I have just returned from a routine visit to the GP. She was a young, pleasant public-school type person who I have never met before, and given her locum status and imminent maternity leave, shall probably never see again. And there you have it, a present day meeting with a doctor takes 3 weeks to organise and when you meet her it’s short sharp and a one off. Health issues cannot resolved with such brief interventions, but the system can pretend.
To become a GP she would I guess, have been a brilliant student. This brilliance coupled with her smile and ‘I’m listening’ tilt of the head culled from Lesson One of ‘Body Language in times of conflict’ demonstrated a kind of rudimentary awareness, but where she really excelled was with the speed and efficiency with which she brushed me off and sent me away empty handed.
I had a list of things to go through and yet none of them were dealt with in the way that was satisfactory.
Allow me to share my below the brain and above the belt issues.
Shallow breathing. I am fitter than I’ve ever been. I run 5km once a week on top of the 2 x 2km walk to/from work each day, yet I cannot put on my socks without panting. This I self-diagnosed is because I’m still unfit, anxious or am in need of a sock butler.
I have developed a literal pain in the neck that shoots through my shoulder, down my mousing arm and halts before the carpal tunnel zone. The cure for this would I’m sure, be 3 sessions of simple physiotherapy and some sweet sweet Tramadol. I know, because it’s worked before.
I’ve got a couple of re-grown subcutaneous bumps that simply need hacking out of my back. Again, this works because I had the procedure some years ago. She confirmed my benign diagnosis and closed the case when I closed my shirt.
The up shot is that the shallow breathing dominates everything else. I’ve been sent for a blood test and a heart examination. I asked if I could in the meantime be referred to a physiotherapist and get some kite-high pain killers. She said NO. I asked if I could get the lumps removed and she said NO. I needed these small pounds of (my own) flesh because if nothing else, two items would have come off my list and my mental health would have benefitted. Although I do not have an Autism Spectrum disorder, I have mental lists and feel better from seeing them being ticked off. I was not helped to feel better.
Everything depends on the breathing inspired Medical Tests before anything else. I asked why these tests had to be first when pills and physiotherapy would at least attack the pain. She told me ‘we’re a surgery, medical tests is what we do’. This was not delivered either rudely or with sarcasm, but I felt like all the doctor was doing was sending me for tests rather than coming up with a fix. Perhaps this is sensible, yet I know that getting another appointment will take ages and I will not get to see the same practitioner and it’ll be like going back to square one; Snakes & Ladders: Ladders & Snakes.
The other thing that came out of the discussion was that she wanted to approach my issues in a kind of flow chart order and in isolation of each other. To her, a medical approach meant looking at the breathing first (I suppose because it was Number 1 in my diary) and each problem on a stand-alone basis. She eschewed the idea of looking at me as a person. I really wanted to ask her why a young practitioner was taking this old school approach and was not looking at me holistically. I suppose she missed the optional seminar ’The Holistic Approach to Medicine: take it or leave it, you’re cleverer than your patients and you must let them know it’.
I also think that by using a divide and rule approach it was a simple way of kicking my can down the road and making sure she didn’t have to be around for anything that might transpire. She could happily report back to the practice manager that this particular patient may or may not have problems that are linked and the tests results (which will probably get lost in the post) can be overseen by an intern in the hospital. Pressure off and on with the next tactic of dodging the bullet.
‘Social Media,’ (now there’s oxymoron) is becoming an increasing concern, especially but not exclusively for parents and could be more anti-social than social.
The BBC reported on 4th January http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42563173Schools should play a bigger role in preparing children for social media’s emotional demands as they move from primary to secondary school, England’s children’s commissioner says. Anne Longfield said she was worried many pupils at that stage became anxious about their identity and craved likes and comments for validation. Her study said children aged eight to 12 found it hard to manage the impact.
Although my instinct is to slaughter everything ‘internet’ I suppose I shall have to be a bit more objective because however much one might wish to pull the plug I, like so many other people am pretty much connected all the time. Damn it, I even have some SMART home devices plus the ability to see what an elderly live-alone relative is up to. Not only can I be spied upon but I can spy on and stalk.
Investigations have begun into the impact of social media on the nation’s youth but what about the adults and are there differences in our respective uses and effects of social media?
