A poem I wrote in despair of badly informed people who refuse to take a pandemic seriously which has killed over 2 million people. It has been quite dispiriting for those who have kept their distance and tried to limit the risk of virus transmission - to see arrogant people walking into shops and onto public transport wearing no masks and giving staff abuse when questioned. Plus the anarchic so-called leaders of nation states who leave action too late.
With all of this spare
time supposedly available and in the midst of allegedly the peak of the most mentally
challenging period of the Western calendar year (wintry January) – I thought
maybe I should write about mental health once more. Having been reminded
yesterday that next Monday, the eighteenth of January 2021 – is “officially” “Blue
Monday” – it reminded me how much I despise pigeon-holing and generalising
about how things affect different people at different times. Particularly when
it involves mental health.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m
not claiming to have cruised my way through this never-ending pandemic with no
anxiety, mental struggles or day-to-day challenges. Far, far from it. The past
year has been the closest thing in all our post-WWII generational lifetimes to
a wartime situation, with social responsibilities and public shutdown being
necessary, while inadvertently highlighting the gigantic social cracks in our
human setup in more of a way than we could have imagined. Viruses, governments
and equally-important - people’s responses to these prevalent themes have been
anything but inspiring.
As much as my friends
roll my eyes at my “grumpy old man” sarcastic misanthropy, the one thing I do believe in is to at
least try to fix ourselves as a species and our own approaches; to at least give
us hope; if nothing else in finding the one thing which realistically we can
never truly expect to have – harmony. The job that we as collective people can -
and should have to face, yet in 2020 – while all of the finger-pointing and
blame-mongering to other ethnic minorities has seemed the predominant method of
approach from the dominant, Caucasian privileged populations of the world. We
must remember how populated this planet is, in addition. For all of the thrills,
build-ups, and with all of the excitement people fill their own lives from
having children – in a world of gross overpopulation where social equality
cannot be reached - as long as jobs are continually automated and yet the world
keeps multiplying its numbers – we can at least try to consider where we must
One high profile death
which did affect me last year was that of musician, DJ and visionary record
producer, Andrew Weatherall. In talking about feeling misanthropic about pop
music, he said:
“the reason people are misanthropic
about the human race is because they know the human race can be better.”
If we can send people
to the moon; if we can create the most incredible machines, if we can heal
sicknesses; or write the most incredible books or music, or paint, or build the most astounding pieces of architectural work –
then we must have the ability to learn, teach and improve ourselves and not retain this “I don’t need to be told anything” attitude. Therefore
when we define our modern culture by “reality television” and how watchable it
is based on extreme personalities – then I’d prefer to visit a zoo than engage
in that culture. My mental health is always improved by learning from human progress
than in regressing to watching adults acting like children, as an entertainment
For mental health and
the science of psychology and how cognitive behaviour studies – it has to be
seen as one of the better, more progressive sides of western culture in the
past twenty years – the ongoing development of techniques to deal with mental
health issues. It has brought far more people together and the awareness of triggers
for mental disturbance. Twenty years ago, society in general would never have
been so open to the discussion of depression as they are today. Yet the state
of the world today is more geared towards constant rises in suicide, with my
own age group in England and Wales – the 45-49-year-old male being the highest
in rates of people to take their own lives (equally the same age group with 35-44-year-old
men in Scotland figures for Northern Ireland were unavailable), on this little island.
job market in areas away from larger cities is a red flag for affected areas.
In an age of technological booms, stimulation is one of the most sought-after elements.
It’s easy to say to the average person “read a book” or “go for a walk” to
release endorphins – for those in lower educational living areas, where it
rains regularly, how much choice is there, really?
Speaking from my own
perspective – the bizarre timing of moving from Australia back to Britain during
this pandemic has been life-changing more than I could have expected. Seven
months later, having ridden the waves of hope, health habitat-adapting and
hydrogenised ignorance in the atmosphere – one of the sternest and most
surprising difficulties of the last month for me – has been dealing with cold temperatures!
Eleven years shared between Qatar and Australia (and not even the warmest part
of Australia) must have melted my tolerance level for icy conditions! Which, in
turn has made the January lockdown cabin fever – more a hurdle than ever
In other words, while
triggers for anxiety and depression are widely similar and recognisable in
people (such as fear, social situations) – each person has their own personal ones.
While I used to raise an eyebrow during Melbourne’s hottest month at the
suggestion of Blue Monday in the heat over there – it is a stark shock to the
system once you spend weeks on end with
only seven-to-eight hours of daylight back in London’s winter – and as much warmth
as the top shelf of a fridge. This, of course before even considering the
coinciding wild viruses, social lockdown - and anarchic governments with the
hopeful leadership of confused lemmings. “Normal life” as we knew it before
2020 – would bring extra consideration and depth of life to our daily existences
January in Melbourne –
for all its sunshine and blue skies, could easily warrant restlessness and sadness
for some. From Christmas week to the last week of January – a vast number of
businesses close for summer holidays (not just factory fortnight, as we see in Britain!)
Lack of daily tasks and routine is often a trigger for anxiety and depression,
so whether “Blue Monday” could rear its ugly head – not only on a different
day, but totally regardless of sky colour, or certainly the colour of one’s skin – is one
characteristic of how these mental issues can be recognised.
One tactic I will be
using as reverse psychology for my self next Monday, or perhaps even before
then, if needs be – will be listening to New Order’s Blue Monday. Loudly and
guiltlessly. Probably followed by other tracks of defiance. This is my way of
dealing with the invisible, overhanging misery gas. Please look after
yourselves and each other. We do know how to do that, remember?
A long time ago in a
galaxy far away…there was the nineties system. In that system, folk came
together in happiness to celebrate together at places called nightclubs, where
DJ masters would enthral, guide and entertain the folk by composing and conducting
a range of sounds. The people would dance throughout the time of the stars,
until the great star would rise – and folk would rest. Or they would fly to
another dimension and be led by other masters to more happiness.
It all sounds like a
fairy-tale, doesn’t it? The world which was once a reality feels like it needs
Jedi-style leaders to save it from the abyss, otherwise known as traditionalist
business hell. The abyss which sees concrete futures made without character,
without expression, art or creativity – where culture could be as one-dimensional as
the spurious garbage emanating from the mouths of those supposedly in charge of
moving nations to brighter futures.
Also, without too much
finger-pointing, 2020 in itself has been like a meteor which has hit the
creative world like an alien rock with no direction. Furthermore, without
conspiracy theorising (about custom-made laboratory viruses in secretive lands
– oops, got sucked in there) and observing the hard, indigestive facts of
October 2020 – where no end date is presentable as to when the uninvited virus
will be vanquished. Can we either look to the future with hope for electronic –
and indeed, all live music? Or are we to fight the good fight for as long as we
can, to abate the ‘dark side of the force’ in corporate-led governments and
During the damaged and
lost eighties – socially and politically – times were hard unless you were a
yuppie whose “enterprise” in the way of sole trading was rewarded on the stock
exchange. Yet, what came from that mass hardship for everyone else – was what
made us not only dream – but live out our dreams. Make dreams for others.
Music was in the
post-punk, electro-pop era. Hip-hop was sky-rocketing across the world, from
New York – across the USA and over to every Western nation. As was House Music.
As was Techno. The DIY ideal which once applied to Punk Rock in the mid-to late
seventies now had been adopted by DJs. Is that a pair of Technics 1210s? Is
that a Roland synthesizer? Ok, let’s do something.
As Resident Advisor’s
mini-documentary “How Punk Shaped Electronic Music” - about the two genres’ correlations
– it says
“The most radical part of it was an idea –
if you want to make music, You don’t need a big record deal; a big,
fancy studio – or even much musical talent. You just need the sheer force of
will - to get out there and do it.”
This was never more
prevalent than in both Chicago, where House Music was developed – and in
Detroit, where technology’s advances in electronic devices saw Techno appear in
the latter part of the decade. Still, the concept of not having to possess
“much musical talent” was not necessarily true when it applied to some of the
most celebrated electronic musical doctors. Larry Heard played several musical
instruments from a young age. Underworld played instruments even before forming
their first band, Screen Gemz – back in 1975. Sasha was a
classically-trained pianist before ever seeing a DJ. I could go on.
So, in light of recent debates as
to whether these performers, their industries and followings are “viable” for financial
support during this degraded and destructive year – I don’t need to revisit the figures of
economic value for which our industry produces. As for The Stranglers’ Hugh
Cornwell interview on Good Morning Britain on October the 9th – he said,
“House Music is the worst song writing….there isn’t any song writing skills in
House Music, for me.” Regardless of his own successes in the late seventies and
early eighties – this is as moot a point to be found, as would be for anyone
over sixty-five who have never understood – or tried to understand electronic
music. Except by now, you must have been self-isolating from the wider world
out there, where times have moved on from only guitars in song writing.
Larry Levan was instrumental in writing music for Grace Jones, while The Stranglers were at their peak of popularity. Why did Madonna recruit both Sasha and Paul Oakenfold to help compose her tracks over twenty years ago? Why did Danny Boyle curate the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony with the musical aid of Rick Smith from Underworld? Why did Kendrick Lamar win awards for tracks with lyrics which read;
“Shit on anybody, I’m a rappin’ Porta-Potty/And I probably gotta dump right now”.
Hardly poetry. You could throw mud and hit anything if it’s about “bad” music nowadays. Ironically, John Holmstrom, founding editor of Punk magazine described that genre as “rock and roll by people who didn’t have very many skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music”. Except Punk Rock lives on in this anthem-led society of 2020.
While Cornwell’s empty shot at House Music was filmed seemingly at home in West London, I would urge him to use his ideal location and visit the Design Museum in Kensington, where the Electronic Music exhibition is held until February 2021. The opinion of lack of skills required in writing songs – would surely be under further threat at the display of Jeff Mills’ instrument engineering, or Aphex Twin’s multi-level track and video choreography. The words “out of touch” are, I feel – valid in this case. Granted, every genre has producers who don’t try hard but write cheap, catchy songs – think of all the one-hit-wonders in the seventies and eighties. “Shaddap You Face”, “Star Trekkin”, “Puppy Love”…
These were songs made for either fun, children’s television, or for undisclosed reasons by each composer – suffice to say that none involved House Music. Yet over thirty-five years of House Music walking in unison with the rise of technology and evolution of nightclubs and festivals – has meant that all instruments and now software are taught and developed at schools, colleges and universities across the world. I would be highly confident of being able to write a cheesy, tacky and bad track in one day – whether I wanted the financial profit from it or not – would be a matter for my bank balance after 2020 (wink-wink, nudge-nudge…)
For future reference, with mists of all colours being spread across the musical galaxy as we enter the last two months of what has been an abysmal anomaly year, the anger generated by punk was closed down quickly by the governments of the late seventies. It was beyond saving as a regular, viable movement by the time the eighties commenced. Its direct anti-establishment nature would have made sure of that, were it in the situation we now face.
But that did not stop its musicians from carrying on making music. Post-punk continued its energy and old regime defiance through bands inspired by what came before. Bands such as New Order, Public Image Limited, Talking Heads and The Fall - all had messages and attitudes carried from previous years. Genres were reinvented and music adapted. Moving into the unknown may be unclear and unnerving right now. Yet, fighting for what we can recreate should be a binding motive for DJs, promoters, clubbers, electronic artists and everyone involved in our scene.
