Goodbye 2014

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Hope the door doesn’t kick you on the arse on the way out.

Strange isn’t it that we are all jumping up and down celebrating a human construct of time and dates – various calendars, changing numbers of days in the year, missed years and a system based on the birth of a saviour – that everyone knew we were counting down to…strange that one –  but here we are at the end of 2014. Or for Muslims we are mid way through the 1430s and the Jews have us at 5774 or thereabouts and China are just finishing the year of the Horse before starting on the year of the sheep (Mon the Reds). So what are we actually celebrating?

Any way up we finish one calendar and start a new one tomorrow in our corner of the world, and I’m glad. 2014 has not been the best year for me and 2015 can only be better in so many ways. Regardless how inaccurate our constructs of time are I always enjoy wiping the slate clean on the 1st of January – it’s like a wee badge of honour to have made it through in more-or-less one piece. Today it seemed fitting to be standing in a graveyard lowering my great-uncle into the ground as names of other family members watched from the granite faces of the headstones around us. It was almost the perfect way to say goodbye to this year by burying it along with him.

New Years has always been a working time for me with Hogmanay being a lucrative time if you have half an ounce of musical ability. Tonight I’ll be seeing in 2015 with a room of strangers for the twentieth-or-so time in my life. I’m used to it now, so-much-so that when I have had a year off I didn’t know what to do with myself and it seemed like such an anticlimax. The hand of the clock moving from one year to the next, one day to the next, one second to the next – but with it comes the chance to dust yourself down and start all over again.

Goodbye 2014: the new depths of depression, the career catastrophe, the deaths both personal and too close for comfort, the uncertainty of day-to-day life, the Scottish Referendum, the end of an era with my own Referendum.

And Hello 2015: No resolutions, no health kicks, no great expectations, a new child to care for, a new nephew or niece to enjoy, a year starting in a positive frame of mind, a job that seems to be a good fit again, a sense of possibilities ahead.

JD

 

2014 – Losses & Gains

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It’s been quite a year. We’ve lost some of the biggest and best but have also (re)discovered new and brilliant talent too.

The biggest loss this year for me was of Robin Williams. He was a man I admired so much and had the great honour of meeting. In the short time I spent in his company he was a quiet warm man who was comfortable speaking to all around him. His comedy is there for all to see, as is his more serious work – which in many ways probably showed him at his most real. The role model of John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” fed into my own teaching and many others I know. His heart was big but his mind was troubled with deep pits of pain that nothing could fill. The only saving grace – if you can even say that – of his suicide was that his body was clear of drink or drugs. His death also showed me how many people are still ignorant to the depths and pains of depression. In my own tiny way I talk about my own battles online in the hope that one person reads it and understands a little better that it’s not something you can shake yourself out of. The joy of Robin is we can all enjoy his work over and over again and share it with our kids and generations to come.

We gained a new shiny Doctor this year in Peter Capaldi and he brought a much-needed freshness to the ancient Time Lord. His wit, eyebrows and presence make him a Doctor that I don’t think we’ll ever really get to know. While this series was marred by the over-Clara-isation there was enough in it to make it “must see” TV. Fingers crossed we’re in a stronger place after a great Christmas special to see where this mysterious Doctor takes us next.

We lost Joan Rivers this year – as she would have wanted it, on the surgeon’s table. I was reminded of her great wit as I watched “An Audience with…” the other night as her acerbic humour sprayed across her audience. I had the great privilege to see the Grand Lady of Comedy in Edinburgh a few years ago and I can tell you that she was even more scathing of celebrity culture and public figures in her live show than anything you’ve seen on TV. She had a gift for timing, rhythm and language that very few comedians have – male or female. Unafraid of self parody she ripped into herself, her personal life and traumas as much as anyone else. Many found her too caustic but I thought she was the real deal and laughed so hard at the gig hI was crying with laughter. You’ll be missed Joan.

