#Sunday Stills -Feathered Friends

Today on Terri Webster Schrandt’s Sunday Stills Photography Challenge, the topic is ‘Feathered Freinds’. Here are some of my snaps featuring our feathered friends.

Eagle and Trainer at National Centre for Birds of Prey, Helmlsey, Yorkshire
Fine looking Rooster

What a show-off

Crane punk rocker

Duck Family on route march

Swan-ning about, Lake Garda, Italy
Noisy Geese in Delph, Oldham
Hungry seagulls in Aldeburgh, Suffolk (they could smell our fish and chips)
Father and daughter feeding Pigeon friends in Crete

Another great gig at the Band on the Wall !

Source: Jake from Manchester, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Who says ‘You Can’t Buy a Thrill’?*  For just £20.50 I was ‘Reelin’ in the Years’* singing along and dancing (well sort of dancing) at Manchester’s ‘Band on the Wall’ last Saturday – taking in the spirit and sound of Steely Dan.  

One of my all time favourite bands, Steely Dan have since the 70’s shown me just how good music can be.  For those not familiar, although I’m sure you’ve heard of them, they are a jazz rock combo formed in New York by college friends Walter Becker and Donald Fagin. (Sadly Walter Becker died in 2017.)

Why do I like them so much?  Well, their music combines jazz, pop, rock, bits of reggae, funk, blues and a lot more.  It is catchy (there’s an old man’s music term) but complex, sophisticated and rich.  They always managed to get the best musicians for every song and their recordings are so hi fidelity and so well engineered you hear the individual sound of every instrument. 

Despite the complexity of their music, their lyrics, hooks and infectious dance grooves stick in your memory.  They are of such quality, it is no wonder they have been sampled so often in pop songs right up to today.  Their lyrics are clever.  They tell a story and can be quite profound or acerbic.  Some contain hidden meanings.  Frustratingly some are a complete mystery to me but they still have appeal and make me want to sing them.

I won’t go into massive detail about Steely Dan.  You can look them up if you’re interested.  But if you’ve never given them a chance, check out some of their songs.

Before I go any further, I feel I should clarify something.  I didn’t actually see Steely Dan at the Band on the Wall last Saturday.  I saw the wonderful 10 piece tribute band ‘Nearly Dan’.  What a great name!

And what a great night it was. The place was packed. Not just with pensioners either.  I was quite amazed and encouraged to see there were 20 and 30 somethings there and who clearly knew all the songs and most of the lyrics.  There is hope for our youngsters!

I’m sure you’ve all seen a really good tribute band at some point and this was quite something.  I was gobsmacked at how close some of the versions were to the original especially given how complex many of Steely’s songs are. The vocals and instrumentals were extremely good although there were a few glitches early on. The lead vocalist closed the first set saying, “We’re going to take a 15 minute break now whilst we argue backstage about who got what wrong etc. but we will be back best of friends.”  They were and they got better and better.

Finally, after a very energetic encore with instrumental battles between the guitars and saxophones, the gig came to an end and the house lights came on. It was hilarious to hear the oldies remarking on the way out that their legs and backs were a bit sore after jostling about during the concert.

This was as special and as uplifting as any concert I’ve been to (and I’ve seen the real Steely Dan live). 

The entertainment continued though on the tram back home.  I have mentioned in other posts that when travelling on the Oldham-Didsbury Metrolink tram at the weekend, one is guaranteed to meet aliens from another Universe or parallel world.  There were teens with black and white clown painted faces, feral goblins standing on seats and smoking some substance but the star of the tram-show this time was a black guy dressed in a sequined and embroidered denim jacket and jeans, leather and bead jewellery, aviator glasses and huge expensive looking headphones. Despite his somewhat stylish look, he was I think under some influence.  I wouldn’t say it was alcohol as he was drinking what looked like an energy drink but it was the way he drank it that was somewhat unorthodox.  He produced a daffodil head from his hood and poured a few drops out of his bottle into the trumpet and drank it as if it was a cup.  Throughout the journey he struggled to hold these whilst also trying to use his mobile phone and put on some thin leather gloves which he produced from his sock. It was a ballet of totally uncoordinated actions.  I wondered where he was intending to go and hoped he would get there in one piece.  

* Cant Buy a Thrill is the debut studio album by  Steely Dan, released in November 1972. It contains their first single ‘Do it Again’ and another- ‘Reeling in the Years.

Nearly Dan (click here to go to their website) began life around 1995 as a 5-piece band called Baldwin’s Casuals (the name of Mike Baldwin’s clothes factory in Coronation Street), performing quality cover versions at venues in Stoke-on-Trent.

Nearly Dan (Source: website, see above link)

I’m back watching live music and I’m lovin’ it.

