Archive for the ‘Bi-polar diary’ Category

The sanity of melancholia

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Halfway through tonight’s concert at the Bridport Arts Centre I decided to call upon all the manic depressive/bi-polar crowd to rise up and start calling themselves melancholics. If we have to have  a label melancholic has a more dignnified ring about it. And it jolts  the thinking away from the contemporary practice of treating depression as a mental illness, which is best treated by doctors and shrinks, using drugs or specially trained psychotherapists. The idea was given wings by the music, and it soared during one of episode of deeply melancholic music, led for a time by the trumpeter, Byron Wallen, a young black, in what was otherwise an all-white, all-male band.

From the applause,  I guess, that most of the audience liked the accent on the  negative, the long drawn out notes conveying pain, suffering and very gloomy feelings. We go out to concerts, or turn on the tele to be taken out of ourselves, to be cheered up after a hard day’s work. Or a hard day of not being able to work. We are not looking for more gloom, but when a performance, like this one, puts us in touch with our deeper sadness inside, the effect is hugely positive.

Tragedies can cheer us up more than funniest comedies.

Which is one reason, why I think it is more useful to regard manic depressives as people with a non-average temparament, which needs to be managed differently, rather than sick people, who should be cured.

This particular concert came from the manic idea of a journalist, and jazz-lover, Paul Lashmar, who got together a local band, to re-enact  the Miles Davies Concert (now a CD), Kind of Blue, performed in NewYork in 1959. The climax was the deeply melancholic final number on the CD. But the encore, sending the audience out into the chilly night, was the manic So Long, in which the drummer, Matt Fishwick,  thumped the drums with more exhuberance than skill.

Earlier in the programme, he had given one of the finest performances of the evening, which came out of the improvisation, that makes a live jazz performance so much more exhilirating than a CD. Fishwick was probably the youngest member of the band. To me he looked about 18 but he must be older. His moment came when responding to a nod from the leader, he went into an inspired virtuoso battery of drum bashing, quite amazing in its dexterity.

All jazz musicians are not manic depressives (sorry, melancholics). But perhaps all mainc depressives should be offered offered jazz tuition as an alternative to Prozac and shrinks. Who knows, it might even get a lift from David Cameron’s Big Society, with that most notorious old rascal and jazz fiend, Ken Clarke, being made Minister of Jazz, as well as Business Secretary.

Deceptive Dreams?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

In the dream I had just woken up and had decided the first task of my day was to update my contact book. I typed in a few telephone numbers I had written down in my diary into my phone. Then I  thought that it would save time  if I typed the new stuff into my computer and synched it to my phone later.  The next instant I was fully awake. No longer dreaming and with the full realisation that if I was going to type in to the computer I would have to get out of bed and go downstairs. By this time I wanted to write about dreaming.  Explaining that seamless moment between sleeping and waking. Explaining how the unconscious mind works. This was an urrgent, perhaps important task, because the scientists cannot produce this kind of truth.

This was far more important than updating my contact book. In one part of my mind I felt like jumping out of bed immediately. I had certainly had enonugh snleep  because the dawn sunshine was visible through a crack in the curtains. But I did not move an inch. Another part of my mind held me down quite as effectively as if I was strapped down in a straight jacket. This conflict provaked a number of thoughts and feelings in a few seconds. Doubts that any anecdotal evidence could have any value compared to the findings of peoplre who had spent much of their working lives studying dreams. I was setting myself an impossible task. And at a time I was too old and not well enough to accomplish it.

Just one more grandiose fantasy the shrinks would say.

Before I could even move, let alone get out of bed, I had to answer these internal critics. So here goes. This is part of the answer that came into my mind in the next second or two.

If I was in a sleep laboratory, the electrodes attached to my head, would maybe  have shown a small change in my brain wave patterns, at that instant, when I moved from dreaming, controlled by my uncscious mind, to total mental alertness. And if I was in a sleep laboratory I would only have been able to write down a small part of my dream content and my waking thoughts.

