Wednesday, September 16, 2015


The closest thing to love is hate, apparently. I think this was one of those spurious generalisations made by some pinko-Liberal. Had the saying not existed before the Internet I'd have guessed it was the work of those secret meme minions who pump out everything from cute kittens to rallying war cries to social injustice campaigns (which some people think are really the work of Tory spin doctors to try and discredit the discreditors - how's that for an eat-itself-conspiracy-theory?).

During the General Election, I fell out with two important people in my life. The first was my brother, who got fed up with me accusing him and his (probably not) well meaning friends of being Nazis and him doing what I accuse most people of doing which is believing the press. The problem is, for me, that I don't see a caring, benevolent Tory party, I see people in brown shirts, crushing the oppressed under their jackboot heels and nothing they have done since the election has changed my mind - they have a war on poverty; they want to eradicate it and the best way to do that is get rid of the majority of people caught in poverty by unnatural wastage. Tories preach to us how much they care and people buy it even if there is bugger all evidence to back it up. The tax credit bill certainly looks like Dave and co helping the poorest in society, donchathink?

But I'm old and wise enough to realise that people don't want actual facts, they just want what seems or feels right to them and their little England idyll. We became insular after (and because of) Thatcher and as long as we are all right, then...

The second friend I fell out with was considerably less expected. A good friend and fellow left winger and I fell out over language used towards his god-daughter, who had earlier on Facebook picked on Ed Miliband while simultaneously bigging up Nigel Farage. She came in for some stick, not least by me. Then it turned out she was a silly 16-year-old who couldn't vote and was just 'getting involved' in the debate. I was then ordered to apologise to her (after receiving a really uncalled for level of abuse from said child's family and friends) and I refused - end of friendship and to be honest with you if a near 20 year relationship can be blown to smithereens that quickly then there probably wasn't a solid foundation in the first place. The thing was, looking back on it, I just called her 'silly' and yet over the last few weeks I've seen abuse of a kind I've struggled to believe could come from the brain of a human being.

If it isn't the most callous and uncaring comments by 'Brits' (and I use that term loosely) about the refugee crisis, it has been the widespread animosity generated by Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader - culminating yesterday in his decision not to sing the National Anthem. Forget the social media sites that are fit to burst with vile commentary by fascists with nothing better to do; the press had a field day. It is far more important that our right wing controlled media tell you about the fact Jeremy didn't sing than bother to spend any time on the number of people who have died as a result of benefits 'sanctions' or the fact the Tories are abolishing tax credits and for the poorest people the shortfall will take up to 2 years to sort.

No, starving Brits is not important when we can berate a 66-year-old man for looking dishevelled or not singing to the establishment's tune or not appointing any women to the top 3 jobs in his shadow cabinet, or blah blah blah blah blah - which, of course, makes him evil. The right wing press never bothered to tell you that Corbyn tends to be nice and respectful to most everyone (apart from pernicious right wing pit bulls such as Laura Kuensberg), especially when he's trying to sort some shit some other politician has created. No, the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by Cameron and co isn't even worth talking about, so therefore it doesn't exist and anyone complaining about it is either a leftie or deserves to be in the mess they're in. That's how fair our society is because of our press.

Corbyn will crucified by the media because of his refusal to play their games. It is one of those areas where his inexperience and simmering petulance towards 'the establishment' has to be addressed. He cannot rely on face-to-face meetings and social media (which is a microcosm of belief anyhow), yet he knows that even a moderate paper like The Guardian is going to be critical of every thing he does. In many ways it's a totally thankless position he's been put in - and all for sticking to his principles.

But, you know, I kind of think he should be congratulated for the stance he's taking and for rising above all the abuse directed at him. The problem is - this is England 2015, not 1985 - all forms of media is essential, even the old fashioned (right wing controlled) kind.

Corbyn would be well-advised to offer Owen Jones a job within his communications team. Jones is the left-wing young columnist and writer who has helped galvanise interest in politics amongst the young and disenfranchised again and he was the real inspiration for this blog...

Jeremy Corbyn doesn't believe in confrontational politics and was seen berating his own supporters for their overzealous campaigning at times (this, of course, was barely mentioned when stories of Corbyn's internet-pit-bulls were reaching the Sun) and I can understand why. If you look at comments sections of papers, blogs, articles, websites or just the social media, you will see the world in miniature - the left, the right, the middle and the crazy (and I'm not talking UKIP here). The crazy tend to be from any political party, although the more extreme the views tends to be from the most extreme people and the internet attracts crazies like flies to shit.

Owen Jones - left wing, gay and outspoken - comes in for his fair share of abuse and as he said today that you used to be able to go months or even years without being abused by a complete stranger and now it's almost an hourly event, especially if you sit on either side of the political fence. Jones rises above it because oddly enough that's the best policy. If, like me, you decide to engage the loonies you discover that many of them are considerably more fucked up than you could imagine. The internet of 2015 means that even if you are proved wrong/right that isn't the end of it. people either choose not to accept the proof in front of them and continue with their abuse, or they just carry on with their abuse, because they lost and we don't have good losers any longer (do we, Labour?).

I witnessed a Facebook 'conversation' between my friend Jeff Chahal (the owner of a local business and a believer in a fairer society for all) and the friend of one of his friends whose understanding of the 'migrant' crisis and the diversity in the world was sorely missing. Jeff remained remarkably calm in the face of what started out as just general ignorance and lack of knowledge, but soon turned to some of the basest and unpleasant insults about Jeff's heritage, personal beliefs and vile presumptions I've ever seen and all because Jeff stayed calm and presented facts rather than invective. By the end of the 'conversation' anyone witnessing it would have been justifiably angry - there were even calls for Jeff to report the guy to the Hate Crimes unit, but he's a fair man and he believed that would just cause more trouble. Personally, the idiot he engaged with will never see the error of his ways so you punish him continuously until he at least shuts the fuck up.

I have mellowed in recent months. I once created an alter-ego for The Guardian website, but tend to use my own name and profile now because, as I've always said, if you want to insult or argue with someone on the net at least have the conviction of being a real person when you do it (I have never used Bill Wall for anything other than liking things I don't want in my own personal Facebook news feed). My wife has said since the late 1990s that the internet in any way other than for information and facts is not for her. She has no interest in social media; she does not want to read the (largely wrong or ignorant) rantings of complete strangers (like me) or even personal friends. The internet should be a non-confrontational tool of knowledge and just writing or thinking that makes me the most naive person who ever breathed. Human nature is confrontational - we think having wars is the way to solve most things. We tend to forget that, at this moment in time, however technological we have become, we're still essentially animals and a pretty aggressive species at that.

Earlier in the year I wrote a piece about musician Steven Wilson, which covered similar ground to this and was about emotional responses and personal 'ownership' where actually none exists. Some of us have become so insular we're no longer really aware that there's an entire world out there with 7billion+ of souls. The reason is as stupid as, "I bought his records, I helped him become a millionaire, he owes it to ME!" and that is essentially the same attitude with different words expressed by the users and abusers on social media. It's my belief, how dare you not agree with it!