I can hardly express how much I have missed watching live music.  But after two years in the wilderness, I finally attended a live music gig at the Band on the Wall in Manchester city centre. I can report that it was a joyous, magical occasion! 

Earlier that evening, I set off with my neighbour and good mate Bill and caught the Metrolink tram into Manchester.  The anticipation of seeing and feeling live music surrounded by other people after such a long a break, made me fidget in my seat.  It was a slow journey but great for people watching as it always fascinates me what a diverse group of passengers pile on to experience a night out in Manchester.  The tram was getting full, and whilst I couldn’t help but wonder how many passengers were infected by covid, I was chilled and feeling good.  I was going to enjoy this. 

There is something special about watching good musicians – in the moment, working as a team, feeding off an audience.  And listening to the power of their output and feeling the impact of the bass and instruments through the speakers bouncing off the walls and ceiling.  

We arrived early in the city centre and enjoyed a couple of pints of first rate Blackjack beer in the buzzing Smithfield Market Tavern.  When we arrived at the nearby Band on the Wall, the support act ‘Deaf House’ were well into their set and doing a good job warming up the audience.  We got ourselves a good spot on the balcony ready for the main act and soon people filtered in from the bar swelling the floor ready for the start.  A big cheer went up as the band came on stage and plugged themselves in and said, “ Hello Manchester – it’s great to be back!” (yes, we saw them on their last visit).  

For the next nearly one hour and forty minutes, we enjoyed some great jazz fused with soul, afro-beat, hip-hop, reggae, and pop.  The band was ‘Nubiyan Twist’.  They are a Leeds/London ten piece jazz combo and a collection of ultra-tight musicians with a powerful horn section, and great percussionists’  They played a mixture of new stuff from their latest album and some older numbers, including some stonker dance tunes which left the audience cheering and danced out.

We were buzzing on the way back in the tram, the vibes still with us and feeling a sense of achievement for going and a determination to see more live gigs soon. The atmosphere on the tram was great although somewhat noisy thanks to some well oiled passengers and wierdos.  We were only to pleased to do Kat’s friend (sat across the row) a favour and make sure Kat didn’t sleep through and miss her stop (also ours).

P.S.  We are off again to the Band on the Wall next Saturday to see ‘Nearly Dan’.  Those more discerning music lovers will be able to guess which all time ‘supergroup’ this tribute band is based on. 

The Goblins are in control. What’s going on?

I was only recently introduced to the term ‘Goblin mode’ by blogger Ally Bean in her post, “Deconstructing Goblin Mode: It Can Happen To The Best Of Us” and it got me thinking.

Firstly, for those unfamiliar with the term, ‘Goblin mode’ is a state of mind where people become slobs, go feral and don’t really care what others think.  Ally refers to a recent article published in The Guardian newspaper entitled: “Slobbing out and giving up: why are so many people going ‘goblin mode’?”  It’s an interesting article and explains that the pandemic is partly to blame by slowing down society, people’s expectations, and removing the need to keep up appearances.  The article quoted a tech worker who said, “At home there’s no social pressure to follow norms, so you sort of lose the habit,” he says. “There’s also a feeling that we’re all fucked, so why bother?”  This is probably a reference to the psychological impact of bad news and social media ‘winder-uppers’.   If you think we will all perish in WW3 or due to environmental disasters caused by global warming, or will soon be penniless as the world economy crashes, or will run out of food, then I suppose it is hard to motivate oneself.  But these people have stopped thinking. They have become numb, weird and socially inept and have given up.

It seems to me there are two aspects to Goblin mode.

First, ‘Slobbing out’.  Since covid lockdowns, many people don’t go out to socialise as much and prefer staying in, dressing-down in loungewear to watch Netflix or YouTube or video games stuffing their faces with pizza and doritos.  That’s fair enough.  But often, when I go out, I see more and more people dressed like they’re ready for bed or ready to beg for the price of a meal.  Some people can’t walk along the street without munching something and swigging a can or bottle (often disposed of anti-socially).  I see more and more litter and dog poo everywhere.  People are starting to look sloppy, they drive sloppily, and tradesmen often do a sloppy job – not just because they are not trained but because they have lost all pride.  Of course, many people are working from home more. The comfort benefits of working from home have posed new challenges, such as avoiding ‘pyjama syndrome’.  This is where the change in work schedules means people can’t separate work responsibilities and behaviours from leisure.  Many companies complain about slipping standards since co-vid.  I know some companies and workers use covid as an excuse for being lazy although I accept there are many valid reasons why employers and employees are not functioning as well as they used to.  But I really don’t think we can blame ‘slobbing out’ on the pandemic, world news and the pressures of being human. So why are we turning into slobs?  