From recently looking back at a haul of 1990s editions of Mixmag and Ministry magazines I had stowed away, it’s clear we had it “damn good” at that time. We may – and highly likely never will return to that level of hedonism, heights of being spoilt rotten for wealth of music heard for the first time, the talent and progress of the producers guiding us through, skills of DJs and grandiosity and grunginess of clubs which we visited. We do, however, have these imprints on our brains and know what works. Living solely from memories is not what I am advocating – using memories and what we have today, as a global community to post flagposts of how the “underground will live forever” – in believing our clubs can be reopened and that celebrating our own culture at future parties, is worth the time spent in doing so. Do it yourself can work, as was ever the case.
August (which already feels like last year), I passed over an interesting date
on my calendar, as on the 22nd – somewhat incredulously – I had been
living abroad from Wales and Britain for ten years. A decade outside Europe.
Ten years ago upon leaving, I had nothing to lose but a wide-open space in
which to travel, discover and meet all variations of people, cultures and
this crazy time, I have lived on two continents, changed careers (a few times
again); witnessed modern slavery, seen the remnants and after-effects of
colonialism in new and old lands, learnt stuff, dropped habits, restarted those
habits and dropped them again, realised what I missed while sacrificing those
things for work; confirmed myself as an atheist, met someone in another land - who
grew up, just a mile away from me – and married them; learnt more stuff - had
young students die tragically, lost friends to cancer, worked under ridiculous
conditions, made friends and lost acquaintances; had lots of surgery, seen
equality rights improve but be violently opposed, seen my country finally
qualify for a football finals tournament, owned my first dogs and love them
like kids, seen the horrific, evil right-wing shadow cast over the world so
bewilderingly subtle that I cannot recognise the world from ten years ago. And
pulled away from the glamour of Llanelli railway station on that date in August
a decade ago; parents tearful (I was thirty-four and had left several times by
this point – go figure); it seemed like the adventure it was about to become.
Like the Lord Of The Rings story, I was to travel through some questionable
places but alternatively - observe sights I wouldn’t have imagined. In my first
hour of Doha life, seeing a woman in different attire to the usual Trostre car
park attire in 2009 – ordering a shop worker around like a slave. “Get me this…get
me that…” while repeatedly prodding his shoulder. Mind blown. Like I was
watching a rich Caucasian American family from the late 1700s - jump to the 21st
Century with their shopping techniques (Just to clarify - it was the manner and behaviour, not the attire which caused the bigger shock). The aisles of Asda in West Wales suddenly
glittered with freedom. Yet somehow I stayed in the dusty, humid backward land
for four years.
having record shops, comic or other book shops nearby – and the advent of a pub
being a ‘membership only’ do – with very little else to do in Qatar, became a
four-year strain. Although, the carnage of Friday brunch – paying the
equivalent of £40-80, depending on the hosting hotel – for stuffing your face
with all readily available food and guzzling sparking wine or beer for three-to-four
hours until you stumbled out, into the hot sun – had a degree of rebellious sun
about it. Away from the narrow lanes of daily Qatari constitution and archaic
that Melbourne was an escape route (by this time both Mr and Mrs Jones were infused
by the travel bug – a return to Blighty was not an option), we visited the city
in February 2013; kindly subsidised by Katherine’s future – and previous –
employers. Our first encounter starting on a high street (for more than one intended
pun reason) being that of intoxicated-to-oblivion bodies being dragged out of
both McDonalds and KFC on a Friday night. Now this is more like home. High streets
with open drunkenness and debauchery. Sign us up.
only that, but the self-appointed, clever social secretary – Mrs Jones – had organised
what was to become my personal Australian favourite – its wine, through a
vineyard tour of the Yarra Valley. If we could have been sold Melbourne – and Australia
– any better in one week, I would be surprised. Plus the British and Irish
Lions were touring here from June that year, so it could possibly be a dream
come true, of seeing one of their test matches. It had to be Melbourne.
course, when you’re itching to leave a spiritually toxic place, yearning for a
new social catapult in a new home – positives are mostly what you’ll see. Which
is why living around the world – leaving the rough times with hope; expecting –
or at least wishing for the rough to become smoother – it can be the most
exposing and openly blatant aspect of life as an expat. Not knowing what will
come next can be an exciting part of an adventure. It can also be of huge
personal detriment should you not hit the ground running and settle into the
new environment. While I have lived with immense pride at how my wife’s career
has glowed in Melbourne, to say my working journey in Australia has been
stop-start is like saying a Tarantino move ‘may contain violence’.
all live in a media-controlled bubble, wherever we are in the world. I would
guess that most British people above thirty-five years of age would retain the
idea that Australia is more alike the sun-drenched, ‘barbie’-having,
beer-drinking eternal summers, as seen on Paul Hogan’s old adverts, Home and Away
– as well as England’s Ashes tours are played in hot conditions. The thing with
the validity of Paul Hogan’s Foster’s commercials – as good as they were,
no-one in Australia drinks it. If it were the only thing available at a party,
I’d have water. That’s always been my opinion of the uric juice. Australians have
a joke about why they sell it to Britain because ‘Poms are stupid enough to drink
it’. Thus, the irony and paradox of Foster’s being a symbol of Australia – it is
not like Britain in the sun. You have to live here to know the hidden nuances.
Sometimes, the hard way.
instance, no-one would have told you that despite all your experience in
certain industries in Britain – if you haven’t got “local” experience in
Melbourne, then you won’t be employed (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-29206260). Hundreds
of my unanswered job applications are testimony to that. Not many people can
identify a Welsh accent. People will guess you’re Irish, English and Scottish -
then run out of ideas of where else you could possibly come from. Rugby is not
important in Melbourne (despite Australia having won the World Cup twice).
Neither is driving or speaking fluently. Just abbreviate everything and end each
word with an ‘o’. First world problems for graduates of an English and Culture
degree, who still value their own culture and wonder why professional instructors
are not mandatory in a Western, developed country.
world problems or not – a decade later, third world problems seem to be
entering the first world. Tomorrow, the general election of the four nations
which are anything but united by royalty – and would certainly find it difficult
to describe Britain as ‘great’ these days; regardless which side, fragment or
definition of politics – you follow. It has become so depressingly divisive that
it has split families – and societies right through those home nations.
Politics across the world has become so murky and manipulative that no good
comes of it. Social media, fake media, fake politicians, social tension –
nothing is real. Apart from the poverty, confusion and disunity which has come
from misinformation, lies and no real leadership.
left Europe, I wanted to find both myself – and my home. As mentioned, I had
nothing to lose at the time – had my country been a thriving place, filled with
opportunities – very much how Australians feel about their country – I may not
have felt such wanderlust in my veins. I wanted to find my place. A place of
belonging. In my home land, not only is it an industrial corpse which has
become increasingly depressing to see its degradation in the past decade with
each visit – but now won’t trust anyone so will seemingly vote for the ones who
have harmed it most. If I really believed statistics being published this week
about voting trends; Welsh voters now have lost their own moral compass and
found a new level of Stockholm Syndrome, it would seem. My fingers are crossed
to breaking point – in hope that those figures were nothing but propaganda. In
2019, anything is possible.
– which has never had a Conservative majority – and rightly so considering its
utter negligence of Wales - also now even being bandied as ‘West Britain’ by the
future plans of the aristocratic parties, based in England – relies on tourism
and the export of agriculture to survive. Universities help finance some aspects
of the very few small cities we have, but outside of these urban entities, there
is little growth. Considering the gentrification of larger cities (mostly in England)
in the 2000s, isn’t it high time it happened in provincial towns?
fact that some of my family – have told me they would probably vote Conservative
this week – shows the predicament and alienation which is comparable to that of
the 1930s in Germany and brought forth intolerance of racial and cultural
variations. “Let’s vote for those who promise the most, have the least recent
blemishes on their vague moral compasses – and hope for the best” – seems to be
the strategy of casting a vote. The state of the NHS alone should be enough to
veer the vote away from Captain Buffoon and his Blue Bigot Army. Elimination
should be purely by track record, or by granting new chances. Not by being
duped by rhetoric which will be forgotten in six months’ time apart from when a
journalist raises the point - when it’s too late. Being loyal to your punisher is
such a classist, British trait which seems to be perpetuated.
at the end of the decade – it should be said that I probably still have little
to lose. With no dependents apart from my little canine children, the next
chapter now depends on what effects Brexshit will have on travel and work
opportunities in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere. As an ex-teacher, hospitality
pro and semi-professional DJ and producer – using the “anything is possible” to
my advantage is the watchword. With social and international reasonability at
an almost-anarchic state of suspended reality, the “one life, one chance” motto
has to be imprinted on my mind.
mid-forties, it feels like that the wanderlust needs to be summoned again. I’m
finding it harder enduring bad road rules, taking orders from millennials who think
they know everything, missing watching my teams at reasonable times, missing
festivals which only happen up north, missing comedy such as Vic and Bob; time
zone difficulties and being so far away from my interests, as well as friends
and family. Coming to Melbourne with a completely open mind was something I’d repeat,
should I head for a new habitat. Bearing in mind and researching cultural
differences is definitely something I’d do, emphatically and thoroughly. The
older you get, alarm bells ring louder with each situation. You just don’t want
those bells to be a daily chime, after a while. So the most liveable place for
me - would have an essential checklist of being – tolerant, multicultural,
musical, a maximum of 3 hours’ time difference to Britain, with an effective
infrastructure and not over-expensive. Now, where could that be?
say retrospect is a wonderful thing. To be able to review; objectively and
honestly – moments, times or even periods of time. Critically or loosely.
Positively or negatively. Sometimes that essential clarity of thought cannot be
granted until enough time has passed, as the mind (it has been known) to play
tricks on us. In this particularly unique instance it has taken me this long –
twenty-two years, in fact – to be openly able to absolutely look everything in
the eye and be brutally frank. To the point where it’s almost completely written
in the third-person, about another individual.
it could be as much the self-therapy I’ve wanted to gift myself, as it is
hopefully a document of mental health learning for others. Tomorrow I will turn
the grand, fuddy-duddy, middle-aged, wrinkle-washed age of forty-four. Double
the age of probably the most pivotal and instrumental birthday anniversary of
my life. Those who have known me forever will know why – but as I try not to
assume that I know everything about everyone – this is a story from a very jittery
life journey. Having lost people; friends and acquaintances from my generation
to mental health struggles and coping mechanisms which didn’t work – “every little
helps”, as Tesco says.
Wednesday, May 7th, 1997, I travelled back to Nottingham; to my
university life, having visited my mother after a write-off, nasty car accident
had broken both her legs. She used to tell me up to that point “I’ve been
driving twenty-five years and had no accidents, so don’t tell me how to drive!”
When the time had clearly come to blemish the self-prognosed perfect driver’s
record – it was done in destructive style. Anyway, having left my pin-legged
mother in Llanelli, I returned to pre-arranged birthday drinks in Nottingham. A
month or so away from completing my BA (Hons) Communication Studies course,
this was to be probably the last big celebration before a month of coursework
was to be completed. Life was good (apart from the aforementioned Mrs Damon
Hill-Jones’s road exploits).
a few hours of not paying for any drinks, I felt on the brink of being annihilated
- should I drink any more. So, after running into my work colleague from my part-time
job at the Beatroot nightclub, the two of us diverted from Sam Fay’s late bar –
to his nearby flat, near Nottingham castle, so I could chill out for an hour.
