Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Method and madness

Here again.

Facing that decision, the one that it is almost certain I will choose the one way but if I choose the other then there are no other decisions.

I've not been able to stop thinking about it for weeks, for months. And, while before the exit strategies were convoluted as a way to survive, now I can't help but focus on simpler means. And that frightens me.

It seems that the methods split into two categories. There are those which allow a second chance and those which don't. Pills and wrists allow time to reconsider, to call the emergency services and simply risk the humiliation of further failure, or potential brain damage. Nooses or heights are different. Once initiated there is no turning back, but who is to guess the eons of regret that I may suffer while I suffocate or drop toward unforgiving concrete? I suppose that cowardice is a life saver.

Thankfully (or regretfully) I live somewhere that forearms are not easily available; if I did, I am almost certain I would no longer be here to write these words, to wrestle with this problem, to experience this pain.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

food glorious food

On Sundays I go to my dad's to cook for him and his partner, and sometimes my elder sister. My sister doesn't like pasta, which can be problematic as many of my favourite dishes are pasta based (we are actually related and have the noses to prove it). She can manage lasagna as the pasta is minimal, but I decided to try a pasta-free lasagna anyway. No pictures; I can’t quite bring myself to take pics of my food and, entirely coincidentally, I don’t really do presentation.

I made the main parts last night, for simplicity and because my dad’s cooker sucks. A kilo of lean mince went into the pan; even with lean mince there is more than enough fat to cook it and whatever veg you’re going to chuck in. Cooked until thoroughly browned, then crumbled in a beef Oxo stock cube to amp up the beefiness. Is that cheating? Meh, who cares? Enough fat has drained from the meat the cook this in, so stir it for a couple of minutes then add the magic. A good shake of Henderson’s Relish - or, if you are in some ore benighted part of the world, Worcestershire or soy sauce will do, I guess - and a teaspoon of Marmite or other yeast extract. I recently heard a chef opine (possibly on the Gastropod podcast?) that the more different sources of umami in this kind of meat dish the better.

I let this cook in for a little while. It helps if you let it begin to dry out and the meat to catch slightly on the bottom of the pan. Trust me. Oh, and a good grind of black pepper. No, a bit more than that. Mmm, smells good. I poured in a good slug of red wine. What, you want measurements? Isn’t ‘a good slug’ enough? Look, I would measure what was left but, well, I can’t. I won’t go into details. Maybe 150 ml or so. Turn the heat down a bit and cook that baby off. Pour a glass of wine. Nice.

Time for the garlic. I crushed and chopped four fat cloves and threw them in. No, one more big un. I’ve heard the expression “too much garlic” but, while I understand the individual words, that seems a nonsense sentiment, like “Trevor sounds purple” or “grant mongooses jurisprudence”. Gibberish.

Aaaaanyway. Stir that in for a couple of minutes then i add a large coarsely chopped brown onion, and stir that until it begins to become translucent (I really wanted to write “translucentalise” but I’m pretty certain that isn’t a word, although I really feel it should be. We should start a campaign). Good lord, can you smell how good this is? Time for the last umami - about 300g of chopped mushrooms. Keep cooking that in, stirring it now and then until the mushrooms are cooked, and I think you can tell when that is.

Time for the herbs and spices. A good healthy heap of oregano (you’re asking for measurements again, aren’t you? Erm, about a palm full) and a large pinch of basil, along with a good dollop of paprika. Now, I really, really like paprika, so shoved in about the same amount as the oregano, and I’m writing this recipe. You can stir this in now, or you can add a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes first, which I think makes the whole thing easier. Get it mixed up. Probably a bit runny now, so time to chuck some tomato puree in. What? Again with the measurements! idunno, about a third of a tube?  Stir it in, pop the lid on and cook for a while, making sure it doesn’t burn. Then turn it off and leave it. Another advantage to making it the day before is that, in my most humble opinion, any mince dish improves with being left to sit overnight. And, at this time of year, as there is no heating in my kitchen other than the stove, I can leave it covered and it’s as good as putting it in the fridge.

So, today at my dad’s I have the parts and it’s just a case of constructing the lasagna. I chuck the bolognese into a pan to heat through and slice three large courgettes in the mandolin (why does my non-cooking father own a mandolin and I don’t…?) Grind some salt on the slices and into a hot oven. Into a smaller pan goes the simple bechamel sauce I also made, to slowly heat through. Simple? Needs more. I dollop about half a tub of mascarpone to melt into it and maybe a third of the 200g of strong cheddar I grated. Screw it; all the mascarpone.

In about ten minutes the courgette is sufficiently cooked, so I whip it out and layer the bolognese, bechamel and courgette slices a couple of times each and scatter the remainder of the cheddar on top, and chuck it back in the oven. Did I mention my dad’s oven sucks? Maybe 15 minutes, maybe 20, maybe 30. I should keep an eye on it. Goddamn, it smells good,

OK, 20 minutes, that’s done. The courgette is slightly al dente but a little slippery so, despite my best (actually minimal) efforts the layers slop onto the plates (note my earlier comment about a lack of pictures), but I must say (with all humility) it tastes freaking divine. It’s a pretty big lasagna for four people but I went for a run earlier so eat twice as much as anyone else.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The differentials of compassion

To those saying that support for France demonstrates that we really don't care about the violence in other places, I say this. Of course we care. It is not nearly that simple. It is that our media focuses more on those things that are closer to us in places that are more familiar - and also where these events are more unusual and shocking. Understandably - but horribly - we become inured to awful things happening in far-away places. It also does not help that much of the reporting is biased and doesn't help to disentangle the political complexities. We do care, but we switch off from the pain and the violence to cope. Those of us with the luxury to do so should undoubtedly do more, and we should do more than updating out Facebook pictures, but it is so hard to know what to do. We want the world to be simple, and our media feed us simple narratives that we are eager to accept because it makes things simpler, allows us make sense of the world - even if that sense is inaccurate.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Again, again

Avoided the internet last night after a grueling week of work staring at a computer screen. Now it seems I'll be avoiding it because I can't read about what happened. Not again. Not Paris again, another atrocity on the list after London and Oslo and Bali and New York and the many, many, many more that happen almost daily in parts of the world we seem to care less about because they are less immediate, less familiar. There is so much to say about this and yet nothing to say. It feels like the millions of words that are being written on it are useless, and I can't read any more. But there are words that should be remembered.

