Our Secret Tongues

An admission: I had never given Frightened Rabbit much time until Scott Hutchison was found dead. They were a band that I’d heard of, a band that several of my favourite bands and artists discussed as well as friends and fellow posters on Facebook groups I am on…but, for whatever reason, I never gave them a chance until Scott went missing.

Since that awful day in May 2018, and particularly over the past few months, Frightened Rabbit have taken over my life somewhat. Not since Biffy Clyro or The Smiths have I listened to a band and felt an emotional connection like the one I do with Frightened Rabbit. They’re a special band, and Scott Hutchison was a special song writer.

My first sample of Frightened Rabbit came a couple of years before Scott’s passing. An indie compilation I’d downloaded featured the song ‘Holy’ – a brilliant song – but, as is the way with many compilations, it became background music to me. The compilation album was one to go on if people were round or housework was being done.

Looking back, that was a bit of a travesty. ‘Holy’ has become a go-to song for me, one that contains lyrics that I relate to massively – particularly if I think to years gone by. The final refrain in the song feels like it was written for me…I just found it a couple of years too late:

I don’t mind being lonely, so leave me alone
Are you, oh, so holy, that I’ll never be good enough
Don’t care if I’m lonely, ’cause it feels like home
I won’t ever be holy, thank God I’m full of holes.”

This is now a very constant theme between Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison’s lyrics and me. I find I relate to them so much that I’m moved by their music more than I’ve been moved by music in some years. For many others this is also the case. Scott’s lyrics speak to people, connect with people and they offer comfort.

Scott Hutchison suffered with depression, an illness that he openly discussed in interviews and through his lyrics. Some people may argue that other bands and artists have written about depression and anxiety and they’d be right, but with Scott it was a bit different. This guy was baring his soul regularly and in doing so he was doing two things. He was opening a connect to those that suffer with depression and anxiety, and he was also displaying that it’s okay to talk about these things. It’s important. It’s also important to have a male role model voicing this because there have not been enough voices.

A look on the Samaritans website shows desperate statistics around suicide. In the UK, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women (in Ireland its four times more likely to be a man). In Scotland, suicide rates in young men in 2017 had increased for the third year in a row. There are many reasons why a person may feel that suicide is the only option, even if those reasons don’t seem logical to everybody else. I’ve discussed on this blog before that suicide is an end to an illness that someone hasn’t recovered from and I still believe that, but it doesn’t need to be that way. With men there is still that macho culture whereby a stigma exists against mental health and I’ve even witnessed when other men have mocked people for being depressed. The end result of this is that it leads to other men being hesitant in discussing their illness, their issues, and ultimately leads to an increase in drastic final actions. Where else do they go if they’re ashamed to seek out help and, more importantly, how much worse will those men that suffer feel by feeling that, on top of everything, they should be ashamed of themselves for feeling like they can’t go on? This is why people like Scott Hutchison are so important – he’s opened doors, encouraging men to talk, showing that we shouldn’t be ashamed to feel that way.

However, it wasn’t enough for Scott. He used his Twitter account to write, “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.” and a final, “I’m away now. Thanks.”. Three days later, Scott was found on the banks of the Firth of Forth dead. He was 36. His light had gone out, and for many people that voice was gone.

I remember at the time reading one person argue that Scott’s death showed that talking had little impact for depression but to think that is to look at depression in the wrong light. If a person with cancer dies it doesn’t mean that every person with that cancer will also die, it just means that, sadly, the illness beat the other person. Medication works better for some than others. It’s the same with depression…it needs to be viewed as an illness to understand it, and it needs to be understood that what works for one doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for the other. By talking a person takes a first step to trying to find a way to recover. Talking is the start, and that’s something men have not been comfortable doing. It’s why Scott helped so many others, even if ultimately he couldn’t save himself. He allowed others to feel they could take that first step. When Scott sang about speaking in “our secret tongue” in the song, “The Woodpile”, I have always tried to interpret it as a way of expressing opening up about emotions. The things people don’t talk about, the feelings that we so often keep secret.

In retrospect, listening to Frightened Rabbit is sometimes incredibly difficult. The song ‘Floating In The Forth’ is about suicide and even poses the question, “is there peace beneath the roar of the Forth Road bridge?” which is haunting when considering where Scott was found 10 years later. One of my favourite songs, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”, is also quite haunting to listen to when you consider the lyrics…but it would be unfair to focus on Frightened Rabbit and Scott’s lyrics just for that.

The magic of Frightened Rabbit, the power of Scott’s lyrics, are that they give you hope. The lyric many go to now, from the song ‘Head Rolls Off’, is “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”. Everybody will have their own interpretation of these words but, for me, I listen to that song and think about it stressing the importance of making the most of what we have, and doing what we can to make an impact. Much like I found myself connecting to The Smiths and feeling comfort because they made me feel “not alone”, Frightened Rabbit have the same effect…but lyrics like “make tiny changes…” give a motivation that Morrissey’s lyrics don’t. They give you hope that there is a meaning. There is more.

I found Frightened Rabbit some years too late, but it hasn’t lessened their impact. They are one of the most important bands of the past decade but not many will know them, which is a complete injustice.

The ending may have been sad, but Scott’s lyrics and words live on. They remain important. They still give hope. They still give comfort. They’ll still help countless people.

And, at the end of the day, that’s how Scott Hutchison “made tiny changes to Earth” – he made other men feel like they could talk about their battles and demons. Although he couldn’t save himself he saved many others.

(Click here to watch the music video for their song “Head Rolls Off” – and then, please, dig further and listen to more.)

The Black And The Blue – Part One

The Blue

Chapter 1 All The Way Down

“This could be a bad idea.”

It wasn’t what I expected to be thinking as I peered over the edge of the roof of my office building. Yet here I am, looking down at the small crowd that has gathered, trembling in fear. I thought it would be easier.

I can hear sirens in the distance getting closer. Police? Ambulance? Both? I’m trying to guess but I have no idea. There are some kids yelling “jump”, cheerleaders of my demise. I wonder how they’ll react when I do jump. Will they cheer? Will they get excited by the blood that may splatter on to them? Will there even be blood splatter?