And I'm as guilty as everyone else and will be again in the future because it doesn't matter how clever you think you are - you're an animal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


The story so far…

July 1st 2014: lifting Marley onto a vet’s table there was a pop in my shoulder – a very painful pop.

October 2nd 2014: the doctor tells me I’ve probably ruptured a tendon and refers me to a specialist.

August 1st 2015: Mr Divyang Shukla re-enters my shoulder via a keyhole for the second time in exactly 5 years.

It wasn’t as bad as he thought it might be, but my bicep needed a lot of work and the rehabilitation is going to take a long time because my muscle isn’t there anymore; it's just a flabby bit of fat and flesh.

Typing has been tough in the last week; typing one-handed is a bind when you’re used to typing almost properly, so I limited myself to the occasional Facebook post. I’ve also been going through a period of reflection when I haven’t been rushed off my feet by the new puppy, and the wife took last week off to essentially help me but also discovered her inner-Percy-Thrower and transformed the garden from a rather rustic looking place to something I said my dad would be proud of and anyone who knew my dad knew he loved his gardens.

I’ve been in a sling for most of the week because gravity sucks, but I drove a couple of miles yesterday and have declared myself able to cope because frankly I don’t do enough with my left arm when I drive apart from change the gears and that isn’t a problem – even reverse. The major problem appears to be my biceps – now that I’m using them again my arm doesn’t just complain, it sends a 50,000 word letter of complaint dipped in salt.

The reflection was due to my inability to do anything proper and because in the coming weeks there will, hopefully, be nothing to stop me from actually getting a job. My shoulder has been a bit like an invisible elephant in the room at the few job interviews I’ve had and has been an underlying reason for my horrid year of depression and the reason was because it was the thing that reminded me that functioning physically well wasn’t going to happen until it was fixed, so it dampened down any optimism because it was there like a devil, reminding me - except it wasn't allowed to sit on my left shoulder.

Doug the dog has been an exhausting revelation. The girls have accepted him and when that happened completely the entire house lost the melancholia surrounding it since Murray. Last week, despite the fact my incapacity made me edgy, was the best week of 2015 by a country mile. The stress headache that had been plaguing me for the two weeks up to the operation was gone and the new boy just took up time in the best possible way. Sleep would have been nice, but he’s a baby and he needed us to be aware to help him in his training. He’s 70% house trained, we just need to keep him focused against slip ups – wees only – and teach him that the dog flap isn’t something to be frightened of.

That said, we had one of those ‘events’ at 1.20am this morning… Imagine The Hangover and sit back and enjoy…

6:00am – the alarm goes off and the wife gets up, does her daily morning stuff and returns to the bedroom to retrieve the puppy for his morning ablutions and his first meal of the day. I only have her word for what followed but my mind keeps thinking of Cell Block H and not the kitsch Aussie soap. She was greeted with shit – runny stinky shit – all over the kitchen floor, in the conservatory and some had made it into the living room onto the carpet. The wee was just like club cards – something extra. I was oblivious of this and it wasn’t until about 7:10 that I had any idea what had happened.

The wife threw back the bottom of the quilt and looked at my feet, then threw it back over me. I had the puppy curled up next to me fast asleep, “I don’t know how you didn’t walk through all that shit,” and disappeared off to work.

“Huh?” I was puzzled; there hadn’t been any shit. We’d had one of those ‘rush jobs’ at 1:20; Doug had been fast asleep next to me on the bed when he got up and jumped off and onto his own bed. The wife woke up almost instantly, but I reassured her; but less than a minute Doug was standing at the top of the stairs whining; as I jumped out of bed (as fast as one can with one arm), Doug started down the stairs. Instead of doing what I should have done, especially given that the dog is now two weeks plus older than he was when we got him, was grab my dressing gown, but mild pooh panic had hit me so I just ‘ran’ after Doug, stark naked in the middle of a night that soon became obvious wasn’t as warm as some August nights.

I was delighted with the boy; he was sitting waiting for me by the door, I opened it and he went straight out and I started to shiver. I thought I heard a very farty pooh taking place, but my teeth started to chatter and because of my COPD, plunging me into a cold environment has the effect of shocking my system into forgetting to breathe – yes, I know it sounds odd but it’s probably the worst symptom of this disease and the one that is the most difficult to bring under control, because even when you warm back up your breathing hasn’t caught up with the rest of you. I was starting to panic – not the aforementioned pooh-panic, but a new scary I-Can’t-Breathe panic. Doug was now just sniffing around the picnic table, so I called him in, shut the door and shot up the stairs and into bed as quick as I could. Doug was obviously behind me…

No, while I was trying to regulate my hyperventilating and explain to the wife how he’d just had a shit and I couldn’t bet my life on him having had a pee. He came back up, curled up on his own bed and went to sleep. The wife mumbled something about having to stop him eating windfall apples and then the alarm went off – it was 6:00am.

Obviously what had happened was in the three minutes or so it took me to explain what had happened, Doug decided that not only did he now need a wee, but that rather farty pooh I’d heard was just the start of it. Suffice it to say for a little, wiry dog he could shit for England. I can only blame myself.

I’ll tell you what else is covered in shit, the Labour leadership race and the way the Triptych of Twats just seem so anodyne and divisive, especially in the way they have no real policies, sound like right wing Liberals and just appear to constantly attacking the only candidate that appears to be treating this as a serious discussion about where the party needs to go. I have reservations about Jeremy Corbyn, but he’s done a Nicola Sturgeon and got people talking about politics and ideology again and where the party has gone wrong; oh and he’s anti-austerity therefore doesn’t represent the establishment. God, no wonder everyone sounds scared of a 66-year-old moderately left-wing man.

If Labour eats itself in a frenzy if and when Corbyn is crowned leader then it won’t just lose the next election, they’ll probably just self-destruct, lose all credibility and I’m moving to Scotland so I’d probably just shrug and think that people probably got what they deserve.

I'm growing a coquina squash and it's working.

Just recently I mentioned Shenley Hospital and next Wednesday I intend to return to my home of three years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sadly it is to attend a funeral, of someone I haven't seen for 33 years (and obviously I won't see again), a chap called Pete Skelley - he worked for my dad behind the bar at the social club and him and Wendy, his wife, were great friends outside of work with my folks. I also worked with Pete behind the bar - a genuinely affable and lovely guy...

There will be a number of people from my long-ago-past there next week; it will be ... unusual.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Pups and stuff

Memories... weird things, especially for me. It lead me to believe that something, on the surface, as happy and life-changing as getting a puppy dog, is actually utter madness and a complete drain on resources and a massive stress bringer - it has to be, otherwise you'd remember all the fantastic days you had playing with your new dog.

That said, Doug is fantastic. Doug is also a puppy and therefore it is like juggling jelly - literally. But he is an absolute darling and I cannot believe that in six or seven years time we won't remember half of these days. Did I say 'half'? I meant most. Both of us have been struggling to remember just what Murray had been like when we first got him. He was much younger than Doug (by about 6 weeks) and we seem to recall he was a very chilled and laid back little man (who whinged a lot). Memories of Ness when we got her seem to consist of a black ball of hate picking on everything with four legs - but in reality she wasn't really like that.

Do real parents of actual children have this problem?


