The third rung of the ladder.

May 30, 2017

To say that running my own business is a bit of a strain is a slight understatement. Actually, it’s a complete and utter lie. Trying to do everything that I need to do is an utter nightmare. It is not helped when you discover that people that you trusted were actively working against your best interests at various points, if not actively betraying you.

I have experienced the struggle of trying to make a success of yourself as an honest, working class, person with permanent health problems and I can honestly state that it is hell on a daily basis. It has been a long hard road since 1999, dragging myself back to a given value of normal life, through breakdowns, madness, homelessness, agoraphobia , pain killer addiction, depression and anxiety and now heart problems. 

If you think of it as climbing up a ladder, trying to get on the first rung back to ‘normality’ is an absolute nightmare, we all scurry along through life, juggling work, finances, relationships, keeping healthy and keeping a home, never quite realising just how near we are to the whole lot just blowing up in our face, of course, that is until it does just that. All it takes is for one thing to go at the wrong time and all the rest start to suffer. Your health goes, then your job goes, your relationship doesn’t stand the strain, then you pop a few more gaskets until one day you are sleeping on a relations sofa, with them pretending that you aren’t getting in the way, none of your clothes fit and you look dreadful because all the medication is puffing you out, your friends have all started distancing themselves from you as if mental health problems are catching and you are flogging all the things you can’t drag from one place to another to keep yourself in cigarettes money because it is the only thing getting you through the days. 

The first rung is admitting how bad things are and getting help. The problem is, what help? Much of it doesn’t come until you are actively making a nuisance of yourself and the waiting list for ‘polite nutters’ like myself is phenomenal. Then there are the issues of what you do get in the way of help, what is fashionable amongst the mental health services  at that moment and what is affordable. You may get cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy), mood stabilisers, anti depressants, anti psychotics, group therapy or if you are really lucky, jungian/humanistic/ talking therapy. They each work for a give value of working for different people,  some people are lucky and they hit the right combination of meds and therapy first go, but for most it is a long and drawn out process with the welfare services making it worse all the while. Let’s be honest here, the biggest factor here in the likelihood and speed of recovery is how wealthy and supportive your family is. For me, they were neither and so…

After ten years I finally got to rung two, that is, interacting with the world again. It isn’t an easy thing relearning how to do everything you need to do to get back to living that normal life we all crave. Learning how to recover from set backs is tricky and requires a great deal of practice. Having a breakdown that lasts a hellish fortnight can be regarded as a success if the one before lasted a month and the one before that six. I started living independently again, working hard to do those things that others take for granted. It took a year of monthly session with a life coach at forty pound a time to learn how to sit on my own in a cafe without turning into a gibbering wreck. That came out of my pittance of survival money and was worth every penny. 

The curse of getting slightly better is that the welfare services start twirling their moustaches and looking for a railway track to tie you to. The Tories hit upon a wonderful way of dealing with the walking wounded in mental health terms, theyjust pretend you are perfectly fine. They pulled out the instructions of the monopoly set and just changed all the rules to fit their own skewd version of reality, ignoring tens of thousands of deaths as a strange quirk in their statistics. 

There are wonderful people out there to help but, ironically, you have to know where to look and be sane enough to get that help. It’s a chicken and egg situation, a trap that many fall through and back onto the streets again, your fingers stomped on and off rung two you fall. 

As well as the wonderful people, paid and voluntary, out there, their are also so utter wankers. They fall into three main categories, the well meaning ones who don’t know what they are doing and cause harm, the ones who just take the money and do a crap job and the people who are mentally ill themselves, either boosting their ego or fulfilling some sick need to feel superior to the unlucky sods who cross their paths.

I am always amazed at how disgusting some of the things that people do are to the mentally ill and the vulnerable. There is stuff going on that harks back in offensiveness levels to the black and white minstrel show. They aren’t horrible people doing it and they get really offended if you pick them up on how insulting and degrading they are being to people like me but if you asked some jobbing musician in the seventies wearing blackface, I’m sure he or she would have thought the same.

