This Thing Called Self-consciousness

16 08 2020

Frequent visitors (are there any?) will recognise that my posts are often spurred by odd coincidences in my life – most usually in threes. We all perceive patterns that aren’t necessarily there (pareidolia anyone?), and in my case something flicks a switch when I at least perceive that I’ve noticed three related things pass through my consciousness.

The first item – a singleton of no particular note at the time – was my wife remarking that she was enjoying a Netflix series called “Love on the spectrum“. It’s an Australian 4-part reality show about various people on the autism spectrum trying to find life partners.

Netflix trailer: Love on the Spectrum

I admit to being pretty sceptical. It sounded like pure voyeurism and I suppose I anticipated something on the lines of the Bachelor or Love Island (neither of which I’ve actually watched so perhaps the comparison is even less meaningful!) I wandered into the lounge because my wife kept laughing out loud. I was prepared for producing a negative response, but I was actually very impressed.

The clip I saw involved a date at a restaurant. I was struck by the fact that the production team had obviously selected a quiet, reasonably isolated locations to reduce stress on the participants. Michael in the above clip, was one of the participants. Anyway, his date suddenly felt overwhelmed and stood up from the table. I was very impressed by how the film crew audibly asked how she was doing and made it clear she could move off camera and collect her thoughts in privacy and in her own time. Humane behaviour over “getting the shot”. Michael to his credit was most concerned for her well-being and it all felt respectful and compassionate whilst still being “real”.

Sure, they had some cheap caricatures of each participant’s likes and dislikes (i.e. potential behaviour triggers), but I thought the programme did an amazing job of showing humanity in all its shades. The clips of home life were well selected to show caring, supportive families going to great lengths to point out that their children’s “love issues” were the same for everyone – shown clearly in the above clip of Michael’s family dinner. These were family members to be supported like all others, not “projects” to be endured. Some class parenting on view here.

So anyway, this was the first as-yet unremarked corner of my triangle.

The second corner came last night when I was trouble-shooting why Spotify refused to play any music. It was bouncing rapidly down my playlists without actually playing anything and occasionally saying it couldn’t play that tune just now. Not in the mood?!

Eventually I figured out that when Windows put my HDMI-connected monitor into sleep mode, it was also turning off the connected speakers. No issue – it only powered it down after 30 minutes of disuse, to save power. Trouble was that when it re-woke the monitor, the PC was no longer able to reconnect to the monitor’s speakers. Only the directly connected headphones. Go figure. It knew they were still there, but somehow “out of reach”.

Anyway, once sorted, I randomly selected a Kate Nash playlist, and enjoyed remembering a very low key concert she gave in Vancouver a few years ago. Listening, as I do, to the lyrics, I noticed that a few of her more recent songs explicitly referred to mental health issues. She’s often blunt in her lyrics, but they’re raw and real and all the more powerful for that. I was particularly moved by “Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt?” with its lyrics:

The sun is going down now
And it’s been okay
You tell me all these things you did
While I was away
And this worries me somewhat

I don’t know how more people haven’t got mental health problems
Thinking is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever come across
And not being able to articulate what I want to say drives me crazy

I’m not sure about rivers, they scare me
But I love swimming, I’m good at it
And when I swim I think about numbers
And count the laps

It starts as a rational statement then spirals out into self-referential stressful thoughts which I think many of us experience to some degree on the way to anxiety. Rivers scare me, but I love swimming, but I zone out and count the laps in the pool, but… We over-think so many aspects of our experiences.

YouTube version of Don’t You Want to Share The Guilt?

Anyway, it struck me as a clever treatment of mental stress and how it isn’t a digital “normal/not normal” thing. There’s a whole spectrum of mental health issues and we travel up and down it (actually – in multiple dimensions) constantly. I’m not sure if Ms Nash was making a statement about her own mental health or just putting a spotlight on the general issue. Either way, it was very well done I thought.

Corner three was in the same sort of vein. Having figured out how to get Spotify to reliably play my “tunage”, I dipped into Mother Mother this morning.

One of their later songs “It’s Alright” from their “Dance and Cry” album really moved me.