The second aspect is ‘Going Feral’- something closer to the traditional description of a Goblin: an animal or person who is grotesque, mischievous and potentially evil.  Now I know we sometimes need to act a little crazy or act out of character to keep ourselves sane. But I see more examples of people who have gone completely feral and who delight in being more than mischievous and just doing what they want regardless of the impact on other people. Why are people going feral?  My theory is that many people are reacting to being shut down, controlled, powerless and cancelled.  Covid restrictions, less personal freedom and erosion of civil liberties, not knowing who to trust or what is fact or misinformation, being manipulated by big business, being monitored by your employers, being controlled by social media companies etc.. all contribute to our determination to put two fingers up to businesses, politicians, Government, etc, and to push boundaries and do what we think we can get away with.  Hence, for example, we see BMW drivers racing along like they’re in an arcade racing game where, if they kill somebody, they just need to put another £1 in.  The ‘fu*k you, I’ll do what I want’ attitude is difficult to distinguish from anti-social behaviour.  This is on the increase as social boundaries disappear and those responsible for preventing and intervening do nothing.  In 2021, police recorded over 2 million incidents of anti-social behaviour – the highest in seven years. Offences range from people using and dealing drugs, fly-tipping, vandalism and threatening behaviour. The annual Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated more than a third (37%) of adults experienced or witnessed anti-social behaviour (ASB) in their community last year – its highest level for six years.

Conclusion……… I would like to think I haven’t slobbed out.  However, I have I think gone slightly feral in response to the behaviour of some slobbish and feral people.  I challenge bad drivers and parkers regularly (and despite not being abusive, my wife thinks someone will eventually thump me).  I have threatened dog owners (I won’t say exactly how) who let their dogs run up to my grandsons in the park and dog walkers who don’t clean up after their dogs.  I have removed unauthorised and unsightly advertisements and birthday banners erected on roundabouts and lampposts and disposed of them.  I have re-acquainted slobs with their discarded rubbish in various ways.  I have confiscated pens from a group of teenagers who were graffiti-ing a telecoms box.   I have threatened to eject a noisy, drunk and swearing feral family from a campsite in the early hours one morning convincing them I was the owner’s brother. (Yes, it worked!)  I only do these things because no one else appears willing to challenge bad behaviour. I also challenge stupid and petty rules as a hobby. I like to think my responses are measured and proportionate.  

Please don’t think I’m an angry man or a Judge Dread character.  I am aware of my limitations in terms of policing the world and maintaining standards.  I also accept that there are some things you just have to let go either because it is a hopeless cause or just too dangerous to make a stand.

Thankfully, the majority people are not lazy slobs or feral goblins but that other minority are really getting on my wick!

My evening in A & E

I arrived at my local hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department (or ER in American) just before 8pm and explained that I have had chest pains and that the National Health Help Line (111) advised me to go straight to A & E for investigation (i.e. an E.C.G. and blood tests).  My details taken, I was issued with a card that identified me as an urgent case and was told to go to the ‘Urgent Care’ room.   Oh, I thought, I might not be hanging about for hours; I might jump the inevitable queue.  On the way I passed patients on seats, wheelchairs and trolleys and when I arrived in the Urgent Care room,  I was confronted with a room full of 60+ people awaiting attention.  I was somewhat deflated.

I checked in and was told to take a seat and that I would be triaged shortly.  There were no vacant seats so I stood near the door for half an hour waiting to be triaged.  The triage person (junior doctor I think) fired question after question at a great rate of knots and told me I wouldn’t have to wait long for tests.  After another hour, during which time I managed to find an unoccupied seat, a nurse called me into a consulting room and wired many leads to my chest and legs and took what seemed like a pint of blood from my arm and dispensed it into 3 separate plastic bottles.  “What did the ECG say”, I asked.  “It’ll all have to be assessed” she replied, “but I wouldn’t worry”.   Phew, that’s encouraging, but what is this weird pain?  On the other side of the consulting room (intended for one patient) a 20 year old man with a cut face and head was having something pulled out of his head and being stitched back up. I wondered if he had been in a fight.  He didn’t seem the aggressive type.  He was profusely apologising for taking up the doctor’s time and gave me a thumbs up for my test.  I asked the nurse when I would get my results and she said there was a five hour wait to see a doctor.

Five hours is quite a wait but normal in A & E’s these days.  I sat down and tried to adjust to the prospect of spending 5 hours in very close proximity to many sick and vulnerable people.  I looked for another seat within sight of the tv and where I could stretch my legs, and get away from the ‘nutters’ and the ‘coughers’.  And believe me there were some nutters.  That may be a cruel and politically incorrect term these days but I use it anyway to describe those patients who have chosen to get in a fight, show anti-social tendencies and lack of personal awareness in a hospital waiting room (e.g. by shouting or wandering around without a mask) and/or who are drug addicts.   One tall guy in a hoody walked up and down the room all the time I was there, stopping occasionally to just stare unblinkingly at other patients. Another guy laughed uncontrollably in a loud high pitched voice like he was having a great time.  The star of the show was a woman in her 40’s who was drugged up to the eyeballs and had to be escorted and detained by 3 policemen.  Her swearing and shouting was annoying but a lot of sympathy was shown by other patients as her antics could only be described as a tragic comedy sketch.  She was contained in the children’s waiting area (obviously there were no children in it) where her mood changed from upbeat (“shall I sing a song for you!”) to down (I’m going to die/kill that bastard that stole me money) in an instant. She moved from a crouched position behind a vending machine to sitting on a window sill whilst trying to hide behind the vertical blinds. After a while she was moved to a secure room, and relative quiet returned. 

