Friday, October 30, 2015

I say goodbye to an old friend, one with whom I have seen good times and bad. But I do have a new cap. Well!

Well, there’s a pretty state! It has been several week now since I put digits to keyboard and blathered on here, but it’s not as though my life has been without incident. Not once, not twice, but three times I’ve been to the shops for my stepmother and forgot to get the milk my wife asked me to get! Then the other day I took the dog for a walk — and only forgot my cap! You can imagine how much I regretted that omission when within ten minutes it began to drizzle a little. But, you know, ‘turn that frown upside down’ as they say and it’s not as though life has been all misery — at lunch today my wife announced that for a change we will use the good spoons for our soup at supper. Well!

Long-time readers of this blog might remember the glory days when I recalled all the marvellous, marvellous motor cars I have been proud enough to have owned: well, there’s further news on that front. For these past eight years I have been driving — as in driving into the ground — a 16-year-old Rover 45 and it seems that car will soon be driving its last mile. (NB Cars aren’t ‘she’ and ‘her’ but ‘it’ — you must be thinking of boats and ships and rafts and ferries and that kind of thing.)

My Rover, surely one of the very few cars on the still active on Her Majesty’s highways painted ‘British racing green’, is slowly dying on its wheels and showing its age. But it has done me good service — there were 82,000 miles on the clock when I bought her for £800 from Davidstow Garage (a landmark in these here parts — there must be at least 40 cars in various states of disrepair on what passes for Rob Gibbons’s forecourt) and now there are 211,000. Furthermore, I must have spent at least five times the sum I paid for it since then on MoTs and repairs.

Once, I had to have the whole front of the car repaired after I went into the back of some stupid woman’s 4x4 on Wentfordbridge. She had braked suddenly so as not to run over a sodding weasel that had suddenly scampered over road. Then I had to have the head gasket replaced — and it’s not cheap to have that done, I can tell you — when the radiator fan died of old age just at the end of the M4 outside London and I overheated. (I am in the RAC and my membership entitles me and my car to be repatriated from anywhere in Britain. As it turned out and because of RAC logistics the opted to take the car back to Cornwall on a low-loader over a matter of days and pay for me to get a hire car. It was a top-of-the-range new 1.6l Vauxhall Astra with so many dials, knobs and gadgets I didn’t know where to look).

On another occasion I again ran into the back of a car in the rush hour driving out of London one night, and stoved in the left-hand side of the car, though it wasn’t as badly damaged as in the previous collision. Getting that done wasn’t cheap, either. Most recently, the windscreen wipers packed up — twice. First the link on one went wiper, bringing both to a halt. Then once that had been sorted out, the other went. On that occasion I had just set out on my 240-mile drive home in pouring rain and it carried on raining for the next two hours (but then it stopped). And I can assure everyone that negotiating commuter traffic on the M25 in heavy rain at 7pm at on a weekday night is no picnic.

But what has decided me to give the piece of junk a coup de grace is that the cooling system has sprung a leak and I now have to top it up substantially before every weekly schlepp to London, then again before I set off home again four days later.

So why, I can hear everyone reading this ask, has this moron not junked the sodding car years ago. Well, I promise you there was and is method in my apparent madness. I can’t really go into details. All I can say is that I was able to park quite legitimately in the streets around where I work in West

London without incurring heavy hourly parking charges. The time has now come to make other arrangements, so my dear, dear Rover 45 is off to the knacker’s yard.

The odd thing is that although I know it’s a wreck and a true piece of junk, I am finding the parting quite hard. So people get attached their spouse, family and friends. I am apt to get attached to my cars. Now, forgive me a moment while I go off and shed a quiet tear. There, that’s better.

The good news is that courtesy of a very generous brother I am not obliged to buy another car because I already have one. When a gay friend of my father’s died a few years ago, he left his flat and his car to my brother. And as my brother had no use for the car, he gave it to me. I have to say it is not in its first flush of youth — it was first registered in June 1999 — but as the old codger had bought it more or less new and hardly ever used it, there were only 38,000 miles on the clock when I took it over about four years ago, and I have hardly used it since.

