stress free Christmas

Trying to achieve a stress free Christmas can feel like an impossible task.

Everything will be busy, last minute and crammed into time we simply do not have.

At The Spark, however, we disagree and believe that a stress free Christmas is possible!

21 tips for a stress free Christmas


To help you de-stress this year we have put together 21 tips for an enjoyable Christmas from start to finish.

stress free Christmas

Starting on 27 November The Spark will be posting a tip a day to help you enjoy the festive season instead of feeling like it is something to survive.

From advice on handling relationships and budgeting, to low-cost way to entertain the family The Spark wants to help you relax this Christmas.

Follow our 21 tips here or on Twitter and Facebook.

Christmas debt credit cards

Christmas is an expensive time of year for all of us as we buy presents, decorate our homes and enjoy nights out. Costs can soon add up and Christmas debt is a significant problem with 1 in 4 adults in the UK feeling pressured into overspending at Christmas.

Loans, credit cards and Christmas debt


Christmas debt credit cards

Many of us can be left feeling we have no choice but to spread the costs of Christmas across loans or credit cards. If we are not careful about where we source credit from, we can end up left with a financial hangover in the New Year.

High interest costs and long repayments – a common feature of many high cost lenders – can leave us with serious financial worries many months after Christmas.

Our friends at Scotcash – a not-for-profit community finance lender – have put together some hints and tips on how to keep on top of your finances this year and avoid Christmas debt.

Take control of your budget


To take control of your Christmas spending the first thing to do is to plan your budget and then stick to it.

The Christmas Calculator tool from Independent Age Scotland lets you see exactly how much money you will need for your Christmas expenses.

Christmas debt food and drink shopping

The calculator breaks down all the usual Christmas spending – for gifts, food and drink, going out – to give you a clear idea of what you can afford.

With a set budget in mind you will be a big step closer to avoiding Christmas debt this year.

Avoid high interest rate borrowing


Wherever possible try to avoid borrowing to finance Christmas so you can start the New Year with as little Christmas debt as possible.

Should you need to spread the cost of Christmas, do a bit of research on the options available to you first. Avoid high cost options such as door step loans and pay day lenders.

Christmas debt

Both will include high interest rates that will leave you paying much more back than you originally borrowed.

By contrast community finance lenders such as Scotcash can provide borrowing at a much lower rate of interest.

What if I’ve run up Christmas debt already?


If you do find yourself in debt, please be assured that there is advice and help available to you.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with information on benefits, grants and money management advice. Organisations such as Step Change Debt Charity can provide over the phone advice and support if you are struggling with debt.

Affordable alternatives to Christmas debt


Community lenders like Scotcash can provide advice and access to affordable loans and other financial products and services. These organisations want to make sure you do not feel trapped in a spiral of high cost credit.

Christmas debt

By providing affordable alternatives and helping individuals and families manage their money better, they are a great way to get your finances back on track.

Find out more about Scotcash and their services.

Counselling and support


Financial worries can be a source of stress and anxiety. Unsecured debts like credit cards and pay-day loans are a common cause of relationship problems and relationship breakdown.

Counselling support for individuals, couples and families struggling with debt cannot provide practical ways to manage and improve your financial situation. It can however help you explore why debt has become an issue, the motivations behind it and ways to tackle those issues.

Find out more about counselling or locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre.

To enquire about counselling freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

youth mental health

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, faces a crisis in youth mental health.

Studies and reports detailing the mental health issues faced by children and adolescents are regularly making the news headlines. The existing NHS-provided child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are under severe pressure which has led to extensive waiting times.

A consultation on youth mental health services in Scotland


The recent announcement of a consultation on youth mental health services by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) represents a cause for optimism.

Young people and their families/carers will be consulted on what does and does not work. With the intention to use this feedback to restructure the current system.

Radical overhaul is needed


This project represents an important step forward.  For too long the status quo in youth mental health has been deemed fit for purpose.