I got back to my book (I knew this was going to be a marathon, so I’d brought one) but I couldn’t concentrate.  I’d been sat two hours on a seat designed by a sadist.  I was conscious the tv kept showing depressing images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  I kept thinking about my chest pain – If it wasn’t my heart, what was the problem?  And I’m sat in an environment where I am almost certain to catch covid or something. There were no decent vending machines.  The restaurant for visitors and staff was inexplicably shut and I had another three hours to go.  I decided to get out and go for a walk outside.

I felt better immediately for a walk in the fresh air and despite my chest pain, did not feel like I was in any danger of a heart attack.  But where should I go?  Walking the hospital grounds and car parks at night in the rain is a pretty unappealing pastime and so I walked down the main road thinking I could buy a decent coffee in the petrol station shop. I got there and decided that drinking a coffee when I might be having a cardiovascular episode was not a good idea.  I bought some water instead and walked slowly back to the hospital.

There was still two plus hours to go so I tried to get back into my book but ended up reading emails, looking at photos on Flickr and Whatsapping my wife to say ‘no news yet’.  In that final hour the room thinned out a bit but was still busy.  People appeared with pots, slings, drips, bandages, and nurses scurried up and down with discharge papers, medication and instructions.  The lady next to me who fell of her horse now had her wrist in a splint and said the pain had improved.  The drug addicts never returned.  I couldn’t get over how much energy the staff had.  They were rushing and were so focussed.  They must be absolutely knackered after a full shift.  The lady who did my ECG must have been in her early 60s and was still rushing in and out of the consulting room like a 20 year old.

Around 1.30 am, my name was called and a doctor took me into a room.  I braced myself trying to dismiss the idea I might have to stay in for treatment or further tests.  The doctor smiled and said my results were back and she could tell me they indicated no signs of heart disease, heart attack, an enlarged heart, or abnormal heart rhythms.  My bloods were all normal.  That was one heck of a relief but what was causing my chest pain?  Her opinion was that it could be inflammation from a gym injury (I had pulled something doing stomach crunches some weeks ago) or it could be an acid reflux issue.  The pain is similar and given its location, the NHS Helpline was right that I should have it investigated.  I should double up my Omeprazole for a week and set an appointment with my GP to monitor or further investigate.

Result! I know I’m not likely to have a heart attack and I have a plan.   I didn’t expect my taxi driver to be so interested in why I had been in A & E and as I got out he said, in a broad Oldham/Pakistani accent,  “ You look after yourself my man!”

I have to say, the pain has receded quite a bit and the fact I am not worrying about it so much may have something to do with it.  I went back to the gym today.

My wife and I are resigned to the likelihood that episodes like this will become more common as we get older.  But we have to stay active and positive and get on with life whilst we can.   

Finally, you may have noticed from my previous posts that I am far from impressed with the NHS as a whole.  It is failing.  It is inefficient and services are not integrated.  My local GP surgery is a joke.  I remain to be convinced that there any doctors in it.  However, I would like to record that I am nevertheless grateful to the dedicated staff in The Royal Oldham Hospital A & E Department who were switched on, professional and pleasant despite being under enormous pressure!

Filey makes me smiley

“So you’re going to spend a couple of days away at the seaside…. in February, in a storm?” a friend asked.  “Yes that’s right” I replied.  “We’ve booked it so we’re going.”  

And we did.  And I’m glad we did because it proved to be just the tonic.

We set off on Sunday evening in Storm Eunice and with Storm Franklin about to follow.  We were going to drive from North West England to North East coast. Filey in Yorkshire to be precise.  It was blustery over the Pennines on the M62 with horizontal rain lashing the windscreen but as we approached Leeds, the weather seemed to improve slightly. That Sunday night we stopped at a friend’s house in Leeds.  On the Monday morning, we set off to Filey without any great expectations.

As we drove eastwards, the sun came out and the wind died down.  We passed the town of Tadcaster which, unsurprisingly, had flooded again.  You couldn’t tell the river from the floodplain as we drove over the A64 bridge.  The flooding extended across the fields and looked really quite attractive with the water glistening in the sunshine.