Adults tend to worry about their children. This is matched by children not being concerned about their adults. (This is probably morally correct, young children should not have to worry about their parents, there’s plenty of scope for that in the future!)
Children appear fearless when it comes to hitting the keyboard and tapping their screens whereas most adults over 40 are still suspicious about the SEND button (aka Carriage Return) because they know there can be negative impacts from it. Whereas the young will spray out words and images with barely any self-control, most adults will try to self edit. Until, at least, they become addicted to the speed of unconsidered self-expression.
It’s happened to me. Just over a year ago a famous musician died. It wasn’t anyone I valued or admired (his music was to my ears, damp and derivative) but a friend of mine used to perform a tribute act of this singer and I told him on Facebook that now was the time to re-ignite his career. ‘After all’ I LOLLED, ‘you’re better than him anyway’. I was promptly scalded by another person for being insensitive and I immediately scrambled around to delete my comment.
I felt foolish and gauche because in attempting a ‘funny’ I inadvertently showed the world a side of me I didn’t want to display. Like so many others who use FB and its business oriented cousin; Linked In, I try to sculpt a portrait of what I want people to see but it’s so easy to undermine one’s own hard posturing when a moment of spontaneity arrives and obliterates it all. I know some folk really buy into online arguments and trading insults but like in my real life, I really hate confrontation.
I think that people fall into three broad groups.
Group One contains those who rather like President Trump have no compunction in letting their inner rebel teen ejaculate half thought thoughts and angry tantrums. Opinions will land where they will and everyone shall choose how to feel and react. ‘Your problem mate, not mine’.
Group Two includes those like my friend whose online liberal leanings are probably at odds with the lifestyle he has finally achieved in middle age. He really wants to be loved for the good things about him (I’m the same) and knows there are warts and blotches to be masked.
The third group would include people like my father who have a vague idea of what it’s all about but forget there is no privacy and that what you might say from the heart and feels like a private comment to a presence you recognise, can come back and bite you.
Many of us have written diaries. It’s not a new thing and if the plethora of available January-December diary/notebooks is anything to go by, is something that still has a market. Entries in your daily diary are very different from what you might put on a Facebook timeline because they are not private. There’s a freedom of thought that a writer can afford to add to an A5 diary because you do not expect it to be seen by anyone else. When however your writing hits social media, it has the potential to seen and judged far, deep and wide. Forever.
Once the writer is aware of this, his output becomes very different from that of a private diarist. To start, abbreviations and codes have to go because nobody will understand them. Then, if the writer wants to avoid embarrassment, they are unlikely to reveal deep dark secrets and — much like me — keep away from politics and sex. Instead, what we add to the web it is hoped will reveal ideas that are amusing and thought provoking. What these ideas are does not perhaps matter, so long as they present one’s good side and don’t ruin your public image, that’ll just about do.
I searched for form and land, for years & years I roamed
When David Bowie died two years ago, the final corner of my holy-holy (rock) trinity of loss became complete.
In September 2016 I wrote that Bowie’s death was easier for me to accept than those of Freddie Mercury and Marc Bolan yet looking across the worlds of music and social media a year after Bowie went Blackstar, it is clear that despite my personal approach, the space he left behind is growing into a black hole and that his legacy will continue to grow larger and harder to define than that of almost any other deceased contemporary artist.
If as I wrote in my 2016 September and November Blogs, if it was Bolan who introduced me to the concept of posing to build self-confidence from the outside-in and Mercury who drew power from not being universally popular then it was Bowie who booted these and additional interpretations of individuality from behind the TV screen directly into his audience’s laps.
When in 1972 he sang ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you’ I heard it as ‘I’m bringing you in, join me in the land of the different’.
Where Bowie quite quickly, after a 6 year journey to become an overnight success, stole a march on those who surrounded him was when:
A) He had a solid backlog of work that new fans could discover and
B) He had depth that went beyond the visuals and the melodies. The music was varied and the lyrics seemed deep and meaningful. The PR machine was straight into action in letting us know he borrowed writing techniques from the likes of William Burroughs and this soon added to Bowie’s mystique and credentials as an artist and not a ‘mere’ pop star.