My ascent to the third rung was a bit of an oxymoron as it was a case of jumping rather than being pushed. I’m self employed now and it is not easy, I’m constantly exhausted and my time is never my own. I’m poorer than I have ever been in my life and I am constantly beseiged by worry. And yet, it is an improvement on waiting for the next government sponsored witch trial so send me back to homelessness. I still get help though and I need to down tools for weeks every years just to deal with the admin and paperwork for that help, knowing that all it would take would be some faceless bureaucrat to take issue with the validity of all my work and wipe everything I’ve done into the gutter. That said, when asked what I do now, I make no apologies, here is my business card, those are my web stores, you can buy my stuff from that shop and over there is a mural I have done and if you go and have a look in that gallery, there is one of my paintings, hanging on the wall.

I don’t know if i shall ever reach the fourth rung, I keep reaching out for it but I can never take hold. To get to even a shadow of that ‘normal’ life that has so long eluded me, to have choices, to not be a sitting target for the government to take a pot shot at should they take a fancy to. To take hold of that I have to compete with the norms. Those with families who were supportive or at best not a total nightmare, those who breezed through the education system, those who were handed opportunities rather than having to claw at them with broken finger nails and chew at them with broken teeth.

Now, here it comes, that noise like a plague of locusts, that chittering sound on the edge of hearing that gets louder and louder. Bitter, bitter, bitter, bitter, the deflector shield of the privileged slides into place to cover all the ways they slid into what they do as they silently close ranks and doors and stick out a leg to trip you up. As you try and get paid work, build up a network, get a foot in the door. There they all are, stopping you. Whether through bruised ego or the thought that one day you might cost them that cushy bit of work and their chance to get a shiny new vintage look pushbike instead of you starving and freezing another winter. The middle class mafia stab you in the back just one more time.

And the most twisted thing of all? Why look there! There they all are, the exact same faces in all those well meaning but ultimately useless charities, ‘helping out’ other poor sods, getting their street cred, polishing their halo and doing a bit of networking all the while. Happy to lend a helping hand…. Just so long as you don’t climb too far out of the gutter as the stench might permeate their world. And they can’t have that, can they?

Climb under a cow…

May 22, 2017

Over the last few weeks I’ve felt like a football fan who doesn’t own all the fancy telly channels, trying to dodge the final score of last night’s match. Creating a local media blackout amidst a general election is not an easy thing to manage but I’ve got pretty close. On Saturday though someone, went and spoilt it and told me all about the impending, down with the kids, extravaganza…

Oh dear! You know, there are so many times in life when I pray that I have got something wrong, sadly, I rarely do, well except for romance and money where I’m the village idiot. The great, mostly well meaning, event turned into exactly what I predicted, another back slapping exercise for the people doing it and yet another case of people preaching to the mostly converted. A couple of genuinely talented people were there but mostly it was the usually pathetic attention seekers in search of yet another platform to make an exhibition of themselves. The stuff I know about some of those show offs would make your toes curl, and yet there they are again… doing their bit for the community. And there is that word again, community, in this case it’s the same definition as it usually is, them (whichever them it is) and their mates. The hearts and minds that are needed, the kids on the estates, the ones working for piss all in supermarkets, the ones whose horizons don’t include higher education beyond the vindictive teenage play pens to corral the niets, the people and votes they need aren’t here, they took one look at the kids playing, the old sods dragging out their usual stuff and, Christ on a bike! Poetry!!!!! They look at this self indulgent wank and think…. Well, something very rude and dismissive. And so, there is a bit of a crowd, maybe bit of a buzz, and the planners feel dead chuffed  with themselves. But, and how many times do I need to repeat this? IT’S THE WRONG PEOPLE! That lot, they were going to vote anyway, you need the ones who don’t.