As we passed York we saw further extensive flooding but the recent flood prevention measures seemed to be keeping the water from nearby housing and the park and ride car park.  I believe York centre wasn’t so lucky.

Onward we drove along a quiet A64 through the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside towards Scarborough and then on to the nearby seaside town of Filey. 

 

We hadn’t been to Filey for some years but it always struck me as a tidy, characterful and inviting place and a great family resort.   As we walked through the town I was reminded that it is not a flashy place. There are no big attractions or piers, gin bars or cocktail bars (or at least we didn’t see any), and no prospect of Rick Stein opening a restaurant. 

So, what makes Filey so beguiling?

Most obvious is its position, its setting….. the Brigg and the bay, the elegant architecture along the front and the long billiard table pristine green flag beach. 

On the impressive headland of clay cliffs to the north of the bay (known as Carr Naze) is the country park.  We walked from there along the headland but aware that there have been recent large rock slips due to constant rapid erosion, we didn’t venture close to the edge.  Below jutting out further into the North Sea is a neck of rock called ‘The Brigg’ (a site of Special Scientific Interest because of its geological importance and designated as a local Nature Reserve). We walked out along the Brigg as far as the tide would allow enjoying the sea air, the rockpools, the waves, the gulls, the guillemots and oyster catchers, and the children looking for crabs in the rockpools.

In the town itself there are independent shops selling everything from antiques and local art to local handmade chocolates as well as a decent selection of restaurants, cafes, pubs and delis. The buildings were for the most part modest but tidy and well maintained.

The front, or what some would call the prom(enade) is a very pleasant place to stroll.  Wooded ravines run inland and along it are gardens, a bandstand which is host to regular concerts, a sea front sculpture trail inspired by Filey’s heritage, and of course the elegant and substantial whitewashed Victorian buildings on the Crescent.

The people we came across were welcoming and it seemed like there was a genuine community spirit in the town.

Having enjoyed a snack, we walked along the beach to Cobble Landing which is a hub of family activity.  Here was the R.N.L.I lifeboat station, the few remaining cobbles (small fishing boats), the amusement arcade, snack bars and seafood stalls.  Unfortunately, the seafood stalls were not open but we had fun spending a few pounds in the amusement arcade.   

We did more of the same on day two, at one point having to take off our coats on the beach because it got too warm!  After lunch, we decided to drive to Flamborough Head and have a walk there. Flamborough Head lies a few miles south of Filey and is an 8 mile long promontory and a Special Area of Conservation.  It is marked by a stretch of rugged white cliffs surrounding a nice little village which was colonised by the Vikings back then. It’s a great base for bird watching and hiking it has a scenic nature reserve, two lighthouses (one built in 1600s and one in 1800s) and a Roman signal station.  It’s a pretty untamed place and not for the casual walker ( many visitors didn’t venture far from the restaurant and gift shop).  We set off walking along the cliff top just as the clouds spoilt the sunshine and the wind got up.  I went to put on my top coat and nearly lost it in the wind.  The sight of me wrestling with it flapping about and finding the arm hole appeared to amuse a few people. We didn’t climb down to the beach as the steps were slippy and the tide was on its way in.  It was exhilarating though and a place well worth seeing.

We returned to our hotel for the second night and ate in the hotel restaurant before hitting the bar for a nightcap or two.  We woke up to another sunny day and, after soaking in the sea views and taking in a final breath of clean sea air with just a hint of fish and vinegar, we set off home, refreshed and uplifted.  We decided that this is a place with a genuine feel good factor.  A place that is just nice to spend time in. A place that seems to look after itself and which visitors seem to respect.

After a very pleasant stop at Malton – a stunning rural market town and known as Yorkshire’s food capital, we drove back over the Pennines into the rainy and blustery misery of Storm Franklin whilst listening to the increasingly depressing and scary news coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the radio.

I was tempted to turn round and go back.

Some images of Filey and Flamborogh Head ……..

Grumpy old man syndrome and the silly things that bug me.

I admit I am a bit of a grumpy old man.  In many ways I don’t feel old and I am just 67, but I know I am getting increasingly grumpy and it is clearly age-related.  It’s something that I believe has been labelled ‘irritable male syndrome.  

I can put up with the physical irritations of getting older.  My painful knees, hearing difficulties, acid reflux etc. are not so bad as to make me grumpy.   I almost find it amusing when I hear myself groan or sigh when getting up after being on my knees or getting up of the sofa.  I know that things requiring real effort can make me produce noises very similar to my coffee maker.  I can laugh when my wife and I mishear each other. 

My grumpiness is not just my response to the many things wrong with the world.  Everyone gets cheesed off about those things. My grumpiness seems to manifest itself in my impatience with things that would not matter to most people. I curse people, animals, politicians, celebrities, technology and inanimate objects on a regular basis and I really believe it makes me feel better.

