Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'Don't Wait for Me' and the Christmakah round-up

It's been a long week and I've basically been without wifi for most of the time. It's almost like missing a limb. How we all get so used to it and when it's not around, it's sorely missed! Yes, the internet... Apparently there are now people who are as addicted to 'going online' as others are to messin' around with drugs. Well, there you go...

Another year almost over and it's been interesting from this end. A lot's happened and one thing that I didn't think that I would ever do is to write a blog. Hope that some of it has been interesting and thought provoking. I'll try to replicate it in 2009. Guess that there will be much to write about...

I'll find out at the end of the month as to how many copies of my book I have sold. It's difficult to know. Really hope that it's been semi-successful. Another thing that I also didn't think that I would ever do is to get up in front of people and talk to them about a book and about my experiences with mental illness and drugs. It's been an intense learning curve and I'm surprised just how much I have learned from this particular experience. It's on-going and I've a number of other dates coming up where I shall be talking again.

What is extraordinary if one compares the end of 2008 to 2007 is the tragic state of the economy now. We all knew that we were in some kind of bubble, where house prices were astronomical and bore no relevance to the bricks and mortar encapsulated and we knew that something was happening in the 'States vis a vis 'sub-prime', but what on earth did it mean? We certainly know now. What a shambles and it's one that our 'sub-prime-minister' appears unable to extricate himself - and the country - from. The fact that it was his government that lead us into this mess - during the very time that he was Chancellor of the Exchequeor, no less - does not cover him with glory. We can all but hope that he takes some good advice from someone - if someone does exist - to put us back on a road for recovery.

So - it's my last blog for the time being and I'll begin again in 2009. We've almost finished a decade of this century. Doesn't time just whizz by?

The good news is that 'Zach' is still well and looking good. His band is going to be recording their first demo in the New Year and they have a number of shows lined up. All good... Let's hope for the best for them.

To everyone who has bothered to read the blog so far: Have a happy and healthy Christmas/Channuka and a peaceful New Year.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

'Little Dorrit', Mr. Madoff and other peoples' greed

What extraordinary times we are living in! Every day something new appears to make our hair stand on end. Now it's the story of Mr. Madoff - Mr. Madeoff-with-lots-of money Madoff. I was talking to my sister in New York this afternoon. We were both astounded at the apparent lack of fiduciary 'nous' all these investors have had all these years. They've invested all their money with one man for seemingly unrealistic returns.

Unrealistic is the right word. It's all surreal. Extraordinary. What were they all thinking of? Where did they think that the money was coming from? I would have thought that Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel and HSBC and Santander could have employed independent FSA's in order to investigate that the fund that they were investing in was bona fide. Apparently they did not.

So my New York sister now relates how once were millionaires are now paupers. "There's going to be so many suicides..." she told me. "How can people sleep at night? We're now wealthier than them!" I suppose that there's some kind of irony in that. One of the most bizarre things is that Mr. Madoff belonged to so many golf clubs. Not so many years ago he wouldn't have been able to belong to one! Anyone ever seen 'Gentleman's Agreement'? Of course the nasty, vituperative, insidious comments are showing their faces on various websites. The Daily Mail especially. "Don't deal with the Chosen People" was how one correspondent sneeringly wrote. Charming.

And then there's Nicola Horlick spewing venom. She only invested 10% of her clients' money with Mr. Madoff-with-lots-of-other-peoples'-money. That's a lot of money. £21 million, at the last count. I thought that she was supposed to be clever too. At least that's what she tells everyone she is! So she was taken in?

It's interesting that when a little man makes a mistake with his taxes or there's perceived to be something fishy about the way that he conducts his business, that law and financial enforcers are on his doorstep at dawn but here, where there's $50 billion at stake, no questions were ever asked. The auditor was a seventy-eight year old retiree in Florida and the auditors' office was run by one man and a secretary. S e c r e t a r y... take that apart: doesn't 'secrecy' reside there somewhere?

Even more bizarre is the fact that I watched the last three episodes of the wonderful BBC production of Little Dorrit on the telly on Sunday afternoon. Cold, wet and positively frigid it was outside. I curled myself up in the corner of the settee, while it got darker and darker the closer we got to 3pm. What a surprise! Mr. Merdle was the Victorian embodyment of Mr. Madoff! Everyone was desperate to invest in his bank. Why? Because his interest rates were far higher than anyone else's. Of course the whole thing was a sham and when he knew he was going to be rumbled, he took himself off to the bath house, gobbled a good slug of Laudenam and slit his jugular with a pretty penknife. Maybe Mr. Madoff read only three-quarters of the book and got bored before the end.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Amy, Sharon, Woolies and the great technophobe

Isn't technology grand when it works? When it doesn't, as it hasn't done here for the past week, then all you want to do is throw the greatest strop and chuck the bloody thing out of the window!

I've had trouble since last Saturday with Broadband, or whatever it is. So far as I'm concerned, I want to get online when I want to. My laptop has developed a mind of its own and decides when and if it wants to connect, therefore creating within me the maniacal monster who just wants to scream and hissy fit around when I can't do what I want. I therefore realise that I'm addicted. Like so many others. I've not been able to post my blog or read my mail or keep up to date with Amy (nothing happening there. She's been in hospital for the past almost two weeks. I wonder why. No one seems to know but Sharon's still been blaming Blake and pretending that it's all his fault that Amy's a junkie. Yeah...)

Surprisingly people are still checking here, notwithstanding that nothing new's been put up. Sorry about that folks. Not that there's nothing happening outside these walls. Continual war in the Sudan, cholera in Zimbabwe - what an unblessed country; Chinese dissidents incarcerated into mental asylums, reflecting those long lost days of the Stalin era; recession, depressions and freezing fog. And finally the lovely Sharon, the head of Haringey social services, given her marching orders. She'll have to wait until she's of retirement age to claim her £1.5 million pension. Shame, poor love...

And it's back to the Christmas adverts but Woolworths have gone under and 25,000 are about to be made redundant and this government is still intent on throwing more money at the banks for them to sit on it like penguins and the markets remain stagnant. It just doesn't make sense to this technophobe, who had to spend three hours on the phone to various bods at the BT call centre in Chennai, waiting to receive instructions on how to get the connections working again. Thank goodness to the last guy, whose name I wasn't presented with at the beginning of the conversation that lasted over an hour, while he oh so patiently led me through each and every prompt and installation technique available to the common man. How do they know all this stuff? It all baffles me although, to my great merriment, he did in fact tell me that I'll be able to teach this stuff now myself! That's a laugh.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The 'True Movies' of our times and Karen Matthews

What bizarre times we are living in. Some statistics state that, in this country alone, one child a day is being murdered by its carers. I don't know if I can really believe that. It seems to be too awful to be true. It certainly makes a mockery of the word 'carer'. In any event, I feel that that word is over-used in every context used by any organisations that have anything to do with people. Somewhat of an oxymoron, I believe. However, it's the end of 2008 and there's an influx of these tragic cases involving children. Last week it was 'Baby P'. This week another child in the same borough of Haringay who has suffered equally as badly as Baby P and today it's the verdict in the Shannon Matthews trial.

You have to ask yourself what kind of woman would use her own daughter as bait for the reward of something in the region of £50,000. Was that all that her daughter was worth to her? Does she have some kind of personality disorder? Or is it too easy to paint everyone who has the taint of evil with a psychological rationale for their unspeakable behaviour?

What kind of thoughts go through the head of an obviously not very bright woman, whereby she thinks that by having her daughter 'kidnapped' by an equally intellectually diminished boyfriend, she feels that she will be able to 'pull it off' without anyone seeing through her act? You have to hand it to her though, she certainly managed to appear the poor victim in this caper. How many 'True Life' movies has she watched, one wonders. Did she feel that she was the poor-man's yummy-mummy of the Maddy crowd?

The judge made the point that her repellent behaviour merits a long custodial sentence. I hope so but what will happen in the case of the mother of Baby P? The mother whose name is not blazened over the headlines and who, we are led to believe, will be given complete anonymity. Will she be given a long custodial sentence? After all, she actively murdered her child, along with the complicity of her boyfriend and her lodger. We are led to believe that no, she's not going to have very long behind bars because there's no proof that she actually carried out the deed herself and all by herself! So she'll get let out sooner rather than later and be spirited away so that no one knows who she is and where she is and she'll no doubt meet up with another loser, have more unwanted kids and repeat the offences yet again, while we the tax payer supply her with food, booze, unwanted contraception and accommodation.

And Karen Matthews? What will become of her? Looking at her already, she looks like a long term lag, far older than her thirty odd years. What will her sentence be? Ten years maybe? No doubt she'll have good access to any number of True Movies while she's in clink and will be able to spend a good deal of her waking hours day-dreaming about the not so far off day, when she's released on good behaviour, and another little oscar-winning performance.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

For Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and Rivka and Chabad in Mumbai.

We've had recourse to Chabad. Twice, so far. The first time in Bangkok, Thailand. I contacted them when 'Zach' was holed up in hospital, after 'Rickey' had managed to find him on that manic journey from the borders of Laos through an opium filled haze to the room overlooking the tropical gardens and the motorways of Thailand's major city. The local Chabad representative came in to visit him, bringing a menorah because it was close to Hanukah, as well as food and drinks and general good humour. Rickey wasn't quite sure, fearful that they might be there to 'evangelisize' him. I told him that they weren't that interested in converting those who had not been of the faith beforehand. As it was, he had plenty of discourse with them, trying his best to dissuade them from religion to hedonism. They weren't convinced.

