Dear First Utility

Dear First Utility,

Do you remember the good times? I do.

I remember switching to you on a hot summer’s day, gleefully accepting your very cheap rates and wondering how – just how – you could afford to be so, well, affordable.

Why couldn’t more energy providers be like you? The amount I would have to pay you each month made switching the easy choice, and I was happy with such service for the next two years. We never had a problem, you and I. I’d pay you the pittance you asked for, you’d keep my power on, and we’d get on with our respective lives.

Those were the good times.

The happy times.

The times that are long since over.

Ever since moving home and having to cancel my account, you’ve been far removed from the cheerfully cheap utilities provider I once admired.

You’ve been clingy, stubborn, and at times plain threatening as you refuse to accept our time is now over.

Having mistakenly tried to take you with me to my new address (something I could not do, due to my landlord controlling the power there), you refunded me the £30 you’d taken from my account. Sure, you shouldn’t have taken that money from me in the first place – I’d already cancelled my account by then – but mistakes happen, we’re all prone to them. I mean, I tried to switch my energy provider when I couldn’t. What larks!

You sent it back without much fuss, and I cashed the cheque in without a second thought.

Then you got annoyed.

The very next day I received an email telling me I still owed you money based on my final meter reading. I wasn’t sure how this could be the case, so I called you to talk it through.

I was on hold – as is always the case when I try and get through to you – for a very, very long time, before I was given the option to have someone call me back. They did, and explained to me that I did owe you money, and that I really had no choice but to pay it. So, being the law abiding citizen I am, and trusting in businesses like we’re told we can do, I paid you the money.

I was told by the lady on the phone that my business with you was now done. My account was cleared, and once and for all, would be closed down.

Easy as that.

Or not.

The next week I received a letter in the post. It told me that I owed you yet more money, and that despite several attempts to contact me I was still to pay it. Now, for the sake of the reader, I can confirm that no previous attempts to contact me were ever made. I assumed this letter was a mistake.

You disagreed.

A few days later you sent me an email in a much sterner tone of voice. You wanted your money, and were giving me one last chance to pay it.

I called you again, but as I’d previously discovered, getting through to anyone at your call centre was almost impossible. I’m a working man, and I couldn’t spend my whole day chasing you. What ever would I put on my time sheet?

Instead, I tweeted you, and someone got back to me immediately. I explained the situation to them – that I’d already cleared my account, that I owed you nothing else, that this was just a mistake – and you agreed.

Sorry, you said. It won’t happen again, you said. It was just a flaw in the system, you said.

Good old First Utility, I thought. They might make the odd error now and again, but they’ll hold their hands up and admit when they’re wrong. They’d always have a joke or two on Twitter too, and seemed like decent people.

But you wouldn’t give it up, would you?

Time passed, and then once again, up popped your name in my inbox.

“You owe us money, Mr Billinghay, and we assume because of your repeated refusal to reply to our REGULAR attempts to contact you, that you do not intend to pay this.

This leaves us no option but to involve external agents to claim the money back.”

Well, now things were getting serious. I’m a big fan of the Channel 5 programme “Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away,” but I did not want to ever appear on it. External agents sounded menacing, and me being a little old consumer was a tiny bit scared. Surely you wouldn’t keep making this mistake unless I really did owe you. Surely you wouldn’t send this kind of message unless I was really in trouble. Gosh, I must have done something very wrong. Bad me.

Again I called you. Again I heard your hold music. Again I resorted to Twitter.

The Twitter man told me that the money I owed was due to the following:

We (First Utility) mistakenly paid you back £30 on more than one occasion. We sent you two cheques, and also transferred the money into your account. That is why you now owe us.

You couldn’t be serious, could you? I’d received one cheque, not two, and no such payment had ever been made to my account. I proved it with a statement, and your Twitter man apologised (again) for your mistake, and promised to pass this information onto your payments team.

Phew. I was glad this whole mess was over with. I did not want external agents knocking on my door and taking my things away. I like my things.