Mother Mother: It’s Alright on Vevo

It has a simple message:

It’s alright, it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s okay
You’re not a monster, just a human
And you made a few mistakes
It’s alright, it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s okay
You’re not gruesome, just human
And you made a few mistakes
It’s alright

How many of us suffer in silence because we need to hear that our behaviours are not enough to label us as demons or monsters? Someone to take the time to listen to us share our thoughts, coupled with our own willingness to share those thoughts in the first place and listen when someone is kind enough to tell us that it’s alright – humans being. (sic)

My perception is that as a society we’re a lot more able to share our inner thoughts and fears than we were say 60 years ago. Mental health is no longer seen simply as an issue for the fringe, or an excuse for avoiding military service. We’re not “there” yet though, and depression is still often seen as weakness.

Mental health is important, and many of us are still unwilling to acknowledge it even within ourselves. We can all help though: ask someone how they’re doing, but really listen to their response. Don’t judge. If that seems too much, try simply smiling at someone that looks like they need it. It may well help them and it will definitely make you feel good about sharing some good vibes. Need some practice? Try this at Movember’s site.

I’m no psychologist but I know we’re social animals and when we feel emotionally isolated, especially when we’re physically not, it can be a strong driver towards depression and any number of negative behaviours.

November’s a way off yet, but don’t wait – consider supporting Movember or other mental health charities.

Evolution and competing for life

19 01 2015

So you may recall I was given a FitBit for Chrimbo.

Quite a discrete little thing – not much bigger than my handmade leather (and EVER so masculine) bracelet. It faithfully logs my every step and reports on my restless sleep each night. All it asks is that I recharge it every now and then. It’s even thoughtful enough to email me when it’s time to perform that little task.

I went for a swift bevvie on Friday with a couple of old workmates. Old as in “not current” – they’re both substantially younger than me. Anyway, one of these gents let slip that he too had recently bought a FitBit, though his was a more sophisticated one that also counts stair flights climbed, heart-rate etc.

Atrial Fibrillation aside, I tend to see heart-rate as a pretty digital thing: “on” or “off”. Off is not generally considered a good thing and can lead to permanent lack of income and a loss of social status. “On” in my case can be anything from 70 or so bpm when at rest to off the chart when it’s in fibrillation. Not a lot of point paying extra to measure that, then!

Anyway yesterday I received a curious email suggesting I become his friend on the FitBit site. This seemed harmless enough, and as I’ve recently given up FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter etc, I figured I’d best say yes so he doesn’t think I’m spurning him. What I was too dim to realise of course is that this is basically an invitation to be on a scoreboard with his daily FitBit data being compared to my own.

The theory it seems is that a little competition will egg all parties concerned to try a little harder. This naturally works best with men and women of a particular mental slant – viz: egocentric. I’m hoping Darwin was only partially right. I have no issue at all with the survival of the fittest. I’m just hoping that coming second doesn’t mean an instant relegation to the land of the dead!

So this evening I went to the gym with my son (number 3 child). Years ago I bought a “10 entry” pass for the Surrey area leisure centres. I was down to the last one or two, so I bought another 10 entries (it gives you a discounted price). But there was a snag. It seems the original 10 units were not time limited (indeed – I look very young and slim in the photo), but the new block of 10 units runs out in 2 years. What?! That’s five gym visits a year! That’s positively obsessive behaviour that is! I’m just relieved my Yorkshire genes were held at bay and I didn’t go for the slightly cheaper per unit 20 entry pack. That would be almost one visit a month! My gods, I might actually get fit if I went that often. Are they mad?!

Joking aside, I find it very calming to put on my iPod and zone out with my private thoughts whilst pounding away on the elliptical trainer. I find myself feeling a little superior when people come and go on the machines around me, demonstrating as much staying power as a kitten with a ball of string. The woman on the machine next to me was barely at walking speed, was on her phone most of the time, and didn’t even break into a sweat. I on the other hand needed to wade to shore after my session, there was so much moisture exuded.

I have eclectic music tastes and a large capacity iPod on shuffle. It’s always something of a mystery then what my fitness playlist will be on any specific occasion. Usually though one particular song stands out. For last night’s run, it was Arctic Monkey’s “Suck it and see”.

Your kiss it could put creases in the rain

You’re rarer than a can of Dandelion and Burdock

Now that, dear reader is poetry. Though possibly only if you know what Dandelion and Burdock is.

