Wednesday, 29 July 2009

On Bunfighting and Netiquette

In On Being A Bit Too Busy, I explained that I would be short of time for blogging this week. However, I'm lucky enough to have a fabulous husband, The Wonderspouse (also known as @agnieszkasshoes), who has written a blog post for me and is therefore the first guest blogger I've had on my site. I've read his post several times, and, being a girl of relatively simple mind, am still not 100% sure what it's all about. Maybe my unwillingness to throw buns renders me a little confused about the whole business? However, I am extremely grateful to him for writing it, and I hope you will enjoy it!


I would very much like to express my sincerest thanks to ViolaMaths for allowing me a little guest blogging. But as I’ve been given a strict 750 word limit, I’m afraid I don’t have the space. Nor will I abuse netiquette by plugging either my new book, my writers’ collective, the article I’ve had published in a music journal today, or my Indie download festival.

I’m regularly to be heard in the less salubrious salons of the interweb shouting “bunfight” over the general melee. Those who look up from their beer, downloads, or porn either come along to watch or ask “What on earth’s a bunfight?” Well, this seems like a perfect place to explain. So, without further ado, an insight into a rather odd English custom, and a couple of associated musings on netiquette and trolls.

I was at one of the less progressive Higher Education Institutions in the UK, where I met ViolaMaths. The very same LPHEI, in fact, where a certain bespectacled wizard gets his five a day. Whilst dinners weren’t accompanied by a nearly headless ghost, they were accompanied by bread rolls. Along with an injunction not to begin eating said bread rolls before Latin grace (which always seemed to be late). On pain of death by lamprey or something.

There were three strategies for dealing with the bread roll conundrum. The first was the surreptitious nibble. Then there was the butter-sculpting, warming the little foil packs of butter until it squirted out from the folds at either end and landed on your seat. Far and away the most fun, though, was the Bunfight (I guess “rollfight” just doesn’t sound right). A Bunfight isn’t the Bugsy Malone of a full-on foodfight. It’s more subtle, more gentle, less damaging to the dry-cleaning bill. It involves surreptitious lobbing from a hand position below the edge of the table at trajectories designed to bamboozle any attempt to hunt down the offender, and scarcely results in injuries more severe than a case of crumbs on the collar that could be mistaken for a bad case of dandruff.

All of which sounds rather Jennings and Darbishire, but actually makes sense of my Interwebby clarion call.

I love a good online debate. No, I’m like Pete Doherty in a poppyfield at the thought of a bit of contentious banter. So when I read a tweet about a blog post on the future of publishing, or the state of the modern novel, or the morality of chaptelising Sauternes pudding wine, I’m over at the speed of a click (which isn’t actually very quick on our connection, but you get the point).

As I said, I love a good debate. A bunfight that’s full of skill and bamboozlement, with a whiff of the anti-establishment and a clearly defined sense of rules. Something you come away from, laughing with your opposition and sporting only a few crumbs on your clothes.

Unfortunately there are those out there who mistake a bunfight for the full pie and mash up. Who are out to prove their point and belittle their opposition, to besmear them with gravy and ketchup and send them packing to their parents to explain. It’s a fine line to draw between a bunfight and a foodfight, and the Internet is a very hard place to draw it. Forum and blog discussions have a rhythm, a (to mix musical metaphors) sense of crescendo. They get us worked up. We’re not satisfied with throwing a bun; we want to throw the butter; and fling a bit of soup, and before we know it the house port is winging its way across the dining room like a beer glass in a moshpit.

This never happened with real-life bunfights. Before anything escalated someone would eventually get up and say grace, the tension would lift, the flour would settle to the floor, and we’d get on with the important business of eating. Which I think is such a perfect metaphor I don’t need to spell it out.

I come across a lot of people during bunfights. We exchange opinions that vary from forthright to downright gobby. But all of the people I’ve crossed swords with have gone on to become at the least nodding acquaintances in the land of the literary blog, and in some cases good friends who allow me to guest blog.

There endeth the parable for today. A bunfight is a wonderful thing, and an arena for the making of excellent friends, but it should never be allowed to become a foodfight, which is a very bad thing; and a terrible waste of food.

Monday, 27 July 2009

On Being A Bit Too Busy

When I started this blog it was my intention to post once a week. However, I seem to have fallen into a twice weekly pattern, posting a "main blog" midweek (usually Wednesday or Thursday) and a shorter post sometime around the weekend. Maybe some of you have become accustomed to these "slightly more frequent than originally intended" posts, so here I am.

