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Things I don’t miss from my youth

The soul songstress Gladys Knight once recorded a beautiful version of the song The Way We Were with a heartfelt spoken introduction about our nostalgia for “the good old days”, including the suggestion that there will come a time when the present (which we are to assume is frankly rubbish because it’s not “the good old days”) will be our children’s “good old days”.

I have no quarrel with Gladys.  She was a diva at a time when that meant something other than a demanding, self-regarding non-talent with an ego the size of Kim Kardashian’s bottom.  Indeed, one of my early ambitions was to be a Pip, shimmying around behind Gladys and chanting “Superstar but you didn’t get far” at the appropriate point in Midnight Train To Georgia (and any other time I thought I might get away with it).  But I have to take issue with her on the subject of “the good old days”.

Because if the frankly rubbish present is always destined to become the next generation’s “good old days” this implies that life on Earth is steadily getting worse.  That developments in art, science and medicine are gradually eroding our quality of life.  That improvements in human rights, hard fought for, won and defended over centuries, are essentially a bad thing.

During the earliest period of human existence, men would go out hunting and gathering, while the women stayed at home and made babies (and presumably kept the cave clean).  If the men failed in their hunting and gathering, or were killed and eaten by something faster and fiercer, everyone starved.  These were apparently “the good old days” to later, better organised, societies.

In 15th century France, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake and everyone was totally fine with it.  They even cheered and took their children along for the entertainment of watching an innocent, if misguided, young woman die in agony.  There must have been a huge wave of nostalgia for the days of burning at the stake when the practice was abandoned centuries later.

In the early part of the 20th century, British women campaigned for the right to vote, ultimately resorting to illegal acts in support of their cause.  These women were arrested, imprisoned and often force-fed before finally achieving their aim.  I have never yet met a woman who would consider that period to be “the good old days”.

Following Gladys Knight’s logic, one day we will look back at this era of Donald Trump, endless argument about Brexit, and UKIP still being a thing and find ourselves longing for “the good old days”.  It doesn’t work for me.

So in an attempt to put an end, once and for all, to this ridiculous idea that things can only get worse, I offer to you my personal list of things that were around when Gladys recorded The Way We Were (which should now be “the good old days”) that I don’t miss.  Even a tiny bit.

 

Allowing 28 Days for Delivery

It’s so easy now, isn’t it?  You log into your Amazon account, order with a couple of clicks, pay by credit card and your shiny new gizmo arrives the next day.  If you live in a major city and order in the morning you might even get it that evening.

Compare this with what it was like in the 70s.  You spent hours looking through a catalogue (or several), filled in an order form, wrote a cheque, then walked down to the end of the street to post it.  Then you waited.  And waited.  And waited.  This was called “sending off for something”.  And it was slow and frustrating.

Okay, so it didn’t usual take the full 28 days but it certainly felt like it.  But those were “the good old days”.

 

Flexidiscs

Any millennials of a sensitive disposition should look away now.  A flexidisc, for those who genuinely don’t remember them or have successfully blotted their existence from memory, was a record made of thin, flexible vinyl.  It was usually given away free with a magazine – my sister occasionally used to get them with Jackie (a rather jolly magazine for teenage girls) and I remember one that came with a 1980s edition of Smash Hits (I will not hear a word of criticism of either of these august journals).

Flexidiscs usually contained a couple of otherwise unreleased tracks by a favourite band or artist of the time.  Trust me when I say there was a reason why these were unreleased.

And the sound quality was pants.  Even for “the good old days”.

 

Blue Peter

Yes, I know Blue Peter‘s been around forever and it’s an institution and the Christmas Appeal raises loads of money for worthy causes.  But seriously – did any child really like it?  Other than the ones who grew up to be contestants on University Challenge – the ones who look nothing like any student I have ever seen and can identify a Wagner opera from one chord.  Oh, and my brother and sister.

I have two abiding memories of Blue Peter.  One is of its scheduling clash with The Tomorrow People on Mondays.  The aforementioned brother and sister wanted to watch Blue Peter.  I wanted to watch The Tomorrow People.  They were older.  And there were two of them.  Blue Peter was thus allowed to blight my life and prevent me from joining in playground discussions, no doubt contributing to my lifelong feeling of not really belonging.  Thank you Valerie Singleton.

But if Blue Peter blighted my life, that is nothing compared to the effect it had on the poor individual who will always be remembered as Daniel the Blue Peter baby (DTBPB).  From late September 1968 (not a hit for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) baby Daniel Scott made regular appearances on every child’s favourite TV show so we could learn about baby care and child development.  Mainly by watching John Noakes and Peter Purves trying not to drown him.  At least there was no Tomorrow People for it to clash with in those days.

