What do we say to depression and anxiety? NOT TODAY

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but this year I decided to adopt a quote from Game Of Thrones as my motto for 2020. Of course, I’d pretty much forgotten about it within a couple of weeks, so decided to get myself a t-shirt with it printed in large letters on the front. It reads, quite simply, ‘NOT TODAY’.

Here’s a picture of Norman the sloth modelling my t-shirt (he does it better than me).

In Game Of Thrones, this phrase is associated with one of my favourite characters, Arya Stark, who first hears it from her sword-fighting teacher.
The full quote is:

“There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘Not today.'”

Arya is reminded of this at a crucial point in the final series.
So why would I want to adopt this as a motto? Well, I’ve changed the meaning so that it’s more personal.
Instead of saying ‘Not today’ to Death, I plan to say it to my twin enemies, depression and anxiety, whenever they dare to rear their ugly heads.

After a rocky time in 2019 and another trip on the recovery rollercoaster, my mental health has got off to a decent start in 2020. I seem to have reached the right dose of my new antidepressants after switching medication last year, and currently feel better able to copy with what life throws at me.

I know it’s not really as easy as saying ‘Not today’ to a long-term condition that lives inside my own head, but I like it as a symbolic gesture anyway. And perhaps the more I wear the new t-shirt, the more that phrase will stick in my mind for any battles that lie ahead

If you like a good t-shirt, you might also like my Dippydoodles collection on Redbubble.

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Mental health – where’s the compassion and where’s the treatment?

I haven’t written about mental health for a while. I haven’t wanted to. But it’s no good me urging other people to talk about it if I can’t do it myself – especially when we’re up against too many people who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about but are happy to spout damaging rubbish about mental health in loud voices.

In the last week, I’ve seen a certain hate-for-hire far-right foghorn belittling somebody’s mental illness on Twitter, with their pack of bully-worshipping followers joining in.

I’ve seen a prominent and powerful politician writing that the cure for depression is to do some hard work.

I’ve seen a particular TV presenter opining that we all just need more resilience.

For all the great strides forward we have made on mental health awareness in the last few years, this kind of ignorance – often wilful, sometimes maybe not – persists.

Those of us who know what it’s really like to live with mental health problems can easily become drowned out by the loud but convincing bellowing of shouty oafs who have neither the experience nor the empathy to credibly represent the reality of what we face or what we need.

Alongside that, when we take the step of seeking help for our conditions, where is the practical support? If we need therapy now, what do we suppose the impact might be of having to wait nine to twelve months for it? Even for children?

Would we wait a year to get our cars fixed?

Would we wait a year to get a broken window fixed?

Would we wait a year to get a broken leg fixed?

No, of course not. But when our brains go wrong, is it OK to expect us to hold tight and wait a year?

No, it isn’t. It’s unacceptable. It’s wrong. And it’s not our choice to wait, unless we have the means to pay for private treatment.

My brain right now

My brain is quite a good one on the whole, I like to think. But it often goes rogue and malfunctions. I need to do various things to calm it down and rein it in.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been back on Citalopram for a bit of balance, but my old sidekick isn’t proving as successful as it used to be. It was never enough on its own, but it used to work as part of my set of coping strategies. Recently it doesn’t seem to have provided an adequate stabiliser for my runaway mind.

And it makes me put on weight. I gain at least a stone when I’m on Citalopram, and no matter how much exercise I cram into my week, I still weigh the same and my tummy still sticks out more than I want it to. It gets me down, I feel worse, it affects my confidence and that contributes to my depression. While weight gain isn’t recognised as a direct effect of Citalopram, the drug is known to increase our appetite.

So I am switching from Citalopram to a different antidepressant – Amitriptyline. A new sidekick.

Now you can’t go swapping pills just like that. No, these medicines are powerful, and I know from experience that you have to come off them gradually and carefully. If you don’t, it’s like being injected with a concentrated dose of depression and you want to smash everything. At least, that’s how it was for me last time.

I am currently near the end of week three of a plan worked out with my GP, during which I am slowly moving from 30mg of Citalopram over onto Amitriptyline. Week one involved alternating between 20mg and 30mg. Week two was 20mg a day. This week is 20mg one day and 10mg the next.

Today is a 10mg day. I can feel the difference. I am sharper and more alert, which is good, but I also feel anger and irritation more intensely.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this – because I’m more keenly aware that people who need some support with their mental health are being hung out to dry.

