Hello and a very warm welcome to my newly relaunched blog. I'm Paul a 40 year old family man from the UK. In this complex, information overload 21st century world, too often we lose sight of what's really important. Here I want to celebrate life, share inspirational stories, throw the spotlight on charities and causes close to my heart. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you all.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Panic Attacks - don't suffer in silence

Once again, it's another busy working day for me, so I've returned to my review archives.

As I've said previously one of the primary aims of this blog is to inspire readers to take control and make positive changes in their lives

So today I want to share this article I wrote about my own personal experience of panic attacks to try and demystify the subject and hopefully offer some useful suggestions and techniques on how to manage them and move forward with your life.

My story

 I have always considered myself to be a fairly laid back contented soul, fully appreciative of what I've got in life and not in any way prone to anxiety , stress or the like.

So quite honestly panic / anxiety attacks were the last thing I'd ever have expected to have direct personal experience of. But back in December 1999, a relatively innocuous bump on the head set in motion a chain of events that resulted in months of prolonged anguish, bewilderment and discomfort until I finally found a way to somehow regain control.

I appreciate that there are a multitude of possible triggers and causes for these attacks and there's certainly no magical cure-all for dealing with them, but it's really important to me to tell my story, and if in some small way it can be useful to anyone out there that would really mean an awful lot to me.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Let's get back to the feel good factor!

The moment I first held my son in my arms.

The magical sight of my wife walking down the aisle.

Immeasurable joy.

But those untouchable life moments aside, I'm telling you right now, the euphoria and sense of contentment I'm feeling day in day out just now has rarely been matched in my lifetime.

The thing is it's not like I've discovered the cure to all known ills or the key to eternal life.

This is something breathtakingly simple. Something well within reach of pretty much anyone lucky enough to have access to the internet and a few minutes of spare time everyday.

I really can't tell you how truly empowering it is to know that every single 10 minute survey, every read of a review I get, every cashback purchase I make, gives me a new opportunity to make a difference.

The pennies that become pounds, the scraps of pocket money that are transformed into something real, that can reach out and help. The response I've had so far from other review community writers has been very encouraging, and  the more I consider it the more I can see that the possibilities really are more far reaching than any one individual can possibly take in.

The excitement, the sense of wonder feels like Christmas Eve. I get to be Santa, I get to spread the joy as wide and as far as I can, there really are no limits.

I picked up a penny today.

As it happens ever since my kid was born, I've made a habit of picking up every penny or scrap of money I've found on the streets. You know what, in 4 years I've picked up a grand total of £89.18. That might not sound a lot but really how much effort did it take  -and in 50 years that could be a thousand pounds.

My point is this.

Clicking, rating, surveying are things that we can all do in our spare time, fit in around our lives. If this blog, if my words encourage even just one person to give this a try that could be another £1000 a year earned for charities,  maybe as much as £100,000 in a lifetime. If 100 people do it , that's £10 million, if 10,000 do it that's a Billion pounds. 10,000 people , there are small villages with bigger populations.

Take it from me as someone who has been trying to build up a stream of money from internet publishing etc over the last few years, it will very likely never produce a pot of gold. But £2-3 or $5 a day is entirely achievable, and that is £1000 a year.

How good do you feel right now? 

How good does making a difference feel - let's find out together!

I'm happy and I know it!

Right now, finally getting this blog moving forwards and getting closer to making my first donations is making me extremely happy (if a little short on time)

To keep the blog moving along in the meantime , here's a review I wrote on the subject of happiness.

As you might have gathered from my profile picture I've chosen for this site, the way I like to live my life is with as big a smile on my face as I can muster, because having lost so many loved ones over recent years, I've learned to truly appreciate every moment I get on this earth and simply want to make the most of every experience, and take every opportunity to spread a little laughter.

Here's one of me being the laughing stock as per usual!

Our precious little man!

Having tried unsuccessfully for a baby for a number of years, in February 2006 our long held dreams finally came true. Meeting that tiny little chap for the first time was an incredible experience, something no words can ever come close to describing.

As a life-long sports fan, forgive me for this small indulgence in attempting to sum up, in the simplest terms I understand, just how deeply happy he makes me feel every single day. In sporting terms, as a dedicated fan you always dream about your team reaching the pinnacle of each sport, for all the disappointments and setbacks there's always the hope of that one perfect occasion - the ultimate achievement, whether that be an Ashes triumph, Champions League glory, World Cup, or even an Olympic gold.