Now the first thing any these people aways say to me is something along the lines of, “you think you are so clever, you do something” (well actually I do plenty but they are all too self absorded to notice) The simple answer to that is the first thing to do is to get the whole lot of them to fuck off and stay fucked off and that, unsurpringly, is where you lose them. One of the big problems come when people fail to understand when their help is neither wanted nor needed because the people they are really doing whatever for, deep down, is themselves. If you want to help, find an expert and give them the money, if you want to put on a show, do it for yourself and let it stand or fail on its own merits without hiding behind a cause. If you are feeling bad about yourself, find a decent psychotherapist, if you are bored, buy a jigsaw puzzle. If you sit in a room with a bunch of poorly adjusted people trying to sort out their problems vicariously through ‘unfortunates’ of some kind and tell them they mustn’t show off or attract any attention to themselves, see what you get. It won’t be pleasant.

Sadly, there is a running theme amongst those who gravitate towards the community and social work spheres and that is that they are choc full of people whose lives are a complete and utter disaster. I’m not sure if it’s because they are so busy trying to fix other people’s lives that they don’t sort out their own trainwrecks of existences or because they can’t face dealing with their own messed up lives and find it easier to try and fix those of others. They become addicted to getting involved, they can’t stop themselves, even when it is the last thing that they should be doing.

After the predictable first question above comes the statement, you are so…. (Delete as applicable) negative/cynical/pessimistic.  In truth, I am the exact opposite. I am continually expecting that people will act in a selfless, thoughtful, considerate, polite and decent manner. The problem is that they so rarely do, which is what upsets me. Whether it is people making a nuisance of themselves, being antisocial, causing hurt, causing harm, demeaning or patronising other people, I keep expecting them to stop, realise what they are doing and act like decent, grown up, people… but they never, ever, do. There is always an excuse, always a deflection always a smart arsed  reply or even an out and out bare faced lie. Yet, despite of that, I am always expecting people to be better than they really are, if that’s not optimistic, I don’t know what it.
So, if you feel the urge to do something, anything, to help whoever or whatever, then please think long and hard about what you are doing. Is it helping, will it hurt anyone, will it distract from something more important? If all you truly want is for people to like you or think you are a good person, then stop right now. If you need a pat on the back, go and crawl under a cow’s arse and wait.

The dreaded C word.

March 28, 2017

There is a word I hear all the time that makes my flesh crawl, it’s misused, misunderstood and whenever it appears in a conversation it has the same effect as spotting a turd floating in a swimming pool. Ok, brace yourself, here it is…. It’s… Community! Oh, sorry! Were you expecting something else? 

I wrote last year a little about the notions of community but different aspects and assumptions keep seeming to pop up around it. Some of the things I am going to touch upon might not make much sense at first but please bear with me as I will get there eventually.

Did you know that you are effectively balancing a small car on your head right now? That is roughly the weight of the column of air in the atmosphere above you at any given moment. You can’t see it, you can’t feel it but you live in it all the time, mostly unaware of its continual presence even to the point that we forget we are breathing it in as it is what’s called an autonomic response, that is something that our body does without us really thinking about it. As human beings we take so much for granted, the language we communicate in, and even think in, effects the way we perceive the world as does our place in the social structure, our education, our cultural background, our financial status, how we are treated and how we were treated as children makes us see things in a certain way. We take so much of this perception for granted, like that weight of air above our heads that we don’t see and it is the cause for so much misery and misunderstanding whether we choose to see it or not. It’s odds on that I see the world very differently from you, not just because my finances, upbringing and experiences are uniquely mine but because I am neurologically different to you. 

Being dyspraxic has its good and bad points, the bad ones being rather dibilatating and limit my ability to function in social situations like parties, pubs or indeed anywhere with a more than a few people at a time. I can’t filter out conversations and hear the ones across the room as clearly as the one I am having at that moment. In some ways, it is a little like being deaf in that you end up having to fill in the missed gaps in the conversation you are having as it makes you appear rude to get people to repeat themselves constantly and, as a consequence, you miss the fine detail of what you are being told. At the same time though, you hear everyone else’s conversations and pick up all their subtle body language cues and pick up an awful lot of what is going on that you are probably best off not knowing. Suffice to say, I avoid being anywhere public past midday if I possibly can as it gets painful to be around people very quickly. There are a few good points to this though, I see details that others miss, I’m really good at rotating shapes and perspectives, even bending them in my head to make things fit that shouldn’t, I hear things in music most don’t. If managed well, it is as good as it is bad to be dyspraxic but it means my life is very different from most and has to be to remain even remotely sane. 