As I say, I might have neglected this blog for a few weeks, but my life has most certainly not been dull or without incident. Oh, and I have bought a new flat cap, a ‘newsboy’ style one in subdued red tartan. But surely news of that and other pieces of headgear I am proud to proclaim myself owner-user must wait for a subsequent entry. But here’s a pic of it.

Unbelievingly, breaktakingly smart or what?

. . .

Just to reinforce the point I made in my last entry: depression, or at least the variation, I am apt to suffer from every so often, has fuck-all to do with ‘being unhappy’ and ‘being sad’. I really would like to make that clear. Yes, you — I — can get to feel low, but that is only because of the physical symptoms, of which, unfortunately, you are too aware your every waking minute. But it’s getting better now, and thanks for asking. I think it must be the smart new tartan flat cap.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Depression - what it is not

I thought I would, for a change, give one of my blog posts a succinct and straightforward title, and one which entirely sums up part of what I want to say. It is a commonplace to bemoan that ‘depression’ and ‘mental illness’ are not spoken of and discussed as much as they should be and that there is still stigma attached to being ‘depressed’ or ‘mentally ill’, but that complaint and social attitudes to ‘depression’ isn’t at all what I want to write about, or rather not at all directly.

I have previously mentioned in this blog that I have over my past 65 years suffered bouts of ‘depression’, both mild episodes and, far more rarely, quite severe ones. And in those 65 years I believe I have come to understand a little better what is going on, and the very first thing I should like to say is that ‘depression’, or at least the ‘depression’ I have on occasion suffered is a wholly physical not a mental affliction. And the second thing I should like to point out that it has, in my experience at least, nothing at all to do with being ‘sad’ or ‘unhappy’. Absolutely nothing.

On the first point I suggest that ‘depression’ (and I keep writing it in quote marks to highlight how much, in my view, we are mistaken about its nature and to try to distance what I am writing here from hitherto accepted notions of what it is) came to be regarded as a ‘mental’ illness simply because there are few, if any, physical symptoms. It doesn’t make you sweat, you don’t change colour, you don’t run a fever and you are almost always capable of functioning as ‘normal’ (another word I would prefer to leave in quotes). In fact, the rest of the world might well be unaware that someone is suffering from ‘depression’, unless and until that sufferer volunteers information about themselves.

As for depression having little to do with ‘sadness’ or ‘unhappiness’, well, I know that at first hand. I do admit to being, if I allow myself to be, a little to rather irritable when it comes over me, but that has nothing to do with sadness or unhappiness.

My symptoms are quite straightforward: I always have a perpetual ‘thick head’, one which I liken to the headache you have when you are hung over. This can be mild or severe, but it is continuous and

Fuck, they’re going to think I’m sad!

ever-present. It is at its worst in the morning when I wake up and lifts bit by bit as the day goes on. Another symptom is an almost crippling lassitude a marked reluctance to do anything at all. I just don’t want to do anything, but oddly when I do do something, I get very impatient to get on to ‘the next thing’, however trivial or unimportant that next thing is.

This lassitude goes hand in hand with frittering the day away, finding it very difficult to concentrate on anything - reading, watching TV, writing (I am writing this at 3.30 in the afternoon, but twice tried to write it before lunch and just couldn’t get my thoughts together), conversation or whatever work I should be engaged on. Related to that lassitude is outright boredom, completely boredom with everything and everyone. I just want to be alone and count the hours until I can go to bed and go to sleep (and dream - I always look forward to dreaming).

In the past, when things got very bad (I had a very bad bout when I started my first newspaper job in Lincoln in June 1974) my neck and shoulders locked tight and that in conjunction with an appalling and perpetual ‘thick head’ headache is enough to bring anyone down. But note: ‘feeling down’ is a consequence of physical symptoms and should be understood as ‘feeling bloody fed up with this never-ending bloody headache and aching shoulders’.