After two years, DTBPB was quietly dropped, presumably because he’d grown into Daniel the Blue Peter toddler and if they didn’t get rid of him quickly they’d end up with Daniel the Blue Peter teenager on their hands and nobody wanted that.

But that was not the end of the story.  Daniel’s parents split up and he later went off the rails, getting involved in drugs and petty crime.  I can’t help suspecting that the pressure of having once been DTBPB was just too much for him and led to his fall from grace.  Maybe I’m being too imaginative, but I picture him now in a lonely old house, wearing dark glasses and a silk dressing gown, smoking a cigarette in a tortoiseshell holder and growling, “I AM big – it’s Blue Peter that got small.”

It’s official.  Blue Peter wrecks lives.  Biddy Baxter – I hope you’re proud of yourself.

 

Margaret Thatcher

I know we’re all supposed to have re-evaluated her and realised that she was a saint and saved the Universe and everything, and I’m only glad she’s dead because I can’t imagine she would have wanted the life she had at the end.  But she stole my school milk.

I loved my school milk.  Somehow it didn’t taste the same as a glass of milk at home.  Maybe it was those peculiar little bottles it came in.  Or the fact it was always slightly warm (but not as warm as actual warm milk).  Or it might have been the novelty of drinking it through a straw.  But school milk was the best and Margaret Thatcher took it away.

I WANT MY SCHOOL MILK BACK.

 

The Threat of Imminent Nuclear Annihilation

Okay, so this was a few years after Gladys Knight told us we were living in our children’s “good old days” but back in the Golden Age of the late 70s and early 80s global nuclear war seemed like a definite possibility.  The TV films Threads and The Day After attempted to depict the effects of a nuclear strike on the UK and USA respectively.  Kate Bush released Breathing, a terrifying song from the perspective of a baby about to be born into a post-holocaust world.  Duran Duran wanted to make the music people danced to when the bomb dropped.

For a long time, nuclear weapons filled the space in public consciousness later taken up by vampires or zombies – the big scary thing that popular culture embraced and used for inspiration.

But it was far more serious than that.  In late December 1979 (still not a hit for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  Relations with the west became seriously strained, the second Cold War began, and the threat of nuclear war seemed very real.

Fortunately we made it through those particular “good old days”  and even with Donald Trump in the White House and Kim Jong Un playing with his toys in Pyongyang, at least for now, things don’t seem as frightening as they did back then.

 

So thank you Gladys but you can keep “the good old days”.  I’ll take the present.  And if I’m around for the future I’ll take that too.

 

Dreams

My mother has Dreams.  I know we all dream, but hers come with a capital letter “D” and must be shared with anyone who will  listen (a dwindling band).   While her dreams vary in content, the format is always the same – bizarre and frankly highly unlikely things happen, involving long-dead relatives (or ill ones, or even ones she hasn’t seen for a while) who are usually desperate to tell her something.

To the rest of us, these dreams are simply the brain’s way of processing a load of accumulated rubbish while we are asleep.  To my mother, however, they are clearly prophetic.  After experiencing one, she gives herself a hard time worrying constantly about the inherent message.  Over the next couple of days she will phone everyone she cares about in order to check that they are all right/not dead.

My mother has been alive for nearly 88 years.  During that time no-one close to her – or even known to her – has died after one of these dreams.  But statistically, one day someone probably will.  And on that day, she will tell us all that she was right.  My mother does not understand confirmation bias.

Last night I had a bad dream involving a terrible row with a close family member.  Iain had to wake me up because I was shouting out in distress.  This morning I have had to fight off the urge to phone my loved ones to check that they are all right/not dead.

Sometimes the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Mental health or mental illness?

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that mental health has become a big issue this year.  It’s practically impossible to turn on the TV, open a newspaper or even walk down the street without someone banging on about it.  The message put about by, amongst others,  members of the Royal family, sports personalities and rock stars is that mental health, and the problems associated with it, are subjects we should all be far more willing to discuss.

As a long-term sufferer from recurrent, but fortunately not incapacitating, depression I should welcome this focus on mental health.  So why does it leave me feeling slightly uneasy?

Because while so much attention is being given to mental health, the subject of mental illness seems to have been sidelined.  What were once referred to as mental illnesses have been rebranded as mental health problems.  But to the sufferer, a mental illness is so much more than a problem.

Given time, resources and relevant support a problem is something that can be solved.  Perhaps describing mental illnesses as mental health problems is intended to be empowering, telling sufferers that they can take control.  But there is an inherent difficulty here.

