Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Oh? Jeremy Corbyn?

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been a bit of a soppy hippy. I think caring deeply about other people came from not being heard or listened to as a very young kid, from being mistreated by an abusive father, from being bullied at school, from knowing how it feels to go without basic material things that everyone else seemed to have (my gnarled and twisted toes a constant reminder of having parents who either couldn’t afford or refused to buy new shoes as my feet outgrew my old ones). All of this went towards the keen sense of justice I feel, the belief that everyone’s voice should be heard, that nobody should be left to rot and suffer on the fringes.

Was I born like this or did it grow within me due to the circumstances of my early life? Who knows? All I know is that nothing else on this earth really matters beyond kindness.

When I was around 18 years old, I remember writing down that I wanted to live a life in harmony with nature (the phrase ‘off grid’ didn’t exist back then, or was at least off my radar), but even then I realised this conflicted with my aspirations to make electronic music. How could I make music with electronic instruments without any electricity? And gradually, as happens with most of us, my youthful aspirations were moulded and amended by realism and the circumstances of adult life. I became more ‘normal’ (whatever that means), from my idealistic outlook to the clothes that I wore (shifting from combat trousers and fingerless gloves to the dull conventions of Next and Top Man).

This trend also carried over to politics. While I’d been rather taken by Marxism while studying my A-level in Sociology, I was well aware that Marxism had never really been employed anywhere in the world, often transmuted and disfigured into a totalitarian communism that didn’t actually have the needs of the people at its heart at all. So when it came to voting in my first general election in 1997, I voted for Labour, which was in line both with my family, and in line with my own morals.

Like many people in the country I was swept up by the D:Ream-soundtracked wave of optimism and hope that brought Tony Blair to power. I was two years old when Thatcher and the Tories had come to power in 1979 and come to realise how they stood for self-interest, inequality and a general lack of empathy for others less fortunate (you just need to pull your socks up and work harder if you don’t want to be poor, it’s simple).

Over time the Blair love affair faded (as the first flush of love always does) and it gradually became clear that a lot of New Labour’s swagger was just carefully managed, style-over-substance spin. That’s not to say that Blair did no good, introducing the National Minimum Wage and Civil Partnership Act were progressive shifts towards a more equal society.

New Labour - Thatcher's 'greatest achievement'
But in 2003 came the groundless, illegal Iraq war. Was this the otherwise well-intentioned Blair’s greatest mistake (costing anywhere between 300,000 and more than a million lives), or had he always been a vacuous charlatan, a Tory wolf in socialist sheep’s clothing? He certainly shifted the Overton Window (the boundaries and scope of political debate) over to the right, and it’s perhaps little surprise that Thatcher once said that her greatest achievement was “Tony Blair and New Labour”.

With Gordon Brown taking over in 2007, and cut very much from the same New Labour cloth as Blair, the world was plunged into the global financial crisis of 2007/2008. As you already know, in many countries this saw taxpayers’ money used to bail out the banks (which were ‘too big to fail’, although Iceland begged to differ) and warnings that we also needed to tighten our belts to avoid financial catastrophe. This led to disillusionment and anger amongst large parts of the electorate – why should we pay for the mistakes of badly run, greedy financial institutions? – and, arguably, also revealed just who was in control of national governments and the global economy, and to whose benefit and in whose interests it was run.

By this time, I had had enough of the fake charms and illegal wars of New Labour and in the 2010 general election voted Liberal Democrat. Little did I know they would jump into bed with the Tories and help unleash the ongoing hell of austerity – which has been revealed as a purely ideological drive to dismantle the state and sell off even more state assets to private companies to be rinsed out, milked and profited from (the same old Tory story).

Fast forward to the 2015 general election where Labour’s Ed Miliband was pitted against David Cameron. Miliband’s greatest failure was not fumbling with a bacon sandwich (although take enough photos of anyone eating and you’ll get some gormless grimaces out of it, another sign of the sly media), it was adopting the Tories’ narrative on their terms. When he apologised for the global financial crash, and said that he would employ austerity-lite (prolonging the suffering of the worst off over a longer period of time) – I could not vote for him. Instead, I voted Green – who in the Tory stronghold of Broxbourne, had as little chance of success as any other party (UKIP came second ahead of Labour – even more disappointingly for me. Birds of a feather don’t necessarily always flock together it seems).

Anti-austerity march
I felt that the country was sliding towards a bleak, unequal, unfair future and that no party that had any chance of power truly represented me or my beliefs. All I could do was take to the streets to voice my disgust at austerity and the people behind it and, on Saturday 20th June 2015, I took part in the anti-austerity march in central London. It was good to feel some solidarity with others, that I wasn’t completely on my own in feeling this way, and that there was actually some hope that things may change for the better.

The march concluded in Parliament Square where we heard various speeches from people speaking out against austerity. One of these speakers was Jeremy Corbyn, who had been nominated for the Labour leadership just five days before. At the time he was seen as a token left-wing candidate with very little hope of winning and I didn’t really know anything about him.

As his voice carried across the huge crowd on the breeze, I realised that, finally, someone was saying what no other politician seemed to dare to say. Here was somebody willing to call out the bankers, and the corrupt, under-regulated gambling den that the financial markets had become, for causing the global financial crash. Here was a politician adamantly opposed to austerity and the ideology behind it. Here, in short, was hope.
“I want us to stand up as brave people did in the 1920s and 1930s, and said we want a state that takes responsibility for everybody to ensure nobody is destitute … We each care for all. Everyone caring for everybody else. I think it’s called socialism. 
“I stand with those people that came to this country, worked, contributed and are part of our society. I want a humanitarian and decent response to those people who are victims of war, that are dying in the Mediterranean trying to reach a place of safety. I am not prepared to join a campaign of Benefits Street and attacking so-called benefits scroungers.”   
- Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Parliament Square, 20th June 2015

Corbyn refused to adopt the Tory narrative of the ‘necessary’ suffering of austerity, refused to punish the poorest in society for the mistakes of the richest and spoke of a more balanced, fairer society. I realised he probably had little chance of winning the Labour leadership contest, he had only been admitted to compete via the back door at the last minute, but finally somebody was speaking my language. This (mid-July 2015) is when I decided to pay my £3 to become a Labour Party supporter so that I could vote for this principled man and seemingly lone voice in Westminster.

Around the same time, having suffered badly from depression and anxiety for some time, I took part in a groundbreaking medical trial at Imperial College, looking at treating depression with psilocybin (more details of that here, if you’re interested). I was given two doses of psilocybin, one week apart, and it was between these, on Monday 3rd August, that I once again went to go and listen to Jeremy Corbyn speak.