However, I'm really rather busy at the moment. Having been out of circulation being "a bit bonkers" recently (check out the blog post "On Being a Bit Bonkers" if you're a new blog reader - all will be explained), I'm now in a race to catch up on everything I should have been doing during the last couple of months.

Last week I got over the "going back to work after a month off" hurdle, and I'm now frantically trying to submit as much of my long-overdue maths assignment as I can. Furthermore, the co-author of the textbook on which I'm working elected not to ask for an extension from the publishers, so, in between going back to work and doing a week's worth of OU work each day, I'm also trying to read and correct the (almost finished) manuscript before it goes in the post at the end of the week. Hmmm!

I'm also dreaming of viola practice (Morton Feldman's "The Viola in My Life" is calling to me), piano practice (and calling the piano tuner) and bass practice (my fingers will never toughen up if I don't practice), not to mention the fact that the car has to go in for its MOT this week, which is likely to hit both my schedule and my wallet much too hard. Ow!

So, blogging is going to have to take a back seat in my life temporarily (and I'm not going to think about the contents of the last two paragraphs - it's simply too frightening). However, there will be a midweek post this week. It'll probably go up on Thursday. I don't yet know what it will be about, so watch this space!!

In the meantime, I realise that Music and Maths have featured in this blog, but the Moggies haven't really stuck their exceptionally curious noses in for a sniff yet. So, as a gentle introduction to our little feline family, here's a picture of them at their quietest and most well-behaved:
Right, back to work now! Maybe one day life will return to normal, whatever normal may be! Do let me know if you find out!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

On Delta-Winged Beauty

During the late 1970s, my Dad used to take me and my little brother to RAF Finningley to see the Air Display. We lived within fairly comfortable walking distance of the airbase, so it was an easy day out. I don’t remember a huge amount about the planes we saw, or what really went on – I was quite young at the time. However, I do have two very vivid memories from that time. One was owning a polystyrene Boeing 747 which didn’t fly very well, and the other was hearing a very particular noise coming from a very large triangular-shaped aeroplane. That plane was, of course, the Avro Vulcan and I loved it!

By 1982 I was a bit more aware of the world around me and was starting to take an interest in news and current affairs. I was also still interested in aeroplanes. I distinctly remember the morning that my Mum came into my bedroom, woke me up and told me that we were now at war. The Falklands conflict had been building for weeks and I was just old enough to be fascinated by what was going on. The notion of “war” was also something rather new to me – all I had previously known was that it mostly involved powdered egg, Anderson shelters, and blowing up German dams.

So I followed this new war to see what would happen. The eggs remained resolutely normal, but there was a lot of talk on the news of other exotic sounding things. Brian Hanrahan counted Harrier Jump Jets, Mrs Thatcher made a lot of fuss about sinking The General Belgrano, and I discovered there was an island in the middle of the Atlantic which had an airport called Wideawake (which I thought was a rather nice name). I also remember that they bombed the airport at Port Stanley – and the plane they used was the amazing delta-winged Vulcan that I loved seeing so much at the airshows! I was impressed!

A few years later I became a teenager, stopped going to airshows with my Dad, and didn’t take so much notice of aeroplanes.

I started to get seriously interested in them again when I first went in one. When I was in the sixth form my parents agreed to let me go on a school trip to Russia if I saved up half the money from my Saturday job. So it was that at age 17 I boarded an Aeroflot jet bound for Leningrad and flew for the very first time. AND IT WAS MAGICAL! I had always loved looking up at clouds, and now they were below me. WOW!

Fast forward a few more years, and I made a new friend. He too was passionate about aeroplanes and we started to go to the Royal International Air Tattoo together, which took me right back to my youth. However, by this time, there were no Vulcans. Admittedly, the B1Bs and the BBMF Lancaster were pretty cool (it’s always the bombers I love the most), but sadly the Vulcans were no longer around, having done their last displays in the early 1990s.