Similarly the views of the young people using those services have been underrepresented.

With some 17,500 young people referred to CAMHS in the past three years not receiving any support, it is clear a radical overhaul is needed.

What about the young people still waiting for support?


Undoubtedly the insight from the consultation will be invaluable in reshaping youth mental health provision in Scotland. However important and valuable those conclusions may be, they will be small comfort to the thousands of young people currently struggling unsupported with mental health problems.

Particularly when we consider that a number of potential sources of additional support exist right now to tackle these challenges.

Too many young people, not enough appointments


Demand for CAMHS services outstrips the available resources in most of Scotland’s NHS board areas. This leaves many young people to wait anywhere between 18 and 50 weeks for an appointment with a specialist.

The tragedy of this scenario is that third sector organisations like The Spark could support NHS services.

Providing more youth mental health services to meet demand


With professional Children and Young People Counsellors employed by third sector organisations, issues like anxiety and depression could be supported out with CAMHS.

By providing much needed additional resources waiting times could be reduced. Over-stretched CAMHS services could then be focused on those young people with the most complex and challenging issues.

An out of date attitude to youth mental health


Young people are referred to CAMHS for assessment and diagnosis of a mental health problem. Support is, therefore, focused on treating young people once a problem is established. This approach is outdated.

Half of all diagnosable mental health problems in children start before the age of 14.

Furthermore 10% of children aged between 5 and 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.

Adopting an early intervention approach


An early intervention approach offers a more effective solution by working to prevent minor issues escalating. Third sector organisations like The Spark are leading proponents of early intervention approaches for youth mental health.

Child crying youth mental health

Firstly through school based counselling we are supporting children to deal with life challenges that can escalate in to more serious issues. Secondly we are able to foster life skills like resilience and emotional regulation amongst children in order to deal with the challenges of growing up.

Indeed evaluation of The Spark’s school-based counselling has demonstrated the significant impact early intervention can make on the mental health of young people.

Furthermore the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy (2017-2027) sets out a commitment to review counselling services in schools.

Equipping teachers to tackle youth mental health challenges


Pressure on CAMHS services has resulted in additional responsibilities falling to school teachers. Yet Scottish teachers feel underequipped to provide an initial source of mental health support to young people.

Where school-based counselling provision is not possible, The Spark provides dedicated training courses for teaching staff.

Dedicated training for teachers


Our Relationship First Aid for Teachers and Scottish Mental Health First Aid courses can equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to provide first responder support.

A long-term step in the right direction


The commitment to consult with young people in shaping future policy on mental health services is to be applauded.

Here at The Spark we stand ready to support both the Scottish Government and SAMH however we can.

In the interim however we must use the resources at our disposal to help those young people currently suffering mental health problems.

Van Morrison

Songs for Sound Minds #22 – ‘Days Like This’ by Van Morrison


What are your thoughts when you first hear this refrain?

‘Well my mama told me there’d be days like this’

Are you thinking about the negative side of things?  The ‘chancers’ in life that your mum warned you to avoid? The times when it feels like nothing is going right?

You might even be thinking that this is supposed to be a part of a series called Songs for Sound Minds, and wonder: what are they thinking?

Thinking about better days


Van Morrison

Of course this Van Morrison classic (aren’t they all?) is actually all about better days. Days when we are busy appreciating the good times. Spending our time without a care or concern.

Appropriately for those of us in Scotland the song starts with the words: ‘When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this.’ But Van Morrison is not just talking when the typical British weather takes a holiday.

This Belfast boy is thinking about the times when ‘there’s no-one complaining’ least of all ourselves. Times when the chancers never cross our path.

Moments when life seems so straightforward and simple – ‘when you don’t need an answer’ – that even a child could get it right because ‘all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit.’

Sometimes though we forget to appreciate those good times.

Those ‘don’t need to worry’ moments


We can all too easily fall into the habit of criticising other people or grumbling about our lot in life.