ONLY IT WASN’T OVER WITH, WAS IT FIRST UTILITY?

While sitting at my desk I received a phone call, and unlike you I picked it up straight away.

“Hello, it’s blah from First Utility. Can I just confirm some details please?”

“Yes, here you go.”

“Good, thank you Mr Billinghay. I’m calling because you have an outstanding balance with us. Despite repeated communications with you, you still have not paid the balance you owe us. We need to take that money today to prevent legal action.”

It’s a good job I’m a nice man, First Utility, because I wanted to shout very unseemly things at the man on the phone.  I explained the situation to him, just as I had done numerous times before, citing the number of Twitter conversations I’ve had with you in which you’ve said sorry and promised to sort things out. I told you about the phone call in which you’d said the very same thing. I told you about the letters, the emails and the threats you’d made, and said that while I understood it was not the man on the phone’s fault, I was getting quite annoyed.

Guess what you did?

You apologised, accepted you were wrong, and said it would never happen again.

Again.

It better not happen again, First Utility, because there’s an energy ombudsman tab open on my desktop right now, and I will fill in various forms about your repeated nagging of me to pay you money I do not, never have and never will owe.

If you were doing this to any normal consumer, that may have already happened. But you’re not. You’re doing it to a professional copywriter who chooses to take his annoyance out via the way of a sarcastic blog post, so consider yourself lucky that only the few thousand people who visit my website will know of how bad you’re being.

You started out as such a breath of fresh air, but now that air is stale and smells quite bad.

But with service like that, at least I do now understand why your tariffs are so cheap.

Let’s get personal

I’m a firm believer in following a passion. Life is about living, after all, and if you let work get in the way of pursuing your dreams, you can quickly end up just existing.

Having a side project on the go has always kept me (relatively) sane. It’s helped me stay creative, even if my day job has been dragging me down, and kept my mind ticking over despite the urge to turn it off and burn it.

But as much as I know the benefits of doing it, actually making that passion a reality is a different thing all together.

Let me paint you a picture of my regular day:

6:30 – Alarm goes off. Wake up full of good intentions to get out of bed and make a hearty breakfast.

8.00 – Actually get out of bed.

9.00 – 12.00 – Write copy. Really good copy. Like, some of the best copy you’ll ever see. I’m shit hot.

12.00 – 12.45 – Lift weights. Really light weights. Like, some of the lightest weights you’ll ever see. I’m shit.

12.45 – 5.30 – Amend all the copy I wrote earlier.

5.30 – 6.00 – Walk home full of more good intentions.  I’ve got a great idea for a book, and today I’m going to make that idea a reality.

6.00 – 10.30 – TV.

10.30 – Bed.

I don’t know what happens between my walk home and arriving home. The urge to write is there, and the ideas I plan to put down are all swimming around in my head. But then, for whatever reason, in my head is where they stay. All cosy, cuddled up, and safe from the ridicule of the real world.

It should be much easier. I work all day as a copywriter, spending 8 hours planning, thinking of, plotting and playing with words. My fingers rarely leave the keyboard, unless it’s to pick up a pen, and writing thousands of words in a pressurised environment comes as second nature to me. Taglines, scripts, concepts, content, strategy, and everything that comes with it is easy. Piece of piss, mate. No problem.
My story, on the other hand…

Are my fingers ready for a rest? Is my mind too tired to do any more? Is it Theresa May’s fault? All these things are possibilities, but I think the reality is something different.

Pursuing your passion is meant to be hard, otherwise everyone would do it.

It’s an incredibly rewarding thing to do – to follow your dreams and see them come into fruition. To have an idea and turn it into something physical, touchable, tangible that you can hold in your hands and say, “Hey everyone, look what I did. That was me. I thought that up and then did it and isn’t it nice?”

I imagine that’s how parents feel about their new born babies, or dung beetles feel about their balls of poo. That’s definitely how I’d feel about my book, if I ever got on with writing it. It’d be my own, personal ball of poo that I’d rolled all by myself. It would have grown much bigger than me, but I’d have been determined enough to keep on rolling until it formed into a huge, shitty sculpture that I could Instagram for all my dung beetle friends to admire.