One year my friend bought me a trial flying lesson for my birthday – one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever had. He even got me the deluxe version, which included aerobatics – barrel rolls, aileron rolls, inside loops, and several others. I became even more keen on planes!
He also bought me an Airfix kit so I could build a model Vulcan. Inevitably I chose a bomber, and of all the bombers available I selected the wonderful plane from my youth. I bought all the paints and bits needed to complete the model, but, as these things do, it sat in my wardrobe and gathered dust for several years.
I did eventually start building though. About half-way through construction something else happened; Rowland White’s book Vulcan 607 was published. It was, of course, a must-read for me, and I dropped everything and read it avidly. There’s no doubt that it’s a great story, and greater because it’s true. However, given that I half-remembered some bits of it from my youth, was already a big fan of the Vulcan, and was in the middle of building a model Vulcan it resonated even more strongly. The characters in the book, all real people, instantly became heroes of mine, especially the captain of XM607: Flt Lt Martin Withers. Who could fail to be mesmerized by someone who had flown a Vulcan through the Grand Canyon on his way to Red Flag?

After reading the book, I hastily went to the model shop to buy dark sea grey paint in order to camouflage my model for stormy South Atlantic skies. Here is my finished model, and a view of the grey underside:
But while I was building a 1:72 model, some much more dedicated and much more skilled people were working on restoring the real thing. I had previously seen their stands at RIAT, bought their merchandise, and given small amounts of money to the cause. Here is the “nose” which appeared at Cottesmore in 2001:
I can’t remember when I started seriously believing that they would do it and that a Vulcan would fly again. I started to follow progress avidly from around 2005, first on the news and then on the internet. The whole story is much too long and much too full of twists and turns to describe here, but if you want to find out more, a short history can be found by clicking here!

My personal part of the story continues on 18th October 2007, when the restored Vulcan XH558 made her first flight. I watched, spellbound, on the television, and hoped that she would be at Fairford for RIAT 2008. However, RIAT 2008 was not to be. Torrential rain in the days leading up to the show forced the cancellation of the whole show (scroll to the bottom of the link). My friend and I consulted our diaries and looked at the flying schedule for the Vulcan. We couldn’t make anything fit. Work commitments, family commitments, pre-booked holidays. Sadness & disappointment ensued and I tried very hard NOT to think about Vulcans.

Maybe 2009 would be better? By February it didn’t appear so. The Vulcan to the Sky website posted grim news, and my hopes of ever seeing a Vulcan fly again plummeted. Nevertheless, RIAT 2009 remained on the calendar – the airshow would still be fun without a Vulcan wouldn’t it?

After spending a week nervously watching the weather, I got up at 5.15 on Saturday morning and set off to collect my friend and head to Fairford. The sun was out, the sky was cloudy, but not excessively so, the queues were not too severe that early in the morning.

I had also been following @XH558 on Twitter all week so knew she had arrived at Fairford. She was the first plane we saw as we drove in to the car park. Looking GOOD! Vulcan village was in full swing, so I bought a bag full of Vulcan merchandise. We then went over to admire XH558 in all her beauty:
Having parked ourselves at the “right hand” end of the runway, nearest to XH558, we settled down to enjoy the flying displays. Then, mid-afternoon, we heard a familiar engine noise just behind us. Abandoning our stuff we headed over to watch. Lights were on, chocks were being removed. Then she started to taxi. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause, and we hurried back to our spot by the runway. Here she is, firing up for take-off:
Already trembling with excitement as she left the ground, I was thrilled to hear that Martin Withers was at the controls. How much more exciting could this get? I tried VERY hard to concentrate on whatever else was flying while XH558 headed for Cosford to do a fly past, before returning to display for us. And what a display it was. Throttling up to full power so we could hear the might of the engines, opening bomb doors, banking and turning, and looking SO beautiful, silhouetted against the grey clouds:
Then she came in to land. A majestic sight, airbrakes deployed. Just stunning! More applause from the crowd.
As she taxied back to her own special “parking spot”, all eyes continued to focus on her, even though another display had just started. She is such a beautiful and mesmerizing aeroplane.

Before we started heading for home we went over to take one last look at XH558, now fully parked up again. As we approached, I saw that the crew were there, and were signing autographs. And there was Martin Withers!! Somewhat starstruck, I approached him, told him he was my hero, and he signed my programme! Perfect end to a perfect day. WOW!