Even if you get there, there's euphoria for a day or two but then it's on to the next quest. Holding my little boy in my arms for the first time, I realised something profound for me - sharing in his life is like winning the World Cup every single day. Helping my sunshine find his feet in this world, is my definition of personal contentment.

Hugs and kisses from my Mrs

When my good lady and me first met nearly 15 years ago, in post student digs in Birmingham, we started out as housemates, well technically I was squatting on the floor (long story). Over time we became really close pals, and I always felt so comfortable in her company and could talk about pretty much anything with her. I'd never been much of a 'touchie-feelie' person, but one of the things I loved from the start about my yorkie rose, was that she would always greet you with the warmest and cosiest of hugs. Whatever sort of a bad day, whatever kind of emotional turmoil, her hugs always made me feel so much better.

In the summer of 1995 we finally shared our first kiss and that really was magical. She is still to this day, my best friend, so completely loyal, so kind, so giving, and I just love her to bits. I was so overcome with happiness when she walked down the aisle, I erupted in uncontrollable sobbing - luckily I just about managed to mutter the words - "you are so beautiful" - apparently uptil that point she was wondering if there was summat wrong with her dress!

The Birthday month

Growing up as a kid born at the beginning of December, I often fell 'victim' to the combined present syndrome, which did make you feel a little cheated compared with your school peers. However, as an adult I've successful managed to turn that whole issue well and truly on its head.

One of the few genuinely useful things about my painfully laborious career spent in IT is the tendency across all projects and pieces of work for everything to get shutdown from around mid December until the New Year. This has resulted in me being able to effectively declare the entire pre-Christmas period as my Birthday Month, mentally I basically down tools on December the 1st and just indulge!!! I absolutely love celebrating the achievement of being a year older - for me in this fragile life, you should take every opportunity going to rejoice in the time you are blessed with (and I get to eat a massive coffee and walnut cake - my birthday , my rules!!)

Inspite of the seemingly endless hijacking and commercialisation of this most precious of holiday periods, I really look forward to it so much because of what it means to me -having to be on the road for at least part of pretty much every week in the year is hard-going, and the prospect of a few weeks wrapped up in my close family, particularly now our little fella really starting to understand and get excited by it all is absolute bliss. For me its all about the anticipation, savouring the countdown, getting in the spirit. I love Turkey so much it made it on to our Wedding breakfast - with Yorkshire puddings naturally - well you've got to keep everyone happy! (plus we even got married on Yorkshire day - I really am considerate husbandtastic! - to be fair though she did let us have the reception at Headingley Cricket Ground - bonus).

Hmmm now where was I, oh yes Chrimbo - now Dickens a Christmas Carol - aka Scrooge in various movie guises, is my absolute favourite festive story. Sit me down in front of old Ebeneezer, with a bowl of nuts, my stocking tangerine and a Radio Times and I'm sorted!!

Life's a beach

If you happen to have read my review on Scarborough, you may have spotted a certain fondness for the place on my part - it genuinely is in so many ways my happy place. Whether its nostalgia for those bucket and spade precious family days out, the sounds and spectacle of the crashing waves, the giddy joy of those two penny amusements, I find myself endlessly fascinated with our British Seaside resorts.

What always makes any day out at the coast for me that little bit extra special is that early afternoon family paddle on the beach, usually post fish and chips, just larking around, totally engrossed in the moment. Without wishing to sound too melodramatic , a trip to the seaside these days feels like a sort of pilgrimage for me these days, filling up my senses with happy vibes. Whenever I'm struggling through a day or feeling a bit low, I just think of those golden moments and I can't help but smile.


Naturally another big part of any seaside day out is my double chocolate waffle cone treat, but for me ice-cream deserves a section all on its own. There's healthy food, there's comfort food, but for me ice-cream is in a category all of its own. The unbridled joy I get from each and every cornet or tub never wavers. Birth of my son, 12 hours all through the night , there till the visiting hours finished at 10pm Saturday night - back to Tesco Express, large tub of Ben and Jerry's , Match of the Day - perfection!!!