So, what can ya do? What’s going to shake you out of your lazy zone and give you the kick up the arse you need to go on to become an incredibly successful author? How are you going to have your work turned into a hit Sky drama that’s available to download in boxset form?

You’re going to set yourself targets, that’s what.

It was Christmas last year when I decided I was going to stop wanting to do something and actually get on with doing it. During that particularly pointless period between Christmas Day and New Year, when some companies insist you go into work anyway – ahem – I sat at my desk and whacked out a few thousand words to start things off.

That was when my first target was set. It had only taken a few hours, but I’d already set the scene for the story, identified my main character, and got the plot underway. The idea that had been swimming around in my head for so long suddenly had a home on paper, and that was a lovely thing to see.

If all I could give to my project was a few hours a week, that was still enough to achieve quite a lot.

Since then that’s what I’ve done. I’ve set aside even the tiniest bit of time to write something down, whether it’s a full chapter or just an idea for what might happen later.

The second thing that’s helped is to find an audience. If I didn’t respond to a brief at work, people would be disappointed. I have a crowd to please. The same applies with my story. My girlfriend wants to know what happens next, and she’s an absolute gem who’ll sit there and listen while I talk about the nonsense I’m planning. If I haven’t written anything that week, I’ll have nothing to tell her. That’s like disappointing a puppy, and we can’t be having that.

Finally, I’ve got an ambition. An ambition for what I want my life to be and what things will look like in the future. Sitting about and waiting for something good to happen is never how success comes about. No-one’s autobiography has ever included the line, “So one day I was just putting off doing anything, when suddenly I became really rich and all my dreams came true.”

That’s not how it happens. Wanting it won’t get it. Wishing for it won’t make it come true.

You’ve got to go out and make it, so for a few hours a week, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Everything’s changing

To stand still is to move backwards.

That’s what one person might have said, once. I don’t remember. I didn’t take notes.

Anyway, it’s an idea I fully believe in. I think if you’re not moving forwards in life, you’re only really moving backwards. By standing still, you’re letting life and all of its many opportunities run away from you.  You’re getting left behind, enjoying the warmth of your comfort zone and missing out on what else might be out there.

You’re wasting your turn.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, not really. If you’re happy, you’re happy. Don’t go changing that for the chance that you might be happier doing something else. Having a comfort zone is seen as a bit of a bad thing sometimes, but it can be lovely and cosy, and I’ve found myself there a few times before. Enjoying it, supping on its wine, warming my hands in its bosom.

However, if that comfort zone starts to feel a little bit, well, claustrophobic, it’s time you look at getting out. When you realise that your comfort zone is stopping you from fulfilling your potential, you need to find the exit door and race on through it.

Hence why I’m here, sitting in Leeds and writing a blog about how it came to be.

My comfort zone wasn’t expanding as I’d have liked it to have done. I’d planned to build it an extension, filling it with furniture and making it bigger, brighter and better as I went along. I had big hopes for my comfort zone. I thought one day it might not only be comfortable, but it would also be rewarding, profitable and excitable.

I’d hoped that the more I put into my comfort zone, the more it would give me back.

Yet here I am, sitting in Leeds, writing a blog about how it came to be. It’s safe to assume my comfort zone did not deliver.

I’m a big believer that life won’t just work out for you if you sit and wait. If you want something to happen, you have to go out there and bloody well make it happen for yourself. That’s the only way you’ll achieve success, the only way your dreams will be realised, and the only way you’ll get where you believe you should be.

If your comfort zone is getting uncomfortable, make yourself a new one.

My new one happens to be in Leeds, where I’m sitting writing a blog about how it came to be. I’d only been to Leeds twice before – once for an eventful 22nd birthday party where a girl I liked at the time described me as being something of a brotherly figure (real boner killer, that), and again when I went to an equally eventful client Christmas party, where I was trapped in a corner and flirted with excessively by a middle-aged woman.