Up until a few years ago, I had the pleasure of total anonymity. I have a handful of very close and loyal friends and a few people I am happy to chat to and that’s the way I like it. Some people are hoarders, you see them on tv if you like all that mawkish garbage, they fill their houses with broken stuff and things they cannot bear to part with until it chokes up their lives to the point that they can’t function. There are people who do this with people and it has much the same crippling effect but often worse as old newspapers don’t make the demands on your time that crappy people do. Whilst my home has a few too many books in it (if that is possible), I like to keep the people to a few loyal and truly lovely ones, who (I would like to think) get the same back in return. One of the gifts, or curses if you choose to see it that way, of no one really knowing anything about you is that you see people as they truly are. A lovely person will be lovely to you no matter what, just because, because they are lovely, whereas someone less pleasant won’t even acknowledge your existence unless they have a good reason to and being a, slightly overweight, balding, middle aged man who is quite obviously not rolling in money, what use would I be to anyone like that? It was all duly noted though, and when I met them later, under different circumstances, I remembered. I also remembered their conversation I overheard, I remembered the way they treated serving staff, I remembered what they were like when drunk or drugged up and saw them for what they were and not what they wanted me to think they were. Then, when circumstances changed, they wanted to engage me in their community… Suffice to say, my answer was a very definite no! 

Now things are a little trickier, mainly as I have my own little posse of haters to contend with, but I had one of those fascinating moments of overhearing a very enlightening conversation between the (perceived) great and the good, yesterday. I knew who a few of them were and the situation that they were discussing and were planning on exploiting to their mutual advantage. It was about funding, charity and being community minded, but mostly about making a fast buck from it all.

Firstly though, a little about community, the big mistake so many people make is thinking that there is only one of them. There are many communities and the divides are constantly changing. I always get really cross when I hear phrases like “Muslim community” or “refugee community”as it is just another way separating people off into an ethnic or socio political lump. We all belong to many different communities at the same time and they are defined not just by religion or geography but by what we do, what we like to watch on television , what music we like, what class we came from and what we aspire to. We club together for many reasons, safety, values, approval, enjoyment, whatever but one of the biggest mistakes many people make is to not realise that there are more communities out there than the one to which we belong. Our communities are like the air I mentioned earlier, they weigh down on us, put pressure on us, they are the world we live in, so much so that we don’t step outside them and can fail to see beyond our own chosen view of the world. Plus, once we are in one of these communities, we become frightened of meeting its disapproval and of stepping outside its  boundaries and allegiances. There is, of course, a narrower definition of ‘community, and that is ‘clique’, cliques are usually smaller and more insular than the larger definition and are often quite poisonous in make up, particularly to those on the outside. Call a group of people what you want, community, clique, gang, tribe, but be aware that whenever anyone uses the phrase “we are doing this for the community” the correct response  is “which one?”

The other c word is charity, the definition of which now is even more vague and amorphous than that of community. There was a time when the bulk of social care was the responsibility of either local authorities or the government and charities had very separate responsibilities and concerns. But since the slow death of the public services, initiated by the conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and aided and abetted by new labour, the con-dem coalition and the conservatives again, so much of the social safety net of the United Kingdom is now a flimsy network of quangos, private companies and privatised former government departments, many of which now technically have charitable status. The vagaries around who does what and for whom has created some interesting grey areas, open for exploitation by the unscrupulous willing to write their own ticket, or in this case, blank cheque. From large and very litigious companies involved with unemployed people, who would probably take me to court if I mentioned them, down to individuals, the whole system is now ripe for abuse. One of the most depressing of wheezes works like this…