On a completely different note, I spent a frightening period of around 6-7 months back in 2000 in the grip of panic attacks (again a subject for another day), until I finally managed to get things back into balance via counselling - but during those very difficult early days when I had no idea what was happening to me, waves of anxiety, discomfort, palpitations, as bizarre as it sounds the one thing that consistently helped me recover my composure was an ice-cream - like some kind of magical force - can't explain it really.

Pure Comedy

Belly laugh inducing brilliance is something that I always love to experience - . It's those moments of pure escapism even on the dullest of days that really give you a lift, and put everything back into perspective.

Equally, when its just you and a group of mates or your closest loved ones, reminiscing, telling tales, there's nothing better than making people laugh, that unspoken bond of familiar shared experience is priceless. Best of all, my little boy and me already have our own little in jokes, and he just has such a brilliant style all of his own, guaranteed to bring on tears of laughter every time.

What makes me happy

Being alive, being loved, being blessed.

Monday, 29 March 2010

A fitting way to begin - in memory of Ken

A couple of months ago, I was deeply saddened to learn that a much loved and respected writer Mr Ken Johnstone a member of my primary review writing site http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/ had lost his battle against cancer.

I got in touch with his widow Dolores over the weekend and she very kindly has given me her consent to announce that I will be donating the next £50 of my dooyoo review earnings to the Cancer Clinical Research trust in Ireland.

The following link to Ken's profile has the details of the charity, as well as the very moving and poignant last few entries he made.


Sunday, 28 March 2010

One week in - now let's get this party started!

One week into my Make a Difference blog relaunch. 

So I've sent out all the invites, it's early evening, I'm sat in the kitchen waiting for the doorbell to ring and those first guests to arrive...

In this case the invites being a quick plug on twitter, a status update on facebook and a couple of entries on dooyoo and triond forums. But now I'm starting to wonder, have I got enough party food in, are we ok for drinks, frankly is anyone going to turn up?!

So particularly as I've not had time or chance to spruce up those pages or add any bells and whistles, I think the best I can do is just  keep setting out what I'm aiming to do here, and in the meantime go visit plenty of other blogs and get involved.

One of the best bits about reviewing I have found aside from the instant feedback you get, is the chance to build up contacts through leaving comments. It really means something when people take the time out to say hello and give there own take on what you are saying.

So I'm really hoping one or two of the experienced bloggers out there will be kind enough to help point this raw beginner in the right direction - because in the end, as much as I'm doing this because of the love of writing, it's much more about getting the message out there, in the way I want.

Now I will be highlighting some very real and important charitable causes over the weeks and months, but as serious as the messages will be, I still want to maintain that positive sense of fun, because I firmly believe raising smiles and laughter always needs to go hand in hand with raising vital funds. 

My plans for the next week include highlighting the first of the good causes I'm going to be donating to, plus a round up of the money I've already earned / am due to cash in, so I can start strongly towards that £1000 target. By the end of April, I'm hoping to be able to announce the first phase of donations from me.

Please stick with me - Together we can make a difference.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The importance of setting goals

As I wrote about in my previous blog entry about the Great North Run, setting out clear goals and committing to them is a great way to get motivated. As soon as you've entered and you know that charities are depending on you, it's amazing the difference that can make.

So on that theme I think it's time I set out some real targets for developing this blog.

1) Charity earnings 

Pooling together all the money I make from review writing, as well as survey sites, cashback site earnings etc, I'm setting out to raise a minimum of £1000 per year. I'll be providing a breakdown of earnings to date at least once a month and the causes I'm going to support.

2) Writing every day 

I am determined to keep writing  at least one entry on here every day (with the exception of a few days holiday a year). Having managed to keep a daily diary for 11 years I know how tricky that can be, but I'm determined to keep it going.

3) Gain 300 followers  

Building a community and support network is key for this blog. I really want to make this as interactive as possible and so I'm going to make sure I get involved with as many other bloggers with common interests as I can. I'm hoping to get at least 300 followers by the end of this year.

So on that final point, I'd really appreciate feedback and suggestions from the experienced bloggers out there. If you like what I'm trying to do I would love to bring you along for the ride. If you know other like-minded people in your own networks it'd be fantastic if you could point them this way.

Look forward to hearing from you all!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Get your trainers on- come and join me on the Great North Run!