If it arrives on terrestrial TV then I have to recommend Mr Robot. Don't ask me what it's actually about because I have no idea, it's just excellently made, reminds me of Repo Man crossed with something contemporary and the closer you figure you get to coming to some understanding, the further away it takes you.

It's by Sam Esmail, who I believe is possibly the luckiest git on the planet, for completely unrelated reasons.


Anarchist moment: social media apologies. I find racists, wankers and antisocial quite abhorrent, but I have always argued that anyone who is a citizen of this freedom-of-speech preaching country is entitled to their opinions and equally entitled to voice them and in the event of this should accept any criticism as long as it constructive. Equally, if someone wants to show their misogyny on their Twitter, or display some kind of ism on whatever social media network they use, I find it offensive on two fronts to demand public apologies.

The apology appears to have become some kind of throwaway and pointless hairshirt, especially if someone offends someone else, or, heaven forbid, an entire section of society. I wonder if the woman who got her tits out on top of a volcano in the far east was really sorry for doing it? Was she really upset because a bunch of savages thought she was responsible for a natural disaster? I reckon she can sleep at night.

This Palmer guy, currently being hounded on social networks and proper media for killing the lion in Zimbabwe (which, incidentally, is the only country in the world not showing outrage at this hunting catastrophe,) he's issued an apology, but he's also got a photo album with him holding the carcasses of everything from a snail to a fucking blue whale, so he's really sorry, isn't he? But he's apologised and the outrage has decreased by 30% since that apology (although he'll still end up killed by a nutter, you watch).

I have always been of the impression that the decline of Tiger Woods as the world's best golfer had nothing to do with the fact he liked shagging anything with a hole and everything to do with having to apologise to a load of people who had absolutely fuck all to do with anything. If Woods' sponsors didn't like his dick antics, surely that's for the boardroom and not for the media?

This is just an extension of 'being offended' and a bi-product of the madness that is the social network system.


Tomorrow I enter the hospital to have my shoulder fixed (again). The timing is odd as it will be exactly five years since the last op on the same shoulder and I've been suffering from anxiety/stress headaches because of the possibility of having to stay in overnight. I hate being away from home, simple as that.


Next week I will be a one armed man and it is time to do the 3rd rewrite of The Imagination Station. I've been gearing myself up for it by doing nothing at all. My writing output for the last few weeks has been pathetic and there hasn't really been much excuse for it apart from the last week of having Doug the dog.

I feel confident about it; so much so that when this version is finished I'm handing it to the wife to read and critique.


I realised a few minutes ago that the weather has been so meh for the last month this is the first time in July I have sat outside and done anything apart from gardening. We shouldn't be surprised this has pretty much been the pattern for years now; it's like Mother Nature is vindictive and wants school kids to get damp and moldy and be stuck inside with exasperated parents.

Summers are often disappointing, especially if one is old enough to remember 1976, but because I have a lot of time on my hands I do lots of reading and I've been looking at weather history (thanks to a book that RnB bought me and dozens of useful and nerdy websites.


(this was written before my shoulder operation)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Culture Dump #3 - On Tee Vee

There is now so much choice of new material on television you could, if so inclined, spend your life in front of some pay-per-view stations and never resurface for the pub again.

My biggest criticism of satellite and cable is you have all this fuck all to choose from - 200 channels of the history of every TV station ever. At the point I gave my Virgin box back back, there were 150 channels and we watched seven of them. The BBCs mainly - hey, we pay for it, we'll get the most out of it.

Now that everyone else and their brother is producing TV shows because of the growing number of ways to have them broadcast, we're entering a period where quality might just win out. The initial success of Netflix, Amazon and the HBOs, Starz and AMCs has meant that network stations in the US have had to up their games and have got to do it while not upsetting the sponsors, because in the USA network shows are dependent on their sponsors and if you upset them you pretty much cut your own throat.

The sudden trend for box-sets means that the over riding human trait of 2015 - instant gratification - has arrived on television's doorstep.

The problem for this household is that we're turning into the demographic. They claim (whoever 'they' are) that you give most new TV shows a maximum of four episodes and then you decide to either twist or flop. The first time this happened with me was with the show The Vampire Diaries. I'm not even sure why we started watching it; probably a desire for some new 'supernatural' television and we were pretty much going to give it all up by the penultimate scene in episode three and then something happened and we got hooked - for three more series - before it went so far up its own arse that I was left wondering why we'd bothered. The point is, you only need a spark to ignite the imagination of the viewer. Sometimes that spark will survive the entire run, other times it will burn brightly then die, leaving you with a sense of waste.

I'm also of the opinion that a lot of people carry on watching things because they want to see if they've second guessed the writer.

Now, there are so many new series, mini-series, adaptations and TV events that I'm not even going to bother to try and list them. Leading the pack is Game of Thrones, which has now gone so far off the plot of the books it's like watching an alternative reality. This isn't really a problem for most people because they haven't invested half a lifetime in reading and waiting for the books and some people can separate the reality of the story and the hyper-reality of the TV show.

Oddly, I find GoT to be actually something quite simple dressed up as something labyrinthine and complicated. The story is there; we pretty much have worked out its about three families - Lannisters, Starks and the Targaryens and who will end up in charge and how probably one person from each House will join together to join them all. If you break an hour-long episode down into its constituent parts, it's violence, sex, travel with flowery dialogue in between. Because of the restrictions, the story has moved along much faster than the books, but there is emptiness about the series and huge gaps in the story that can't be filmed, presumably because of the cost or because they just wouldn't make good TV, so they allow the viewer to bother with the narrative and fill the important bits with tits and bums. Don't get me wrong; I like it, but maybe not the way some people do.

Marvel - a company I should hold close to my heart - have finally arrived on the small screen in the last couple of years. SHIELD, Peggy Carter and now Daredevil (on PPV) with a whole host of potentially dodgy series being lined up. There was a time when you could almost bet the farm on Marvel producing an X-Men spin-off featuring Xavier's Tea Lady; now you can see why they doggedly held onto the copyrights of every shit character they ever 'created'; because there will be a TV market for it somewhere, eventually.

In many ways I'm surprised someone at HBO hasn't looked at GoT and thought there's at least three spin-off series in it. Take The Walking Dead as possibly the best example of success on the small screen. Zombies were a cult thing. George Romero was never going to become a Steven Spielberg with his zombie oeuvre, but transferring the idea to the TV, with a high concept, has been a phenomenal success; so much so we have Fear The Walking Dead coming in the summer. Set in LA, it focuses on the days before and after the initial 'epidemic' and while I'm viewing it as a bookmarked series, I can't help wonder just how much mileage there is in the idea to be able to split it into two.

Oh and there isn't an infinite number of ways to 'kill' dead people, which is why most 'walkers' are now despatched with a long blade through the head in TWD.

The Walking Dead has become successful because of the rotating cast of gradually-becoming feral humans, doing everything they can to survive. It taps into all kinds of ideas from Alien to Predator to, I kid you not, the Wizard of Oz. It also sends the message that 'our' group of survivors are not as bad as the others; they're searching for hope while the majority of the humans left are searching for their next day alive and will do whatever to ensure survival. TWD could have lost the zombies and just called itself The Living Dead (but that was called Revolution* and it failed miserably). It has, however, had two of the most utterly brilliant and thoroughly shocking episodes in the last couple of years - two of the best examples of TV you could wish for but you'll not forgive it for the images left in your head.

