Putting The Pieces Back Together

Biffy_Clyro_-_Puzzle

For as long as I can remember music has been a major part of my life. It has been there through the highs and the lows; helped me celebrate, helped me through sorrow. Ultimately, music has been a lifeline and one of the only real constants in my life. For every occasion, a song. For every moment, a tune. For every emotion, a lyric.

When I think back through the years I can remember several moments in my life purely by the music. I used to listen to Jamiroquai in 1999 because I believed every time I listened to Jamiroquai my football team would win. I remember going to see West Brom and listening to Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ with my Dad because of West Brom’s nickname, The Baggies. I remember hearing Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now…’ at the age of 16 and at the most unfortunate, yet in hindsight funniest of times, as my first ‘relationship’ ended. Simply, music has always been there.

As I grew up, my music tastes broadened. I grew up in Birmingham, around a mixed race society, and although my Dad had got me in to the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zep and Manic Street Preachers, my favoured taste was more towards Eminem, Craig David and Darude. We moved to Lowestoft just days before my 15th birthday and, through boredom more than anything, I picked up the guitar. I started listening to Nirvana (fell in love with Nirvana…especially In Utero), The Smiths and The Libertines. It took over a month to get in to school after we moved. I didn’t fit in as quick as I’d have liked, and for some time school was difficult. The music I listened to spoke to me. Cobain’s screams were my hidden anger. Even Fred Durst seemed like a voice for me to believe in.

As I made the transition in to sixth form, my tastes continued to widen. I started listening to quirkier music, started exploring weirder sounds on guitar. I would watch 120 Minutes on MTV2 religiously and Gonzo, hosted by Zane Lowe, became my gospel. It was through watching Gonzo one day in 2003 that I was introduced to a band that, unbeknownst to me, would become my favourite band, and the band that would provide me with the greatest comfort I could have in years to come. That band? Biffy Clyro.

My first sight of Biffy was the video for Questions and Answers. A ‘garage rock’ band sound to it, I initially thought it was a band in the likes of the Strokes, but I loved the song so I always kept an eye out for them. Then Gonzo On Tour, ‘Eradicate The Doubt’, Simon Neil vs a glittery jacket…I was hooked. I saw them live for the first time on their ‘Infinity Land’ tour at the UEA in Norwich. My love for Nirvana started to drown a little as I became a fan of what was at that time regarded a ‘cult band’. I soaked them in, started to learn songs on guitar, got every album, downloaded b-sides…it was, and still is, an addiction.

By the time Biffy had released ‘Puzzle’, I was at Uni. I remember forcing two of my flatmates to listen to ‘Semi-Mental’ on Zane Lowe’s Radio One Show (it was Hottest Record In The World that day), and I have been the same for every album and song since. With every album, with every success, I feel proud of this band. For several people I know who supported Biffy during the first three albums, the mainstream success disconnected them. For me, I just saw that the world had finally woken up.

‘Puzzle’ would soon become a massive support for me. Largely focussing on the passing of Simon Neil’s mother and his emotions after, I always felt it was the most personal record but I never truly understood it until after January 2015, when my Mum also sadly passed away unexpectedly aged only 55.

mum

I can’t begin to explain the emotions I felt at that time. I remember when I was at Papworth Hospital when we were told there was nothing more that could be done and we all left to walk around he gardens and collect our thoughts before the life support machines were turned off. I remember walking away from my family, not knowing really where to turn. I was lost. It literally felt like a piece of me had been torn out and was suddenly missing.

It took me some time to pluck the courage to listen to ‘Puzzle’. In the meantime, I’d taken to listening to Biffy b-sides. ‘Time Jazz’ became a comfort song, “Time Jazz confronts us all…It’s fine, there’s a throbbing in my shoulder, it’s fine, don’t think it’s getting bigger, it’s fine, I’ll dig it out to ease the pain, I can’t face final fortunes ever again”. I heard those lyrics and hid behind them. I took it as focussing on other feelings and hiding the pain of ‘final fortunes’, death, and found solace.