Like many others, I bought into this lock and stock because at last there was somebody deep and clever which meant that by liking him I could somehow feel superior and therefore feel good about myself. At the time music seemed to be either rather soppy M.O.R such Elton John and as-yet-un-emerged Phil Collins or loud, clumsy and scruffy such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Bowie introduced a thinking person’s mental middle ground that also touched differing musical styles all at once. To me, liking Bowie was obscure and made me feel interesting. It definitely made me feel that I was deeper than the sheep people who loved the so-after-the-event soggy Beatles. Most of all it meant there was an alternative to signing up to the pro-peasant unwashed culture of Rod Stewart and Slade. Of course there are many people that liked the acts that I didn’t who also liked Bowie and knowing this I want(ed) to demarcate myself from them and maintain my own private Bowie corner. I didn’t want to share Bowie with anyone else and what with all the grief out poured in January 2016, I felt the same again. Obviously none of us have any real possession over artists, but each of us has the prerogative to interpret and hold that interpretation and subsequent influences to one’s own heart.
Being a Bowie fan has been like being a cat person as opposed to a dog lover. Everything about him was subtle, shapeshifting and never obvious. Obtuse even. In 1976 he told The Sunday Times ‘anything you want me to be, I won’t be’. Whereas other performers were trained to be distinctive and clear, Bowie was never ‘in your face’. He embraced the force of obscurity (a calculated act of artifice?) and the more clever observers, many of whom were women like Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, and Madonna, successfully copied the notion that less is more.
Many commentators have described Bowie as a bridge. Visitors to the exhibition ‘Bowie Is’, which began in London in 2013 crisply linked Bowie to other areas of culture; particularly those of fashion.
The show also reminded us that he was a capable and un-cracked actor.
It was his interest in mime and body language that had a direct influence on me. Looking back I suppose I was struck by the contrast between silent mimes and rock music. His performance values had an inherent irony because on one hand the live music was loud, yet on the other he was able to overlay it with silent one-man theatrical vignettes that told tales of inner torture and angst. They matched the sonorous backdrop and denied it at the same time. The music was his, yet even while performing, he’d portray something else. Somehow the structure of his performances reflected the bipolarity and mental instability that haunted him.
As a direct consequence I spent several years learning and performing mime and joined and even lead various theatre groups. I performed on stage and learned how to react in front of an audience. I confronted and dealt with stage fright and how to deal with blunders. I worked out how to pause when the audience laughed and how to improvise if somebody forgot something (a word, a location…). All these are life skills that I wouldn’t have explored had it not been for Bowie.
Likewise, when I went to live in Zurich in 1976 and realised it was the birthplace of the Dada and Surrealist art movements, my internal bells rang because I had read about Bowie referencing them. I had no idea what these branches of modern art were, but because Bowie had mentioned them, they were good enough for me to explore. He taught me so much. He was a bridge and a compass. He set trends and added to language (e.g. Bowie’s the term ‘Space Invader’ from Moonage Daydream became an arcade video game in 1978).
In Alan Yentob’s brilliant 1975 documentary Cracked Actor, Bowie described himself as being like a fly in a carton of milk ‘just soaking it (America) up’. What he achieved was the ability to soak up snippets of data and by subsequently writing or talking about them he endowed them with a certain ‘cool’ simply because it was he that suggested an interest in them. If Bowie looked under a rock, the driest sand became interesting.
This was meaningful as a teenager because I was desperate to discover, I didn’t know quite what, but it certainly wasn’t anything within my school work. It was Bowie’s way of referencing so much (Kahlil Gibran, Orwell …) that gouged open several cans of intriguing worms (or as in the title above; le chien).
And this is why Bowie will super-endure the other two artists of my triumvirate and all the others that have been and gone. I accept, albeit grudgingly, that people will grasp hold of Lennon, Elvis, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin and this is because each of these artists triggered a set of emo/psychological needs among individuals within their audience and it would be ignorant of me to claim my needs are any the greater. I confess that I do feel my pro-Bowie connections are more valid, but I do not think it.
So where are we now?
Recently I was in the Pompidou Centre in Malaga, Spain and was struck by this ceiling high exhibit.