It can be easy to miss the good things that are happening. Amidst the difficult times we live in –  blighted by terrorism, fear and economic worries – it can feel like there is never a moment ‘when you don’t need to worry.’

Instead ‘Van the Man’ encourages us to simply focus on the better days and our better moments. To spend our time thinking of them and not reliving days when we just wanted to pull the covers over our head.

An anthem for the Northern Ireland peace process


The optimism and positivity of ‘Days Like This’ was harnessed for the peace process in Morrison’s home country of Northern Ireland.

Effectively becoming the ‘anthem’ of the peace movement, the song featured widely including in television advertising encouraging the end of hostilities between unionist and republican movements.

Although your day may not quite reach the heights of helping unite a divided country, it is important to recognise the good times and enjoy the experience of days like this.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

change in relationships

There is nothing permanent except change’. Heraclitus

This particular Greek philosopher had life pegged some 2,500 years ago: change is inevitable.

The world around us changes, as do we as life progresses. Aside from the physical aspects of ageing, over time we evolve in our attitudes, beliefs and priorities.

Change can lead to new opportunities, experiences and personal self-improvement. When it is considered in the context of relationships however it can be perceived as a threat.

change in relationships

‘But I don’t want them to change’

In the midst of a happy, contented relationship the prospect of a partner changing – for example, their outlook on life – is capable of instilling fear.

Thoughts race through our minds at the prospect: ‘I love him/her as they are now’, ‘I don’t want our relationship to change’ or ‘I want them to stay the same’.

The idea that they might be losing interest in shared activities or their attitude to work (why they do it and who for) can feel like the beginning of the end. Or result in us forcing our loved one to stay as they are, leading almost inevitably to resentment and anger.

Change is scary

Naturally we are averse to change and have been since our earliest years.

As children we are reluctant to sleep in our own beds, relinquish the comfort blanket and sleep with the light off.

Those strong emotions never really leave us completely once we reach adulthood, like loss, sadness or anxiety.

From our experience counselling couples for over 50 years, almost all long-term relationships experience multiple periods of change.

During that time we have also determined that it does not need to be a frightening or divisive process.

Change creates powerful emotions

The first step in dealing with change in a relationship is to accept that change naturally creates powerful emotions.

It takes time to come to terms with them and to rationalise the impact they are having on you and your partner. Being patient with yourself and each other is important as such emotions rarely normalise in a short period of time.

Recognise the sacrifices that need to be made

Relationships are built on compromise and recognising sacrifices that are willingly made. Therefore during periods of change, recognition becomes even more important.

change

It is all too easy to forget the sacrifice made by a partner in our quest for personal change.

Conversely it is common for the individual making sacrifices to keep their feelings hidden, instead of communicating their concerns and emotions. In either case resentment and bitterness can soon follow.

Embrace it as a couple

Perspective is important in coping with change as a couple, as is the understanding that your relationship is an entity in its own right.

We need to view any period of change as an evolution in our relationship and not something happening to one individual.

change

Couples that embrace this concept of relationship thrive compared to those that do not. Instead of allowing the fear of change to overwhelm, they explore what it could mean for them.

This comes from an acceptance that both perspectives are valid and require appropriate consideration. Similarly it requires both individuals to embrace aspects of the other’s interests.

There is nothing permanent. Accept change

We all change over time. Our perspectives on life, our priorities and how we want to live out our time on this planet will evolve.

It need not be a reason to fear the end of a relationship.

Instead it is an opportunity to deepen existing relationships and form even stronger bonds with each other.


Counselling and support for couples

Navigating periods of change in a relationship can be a challenging process. The support and guidance of a professional couples or marriage counsellor can offer a stability and impartiality that smooths the process.

At The Spark we have been supporting couples navigate the ups and downs of life for over 50 years. We can do the same for you.

Find out more about couple counselling or marriage counselling.

Locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre or contact us to discuss your needs.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

John Lennon Watching the Wheels

Songs for Sound Minds #21 – ‘Watching the Wheels’ John Lennon


It probably comes as no surprise that John Lennon features on our Songs for Sound Minds playlist.

But it’s not for the song you’d think it would be…

Watching the Wheels by John Lennon



John Lennon – bread baker

John Lennon had been at the top of the charts for over 10 years when he decided to step back from the day job and stop making music altogether.

During much of the 1960s he was a major part of The Beatles, one of the biggest pop acts in history. Then he was a solo artist penning thought provoking hits like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.

At the time, Lennon made it clear that he was very content staying home. Looking after his young son, Sean, baking bread and doing other domestic chores.

His perspective was contrary to what society has long programmed us to believe: that the workplace is the only place we can be productive and find fulfillment.

I wish I’d spent more time at the office (said no one ever)

John Lennon Watching the Wheels

The pertinent question to ask in life – perhaps the exact one Lennon asked himself – is this: in our twilight years, how many of us will wish that we had spent more time at the office and less with family?

Lennon’s response was to resign from the hit factory and opt for the home life.

In 1975 he became the world’s most famous ‘househusband’ as it used to be called. This may not seem like a revolutionary step nowadays with our emphasis on shared parental leave and the fight against gender stereotypes.

In the 1970s it was however a dramatic statement and drew a lot of criticism from friends and fans.

As the first verse of John Lennon’s song ‘Watching the Wheels’ says:

‘People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin

When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange

Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game.’

The achievement ‘merry-go-round’

Social norms tend to encourage us to measure our success and achievements by how far up the corporate ladder we climb.

Often it can seem that our whole identity is defined by the job that we do, the money that we earn and the stuff we accumulate.

This 1980 hit encourages us to turn our backs on the ‘merry-go-round’ and let go of the urge to succeed at any cost.

The lyrics give us permission to sit ‘watching the wheels go round and round.’ Instead of trying to win the rat race, step out of the flow and take time to breathe.

Enjoying the simple things in life

Words like John Lennon’s can inspire us to realise that the simpler things in life can be very satisfying.

Perhaps you have a favourite quote that encourages you when the pace of modern life is getting on top of you.

Take this one from Albert Einstein as an example: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”

Or maybe there is a poem that takes your mind to a quieter, more peaceful place.  One example is this verse by W H Davies written over 100 years ago:

‘What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows’.

More to life than stress and stuff

It can seem like we have no option but to seek more responsibility, earn that next promotion and accumulate more ‘stuff’.

This can become a roller coaster of ever increasing stress and ever decreasing satisfaction.

Yet, however fast paced our day and however long our ‘to do list’ we can always make time to take a step back and choose a more relaxing option.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Kelly Clarkson

Songs for Sound Minds #20 – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) Kelly Clarkson


At The Spark we work hard to help people improve their relationships and build connections with each other. Sometimes though, trying to mend a broken relationship is not healthy for either individual.

Moving on from a difficult relationship can be a liberating and life changing experience. That is the theme of this week’s featured track – ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’ by Kelly Clarkson.

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson



From American Idol to rocky relationships

Clarkson shot to fame as the inaugural winner of the American Idol reality television show in 2002. A roller-coaster career followed during which the Texan singer has had more than her fair share of difficult relationships.

An acrimonious split from her original American Idol dictated record label – RCA – brought an end to what Clarkson described as “an arranged marriage”.

This particular relationship lasted 14 years. During that time her music, appearance and even weight were policed by her management.

In her personal life, Clarkson’s fame made maintaining relationships difficult until her marriage in 2013.

A perfect representation of my life

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Kelly Clarkson

Clarkson considered the lyric ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ as “a perfect representation of my life”.

The inspiring theme is that just because the relationship is over that ‘doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone’. She has moved on and things are better than they were before.

The message of the song is that it is possible to be stronger in spite of experiencing pain and tragedy.  We can all think of examples of people who have overcome tragic circumstances.