New Years resolutions starting to falter? Perhaps you are still looking for a fresh challenge to kick-start 2010? Wouldn't it be brilliant to raise money for those charities that really mean something to you? 

As I've said in my last couple of blog entries, I'm looking to use this blog to inspire and motivate people out there to challenge themselves to make a difference. 

When you are trying to make positive changes in your life, I find it is so important to set yourselves goals. If you are looking to get back in shape, these days there are so many sporting events at all levels from a 1 mile run to triathalons that you can sign up for and enter. When you know that you are raising vital money for a special charity it certainly focuses your efforts, even on the darkest, coldest, wettest of training days. 

Hopefully this will give you a taster of what its like to compete in events like this, and maybe one or two of you might even be inspired enough to give it a go. I promise, you won't regret it.

So, if you are in reasonable physical shape and are able to commit to a few hours a week of training, why not consider taking part in Britain's biggest annual running event, the very appropriately named - Great North Run.....

Thursday, 25 March 2010

So how exactly do we start making a difference?

We've all been there.

In the modern world, there are so many demands placed on our time, we have so many things competing for our attention, so often the days just seem to fly away from us.

Particularly those of you out there who are parents , or are full time carers, will be familiar with the constant daily challenges of juggling work commitments with taking care of your nearest and dearest which leaves precious little time for you.

Many of us hanker for that "time out " period, always waiting for that next holiday, a few weeks where we can get things sorted out properly. Maybe then we can tackle the ever growing to do list - losing a few pounds, getting in shape, getting the finances organized, finding time to get back in touch with friends and family.

Magicdarts needs to make a magic start!

I have to say ever since I've decided (about 3 days ago) to channel all my spare time writing into this "Make a difference" theme, my mind has been buzzing with ideas and possibilites. I want to do anything I can to promote and highlight good causes, share inspiring stories, basically make this a 100% feel good blog.

Only trouble is I've realised I've not captured them any where here yet, so there's me, on twitter and dooyoo and my other regular writing haunts trying to drum up traffic to come take a look and yet I haven't got anything put up here yet.

Luckily for me my rushed promotional activities to date have failed to get anyone over here but no time like the present, here we go....

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The seven ages of our little man

While I'm still getting my relaunch materials together here's a piece I wrote last year which hopefully you will find uplifting and enjoyable...

Never mind the seven ages of man, today I'm going to take you on a little tour of the seven phases of our little man, which his mummy and I are truly blessed to share in each and every day. He's very close to his 3rd birthday now, so this is my chance to look back and savour his journey to the peak of toddlerdom......

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

It could already be me

The very notion of achieving overnight financial freedom for me and my family would undoubtedly instantly turn me into a shockily shaking, jibber jabbering, waterfall of tears producing flippy floppy bundle of ecstacy.

Clearly at this point, I'd have to rely on my good lady wife and her significantly more level headed capabilities to make sure that firstly the numbers really were right and to sort out the necessary processes to enable us to get that money safely tucked away quick style.

First things first

Assuming at some point over the following days that I'd managed to regain any sort of sense of composure, at the very top of my list of must do's would be the following.

For me, life can never be defined by the amount of wealth you accumulate or by the raw monetary value of the things you own, the only true goal of my financial ambitions is to achieve total financial security. Quite simply, it's not that I'd never need to work again; it's that every one of my nearest and dearest can be secure in the knowledge that they will not have to face the pressures that money worries can bring to our daily lives.

So all action excitement it's not - number 1 hand in my notice, number 2 pay off the remainder of our mortgage, number 3 pay off my sister's outstanding debts and mortgage, number 4 set up an investment trust / pension fund for our little boy, my little brother and sister, and my niece, number 5 invest securely and live off the interest.

Now for a bit of fun

With the remaining money safely banked, the next thing on my list would be an old favourite - treating my family and in-laws to a trip of a lifetime World Cruise. For me, there's no better way to travel, all the excitement of waking up in a new port, city, country every day, all that fabulous luxury and comfort, and all that rich life experience to enjoy.

You see for me there's really no stand-out item that I'd definitely want to buy, no fancy cars, no luxury goods, nothing. Really all that matters is the extra time I get to spend with my loved ones, and for me I can't think of a better way of enjoying that than taking off around the whole world. There's plenty of time for the kids to gain the education they need, and there's surely no substitute for the life enhancing experience of soaking up culture from all across the planet.