* Falling Skies - the largely forgettable SF series about alien invasions - was also using the now tried and tested TWD format, except now instead of 'zombies' they had aliens and zombified humans. The fact it's made it to 5 series underlines the general common sense running through mainstream US TV viewers.

For every new series that interests me there are probably half a dozen that don't even register on my radar. It isn't just fantasy and SF that gets the attention. Orange is the New Black did for women's prisons what Walter White did for crystal meth sales, and speaking of Walt, we had Better Call Saul, the companion series to Breaking Bad that has kind of sidestepped TV network AMC and gone straight to ... um... another distribution vehicle. It isn't what you'd expect given what BB was like; the only problem I see is you need to know about BB to fully understand BCS.

I'd be interested to hear what the Yanks think of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell because in my mind it has been one of the better TV adaptations of novels in recent years and quite remarkably the BBC didn't need to change much to make it work. Unlike every other book adaptation that has reached our screens, JS&MN is pretty much as it is in the book. No new characters, no killing off people for the sake of it, no deciding this bit and that bit is too dull or unworthy thus deflecting the narrative into some other direction the original writer never intended; just a brilliant adaptation with enough oomph to keep the viewer coming back for more. A mate of mine suggested if it had been done in the USA it would have been 22 episodes long and therefore three times as enjoyable.

In fact...

Fox TV presents: Johnny Strange and Mrs Norrell; starring Joe Generic as sorcerer supremo Johnny Strange and some California pseudo-jailbait as Mrs Norrell, a witch of high regard and a bodacious bod. Together they fight crime on the streets of Salem, kicking witch ass and telling those evil faeries - led by the Man with the McFlurry Hair - to get the hell out of our evil free world!

You read it here first.

There is a TV series that has just started in the States; something that is still very early in its life, that is about as weird as weird can be - and I'm not talking about Wayward Pines - which is just weird for the sake of it.

There's this guy called Sam Esmail - he's pretty much the luckiest bastard on the planet as he's currently Emmy Rossum's beau - and he's new to the scene; very new. His credits read like Harper Lee's bibliography and his only feature film to date - Comet - was universally panned by critics (I've yet to watch it, having deleted my downloaded version when I found that almost no one liked it). He's also the guy behind something I call Scorpion with Balls. Scorpion is a US network show about a team of computer geeks - it's basically The Avengers played by the cast of the Big Bang Theory and while it had its moments, it was just a retooling of the A-Team. It has been massively successful and by all accounts the more successful it has become the less time is spent on the fact the lead character was originally portrayed as being autistic.

Now, Esmail's new TV show is called Mr Robot and it might be one of the weirdest and most difficult to understand things that has EVER come out of the USA.

If anyone remembers the brilliant Alex Cox film Repo Man, they might remember that whenever Emilio Estevez was at home he ate and drank things out of generic cans - food, drink, etc and the film had this kind of anti-commercialism feel as it eschewed corporate subliminal advertising in favour of an actual, extremely fucked-up, story. Mr Robot is like how a TV show would be if it was made by someone with a borderline personality disorder and that would be weird enough but three episodes in and I'm not totally sure I have a clue what is going on...

Elliot Alderson is definitely on the spectrum of autism; he doesn't interact with people very well; doesn't like to be touched and feels alienated from the world - he's also a computer genius and can hack into just about anything. In the first episode we meet Elliot and the viewer is given the impression that he's a crime fighter, who exposes people who do bad things by hacking into their lives and uncovering all the shit and then giving it, anonymously, to the cops. Elliot also thinks that the 'people who run the world' have cottoned onto him and he believes he's being followed. He also sees a psychiatrist and most everyone thinks he's one of those idiot savants except with a morphine addiction and a history of self-harm. Elliot is a mess.

And after this build up you can kind of see how it would have worked, except it's a red herring. Yes Elliot does good things, exposes paedophiles or embezzlers, but he's also being recruited by a mysterious group called the F Society, who want him to bring the 'order' down from the inside and that's exactly what Elliot does. He plants a bug in the system - he works for a data protection company - that exposes the head of the vast multi-national corporation. The thing is, Mr Robot played by Christian Slater has promised Elliot that this will bring the end of society, a concept Eliot has bought into hook, line and sinker and when it doesn't... and because Elliot is autistic...

And seriously by episode three there is sodomy; false allegations, a pregnant woman willingly trussed up like the Christmas turkey and (possibly) someone else using F Society's template to extort whatever they can from whoever they can - it's as murky as a puddle invaded by a million hot dogs.

Just to make matters a wee bit more confusing, the vast multi-national is depicted as the ONLY company in the world and it is called Evilcorp - there are even billboards throughout the city advertising Evilcorp. The company Elliot works for are the only data protection firm and they are called Allsafe. There is no subliminal corporate advertising or name-dropping. No iphones, now they are Evilcorp phones. Evilcorp represents everything that is bad about capitalism; Allsafe acts like a moral compass - they do things they don't agree with because Evilcorp pays their bills and Mr Robot represents the rest of humanity... That is to say 'Mr Robot' the concept is about destroying 'the man' from within and returning the world to the people; Mr Robot the character is probably a very dangerous sociopath (as you discover at the end of ep #2 and throughout ep #3).

It is utterly unnerving in many ways; everything about it feels slightly skewiff and it's extremely good at completely wrong footing you. Yes, it's just three episodes so far, but at the moment where we are is not what I expected when I saw the first part. Oh and Elliot is being watched by the people who run the world and they are very interested in using him in exactly the same way Mr Robot wants to use him. That all seems straightforward, but only because I'm extrapolating on very limited information; you might watch it and immediately dislike Rami Malek (because he is possibly the least likeable lead actor I've seen in many years) or think it's pseudo-political bullshit. I expect America will eventually hate it because it challenges everything the country is built on.

If you see it about, watch it. It is deep and difficult television. It is also extremely funny at times (the end of ep #2) but because of the subject matter it could just be extremely boring for some people. Find out more here:

Of course, any sane person would be sitting outside in the summer sunshine rather than watching television.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

I have written more 'draft' blog entries this year than ever before. I even wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago about my inability to finish a raft of blog entries I'd started and promptly didn't finish it.

I've never had a problem about not finishing things - specifically writing - because I'm a firm believer of practice makes perfect, so even something like the sprawling half-finished magnum opus I started work on in the late 1990s and was well over a quarter of a million words long when I got bored with it. The arrow maker tried many times to perfect his trade...

I'm everywhere and nowhere, baby.

I recently joined a Facebook group for former employees of Shenley Hospital in Hertfordshire - a place I spent a largely happy time in the early 1980s. It stirred up so many memories, brought back into focus some of the most important people I've ever had in my life and while, one day, I fully intend to talk about my time at Shenley (when I can remember it all) because it is a period of my life that I've never talked about and in many ways it was one of the most exciting and was probably 95% responsible for the person I turned out to be.