 Ok, say you do something, clog dancing, crotchet, cat herding, it really doesn’t matter so long as you can argue that it is either therapeutic in some way or promotes community cohesion (whatever we define community as this month) then you pick your marginalised group to exploit help out, it could be refugees, victims of domestic violence, the Esperanto speaking community, there are so many to choose from. Then you trawl through the lists of available funding sources, be they charitable institutions, big businesses seeking their annual tax write off, funds set up by dead rich people trying to retrospectively provide themselves a good name from beyond the grave and you find your mark funding source to approach, you tell them about the plight of the poor,  marginalised Esperanto speakers of canvey island and about how learning to juggle cats whilst playing the nose flute would give them all a sense of empowerment, whilst at the same time you offer the Esperanto speakers of canvey island the wonderful opportunity of becoming cat jugglers and nose flute players for free. Soon you have created for yourself a marvellous job, paying yourself handsomely for doing precisely nothing of any use to anyone, the classic ‘non job’. Everywhere you look you will find these little fiddles, people presenting their services pre paid but ultimately helping no one. You have to have a certain sort of mind to work a racket like this, and the effrontery to pull it off with a straight face. Most perpatrator’s tend to be very middle class and carry it off with a sense of self righteoness that others rarely dare to question, but frame it anyway you want, they are still running a con. I must stress that there are some wonderful people out there, doing amazing things and they deserve all the help and funding they can get but there are also some right wankers about.

Even the most benign aspects of community engagement can become tainted though, mainly due to the type of people they attract. For the bulk of the population, just getting by in life is hard enough, they have neither the free time or the energy to get involved in extraneous activities, they are too busy trying to keep their heads above water. Plus when most people dip a toe into communal waters, they find the structures and etiquette placed on community projects unfathomable, what with all the meeting, groups, minutes, buzzwords and other accepted minutia of those who have nothing better to do with their time than get involved in everything going. Plus you tend to see all the same faces taking the same roles and having enough money to be able to spend their free time in such persuits and, sadly, when such people barge their way to their usual seats at the committee table, the only new faces are pushy or boorish enough to claw their way to their own spot, whilst anyone less dogmatic will invariably shuffle to the back and then swiftly out of the church hall door. There is something Darwinian about the set up of most community events and, over time, once the usual suspects turn up, everyone else leaves. Whether these people realise this or not, I don’t know, but if they are anything like the versions of this stereotype that I have met, I doubt that they would care as their ego and opinion seems to be all that they are.

I think the point I am trying to get across here is,  join in with things and be engaged if you want, but don’t feel bad for wanting to stay at home and read a book. If you do choose to get involved though,  just make sure of what you are getting involved in, with whom and have a quick think about their motivations for doing it in the first place. Be aware that others might have reasons for doing things that you might not agree with and by just turning up you justify those a little bit more. Just read the small print of life a bit more often.

If a tree falls…

November 18, 2016

I wrote the following blog last night and, like a lot of stuff I write , wasn’t going to publish it. It’s always a struggle living  somewhere with as many narcissists as St Leonards as to how much to ignore them and what to say, knowing full well how manipulative they can be and how they will deliberately misinterpret what I write as me being negative or nuts. Something happened this morning to tip the balance though. It has been enough of a struggle to avoid the grotesquerie of pointlessness arranged for New Year’s Eve but today an advert for a job came my way. It is effectively made for me, I tick every single one of the obscure skills and abilities needed and it is in walking distance no less. There are a few catches though, the same skill sets could be used far better to clothe the homeless, the sheer amount of wasted materials when the project is over and thirdly and to me the most important, it bears all the grubby fingerprints of the rancid egomaniacs mentioned below. I also suspect it will be bit of a stitch up and there will be candidates already lined up for the post. Jobs for the boys I suspect… Or in this case girls.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it then does it make a sound? So asked philosopher George Berkeley back in 1710. If something has been posted on Facebook and no one reads about it, then did it actually happen? So asks me today. Over the last six months or so I have been systematically unfollowing, blocking and restricting every single bit of ego stroking, narcissism, attention seeking etc that popped up on my news feed. As the torrent of tedious dross slowed to a trickle, my life felt so much better, I only wish I’d done it years ago. 