The plan was to return and see the night out until 2am. Whether the walk and
fresh air had helped or not, I had a semi-second wind. We got to his flat and
my ideals of birthday grandeur got the better of me. I wanted a bottle of
bubbles. At that time of night, the only place I could get one would be a
nightclub, so we ordered a taxi to take us to…sigh….The Black Orchid. A cheesy,
yet huge club in the enterprise park which had Wednesday student night on. Did
I need the bottle? No, yet the cab was booked.
was at this point that my mental hard drive crashed. My next memory was waking
up in a hospital bed, the following afternoon, with not only my friends around
the bed, but my father as well. I opened my eyes and asked; “What happened?”,
as if I was in a scene of a film where the character had woken up in heaven – only
to be sent back to earth with a completely abstract life narrative to the one
which was being played up to the Wednesday. Turns out I had probably had
another drink at my friend’s, at some point of the night consumed a small
amount of amphetamines, then passed out on the first-floor landing, but falling
sharply down the twenty feet of stairs on my head, all the way.
with music playing loudly, my workmate and his flatmate heard nothing. It was
their neighbour who heard a large ‘thud’, who rang the doorbell in concern
which alerted them, along with the taxi which had arrived outside. There was
blood everywhere. I had fractured my skull, torn nerves while breaking my nose
and had a slight haemorrhage on the side of my head. Five days were spent in
Nottingham’s QMC Hospital, mostly sleeping. On the Saturday, I remember getting
out of bed in a complete fuzzy daydream, wearing only one of those crappy bed
gowns; walking to the toilet with the nurse calling after me “Nathan! Where are
you going?” “Home!” was the abrupt, muddled answer. I urinated, went back to
bed and proceeded to enter hibernation once again.
said I was lucky to be alive. There was a dent at the front of my cranium,
around an inch long. Had that been an inch higher in position on my skull – I was
told I would have died. Those nerves I severed were my smell and taste nerves,
so I’ve had very diminished senses in those departments, since. Most pivotal –
was my doctor, back in Llanelli; once I returned and spent another five days in
Prince Phillip Hospital, he said “You will experience some depression and
levels of fatigue.” Immediately, in my head I decided – no I won’t. Not the
depression, anyway. I’ll find a way of keeping lively and feeling good. The
fact Being ruled out of playing rugby or football for at least nine months
became a huge problem. My penultimate match played before the incident was for
Wales Students Rugby League team against Scotland. The previous summer I had
trained pre-season with my beloved Llanelli RFC, with the likes of Stephen
Jones and Ieuan Evans; taking my fitness to a new level. I was twenty-two with
the world at my feet. There was no way I was stopping. Unsurprisingly, it took
a very short space of sleepy, anxious time to realise I’d have to succumb to
the doctor’s prognoses.
attacks began, embarrassingly in public while visiting a friend for their birthday
in August 1997, having seen out three months of ‘no alcohol’ from my doctor’s
orders. I had no energy. Not even enough to complete my coursework, so
Nottingham Trent University gave me an extension of three months – to the end
of August, to submit my work. However, I was living away from the university
and my beloved friends. What the hell was happening? No energy; forced to live
with my mother and brother while my father and sister both lived in Cardiff;
both studying for their new careers. Here beginneth the hardest years of my
the end of 1997, I had managed to graduate successfully, but I was by then
suffering heavy depression and anxiety, fuelled by the loneliness of having no friends
around; not knowing why I was on earth and wanting to die. I had lost all tracking
of whom I was, what I was doing and where any of it was going. Plus, glandular
fever had bitten me hard, taking a month out of my glorious, progressive freezer
job at Asda.
January 1998, I was charged with drink-driving, having driven home on Christmas
week with no care for repercussions; caught on camera making a U-turn in a
forbidden area. While living at home with my mother caused all sorts of
tension, arguments and vitriol, the only thing which kept me partially sane was
my first set of turntables. With very few points of company around in a
reversal of vibrant, university life – it was me; and the decks. Over time, it
became a slow, fearful return to “normal” life. I have never been a naturally
confident person – easily intimidated in the past by louder, overconfident
characters, but this new anger in me – for what I didn’t know – became something,
someone – I had to allow to be played out. Not a villain, but an even more
insecure little boy to that one on the morning of May 7th, 1997. Unapologetically
cavalier, which only cost me at times – and those who suffer depression will
know how past mistakes can eat the soul of those who made the mistakes.
many years I refused to accept depression and anxiety were a part of me. My mother
has since told me she believed it began with my grandfather’s death when I was
seventeen, but I know from looking deeply inside myself, from exploring
instincts I’ve always had, but with which I’ve had to become accustomed –
questions I’ve asked in early teenage years, that my fears and those scared
instincts – must be tied into my neurological wiring. Throughout my early twenties,
from that point I lived out wild teenage years – years locked away inside the
vault of a strict upbringing. Partying. Having to surrender, also – any instinctive
passion or talent I had for playing rugby, from being oversensitive to
knockbacks and increasing lack of confidence.
thousand career changes later, I find myself at almost full-circle completion
point. Only now, a bit of maturity (which I appreciate) makes the Peter Pan in
me; hopefully a more reasoned character and person. I went into teaching
(having told myself at eighteen I would never become a teacher) to try forging
a predictable, 9-to-5 life for myself in a past relationship. To try proving to
myself I was a virtuous individual (ironically omitting the thought that there
are vile and immoral teachers out there too – luckily not many, but there are!)
among the clouds of twentysomething decisions – without realising I didn’t have
to almost burn myself out a second time, by becoming something I was not
aligned with - to prove I could be virtuous and good. Back, now; working in
hospitality and trying to revitalise my DJ career (as that’s what I always
wanted to do), playing music I love and believe in – rather than what I fooled
myself into thinking others wanted, in those hazy days.
visiting a psychologist in 2013 (my own choice) to try fathoming whether I had
ADHD – which could explain these seventeen-thousand career changes, as well as
lack of interest in my later school days – may have given me the road signs I needed.
Being told it wasn’t attention deficit, but depression – being medicated has
been like having a carbon monoxide fan for the air I breathe. It can always
seep back into the oxygen channels, but I have now the ability to blow it away.
The ridiculousness of life is something I have to laugh at – I don’t believe in
staying miserable (despite being the younger Victor Meldrew). I appreciate the
chances I have now and my family life. The point being – the imbalanced brain
wires may have always been there but became violently exacerbated by this
accident. I cannot stress enough how important it is to consult a mental health
professional. Drop the pride, the façade and ideals of grandeur – everyone has
some kind of something going on. Some are better are dealing with it than
others. Some can’t hold on in the battle.
one of those seventeen thousand careers – twenty years ago, in fact – I worked
at what was, pretty much – an abuse line, call-centre; at British Gas in
Cardiff. One reason I didn’t last there was because I am not a salesman. Plus,
I’m an impatient non-salesman. In this job, the department had to deal with
calls from people who had been mis-sold contracts by field agents, selling gas
and electricity. On one memorable occasion an English man called, calling me a
“f***ing c***” for asking him to explain – a little slower – what exactly
happened and how he was conned. When I told him I’d hang up if he didn’t change
his abusive tone, he replied “Sorry, I haven’t had my medication today, have I
love?” To which his wife, shouting in the background answered, “No, he hasn’t.”
still laugh at that, knowing that’s the bar of communication I’d prefer to stay
When I was a young boy, I used to think that even
twenty years was a lifetime – thirty was a millennium. When I turned thirty, I
had the sinister feeling that I would have to grow up, start behaving maturely
and that my young, green and careless days would be naturally terminated as
instantaneously as my twenties.
As it happens, looking back for three decades – my
thirties were possibly more enjoyable, along with the realisation that – as the
meme suggests – “Don’t grow up, it’s a trap!” So, turning back the clock to the
year of 1989; an unbelievably pivotal year, not only for its eventful
happenings, good and bad; but for the long-term change for the world.
Globally, we had the start of crumbling dictatorships
and old regimes as the “Iron Curtain” began to flake. Romania’s overthrowing of
its communist president, Nicolae Ceausescu and overhaul of the old communist
republic, the smoother Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and even more
famously – the majestically powerful opening of the Berlin Wall, ending one of
the biggest divisions of the twentieth century, starting the reuniting of what
we now know as Germany.
From the eyes of a naïve, small-town boy from Wales
who had two passions – sport and music, this particular year was an eye-opening
door to wowing, new worlds and understanding heartache in a cruel world. In the
sporting sense, it should have been another year remembered for success and
silverware for my teams Llanelli RFC and Liverpool FC. Tragically, the events
in Sheffield on April 15th, 1989 would change the landscape of years
to come for my Merseyside second home after the loss of ninety-six lives at
Hillsborough. With only a month to go until the anniversary of that colossal tragedy,
I’d only like to think of Liverpool as a city more solidified through its guts,
grit and togetherness ever since.
Not only did the injustice, corruption and
governmental evil epitomise the darker days of Thatcherite Britain and its
inappropriate old guard of politicians and so-called leaders; but the legacy of
loss and undermanagement in football changed how sport was facilitated, law was
conducted – and how Liverpool and a city and as a football club – was both seen
and run. Solidarity and deep doggedness from the Justice for the 96 team is
something which I have grown, supported and seen – and wholeheartedly admired
from Anne Williams, Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks and all of their league
of big, fighting hearts. Finally, some justice was seen two years ago – but did
not replace those lost.
This would be something which also deeply personified
but affected one of my first heroes, Sir Kenny Dalglish. As much as it makes me
proud to see him acknowledged in being knighted for his compassionate work in
the city’s communities as well as for the football club, his career as our
manager was torn apart by this maelstrom, forcing him to resign less than two
years later. Probably my most memorable flashback of the year was watching the
horror unfold on my grandparents’ old television on that fateful day. If 1989
produced some vintage wines in the way of the aforementioned freedom around the
world – this one was a poisonous drop.
On a more positive sporting note, while this was the
height of passion in old Welsh rugby days – pre-Hillsborough’s standing areas
meaning you could fit way, way over capacity in each stadium; I remember
sitting as a ball boy in the Scarlets matches on frosty, cold nights with what
must have been around 20,000 people watching derby matches in a stadium which
only held 10,800 people. Possibly the link of two happenings as a ball boy was
being interviewed by a New Zealand TV crew, as I was wearing an All Blacks
jersey on the side of the pitch one evening – as a precursor to their tour in
October 1989. Meeting the squad – one of the best teams (even to this day) I
have ever seen, the day after they beat Llanelli 11-0 the previous day. Sir
John Kirwan, the towering winger signed his autograph in my little old book
with “Go For It”, leaving me open-mouthed, as if I’d met a god.
