A stolen moment on the South Bank

The sun is hot. Very hot. There’s the smallest of breezes, but the excitement from the crowd here on the South Bank more than makes up for it.

The Festival Hall is the new must-go-to location in Central London. I’m sitting on concrete benches. Beside me is a lady drawing up her to-do list in her notepad. On my right, two well-spoken thirty-somethings friends sit and chat, meeting for the first time in many months. They share surgery stories. One of them says that a patient at the hospital nearly died today. That was his high point today. Both seem quite happy.

In front of me people lean against the wall, looking out over the river as they knock back the cans of beer they’ve bought at the nearby supermarket. Nobody minds they haven’t gone to the bar. It’s all quite bohemian really what with their long hair, canvas shoes and shades.

It’s lovely to be here. There’s a relaxed vibe about the place. And it’s much needed. The architecture – the concrete – has a surprisingly reassuring effect on me. It’s as though my mother has put her arm around me. “There, there chump. It will all work out.”

Do Mums really know that? Or is that the best they can say? Do they believe in themselves when they say it or are they just offsetting their own insecurities? We believed them when they said it back then. Why does it all seem so unbelievable now?

The South Bank resonates. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used that word ‘resonates’ this week. I’ve worked on the basis that the bigger the word the more successful I’ll be in securing my place in the big scheme of things. I can’t say I think it’s worked especially. I suspect I’ve ended up feeling more and more out of step with everyone else around me and those I come into contact with. I haven’t changed. So what’s happened to them?

Shit. I’ve digressed again. I’m sorry. I’m shit for doing that.

The South Bank. It’s a key place for me. I love it here. It feels like home. London’s version of style. My own personal version of 1960s Carnaby Street. An opportunity to watch people. To tap into conversations. To feel alive.

I came here for the first time in my early twenties, desperate to establish contacts with players in the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra to bolster my own little black book. Later I used to wander around here on weekend walks with The Chap. It was here I wrote about for my first writing assessment for the correspondence course I began nearly ten years ago. And it was here I was planning meeting up with my cousin I haven’t seen for nearly 20 years over the weekend.

It’s a special place. A moment of exquisite serenity. Something to savour.

Commuter Diary #19

The first completed questionnaire completed and submitted to the GP in pursuit of a referral for CBT

I dropped the form the doctor asked me to complete for a referral back to the surgery on my way in. The moment needs recording. It’s a little odd seeing everything in black and white as you hand it over to the receptionist. Almost like I was handing over my own death warrant. A testament to failure as an individual.

Here’s what was on the questionnaire. I had to mark each statement 0-3 with 0 meaning never and 3 representing nearly every day.

1. Little interest or pleasure doing things 3
2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless 3
3. Trouble falling or staying asleep 3
4. Feeling tired or having little energy 3
5. Poor appetite or overeating 3
6. Feeling bad about yourself 3
7. Trouble concentrating on things 3
8. Moving slowly/being fidgety 2
9. Thoughts you would be better off dead 0
10. Feeling nervous or anxious 3
11. Not able to control worries 3
12. Worrying too much 3
13. Trouble relaxing 3
14. Becoming easily annoyed 3
15. Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen 3

It was quite a relief to answer statement 9 with a zero. Things aren’t irretrievable at least. But still, I’m caught between looking at the list wondering whether most people think like this anyway and feeling quite sad reading the reality of the situation.

How on earth did it get to this? And of course – in true journalistic style – who exactly is to blame?

What I had forgotten about all of this – compared to my previous experience when I was in my late teens – was to what extent this ‘thing’ a lot of people find themselves suffering from from time to time is a pernicious kind of thing.

A deceiving kind of illness. Bandy the word depression around and people start assuming they have to tread on eggshells around you. That you are somehow completely and utterly disabled. Unable to perform basic tasks. No good to anyone. And that you need to be completely roped off.

And yet it’s not always like that. Sometimes it can exist just underneath the surface, like a pigment in the skin, or a locked colour correction casting a bias across every shot. Difficult to remove because the operator can’t remember how it got there in the first place.