What scientisrts get in sleep laboratories is truth, but far from the whole truth, about the mind, which is a far  more complex organism than the latest giant computer.

But, although I am now out of bed, sitting at my computer, the doubts stream in again.  What I have written thus far simply confirms, what most scientists and sceptical journalists will think when they read this blog. Revealing myself as just a dreamer, avoiding the real work, which I am fully qualified to do,  political journalism, at this time, which nearly all politicians and journalists believe, is the most uncertain and important UK general election of their lifetime.

Worse than that it has taken me nearly two hours to write this not very interesting account of a rather boring dream. Two hours in which my reasoning mind has supplied many arguments against writing about dreams. Two hours in which I have been wracked by my morning smoker’s cough.

Which I should not go on about, because it further destroys my credibility. As I know from an email sent by my neighbour across the road, the latest research study, accourding to the Daily Express, demonstrates that smokers are less intelligent than non-smokers.

The voice of reason tells me that writing about dreaming is foolish. It also suggests that writing about UK politics at this time, when every news organisation in the country has teams of their best reporters, plus other distinguished commenators, filling pages of print, hours of air time, and millions of blogs.

Reason tells me I should take a rest. Only faith enables me to finish this short blog. Which means that I use religious language. But my faith is not faith in God. It is not ‘trusting your instincts’  or ”following your hunches’. Not even ‘thinking things out for yourself”.

What faith is not, is much easier to say, than what it is. Which is maybe more like what the Bible calls ‘seeing through a glass darkrly’.

Or to switch religions and take a cue from Islam, from the Edward Fitzgerald translation of Omar Khayyam, who was a great poet as well as a great astronomer and mathematician.

“The moving finger writes, and have writ, moves on.’

Trust not in God. Do not become enslaved by your mind. Let your fingers do the work and tell the story.

The God who has not failed

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Not the best time to write in defence of God, and particularly the Christian God. Easter has been marred this year by the spectacle of the Roman Catholic church once more getting its casocks in a twist. The Pope in his Easter message referred to the ‘idle gossip’ about his church. According to Catholic beliefs he is the supreme human being with infallible powers to interpret the word of Jesus Christ, and his father in heaven.

The ‘idle gossip’, to which the Pope referred, were the stories that have been carried by the world’s media, about those Roman Catholic priests, who have abused the little boys, and some of the little girls, in their flock. Not idle gossip but the personal testimony of their parishioners, speaking out many years after the event, encouraged by the publicity, to speak out many years after the events which marred their childhood.

The Vatican defence of the present Pope is that thoughout his career, he was working on the inside against such practices, quietly and without publicity. Which he probably was. But only those within the closed society of the tiny Vatican state, could believe that this is a sensible message to broadcast to the media. To those outside, it seems much the same mindset that caused the Pope to answer allegations about the Vatican’s failure to speak out against the Nazi treatment of the the Jews. We helped Jews ‘discreetly’ is what he said.

The Vatican is not alone in getting religion a bad name. All those US christian fundamentalists, who supported George W Bush, are still around. And on the other side the Taliban are still urging all Muslims to undo women’s emancipation. And the Dubai muslims are sending tourists to jail for kissing in public.

Yet millions of people around the globe persist in believing in a God. And thousands of others, like me, believe that God was one of the best inventions of evolving human beings. The God who urges people to have faith. The God who urges us to listen to the voices within. And listen intelligently.

Like Philip Pullman, who has just written a novel, suggesting that Christ was one of twin brothers. Christ the saint and Christ the scoundrel.

Maybe in his next novel he will go one step further and suggest the even more amazing possiblity, that all human beings are a mixture of saintly genes and scoudrel genes.

We have the choice as to who rules the roost. And some of us spend hours in agonising internal debates.

Enough of all this. Despite all our scientific advances the holiday weather course in these parts was wrong. The sun came out, showing Golden Cap at its best. And in the garden the daffodils flowered.

Now that’s something to wonder at.