All that remains to say is thank you so much for reading another lengthy blog post. If you can bear just one more Vulcan picture, here is one that one of my wonderful tweeps @pbiggs sent to me of XH558 leading a B52 down Fairford’s runway on the Sunday:
And, from me, a BIG thank you to everyone at Vulcan To The Sky. Your hard work and dedication through difficulties and terrible funding problems is so very much appreciated. The Vulcan may initially have been created as an instrument of war, but it now represents, to me, a supreme human achievement. It is also an exceptionally beautiful aeroplane.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

On Being A Bit Too Tired

Today I am a bit too tired to write a proper blog post. My face is also somewhat sunburnt! Those of you who follow me on twitter will know why.

However, I thought I should put something up today, as the blog was crying to me and telling me that it was hungry.

So here are a few multifarious miscellanies for you:

1. My Guitars

2. My Best Shoes

3. Sherry Barrels in Jerez

4. Nicely Ordered Bubbles in the Sink

5. A Glass of Beer on a Window Frame

If I get enough sleep in the meantime, then the next blog post will elaborate on the reasons for my tired & sunburnt state!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

On The Maths Bit

Why does the title of this blog contain the word “Maths”? And why am I known as “ViolaMaths”? The start of my long and friendly association with the viola was discussed in a previous blog post. Now it is time to explain the maths bit.

At the end of my last blog post I was snuggling up with a “substantial prospectus” in the hope that I might find something interesting to do with my time. That prospectus was the Open University’s undergraduate prospectus. I had decided, in typically ambitious fashion, that rather than spending a few evenings learning how to make pots I would do another degree – it would be easier because I’d be able to study at home! Yes, it would be more expensive than making pots, but we could always ditch our annual holiday & spend the money on coursebooks instead!!

When I ordered the prospectus I had no idea what degree that would be. I had studied with the Open University before, but never actually managed to complete a qualification. I started a psychology degree in an attempt to find out what made humans behave as they did (following a particularly nasty break-up with a boyfriend who hit me). However, I eventually ended up doing a course on mental health difficulties while I was having a breakdown, and then one on child development while discovering I was infertile! This was all a bit too painful & close to home.

Short courses in planetary science and oceanography followed. Then I did a couple of courses in geology, one of which I had to abandon because of illness. I couldn’t quite see where to go next, so my OU study ceased.

So, I sat with the prospectus and contemplated my brand new start. I would forget about all my previous courses, read through all the degree descriptions, and simply pick the one that I felt most drawn to, that sounded the most interesting, and that I felt most excited about.

Going entirely with my instincts, I decided to do a Maths degree!!!

Was this an obvious choice for me? In some ways it wasn’t – my previous degrees were both in music and I spent my years at college labelled as an “arts” student. On the other hand, before I became a musician I had spent a year as an undergraduate chemistry student, having taken A-levels in maths, further maths, physics and chemistry.

Despite the A-levels, my school maths career was somewhat patchy – I spent far too much time playing music to take anything else very seriously. The point at which I started to enjoy school maths came when I moved maths sets prior to taking my O-levels. Just try to imagine, for a moment, a typical maths teacher.Got it? Now imagine the opposite. That’s more like it!

Ms Barker was the first person I had ever met who called herself “Ms”. Typical teaching attire for her included high-heeled pink fluffy shoes and a leather skirt that was not excessively lengthy. She drove a car with extra headlamps, which made it look flashier than other cars. But, more importantly for me, she was also a musician. She’d done a joint degree in maths and music, and played the piano really rather nicely.

Having discovered that you could be a musician AND do maths I became a lot more keen on the subject, which was what eventually led into maths A-levels. However, when I abandoned the chemistry degree after 1 year in order to study music, that was it as far as maths was concerned. For 20 years I used the maths I had learnt only to keep track of my overdraft accurately and to analyse the results of our experiments on psychology summer school.

And then I started my degree. So far, I have LOVED it, and it has been a very fine choice indeed. I’ll describe exactly what I’ve been up to and talk about maths itself in a future post. I’ve discovered that the bits I like best (so far) are the pure maths bits, that simply require lots and lots of thinking, (unlike psychology, maths doesn’t get personal with me!). I’m now nearly one-third of the way through my degree (since I’m studying part-time it will take a total of 6 years to complete my BSc, so it’s a long-term project). I’ve also, finally, obtained an Open University qualification – at the end of last year I got my Cert Maths (Open). Yippeee!!!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

On Not Making Pots

At school we had one term in art that I really enjoyed. I wasn’t very good at art (as those of you who saw my somewhat basic felt-pen creation in a recent post have probably surmised), and most art lessons at school left me somewhat underwhelmed, but I really liked working with clay!