I look around. It’s actually a really lovely day. Barely a cloud in the sky. I could just walk down the stairs and go for a walk somewhere. It would disappoint my cheerleaders, no doubt. I dare say it would even disappoint the old ladies who have stopped their weekly shop to watch me. If I just walk off they’ll have nothing to talk about. I’ll be hated more for being alive and wasting their time than I would be if I jumped and got some blood on their beige coats.

Am I even high up enough to die if I jump? There are four floors in this building, so it’s a decent drop…but would a jump just result in me being paralysed? I’m not sure. If that happened, how would I feel? You read about people that have tried to take their own lives, failed and then felt like they have been given another chance at life. A free roll of the dice. But if I jumped and ended up destroying my body but still being stuck here, what then? That’d be absolutely shit.

“You jumping or not mate? Lunch is nearly over!”

I look down to see who it is shouting and, unbelievably, it’s my boss, Neil. I can’t decide whether he’s telling me to jump because his lunch is nearly over, or whether he wants me to do something because my lunch is nearly over. Either one is believable. Neil is one of those managers that make you wonder if they had ever actually dealt with any type of person before in their life. Zero empathy, zero personality. He’s not even organised. I’m still not sure what he did to get a management role. I’m not sure I want to know.

The crowd has built up some more. I never perform well in front of an audience. This is going disastrously. When I decided to end things today I knew that I should have done it another way. Toaster in the bath, or something. Private. Now I’m a show. A pretty bloody depressing and boring show, but a show nonetheless. A police car has turned up with two officers. One has entered the building, so I expect company soon.

What a fuck up. I’m looking over the edge again but this has gone on for too long. I need to either jump now or say sod it and try again next week. Maybe at a different time.

“Hello, my name is Charlie, I’ve just come up to have a chat. What’s your name mate?”

Oh, for fucks sake. Police are here and of all the police to come up it’s Charlie, the same Charlie that lives on my street. I turn around and he straight away recognises me. He shakes his head a bit, smirks and starts pointing towards me almost laughing – like you would if you bumped in to an old mate at a pub.

“Fuck me, mate…what are you doing up here?”

It’s a different approach to what I expected and from being PC Sensitivity he’s now PC One-Of-The-Lads.

“Well, to be honest,” I start, “I was planning on, you know, jumping off this building.” He looked at me with a smile and started to walk over.

“You’ve fucked it up a bit, matey.” He looked over the edge. “Taken too long. If you wanted to do it you’d have done it straight off before the crowd at least. No standing about.”

And then he jumped off.

No warning, no signal that it was going to happen…one minute he was there, the next he wasn’t. There was a sickening thud as his body hit the ground. A mixture of screams, gasps and the sound of people throwing up overtake the sound of the streets. And then silence.

I look over the edge and look at where Charlie landed. There’s no blood, just a crumpled body. The kids that were yelling at me to jump are sobbing. Some people are looking up at me. I step back and head to the stairs.

Typical, I thought. I can’t even attempt suicide without someone doing it better than me.

 

Chapter 2 Make Tiny Changes

With the shock of Charlie’s unexpected jump still alive in everybody’s system I was able to sneak off without much notice. It struck me that in this moment Charlie was no longer alone. People were mourning him already, all stood around him. Some had no idea who he was, but they felt that sorrow and a care that Charlie must have felt was missing.

A few years prior to this day, Charlie had been involved in an accident during a police chase. He was driving the car that followed an uninsured driver. Nothing too out of the ordinary, I remember reading about the chase in the paper and they talked abut how it was a common issue in the area. But every chase has a risk and, unfortunately for Charlie, he found that out first hand.

Driving at a speed of about 50mph, they came to some traffic lights and a crossing. The black Honda Civic they were chasing went through a red light. Lights and sirens on, Charlie followed in his squad car when a fifteen year old teenage girl jumped in front of them. Her body went flying in to the air and was sent forward where she bounced off a street sign on to the ground. The Civic was gone. More importantly, the young girl was gone. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

There was nothing anybody could have done. Witnesses explained that the girl saw the Civic roar past and, without explanation, she just ran in to the road in front of the police car. The police chiefs were in the media offering support to both the girls family and the police involved. Therapy sessions. There was talk of money going to the family but I am certain that was only a rumour. An Internet campaign ran that helped raise money for the funeral, but after that there was nothing in the press. The fifteen year old girl had come and gone in the blink of an eye, a tragic story to sell just a couple of days worth of newspapers before disappearing in to the abyss.

There was nothing in the press about the police officers in the car except for a paragraph in the initial story. They both took the therapy but the one, PC James Fuller, resigned only a few weeks later due to the stress (he now works as security at the local supermarket), and Charlie dropped the therapy after a month. He said he was fine to go on as normal, and people believed him. He’d been around a while, he’d seen some horrible things…foolishly, they let him carry on. He just didn’t drive.

I got to know Charlie as a neighbour. When he wasn’t at work he kept himself to himself. He had an amazing knack of remembering birthdays and, every year without fail, he’d post a card for me on my birthday and every year it read, “Happy birthday mate, have a good one. Charlie.” If the weather was good, he’d be out cleaning his car – a white Ford Fiesta – until it was spotless. He’d spend hours on it.

I look at things like that now and wonder whether he washed his car so much not because it was a hobby, but because he had nothing else. Did he remember birthdays because he was lonely, and it at least gave him a sense of other people? Nobody will ever know.

Time moved on. Eventually, the police did find me and question me on what had happened. They recommended me some support groups and I said I’d go but I never did. Trying to explain that Charlie succeeded where I failed felt wrong, so I spent the majority of my interview apologising. I was sincere, and I meant it…you could tell that they were suffering…but I wasn’t feeling the overriding sense of getting another chance at life. All I could think was how brave Charlie had been to just go and do it, just like that. That takes guts. Takes more than what I had.

As the months went by and I sat at home watching daytime TV and Netflix documentary specials, I couldn’t shake the image of Charlie just having one look over the edge and jumping. Why couldn’t I do it? What held me back? Also, would Charlie have gone that day had I not decided to stand up there myself?