Not on strike

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Sixteen days since the Daily Novel came out! No, it’s nothing to do with the trade unions, although the Daily Novel is a hundred per cent union shop. And certainly not because there is a shortage of news to interpret and comment on. The Football Associiation has lost its boss yet again and just before the World Cup. The Wolves managed  a draw on Saturday away against ancient local rivals, Aston Villa, who are near the top of the Premiership, whereas the Wolves are struggling to avoid relegation. It is their first ever  year in the Premiership, but for most of the year it is looked as if they would go right back down again. They still do not compare with the First Division club of the days of Billy Wright. And they are keeping the fans on edge and may go on doing so until the last whistle of the season.

And then there’s another orgy  of politician shaming, with ex-cabinet ministers being taken in by an old-fashioned sting of the kind that the News of the World used to excel in.Only this time around it was Sunday Times and Channel Four journalists hamming it up by pretending to be high powered lobbyists, eager to pour money into MP’s pockets. Right and left were targeted the headlines were filled by the ex-ministers, so that Labour will probably be more harmed by it in the forthcoming election.

And then there’s the trade unions. The public service unions are striking today – Budget day! The airline cabin staff are fighting a battle royal against the a tough boss. But their success in downing about twenty per cent of the planes is paltry compared with the mostly adverse headlines they have generated. The railwaymen are gearing up for action.

All this is a salutary reminder that Britain no longer has an effective left wing press. The big battalions, led by the Murdoch papers, the Telegraphs  and the Daily Mail, are staunchly right. The Guardian, the BBC and Channel Four are doing some splendid reporting but they also stick (well, mostly) to the conventions of serious journalism, keeping a balance, giving victims ample space to challenge their reports.

So it is not suprising that the overall impression that the nation is at risk because of a new generation of union bully boys of the likes of Arthur Scargill is gaining hold. Whereas the truth in the paragraphs of small print is that union membership has plunged as badly as the crowds at the Wolves ground, 20,000 compared with the 70,000 who flocked to the Molineaux of my youth.

Much to write about. And before a crucial general election. Hopefully the Daily Novel will be daily again, before Brown announces the election date. But I cannot be sure, because the modest technical changes being made have already taken three months longer than I expected.

Must go now. And grapple again with computer stuff.

The Foot on the 24 bus

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I am not going to bore you by repeating here the thousands of words written about Michael Foot, who died yesterday aged 96. (Yes, he was born the year before the First World War.) But I  do want to celebrate the life of one of most decent human beings I have known. And what better way to start than with the Foot I, and hundreds of my neighbours, knew. Because, like us, he travelled on the 24 bus, which is much the best most sensible way of travelling from my neck of the woods to Camden Town, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square and the House of Commons.

And, because, like us, he used to relax by walking on Hampstead Heath. Note, walking mostly with a dog. Not jogging, like that other neighbour, Alastair Campbell, part of the New Labour team under Tony Blair, who got Labour re-elected, which is what Foot did not manage to do, when he was leader of the Labour Party. Joggers can’t stop. Walkers can. But only a minority of walkers, of which Foot was most definitely one, are ready to be engaged in coversation with anyone who stopped him. Or anyone who sat next  to him on the 24 bus.

Note, the ‘engaged in conversation’, but I might have written, ‘chat’. But ‘chat’ is not an accurate description of what Michael Foot did, when people stopped him, be they the educated middle classes or the less well-educated working class, with whom we live cheek and jowl in this part of London.

He talked to all classes  in the same way. And if he ever had become Prime Minister I am absolutly certain the the Queen would have come to a better understanding of the socialists amongst her subjects.

Just as I am absolutely certain he would have snorted ‘bollocks’ if he had read his own obituaries telling him he was too ‘nice’ to be prime minister. Nice suggests sugar and spice. 

Foot knew his English language, as demonstrated in his journalism and his books. He talked the same way to whoever he talked to. On that score he is the polar opposite of those polriticians who trim their sails to appeal to whoever they are talking to.

