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Arnold's World

This week's column may seem a little more slapdash than usual. I admit that I haven't taken my usual care to assiduously avoid splitting infinitives or to guard against the odd spelling msitake. And quite frankly, I don't give a damn. I am doing what my new guru Paul Wilson describes as "lowering the crossbar": rather than work myself into a tizzy to ensure that everything is perfect, I am wallowing in the stress-free luxury of settling for second-best. It might mean that you will find what follows more difficult to read than it need be, but don't worry about it - take my advice and skip the less intelligible sentences.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't be bothered if you skipped the lot. In fact, nothing has bothered me much since I started dipping into Paul Wilson's Little Book of Calm. Of course, I could be bluffing. But you'd never guess so from the expression of ineffable contentment that is now indelibly stamped on my face. Needless to say, I am following another of Mr Wilson's useful precepts: "if you pretend to others that you are a calm person, in no time you'll be a calm person".

If that seems too simple to be true, I can assure you that is one of the more challenging prescriptions in this tiny book. Which probably explains why it has survived for more than 60 weeks at or near the top of the best-selling list. For a modest outlay of pound;1.99, it promises instant access to nirvana.

In his preface Mr Wilson explains that you must always keep LBOC within easy reach. When you feel that life's getting you down, you make a grab for it, open it at random and pay heed to the first nugget of advice you happen upon. So, faced with the daunting challenge of a looming deadline, nothing to write about, and a dose of the screaming abdabs sufficiently chronic to warrant a mention on the front page of The Lancet, I took a tentative peep into LBOC and - miracle of miracles - discovered the wisdom of setting my sights lower.

Perhaps I should confess that it was only on my 23rd lunge into the book that I hit lucky. I don't honestly think it would have done me much good to sip peppermint tea, "make friends with a masseur", "pamper your feet", think about a sunset, add orange to my atomiser (whatever that is), list my worries, comb someone else's hair, or "wear Donald Duck underpants" (which, apparently, will remind you of the "irreverent, uninhibited, joyous side of life"). Similarly, I have resisted the temptation to "pretend to be a windmill" and "to make love".

I am willing to believe that the latter might reduce my stress levels, but I am trying to write this in my local library and I am fairly sure that, despite the library service's sterling efforts in recent years to shed its fuddy-duddy image, there must still be a rule prohibiting that sort of thing.

Of course, it isn't the inherent wisdom of any of the individual gobbets of advice that makes LBOC such an attractive publication, but its breezy reassurance that if your life is too stressful, there are simple things you can do to make it a little bit easier. And if they involve lowering a few crossbars, don't hesitate to boldly do so.

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