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Solidarite.

Friday, 30 October 2015

The Spiral

It has been said that depression is a selfish illness, and this is true. It is a condition that causes the sufferer to fold in on themself, to shun the outside world more and more, to be concerned only about their inner thoughts - as much as they are concerned with anything.

My own particular flavour (although not unique, of course) is an especially piquant blend of depression and anxiety. As I someone put it recently, “Depression is not being able to care about anything and anxiety is caring too much about everything; having both at the same time is hell.” (I wish I could find who wrote that as it deserves attribution). Those of us  so afflicted are buffeted by constant doubt about everything - double guessing every deed, every word - paralysed by both the appalling, deathly lethargy of depression and the terror of the consequences of our own actions. All compounded by the knowledge that we are (I am) utterly worthless, that we probably deserve to feel this way and suffer all that comes with it; part of the reason it is so easy to become isolated is that we know we aren’t fit for human company.

(Even writing that I have to fight the idea that anyone reading it will think how pathetic it is, this blatant attempt to garner pity - or, worse yet, actually pity me, or feel for me; it is made easier by the thought that nobody will probably read it. Welcome down the rabbit hole that almost every single thought leads. Imagine that, constantly, endlessly, not being able to escape that).

About that selfishness; much of it seems to be caused by an over-abundance of empathy. Not just the worry about how my words and actions will be interpreted, but how they will affect others. But it isn’t just  the big things; EVERYTHING has to be weighed for its consequences, on whether it is the right / best / optimal / moral thing to do. I am crushed beneath the paving stones of good intentions.

And the more we care about someone, they more important they are to us, the harder it is. The effects are magnified, the potential harm all the greater. The knowledge that I can only hurt them by my actions and, if they are around long enough, finally I will hurt them by my exit, on that day when I ask myself “why not?” and can’t come up with a good enough answer. And this is further exacerbated by the Groucho Effect: why would I want to belong to a club that would admit someone like me? So people who do insist on getting close to us become tarnished by the illness. I mean, what are they thinking? If their judgement is so poor that they want to be around me maybe they deserve it. Which is, of course, just an excuse to chase them away, something else to to beat myself up about. Another failure to cling to, to define myself by.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

It's become a pattern

How do I do this? I keep falling in love - or think I've fallen in love. I make promises, overt or implied and, even though I say "don't get too close, I'm damaged, I can't do this, I'll hurt you", I let her get close and then I fuck it up and hurt her.

It's become a pattern. I need to stop, but how? I tell myself loneliness is easier, safer for everybody, but I am so afraid of being alone - and so afraid of being with someone. I was with someone for so long, for half my life, and when it ended it tore me apart. I don't know if I can survive that again, but why can't I just stay away from the risk? Stay safe. Stop hurting other people and opening my own wounds.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The closed door

I’m currently in a state where I think about suicide most days. There are many days wherein I actively consider it (and I know many of the people reading this will recognise the difference); days where I hold the concept of ending my life in my hand to view it, more or less dispassionately, considering how viable an option it is.

I am not afraid of death. While many things will happen after I die, I am pretty certain that none of them will involve me. There are, of course, downsides to this course of action; it negates the possibility of improvement. The worry of the transition - the pain of the razor biting into my wrists, the panic and evacuation as the cord tightens around my neck, perhaps the few seconds of acceleration from the high roof will be stretched to an eternity by adrenaline - but these would be fleeting. The main concern is the effect on those who care for me. My friends, my sister. My son. A man now, almost 24, what effect would it have on him? A child should bury their parents, that is the natural order of things, but it hurts so much - and how much more so should that loss be at their own hand? (My mother was taken by lung cancer and, while that was caused by her habituation to cigarettes, I never blamed her for it). My father; no parent should have to bury their child, though I know millions do.

In a way this is encouraging, the fact that these things are of concern to me; there have been times in the past when they have attenuated to the thinnest thread of connection, when that particular mix of pain and numbness has meant that I have considered that any pain of losing me would be outweighed by the pain my continued existence would cause. Times when I have held that concept of ending in my hand and nodded, have stood on the brink of accepting it, seeing it as a gift (fortunately I live in a country that disallows access to firearms, or the simplicity of placing that steel barrel in my mouth or under my chin, angling it upward toward the seat of my consciousness and having to only argue against or distract my survival instinct for that brief moment to allow me to squeeze the trigger; had I not, I doubt very much I would be here, now, writing these words).

So I will continue. The spectre will be kept at bay by distraction, by company and the solitude of reading, by the endorphin rush of running, by the distraction of TV, by the regularity of the day-to-day, of work and shopping and cleaning. And, hopefully, I will rise from this dip to a point where I can forget awhile that door that I know how to open, that I can step through and end all worry and speculation. Although I think that, once you are aware of that door, and have acknowledged that it is unlocked, its possibility, its promise, can never be forgotten.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Sheffield TenTenTen

My third year at the TenTenTen, a tough little two-lap 10k in SW Sheffield.

Starting on grass for the first 0.5k through Endcliffe Park then a km of tarmac along the road until a short, sharp climb takes us up the the narrow, undulating, rocky, tree-root covered earth track through Bingham Park and Whiteley Woods. The first time around the large fled makes these crowded enough that the pace in constrained - at times even running two abreast is impossible - so when we crossed Porter Brook and got back onto the wider tarmac paths I decided to push the pace whenever I could.

This meant that my time for the first half wasn't far outside my 5k PB but when I hit that climb again I was feeling the run. The field had attenuated enough that the trail was less crowded so I had less excuse to ease off.