Of everything I have read about Foot the person whe shows most understanding this aspect of Foot, is Brian Brivati, who was Foot’s book editor, and is now Professor of Contemporary History at Kingston University. Here is a paragraph from what he wrote published in yesterday’s Guardian.

The gifts of how to live that one gets from knowing him are first, how to be, then how to read, and finally, the importance of being yourself. The first way he teaches you how to be yourself is in his political philosophy and attitude to the sanctity of humanity. He is not a pacifist, but he puts humanity first. Giving is his natural way of being and it is infectious as a way to live. The second way is by personal example, by the way in which he has stayed himself.

Had he ever become Prime Minister he would have been an excellent role model for the nation’s youth. Far better than any of the three leaders contesting the 2010 election. Let’s hope that his publishers rush out new versions of his books, so that thoughtful voters are reminded of what he stood for.

Although he would not have wanted the country to be run by the bunch of Old Etonians around David Cameron, currently leading the opinion polls, Foot came from a priviledged upper middle class background. He was educated at two private schools, the second being Leighton Park School in Reading, which has been called the ‘Quaker Eton’. It wass very good at getting its pupils into Oxbridge and Foot went on to do the Oxford PPE at Wadham, a degree which prepares people well for a career in politics (and a career in journalism, at which Foot also excelled).

This blog is not intended to be hagiography so before I end it I must write about what I believe to be Foot’s worst mistake. I was listening on the car radio one Saturday morning when I was taking the family to Wales for our holiday. Normal service was suspended as the BBC took us to the House of Commons, where there was an emergency debate on Thatcher’s decision to rescue the Falkland Islands.

Foot, then leader of the Labour Party, gave her his full support. His Quaker school teachers must have quaked, as I did, when I listened to his speech.

So he had his faults.

But if you read what he wrote, you will see, that, although he was an upper middle class toff, he understood far better than many New Labour ministers and MPs the priorities of the working class and their champions, the trade unions, who politicians of all parties are too ready to dismis as ignorant cart horses.

Dr Johnston (him of the dictionary) said pithily that the misguided honest man was an even bigger pain than the worst scoundrel.


But at tthis time in our history(MP’s expenses)  British politics needs a few honest men.


Michael Foot.

(Photo: By Graham Turner from The Guardian. Messed by the new technology for which apologies. The original is much better.)

Following the dream

Friday, March 5th, 2010

One of the trials of the manic depressive temperament is that in the mainc phase the ideas flow fast and furious. So as well as party ideas my unconscious mind has been popping up ambitious new plans for improving my blog and has been urging me to jump on the iphone bandwagon. So on top of having to relearn Excel in order to keep track of who was coming to the party I saddled myself  quite un-necssarily with having to learn Applespeak.

After a few initial failures to connect to the internet, it is now working like a dream and I love mine almost as much as  Stephen Fry loves  his. I can now read the mobile Guardian and my emails in bed. It is a most beautiful example of the new technology and it has turned me into a fan of Steve Jobs who got up from his death bed a couple of years ago and organised its design and launch.

But it is not perfect. As I found on Wednesday when I felt confident enough to change the keyboard layout to Dvorak. This keyboard, designed by August Dvorak in the late 1920s is far more efficent than QWERTY, as you can discover if you click on Campaign to retire QWERTY at the top of this blog. Apple has been including Dvorak as a standard item on its computers since the pioneering days, many years before Bill Gates made it a standard offer for PCs with the introduction of Windows in the 1990s.

Sadly Jobs has not put it in the iphone. I did manage to find one from a third party developer. It worked fine.


When I turned off my phone and turned it on again, it had disappeared.

It may just be teething troubles. I willl keep you posted.

Meanwhile I have to postpone the next round in the fight to retire QWERTY and write something about Michael Foot.

Taking the show on tour

Friday, March 5th, 2010

The other trigger for my dream last night came from a jest in a thank you letter suggesting we take  the show on tour. The show was the one I put on at Lauderdale House, the former home of Nell Gwyn on Highgate Hill, which is now a favoured location for parties in the Gospel Oak part of London. This party to celebrate my wife’s 70th birthday took me and my daughters two months to organise. Which is one major reason why Daily Novel blogs have been so thin on the ground in 2010.