Recently, my wife has remarked on the quite ridiculous and irrational things that seem to annoy me.  Take yesterday for example. I couldn’t close the resealable grip lock bag that I had put my daughter’s home-cooked banana bread back into.  Later, when I couldn’t reseal the cheddar cheese zip-lock packet, I lost it with the inventor of these bags and had a rant to myself whilst folding over the end of the bag and sticking it down with a piece of masking tape. 

Another thing that annoys me is when I see young people not wearing coats or suitable attire in bad weather.  There’s no explaining the level of annoyance I feel given that I am watching them whilst snug in my own coat or in the car.  I recently collected my grandson from school.  It was just 5 degrees centigrade and he wanted to walk home in just a white polo shirt whilst I carried his school sweatshirt and coat. Not happening little fella. At least put your coat on. 

Recently, I followed a 20 something into a supermarket and he was whistling to himself.  At first I was encouraged that this dying art may be being resurrected by younger generations but to my annoyance, it soon became evident that he couldn’t whistle properly and was completely tuneless.  It was pure noise pollution and I quickly changed isles to avoid him.

My car sat nav regularly annoys me.   It can take me on journeys via Middle Earth or Winterfell on occasions……  which is why I always check the directions with a road atlas before I go any distance or if I have a tight schedule.  This amuses people but I’m sure I have a much better sense of the geography of Britain than most as a result!  The sat nav lady irritates me when she starts her directions by telling me that, whichever of the alternative 3 routes I choose, ‘there are traffic obstructions on the route’. The location of the obstructions seems to move as I travel.  Many a time I feel it necessary to rebuke (alright, swear at) sat nav lady.  I’d use Google maps if I could handle a mobile phone with any degree of competence.  

The other day I was recommending some up and coming music artists I had discovered to a friend.  Or rather I was trying to but I could only come up with part of the names. It may be because my brain is getting worn out but it doesn’t help when young artists give themselves such stupid names.  One recommendation was a collaboration of 3 artists so I guessed the names making up a completely fictitious entity which I couldn’t pronounce with any confidence and which needless to say he never found.  I often search for titles or artists on Spotify but fail because they have deliberately chosen to miss-spell them to look cool.  I mean where would we be if we approached all English nouns with such abandon.  

We have been to a few restaurants for celebratory meals recently.  I like a nice ambience and I think lighting is an important part of that in a restaurant.  One was The Ivy in York. It was lovely and colourful but as the night went on the restaurant went darker and darker and by the time we got to our dessert I was going on taste and feel alone.  I’m sure it would have looked as nice as it tasted but I will never know.  Much to my wife’s embarrassment I thanked the maitre d for a wonderful ‘dining in the dark’ experience.   She was similarly embarrassed when I asked for a torch to read the menus in the San Rocco in Manchester where it was in darkness from the off.  What is this all about? Is it a sneaky way of cutting back on expenses to offset covid losses?

I could include many more examples but I don’t want to give you the impression that because I am grumpy I am a miserable person.  Many things never fail to uplift and please me.  For example my wife and family, our grandkids, good music, sunshine, a nice beach, wine etc. Oh and nice surprises like when I find my car straight away in a multi-storey car park.

Mental Health ‘experts’ are not good for my mental health

Image by Polina Zimmerman, Pexels

Talking about mental health is ‘trending’

I’m not a big user of social media. As I’ve said before, I don’t trust it and it seems to involve too much time and effort.  One of the reasons I distrust it is because, as a cynical person, it is so difficult to understand people’s real motives especially when they appear to be providing helpful advice or claim to be an expert on something.  Just recently, my news feeds and social media notifications seemed to have become obsessed with mental health and how we should deal with mental health issues.  I didn’t go looking for this information.

Everyone’s an ‘expert’

From what I see on social media, on news feeds and blog sites there appears to be a lot of self professed mental health experts out there.  Like men and women’s lifestyle magazines, they constantly regurgitate advice on how to cope with depression, anxiety and stress. They tell us how important it is to look after our mental health as well as our physical health as if we didn’t already know that.

I doubt if there are many people suffering from mental health issues who are not aware of the potential benefits of psychotherapy or talking to someone, exercise, lifestyle changes, medicine and complementary medicine, breathing exercises, meditation etc.  What I have come across is that some people who are depressed and anxious find it very hard to motivate themselves to take those steps.  I also know they get very pissed off being given glib advice on what to do by someone they don’t know or trust and who doesn’t provide any real empathy.  

Celebrity ‘victims’ (Helping others or themselves?)

We are constantly bombarded with stories of celebrities who have had mental health issues and have suffered all sorts and have made it through. Some are fabricated; some are true.  Some genuine ones I suspect are of their own making.  In many cases, their social media pages present these stories either to get sympathy or to show how they beat it and therefore what a successful a person they are.   And of course it keeps their names out there and makes them money.