I could be wrong but it seems to me that so many things that happen, happen for no other reason than for certain characters to be seen to be doing something, whether that is being seen to be doing good, being seen to be looking trendy, right on, whatever… I can’t help wondering, if that is the case, if people weren’t actually witnessed to be doing what they do, would they still do it? Things come to my attention despite my attempts at a news and media blackout and I think “why would someone go to all that time and effort?” Be it people sleeping in a cardboard box, doing a marathon, a benefit gig, the effort, the hours put in, why don’t the people involved just stick their hands in their pockets and hand the cash over? The same with all the other cobblers that people do, why do people make such songs and dances about thinly veiled reasons for them to be looked at in public and to be seen to be doing something cool? Is it insecurity? Desperation? A need for approval? I don’t get it.

I ask this as producing stuff to sell involves hawking my wares in some manner or another, engaging in the world in ways I find uncomfortable. I think the shoemaker’s elves had it right personally, doing what they do in the dead of night and scuttling away. I’d do what I do if nobody bought it or liked it, when I catch a glimpse of the grandiose but poorly executed nonsense that goes on around me I only wish other people locally would do the same.

I hazard a guess that a lot of it is the need to be accepted, a need for approval, a need to feel part of something, as if our identities shrink to nothing if there is no one around to witness what we do. I’ve never really got it myself, I grew out of that as a teenager, I just wish the rest of the world would try and do the same, grow up! Yes, I appreciate that that is a deeply ironic thing for a middle aged bloke with a huge collection of toys to say but it makes sense, well sort of. One can be childlike without being childish, one involves looking at everything with fresh eyes and ideas and seeing the wonder in it all and the other requires you to scream, stamp your feet and generally make a nuisance of yourself until people take notice of you. Personally, I would rather have one person notice me because I did something well than a hundred because I made myself a pain in the arse, but that’s just me I guess. 

Boxing Day Came early this year.

September 26, 2015

beardyhatI’ve not had my eye on the ball much recently. Things keep slipping past me as I’ve dissapeared inside myself but this jerked me back for a moment. W.T.F? What the fucking fuck? Let me get this straight, the Seaview project of St Leonard’s held a charity sleep out in a box event…. I want that to sink in for a moment…. They got people to sleep out, in a box, for charity, for one night.

Little known fact, I actually have been homeless. True it was the “sofa surfing, where the hell do I get that form sent? Slip through the cracks and lose everything I ever owned before finding my feet and slowly rebuilding my life over fifteen years homeless” rather than the “I’ve just been moved on by the old bill for messing up someone’s nice and tidy park bench for the tenth time tonight, maybe if I drink some more special brew my problems will go away for one blissful moment ” homeless but I know that terrifying feeling of touching the void.

I recognise a lot of names on the guest list, there are people who were partying in bottle ally during coastal currents (where the fuck do you think people went when you were having a knees up in their bedroom?) and others who shun and defriend the mentally ill at the drop of a hat. What fucking hypocrites you are! I personally know a few Seaview clients, I have painted a few and am happy to chat for a while. But they are proud people and a lot of them aren’t very well in one way or another.I have even been in there myself a few times for advice. No one wants to end up homeless and it is always much nearer than you think, one lost job, one broke relationship, a death in the family, too much stress and bang! There you are on your arse with your world in pieces.captain black

One question really intrigues me…. Was there a bar? Because if there was then someone really needs their arse kicking. Also, did they get woken up by the police ten times a night? Did anyone piss on them, put the boot in, rummage through their pockets? Did anyone have a go at them for owning a mobile phone, for having a cigarette or doing anything other than grovel and fawn in the dirt like the scum they are assumed to be? You can’t walk away from that sort of poverty back to your nice home, you can’t walk away from the skin diseases, the heart, liver and brain damage either. This is real and nasty and dibilatating. Some dirt never comes off.

Words fail…. What next? How about this! Find some striped pyjamas, scrawl a number on your arm with a marker pen and book a trip to Auschwitz. But Hey! It’s for charity!

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