real life steps on firehose, staunches flow of narcissistic drivel

August 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Posted in blog info, musings | Leave a comment

Comrades, allow me to offer a brief apology for the erratic nature of recent correspondence.  My inclination and opportunity to write have been curbed by two factors.

Firstly, I have been dealing with my busiest time of year at work.  I am employed as an undergraduate admissions clerk at the second-most-applied-to higher education institution in this fair country.  As such, the few weeks surrounding the announcement of A-Level results involve a level of business in my office not unlike a perpetual Saturday afternoon in Primark.  It has gone very well indeed, thanks for asking, but I have returned home each day a husk, only able to eat, shower and read Maakies cartoons before falling asleep at an hour more suited to the bedtime of a seven year old child.

“But why so tired?” you might think, puzzled at how mere clerical work could floor such a blogging colossus.  Well, the second factor is that concurrently I have been changing my depression medication.  Trazodone successfully kept me sane but exacted a high price in so doing.  The sedative effect was brutal: it would knock me out at night, I would snore like a hibernating bear in a Warner Bros cartoon, then wake with a hangover that would affect me throughout the day.  My stamina levels were rock bottom and refused to improve.  My digestive system was in constant, open revolt.  One thing became painfully clear: in this state there was no way I was going to get through the A-Level period without getting sick again.  Thus what might seem like a foolhardy decision – to risk messing with my head at an already stressful time – became a simple lesser-of-two-evils equation.  At least I was doing it at a time of relative mental strength and stability.

My new medication, Agomelatine, is a recently developed anti-depressant that has only been approved for use in the EU since 2009.  As such, no one has heard of it and my chemist has to order it in especially for me.  That kind of exclusivity adds to its placebo effect no end, I’m sure.  Glibness aside, early indications are good: no noteworthy side effects, much better sleep, got my mornings back.  Still knackered but things are looking up.  Fingers crossed, eh?

Regarding the blog and email: normal service should be resumed shortly.  I know I’ve said that before, but this time I’ve had a think about what it might actually mean.  I’ll try and catch up with the backlog within a fortnight or so then ‘normal service’ will be: a blog post every 1-2 weeks, an answer to short emails within a few days, an answer to long catch-up emails within 3-4 weeks, an answer to written letters in 2-3 weeks, an acknowledgement that I’ve received your parcel of goodies within a few days of its arrival then reviews, should I be so inspired, within a month.  Sounds fair, I hope.

why I’m scared of ceramic hobs

May 11, 2011 at 11:38 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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The other day two of my fields of interest coincided (fanzine culture and slavishly following Idwal Fisher) and led to me establishing contact with Dr. Adolf Steg the creator of Spon.  The good Doctor kindly sent me the whole five issue run of this comic/art/fanzine.  Contents include: heavily-laden, full-page graphics in brain-frying colours, hypnotising paintings and interviews with the artist Carlito Juanito, Steg himself and Simon Morris (/Harris) of Ceramic Hobs.  For further details see the write up over at Idwal or visit Dr. Steg’s website directly.  Suffice to say that these brief documents are essential reading for anyone interested in art with an ‘outsider feel’ (for want of a less culturally loaded term) or in the machinations of the Blackpool psychiatric underground.

Speaking of the latter, and of the aforementioned Simon Morris, another parcel followed from Dr. S this time containing a copy of the last Ceramic Hobs album ‘Oz Oz Alice’.  Steg described it as ‘fucking brilliant’ and I wholeheartedly agree.  In fact, it is a kind of masterpiece.  Despite being fired from the usual stylistic scattergun, the vision here is so unified and fleshed out that it is hard to pick highlights.  Maybe the balls-out punk of ‘Irish Jew’, or the startling power electronic demolition of 80s soft rockers Toto, or the whole 35 minute swirling nightmare of the title track.  Everything that is great about the Hobs is here perfected.  Buy it.

So what is up with the title of this post, eh?  Why am I scared of this band?  Well, it isn’t anything to do with ’em on a personal level, of course.  Simon has been charm personified on the few occasions I’ve met him face to face.  It isn’t the music either.  I own several hours of their recorded output and even released an album by them myself on oTo, the tape label offshoot of FFR.  I was delighted when they offered it to me: a bravado piece of editing stitching together innumerable cover versions from the Hobs archive.  When I’ve seen them live they have been consistently hilarious, unsettling, and hard rocking.  Each gig a memorable and strangely life affirming experience.   What I’m scared of, I guess, is what they reveal – or what they imply – about mental illness.

First some context.  Regular readers will know that I suffer with depression but, by and large, manage it fairly well.  I’ve never harmed myself or others because of it.  I’ve never been hospitalised or imprisoned.  It does limit my engagement with the world and, once every couple of years, I cease functioning, fall off the wall, and endure a miserable few months as healthcare professionals help me put humpty together again.  I’ve been on one medication after another for 14 years.