Back on the return leg I managed to keep a fast pace, down to 4:10/km, all the way around the tarmac and then the earth path on the North side of the park but, as we hit the last grass rise for the last few tens of metres, I couldn't quite speed my legs into a sprint.

Still, just snuck in under 45 minutes - 2 minutes outside my 10k PB, but this is not a course for PBs, so very pleased.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A right warm Yorkshire welcome - the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon 2015

This was my first time running the York Marathon (in fact my first ever marathon) although I ran it as part of a relay team last year. To the complete lack of surprise of anyone who knows York and the surrounding area, this route is absolutely beautiful for the majority of the run: starting at the North end of the University of York campus at Heslington there is a brief stretch of suburban housing before heading into the centre of the venerable city, circling around outside the narrowest of the streets in the Shambles to pass York Minster, its bells pealing enthusiastically, before wending down Deangate and Goodramgate before passing under the city wall at Monk bar. This takes us through newer, though  still pleasant, parts of the city which quickly become spacious and tree-lined before, after another 3 km, opens up into fields.

On the map this stretch, out through Stockton-on-the-forest, looks straight and boring, but it does wend slightly and is quite lovely. A right turn takes the road on a climb and dip through a couple of delightful areas of mixed woodland, interspersed with open fields bordered with trees and hedgerows, and the tiny, lovely villages North East of York.

Getting on to halfway in, there is a long stretch of woodland, verdant in the October sun, before a hairpin into Stamford Bridge. Here, as all the other other villages we run through (along with the city itself) there is a nice turnout of spectators cheering us on and giving encouragement.

The stretch here may be the most scenic on the route. The view to the left, South East, over the fields that dipped and rose with a few fragments of the morning mist still clinging here and there, was sublime, and I ran for a while caught in a zen-like state between the beauty of the view and the meditative exertion of running.

Just after this is where I found it beginning the get testing. There is another out-and-back hairpin, but about three times the length of the one at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps due to being 27k in, there is something dispiriting about running along and seeing people coming back the other way, knowing you have to do the seem, as the kilometres clock up. It’s about 3 km each way, but felt a good sight more.

It was coming toward the end of the return that I started feeling fatigued, my legs growing heavy for the first time. I kicked them up behind me, gave myself a good talking to and sucked down an energy gel - all of which seemed to do the trick, as shortly thereafter i caught my second wind and ran the next 4k or so at under 5 min/km, compared to the 5:20-5:30/km I’d been running up until that point.

I’d started to ease off a little by the time we transitioned once more from fields into the suburbs of York, and the cheering of the crowds who had stuck around for those of us so far behind the elite pace was a welcome boost.

I was really flagging now, knowing I was so close to the finish but that this entailed a couple of sharp climbs. Plodding up the final climb, only 400 metres up University Road, i realised I might be able to break 3 hour 45 - a full 15 minutes ahead of my target time! cresting the hill there is a sharp turn and less than a kilometre downhill to the finish line so I dug deep and tried my best for a sprint but, as I passed the 500 m marker cramp bit into my left thigh. I grabbed it with one hand at kept going, crossing the line at 3:45:47, receiving a hug from a friend of mine who had finished a few minutes ahead.

In addition to being on the whole a lovely, scenic course, the route is quite flat with an overall ascent of only 160m. The event is extremely well organised - we started at the arranged 9.30 point on the dot; there are water points every three miles (including isotonic drinks at every other station, and gels supplied a couple of times in the second half of the race). The starting areas, baggage drop, toilets and other facilities were well signposted on the University campus. And the atmosphere was excellent - large crowds at the start, the finish and in the city centre, and what seemed like the majority of the inhabitants of the villages coming out on their Sunday morning to wish us well, often bearing jelly babies. Even the weather couldn’t have been better; bright and still and not too warm.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Game Review: World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour

Reviewing a roleplaying game (RPG) book is quite different than reviewing a fiction or non-fiction book; they are still storybooks in a way, but also instruction manuals, rule books, reference tomes and guidebooks to the setting - the world in which the game takes place. It would be unusual to read it cover to cover, you would tend to read sections some several times and dip into others, returning later for reference. The criteria by which they are judged is, therefore, quite unique.

World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour is a primary setting guide for a pre-existing game. Call of Cthulhu is a bona fide classic of the genre, one of the first games to move roleplaying away from the hack n slash of Dungeons and Dragons and its ilk into a more investigative, thinky, character-driven milieu. It is based of the Cthulhu Mythos writings (primarily by H.P. Lovecraft, but expanded by others) and I don't think it's any coincidence that it is since that games' 1981 launch that Lovecraft's work has been rediscovered by an ever wider audience.

The primary setting for the original Call of Cthulhu is, as with Lovecraft's stories, New England in the 1920s (with adventures in exotic places such as Antarctica and the Amazon), though the horrors can be transplanted to any era or locale, and there are many supplemental books that do so. World War Cthulhu, as you can probably guess, is a guide for adventures in World War II, and is excellently done. As well as their standard military roles (for the Allied forces, naturally) the characters are agents for a shadowy civil servant who tasks them with investigating potential extra-dimensional spookiness - at the same time as having to survive the very real horror of the bloodiest conflict in the history of humanity.

As such, the game can be run leaning either way; classic Cthulhu-style, using the war as a backdrop, or primarily focusing on the war itself with occasional added horror (imagine some other terror invading the trenches, like the zombies in the movie Deathwatch) or some mixture of the two.