Many ‘victim’ celebrities are so obsessed with their own self importance and the need to show off their perfect lives that they can’t cope with any kind of failure or setback.  Also, those that project their wonderful and successful lifestyles can lead us normal people to become dissatisfied with our comparatively mundane lifestyles. The impact on people with real depression is to compact their feeling of helplessness.  

When celebrities speak out about their depression, anxiety or other forms of mental illness, it can help people by taking away the stigma of admitting to a problem.  When people managing mental illnesses share their experience and what works for them, it can help others. When those with a clinical or medical background provide intelligent support, that’s fine also.   

But, the majority of social media coverage I’ve come across regarding mental health advice seems to me to be a load of bull. I’m sure it has the effect of encouraging people to think they have clinical depression when in fact they are just feeling pissed off, stressed or emotionally distressed as a result of life’s events.  It’s when these feelings don’t go away you have a problem. 

Is it ‘fashionable’ to have a mental health issue?

The other thing this coverage does is to make it fashionable to have a mental health issue.  According to new research by the world’s largest online therapy and coaching platform, 1 in 10 young teenagers view certain mental health illnesses as ‘fashionable’. The poll also found that 34% of these respondents had lied about having a mental health issue in the past.  Asked to explain why, 49% claimed they made people ‘unique,’ whilst 16% believed that celebrity sufferers had made them fashionable. A quarter, 24%, stated it was ‘just cool’.  (Source: http://www.Mentaline.com conducted the study of 1,192 young people in order to find out more about their opinions towards mental health problems.)

I’m sure people with genuine mental health problems must get really pissed off about this. 

Social Media is not always good for your well being

Spending too much time listening to social media ‘experts’ may be counter productive but just spending too much time on social media can be bad for you.  In several studies, teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time.    

So, you self proclaimed social media experts and celebrities, I am suspicious of your intentions and motivations.  Please shut up and show some respect to those people out there with real mental health problems.   

(Please note: This is a personal view from a grumpy (but not mentally ill) old man)

‘El Cordobes’ and my missing book

In my last post I shared with you the difficulties I was having thinning out my book collection.  During that process I discovered books I had forgotten I had, but conversely one or two of my old favourites were nowhere to be found.  Had I lent these to people or had I disposed of them in a previous cull?  One such missing favourite which I was quite peeved about was ‘Or I’ll dress you in mourning’ by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.  I’ve recommended this book to a few people in the past and it was very well received.  Let me tell you something about it…..

This is the story of Manuel Bènitez, later to become known as ‘El Cordobes’.  Perhaps one of the best biographies I have ever read, it’s a story of how a boy born into extreme poverty became a millionaire bullfighter and probably the greatest matador ever.  Published some 50 years ago, it is a gripping, and at times a brutal read.  Whatever your views on bull-fighting, you can enjoy this inspirational story about hardship, determination and success during 1950s and 60’s Spain. Yes, a few bulls get hurt along the way, but so do a few humans. The book doesn’t directly address the moral issue of bullfighting but neither does it glamorise the deadly aspects of the bullfighting tradition.  It’s a fascinating window into life in Spain under Franco and the dedication needed to become a successful bullfighter.

I was acquainted with some of the story of El Cordobes when I was age 14 on one of those early holiday package deals to Spain with my family.  I remember bringing home a souvenir ‘El Cordobes’ bullfight advertising poster with my own name printed in the listing of matadors.  Cool and exciting though bullfighting may have seemed, I never felt comfortable watching the televised bullfights shown in the hotel.

The book is not a plain biography.  It’s based on factual accounts, diaries and memories of family, friends and others involved.  What makes it so readable is that the chapters alternate between the tension and adrenaline of the bullfight and the story of his life and the history that has influenced it.

Benitez was born just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  As a youth, he was imprisoned for stealing food to help feed his family and later for unauthorized entry into bullrings. He remained illiterate until the period of his compulsory military service in the late 1950s.  He saw his father imprisoned for supporting the losing side in the Spanish Civil War and his mother die by the age of thirty six after having literally worn herself out trying to feed and maintain her family.

Benitez was destined to remain in the gutter until as a child he saw a film about a boy who beats all the odds to rise to a position of fame and fortune by becoming a bull fighter. Of course, this was long before the advent of ‘get rich quick’ pop stars and football stars.  Fame through the Corrida was the only dream of escape for many impoverished Spaniards. So, he follows his dream to dance the dance of death before the bulls, to risk a horrific injury or terrible death at the horns of a bull, because as he sees it, death is preferable to a life of poverty and struggle.

On the day of his first encounter with the brave bulls of Spain he tells his sister, “Don’t cry, Angelita. Tonight I’ll buy you a house, or I’ll dress you in mourning.”