The second time was last year, when 'Sam' and I were compelled once again to go and bring Zach back to this country. Another horrendously expensive repatriation. Three days in Chaing Mai. Beforehand I'd made contact with Rabbi Nehemia in Bangkok who put me in touch with Moyshi in Chaing Mai. Even in these far-flung posts, the Lubavitch make sure that there's somewhere for weary travellers to find a Friday night dinner or a break from the intensity of their journeys.

Moyshi and his Israeli helper Yossi had been to visit Zach in the 'cage'. This was a separate area of the whitewashed, seemingly harmless looking psychiatric hospital wherein Zach was once more incarcerated. I had received an anxiety ridden phone call from Moyshi before we'd left. 'You have to get him out of there,' he told me, almost breathlessly. 'Otherwise, he'll die...' When you hear something like that, you're not quite sure where you go or what you do. Apparently Zach was in a large cage with the demented and the criminally insane. I told them to do whatever they could to help. And they did.

The two Chabadniks moved Zach into a private ward. They visited him daily. They contacted the British consular offices. They took him in food and drink and clothing and stayed with him, talking to him so that he should once again feel that he was a human being. This was nothing particularly new to them. They'd done it many times before and asked nothing from us for so doing.

What Moyshi and Yossi did was no different to what other Chabad outreach workers do worldwide. It's no different to what Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife Rivka did in Mumbai. Their view was to help others, while living a very simple life themselves. They would have provided succour for travellers, a meal or two and other help should someone have health issues or, as above, acute mental health problems. Why they particularly were singled out and murdered in the backstreets of an Indian city is a heinous crime and one that can never be forgiven. There's no excuse that anyone can make.

When I spoke to my sister about why Nariman house had been attacked, she thought it was because it was 'near the hotels'. That wasn't the case, I explained. The terrorists had chosen to go to Chabad house because there were Jews there. Once in there, they bound their hostages and murdered them because they could. I was touched by the young Mumbaiker correspondent on our satellite Indian station. She was in tears after Nariman house had finally been cleared of its terrorists. 'Did you know,' she said, 'the Rabbi's baby who was saved by their cook celebrates his birthday today. He's an orphan because his parents have been killed and will celebrate that for the rest of his life.'

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The explosion in mental health disorder and Britney's search for love

I gave another one of my talks this week to an extremely nice and genteel school in the west of London. I'm not sure that it was one of my better endeavours but I'm always critical of myself. After all, this is a completely new aspect of my day - giving talks to kids about the dangers of mental illness and drug abuse. It's something that I know something about - after all, there's the experience of living with someone who has both. However, I do sometimes wonder whether I'm talking into a void. It's still daunting standing up in front of twenty or thirty A-level students and expect to hold their attention, while at the same time trying not to bore or watch anyone roll their eyes or yawn behind his or her hands!

Towards the end of the question-and-answer session, I asked them a question. "How many of you know people who have mental health problems?" I was astonished to see that more than three-quarters of the class raised their hands. Including the teachers. That's considerably more than the statistics portray. Indeed far more than the one-in-four currently believed. Extraordinary.

What was even more extraordinary was that at the end of the session, when everyone was filing out of the classroom, a student came to me and enquired if he could ask me a question. "How do you cope?" he asked. I looked at him. "Why do you ask that? Is there a problem in your own family?" Yes, was the answer. He wanted to know what you do when someone you love has had numerous sections and when your family can't talk about it or share their fears and emotions with one another. I understood exactly what he was talking about and felt so sad for him. My answer was the 'detachment with love' aspect of coping. You put your loved-one into a metaphorical box and tuck it away and take it out and think about it when you are feeling strong. Sounds somewhat whimsical and patronising but it helps. It was difficult for me to think of things to advise, apart from suggesting that he get some help himself too. Someone to talk to who will be there for him and to give him coping mechanisms. I hope he does.

I then saw the latest in the Britney camp. Mum says that Britney was nuts because all she needed was love and affection. And now, having got all her love and affection, Britney is well and happy. Jolly good. Talk about denial...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

John Kettley, arctic winds and the cold of my childhood

When I was a child, Novembers all seemed to be freezing cold. I remember chapped legs that rubbed together and knee high socks and short skirts. We didn't wear tights then. I'm showing my age. I remember black nights and frosty mornings and wet, steamy kitchen windows where rivulets of moisture ran down the panes into puddles along the paintwork onto the skirting boards. I remember seeing my breath in the frigid air when I ran home from school and waiting at Mile End station for the next train to Upton Park, when all the passengers on the dim platform kept jiggling around and slapping their hands together because the gusts of arctic wind throughout the tunnels flew under their coats and scarves and hats and it was really cold!

This week the papers and the television channels were full of how cold it was going to be this weekend, as if we never have cold air in this country. We were going to have 'an arctic spell'; there would be frost and biting winds and snow! What? Isn't it winter? Don't we have cold weather in winter? Why do we have to be warned to 'stay indoors' and 'wrap up' and not to go anywhere in Norfolk because they might well have 'one inch' of snow! Golly! How exciting to have winter in winter!

Yesterday it started off pretty mild but, as the day progressed, it did indeed get colder, so that by evening people were in their winter coats and some even had gloves on and scarves around their necks. I took the dog for a brief walk into the village and on my way back home I spied a little boy walking along with his mother and sister. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. That's it. Mum carried his anorak. Gosh, he obviously didn't feel the cold! Maybe I should have tardissed him back to the 1960s of my childhood and he would know what cold weather is. As it is, he didn't have a clue about those 'arctic winds' and the 'unseasonable' weather fronts that John Kettley and all the 'experts' were raving about.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

'Misery Memoirs' and Mrs. Briscoe's lament

I suppose that I, too, could be sued. By 'Sam', "Where am I?" he could demand. "Am I an absent husband?" Or 'Beth' when she was younger. "You hated my piercings!" a scowl of contempt. "You made me take them out!" Or even 'Zach'. "What? The book's about me? But didn't you say that I was charming and good looking or clever?" You may have read in the papers that a London lawyer, Constance Briscoe, is being sued by her mother. Yes, her mother. For having written a memoir called "Ugly." The things that Connie wrote about mum and her step-dad are not true, claims Mrs. Briscoe senior. Well, well, well. Wot a surprise!

Now, of course, the papers are full of hugely smug articles by gloating journalists about how ghastly these misery memoirs are. How the public are now well and truly fed up with them and how it's so 'pornographic' to expose one's 'personal pain' on the written page. Pornographic? Hardly. I agree that many memoirs have to be fictionalised. It's illogical to consider that a child can remember in all graphic detail what happened to them at age four. James Frey even admitted that his story A Million Little Pieces was a work of fiction, thus setting in motion the considered opinion that all memoirs were lies.

The problem that we now have, however, is that everything published is genred (my word - I quite like it) meaning that it's no longer apposite to qualify a book as autobiography, biography, fiction, non-fiction - you get the picture. It has to be put into a new breed of genre, so that, unless it's written by a celebrity, a memoir is thus described as a 'tragic life story' or something akin to that. Can't people decide for themselves? And who's doing the qualifying?

Of course the publishers only have themselves to blame. Once they saw how successful readers' interest has been in life stories, they've insisted on churning out book after book after book, with little consideration as to how practically each and every publication resembles the last. How many more books can be published that purport to show the abuse that appears to be so prevalent in the western world? I suppose that I can be accused of hubris here. After all, isn't my book also included in Amazon's 'Tragic Life Stories'? Yuck.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Vanity projects and 'Of Time and the City'

It was an interesting weekend for vanity projects. Two, fact. The first was yesterday afternoon. T and I decided to spend a lunchtime at the Renoir in Bloomsbury. Feels so decadent, driving to the cinema on a Sunday afternoon, among heavy traffic and drivers intent on stopping at every green light and rushing ahead on red. Almost like being in Rio! Without the weather and the favellas. We pitched up at the cinema with a few others (literally a few) and paid our rather exhorbitant £10 per ticket. Is it me, or have the prices of cinema tickets been hiked in the last year or so? Seems extraordinary to pay so much. I must be getting old...

I wanted to see 'Of Time and the City' because I believed it was going to be the renowned director Terence Davies' 'homage' to Liverpool. I thought that the archive footage would capture how Liverpool had transcended from poverty to 'The City of Culture.' Nope, that would have been too easy. What it was, was a hodge-podge. For instance, Davies hates the royal family. Fine, he's entitled to his opinion but what did that have to do with Liverpool? His narration, like his direction, was intrusive and irrelevant and tedious. His use of music to illustrate points was, on the whole, quite wrong. What did The Hollies' 1969 version of 'He's not heavy, he's my brother' have to do with the Korean War? And Davies' repeated use of quotes that he then quoted as if he was writing an appendix for publication, was, in fact, ridiculous. It was, indeed, a vanity project and one that should have stayed in Davies' front room for his accolytes and family to watch on a rainy, wet afternoon when there was nothing better on tv.

The second vanity project was a personal hymn to forty-five years of marriage. A couple of years ago a friend of ours decided to learn to play the piano. Having learned in doubble-quick time, she set out to compose and write a number of love songs. These she dedicated to her husband. Unbelievably brave, she then recorded an album and performed it live on stage last night with a band - sax, drums, double-bass and piano. It was, her husband declared, "The first and last time that she would do so". Ok, so she was not the greatest singer but it was an utterly memorable and unique occasion. It's quite something to invite a hundred people to hear you sing for the first and last time. Is that vanity?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

'Baby P', 'Responsibility' and what it means in 21st century Britain

Hasn't it been a depressing week? We know that we are in some kind of recession. Redundancies are happening all around us but the bankers who largely contributed to all this are still getting their bonuses. No sense of responsibility there.