As I stood below this rather unnerving 30 cm high ‘big head’ talking Bowie puppet, it was confirmed to me that he had successfully mashed himself into the world of legitimate art. Sure there have been tons of Rolling Stones and Elvis oriented art events over the years but this is beyond that. The artist, Tony Oursler had realised that an effigy of a talking head-of-Bowie (and this was created long before he died) suggested so many other dimensions than had it been Jagger, McCartney or Sinatra. I highlight ‘suggested’ because Bowie’s strength lies in what he pointed towards and what he hinted at rather than what he said. Whether it was about his own skating along the gender spectrum or complete opaqueness over the last 10 years as to whether he was a working person or a retired pensioner, he just knew how to play it.
I never met him but somewhere in my loft lies a photocopy of his passport that I sneaked from the files of a hotel I worked in three months after he was a guest there during the Station to Station tour.
His passport details were as you’d expect;
Middle name: Robert
D.O.B: 8th January.
And as for occupation, the single word; musician.
That Bowie is an icon is not his issue. It’s impressionable people like me that allow some other people to become larger than life in our hearts & minds and in what influences us. It’s neither good, nor bad, it just is.
Bowie however was able to die knowing himself. Ultimately it suggests that despite all the insane stuff he name checked, he established self-knowledge and with that came peace of mind. As we embark on another January, I wish the same (sane) to you and, you guessed it; to myself.
‘Where can the horizon lie When a nation hides Its organic minds in a cellar…dark and grim They must be very dim’
A feature of having a December birthday is that if you are minded to review the year gone by you can run a parallel between your own and the calendar one. If however you are on the cusp of closing off a decade it is less easy to draw seasonal parallels because the task that daunts is to review several tens of years in one go. I am choosing to not do that.
This blog has in the past discussed rock stars that have influenced me (in particular Bolan, Bowie & Mercury) but one musician I have not so far discussed is Renato Zero.
I came across Renato Zero when I was living in Venice in the summer of ’74. The TV guide described him as the Italian Bowie, yet his look, which not only channelled but also out-camped British Glam Rock was very Freddie. His music was more challenging to get into because it was, and in 2017, still is, not really rock. It generally consists of power ballads played by swirling acoustic orchestras, over which his deep gritty voice (all Italian singers sound like Rod Stewart) rasps in tones of great drama, deep injustice or extrovert melancholia. Subject matter tends to range from dark vice ridden alleys to the bright vice ridden circus and back to the dark alleys again. The Italian public long ago accepted Zero as a national treasure and he still tours and records today. The look has changed, after all 40+ years of success have taken a toll and let’s face it, if you live in Rome and are an economic success there is little point in remaining pale wan and thin when you are surrounded by the best food and wine the planet can offer. Nowadays he wears all-covering black cloaks and ‘professor’ glasses in the style of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka.
There are two reasons why I feel it appropriate to mention Renato Zero in this, the last blog of my 50’s:
He has been with me since I was 16. The same time as my Holy Holy Rock Trinity began, except he is still alive and somehow manages to cast occasional tunes of tragedy and nostalgia over my ageing ear drums.
When in 2010, Renato reached the big ‘Six Oh’ he produced a music album and a book called ‘Sei Zero’ (Sei is the Italian for 6 and for ‘you are’) and so archly translates as ‘YOU ARE NOTHING’. This was supported by a written reflection based on him being told when he was a child that ZILCH was all he would amount to. When therefore he selected a stage persona, he went for ZERO with a sense of irony and an erect middle finger. All good stuff.
Perhaps it’s quite easy to look back at your detractors and laugh at them if you are sixty and still famous. You have eager record company executives, publishers and a loyal fan base. The inner artistic demons might still be present but if you can create products, the platforms are there. Renato Zero used a mini essay to rebuke his early critics but turned most of his 60th celebration into a positive dedication to the city of Rome and people he lives among.
Over these last 60 years I have learned that if you are not widely known there is little point in digging up ghosts from the past because the humiliation you might wish to inflict will fall on a wasteland and will just make you look foolish. So although there are people who I’d have liked to sneer at (mainly maths teachers and the odd work-place boss) I neither have the platform nor the need and will instead look, like Mr Zero at the good in the places and people around me.