It wasn’t the best introduction to Leeds I could have had, but it certainly created stories.

This time round I’ve moved into a new flat, started a new job, ordered a new repeat prescription, and brought my relatively new girlfriend along with me for the ride. Leeds v3 is looking up.

Sometimes change doesn’t work out, but in this instance it’s almost certainly been a good thing. It’s brought me closer to my #lifegoals, and helped make paying my rent a little bit easier. I’ve also discovered that I need change to top up the ancient coin operated electricity meter in my new flat, so that’s something.

I’d recommend a bit of change occasionally for everyone. If you’re not happy, change it. If you’re feeling unfilled, change it. If you simply hate your haircut, you know what to do.

Standing still gets you nowhere new. Heading off over the horizon might not work out, but it’s definitely better than never knowing.

2016: A year in bloody review

Hello, readers.

Maybe you’re a friend, maybe you’re a social media contact, maybe you’re a family member, or maybe you’re a coworker who regrets following me online. Either way, you all have something in common – you’re here, and you’re about to read an incredibly sarcastic and at times deeply troubled review of the last 12 months of the life of me, Ash Billinghay MA.

I do this kind of thing every year. I know, I’m not sure why either. But at least some of you seem to enjoy partaking in the joy/success/failure/misery that has befallen me since January, and for those hardy few I will go on, forever summarising the great many things that have happened to me in as short, engaging and, hopefully, entertaining way as possible.

If this is your first time reading this bollocks, please refer to last year’s entry to give you an idea of how it works.

If this is not your first time, or you simply do not care, then please read on and enjoy my journey from happiness to despair and beyond. It’ll be a fucking riot.

January

What happened in January? What ever happened in that month so long ago that I had wiped it completely from my mind? I bet it was something good, I bet it was juicy, and I bet when I find it on my Facebook timeline (research!) it’ll blow my mind away. “Gee!” I’ll say, as if I’m in an Enid Blyton book, “What jolly good fun that was!”

Oh. Wait. It turns out in January all that happened was I wore the same jumper as my friend. Ah well, we looked fit.

meandselina

February

In February I got a whole year older and wondered where all my dreams had gone. Why had I not amounted to anything? Where was my life heading? Did I have any reason to be here anymore? It was a wonderful time to be alive and I think I got a cake. My friend sent me this photo of me on a beach.

ashmankini

March

I’m sure March was nice. I mean I’m only getting any of the information I need for this from my Facebook page, which is hardly ever updated anymore because I have nothing worth talking about and, if I do, I discuss it with real life friends over alcohol. So sadly Facebook for March is limited, as it may be for many of the months going forward. All that I know definitely happened is that I went to a football match with my dad, which isn’t especially different to anything else that happened this year, it’s just all I seemed to share. Here’s a picture of us looking a) freezing b) happy and c) suspiciously like brothers.

meanddad

April

Quite a bit went down in April, apparently. I know for a fact I went out with one of my best friends and got far too drunk for a Thursday. She’s a beautiful wreck of a human being who I treasure very much, but at one point in the night she spilt coke all over KFC’s floor and we had to sneak out without anyone noticing – a very hard task when you’ve had that much gin. At that particular moment I didn’t treasure her at all.

Later in April a very talented illustrator who I follow on Twitter drew this quite wonderful caricature of me. I’d like to make it clear that this photo was taken a very long time ago and I can now handle my drink in a much more sophisticated manner.

meandmyalterego

May

I didn’t know it at the time, but May would be the month I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Of course, at the time, how could you know these things will happen? You might meet people, think they’re alright at the time but later go on to realise they’re utter scum who deserve no oxygen, let alone any of your appreciation.
Fortunately this did not happen with these people. They turned out to be some of the greatest people you could ever hope to know, and I’ll cherish them forever like the little diamonds they are.
Here I am looking sternly into one of them’s eyes. I’ve already told her this to her face, but I’ll tell it to the three people still reading this too: She’s an utter gem and I’m lucky to know her.