I suppose the silver lining to this condition is that I have learnt to value the good times.  I take a great deal of pleasure from life when I am well.  From the big stuff, like the love of my wife, to the small, like the texture of a good risotto, nothing goes unappreciated.  I do not bumble oblivious.  That’s it though.  For every other reason I hate this illness and if I could get rid of it by pressing a button you would have to prise my thumb off it.  There are no compensatory highs.  It does not afford me access to a mystical state that the merely sane could never comprehend.  It does not augment my life in any way.  Time spent ill is, for me, wasted – dead.  Black holes in an otherwise happy life of ant-like conformity.

This is not the attitude expressed by Ceramic Hobs.  Despite, or more likely because of, the fact that Simon’s ‘problems’ are orders of magnitude more serious than mine he has found a way of exploring it, augmenting it with drugs, alcohol and erudition and using it to inform both creative endeavour and a contrary, alternative worldview.  I am reminded of a comment by Jean Dubuffet, he of ‘Art Brut’, about the artist Aloïse Corbaz:

She cured herself by the process which consists in ceasing to fight against the illness and undertaking on the contrary to cultivate it, to make use of it, to wonder at it, to turn it into an exciting reason for living. … She had discovered the realm of the incoherent, she had come to realise the profusion of fruits that it can yield

Now we’re getting closer to my fears.  As I get nothing from my depression but stultifying misery, the idea of cultivating mental illness, or even ceding control to it, is terrifying to the point of being barely comprehensible to me.  In stark contrast, Simon is militantly committed to it.  In the Spon interview, he concludes an unflinching description of Oz Oz Alice’s gruelling creation thus:

…I can’t do anything as dangerous as that again if I am physically to survive.  But I do think that artists should be ready to put their work above all else in life and risk health and sanity for it, otherwise it is a fucking half-arsed hobby.

So what we get with Ceramic Hobs at their best, as on this album, is  a genuine product of madness.  And such is my worry that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ that I find this as frightening as it is awe-inspiring.  Simon acknowledges this, again from the Spon interview:

If it is anything it is a horror record, a deliberate bad trip which might impact on a listener in unexpected and unfortunate ways.

This band is not only ‘going there’ but doing so willingly and, whilst there, using some voodoo power to create this music for the rest of us.  My mind boggles – rather them than me.  Simon suggests that this might be the last Ceramic Hobs album.  I very much hope it isn’t but, if so, it would be a magnificent way to bow out.  Whilst waiting to hear what, if anything, comes next I’ll replay Oz Oz Alice and the rest of their catalogue and happily keep my own hobbies half-arsed.

with a bucket and spade and a hand grenade…

January 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Posted in blog info, musings | 2 Comments

Hi-ho, hi-ho – it’s back to work on an occupational health approved, carefully graded and fully documented phased return I go.  For those eager for news of my brain chemistry, I can say that no, I am not yet back to normal but yes, I am on the final stages of the ascent back to happy plateau.  For the next few weeks, I’ll be working short hours on menial duties.  Delighted to have my arse back in the clerkin’ chair again but am marvelling at how a little light envelope stuffing can leave me so knackered and disoriented.  Still, gotta start with ‘frere jacques’ before rocking ‘stairway…’ I guess.  Thanks again for everyone’s support during a crappy few months.  More posts to follow, as my erratic energy levels permit.

baby jesus says: happy birthday to radiofreemidwich! plus: brain chemistry update

December 8, 2010 at 11:32 am | Posted in blog info, musings, not bloody music | Leave a comment

OK, so the burst of optimism inspired by a medication change proved a little premature.  My new pharmacological companion, Trazadone, has had few side effects (mainly a perfectly manageable sea-sickness which has now dissipated) but has been slow in producing the desired anti-depressant effect.  This left me able to deal with the immediate business of life but extremely half-arsed when it came to anything higher-level such as writing amusing blog posts or replying to emails.  Apologies.

Thankfully, this is now changing and the drug is finally wandering about my brain turning the lights back on, bleeding the radiators and changing the sheets.  Yesterday I had an appointment with Occupational Health at my place of work and began the arrangements necessary for a phased return.  I am cautiously excited but recognise from past experience that this stage in my recovery requires careful monitoring.  I am getting better, but am still ill, and the difficulty of balancing the two leads to paranoia and restlessness.  I can see a full recovery in the near future but, like a wasp trapped inside and repeatedly banging its head on a window pane, can’t quite get to it yet…

One thing that has cheered me enormously this week, and which has spurred me on to write this post (hopefully the first of several before Christmas), is the realisation that radiofreemidwich is one year old!  Putting this blog together has been a very rewarding business.  It has satisfied my rampant and shameless narcissism and, even better, led to me re-establishing contact with many top-notch comrades from the no-audience underground and to me hearing some really, really special music. 