The emphasis was on singing and dancing rather than speechifying. To get it going required a lot of browbeating of  relatives,  friends and neighbours to stand up and support me in a sing a long to make the guests sing for their supper. It had to include, Leaning on a Lamp, and since I am tone deaf it required the support of James, one of my daughter’s friends on the Brazilian ukelerle, and Michael, the neighbbourhood lumberjack singer.

And, of course, a decent jazz band to provide the sort of music my wife and I, along with many of our neighboursr, have enjoyed for the past ten years at the Humphrey Lyttelton charity concerts organised by the friends of the Royal Free Hosital. The concerts have gone on performed by the jazz men who worked with him. Happily the pianist for our party was Ted Beament who played in most of those concerts and was happy to bash out my very eclectic choice of songs. All of the Tucker Finlayson band, which is a mixture of men who have played with Humph, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, entered into the spirit of the occasion.

So this was one of my manic ideas that actually worked. The dream did not give me quite enough energy to start a new career as an impressario, but it did provide the impetus for a third blog.

Clerkenwell’s new Norwegian free church on the internet

Friday, March 5th, 2010

In the dream I was invited in by the new City University chaplin, who just happened to be Norwegian, to take the Sunday service on his new Church of the Internet jointly with him. I protested that I was an agnostic who even found much to admire in the works of Richard Dawkins, author of  the God Delusion. That did not matter, he told me, he just wanted me to do whatever I felt like doing in the moment. Much like the Quaker style of encouraging people to speak out when the spirit moved them. That is based on a belief that the voice of God can be found amongst our inner voices.

The dream event was a success. I managed to give a half-way decent sermon, stating my belief that the evidence suggests it is extremely unlikely the world was created by an all-powerful God, but that the great religions of the world  rank amongst the most valuable human inventions. Religious belief, I argued has survival value if it does not become rigid and doctrinaire. It protects human beings from arrogance. It reminds them that the voices within include devilish types who may be urging violence against others or self-destruction. All the great religions have meditation and prayer which, in my view, can be a great help in sorting out personal and polical conflicts and making more, rather than less, rational decisions.

The sermon went down OK. More surprisingly I hammed it  up by singing  a few music hall songs in my off-key voice and the congregation joined me  in the choruses.

So I am due to go back next Sunday. In the dream, of course. City University has not yet brought in a radical Norwegian pastor.

My dream, however, was partly triggered triggerd by what is happening at City. On Tuesday evening the journalism department mounted a great debate to decide whether the 2010 election would be more influenced by new media or the old media’s first ever television debates between Brown, Cameron and Clegg which are expected to win an audience of 10 million or more. The verdict of the audience was 75 to 80 per cent in favour of the old media debates.

But yesterday, the video of that event went out on the City journalism web site and I  spent nearly two hours watching it. And one of the thoughts that struck me before I went to bed last night was that this was itself an indication of how that the media will be a powerful influence on this election. City J has moved on since I rettired two years ago and thanks to the inniatives of Professor George Brock and Professor Ivor Gaber. City J journalists can now ‘preach’ to the  whole world thanks to the wonderful world of the internet.

The old media in the debate were represented by the powerful BBC voices of Nick Robinson, political  editor and Evan Davies, the newish anchor man of the BBC Radio Four Today programme. Powerful because of their eloquence and experience. Powerful because they have behind them the authority of the biggest news oranisation in the world, which has a presence on the web as well as via television, radio, videos, cds, dvds and mobile phones.

In my childhood I had problems in tuning in to the right wavelength to hear the voice of God, but through the head phones of my two valve radio I could get the BBC. That was a sort of miracle that had a tangible reality. To me, and millions of others, the BBC news readers had a God-like authority.

There was another, quite different trigger for my dream last night, which will be the subject of my next blog.

Meanwhile readers might like to watch the much more down to earth City J debate by clicking on the video link above. Or, if they don’t have two hours to spare clicking on this link to the report by Guardian journalist, Kevin Anderson.