A letter dropped through my letter box. Who even sends mail these days? Not least to me? It was work. It’s been six months now since the day on the roof, and I’ve been signed off work ever since. Loved it, too. Now they’re inviting me to a meeting to discuss my health and any plans to return to work, with a lovely message on the letter that reads, “It should be noted that if no return is deemed possible we may have to consider your position within the company.” I throw the letter in the bin.

Fuck it. I quit. I was never really there, anyway.

 

Chapter 3 Paul And Alexander

“The way I see it, you’re either in the black or the blue.” This was one of Paul’s favourite analogies, if you even class it as an analogy, and he’d talk to me about it any time we had a drink. “If you’re in the black,” He’d say, “You’re absolutely fine. No issues for you. You’re happy, life is good, finances are good – I mean, they say money can’t buy happiness but when did you last see a happy poor guy? – and you’re swimming. If you’re in the blue, which is where you keep finding yourself, Scott, then you’re struggling. You’re not swimming, you’re drowning and the blue is the sea choking you. You need to get back to land, get in to the black and start to live on land with other people.”

“So what are you saying? I’m currently living in the sea?”

“You’re a fucking idiot.” Paul took a sip of his pint, “You’re in the blue. Everything around you is blue. You look at things and see the bad in it all, you actively look for the blue, look for the sadness in it all. You’d find something sad in a Jack Johnson song and that guy, that guy is pure black.”

It was a stupid argument, but despite that Paul probably made a better point than I’d ever want to admit. I’d known Paul for about eight years. He was a good guy, and one of the few I could trust. I could depend on him to tell me exactly what he thought and, sometimes, that’s what you need…even if you think the guy is talking complete shit. I’d look at Paul every so often and wonder where he would put himself; the black or the blue? He was 32, single, self employed and still living with his Dad. Nights out with him often turned to him trying to pull, only to come unstuck if someone said they’d go back with him and he declined because he didn’t fancy disturbing his 60 year old Dad.

Alexander, who sometimes came for drinks with us, was different to Paul. A quiet and small fair haired 28 year old who we met at work a few years back was a stark contrast to the rugby player physique of Paul. I liked Alexander because he’d regularly call Paul up on his bullshit and, the most important thing for me, you could actually go for a quiet pint with him. I had one night at the pub with him where we said literally about three things to each other and it was bliss. One of the best nights I ever had. He was sat across the way from Paul cupping his pint glass with both hands, looking down and nodding slowly with pursed lips. I could tell he had something on his mind but half the fun with Alexander was guessing whether he’d say something or whether you’d be guessing at what he was thinking for the rest of the night.

“Are you alright, mate?” He asked, looking at me. It was the last thing I expected. I’d wanted to hear Alexander’s take on the black and the blue, but instead he caught me off guard with a simple question.

“Yeah, of course.”

“But, honestly, are you? You know we’re here for you.”

Oh, God. The dreaded “we’re here for you” line. I mean, how do you respond to that without admitting that you’re not alright? If I push it off I’m being rude. If I ignore it altogether that’s even worse, and it further demonstrates how far from fucking alright I am. If I answer it honestly, I’m making myself too open. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t even really want understanding. I just want to come out, have a few pints and go home where I can then regret the decision to go out by looking at my online banking and pondering over whether a month of Super Noodles teas is viable and whether I’ll even have enough for that. I certainly don’t need Alexander’s sorry eyes looking at me and Paul leaning in with his arm round my back as if I’ve lost a close relative and need a hug. The fact that Alexander asked the question is even worse. He never does this. He just sits there and makes a sarcastic comment every so often, not this. He’s done me.

“You know what?” I look at them both and nod my head, “I will be.” And I take a swig of my IPA and listen to the silence that follows. They’re both still looking at me. It’s become a bit of a stand off as to who will talk next. In this situation, though, there’s only ever one winner and that’s Paul.

“You’ll be alright? Well, that was convinc-” Paul is told to shut up by Alexander. Suddenly it’s not just me feeling thrown by Alexander’s actions, Paul looks stunned. Alexander’s sad eyes are looking at me in almost a frown now.

“Don’t fob us off, mate. You’re not well. You know it and we know it. I’m not going to talk about ‘the black and the blue’, I’m not gonna give you advice or even tell you that you’re in the wrong. I just want to know why you felt that you would rather jump off a fucking roof than talk to one of us. I just want to know what got you to that point. I want you to talk to us about everything and I want you to do it now.”

To say I was taken aback was an understatement of gargantuan extent. I looked at Paul who looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He had some of his pint dripping off his chin. It was pretty rank. I kept trying to utter a word to start a reply but couldn’t get anything out. I could feel myself rubbing at the back of my head, ruffling up my hair. I felt like I was itching all over. My heart was pacing. My breathing was shorter. My chest felt tight. I could feel my eyes welling up. I couldn’t control it.

Alexander removed his hands from around his pint glass and gripped my left hand, which had been resting on the table. “Scott, from the beginning. I just want you to talk to us. Nothing else. It’s okay.”

I looked at both Paul and Alexander who were now staring at me intently. I had a moment of clarity. “Okay, I’ll talk. I’ll talk.” I let my breathing calm a bit. “But we’re gonna need another pint, and I need the toilet. Same again?”

They nodded. Alexander let go of me. I got up.

I ran out of the door as quick as I could. I heard them call my name as they ran after me but I didn’t stop. I ran home, I locked the door, I ignored the banging on the door, turned my phone off and tried to sleep on the sofa.

The sleep could not stop my mind from wandering.

 

Chapter 4 Rabbits In Boxes

Rosie wasn’t a spectacularly good looking girl but there was something about her that I found myself almost besotted with. The first time I saw her she was wearing a red top, black shorts and red tights with black rabbits patterned all over them. She was a mixture of goth and emo and I was sold. I approached her, clumsily in hindsight as I stuttered saying hello, and we talked about music.

“I love The Cure,” She said, “But I also like The Smiths. Really, I shouldn’t like them both, but I do. And you?”

I knew how important this was, this was the deal breaker question. If I answered incorrectly, then any future hopes of romance were gone. I couldn’t choose anything too mainstream, but I couldn’t choose anything too far out there.

“Well, firstly, I think The Smiths are better but for me I love stuff like Hell Is For Heroes, Biffy Clyro, Reuben…that sort of stuff.”