Hope out of pain and tragedy

Think of Simon Weston, who survived 46% burns to his body during the Falklands War. Yet he has gone on to become a high profile political activist and champion of a number of charities.

In 2014, he was voted Britain’s most heroic figure.

Or take Katie Piper the victim of a sulphuric acid attack which resulted in 40 surgical operations and left her blind in one eye.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) Katie Piper

She has set up her own charitable foundation, regularly appears on radio and television and has authored several books including one with the title, ‘Things Get Better: If You Believe Then You Will Survive.’

The science behind ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) paraphrases the Friedrich Nietzsche quotation: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. Nietzsche’s prophetic philosophy is supported in the world of science.

Victor Frankl was a German psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz during the Second World War.  He noticed that even in conditions as dehumanizing as the concentration camp there were people who behaved with decency and humanity.

Personal growth from tragedy

Scientific studies show that for some people who survive trauma there are reported positive changes and enhanced personal development which scientists call Post Traumatic Growth.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) promotes stories of survivors of heart attacks who give up their obsession with the rat race and discover new ways of living, improved relationships and a greater commitment to their family.

There can be a silver lining

Stephen Joseph, Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham suggests that it is helpful to reflect on the positive aspects of challenging events.

This could be better friendships, a new perspective on life, previously hidden strength of character or a greater understanding of life.

The implication is that there are benefits in trying to make sense of adverse life circumstances.

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

Something terrible happened.  You survived and lived to tell the tale of stronger relationships, a stronger ability to cope or a stronger understanding of life’s ups and downs.

It didn’t kill you but it did make you stronger.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

male infertility

Men are in general pretty bad at talking about their feelings. They are taught from their earliest years – both explicitly and implicitly – to hold emotions in.

Never cry, get on with it and barely whisper about what is upsetting you. When it comes to male infertility, the whisper typically fades to complete silence.

male infertility

For many men with diagnoses ranging from low sperm counts to poor sperm mobility, infertility can become a hidden source of mental health problems.

Male infertility and the impact on mental health


Fertility problems can leave men with intense feelings of anger, shame, resentment and confusion. But their default setting is to stay silent about how infertility makes them feel.

This unwillingness to talk about problems is not however only down to childhood conditioning. Men struggle to open up about the gut wrenching emotions of infertility for many reasons.

unhappy men

A system set up for female infertility


From a practical perspective it is difficult for men because society is geared towards dealing with female infertility.  Consequently the support structures for men are very limited.

It is not uncommon to hear of a man being given a blunt diagnosis, handed a pamphlet about sperm donation and sent back in to the world to ‘get on with it’.

Apart from being a completely unsympathetic way to deal with earth-shaking news, it is probably the worst way to deal with a group so disinclined to deal with their emotions in the first place.

Don’t question his virility


Another significant barrier is the importance and symbolism of male virility.

The ability to procreate can be considered the essence of what it means to be male. Like childbirth for women it is something that remains no matter how gender roles and societal norms shift over time.

To have that questioned or even rendered void is a fundamental challenge to his sense of self. Only sufferers can truly understand the impact.

Here’s some more bad news…


The problem of male infertility is not going away and in fact, it is getting worse.

Couples in western society are delaying procreation until well in to their 30s and early 40s, bringing with it a host of age-related challenges.

male infertility

Worse still, recent studies have shown that male fertility rates have dropped by over 50% since the 1970s.

With little support and advice out there it can feel almost impossible for wives and partners to know how to help. Thankfully there are some straightforward steps you can take to support your loved one.

Encourage him to talk about infertility. And then keep encouraging him.


And then encourage him some more.

There are hundreds of chat boards, forums and support groups aimed at women. On them they are sharing experiences, encouraging and helping each other deal with fertility challenges.

By contrast there is very little for men. Therefore wives, partners, friends and family need to research, prompt, cajole and support men as they begin to access help to share their own emotions.