Statistically, we all know someone who is having a hard time with a mental health problem. It’s an everyday thing.

Let’s just be decent and respectful about mental health.

Let’s all look after each other and show each other – and ourselves – some compassion instead of judgement.

And if we won’t show kindness to other people simply because that’s the right thing to do, let’s remember this could happen to any of us. Me. You. Anybody.

Because if you were struggling and felt you couldn’t cope, I’m sure you’d welcome a little help and hope.

Wildlife, well-being and ‘wow’ moments in the West Highlands of Scotland

It’s 10.25pm. It’s dusk and the light is fading. Four hopeful faces gaze out of the cottage window for the seventh night in a row – the last night of their holiday, with the rain pouring down as it has with barely a pause for two days. And suddenly, wonderfully, there it is. An elusive pine marten emerges from the forest, trots along the wall, turns briefly in our direction, then ambles along the rest of the wall and disappears from view. One of countless ‘wow’ moments of a week of wild marvels in the West Highlands, but probably the biggest wow of them all.

I’ve often written on this blog about how enjoying wildlife can benefit our well-being, but after a week in the Highlands I think I would add that marvelling at wild and spectacular places is good for us too.

In this post, here are some photographic highlights of our week among the mountains and lochs of this breathtakingly beautiful part of the world.



While stopping off to admire the view at Loch Sunart, near Strontian, this butterfly seemed quite willing to pose for photos. I recognised it as a kind of fritillary, purely from seeing them in books. This one turned out to be – we think – a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Loch Linnhe cruise Fort William (39).JPG

On the Black Rock on Loch Linnhe, near Fort William, Atlantic Grey Seals mingle with Common Seals. Here’s a photo of a grey (left) and common together. Their facial expressions suggest they’re doing a classic ‘staring into the middle-distance’ modelling pose.

Ballachulish 26 May  (19).JPG

As we finished a short stroll by Loch Leven in Ballachulish one damp evening, Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins whooshed around us, feasting on the many midges that had come out, quite probably hoping to feast on us! In this photo, my son Daniel is trying to snap a photo of the birds as they whiz past.

Morar and Camusdarrach 29 May (30).JPG

“There’s a Red Deer!” came the call from the top of a high sand dune at the back of Camusdarach Beach. I quickly realised that sprinting up a tower of soft sand is beyond my physical capabilities at the moment, but I made it up eventually, with much puffing and panting, and joined a small group of fellow beach-visitors to watch the deer feeding alongside a footpath on the other side of the dune.

Red squirrels Inchree 31 May (1).JPG

At Inchree, Red Squirrels are not hard to see, but taking a photo of one in a shady patch of forest in a torrential downpour is something else altogether. This is the best I could manage.

The birdlife is brilliant in the West Highlands. I didn’t manage to find a White-tailed Eagle while we were there, but we did well for Golden Eagles, which were a joy to see. Other birding highlights including a pair of Black Guillemots flying by as we waiting to board a cruise on Loch Linnhe, a Raven in Glen Nevis, a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers on our travels, Common Gulls in their summer plumage (a rare sight back home – the one pictured above had some strange facial markings) and Hooded Crows, the Highland equivalent of Carrion Crows. We also enjoyed watching a Rock Pipit feeding by the pier in Fort William – see below.

Loch Linnhe cruise Fort William (1).JPG

Loch Lomond 1 June (4)

Oystercatcher in a meadow by Loch Lomond on our way home

Lochs, mountains, waterfalls and beaches

Wherever you look in the West Highlands, the scenery is jaw-dropping. We stayed in Ballachulish, near Glencoe, just to the south of Fort William. The whole area is stunning. Here are just some of the scenic highlights.

Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis

These were our views from halfway up Aonach Mor, Scotland’s eighth-highest mountain, where we took the cable car. In the first photo, you can see the snowy north face of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, peeking out on the right. You can also see how changeable the weather was…


I took this assortment of pictures in and around Ballachulish, mainly on the shores of Loch Leven, a sea loch that joins Loch Linnhe on the other side of the bridge. You can also see some of the mountains of Glencoe, along with the forest on the Brecklet path, and the River Laroch, which flows through the village and down to Loch Leven.

Castle Tioram

Castle Tioram is a ruined castle on a tidal island in Loch Moidart, and at the mouth of the River Shiel. It’s one of those absurdly beautiful places that demands photos from every angle.