She looked at me smiling and flicked her brown hair over her shoulder. She replied, quiet simply, with “I don’t know them.”

What followed was a silence where she kept constant eye contact with me, her brown eyes were practically sparkling, and she let out a faint giggle. From that moment, we were inseparable. I couldn’t believe it. For the first time ever, I’d approached a girl and things had worked out. This was massive.

I’d always suffered with low self esteem, low confidence. A childhood of moving from place to place does that to you; I was never in the same place long enough to make friends so I spent much of my time growing up as a bit of a loner. It was only in the last couple of years at Sixth Form had I gathered two or three truly close friends. My biggest issue, for the most part, was that I was too shy to approach anybody and make conversation…I’d wait for it to come to me.

And that’s what made the initial interaction with Rosie so special. This was all me! I’d made the approach and, somehow, she liked me enough to exchange numbers. I was on cloud nine.

The first couple of years were exciting for me. A new experience, something I’d never felt before. I was introduced to Rosie’s friends and family and we started to see them on a more regular basis. This was fine with me because it kept her happy and that was the most important thing for me. I didn’t come from money but Rosie seemed to be able to flaunt it. Her parents house was huge. I felt like I was batting above my league and early on decided that if I had to make sacrifices to keep her happy then that’s what I’d do. I couldn’t lose this.

After a while, we moved in together. A small place, it was all we needed, but it wasn’t cheap. I was living beyond my means but I chose not to say anything. I didn’t want to lessen Rosie’s opinion of me by saying that I was broke but the reality was that I was massively broke. I didn’t have a penny to my name. When it came to the first rent coming out I had to come clean. She went ballistic. This was a side to Rosie I’d never witnessed before, and it scared me. I broke down in tears apologising, saying that I only tried to do things to give her what she wanted and that I’d miscalculated. I promised it wouldn’t happen again, and that I’d make it up to her. She grabbed her phone and called her Mum, and before I could even gather my own thoughts she thrust the phone in my face and shouted at me, “You tell my Mum what you’ve done! You tell my Mum what you’ve got in the bank.”

I looked at her and said, “No way. I’m not talking to your Mum about my finances! I could barely bring myself to talk to you!”

But it wasn’t good enough. She gave me the phone, and a few minutes later I was sobbing down the phone as Rosie’s Mum told me how much of an idiot I’d been.

By the time rent day came, Rosie decided that she’d pay the rent and I would buy the food until I was earning enough to go halves on the rent. I got a part time job and worked more overtime than I thought I could. Rosie wanted good food, so I would ensure that we had fresh food each week and in time I always worked to ensure that I had dinner on the table when she got home. After a while, the part time job turned in to a full time job and I was able to pay half of the rent.

We celebrated me getting a full time job by going for a meal out followed by some drinks. Finally, I thought, I can start to provide the kind of life she’s after. We can enjoy life.

I slowly started to lose touch with my friends at home. I worked shifts and it meant I missed a lot of people, and spent a lot of time alone at home. Rosie got in to the habit of leaving me lists of jobs to complete when she was at work. At first, I didn’t mind. They gave me something to focus on. And then I started to build friendships at work.

I met Paul and we instantly clicked. I thought he was a bit of a dick but, behind it all, a nice guy with a heart of gold. We arranged to meet up on one of my days off in the week. Rosie had left a list but I decided that I’d do it when I got home after. It was a mistake. I finished a couple of the jobs, but didn’t have dinner ready and hadn’t got round to a few other household chores. Rosie was furious. She told me that she deserved better, and that by going out with Paul I’d chosen clear priorities and that was friends over her. We didn’t speak for the rest of the night and I felt terrible.

As the years followed, it became a recurring theme. Any day off was greeted with a larger list than the one prior. I came to learn that I couldn’t plan anything on my days off because I needed to finish my list of jobs. I would meet Paul on a weekend, always with Rosie, unless Rosie had gone away with her friends for the weekend. If I questioned anything Rosie would go on to explain that she deserved the best and that if I didn’t do what she asked then I was showing a lack of commitment to “us”. She booked some trips away for us both, including trips to London that I couldn’t afford, but it just enforced that she was better than me and that I needed to remember that. She wanted this life, I was some way off it and that made me feel awful. Rosie told me I needed to look at these trips away and see that this is the life she deserved to have. When I said I couldn’t provide it yet, she told me to “get better, then.” and we carried on.

Against my better judgement, we got a house. I was skint again. I’d been paying half of the rent and buying all of the food as well as paying bills, but I was earning less money than Rosie and I couldn’t keep it up. I ended up borrowing from my family, and kept it quiet. I just wanted to keep her happy. All the while, however, I was sinking further within myself.

I ended up doing everything to the house, from building furniture to general tidying. I didn’t see my friends. I saw Rosie’s family but she refused to see mine so that meant I never saw them either. I was under house arrest, only leaving to go to work. One day I decided to tell Rosie that I felt trapped indoors and she turned to me and said “You can leave, but you’ll never get anything as good as me again.” My confidence and self belief were rock bottom. Deep down I believed she could be right. I’m still punching above my weight, she’s better than I am worth.

Then came the night. Out with a friend, she’d asked me to wait up to pick them up. It was fine by me, I was a shit sleeper. Pick up at about midnight, fine. Midnight comes, no call. One o’clock. No call. Two o’clock. No call. Five o’clock, phone rings. Rosie is hammered. I get her, shattered, and when we get home head to bed. Rosie shouts at me for not wanting to stay up with her. I tell her to get some sleep. She comes upstairs and throws a plate at me, narrowly missing my head and smashing off the wall. She forces me to sleep on the floor. “This is because you don’t listen. You don’t give me what I want.” She spits out at me.

And, with that, the girl I approached that me feel like I was on cloud nine had made me feel smaller than small. A spec of dirt on a shoe, good for nothing. I was mentally beat. I was battered.

The next day I got up and got in the car and drove to nowhere in particular. For the first time ever I looked across at the other side of the road, watching the convoy of lorries travelling at 60 mph and I started to think, for the first time, “If I just turned my car in to the other side of the road, that could take all of this away.”