Search online for male infertility support groups and online forums. Speak to your fertility clinic or consultant about support groups for men in your area and search for them online as well.

Speak to a counsellor


Opening up about infertility to a partner, friends or family can be daunting for many men. In the first instance, talking to a partner can bring up intense feelings of failure for not ‘coming up with the goods’ or ‘not being a man’.

With mates it can be impossible to even admit there is a problem in testosterone-fueled environments like the pub or Saturday morning five-a-side football. Family can simply feel too close and brings with it similar anxieties about expectations and opinions.

An objective, independent counsellor – particularly with experience in the area of male infertility – can provide the gentle guidance needed to help men come to terms with their diagnoses.

Counselling provides ‘head space’ and an environment free from the heavy burden of expectations and opinion.

Do not place blame


The medical profession treats infertility as two separate issues: female fertility and male fertility.

As a result either the man or women comes under the magnifying glass as ‘the problem’. Cue the apportioning of blame.

Many couples that have successfully navigated infertility often talk about ‘our problem’. Irrespective of whether a physical issue resides with the male or female, getting pregnant is ultimately a team effort.

It is vital that partners are as supportive as possible and do not place ‘blame’. No matter whether it is – in medical terms at least – a male or female problem.

Avoid pressure


A poor fertility report can often create a frenzied sense of urgency to do anything to improve chances of conception. But be mindful of the magnitude of the diagnosis. Time and space is needed for anyone – male or female – to process such devastating news.

Pressure to start trying herbal remedies, consuming supplements and changing habits could negatively impact your chances of conceiving.

Stress is a significant contributor to male fertility problems across the board. So you could end up undoing all the benefits of having a supplement consuming, veg-eating, non-pants-wearing partner.


Are you dealing with male infertility issues?

 

Our counsellors have extensive experience helping couples and individuals deal with infertility and the strain it places on relationships.

From our local centres around Scotland we provide support to couples and families coming to terms with infertility or fertility issues.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

You can also search for your nearest counselling centre.

George Harrison Any Road

Songs for Sound Minds #19 – ‘Any Road’ by George Harrison


‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

This may seem a statement of the blooming obvious if ever there was one.  However, how many of us have wasted time on fruitless activities rather than identifying our priorities for the future?

Being unclear about our goals can leave us feeling frustrated, stressed and exhausted.

How much happier would we feel if we could summon the energy to clarify where we would like to be?

George Harrison Any Road

‘Any Road’ by George Harrison

‘Any Road’ released in 2003, was the last single by George Harrison.  As ‘the quiet Beatle’ he was one of the ‘Fab Four’ who had so much influence on pop culture and contemporary life since their first hit back in 1962.

So what is George saying in this song that could help us understand our own mental health?

The element of chance

The song recognises that there is a natural element of chance in our lives but that embracing such an approach in every way has implications.

‘We pay the price with a spin of a wheel, with the roll of a dice.’ 

The suggestion is that a more conscious approach to decision making might result in fewer regrets.  By leaving things to chance we are risking our own happiness.

Overcoming our own doubts and insecurities

It may be at times that if we want to achieve something we need to overcome our own doubts and lack of confidence.

As Harrison sings, ‘we’ve got to fight with the thoughts in the head, with the dark and the light’ – those fears, insecurities and anxieties that we all struggle with in varying degrees.

Storm clouds

It is not enough to be clear about where we are going. We also need to realise that we may need to overcome the obstacles those fears and anxieties create.

Bringing East and West together

Much of George Harrison’s solo output attempted to integrate Eastern religion into Western life and this song is no exception.

His most famous solo song, ‘My Sweet Lord’ mixes the Judeo-Christian ‘Hallelujah’ with the Hindu ‘Hare Krishna.’

Harrison introduced his fellow band members, John, Paul and Ringo, to Transcendental Meditation in 1967 and, also, he had a life-long interest in the Hare Krishna movement.

In the song, ‘Any Road’ he presents themes common to Eastern faiths and beliefs.