I arrived at Camden Town Hall to find huge queues snaking around the block and down the road. This didn’t feel like some flash in the pan, or a niche fringe pastime that I happened to be involved in, it felt like a full-blooded movement. The sheer energy in the room, the passion of the crowd, and the stirring, moving and compassionate words of Jeremy Corbyn when he gave his speech made me believe that perhaps a ‘New Kind of Politics’ was possible and attainable, one where people were put before the pursuit of money above all else (something both major parties had pandered to for far too long). As an added bonus, I also got to hear one of my musical heroes, Brian Eno, speak about his support for Corbyn. Afterwards, I felt energised, excited and full of hope and optimism. What a buzz.

Just three days later, I was given my second dose of psilocybin as part of the medical trial I was taking part in. While under the influence of the drug, I felt completely connected to myself, the world around me and all living things, I felt compassion for the refugees who were being detained in a camp in Calais, France, dubbed ‘The Jungle’, I realised that national borders were completely arbitrary, manmade constructs designed to create division and prevent the sharing of prosperity that some countries enjoy and others are devoid of.

These weren’t particularly new revelations to me, more reminders from deep within my soul that had returned to the surface. They further instilled in me that a political approach driven by compassion, empathy and love for others, regardless of race, religion, sex or gender, was the way forward, and that was exactly the path that Jeremy Corbyn was walking, and had walked during his whole political life.

My inner hippy had been full reawakened within me, and after years of dismissing the way I thought and felt as idealistic and na├»ve, I allowed myself to fully embrace these thoughts and feelings that I knew were right (for me, at least) all along. I think I’d allowed the society and political climate around me to convince me that any thoughts of fairness, kindness and equality needed to be balanced by taking account of certain practical financial considerations. Perhaps I had been infected by the New Labour spin of corporatised, Tory-lite, faux socialism (fauxcialism?!)?

But now this spell had been broken: why shouldn’t we live in a fairer society where the worst excesses and greed of the super-rich are reined in and everyone pays their fair share? Why should we blindly accept austerity and the way it victimises and scapegoats the poorest and weakest members of society? Why should everything be for sale – whether that’s schools, universities, the prison service, the NHS or public assets and utilities?

Leadership victory
The buzz around Corbyn continued, there was news about thousands of people becoming Labour Party supporters and members so that they could vote in the leadership election (portrayed as a hostile takeover by certain sections of the media), he continued to draw huge crowds and I kept hoping that he would actually win the contest. On 12th September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as leader of the Labour Party with a huge 59% of the vote (his nearest rival, Andy Burnham, received just 19%) – I was elated.

I expected what I thought to be the left-wing press to share this feeling of hope and to celebrate a seismic shift in British politics. Instead, the whole of the British media – including seemingly ‘leftie’ newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent – turned against Corbyn, taking any opportunity to denounce him, mock him, misrepresent him and belittle him. The attacks were vicious, personal and full of wilful lies and slights against his character. I was so shocked initially but realised eventually just how Blair had dragged the so-called ‘centre ground’ to the right, and just what a threat Corbyn posed to the establishment status quo and billionaire media owners.

What has happened in the four years since has been so well documented that I do not need to repeat it here. On a personal level, I started going to local Labour Party meetings for a short while but they didn’t provide the society-changing spirit I hoped I would find. There were some lovely, genuine people there but we spent most of the time speaking about street lighting and bin collections and, once again, the Tory narrative was adopted surrounding issues such as housing (unsustainable ‘affordable’ being the focus, rather than the long-lasting ‘social’). Corbyn was rarely mentioned in these meetings and was clearly not somebody everyone felt comfortable with leading the party, let alone felt he could transform British society for the better. Just today, I’ve received the latest local Labour Party election leaflet through the letterbox, and once again there is absolutely no mention of Jeremy Corbyn on it.

In the face of many people believing the media smears against Jeremy Corbyn, I’ve learned to stay quiet about my political views and my support of the Labour leader. It’s not worth the stress to hear yet another person trot out the same lines about ‘terrorist sympathising’ or that a man who has spent his whole life campaigning against all types of inequality (and was arrested for demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa) is somehow racist. Racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and prejudice are sadly part of all areas of UK society, and therefore all political parties, and need to be challenged and extinguished at every turn. Nobody is beyond criticism or beyond reproach, but no current political leader has done more than Jeremy Corbyn to fight for the marginalised and oppressed. Sadly, discussing this with many people is largely a waste of energy, time and oxygen.

The problem is that the media is owned and run by the same small band of billionaires that have run the political parties for so long and are the same group of people milking the public for all they're worth and selling all publicly owned services and assets from beneath the people, so that their already-rich mates can turn a profit. Labour have said they will break down the concentration of UK media ownership, which could perhaps be guiding the newspapers' coverage of the party and their policies. It's not a conspiracy, just the logic of self-protection. 

A stark choice
Now, in December 2019, we stand on the precipice of disaster or salvation. Yes, that sounds over the top, but when an institution like the National Health Service is under threat, when 130,000 deaths have been attributed to austerity to date, no words and no warnings are too strong. We are faced with the starkest choice of any election during my lifetime. On the one hand we have a racist, xenophobic, hard right-wing Tory who wants to use Brexit to further dismantle the state and its institutions to sell it to his rich friends so they can turn an even fatter profit, regardless of how many more people the ideology kills. On the other hand, we have a man who believes in the politics of compassion, who will do all he can to return Britain to being a fairer, more equal, more caring society where the weakest and poorest and looked after, rather than allowed to rot and die.

Put simply, we are faced with the decision between hope or hate.

My anger towards the Conservatives is fuelled by the 130,000 people who have died, the massive rise in homelessness, the crippling of school funds so that parents are crowdfunding for books and loo rolls for the kids, the wrecking and underfunding of the NHS, the huge cuts to the emergency services etc etc etc. If this doesn't make people angry enough to vote the Tories out, then nothing will. Too many suck up the lie that it's other members of the public (benefit claimants, refugees, people from overseas) that are to blame, not the parasites that have been in charge for far too long. We need a party that will stop austerity and invest in making Britain a proper, cohesive society again, rather than a country where only a very few extremely wealthy people thrive (the richest six people in UK own as much wealth as bottom 13 million) and the rest of us struggle.

Both major parties were so divorced from the people for so many years. Now we finally have someone working in the interests of the people. People have complained for so long that they don't have a genuine choice between the political parties, well now we do. The difference could not be clearer. I fear the lies and smears and sheer power of the media will mean we wake up to a Johnson majority on Friday 13th. There is still time to make sure this doesn't happen and I'll be doing all I can to ensure that the future of the UK is put back in the hands of the public by helping Labour in a marginal seat on election day.