I got back home. I packed my boxes. I never went back.

 

(Part Two to follow soon. As this is the first time I have ever attempted anything like this (as in a proper piece of original fiction), I’d be very appreciative of any feedback. Fully aware that it’s not the happiest of stories so far but any other feedback would be amazing. Thank you.)

Mindfields

The Fat Of The Land came out when I was only 10 years old.

The 10 year old me was listening to pop music. I’d grown really fond of Madness, and was sucked in to the excitement of the Brit Pop battles of Oasis and Blur…trying to sing Oasis songs with my best Liam Gallagher impersonation. But that was it. Other than that, you were looking to whatever was in the charts…at that point it was The Spice Girls so, secretly, I add, I was listening to them, too.

I remember the first time I saw and heard Prodigy. Top of the Pops, ‘Firestarter’. My Dad had heard it on the radio and was saying how amazing this song was and then it was on TV. A black and white music video, in a tunnel, with Keith Flint dancing and shouting his vocals. I remember thinking I’d never seen anything like it before.

The ‘Firestarter’ video got banned by the BBC due to complaints from parents saying it had scared their children. The video didn’t scare me but it did make me take notice and it has always remained one of the most memorable music videos for me.

Ultimately, the thing that made the ‘Firestarter’ video stand out wasn’t the music – as brilliant as it was, and still is – but actually the performance of Keith Flint. I’d seen clips of, say, The Sex Pistols but Flint was different. At age 10, Keith Flint was the most punk rock person I had ever seen. The devil horn hairstyle, the crazy dance moves, the clothes, the make up…I was enamoured by this person.

I always found it odd that the video for ‘Firestarter’ was black listed. There was nothing scary about it to me, it was just punk. And dance. I soon discovered ‘Breathe’, a video that I thought was creepier than ‘Firestarter’ but fewer people seemed to agree. From those two songs and videos came my introduction to ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ – a music video that, even now, pushes boundaries and a song that, even now, causes such controversy.

Prodigy were a dance band, but they were more than just that…they were the most punk rock band I’d ever seen, with Keith Flint, the most punk rock man I’d ever seen, leading the charge. I remember getting their 1997 album ‘Fat Of The Land’ when I was just shy of turning 11 and listening to it all through. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

My love of music is something I often think I got from my Dad. In the car, he’d put on Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Elton John and so on, and talk to me about the gigs he’d been to. It got me in to rock music from a fairly early age, even if my preferred style was pop. I look back now and think of my Dad introducing me to Prodigy and it makes me laugh a bit. From an outside perspective, to go from introducing your son to ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel to ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ by Prodigy…it may seem a bit odd. But this is how I was raised with music, and another reason as to why I think I like music of so many genres.

All of my Dad’s favourite music had their “angry” songs, protest songs almost, but none of them had the raw energy, anger and aggressive feel of the Prodigy. I loved it.

Keith Flint as front man opened my eyes to a vast surrounding of music I’d otherwise ignored. I often think that had it not been for Flint, for Prodigy, I’d have never listened to some of the punk that I adored in my later years, never had listened to Nirvana, never had listened to punk and metal. My musical tastes would be completely different.

On hearing Keith Flint had passed away, aged only 49, I find myself thinking of that first time I heard ‘Fat Of The Land’, and feeling massively grateful for the lasting effect it had on me with my taste in music.

I saw Prodigy perform live only once, at the Download Festival in 2006. It was insane. They headlined the second stage while Guns n Roses headlined main. It felt like more people had come to the tent for Prodigy and the mix of people was unbelievable. Metal heads, ravers, punk rockers…it was a musical free for all. And when they started the whole tent went berserk. Energy like I’ve rarely, if ever, felt at a gig. People climbing the rafters. The whole place a mosh pit.

My cousin and I lasted a few songs before we had to go. You could feel the mood turning on the night and the band were having to stop performing to encourage people to stop climbing rafters. All in all, it was a recipe for disaster. A mix of ravers and moshers, in a tent too small. But Prodigy were immense. Keith Flint parading the front of the stage sticks in my mind. This man, the first person I saw that made me think “punk rock”, is in front of me and he is still the most punk rock person I’ve ever seen.

That mix of people, that impression of Flint, is part of the reason why Keith Flint is an icon. There are very few people that could bridge the gap between dance, electronic, punk and metal like Keith Flint did…and there may not be many that do it anywhere near as good, with such ease, ever again.

To hear that Keith Flint took his own life adds to the sorrow of the day and he joins an ever growing list of musicians I love that have taken their own lives; including Kurt Cobain, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell and more. All men. All men that other men would look to as a voice – be it a voice to help them release pain, or sadness, or anger…or just a voice they loved.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 in the UK. Bigger than cancer, bigger than road accidents, bigger than heart attacks. Suicide. And with every Chris Cornell, every Chester Bennington and now with Keith Flint we’re all left with it there in front of us. Depression doesn’t care how successful you are, how loved you are or about what you have…but, as men, we struggle to talk. We struggle to admit. Why?

Stigma plays a massive part. With every famous suicide I still see comments online of how selfish the person is, how someone has taken the easy way…”the cowards way”…and it’s all unfair. Suicide is not cowardice, it’s an end to an illness for someone that hasn’t got better. I see comments of “they don’t think about their loved ones”…but I’d argue the contrary and encourage people that believe that to think this way. A suicidal person always thinks of their loved ones. A suicidal person will believe that they are doing the best thing for those people because, and this is the biggest issue, a suicidal person believes more than anything that they are a burden, they are a problem and that everything will be better without them.

Stigmas and attitude can only change when we begin to try to understand. At 49 years old, Keith Flint has added to the number, the already huge number, of UK men aged under 50 that choose to take their own life. Of all those people, how many could have been avoided had more people taken the time to understand and be there rather than pass quick judgements and create stigma?

This is the male problem. And with every famous suicide, the focus comes back. But how sad is it that more death, more pain, is needed to make people reflect, change and talk?

Keith Flint is an icon, and a man I feel I owe a lot to as I know it was him that made me become more open minded to other genres of music and groups of people. The Prodigy and Flint really did take me to another dimension.