In culture, my most-watched movie (apart from Star
Wars Episode 4: A New Hope) in cinemas was released in June 1989, among the
most memorable of marketing campaigns I can remember as a child. Tim Burton’s
Batman was something which I can honestly say – changed my life. I watched it
four times in cinemas, then countless times when released on VHS later that
year. The soundtrack by Prince, the score by Danny Elfman as well as the gothic
darkness were elements with which I identified, more so than Spider-Man, after
collecting tens of comics as a younger kid. It began a lifetime of slight
obsession with the DC Comics character – which only petered out once Zac Snyder
started making (and tarring) the Caped Crusader films with his green screen
Furthermore to the Prince soundtrack, as it was a
world of far fewer musical genres back then; I was a Hip-Hop child. It was a
time of mullets, soft rock and heavy metal along the mainstream music world –
so discovering Hip-Hop in ’87 was something which kept me a bit one-eyed (or
eared) as far as music went. 1989, it can be argued – was the best vintage year
for the genre. Before the USA’s absurdly possessive copyright laws came into
effect, we heard a year of sublime releases. Genre-expanding, sample-tastic
albums, using the essence of Hip-Hop’s DJ styles – cutting pieces of tracks
into new grooves were extending this brand of music method with new sub-genre
styles. After years of Gangster Rap and politically charged messages from bands
such as Ice-T, NWA and Public Enemy, a new wave of artists with alternate
points to make had arrived, as did a segway from the underground to commercial
hip-hop via some huge hits (Tone Loc, Neneh Cherry and so on).
This week holds significance as the thirty-year
anniversary of the release of one of my most influential albums. My copy of De
La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising” became one of my school year’s most
passed-around tapes. Along with this fresh piece of genius (which incidentally
cost the band more money because of the samples used, than made them cash – and
which they are currently battling with Tommy Boy Records for being finally released
digitally), we were blessed with rap pearls such as Beastie Boys’ Paul’s
Boutique, Young MC’s Stone Cold Rhymin’, Queen Latifah’s All Hail The Queen, 3rd Bass’s The
Cactus Album….the list goes on. London’s Mixmaster supreme DJ Yoda even agrees
with me on this!
Agreed, as DJ Yoda mentioned, there would definitely
be some degree of personal nostalgia, vis-à-vis the albums which saw your
personal growth and happy memories, but also the longevity of these album
releases, as well as significance at the time. Latifah’s giant step for women
in hip-hop, music’s expansion to new land and social equality through the softer
messages of new types of rapping, following the domination of ‘Gangsta Rap’ and
political bravery in the previous few years.
One massive encounter in connection with this brand of
music – was seeing the DMC Technics DJ Mixing Championship for the first time,
on the television. Despite it not becoming my selected style of mixing material
years later, this is where it all started for me. Cutmaster Swift was the first
non-American to win the title, but it was the imprint on my mind of analogue
mixing brilliance which pushed me further into records – and what can be done
At the time of this all happening, a new wave of music
had begun. One of which I may have seen snippets on Top Of The Pops via certain
tracks – in fact one which is now on my wall, after it was number 1 in the
charts that year. L’il Louis’s French Kiss sounded like an excuse for “rudies”
in a song to a fourteen-year-old heathen sheltered lad. After listening to
Ice-T and especially Public Enemy’s Fight The Power – rebellion at the time for
me was listening to lots of wise uprising, occasionally violent lyrics with
lots of swearing and lots of putting White American policies to the ethical
sword. It was five years later I caught the club-bug - and discovered House
Music properly. But in 1989, it was blowing up as a scene. The effects of raves
in Britain and the USA, not to mention the early stages of the club DJ
superstar was catching headlines, being targeted by police and the tabloid
press – with a late-eighties revamp of punk’s rebellious anti-establishment stance
via electronic music and the drug Ecstasy. It was such a big year on so many
Finally, in other news – let’s have a look at what
quirky little differences or nuances our kids would be baffled by – or at least
raising eyebrows towards. In 1989, Madonna released the highly-anticipated, then
controversial “Like A Prayer” video (for depicting Jesus as a person of colour)
via a Pepsi commercial when we only had four TV channels in Britain. Now, we
anticipate when she will finally call it a day. It’s not as if the royalties
dried up a few years ago, is it?
Adverts were good. I rest my case (click on link).
Mullets and Shell Suits. *twitches
*twitches uncontrollably again as Australia – proudly –
announces mullets are back*
Dear Generations Y and Z, there is a reason these
garments have not been worn for over twenty-five years. This is called ‘not
being a chav or bogan’. I hope you can understand why it would be dangerous to
revisit this abhorrent get-up.
To close – in 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the
World Wide Web, or what we now know as the Internet. You wouldn’t be reading
this now without it.
Nine Years An Exile II: The Space Beneath - Part 3
I was given a week’s contract at a state school by
ANZUK. It was the closest thing to an accurate description of “crowd control” you’d find anywhere.
The school’s management could not give me a rough estimate as to where I’d be
from one classroom to the next; at the start of the week, start of the day – or
even during the day, as to where next. For most of the days, I worked through
every break, on playground duty, giving me no time to eat, use the toilet or
gather my lesson directives from teachers. A shitstorm, it was. If any teacher
thinks this kind of day is normal – you’re wrong. It’s a constitution of chaos
and not work, but cheap labour.
By the Thursday, I had one classroom which was so
loud, I recorded them on my phone then played it back to them on the classroom
speaker. Even they admitted how rude they were. I’d already decided I wasn’t
going back the following morning, by then – so I thought “bollocks to them”.
The teachers treated me as a commodity and gave no real welcome at all.
Classrooms were obnoxious and had no attention span. So, despite my efforts of
trying to be as organised (asking for hints as to classroom locations, so I had
lessons or tasks ready on my USB) – I was ignored by almost all and sundry.
The very last lesson I took there was a kindergarten
class, having already taught years 6,5,4,3,2 and 1 - that day. I had my handy
Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes with me, which I took everywhere as an ‘if all
else fails’ book. That day ended with a newly enrolled Chinese boy trying to
steal the book from me while having a violent tantrum (his face was puce with
rage). I asked the class teacher when I was leaving – if he had been assessed
for behavioural or learning difficulties – his parents did not feel they needed
to do so, as it was not in their culture to seek assistance. This was just one
of many of these instances.
As I left the school, I called ANZUK to inform them I
would not be returning, as the input of my efforts versus the returns via the
state of my head – was like paying for a top meal on London’s Park Lane and
getting a frozen weight loss meal for it. I was told that they had been on the
phone to the school – and that they did not want me to return – as I had been
disrespectful! Whether it was one of the kids from the class I recorded,
blabbing to their teacher who may have been precious about the predicament, or
because I mentioned truthfully that I had not received a break to one of the heads
of department – and wanted to know where I’d be next, which was very
frustrating. Especially as I was told they were monitoring me with a view to
take me on permanently, if the week was successful. I got home with a barbecued
brain and drank a bottle of wine. This was at the start of the year.
Between February and December, I was in so many
absurd, complicated and unbelievable situations at various schools (which
included the supposedly well-behaved Catholic Schools) – which grossly
outnumbered the good ones. Like being told I could not apply for a permanency
at a few schools where I already had good working relationships; because I was
not Catholic – and the parish fathers pretty much decided who was employed. Like
being reported by a child with Asperger’s Syndrome – for supposedly talking
nastily about him to a (rarely found) classroom assistant, while I was
discussing the computer lesson at hand. Like physically restraining a
7-year-old boy who looked like a mini-Mr. T – from punching his teacher repeatedly,
then watching him run outside the classroom and flicking his middle finger at
the classroom from the window; while I tried calming the pupils by reading
Roald Dahl again; the principal outside negotiating with the kid.
The next class I had for the following hour at that
school in wonderful Werribee (https://nathjonesey-75.tumblr.com/post/133587287229/werribee)
– was a P.E. lesson. I had twenty of the class of thirty-five Year 4/5 group
telling me blatantly “We’re not going to do what you tell us - we don’t care
who you are”, as they folded their arms and argued amongst each other.
Ironically, that school begged me to return. There are many more instances I
could list. None of these scenarios ever came with apologies from the schools,
or any real attempts by the agencies to support me. You would be excused for
starting to think the parents believed the children, such was the moral abandon
of the schools and one of the agencies; plus the lack of backing. By then, it
was the bricks (not straw) which broke the camel’s back, for me. It was late
November. I was done. Again.
Well-being-wise, I was not making progress – it felt
like my skills were outdated, or invalid, despite having enough quality experience.
It had got to the point where I was not receiving any replies for the mountain of
jobs I applied for; making me lose faith in applying. It wasn’t until my very
last few relief teaching shifts, that I met a co-supply teacher who
inadvertently clarified the situation – and spun my head in a ‘Wibble’ way
again, to the point where I signed, stamped and delivered my exit notice from
child education. Apart from the CV and covering letters (for which I’d had
numerous chats and supposed advice from people in various industries) which I’d
tweaked and tailored each time over the couple of years – the other piece of
application I had missed, although thought I’d covered was the “Key Skills
Examples”. I’d included my skills in the aforementioned documents, to the best
of my knowledge. Yet, when this lady kindly sent me examples of successful
applicants – the key skills addresses were in another, much lengthier and more
bewildering document. A bit like a quarterly business report, bullet-pointing
every little micro-skill used and where. Along with the fact that the CVs were
around seven (yes, seven) pages long!
I have lived through over twenty years since my fist
graduation by the traditional rule of thumb – which is – keep the CV to a brief
and punchy state. Two pages maximum. By this Melbourne rationale, applications
would be around twenty pages long; six-to-seven for the CV, two-to-three for
the covering letter, then however many for the personal skills business report!
Forgive me for being dumb, but I’ve never had the notion explained to me that
employers spend - that long - reading applications, or that they’d need their hands
held to lead them to the conclusions of whom is worthy and who isn’t – for each
job. Either way, when your experience is seemingly valid, but no-one wants to even reply, or give you feedback about your application when you’ve asked for some - it doesn’t fill you with hope. It makes you question more than just your ability, in particular when you randomly work with unprofessional people, with very little knowledge, awareness or liberal thought - and you cannot get a permanent role while all along money becomes less, your partner becomes more anxious and you become a shadow of what you know you can be.
Nine Years An Exile II: The Space Beneath - Part 2
By 2014, I’d seen out the previous year by completing
a month of voluntary PR - it began a string of “will it, won’t it?” situations
in the sense of roles possibly leading to permanent jobs – eventually nothing
came at all. At the time, it was quite interesting – one task involved was
organising for – and recruiting a rugby speaker, for a sports PR breakfast at
the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground – or MCG – or even the ‘G’ – as the
multi-syllabic-avoiding natives would call it.
I would have carried on working there, had the
position actually been available and with a salary. Right in the city centre,
among the hustle and bustle is something not everyone enjoys, but I like it. In
the meantime, what I did get – was another indication that it is more of whom
you know, rather than what you know; no matter how much you may know - which
makes Melbourne – or Victoria – tick. Sometimes this makes sense, other times
it baffles. Depending upon each particular working context. A self-sustaining
city – it raises generations who live, develop and thrive here. Far away from
the non-Aussie rest-of-the-world and its difference strings. A part-time role
for a not-for-profit charity was not a bad place to begin, I thought. All roads
lead somewhere. You’d think. Until you’ve seen the sheer magnitude of
Australia’s space, then realise – many roads lead to vast nothingness, waiting
and waiting to be used!
This is not a direct reference to this role, as in
fact I was offering and completing a reasonably noble job with Rainbows for the
Children of Australia. Promoting a charity, helping traumatised children gain
support. It is a reference to all of my learning since 2013. I thought – if my
teaching certification came through, I could juggle both and earn a bit more.
That didn’t materialise until nine months after I’d sent away the police check
requests. The Australian and British checks came through in no time. Surprise,
surprise – it was the “admin is a hobby – Insha’Allah” factor of Qatar which
took so long. After three months they sent me my documents asking for my old
passport - which had expired in the previous June – just to process my request,
instead of specifying in the first place. I received the finalised check in the
July. Wibble, as Blackadder once said.
