Ryan was working in Belgium until he moved here last August. Originally from Canada, he lived in Amsterdam and Rome before finding his way to London. Now he's here, what's he doing? "A push-up and a sit-up every day." Eh? "I'm doing a push-up and a sit-up every day – adding one more for every day that passes. Now I'm on 79, it's pretty tough."
Ryan is not the only one on a mission. Emma is swimming every day; Tony is writing a journal; Lizzie is plagiarising ideas; Emerson is taking photographs (notably of odd statues – Dr Johnson's cat, for one); and Kunal has just decided to sculpt little clay characters until he has a tiny army. And there, in their midst, is their grand poobah, the comedian Josie Long.
The group has gathered for a social at the Battersea Arts Centre bar on day 79 of Long's web-based One Hundred Days to Make Me a Better Person project. The idea sounds straight out of the Dave Gorman book of odd-but-pleasant challenges, and it is much to the credit of Long's winning personality that she has persuaded more than 900 people to vow to do, and document, one thing a day – and even more impressive that their sense of community is strong enough to extend from online encouragement to filling out this corner of a bar. Pledges vary from learning new Russian words to "practising throwing food in the air and catching it in my mouth" – but many more are creative pursuits, from haikus to illustrations.
The idea came to Long after she moved house last year. "The London Word Festival wanted to do something with me and I'd just made the decision to talk to strangers every day – mainly because I had recently moved to Hackney and didn't feel settled in. I wanted to get to know more about my local area and be like one of those people who gets on the bus who's a bit fun and makes it more fun for everyone else. I also got really into people who did daily projects – photo blogs, that kind of thing, and I thought it would be good to commit to taking some kind of action every day.
"I really like that this project is finite, so there's a definite end to work towards. I also like that it's not promoting anything," she says. "It's just heart-warming to get people motivating each other to do things they've wanted to do for a while." That mutual motivation has come through the project website, Facebook and Twitter, and pledgers' blogs.
The project culminates in a live event on the 100th day (this Wednesday) at Work Dalston in east London as part of the London Word Festival. A "museum" will show off pledgers' work, while a piece of art that comedian and Peep Show star Isy Suttie has been working on will be auctioned off.
So, how has Long done with her own pledges: to challenge herself physically, be more politically active, talk to strangers and write jokes? "For the first 30 days, I wanted to do a different gym class every day, go to a rally every day," she says. "I felt I was letting everyone down as I wasn't doing that. Then I chilled out a bit – so I've been trying not to overeat, doing Bikram yoga and boxercise, reading political blogs... And as a matter of course, I do just talk to strangers now. The jokes have been the hardest part – I just ended up writing puns for a while."
Puns or not, the project has resulted in some truly remarkable work, and over the following pages, we highlight some of the very best...
For more, visit: hundreddays.net, londonwordfestival.com
"I had done some drawing in the past, but not as much or as often as I'd liked, and I didn't feel like I was improving, which is why I signed up to the 100 Days project," says this 33-year-old software engineer from Glasgow. "I had the thought that committing publicly to it would help me stick to it.
"I've become more skilled at drawing, and more disciplined, and I've also enjoyed seeing what other people have been creating, and being part of the bigger project. I've tried lots of new techniques, such as charcoal, pastels, brush and ink, and it's been a fun experience. I've also done some collaborations with other 100 Dayers, which has been nice." hundreddrawings.blogspot.com
2CV: "This was a fun idea, but it was more difficult than expected. I drew each of the 40 Post-it notes individually and put them together later. I drew a grid over the source photo to help a bit."
had just given up her job at a bank and started working as a freelance designer/illustrator full-time when she found out about the 100 Days project online. "I did an art degree when I was younger and had been doing illustrations on and off ever since, and I thought that this would be interesting as a self-improvement project," says the 39-year-old from Bath. "I wanted to experiment, trying lots of different styles, to become a better artist by the end of it.
"I looked for an object that I use every day to work around, and decided to create a different picture in a different style each day that incorporated my coffee pot, such as this bird cage [near right]. Sometimes the ideas just pop into my head; other times I go through my old art books [middle right, inspired by Carlo Carrà's Still Life with Triangle, 1917; far right, inspired by Mondrian]. Now that I work from home, it's nice being part of an online community of people who are all working along the same lines." studioanjou.com
works at the Arts Council. A 28-year-old from London, she is writing 100 100-word stories about her conversations with strangers. "I like talking to random people, and I wanted to chart how I interact with the world in a creative way," she explains. "Not all the stories are exact replications of real-life interactions, but the situations do always provide a starting point. The project has improved my observations of the world, and it's made me a better writer, as I've experimented with different styles. I must seem more open, too – people approach me a lot more now." speaktostrangers.wordpress.com
Day 26: You clutch your health food shop bag and discuss the deterioration of modern living, how we're all Blair's puppets and that the teenager in a red dress, laughing at her book, is the only one who understands. It is my only opportunity today, so I make the most of it, to the disgust of the carriage. I ask you to repeat yourself, Did you say we're all going to die? You mumble a response, and then yelp: You can't hear me! No one hears me! I do, but seeing the first fury of your despair I decide to turn away.