As a supplement to Call of Cthulhu, this is excellent. There is lots of great background on the various intelligence agencies (there is, understandably, a push to make the characters intelligence operatives rather than straightforward soldiers, as investigation - often behind enemy lines is such a large part of the game) and great short summaries of the theatres across war-torn Europe and North Africa.; general information on the status of various countries as well at least three or four adventure ideas for each as well as a list of "Fortean events" through out the period for extra inspiration. There are, of course, equipment guides (description and statistics for a wide range of WWII weapons, prices for both legal and black market goods, etc), background on some historical figures and how they might be connected (Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, Kim Philby, Aleister Crowley, and others) and, of course, an update of the Dark, Lamentable Catalogue - a guide the Elder Gods and other entities, as well as various Earthly factions and cults. As is now usual, the book ends with a fully fledged adventure to get you going - although extra supplements, including adventures, have already begun to appear. i have not yet run this adventure, entitled The God in the Woods, as I have a couple of my devising to get the group into the swing of things, but it's always good to have one as back up and it looks to be a good one.

The book is very well put together - a solid, attractive hardback (build quality is a consideration for RPG books, as they will get a lot of handling while using for reference) with a good contents page and index, something that many RPGs still lack, an unforgivable omission for any sort of reference book - with good artwork and layout, double columned throughout with good placement of tables and highlighted boxes for important text and examples (again, the number of game books where a table turns up many pages away from the section to which it refers is quite astounding. There is an old joke that RPG designers have an excellent vocabulary that unfortunately doesn't include the word 'proofreader'). The writing itself is solid and, importantly, clear.

This book is produced by a company called Cubicle 7, from whom I have bought quite a few books in the past (they produce the utterly superb Laundry Files RPG, based on Charles Stross' wonderful books) and they have quickly gained a reputation for quality and attention to detail. There's always a good amount of free downloadable content on the website (character sheets, tables and even adventures) and I can personally vouch for their superb customer service; when you buy the physical book you get a PDF as well and they one time I had to chase up the link I received an immediate response.

A great advantage to this setting, of course, is the vast amount of material available online. I have researched locales and buildings (I needed a ruined castle in Poland for my adventure) along with timelines of the war to plan my campaign and the location of adventures.

Highly recommended for your insanity inducing, squamous horror laden, world changing conflict pleasure.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Book Review: Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell’s sequel to her astonishing debut, The Sparrow, finds Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz still struggling with the trauma of the events that left him the only survivor of the mission to the planet Rakhat. He is beginning to be able to accept love and friendship and meaning in life to replace the hole left by his loss of faith, when the church tries to convince him to return - as the foremost expert on Rakhati languages and the only human being with any experience of the complex social structures of the two sentient species. Sandoz’ resignation from the society of Jesus and the priesthood leaves the leadership with a dilemma; if Emilio’s return to Rakhat is vital to God’s plan, does this end justify the means?

This is another terrific book, with superbly drawn main characters and startlingly beautiful prose, that explores some deep philosophical questions - although mostly the personal, universal ones of belief, doubt and purpose. What drives us and how we come to terms with tragedy and failure and loss and injury. It is about forgiveness, of others and of ourselves.

There is one Big Issue touched upon; should contact with a pristine culture respect their social structures and allow harm to some of its members to continue, or try not to intervene at the risk (perhaps certainty) of destroying it? Leaving aside the fact that change from contact may be inevitable, this book makes no easy answers; Rakhati society is turned upside down - quite literally, with the ‘oppressed’ becoming the new rulers and the previously dominant species possibly facing total extinction and, in any case, a decades-long war with millions of casualties.

The book is not without fault. The space travel took me out of suspension of disbelief somewhat; while the idea of relativity is well used, there is only the merest attempt to make the travel realistic (gravity approximated by the acceleration of the ship), while the ‘crew’ (who seem more like passengers) cook meals on a stove and drink wine from glasses.

There also seems to be an odd gap, perhaps an omission due to editing. The storyline featuring Sofia Mendez, thought killed with the the rest of the mission in the first book is riveting as she teaches Runa a different way of life than subservience and her son Isaac - a severely autistic savant - explores the music of Rakhat and of Earth. They disappear from the story for several decades (if not many pages, due to the way the book is structured) and this feels like a loss. More could be made of Sofia’s transformation into the stateswoman she becomes and, in Isaac’s final brief appearance, he seems reduced from the fascinatingly focussed person we knew to some sort of holy fool happy to impart his message.

More importantly, some of the conclusions are, perhaps, a little pat. While in The Sparrow the question of whether the events were simply a combination of chance and human agency or part of God’s plan is left satisfyingly unclear and open to interpretation, here there is a rather blatant authorial shove in the direction of the divine.

Despite these flaws, The Sparrow and Children of God (which are very much as a single work) are wonderful reads and explorations of belief and morality. I am someone to whom the concept of a higher power is quite alien, but the struggles and motivations of those characters with such a thing at their core was made real to me.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


I don’t quite believe how long it has taken me to make this connection, but I guess that is part of the pathology.

I’ve hit a dip. From feeling quite well I’ve suddenly plummeted, for no good reason I can place. Dropped so deep I’ve been ideating suicide, at least as an image, as a thing to hold and observe dispassionately. As a concept worthy of consideration.

But then I’ve also done something else that hasn’t happened in quite some time. While walking I’ve just found myself coming to a stop, slowing and ceasing like clockwork winding down, and standing there until I realise I need to make the effort to start moving. This has, as I suggest, happened before - but the realisation is that this is precisely the effect of severe depression; the weight of it makes me grind to a halt while the world around me continues to move, and the stress caused by this disconnect builds until it becomes something I cannot bear.

If you haven’t experienced it I must emphasise that this is no metaphor; in neither the physical nor mental case am I deliberately stopping, the energy to continue just seems to evaporate until some part of me kicks in to keep me moving. But what will happen when that energy isn’t there?

Friday, 11 September 2015


I’ve been signed off sick for just over a month. Every time I get that two-weeks certificate it makes me feel more like a fraud and a failure. But I’d thought I was getting there. I’d contacted my manager when I sent in my last note earlier this week to say i wanted to arrange my provisional return to work when it ran out, but then this week I’ve just collapsed. i don’t know why, but I feel like I’ve been sideswiped into a deep, dark ditch. I feel like I’m back to where I was three or four years ago in the bleak depths of my depression, and I have no idea why.

