Day 27: Bedlam

pocket asylum folded Q&A sheetI caught the Bedlam: the asylum and beyond exhibition at the Wellcome Building in Euston, all about mental health and how it was treated – in asylums featuring metal collars, chains, straitjackets, ECT, teeth removal (and other innards), pills, art, talking therapies and, well, pretty much anything, with the inmates occasionally providing a weekend entertainment freak show for visitors.

In sharp contrast at the end of the collection, the requests of those with mental health problems were listed through the five senses what they would like to experience and what their ideal day would be like. The answers were things like: snuggling an animal, going for a walk or swim, having nice food, doing some gardening, smelling flowers, listening to their favourite music, meeting friends, sleeping with pleasant (or no) dreams. Essentially, normal things. In fact, the kind of normal things you want when your work-life balance is out of sync and you are feeling a bit head-full. Which is obviously a topic of great current interest to me.

The show finished by asking questions such as: Is it possible to go mad in a positive way? How would you create a safe place in which to do so? If you designed your own asylum, what would it be like?

One of the responses came from artists from who provided a ‘pocket asylum’ with three questions for attendees to answer and take away:

  1. How could you change your environment to better support mental health?……..
  2. How would you support a friend/relative/co-worker if they were struggling with their mental health?……..
  3. What support might you need if you were struggling with your mental health?……….


Followed by an exhortation to “Read in the future as required”.

I think my answers would be:

  1. More smells – Fairy Liquid and burning turf reminds me of my granny in Ireland, wallflowers reminds me of spring in my mum’s garden, Pete’s deodorant… reminds me of Pete, incense of Bali, jasmine of Thai garlands, and so on. The sense of smell is something I underestimate and don’t think of when compared with putting on some music, for example.
  2. Be kind, listen, don’t judge (yeah, hard).
  3. Get someone who cares to seek out someone who can do the above.

I don’t know why I’m posting this particularly, apart from the Wellcome Trust always puts on a good exhibition that packs a tonne of information and things to think about (their ‘Death’ one from a couple of years ago was fantastic).

But also I suppose because this is something that has affected me and many people I know. Anyone can be affected by mental health issues and vulnerable at different times of their life – and my experience has ranged from drunken earworms that have driven me to madness in my sleep (Spanish Flea by Herb Alpert was the worst) to an extended depressive episode caused by complicated grief which meant I couldn’t stop crying (mostly at really inappropriate work times) to having visual hallucinations for a few hours after experiencing something traumatic. And that’s just me; for two years I was in a relationship with someone who was bi-polar and with multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder). The mind is a delicate and fascinating thing. So I guess that’s why I’m posting this. It’s been on my mind. I might have to write about this some more. Or not. We’ll see.

Day 26: London leaving lunch

Visiting that London for a farewell lunch with work colleagues and a catch-up at the agency I freelance for (or rather freelanced for). It’s been nearly four weeks but I feel I haven’t actually started my sabbatical yet. Been too busy lancing my travel boil (sorry).

Pictures now up from Wales and Italy.

Now very ready to get on with other things. November will be all about creative writing and getting a bit fitter.

Day 24: Florence, Fat Fluffs and a farewell

I think I fell a little bit in love with Italy last week despite its October chills. Florence, the Cinque Terre and Pisa photos are to be uploaded but here are three of them, starting with the classic shot of Vernazza, which only those walking the steep trails from Monterosso get to take. (My calves still hurt five days on.)

One of my favourite snaps from Florence – amid the Renaissance sculptures and statues – was this golden man casually riding a giant golden sea turtle. Well played Flo! Perfectly positioned amusing incongruity.

Finally, there’s only one shot you need to take in Pisa, and we just about made it after a storm stuffed up our train back from Monterosso to Pisa Airport. It’s not the greatest shot but it’s a shot. Conclusion: it’s very leany.

It’s good to be back and get on with life though. Today was part work and part checking up on our bunnies who are going through a bonding with other rabbits at Fat Fluffs rescue and sanctuary. There was a quad, now down to a trio after Bert at the back there started pushing his weight around. Hopefully we can pick them up on Wednesday. Bunminster and Joy grooming each other is a massive breakthrough; new bun Hayley is obviously providing the right balance for harmony. (That or Bert stress-bonded them all together.)

