Being Candid

•23 October, 2017 • 1 Comment

Sometimes it’s hard to be candid. A long time ago I was a lot more anonymous (damn social media!) and felt that I could spill a lot more personal detail about my life. Now I can be traced and, even if I did keep giving them pseudonyms, a lot of the other actors in my life can be traced.

In the light of recent events, and social media hashtags, you could be forgiven for thinking that I was about to begin some kind of confessional here. Frankly, I have both not a lot and too much to say about society and the way we interact, and my commentary on parliamentary politics dominates this blog enough without getting into social politics as well.

Really, the need not to be candid extends to other people’s privacy and also the public needs of the band. Much as I like to give a window behind the scenes on here, sometimes letting the public see that candidly doesn’t always fit well when you’re trying to give off a professional image. Not that anything bad has happened, mind you, just that when you’re trying to present a swan’s grace, it’s detrimental to always show how furiously you’re paddling underneath.

For that matter, blogging publicly can also be detrimental to a jobseeker. As I look for a day job to fund my projects, sometimes I worry that I shouldn’t talk to much about the slings and arrows of my constant battle with my mental health. Better that I pretend everything is fine and that I never make bad decisions and that I’m always firing on all cylinders.

But I’ve started now, so let’s be candid. I can’t sleep. For the last few months, I’ve been unable to sleep at all at night. Sometimes I’ve flaked out for a few hours mid morning only to be dragging myself through the afternoon and evening, staring at the ceiling at night rather than sleeping, and crashing for a few hours at the wrong time the next day. I’ve heard all the standard advice. To the point where I want to punch people for telling me the same endless stream of shit about sleep hygiene as if it’s a magic fucking cure. I know how fucking sleep hygiene works and it’s not doing a damn thing. I’ve tried taking it to extremes, and the result has been that I might sleep fitfully every other night, after taking anything from three to five hours to get under. I’ve not been at my best for a very long time.

I’ve tried herbal pills. My diet’s been better than it has been for years. I’m not going jogging for any fucker so don’t even dare to suggest it. Add to that a depressive listlessness and you can see why I’m barely managing to put one foot in front of the other with my day to day life.

The truly sad thing here, of course, is that I can still say I count as “functioning”.


The Crystal Maze

•16 October, 2017 • 2 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to give the new Crystal Maze a look. I’d avoided the celebrity specials because I despise them on principle, but I thought it was only fair to give the proper version an airing. I watched two episodes in a sitting, so that’s got to count in its favour. The format is exactly the same as the original series, for good or ill. I was hoping for a new zone, but I suppose for nostalgia purposes they wanted the show to be as close to the original as possible.

The big change is, of course, Richard Ayoade as the presenter. His style is less immersive, and he treats the whole thing as the TV game show it is rather than acting as if he’s a part of the Maze. Really, the appeal of Richard O’Brien was the fantasy of it all, so I’m not sure if Ayoade presenting it in this way is a cowardly decision – assuming that viewers will only watch this old format ironically. Still, I suppose I can rank Ayoade as my third favourite presenter…

I must admit, what I’d most like to talk about was the second episode I watched, which featured a team of “cosplayers”. (They were, ahem, a rather specialist kind of cosplayer, it has to be said, and their being shown “in character” on their introductory graphic let those of us who know of the subculture in on the joke…) Obviously, they were going to look a bit of a shit-show if they were shown a week after a team of martial arts instructors, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad. These guys are nerds! One of them designs puzzles for a living. And yet they only got 10 seconds in the Crystal Dome. If they hadn’t had lock-ins, it would still only have been 20. What I was expecting was The Big Bang Theory does The Crystal Maze, where they ace the other challenges in seconds flat, but were comically bad at the physical ones. I was half right.

Some of us nerds hate The Big Bang Theory for perpetuating negative stereotypes. I’ve got to say that, given the opportunity, we’re quite capable of doing it ourselves. They did have one guy on the team who could do physical games. The captain didn’t pick him the first two times. (Guess where the lock-ins happened…) Worse, the captain was a domineering control freak who distracted his team-mates by dictating from the outside, and didn’t listen to what they were saying while he was inside. Just to put the top hat on, for full Bing Bang effect, they constantly spoke in internet in-jokes (“Do the thing!” “I can’t number.”) that only American teenagers with no social skills actually say out loud in public. And for a team put together for an action game show, I was surprised that three out of five of them made my fat-bastard frame look svelte. But at least no-one said “lol”…

The Tory Conference

•9 October, 2017 • Leave a Comment

And now I return to politics, apparently. I suppose it was inevitable that the Conservative party conference would show quite what a mess they’re in. Theresa May getting a nasty cold and the letters of the mission statement falling off the wall behind her as she spoke look like an omen, frankly. But I want to analyse a bit deeper than random superstition.