Despite the best efforts of the millionaires and billionaires that have controlled the political parties, the media and leeched on, sponged off and financially exploited the general public for so many years, Jeremy Corbyn still stands a chance of becoming the UK’s next Prime Minister, against all odds, with the cards so heavily stacked against him, the dice so loaded in the favour of the bleak status quo, where self-interest and greed are celebrated and rewarded.

I hope, but do not expect, Corbyn will win on Thursday this week. If I allow myself to believe it will happen, I will become even more depressed and desperate if Johnson wins a majority. There’s still time to drag the UK back from the brink of right-wing narrow-mindedness, selfish insularity and even greater inequality and the further deaths that brings. Whatever people think of or believe about Corbyn, I hope they think enough of their fellow citizens, and their right to live in a fairer and more compassionate society, to vote for Labour (or the Liberal Democrats if that keeps the Tories out) on Thursday.

The soppy hippy in me would say vote for compassion, vote for empathy, vote for love, the very qualities that Jeremy Corbyn stands for.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Scribblings about music from a 15-year-old me

The thoughts of a teenage ambient fan
It's been a while since I wrote a blog about anything music related but I came across an old essay I wrote at school when I was just 15 and thought I'd share part of it.

The essay is entitled 'Where in the world do you find beauty and what is your response to it?' and gives you some insight into my young mind and reveals the roots of a future music hack. I'm not sure if its naivety is endearing or annoying but you can see the 1992 version of me adopting several (questionable) journalistic traits.

These include dealing in absolutes for effect, displayed by the 'I loved rave music and now I hate it, I love this ambient music instead now' stance. The fact is I still love rave music and never stopped loving it (though admittedly I don't listen to Tetris by Doctor Spin any more) and I also still love ambient music. That wouldn't sell (or at least get my English teacher's attention) though would it?!

This old build it up, knock it down mentality has been used by hacks throughout the ages, mostly by the NME. My excuse is that I was a fickle 15-year-old, I'm not sure what the NME's excuse is. Anyway, here is an excerpt complete with the bad punctuation, the scarcity of paragraphs and never-ending sentences it was originally written with.

Where in the world do you find beauty and what is your response to it?
GCSE English essay, 12th October 1992. (Aged 15)

[…] Beauty for most people makes them feel at peace and tranquil and extremely happy and restful. But the question is, what do I see beauty in? 

Above all, above nature, architecture and art, I must say that it is music that gives me immense pleasure to listen to and I let myself be taken away by the beats, electronic instruments and melodic, mellow sounds that have been used to create a wonderful sound. I, like many others now, used to be into Rave music. This music is made up of one-hundred and forty to fifty beats per minute backing, a repetitive “chorus”, (made up of up to five notes played over and over again), or a singer, singing the same few words (that have no meaning) over and over again. Plus, in many of the tunes these days, there is a sample, or extract, from a television tune or computer game. These have included records like, “Roobarb ‘n’ Custard”, “Sesame’s Treet”, “A Trip To Trumpton”, “Super Mario Land” and “Tetris”. All of which are popular for about three weeks and then the creators of them are never heard of again. I began to go off this music when it turned into a novelty, a joke, a gimmick, and was solely aimed at five-year olds. But, I thought to myself, what is there to go on to after listening to this weak, soulless music for so long?

It took a trip to my sister’s, who also liked rave for a long time before me, to realise what I should be buying to replace the mind-clamouring mess I had been wasting my money on. It was fairly late on a Friday night and my sister took a tape from an old shoe box and put it in the deck of her expensive stereo system. As soon as I’d been listening to the music for about two minutes I had been taken in by it. It filled my senses with happiness and joy and lifted my spirits endlessly. The long melodic chords and the dream-like instruments were indescribable along with a female singer at times with the odd sample, in better taste than the rave ones, winding its way into my ears. My sister called the music Ambient or Dub music and it’s still my favourite music today. I really let myself become engulfed by the music and absorbed by the slow, inconsistent beat. Nearly always when I am lying down on my bed and I’m listening to the music I get so taken in and relaxed that I fall asleep. Sometimes, if I concentrate hard enough, I can let my mind create “pictures” and these also help me to doze off to sleep until the tape reaches its end, produces a loud clicking noise and wakes me up.

This music is slowly finding its way into the hit parade and becoming popular. One of my favourite bands The Orb have already had two top twenty singles plus the prestige of a number one album. Their song titles include “Little Fluffy clouds”, “The back side of the moon” and the incredibly long “A huge ever-growing, pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the ultraworld”. So not only do the tunes have a good, melodic, beautiful sound the titles of them do too. There is so much going on in the records that each time I listen to them my ears seem to pick out something new, like a sample or instrument I haven’t noticed before. I find this type of music beautiful.

However, sound and music are not the only things in life I find beauty in. I also find certain scenes in nature beautiful and an example of this is the sea. […]

Friday, 4 March 2016

Mental Health Survival Tools

Silver linings - Regents Park, February 15 2016
(source: Ian Roullier)
It’s been over 18 months since I last wrote and firstly I want to say just how overwhelmed and touched I was by the reaction of my friends and family to that blog. Thanks to everyone who got in touch to offer their support, to empathise or to tell me about their own struggles with mental illness (I hope you’re all coping well at present).

Initially I was unsure about sharing something so personal so publicly but I know it was the right thing to do. I hope it helped others not to feel ashamed of their mental health problems and to open up to those around them and ultimately seek the help they needed.

Since I wrote that blog, my own situation deteriorated further, just when I thought I couldn’t get any lower, I did. However, with the help and support of my loved ones, counselling via my local mental health team, a trial I took part in at Imperial College (that’s for another blog perhaps) and the DBT course I’m currently studying (more about that below), life feels a bit more manageable, if still often not easy.

Anyway, ever since I wrote my previous blog, I’ve been meaning to write a list of all of the potential sources of help and support people suffering from mental health problems can call upon. And here it is. I hope it helps you or those close to you who are currently going through a rough patch. Bear in mind I’m not a medical professional but I hope the information below at least gets you on the right track to start getting better. If any of you think I’ve forgotten any vital information then please get in touch and I’ll update the list.