meandalys

June

Ah, summer time. When days get longer, shorts get shorter and armpits get moister. As summer approached I was excited. For the first time in ages I had plans. I was going to show off my newly found arms in a variety of hipster t-shirts, I was going to drink almost every other evening, and I was going to take my then girlfriend to London for a holiday that would surely secure my place in her heart forever. More on that later, fans of other people’s drama.
Almost all of those plans became a reality. I did show off my arms. I did drink. I did indeed go to London. If only I’d known then what I know now, I’d never have spent all that money on treating the devil to a weekend away.

In the below picture you can see me about to enjoy an incredibly large pizza in Camden. Don’t I look happy?

meinglasses

July

I’m sure you’ve got more interesting things to do than read about my gran’s 80th birthday, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway as that’s all that seemed to happen in the month commonly known as July. My gran is a truly wonderful woman. She always laughs, always smiles and always tells you the same story at least three times before accepting that you already know how it ends. I love her very much, and as her first grandchild I am automatically her favourite.
To celebrate being a whopping 80 years old, a big chunk of my family got together and ate Italian food. It had been ages since I’d seen half of these people, and it may well be ages until I see them again. The last time I saw my cousin, for example, I was babysitting him. Now he’s in the RAF and probably does not require my attention.
Here I am ruining an otherwise nice family photo.

medadjaz

August

Ah, the month drama fans have been waiting for. I don’t really like airing my dirty laundry, but I do always like turning dark, sad situations into funny stories, so here goes. In August, through a series of highly unexpected events, I found out that the girl I’d been seeing for nearly two years had been seeing someone else the entire time. I found a Facebook profile that she insisted she didn’t have, the profile of her other boyfriend full of pictures of the two of them together, and various photos of him with all the family. Now here’s where it gets clever – I’d never been allowed to meet the family, or any of the friends. I’d been told this was due to anxiety, but it was actually due to some very smart manipulation. Fair play. If you’re going to trick a man into falling for you, drag him along for two years and accept all of the meals he pays for, gifts he buys you, love he gives you and space in his wardrobe he allows for your shoes – that’s definitely the way to do it.

August was a very sad time for me. August nearly broke my heart. But now, several months later, I can only stand and applaud at the incredible trickery that went into such a near perfect deception. One day I’ll dedicate the book to you for a laugh.

The below also happened in August. This was much more fun.

mealysed

September

September was when the red wine stain on my kitchen wall happened. That was about it. I mean, I could go into great detail about how the stain got there, how the cork broke the bottle because I didn’t own a corkscrew, and how wine was also spilt on my table, floor and clothes, but I doubt it would be that interesting. Instead I’ll leave you with this short poem about wine and the woes it can bring. Enjoy.

Red or white, bottle or glass,
Wine can help the sad times pass.
Tip it up, pour it down,
Wine will surely ease your frown.
Sadly though, with no corkscrew,
That wine will go all over you.
Never mind, drink away,
Your security deposit will save the day.

October

The role I was born to play – the leather jacket wearing prick in an American teenage coming-of-age film.

meandfriends

I also ate some bugs in October. It was a work thing, and when it comes to being the centre of attention I’m always the first to raise my hand. So when volunteers were required to eat bugs for charity in front of everyone else in the office, how could I possibly say no? I devoured meal worms, crickets and one big ass water beetle. I felt fine until the last one, which tasted like death itself had been released inside my mouth and was now working its way through my organs. Was it worth it for a few laughs and a lot of people looking at me? Hell yes it was.

meeatingbugs

November

All I can recall about November is that new episodes of hipster favourite Gilmore Girls were released on Netflix. It’s sad that, isn’t it? I wish more had happened that I could tell you about. I wish this paragraph would go on to be greater than a small review of a fast talking, polo neck wearing American comedy/drama, but it won’t be. Brace yourselves.

I liked the new Gilmore Girls. It wasn’t as good as I’d remembered it being, but it was ok.