I remember the first time I listened to Machines after Mum passed. I cried. Hearing “I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go” took me back to being sat at the side of Mum’s hospital bed, telling her I loved her, even joking with her, hoping she could hear me, hoping she’d return a word but ultimately feeling like she couldn’t hear me. “Folding Stars” tore me to shreds. Even now, when I saw Biffy on their Ellipsis tour and they played ‘Folding Stars’ (first time in 7 shows I’d seen them play it live), I welled up. The lyrics mean so much to me, and suddenly every word in ‘Puzzle’ resonates with me.

The build to ‘9/15ths’ represents perfectly my slip in to anxiety and depression at that time. “How do you become one again?” was a lyric that, again, hit me. It was a question I frequently asked. I knew I was missing this piece of me, and I didn’t know how to recover. How do you recover? Do you EVER recover? I don’t think so.

For some time I worried that I’d never be able to listen to Puzzle again. ‘The Conversation Is…’, ‘Love Has A Diameter’, even ‘Saturday Superhouse’ (the lyric, “Then I see a darkness, you see a blinding light”, just made me think of the funeral) became too much for me. But ‘Time Jazz’ kept me going.

One day, when I was in the shower, I listened to ‘Machines’ again. It was at this point that I finally started to feel comfortable listening to it again. “Take the pieces and build them skywards” became a lyric of constant solace. Whereas beforehand the song filled me with sadness, suddenly I felt hope. I listened to ‘Folding Stars’ and the lyric “I hope that you’re folding stars” made me think of my Mum again, filling me with this idea of beauty. Ultimately, the songs made me feel closer to Mum. They all gave me comfort.

‘Puzzle’ became my comfort in sound. It made me feel, as a 28 year old man, that I was okay to feel down. It was okay to have the emotions I felt. The Smiths and Nirvana had helped me as a teenager during times of loneliness, but neither gave me the comfort that Biffy Clyro did in grief. They are more than a band to me. They helped save me.

There are really very few ways to say to a band how grateful you are to them for anything and I can only hope that one day, somehow, they see this and they know how grateful I am to them for unknowingly helping a young man deal with bereavement.

Over the past two years since, I have dedicated a lot of time in to raising money for Papworth Hospital in memory of my Mum. I’m extremely proud to say I’ve helped raise over £4,500 for the hospital’s charity and I will continue to raise money for them for as long as I possibly can. This year, I’ll be doing the Three Peaks Challenge, starting in the homeland of Biffy Clyro, Scotland, as we climb Ben Nevis, Sca Fell Pike and end on Snowdon. I will be listening to Puzzle, as well as the other hundreds of Biffy songs I have, on my way up and down each mountain. Biffy have been part of my journey, and they will always remain so.

If anybody reading this is interested in donating to the charity and sponsoring me, please visit my Just Giving page HERE and donate. I cannot tell you how much it means to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

And, finally, ‘Mon The Biff.
x

Climbing Mountains

snowdon group

I always used to think that when people would say “I think about them everyday” they were being almost too over sentimental, saying things that people are ‘expected’ and ‘ought’ to say. As it turns out, I was the one that was wrong.

Since Mum’s passing in January I can honestly say I have not had one day go by where I haven’t thought about her, and the thoughts can be about anything, brought on by the smallest things. In my own way, I don’t mind having these thoughts because I guess it almost makes it feel like she’s still there, still with me.

I vividly remember when Mum fell ill. I was at work, due to be working to 7pm, a shift I had intentionally put myself on in order to complete some colleague performance reviews. Around half 5/quarter to 6, a colleague came to me with the work phone saying he had Lexi, my fiancée, on the phone for me, which started alarm bells because, well, I don’t get personal calls at work. She told me I needed to contact my Dad. I called him and he explained my Mum had collapsed on the landing. My sister, Joy had found her on the floor, but Mum was awake and talking, just unable to move. Paramedics were on the way.

I remember leaving work and saying to my duty manager that I thought Mum may have just hurt her back, and that was why she couldn’t move or, later, be moved by the paramedic. At no point did I think that things would turn as they did.

mum

Mum was 55 years old when she passed away. She hadn’t suffered with any previous serious illness, the only thing that had affected her was high blood pressure which she was taking medication for. Ultimately, that high blood pressure played a major factor in Mum’s collapse and subsequent illness.