Friends and family – While you may feel completely alone and isolated and unable to speak to people about what you’re going through, speaking to others really is the first step towards getting better. Confiding in a close friend or family member about how you feel can mean you no longer have to struggle through on your own. They may not have all of the answers but opening up can lift a weight off your shoulders and the person you confide in can keep an eye on how you’re doing and perhaps even do practical things to help you out. A good friend shouldn’t judge you and there’s every chance you won't be the only person they know who’s been through a tough time. If you feel you don’t have anyone close enough to you for you to confide in, there are still many different sources of help you can call upon so please read on.

Your GP – They may be jacks of all trades and masters of none to an extent but your doctor has a range of options available to them that they can prescribe to help people with mental health issues. These include prescribing medication, referring you to a counsellor or to your local mental health team or writing you off work while you recover. If you’re anxious about going to see the doctor, take a friend or loved one with you who knows about what you’re going through and may be able to help you explain your current situation. That way you can make sure you get the type of help that’s best for you.

Samaritans – If you can’t face telling a friend or family member or going to see the doctor, are feeling suicidal or like you just can’t cope any more or just need someone to talk to, Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Just call 116 123 for free (from the UK and Republic of Ireland) or email jo@samaritans.org. More information here: http://www.samaritans.org.

Missing People – If you’re thinking of running away or have run away (or are the friend or relative of somebody who is thinking of running away or has done so) Missing People offers help and support via their free 24/7 helpline. You can call or text 116 000 or email 116000@missingpeople.org.uk. If you’re under 17 years old, the Runaway Helpline offers a similar service, also available via phone and text on 116 000 or by email at 116000@runawayhelpline.org.uk.

Medication – Medication can alleviate your symptoms enough so that you are able to get on with your day-to-day life. There are many, many different types of anti-depressants and mood stabilisers available so it may take time to find the ones that are most suitable for you but they can help you feel and function better. Your GP or psychiatrist should be able to help you find the right medication for you.

Counselling – a whole separate blog could be devoted to the various different types of counselling that are available and, again, it’s about finding out which type is best suited to you and your circumstances. Always bear in mind that if you don’t benefit from one type of counselling or from the methods of a particular counsellor, there are still many other avenues you can try instead. Personally, I was referred by my doctor for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is based on uncovering your patterns of behaviour and thinking and enabling you to find other, more positive ways of behaving and thinking about yourself. It really helped me to make various breakthroughs, gain a much better understanding of why I am the way I am and to alter my approach to myself and to life. Click here for more information on CBT from the NHS.

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) – DBT is based on CBT and has been developed to help people who experience extremely intense emotions. It has been shown to be effective for treating people who self-harm or attempt suicide/feel suicidal, use alcohol or drugs to control their emotions, have eating disorders or are emotionally unstable. DBT encourages the practice of mindfulness (more about that below), enables people to cope with extreme emotions or manage ingrained behaviours and encourages people to live a more fulfilling life that is in line with their own individual values. For more information on DBT click here.

Mental health charities – There are several mental health charities that you can turn to for help in the UK. The best known is probably Mind which offers a wealth of easy to understand and helpful information about all kinds of mental illnesses and how to go about getting help on its website. Mind also offers counselling and support locally throughout the UK and sometimes (depending on what’s available locally) you have the option to self-refer yourself to some of these services. Other mental health charities that may be able to help you get back on your feet and stay there include SANE and Together. The YoungMinds charity offers support to children and young people who are having difficulties with their mental health.

Meditation – It has been shown that daily meditation can alleviate the symptoms of both depression and anxiety. There are many ways that you can get into meditation. One way that’s open to most people is via an app like Headspace, Buddhify or Stop, Breathe and Think (which, unlike the other two, is free). I personally use Headspace which is non-religious and has many different ‘packs’ available containing meditations relating to depression, anxiety, self esteem, sleep, stress and relationships etc. There are other forms of meditation you can practice such as mantra-based meditation (whether based around devotional religious mantras or those used within (the expensive) Transcendental Meditation). If you want to get involved with a local meditation group, they are probably more widespread than you think and if you’re based in or near London, the Dhyana Centre offers a free Meditation For Beginners course that teaches you a variety of meditation techniques as a spiritual discipline. If you’re religious then praying is similar in some ways to meditation and has also been shown to relieve depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness – Closely related to certain types of meditation (Headspace for example), mindfulness is a technique that enables people to live more in the moment. Rather than being buried in an avalanche of worries about the past and fears about the future, mindfulness encourages you to be focused more on the present. This is achieved via exercises based on the senses; eating a raisin mindfully for example – examining the way it looks, feels, smells, tastes etc – or mindfully scanning the body from head to foot and observing the thoughts and feelings that arise rather than reacting to them. As with meditation, you will probably be able to find a local mindfulness group that you can join (this may help for starters: http://bemindful.co.uk/learn-mindfulness/). The Mental Health Foundation offers an online mindfulness course, which is free to start (and at the time of writing costs £60 to complete).

Other apps – Aside from the meditation apps above, one really useful app I've come across is Mindfit. This simple but effective app allows you to log your positive experiences, contains various relaxation and mindfulness exercises and helps you to identify issues you want to overcome and gives you the tools to overcome them.

Lea Valley Park, February 11 2016
(source: Ian Roullier)
Exercise and food – A study by Stanford University has shown that going for a walk in nature can lead to a lower risk of depression. Being surrounded by scenery and greenery can calm and relax you as well as keep you fit. Any form of exercise, whether it’s walking, joining a gym class or going for a swim, can make you feel better and make you ‘the right kind of tired’ (i.e. physically tired so you’re able to sleep soundly rather than mentally exhausted and strung out by your overactive mind). That said, I realise one common aspect of depression and other forms of mental illness can be the urge to stay indoors and shut yourself away from everything and everyone. If you can’t bring yourself to go out in public, sit in your garden or do some gardening. If you don’t have access to a garden of your own or a friend's, try to do some exercise at home whether that’s buying a yoga DVD and doing that in front of the TV, running on the spot or up and down the stairs, doing star jumps or push ups or anything else you can think of – it all helps. What you put into your body can also have a huge effect on your mood and mental wellbeing. When you feel low it’s easy to eat lots of junk food and takeaways or to skip meals. But eating regular meals with plenty of fruit and veg isn’t just good for your body, it’s also good for your head. Oily fish is also good ‘brain food’ as it's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which aid brain function and development. 

Being kind to yourself – This may sound alien to you if you suffer from low self esteem and are feeling at your worst but being kind to yourself is vital for your recovery. This can take a lot of willpower and self-awareness at times but try to treat yourself as you would a good friend. We often treat ourselves like our own worst enemies but if you can try to treat yourself with compassion, empathy and a bit of understanding and love then it will really help. This can involve catching yourself when you’re thinking negative thoughts about yourself and countering the negativity with some positive thoughts or words. You could also try treating yourself (however worthy or unworthy you feel of it at the time) to a massage, a book, some tickets to an event, a haircut, a walk, a day off or anything else you think you would enjoy and benefit from.