There, review – and November – over.

December

Finally, the end is here. The end of a long, painful, at times traumatic 12 months of shit, slogging, disappointment and anger all compressed and neatly packaged inside the head of a sarcastic, ambitious copywriter who keeps ramming his head into the wall of the future without ever seeming to make a mark on it. What did that last sentence even mean? Maybe that kind of shit is why I’m getting nowhere. Anyway, December happened. Christmas came. Exciting things presented themselves in unexpected ways. I got bought a lovely bottle of bourbon.

Was that a good enough year in review for you? Was last year’s better? Will next year’s be better still? Only fate will decide.

meandpeople

I am Scrooge

It’s hard hating Christmas.

People look at you differently. Parents tell their children to avoid you in the street. Friends think you’re just being difficult because, you know, you’re a sarcastic prick who likes to have a difference of opinion occasionally.

“He’s just being Ash,” they say, as you turn your nose up at yet another Christmas song from the 80s. “He likes Christmas really, see, he’s smiling.”

Only you’re not smiling. Not at all. Contrary to people’s opinion that everyone MUST like Christmas, you really, really don’t, and as it gets closer you only get more depressed and find yourself longing for the Christmas party purely so you can drink enough to forget what time of year it is. Yay for free bars.

Hating Christmas is hard because people don’t think it’s possible. Some people are that happy about it that you having a different view point almost offends them. It’s as if Santa is a deity and you’re dismissing their religion. It’s like they’re a passionate Liverpool fan and you’re telling them that Steven Gerrard isn’t, in your opinion, the best player to have ever played the game. It makes them angry, it loses you friends, and worst of all it makes them turn up the Christmas music.

“We’ve heard ‘Step Into Christmas’ three times today,” you insist, but they ignore you as they prance about and hum the words they don’t really know. Maybe they’re right; maybe Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and you really are a Scrooge for hating on it like you do, but you dislike it with very good reason and that – at last – is the point this blog post is getting to.

Things used to be different between me and the 25th of December. Growing up I was just like any other kid, apart from the dark visions at night and the things the family never talk about. Christmas used to be full of yay and woo, and I was equally as excited as any other middle class child growing up in a privileged country.

One year changed all of that.

That year was 2007, when in the build up to Christmas things started getting strange. I lost a lot of weight, I started feeling quite unwell, and during an annual trip around a shopping centre I realised just how thirsty I was all of the time. Drink after drink after drink, the thirst never ended and I constantly felt on the verge of collapsing.

A few days later, on December 23rd no less, I was told I had diabetes. That was when Christmas started to go downhill.

Being told you’ve got an incurable condition can really put a downer on an occasion, and that downer has returned every year since. Whether it’s been the time of year making bad things happen to me, or whether it’s been my festive bad mood making bad things come with it I’m not sure, but either way I have a recent track record of it being more no no no than ho ho ho.

I’ve had relationships fall apart, friends get unwell and pets die, just to name a few, but none of that has compared to the feeling that always lingers – one of the loneliness, hopelessness and despair that December 23rd 2007 brought with it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a really good diabetic now. I hardly ever fall over (much) and I can handle a needle in a way that would make Amy Winehouse proud. I’m totally ok with it, there are no hard feelings between me and my pancreas. (You useless piece of shit, what’s the fucking point in you? You’re just sitting there taking up space and enjoying the free fucking ride, aren’t you?)

But still, a bad memory can be hard to get rid of. As soon as the sleigh bells start ringing and Elton John starts stepping in, I can’t help myself but feel lost.

Forgive me, oh festive ones, for I can never be like you. Enjoy your excitement but let me off if my highlight is Lincoln City playing on Boxing Day.

Hiding in the toilet with Nationwide

I very rarely tell my TV to fuck off.

We have a good relationship, my Hitachi 32 inch HD screen and I. We’ve spent many an evening together laughing. Many a weekend doing nothing but binge. Many Friday nights feeling the same sense of numbing sadness when we realise that this is all our lives have come to.

