Ups and Downs


Bouncy Castle – Sea-front, Filey

I mentioned my new friend Trevor.  I was just about to pay for parking at Flamborough Head when he hailed me from his lovely V-Dub and gave me an overnight ticket as he was about to leave.  We got chatting about all things campervanning and life and he told me he and his partner Karen were from Worksop.  He used to be a screw (can’t remember which prison) then took early retirement, went back on the plumbing tools for a while and finished up in catering.  I hope he wouldn’t mind me saying he looked like he’d eaten a few of the pies.

But he was a great character, talking a mile-a-minute, full of joie de vivre and passion for travel.  He showed me pics of some of the stealth-camping hot-spots.  “Sorry to keep you,” he kept saying, then kept me.  But after the shit day I’d had, his kindness, friendliness and wit were breaths of sea air.  I’d found solace in a kindred spirit and one I know I’ll keep in touch with.

Nevertheless I still woke up next morning feeling down, so had a long walk on Bempton Cliffs, watching gannets soaring up and dive-bombing down in their avian cod war, then drove up the coast in search of more friendly faces.

My real friend Gaz had put me in touch with an old Grammar School mate called Rachel and I’d seen that she and her husband Stuart had started following my blog.  He said they were up in Filey, running a seafront mini-fairground, so that’s where I headed, hoping my bearings both mechanical and cerebral were in order.  I parked up, walked down the Ravine and spotted the bright yellow bouncy castle, which I later learned is visible with the naked eye from Bempton (on a clear day, which this was).

Unsung and overlooked Filey has a beautiful coastline with grand Victorian villas and bungalows nestled into its cliffs; I’d been here before in happier times and was hoping for cheer this time around.  Even though I hadn’t seen her for 38 years I spotted and recognised Rachel immediately, approached her, and asked how much for a bounce.

“It’s you!” she proclaimed.  After exchanging hugs and how d’you dos, we chatted about old times and I recalled that her tribe were legends, having appeared on TVs Ask The Family with Robert Robinson.  Yes her family were world-famous at Nantwich & Acton Grammar School.  She asked if I were staying over and though I’d planned to get up to Whitby, the offer of dinner, wine, music and chat was too good to turn down.

After a pint at the Cobble Bar then a very long walk down the beach in the sun, I drove to Rachel and Stuart’s place, a lovely rural semi.  Getting reacquainted with Rach and meeting her husband was a pleasure, and their story of how they got together was the stuff of brilliant romance.  Frankly I won’t waste it on this blog, but to summarise, the two of them fell in love notionally before they’d even met, then realised it on a long haul flight.

As we shared stories of travel and life, filling in the 38 years since school, it transpired there were lots of connections; both Rach and Stuart knew my brother Tez and there were mutual friends in Big Steve, Wakey and many others.  To my shame it was clear that Rachel is much better at keeping in touch with old friends than I am.

Two other things struck me that night, a) though I’m not a doggy person, I made friends with their ten-year-old pooch called Poppy, who also took a shine to me, b) how I miss having a proper home and garden, and c) how lonely I’d been.  It was such a pleasure to spend time with a wonderful couple so deeply in love, and enjoy a delicious meal in the power-house which is their state-of-the-art kitchen… it even had something called an Amazon Dot called Alexa, who would play any music you told her to, gave a weather report, up-do-date news, and if you went away for a week no doubt she’d feed the fish and water the begonias.

But of course all good things come to an end and, seeing they were knackered after a hard (yet no doubt lucrative) day at work, I retired back to the Ottermobile which I’d “stealth-camped” in their ample garden.  It was a fabulous night, so welcome after a miserable couple of days, and I bedded down feeling up – people are so kind and just when you need them, there they are.  Just like Rachel and Stuart’s bouncy castle, I am up then I am down.  As I said to a barmaid in York the other day:

When I am up I am up

And when I am down I am down

And when I am only half-way up…  ah you get the picture.

Don’t Rain on My Parade

At school we used to have “Rainy Day Play” which meant it was pissing down and playtime was spent indoors breathing in other pupils’ farts instead of fresh air.  In truth it didn’t have to be pissing down; the first spot on the window pane had teachers gleefully banning the opening of doors.  It feels like that where I am today as I’m forced to stay inside the Ottermobile.  I’d planned a 10-mile hike but the professor in me saw the rain and vetoed the idea.  So I’m doing a lot of thinking, especially about the reactions to yesterday’s diary entry, which applaud my attempt to add to the growing Social Media noises about depression.  In entries to follow I promise more adventures and to be frivolous again, but as a last word for now on the subject, and to hopefully raise even more awareness, I ask a simple question: Are people with depression unemployable?