The Dons finally gained a trophy for their dust-covered cabinet with the League Cup being brought back to Pittodrie in March and the charge continues. Under Derek McInnes the team has improved and is currently only two points off the pace – a position we haven’t been in for many a year. While many are quick to jump the gun and claim a title challenge most of us are pleased that we are no longer scrabbling around down at the bottom of the league anymore. Having signed up several of the key players on longer term contracts this team should be aiming to add to that trophy in the next season or two.

A personal musical loss and gain happened this year with the retiring of the band “Referendum” and the start of my new adventure with “The Limit”. It was fitting that three-quarters of the “original” band were there at the last gig and that we had several familiar faces in the crowd too to see us off. With twenty years under our belts it was tinged with sadness to walk away from it but we all knew the time had come for us to each go our own way. With the new band bedding in nicely there are new adventures to be had out there and I look forward to seeing them with the Limit guys.

A win and a loss was also had with the Scottish Referendum this year. The 18th of December saw the Scots come out in record numbers – an 85% turnout – turned in a “No” vote 55% to 45%. The issues that were aired throughout the campaign have not gone away – and neither should they, because both sides have talked about making Scotland and the UK a more devolved set of nations which can only be a positive thing. I think that Labour’s fear about English votes for English laws is foolish and stands n the way of allowing each part of the country a say on their own matters whilst we can still join up and work together for the best of the UK as a whole. 2015 will be a huge year in politics and I await the coming months and General Election with interest – especially with Mr Salmond deciding to parachute himself into my constituency as the SNP candidate (expect a few blogs on that one in the coming months!)

Paxman left Newsnight; “The NewsRoom” and “Breaking Bad” ended; we lost Rik Mayall, Tony Benn, Bob Hoskins, Lynda Bellingham and Richard Attenborough; we gained and lost Steven Sutton as his tenacity and courage sparked an outpouring of generosity to the Teenage Cancer Trust; Ebola stuck in West Africa introducing a deadly disease to the world – with it we gained many heroes who ventured out there to work to help and save those affected by it.

On a personal level, gains aplenty in terms of babies due for both us and for my sister and her husband – a big brother or sister for Archie. We gained a new Cousin at a wedding and lost three family members at the tail end of the year. Next year will start off with a shadow, but I expect the sun to shine on us all as the wave of babies arrives.

What we gained and lost will be added to our collective carts and should give us knowledge and strength for what lies ahead in 2015.

JD

Another Plane Disappears – How?

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As the second plane this year disappears from the skies with no idea of where it is you do have to wonder how this is possible in our multi-levelled technological word. As the great Scarlett Moffatt from Channel 4’s “Gogglebox” asked earlier this year “How the hell can a giant plane go missing? We have 3D TV!”

I don’t want to make light of either of these situations because together they involve well over four hundred passengers who are unaccounted for and leave behind families without any answers or ability to begin the grieving process properly. I do wonder though how it is possible to “lose” a plane and everyone on it. This time Air Asia’s flight and it’s point of disappearance is in a smaller search area than the Malaysia Airways flight that vanished somewhere in the south seas in march of this year. Also there was the flight that was shot down over Ukraine – allegedly by Russian rebel forces – that was also from Malaysia.

Flight is a transport my generation take for granted, and with the amazing technological advances in our time – from landing a probe on a comet to creating vaccines for killer diseases – you do have to question whether it is a transport which has the best of technology in it anymore. Do the airlines and manufacturers focus on profit or are there better systems for location, GPS, navigation etc., that are being scrimped on. We all know that it is easy to locate a missing phone with GPS and triangulation, why do we still rely on radar and the black box – which is only really of any use after the event – as technological tools.

Those who wield the statistics around that air travel is perfectly safe and compared to x, y or z you are not in any real danger may find their words falling on deaf ears today as all those families look for answers. While the current theory is bad weather and the inability to climb over the clouds dues to other flight paths, the conspiracy theorists will no doubt be hitting their keyboards and spouting sh*t about government cover ups and hijacking nonsense. None of this helps the situation, or the families.

Fingers crossed these 155 people and crew are discovered one way or another before long to allow everyone affected peace of mind.