Day 29: You walk into the shop, shaved head, downturned mouth and ask for Chanukah candles. The small ones are cheap and colourful but last only a couple of hours, so the thick, twisted choice suits. You need to concentrate, you lean your umbrella against the shelves. As you decide, I see you twist the skin on your wrist as far as it will go, maybe to make sure you do still have skin, that it reacts when touched and that it responds to pressure. When you release your grip, a purple depression remains, and you seem elated. Today, it's raining again.
Day 57: To call the , I dial six numbers. You chirp when you answer. During our exchange, you are alternately friendly and distant like a child on a swing, back and forth, coming back. It has hands, your voice. It journeys to my forehead, strokes gently, slaps, strokes again. As I speak, I note how well you listen, so I catch this moment in my fist and when you tell me I need to fill in a form, I am ready to share truths. I say something about the nature of neediness, adoration and a heart that will not settle.
Day 72: I remember oranges and you don't mind me leaving the queue momentarily to find some. When you say, Of course, you reach for my arm in sympathy and recognition. This may be the thing that breaks me today, that stops me in my tracks before driving me forward, turning a corner, making something work, letting everything happen. When I return, you're touching my yoghurts, reading the ingredients, as though you are making them yours, protecting them in my absence and amusing yourself with the cherry-ness of them. On days like this, I want to take my strangers home with me. '
is a professional animator from Brighton. He pledged to draw an illustration with an accompanying story each day. "I've always wanted to do some comedy writing, and I thought this would be a good way to work through some ideas," says the 24-year-old. "The main thing was to experiment and have an audience, through the project, who could tell me if it was working," he says. "Some are just kernels of ideas, things I can extend into animation, but the project has given me a big body of work to move forward from.
"Mr Grunball is based on an old neighbour I had – he would just stare at everything with disgust. I wrote 'Man in the Sea' after reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and watching some David Attenborough documentaries. I was thinking about the immensity of the natural world, and decided to write about this guy who's concerned only with his little boat." laulblog.wordpress.com
'He's at it again,' grumbled Mr Grunball between delicate nibbles of toast, 'yeah, you laugh boy, you laugh. You wont be laughing when I... flipping... yeah, just you laugh.'
'Is he laughing again, Clive?' asked Mrs Grunball, her hook-nose peeking over the top of the local paper, let's say 'The Haversham Herald'. Mrs Grunball isn't Mr Grunball's wife, as you'd assume, but his brother, Mr Grunball's wife, she's staying for a while, it's a complex situation, the word 'triangle' features. I know it's tantalising, but it's a different story, so put it to the back of your mind for the time being.
'No not really, but he's going to, I can tell, there's always a pattern to this lad's behaviour and I'm privy to it, I'll tell you that much,' answered Mr Grunball, still focused on the activity outside.
'So what's he doing?' probed Mrs Grunball further.
'Yeah you see, that's exactly it, that's the reason he gets away with it. He's so subtle and sly about it, no one bats an eyelid,' responded Mr Grunball.
'You're not answering my question, Clive, what's he actually doing?' persisted Mrs Grunball.
'He's devious, skulking...' Clive trailed off, until: 'There! He's doing it, he's fucking laughing at me again!'
'Clive! Language!' yelled Mrs Grunball as she stood to join him at the window. 'Oh him,' she said upon seeing the object of Mr Grunball's frustrations, 'Clive, how many times? Dogs don't actually laugh, they don't express themselves in that way.'
'They bloody do Sarah, they bloody do!' and with that he stormed out and spent ages locked in the bathroom.
'Bing bong' chimed the announcer's introduction, 'this train is now departing from Belcham South, the next station is Belcham North, this train terminates at Belcham South.' Simon considered this his epitaph.
Man in the Sea
The ocean is magnificent, that is undeniable. To consider the magnitude of vibrant creatures humankind has discovered over decades of painstaking exploration and scientific endeavour is nothing short of breathtaking. The complexities of the deep, the perfection and balance of its self-sustaining ecosystem has caused many a man to praise God as a divine designer for lack of any other logical explanation of such unfathomable beauty and purpose. Even more astounding, with this in mind, is to consider that only 5 per cent of the ocean has yet been discovered.
