January 2012


The other day I contacted the charity I will be raising money for on my Leeds/Liverpool canal walk. I mentioned in my email that I was recovered from ME. Amongst the extremely useful information I gained from them was one little line full of concern that my efforts may cause me a relapse.

Whilst, I am aware this is well-intentioned concern, I find this a little irksome. Since recovering from ME I have often come across this negativity from those who are still lumbered with this illness. Not everyone by a long shot, and certainly not from anyone who is a close personal friend.

This attitude bemuses me. I understand that in part it is self-preservation. Living with ME/CFS is a myriad of crushed hopes and dreams and sometimes it is just better not to hope in order to avoid disappointment. So the reaction of “be careful you’ll have a relapse” is easier to deal with than another hope or dream that could be dashed, but sometimes, hope is all you have, and if one person can recover, then so can you.

I have never seen this reaction to people who have made miraculous recoveries from other illnesses. A friend of mine has recently had the all clear on his five year scan after recovering from cancer, which is amazing news and no one could be more pleased than I. Except maybe him. There’s no one pissing on his bonfire telling him the likelihood of the cancer returning. Even though cancer quite often does that.

It took me a long time to admit to myself that it’s really, really gone, that it’s not just some blip; longer to actually say those words out loud.
I am painfully aware that this illness may one day hit me again. Yeah. Well. You might get hit by a car, I don’t warn you not to cross the road every day do I?

I really do believe in finding the good that can rise from the ashes of disaster. Not that things happen for a reason, but that you can use the bad to learn, to improve, to make life better. I’ve been struggling to find the good that came from my five years of ill health. The good is this:

I appreciate my health a whole lot more, I refuse to let one more minute of my life slip away unnoticed, I will live what is left of my life to it’s fullest, and your negativity is not going to get in my way. Do me a favour, quit pissing on my bonfire and look both ways before you step out on to the road.

Unlike the weather, I have embarked on a dry spell and haven’t had a drop to drink since the wee hours of 1st Jan. It’s not a New Year’s resolution, it just happens that the 1st Jan is a good time to start to giving up the booze. I have particular goals, reasons or rhymes and I have set myself no timescales. I’m mainly doing it to give my body a break and to prove to myself that I can. It’s a thing I do every now and again.

It’s a funny thing about quitting something. It’s suddenly jumping up at me everywhere I go. Tasty, delicious, warming, refreshing alcohol. I wants it, I wants it, my precious. So far I have resisted temptation. I know, I know. It’s only been four days, but it’s looking at me, I can feel the eyes of those half full bottles of lovely thick liqueurs sitting on the kitchen table, taunting me with their warming lusciousness. My will power is mighty though, and I will endure.

It’s a far cry from the first dry spell I put myself through some 9 years ago now. At that time I probably hadn’t gone a week without getting blathered since I was about 15. It was a ritual I grew up with and continued into my 20s and early 30s. Work hard, party hard. I couldn’t actually imagine having fun without a drink in my hand. I rejoiced with alcohol and I drowned my sorrows in it. Then something happened that made me see things differently and I quit. Just like that.

I’m not saying it was easy, it took a lot of will power, determination and most of all wanting to do it. I couldn’t have alcohol in the house or go into a pub for quite some time, but the longer I went without a drink, the longer I wanted to go. I think it was 6 months in the end. I was never going to be completely teetotal, I enjoy drinking and being drunk far too much for that! It changed my life, it’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re not drunk or hungover! If I’m brutally honest, it probably saved my life too, I dread to think where I would be now, if I had continued to drink the way I was.

So every now and then, I give myself a break from it. It’s hard work for the first couple of weeks, but after that, I don’t even notice its absence. So farewell lovely, luscious, thick warming liqueurs, so long sparkly, refrshing cider. I’ll come back to you, when I’m ready, but for now, you have no power over me.

Music. I grew up with it. Memories cling to it. I surround myself with it. If I am not at work, or watching TV, I am probably listening to music. I physically can’t leave the house without my iPod and headphones. It is both the background and the foreground to my life. It was my first obsession and it will probably be my last. But what is it actually worth?

A friend fired this topic at me and I replied, “I don’t think you can put a price on the music you love, however, I think it should be cheap to buy.” When I looked back at what I had written it didn’t seem to tally somehow. How can music be both priceless and cheap at the same time? Music means the absolute world to me, it would have to be a life or death situation before I would even consider selling my vinyl or CD collections, and even then there would be certain albums I could never part with, despite the fact that I have them all uploaded to a hard drive and never use physical copies anymore. Everyone should be able to have that experience, music should be readily, easily and cheaply available to anyone that wants it (and forced upon those who think they don’t), whether that be to buy in the neatly packaged form of a CD or download, or just to have access to a radio or a musical instrument.

Then came the topic of file sharing. Personally, I would never illegally download music, but I say this as a reasonably well paid member of society with funds spare each month to spend on the things I love. Music companies like to bandy about terms like “Piracy is killing music.” To them I say, get an internet connection. I say that piracy, and I’m not talking the mass production of fake CDs and DVDs, I’m talking Joe Bloggs who sits at his computer and helps himself to a little free music from a download site, then in turn shares that with his friends, can actually help music.

Firstly, the artists themselves make very little money from selling their product in the form of a CD or download. The money from the sale of a CD is shared between a whole host of people and you can bet your life the biggest chunk is going to the record companies that are so busy scaremongering about the imminent death of music. Artists get their money from touring and all the lovely lucrative bonuses that come along with it.

Why do you think record companies are pushing for stronger controls on music piracy but no one gives two hoots about the touts ripping off fans by selling fake and/or exorbitantly priced gig tickets and the dodgy geezers selling fake merchandise that’s spelled incorrectly and falls apart after two washes? Yep, cos the record companies aren’t making any money off that stuff. Touring is the artists bread and butter.