I’m particularly fascinated by the potter’s wheel, and one day I hope that I might have a go on one and make fabulous pots, bowls, and even, maybe a mug - I have a bit of a thing about mugs! Here’s a picture of my newest mug:
One evening, a year or so ago, I got home and picked up the usual pile of junk mail from the doormat. In among the offers of double glazing, bargain hearing aid brochures for the over-50s, and invitations to apply for credit cards with outrageous interest rates there was a prospectus for the local adult education service, which listed all the evening classes available within driving distance of my home.

Glancing through the prospectus I toyed with the idea of going to beginners Arabic classes, thought it might be jolly to learn how to ballroom dance properly, decided that I probably didn’t need the introduction to computing lessons, observed that I was too young to attend yoga for senior citizens, and eventually decided that it would be really cool to go to pottery classes and learn how to make pots.

At the time I was feeling quite lively and up for a new challenge. My part-time job was not taking up all my time, I had come to a bit of a dead end with music practice and my quest to play regularly, and I was watching way too much television, so an evening class seemed like a really good idea.

However, on reflection, the pottery classes started to present problems. When the prospectus arrived it was summer – how would I feel about driving 25 miles to go to a 1 hour class on a dark November evening? Hmm! Also, I thought about the other people who would be likely to do pottery classes in my part of the world. The Wonderspouse and I guessed they might well be ladies of a certain age, who might spend a lot of time in between the pot-making talking of their children & grandchildren and discussing the finer points of cake making. These, and other similar topics, are not ones that I can run with, being childless and of a slightly blokey disposition in the cake-making department (the way I get a cake made is to ask my Mum or my spouse).

So it was decided that it would be a bad idea for me to enroll on the pottery course. I decided that the time to learn to make pots would come when I was a wealthy old lady in a stately home and I could buy my own wheel and kiln and employ a beautifully constructed young man to teach me to make the finest pots. If I was lucky he’d also be good in the garden and could do the lawns while he was around!!!

But that still left me with a problem. I still needed to LEARN something. I still needed something to get my teeth into, something that would take my mind off simply being a humble admin clerk, something that would excite me, something that would enrich my life, something that would be more satisfying than spending my life watching interminable pun-filled daytime TV about antiques & house renovations.

So I went up to my study, logged onto the internet and ordered a different sort of prospectus, much more substantial than the local adult education one. I then read the prospectus from cover to cover and decided what I was going to do next.

All thoughts of making pots were forgotten as I started something rather different. So far, it has not involved clay!!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

On Being a Bit Bonkers

Those of you who like to read the small print will have noticed the word “Madness” at the beginning of this blog’s subtitle. There’s a reason for this, which is that I am in fact mad (or, if you prefer: nutty, fruit-loop, or maybe a bit bonkers)!

Of course, in these politically correct days I am not called “mad” (even though there have been times in my life when I would not have been out of place in I Puritani). I am labelled as a person with “mental health problems”. In fact, I suffer from Bipolar Disorder (also called Manic Depression), and, technically speaking, I actually have Bipolar II as well as a side order of Anxiety.

So why, at this relatively early stage of my blog, have I chosen to discuss my illness? I think partly because I am currently emerging from yet another depressive episode, and this is some sort of therapy for me, but mainly because my mental health (or lack of it) plays such a big part in my life. It influences almost every aspect of what I do, from how much exercise I take to what I eat and drink. It governs the sort of work I can do and for how many hours I can do it. It interferes with my finances, my living conditions and my relationships with others. And on one occasion (thankfully only one) it nearly cost me my life.

Before you stop reading, I should like say, however, that my life is not about mental illness. I prefer to define myself as a musician, a mathematician, or something else positive. Although posts may mention it from time to time, I have no wish to make my blog into a “mental illness” blog. However, I find concealing the state of my mind requires much greater effort than “going public” about it. Furthermore, I believe it is important that people, like me, who are willing and able, bring these issues into the open and gradually erode the stigmas associated with mental illness. I should also say that I am eternally grateful to both Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell for their openness about their own conditions – both have helped me greatly!