So, by October 2014, after eight months of travelling
to Keysborough once a week for $25 an hour (applying for other work all along –
actually hoping I wouldn’t need to use my teaching), I had restarted my supply
– or relief teaching, as it is known in the space beneath. I swiftly realised
that agencies ruled the roost in Melbourne schools, of Melbourne’s emergency
teacher administration and signed up with the dominant agency – ANZUK, which as
the name suggests, operated in Oz, New Zealand and Britain. It didn’t take
long, either, to complete my first shift. Except the labour tap not-so-much
stopped – dripping work; as stopped running altogether over the next few weeks.
Thus, I hunted others.
Soon, I was faced with an unexpected predicament. As
my work with Rainbows mainly took me into the schools operated by the Catholic
Church – I was told that those schools generally were the better-run; and more
respectable out of Victoria’s primary schools. It also shocked me to think that
Victoria (mainly as the influence is so high here), with only a slightly higher
population than Wales at the time, had nearly 400 Catholic schools, while my
homeland had less than 100. By the end of October, I’d been interviewed by a
smaller agency’s owner, who worked mainly with Catholic schools and had
teaching experience in London, so hopefully some breadth of thought and world
experience. First shift – done. Second…third…. suddenly the odd side-effect was
that I had received glowing reviews and was flavour of the month with the agency.
I was travelling fairly far and wide but was working daily and feeling more
confident for the first time in a while.
Maybe 2015 was going to be a better year and would
break the back of my working career, staleness in Australia. After all, despite
wanting to leave teaching – I’d taken the plunge, back into the (what felt like
shark-infested) pool of schools and so far, – so good. Still, I knew better
than to start thinking it would be a cruise. Even the grammar schools – the
well-off kids in Melbourne – had plenty of spoilt, uppity little crumbs who
could twist your days if given a chance!
What actually came from 2015 was further confirmation;
deeper affirmation that I was not a teacher. While I gave my best each day, I
was experienced enough - in reading different situations and at best – some
glimmer of hope for the majority of schools, from the functional and more
respectful minority of academic establishments. At worst, crude casseroles of
schools, where values were brought in by – well, well – what’s this? The relief
teachers! Regular, contracted teachers didn’t see a need for revamping the
gremlin-infested, over-filled classrooms by teaching manners. Instead, I saw
(and received what I thought was retribution for my cheeky school days) some
awful sights and schools. From the February, I kept a diary, which I intend to
When I began supply teaching in January 2006, I
blitzed it. Travelling across South Wales to schools with only thirty-three
pupils from Rhydlewis, Ceredigion - to Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. There was
some mileage driven in the first three months before I gained my first
short-term; 3-month contract. So how would Victoria’s roads be? The less said
the better, actually. In Wales, I’d mostly find out the previous afternoon –
where I’d be the following morning. One mental test here was to have to get up
at 6:45-7am in the morning to wait for a call. Not knowing much about the
school, so precious little prep time. If work at all. Then; there were the
roads, their drivers and the illogical administration of road rules.
Imagine learning something rigorously then finding
yourself in the midst of a population who didn’t learn it rigorously, bent the
rules extensively and were never in any urgency to be aware of its values. That
was the gist of travelling to schools by car each morning by 8:30am after
finding out an hour earlier where I would be working. It took me a couple of
years after arriving in Melbourne to realise that professional driving teachers
here are a lot like erudite TV news presenters – rare. Almost everyone born
here is “taught” to drive by their parents. Not professional teachers. Road awareness is not important;
lane discipline – non-existent and road safety is all about avoiding cameras
flashing you. End of. There is no happy medium between the ‘boy racer’ brigade
who jump lanes, lights and any credible standard of driving (except they’re not
just boys, but people of all ages) is lost to those who drive as though they
should be in a retirement home, driving a golf caddy; and the clueless
speedsters. No sensible in-between at all.
Vic Roads, the governing body treats is all as a
“speed kills and that’s all” issue; enforcing slower driving than necessary, lazy driving and traffic light skiving, in all the wrong places (speed limits on open roads, not
encouraging lane discipline, or the forever-long amber lights which are jumped
by everyone). If it worked in reducing accidents or tension, there would be no
argument. As it stands, people jump long queues (by driving to the front of the queue and pushing in), jump red lights and usually
‘flip you the bird’ if you beep your horn at them for dangerous driving.
Someone needs to import an ocean of common sense, pour it across Port Phillip
Bay and see if civilisation benefits.
Nine Years An Exile II: The Space Beneath - Part One
When I was fourteen, I had a very large impression
imprinted on me. The British and Irish Lions toured and defeated Australia in
1989 and I caught the bug of wanting to play rugby down under. As my
rugby-playing career took several twists, turns; deaths and rebirths – the
dream, of sorts – became a more incidental fluke as I was thirty-eight by the
time it finally occurred. However, when it did, it was a more socially-sound
move for me to integrate without a pre-determined role to begin. I shall
In October 2012, three months after our wedding; my
wife was professionally “head-hunted” while on the first of what has become a
working season ticket to Kansas City; at a health industry conference held each
year by her current employers. It was somewhat - celebration time. My
part-naïve, part-stubborn refusal to broach the depression subject while
unemployed at that time – meant I was more than ready for a new adventure, plus
a one-way ticket out of the maelstrom I was living in the dustbowl of Doha.
By the time the seemingly complex process of our visas
being granted to move to Melbourne – finally arrived, we had already left Doha
in mid-April. It was a handy segway to return to London; as well as a fleeting
visit to Wales. We finally flew from Heathrow after a month of being patient,
on my thirty-eighth birthday in May.
We had already been told (among a plethora of other
inaccurate information) that until we arrived and had our 457 visas activated;
plus the essential private health insurance (!) was arranged I was ineligible
to apply for work. In my mind, it definitely wasn’t to be teaching. After the
previous year’s drama, I had begun to think I wasn’t a teacher. I felt I had
sacrificed a lot for the cause in Qatar. 4:45am alarms for three years, living
in a status-led society and having a very limited amount of culture around was
just the anti-social side of life. The unprofessional side of work was the persistent
feeling of being undermined for the sake of keeping customers happy; being
unsupported by the management despite going the extra mile for them and the
constant memory of many previous colleagues in London and Wales approaching
retirement with a feeling of bitterness and exhaustion. Plus I didn’t
understand this affliction which I had brusquely lived with for longer than I
Meanwhile, my wife’s company had kindly brought us to
Melbourne for a week at the peak of summer in the February before moving; to
see the city and begin the relocation programme. We couldn’t have been more excited.
On our arrival at midnight, after three-and-a-half years of membership in
Doha’s 5-star hotels; where even appearing tipsy or having the aroma of alcohol
on your breath outside the building could be risky, we stayed on Melbourne’s
main thoroughfare street, Collins Street. What did we see firstly? Three
friendly, generous locals – clearly happily under the influence of some happy
drug, as their eyes were inflated like floodlights. They offered us use of
their phones, as they saw our sim cards would not work, while trying to call
the Quest hotel, where we were staying.
Half an hour later, after reaching the room and
dumping the week’s carriage – we stumbled the short steps down the hill onto
the tourist-central Swanston Street. What did we see this time? Drunken bodies
lying between the doors of McDonalds and a security guard dragging another
semi-conscious corpse out, across the floor. This – is more like home, we
thought. We giggled and smiled at each other knowingly. No shame, people
inebriated to the point of – face in KFC. I’m sold. Uncivilised civilisation is
In that one week, we saw the city, visited a vineyard
range, saw equally the best sunset I’ve ever seen, so left thinking we had a
sweet future ahead. It only becomes prevalent of how dire your situation may
have been when you see the glory of a new world, without trying to understand
the whole panorama of it all. Ignoring any faint alarm bells. On a journey,
leaving – gratefully – a stepping stone; tasting a seemingly far more wholesome-looking
habitat – things can only get better. Can’t they? Surely? The mixture of
people, the historical connections with Britain (as wobbly as they may have
been) – we’re on the up. Aren’t we?
When we arrived in May 2013, there was one catch – my
wife’s American company, for whom she’d worked previously in London –
stipulated that – although her role was one she’d partly fulfilled in London,
she’d have to complete ten weeks of training before she could commence in her
role. This training had to take place in Kansas City. In other words, as soon
as we’d arrived in Australia, for almost three months, I’d be on my Jack Jones.
But not really – that dream which I’d first had back
in 1989 – had some life in it. The British and Irish Lions were on tour – here,
in Melbourne! Plus after staying awake on Sunday night at the start of the
year, I’d secured tickets for both Melbourne matches – the Lions versus
Melbourne Rebels and the test match against Australia.
Now, all I needed was a job. Here begins my venture
into Mordor. While I moved to Qatar on my own in August 2009 with a job to
commence, I came to Australia with what I thought was a fairly respectable CV.
Years of experience in office support and government administration, over a
decade in education; with what I believed to be three highly valuable years at
an international school in Qatar – as well as work experience since I was
fifteen in hospitality, including over five years of experience as a manager or
As mentioned, teaching was way down my list of roles I
wanted to consider. It would mean both facing the darkness of schools again
which I’d already decided was not for me, in addition to the draining side of
teaching which can suck the social side of life away. Yet after three months of
jobhunting; applying online and at local hospitality venues while the wife was
away, all I managed to find was voluntary coaching at the rugby club which I
joined. Thank goodness for Melbourne Rugby Union Club. I was coaching the
Under-14s and even began playing in the veterans’ league on Saturdays, which
was living the twenty-four-year-old dream.
Plus I met expat friends.
To this day I am thankful to Simon Webster and the lads for the first couple of years at the club. Yet not all of the networking, meeting people, applying to agencies and job applications could get my feet up and running.
At the start, not finding a job was something I never
expected to be a recurrent issue. After all, the expats at the rugby club who
had moved to Australia over the course of various years had to work to rise in
their careers. It would all be fine, I told myself. Except months of applying,
asking for advice for my CV, adjusting my CV, applying again - but not only - not
succeeding to find work I had already done and was more than capable of doing,
but not receiving any replies to my applications was demoralising, confusing
and unsettling. I began looking for careers advisors – but all I could find
were university advisors – for only students of those universities. Following
over a year of worklessness, I was asking questions. Maybe I overestimated my
own CV, maybe there was another secret to applying in Melbourne. I’d already
deduced it wasn’t the most communicative of cultures – only being told
something about something - after doing it, no pre-information.
By the November, my confidence was in the gutter; my
wife was trying to gee me up while trying to understand why I could not find
employment. By this time I didn’t want to work in hospitality. My wife was
often working late, the rugby season had ended in August and going to work
while she was at home was something I feared would divide us. From previous
relationships, having clashing timetables had detrimental effects on those
relationships when one person was returning home with the other already in bed,
plus working over the weekend’s nights (which most bars I visited demanded of
staff) – would be an extra difficulty. Having worked in the industry for so
many years, it didn’t fill me with confidence. So, I had to swallow a lot of
pride; take a deep breath and send for a police check – to local police, back
home to South Wales Police and Qatar - to allow me to teach. Living the dream.
Meanwhile, my mental health had got to the point that
I began wondering – after much soul-searching, still no luck on the job front
as well as money becoming an issue – I wanted to know what was wrong with me. I
thought; from the memories of my attention span swiftly leaving me at the age
of twelve – I had been consistently at the top of the class in school until
then – suddenly I had no want to learn, progress or pay attention. My doctor
referred me to a psychologist. After a few sessions, I was told it was
definitely not an Attention Deficit Disorder, but long-running depression.