Derek spends everyday at the beach but he hasn't really considered much of this, he just bloody loves his boat.
Warwick Johnson Cadwell
supports people with learning difficulties with their day-to-day living, but is "always trying to get an illustration up and running. Having a target of drawing an A6 panel every day seemed a good way to give me a focus," says the 36-year-old from West Sussex. "There's no definite beginning or end to my 100 Days story; I sketched some of the characters for my blog a year ago for a story about the queens of a jungle where musical characters are running around. Now the queens are hunting a giant frog for its eye, which carries a baby frog inside. I'm not sure where it's going, I just want to show people this crazy place." warwickjohnsoncadwell.blogspot.com
is a freelance costumier and part-time illustrator. Originally from Umeå in Sweden, the 29-year-old moved to London in 2002. For her 100 Days project, she has been drawing illustrations of good deeds. "I've always done drawings and given them away to people, but I've not really done it professionally," she says. "This project is like doing exercise. It's good to have something you have to do every day. I've become more disciplined because of it. I wanted the drawings, which I did in pencil with black pen on top, to be simple and quick – just a little private thing. That's why they're drawn on lined paper from a cheap refill pad – to make them less precious and more just from my sketchbook." http://komaamok.blogspot.com'
is a website designer and web-game animator from London. He has also set up an anthology called Solipsistic Pop as a British version of David Eggers' McSweeney's quarterly to showcase our best comic artists, which he sells online. "I'd been in touch with Josie, as she had bought my comics, and I'd just finished the first issue of Solipsistic Pop when 100 Days came around," says the 28-year-old. "The issue had taken a lot of time to put together – editing it, dealing with the printers, marketing it – and it had taken me away from my studio, so 100 Days was the perfect way of getting back to the reason why I got into writing comics. Trying to find time to do this in the evening means it's no grand opus – it's just based on what's been affecting me. The short time-frame has meant I've had to develop a simple style, and I've experimented with different colour schemes. I've definitely steadily improved." ventedspleen.com, solipsisticpop.com
heard about 100 Days through a few friends who had signed up. "Writing in some some form was always something I was going to look at – I work in events marketing, and I've always enjoyed writing creatively in my spare time," says the 29-year-old from London. So why choose to write haikus? "I thought that if I tried to do something convoluted, the chances are I might not do it. I came up with the idea of poetry, then I thought: why not something concise about something that happened that day? I just wanted it to be entertaining.
"It's coincided with a big change in my life. When I started writing the haikus, I was working in the steel industry in Scunthorpe, and in the process of these 100 days, I've changed my career, my company, and in my opinion made my life better. Being able to document these things – from interviews to my move down to London - has been really quite comforting." hundredhaikudays.blogspot.com
Day 15: So you've had a job interview. You think it went well but then you don't hear anything for a couple of days when you know they wanted to make a quick decision. So you think about calling them, but will that look like you're hassling them about it, or demonstrate the enthusiasm that they're looking for, thereby helping your chances? To summarise:
Will I scupper my
Chances by calling them, or
By not calling them?
Day 35: I know it's a bit of a standard thing to moan about going back to work after Christmas, but it is rubbish, isn't it? Things have gone a bit tits-up at work, so I've decided to take redundancy. It is a risk, as I haven't got anything else lined up, but I've got so little to do that every month I stay is damaging my career. I've been wanting to get back down to London for a while now, so that's what I'll be doing at the start of next month. Gulp! Anyway, back to the haiku – I had a load of emails this morning, but after going through the meaningless rubbish ones all I had to do was post a brochure to someone. I really don't need to be here.
Irrelevant e-mails, I
Was left with one task.
Day 49: I'd been growing a beard for the last month or so, with the intention of seeing it through, but I've got a few potentially significant appointments tomorrow, and the beard was looking really quite messy, so it had to go. However, shaving a beard off does always have a good side effect.
Shaving a beard is
An excuse to see what I'd look
And the answer is: like a sex offender
Day 64: Confessions of an unfulfilled mind, part two
If you say 'badgers'
Instead of 'badges', no one
Bats an eyelid. Fact.
Day 70: Today will mark my last night here [in Scunthorpe], I start my new job on Wednesday, and by day 100 I will be a fully paid-up resident of London. It is all really exciting, but I'm pretty nervous and daunted at the same time. Plus I haven't done nearly enough packing yet, to the extent that I might have to be up quite late tonight finishing it off...
Maybe instead of
Packing, I'll set everything
On fire and leave it.