Tonight’s standout song was Ani Difranco’s “As Is”. A very dear friend alerted me to this song years ago, and I love the sentiment in the lyrics.

Cause I’ve got
No illusions about you
And guess what?
I never did
And when I say
When I say I’ll take it
I mean,
I mean as is

So, whatever the long term results of this accidental competition I seem to have entered are, at least I will continue to be reacquainted with some great poetry set to music.

Now, if you’ll excuse me dear reader, I have a dog to walk (to get my FitBit steps in for the day ;o) ). Good job I have a dog, or I’d be forced to steal one for the purpose…

I might be a fan of your insolence

4 02 2013




These three numbers need to change.

I signed up for the Vancouver Sun Run in April the other day. It’s 10km. The only time I’ve ever run 10km was… well, LAST Sun Run. I have walked 80km non-stop (well apart from pee breaks, but I hope you’ll let me off for those), but that was a few years ago when I was a bit younger and a lot lighter. Actually no – a lot younger and a bit lighter.

I bought myself a fancy running jacket at Christmas and this was only its second airing. I’ve not been running in about 6 weeks, so I was actually quite please I managed to run my usual route without stopping. It’s a slightly modified Canadian suburban block, so I reckoned it was about 4km, but Google maps tells me it’s only 3.6km, so who am I to argue? As we get nearer to April I suppose I should move to longer routes, but I feel no particular need to do another 10km, until the race itself.

The 25 minutes can come down a bit though. Once I get back into my swing, it should be around 22, I reckon. Tonight I was pleased simply for finishing without having to stop or walk.

The 232lb? Yeah – not sure where that came from. I’d like to be around 200lb really – despite not seeing that since before I had kids (they do say it’s hard to regain your figure afterwards. 🙂 ).

I hovered around 215lb for long enough, but post Christmas I seem to have been pogging out a bit. Anyway, in the spirit of disclosure keeping us honest, I figured that if I publicly announce my weight/times you lovely lot will cajole and embarrass me into altering the numbers accordingly. The first up, the other two down. Deal?

You may recall my offspring bought me some lovely earbuds for Chrimbo. They’re a great sound, but the silicone inserts kept falling out of my narrow ears, so I replaced them with the manky old neoprene ones from my broken earbuds. Perfect. Not a hint of slip for the whole run, and excellent reproduction from the new electronics.

And the soundtrack for my exercise?

Not quite as gloomy as it might seem! My MP3 player takes a random sample of the 20,000+ tunes on my hard drive when I recharge it. Playing them alphabetically gives a suitably random performance of bands and styles. I just happen to have got into the D’s!

Lorenzo Duran and BAFTA awards

24 11 2012

Years ago I used to live in the UK and was an annual member of the National Trust. As a subscriber I got to visit all manner of Manor Houses (sorry – couldn’t help myself). Amongst them was Snowshill Manor – about which I wrote in an earlier post. (If you’re interested, I’ll leave that as an exercise in googling.) One of the bewildering collections there was a small group of scrimshaw carvings by sailors and Napoleonic prisoners. In bone and ivory. Also some very fine oriental cricket cages. All were examples of very fine handiwork. Good ol’ StumbleUpon led me to this page today. A similar level of detail… but on leaves!! Lorenzo Duran – (It’s in Italian, but most browsers will translate it for you if you feel the need).

On a very tenuously connected thread…

When I was a Scout Leader in the UK, one of my young charges went by the name of Diarmid Scrimshaw. Still does actually – why change such a great name? It’s pronounced “Dermott” BTW, in case you were wondering. (I won’t share here what his rather cruel nickname at the time was – boys will be boys!) He was a bit smarter than the average, and I took a shine to him because he was a little bit out of phase with the rather bland world around him in Stony Stratford.

He used to ride a unicycle, just as a random example. To and from Scout meetings. While juggling live cats and chainsaws. OK, not actually, but the unicycle was real enough. I vaguely recall he was a dab hand with cards tricks too, and even more vaguely recall fire eating, but that might just be a false memory. A born performer, nevertheless.