State help – On the one hand, regular work can help you maintain a routine and create a feeling of self worth as well as giving you regular contact with other people, perhaps preventing you from feeling isolated. On the other hand, if you are forced to take some time out because you simply can’t cope, that is no reason to feel worthless or ashamed. If the doctor writes you off work and you are not well enough to return, you can receive a certain level of financial assistance from the government for a short period to help you get back on your feet. While our perception of people on benefits has been moulded in an overly negative way in recent years by TV programmes like Benefits Street and Big Benefits Handout (where claiming benefits is made out purely to be a lazy scrounger’s career choice), you should not feel ashamed or be made to feel ashamed of being mentally ill. If that means you are unable to work for a period of time while you get the help and strength you need to get back on your feet, state benefits such as Employment and State Allowance (ESA) can provide you with a lifeline. More information from the government can be found here or you can get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Helpful books – There are a multitude of self-help and inspirational books out there and what strikes a chord for one person may not work for another but here are a few recommendations of books that have helped me. (I’m a bit apprehensive of publishers’ inflated claims of ‘lifelong happiness’ and ‘spiritual enlightenment’ but please look beyond that as there’s useful and helpful information within these books!)
Stop Thinking, Start Living by Richard Carlson – offers practical advice on how you can learn to approach your thoughts and feelings in a different way.
The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle – a mindfulness handbook in many ways with a spiritual thread running through it. Really helped me to live more in the present.
Breaking Down Is Waking Up by Dr Russell Razzaque – I’ve only recently read this one. Razzaque’s approach is unique as he draws parallels between certain spiritual states and the states experienced by the seriously mentally ill people that he has treated through his extensive work as an NHS psychiatrist. He looks into how practicing mindfulness could be key to the sustained recovery of people with even severe mental health problems. A really interesting read.
The Art Of Happiness by The Dalai Lama – A conversation between psychiatrist Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama that explores the ways in which we can all live a happier and more content existence.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Breakdown or Breakthrough?

Cloudy skies looming over St Albans Verulamium Park
(source: Ian Roullier)
I've thought long and hard about writing this post about mental illness and depression and also whether or not to post it in public like this. A friend told me to do so anonymously if I did but I believe it's extremely important to be honest and frank about mental illness, not hide from it, treat it like an embarrassment or hide it from other people.

What happened recently to Robin Williams has definitely played a part in inspiring me to take this step. I hope other people may benefit from this approach and feel less ashamed about their own difficulties and be more able to share them with their friends and families. At the very least, I hope doing this is cathartic and helps me to rebuild my life in a way that's more balanced and harmonious. There will be those who understand and those that don't but one of the many reasons I've ended up in this place mentally is by being overly concerned about what other people think, and it's time that useless pursuit stopped.

"Happiness is a state of mind, not a set of circumstances," wrote author and counsellor Richard Carlson. The same, to my mind, goes for depression.*

In my working life I have achieved many of my ambitions including:
  • Writing a cover feature for iDJ Magazine.
  • Writing cover features for DJ Magazine, a magazine I had wanted to write for since I was a teenager.
  • Being asked to edit the first ever edition of DJ Magazine Croatia.
  • Getting regular work from Mixmag, another magazine I'd wanted to write for since I was 14.
  • Writing album reviews for the BBC.
  • Being asked to write album sleeve notes and biographies for artists' websites.
  • Being a successful business-to-business magazine editor travelling regularly to the Middle East.
  • Covering all of the audio duties (studio recording, sound design, music/sting composition, mixing and mastering) sound for a series of radio comedies.
  • Being commissioned to do the sound recording, sound design and music for a short film.

And on a personal level, I have a fantastic wife, an amazing set of friends, good relationships with the family members that count and have also recently moved house.

On paper, things could not have been better (although money was still very tight), and I would have bitten your hand off had you presented the above scenario to me just a few years ago. But rather than this being an amazing time of my life, it has proved to be one of the hardest and what I should see as positives just end up being sticks to beat myself with. "You SHOULD be happy," goes the mental dialogue. "Why the hell can't you appreciate all that you've achieved or everything that you have? What's your problem?"

The truth was that I felt completely overwhelmed. I felt like I was doing three jobs, because in fact I was (music journalist, business magazine editor and audio producer), and doing none of them well due to the fact I couldn't focus on any one thing. How could I devote myself to keeping up with the music scene and listen to the steady stream of promos I get sent when I should also be trying to read as much as I can about what's happening in the Middle East oil industry? How could I hone my audio skills and try and get more audio-related work when I was trying to edit and fact check a book about business in China?

As John Foxx says of Brian Eno in David Sheppard's 'On Some Faraway Beach - The Life and Times of Brian Eno': "The dangers inherent in these sorts of activity are fairly obvious […] spreading too wide and thin while not firmly grasping anything significant and losing the distinction between position and attainment." Not that I'm comparing myself to Brian Eno in any way, it just echoes the situation I found myself in of trying to play so many different roles that I could never attain anything tangible within any of them. A jack of all trades, and a master of none.

Freelancing also brings its own inherent problems: there are no working hours, there is no routine (aside from the one you choose to implement) and, for me, there ended up being no 'off' switch where I could differentiate working life from the rest of my life and just relax and enjoy things.

On top of my three (or more) career paths, I was also trying to learn Norwegian at evening classes, studying a music production productivity course (Mike Monday's 'Start Now, Finish Fast) and was part of a music-related 'goal orientated' group. I've always been obsessed with human potential and trying to keep reaching my own potential. I realise now the roots of this probably lie in the thought that I'm just not good enough as I am, so I need to constantly improve and prove myself so I can feel OK about myself. This overwhelming pressure from within led to a never-ending, insurmountable list of things that had to be done that would constantly loom over me. This clearly had to stop.

In November last year I was sent to Saudi Arabia by one of the business clients I did editorial work for and every day I walked around an oil and gas show feeling so absolutely disconnected from my environment and what I was doing. It was like an out of body experience and for the first time in years I could feel panic attacks rising up within me again. While in Saudi Arabia, I was also being pressured for work by the team involved with the short film I was doing the audio for, and I was also trying to squeeze in editing chapters of a business handbook for another client. There seemed no end in sight, nowhere for me to catch my breath and collect my thoughts for a while, no way I could breathe let alone relax.