The Silver Sands of Morar and Camusdarach Beach

See these beaches? Yep, they’re in Scotland. Gorgeous, eh? It does help when the sun comes out.

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge

This was the first of  two walks that felt like an adventure. Beginning at the end of a long road, with a warning of possible death due to steep drops, a footpath takes you through woodland, alongside a dramatic gorge, along the river side and into a meadow, with Steall Falls ahead of you. It was here that we enjoyed our best views of Golden Eagles, as two circled the peaks, and where we encountered a lone Raven.

The Lost Valley, Glencoe

Between the Three Sisters of Glencoe, you can climb up a steep valley, to discover what’s known as the Lost Valley – hidden from the rest of Glencoe by a fall of huge rocks. The history and geography of this glen are fascinating. You can find out more about them from people with a lot more expertise than me. What I can tell you is that it’s a pretty dramatic walk, which involves clambering over boulders, encountering waterfall after waterfall – especially in the sort of inclement weather we went out in. Slippery rocks and steep drops introduce an element of peril that tested my nerves but gave us probably our most memorable family outing of the week.

Loch Linnhe

From Fort William, we enjoyed a cruise on Loch Linnhe, one of the largest sea lochs on Scotland’s west coast. The weather was good for our trip, and we had great views of Ben Nevis from out on the water.

I’ve really enjoyed putting together this blog post, because it’s helped me to re-live a week of epic wowing. Once you’ve seen a place this mesmerising, you can’t help but dream of going back.

On a cold and frosty morning

I’m using some days off from work to recharge my brain by day and perform in a panto by night.

I’ve been taking this week off for years now, and have learned how best to spend my time. The week typically involves:

  • Preparing myself for panto
  • Catching up on some telly that nobody else would be interested in watching (today I watched a programme about my favourite band, The Kinks – their song Dead End Street is the inspiration for this blog title)
  • Doing my Christmas shopping
  • Having lunch out with my wife
  • Doing some drawing and maybe writing
  • Getting out to enjoy nature

Yesterday was about the last two things on my list. Askham Bog, my local nature reserve, has become my favourite place to go at this time of year. In frost and morning sunlight, it is truly beautiful, and walking round it on my own, watching and listening and breathing the cold, fresh air feels restorative. It’s an undemanding place to go – no long drive, no need to lug my telescope around, no pressure to search for an elusive rarity. Just a wild place to explore and appreciate.

The benefit of my outing could be perfectly summarised by a five-minute spell shortly after my walk had begun.

With a few walkers arriving at the same time as me, I stepped off the main path to allow them to pass and to scan the trees for birds.

A little brown Wren popped up on the bank of a ditch, its perky tail pointing to the sky as it hopped from an exposed tree root into the cover of a bush.

Next my attention was caught by the black, white and pink of a Long-tailed Tit, one of several in a classic winter flock, which under further inspection included Great Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinches.

And something a little different – an unexpected Chiffchaff, skulking about in the copse. While I was trying to get a better look at it, a burst of colour flashed before my eyes – the bright red, black and white plumage of a bold Great Spotted Woodpecker. I had some rare quiet time in the afternoon to do this drawing of it.

Another unmistakable bird joined the gang – a Treecreeper, only yards from the woodpecker, carried out its classic ritual of spiralling up one tree before zipping over to another and doing it all again.

With the frosty and ice melting rapidly, and large blobs of water plopping down from the treetops, I savoured the chance to leave the main boardwalk and explore the paths to the edges of the reserve, pausing to take photos with my phone and be mindful of everything around me.

The light shining on the water and frost meant that there were photo opportunities at every turn.

Today it’s been non-stop heavy rain, so I’ve had a sleep, watched my Kinks programme and written this, in the knowledge that I’ve managed my time pretty well this week and am finally able to spend time on self-care after a frantic couple of months.

Stress – when is it a problem and what can we do about it?

We all get stressed out sometimes, or even a lot of the time. Stress, by itself, is not a problem – it’s the same inbuilt human reaction that made our ancient ancestors run away from things that wanted to eat them, or to fight when they had to.