Three prominent things happened when I joined - two of them are tangible, the other was a memory. I discovered that one of my old friends from those days was a bitter and twisted middle-aged man and the other was someone who I'd never been friends with; someone who I could almost be classed as 'the enemy' of. If the water under the bridge had made a bright-faced Northerner into a curmudgeonly old git, then it flowed the other way to make an Irishman (Martin) who I genuinely feared into a lovely and supportive friend in later life. Funny that.

The memory is the most pertinent thing and because I'm a largely egocentric person the one that has been dominant. There was this guy called Harold - he was in his 60s when I was 19. He played snooker and the charge nurse on one of Shenley's long-term hospitalisation wards and trawling through all the photos and memories on the Shenley page I saw zero mention of him; but I've noticed a lot of names are conspicuously absent by the lack of photographs having been taken in those days. This isn't the issue, what was was something Harold said to my folks. It took many years for me to fully understand what he meant and a few more to make other, educated, guesses as to part of my own failings.

Harold told my parents, "Give that boy 10 things to do and he'll do them all brilliantly, but give him one thing and he won't finish it."

So, when I sat down about an hour ago to start writing this I figured I had a better chance of finishing this than the previous ones because I have eight million things whizzing round my head at the moment and the puzzle of fitting them all together into a cohesive and reasonably easy to follow essay would be more fun than writing about what a useless fuck-up I am - which does seem to be a running theme.

The aforementioned Harold was an astute fellow and delving into the depths of my muddied mind I seem to have this inkling that his wise words were uttered after one of the shortest work experiences I ever had. A man called Les was responsible for my folks getting the job as club stewards was also the chairman of the social club committee; he was also, if I recall correctly, the head of recruitment for the hospital. He was also good friends with Harold and I believe the two of them with my dad conspired to get me a job as a trainee psychiatric nurse. I spent two hours on a ward and essentially it scared the living daylights out of me and as far as I was concerned it wasn't for me. Fortunately, it was a 'suck it and see' session rather than having gone through all the rigmarole of application forms and interviews.

That job I got lasted longer than two hours, but not a lot. Let's be honest about this; on the face of it me telling you I quit after a day and a half looks and sounds like a ridiculous thing, especially given my current circumstances, but they were a dodgy company and a number of things happened during that short space of time that meant losing the job felt more like a bonus than keeping it. The thing is companies like this have such tight margins to operate on the people who suffer are the ones who have to do the job and when margins are so small if the turnover is high then so be it. This company was almost contemptuous in their treatment of all the groundstaff it employed and the unhappiness in the office was palpable. I've consigned it to the dark and empty spaces of my mind already.

One of the issues that caused me such grief with the job was the fact I discovered after the interview that I was to have another operation on my shoulder. The preparation for this upcoming event required me to have an MRI scan on the Wednesday of the week I started; this was then followed up by a consultant appointment a week later (yesterday) to tell me what needed to be done. My new boss was as suspicious as Eliot Ness and I had an awkward situation where I literally had to plead with her to believe me that the letters came after the job offer; I even offered to show her the letters. I said I'd take the time as unpaid leave, but I hadn't told them that I had an operation scheduled for August 1st and this could keep me incapacitated for up to eight weeks. The thing was they didn't like the fact I had any appointments at all and as someone said to me, if I'd been the person they really wanted it shouldn't have been a problem.

To cut a long story short, the operation will be keyhole surgery and will keep me out of action for about two weeks. I have two interviews next week for jobs and I intend to tell them the score and that I've planned on having two weeks holiday at the start of August for recuperation. The thing is while the op is a nuisance it is necessary and if nothing else my short time at the crap company got me an up-to-date DBS (CRB) check, so starting work will be much easier and therefore more desirable to a new employer.

Obviously the need for a job that is a good fit for both parties is the main aim now and one of the main reasons for my fifty-fathom depression has been my inability to function properly and if I want to piss and moan about it, I expect that something will need to be done to my right arm at some point in the future, because it does all the work and I have probably more aches and pains in it than I do in the largely useless strand of flesh hanging from my left shoulder.

So far, so good.

Actually, something else came out of joining that Facebook group. Someone who really should have been my friend all of our adult lives reconnected with me. We'd touched upon each other a couple of times in the past, but one of the beauties of Facebook is it actually makes you feel willing to continue a typed dialogue with someone; maybe it's because of their own particular paraphernalia they bring via their own pages, I don't know, but when I was a teenager in Shenley, there was someone there who I never realised was only just a wee bit older than me, but because she was a girl and hung around with lots of older boys, it never dawned on me that we were more alike than we guessed.

I think that was why Ruth and I have hit it off so well since reconnecting; because we both had similar thoughts about our experiences at Shenley and it wasn't until later life that we both realised that mistakes we made were down to youthful exuberance rather than because we were stupid people. This was over 30 years ago and suddenly you realise that life really is too short. I think Ruth has managed to shed unwanted emotional baggage from Shenley and probably throughout her life (having a fundamental understanding of mental health probably helps), whereas I, especially when I'm down tend to live in the past. Anyone who knows me well enough knows the single thing that fucks me off more than anything else in the world is ... the passage of time.

I dare say that if I opened all 11 of the draft blogs currently in states of repair or writing and worked on them all at the same time I'd flood the world with a lot of nonsense and self-pity; but, you know, there's better things to do with your time.

Except, in many ways my circumstances are not very much different from a month ago when some people were quite concerned about whether I'd throw myself under a bus or take that long warm bath of the soul. The thing I learned from 2015 is quite black, but also relevant - I'm no longer scared of dying and until I stop that and regain a healthy lust for life then I will create a vicious circle of my own doing.

Actually, let's border on territory that could consign this to the unfinished pile.

Suicide. I'm too much of a coward to kill myself, quickly.

Let me tell you about a guy called Bill M.

Bill was my boss at the second job I ever had; he was a nice, but occasionally dour Scotsman who had the honour of representing both GB and Scotland at major athletics events in the 1960s and 70s. He was an athlete - a proper long distance runner, a willowy and sinewy man who detested cigarettes. Then in 1979, his father died and at the funeral Bill, in the mid 40s by then, started smoking! I saw him recently; he looks good for a man in his late 70s. He smoked for 25 years and stopped when he got a smoking related illness. He didn't say it, but it was like he achieved what he set out to get.

I fell off the wagon. Nearly three years of not smoking disappeared in a puff. Here is a man with the lung capacity of a pint glass committing suicide.

I've stopped again, but up there in my rewired brain, it views my futile attempts at regaining some semblance of health as half-hearted at best. I could sit here and argue about the reasons for it and come up with a bunch of completely logical (to me) excuses - the black hole of despair being just one of them, but the real reason was...



My boy died of cancer. He was 8. It was possibly the most unfair thing I've lived through and while, in many ways, it allowed the worst of the black clouds to lift, I'm racked with guilt. It was my fault. If I'd not been a twat he might be with us now, albeit for a limited period of time. If. If. If.

It all boils down to the fact that both of us feel if we hadn't been so wrapped up in our own misery, we might have done something sooner and had better results. Yet, the cold callous part of me was relieved that it ended so quickly, because we would always have known that it was going to get much much worse at some point in the future.