Thank you all for reading and for contributing.  I am truly grateful and wish y’all a bitchin’ Christmas and a truly remarkable 2011.  Cheers!

(pictures taken by me last week on my street here in Leeds.  Click for full size)

eight long, quiet weeks on mirtazapine

October 15, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 4 Comments

Hello all.  I am writing this update with my fingertip in the dust that has gathered on this blog.  Thank you for the kind emails, comments and occasional pokes with a stick.  All very much appreciated, even if as yet unanswered.  Please consider this post to be a general reply, personal responses will follow at some uncertain, but hopefully not-too-distant, future date.  Thanks also to those who have shown dogged faithfulness in their near-daily visits to this dormant blog.  Especial thanks to the anonymous benefactor who has taken it upon themselves to update the Midwich page of discogs.  Your work has not gone unnoticed – reveal yourself!  Anyway…

For the past few weeks I have been attempting, and failing, to get to grips with a new treatment for my depression.  As the medication I was on previously had lost its efficacy, the consultant psychiatrist I saw decided to try me on Mirtazapine instead (an aside on the term ‘psychiatrist’:  you may be picturing a bald chap with a pipe doodling as I lie on a leather couch and talk about my mother.  Not so.  In the UK the term generally refers to someone who matches symptoms to medication known to quell those symptoms – it is all about the pharma).  This had proved a ‘wonder’ drug for other patients of hers and I seemed to be a likely candidate for the same.  Alas, it was not to be.

The gruelling side effects (more anon) were immediate but I was also given a boost to my energy levels.  This got the post below about depression written and spurred me on to finish the ‘natural wastage’ piece that had been half done for ages.  I also wrote a comically overblown piece for Billy (of Sanity Muffins) that hopefully won’t ever see the light of day in its current form…  My mood lightened noticeably, my ability to concentrate increased.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got.  My energy level never got too far off the ground and what concentration I was blessed with was quite restricted in its scope.  I could read, watch a film maybe, play a bit of online poker, go on a bus ride.  My ability to write, or to think to some purpose, dwindled.  I had some trouble holding up my end up in a conversation.  The creative and social side of life more or less ceased.

In return for meagre benefits I was paying quite a hefty price.  Documented side effects for this drug include both sedation and agitation and, in vanishingly rare cases, both at the same time.  Guess who rolled snake-eyes and got lumbered with this 1 in a 1000 occurrence?  For about an hour after taking it I would be zombified then, as it released its initial grip I would start twitching and fidgeting.  I could not stay in the same position for more than a few seconds.  It felt like my skin didn’t fit.  I would lie in bed with my limbs flopping involuntarily like fish on the deck of a boat.  As this could go on for two to four hours and made sleep impossible, I started taking the drug at about 7pm with a view to going to bed at midnight.  This cancelled out my evening, every evening, and began feeling like a curfew tag round my ankle.  I still didn’t sleep and the drug hangover would make it impossible to get up before lunchtime the following day.  I’d be lucid from about 3pm in the afternoon until 7pm when it was time to start the fight again.  So at least one of us could get some rest, I’ve slept alone for the duration – tough break for a newlywed, eh?

So why take it for so long?  Well, there were some benefits and, as the anti-depressant effect of this type of medication is cumulative (and occasionally exponential) I had to give it the six-weeks trial that medical consensus considers ‘fair’.  I took my last dose yesterday, much to my great, great relief, and am now weaning myself onto Trazadone instead.  Seems harmless so far, fingers crossed.

There is loads more to say, and on much more interesting topics, but this will have to do for now.  I’m tired, more later.  Just a few more thanks to finish.  Thanks to Phil, Mel, Neil and Paul, lunch with whom is being used by me as a way of gently re-acclimatising to the social world.  Thanks to other-Anne who introduced me to the charms of Wii-Fit.  Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Anne who has ably held up her end whilst having some very shitty things to deal with herself.  I literally can’t put my gratitude into words.  Love conquers all – lucky for me…

on losing my mind, or: daisy, daisy, give me your answer do…

August 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 7 Comments

Being depressed (lower case ‘d’ as the term is commonly understood) is only one symptom of having Depression (upper case ‘D’ is the term is meant clinically).  Yes, sometimes I feel that my past is nothing but a catalogue of failure and humiliation, that the present is meaningless and the future hopeless, but, amazingly, that isn’t the worst of it.