The book provides a lot of detail about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the desperate plight of many Spaniards in Spain between the 1930’s and 50’s.  It’s a fascinating window into life in Spain under Franco and the dedication needed to become a successful bullfighter.

I need to let go of my books

I have a book crisis!

By that I mean I have too many books and not enough places to keep them.  It’s not that I’m a prodigious book collector. It’s just that I keep rather too many.   I do give books away to people or to the Charity Shops but people retaliate and the Charity Shops are particularly ruthless in encouraging me to buy from them.   

I am told that books are on their way out.  More e-books than print books are now being sold.  Technology is taking over.  A Kindle can hold thousands of e-books whilst my bookshelves can hold barely a hundred.  And this is why I have boxes of books in our garage, shed, cupboards and our home-office. I also have a pile of half read books laid on my bedside table, which may get substituted with other tempting books I received for Christmas which are cluttering up a magazine rack. (A year’s worth of reading for a slow reader like me.) I have books dating back to my youth, and some a lot older than that (including book shop purchases my father made – many of which are first editions and/or signed by the author).  I don’t want to give you the impression our house resembles a second had book shop, but for a neat freak like me, I find it stressful to uncover more books every time I go looking for something else entirely.  

What shall I read tonight?

The thing is, I don’t like reading from a tablet and I like the feel and look of a printed book.  I am not likely to keep e-books on any of my devices so I’ve got to make some serious decisions on which printed books to keep and which not to keep, for, as we know, hoarding is not good for you. 

It’s just knowing where to start that cleansing process. I can throw out all sorts of things in the interests of de-cluttering but I find it difficult to throw away books. Why? I suppose it’s because for me, some books have sentimental value – they are part of me and my history and they are a physical reminder of what pleasure they gave me when I read them.

I know my ‘clear out’ will involve sorting books into various untidy piles before I actually decide what to do with them but… a start must be made.

On a cursory inspection of the contents of some boxes, I realised that some books were loaned or given to me. So the first easy step would be to re-aquaint them with their owners – if they want them back.  If only I could remember who they were.  Mm, not a good start.

I then realised I had purchased books on a whim or a fancy thinking I might it read them someday and…. I still haven’t…. and neither am I likely to if I’m being honest.  Then there are those wonderful reference books that tell you everything you need to know about a subject and therefore you were bound to need it one day – but since 1980 you’ve only looked up one page of a heavy 400 page monster volume.  Why do I think I still need them when we have Google and YouTube?

Some of these have to go

I have biographies, books about photography, books about gardening, books on history, books on sport, books on travel, books on music and pop culture and I think they look good on the bookshelves.  From an aesthetic point of view, my wife would rather replace them with photos and homeware but I’d happily throw away many bits of homeware which I think is just clutter waiting to happen.

I am going to go with a compromise. 

I am reluctant to get rid of those books that I really enjoyed reading and may read again e.g. a Bill Bryson or a Bernard Cornwell or a P.G. Woodhouse for example.  But, I know if I want to re-read them, I could get them out of the library or buy them again.  Shouldn’t I just move on and make space for new books and new authors?

I do have some books though that I think are so special I should keep them so that I could lend them to everyone I know. But why? Whenever I try recommending a gem of a read, they say, “Nah, your’e OK, I don’t think its my cup of tea”.

I’ve catalogued my Dad’s ‘collectors’ collection which includes some interesting first editions by the likes of Enid Blyton, Laura Lee Hope (The Bobsy Twins), Alistair MacLean, Richard Gordon and some signed autobiographies. I’m not going to read them so I have contacted experts and book dealers to see if they were of any value.  They told me it’s a slow market at the moment and they already have large stocks which they can’t shift so they’re not interested.  Unhelpfully they say … “but don’t get rid of them”.

So, where am I up to?

I am in the process of carrying out a book beauty pageant to choose the best looking books and discard the ugly ones. I have kept the biographies of those who I admire rather than those who have a good story to tell. I have kept my photography, history and music related books. I have had a serious cull of my thriller, detective and historical novels (including, regretfully, Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe stories, the Saxon Stories and the Starbuck Chronicles).  I have also a growing pile of reference books and travel books to discard. I have not managed to acquaint any books with their previous owners. 

Some books have made it to the local Charity shops but more are in boxes ready to go when they decide they have room. Yes, its not always easy to give books away. I have dared to try and sell some books on-line and through book shops but it’s not worth the effort. In the past, I’ve tried selling books at car boot sales but I find that people speed past the book box to paw through phone chargers and other rubbish instead.

I have a small number of boxes left to sift through. Inevitably, a good number have and will continue to end up in the recycling bin. And that will probably be it for a year or two.  I will never be completely happy that I’ve got rid of my books or that I failed to get rid of many more . But it’s no longer a crisis!

I suppose I should start thinking about dealing with my ‘Vinyl albums and CDs crisis’.

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