Then we come to the appalling case of little Baby P. I wasn't going to write about this as I thought that there was enough in the newspapers and on the airwaves but you can't get away from it. There's something utterly Dickensian about it and how the virtuous and arrogant woman in charge of affairs can so blithely wash her hands of the whole event. The blame lies with the mother and the boyfriend and the lodger, all of whom were complicit. But the authorities knew, had evidence, that the child was the subject of the most awful abuse. He was visited sixty times. How many times does a child have to be visited before the file is flagged up with the obvious question: "When do we take him into care?"

'Care'. That's a great word in this country. Just like their mantra of 'care in the community.' It's basically a reason not to do anything at all so that someone take responsibility. It's a way in which the buck can be passed from one department to another; from one 'care worker' to another, so that no one actually is in possession of any kind of responsibility to another human being.

It has left me with this empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know that this is, or hope that this is, an unusual case but somehow I don't think so. Letters had already been written to what had been perceived the 'right channels.' No one bothered to follow them up and the woman who was so disgusted with the way that Haringay Council was carrying out its remit vis a vis children was herself made a victim. We are living in a surreal world where everything is turned on its head and the concept of ultimate responsibilty has evaporated.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Despondency and depression at the thought of the NHS

I really have a fear of getting ill and growing old in this country. The thought of ending up in some 'care' home in a grey turning off a motorway, shoved into a wheelchair to stare through a dirty window at a dirty, sodden, gloomy rainswept car park, fills me with dread. However, what is more horrendous is the thought of getting ill and being at the mercy of the NHS and even the private sector.

I noted in the weekend paper how Richard Branson revealed that he wouldn't allow his father to be operated on in an NHS hospital as he couldn't find one that wasn't riddled with MRSA. I'm not surprised. Nine years ago my father-in-law went into his local hospital in the south of England for an excrutiating backache. Four weeks later he was dead. He'd caught the deadly bug. It was only because the medical staff were presented with four professionals - his children - three of whom were solicitors, that they tried everything, they said, to save him. I balked at the tracheotomy. What was the point, I pondered, when he was obviously going to die in any event?

Last year, when Zach was taken into the local hospital, in extremis, unable to walk because of some mysterious illness where he had developed a ghastly rash over his legs and they had swollen so badly that he was in excrutiating pain, he was left in A&E in a wheelchair for four hours. This was after I had rushed him to hospital. On arrival I looked for a porter. None was to be found. I dashed into the hospital, searching for a wheelchair. There were none. This was a hospital! Finally, someone saw me desperately seeking help. They managed to find a wheelchair that was being used to house magazines - and this while the traffic warden was harrassing me to move my car.

So we stayed in A&E those hours until he was seen and I was almost completely wrecked at this stage - mania, drugs and now a mysterious illness had rendered me to the brink of my own breakdown. Zach was taken to a single room on another floor. There was the possibility that it was something highly contageous that he may have caught while travelling. The nurses wore plastic aprons and covered their mouths. The young doctor who examined Zach wore no coat or gloves. He carried a chart that he continued to fill in while making his exam. When he came out of the room (I had been watching him from behind the glass), he came over to me to shake my hand. He hadn't even washed his hands. Is it surprising, then, that MRSA is so prevalent in our hospitals when even the doctors don't even wash their hands after examining patients? Was this a one-off? I wonder. Richard Branson is surely right in his assessment but I don't even think it's better in the private sector here.

For a comparison, consider this: Yesterday afternoon my daughter had to go into the A&E department of a large hospital in Tel Aviv where she now lives. She'd been suffering terrible stomach cramps and felt simply awful. On admission they examined her (the doctors wear scrubs and coats and gloves). They took bloodwork immediately and x-rays. They told her that they wouldn't let her go until they diagnosed what was wrong. Within fifteen minutes she had the blood test results; within the same time the x-rays. They diagnosed what was wrong and, after having put things right, she was able to leave. The hospital was new, clean, bright and airy. It was efficient and even though she had to wait for over an hour to see someone, she had faith that they would be able to help. I have no faith here. It makes me despondent and depressed.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The power of BBC Radio 4 and the Machiavellian machinations of the X Factor 'Judges'

Gosh , the power of BBC Radio 4! Number one in 'Drug and Alcohol Abuse' on Amazon; Number one on Drug Addiction on Amazon and Number three in 'Tragic Life Stories' on Amazon. I only wish that somehow they would rename their categories. I sent an email and asked whether, as the book is actually about someone who suffers from Bipolar disorder, that maybe they would put it into their 'psychology/psychiatry' category. I received an email saying that it has been - but can't find it there! Anyway, the fact is people are finding the book and buying it in far greater numbers than hitherto. Let's see how long that lasts!

It was great, finally, to go into the studio. Chris Wilson, the producer of Excess Baggage, made the point that it was the first time that mental illness and travel had been used as a topic for discussion on Excess Baggage. I don't know whether it's a first for Radio 4 in any kind of formatted programme. If it is, then maybe here's the opportunity to explore it further. We could only cover a tiny amount of the travel aspect of the book in the small window that had been set aside for me. I'm absolutely certain though that a whole programme wouldn't go amiss! There's loads more to speak about. For example, what it's like to have one's passport confiscated at the border of an Asian country; what do you do if someone you're travelling with is jailed abroad because of a manic breakdown; how to approach your travel insurance people when your friend is incarcerated and what mental health coverage exists for those of us who have any kind of mental health problem? So much to think about. I believe that I shall have to put this to him...

I've no idea how many people heard me - but I've had loads of emails and text messages from people from whom I hadn't heard from in ages and who had heard the broadcast. So many people who recognised my voice but didn't know what had happened to 'Zach' over the last eleven years. "Buy the book," I told them, "there's so much more in there..." I hope that they took my advice and then told their friends. Who knows how much this resonates with their kids? Their kids who've been travelling across the world and who have had so many experiences like this? Then it was back to the weekend and The X Factor.

Isn't it funny, that when presented with talent, that the British public vote for mediocrity! I know that I shouldn't generalise here but I'm upset. My act got knocked off The X Factor! Laura White, a really talented singer, supplanted by the hideous Daniel whose hair takes on a colour of its own, week after week. Shall I join the conspiracy theorists here? Those who believe that someone Machiavellian, like a Louis Walsh or a Simon Cowell voted off the strongest singer in the bunch because she actually had real 'star' quality? It's all very shallow, I know. But I'm human too and I love talent contests! I love it when real people demonstrate that they have something that the rest of the population doesn't: the ability to sing someone else off the screen and shine.

Well, Saturday nights won't be the same. I'm not going to bother now. Mediocrity (apart from Alexandra, possibly) has won out. Rachel? Off-key, shouty and a tedious persona; JLS, with their terrorist scarves, very middle-of-the- road. The little boy should stick to singing in the local choir; Diana - spare me; Ruth? We all know what Simon sees there.... Who else? Who cares?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

'Excess Baggage', Amazonian jungles and tasteless imagery in Selfridges, Oxford Street

On my way to Broadcasting House this morning, sitting upstairs of the number 13 bus, I was driven past Selfridges. To my right, Marks & Spencer was done up in red and green chains and to my left, the windows of Selfridges were encased in what appeared to be green hedges and twinkling lights. The window displays were sparse. They consisted of one or two items of local designer-wear transported aloft in hermetically sealed bubbles. Nothing too over-the-top one can observe - apart from the price tags on the shoes, boots, bags and dresses. However, what caught my attention was what was written across each display: "The More the Merrier." Hmm... A bit tasteless in this age of credit crunch, job loss and banking monopoly. But don't those words symbolise why it is that we have reached this appalling stage in our evolution? 'Buy', 'buy', 'buy'... Put more and more on credit. "Because you're worth it!"

I eventually pitched up at the BBC where, sitting on their deep leather-bound armchairs and with Terry Wogan and Radio 2 coming out of ear-high pa systems, I then observed the man himself appearing from behind the security glass, a healthy glow to those well known cheeks. Odd that he could be in two places at once...!

So I've finally recorded my piece for 'Excess Baggage.' It goes out on Saturday morning at 10.00am. I've no idea how many people listen to the programme, deftly presented by John McCarthy, and whether or not, having listened to the broadcast, people will want to buy the book. One only hopes so. I only hope that I didn't go off on my usual tangent. Trying desperately to incorporate as much as I can into my interview, without either be boring, repetitive or too harrowing. It's a fine line. It was a rather surreal segue from 'Excess Baggage's' other guest, Dan, talking about being a missionary in the Amazon jungle for thirty years to bring Christianity to a tribe who don't count numbers, don't have words for colours and don't understand that Barak Obama is now the leader of the western world! (OK, that last bit is a slight exaggeration...), to discussing how not to travel the world while mad.

Western materialism certainly wasn't an intrinsic necessity while Dan and his family lived in the jungle and it hasn't been a party to Zach's travels - apart from the times that he called us in extremis because he was down to his last sou and asked if we could very kindly wire him a few pounds. It shouldn't be a party to anyone's life now and it's in pretty poor taste that such a blatent and immature take on what Christmas represents is splashed all over the windows in Selfridges, Oxford Street.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Katherine Jenkins, drugs, addiction and hubris

Yet another article about drugs appeared in the glossy supplement this weekend. This time three women spoke about their addictions. One had been addicted to pain killers, another to coke and the third to cannabis and ecstacy. All were, to all intents and purposes, 'successful women.' The former two are now 'rehabilitated'; the other is still addicted, unable to pass one day without a spliff.