Inability to solve a problem is seen as failure, or not trying hard enough.  The stark truth, however, is that mental illness cannot be cured, the problem cannot be solved.  It can be controlled or relieved by medication and/or therapy.  It can remit.  But there is always, at the very least, the threat that it will return.

When I am in the throes of one of my recurring depressions, I do not have a problem.  I am ill.  I cannot solve this.  Does that make me a failure?

A survey of 5,000 UK adults conducted by the National Centre for Social Research found that 1 in 4 had been diagnosed with a mental illness.  Are all these people failing to solve their mental health problem?  Apparently so, as the same survey revealed that 1 in 5 people agreed that ‘one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower’.

In this, the second decade of the 21st century, there is still, appallingly, a stigma attached to mental illness.  While we may have moved on from talk of “nutters” who are “not right in the head” spending time in the “loony bin”, but the Mental Health Foundation reports that nearly nine out of ten people with a mental illness say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.  Fear of receiving a label which might have negative consequences in later life prevents many people from seeking help for their illness.

In this context, the increased publicity currently being given to mental health can only be welcomed.  But how can we tackle discrimination, shame and fear if we can’t even bring ourselves to refer to its cause by name?   Perhaps the first step in removing the stigma would be to openly and honestly go back to talking about mental illness as enthusiastically as we now talk about mental health.

 

Where to now?

Coincidentally, Where To Now was the title of the debut album by late 70s/early 80s pop goddess Charlie Dore, forever remembered (by me at least) for her radio hit Pilot of the Airwaves.  As I recall, the title track was about people being told what to think by a Hitler-type political leader to the extent that they were unable to think for themselves.  Still relevant today but not actually what I’m talking about.

I started this blog because I wanted to become a hypnotherapist and the plan was that I would document my journey along that particular road.  Of course I diverted and digressed along the way but I think I have, somewhere along the line, described the steps I took in order to achieve my goal.

But now here I am, a qualified hypnotherapist.  I am no longer “the would-be hypnotherapist”, I am the genuine article.  So, in the words of Charlie Dore, where to now?

In one respect I am still, regardless of my qualification, a would-be hypnotherapist.  I have the certificate, the (voluntary) registration, the insurance, but I don’t yet have paying clients.  I’ve just moved house (not blogging about that, not even if you beg) so the launch of my professional hypnotherapy career has been delayed.  I have been offered premises and am working on a flyer and a website but can’t advertise my services until my domestic situation is rather more stable than it is right now.

So if a hypnotherapist is someone who earns money from the practice of hypnotherapy I can still describe myself as would-be.  Besides, I still own the domain name and the hosting so I’m going to keep blogging here while also working on my website which I’ll direct you to when it’s up and running.  I’ll ultimately run the two in tandem with the website focussing on promoting my hypnotherapy business while this blog will be the home for stories of the highs and lows of life as a hypnotherapist, along with book reviews, random thoughts and the odd political rant.  The website will (probably) also feature a blog but that will be devoted to serious material relating to hypnotherapy.

So where to now?  Wherever the fancy takes me – do you want to come with me?

An apology

It would appear that Mrs Kellett was right, all those years ago.  I am lazy.

This blog has been silent for the whole of September and October, leaving the story of my cancer treament at the point where I left my pre-op appointment.

This blog is sorry.  This blog will try harder in future.

I should point out that Mrs Kellett was wrong about lots of other things.

Like her insistence that every new sentence should start on a new line, an affectation we had to learn to comply with, then quickly unlearn when we moved up into Mr Harthill’s class.

Or her belief that every noun should be adorned with an adjective (or two, three, four if we could manage it).  Strawberries had to be sweet and succulent, apples crisp and rosy red, flesh-eating zombies evil and gruesome.  (I made the last one up – she would never have approved of flesh-eating zombies in one of our compositions).

But the laziness thing – yes, I’ll give her that.

 

Knee-deep in the North Sea

I’ve tried mindfulness – God knows I’ve tried.  With my tendency towards brooding depression, it should be good for me.  Ruby Wax said so and I have a lot of respect for Ruby Wax since she stopped being annoyingly kooky and started making serious points about mental health.

But I just can’t do it.  And yes, I know, it’s not something you do so much as feel or be.  But I can’t.

It’s not that I haven’t tried.  I bought a book and downloaded an app and counted my breaths.  The trouble is, if I start counting my breaths I then become uncomfortably conscious of the need to breathe so it stops being automatic and I feel like I have to keep remembering to do it until eventually I’ll forget and die.

But today, just for a short time, I think I experienced mindfulness.

It’s been beautiful here today, one of those lovely days that have been all too rare this summer.  Beautiful blue sky punctuated by the occasional fluffy white cloud.  Glorious sunshine, no more than a light breeze, and temperatures in the 70s (otherwise known as Berwick-tropical).