I am also comforted by the fact that Murray was by far the most intelligent dog I've ever had; there was more going on in that little brain than ever should have been for a dog and we both know in our hearts that he knew something wasn't right, so he simply gave up. Like father, like son.

We're also a little better about it because the last proper week we had with him was like it always was. It was like he had been given a short reprieve and decided to make the most of it for those few days, because it was clear that when he had the second chemo he decided he couldn't do it any more - maybe he'd used up all that life to make sure our last week with him was a good one. That week was. What followed will have me sobbing for the rest of my life, but I'm getting better at pushing those feelings to one side.

This morning, when I sat down to write this, I had this clear image in my head, it would be about my dogs. I have written blogs since the late 1990s and my pets have always been touched upon but never fully detailed. They have played such a massive part in our lives, yet they are referenced less than my now dead apricot tree. Maybe it's because, not having kids and little paternal instinct towards pink things, but talking about my dogs has always felt a little like a new father claiming his baby's first solid shit is the best thing since sliced bread. Dog people will be interested, but like my forays into football and mushrooms, most of you won't.

The thing is, grief doesn't get easier the more experience you have of it. Yes, you can be numb to it at the time, but deep down it's twisting your gut with an invisible knife and making the irrational rational in a way that only losing something you love can. Our healing process has begun; we're looking for a new young man to balance the pack. I expect there will be comparisons, that's only natural, but as I said to the wife the day we lost the boy, "I never thought this lot would mean as much to me as the others." Butch, Sim, Harvey, Chester, Giff and Meg were defining animals in my life and having four dogs presented their own problems, but now they're part of me.

That's part of why it hurt; Murray, with the exception of a few chewed chair legs and a remote control, never did anything wrong in his entire life. The most he got told off for was being a noisy little git, which he knew we didn't really mean. The other three could easily have been got rid of at any point during the first couple of years we had them and yet, now, they're suddenly the most important things in the world. Because they have to be and I have to treat them that way, because...

They've been grieving just as badly as us. I've always been slightly sceptical of whether or not dogs can grieve. You see, while they have a long-term memory, that is pretty much jam-packed with important things, as a dog's short term memory lasts about four days, they adapt easily to most new situations. Except, it's now been a month and I still have at least two very sad girls.

Marley, Lexy and Ness don't really like each other. Don't get me wrong, they love each other, but they're family, and they're girls, therefore they are bitches and you would think at times that we had three strangers facing off. The boy was a calming influence on all of them and you could see quite easily that he was in charge. Now, it's like a pack of wankers, listless and unadventurous outside of their own constraints. Now he's not here it's a bit like having three elderly dogs and we never realised the influence he had on them, from his position of just behind me.

When we got Murray, we had them already. Ness, small, black, psychotic and utterly insecure; Marley, shit-eating mischief dog and Lexy, pudding impersonator and part Rottweiler, so understanding her is an art in itself. Marley hated him for four days and then forgot he was new and adopted him as hers. Ness was ambivalent towards him, but they were of similar age and they played and played and played. Lexy took one look at him and decided she was his mum. She growls at everyone - she has a limited vocabulary - but never ever growled at him. He could climb all over her and she'd lay there and love it.

Lexy, because she has problems which we'll never fully understand, shows little emotion and as much as it hurts to say, if she misses him she doesn't really show it, apart from looking sad, but that's her default facial expression, so...

Ness has been affected far more than I would have suspected. She's a mad airhead and shows little love for anyone other than me, but she's become clingy and edgy and bored. She still played with the boy right up until we lost him and she has no one she can play with now. I believe the horrible little rat has a heart and naturally it's just made her more important to me than I thought.

However, I'm getting worried about Marley. You have never seen such a dramatic change in an animal's behaviour. I think she still misses him terribly every day and watching this normally quite crazy dog sitting around crying and whining, cuddling toys, night or T shirts and never going more than 50 feet from me on a dog walk is not her. It was my big girl who inspired me to write this today. I got up and did my ablutions and when I went back into the bedroom she was curled up on the bed with Murray's only toy - a rubber chicken (it's not but it's too long a story) and the wife's night dress and I thought she'd died. This is a dog who less than 6 weeks ago you could walk up to, make a fist and say, "I'll punch you in the face" and she'd spend the next five minutes hurtling round the house, with her back arched, whooping and hollering like a demented seven-year-old told they're going to Disneyland. Now, she just looks at your hand, licks it gently and puts her head back down and sighs, so deep it's heartbreaking.

There is still misery and depression in the house; but there has been more laughter than tears. A degree of optimism - reserved but there all the same - has slipped in unnoticed, but it is not unwelcome. I have things that need doing, personally and professionally and they won't get done if I dwell on the past all the time.

Life is too short. Carpe diem.

* The Ruth I mention earlier, might be the Ruth who has commented a couple of times recently; or it might be the Ruth I know in the East Ridings, or just a random Ruth who has connected with me because things I've said have meant something. Whoever or whichever Ruth you are - thanks.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Turning Points

The worst thing about back pain is no one can see it.

Hurt your back and only other back pain sufferers will be able to truly sympathise with you. Any pain that isn't visible can have mental repercussions.

When I worked at the County Council I was torn between the feeling that half of my colleagues wanted me to be wearing a visible scar of my ordeal just to appease their belief that I was subjecting myself to all that shit on purpose and those others that completely understood where I was and what I was going through.

I've never been shy about wearing things on my sleeve and in the eyes of some of my friends, a few of my enemies and myself, I am a drama queen. It's essentially a Hall trait. We all make dramas out of crises in our own distinct ways and while once upon a time it was really just an attention seeking device, as we all got older (and the need for attention waned), we just adapted it like any habit - or, it was a habit rather than a mental need.

When you live in a loud house with loud people all competing with each other, then attention seeking is pretty normal and loses a lot of its narcissistic elements. I know there's been an attention seeker lurking inside me for most of my life, yet juxtapose this with the fact I worked (as the distant #2) for the largest self-serving egotist in British comics for over ten years, in an existence where the only 'I' was him and him alone...

If I was a serial attention seeker I probably wouldn't do it in such an understated way, at times, nor would it be so sporadic. The problem I think is some people confuse being loud or opinionated with a need for attention and that is only true to a certain point. One of Nature's interesting quirks is it made all mammals quite needy and humans terribly so. I'd guess most humans seek attention, some just do it in ways that aren't side shows or vaudeville acts.

And then there's social media...

I've blogged about my bad back for ever. I've blogged about my life, my dogs, my wife, some of my jobs, the idiots I've witnessed doing fuckwitted things, my neighbours and my friends and family. I've logged deaths, births, joy, sorrow, success and happiness (although not so much of the latter in recent times) and, at times, I've got a bit... personal. I embraced the on-line diary much more enthusiastically than I did Facebook styled social media and especially Twitter. I'm verbose, how the fuck is Twitter going to quench that thirst?

In the 'research' I did for this specific blog, I discovered that the amount of times I have delved into personal dramas is a surprisingly small percentage - less than 10% - and the general theme is to try and make light of bad situations or to see the irony. The number of truly downbeat blogs until a certain point in time was almost non-existent. In fact, my blog despite using it as a diary of sorts, has little 'from the heart' type rambles.