This is a positive position and one that remains staunchly stoic. On the plus side, things are more or less under control and are not so bad but I have to say too that on the disappointing side nothing has really amazed or stunned me. I’ve seen my children born and grow, I’ve seen my football teams win championships and The World Cup and I have been present at death. I have even contemplated various metaphorical navels and earlier this year I embarked on a project whereby I pursued the joys and detailed thinking afforded by SILENCE. (See blog from February 2017) yet like Blue Tack, nothing really stuck for long. I once looked off a mountain top in The Rockies, said ‘wow’ aloud and tried so hard to be awestruck but somehow my inner me checked it off a minor bucket list and gently, without risk, I skied down to safety.
My eldest daughter recently told me she was disappointed in my current mindset because I only seem to engage in comedic entertainments (film, TV, theatre, books) and my desire for documentary and serious deep drama has waned. She is right. I find myself attracted to television programmes from which I can walk away and even if I’m at the 85% mark, I feel no regret when I do so. I avoid so-called Box Sets because I don’t need any more commitment in my life and will still only read a book if it has a maximum of 330 pages. My years are getting longer and my attention span is getting shorter. This is not a fear of my dying before reaching the end but is to do with the fact that I have experienced every kind of denouement and nothing can pleasantly surprise me anymore.
Story tellers and philosophers tell us that the joy is in the journey and not the destination and as I get on, this is ever clearer but I must also add that avoiding pain along the way has become a priority.
As I walked to work this morning I passed the spot, as I do every day, where I had a motorbike accident in 1975 (ok, it was a 50cc moped).
I was young, drunk and considering I flew headlong into the glass window of what is today a bank, lucky to be alive. I learned this the following morning when a nurse strapped up my shoulder and berated me. That moment, when I was 17, was the last big risk I took. It re-shaped me and even if I was a potential risk-taker before the collision, I never was afterwards.
This is not a note of regret, just an observation and it is with this approach that I shall carry on. It’s not as if nothing really matters, because it does but if I have succeeded in one thing it’s to have established a benevolent split persona. My inside remains the frustrated 20th Century Boy with dreams and artistic pretentions, yet the success I seek is no longer that elusive publishing deal (I achieved that one) but simple approval (and payment) from 3rd parties that hire me to mark exam papers and to give the odd lecture on my own philosophies (I quit acting in the 1980’s because I was bored with reciting other peoples’ words and the same applies to delivering seminars and training sessions). My outside is a much better and fortunate place. I am surrounded by a group of females I had never expected. Women were a deep mystery to me as I grew up. I either avoided them or over-killed (myself) with them. Now my wife and three daughters give me a before–the-fall King Lear strength I had never envisaged. As a family we are like an office chair with 5 wheeled feet (4 wheels were deemed unsafe some 20+ years ago). The chair gets shoved around the office yet stays upright. It bangs into desks and chips the paint, but never falls over. Even if any one of the wheels gets sticky or becomes loose the chair remains stable albeit a touch wobbly.
And so, returning to the message of the Stoic, I hereby count my blessings because tomorrow, or tomorrow’s tomorrow something will attack them and by committing the good things to paper, or indeed a blog, their confirmation in the here and now exists forever.
How do you know that you’re right? If you’re not nervous anymore It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad
I feel my vision slipping in and out of focus But I’m pushing on for that horizon I’m pushing on Now I’ve got that blowing wind against my face
Arriving at Barnet’s Hive to play Walking Football (WF), I felt that same trepidation and excitement as when I first played. I hadn’t kicked a ball in eight years and I later learned that others hadn’t done so in decades. As I looked around at this sample of middle age Britain, I realised that at 58, I was neither the youngest nor the oldest. To be honest, I looked at some of the other players and wrote them off because of their physical appearance.
LESSON ONE; never write anybody off! As we began playing regularly we got fitter, better and some rediscovered close-ball skills they thought were lost.
Coaches know that practice leads to improvement yet WF shows that this can happen at practically any age. Forgotten abilities return, albeit at a lower level and poignantly this rediscovery triggers enthusiasm and joy.