A carvery lunch with the family was next as we wished bon voyage to my niece Hannah who is jetting off to Australia in a couple of weeks to start her working holiday visa year. This is something that I did back in 1999 and I have to say it changed my life. It’s great to see her stepping out into her own big adventure.

Finally I had an hour-long feed and cuddle with my new great nephew Matthew, who we are still counting in weeks-old. Yes, he chucked milk down me and yes it was great.

There are always many things in the world to worry about, particularly right now, but these are the lovely things and I have many reasons to feel blessed today.

Day 15: Trip prep

Get diazepam repeat prescription and load up hypnotherapy help on phone for fear of flying, borrow map and phrasebook from neighbours, double-check cheap airlines small print on bag policies, print maps from airport to hotels, and train times for onward travel, pack accordingly to list made in 1994, write note to self for the early morning to bring chargers, quick brag on social media, and I’m off.


Day 13: Rita, RSI and recovery

Lunch with an 86-year-old birthday girl, Rita, who can barely walk due to leg inflammation and support strapping makes one truly appreciate one’s own mobility and relative youth. This sabbatical is more than anything a screen break; it’s about getting physically healthier after years of being a human guinea-pig for the incoming computer generation.

My story is that I got RSI in my neck and right arm in the early 90s, following 12-hour days as part of the launch team on a new weekly TV mag in the deregulated TV listings market. I was off work for a year at the age of 23, and so were half the listings department. Another year part-time and then, after discovering Alexander Technique, I was able to return to full-time work again. The injury is something I’ve had to manage ever since. Overwork, bad posture, long hours, few breaks, clicky-work (data/content migrations) are all triggers. Last year after six months of a sore neck, the physio said there was nothing more they could do but to look at lifestyle change.

And so here I am. It’s going to be interesting to see how much of the stiffness, aches and pains I can reverse. And maybe I won’t have to wear glasses all day either. We’ll see (what I did there).

Day 12: Humming of the bird

Busy day for not very nice reasons but then a lovely visit from my long-time curly chum and sambista, Carinya, who is writing up a storm over on her Guyana blog, the Humming of the Bird. Go read it.

We took her on a guided tour of Stirchley’s junior hipsterville-ification after an old-school Stirchley balti. To your right is the community bakery and cookery school, to your left the carpet shop gorilla, here is Drums International and its sister guitar shop the Music Exchange. There is the former Belgian consulate.

But nothing beat stumbling upon a chamber music performance in the P Cafe followed by a cosy cider in the rammed Wild Cat Tap micropub next door. We didn’t even get as far as the Bike Foundry and Stirchley Wines.

Stirchley – more hipster than Moseley right now.

Day 11: Fat Fluffs, mentoring and Tories in town

Rabbits are both social creatures and vicious furballs of hate so they must go through a bonding process in order to be ‘friends’; sort of like a supervised date. The excellent and knowledgable Fat Fluffs charity is going to attempt a double couple bonding with our male and female, who hate each other, followed by a group bonding. So with a bit of luck we may soon be looking after four rescue bunnies not just two. Busy times ahead.

I then did my first bit of mentoring in an effort to give something back and make use of my industry knowledge. I met with a young female graduate who wants to break into writing/publishing. Explaining what I do as a ‘words person’ (for want of a better title) was quite exhausting as we rambled from training options to journalism, blogging, content marketing, social media marketing and self-publishing. Hopefully useful info for someone just starting out but it’s a radically different world of publishing now from when I first started (and computers were only just coming in). There are fewer traditional routes in but also many more opportunities to get started. And little careers advice, it seems.

I guess I learnt from articulating things that most of my work in the past seven years has come from embracing new technology and tools, teaching myself new stuff, blogging that process, being semi-good at SEO, then sharing what I’ve learnt both as a trainer and in the workplace. I may have been a digital content editor/strategist by title but more often than not I was also chief explainer to new online publishers. Freelancers have to be self-starters and lifelong learners – and never more so than now.

The evening ended with a nice dinner catchup with an old comics pal from my London days. He’s now a local councillor and was up for the Tory party conference, which has rolled into town this week. It could have been a nightmare but fortunately the closest we got to talking politics was today’s Breakfast/Brexit gaffe. So all was well across the dinner table divide.