Five days after that fall, after I thought she may have damaged her back, Mum passed away with aortic dissection.

I struggled to come to terms with the shock of that. The whole family did. I can’t write about how my Dad, Joy, Aunt, Cousins felt, but personally I felt like I almost went through two stages of grief – an initial bout of shock that was followed by some large bouts of denial, followed by the realisation that, yes, this had happened, and, no, Mum wasn’t going to walk through the front door and tell us that it was all some sort of joke. Coming to five months on, I know we still all have those bad days, bad moments…but as time goes by we learn to deal and will get better at that.

Somebody, I think it was a nurse, said to me “You’ll always hear people saying that you need time to heal, time is the greatest healer. Ignore it. You never heal; you deal. You learn to deal with it in your way. It’s not about healing, it’s about dealing.” I think they were right.

The five days Mum fell ill and was in hospital getting treatment were five of the longest days of my life, and I can remember so much so clearly it still feels like it was only yesterday. I won’t go in to more details, but I will talk about where she was, and talk about the team that looked after her at the amazing Papworth Hospital.

On the Friday morning, at 7am, I left my Mum after talking to her for what would be the last time while she was awake. We had to leave as the operation was due to start. The surgeon looking after my Mum, a man named Mr Choo, took us in to his office to explain the operation he was about to carry out. I next saw my Mum at 2am on the Saturday morning, Mr Choo sat us in the office to explain how things had gone. 19 hours later, this man was still working, he hadn’t stopped. The next morning, we couldn’t sleep, we were back at the hospital early and so was Mr Choo, continuing to monitor Mum. He was always there, the dedication he put in to it was so incredible to watch and on that Tuesday when the end had come you could see how disappointed and upset he also was. He was with us all the way through it. You don’t forget things like that.

Mr Choo is just an example of the staff at Papworth. Everyday we saw the dedication from so many of the staff there, both working for my Mum and for other patients…it was truly inspirational. To see someone work the hours they do, but never drop the amount of effort they put in, just to try to help, try to save others, was phenomenal. I wonder whether some of them even sleep, to be honest!

The team at Papworth supported us all so much during those last days, and for some people they may struggle to understand why I feel so fondly for a place where my Mum didn’t make it. I feel so strongly for the hospital because of what I saw in every hour of every day; they don’t switch off, they never give up, they do everything they can and they go through it with you, supporting you all the way. They’re a credit to the NHS, these are people we should be proud of, and should support.

One thing that sits in my mind was when I was sat with Mum while she was sleeping post-op, and the nurse was talking to her, explaining what she was doing. It may sound odd, but just something like that alone gave you hope. Every member of that team did what they could to keep our spirits high through an ultimately devastating period of time.

For that reason, a team of us decided to raise some money for the Papworth Hospital Charity; a way to say thank you. A team of 8 of us chose to climb Mount Snowdon at the end of May. None of us particularly experienced walkers/climbers, we set the challenge of doing the climb to raise £2000. The weather was difficult, the walk was tough…both mentally (the Miners Track…constantly looking for the car park on every corner) and physically…but we made it. And, at the time of writing this, I am immensely proud to say we have so far raised £2,591.95.

snowdon climb group

Throughout everything that has happened, it has totally opened my eyes to just how kind and how brilliant people can be. Whether it was the support my work gave me, the team at Papworth, to the several people that have donated out of their own good will and sent messages to us all…I can’t say thank you enough. You have all helped to make positives out of an incredibly negative situation.

I know full well my Mum would have been watching us, calling us “crazy” for going up on what turned out to be a rather wet day, but I know she’d have also been proud of what we have achieved.

She’d also be proud of the work my cousin, Mark, has done in raising £535.34 through his own fund raising efforts.

My Mum was the life of the party, a wonderful woman, and I miss her dearly. I have so much to thank her for, and so much to love her for. I will never stop thinking about her. And if there is another place we go to after life, I hope she’s there having a party now, showing the others how to have a good time.

If you’d like to donate anything to our Just Giving page, please feel free to do so by clicking here. Thank you.