On the same day is the Katherine Jenkins story, a disingenuous piece about her having lied to a journalist some weeks before her having signed a multi-million dollar deal with Warners USA. Having been asked by the journalist whether she'd ever used drugs, she answered in the negative. "Now," she states, tremulously, "I want to come clean about this". Sorry about the pun. I think that they call this 'damage limitation.' She was never a heavy user, she states. Just a few lines of coke at home with friends, or in the loo at a club; or some of the old meta-amphetamines or a cake of hash. She never 'smoked' it, she says, as if that makes it better.

Tomorrow night on tv there's yet another documentary, 'Mum loves drugs, Not me.' This a week or so after Hannah's exploits with heroin were shown for all to see. And we see more of Amy, Kerry and Kate.

What does this say about our society? That it's awash with drugs? That no one has the moral fibre to say 'No' if others around are skinning up or drawing white lines on table tops or toilets or cooking with unusual ingredients? Katherine Jenkins hopes that having disclosed her drug abuse while she was a student, she can now present as a poor wayward child who was misled. How could she know, she asks, eyelids fluttering, that she would ever be this successful? How was she to know that the consequence of success means that there are only too many 'friends' who will be delighted to spill the beans about her forays into mind numbing and illegal happiness and ride on the coat-tails of her celebrity?

Oh, I know that I can't talk. I've lived with an addict and know full well what addiction is and I'm pretty sick of it all. I just wish that there were some cohesive messages in all this but there's not. Katherine Jenkins comes 'clean' about her drugs use because it suits her, not because there's any advice that maybe what she did was not advisable for anyone. She said that she didn't want to be like Amy. Well, who does? She says that the drugs made her depressed. I'm sure that they did but would any of this have come out were she not now the beneficiary of this huge recording contract?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Ross, Brand and the nation's reaction

I drove by Jonathan Ross's place yesterday, via a throng of reporters and tv vans. I presume that he had gone to ground somewhere. Maybe a hole underneath one of the many trees in his garden would be suitable. I have to say that I don't understand him. I thought that he was overpaid (highly) and over-exposed (mainly) but he made me laugh sometimes because he is quick witted. Who I simply don't get at all is Russell Brand. I've not 'got' him.

Be good if someone over the age of thirteen could actually explain why the BBC had to feel that they should employ Brand. Ok, so he's an ex-heroin addict (as if one can be an 'ex' heroin addict. You're like an alcoholic. Once addicted, always addicted), and ex-con and ex-whatever. I think that he has an ex-brain. He certainly has had any common sense, loyalty and common decency excised.

Why would a man consider it amusing to boast on air that he had ****ed the granddaughter of a well respected and generally liked 80 year-old grandfather? Why was this remotely funny? What was it that these two highly remunerated 'celebrities' had been sniffing/snorting/drinking while this 'prank' was taking place? Do they really believe that they should be able to get away with everything that they do - whatever it is that their immature, irresponsible and puerile 'brains' tell them?

It is generally the case, I believe, that BBC radio programmes broadcasts are vetted apart from those aimed at the 'younger' market. Is everything now acceptable, whatever it is? Whether it's the foulest language, sexual innuendo or pornographic imagery?

What kind of moral vacuum do the 'stars' of the BBC now reside? I wonder whether Jonathan Ross's daughter will beg her father to prosecute someone were they to broadcast their having had sex with her in the same unspeakable manner. What does Mrs. Ross say about this? Is she proud of her husband? And Brand? Still giggling like the silly adolescent he is. What a shambles.

Friday, 24 October 2008

'Mum, Heroin and Me' and me...

I watched 'Mum, Heroin and Me' this morning. I'd recorded it so that I could watch it without the ads that detract so much from anything that has any substance. Sorry for the pun. I thought that it gave a pretty good demonstration on how love can kill. Do you think that this is too severe an assessment of Hannah's mother and her, at any cost, desire to be a part of her daughter's life?

The point her mother made at so many times during the documentary was that Hannah hadn't fallen far enough, so that there was nothing that would make her stop her heroin addiction. In this case mum would help her whenever she could. Ok. I know that I'm making a judgement here and that I, of all people, have no right to do so. Was I any different to her? I certainly empathised with her frustration, irritation, anger and pure exhaustion at having someone in your life who was so egocentric and self-destructive that nothing was going to stand in their way, so long as they had their next hit. Except that, as far as I know, 'Zach' never actually used needles. One thing he hasn't got is a 'needle fixation.' His little fixation is the whole other paraphenalia - the papers, the rolling and the smoking.

hat I couldn't get my head around was the fact that Hannah's mum literally enabled her daughter to be a heroin addict, even so far as giving her the money and driving her to her dealer so that she could take her to her hair appointment! What was more important here? The pretty daughter or the girl who is fixated on the next needle print in arms, legs and feet? She's already spent £10,000 in one year on gear, I guess that another £10 worth won't make much of a difference.

Almost until the end, amidst my empathetic anger and irritation with Hannah, I believed that there was almost something here that would be of use to kids watching the programme. 'Don't use, kids. You may end up like Hannah...' But then the programme makers had to give us a happy ending. Notwithstanding that throughout the documentary Hannah had shown absolutely no itention of getting off heroin, her apathy and self-indulgance paramount, she's now gone off to South Africa to rehab for five months! Oh, yes. She did say at one time that she wanted to go away to get clean. Where was it? Somewhere like Arizona or South Africa but each other time that she'd actually made the pretence of going into rehab here, she'd lasted no time at all because she 'wasn't ready'

So when did this epiphany occur? The viewer wasn't prepared for this. It was added almost as an addendum at the very end of the programme. What was the catharsis? Did Hannah spend any real time looking after herself on the streets? Was she jailed or beaten senseless? Did she 'come to her senses' and realise that life wasn't worth living like this? At no time were we, the viewers, made aware that she had even considered that she had finally come to the conclusion that she wanted more from life than squalor or the next hit.

Well, I look forward to the next instalment. I wonder how soon Hannah will be back, looking for Rickie (who disappeared like a bad smell) and after the needles, the spoons and the silver foil. She's already ruined her parents' marriage, driven her mother to a mental breakdown and, no doubt, demonstrates very little emotional empathy for having destroyed her family. I'd be interested in what the programme makers have to say if she does indeed manage to remain in rehab and continue along the path to fulfillment. I'm afraid to say though, that from having watched the documentary, there's little hope in that. Such a pity.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Worksop, World Mental Health Day and lesson number one

Worksop, somewhere in the middle of England, declared that 'World Mental Health Day' was a 'great success.' Not wishing to belittle Worksop, I'm glad that the inhabitants of that small town believed the spin. However, I don't believe that such an emotive reaction was embraced by the rest of the population of the world.

When I went in to speak with my GCSE class the very day of WMHD, I was informed by 'M' that "The class are pretty restless today. It's Friday... You know, start of the weekend and all..." After they had sat themselves down and put their mobiles and i-Pods away, I prefaced my talk with a question: "Did you guys know that today is World Mental Health Day.?" Blank faces. Disbelieving stares. Boredom. "Effective, isn't it?" I laughed. They settled down a bit. "I've come in," I explained to them, "to speak to you today about drugs and mental illness..." A couple of sly glances between the girls, 'Who's this old biddy come in to talk to us about drugs?' but when I actually began to speak and then to read from the book, you could've heard a pin drop.

I think that I probably spoke for about twenty-five minutes and then we had a question and answer session. The kids were interested. There were some very considered questions. They had obviously been listening. I had told them that I wasn't going to lecture them about drugs. I also said that there was no point in my telling them not to 'use' in any shape or form. I'm too late for that. I simply wanted to impress on maybe one of them - there were about twenty odd in the room - that the 'gateway' drugs lead to a far more dangerous scenario. The one where, at some stage, one in four of them will have a mental health problem and that those problems may well be as a direct result of their drug taking. I'm sure that there will be plenty of health 'professionals' who will disagree with me here, but I stand by that statistic.

So, by the end my hour and at the end of the questioning, I think that maybe I had made them aware of the correlation between drugs and mental illness and the axiomatic increase of patients on psychiatric wards but I doubt whether they will be interested in October 10th, year on year. Why? What's that? World Mental Health Day. Of course!

Friday, 17 October 2008

The lithium cosh of the deadly psychiatrist

I may have mentioned before that I have recently signed on to a Google group. It's an array of people who suffer from Bipolar disorder. I guess that I'm some kind of reluctant voyeur as I don't personally have the condition but know someone who has. Reading their extraordinary stories make me shiver. The men and women who subscribe to the group mostly appear to live in the USA but the resemblance to what happens here and elsewhere in the world is tangible. How they manage to survive is beyond me. What I simply don't understand is the medication culture.

Is there any other illness where doctors regularly play around with the dosages of various toxic medications in such an arbitrary and irresponsible manner? I read of the case of one woman who was prescribed such an array of anti-psychotics that she was bedridden for three years. The amount of pills, tablets, you name it, were given out in such enormous quantities that it is surprising that she ever managed to move her head from a pillow. This being the case, the psychiatrist refused - yes, refused - to reduce the dosage. Surely this is far and beyond what constitutes 'care'?