Don't like to talk about it mate

Charidee, although in the words of the great sages DJ's Mike Smash and Dave Nice from British TV's Harry Enfield fame, naturally I don't like to talk about it, but having the ability to make direct and meaningful contributions to the causes closest to my heart would naturally make them high on the list of priorities.

Having lost loved ones to Cancer and Heart Disease, would certainly want to make a sizeable initial donation of around 5% of the overall winnings to those causes, both at a national and local level. Am also passionate about supporting children's charities, and particularly those providing respite care for long term sick or terminally ill children, so would want to immediately donate a further 5% to those causes.

The key thing for me would be to be able to give so much more time to local charities, and to be able to combine this with my passions in life, most notably sport, writing, entertaining and music. Coaching disabled sports, campaigning through my writing to raise awareness and funds for charities, putting on shows and events, helping out with days out, I'd love to really get stuck into this stuff, using the income from the interest payments to fund things for the longer term

Writing my own scripts

For me this would be the true beginning of loving what I do for a living. Having spent much all of my working life as a corporate employee, I've learned to accept the trade off between financial reward in return for a significant investment of time and effort. But in all these years, despite having achieved plenty and earned good wages, I've never really had the feeling of pure joy in doing what I do. Finally I would get the chance to write when I want , what I want and how I want - reviews, short stories, radio and tv scripts, maybe even screenplays.

And lottery or not, and lets face it as I never buy a lottery ticket the chances really are miniscule, this is still very much at the crux of how I see the next few years developing for me. No instant magic cash reward I grant you, but over time I am 100% committed to building up my portfolio of writing, and for as long as it takes, for the rest of my life I know deep down in my heart that in terms of everything outside of taking care of my family and loved ones, it's all that I want to do in my working life.

I'm already there

Whenever I think about my beautiful little boy, my wonderful missus, all my close family, my late Mum and Dad and all the other people I've been privileged to have shared some part of my life with, to me they hold a value that could never be matched by any other material measure of wealth. Millions and billions are an utter irrelevance, compared with the importance of health and happiness.

Rather than waiting ever hopefully for that mystical one life changing moment to arrive, I've come to realise that when I really think about it, I already have more than enough to treasure in this world. The only choice I really need to make is how I invest my time, to make sure that I spend it wisely on the things that matter most.

Pass the sick bucket I know!!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Greetings Pop Pickers! Time for me to share with you some of my quite literally all time favourite song type tunes of all time......

I'm sure that each song has any number of different meanings to the performers and to everyone who listens to them, but I've deliberately tried to pick out songs that not only I love to hear over and over again, but also that really mean something to me.

10. Keep the Faith - Bon Jovi

Now the evergreen New Jersey stadium rocking legends that are the Jovi, have in my book at least produced any number of classics over the years. My own personal favourite still has to be one of their most up tempo belters - Keep the Faith. As you'll see from some of my other choices, I'm a real sucker for a powerful intro, and this one is no exception. Whenever I'm feeling a bit lethargic and in need of a boost, you can guarantee that when I hear those opening bars kick in I'm on my feet in an instant.

As an unashamedly dedicated sports fanatic, for me, this song absolutely captures all those conflicting emotions you go through whether you are watching or taking part. Its all about keeping going no matter how hard things get, of still believing in the possibility of succeeding against the odds, no matter how hopeless the situation.

!Blowing my own trumpet alert!A few years back when I was lucky enough to be one of the winners of a Radio 5 sporting shorts radio play competition, this tune was my pick for the grand finale of the piece, and I'll always treasure the memories of listening to the track kick in at the end of those 10 magical minutes, knowing that I'd finally realised a long held ambition to get my writing out there. Did I cry? Did I ever!

9. High - Lighthouse Family

Back to something much more melancholy now, and the soulful British combo that produced a succession of heartfelt uplifting tunes in the late 1990s.

When we got married in 1998, we also had a wedding video made, and for the opening sequences the video man suggested that we should put a selection of pictures of us both growing up, right from being tiny toddlers through to when we got together.