‘There was no beginning, there is no end, it wasn’t born and never dies, there are no edges, there is no sides.’ 

Regardless of this philosophising, George concludes the song by reiterating his pragmatic refrain ‘but if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

George Harrison and Alice in Wonderland

The song has been compared with Alice in Wonderland and in particular the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asks Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replies the Cheshire Cat.

Having a sense of direction

It may seem, at times that life is as surreal as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  We can ruminate on the whys and wherefores of life.

‘You may not know where you came from, may not know who you are,’ but there’s a lot to be gained from having a good sense of direction.

Otherwise, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’



Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

 

 

Benjamin Clementine

Songs for Sound Minds #18 – ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine


On the surface ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ by Benjamin Clementine is a song about bullying. Dig a little deeper and it becomes a celebration of surviving and learning to be at peace with the experience.

Many of us have experienced bullying and the often profound, negative effects on our self-esteem and confidence. In the song Benjamin Clementine – winner of the 2015 Mercury Prize for his haunting debut album ‘At least for now’ – explores the impact bullying had on him.

We won’t leave you alone

Like so many his bullying occurred in school following the transition from primary to secondary. Combined with the eventual divorce of his parents, Clementine struggled to handle the relentless bullying and feelings of helplessness familiar to almost all victims.

‘We won’t leave you alone
We want you to die
We won’t leave you alone.’

The composition of the song was influenced by Clementine’s study of the work of British psychiatrist, Donald Winnicott. Winnicott determined that bullying – albeit on a lesser scale – could produce similar patterns of trauma in patients as those of war.

Where is Aleppoville?

This theme features most obviously in the setting for Clementine’s recollections. Aleppoville – the ‘little city of Aleppo’- is where children experience bullying according to Clementine.

It may not be intentional, but to choose Aleppo as the location of his song is surely more than coincidence. The real Aleppo has of course been at the centre of the ongoing Syrian civil war that has devastated the lives of countless children and families.

Choosing forgiveness

Benjamin ClementineDespite the trauma of his experiences, Clementine draws the song to a conclusion based on his chosen path of acceptance and forgiveness. Realising that he will never know why he was bullied, he has forgiven them – characterised as a single individual, ‘Billy the bully’.

‘Billy the bully, it’s alright
You’ve been forgiven
Come on now Zacchaeus
Come down from your sycamore tree
We’re dancing, roses are found dancing’

Clementine visualises himself inviting Billy to come down from his perch and join him as Jesus of Nazareth did with Zacchaeus the hated tax collector. The traditional roles have been reversed: the bully is the one now fearfully hiding in the tree whilst the victim is free to dance on the ground below.

What makes a bully a bully?

By swapping the roles of the bully and victim Clementine highlights an important truth: that bullies tend to bully as a reaction to anxieties, pain and unhappiness in their own lives. Interestingly it was Winnicott who first hypothesised the link between anti-social behaviour and an inadequate or ruptured home environment.

According to the NSPCC, nearly half of all children and young people are bullied at some point in their school lives.  Childline reported 24,000 counselling sessions with children about bullying in 2016/17.  The effects on the young person’s mental health can be startling and the NHS website states that bullying can lead to self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Reaching a state of forgiveness is a big challenge for the victims of bullying. Supporting them to reach the kind of contentment found by Clementine is something that we at The Spark embrace as a central purpose of our counselling and support services.

Equally we have a duty to consider the wider issue of how bullies are created. By supporting children who struggle with issues like family breakdown and anger we can prevent them becoming another ‘Billy the bully’.


The Spark’s Children & Young People’s counsellors work in primary and secondary schools supporting individuals to address these inter-connected issues. By working with children dealing with difficult life experiences, we can help to reduce the incidence of bullying in schools.

If you know of someone who is being bullied or whose mental health has been affected by bullying call us on our freephone number 0808 802 0050 or complete and enquiry form.

Find out more about our counselling services and our work providing school-based counsellors.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds