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 <>
To <><>

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: <>
To: <>

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: <>

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!

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