I do believe that medication, when it works properly, is the only way to manage Bipolar disorder. I don't believe in talking therapies or CBT or acupuncture or omega-3 or neurolinguistic if they are not used in tandem with medications that work. However, for a doctor to prescribe any kind of medicine in the quantities that they do in ever increasing cases, is criminal. I remember the time that 'Zach' was shackled to the rusty bed in Athens and when I demanded why, the answer was 'because we've given him so much medication, he might collapse if he gets out of bed...! My exclaimation point. The other instance was Ecuador. He couldn't even stand up to go to the bathroom.

So why is it that mental health patients are given the chemical cosh? Lazy doctors, arrogant psychiatrists, reluctant health authorities? It's a disgrace and one that, in all likelihood, is liable to never change - wherever you are.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Sunday Telegraph, Stella magazine and The Dark Side of the Son

The following article appeared in The Sunday Telegraph Stella magazine at the end of June. I can now publish it again here. Thought that those of you who follow the blog may be interested in seeing it.

'The Dark Side of the Son'

"The first time I noticed that there was something different with Zach was when my husband, Sam, and I returned from India. The charming teenage boy we had left on the front porch, the dog lead grasped in one palm, the other sweaty hand patting me on my back telling me 'not to worry' and to 'have the best time', was now in the midst of a protracted argument with the man in the video shop.

"I looked around me, puzzled, noting with astonishment the faces of the other customers. Was I the mother of this skinny 18-year old who spewed venom when the man demanded that Zach hand over more late fees than Zach felt was his due? I brusquely shoved my son out of the way, slammed a £20 note down on the counter and marched him out of the shop.

"This was the first, but certainly not the last time that I wished the ground would gobble me up. I have lost count of the occasions when, over the past 11 years, Zach has put me in a position where his manic moods have led to the overwhelming desire to be anywhere but within his orbit. His form of bipolar disorder, with its attendant drug abuse, shows us no mercy. No one in the family has been unaffected, but I'm the one at whom the most poisonous behaviour is directed. From being a happy and bright-eyed teen, Zach was transformed unrecognisably by the illness. Between the highs and lows he would resurface and we would attempt to rebuild our relationship.

"One summer, when I was compelled at short notice to travel to Athens and bring him back home - out of the fetid hospital where he had been shackled by the ankle to a rusting metal bed - he leaped around the airport, darting from one passenger to the next, demanding Coca-Cola, sandwiches and cigarettes. I scuttled after him, calling him back as if he were a rebellious toddler. The accompanying psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse were themselves caught up in this insanity, with no recourse but to batten him down and administer more medication. Back in London and sectioned under the Mental Health Act, Zach retaliated by dying his hair blue and styling it into a mohican, the viscous dye running in rivulets around his face and shoulders.

"The war of attrition between us only abates when he returns to normality - a precurser to the period before he takes another journey, when, inevitably, police or mental-health experts are called in to restrain and incarcerate him. Then the wild goose-chase repeats itself and I'm off on a mission to save him and repatriate him to London's crisis teams and medications, and away from the crack, heroin or ketamine hits.

"For four years we endured the onslaught to our senses. My husband avoided confrontation by immersing himself in his work, but our daughter, Beth, idolised her big brother, and the manner of his breakdowns terrified her. Their relationship suffered - especially when we finally made the heart-rending decision to throw him out.

"My tears, my despair, my enduring love for my son were irrelevant. He had to go. The never-ending nights accompanied by crashing doors, incessant shouting, drug binges and a pathalogical refusal to deal with his issues almost destroyed us. For some weeks he had lived on the streets or in squalid bedsits until, racked with remorse, we bought him a flat - only for him to destroy it. So we threw him out again and now he lives nearby, benefit-aided, turning up for frequent visits, long-haired, bearded and hungry.

"Zach demonstrates no wish for our patronage other than for the financial opportunities it offers him. He refutes his diagnosis. He refuses medication. His illness seems linked to the seasons. He gets sick in the spring and autumn. Inevitably, I am drawn in to his mood and the hostilities recommence.

"From time to time clarity resurfaces. Zach tells me that he cares about his future. He recently said he's sick of the drugs spiral and, of course, I can only support him in his endeavours, hopeful for the day that he turns up, bright-eyed and smiling: 'I'm on the meds!' "

Right click on the article to see it in full.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Radio 4 Woman's Hour and World Mental Health Day

I must be living on another planet. For some reason I didn't know that tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. Indeed today, in the USA, it's Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. Amazing, two specific days dedicated to our mental health. Howcome therefore that no one knows about it?

Some time ago I was told that BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour wanted me to be a guest. Be an 'expert'. They were going to run, I was told, a series of programmes about mental illness. Well they did - this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday to be precise. On Tuesday there was, apparently, a programme dedicated to mental health issues and on Wednesday, a phone-in. The problem was that I wasn't informed about it, so didn't take part. A really wasted opportunity. I could at least have phoned in but I didn't know about the broadcast. I guess that I shouldn't be surprised. There's competition in this field too.

Tomorrow I'm doing my first talk to my GCSE group. I think that I'll bring up the fact that it's World Mental Health Day. I wonder how they'll feel about that? I suppose that my actually being at their school and speaking about Bipolar disorder and the effect that the condition has on families will be apposite. I just wonder what else is happening around the country. Increased funding for new psychiatric wards? Unlikely in this financial climate. A rethink as to what 'care in the community' should really entail? Again unlikely. Who wants to suggest that the job description doesn't fit what is actually a lie.

I suppose that someone once had the bright idea - sometime in 1992 I believe - that a day be dedicated to enlightening the public about mental illness. Doesn't look like it has succeeded too well, does it? So Radio 4 had the usual suspects in the studio - Ruby Wax et al - but it doesn't appear that there was too much depth to the discussion. Such a wide topic, it would take a week's worth of programmes to simply touch upon each symptom but that shouldn't stymie further broadcasts and they shouldn't simply take place during the week when the world is meant to be aware of madness.

Monday, 6 October 2008

'Brideshead Revisited', depression induced alcoholism and Ben Whishaw

We went to see 'Brideshead Revisited' on Saturday. Well, actually, 'Bridshead Revisited', according to the sign outside of the Screen on Baker Street. You'd think that they could find someone who could spell!

We're 'Bridshead virgins', not having seen the 1981 version on tv here or having read the book. But I liked the film. Hated the revolting music. Not one scene was safe from the saccharine infested 'score' and thought the guy playing Charles Ryder a wee bit wet. But loved Ben Whishaw. I've thought highly of him since the first time that I saw him in 'Hamlet' on the stage in London. He was a revelation - probably because everything that he portrayed reminded us of 'Zach'. It was a brilliant depiction of a manic young man.

Obviously, not having read Evelyn Waugh's novel, I don't know why Sebastian Flyte was an alcoholic. Was it simply because he loathed and hated the all-encompassing religion that was imposed on him? Or was it because he hated himself for his homosexuality? Or the more Freudian questions: love of mother or desire for sister? I don't know. In any event, Whishaw once again gave a revealing performance of the utterly depressed, existential young man, whose contempt for life created within him a negation of joy, to the extent that he wished to blot it out by drowning himself in wine, wine and more wine. It certainly made me long for a glass though, so guess that he didn't make it as unattractive a proposition as Amy W. does drugs.

Back to drugs: I'm preparing for my first 'talk' on Friday. Thirty sixteen and seventeen year olds. 'Don't do drugs' is the thrust, although of course I can't actually say that. How do I leave them with one message out of the whole? Difficult to know where to start. Before and after photos? A chapter or two from the book? The knowledge that one in four of them will at some stage of their lives develop a mental health problem - and that invariably these days as a result of some kind of 'recreational' drug? Whoever thought of that nomenclature? I'll ask them to look around at one another and ask themselves who it will be? Difficult at that age when the idea of 'actions resulting in consquences' is anathema to them.

So nothing really changes over the years. Poor Sebastian Flyte probably drunk himself to death because of his deep and overriding depression and a quarter of the population will develop if not depression, then some other mental illness, and maybe a quarter of those will self-medicate with drugs of some kind and I'm supposed to use my experience as a guide why it's not a particularly good thing so to do. More like 'Hampstead Revisited...'

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Patrick Cockburn, schizophrenia and the Daily Mail's intransigence

Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry were interviewed in The Independent this week. The article was reprinted in The Daily Mail. Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Patrick believed that it was because he had used cannabis. Patrick was/is a well known correspondent. It's pretty sad and the story, obviously, is not new. I added my bit to the feedback on the Mail's site. I wrote that I had written a book about this very subject and that more people needed to know about mental health problems, Bipolar disorder and substance abuse. I also wrote that I'll be going into schools and speaking with mental health groups about it.

Did they print my response? Well, of course not! They printed the writings of those who believed that it was Patrick's fault that Henry developed the illness. "If Dad wasn't there, then it's not surprising..." and the others who believed that there's no correlation between taking drugs and mental illness. Oh, oh... And others who felt that he deserved his fate because he was "so weak" that he "used"...

Among the responses, however, were gems from social workers and psychiatric nurses and family members and sufferers who had first hand experience of the fall-out of the now ubiquitous drugs abuse here. But they didn't print my few sentences because, presumably, I didn't fit their criteria. I was somehow publicising myself!

One of the responses read thus:

"Please keep on publishing articles like this to give others an understanding of mental illness and the strain and heartache it places on the families involved. Patrick is so right in what he says about peoples attitudes to mental illness."

You see, I do keep on trying to do just that but it seems to be flogging the old dead horse - unless you're well known to some degree, then the newspapers will simply not print it! It's so frustrating - what do you have to DO!