As a work-place coach I help people improve performance. Whether in an office, classroom or restaurant kitchen I know by guiding them back to their motivation, their work (with further input from technical experts) will meliorate.
I ruptured my ACL 21 years ago and consequently have a biscuit leg. Walking Football suits me and my best contributions are when I stick to the classic lean moves of STOP the ball, CONTROL, DISTRIBUTE/SHOOT.
Even if I wanted to walk/dribble at pace I couldn’t and hope that once the sport’s laws are officialised it becomes three-touch. WF also reminds us of the value in playing economically and does not suit those that still try to go it alone.
LESSON TWO: I was coaching the directors of a group of Boutique Hotels who were getting deeply confused by overcomplicated accounts processes (management accounts, forecasts etc). I suggested comparing the whole business to a football team and to decide which player the finance office was. We settled on Defensive Midfielder because the tasks were clear; STOP (or reduce) money going out, CONTROL it once it was in (bank and log it correctly) and DISTRIBUTE it properly. We know that these functions should be undertaken by all players (and hence other departments), but by letting managers visualise the department as a particular position, it became easier to communicate to other sections.
LESSON THREE: A key technique of WF is not to pass ‘into space.’ To find your teammate you must pass to feet or risk the ball flying into touch. We learn to play to where our colleague is rather than where they will be. It’s a great life lesson; listen to peers and customers and provide what is needed right now; tomorrow may never come.
To conclude, the reduced speed of Walking Football forces re-evaluation. You’d assume that older people would readily adapt to playing slowly but strangely even with leaden legs the mind still wants you to run. Football and work activities all tap into old habits. These habits can actuallychange, but to facilitate this we have to slow down, contemplate and practice.
I spent a morning in a conference room listening to these speakers;
Two tax experts whose joint message, to my ears, was ’you’ve blown it now. Your pension is misguided and small and you’ll spend your few remaining years in poverty. But, if you know anyone younger who’s happy to pay our fees, do please send them my way’.
One retired (mid 50’s) millionaire with a hair transplant who has bought and sold over 30 companies and that was his ‘work’. His personal message to me was to get a time machine, go back 41 years, avoid education, work hard and all will be well.
Following Mr Pubic-Hair Head was
One tall Welsh ex, (but not famous) with intact ears and nose, rugby player that had climbed Everest during the 2015 quake that killed 6000 people below and 19 of his climbing ‘colleagues’. Thankfully his passion and talent helped him survive and he made it back to the highest ever champagne dinner that he shared with his mates and the best paid surviving Sherpa in Nepal. He omitted to mention how many dead/dying bodies littering his downward path he assisted on the descent, but the good news for we delegates is that we got to meet him. Oh and did I say he delivered all this with immense passion and talent? I hope I did because that is what he wanted us to know.
At this I messaged my broker and told him/her to buy me 20,000 shares in cruise liner standard vomit bags but before he/she could confirm the deal, the rugby player with the straight as a dye nose and non-cauliflower ears finished and there wasn’t even a joke about sheep (yes I know, I know.)
At this point the organisers played a video about a charity they are supporting and I walked out.
Some months ago I wrote a piece on STOICISM and I suppose that if I gleaned anything from today’s motivational morning it’s that my position hasn’t shifted.
The points above had two effects on me. As already stated, the money monkeys and tax tinkers just made me feel inadequate, poor and too old to sort it out. The two ‘successful’ men exuded a strain of smug ‘I’m alright Jack’ that made the Wolf of Wall Street look meek.
And as for the charity video, perhaps I’m doing it an injustice, but why wasn’t a representative from the charity giving a live presentation at the very beginning of the day? I’d have felt much more comfortable if this had been the starting point and backdrop to proceedings so that when tax experts hint at helping with avoidance/evasion and Wide Boy/City Boy reports how cushy his life is, the delegates would have had a dose of humility from the start.
The event lacked humility. Conceivably it humbled down after lunch but by then, this delegate had lost the desire and was happier to buy a sandwich from the CO-OP than scrounge from the buffet networking with suits.
I have attended many business events over the years and never liked them. Until today, I did not know why, but now I do.