Since the end of November 2013, I have been prescribed medication. This time, I
had to accept it. The struggles, the battling and difficulty accepting some situations
– it was a lot of me all along and had been for a long time. It opened up
another can of worms in my mind, but also answered a question. While I wasn’t
faultless in many years of embarrassing, painful and nightmarish flashbacks –
the nightmares were not each time justified by what I did, but created by a
different type of consciousness.
The nadir of the school experience which nearly
finished me off would have had to have been the class assistant whom I only had
for around two months towards the end of the school year – clearly without
enough time in my classroom to know my habits and quirks. When I distributed
subject or homework books to the class, I occasionally threw them lightly
towards their tables – or for them to catch. The person in question reported me
to the heads of department for throwing a book at a pupil, which at the time;
having coped for 75% of the year without an assistant – made me think, I was
fine without the new, excessive stress applied by the new addition. I wanted to
walk out that day, but unfinished business is unfinished business. I had to
finish the year, absurd humiliation or not – and thought I saw the end in
Yet as personally demoralising as that was – the
poison cream of a sour crop was the feeling of “we knew this was going to
happen” around the city regarding its lack of care for safety. On a larger and
more tragic scale than anyone would have wanted. Within touching distance of
the finishing line – at the end of the final assessments, which were a new
level of fatigue – the long end-of-May weekend brought events beyond heartache
for so many. The Villaggio shopping mall disaster of Monday, May 28th,
2012. Inadequate exits in a criminally-managed venue with illegally constructed
facilities - brought the deaths of nineteen individuals; thirteen children,
three of which were our pupils. One of whom was my pupil, Almudena
Fernandez-Travesedo and her little brothers Camilo and Alfonso, along with
their friend Isabel Vela, whom I taught mathematics.
I shall never forget the hurried memorial ceremony at
the family’s catholic church. Held on the following Wednesday, nine days after
the deaths. Naturally, there was a huge overflow of attendees in support.
Having to take a large bouquet of flowers to the family after the service and
hug both parents was one of the hardest moments of my time in Qatar. As
harrowing - was the following media silence and censorship of any coverage or
direct focus on the reasons for the tragedy. Completely below the law. But the
togetherness and support of parents, teaching staff and assistants in the final
month of the term was a proud moment.
By then the experience of living in that land was more
than tainted – I had already handed in my resignation (by February we had to
indicate our plans for the following year) and had been offered a non-teaching
job with my wife-to-be’s company, as a quality assessor, so my staying in the
country was to only work as long as she wanted to stay. In another almost
spooky twist of fate, on the penultimate week of the school year, on the home
stretch – with my sponsorship apparently guaranteed for when I was to return, a
married man – the job offer was withdrawn, due to lack of funds. This was a
typical characteristic of Qatar – make plans before the financial guarantee,
then a collapse of plans. This meant a final day scramble, asking the business
manager to ensure the school’s owner would give me a pardon to return after the
wedding, as my wife would be working – but I wouldn’t. Literally, five minutes
before my final departure from the school, the owner agreed to allow me back
into the country. Provided I did not work for another school. How kind. Almost
like a Roman emperor, sparing the serfs. I had no plans to work for another
school – my mind was as puddled with education as was the law forthright in
Doha, so a break from teaching was an absolute must. I left school for the last
time in the back of a taxi, thankful to Terry; the principal for ensuring I
wasn’t going to live apart from my missus having just got hitched; but also
flicking Vs at the school itself out of the back windscreen, against the faceless
culture which had developed from my department’s management – and the way it
had made me feel.
On a lighter note – one of the demographic populous
which was always smiling, always in big groups – probably because they were
possibly shipped over together to work for less than I was paid – was the
ultra-chipper Philippine retail legion. They were retail. From McDonalds, to expensive
Timex watch retailers, to the bar staff at the Irish Bar at the
Intercontinental. Always smiling, never really trained in their jobs – but who
would have trained them in customer service when no-one knew any? Their almost
tribal togetherness (apart from their godliness) was something to be admired.
Anyway, waffle over. My last – very last fatty, greasy KFC was on my birthday
weekend seven years ago. Two hours before my wife to be arrived. It was she who
trained me – off the stuff.
It was memorable because the one thing which had
bothered me for the two years since moving there was why their spoken Ps were
Fs – and their Fs and Vs - were Bs. Anyway, in my usual end-of-week exhausted
“shove any old shite down my throat to fill me before beer o’clock” – I asked
for the “Family Bucket”. I know – what a fat bastard. But, my logic was – after
beer and for breakfast if needed, there would be relief food. The exchange rate
was around £1 sterling to QAR 5.5 riyals. So - ten quid for a family bucket for
the weekend. Thinking ahead.
“That’ll be pipty-pibe, riyals sirrrrr.”
I already had the grossly large bucket of Sprite in my
hand and was sipping it when he asked me for the pipty-pibe. Except the straw
was almost in my windpipe as I spluttered and choked with laughter.
“Cough…cough…how much? …cough”
“Pipty-pibe riyals, sirrrr.”
Luckily, I handed him the notes from my shaking arm
and limped out of KFC with the grease-bucket of chicken legs shuffling under
one arm; Sprite bucket under the other. I’d only recently had an ACL
reconstruction a week and a half earlier, so how I got out with any breath, or
stability in me – I don’t know. I think I got home and was texting friends with
my new favourite foreign phrase. Even today, the word fifty-five is often replaced
by the pipty-pibe, in conversation (as is the equally-habitual Arabic swapping
of verbs in simple questions – ‘how you are?’). Although now, having taught
English as a second language – I am aware of the consonant complexities in East
Asian languages – some don’t have Fs or Vs in their alphabets or pronunciation
at all. For me, it was one of the golden moments of a bizarre few years of
From a mental health perspective, it was the start of
a shift towards a more real, and necessary self-critical outlook for me (as if
I wasn’t self-critical enough in the first place). Living in a sandy space
station; an ether world where values, approach and priorities are constantly
questioned due to everything you’ve ever thought or believed – being given new
contexts and reasonability. Then
returning to your initial thoughts (such as “yes, the reason we have safety
measures is because we’ve learned from past tragedies – and not to be total,
lazy dickheads”); having been confirmed of their original validities. You see
individuals in similar situations to mine, trying to avert the locked-down
religious constitution and live, feeling any shade of normal which may be available.
For the next eight months, with the help of my wife’s
generous tax-free salary, being able to listen to BBC 6 Music for inspiration
and having sun - I sat and wrote a book (no, it didn’t materialise into
anything special, but the experience and idea was nice), but struggled with
where I was in the world. It all felt morally wrong, unyielding, socially and
career-wise – plus didn’t fill me with hope as far as people were concerned.
Hence writing the poem and being pushed to post it online so soon. There was no
work available – not for the want of trying – but I saw that correspondence via
email response didn’t actually exist. Almost as though it were a new phenomenon,
with not everyone (outside major corporations) on board. Postal addresses had
only just been created, so the circulation of mail was also in its infancy.
If I can advise anyone with expatriate life and
juggling with mental health in this part of the world, it is to do your
homework before moving there. More and more people do move there now, mistakenly
expecting an extensive busman’s holiday. Cater for your own interests – if you
are adventurous and embrace all cultures, including those with undemocratic social
inequalities and corruption (with a pinch of salt) – it may be a blast for you.
It is unquestionably more of a family environment than for a single person. I
saw plenty of people having the times of their lives there. Most of the time,
these were mothers in comfortable positions, enjoying seeing their kids grow in
mostly safe environments (compounds of villas, usually with swimming pools,
subsidised by their husband’s employers) with many other mothers in the same
position. But like Marmite, or Vegemite (as I was about to find out); it isn’t
As an expat, all of this new; location-based knowledge
gives you more of an appreciation of prologue; or “what came before”, as
Shakespeare said – what brought us to now, but also insight into why the
amazing architecture in these lands; or the music and verse which emanated from
the roots of beliefs, past or recent – translates into modern culture.
these have made today what it is in these particular regions - but are not necessarily what you’d expect (like, for the first time, watching
rich; grown-up, but morbidly obese Arabs in dish-dashes gorge on an
unmanageable mountain of TGI Friday food, while at the same time being told
that a big belly is highly regarded and a sign of status in their culture). It can be surreal when two worlds collide.
The most startling journey into the past was the
lesson of trust via meeting expats whom I thought were like-minded, culturally on
the same wavelength - vis-à-vis the outlook upon the blatant corruption
surrounding us daily; and its Machiavellian treatment of the self-designated
“lower” classes. I disagreed with the primitive social governance, but my
outlook was clearly not shared by many of my expat acquaintances
(those who shared it should know whom they are). Either that, or it was a
police state mentality - a ‘watch-but-shut-up’ circle of people in which I
lived. I could easily accept the difference in viewpoints of many South
African, or Eastern European colleagues whom I knew or worked with; their
relieved satisfaction and wanting to make the most of their situations. Almost
all of them had fled either mass poverty or a semi-guerrilla state which had
far less safety or financial gain than Qatar.
One daily cultural issue faced was this one. You would
walk into a bank and really labour to find available staff - to aid with an
enquiry. Most of the time it would be to cash a cheque or transfer money to
other countries. Bearing in mind they
had a very different way of operating and facilitating their services.
“Same-same, just different”, as local phraseology said. Each transaction
counter mostly had a member of staff sitting there – except they just took
their breaks there during busy times. While queues of twenty people waited,
they played games on their phones, or texted; or made personal calls in front
of the itchy crowd, which was never a great advert for the prospective bank.
Usually, the banks would be closing soon after work ended – usually between 3
or 4pm, so time was also very limited.
Added to the pressure cooker of work; at an international
school in which I taught between twenty-six and twenty-eight Year 2 pupils at
one given time; where, for my last year there I had no classroom assistant for
75% of the intense academic year in such a large and expectant class; a year also
unblessed with a few “vocal”, smartarse kids who led the attention span away
from the learning target – plus covering other lessons during my “planning
time” was a perpetual drain. With new Middle-Eastern parents who had no
understanding of British education customs or protocol – I pushed myself to the
point of mental breakdown. Had I not been planning a wedding at the end of the
academic year, with a goal in mind - I probably would have crashed and burned
badly, joining the large list of escapees from the staff roll due to not coping
(any astrologer or karma teacher would have had a field day on the place - teachers
in their thirties having strokes, various staff family members spookily and coincidentally
dying around the same time).
It seemed there was a dark cloud over the school, but
I stuck it out. Nevertheless, the strain had a lasting effect. Only with the
wreckage shown by time on my hands (too much) since - has revealed how
detrimental the atmosphere, the management of my department and anti-social
environment – actually was. Damage limitation is something I can be relieved to
have received. My father was broken by the teaching world when I was seventeen – stress-induced, nervous breakdown. I was determined to not be broken, but in an environment of cold, business-like
education; at the time, with a snowball effect of daily negativity - how would you know when too much has already happened?