Then I read that Gerri Halliwell, the famous 'writer' of children's books, is the number one best-seller. She has sold a staggering 250,000 copies of her latest 'ouevre.' Maybe it's simply a reflection of our society as a whole: give them only the names of those they know where marketing is king because otherwise you won't sell anything. Have you seen how many books are being published this week alone? 800 new titles on Thursday. How on earth can anyone do anything with that?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Jools Oliver's intimate love-life but the dismissal of mental illness

Isn't it the case sometimes that too much information is information overload? Do we really know how Jools Oliver (the wife of the omnipresent 'cook' Jamie) followed her husband around the country so that she could get pregnant? I mean, sometimes isn't it rather becoming tasteless that these 'celebrities' have to bare all in order for their publicity? Isn't it enough that we know that she's pregnant without having to be given the exact dates and times that they performed the act?

There's not too much detail here but I thought that I should explain that I've had problems with my PC. It died on me. No emails. No blog. No going online to see how the book was doing. Don't ask about that! Appalling predicament. Pathetic really. How did we manage beforehand? Of course, there was no Amazon then. But even so. I think it's been infected by some kind of virus and I'll have to get it fixed but until then... I'll try my best and hope that nothing so dramatic happens.

I've recently joined a group blog. A Bipolar group. I thought that it had been pretty bad for me. Reading their stories and their questions, I think that I had it easy. At least they have each other, something that I didn't have in the past when 'Zach' was in extremis. You have to wonder how they manage each day. It's a mostly North American group but what I find is quite how similar the situations are - especially the problems that many of the sufferers have with their parents and their peers and their employers. The same denial of the illness, the same lack of care from the people who should be caring for them. They too complain about how Bipolar disorder, indeed any mental illness is ignored. For them the detail is absolutely necessary. But they still don't get the recognition that they truely deserve.

While we are continually bombarded with the intimate details of Jools Oliver's attempts at pregnancy or Fern's shrinking waistline (does anybody really care?) or Lindsay Lohan's lesbian lovelife, no one is informed in any realistic and compassionate detail about the one in four of us who suffers from mental illness. Will this ever change?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Self publicity, Amazon and more of Amy Winehouse

I'm now a shameless self-publicist. Well, I have to, I guess. I'm no longer at the top of the tree. So I've been tagging myself onto every book on the Amazon site that has any reference to mental health or drug addiction. The only problem is that there's probably over a million books with references to both those nomenclatures. It might take me a bit of a time... I only wish that there was a human being at Amazon with whom I could speak so that the UK and USA sites that stock my book were to make sense. However I try to change them, their robots are only programmed to fix certain 'product description.' Now mine looks a mess and I can't rectify it. So much for self-publicity...

I wasn't going to mention Amy again. I'm sure that everyone's pretty bored with my take on her. Looking at the latest photos yesterday, I was angered and disturbed. She looks like 'Zach' does when he's manic and in the throes of brain-dead addiction - in her cut-off shorts, her skeletal frame and her scratched, dirty, hairy arms. She's surrounded by people, so how come they let her go to 'galas' and gigs, or make the rounds of the local pubs? Surely by now they know that she's not going to be able to hold it together and sing?

I'm angered because no one, it would appear, cares enough for Amy to do anything creatively to help her. She won't be sectioned because she's addicted to drugs - the NHS aren't interested enough to do that. I know, I've been a party to trying to get Zach into hospital when he's all but killed himself on the streets and the eminent psychiatrist or the 'crisis team' weren't in the least concerned. She's a danger to herself but, of course, is so far out of it, that she won't seek independent help and I also know that it's virtually impossible to beg, cajole, tempt or coerce someone who's mentally ill to go in for treatment when they're in denial. But surely something could be done. Not a spa but a private jet could spirit her away to some kind of facility that would save her. But it needs cajones to do that and it doesn't appear that there's anyone who has any, any more.

So no amount of self-publicity by Amy - for maybe this is a subconscious self-publicity, exhorting her hangers on to do something, anything - is going to make a difference. And I'll continue with my own benign self-publicity that ultimately may also prove to be pointless.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Memoir mania.... and Zarif

And another one! How many more this week? Sir Roger Moore today. Gloria Hunniford, Richard Madeley, Bill Oddie, Cliff Richard, Sir Bobby Charlton, Ann Leslie... Whew! Who's going to have time enough to read them all? And they all get published. It's extraordinary. The received wisdom is that the 'memoir' genre has all but dried up but obviously the autobiography hasn't. But when is an autobiography not a memoir? When, presumably, there's no abuse. But wait a minute, doesn't Richard Madeley talk about his dad giving him a hiding and Bill Oddie's mum not wanting to recognise him because she was tragically schizophrenic? Surely these kids were abused too?

Ah, but... They're celebrities you see. The past is a different place for them. Everyone wants to know all about Judy's post-natal depression (or do they?) and Cliff's visiting his auntie in Upton Park. Really? Didn't Gloria write another memoir a few years back about Caron Keating? Is there really much more to write about?

I suppose that we should really be looking forward to Kerry Katona's 'warts and all' about her relationship with Jordan. Baited breath. How many copies would any publisher think he would sell before that's binned and turned into toilet paper? And every intelligent publication moans about the state of publishing in this country. Hardly surprising, is it?

Last night, for want of a change of subject, I went to see Zarif perform in Soho. Some people would describe her as the new Amy Winehouse. Hardly an apt description, apart from the fact that she, too, writes her own songs. The lovely thing about Zarif is that - she's lovely! She's also bright and sparky and clean - by that I mean no pointless weed or smack or ketamine. Her set was great and the band were phenomenal. I really wish her the best. Go Zarif!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

GPs, unsafe motorists and paranoid schizophrenia

I feel a rant coming on. This morning I read that GPs are now going to held responsible if one of their patients has a driving accident should the GP have been aware that his/her patient may not have been well enough to take a car out on the roads. This may result in the GP being sued for negligence. What next, a GP/psychiatrist/social worker being sued should a patient of theirs kill someone if the GP etc knew that they weren't taking their medication?

The last sentence above is meant to be taken ironically, if you hadn't already guessed.

This week another woman was attacked by a 'paranoid schizophrenic'. She was knifed repeatedly and almost killed. The mother of the attacker was, understandably, incensed because she knew that her son wasn't taking his medication and, it goes without saying, although he was under the 'care' of the local authorities, they no doubt knew that the wasn't taking them too.

Last year, one of the worst for us as a family, when 'Zach' was in freefall after his repatriation from Thailand, he, too wasn't taking his medication. That was nothing new. However, the 'crisis' team were visiting him twice a day, even to the extent of seeing him once we threw him out of his flat, after he'd invited the junkies and the homeless to make themselves available of his 'generosity' within the walls we had so carefully painted for him in a previous, happier, time.

Two social workers, twice a day, every day. You'd think that was a pretty good scheme. You'd think that having spoken with 'Zach' at length, medication in hand, they would hand it over and tell him to take it. No, they couldn't do that. That was in breach of his civil liberties. They could talk until they were puce but they weren't going to ensure that he would take the very chemicals that would have helped reduce his grandiose and uncontrollable mania. So the flat was crammed with little white boxes full of pills and his bag contained other dosages but he didn't take them and they opted out of taking responsibility for someone who was a danger to himself and, consequently, other people.

What happened with 'Zach' last year, is repeated ad infinitum throughout this dogged land. No one person, GP, psychiatrist, local authority, social worker - you name it - will take the responsibility of caring for young people who are suffering from this most hideous of diseases: mental illness. Each and every time that someone is attacked by, generally, a young man in the depths of psychosis, there's an 'independent enquiry'. How many more enquiries do we need before someone decides that enough is enough and there's a directive that 'care in the community' do exactly that, care?

So the poor young man, labelled a 'paranoid schizophrenic', is now incarcerated for life in some revolting institution among the demented and criminally insane, pilloried and lambasted because someone in charge decided that his life wasn't worth caring for but GPs are now meant to take time out of their increasingly fraught days to ensure that a patient who may have had an asthma attack ten years ago while at the wheel of his car, is not about to have another one in the future. What planet are we living on?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Max Pemberton, Antonio Carluccio and a chronic lack of awaredness of mental health issues

I've taken a break from blogging, so wonder whether my avid readers will rejoin me. What's been happening? Radio broadcasts, letters to editors and now the invitations for me to go into schools and colleges and mental health organisations to give talks. Speaking in front of a bunch of 16 to 18 year olds will need my utmost guile.I've been informed that GCSE students only have a concentration span of five minutes. That's not much more than goldfish. Can this be true? Sounds pretty patronising and condescending to me. Surely seven minutes is a more realistic goal...

I saw this week in The Telegraph column written by Max Pemberton, Finger on the Pulse that there's an 'alarming lack of knowledge concerning mental health issues.' Well, well, well, so this is 'news'. Of course there's an alarming lack of knowledge. No one is interested in teaching kids about mental health problems. God knows I've gone over this enough in this blog but it just doesn't seem to hit home. At least being asked to go into schools and speak about Zach's problems with his Bipolar moods and his ingestion of drugs that sparked and tangled with his neurotransmitters, then it's a start. But where do I start from?

I'm not going to be able to go into schools and ask various kids, 'So when did you take your last hit?' and 'How many of you get wasted at the end of the day after school's out?' Not the sort of thing that PGCE teachers really want to hear their students discussing, is it? I can't go in all guns blazing and rant at them about predispositions to mania and the kindling effect. I guess that all I can do is to tell them about what happened to Zach at Glastonbury when he was fourteen and how I found him shackled to his bed in Greece when I went to repatriate him - events that led to chaos solely the result of mental health issues and drug abuse.

