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Jeremy Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist and columnist who has written about Oxford for more than 10 years. He lives in - and loves – Kidlington.

Man About County

Jeremy Smith


Like everyone else, I’m starting a diet, but mine won’t affect calories. Instead, I’ve decided to cut out news. I tried it last October, for a few weeks, and its effect was life changing (and that is no exaggeration). Just as Archimedes enjoyed his ‘Eureka!’ moment in the bath, and Paul the Apostle while on the road to Damascus, I experienced mine on my sitting room couch while watching a news broadcast.

I can’t remember the particular story, though I recall it was neither tragic nor shocking. Rather, just an event, a consequence of timing, geography, emotion and stupidity that had been hijacked into second-rate melodrama. And that was it: I simply stopped watching the news – any news – for three weeks, and the difference was palpable. I switched off Fiona Bruce for Eggheads, Mary Nightingale for Neighbours, and Jon Snow for the Great British Menu.

Overnight (ok, three overnights), my sense of jitters and unease evaporated. By refusing to watch, read or click onto anything presenting the world in histrionic soundbites, I started clearing space for a fledgling optimism. Indeed, instead of the world crowding in upon me, I started feeling I had space to breathe. But then come November, and buoyed (smugly) by my new detox, I started falling back into bad habits, and by December I found myself, once more, ravaged by the hurt, outraged and downright livid world around me. Which is why in 2018, I intend to go entirely news-free. After all, if Jeremy Corbyn can go vegan, I can go into denial, which is where I am right now and you know what? I’ve never felt more optimistic, more purposeful, or more alive.

Irresponsible and simplistic? Maybe. Callow and naive? Almost certainly. Happier and better focussed? No question. So is every day now a day of celebration? No. But it is a lot, lot less strenuous and a lot, lot more gentle. And compared to giving up smoking (gruelling) and drink (pointless), it’s so far proving a walk in the park. Obviously I’m not ignorant to what’s happening in the world; I can’t help but glimpse headlines in newsagents or catch snippets off the radio, but by and large I am blissfully ignorant of the minutiae – the analysis, opinion, debate, and best of all, Facebook pronouncements world events now garner. It is a continental shift of perspective to be sure, but it works.

Plus, I don’t have to give up meat, chocolate, cream, Prosecco, curries or fries. Nor do I have to spend early mornings in the gym, spend my lunchtimes ‘crunching’, or try to fit the wheelchair on my bathroom scales.

So yes, I continued to watch the news over Christmas but at a much diluted level. The effect? It’s enabled me to feel positive for the first time about what this New Year – or any New Year for that matter, since I’ve always dreaded January – might actually bring. So despite the fact we still have February to plow through, I’m feeling lighter – of spirit.

- Jeremy Smith