I took the dogs down to a beach that was alive with happy families building sandcastles, playing cricket, having picnics and generally just loving life.  I watched a man towing a dinghy laden with his three squealing, excited children along the shoreline.  A little girl splashed through shallow water.

It was all too tempting.  I kicked off my sandals, rolled up my jeans, and paddled out.  The water, for once, wasn’t ice-cold but pleasantly cool.  I ambled, ran, resisted the urge to dance (and wish now I hadn’t), and kicked droplets of water at the dogs.  Just having my feet wet wasn’t enough; I waded further out, then further still.  The water was licking around my rolled up jeans but I was past caring.  I stood, knee-deep in the North Sea, watching two black Labradors executing a lazy dog-paddle.

For a few precious moments I forgot to think.  Nothing mattered – not the visitors I was expecting that afternoon (no offence A ‘n’ E), not the fact I have work tomorrow, definitely not the fact that I looked faintly ridiculous.

I was experiencing mindfulness, not by counting breaths with all the attendant stress that would cause my, but just by being.

And it felt good.

Thought for today

The first in an occasional series of philosophical musings that are probably seriously annoying but have been prompted by something that’s happened in my life.

When someone offers you an olive branch, take it.  Even if it has black olives and you only like green.  Or if the olives are a bit withered and unhealthy looking.  Or you don’t actually like olives.

If someone rejects your olive branch, just remember that maybe it’s the olives rather than the branch that are the problem.  Or maybe your timing just wasn’t quite right.

If you’ve rejected someone’s olive branch and wish you hadn’t, try offering one of your own.  It might need to be bigger, or have better olives on it.  Or be made of chocolate.  But give it a try.

Give peace a chance.

Spring is here?

It’s been an unseasonably dreich day today (see ‘Under the weather‘).  There are times when it is acceptable for the weather to be dreich – November particularly, December and January to a degree, maybe even October and February.  April – not so much.

By April, Spring has definitely arrived.  Spring should never be dreich.  Spring is about blue skies with fluffy white clouds, green fields populated by happy bouncing lambs (lucky they can’t see the future).  Rain in April should take the form of quick cleansing showers, not hours of depressing grey drizzle.

But dreich is what we were given today.  My natural inclination was to stay at home, preferably in bed, and wait it out.  But regular readers will know that I have two labradors and labradors must be walked, regardless of weather.  The least unpleasant way to achieve this on a dreich day is to drive down to the beach and let them loose to run along the beach, in and out of cold grey water until they start to show signs of exhaustion.  This process can be facilitated by judicious throwing of a ball.  When you’re a labrador chasing a ball never gets old.

Of course, there are things that seem more enjoyable when the weather is dreich.  Sitting in a comfortable armchair with a mug of hot chocolate and a faintly tragic novel (I mean subject matter rather than writing style).  Snuggling up with a recently-walked labrador (or two) watching an old movie.  Listening to Deacon Blue’s Raintown album while adult colouring in a butterfly (you might just have to trust me on this one).  But I can do all those things in November.

Tomorrow, can we have Spring back please?

A short post about dying

We are all going to die. You, me, Amal Clooney, Paddy McGinty’s goat, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

But don’t panic – I’m not suggesting this is going to happen any time soon. As I keep trying to tell my mother, most people who are alive today will still be alive tomorrow. That’s obviously barring nuclear holocaust, global pandemic or asteroid strike. But one day, sooner for some, later for others we are all going to die.

So why are we so mealy-mouthed about it? Why is it that nowadays people “pass away” or, worse, simply “pass”? Why are we so afraid of using a short, simple word that everyone understands?

Shortly after my cancer diagnosis, I made the mistake of looking at an American support forum for bowel cancer sufferers. I was hoping to find reassuring and uplifting stories of people who’d visited the Cancerland Theme Park and were reporting back that yes, it was a hell of a scary ride, but they got off at the other end fit, well and with a new appreciation of life. Instead, I got depressing stories of chemotherapy side effects, many ending with the cryptic message “Called home” and a date. It took me a few minutes to realise that these were not extra-terrestrials making contact with their home planet but normal human beings who had, in fact, died.

Death is an inevitable consequence of life – it’s part of the deal. But we’ve become so scared or embarrassed to talk about it that we treat it like some kind of guilty little secret. I recently referred the fact that someone had died and was asked not to use “that word”.

My cancer was treated surgically. The likelihood is that I am completely cured. But one day, my life will come to an end. And on that day I will not pass or pass away. I will not be called home. I will die.

We are all going to die.