food chain, I begin to wonder how I can turn the fortunes of my one-man wolfpack around... Are things really that bad? If there was a statue of me (there never will be), would my colleagues tear it down and throw their shoes at it? Is it only a matter of time before I am thrown into the stocks, made to give back in my Macbook, and continue writing out all my work by hand. How did it get so bad? When I first arrived, my sole ambition was to simply say 'yes' to everyone to come across as a bright, positive young man. It seems that they have found out who I really am underneath all too quickly. 


That's it!

Nobody thought I was a snivelling guttersnipe when I said 'yes' to everyone at the start of my employment. People loved asking me to do work for them! We shared the burdensome load over two sets of shoulders, and walked up the mountain of excellence together! Now, I have abandoned my travellers in pursuit of a separate, easier avenue up the hill, which, it turns out, is a very steep and lonely one. 

Surely if I started saying yes to everyone, things might look up for me?!

It just might work. 

For one week, I will be a 'Yes Man'. To any request, any query, any demand, if I could say 'yes', I would. No backing out, no shying away, and certainly no U-turns. I would say yes to everyone and everything, and go through with it!

I arrive back at the office, healthy wrap in hand ("Oh, and I have a student card as well, so, er, can I have a free cheeseburger?"), and begin my new quest for happiness.

"James, can you do some work for me-oh, have you just got some lunch?"
"Yeah, but it's okay, I'll do it!"
"Yeah, when do you want it done by?"
"Erm, later today?"
"Yep! No Problem"
"Oh, brilliant! Thanks!"

This is incredible. The ticker turns round to 'One'. I have said yes to the one person who asked something of me, and I have delivered magnificently. What a sensation! What elation! This is what saying yes feels like! Positive! I should do this more often. 

"James, I've got a little task for you."
"Yep, I'll have it ready by tomorrow afternoon."
"Amazing, thanks"
(This is an abbreviated conversation I had; the job was mind-bendingly tedious, but irrelevant to the story)

Two 'yeses' in my first afternoon, this is incredible! I may buy a little bell so I can ping it whenever a yes comes along. I'd never stop!

My journey home is a little longer than usual, as I let everybody looking to pull out go ahead of me, and am faced at my front door with the missus looking rather like a puppy does next to a broken vase. As it transpires, she had accidentally place a bid on two armchairs on my eBay account, not hers, and really it was my fault for not logging out. 

"But can we still get them?" 
I give a wry smile. And press 'buy it now'. We now have two new armchairs. 

Before you think that was either 1. Crazy or 2. A lie, the armchairs in question were only 99p combined. All we had to do was pick them up, and it turns out they were only 20 miles away. So, off we went, and hey presto, we have comfort in our living room at an affordable price. What an excellent yes!

The next day in Waitrose, I was in the queue to check out behind a woman who had decided that Tuesday morning was an excellent time to do her weekly shopping, leading me to silently bemoan my decision to come in just for a pack of gum. As she turns around, she sees my sole potential purchase, and gestures to me, "do you want to go in front of me?". "Yes!" I beam, and thank her hugely for her kindness. Another brilliant opportunity!

The rest of my walk to work wasn't so much a trudge-like commute, more like Charlie Bucket skipping home gayly and fancy-free, holding a golden ticket to eternal happiness. I can kiss my miserable old life of solitude goodbye- this is what the new James Brittain is all about, and all it took was a simple yes! 

This 'yes' nonsense was easy, I thought to myself as I reached my desk and set myself up for a 8 hours of sheer positivity. Eventually, I may get to a point in my life where I simply cannot say no to anybody. I'll be perpetually positive, always affirmative and agreeable, constantly carried away to wherever my next 'yes' may take me! A carefree life of simply saying 'yes' to everyone, and never worrying about saying no to anyone. 

Then, it all changes. 

A fierce test of my resolve springs up in my inbox. 

From <cheerful.colleague@notmail.com>
To <me@notmail.com><everyone.else.in.the.office@notmail.com>

Hi all,

On Saturday 9 November at 11am the Legion are once again holding the Run2Remember at Lydiard Park near Royal Wootton Bassett.