I went to these events because I thought I was going to learn something new but now I believe that with very few exceptions these various congresses, conferences, workshops and summits are built around agency pushed speakers that boast about how well they’ve done and how the hang-dog faces in the crowd can do well too. This is meant to be motivating but I for one cannot get spurred on by somebody that punches the air and says ‘Hell yeah’.
Speakers need to realise that the people in the audience are possibly uncertain, unhappy and even desperate. If they were successful they’d be elsewhere, not fishing for opportunities.
If I were a motivational speaker giving talks during this, the filling of the Recession Sandwich (2008 in the past, Brexit in the future) I’d say to the people that it’s good they’re still here because many of our peers aren’t.
If I were a motivational speaker I’d be telling them that this country has had no viable government for as long as memory stretches and yet we can all breathe (albeit polluted air).
If I were a motivational speaker I’d say ‘if you’re not in pain and you’re not suffering from mental health issues, you’re doing as well as can be expected.’
If I were a motivational speaker I’d say ‘If you haven’t anything on your mind other than your godless business and your focus on money, look at helping the homeless and speak to the tax authorities you’re so keen to avoid. As their sugar daddy order them to invest your donations to support those with hidden and visible disabilities and if they fancy a fight, tell them to take action against the corporations who at once scare you rigid and simultaneously sell you coffee coloured tepid water.
I had just returned to London from a gap year that had been interesting and inspiring but also rather lonely and sad. Then on the night before Marc’s demise I’d been out on an abject failure of a first (and last) date and so my state of mind on the morning of 16 September 1977, even before I heard of his fatal crash, was fragile.
Overall, I was already in limbo. My ‘world tour’ was behind me and a new start in Higher Education was about to begin. On the surface you might think that optimism could kick in and I’d able to pick up my spilled heart and soul and look forward to the future but in fact I just wanted to crawl away and hide.
My father was due to take his car to be serviced in Camden Town (a half way point between our home in North London and his office in Trafalgar Square) and I was filling in my ‘between time’ by working with him in his office. He woke me up early and already crestfallen, I stumbled into his car. As we drew into the garage the 7 am news came on the radio and Marc’s death was the first item. The shock was so real that it felt like the news reader had punched her fist out of the car radio’s speaker and her corny withered witch’s hand was strangling me. For a month the media had been bleating about Elvis’s death and as if it were a punishment for me caring not-a-jot about it, my heart ached and cried like those of the Presley fans just 30 days before. This type of grief was a first for me. Although I had recently lost a close relative the fact that a celebrity with whom I had chosen to connect had been snatched away was somehow even worse.
My immediate unplanned reaction was to become silent. I was struck dumb as we left the car and took the underground further, deeper into the hell of Dandy’s underworld that was central London that day. I certainly didn’t want to share my feelings with my father who had not even noted the news item and I fell into a near-to-tears state when my mother subsequently phoned the office to tell me – like I didn’t already know- what had happened. She understood my feelings and did at least know who Marc was and why his poster brothered up to those of Bowie and Queen on my bedroom wall. My father knew of the posters too but wrote them off as a gaggle of effeminate degenerates that didn’t merit further thought.
I couldn’t concentrate on work that day (so nothing changed there huh? Ed) and the events melded into a sweaty fatberg of misery. Although my friends called me to offer commiserations my mood darkened as I started to construct a triple headed persecution complex:
My year away bore no obvious (at the time) benefits.
The girl of my dreams had sailed off into somebody else’s reality and
The rock star whose chords I could manage to strum was gone.
Some weeks later I started my degree. I had to commute 2 hours each way each day by bus and many of my in-transit minutes were spent writing out my unfolding thoughts. I think now that it was during this soggy autumn period that I was visited by the trait of sarcasm. I realise that until this point I fought off life’s disappointments with a wounded shrug and a dose of self-loathing but now I was grasping the nettle of cynicism and sardonic bitterness it actually helped.
I haven’t lost this attitude, indeed I appreciate the powers of ironic comment and dry humour as they exist as a result of common human experiences of emotional pain. If life were always happy, we’d have no reason to have invented coping mechanisms.
Marc’s death punctuated the end of a very difficult year. At the time it felt like a full stop to everything I yearned for but in retrospect I can see that it gave me the pen/sword, the paper/shield and the Ellipses… to go on. And I did.