Back in 2011 The Guardian ran a piece about whether or not to disclose to your employer that you have a mental illness, a horrible dilemma I outlined in yesterday’s post.  The article cited a couple of examples where the person chose to “out” themselves and found it to be beneficial, but argued in balance that that isn’t universally the case.  So that was six years ago and you’d hope things might’ve improved immensely since then.  But given that 1 in 4 British people per year suffer in some way from depression, stress or anxiety, it worries me that though the issue is now more recognised and taken more seriously, there remains some doubt about whether employers really do “get it.”

This is of course regarding people who are in work, but what about those who find themselves unemployed?  On the positive side, more than 450 employers so far have signed the Time to Change Pledge, but there is a lot more to be done.  The Mind website makes interesting reading with regards to their campaign to lobby the Government with ideas for a more radical and workable back-to-work scheme.  The case studies on the site particularly intrigue me; there are many people in the position I describe – they want to work but find themselves tied up in red tape and Jobcentre bureaucracy, in some cases professional people with excellent skills, qualifications and career histories being advised to attend a course on how to write a CV!  It isn’t the Jobcentre’s fault, they’re merely following guidelines, but it’s time to realise the guidelines are archaic and only serve to make an applicant more demoralised than they were in the first place.  The guidelines can only change when attitudes change.

I think that whether you’re in work or not, one of the difficulties of mental illness in the context I’m discussing, is that it is ‘invisible’.  Whereas a person with flu (for example only) might display symptoms, a person with depression can on the outside look the picture of health.  A person with depression can laugh and joke, so on the surface he or she seems absolutely fine, and it’s therefore no wonder to be fair that people might not notice or understand it.  But on the inside the person is suffering, often privately and spiralling in the way I posited yesterday.

When I was in Bradford recently I visited someone I know well who is undergoing chemotherapy.  We talked about music and lots of things and had some laughs, but we also talked about work, and his employers being supportive.  Which is just as well, he said, because if he lost his job who would employ a man in his mid-fifties with cancer?  I knew what he meant but it shocked me; it was almost like someone saying Who would employ me because I’m non-white, gay, disabled?

In one of my previous jobs in TV I was responsible for finding new talent and addressing the issue of diversity.  It’s a difficult job but I’m pleased to say I had some success.  But we can always and should always do more to open doors for the broadest cross-section of society.  We can do more for ethnicity, we can do more for those with disabilities, and given that statistically 25% of society has mental illness, we can do more for that section too.

I’ve made thousands of bad calls in my life but one of the worst was not putting by for a rainy day.  If I’d known (or in truth been less naive) about how my illness would affect my career, I might not have made that mistake.  But you live and learn eventually.  And though it’s a “rainy day” today I’m going for that walk after all.  I’ve got my van and I’ve got places to see, adventures to find, fun to have and frivolousness to deliver.  Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter.


Friends and Family (7/6/17)

I’ve talked about ‘real friends’ in previous blogs.  Tiddle-Eye-Po certainly falls into that category.  Haven’t seen him since February when he came for a night out in Manchester to celebrate his birthday.  Me, him, his sister Jackie, brother-in-law Mark, Kim and Kelly – a great night dancing and finishing up sucking the lesbians’ toes in the back of a cab.  Enough said.

Last night, Tid and I had a damn good catch-up.  I gave him a ride in the Ottermobile and he completely bought into the off-grid idea, wanting to give me things useful for my explorations.  Over a pint, and very many double gins, we set the world straight.  Always self-deprecating, Tid, but he’s a sight more intelligent than he thinks.  We headed from his place to the Cronkinson Farm pub bang in the middle of the plastic Stapeley Estate.  These used to be fields we played on, and many moons ago we went missing, causing our worried mums to send out a search party, and later ban us from playing out for a week.