I can hardly look at myself in a mirror, barely able to meet the gaze of the hateful monster that stares back at me. Being around people is worse, because they are all mirrors - and people who know me and care about me the worst, because the reflection is distorted by their expectations, however benevolent, however kind. (I know; it is my perception of their expectations that is the problem, making it triply distorted).

I’d come so far. After crashing and burning I’d slowly rebuilt my life and it feels as though everything is crumbling to dust again.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Reports of my demise, etc

So, I’m still here. Obviously.

Still a struggle, of course. I’ve not felt this low in years. I just realised that this morning, I’m back to the time when I genuinely feel lucky to have made it through the day. The hardest part is that, while that should feel like an achievement, feel like a victory, it doesn’t, because I know I’ll have to do it all again, day after day, and I don’t think I’m strong enough. I know I’m not strong enough, or I wouldn’t be in this mess. So maybe I should just bow to the inevitable and give in. Take that easy way out. I know it’s there, I’ve opened that door before and stood on the threshold looking through into the inviting, terrifying darkness beyond and, once you’ve opened that door you can’t forget that it’s there.

Things are slightly simpler now. I’ve broken up with my girlfriend so I only have myself to worry about. Selfish, I know. That was making it so difficult, though, like it has before. The worry that I’ll be dragging someone else down with me making the spiral worse. That tendency to isolation that I’ve mentioned before; drive people away to make things simpler, hurt them now so they don’t get hurt later, because if they want to be around me their judgement obviously can’t be trusted anyway.

I’ve thought I was better for so long, but I guess I’m just not able to cope with stress. The stress of a relationship, of work when it gets difficult - and my job is relentless at the moment. At least I don’t have the immediate stress of poverty as I did before, although there is the worry of what will happen if I become completely unable to cope with work. I’ve almost had to walk out - or run out, screaming - several times in recent weeks, and the sickness benefits of this job are a lot less generous than those I’ve had before and, should it go beyond that, the benefits system a hell of a lot less forgiving.

So I guess I’ll continue on as best I can.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Last post

Is it this lump of complex meat between our ears that makes life so complicated? Is this thing that has enabled us to become masters of our biosphere ultimately our destruction? Or is it only some of us? Perhaps those we describe as sociopaths are the future, able to move through life unburdened by self-doubt and the constant worry of their effect on others. Or perhaps I am generalising, assuming that my affect is the norm. maybe the mass of humanity manages the everyday, copes with vicissitudes of life without too much worry, and it is only my unwarranted assumption that my mental state is the norm that is at fault. Perhaps I am merely the opposite end of the bell curve to the sociopath; I carry the weight of conscience that they slough off, like a duck in a rainstorm. (but even that thought weighs heavy; am I not just grasping at straws to make myself feel special?)

I’ve hurt someone I professed to love. Again. It’s become a pattern and, perhaps more than that, an inevitability. I’ve long thought that the only worthwhile reason for existence is to make the world a better place, in whatever small way I can. To be happy to and make other people happy, to improve things. But if my existence does the opposite, makes the world worse by bringing unhappiness, where does that leave me?

The thing that has stopped me before is the thought that my leaving may hurt some small number of people so severely that it is unconscionable, even though I am not here to live with the consequences, but that position is increasingly untenable.

I’m sorry.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

I don't know if I can do this anymore

I don't know if I can do this.

OK, background. After a massive breakdown some years ago I was a wreck. After losing my partner of sixteen years and my job I was on benefits for years, trying to hold myself together and generally being a fuck up. I hurt people, people who tried to help me, to love me.

Then things started t come together. Some friendships and getting an exercise regimen sorted and getting a dog - all things that only months or even weeks before wouldn't have been possible, but fell into place at a time I could handle them. Then I got back into work and a relationship. I was normal again.

It felt great. Having a job is the best therapy, it really is; it gives you self worth and self respect and all that shit - and I was able to not only  start paying off my debts but actually afford stuff, going out and buying things! I started socialising and stuff; it was a transformation.

The relationship started soon after, possible helped by my new-found confidence. A steady courtship with an old flame lead to more, and it was wonderful.

But two years down the line things are starting to fall apart. In recent months the job has become increasingly stressful and I feel that I am floundering. I just don't know if I can cope; I regularly consider calling in sick or even leaving part way through the day. I feel incompetent. And cracks have been apparent in the relationship for some time. I don't know if this is where I want to be. Am I in love, or wanting to be in love, or pretending that I'm in love? I'm just going to hurt someone else who has trusted me.

Part of it is that I feel I have lost myself. In the years of rebuilding myself I had been writing - I'm not sure it was any good but I've been doing it and getting better at it - and taken up photography, at which I'd think I had become quite decent. But in the last two years I've hardly done these. The focus on the 'important stuff' has left little energy fr anything else.

The only thing that is consistently better is my fitness. I took up running (in my forties!) and run 40-50 km a week, a half marathon most months, and am aiming for a marathon in October. This is an accomplishment, yes - but it is also my drug, being able to ignore everything else and exult in the focus and muscle ache and endorphin rush. So I recognise that this, as much as it keeps me close to sanity, is my drug. Along with alcohol.

So I shall probably plug away, keep on going and hope I come out of the other side. Ignore the stress and the worry and the crying and the booze and the ideation (imaging the the cold bite of steel in my wrists or closing my eyes while I cycle to work and letting chance decide my fate). Because I don't know what else to do.

Friday, 24 July 2015

I’ve come to the conclusion that the main problem with depression is the isolation. At least, this is the issues with my depression, but I’m not sure that it is a universal. Perhaps all happy people are the same but all depressed ones unique.

It seems to stem from the complete lack of self worth. If I do not value myself then why would I expect others to? If friends go a time without contacting me this is to be expected, because why would they want to spend time with me? I don’t mean this to sound self-pitying, as though I am sunk in some fug of feeling sorry for myself (although this does happen, on occasion), it is just a self-evident mindset, an obvious state of the world that i accept and love with. So I am (I believe) less likely to go out of my way to contact people, to arrange nights out or get-together, to pick the phone and say hi and shoot the breeze. It doesn’t take long for this to become a self-reinforcing mechanism.