I couldn't afford financially to take time out of work, but my low mood, the pent up anger and constant, debilitating anxiety meant I couldn't afford not to. I felt so stretched that I was snapping, even the smallest task felt like a huge burden, I had no energy, no emotional buffer. I was quick to anger, to snap, and then the guilt that followed would add another layer of self-recrimination. I felt like I no longer knew who I was any more, I would cry as I searched for an answer to why I felt this way and thought of the impact upon my loved ones.

I went to see a doctor in early December who told me that work clearly seemed to be the root cause of my mental health issues and that's what I needed to tackle. Everything else I needed was in place (a good, supportive relationship with my wife, good friends to talk to, regular cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), practicing meditation etc), the only thing I could do better with was having a healthier diet and exercising more often. Antidepressants were an option but I had come off of those that summer and was reluctant to go back on them, wanting to deal with the underlying problems rather than placing a drug-infused blanket over them (I realise now this really is not the right way to view medication though).

Still, I carried on working stupid hours, neglecting my mental health and my relationships with those closest to me. I did this with a deep knowing that I couldn't carry on like this. I needed to park the car for a while. To stop everything, take stock. Rip it up and start again, as the song goes. I gradually set about reducing my workload, and therefore my income, for example cutting back on my commitments to the short film I was working on for instance (under immense pressure from the producer to carry on regardless).

Then in April, a very good friend and colleague of mine, David, died of complications related to Mantle Cell Lymphoma, having been given the all-clear just a few weeks before. While this was the third time he had fought the condition, David's death still came as a huge shock as it had seemed he was through the worst. He had been a true mentor and inspiration to me. Much of the business editorial work I had been doing had been to help David out while he was ill. My duty and commitment was to helping him, not to the publishing company I had worked at for many years, where an increasingly toxic atmosphere had built up in recent years (despite there being a fantastic team of people there).

I'm still not entirely sure if I'm fully aware of the impact of David's death upon me. At one point during the weeks after his death I convinced myself that I was seriously ill - why would I feel like I lacked the capacity to do the smallest of tasks otherwise? - and once again made an appointment with the doctor (at a different surgery this time as I'd moved house). The same questions were asked and the same conclusion drawn - I had many key elements of support in place but I needed to alter my working arrangements. The doctor sent me for blood tests and offered to write me off work for a couple of weeks but as a self-employed freelancer, who would I give the letter to? I was my own boss. Once again, medication could be used as a last resort but I didn't want to go down that path again. I discovered later that another of David's good friends and colleagues had been through the exact same process after David's death, being convinced he was seriously ill and going to hospital for tests (that came back clear).

I gradually cut my ties with the publishing company (stepping away over the next couple of months) and it took several months to finish the other projects I was involved in, and wind everything down. Turning work away was (and is) completely counterintuitive but I had no choice but to create some space to breathe in.

My various blood test results all came back clear and I realised that I could allow myself to start doing more energetic things again, like going for long walks, which definitely helped improve my state of mind. It's almost that by stopping everything I had become unable to cope with doing anything at all. For a while though, my list of work 'things to do' was simply replaced by a domestic one of fence painting, DIY etc and still I felt overwhelmed and stretched. My whole sense of self-worth was coming from what I could achieve every day, how many tasks I could complete was commensurate with how worthy a person I was. This couldn't go on but I still don't know where people's deep sense of self-worth and their strong foundations come from. This is something I still need to work out.

Have I destroyed my own identity because that identity wasn't good enough or because it clearly didn't make me happy? My ego says I have. 'Why have I thrown everything away?' it yells at me. But sometimes you have to create a vacuum so that new things can come into your life to fill that space. I'd come up with the phrase years ago that "The meaning of life is to live a life with meaning", but didn't really take it to heart enough. Now I have to.

What have I learned or should I say been reminded of by the past nine months? That work is important as far as paying the bills goes but should not come at the top of the list of priorities in life. Your relationships with loved ones, friends, family and (most people forget this one) yourself are far, far more important. As has been said many times before, nobody on their death bed regrets not working harder, but many wish they'd spent more quality time with the people they love.

Within work itself, I also want what I do to have more meaning, to impact positively upon other people (something that writing about oil or construction never does and writing about music may even not, although music itself can be amazingly transformative). Whether this is doing editorial work for a charity, giving treatments of some sort to people (I trained in Reiki 16 years ago, perhaps it's time to start sharing that with people?), becoming a sound therapist or perhaps something I haven't even thought of, I want what I do in my working life to be of benefit to others. Driven not by my ego and an obsession with what 'I am' (a journalist, an editor, an audio producer) but driven by my calling, as this article describes so well.

And where am I now? Well, trying to make sense of it all. Realising that I need to start working again soon to pay the mortgage. Working out which path to choose. Most of my days are still off days. I often can't face going out but force myself to, I don't pick the phone up, no matter who is calling, (as my friends are probably all too aware) because I'm not 'at my best' (not that my genuine friends expect me to be, these are self-inflicted expectations). At the moment I am nothing (workwise at least), I have purposely wiped the slate clean, but it's time to unpark the car again and start moving in life, wherever I end up.

*When I say that depression is a state of mind not a set of circumstances, don't get me wrong. I don't know how I would have got through the past nine months without the support of my wife, friends and family. But no circumstances guarantee that you won't suffer with depression, just as being rich or successful doesn't make you immune from catching a cold, breaking a leg or becoming ill. There are certain ways that you can try to help yourself though that are proven to at least help lift the cloud slightly. These include exercise, eating a healthy diet, CBT, mindfulness and meditation and medication helps some people as well. The main thing to do when you're in such a hole is to speak to your friends and family though, or if this isn't possible an organisation like the Samaritans can help. Remember you don't have to be alone and that asking for help with mental illness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and your will to get better.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sideshow: The Orb Circus continues

Kris 'Thrash' Weston
Well, I posted that last blog, copying in Kris 'Thrash' Weston and The Orb on Twitter, and this is what happened.

It took him a while to find the right words but he seems to have forgotten that all direct tweets generate a message that gets sent to the recipient's email account, even if the sender subsequently deletes them.

First attempt: So we start off with some more family-themed, Greggs-related, skip-related humour. Nowt wrong with that.

Second attempt: Then the insults start.

Third attempt: 'Plank' and 'wanker' clearly weren't descriptive enough so we'll add 'cunt' and a threat of violence shall we? As for support, perhaps he could have just said 'Thanks, but no thanks'?

Final attempt: Aah, that's it, nailed it. No threat of violence as that would probably get him kicked off of Twitter. We'll double the 'cunt' count and make out that I've ruined his day to get some sympathy, when all I set out to do was give him some help.