Life is full of stuff that stresses us out: work, family life, money… But how do we know when stress is reaching a point that could make us ill? Here are some tell-tale signs that stress could be leading to depression or anxiety:

  • You’re not sleeping, and/or you always feel tired.
  • You’re constantly lurching from one thing to the next.
  • You’re always tense, worried or anxious.
  • You’re getting headaches every day.
  • You’ve stopped looking after yourself, and you’re not allowing any time to relax or recover.
  • You’re run down and getting a string of illnesses.
  • You feel overwhelmed.
  • You can’t switch off or wind down.
  • You’re not looking forward to anything any more.
  • You feel irritable.
  • You snap at people or get more emotional than usual.
  • You feel vague, forgetful or indecisive.

If you’ve been experiencing stress for a prolonged period, there’s more danger of it leading to a mental health problem. That’s what happened to me towards the end of 2009 – I’d never experienced depression until then, but it has since proved a persistent thorn in my side. I’ve experienced all of the above symptoms. I still experience some of them, but now I recognise them and have some ways of managing them. I’m better at some things than others, and keep learning new ways of coping and looking after myself.

We need to stop stress before it stops us.

What helps?

There are three important things I need to remember, and maybe these will help you too:

  1. You’re not alone. Mental health problems are very common, and there are people you can talk to, and who can support you.
  2. It won’t always be like this. You can get better, and you can manage the symptoms.
  3. There’s no shame in getting help. It’s not weak – it’s stronger to do something about a problem than to let it keep beating you. See your GP, see a counsellor, take the medication – different things work for different people. The important thing is to do something. Ignoring it is not dealing with it.

Stress, depression and anxiety are very convincing liars, and will tell you that you’re fine and should keep soldiering on. But be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling. If you don’t make changes, and if you carry on doing the same things that have got you to this point, how can you expect to get any better? It’s like breaking your arm and then repeatedly smacking it against hard objects, expecting it to magically cure itself.

Here are some other small tips:

  • Plan some time for yourself. Think about things you enjoy doing, and allow yourself a chance to do them. It’s not selfish to put yourself first sometimes – sacrificing your health to please other people isn’t really helping anyone.
  • Tell someone. It’s the first step towards getting better. Don’t let your problems silently stalk you from the shadows like a bully – expose them.
  • Take care over how you speak to yourself. Don’t put yourself down or apologise for things that aren’t your fault. If you’re beating yourself up or always criticising yourself, that adds to a feeling that you’re not good enough and that you have to keep striving and ‘going the extra mile’. Learn to accept that ‘good enough’ is perfectly fine the vast majority of the time.
  • Getting out into nature helps me – it gives me a positive distraction, some exercise and fresh air, and some perspective.

There are more things I’ve learned in this blog post.

What doesn’t help?

Here are some things that people might say to someone who’s experiencing a mental health problem:

  • Be strong.
  • Keep a stiff upper lip.
  • Grit your teeth and get on with it.
  • We never used to complain.
  • Don’t make such a fuss.
  • Just have a drink or two.
  • Cheer up.
  • Just relax.
  • Man up.

People might mean well when they say things like this, but guess what? None of these things will reduce anyone’s stress. None of these things makes a mental health problem go away.

In fact, these sayings, attitudes and beliefs cause harm – people bury how they feel and avoid talking or getting the help they need because they don’t want to seem weak. They don’t want to be judged or pitied. By not getting help, we might suffer worse and longer – and that can have tragic consequences.

It shouldn’t be considered brave to talk openly about mental health problems, but it still is. The fear is real. The stigma persists. That’s why we still need to raise awareness through things like Mental Health Awareness Week.

A small wave gently laps the beach

Recurrent depression and anxiety: the rollercoaster ride continues

So, you take your pills, have your therapy, learn some lessons, write a few blog posts, and your mental health problems go away and leave you in peace, right?

Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Perhaps they go away for a while, then pay a return visit at a later date. But it’s also entirely possible that your enemies will become like the horror movie franchise villains who stubbornly refuse to die, and come back for seemingly endless sequels.

The latest dip in my rollercoaster recovery began towards the end of last summer. These late-summer plunges have happened before in the last few years, but to avoid the pattern becoming too predictable, depression and anxiety – being two sides of the same coin, and being partners in crime – like to mix things up and take it in turns to lead. One weighs in first, usually triggered by some kind of prolonged stress or worry, then the other puts the boot in.

Doodle of a rollercoaster

Riding the mental health rollercoaster. See more doodles like this in my blog for the Blurt Foundation: https://www.blurtitout.org/2017/09/14/8-doodles-living-depression/

They seem to lie in wait for a time when I’m winding down and starting to relax, so holidays can be a prime opportunity. That’s when all the pent-up mental poison starts to ooze out and build up, like that nasty pink slime in Ghostbusters 2.