In the months since the election, many seem to have lost sight of what actually happened as they go back to tribalist sniping. To recap: the Conservatives banged on about Brexit and the necessity of “strong and stable” leadership to take us through the negotiations. Labour, meanwhile, sensibly avoided the topic (that they’d been insipid about during the referendum period) and campaigned on an anti-austerity platform. Despite current constituency boundaries skewing the vote in Labour’s favour, Labour still came in with fewer seats than the Conservatives, but they’ve tried to spin it as a Labour victory anyway on the basis that Jeremy Corbyn didn’t have his arse completely handed to him. What the opinion polls were saying was that, although we as a nation are now sick of austerity, we still distrust Corbyn as a leader. A poll after the election suggested that this was because the public mood is centrist. So Labour, by vocally lurching to the left are doing themselves no favours. And May dragging the Tories to the right was already stuffing them before her piss-poor campaign. David Cameron might have walked a 2020 election, so long as the party displayed a little more social conscience.

Unfortunately, this leaves May caught between a rock and a hard place on multiple fronts. In the aftermath of the election, there are allegations that she lied to the Queen in promising DUP supply and confidence before she really had it when she asked to form a government. It came out just before the conference that Boris Johnson only refrained from making a direct challenge over the leadership because Cameron and George Osborne were backing Amber Rudd. And now Grant Shapps has gathered 30 out of the 48 signatures he’d need to force a leadership election. May should probably step down, but that would only cause further turmoil while we’re negotiating our exit from Europe. Furthermore, what the hell do you do with Johnson in her position? Johnson has made some serious diplomatic fuck-ups recently (who the hell recites Kipling on a diplomatic mission!?), but he always declares unswerving loyalty to the Prime Minister when he’s on the front bench. Would he continue to do so from the back benches? John Major is right to say that the party should sit down and back their leader, but only insofar as that’s the tactic to keep the Conservatives in power. In reality, May has not done enough to mitigate the party’s drastic failings on welfare reform, has not responded effectively to crises, and hasn’t slapped down an increasingly loose-cannon Foreign Secretary. This cannot continue for another three years.

William Hartnell was the best ever Doctor Who

•2 October, 2017 • 2 Comments

I’ll be doing posts like this monthly for a while. See here for the rationale.

This isn’t a tough argument to make, of course. William Hartnell was the first Doctor, but some would argue that that doesn’t make him necessarily the best. It’s natural for fans who have grown up with the series to gravitate towards their own first Doctor, “their Doctor”, as their favourite, but I believe Hartnell had something special that contributed heavily to a series originally commissioned for thirteen episodes becoming a part of the British consciousness for over fifty years.

Hartnell made his career playing “tough guy” roles, often hard-bitten military figures. Doctor Who was a different show for him, and a very different role. The dynamic of the characters was not the same as it is today. The focus, like any 1960s adventure series, was on a good-looking young man who could handle physical scenes. This was Ian Chesterton, a science teacher played by William Russell, who had previously been in Ivanhoe. Doctor Who was the title character because he was the central mystery of the show. He and his TARDIS were the means of getting the leads into trouble. Ian was the hero and the Doctor was an anti-hero, beginning almost as an antagonist.

It was Hartnell that made the character so compelling. The role needed the kind of bullish ability to stand his ground that Hartnell had cultivated in his previous roles, but the character’s likeability lay in the kindliness that Hartnell could switch to when dealing with his granddaughter, Susan. It was the fact that Hartnell could embody both of these qualities that allowed the series to develop into the formats that have kept it going for more than fifty years.

As the series evolved, the Doctor had changed from a devious old traveller who is most determined to get back to the TARDIS and away from danger, to a determined character who decides to stand against the Daleks following their invasion of Earth at the beginning of the second series. By the time Russell was replaced by Peter Purves (yes, that Peter Purves), the Doctor had already become a heroic lead, and this would have been unthinkable with an actor who had played the role in any different way. The grandfatherly manner had to contrast with the drill sergeant’s steel for the character as originally envisaged to become the moral centre of the show.

The first serial recognisable as modern Doctor Who is arguably 1966’s The War Machines. Other Doctors would seem out of place in some of Hartnell’s early adventures, but Hartnell is perfectly comfortable as the hero in the modern sci-fi adventure here. And his mannerisms as the Doctor still leap off the screen to this day. The way he grips his lapels and stares down his nose when challenged, the amused laugh after the villains leave the room, the switch from gentle teacher to wrathful god. If David Bradley can turn in Hartnell’s performance, I’ll be vindicated in saying that the First Doctor would still cut a powerful figure in modern Doctor Who.



•30 September, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is a bit of a “statement of intent” post, written mostly so that I can link back to it at the beginnings of a series of articles rather than repeating myself each time.