So, I approached KW as an Orb fan of around 23 years to offer my help and support by sending him the transcript of an interview I did with Alex Paterson about The Orb's live sets. This has somehow transpired in KW calling me a wanker and a cunt and saying he wants to hit me. To say I'm a bit miffed is an understatement. But, as mentioned in my previous post, this is not my battle to fight and just because somebody produces art that you love, that sometimes bears little or no reflection of the personality or likeabilty of the artist. I also need to learn that when someone says they don't want help, then I should respect that and channel my energies elsewhere.

There are a few thoughts I'd like to share and I'll leave it at this for now:

So what came first? Is KW like this because of the way he was treated back in the early 90s or was he treated like that because he showed the same attitude back then? I think it's probably the former. Even if it is the latter, that his personality led to the fall out, that still doesn't excuse his intellectual property being stolen and exploited without him receiving any credit or royalties. The law should be there to protect everyone. Despite his insults, I still hope KW gets justice and the royalties he deserves and is legally due. And when the financial damage is undone, I hope any damage done mentally or emotionally also falls away.

If this is someone who wants no support from people, why is he appealing to people like me, Orb fans from the time he was driving their creative output, to back his new album and raise £38,000? Why are those that have contributed called 'supporters' on his website and why add such niceties as 'I've made every effort to make sure your support counts!'? I was more than happy not to mention his rant or The Orb again, focus on the new project and contribute financially to it. I even considered writing a feature about the story for one of the music magazines I write for to help his cause. Then I read the tweets above. Regardless of how much I love The Orb's early output, why would I contribute any money to someone I tried to help and then treats me with no respect and calls me a cunt? Friends can call me that in jest and I don't mind in the slightest, and this is a great tune, but it's all about context. My original actions were rooted in kindness, but don't mistake my kindness for weakness.

Finally, why bother sharing the rant in public in the first place if KW wanted no reaction, no support and no comment from anyone else on it? Yes, writing it was probably cathartic for him but sharing it publicly will have made no difference in that respect. Surely he could just have written it, got it all out of his head and on to paper/screen and got on with starting legal action. Then he could easily have done what he insists he and everyone should do and focus on his new project rather than the past.

I have no idea what psychological issues may be involved here. Alex Paterson's Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Ego? Or KW looking for drama and attention and then playing a game when people, whether they're long-term fans or not, actually give it to him? Perhaps he has just been completely messed up by the whole experience, for which he has my sympathy (regardless of whether he wants it or not). Perhaps he's insecure. Perhaps the ultimate truth is he's just not a very nice person. Who knows?

Whatever it is, I couldn't care less any more. I'll still listen to and enjoy Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, UFOrb, Blue Room and the like but without an apology (which I know I'll never get) I won't be investing any more money, time or energy into Kris 'Thrash' Weston. Life's way too short.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Orb Circus

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” – Polish proverb

The other day I checked in on Twitter, something I don’t do very often because of the key flaw in Twitter; the more people you follow, the harder it is to keep up with people or gauge what’s going on. Anyway, I came across this message from @swearymonkey:

I clicked through and then read an extensive rant from Kris Weston (KW aka Thrash), formerly of The Orb, against ‘Dr’ Alex Paterson (AP) and other Orb members and collaborators over the years (I’d actually forgotten that @swearymonkey was Thrash until then to be honest).

He originally posted the rant to Twitter with this message:

The general gist of the rant is summed up here:

“As a result of the constant unauthorised re-releases, the unauthorised remasters by people i would never let touch my music, the fraudulent royalties, the lies, the shameful exploitation of my work by Island / Universal Records, the stealing of my work and renaming it, the illegal broadcasting of my music at gigs and such without my permission, the unauthorised use of my intellectual property and one other seriously fucked up thing I have decided to wage all out war against these people until such time as they stop exploiting my work, give me the money they owe me and GTFO.”

Much of what KW writes is contained within a Gearslutz forum interview he did towards the end of last year. In short, having been responsible for what was The Orb’s creative and commercial peak, KW had received little recognition for his percentage of the workload at the time, subsequently not received his fair share of the royalties and then seen his hard work passed off as someone else’s and his production credits dropped. His opinion of AP comes across loud and clear:

“The truth is Alex Patterson is a DJ. He cannot play an instrument or write music on a computer or anything else […] [H]e has spent the last 25 years in the press trying to cover up the fact he plays no instrument and doesn’t know how to use any piece of music technology. He can hardly manage to send an email!”

While I realised this was just one side of the story, I felt for Kris – I hate injustice in all of its forms and he seemed to have been wronged constantly during and after his time with The Orb (and I can only imagine what the other “seriously fucked up thing”, that “serious allegation against him [Alex Paterson] and Youth which I’m not getting into here” is).

The Orb's Kris 'Thrash' Weston and Alex Paterson, 1993. (Image source: Sound On Sound/The Ferrari Brothers)
Why do I care about The Orb? My sister introduced me to The Orb’s debut album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ when I was around 14/15 and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Expansive, richly layered compositions laced with ambient and dub that the more you listened to, the more you heard. If that first listen wasn’t life-changing, it was definitely an epiphany for me. Its depth and beauty was a far cry from the hard-edged rave music I was listening to at the time; I even wrote an essay about it for GCSE English. As with many of the bands you love during your formative, teenage years, The Orb’s music has stuck with me ever since. Then ‘Pomme Fritz’ came along in 1994 and as much as I tried to love it, it just sounded like a meandering, directionless, self-indulgent mess. Listening to it while I type this, my stance on it has softened slightly, but it’s nowhere near the exciting, immersive and captivating Orb material that went before.

Years later this dip in form was explained to me during an interview with Alex Paterson. He said they’d thrown out the original version of the album and rushed together the version that was released to spite their record company who he said had left them out of pocket.

Anyway, I cast my mind back to that interview with AP (or Twattercake as Kris often calls him in his rant) for IDJ magazine and a feature called ‘Pioneers of Live Dance’. If what KW says is true, then interviewing AP for this was misguided and almost laughable, although nobody has had KW’s side of the story until now and AP’s had been the only voice available. As KW has extensively quoted interviews with AP during his rant, I thought I would put a more extensive transcript of the interview I did with AP out there. I even asked a couple of fellow Orb loving friends on Facebook if I should and they said to go for it so I did.

As you can see, there was nothing much groundbreaking that was discussed during the interview, but I felt it might help KW’s cause. So I sent him the link and the exchange (where I've clearly, perhaps prematurely, taken his side) panned out as follows:

Fair enough you’d probably argue, KW does say at the start of his rant not to contact him about it. So I left it at that and moved on. I thought I’d read through his Kickstarter (or Krisstarter as he’s called it) page on his website and thought I’d give some support to him in the way that he actually DID want it, by contributing towards the funding of his new album. It was then I came across this sentence:

“I've found myself caring more how I'm living than what I'm earning."