So, the other thing that has been broken in my life recently has been me. Every so often I get stressed, sometimes for no apparent reason. And sometimes, as happened when the treadmill broke recently (it was really just the last straw), I go over the edge. I cry uncontrollably, I am unable to focus on anything and incapable of making even simple decisions. Work becomes impossible. I feel terribly guilty. Eating normally becomes impossible. My senses go haywire. I shake uncontrollably. My legs HURT. And the world becomes a very frightening place, full of bright lights and loud noises, where even little old ladies with sticks seem to move at the speed of light. It is worse in the mornings. And, as I am now discovering, rather hard to write down in a way that makes any sense.

Maybe it would help to imagine the following: a close relative has just died; you have just run a marathon; you feel horrid drunk and disorientated; you are unable to sleep; you have eaten something that disagrees with you very badly; you have committed a crime; you are wearing a hearing aid with the volume turned up high.

Add all these together and you get something close to how I feel when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode.

Of course, the upside of being bipolar is that I also get manic episodes. These can be enormously exhilarating and fun, and since, technically, my manics are only hypomanics, they’re not usually very damaging. When I am manic I can work extremely hard, see things extremely clearly, and make tremendous plans for a wild, extravagant and fantastic future. I’m not even officially diagnosed as bipolar (although to anyone who knows me, it’s obvious that I am), because it would never occur to me to go to a doctor and say that I’m feeling exceptionally well and productive. Only full-blown dangerous manic episodes generally get as far as a doctor’s surgery, particularly if, like me, you hate “being ill”!

One problem I have with manic episodes is that sometimes other people drive me mad because they go so SLOWLY. Why do they not keep up? Why are they so stupid? (They’re not slow and stupid, of course, I’m just overhyped!). The other, bigger, problem is that I spend money. Money I don’t have. I went through a phase of booking holidays (we visited nearly every country in Europe in about 18 months). I thought nothing of taking a day trip to Geneva just to eat a fondue. I booked us 12 days in Bulgaria on a whim. I tried to learn the language of every country we visited. The list of our travels was huge. The problem – I owed double my annual salary to the credit card companies! Oops!

Then, after a manic, comes the crash. The bills pile up, the euphoria ends, and we’re back to depression again.

So, nearly15 years after I first became ill, how do I manage to hold life together?

Well, first there’s work. I have had two promising careers destroyed by simply being too ill to do them. First, my doctoral research into Mendelssohn’s string quartets, which was tipped to lead into a research fellowship and then an academic career, was brought to a halt by what I now recognize were severe anxiety attacks. Then, several years later a very successful schoolteaching career was chopped off shortly after I became Head of Music in a London comprehensive school as I suffered what is now known as “the big breakdown”. I was incapable of work for nearly a year after that and lived on sick pay, then half pay, then no pay at all. At that point I almost dropped out of life completely. I didn’t wash or dress for weeks and was incapable of leaving my flat. I believe I only survived at that time because of the efforts of family and friends, and because of an excellent psychiatrist and supportive CBT programme.

So now I work part-time in a low-demand office job for which I am embarrassingly overqualified. Luckily my boss and colleagues are brilliant and supportive, the hours are flexible, and so far, I have managed to repair my sickness record and keep the job for nearly 3 years. It was a struggle to get the job – I had about 4 interviews a week for 4 months before I was successful – people do not queue up to employ a mentally disabled person. I was once offered a full-time post, but occupational health wouldn’t clear me to take it up. Furthermore, I am excluded from activities such as Jury Service. In fact, when I was called for service and did some research I found a statistic stating that only 50% of those who had been off work for 6 months or more with mental illness EVER returned to work. I felt quite proud of myself at that point!!

Then there’s money. This is still a problem. When I am manic I spend too much; when I am depressed I am unable to work enough to pay for it! Catch-22! These days I have the Wonderspouse who keeps a close eye on what I am spending and is under instruction to remove credit cards and so on if I start to go mad. However, this is complicated because he does not have credit cards himself – a breakdown before we were married that left him unable to open any post for 6 months destroyed his credit rating and ensures that he uses only cash these days. In fact, he has become something of an expert on the issues surrounding debt and mental health and has become an advisor on the subject; he recently spoke to a committee in the Houses of Parliament about the Final Demand project.