From the moment I bought it, tried to carry it home myself and then gave up and ordered a taxi, I knew my TV and I would get along.

There’ve only been a handful of times to date where we’ve had a falling out. The first was during an episode of Game of Thrones when a storm interrupted my signal just as the thing everyone would be talking about the next day was about to happen.
The next came during Euro 2016 when England let Harry Kane take set pieces. Actually, that accounts for the next 5 or 6. Fucking Harry Kane.

The latest incident came last night, and it was more aggressive than any that had gone before. It was a Saturday, and just like most Saturdays I was sitting with a Sports Direct mug of tea and spending some good quality time improving the arse imprint on my sofa. Life was good.

I was watching The X Factor and struggling to tell the difference between Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne, when suddenly something awful happened – an ad break came on and rage came flooding from every orifice. I spewed rage all over my lap. I sneezed rage into my hands. Rage leaked out from my ears, my eyes and my sweat pores. I pissed a huge puddle of rage onto my floor. I hadn’t felt such anger since the previous Wednesday, and the force was so strong that I questioned whether I could ever make it though.

Here’s why it happened:

Click that link. I dare you. Click it an open yourself up to emotions you didn’t think you were capable of feeling. Click it and let hatred flood into your otherwise loving heart and overwhelm you with an urge to kill. Click it. Click it. CLICK IT.

For those of you who didn’t click it, I’ll elaborate. The link will take you to an ad aired by Nationwide during one of the most expensive ad slots on British TV. It features a poet called Hollie.

She’s telling us, using poetry, about the joy, despair, excitement, depression, loneliness and delight that comes with having kids. She mentions other emotions too, she’s got loads of them. For two minutes she goes on, telling us a nice story about the things having a kid can make you feel.

And for almost two minutes, I was interested. My initial reaction was one of pleasant surprise. This didn’t feel like a normal TV commercial. This felt special, interesting, edgy. I wanted to follow the story. I wanted to engage with it. I wanted to write a tweet about it and had the app open on my phone ready to say something like, “Wow, great charity ad just aired during the X Factor. Proper moving.”

But then the two minutes began to wind down, and the hatred hit me. This moving piece about raising a child wasn’t an ad for a charity, or an awareness campaign for an illness, or any kind of campaign for any kind of brand that might actually care about anything.

No. It was an advert for a bank.

A corporate, cold, conglomerate bank that isn’t capable of feeling actual human emotions because all it cares about are interest rates and loans. A giant, multi-billion pound bank that doesn’t care about your child unless you open a savings account for them and put a regular deposit into it. A faceless, heartless bank that wants you to have more kids so you’ll go further into your overdraft and pay it even more interest.

That’s when the anger boiled over inside me. That’s when I told my TV to fuck off. This moving, emotionally charged poem had been jumped on by a company in an attempt to make people think it gives a shit. This wonderfully written, beautifully crafted piece of art had been dressed in a suit and forced to wear a name badge by a corporation that just wants to trick people into thinking it has a heart.

So huge were the emotions that were being played upon here that it was only at the very end of the ad that you realised who it was even for. The final 16 seconds were purely dedicated to the brand message. There was no mention of it anywhere else, no hint at what the poem was leading to, so they shoved it all on at the end as if to say, “Ooh by the way, we’re a financial services institution. Don’t forget that bit.”

It’s like Nationwide had seen the poem and loved it, but fed back saying, “WHERE IS THE BRAND? WE NEED TO PUT THE BRAND IN THERE. WILL PEOPLE BE SO EMOTIONALLY BROKEN BY NOW THAT WE CAN FORCE THE BRAND INTO THEIR EYES FOR 16 WHOLE SECONDS?”

In a way you have to applaud them. They’ve made something so far removed from the products they offer than you don’t have a clue what it’s for. They’ve made something so contrived that you doubt you actually know what feelings are anymore. They’ve made something that unbelievably cringy, that sickeningly heart-string pulling, that obviously ‘brand values’ that they’ll be talked about for weeks, either for the very right or very wrong reasons.