And it can be more damaging than that. It can lead to the Groucho effect; why would I want to be a member of a club that would have someone like me as a member? Surely there is something wrong with people who do want to spend time with you. So you chase people away, pick arguments where there are none - which, of course, is made all the easier by the fact that everyone has their own insecurities. Of course, this manifests itself with those we are closest to; not only are they obviously even more deluded than anyone else, we are just going to end up hurting them anyway. It’s what happens. We fuck up and hurt people and make the world a worse place by our very existence, so perhaps the best course of action is to drive them away early on. Take that minor annoyance or disagreement and build it up, in your own mind, into a major issue that justifies the short-term hurt. Yes, I will have to live with it forever but I’m a freak and I deserve it; I’m sure they’re a normal person who will get over it and, anyway, I’d have hurt them eventually.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The breakdown

My breakdown happened over an extended period. I guess this is the way it usually is, although it’s usually portrayed as a sudden snap, and some of it felt like that.

I know I’ve always been prone to depression. I’ve been of a melancholy disposition from childhood, had insomnia since I was eight or nine, and had a couple of minor episodes, but the break really started when my relationship collapsed. It wasn’t just that; I was in an incredibly stressful work situation at the same time, and I’m sure this contributed to the break up. We’d been together maybe 15 years, since we were both children really. Our son was born early on, well before either of us was ready for that responsibility, but we weathered that and were stronger for getting through those difficulties. After a decade and half, though, we had drifted apart. I had seen it coming for some time and just didn’t know what to do about it. Part of me just accepted that this was what happened; I’d seen it in my own family - my parents and and grandparents and aunts and uncles, my older sister. Relationships ended. It was inevitable.

But when she ended it my world shattered. She had been my life, my lover and my best friend, for so long. We didn’t do everything together, but shared so much - music and books, similar geeky tastes; we fit together. Too late I tried to argue that we should make it work, but neither of us could or would. My son was now about the same age as I was when my parents divorced, which saddled me with a mixed feeling of fate and crippling guilt that I had failed him.

A few months later I met someone else, and thought it only polite to tell my ex. We’d remained on friendly terms since I moved out, and I’d rather she find out from me that someone else. She responded with pain and anger, suddenly deciding that she had made a terrible mistake and that we should get back together. I was torn in two. Part of me yearned to go back to how things were, but I’d made commitments to this new woman and, besides, how could I trust Mel? She had already torn a hole in my chest that was still seeping rich red blood.

That night is etched into my memory. Mel had called me, asked me to go to see her, told me she needed help. I went over, to the house we had shared, and she tried to talk me into going back to her. I couldn’t, I told her, it was too late, too much. We talked in circles for hours, and I realised it was going nowhere so said I was leaving. “Please,” she said. “Please don’t go. If you leave I’ll kill myself.”

I remember this pressure building in my head, my thoughts speeding up. I love you but I can’t trust you I want us to go back to how we were but I am so scared but I want you but I can’t decide it’s too hard do you really mean that? how dare you say that I don’t want to hurt you I don’t want to lose you I have to leave I can’t leave what can I do? what should I do?

And something snapped, like a piece of metal suddenly reaching it’s stress point. I sat down and I could feel my eyes darting around, trying to find something to focus on, and suddenly Mel wasn’t cajoling or threatening any more. She was worried and scared and asking if I was alright. And I wasn’t alright. I must have begun to behave more rationally at some point, but I can’t really remember much after that. I convinced her I was okay and got back to where I was staying, but something had broken and I just papered over the chasm.

The next break was some time later. That is the only measure I can use; I really have no idea how long, but it was a good while. Work was still stressful, probably worse, the constant threat of redundancy and morale through the floor. I was cycling into work and the closer I got the more I could feel this pressure building inside me, constricting my breathing and making my brain feel like it would burst from my eye sockets. I rode past work and powered up the hill, the release of pressure pushing me along. I had no idea where I was going but just needed to get away. Yes, get away; the countryside. The Peak District, that glorious green swathe where I had spent so much time breathing the clean air and solitude.

I couple of hours in I realised I should call work. I got through to my manager and recall a surreal conversation.

“Hi. Sorry, but I can’t come in. I’m.. not well. I tried but it was too hard. I’m sorry for letting you down.”

“Paul? Are you okay? Where are you?”

“No. Not really.”

“Where are you, Paul?”

“I’m on my bike. I’m sorry. I don’t know, I just started riding. It’s beautiful out here.”

“Paul?” Getting more agitated. “Paul, where are you? Can someone come and get you?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I can come back. There’re a couple of finches flying along the hedge beside me, dancing around each other in the sunlight. It’s amazing, almost like they’re showing off to me, but they’re probably not even aware I’m here.”

“Paul,” (I’m aware she sounds scared now and is trying to sound calm, but it doesn’t really register) “Let me help you, tell me where you are and I..”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Look, don’t worry. You take care. Good bye.”

I ended up by one of the many reservoirs that pepper the area, providing water for Sheffield and Barnsley and Rotherham and Chesterfield on this side of the Pennines and Manchester on the other. I stood for I don’t know how long, seriously contemplating chaining myself to my bike and jumping in, trying to come up with reasons why I shouldn’t. The fact that I was always able to ask that question, to consider the possibility that there might be reasons to remain, means I never hit bottom. I know there are many people who didn’t have the strength to do that, and it is nothing but luck that I did. this wasn’t the only time I was that close and I can never forget how it felt to stand so close to that line.

It’s strange, all these years later I can  sometimes take the memory of that feeling out - the urge to give in and allow myself the peace of not having to worry any more, to be able to stop fighting and simply be enfolded in the warm embrace of nothingness - and hold it in my hand, hold it up for an almost dispassionate contemplation. But knowing that it is there, having stood at that doorway with my hand on the latch, I know that the door is unlocked and that to open it is an option. Knowing this scares me but, perhaps, it will only become a problem if it no longer does.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

I tell her that I love her but I don't know if I'm lying.