The Estate is where my eldest daughter now lives, along with my two grandchildren, though I don’t know exactly where – Tid and I possibly walked past their very door.  My daughter and I have been estranged for almost eleven years, and to this day I don’t know why.  I’ve only glimpsed my grandchildren once.  These family heartbreaks form the basis of some of my chat with Tid – he’s had his share of woes too and it’s odd that our lives have such similarities given we grew up together.  I hope my words to him were as wise as his to me.  But I don’t want to get down about my daughter now (I’ll be saying my piece in the darker days to come) because my aim is to celebrate the joy of life here, to entertain.

A night with Tid is like taking a happy pill.  We reminisce, we booze and we laugh, a lot, like always.  And I’m forced to make the confession that I ended up on his settee as opposed to the Ottermobile.  OK I sold out, but I just couldn’t be arsed to make up my bed.  It won’t happen again.  Still, at least I didn’t fall over this time, so I woke up with my knees intact.  And no he didn’t suck my toes.

Saying goodbye to Tid is always an emotional bromantic affair, such is our friendship, and such is the importance and value of it.  Heading for Bickerton this morning I thought a lot about friends and family – how great my real friends have been at a time when I needed them (all mentioned in previous posts) and how great (most of) my family have been, not only now, always.  And I found myself regretting the times I’ve lost touch as I’ve striven to build a successful career in TV.  It’s had its ups and downs and it’s taken me far and wide, to Africa, Europe, London, Manchester.  I always viewed losing touch as a price to pay.  Now I wondered if the price I paid was worth it.

Over the coming months then, I’m hoping these real friends and family will visit (hoping to meet my old mate Gaz in this neck of the woods soon) no matter how far the Ottermobile takes me.  Why not?  My back garden is Britain and it’s big enough to hold a party.

Talking of  parties I’m aware it’s erection day tomorrow.  It’s bluer in these leafy parts of Cheshire but I hear the polls are narrowing.  With no fixed abode I’ve lost my vote.  I couldn’t done something about it I know, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered.  Dad wouldn’t have approved, but there it is.  Whatever party gets in it will always be the same.  Whoever becomes PM I’m sure he or she will do a good job of making a balls of it.

By the time polling closes tomorrow I’ll have explored the Sandstone Trail, because, for now, the fields in around here are still green, and I am free to roam.  And if the sun comes out I’ll be wearing Tiddle-Eye-Po’s sunglasses.

The Erection Campaign

On this Bank Holiday I wake up and find it’s standing to attention!  At last.  My erection campaign is over, and I can say to Mrs May that all is well in this constituency.  All is strong and stable.

To celebrate I take down my ukelele and tackle Tiptoe Through the Tulips.  Jayne and I used to do this number often – big fans of Tiny Tim – and I intend to include it in my set when I go busking in the weeks to come.  Anyway I picked out a few more ditties then have a post-musical smoke.  Music is often better than sex, and in the coming months I know I’ll be getting rather more of one than ‘the other’.

Finished the Guardian crossword.  It’s a weekend ritual and I love to send it away and see if I can win.  Only this time I’ve no address to include.  Can’t put The Ottermobile, Media City UK.  Still, it’ll be a laugh, I think, to try.  Good to laugh, and good to know I’ve still got those marbles.

Not a fan of Bank Holidays.  Feels like they’re pit-stops designed for those in the rat-race, forcing them to make plans and forcing them to be depressed when they have none.  Or when the weather’s shite.  It’s a bit cloudy over Bill’s Mother’s this morning (I’d love to know who Bill is, and who his Mother is).  My only plan is to visit my real friend Carlos who’s cooking me dinner.  I say real friend because he is, although I got the sense last night he was hinting I whiffed a bit, so I plan to add deodorant to my next shopping trip.  Will go over to his later, but might watch the Championship Play-off Final first.  Might not though, depends how the mood takes me.

That’s what my new life will be like.  No specific plans to be in a specific place at a specific time.  No routine, no rat-race.  No shit.  I have some work with ITV tomorrow but after that, fuck it.  Something I’ve said a thousand times in my life but now I’m saying it with meaning.  Fuck it.  Fuck work and fuck work colleagues, contortionists who can stab you in the back while licking the boss’s arse at the same time.  Lots of that kind of talent who choose TV as their line of business.  Fuck them, Mrs May, Mr Corbyn, the election campaign and its lies, deceit, false promises and strong and stable hypocrisy.

So I’ve no plans whatsoever, and I’ve no plans to be depressed about that.