This song just seemed to fit perfectly, the lyrics following every step of our very different journeys to our special day, building up to the captivating chorus of "we are going to be, forever you and me". Every year on our anniversary we sit down and watch our video together and the minute this tune strikes up, it all comes flooding back - what a couple of old softies!

8. Dancing Queen - Abba

Whether it be a 70's night, private party, or wedding disco, no matter what time of night, this is one song that's always guaranteed to fill the dancefloor in an instant. Sure Abba have produced a multitude of brilliant numbers but this one gets my vote simply because of the instant euphoria rush that sweeps through you the second you here that distinctive keyboard swish and those opening beats.

Oh and also because it always reminds me of my student days. Believe it or not (and I've never been involved in any productions of Mamma Mia) I've actually seen the lyrics brought to life before my very eyes. Back in 1992 visiting my mates at Swansea University, we went to a house party.

Naturally during the preceedings this particular track made its customary appearance and lo and behold at that party was a 17 year old Swedish au pair, and yes she clearly could dance and sway, and was most definitely having the time of her life. So was my mate by all accounts, because there I was in the darkened cellar / utility room grabbing a beer when next thing I know in pops my pal and aforementioned young Swedish lady, taking a sneaky opportunity for a cheeky back room fondling session.

Somewhat unsure where to put myself at this point, I decided the best policy would be to stay hidden in the corner, but then when a sequinned top ended up being tossed in my direction I felt my cover was very likely blown. So just like Hugh Grant in that famous Four Weddings pencil scene I made the most dignified exit I could manage -muttering "are you two alright for a drink?" and legging it sharpish!

7. Its not Unusual - Tom Jones

I've always enjoyed a good old Karaoke sing along, and when we took our first cruising holiday back in 2002, I was over the moon to spot a daily karaoke session running in one of the lounges. My wife on the other hand was filled with trepidation, but went along to support me nonetheless.
My debut number was less than auspicious, I sang Unchained Melody quite nicely I thought apart from getting out of my range a little. I noticed that everyone was standing still trotting out those safe, tried and trusted Karaoke standard easy listening ballads - you know the ones - like Crazy by Patsy Cline, or Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline and it was all going a bit flat. I was determined to have a laugh with it all, so decided to crank it up a notch with my next selection.

Step forward the high tempo'd mastery of Tom Jones, and time to milk it for all its worth. Running around the floor, swirling those hips gleefully I belted out every line to the max - and staggering they all seemed to love it- suddenly cheers were erupting all round, a huge crowd was gathering, and they wanted more! As a result the next few evenings on the ship were a complete blast - loads of people got stuck into it, walking around the decks people were asking if I was going to be performing again. They started extending the sessions and at one point they even had to delay one of the main entertainment shows because so many people were still watching the Karaoke - what a giggle!!

6. Everybody's talking at me -Beautiful South

Calming things down again now, this particular song beautifully covered by the mighty Paul Heaton and co instantly brings to mind chilled out summer days at the seaside. Such a simple, gentle song, so light and airy; whisking you off into a delightful day dream world, no matter where you are or what you are doing.
I remember hearing it for the first time when the original Harry Nillson version featured on the Jolly Boy's coach trip outing to Margate in Fools and Horses, and it immediately brought back so many memories of family days out on the North Sea coast.
This really is my happy place, the bucket and spade, the crashing waves, the windswept dunes, the enormous chocolate icecream cones....

5. The Scientist - Coldplay

To be honest I was pretty torn between at least 3 Coldplay songs, with the haunting beauty of Yellow and the emotion riddled raw power of Fix You also scoring very highly with me, but the one tune that means the most particularly when I'm feeling low and struggling to cope with things has to be The Scientist. The simple sequence of piano chords at the beginning are absolutely spellbinding, and as it builds to the chorus as Martin's wailing words come straight from the heart "nobody said it'd be easy, no one ever said it would be this hard..."

I vividly recall remember hearing this track for the first time in late 2002, just a few weeks after my beloved Dad had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and it just resonated through me, so much came pouring out. The song completely connected with my inability to make any rational sense of what was happening, all my fears for the future, having already gone through the pain of losing my Mum in 1993, and particuarly for his new wife and young family especially my step sister and half-brother who were only 9 and 3 years old respectively at the time.