I tell her that I love her but I don't know if I'm lying.

I just don't know. I look at myself in the mirror and vaguely recognise the face, but have no insight to the workings inside the head. How crazy is that? I guess being able to look in a mirror without wanting to smash it is an improvement.

When my mind broke it was like a whirlwind inside my head. I knew that I was millimetres away from it tearing me apart so stayed in the calm centre. I could feel the maelstrom swirling, barely outside the border of my skin and that I had to stay as still as possible to avoid being caught up in it. That storm was also inside my head; its violence was the tumult of thoughts I couldn't deal with so I blocked them off and refused to acknowledge them. So I shut off so much of myself to survive.

I've felt like a more-or-less functioning human being for a couple of years now - I rebuilt relationships, managed to get a job - but I don't know if that part of me I shut off is still there or, if it is, if I can still access it. I feel like I'm going through the motions. I don't know if I can cope with the stress of work, the demands and complexity of being with someone. The desire to let go is welcoming and terrifying.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Wondering how this could happen

A day later and it's still raw. We have not only returned to power a political party that is ideologically intent on destroying the welfare state in this country, but done so with a majority; we might think that being in coalition with the LibDems didn't make a difference, but I shudder thinking about what they will do without even that minor obstacle.

Make no mistake, this is probably the most extreme economically right-wing government this country has ever had; Thatcher was a cuddly moderate by comparison. I have already seen people I know who describe themselves as libertarians (of the absurd, childish Randian stripe) howling in triumph like the short-sighted, self-regarding hyenas they are. With an apology to the good name of hyenas everywhere. I think this tells us everything we need to know about this government. They will continue to asset strip our society for their own profit, leaving the rest of us disenfranchised.

I started by saying that “we” have done this, and we have. As a society we bought into Thatcher's lie that you can have a functioning civil society and welfare state without paying for it through taxation. Blair managed to get elected by proudly wearing these colours (although that government did quietly do some very good things it is all overshadowed by the harm they did, especially in joining in wholeheartedly to Bush's wars).

We had the chance to choose a different path. Looking across Europe there are movements taking a stand against the economics of austerity which are demonstrably not working to fix things and that the Tories have used as an excuse to cut public spending. But how often do we see reports on Iceland and Spain in our horribly biased media? The press encourages us to stay afraid and the British public clutched that fear and elected it. Enough people are moderately comfortable but afraid so voted for narrow, myopic – and ultimately self-defeating – self interest.

It is said that we get the governments that we deserve, but the effects of this election will be disproportionately felt by those who had the least say in it. Already a plan to further cut the Access to Work programme has been announced. Our health service will continue to be broken up and sold at a cut-rate price to profiteers (who are, coincidentally, often friends and donors to the Conservatives). People will suffer because of this election. Sick people, poor people, disabled people. Most of us will be at greater risk of falling through the cracks, and all of us are worse off, facing a meaner, colder, harsher Britain.

Friday, 24 April 2015

I'd like to apologise for a post I made the other day on Facebook. I shared a meme suggesting that anyone who votes UKIP is an ignorant, half-witted racist, and this is unfair. It is also completely at odds with the ethics I try to live by; ideas can be attacked, and should be if they are bad ideas, but people should be treated with respect. Assuming that a group of people are a homogenous, undifferentiated mass definable by their worst attribute is the very definition of 'prejudice', and is rather ironic in this context.

I am sure people have a whole host of reasons why they might choose to vote for a political party, and they probably think that these are good reasons. So, no, not all UKIP voters, or potential UKIP voters, are bigots, but they are voting for a party that is based on bigotry and if they do not accept this they are either ignorant of the facts or in denial of them. Not only are the mass of UKIP's policies based on erroneous “us and them”, little Englander stereotypes that bear no relation to reality (“Not everything is the fault of immigrants”, as it was so succinctly put to Nigel Farage in the recent BBC debate), they use the worst sort of dog-whistle – an indeed quite up-front – xenophobia in their presentation. And it is not just the racism; there is a strain of homophobia that is simply breathtaking. It is not just 'a few bad apples', either, the whole structure of the party is built on this way of thinking; it is why these people joined up.

What I really find staggering is the support that UKIP have managed to garner amongst parts of the working class; a least the BNP made token gestures - albeit badly thought out, expressed and spelled – to some working-class-friendly, Socialist-sounding polices. UKIP are economically so far to the libertarian right Keith Joseph would be saying “hang on, I think that might be a bit much”.

I think it is a symptom of prevailing attitudes fostered by a right-leaning, intolerant, hate-peddling media which encourages people focus their anger at immigrants, or 'benefit scroungers', or whatever, rather than at the real problems.

So, no, I don't think that all potential UKIP voters are racist, homophobic, small-minded, welfare state-destroying bigots. They are simply people who are considering voting for a racist, homophobic, small-minded, welfare state-destroying group of bigots. It is a fine but important distinction.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


I sit at my desk. I’ve been inactive so long my monitor has gone into standby mode so I am no longer reflected in the window. I can see across the valley, patches of orange sodium streetlight and the white lights of buildings, houses and a few high-rise buildings, but far less than you’d expect; this is a green city, so many of the streets lined with trees that they block the lights and make it look like a series of hamlets, at least at this part of town, the posh one I now live in. The hilliness adds to it as well. I can see the opposite side of the valley and the one behind that - appearing to be one continuous rise in the darkness and, in the daytime, the green canopy disguises the crest of the first hill distorting perspective. Seeing the lights twinkle, interrupted by the swaying of limbs or, perhaps, just the distortion of heat haze as the earth gives up the day’s accumulated radiation back to the cooling night, I think of a line of poetry. “Each star a light, each light a soul”. Where is that from? I can’t place it. Where did I read that? Wait; is it something I wrote, a piece of infantile doggerel I once thought profound?