So do I take medication? Not if I can help it. I have taken industrial-strength antidepressants (SSRIs) in the past to help me through depressive episodes. However, these have side effects. Some of the side effects I can live with – I feel sick all the time and I gain 3 stone in weight. Not great, but I can deal with that. What I really hate is the way the drugs make everything go GREY. No black, but no white either. When I am on drugs I listen to Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet and it means nothing to me. When I am on drugs and a close friend dies, I think “So what?” Those sort of side effects I cannot live with. That, to me, is existence, not life.

Instead I take exercise – lots of it. I walk daily, I swim, I go to the gym. I also take fish oils – I’m not sure whether they really do any good, but they’re not expensive and they probably don’t do any harm. I draw on my CBT experience constantly. I use a lightbox in winter to combat SAD. I make myself rest when I don’t necessarily feel like it. I try to limit any stressful commitments I take on (although I’m not always successful). When I am low I try to keep away from things that upset me as much as possible (children is an obvious one; we spent much of our early marriage in and out of fertility clinics struggling, and failing, to have any children). I am careful about my alcohol intake. I remove things from my to-do lists. I study (very successfully) with the Open University, which improves my self-esteem. These days I can even go to concerts again and, when I’m feeling very good, use public transport – both of which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Most of all, however, I have a fabulous husband who looks after me in the middle of the night, making me endless cups of tea and keeping me from any harm I might do to myself with alcohol and pills.

So there you have it. I have blogged on being bonkers! I’m afraid I’ve also broken the 750 word limit for this one. I could have stretched it over 2 posts, but, honestly, it’s not the sort of stuff I like to dwell on too much. I’m now recovering from my current depressive episode, getting out into the world as much as possible in order to rebuild my strength (and trying very hard not to feel guilty about doing so), hoping to get back to work soon, hoping to get my head back into all my various projects, and hoping to be back on an even keel for as long as possible. If you’ve read to the end of this post, award yourself a deep breath and a large cup of tea – you deserve it!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

On Broken Things

I feel that a lot of things in my life have been broken recently.

It started with the bath tap. The bit that converted tap to shower had been dodgy for a while, but eventually it gave up all together. Running a bath was impossible without holding the shower head in the bath, and having a shower was impossible without getting our feet splashed with water. Furthermore, the temperature control went completely mad, so the water was either boiling hot or stone cold. It took a month to go through the us-agency-landlord-agency-tradesman-us cycle before we were eventually rewarded with a shiny new bathtap and all was well with the world.

Then, a couple of weeks ago the DVD player in our bedroom packed up, refusing to relinquish a disc containing the Mercury and Venus programmes from a box set of documentaries about Planets. Much angst ensued, and I eventually took the machine to a friend of mine who fiddles about with electronics. It is still in pieces in his workshop and the DVD player that usually lives by the treadmill has been “temporarily” installed in the bedroom.

Then a pot got broken. This is not an unusual event, since we live with 4 boisterous cats. However, as other things have recently been broken too, I thought I would mention it. I glued the pot back together with the Humbrol cement I usually use for making Airfix models of aeroplanes.

Then the bathroom light broke. Clean, relaxed, ready for bed, and feeling moderately calm, I pulled the cord and the whole house was plunged into darkness. This is not particularly unusual – whenever a bulb blows it usually trips the switch. So, clothed only in my “birthday suit” I stumbled down the stairs in the dark to try to restore power. No power came. Back to the bathroom, I pulled the cord again, and then tried again with the trip switch. Yes, power!! Put in new bulb, pull the cord, back into darkness. The result was a sleepless night worrying that our landlord would try to repair the light himself and get electrocuted. In the event, the letting agents called an electrician, who confirmed that the light fitting was broken and put in a new one, leaving only a pile of rubble on the bathroom floor for me to clean up.

Then the treadmill broke. The next blog post will describe what effect this had on me. Unfortunately, it is 6 months out of warranty, and the manufacturers and treadmill-service people inform me that it will cost £250 minimum to get it fixed. As I don’t happen to have £250 lying around, the treadmill remains broken. Maybe my electronic-fiddling friend can fix it? Maybe we will have to abandon it and eventually haul it out to the garage to join all the other junk that has accumulated in there. I am refusing to think about it for now.

Then my watch battery ran out. This may not seem very serious, but I struggle badly without my watch. I had my last watch for 25 years, and getting a new one was a big step for me. I would sooner leave the house without my trousers than without my watch, and I have absolutely no sense of time without it. The house is full of clocks, and without them I feel disorientated and rather lost. On opening the back of my watch, my friend and I discovered it was rather complicated inside. After much internet searching we eventually discovered how to get the batteries out, and have replaced them with some that will do temporarily while we wait for the proper ones (ordered online) to arrive.