What I didn’t accept was being called a racist, or
even a misogynist by referring to the customs of the land as hypocritical; the
culture as ultra-male (local women were not allowed ID cards to stop them using
the local hotel bars, yet husbands could – you had to show ID to enter any
licensed premises) and to some expats as “green-fingered” – in a poem I wrote
about the choking frustration of living there. I planned to publish it online on
the day I left the land for the last time; but had one day too many - of having
to bite my tongue, the “same-same but different” case of being ignored, with no
civil rights. It was even suggested to me that perhaps some felt I referred to
them. That certainly was not the case, as I’d witnessed behaviour and attitudes
by others in public places which was shocking – if truth be told (judge for yourselves https://nathjonesey-75.tumblr.com/post/43476740562/for-q).
I certainly don’t consider myself dumb or tactless enough to publish an article
calling out all of my acquaintances for something I don’t think; or believe. I certainly wasn’t referring to them either.
Once I’d posted the poem (a schoolboy error) on the dreaded Farcebook as I like to call it
– because of a mutual, native Qatari friend to the circle of friends who
lived like a tourist on holiday in his own land – being offended by the poem.
He was actually a really nice guy. He knew excatly what went on in the country and
laughed at it each time we were out together, so what I referred to in the poem
– were things he ironically joked about when we’d meet on weekends. Yet there’s
something about using satire and pathos in certain cultures, which does not
wash (this is a recurring theme as an expat). American singer Cat Power
recently told BBC 6 Music of a time when Patti Smith told her to use her music and
words and to not “internalise” her words and thoughts. “It’s your responsibility
to stand up and speak out for what you know is right…” This is what I’ve always
I value freedom of speech highly and felt it worth
mentioning. I left my own land a disillusioned individual looking for a new
start – I could easily write many a scathing verse about Britain. Like about Britain
in the early nineties, before travel became cheaper and the Empire state of
mind was still waved everywhere. Piers Morgan and his cronies still got away
with their devious tactics. It’s a bigger shame the Brits – in this case - suddenly
lost their ironic genes or their actual understanding, due to fear of being
caught agreeing with the truth. Even
more so with the rise of the right in the last decade. First world problems, as
they say. Lesson learnt, pain survived. Silly, silly, sarcastic me.
Considering antidepressants was never something I did.
Seeing depression as something I’d experienced a couple of times, passed and overcome was how I
lived. Been there, got over it and it’s gone. Even with the advice of friends
at the time, trying to politely suggest I was depressed. How wrong I was. Which is why it’s so
important for people to seek support. No matter where they are in the world.
communities of completely different people from everywhere, somewhat viewing
themselves as after the same goal in a small land and city; was a bit like a giant
holiday camp - with bizarre, inconsistent restrictions. You live, work and socialise with the same people, which I don’t believe is always a healthy mix, although it teaches you hard lessons. The best and worst in people is visible on a regular basis, especially under environmental duress. The culture outside of work, to a wide extent was a
very playgroundesque, almost bartering “you scratch my back etc…” ethic. Retrospect is something
everyone should consider when viewing their own mental health – sitting while being heard by a wellness professional is a timeline which can explain actions, reactions and consequences – not
just to you for understanding how you felt at the time but can pave the way
ahead. If you’re ready to embrace your weaknesses, rather than let them define
Among the random ideas which flood the mind when the
furthest one can travel is the front door – is the reminder that my nine-year
anniversary of leaving Britain occurred recently; on the 22nd of
August. Having just received possibly the biggest surgery operation my body has
faced; it left me with even more opportunity to flood the mind with
possibilities abound. What to do?
Nine years ago - was a huge crossroads in my life. At
the time when I was neither here nor there with career direction; having always
been a risk-taker – this was the time for a big gamble. Or so it seemed. While
my seat on the car of life appeared to be no more than passenger’s seat – with
limited distances to view – something had to change. Everyone else seemed to be
moving on with their lives, while I seemed to be stuck – a vision of Mark
Renton in Trainspotting; sitting in the bingo hall, watching the world go by in
time-lapse speed; feeling utterly grounded while everything else was moving at
ten times the pace. What was happening to my mind? Who was I?
After a hellish year for my well-being; feeling
spiritually ostracised having had to move back to live with my parents after a
disastrous masquerade of an engagement crashed to an overdue ending; the
thoughts of “this town’s too small for the both of us” reined true. I needed a
trap door exit – that’s what I got. The week before leaving, I remember turning
into an embarrassing emotional waterfall at one of my best friend’s weddings.
Part-emotional exhaustion, part-fear of what lay ahead, part-end of days.
Looking at the backdrop of living in Wales in 2009 –
in the mire of a financial depression; couldn’t get a permanent teaching
contract, friends getting married, having kids; some moving away or just being
chained to their own hellish relationships – and – just to remind – still
living with my parents temporarily in a dying town – anywhere would do.
Ah, the gloom of it all. Yet, as history repeatedly
broadcasts through so many different stories, having your back against the
wall, digging deeply into your soul to find whatever may be there – is one of
the most important processes anyone can undertake. Leaving what I clung to,
having been so important for me – my home town, but had become less and less of
a home for me during the mid-2000s - in fact I had no real flag or designation
as to where my ‘home’ truly was by August 2009. So, moving to a nation, smaller
than Wales – of which I knew precious little – had to lead me somewhere,
eventually. Still, I left with an open mind, ready to learn, progress and start
The new world of teaching in Qatar – eyeopener, new
cultures, new friends and acquaintances; new sacrifices, new life lessons and
ways of thinking. Nowadays, since the rocket-rise and monopoly of social media
and internet living in the past decade, one of the most popular adages to 21st
Century life is that of adapting. Being capable of adapting to change and the
‘sink-or-swim’ ethos. By becoming a teacher, I’d already accepted the reality
of growing up, sacrificing some parts of life – for instance giving up one of
my passions in DJing and the social side of living in the mid-thirties (although some would disagree this even exists!). What I needed now was to
get a good, three-year stint of successful teaching, then the world was my
oyster. Or was that clam? Who knew what fishy future lay ahead?
From my first day in the dusty cauldron of Doha, I
witnessed unexpected cultural diversions. Modern slavery dumping itself right
in front of my eyes. My new vice-principal took me to a supermarket to pick up
groceries, while giving me a run-down of what lay ahead for the weeks to come,
plus some dos and don’ts. The stark and horrifying sight of a local woman
ordering a poor shop assistant – from a neighbouring land – Nepal, India,
Bangladesh, maybe. “Get me this… get me that”, brandishing an aggressive
pointed finger as the cowering man obeyed with little dignity.
This was a prevalent theme for the whole time I was
there. Social order. For the first time in unannounced, but clear
wind-announced designation – I was a second-rate citizen. Locals in their
distinctive dish-dashes and burqas (and usually with an entourage of between
three and five children plus a nanny) would waltz or march past you – plus half
a dozen others – in a queue and more often than not, be served by the overcome
Philippine member of staff behind the counter.
As Qatar was only founded a year before my birth, it
was clear that this ‘society’ thing was a work-in-progress project.
The hierarchy of social standings ran this way:
2. Western first world nations (mainly Caucasian)
3. Philippines and African nations
4. Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and other impoverished
It was clear you would not challenge this on a legal level. Due to the
fact that it was clearly a corrupt and hypocritical society which domineeringly
favoured the number one demographic on the list. Along with the religious
constitution of the law which could not be crossed, roads were the closest
thing to land-based traffic outer-space skies, as seen in some of the Star Wars
prequels. Insane. Infants sitting on the drivers’ laps with no seatbelt worn
and the windows wide open. Every journey on the road would see an accident.
Every single one. In the first three months of Doha life, I’d seen more (and
way more horrifying) road accidents – than I had in thirty-four years on
British roads. Not to mention the alive-and-thriving (as a public invitation
event, occasionally) death penalty.
Regarding the religious constitution issue, startling
as it was – the Qatari people seemed the lesser intense of the mixed
demographics – for enforcing these laws. For the first three years of loud,
triphonic Mosque calls to prayer alarm - wakeups to my bedroom at around 4:15am
daily – the hard line of all the Muslim community seemed to be recognised by
their different coloured dish-dashes. In other words, anything not white (or
the more polished-looking gents) came from Oman, Yemen, Afghanistan; or any
other gulf nation apart from Qatar or the UAE. Both of which were plentiful in
natural gas and oil.
Also, regarding religion was the absolution of my own confusion
of beliefs. Having considered myself an agnostic for many years, time on my
own; time observing other cultures and time to read and research not only
religious history on those slow, exhausted Friday mornings (as Fridays and
Saturdays were the weekend days) before crazy, gluttonous brunches filled
Friday afternoons – time to read and research not only religious history, but
actual history; pre-Biblical and pre-historic.
I can only speak for myself, my own personal religious
box in which I lived as a child (and sweated to escape), plus the megaplex of
cultures in which I’ve lived since becoming an adult; but everything became
clearer, demisted and personally strengthening. But also – as instantaneously
bewildering, when you see other religions practised around you - as
fundamentally – if not more archaically than that which you were smothered as a
kid. Each would argue their own correctness and validity, of course. To see
this happen; amidst modern, sophisticated holy wars, personal traumas and the
awareness that in their new, yet old worlds; it’s always been the same – that
before all of these scriptures, faiths, doctrines or whichever beliefs were
practised, written and realised – there was always a world. There was still
good and evil, still creatures; nature, discoveries to be made, findings to be
found and an unknown rest of the world, which no-one could imagine.
Football was my first love. As a lifelong supporter of
football and of Liverpool Football Club since the age of eight, having had many,
many heroes along the way who have represented both Liverpool and Wales,
England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland (although very few Northern Irish have
played for us in the last hundred years); as a non-English fan watching the
World Cup – I feel I have to say something.
Even living in Australia, the coverage and flood of
news, social media and almost subliminal Anglicised message has for probably the
first time left me completely done with what I have seen for the past
forty-three years in smaller quantities. Yes, I’m referring to the “it’s coming
home” campaign. Almost as cringeworthy as watching Brexiteers preach their shadowy
white utopian message of segregation to the ever-changing world.
Let’s get down to business and not waste words. When
you have a land nation as small as England but with the population of over 66 million
people and the multi-city industries which would have and in the past, did usurp half
the world’s nations, but compare it to that of Scotland’s 5.45 million, Wales’
3 million and Northern Ireland’s 1.8 million – it is – logistically – a hardship
to try seeing the four nations as a “Union”. So, when every bit of news broadcast
either on established television and radio means, or on the new social media
platforms, whence you find tens of thousands of hidden social media broadcasters,
with hidden agendas but a false togetherness in ideologies – the washout of overbearing
tidal waves of those words – “it’s coming home” – will be something the English
will never face. Mainly because they will never be colonised or squashed down
by regal arrogance.
I have proudly supported an English football club team for almost
as long as I can remember.
I studied my first degree in England and have lived in
England for an eighth of my life which would have been more like a third of my
life - had I not emigrated. Some of the best times of my life were spent in England.
I have English members of my extended family. Some of
my best friends are English and I love the banter we have (provided it’s
something more original than being called a Sheep-Shagger, these days) as well as having various other English friends from different walks of life.
I have had (brief) English girlfriends. Many of my
musical, literary, sporting and artistic heroes have been English. Match of the
Day has probably been the programme I’ve watched more times than any other in
my lifetime. I miss the BBC’s coverage – so would anyone from Britain with
language standards, had they seen international television coverage.