And now I hope his passing serves as not just a reminder of his brilliant music, but as a way to make more people become open minded to mental health, removing the stigma around it and maybe give someone the courage to talk to somebody else instead of meeting the end.

Brick By Brick

I have a growing addiction. It’s not one likely to kill me, not alcohol or drugs, and not one that is likely to see people avoiding me in public. It’s an addiction that only a few people will have known about, but one that I’ll happily talk about with anybody.

What is it? It’s Lego.

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As a child, I loved Lego. It’s a great method of exerting creativity and just having a bit of fun. In my teenage years I stopped playing with it altogether…and then I turned 30. My (then new) partner, Lori, had always loved building Lego and after a while she decided to buy me a Lego Darth Vader. My first new piece of Lego in probably 16-18 years.

I was a bit dubious to how much I’d actually enjoy building it as a grown man, but one Lego model turned in to two, then three, four, five, and so on. I was hooked. I’d become determined to build as many of the Star Wars characters as I could afford to – only the characters from the Dark Side, mind…they’re just ‘cooler’, I guess – and I loved it.

Lori had gone from being the Lego addict to suddenly being the person looking on at me saying, “Even more Lego?!” How times had changed.

So what is it about Lego that has made me spend a huge amount of money on it? What is it about those small plastic bricks that make me (and Lori) feel the need to travel to Sheffield every few weeks so we can visit the Lego store and, most likely, spend more money?

For myself, it’s a mixture of things. Firstly, I love building it. I love seeing what starts as a small plastic piece turn in to a fully sized model – be it a character, a car, a building or something different altogether. But then there’s a deeper reason.

I’ve discussed in previous blogs that I have a few coping mechanisms that I use to help me through my own issues; be it anxiety or low mood…or anything else, for that matter. I’ll play guitar, I’ll write, I’ll go for a walk. These are things I do, but each one has a blocker associated to it. If it’s late at night, I can’t start playing punk rock on the guitar because I’ll wake the house up. If the weather is bad, it’s not always feasible to go on a long walk. Sometimes, you can sit at a screen all night long with the thought of wanting to write and then nothing comes. Each blocker brings it’s own frustration…if you’re stressed and you can’t do the thing that unwinds you, you won’t calm.

And why do we do these things? Why do we go for a walk when we’re stressed? Why do I play guitar? Simply, it occupies the mind. It fills the mind with something completely different, helping to switch off and unwind and think about something unrelated.

If I can’t write, I can grab one of my Lego sets. If I can’t play guitar, I can get some Lego out. If the weather is bad it doesn’t matter…I can build Lego anywhere I like from the comfort of my own home. And, as with any of those other mechanisms, Lego unwinds me. I find it therapeutic. It switches me off. Any stress I’m feeling, it goes away when I start building. And the more complex the build the better. The sense of accomplishment from finishing an ‘Expert’ set is akin to the sense of accomplishment I get from learning a new song on guitar.

I’m not alone with this feeling, either. If you Google for “Lego Therapy” you’ll find endless links talking about the benefits of using Lego, links for therapy classes for disabled and autistic children, therapy classes for people suffering with anxiety. Yes, Lego is a toy…but it’s a toy that gives back. A toy that helps. A toy that isn’t necessarily just for kids.

When I look through my own collection, I love my Star Wars sets. My BB-8, a gift from Lori, was a build that took over 6 hours and the mechanism with it, the movement of the head and the internal ‘lighter’ is just so incredibly clever and was a joy to put together. My James Bond Aston Martin is wonderful – the detail to it is sensational. The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine looks as good in Lego, if not better, than it did in the film. These are builds that remain stood on display, builds that I look at and feel proud about. Builds that took time but were worth it. Worth every penny, worth every minute.

There will be many people that probably won’t get it; won’t get past the riding impression that Lego is a toy for children…and I get that. Less than three years ago, I was on that boat. But I would encourage people to try it. Buy a mini-kit, give it fifteen minutes, see if it takes your mind off things. You may enjoy it!

I’ve had several friends talk to me about buying Lego for their kids and as the kids get bored building it or following instruction, the adult continues and they get wrapped up in it. They have to finish it. Nobody likes leaving things half done, do they? And it’s in these moments I’ve had a fair few come to me and say, “I get it now.”

Finally, Lego gives me something to look forward to with my own children. My little boy is already playing around with Duplo. As he grows and maybe starts playing with Lego, it gives us something we can do together as father and son. Something that isn’t just football or music or, even further on, drinking…something that can be ours. Projects we can start and finish together. Our own little accomplishments.

But if not, and my boy or daughter don’t get in to Lego, that’s still okay. It’ll still be there for both Lori and myself. We can still keep having our frequent trips to the Lego store in Sheffield. We’ll still keep building. Piece by piece. Brick by brick.

Songs That Changed My Life Pt.3 – Keep Your Head Up

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“All I was searching for was me…”

A fact of life is that we all change. Whether it’s due to events that have happened, people you’ve met, relationships formed, decisions made…we all change. Sometimes that can be for the better, sometimes for the worse, but all these changes go in to creating the person that you become. It’s not very often you meet anybody who, aged 30, would say “I’m still exactly the same person I was when I was 15.”

My late teens to my late twenties was a period of huge change for me. As mentioned in previous blogs, I spent most of my teenage years as a very shy, very quiet boy. When I had finished at sixth form, my next step was to go to university. This was the message that had been almost forced on to me by the school I was in; to not want Uni as a next step was to want failure. Or, at least, that’s how it felt for me.

It was completely wrong. By the end of sixth form, aged 18, I felt lost. I’d had enough of education and I didn’t feel ready for University, but I didn’t feel that there was all that much to keep me at home in Lowestoft other than family. Job wise, there wasn’t much to go for and then there was the fact that several of my friends were heading to different Universities up and down the country. Feeling forced in to university gave a feeling of hopelessness when, deep down, I knew I didn’t want to go but was being told that other paths meant a poorer life.

I contacted the uni I’d been accepted in to and asked to take a gap year. I worked three jobs, at one point all at the same time, and began to build in confidence. I almost exploited the fact I had friends in uni by going out on several fresher events even though I wasn’t a student. I was enjoying the uni life but without the lectures or the student debt and it was great. The gap year was enough to make me decide to go to uni and embrace the next change to my character.