JD

Always look on the bright side of life

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It’s easy to be pulled down by the recent bad news we’ve had as a family as the older generations pass on – but you are quickly reminded of the joy in life from the youngest generation and their never-ending stream of entertainment. Today our two have been on top form, especially Jenna and her complete lunacy (I’m allowed to say that being a fruitloop myself).

From her Slytherin whispering to mimicking you when you give her into trouble she is a bottomless barrel of fun. Her now legendary “Licky huggles” are her speciality and deliver exactly what you expect from the introduction you are given. Then there is the “daddy is a climbing frame” game which again needs little in the way of explanation but does leave the hapless victim somewhat revelled up. Her singing skills have been inherited from her maternal grandfather and she never quite gets beyond the first three words before she makes it up until the next time those same words come around again (even if they don’t she shoe-horns them in).

At least with Jake there is a reasonably sensible child in the house but even he can be dragged down into the chaos with little encouragement. He’s a much more independent kid and can amuse himself with his toys and computer games – unlike Jenna who is always searching for a playmate – willing or otherwise. The two do compliment each other so it will be really interesting to see how the dynamic in the house changes with the third child next year. Both seem to be hoping for a boy, but for very different reasons. I think Jake wants company and to overall outnumber the girls in the house, whereas Jenna wants less competition for attention and seems to think that this will happen if the child is male. Hopefully it will fit in to the madhouse regardless.

Jake’s going to be a great big brother and he’ll be eight when he becomes the oldest of the three siblings which is quite a gap really between them. You wonder whether they will have much in common until the third JD Child is older – and if it’s a girl then even less to connect them apart from their origins. I do hope they all gel as a unit – just not against us because they will of course outnumber us in the family unit. Having enjoyed watching Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s comedy show I’ve only recently realised that that could be us in no time at all.

While 2015 is not going to start on a positive note, overall I’m looking forward to the coming New Year with hope, anticipation and excitement to see who will join the JDs in late spring and whether the locals will settle into the next chapter of our family life.

JD

And again…

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It appears that it’s not meant to be a celebration this year – another family member passes on just two days after the last. Both of these were sudden and the sense of shock on the faces of those closest to them leave me lost for words or the ability to do anything to help. Both died only a couple of days after having falls and didn’t suffer long protracted illnesses which is some kind of solace at this time but the shock and uncertainty of both deaths set your mind racing.

Including my cousin’s father in law, three deaths in just over a week seems like more than just bad luck, but the more we look for patterns the easier it is to convince yourself that there is one – when all the evidence shows the exact opposite is true. One thing that has come out of these recent bereavements is the awareness of mortality it seems to bring to those who were of an age with them. An old drinking friend of my dad’s passed away a couple of weeks ago and you could see in the way he reflected on it that he was weighing up his own time. Having recently reached retiring age he has used the phrase “you don’t see old joiners” a few times, but I think that has more to do with him considering leaving the career he has held down for more than half a century. Either way you can see how the shock has made an impression on him.

It’s strange when both myself and Jill have a grandparent each, both 91 and both are failing that these other people have gone first. Is it a case of “Carpe Diem”? Do we bubble wrap everyone around us to protect them from the only thing guaranteed in life other than taxes? Or do we just get on with it? To follow up on yesterday’s jigsaw metaphor about people we have both lost and gained at Christmas you realise that the ones who have passed on are still part of that picture – yes it takes time to help us to reach that point, but it’s worth it to stand back and see the amazing collage of faces and memories we all have. Everyone who leaves us behind is beyond the suffering and pain they may have been in and we start to remember the person and not what took them from us.

Whether I live to see one hundred or drop down tomorrow is not something that should preoccupy my thoughts – neither should I look for a visible countdown clock on those around me. I faced my own mortality during the summer of 2005 when I didn’t know whether Cancer would take me or not – and from that you gain perspective that’s not religious or spiritual but just factual: we all get one shot at this, so enjoy it.

While we will always mourn those who we lose, we should never forget the impact on our lives and that must be our abiding memory of them.

JD

Bittersweet Christmas

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As my Dad always says, “Well that’s it all by with for another year.”