There’d will be pockets of the day when suddenly the ‘layer’ goes away. When it’s forgotten about. Clouds parting to reveal the deep blue sky. It’s not always on the surface. Sometimes it dissipates. Damn it for being so inconsistent.

And then there’s the shame. Should I be so open about all of this? Is there a danger? A massive risk? Most people will be understanding. Some might engage reading about it. But you know there’ll be someone out of touch with reality who judges and scorns. Maybe that’s why it’s good to document the process.

New Years Eve 2009

My iphone flashes up with a text message. From across the steamy bathroom I manage to read, “… am saddened you shan’t be joining us … ” before I sink my head below the waterline and start worrying about whether or not we’ve made the right decision not to attend our friend’s New Year’s Eve event.

He and his partner are hosting a party this evening, you see. It’s the first party they’ve hosted for New Year. It’s the first time me and Significant Other have been invited to someone else’s New Year’s event. It will be very special for them – their first new year together – and the menu will be reliably spectacular. There are party games too. On that basis it should be the perfect new year event. Given that someone else is cooking, this particular event will demand little effort on my part, and will guarantee scintillating company, good food and a bit of fun afterwards. Lovely.

And yet it’s also an event we’ve turned down, our reason being we’d prefer to be doing “the quiet thing” tonight.

This is a joint decision, naturally. We both quite fancied having a night in – Significant Other is considerably less keen on New Year’s Eve celebrations than I am – given that we feel now in the holidays as though we’ve been with other people all Christmas (we haven’t, it just feels that way).

Needless to say, I feel like a shit. A nasty, lazy, anti-social shit.

There are plenty of times when our friends have driven over to see us of an evening – at least ten occasions when they’ve driven over for New Years. My head rises breaks the surface of the bath water. My inner parent shouts out: This year it feels like we can’t even make the effort to return that same effort. Tut tut.

Sometimes I loathe SMS.

Grumpy Old New Year came to the rescue however when I watched it earlier this afternoon.

In it a collection of middle-aged (some older specimens who we’re sure have had work done) decimated the New Year traditions.

Parties were analysed: agonisingly long and drawn out events all heading towards one single goal – midnight – which only presented the thorny dilemma of when after the big bongs it was permissable to leave for home. Was it better to host an event or attend one? What to do when cornered by a bore. Was it OK to take your own food and a chair. And, most important of all, what exactly were we marking and how do you get home afterwards? In conclusion it seemed this contrived celebration threw far more dilemmas and irritations than it opportunities for fun. Best give it a wide berth.

These are, of course, all hideously shameful excuses masking the truth about how I quite like to mark New Years Eve. No wonder for my part in the turning down our New Years invitation, I feel like a shit.

Despite most people understandably dismissing New Years Eve as an inexplicable construct missing a suitably embarrassed architect and intelligence urging me to do the same, I find the opportunities presented by a quiet ushering in of a change in year irresistable. Like appraisals, I rather enjoy the chance to reflect on things. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have anything to blog about (I’m well aware some may challenge whether I have anything to blog about anyway, thank you).

Anyone driven by seemingly pointless and unachievable goals is often reminded of the benefits of stopping to consider exactly what it is they’ve achieved. It’s certainly more realistic than the other tradition at this time of year of making shallow promises for the future, the sole purpose of which is to quell the inner critic at not having achieved enough.

That period of reflection doesn’t need to be long and drawn out. It doesn’t need to be accompanied by a massive orchestra or a breathtaking fireworks display. It doesn’t need to be a painstaking review of the previous twelve months.

It just needs to be a simple nod to the past twelve months, which in my case just so happen to have been a very good twelve months, thank you to everyone involved in that. It should also involve a mental note of how I might avoid this year’s little errors next year – I must use my left hand to operate my iPhone and adjust the height of my monitors at work to avoid RSI. All of that should be done in an office all cleaned up ready for a new year. After all, a clear desk means a clear mind.