These feelings are the product of the major effect of having Depression.  I have described this during my many recent healthcare appointments as losing the ability to process the world around me.  The subroutines that I would usually carry out unconsciously first can only be enacted by conscious effort of will, then are unplugged entirely by a mind-dwelling homunculus – much as Dave Bowman disconnects HAL bit-by-bit towards the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I know that analogy casts my ‘normal’ state of mind as an insane, murderous computer but we’ll gloss over that for now…

I remember very clearly the first time this happened, shortly before I was diagnosed and medicated for the first time, following my divorce in 1997.  I was walking past Woodhouse Moor on Headingley Lane, here in sunny Leeds, when I started to forget the names of the things around me, then it became difficult to judge distances, then even to differentiate between things.  This attack was very sudden: my mind was going and, as this was the first time it had happened, it was profoundly terrifying.  I remember what I said: “oh, this is intolerable!” which sounds hilariously prissy now, like Niles Crane complaining about poor restaurant service, but it was a literal description of my situation.  I was studying for a PhD in the philosophy of language at the time and suddenly I needed help to cross the road because I had no access to the concept of ‘car’.

The other main symptom of this effect is the setting up of a variable but harsh limit on my activities, both mental and physical.  If I try and climb the ladder by thinking to some purpose, exercising or, god forbid, interacting socially with the outside world I will bang up against the glass ceiling installed by my Depression quick smart.  The punishment for trying to break through this is usually a ramping up of the feelings associated with ‘small d’ depression and an overwhelming bone-weary tiredness.  Unfortunately, the height of the glass ceiling varies up and down from day to day, hour to hour and the only way of knowing where I am is to test it.  A lot of the time I’d rather not.  To function at all whilst I experience the frightening, debilitating feeling of having an unravelled mind is exhausting.  I will, for example, be retiring to bed after pressing the ‘publish’ button on this post.

All that said, I can hum an optimistic note.  I have nothing but praise for the medical help I am getting.  Five, count ‘em: five, healthcare professionals are on my case: GP, Counsellor, Occupational Health Physician, Consultant Psychiatrist and Community Mental Health Nurse – and all for free.  God bless the public sector.  There are manila folders with my name written on them all over Leeds.  I am gritting my teeth nearly two weeks into a medication swap and crossing my fingers that enduring the side effects will be worth it once the anti-depressant effect of the new drug kicks in.

I don’t lack for love either.  My wife Anne, my family and friends give me reason to carry on.  I’ll say no more for fear of blubbing into the laptop.  My continued apologies if I owe you some form of communication, dear reader.  I felt compelled to get this post down ‘on paper’ and will get around to email replies, reviews and so on when I feel like typing some more.

Fond regards from your host at RFM.

P.S. <shameless guilt trip>Leave a comment or point someone else at this blog if you’d like to cheer me up as a spike on the stats graph is always a morale booster.</shameless guilt trip>

public image ltd, banana lady, nervous breakdown

August 2, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Posted in blog info, live music, musings | Leave a comment

On Friday 23rd July, 2010, I went to see Public Image Ltd at the O2 Academy located in beautiful downtown Leeds.  Outside the venue I was given a leaflet by a lady dressed as a banana who was part of a group of protesters.  Their beef was with Lydon for agreeing to play in Israel (lots of links and photos courtesy of the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign here).  Deciding to go in anyway, with heavy heart I joined a crowd made up largely of middle-aged blokes.  I hoped the band’s apparent willingness to take tainted coin was not a bad omen for the performance.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.  Yes, I know that Lydon is the only original member in this ‘reformation’ but the current line-up has some pedigre (some, I said) and they’ve had long enough together to be completely assured as they are belting it out.  Lydon is mesmerising, of course.  His voice is still as powerful as ever and his control of it is, frankly, awesome.  As he gurned, jigged and method-acted his way through emotional depth-charges like Death Disco you could see him re-living these experiences and relaying them with the timing and mic techique of James Brown.  Yes, there were a few duds and a bit of panto but, but, but… ‘Four Enclosed Walls’ – fucking hell!  I left for the last bus completely satisfied and, having not touched a drop all evening, slept the sleep of the righteous.

I awoke unwell.  As the weekend unfolded I became increasingly unable to process the world around me.  I barely moved for large stretches of Sunday.  I realised I was having a breakdown and was embarking on another episode of depression.  I’ve suffered with this on and off for 13 years now and am used to it periodically ruining everything.  It was, for example, the reason fencing flatworm had to close.  Work-related stress loaded the gun this time but I thought I might dodge the bullet due to post-honeymoon lovey-doveyness.  No such luck.  I have been taken aback by speed/force of the downward slide – it feels very heavy indeed and will take some weeks to work through.  I managed an hour last Monday morning (well, ‘managed’ is a bit strong I burst into tears twice) before leaving work and have been off since.  I’m seeing a counsellor, my GP etc.  I know what to do.

This is my first fall since starting this blog so I’m not sure what will happen with it over the next couple of months.  I’m pretty lucid for a couple of hours in the evening so maybe doing posts will be therapeutic.  If not, I may be out of circulation for a while.  Who knows?

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