I read today that poor Antonia Carluccio, he of the pavement cafes and stunning pasta, has been admitted to hospital suffering from, yes, that's it, depression. A depression, it would seem, that resulted in him repeatedly stabbing himself. Seems to me that he is not simply suffering from depression per se but more than likely psychosis. Why won't the media call it by it's real name? Yes, the bottom end of depression does lead to psychosis. It would make it so much easier for the public to begin to understand mental health issues if they were given the correct terminology for them.

So another celebrity is 'outed' but it won't help get the message out and notwithstanding that I wrote to The Telegraph to say that yes, Max Pemberton is right: there is an acute lack of awareness among young people concerning mental health issues and that I've written a book about a young man who suffers from chronic mental health problems and that I'm going to be going into schools and discussing this same problem with young people, I've not heard a dickybird from them. Strike you somehow hyprocritical, not?

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Is Lily Allen turning into Amy Winehouse?

Well, no. I don't think so. For a start, she has one-tenth the talent that Winehouse exhibits in her little finger, although I have to admit that on first hearing I did enjoy Lily's debut album. The problem with Lily, artistically, is that she sounds the same on every track and it all becomes so boring on second listening. Amy, by comparison, only becomes better. That's her salvation. But is it going to save her?

Readers write in to comments' pages because they're fed up reading about 'z-list' celebrities. But that's what the newspapers want to give us, that's why. Someone asked why newspapers don't write about 'real' people with 'real' issues and problems. The reason is axiomatic. No one is interested in 'real' people with 'real' problems. At least, that's what we are forced fed to infer from the same newspapers or magazines. When journalists write features about people with, among other things, problems with money or sex or madness, then the snapshot of their lives that we are presented with has no relation to reality.

A shocking headline is offered up to the reader in order to draw him or her into the article, whereafter everything is spun. "My life was ruined because of my excessive spending" reads one. "My wife left me because I ran with call girls" is another banner. "My girlfriend's depression caused me to want to take my life" is one more.

Having then offered a hook, the article invariably goes on to rehash what has been written about time and again and, because these are 'real' people, without celebrity status, the interest factor is about nil.

So we are left with the Lily Allens of the world whose celebrity is predicated on their getting drunk to oblivion and then making asses of themselves - so that they can then vomit up feeble excuses on Facebook. 'Look,' they say. 'It really wasn't me. It was the booze/draw/coke/my cat died/I didn't sleep last Thursday...' Tedious, isn't it?

Lily Allen the new Winehouse? Would she wish it? She probably would.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The oxymoron of 'Care in the Community'

Poor, poor Benjamin Frankum who was allowed out while under 'section' to, guess what? Care in the community! You may argue that we should not feel pity for Benji Frankum, because he then went on to kill a perfectly innocent father of three, Daniel Quelch. Mr. Quelch was definitely in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

It's heartbreaking that yet again, after who know's how many instances, that someone who suffers from chronic mental illness - let's call it schizophrenia - even paranoid schizophrenia - is not being taken care of in the least managable way. The very fact that he had been sectioned because it had occurred to the mental health authorities that he was a danger to himself, and as a consequence other people, then why on earth was he released out?

Presumably, as was the case with Zach, Benji Frankum was visited by a 'crisis team' or a 'social worker' while he was living in his 'supported accommodation' and presumably, as was also the case with Zach, they offered him his medication. Did they not force him to take it? Or did they stand next to him, offering him sweet nothings, while maintaining that they had no authoritity to force him to take the meds?

Is there no one in this country who is going to take responsibility for the unbelievably shoddy treatment that our mentally ill suffer from? How many more innocent people will die until there is accountability by the mental health bodies? The people who die are innocent, but, invariably, those who commit the crimes are innocent too, if they are suffering from a chronic mental illness. And when these so-called 'Mental Health Authorities' fail in their duties, as they increasingly do, who indeed should bear the guilt for the consequential fall-out?

It's about time that the blame is apportioned to where it emanates and this is with our 'caring' services. Maybe when professionals are made to take responsibility of their risible 'care in the community' and heads roll, then possibly less innocent lives will be lost.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Bipolar heredity gene

I wrote a book about my son who has Bipolar disorder. This is not news. It's out there for all to see. Interestingly, and as a consequence of my having written the book, I've had some interesting feedback from various people. 'You were opening yourself to be judged' said one. Another said that he couldn't recommend the book to a friend whose son is going through almost the identical mood swings and bizarre behaviour patterns as my son, because, he opined, 'It has no happy ending...' Well, there is no 'ending' or, as some people would prefer, 'no closure.'

This is an on-going illness and, for Zach particularly, one that we hope would have a 'happy ending', only that's for the future. At the moment he's fine. When I finished the book, things weren't so clear cut.

I don't mind being judged. We are all judged one way or another for whatever we do. I wrote the book to bring the subject to light and as an aid for those families who are specifically going through the trauma and stress of seeing someone they love change personality so dramatically because of a chemical imbalance in the brain. I think it somewhat disengenuous to proscribe it for the very reasons that people need to read it: the recognition that their friend or family member is experiencing symptoms of a ghastly illness but that they are not unique in their suffering and that other families have experienced almost the identical emotional stress and anxieties.

This brings me to the heredity factor. I found out this week that a cousin's son is suffering from chronic mental health problems. I don't feel that I need give chapter and verse on the rest of the family, save to say that if I lined them all up, on both sides and going back a couple of generations, then the Priory would have plenty of fodder for full-time occupancy! There has to be a heredity gene. How it comes about is cause for research, especially among race/religious backgrounds. All I know is that there is a great reserve in my own family that could be used for specific research protocols.

Will I be judged for proclaiming this? Will it make more people recommend the book because they feel that realistically they should? Who knows... Maybe when these same people come to terms with the fact that they, too, could experience mental health disorders in their own families, then they may reconsider their high and mighty positions.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Of BBC Radio, Trisha Goddard, Sport and Telford

It's been an interesting but frustrating week - interesting because I've done something different in terms of publicity but frustrating because I want more of it!

Monday night and it was Talk Sport. Yes, even Talk Sport has a radio programme that allows a very impassioned and intelligent presenter - David Prevor - to conduct a programme the way he wishes to. So I had my fifteen minutes of fame with him. Again it went out live but this time I responded to the questions and, I do hope, didn't go off on a limb the same way that I did at BBC Radio Leicester. Whether it sold any books, I don't know.

However, I do know that people were listening to the broadcast because so many callers rang in to speak to David after my stint, describing their problems with mental illnesses. David has told me that whenever he runs a programme that has mental illness as its topic, the switchboard will go into overdrive. Everyone has an issue, or knows someone with an issue. As one in four people suffer from some kind of emotional/mental disorder, then it's hardly surprising that once the subject's out there, they want to talk about it!

The following morning I made my way to the BBC at Western House, where I was being interviewed for BBC Radio Shropshire. Having managed to get past security and the two very jolly receptionists who appeared to be having the time of their lives, I was shown to a studio where I, alone, and with earphones and a red clown's nose for a mike, was put 'down the line' to Clare Ashford. This was indeed an interesting experience. She was late. She apologised after I'd waited in there for what seemed like ages and wondered whether I would ever get out again - more of that later. Eventually, and with great mirth, I heard her laugh. The traffic, the congestion and the weather... 'Can't be as bad as London,' I managed. 'Yes,' she replied, still laughing, 'I know. I used to live there...' I think it went well. I think she'd read the book - maybe knew the press release really well!

It's pretty much the same questions every time but I'm trying to make the answers pertinent as well as compelling to the listener. Clare and I spoke for about twenty minutes. She's a very easy interviewer. There's definitely a skill and a technique. I'm jealous.

I'm not sure when the programme will go out but she'll let me know. So I'll note that here - just in case anyone wishes to hear me. At the end of the broadcast and after having said many goodbyes, I tried to escape but the door appeared to be stuck. I tugged and tugged and the guy outside didn't see me and I had visions of being incarcerated in that tiny, soundproofed room, until my feeble cries would finally be answered. Then, as if by magic, the door opened and I tumbled out! Pathetic...

Tuesday evening and it's the Trisha Goddard Radio Show from Liverpool. She's delightful and knowledgable and describes what it was like for her when her schizophrenic sister behaved manically. She's obviously passionate about her work with the mentally ill and made the point that part of the proceeds from her programme are dedicated to Mind. We spoke for about half an hour. It all went by so quickly. The programme is broadcast this Sunday evening, so this time I should be able to listen to myself and see how it can all be improved.

Next week I'm speaking with Radio Mediterraneo, the largest English speaking radio station in, I believe, Spain, if not all of Europe. Can they buy the book there though?

The nice thing about radio is that once hooked, the listener will continue to listen to whatever programme is being broadcast, irrespective of subject matter. I think it's always been the same. I can't say that I've ever been an avid gardener or scientist but the amount of programmes that I continue to listen to in the car once I have arrived at my destination will not necessarily correspond to a hitherto deep interest in the topic! There's something about radio that essentially sends you to another stratosphere where your imagination, unneeded for television, works once more and you morph into one of 'the audience.'

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Sodden English summers, SAD and NICE

I feel sun deprived, one day after arriving back from sunbleached Spain. I woke up this morning to hear torrential rain falling onto the garden. This gave way to the fine spray that soaks even the deepest foliage. I don't think that I can remember a 'summer' like this. How is it possible that there won't be an epidemic of SAD, when large numbers of newspapers will recount in great detail the exploits of English, Scots and Welsh throwing themselves off bridges or overdosing on prescription drugs because of an overwhelming depression that follows the old-fashioned 'typical' English summer?