This resonated with me massively due to difficulties I have recently been through personally, followed by taking stock of what is truly important in life (more of which in another blog perhaps). So I decided to tweet the quote. The following conversation then happened, which I thought was mindless, not-very-funny gibberish but light-hearted gibberish nonetheless:

Hilarious, I'm sure you'll agree. His reaction, while fairly polite in its tone, seemed completely unfair and I was a bit miffed though. I showed the exchange to my wife and she said: “This looks like two mad people talking to each other. He sounds like an arsehole, why do you care?”

Indeed. This was a complete stranger I was chatting to, and by bestowing him with positive qualities it made me no better than a rabid One Direction fan. Besides, as a music journalist that has always treated interviewees as people above all else, equals rather than stars or idols, I should have known better. But if supporting somebody is annoying, if caring about people who have made some of the music that defined your teenage years and beyond is annoying, if showing some compassion is annoying, then I think I’ll just continue to be as annoying as I possibly can.

I come out of this wondering what the full truth is, but even if it’s somewhere in between what AP says in interviews and what KW says in his rant (and his ex-manager and others previously involved with the Orb say), it seems to be a pretty negative and bitter situation. With my own personal dealings with KW taken into account, it seems that neither party is particularly nice or covers themselves in glory: one man responsible for stealing all of the credit (and royalties) for somebody else’s work and another man who, understandably angry, is lashing out at people without considering whether they may actually be trying to help him. At a time like this, you need support, people fighting your corner, especially if those people are the ones you would like to fund your new album project.

The moral is, just because people have created something you love (like ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’), it doesn’t mean you would love the people that have created it. I genuinely hope that AP puts forward his side of the story (and holds his hands up if need be) and that KW gets the credit, respect and royalties he seems to be long overdue. In the meantime, I shall continue to listen to ‘…Ultraworld’ without any of this buzzing around my head and souring the experience.

I have to take the standpoint that this isn’t my fight to fight, which is what reminded me of the Polish proverb above: ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’. This battle between KW and AP is not my fight to fight, and they’re not my monkeys to train.

PS Since I wrote this, KW has unblocked me on Twitter. Storms. Teacups. Monkeys. Circuses.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Meeting Ince

Lee Valley - No sign for the Magic Wood?

Having allowed the non-stop deadline pressure that comes with freelancing, and my lack of a mental off switch, take its toll on me over the past few years, I finally decided that it was time to take a proper break. Without the funds to disappear on a round-the-world trip, I decided to do some exploring closer to home in Cheshunt, where I had moved with my wife at the end of last year.

Luckily, I have Lee Valley Regional Park on my doorstep, all 26 miles and 20,000 acres of it. Having spotted a wooded hilltop when walking in the park with friends recently, my curiosity told me that it was now time to go for a nice wander and explore it.

After about 90 minutes of marching around the winding paths and waterways, I was so close to the woods I could almost smell them. Google Maps (which told me it was called Galleyhill Wood) had suggested I walk along B194 but I decided cross-country was better, wisely I thought. However, following a cycle path saw me overshoot the wood and somehow I still ended up on the B194.

The B194 is a road with absolutely no footpaths and speeding vans and trucks hurtling in both directions. But I was determined to reach the promised land so I kept diving into gaps in the hedge to avoid being hit. Some people waved at me gratefully (having me smeared across their windscreen may have been a bit of a day-changer) while one van driver beeped his horn, perhaps at me, perhaps to alert other people up ahead.

Then, on a blind bend I looked behind me and saw a truck speeding towards me, I looked ahead and saw another truck speeding towards me so I dived back into the hedgerow. Now I had a choice. 10 more minutes of white knuckle, near-death experiences involving large metal objects or try to attempt to get through the hedgerow.

Thankfully there was a telegraph pole behind me, which meant the hedgerow was less thick at that point. Thorns stuck in my hands as I bent branches back to create a gap. Then manmade, barbed wire thorns scratched and cut my hands as I tried to create a space to launch myself through.

Initially, I tried to put me leg over the barbed wire fence and got some rusty little spikes in my leg. So plan B it was. I decided to put my flimsy jacket on for protection and to crawl on my belly underneath the barbed wire, assault course-style. But something stopped me. My hood had become ensnared! So I twanged the barbed wire off of it and I was FREE! Well sort of.

The beautiful meadow.
I was now in a beautiful meadow full of grass and vibrant yellow flowers. But I was also now trespassing. Plus, as I walked the distance between the road and me became wider, meaning I was walking deeper into private land, and perhaps trouble.

Then a horrifying sound that made me shout, “Aaagggh!”

Had I been shot? No. It was just a couple of pheasants that I'd disturbed flapping their way out of the long grass. I felt like an idiot but at least no one was around.

I walked through into another field, this time using the conventional entry method of a gate, to see a bonfire in the distance. Civilisation! As I approached the bonfire it appeared to be a pile of burning shit. Or perhaps it was a previous trespasser? Anyway, it was clear there was a farm there at least, and the possibility of a road back to public land.

I was hoping nobody was around but was mindful of a Tony Martin incident happening so shouted a weak “Hello?” A few more paces and there he was, the farmer. As broad as he was tall and definitely not smiling at me welcomingly. I decided to blurt out my (true) story in the hope he wouldn’t call the police, or shoot me in the face.

“Where are you trying to get to?” he asked.

“I’m trying to get to the woods up there. I got stuck on the road and was in danger of getting hit by the traffic. So I had no choice but to go through the fence into your field.  I realise I’m trespassing. Sorry.”

“You’re not allowed in those woods, you’d get arrested straight away.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Where are you from?”

“Cheshunt. I’d seen the woods from the park and wanted to go and have a look.”

"Well, there is a footpath up the side of the wood but you’re not allowed inside them. It’s dangerous. They use them for shooting.”

“They probably shoot trespassers too,” I joked.

Not so much as a smirk from the farmer. I’d decided to turn back now anyway though; of the options of death by truck or angry farmer, neither was very appealing.

“What's your name?” I asked.


“Ian. Nice to meet you.” (Or rather thanks for not shooting me.)

As I shook his huge, dirt-caked, sandpapery hand, I was just glad it wasn't clamped around my throat.

I stuck faithfully to the paths on the way home, shamefaced but laughing every now and then at what a misguidedly tenacious arse I can sometimes be.