Facebook heralded a new way of sharing ones life with others. I have posted on average 0.92 things per day since I first got the account and I had to double check my figures. First because I couldn't believe that I'd posted almost 1 thing a day and then because it didn't seem enough. Here's a weird one for you - really being stumped by the result of something that seems both too much and too little at the same time... If you scrutinised my posting habits you'd find out that I can go weeks without posting anything. It is normal for me to go three or four days without even looking at it let alone posting anything and the way peoples news feeds are set up the more friends I have with lots of their own friends, the less chance of them seeing everything I post.

I'm sure you're beginning to wonder what the bloody hell I'm waffling on about and I agree this seems like a very convoluted way of denouncing something - a point - I haven't even mooted yet, but, you know me... The point I'm making is I'm not actually in your in-boxes as much as you might sometimes think. Familiarity doesn't just breed contempt, it also over-familiarises things to the point where you notice them more than you would. The truth is you don't, but the thing is now prominent in your psyche and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes when you buy a new car you then think everyone else had the same idea as you because you see them everywhere; it's only because you didn't have one of those cars before to prick your memory the way it does after the event.

I'm also loud, brash, in your face, passionate and emotional - I'm sure a true attention seeker goes for the most impact rather than little ones anyhow and social media revelations from me have tended to be impact driven. The writer in me appreciates melodrama and the power of words in headings to maximise the impact. The thing is ... of the 0.92 posts a day on Facebook I've done since May 2008, less than 2% of them have actually been 'melodramatic'. There is nothing in any of them that aggrandises me; they aren't strewn with tragedy and reaction. The drama queen that many of my friends, my wife and I know all too well is strangely absent. Well, until May 2015...

In fact, until May 2015, I had talked about depression in my blog but never on a 'live' social media forum. I usually whinge about my physical health and - I'm very close to it - I don't think you can accuse me of self-pity or searching for sympathy in my blogs that have highlighted back and shoulder problems - I like to think that if it was just me moaning incessantly (and humorously) then I wouldn't see so many people reading the thing. Besides, my moaning is legendary and moaning isn't attention seeking.

Now, back during that time when I worked for the Massive Yorkshire Ego, a number of my friends were pretty much of the impression that I had the cushiest job in the world - writing about a subject I liked, hanging out with the Stan Lee of British comics 5 days a week, smoking the finest spliff, having cafe lunches every day and going down the pub all this and earning far too much money... Wot a lucky bastard...

Oddly enough that's pretty much what it was like, except take the rose-tinted specs off and I had to input over a quarter of a million words every four weeks and if you think that sounds easy, try copy typing 250,000 words and see how long that takes you. Working for Skinn was hard work in many ways; it was just all concentrated into 2½ weeks and people saw me swanning about for the other 2 weeks and thought I had it easy.

Of course, these people never saw the conjunctivitis I suffered; the 72 hour stretches without sleep; the poor diet; the smoke filled rooms, the utter arsehole who EMPLOYED me and subjected me to mental and verbal abuse that belonged in a Dickens novel. They just saw happy old Phil taking another two weeks off from that easy job he had; swanning around smoking pot and being bohemian.

2015 has pretty much been a living, waking nightmare. Every single day has felt like I'm a greenfly trapped in molasses. There have been days when I only put outside clothes on to take the dogs out or to give the wife the impression I've been doing something. I have sat and sobbed my heart out at times because I'm scared of everything - the past, the present and especially the future. For most of 2015, if you read any of my social media statuses, you would have been pretty surprised by the stream of depression-laden rhetoric and public airing of private mental laundry that eventually spewed out during May.

Yes, there had been some histrionic outbursts in the past; and I'm not shy in coming forward in some things; yet to pretty much admit to so many people that suicide has been a topic on my mind; or that the relentless bad luck, vicious circle creating consequences can spiral so far out of your ability to rationalise them, it really does seem like your life is out of control. Yet, this was the first time I had admitted publicly that I was suffering from severe depression (and even then some information was withheld because once you get to a certain position with your mental health you become paranoid about people discovering certain things and there's rarely a rational reason behind this either).

The support I got from a huge bunch of people was remarkable - both publicly and privately I was blown away by the willingness of others and the support they showed me; the positive words, the selfless offers. A lot of these people were old friends; people who I've known from social care, even from comics and as May started to spiral completely out of control and with a tragic destiny, one of things that kept me going was the thoughts and comments - which I viewed without cynicism or doubt.

Then as the light at the end of the tunnel was first extinguished then phoenix-like reappeared and started drawing closer, two comments were made to me, in person, which deeply affected me...

Two people, very close to me personally, said things that upset me.

The first was an old friend who said I needed to 'man up'; that real men don't talk publicly about depression and crying and that shit. I didn't really expect much difference from this person, but it bothered me that he still had no real idea what it's like for people to go through a terribly shit time where you have no idea how to cope and no idea where you're going to get any support.

The second event could have ended up with a horrendous outcome; but fortunately I'd had the fight beaten out of me long ago and all that came out was a kind of resigned 'you could say that but you haven't been inside my head for the last six months', which was probably for the best considering how much it has bothered me since.

While I was out on Friday evening, having a beer with my friend, trying to cheer myself up after a daunting week, but also celebrate the changes in my work situation, he suggested that I'd never really been depressed, I'd just been 'a bit down'. Or that I couldn't possibly have been depressed because I would have been hospitalised, because 'real depression is a serious illness and not just a term used by people feeling down'. Now, you need to understand what made this feel harsh was I was talking to the only person outside of my doctor that I'd admitted having suicidal thoughts to - back in November - and he'd been suitably shocked and I believed realised how awful our lives had become. Seven months later, in the week I lost a dog to cancer, in a year that had rained insult, injury and all manner of shit on me and mine, he said, 'If you had been serious about killing yourself you would have tried...' He even wanted to know how I felt when I felt suicidal because, you know, I didn't do it so I must have just been attention seeking...

I was then reminded what a drama queen I was. I agreed. I almost felt like I was being remonstrated at for having shared all my crap with people on Facebook and therefore by the process of the logic held by someone who doesn't know how depression works, by posting about my shit life publicly it can't possibly have been that bad. I felt slightly uncomfortable with the amount of dubious incredulity being aimed at me - it has to be said not in a malicious way at all - like there is a stereotypical way that depressed people have to act and putting on a good show to ensure your friends don't know about it isn't one of them.

When I tried to point out that I've already been diagnosed, by a proper doctor, that I suffer from chronic illness-based depression, he didn't actually realise just how bad my COPD was; or even what it really entailed. But... and this is what hurt the most, none of the doubts seemed to be through ill-education, they seemed to be based on the fact I'm an attention seeker so therefore nothing that is wrong with me is going to be that bad because I have a history of making mountains out of mole hills. Or I'm, in his eyes, the boy who cried wolf, because I'm not in a fucking wheelchair or wired up to an iron lung. This was the same reaction I had from people who didn't understand the job I had in the 1990s...