Then it’s a glass of sparkling wine masquerading as champagne, an opportunity to peer at the fireworks from the south bank of the Thames followed by the same late night movie and bed. There’ll be no jumping up and down, no screaming “Happy New Year!” when Big Ben strikes midnight and no party poppers.

We’ll just usher in 2010 in a low-key way. I rather like that proposition. And I hope that’s OK with everyone – especially our friends whose party I hope goes with a bang.

Gosh, New Year is a troublesome time.

Audio: BBC Proms Diary 2009

The arrival of my Proms Season Ticket soothes the stresses and strains of a demanding day

I didn’t get anywhere near the end of my to-do list at work today. Come to think of it I barely moved off the first thing on the list.

There were too many distractions. Too many people asking me how to make this, that or the other work. I lost count of the number of times I had to remind myself exactly what it was I was working on before I was interrupted.

No matter, I thought. I’ll go to the gym. I’ll break the back of my motivation and commitment issues by making the second trip to the gym this evening.

It never happened. I left work too late, the tube train there took too long to arrive, I lost patience and so I went home instead.

And when I got home? What did I discover there?

Something very, very special indeed.

It’s getting nearer

Looking ahead to the beginning of the BBC Proms 2008

Like the rumble of a distant timpani roll, the BBC Proms season nears its start.

I ended up trotting up to Prince Consort Road this evening to drop off the passport pictures for my season ticket, using the opportunity to time exactly how long it takes to go from High Street Kensington tube station to the Royal Albert Hall.

It felt like it was a considerably shorter route, although the journey home via South Kensington confirmed that there’s really nothing in it at all.

It’s ridiculous. The more I look at it in the cold light of day – to be a part of the media industry it seems one has to look at things at objectively as one possibly can – all I am really getting excited by is a great long series of concerts which stretch out over the summer. They’re mostly from the same venue too. There must be countless concerts in the capital and up and down the country throughout the rest of the year too, and yet this particular concert series always sets my heart racing. It’s like Christmas all over again and a completely different Christmas from the Eurovision-related hysteria I always succeed in getting myself succombing to.

This year sees me purchasing a season ticket for the first time. I’d always sworn blind I was a radio and tv consumer, preferring to imagine the interior of the Royal Albert Hall over actually being there. Now I feel as though I want to be a part of it and, it seems, a season ticket is the best way to subscribe.

Roll on Friday and the First Night.

Getting things ship shape and Bristol fashion

Setting up the Thoroughly Good Blog on WordPress for the first time after two successful years on Yahoo 360

Like what you see? I do rather like it myself. It will certainly suffice for now. There’s something so terribly fresh about the design, the title font and this font come to that. I do get so very excited about fonts.  

This is the start of the Thoroughly Good Blog version 2. This posting isn’t the usual kind of tentative start to a blog. You know the kind of mean “I’m not really sure what to do with or what to say but I’m going to use it as a diary … “ Blah blah blah.  

No, this is merely the continuation of a blog which originally started on the Yahoo 360 network. It’s been going for 18 months but the time has come to strike out and provide more people with an opportunity to leave comments. At least, that’s the hope. 

Some people will probably look down their noses and say “Oooh, you’ve left this too late” or “Don’t you think you ought to make it look consistent with the other blog before you start on this one?” 

Possibly. But thinking about it on the way to work this morning, I rather liked the idea of people having the opportunity to have a nose around the place whilst the new blog is being built and fitted out. It’s a bit like having the opportunity to wander around the house you’ve commissioned someone else to build as they build it. I’m hoping the builders will be finished by 15 July, because the 15 July is a big for so many different reasons.  

Between now and then and the foreseeable after, don’t think there won’t be anything to read on here. Don’t think either that the stuff to read on here is a mere repetition of the stuff on the Thoroughly Good Blog on Yahoo. There’ll be bits and pieces everywhere. You will, I’m in no doubt, be totally sick of the words Thoroughly Good Blog come 15 July.