Of course, artists need the record companies to produce their music in the first place, but it is becoming easier and easier to self produce and cut out those annoying middlemen, which would probably also be accused of killing music if the record companies were actually aware enough to realise it was happening.

Secondly, the majority of music played by commercial radio stations at the moment comes straight off the back of reality shows like X-Factor and American Idol (during the daytime when most people listen to the radio at least), and to be perfectly honest I don’t think either Simon Cowell or Louis Walsh needs any more money. Sometimes the only access people have to new, original music is discovering it through file sharing. Take the Arctic Monkeys for example, one of the biggest UK bands of the last few years. They got their start through the very thing record companies insist is killing music. File sharing. The band gave out free CDs at early gigs and fans shared them online and clamoured for more. Their first album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (released in 2006) still holds the record the fastest selling debut album in the UK.

Thirdly, and finally, it is at least in part because of piracy and efforts to counter it, that music has become much more widely available and cheap to legally downland and that we have wonderful places like Spotify, where you can listen to music all day long for free, while the copyright holders still get their pound of flesh. I am, at this very moment, discovering some incredible Drum and Bass which I will more than likely pay good money for at a later date.

I put it to you that in actual fact, piracy is keeping music alive, it’s Simon Cowell that is killing music.

I never make New Year’s Resolutions, not since that time when I was 13 and decided to become Vegan, then casually ate a chocolate someone passed me at around 00:15 on the 1st January.

1st January is, however, also a good time to start one of my “dry” periods after the excess of the Christmas period, so as of yesterday I am off the booze for… well for a while. Only time will tell how long and I never make myself promises I can’t keep.

2012 looks set to be a good year though and I have many plans for it.

Firstly, I will be starting on Open University course in March. It’s just one of their Openings courses intended for those, like me, who haven’t studied in a long long time. I say “just” this is actually a HUGE deal for me and something I have scared myself away from doing for an awful long time. If all goes to plan and I don’t suck at this whole learning game it will count towards an English Literature degree which I will be starting later in the year, which in turn will count towards me getting that Teaching English as a Foreign Language job, which in turn will count towards me getting the fuck out of dodge.

Secondly, I am walking from Leeds to Liverpool along the aptly named Leeds/Liverpool canal for charity in September so lots of planning and training to do for that. For more info on and updates on my progress please check out Skyewalk on Blog, Twitter, Facebook and y’know sponsor me and stuff.

In the meantime, I have Inva2ion to look forward to, my first convention for a year, my old love Ultravox will be releasing a new album and touring, and my current obsession, The Killers will also be releasing a new album and hopefully treat us to a couple of dates in the summer before the real touring starts. Brandon Flowers says 2012 is going to be The Year of The Killers, and I believe ANYTHING that comes out of such a pretty mouth. My non-music obsession, Joss Whedon, has three films coming out next year, Much Ado About Nothing, Cabin in The Woods and The Avengers, two of which star the lovely, lovely Chris Hemsworth in.

So all in all, a fun-packed year, what could possibly go wrong?

Last Christmas was not my best Christmas ever to say the least.

I had put off worrying about the impending redundancies at work until after #ontourwithBFlow2010 was done. I didn’t want anything to spoil those moments. Consequently November hit hard with “at risk” letters falling right on top of my Post Gig Depression. Our good employers then deemed that giving us their decision as to whether we would have a job or not before Christmas might ruin it for us. Well, thanks, put I think I’ll be the judge of what will ruin Christmas, and frankly the worry and stress of not knowing was worse than losing my job.

The New Year kicked off in style, with a nice letter to say I was being made redundant. I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting to get put on the resilience team, a “back up” team for when people left in droves and they needed some experienced people to do the job. This would involve an up to 3 hour journey each way to do a job I hated. Redundancy was the better option.

After the initial shock, I picked up myself up, dusted myself off and started planning my new life. I had been less than happy in my job for quite some time. Not the actual work itself, just the situation. There were way too many bad memories and associations there. This was a chance for a new start, which I badly needed.

After looking at the meagre job options available to me, I decided to try a new career, one that would hopefully lead to me achieving my dream of retiring abroad despite me now having no money and no pension to rely on, Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I took an introductory course and was promptly informed that my employers did see fit to give me a job. On the dreaded resilience team. They didn’t get the joyous reception they were expecting. My year had gone from bad to worse.

Meanwhile, in other parts of my life, things were great. My health was holding up, I introduced Niamh and Michelle to conventions and not only had The Killers announced some “come back” dates, including one in the UK, but Brandon Flowers threw in a few festival solo dates. Throwing caution to the wind I decided to have a last hurrah before I was permanently broke and booked a trip to London for The Killers and to Cornwall for Brandon Flowers. Best. Decision. Ever. Those memories will never fade.

Just as things were beginning to look particularly bleak, and the time was approaching that I was going to have to hand in my notice, rather than do the horrid, horrid job that I hated, I was offered a full time post at Halifax. Not ideal, but So. Much. Better. than my current options.

And then, the impossible happened, I spent an evening in a pub in Manchester with Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers and his side project Big Talk. I think he must have some kind of Midas Touch, because my life finally turned around and got better right around this point.

Despite, the awkwardness of the travelling, I am incredibly happy in my new job. All the stresses and strains and headaches of the past few years are gone and I can look to the future once more. This Christmas has been a happy one and I look forward to 2012 with great anticipation.

In retrospect, 2011 was a good year, I went through a lot, I had some amazing experiences, I made some wonderful new friends, and I start 2012 with hope instead of despair.