Looking at the mountain of gifts our two got from Santa, friends and family I think we might get some peace and quiet in the next few days as they work their way through the toys, games, books and dressing up clothes they got. They have been very lucky and, as usual, spoilt rotten by all the goodies they have received – and this time next year there will be another body to celebrate with. But it’s the missing ones that have struck a chord this year for me.

Sadly we lost a family member yesterday and while they lived to a ripe old age, the suddenness with which it happened has been a bit of a shock. Christmas is always haunted by the “Ghosts of Christmas past” but this year was a more reflective one than I had been expecting. While my great-uncle was someone I associated more with New Year, as that’s usually when we would see him at my Granny’s House, it reinforced all the empty chairs that sit around everyone’s tables on this day.

It’s not a maudlin thing, more a thought-provoking one. All those memories of childhood Christmases and those we shared them with. The family traditions and visits and faces that are confined to photos hiding in boxes under beds and in cupboards. Each one of those people was part of an eternal jigsaw that has no edges, instead there is always room to add a new piece as we will do next year. While we may well lose others before then it will be an organic picture that will change and grow as each of the family members makes their own puzzle up. Jake and Jenna have both been so lucky to experience Christmas with such a large family circle, but as I know only to well – the larger the circle, the more we have to lose.

Many friends will have sat down today with someone missing from their lives and tables. Places will have been set accidentally as automatic pilot miscounted the number round the table and we all look to that empty seat and wish for one last meal with them – a chance to tell them everything we ever wanted to. To all my friends and family who had someone missing I raise a glass to you and yours, and at the same time I raise a glass to Willie Grassick; may you rest in peace sir.

JD

2014 – a year of darkness

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Just as the year enters its last few days, so I enter the final downward spiral of the year – a familiar place for me this year. 2014 has not been a vintage year for me or my mental health.

To be fair the year didn’t start off that well as I was in a job that I couldn’t cope with – the sheer volume of marking was a daily tsunami the like of which I’d never encountered. By the time the Easter holidays came I was adrift from reality and falling into a very dark place. The opportunities I needed were always just out of reach and surviving until summer was all I could hope for. Then as the sun rose to its highest I grasped the first piece of driftwood that passed – a sales job.

Those who know me will tell you that this is not a good fit as I am too honest and couldn’t sell snow to the Arabs (or some other mixed metaphor). I enjoyed meeting new people but the company bullshit, unrealistic expectations and lack of local knowledge from the national company made the job a wrong fit for me. It just wasn’t for me. I am very much a soft sell guy – no pressure and full disclosure, as opposed to the hard sell and manipulation of the facts to get the sale. The lack of money and control over my own income was another big hit to my confidence and mood.

The other things that hit you are world issues as well as problems closer to home. One thing it is hard to explain to people about the depressive side of being bipolar is how these things beyond your front door have an effect on you. It seems ludicrous but looking back over the year – ISIS, Ebola, Floods, Hurricanes, and more recently the Sydney Siege, the mother who murdered her children and yesterday’s horrific accident in Glasgow – they soak into your consciousness and you start taking these things personally. Yes it’s nonsensical to do so but the chemicals have their own ideas. All these dark moments add to your own darkness even though you have no real connection to them.

Has it really been that bad a year for me? Yes actually it has. I’ve found new depths in my illness; depths that have left me in bed for most of the day or needed new and stronger medication to get through. Thankfully I made it through those tough moments, but I know that there is always a chance it can happen again. My current dip is just a normal fluctuation in my mood and will pass before long but to happen around Christmas it’s tough to see through the mist and enjoy the festivities.

This is not a blog looking for sympathy but just a reminder that there will be many people who are having to put on a “brave face” just to sit at the dinner table for turkey or who turn up at the drinks party really wanting to get back in the car to go home. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will be lonely this Christmas because they are on their own, but there also those who are isolated by their own chemical imbalance. Have patience with them – just because they don’t interact or jump around the room celebrating the season, doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful for the company in a dark lonely time for them.

Merry Christmas to everyone struggling this year, here’s to a clearer and more positive 2015.

JD