4. Sometimes you can't make it on your own - U2

Sadly, Dad lost his fight in late December 2002, but with the help of my wonderful wife and big sister we helped my step mum and the kids through it, right from keeping Christmas going through to moving house in early 2003. A year or so on, U2 released a very personal song written about Bono's own relationship with his father and once again it struck home very deeply with me.

Although we are very different characters, we do share so many traits, and for me the lyrics of the song manage to capture the very essence of an unbreakable bond between father and son. However much pain and hurt was caused by some of the decisions he made in the final years of his life, we always needed and were there for each other, and particularly since the birth of my own son, when I hear this track it truly makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Every time I hear the electrifying wall of guitar sounds power into the chorus "and it's me when you look in the mirror..." the tears start to flow.

3. Angels - Robbie Williams

My mum's life was tragically cut short in 1993 when she suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater, and because it was such a sudden loss it took us all a long time to come to terms with what had happened.

What helped me cope, was my overwhelming conviction that the same determined vigour with which she always tackled everything in life would live on in me. That guiding spirit, that sense of greater forces beyond our understanding, is beautifully expressed in the song Angels. From one simple line "I look above, and I know I'll always be blessed with love", somehow everything makes sense to me.

By no stretch of the imagination would I ever consider myself a religious person, but I most certainly believe that the power of love and with it our sense of self and belonging stretch far beyond the world we understand, and this heartfelt song is a tremendous comfort to me.

2. Something Changed - Pulp

We actually chose this much less known track from the all round fantastic album Different Class as our wedding dance song, because for us it represents how we went from being the very closest of friends to being soul mates. Any one watching us strutting around the floor that day with all the bizarre twirls and turns must have been convinced we'd practiced our routine in advance, but the truth was we were just making it up as we go along and loving every minute. Everytime I hear this song I just have to smile.

In the few months after Mum's death I was an absolute wreck, an unemployed graduate living back at home, my semi-retired Dad and me were tearing strips out of each other. Finally I decided to do something positive, read about the great work of the Princes Trust Volunteers programme and signed up for a course with them in Birmingham where I went to University (truly was an amazing experience - that's a whole other story though).

I stayed with a former college flat mate who also happened to be sharing the house with my future wife to be. She was a great comfort to me, she had lost her Dad when she was very young, and was always there as a friend with lots of hugs and reassurance. Having completed the 12 week programme, I stayed on working for a small business, and so over the next year or so, became really good friends with her. A full 18 months since I first showed up on the doorstep, we shared our first kiss. Everything changed!

1. Flying without wings - Westlife

Having dragged you along on my own personal musical odyssey thus far, it's perhaps a bit of a surprise to read that this one unbelievably special song means more to me than all the others combined in this list.

To me it simply has everything, deeply emotional lyrics, incredibly spiritually uplifting music, sung with real passion and meaning.

Back in early 2005, although we'd never made it widely known, we had been trying for a baby for well over 5 years with no success, and had basically resigned ourselves to the fact that perhaps it just wasn't meant to be. Naturally it wasn't made any easier by the fact that our nearest and dearest were constantly telling us how we'd make great parents and we seemed to be surrounded by friends with newborns and little ones.

Just as we'd given up all hope, our little miracle came along. After waiting for so long we were determined that we'd do everything possible to make sure baby would be ok. Part way through the pregnancy we went through a very heartwrenching time because her blood tests revealed a high risk of Downs Syndrome or other complications.

What made it even tougher was that I was working away at the time when she first got the news. After much soul-searching she had an amniocentesis with the risks that entails, so we could find out for definite. I remember listening to the track over and over in my car, the lyrics ripping through my head "impossible as they may seem, you've got to fight for every dream, because who's to know which one you let go, could have made you complete". We'd waited for so long, for this one chance, surely it couldn't be taken away from us now.

I simply can't describe the relief when the results came back as all clear. Knowing that we could have lost him, when our little boy finally came into the world almost 3 years ago to the day it was an utterly indescribably emotional experience.

On that weary drive back from the hospital after visiting hours had finished, it was the first song I played "And you're the place my life begins, and you'll be where it ends, I'm flying without wings, and that's the joy you bring." Funnily enough I had to pull over at that point...

Hopefully many many long years from now, this is the song that I want to be played at my funeral. It says everything about who and what really matters in my life, and that's why it means so much.