I only say this because the Elephant in the Room is now beginning to make himself visible - only slightly, of course. You don't want to expose him too quickly. I've noted with a kind of ironic humour just how many plays this year made it to the boards at Edinburgh that dealt with some kind of mental affliction. Looks like quite a number. And how many new books are being published that offer up some kind of depression or addiction problems as the main subject? Bill Oddie is about to have his autobiography on the shelves and there's Ruby Wax and her one-woman show. So it's there and it's kinda not there... We'll try to talk about it but really don't want to and the discussion shows will skirt around it and I'll try not to do a Radio Leicester too often, when the so-called experts tell us that no one actually dies because of mental illness - well, not any more, of course...

Which leads us back to the English summer and downpours and grey evenings and getting wet walking the mutt and my hang-dog expression when I lead him home, envisaging drying him off and brushing him down - and this shouldn't be happening yet. It should be happening at the end of October when the leaves are carpeting the streets and there's something quite heartening about the shorter days and crisper mornings. But it's still only August and crisp freckled leaves are already making their presence on the Heath and I can see the blackberries - those that haven't turned to mush on the sodden bushes - aching to be picked.

Time goes too quickly. It was just Wimbledon and the hopes of long sunlit days and evenings having a drink on the terrace in the summer heat; now it's practically autumn and we're thinking of winter clothes and, no doubt, the Christmas decorations will show their faces in stores desperate for any sales in this media induced recession. So the families who are literally having to tighten their belts because food is so expensive and who will be unable to pay their gas and electricity bills or their mortgages will consider another year without sun, hoping that NICE will extend payment for anti-depressants and the whole shebang begins again but no one will notice the Elephant.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Mitch Winehouse, crazy Amy and new found celebrity

Does Mitch Winehouse need a crazy Amy in order to justify his new found celebrity? What would he be were she not to be so often photographed the worse for wear and apparently under the influence of drink and drugs? He'd not be asked to be the font of all knowledge relating to his now out-of-control but highly lucrative and influential daughter.

Where's Mitch's self-respect? He's certainly not the first celebrity parent who's forged a career from the success of their offspring. However, isn't there something here that speaks of some kind of desperation, where he seeks the limelight on the back of a huge talent, while, with macabre fascination the world watches the slow but sure demise of that very same talent?

Wouldn't a more concerned and loving parent try anything available to help their child at whatever the cost to them? But that doesn't appear to be happening. In fact it's the absolute reverse. The sicker Amy becomes, the more Mitch's star is in the ascendant.

Mitch's assertions that 'his' Amy is 'getting better', 'putting on weight' or 'getting help' don't appear to hold water. You only have to look at her. All the signs point to her suffering from mental health problems with the attendant and symbiotic addiction to drugs and alcohol.

In many other instances when artists have drunk and drugged themselves into oblivion, fingers have been pointed towards a manager or a svengali who insists that their artist perform, so long as he/she draws in the crowds at concerts or sells millions of records. But the case does not seem to be so in this instance.

How often has Amy shown up this summer and, when she does, has it been worthwhile for the fan to spend hard earned cash to hear her? Many concert-goers will agree that, more often than not, she has been wasted and unable to hold it together sufficiently to sustain even a reasonable performance. And as to recording, even Mark Ronson, the man who produced so much of her finest material, has indicated that he can't work with her while she is in her current, seemingly manic, state of mind.

So why isn't Amy in a hospital somewhere - possibly sectioned for her own good and with someone independent caring for her, so that the inevitable packet of draw or the bottle of methodone isn't smuggled in to her? Perhaps if Mitch stopped to consider that his fame will be worthless if Amy disintegrates much further and perhaps if he started to act more like a parent, then maybe, just maybe, his daughter would better be able to take the much wanted first step to recovery.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

In Spain where it's supposed to shine...

We're here to escape cold, grey, cloudy,depressing London. Only today it was cold, grey and cloudy Spain. It follows me. I seem to spend my life looking up at the sky and hope that this cloud is the last in the seemingly endless succession of cold, grey clouds that blot out the sun. I suffer SAD in the summer. I need the warmth and sunlight and blue skies and I live in a climate where you have to search out heat and not the heat from electric fires or the hugely expensive boiler system.

Tomorrow is supposed to be better. I'll just have to check out the latest news and deal with the blog and plans of being 'the' talking head of talking heads about Bipolar disorder and young people and young people and drugs. Which is prescient really, especially since there were many pieces in the news yesterday evaluating how much of a rise there is in the incidence of drug induced mental illness. I know it's summer and there was a dearth of 'news' - until today that is and the news is that the Russians now have Poland in their sights when they want to drop their bombs. But I still have to argue that mental illness and drug addiction go hand in hand. So, of course, it's really not 'news' at all.

I've written the piece that I shall circulate and hope that someone wants to pick me up on it. It's a taster really but I know that there's plenty of life in the subject and, god knows, there really has to be a way of informing the public so that they really begin to understand that the substances their kids are ingesting are not nice in any way, shape or form.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Update on Zach and the hopeful demise of the green parasites

I was asked how Zach is doing now and especially since I had originally designed this blog because of having written the book, then I should really write something new about him!

So he's fine at the moment. That's not to say that he's out there in a suit and tie trying to get a job in the City. That's not how it works. He's writing music and lyrics and has got together with some other guys and he's in a band, once more. There's someone interested in them and let's just leave it at that. He's not homeless or on the streets or using anything prolifically - from what I know. We have intelligent conversations and still disagree from the same political viewpoints but what's new in that? It's pretty normal.

Zach's still not read the book. I doubt that he reads this blog. Conversely he wants the book to do well and understands my frustrations vis a vis its lack of presence and the vagaries of publicity. I think he'd like to see me on 'Richard and Judy'! It's an interesting conumdrum.

Tomorrow we are off to, hopefully, sunny Spain for a week. Can the weather here get any worse? Biblical rain and wind yesterday and heat in the form of central heating last night. In August? Yes. How depressing. How awful it's going to be for those folk who can't go off to sunnier climes and have to stick it out here with the rubbish weather and the credit crunch and the foretaste of 'recession' biting at their heels. Maybe all the traffic attendants will drown in a sea of green garments. That will make us all a bit happier...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Stuff happens in the August doldrums - August 1914?

Stuff happens. 1914 and a war broke out and all the generals thought it would be over by Christmas. Others used the excuse to try out new tanks. Formations dating back to the Crimean War that were then tried and tested were utilised by these same generals to create a mass genocide of young men in trenches. Stuff happens in 2008 too. Only this time its pipelines and oil and middle aged men in suits in offices throughout the 'free' world worrying about their pensions. And all this is set against the 2008 Olympics. What a sad excuse for humanity. Competitors vying against one another to win medals and young men and old women and children are being killed and for what? Why do it now? Is the world asleep? Well, probably, if you consider the silence from the brilliant humanists at the UN downwards. Supine, supine... Let's not go there.

Other stuff happens too in my small cosmos. A feature here, a piece on the radio there and tomorrow participating in a documentary. A first time for me to be filmed. What do I wear? Is it important? In the short term, obviously it is. Set against another unheeded war, then no. It's not important. But let's not be disengenuous here. I care about what I look like and because people are being murdered for no reason other than one man's obsession with his place in the pantheon of murdering despotic leaders, I realise that I can't do anything about it. So I'll primp myself and have my hair done and worry about whether I wear white or if black is going to be slimming enough.

All this happened against the backdrop of the Holocaust too, when films in colour were shot in Warsaw. These films are now being shown again and they bring home the reality that in colour people existed. Being part of a documentary shot in black and white, one is distanced from the concept that those shown actually lived and breathed and did the same things as us. Young women worried about their hair, their clothes, their jobs and their boyfriends. No one being filmed smiling and chatting had a clue that they were about to be made a party to possibly the worst atrocity that they could ever envisage. So I'll smile to the camera and the athletes and acrobats and swimmers and shooters will win medals and stand on podiums and listen to their national anthems with pride and an army will march across a burnt landscape and kill with impunity and no one will care.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Old habits are nothing new

For some reason, there's the received wisdom that it's 'news' that middle-class parents use drugs - once they'd put the kids to bed. Journalists write this? Where have they been hiding these last years? Or is it the case that this really isn't new 'news' but, with the August doldrums, newspapers have to find something 'new' to rehash? (Do excuse the pun...)

I wrote in the book that 'Sam' used to have the occasional puff, when the kids were small. But it was all pretty harmless then - almost twenty-five years ago. He stopped when his overriding concern was for his children and his reputation. However, it was nothing like the stuff out there now: the skunk and the ketamine and the ecstasy. A small joint of canabis resin, and all that resulted was a fit of the giggles and an attack of the chocolate munchies.

I was at a party on Friday night and, talking with no doubt soon-to-be parents, one of the guys told me, 'Well, yeah. Everybody takes something or other...' So, of course, nothing has changed. Then why is it news?

What has changed are the drugs themselves. I must admit that I'd considered that this generation's so-called middle-classes would know that there's nothing clever in using drugs. They do terrible things to their brains. Don't they know this? Isn't there enough out there to educate them fully that even one toke of skunk can render someone paranoid? That if there's a predisposition to mental illness, ecstasy and ketamine aren't exactly bedmates?

So why is it acceptable that drugs should be deemed 'cool' to use? Is it because our cultural icons are all using abundently but consequently not vilified for same? Surely an in depth examination of the results of their abuse is timely - especially since it will show what extent their habits will have had on their minds. There's nothing new in that.