Going to uni was an experience I will never forget and one that I absolutely loved. By the end of the third year I felt I’d developed in to a different man, a more confident person and someone that had ‘a plan’. I knew what I wanted from life, whereas three years prior I had no idea. Uni allowed me to meet some great people; some of whom became some of my closest friends.

Before uni, I’d not really had any relationships. Two weeks in, just turning 20, I was in a relationship…a relationship I stayed in for nearly 10 years. Going back to what I said at the start of this post, people change and after several turbulent years full of personal struggles and tragedy on both sides it was enough. I certainly wasn’t feeling it any more and a culmination of those tragedies – Mum passing away, for example – and a change in my own emotions towards the relationship as well as other factors just made me feel it had to end, definitely before we were married. In all honesty, I’d fallen within myself for much of the last year or so of the relationship and as bad as it sounds stayed in it for perhaps longer than I should have. It was easier that way. I stayed at work longer than needed, went for drinks with fellow colleagues and just stayed out of the house. I was unhappy but afraid to really do anything or even really face in to it.

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“I spent my time watching the spaces that have grown between us…”

When I moved to a different work place I started talking to one of the team leaders and developed a great friendship. I found a person I could confide in, a person I felt comfortable talking to about my own personal ‘demons’ and unhappiness. It opened my eyes when we talked about issues in our relationships as I realised that many of the things I felt were wrong in hers were actually wrong in mine. It was easier talking to her purely because she had no relationship with anybody in my inner circle so honesty became really easy. Neither of us really had anything to lose by being honest to each other, but we gave each other a person to talk to about things that were deeply playing on us – something that I think neither of us had beforehand.

On the day that I ended the relationship I drove to Bakewell in the Peak District and, as ridiculous as this may sound, I took a notepad and pen and just wrote out all of my reasons for wanting out. Despite knowing I needed to leave, the fact was that I’d been in a relationship for a third of my life and I knew that by actually leaving I was taking a giant leap into the unknown. It was scary, daunting and I had no idea how things would go. I’d contacted my friend, Dan, and sorted out a place to stay after.

Even though I knew I was doing the right thing for me, there’s still a hardship to ending any relationship and this was no different. I felt fortunate because I was still able to confide to the team leader at work, as well as speak to some of my other closest friends. I decided to take a step back from many of my University relationships and in time deleted much of my social media presence. This was a time for me to look in to myself, rebuild myself and develop new relationships. This was what I needed.

In that time, music continued to be a massive life saver for me. I devoted a lot of my listening to Ben Howard and, in particular, the song ‘Keep Your Head Up’. The chorus of “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” was, and remains, motivational to the point that I would listen to the song at the start of every day to lift me up. The team leader I confided in was going through her own issues at home and we would share this song with one another. It was our mutual anthem. Our uplifting chorus. The motivational message we both needed.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

How did the song change my life? It helped keep me above board during one of the most tumultuous periods of my life. Sofa hopping, staying in hotels – even contemplating quitting my job and moving back to Lowestoft with my Dad. Those eight words were what I needed.

Eventually the team leader ended her relationship, too. After a few months we decided to try as a couple. My life changed again, for the better, as it became clear that I’d met the person that would be the love of my life and, sooner than either of us would have thought, the mother of my children. The girl that was there for me when I needed to talk is now the girl I share my life with. Sometimes, life does work out.

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Swimming In Darkness

There is a lyric in “Keep Your Head Up” that goes, “I tried my best to embrace the darkness in which I swim”. It’s a lyric that I relate to on several levels.

I’ve always struggled against low mood. I find it far easier to see the negatives than I do the positives. Self doubt is always intensely high for me and I over think absolutely everything. A by product of my over thinking is anxiety. I get anxious over anything. For example, if somebody messages me with just an “OK”, I’ll think something is wrong and I’ve maybe, somehow, upset the other person. Things said to me, whether in jest or in seriousness, can stay on my mind not only for days but for months or years. It takes a lot to really fight against the emotions that come with these issues but, over time, I’ve been able to learn how to control it and be alright. The support I get from Lori, my fiancee, is a massive help, and music is another help for me – music is an energy that helps me and that is why I believe that these songs helped changed my life. It may sound OTT, maybe it is, but I don’t know who I would be without songs like ‘Keep Your Head Up’ or the music of bands and artists like Biffy Clyro, The Smiths, Jeff Buckley and Nirvana.

Once Lori and myself had settled in to a relationship (which was incredibly easy – I do believe we were made for one another), we were placed in to a situation that neither of us could have ever foreseen.

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My friend, Dan, who had put me up when I ended my previous relationship must have found himself swimming in darkness and, sadly, unable to control it. I detail the story of what happened in my post, ‘Tales Of The Unexpected‘.

From the moment the police came in to Lori’s flat, I sank deeper in to my own darkness. I always feel selfish saying that because the emotions I felt will have been nothing compared to the family of Dan’s murdered Dad, and there is no way that I would ever want to pretend my emotions would come close but I was distraught. I’d lost my best friend in one of the most horrific ways, realising I didn’t really know the guy at all, and due to that my self doubt, my insecurities…they all grew out of control. How could I not see it? How could I be so stupid, so gullible as to believe all the different stories? Why didn’t he tell me the truth? Why couldn’t I help him to get better? Could I have helped to prevent it? Will Lori leave me because, honestly, police raiding your flat because of your new boyfriend’s friend isn’t a great start…I was scared. I was confused. I was a mess.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

The police found Dan on the night Lori and I saw Biffy Clyro in Birmingham. Biffy are an incredibly important band for me and I saw them perform both songs that I associate with my Mum (‘Folding Stars’ and ‘Machines’) together for the first time. My emotions were going. Over the next week, after doing police statements, a development would come that would change my life completely and forever.

Lori was pregnant. It was a surprise but the elation I felt was insane. People often talk of feeling the weight lift off their shoulders…that evening, I felt like I could float. I felt, as Ben Howard sings in ‘Keep Your Head Up’, the “comfort invested in my soul” from Lori and, importantly, in myself.