What does it feel like?

My thoughts turn dark and destructive, the despondency and lethargy set in, and other symptoms start to show:

  • irritability and anger – finding people insufferably annoying, especially those who dare exhibit any energy or enthusiasm when I have none
  • illnesses – I’ve had a different illness every month since last October, ranging from a standard cold to lingering laryngitis, suggesting a run-down immune system
  • despair and fear – seeing the worst in everything, and finding it hard to see things getting better
  • paranoia and over-sensitivity – I get wound up by any little comment aimed at me, even if meant in jest, to the point that I get embroiled in a series of long-running imaginary arguments
  • over-thinking, indecision and forgetfulness – the din in my weary brain makes any kind of thinking difficult, and impossible at times
  • mornings are hideous – I haven’t had problems sleeping with my latest episode, but getting myself up and out in the morning still feels like I’m having to physically drag my leaden body to wherever it needs to go.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

I wonder how many times a day we get asked how we are, or we ask how other people are. It’s how we greet each other; part of everyday conversation.

I’m generally a very honest person, but I have lied to people. I have lied a lot. Because many times when I don’t feel fine in the slightest, I don’t want to say so. It’s not that I mind being asked, I just want to pretend I’m fine until the reality catches up, and I don’t want sympathy, or to drag other people down.

The confusing thing about depression and anxiety is that we can also feel perfectly fine for much of the time. Once I’ve got through the first half of the morning and got suitably distracted, I might well have a perfectly decent day, unless something triggers a negative thought. Then I’m at the mercy of spiralling, toxic thoughts and feelings.

I am fine right now, and have been fine for the past few days, and that is good enough for me. If I wasn’t feeling fine, I wouldn’t be writing this and I certainly wouldn’t be sharing it.

So what am I doing about it?

As I always do with these episodes of mental ill-health, I try to face up to my problems and get help in various ways.

I went to see an excellent doctor, and – with some hesitation – decided to team up again with my old pal Citalopram, an antidepressant that I’ve just about managed without since autumn 2013. I always thought I wouldn’t want to go back on the meds, but it was a better option than struggling on without them.

I’ve been on a course, learning tips from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and am on a waiting list for some further CBT to try and crack some persistent and recurring issues.

I’m trying to get out and enjoy nature as much as possible, so am grateful for the weather improving in the past week. The continuous rain and snow was, I think, getting me down more than I realised.

And I’ve finally found another kind of exercise that I’m enthusiastic about and committed to, having drifted terminally from running. I’ve joined a martial arts class after seeing how much my son loved it. The intense workouts leave me thinking I am either going to vomit or keel over, but it’s a good way to release tension and focus on something positive.

Perhaps my biggest lesson in these last few years has been that life does not have to be about doing, exceeding or producing stuff. There is great value in doing very little, or passing time in a not-obviously-productive kind of way – things like jigsaws, favourite TV programmes, games… and trying to rediscover hobbies like drawing birds.

I’ve also made a conscious decision not to set myself unnecessary challenges this year. Why add to the pressures of daily life?

To end on a positive note…

There is one consistently positive thing that recurrent depression and anxiety do for me. Each time they gang up on me, and I go through this gruelling experience, it makes me rethink and evaluate my life. What can I do differently? What’s harming me? What’s good for me? What have I tried that worked but I’ve forgotten or neglected? What haven’t I tried yet? Is there something I should give up? Something I want to find time for?

So I keep learning and arming myself against these attacks. I’m lucky in many ways – my depression and anxiety are fairly mild compared to what many people endure, and I have the support of great family and friends.

I’m sharing this not to alarm anyone, not to attract attention, or to elicit sympathy or pity, or to be considered brave, but just to be honest about my experiences in a society that still stigmatises people with mental health problems.

Ball with smiling face

How does nature benefit mental health?

I was on BBC Breakfast recently talking about how getting outdoors and enjoying nature helps me with my mental health. But how exactly does it help?

I’m going to start with two quick disclaimers:

  • I’m not a scientist, so I won’t try to give you any scientific evidence of how nature benefits mental health. This is all about my personal experience. But that evidence does exist, as Dr Andrea Mechelli explained alongside me on the BBC sofa (see pictures below). Find out more about the study from King’s College London.
  • Nature alone does not cure depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem. It’s one part of a toolkit of coping strategies that can help us to manage our well-being.