This year there is the option of an 11k, 5k or 1.1k distance and you can run, walk or march.

It costs £10 each to register and then you can hassle all your friends and family for sponsorship!

Go on... you know you want to!

I tried to run once. It was 10km, and I was so lazy in my approach to the whole event, I took back my entrance one week after I had signed up. To say I am feckless and lazy is just the tip of the iceberg of what I have underachieved in life. If there is a gladiatorial battle to be had against the very boundaries of mankind's capabilities, you can be damn sure that I am on the side watching it, waiting until injury time and a 12-point margin to pick a winner. 

I can run. But I will not run. 

But I have to run. 

I have to say yes, don't I? Wait- is there even a question in that email? I can't see a question mark there, can you? The e-mail was definitely void of a question mark. Maybe it's an imperative? Maybe we have to do it? But that's a violation of our rights as lazy employees!

I really should say yes. Ignoring the email is just as bad as saying no. 

One reply. 

From: <somebody.braver.than.me@notmail.com>
To: <everyone.in.the.bloody.office@notmail.com>

Stick me down for 11k.


That is definitely somebody replying in the affirmative. Someone has said yes, and I have not. Yet. Wait. No. I can't. I shouldn't. I'd only embarrass myself. Besides, it's for charity. Should I enter purely because I cannot say no? I'll surely be unveiled as a sickening fake, and it's for the Royal British Legion, one of the oldest and most noble charities in the entire country, surely I'll be kicked out?

I can't. It's too much.

From: <competitive@notmail.com>

Oooo inter-office race! I'll do 11k too. 

WHAT?! Nobody mentioned anything about a race! What has this escalated into?! 11km is a lot! It's nearly 7 miles, which, if you were describing as a distance to a different place, you would say "about 10 miles". It's a race of "about 10 miles". I can't run that!

But I have to! These were the rules I created to better myself. I must abide by them. 
I take a sharp breath... and turn to the person next to me. 

"You did this last year, right?"
"Was it good?"
"Yeah, was brilliant. Great day out, great cause. Yeah, it was good"
"Are you doing it this year?"
"Oh no! Couldn't do it again!- But it's really good."

It is a great cause. It's a fantastic cause. I'm a big fan of the Royal British Legion. It's institutional. The Poppy Appeal is one of the few comforting annual certainties we have in this country to remind ourselves of our glorious moment in the sun.  

It is a great cause.

Alright, fine. Fine. I'll do it! I'll run the 11k

Exasperatedly, I sign up. Another yes on the ticker. Whoopee for me.  

But I am certainly not in it to race. It's not about kudos at work, or the false feeling of victory I'd get if I were to finish first out of my colleagues (and, after judging the 'competition', I can tell you I definitely won't). It is for a great, British charity. The best of the British charities.

I'll do it! Willingly, and enthusiastically! 

Message: (It's our competitive friend) Hey, How fast can you run?
Me: (being unable to refute my prowess) Like the wind, my competitive friend. Like the wind.
Message: Argh! Looks like I'll have to train then!

As must I.

I arrive home later that day, chuck the 2 copies of the Big Issue and 4 leaflets about rubbish local events I couldn't say no to on the sofa, dash upstairs, and delve into the deepest, darkest part of my wardrobe. (I say my wardrobe- it actually contains everything the missus has ever bought since about 2006, and a suit I wore to a family wedding last year). There they are! My trainers from a lost time. Another age, where a more athletic, handsome me used to grace dusty trail. 

Outside my front door, a few minutes later, I'm staring out at the road my house looks onto. Head to toe in ill-fitting, high-visibility running gear (a white England football shirt is highly visible, right?), ignoring the rain that's beginning to descend as fast as the sun is behind the houses, and I look up at the ribbon of grey in front of me. 

Let's go!

To be continued...

You can donate to the Royal British Legion by visiting my JustGiving page, and don't forget to buy and wear your poppy with pride!