He doesn't know that I've been praised by my COPD practitioner for managing my chronic illness very well. Or that I have discussed on several occasions suicide, antidepressants and a whole bunch of other things with my GP that I don't tell him or you about. He doesn't seem to realise that Public Phil Hall does keep a lot of his private life to himself. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I hide my piles in my pants and keep my low weeing pressure to myself...

In my defence, as I said, all I could say to him was he didn't know what went on inside my head. He wasn't with me when I'd sit and stare into space for hours, not knowing where to start let alone what to do. I explained that I had been scared to seek help; I'd hidden away from people, especially the ones trying to help me. I explained that sometimes you hide it well from others and others aren't really looking for it, so hiding it doesn't become that difficult. I reminded him that depressed people are very good at hiding things from their loved ones and this was sadly met with a certain amount of derision and it was at this point that I realised my friend had never been depressed and had this completely wrong impression of what depression really was and also disputed his belief of that misconception vehemently.

Despite knowing me extremely well, he was basing his entire belief of my health on what he'd heard from me or read on line and ironically I think, if you analyse it, his problem was he is averse to the public airing of laundry - telling people how your life is crumbling around your ears isn't terribly British and not the expected thing, you know. I think it was the fact he wouldn't do that himself in such a public forum that has made him so sceptical of the reasons I did it and therefore even more doubtful that my depression was anything more than me just being miserable.

Talking about depression is a form of therapy in itself. Admitting the problem is an extremely positive step to take, especially given what is going on in your mind at the time. Discovering people care is better than any drug because it is a positive reinforcement, something which your mind can't argue with (or if it does it loses). I've seen therapists - they give about 75% less input and feedback than my friends on Facebook have. A lot of it is talking about it to try and identify the indicators yourself - there is a lot of holistic stuff going on and it's just a less detached process.

And sometimes you just want the rest of the fucking world to know that you're fed up to the back teeth with being kicked repeatedly.

I have to emphasise that the person in question upset me, not annoyed me. I was disappointed because I thought my friends would know, but equally the wife and I have said for over 30 years that we have no idea what goes on in our friends houses once we've gone home and we have no idea how much attention people pay to things.

I'd urge anyone who thinks depression is one specific thing to read up on it. It'll take 10 minutes and at the end of it you'll understand just how serious it can be and how the ignorance of others can just make it much much worse.


In the wake of the totally unpredictable week just gone, I would like to say that sometimes pulling out of depression can achieved by the oddest of things. When I originally set out to write this, I was going to talk about Ritilin - the ADHD drug, which is effectively speed given to kids who are already naturally whizzing their tits off. The effect is like a double negative - one cancels the other out.

The three days leading up to Murray's death (which I'm sure I'll document at some point) were, in many ways, so bad they made me feel physically ill. I cannot emphasise strongly enough how sad, lonely, lost and helpless I felt and how I would have willingly given up my life, there and then, for my dog.

Then he died and the two jobs I had to zombie walk through the interviews of both offered more than hope and ... it ridiculously felt like it actually wasn't going to get worse...

My shoulder was being fixed. There were job offers. The roads were being resurfaced. My boy was now free from pain. A few little, almost inconsequential, things happened that isolated might have meant nowt, but now seemed to reinforce that it might actually begin to get better.

But (and I know you should never start a sentence with one, but...), I might view the next six months as a challenge I can face a little easier. It helps knowing the next six months are pretty much unknown and full of potential excitement. First I'm going to sort me out and then I'll sort the other things out. It might be slow; it might be two steps forward and one back; whatever it is it's me saying it's time to 'get up, stand up and don't give up the fight' because it is worth fighting for.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me, Squashed Tomatoes and Pee

My weekend has been chilled and uneventful - just how I like it.

So, I'd like to tell you what I did for a while today, that was very positive and was possibly the best thing to happen on my 53rd birthday (even better than the curry, the sex, the drugs and the dancing girls), but first a preamble:

I've been suffering from severe depression for best part of a year now, but the last six months haven't been at all good and as any depressed person will tell you we hide it extremely well. Well, things got really really dark around February and I needed to do something positive or I might have become yet another tragic statistic in oh-so-civilised 2015.

I've had lots of things I'd like to talk about or even to tell you lot, but it never seemed to be the right time, or it seemed like I was being too negative, or it's not time or I chicken out or ... you get the picture. I have several unfinished pieces about how fucking depressed I've been; how suicidal I felt and all the time I stare at the finished words and think, 'fuck me, they're going to have me sectioned for my own safety'. My crappy lungs, dodgy back, wonky shoulder, wanky publishing company; woefully inadequate printers, distributors, unhelpful helpers thrust upon me - the list of woes is so long and so ... almost far fetched... I just didn't want to remind myself while making everyone else think I was fishing for sympathy or trying to be the centre of attention - being depressed does that.

I could tell you stories about paranoia - there are two kinds I've experienced: drug induced paranoia and the kind caused by depression. The best way of describing them is the former is a mild cheddar, the latter is a 3 year matured with more flavours than a sushi bar.

Anyhow, lets get on with this now it's gone midnight. 

I was out walking the dogs one day towards the end of February and I had the seed of an idea. That seed germinated into a narrative, which grew into a few hundred words and then into a few thousand; all the time I was aware that my personal creation process tends to be fragile at best and usually only needs the slightest of distractions for me to discard an idea or leave it for a rainy day that never comes.

So I was molly-coddling this one; it was cosseted and caressed and kept safe from the alliteration monster and because it was a mild March I got the chance to do what I love doing - writing in the garden. The few thousand words turned into 10,000 and still I defied Phil Hall logic and didn't tell a soul - not even the wife. The 10,000 clicked over to 15,000 and then eventually to 18,456. I saved the doc, went to the pub quiz and told everyone I'd been writing a story and that now, on the verge of 20,000 words I decided to tell them because once I pass this specific landmark figure there's a 90% chance I'd finish it.

A week later I had written ...
... 18,456 words. 

I'd put the kiss of death on the project. I just knew that was it, another shelved idea that never came to fruition (for me finishing something is as good as having something published, I've been published loads, I've only finished 7 big projects). The day I gave up on it was the day I thought my way out of the hole I dug myself - something my brother-in-law would be proud of me for doing - it was hard work, but once the idea reseeded itself everything started to slot together nicely.

That was nearly three weeks ago and since then I've spent a lot of time each week working on it. Today I reached an important landmark - 40,000 words. It is now in novel territory, it's no longer just a short story or novella. I am also aware this is a first draft and that it'll only be about 47,000 words when said draft is finished. I'm already identifying areas that need fleshing out, rewriting or clarifying. 

It has a title and a beginning, middle and I'm on the end right now. It might be a load of shit. I don't care. I'm going to finish it because I think it's a unique idea. It started as a story for kids; with some tough editing it might become that again, but the point is while I don't feel much happier in myself, this project is helping me rediscover some of my self-esteem and its been a fucking blast.

What's it about?

I'm not going to tell you.

I will say it's set in Leicestershire; it involves an enormous amount of Victorian history and railways. It involves 147 missing children and my love of mushrooms became my own personal Jesus. Oh and appearances can be deceiving. I can't pin a genre on it at the moment either, just to confuse the issue.

That's all you need to know.