So why am I boring you with tales of broken things? Well, already I have broken the planned pattern for this blog. Having done a couple of posts on music, I had intended to move on to a little light mathematical blogging, but life events have recently overtaken me somewhat. So the next post will be on a different subject. I am also breaking the word cloud habit at this point. Partly because I don’t really feel like producing a word cloud for the next post, but mainly because I haven’t actually completed the post yet. I hope I shall be able to write it before Wednesday, which has become my traditional blog posting day – if not, there will be something else broken!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

On Discovering Indie Music

It all started with a couple of heads buried in sand and a little chanty song about soup! I became obsessed with this song, which I heard on a television advert so cryptic that I didn’t even know what it was for - probably something on BBC3 anyway (we don’t join the digital revolution until 2011; currently we have just three and a half terrestrial channels). As it’s not possible to link to the advert, here’s an “artist’s impression” (OK, no artist, just me with felt pens):
Some time later, a man with cheese and a man wearing a shiny suit appeared, and another song exhorted me to “Watch the Mighty Boosh”! The Wonderspouse’s response was “Aren’t they your soup men?” so I went off to investigate.

A visit to HMV furnished me with a box set of this “Mighty Boosh” and I set about watching, in order, specifically, to locate the bit about the soup! YES, there it was: middle of series 2, longer, more majestic and even soupier than on the advert. My life was now complete.

I had also fallen head-over-heels in love with the Mighty Boosh, which meant watching all the DVD extras, including an interview with some people called Kasabian. Soup man 1, now positively identified as Noel Fielding, told Kasabian that he’d listened to their album 24 times in a row. Wow, I thought, wonder what it’s like then? So it was back to HMV for a bit more research!

I should now point out that, until that moment, I had completely ignored all of HMV except the “Classical Music” section. Although I wasn’t completely ignorant of all other music (I do watch television, and I once dated a cellist who liked Rock), the “Rock and Pop” section was a pretty alien place to me, and I’d spent most of my teenage years listening to Schubert!

With some trepidation, I put the Kasabian CD into the player, opened my ears and waited for the world to end!

And end it did. The world where “Pop Music” was something “other people did” ended that day. I started buying a magazine, NME, which was initially completely incomprehensible. I ventured out of my Radio 3 comfort zone to explore a new world of listening possibilities. CDs that didn’t have little yellow “Deutsche Grammophon” logos started trickling into the house.

That might have been it, but the Mighty Boosh struck again: they had a Festival! I knew I didn’t do festivals. They were loud places where you got everything stolen, took drugs, got very ill, and had to live in a tent. I hate tents. But this was THE MIGHTY BOOSH, so how could I not go? Further investigation revealed it was a one-day no-tent festival, so we decided to brave it.

It was one of the best days of my life. The first day I ever heard live rock music! We bought t-shirts, ate yummy food, got slightly sunburnt, and danced into the night. Here’s what to:
Since the festival had been so good, we decided to follow it up by going to some gigs. Gigs, like festivals, were dangerous places (we reckoned), but we couldn’t be proper Indie/Rock/Dance fans without going to gigs, even though we thought we were a bit old for it, and we’d stick out like sore thumbs in a mosh pit full of incredibly hip youngsters. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

So it was that we emerged, buzzing, from the Astoria after seeing The Charlatans; we waited until 10.38 on a Sunday evening for The Kills to do a fabulous set in Coventry; we drove through dense fog to spend a night revelling in Pendulum’s marvelous soundworld; we discovered the fabulous Boxer Rebellion and have been stalking them and some of their support acts (Moscow Drive, Inlight, Pure Reason Revolution, and Red Drapes) ever since; and, finally, on the 13th June 2009, we saw KASABIAN, right in the middle of the moshiest mosh pit ever, singing our hearts out and having the time of our lives.

So, classical girl to indie chick in 12 months! In the process I’ve also lost 18 inches off my hair, acquired an electric guitar and bass and become a fan of skinny jeans. We’ll be going to at least 5 gigs/festivals in the next few months, and I now understand (almost) all of the NME! I still love classical music, but these days Mendelssohn has to share his shelf with Muse!