A week or two ago I was discussing Doctor Who with Ed, and I said something that I think I ought to follow up on: I can justify any Doctor as being the best Doctor of all time. Given that my weekly output isn’t always full of adventure or intellect, I figured I could do this as a monthly feature. Knowing my luck, of course, I’ll probably end up telling you how wonderful Peter Capaldi was the weekend after Jodie Whittaker takes over. If my timing is that unfortunate, please believe me when I say that this was sheer coincidence and that no mean spirit was intended.

Anyway, watch this space, because on Monday I’ll begin by telling you why William Hartnell was the best Doctor Who of all time.

(80s fans who always break out the pissy “he’s called The Doctor, not Doctor Who” line – I’ve always believed you can fuck off, and apparently Steven Moffat agrees with me.)

(Yes, I know I’ve just basically told David Tennant to fuck off, but he’ll still have been the greatest Doctor of all time in June 2018.)

When Father Papered the Parlour

•25 September, 2017 • 1 Comment

So it turns out that my triumphant return to blogging has happened as my life has started to settle down. Sort of. Most of my things are in storage and I’m on the dole again, but at least I’m starting to make headway. The point really is that the excitement has finished, although much of that I wouldn’t have been willing to air on here anyway.

My new landlord is the bassist in my band, Ed. When a situation blew up last year that threatened the roof over my head, he and his wife, Holly (who I’ve actually known for longer than I’ve known Ed) offered to put me up as a lodger. Regardless of the aforementioned situation, I was happy to take Ed and Holly up on their offer as living with my mother again after seven years of independence was putting something of a strain on me. It was meant to be a leisurely move, but the blow up ended up putting a deadline on proceedings. Regardless, we tried to get my room redecorated before I moved into it.

The old décor was dun anaglypta paper mismatched with some other pattern that clearly had one roll from a different batch. I should have just opted to live with it. As soon as we started stripping the paper we ran into problems. It turned out that the walls had not been finished properly when the room had been reconstructed (a couple of walls had been moved). This made us call a halt to our stripping job while Ed and I reassessed how we were going to proceed. And then the shit hit the fan meaning that I had to move in sharpish. So I found myself in the spare room with some of my junk in the attic and some in the half-stripped second bedroom.

It’s taken me a while to settle down mentally, but work has started again on the room. And it’s been a further tale of woe. It turns out that the massive wardrobe in the end by the door is unmoveable. And not only that, the room has already been redecorated with it in situ. The dun wallpaper has been haphazardly papered around it. So Ed and I have ended up stripping the paper to a point either side of the wardrobe with the intention of finding the best pattern match for the anaglypta that we can. I was going to paint anyway, so at least we don’t have to match the horrible colour. Nevertheless, it’s a running theme that every time we try to do something, we find another bodge job behind the veneer to make life inconvenient. The walls in this room have three different finishes under two layers of wallpaper, and badly-filled holes left, right and centre that we can’t even identify what was screwed into some of them. My current will to get things done will doubtlessly be tempered by the dread of the next surprise.

A Deep Breath

•18 September, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I had intended to get back into the swing of blogging this summer, but after my last few posts a situation that had been ongoing for nigh on two years came to a head and made significant demands on my time and attention. Theoretically, this situation has ended and I can get on with my life, but there is still some aftermath to deal with. I won’t go into any more detail than that, but I do like my comeback posts to have some sense of continuity about them, so I feel I should give you some kind of a slice of my life before I get on with weekly posts again.

Right now, I’m still depressed. My mental health situation is probably chronic, and although there are always triggers that exacerbate or ameliorate my state of mind, the fact of the matter is that my black patches have a tendency to be as predictable as British weather. I’m getting things done and being proactive and productive, but I recognise that deep down I’m in pretty bad shape. There’s nothing to be done, of course (and offerers of unsolicited advice will get bitten), so all I can do is ride it out until the next sunny spell.

Things are such for me at the moment that I don’t expect the dark spell to be too prolonged: life has been good to me recently. I now live with friends, and although I haven’t developed a proper routine in this new home I’m inching towards settling properly every day. I was lucky enough to be given a job that allowed me to re-set my finances just when I thought I was about to struggle, and despite the surprise retirement of our rhythm guitarist, Harlequin’s Kiss is still proving itself as a rock ’n’ roll tour de force with yet another line-up change.

I’ve also been lucky enough to see the better side of life over the last couple of months. Some of my oldest and dearest friends married in August (congratulations once again to Jon, Sarah, Ralph and Gemma!) and being there with them was a much-needed opportunity to reconnect with some parts of myself I was beginning to forget I had. It’s all a bit complicated and close-to-the-bone for a public blog where I limit myself to 500 words, but the best way I can put it is that I’m starting to feel like I’ve come home.

So here I am, back at my hobby of 13 years. There are so many things I’d have liked to have said over the last few months. In fact, my frustration at the sheer volume of them has probably put my return back by a few weeks, overwhelmed by where to start. But the time to say some of those things really has passed in a few cases. Think of this post as my deep breath before boring you all to death with the minutiae of my life again.