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“Because I’ll always remember you the same…”

‘Keep Your Head Up’ has remained the anthem that I’ve needed. It has also remained the anthem that myself and Lori turn to in unhappier times. It reminds us that things may be bad now, we may be “embracing the darkness”, but things can get better. You have to try to keep the positivity, you have to try to “keep your head up”.

When Lori was faced with redundancy, she shared the song on her Facebook. Several others also facing in to redundancy reacted with love. They all got it. They all understood, and, I imagine, it’s the song that they will have all listened to at that point and have helped them to feel, even if only for those few minutes, a bit better. Music is really one of the only forms of media that can do that. It’s powerful. It does change lives because it gives you an emotion that can change your outlook on the way things are going. What else can really do that?

In loss, also, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ has been a song that has kept us going.

The simplest message can sometimes be the most important and the most life saving, the most life changing. That’s why, in those dark moments, I try my best to remember this song and follow what it says.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

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You can listen to ‘Keep Your Head Up’ by clicking HERE

Birth, Anxieties and Facing In To Mental Health

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There was a moment in the aftermath of my son being born whereby all the midwives and nurses had left the room allowing my fiancee to have a shower and for us to have the first time alone as a family. At this time, I’d never really held a baby for that long. I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable holding a baby in the past and I was extremely nervous about holding my boy for the first time. Basically, I didn’t want to drop him.

I imagine it’s a fear that many new Dads have. The thoughts of “will I balls this up?” are always there, ever present, planting seeds of doubt. I had a moment of guilt. I’d watched a baby be born (a baby weighing over 10lbs at that), I’d seen the enormity of what the female body goes through during delivery and here I was, thinking, “Adam, don’t drop the baby.”

Fortunately, I didn’t. For the first time in my life I felt genuinely comfortable holding a baby, my baby, and immediately I was besotted. Here in my arms was a purple (he was a big lad and he came out quick), perfect little boy. My fiancee, once everybody had left the room and we’d had a few minutes with our son, got up and went to have a well deserved shower. I had my first bit of alone time and faced, for the first time alone, tears.

On birth, he didn’t cry. The only cry we had was a solitary cry as he was passed in to his Mother’s arms. Nothing else, really, until this moment. I’d gone from hoping I wouldn’t drop the baby to suddenly thinking “What do I do now?” I kept thinking of the few antenatal classes we’d been to and it popped in to my head that the nurse doing the classes said, “You have to think, these babies have never seen a face, never been outside, not seen anything…it’s initially probably very scary for them being away from the womb.”

I held him close, gently rocked and instinctively started going “sshhh” and whispering a made up song (tired, jumbled words about the world being scary but it’s okay and we love you…or something) before just repeating “It’s okay…it’s okay…” as he fell to sleep in my arms for the first time.

This would turn in to what I’d do (minus the made up song…although they’d still sometimes creep out) every time our boy was crying and I was on duty to comfort him. “It’s okay…it’s okay.” Sometimes it worked, other times it wouldn’t but that’s babies. We’ve been lucky because our little boy is, for the most part, seemingly very happy and that’s absolutely brilliant.

As a new Dad, I’ve started to look at things in life a little differently. My priorities have changed completely. Life has changed completely. It alters your perception on some things, too. You start to look to the future, thinking about what it will be like, not so much for yourself, but for the child. Some of my biggest anxiousness now hangs around the world my little boy (and soon little girl) will grow up in to. Things are so different to when I was younger, and because of that ‘unknown’ factor it sometimes terrifies me. These are parents’ anxieties, I have learned. I have no doubt that when I am 62, and our little boy is 32, I’ll still have similar anxieties.

One thing that has arrived since I left school is social media. We live in an age where people do their best to present an almost false life on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It can be dangerous, it can lead to bullying, narcissistic personalities…but, it can also be good. Fewer days highlight that more than World Suicide Prevention Day, that we had on the 10th September.

Twitter was awash of people sharing their stories and their experiences. Words to help people, let others know that they are not alone and there are other options. Several of my Facebook friends shared posts. The main statement always being “It’s okay, not to be okay.”

It made me think back to my son’s first day when I sat gently rocking him whispering, “it’s okay”, over and over. It made me think of the amount of times I’ve comforted anybody and said either, “it’s okay” or “it’ll be okay, things will be okay.” It’s the ‘go to’ comfort comment, but, I wonder, how many people saying those things actually believe things will be okay? And, more importantly, how many of those people we comfort by saying “it’s okay” actually think it is okay and things will get better? I fear sometimes that we dismiss mental health too quickly by saying “It’s okay not to be okay” when really we should say “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.” There is a worrying lack of real support for those that suffer with mental health, waiting lists can be huge – by constantly telling people it’s okay to not be okay are we potentially risking people ignoring their mental health and shrugging it off as “one of those things”?

I’m as guilty as anybody for shrugging off my own mental health. I can think of times when I have seriously struggled, but not done anything because I’ve taken the stance of either “I’ll be okay” or “this is just normal”. The worst time for me was, without doubt, the passing of my Mum. I remember being sat with my Dad in a hotel when she was in hospital and feeling my chest getting tighter and tighter. It carried on for some time and when we got home I went to the doctors and ended up being given an ECG. It came back normal and it was explained to me that I was probably having anxiety attacks. Nothing more was done because at this moment in time it was okay not to be okay. Of course it was. But the months after that? In the August of that year, 8 months later, I went to the doctor regarding my stomach and got diagnosed with stress related IBS – we talked about my Mum, briefly, before the doctor talked to me about other doctors suffering the same condition. I remember him saying “It’s one of those things, unfortunately, it affects the best of us.” It’s okay not to be okay.

I’m not meaning this as an attack on the people that say “It’s okay not to be okay”. For what it’s worth, I completely agree. I do, however, think it’s fair to worry that we normalise it as being something it is not. I think about friends I’ve had, some I’ve lost, and I wonder if they hadn’t faced in to their own mental health issues because they also dismissed it as a bad day. We need to do more to make people aware of what is out there to help. Yes, we do need to let people know that it’s normal to not feel well, it’s normal to have moments where you struggle and that it can be brought on by almost anything or nothing at all.

But we also need to know when saying “It’s okay”, as I did with my young lad on his first day, isn’t enough.