The first rather severe bout I remember was when I began my first term at boarding school. and I think it developed as a result of a rather drastic change in my life, from being a happy-go-lucky, possibly rather smug, 13-year-old German kid attending a Jesuit college in Berlin where the emphasis was on positivity and doing your best to being a rather plump, very naive and outspoken 13-year-old who didn’t take well to being teased about his shape - I was still only about 5ft 5in - and still hated the glasses I had had to wear for the past year or so. Home was warm and comfortable and my mother was a good cook. School was cold and uncomfortable and the food was rather worse than pigswill or so it seemed to me. And I was very homesick (I was one of only two boys in my year’s intake of 49 who had not already spent several years boarding a prep school).

My second bout came in my second year at college when I was possessed by what I can only describe as an ‘existential’ crisis which, I think, much to do with the final transition from childhood to adulthood and I truly felt all at sea.

But I must stress that although, as it seems to me, circumstances, or rather a change in circumstances, brought on these bouts, the affliction on each occasion was physical not mental - the thumping thick head to which I awoke and the rigidi shoulders and neck which, if nothing, else was almost painful.

As for not being ‘sad’ or ‘unhappy’, I am by nature a chatterbox and cheerful, both a day person and night person, as likely to talk ten to the dozen at 6am in the morning as 1am at night. And that doesn’t change when I am suffering from a, usually mild, bout of depression, except that often I would prefer to be on my own and that bloody thick head can make me quite irritable and short with people.

So there you have it. It is now 4.20 (I had to interrupt writing this to pick my son up from where his school bus drops him) and, having taken - just the one - paracetamol, my head isn’t too bad. But I can’t deny that I can think of nothing else at the moment than getting undressed, brushing my teeth, getting into bed, turning out the light and falling asleep. And dreaming. I always dream.

Oh, and as for the oft-made claim that ‘depressives’ are often ‘creative’, I have to say I don’t buy it and never have. For one thing both terms are far to vague to allow for any sensible discussion, ‘creative’ being even vaguer than ‘depressives’.

Pip, pip.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Labour turns left as it elects as leader The Devil Incarnate/A True Socialist (delete as applicable)

A quick look at the viewing figures for this blog shows that, for example in the past four weeks, less than one in five lives in Old Blighty. So the name ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ (right) will quite possibly mean very little to four out of five bods who happen my way. Yet if you listen to the hype surrounding that name, the man is either the Devil re-incarnate or a latter-day - and secular Jesus Christ come to save Britain from all that is evil in this overwhelmingly capitalist world.

As Britain has been only too aware in the months since we held our last general election and the ‘left’ party was beaten soundly and it’s leader resigned (quite possibly to his quiet relief despite leading his party to defeat), Labour has been in the process of electing a new leader.

There were initially three runners, all to a man and woman pretty much clones of what contemporary politics thinks is great and good, albeit with the obligatory, and entirely understable, left slant. They could all three have come from central casting and had all in one capacity or another served in previous Labour governments (although not necessarily in a senior capacity).

Labour, which sees itself - and, and more to the point, markets itself as the very essence of fairness, realised that all three were pretty much from the right of the party (that’s right, the right of a left-of-centre party - it does make sense if you read it slowly), and that, you know, let’s be even-keeled here, we really should have a bod from the left of the party just to show how fair we are. Jeremy Corbyn has been the MP for Islington North for the past 32 years and from the outset was ‘a man of the left’. At first he was reluctant to stand, but was persuaded to do so in the interests of fairness and so the voters should have a real choice of candidates. He almost didn’t make it onto the list of candidates because his supporters couldn’t drum up sufficient nominees. Eventually, again in the interests of fairness, several MPs agree to nominate him even though they didn’t want him as candidate and wouldn’t vote for him and said so publicly.

From the outset Corbyn was given less than a snowball’s chance in Hell of being elected Labour leader - it was argued that he was too far out on the left to be the man (or woman) to lead Labour and persuade Britain’s electors to put the party back in power. But then something very odd happened. Under the outgoing leader, Ed Miliband, a new protocol for electing Labour’s leader had been introduced: for £3 anyone could sign up as a member of the Labour Party and would then have the right to vote in the leadership election.