My own personal mental health battles are with depression and anxiety, and I find that nature does help me in a number of ways.

Doing something I enjoy

When we’re worn down by stress, anxiety and depression, it’s easy to forget the things we used to enjoy doing – or how to enjoy doing anything for that matter.

A few years ago, when I was frazzled and going through an episode of depression, my counsellor encouraged me to find time to do something I enjoyed. I’d always enjoyed birdwatching and walking, and tried to get out more and rediscover the pleasure of my abandoned hobbies.

Magpie in tree top.

A magpie perches proudly in a tree at St Nick’s nature reserve in York.

A positive focus and distraction

Absorbing ourselves in nature can turn a walk – or even just a nice sit down in a park or garden – into a mindful experience that focuses us on the present and takes us away from the churning thoughts that tumble round our heads and the anxiety that chews at our tummies.

Hear the breeze rustling the leaves in the treetops; listen to the birds singing; watch butterflies and bees flitting among your garden flowers… I find that even a few moments being completely distracted by wildlife usually has a calming effect on me and lifts my mood.

As well as the wildlife, experiencing different places – or just retreating to a favourite wild place – can be very therapeutic. I find being in woodland or by water especially soothing.

Being outdoors has other health benefits too – fresh air, sunlight and exercise are good for our physical health as well as our mental well-being.

Filey Brigg

Discovery, excitement and adventure

One thing I love about nature is that there is always something new to discover – new species to see, new places to visit, new behaviour to observe. I’ll never forget the wonder of watching badgers in a woodland clearing after years of waiting for even a passing glance of one. If I’m planning a birding trip, there’s that sense of anticipation and excitement at what I might see, and the thrill of seeing a rare bird for the first time.

But a new experience doesn’t have to mean a new species – it can mean finding something unexpected in a familiar place. While off work with depression, I took a short walk from home, and found yellow wagtails – glorious, sunny yellow birds – bobbing about in a field where I’d never seen them before.

Grey heron at Staveley nature reserve.

A grey heron at Staveley nature reserve.

Nature is everywhere

It’s an unfortunate truth of depression that the things that are best for us are often the hardest things to do. Even for someone like me, who loves being outdoors, the draining, soul-destroying experience of depression can completely kill off all energy or enthusiasm, making the prospect of going out for a walk feel like the last thing I want to do.

At those times, if we just can’t face going out, we can still enjoy nature without venturing out. If you can see the sky or a tree, lawn or plant from where you’re sitting, you can still look out for wildlife. It’s amazing how many different species you can see in a fairly short space of time.

I feed the birds in my garden and can lose myself watching them – the goldfinches jostling for position on a feeder, the blackbirds fending off rivals, the wren that always follows exactly the same route into our garden and disappears for a moment in a bush…

A red admiral is lit by the sun as it feeds on a buddleia.

A red admiral is lit by the sun as it feeds on a buddleia.

Accept that it’s not going to work every time

Sometimes nature will help you feel better, even if only for a short time. Other times, it will not – but that doesn’t mean we should give up.

There are occasions where my mood has been too dark – my thoughts too destructive and intrusive – for me to be able to get lost in the sights and sounds around me. There have been other times where I’ve felt crushing disappointment because I’ve ‘failed’ to see what I went out to look for (I’m trying to learn to manage my own expectations), or I’ve felt defeated and demoralised by the weather spoiling a day out.

One such day that stands out in my mind is when I took a day off work to go to Flamborough Head, one of my favourite places on the Yorkshire coast, on a mission to see some particular birds. I can’t remember what birds they were, but I can remember that I didn’t see them, and that I couldn’t even enjoy the beautiful scenery because of thick fog. I genuinely considered giving up on birdwatching that day – not only had I not seen what I’d wanted to see, the weather was manky, there was barely a bird of any kind to be found all day, and I was sick of dragging my telescope and rucksack around.

The bird that saved the day was an unlikely one. At the point of my greatest frustration, the movement of a small bird in the hedge up ahead caught my eye. I followed it, hoping it would reveal its identity, and it did. It was a male chaffinch – a very common bird, but a colourful one – and for some reason that splash of colour and the chaffinch’s perky character were enough to bring me back out of my brain fog. The actual fog lifted soon after that too, and I remember sitting on a bench, and discovering that a cup of tea tastes even better by the sea.

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head – worth seeing in the sunshine


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