I shake my head. Stop daydreaming and get to work. Okay; It’s (glances at the heavy, expensive watch on my desk that I remove whenever possible) after 11:45 at night. I’ve been staring at a blank screen all day. I hit the ‘Ctrl’ key and, after a moment, the monitor comes back to life and I glance toward the window, avoiding looking at the blank white page I have spent the day filling with a dozen words, a score, a hundred at most, and deleting. In place of the scattered patches of light is only my reflection, etched by the cold, sickly light of the screen. At least, I assume it’s me. I try to meet the gaze directly but the cowardly bastard always seems to avoid my eyes. I shake my head and look away, keeping him in my peripheral vision. I swear he’s looking at me, so I snap my head up the the pale reflection through which I can just make out a few shimmering points of white and orange, but his face is askew, as though looking at something behind me.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Laziness or disability, or a bit of both

I've had my laziest Sunday in ages.

My plan had been to go for a good distance run - 15 to 30 km - but a month or so of poor sleep culminating in the last few night of barely any sleep at all put the kibosh on that plan. Walking once around the park with the dog was about all I could manage. After breakfast I dragged myself to the supermarket then I've been on the sofa, reading when I had the mental energy to concentrate or watching videos when not. Well, putting videos on and letting them run.

I sometimes feel that it's hyperbolic to call my sleeping problems, my sporadic insomnia, a disability, but never when going through a bad patch. People who haven't experienced it just don't seem to get it. so you're tired? Well, I guess having a sprained ankle and a broken rib are both just pain, but it's a matter of degrees.

This patch as been a weird one, weeks of poor sleep interspersed with patches of very little at all. It almost makes me think of days of a complete lack with fondness, but only almost. Three, four, five days with literally not a wink of sleep is pure hell. By the third day your senses begin to warp reality and by the fourth you're hallucinating - although luckily I've rarely been far gone enough to not know that I'm hallucinating. Even at the less extreme levels everything is just harder. As well as having trouble exercising - when putting one foot in front of the other is almost too much effort how can I run? - my body interprets my low energy levels by making me constantly hungry and, obviously, tiredness makes self control on this front much more difficult. But it's the lack of mental energy that is the worst. Holding a conversation, concentrating on anything, being confident that I'm not making stupid mistakes.

So, I worked yesterday and had today off. I've been drinking steadily for the last few hours, hopefully to knock myself out. OK, it may not be the best quality of sleep, but it will be sleep (although that is not guaranteed; the sleeping tablets I've managed to beg from my GP do nothing, exhaustion and tiredness have no bearing on how I sleep, alcohol is no assurance of sleep. But I am so very tired.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

In January I've run just over 260 km. This astonishes me. I first started running about three years ago in the gym in an attempt to get some measure of fitness back. On deciding I quite enjoyed the treadmill I thought I'd give proper running a go - and found it much harder. A km left me knackered, but before too long I was doing a few k once or twice a week. I set myself the goal of running three time a week, then four. I ran my first 10K, the Age UK Wrap Up and Run, in March 2013 and my first Half Marathon a year later. It isn’t too long since I couldn't imagine being able to run on two consecutive days but in the last month I've run to work and back and then run in the evening. I’ve signed up for the Yorkshire Marathon this year. Goals that I wouldn't even have considered aiming for are behind me without me even realising it. Somehow, I've become a runner.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The pope is a right Charlie

Pope Francis has just spoken out in support of terrorism. I’m guessing that this isn’t what he meant to do, but that was the meaning of his words. He said that if someone insulted his mother they could expect a punch in the face, and insulting someone’s religion was much the same thing. “You can’t insult someone’s faith,” he said. If that isn’t saying that the Charlie Hebdo people were basically asking for what happened, I don’t know what is.

Do I have the right to insult the Pope’s mother? Yes, I do. Would doing so without good reason make me an arsehole? Yes, it would - and there is but one commandment; try not to be a dick. However, I could criticise the Pope’s mother if I thought I had good reason to do so (I’m sure she is a lovely woman and she seems to have raised a son with, generally speaking, a good social conscience, so well done her). Likewise, I can criticise a religion - or any idea or set of ideas. And that is an important difference; a religion IS a set of ideas and is not a person. It is open to criticism, yes, and if the the ideas are ridiculous they are open to ridicule. And the people who believe those ideas are, by definition, not the ones who decide whether what I say is opinion, criticism or insult. If I say that, because there is no god, Christ was not divine - or, in fact, there is no evidence that such a person actually existed - or that, for the same reason, Muhammad was not inspired by god you may feel insulted by these statements but they are not inherently insulting.

But, you may ask, isn’t Muhammad a person? Well, he certainly was a real person but, as I say, I do have the right to insult a person although doing so may make me an arsehole. However, as a supposed prophet and founder of a religion, Muhammad has become an idea more than a person and, what is more, the very act of saying that you are not allowed to criticise someone or something makes it almost a duty to do so. That is the case whether this is a political figure like the current Turkish prime minister or a religious one.

And, don’t forget, while my criticism of religion may be overt all religions criticise the others by their very existence; for example, the tenets of Islam and Judaism state Jesus Christ was not divine, thereby entirely negating the reason for the existence of Christianity. All religions state that they have the one truth so, by definition, the adherents of the others are at least misguided. As an atheist I say that all the religions are correct, on this one point at least. And it is my right to do so. If there are ridiculous ideas that I think are doing harm, I will ridicule them. If you do bad things and I think part of the reason you do them is the ideas you hold - or those ideas are the reasons you give for doing those things - I will criticise and possibly insult you. If you are a good person, I don’t really care if you hold some beliefs that I find silly; I almost certainly hold some that you do, too. Maybe we can have a friendly debate. I fully recognise that trading insults is not an effective way to win an argument but if you place even the possibility of debate out of bounds, then expect some ripe and inventive abuse.