Various Tory wiseacres suggested that Tory voters should do exactly that — join up and vote in the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn to ensure the Conservatives held power until Labour ditched him for someone with a better chance success. Perhaps some did, but most certainly a lot more folk on the left also signed up, folk who, it is now assumed, were of a decidedly socialist persuasion and had given up the current Labour Party as more or less being Tory-lite. And bit by bit Corbyn’s chances of winning the leadership contest improved. And as they improved, Labour gained even more members.

Finally, two weeks ago, Corbyn was voted in as leader by a whacking 56pc. The Tories crowed, reasoning that that was Labour’s goose well and truly cooked for the forseeable future, and Labour ‘grandees’ despaired, also reasoning that that was Labour’s goose well and truly cooked for the forseeable future.

. . .

Corbyn is marketed - indeed markets himself (if ‘marketing’ isn’t too insulting a word to describe the behaviour of a devote anti-capitalist) - as a straight-talking, sincere and honest politician, and that might well be true. He makes no secret of his politics which can be summed up as ‘all them cornfields and ballet in the evening’. Whether or not he is the right leader to help Labour back to power is highly debatable. Straight-talking, sincerity and honesty are not three virtues which usually come to mind as the key to political success.

He was long at odds with the majority of the Labour party and voted against it in Parliament many times. He opposed the invasion of Iraq (which, admittedly, wasn’t billed as ‘an invasion’ although that’s exactly what it was) and is a convinced nuclear disarmer. More controversially, he had nice things to say about the IRA while the IRA was setting of bombs on the British mainland and in the longstanding Israel/Hamas stand-off is not just an unashamed champion of Hamas but has previously had close links with one Paul Eisen, a controversial character made out by many to be a ‘holocaust denier’. (Odd how just adding the word ‘denier’ immediately seems to prove your guilty and establish beyond all doubt that you are wrong ’un.) I mention Mr Eisen, of whom I know little, because a great deal has been made of Corbyn’s acquaintance with him and suggestions that Corbyn is a crypto anti-semite.

What has been hugely entertaining has been the buckets of bile several papers have been pouring over Corbyn. Britain’s press are quite distinctly split down the middle: the Guardian and the Mirror are his champion, whereas the rest, most notably the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, are daily printing stories demonstrating just how evil the man is. Guess what? He had an affair in the 1970s (though after his wife had left him); he refused to sing the national anthem at a ceremony honouring Britain’s fallen servicemen but sang the Red Flag at a meeting not days later; he has been invited to join the Privy Council but there are doubts as to whether he will agree to bow before the Queen! It all begs the question: just how shameless can a man! To put those last two into context, Corbyn is a longstanding republican who would like to see the end of the monarchy, and as for the former - single young man goes to bed with single young woman? Shocking or what?

The Daily Mail attacked him for being a misogynist because he didn’t appoint any women as shadow spokespeople for the ‘top four offices of state’. It overlooked that of his shadow cabinet of 32, 15 appointees are women. Both the Mail and the Telegraph are making much of the fact that Corbyn is ‘the most unpopular party leader in history’. Well! And with very new horror story about the man from the Mail and the Telegraph I find myself asking again and again: exactly what are those two papers afraid of? If, as contemporary wisdom has it, Labour under Corbyn will never be voted into office, why all the angst?

All the above might make it sound as though I am a Corbyn supporter. I’m not, but neither am I a Corbyn opponent. I must admit I find it refreshing how he has to an extent shaken up the increasingly cosy political consensus prevalent in Britain at the moment, but I think it is highly unlikely we would ever seem Corbyn as Prime Minister, which, in my book, is no bad thing. The man is certainly an idealist, but he is an idealist the rest of the world’s politicians would eat from breakfast. I am, however, vastly entertained by it all and am curious to see how it will pan out.