Fitting, then, that it should be played during The X Factor. A show that is built around moderate talent being sandwiched between sob stories. A show that finds something alright and turns it into something memorable by giving its mum cancer.

Nationwide could audition and even Simon Cowell would pretend to cry.

How to get better

I’ve recently started a journey of self-improvement. Don’t ask why, because it’s Sunday afternoon and I don’t feel comfortable talking about it sober, but let’s just say something kicked me into action and now I’m doing shit about it.

Self-improvement is largely a scam. It’s a way people sell books or get clicks on their crappy online content (thanks for visiting, please exit via the gift shop). When other people tell you how to live your life better, it’s safe to say they’re talking bullshit and you’d be better off ignoring them.

However, when you tell yourself to live your life better you should sit up and pay attention. I had that very conversation with myself recently and now, because I’m sure you’re very interested, I’m going to tell about how it’s all going.

Ash, you should really be tidier

The first thing I tasked myself with was sorting out my tip of a flat. I live in a fairly small one-bedroomed place in Sheffield, and when things get a bit messy it can often look like a bomb has moved in, made itself at home and then exploded just when you thought you could be friends.

Looking around I noticed clothes were piling up on the floor, shoes were blocking the door and dust was just moving from one place to another without ever disappearing. This had to stop.

A motivational poster once said ‘A tidy home is a tidy mind’. I bought into this idea and cleaned every surface I could reach, hoovering, dusting, scrubbing and even replacing a lightbulb that had been gone for months. The poster lied – my mind is still a shithole – but at least I can now walk around without falling over something.

 

Ash, you should eat better

A while ago I really tried to improve my health. I’d been very unwell and spent a lot of time in hospital, and while living better couldn’t cure my diabetes it could at least prepare me to deal with any future complications. I joined the gym, reevaluated my diet and started cycling to work. I wanted to gain weight, beef up and look better in t-shirts, basically.

Somewhere along the line a few of those things went astray. My diet plan never really stuck and my bike got stolen by some low life dickhead whose balls I hope rot and fall off in the shower. The gym, however, kept on going, and I’ve gained about 2 stone in muscle over the past year.

Now I’m there I want to see what else is possible, meaning the food needs to get better and I need to spend less of my wages on whiskey and diet coke. Another motivational poster once said, well, I don’t know, but I’m sure it was something about being fit making you feel better. Someone should design it.

 

Ash, you should dress nicer

When I was younger I went through what I like to call my state of intense unhappiness. Because I felt no urge to do anything, see anyone or try anymore, I stopped caring what I looked like. My hair got long, I stopped shaving and I wore whatever clothes came first to hand. I felt like a mess so I might as well look like one.

Now things need to be different. I’ve spent the last few days sitting in my living room wearing sweatpants and the same t-shirt, and there’s a chance they’re now wearing me instead. This did not make me feel good about myself, so today I ironed a shirt and got everything ready for a kick-ass Monday.

Dress for the way you want to feel, not the way you currently do.

 

Ash, you should write more

The final box I had to tick off was one that constantly annoys me. I spend all day writing so it really should be easy to get home from work and carry it on, but sadly that hasn’t been the case for a while. I’ve let personal projects fall apart, left this blog to gather cyber dust and more or less given up on pursuing any new writing possibilities – all things that I really enjoy doing.

Sometimes it can be really hard to find the motivation to do something just for you, and even though you know it will make you happy the idea of actually starting it just seems like too much to bare.

Today I tried to fix that. I set my laptop up nearer to where I spend most of my time in my flat, meaning I no longer have to think about fetching it and plugging it in. Now it’s just there, ready to go whenever I am. After doing that I wrote a few thousand words of a book I’m working on and, well, did this. This might be utter bollocks for all I know and at best it’ll only get a few reads, but I don’t really care. It’s not for you, it’s for me and my dusty little head.

 

Self-improvement might sound like a buzzword, and there’s very little I hate more. But if you want to do it, you’re the only one that can.