I once bumped into him in a bar at the local cinema complex (he was still very much under drinking age) and he was dressed something like the Blues Brothers. It turned out he was there to play trombone with a band going by the name of The Blues Collective. I have a CD of their’s… not bad at all (“Hot Hits – Volume 1″… not at all pretentious!). Not unlike the sound of the band in The Commitments actually. Plainly this young man would go far. Here’s the opening track “Syrup” about a French prostitute.

Turns out he did go far after all. He just won a BAFTA award as the producer of “The Tyrannosaur“!! Read his interview here.

He just went up even further in my esteem as I learn on IMDB that he produced the Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo!

Guru: Diarmid Scrimshaw: now appearing on TWO wheels!

Diarmid on the right with Paddy Considine

What goes around, comes around

1 05 2012

So the other day, a very dear (well, at least “reasonably expensive”) friend sent me a link to an incredibly gifted young lady going by the name of Kawehi.

It was the first time I’d seen this technique of creating a loop and building up layers of sound as a backing track to the subsequent vocal. Plainly it’s a well established technique… I’m just old and slow to the party.

Anyway, last night – as regular readers will recall – I went to see Snow Patrol at the Orpheum in Vancouver. Excellent show. The opening act was a young chap by the name of Ed Sheeren. Now he is a very talented young lad indeed. And not only because he is from Halifax (the one in Yorkshire, not the one in Nova Scotia).

And guess what! He also used a similar device to set up loops of backing music, all live, on stage. All he used was his voice and an acoustic guitar (on which he broke strings on two occasions in his 30 minute set, he played with such passion!) With the looping tracks building up, he filled the Orpheum with a wall of sound- beats, rythm and melodies. Amazing to experience.

Wikipedia: Ed Sheeren

Not much to say about the Snow Patrol show really, except “you had to be there”! I only had my humble BlackBerry to take some low light snaps, so I’m afraid they are all I can share. There was some older Snow Patrol songs I wasn’t familiar with, but my well documented favourites of “Lifening”, “This isn’t everything you are” and “In the end, there’s nothing more to life than love is there?” from the current album Fallen Empires were definitely among the most well rendered of the evening.

David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust gets a plaque on Heddon Street in London – Telegraph

27 03 2012

David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust gets a plaque on Heddon Street in London - Telegraph

David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust gets a plaque on Heddon Street in London – Telegraph.

Wow… 40 years! I’m really feeling old now… 😦

OK Go do it again!

12 03 2012

OK Go must have a brilliant time thinking out their videos – Genius!

Here’s Needing/Getting:

And “the making of” is almost as good!

“Love, baby, love… that’s the secret!” – Louis Armstrong

12 02 2012

I was at a fund-raiser for Scouts last night. One of those things that just have to be done…

Not often I feel young these days, but I probably had a good 10 years to go before I was at the average age present. That of course meant the music was a little “mature” for my tastes (not much chance of “Arctic Monkeys” or even “Coldplay”), and I got itchy to leave as soon as the dancing (which you’ll recall is purely a spectator event for me) began. I was however returned to momentary calmness when Louis Armstrong came on the playlist. He had such a unique voice, and a kindly manner.

Wikipedia: Louis Armstrong

Wikipedia: Louis Armstrong

This song was first released in 1968, and written as a positive antidote to the American mood around the Vietnam War (allegedly.) Tony Bennett turned it down and it was offered to Satchmo. Good move!

This YouTube version has a spoken introduction by Armstrong, using his other nickname of “Pops”.

Have a warmer, snugglier day…


I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

Mother Mother

18 12 2011

Tick tock… can’t wait. Only 12 more days to go until I get to see Mother Mother live. My style councillor (who conveniently shares half my DNA and a large portion of my music tastes) put me on to them about a year ago with their song Arms Tonite from their O My Heart album. Quirky doesn’t come close. Turned out they were Vancouver based. Then turned out they’re actually from Quadra Island. (Could explain the poor spelling, I suppose.)

New album (Eureka) is awesome with Baby Don’t Dance and The Stand (below) standing out (no pun intended).

I especially love The Stand because of the senses being enumerated. Just sayin’…

(Oh… I forgot about handfuls!)

They’ve got three albums under their belt now, and I’m sure they’ll stay a while longer.

They’ve even got a free download of a Chrimbo tune on their web site.