Carry on Smoking Mr President

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

According to Associated Press the White House physician urged President Obama to continue his smoking cessation efforts in his latest check-up. I beg to differ. I, for one, will sleep safer in my bed knowing that the leader of the free world is having the occasional cigarette when he feels like it. I totally accept the serious effects of smoking on health. But most of the world is denying that nicotine does have some beneficial effects.

Notably it helps you to keep calm when everyone around you is panicing. And it helps manic depressives like me to manage their condition. At 76 I am feeling some of harmful effects. My coughs in the morning can be heard in the house opposite.

But Obama coming up to 40 is a picture of health. It may kill him in the end but not very soon, because he does not smoke many. He does not have to do, because like me he smokes Camels, which is a blend of Virginia and Turkish. Just the right cigarette for a President who is concerned with fostering better relationships with the Muslim world. And dedicated to keeping the peace rather than rushing into wars.

The doc is also worried about his tendonitis, which they think is to do with his regular basket ball playing. Maybe that will give him a heart attack sooner than smoking. But I am not suggesting that he take up something more sedate like golf. But perhaps he might benefit by cutting down on his basket ball and having a fag or two when he feels the urge to leap up to the net.

Life begins at 4 years old

Friday, February 5th, 2010

AnnJwOff to Lyme Regis for a lunch at a rather posh hotel organised by the friends of the museum at which the speaker was Ann Jelicoe, best known for her play, The Knack, which hit Broadway and was later made into a film. We arrived at the Alexandra Hotel at 12 AM precisely for our £25 lunch. I did not mind shelling out £25 quid, because it was going to the Lyme Regis Museum, but of course, there was half an hour or so to kill before we sat down. I went to the bar and ordered two drinks, a white wine spritzer and a glass of Rose. I watched mesmerised as my drink was poured out. The bar tender poured the wine into a metal measure, and then transferred it to the size of wine glass I normally use,  There was enough to half fill the glass.

The bill was £10.15. The Ritz Hotel in London W1 probably charges more. But not much more.

I tell you this, so that you will know that your truth telling reporter at this event, may be influenced in what he is writing by some personal feelings. Which were exacerbated when Ann rose to give her talk, nearly two hours later.

She began by saying:

I knew that i wanted to do – go into theatre – when I was four years old……..  From that moment I never dobuted. It made life very simple.

What rot, I thought. At 4 i probably wanted to be an engine driver. At 14 I wanted to be Prime Minster. As life happened i started as a journalist and then went on to be a teacher of journalism.

But when I listened to the rest of her talk, I realised that her life had been far from simple.

She went straight from school to the Central School of Speech and Drama in the closing years of the war. The teachers were tired. Most of the men were still away at the Front. The course was far too long. But in her final year – of a three year course, which she said was far too long – was a huge success, because she starred in a play produced by a young playwritght, Christopher Fry. for the school.

That did not launch her career. Despite her outstanding talent, she could not get a job in theatre. And she became quite seriously depressed. She was rescued by her old school, who gave her a job teaching their students. Who included Vanessa Redgrave, whom everyone at today’s lunch had heard of.

Her own success came years later. When she made her name as a writer and director of plays, thanks partly to the help of George Devine at the Royal Court theatre in Chelsea, one of the key figures who revitalised British theatre in the 1960′s.

So Ann Jelicoe’s story is far from simple. For the last thirty years or so, she has been developing community theatre in Dorset, which does not hit the headlines. She is still going strong at 82. She can still bend an audience to what she has to say.

Even though she is a mistress of the art of self-deprecation. Because when you hear her in person, you realise that her life has not been simple or easy. She has stayed faithful to her own imperatives. Despite the many difficulties on the way.

In one of her plays, she invented a new planet called, ‘Hope’. The scientists have not yet found it. No matter. Utopia has still not been found.

But meanwhile there are many worse things you can do with your lives, than working to find an alternative to American consumer capitalism.