I’m also the one who annoyingly corrects Aussies,
Kiwis, Canadians and Yanks when they call the game “soccer” instead of
football. It was the first type of football and justifiably – as John Cleese
said “It’s a game played with a ball that is struck with the foot. Hence,
I would even go as far as saying I’ve actually wanted
England to do well in past football World Cups (particularly if influential
Liverpool players have been involved) and felt Gareth Southgate’s pain with “that”
penalty in Euro ’96. There. Said it. Purged. Yet I couldn’t sing God Save The
Queen - even when the British and Irish Lions are playing. Or call Britain the
United Kingdom, because it’s not united. I am unequivocally Welsh. Welsh is my
first language. I roll my eyes every time a foreigner asks in expectant voice “Are
you English?” or “You’re English, aren’t you?” Wales is not represented on the Union Jack.
For many of these past tournaments, it’s been because
Wales has not qualified for these tournaments. Sometimes by the smallest and most
harrowing of margins, or debatable refereeing decisions. I have also equally,
if not more so at times - cheered Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic
of Ireland on in any given competition in which my country has not qualified. I
do not hate the English. Quite the opposite, in fact. When, however; periods of time occur – as this one is
sweeping the little island of Britain this month – what jumps out in front of
your eyes – is the clear and demonstrative evidence of why people do hate the
Colonial earth may be seemingly a thing of the past, except
its legacy lives on in the exhibitions of how Neanderthals are alive and
kicking in 2018. It’s very hard to not jump to visual conclusions of white,
obese, obesely-tattooed crewcut males with their tops off; throwing beer
everywhere and bellowing “ENG-GER-LAND” – ironically in numerous places – outside
England. As spine-chilling as is the vision of Piers Morgan; at the other end
of the spectrum – highly educated, pompous; corrupt, wealthy and in touch with
like-minded establishmentarian dung machines. These do not represent the liberal,
progressive English with whom I identify. Is the 66-3 ratio making sense yet?
I went to see The Mary Whitehouse Experience live at
the Swansea Grand Theatre when I was seventeen, gaining David’s and Rob Newman’s
autographs on my ticket after the show. Fantasy Football was one of my very few
weekly viewing staples on television in the mid-nineties. I’m still hoping to
see David’s show here in September, when he brings it to Melbourne. Baddiel and
Skinner, in other words are personalities I have enjoyed watching, in other
words. The whole bandwagoning of “it’s coming home” has been started from some
exciting – yet not wholly testing games for the England football team. The Euro
’96 tournament was held in England, so the tournament was held (as should this
year’s World Cup have been, but that’s another corruption story) – in England. So,
for Messrs. Baddiel and Skinner and The Lightning Seeds – there was enough
reason for the land of the game’s origin – to sing those words.
This was all at a time when many of this year’s
England squad hadn’t been – or had barely - been born. Which is why the
Generation Y aspect of many of this year’s squads is harder to appreciate –
because their appreciation seems limited. It’s the age of diving, harassing referees
and feeling entitled. It’s not the talent or work-rate on the field in question
here, but the attitude. I hope for Gareth Southgate’s sake – as for any other
manager nowadays – if they manage to rein in the egos to a manageable level,
they deserve congratulating. Yet, for 2018’s case, how many times has England
won the World Cup? Once. How many times has Brazil won the World Cup? Five
times. Surely, they; in modern times – would have as much a right as England would
– to call their land “football’s home.” The same as in rugby union terms – you identify
New Zealand with the biggest hotbed of the sport’s talent.
I definitely wish Jordan Henderson and Trent
Alexander-Arnold the very best in the remaining competition. As do I Dejan
Lovren and Roberto Firmino. As a football fan primarily, you’d want to see the
beautiful game justify its mantle and all its talented players see their best
days, gracing the game with what millions of us would love to have. Should
England go all the way and win it – with such a young squad, respect would be
due. Living in Australia, though; may also be the appropriate place for me to
live if they do, as I don’t think the repetition, the national egos (especially
considering Brexit’s current utter shambles) and the countless keyboard
warriors and the presumptuous media and government “we” (as if everyone SHOULD
be happy) and of course…. Piers Morgan, the lager lads and the precious Royal
Family; which incidentally has one very saved Queen, whether she has a god on
her side, or not.
To sum it all up, I will use the Religion is like a
Winning a World
Cup is like having a penis (I nearly typed Piers Morgan there).
It’s fine to
It’s fine to be
proud of it (definitely not Piers Morgan).
But please don’t
constantly whip it out in public and start waving it around or trying to shove
it down mine – or my children’s throats.
Last Saturday, despite the unfortunate results, I was faced with the pleasantly abstract decision of which jersey to wear, as both of my teams, #Scarlets and #Liverpool were playing huge finals one after another. As the sun broke through my bedroom window - this was the situation. Pondering.
People may find
it strange when they hear a South-Walian accent who claims to “support” a
football team from a city; 162 miles (260 km) away from their home town. Well… I
say people…. it’s almost always people from cities, with no concept of small
town, tribal rivalries. Or no real thought or concept of larger land mass nations
with 260 kilometres between one town or city – and the next piece of human
settlement or civilisation.
Ever since I
can remember being able to walk or run, there has been a football or rugby ball
nearby. Which may suggest why all I wanted to do was play from a young age.
Except – there were clashes of interest in this equation. After growing out of
the 5-7 “Star Wars”, “Dukes of Hazzard” and “CHiPs” age group of ‘shotgunning’
which character you wanted to be – almost every playtime I can remember (apart
from the oft-banned Bulldogs where someone always ended up with a bloody nose)
involved playing football on the school yard.
years between 1982 and ’84 were pivotal in my life. As my father and
grandfather passionately indoctrinated me into the church of Stradey Park; the
home of Llanelli RFC for over a hundred years, it was natural – as a Llanelli
boy, to follow suit. I used to travel to watch the Scarlets play away matches
at all of the rival grounds as a boy. Swansea RFC ‘s St. Helens Ground, The Gnoll
in Neath, the Brewery Field in Bridgend, the Talbot Athletic in Aberavon, Rodney
(Dave) Parade in Newport and of course, the Arms Park and the old National
Stadium in Cardiff. It was pretty much an annual trip there for a few years
between 1988 and 1993!
abuse towards my team and us, the supporters from rival fans from all of 12,
15, 25 and 50 miles away in these grounds – when my uncle, a season ticket
holder during Swansea City’s halcyon (!) days of the old English First Division
in 1983 – took me just before my eighth birthday to watch them play Ipswich
Town on the last home Saturday game of that season, I wanted them to win. But
not in the same way as I wanted the Scarlets to win. I remember it was a 1-1
draw with a disallowed Swansea goal in the last minute. The Swans were
relegated and the attendance that day was a paltry 8,568 which I left wondering
why I didn’t have as much passion as my uncle.
By then, I’d
seen attendances at Stradey of over 15,000, touring international sides and
more importantly; a fervour, a voice, intensity and not least; an identity. When
Llanelli played Swansea, it was the Turks versus the Jacks. You can bet your
bottom penny it didn’t lack the element of hostility. Therefore, the notion of
supporting of my home town but also being expected to support a football team from
what seemed like far enough away - whose fans also would say “Ew cowin’ Turks!
Ew gets away with eeeverythen!” to us – didn’t really make sense. Ironically,
here I am; almost light years away from whence I call “home”, talking about
year, as I saw more and more rugby in Llanelli; conversely, I saw more and more
football on the television. It was a double act; one which would overshadow any
excitement which Starsky and Hutch, Bo and Luke Duke, Jon and Ponch; or even Skywalker
and Solo had ever done - which set my eyes alight and my footballing soul on
fire. The goal machine of my Welsh hero Ian Rush and the smiles and subliminal
skills of Kenny Dalglish, as well as the togetherness of Liverpool Football
Club, became the be-all and end-all of my football interests.
later at the start of 1985 came my first visit to Anfield, thanks to my father’s
persistence in getting tickets. Despite
boyhood fears of sounding “different” as I didn’t have a Scouse accent, the
best thing happened to quell them (See https://nathjonesey-75.tumblr.com/post/107279282904/thank-you-anfield
from a few years ago). The January snow was no barrier to our journey. I saw a
pink ball for the first time as we beat Aston Villa 3-0 in the FA Cup third round.
The welcoming people of Liverpool just made the journey worth it, from asking directions to Anfield, to our first meal at the old Beefeater restaurant, and pre-match with what I became
accustomed to as the naturally friendly; hardy, inherently-jokey dispositions which came
with a city fighting for its pride at a time of vast unemployment when we arrived and to top it all off; when
the teams ran out with us sitting in the Kemlyn Road Stand, Steve Nicol,
Liverpool’s right-back kicked a plastic club ball sponsored by Crown Paints,
signed by himself – into the crowd and in true Ray Clemence catching-a-cross
style, my father caught it. This heightened the electricity of Anfield’s
atmosphere for the first time. Immensely. Some moments in life stay with you
forever – this was one of them.
following year, we did the same again (minus the acrobatic, heroic signed ball
catch). Through the snow we ploughed. Ridiculously, leaving Llanelli which had
sludge as the seaside water cycle never really gave us any heavy snow, until twenty
miles north; into the hills and vales of mid-Wales all you could see was
whiteness. Again, the pink ball, again the heavy 5-0 win and the season
blossomed into one of the best and most vivid in memory, even after the tragedy
of the 1985 European Cup Final.
So, for all
the tiresome, patronising voices I hear saying the words “support local” when
it comes to sporting teams, have a think about how local you mean and how much
of an identity - individuals feel with sides within any given distance. I had
friends at school in Llanelli who supported Swansea and Neath ‘s rugby teams because
members of their family had played for those clubs. How many Cardiff City fans
come from the Rhondda Valley, given that twenty-five years ago Merthyr Town
were playing football in European competitions, also still play in an English
league? How many of those can speak Welsh or know the words to “Hen Wlad Fy
Nhadau”? I completely understand animosity with fair-weather fans; like those
who flitted between supporting Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United in the
mid-90s. Those who watch cup finals when form is strong and no other matches. Or
those who wouldn’t know the history of their “chosen” clubs.
heartbreaking for a time; was the time where I went to watch Liverpool play at
Camp Nou in a Champions League group match in 2002; where a gang of us
travelled from Cardiff, while I lived there; to Barcelona. Wearing our LFC shirts;
we entered a bar, full of Scousers the night before the match. I’m not
particularly sure why, but two smart-arses decided we weren’t worthy of
following the Reds and chanted “Have you ever been to Anfield?” at us. I’m relieved
that there were others there saying “Ignore those knobheads!”
I have lived
and breathed both Llanelli Rugby Football Club – now Scarlets – and Liverpool
Football Club, for as long as my coherent memory serves me. Through the glory
days of the eighties and early nineties for both teams, through the desolation
and tragedy of Heysel and of Hillsborough for Liverpool; through humiliation of
near closure and hatred from the rest of South Wales’ rugby community for
Llanelli. Through the misery of watching another rival team dominate half of my
adult life’s English Premier League, but the sweet, sweet moments in places
like Dortmund 2001; and atmospheres at The Imperial in Melbourne, home of LFC
Melbourne. Sweet moments like beating World Champions Australia in 1992 or getting
up at 3am – here in Australia - to watch Scarlets win the PRO14 last year,
despite the bane of living so far away.
occasion such as today’s to have come around; where both teams play at stages
as high as the PRO14 Final and the Champions League Final, one after another –
is the stuff I grew accustomed to as a boy. Yet with changing eras, that never
happened before in one calendar day, even as a boy in the silverware-laden
eighties. Tonight, I am still dallying with staying up for the duration, until
7am tomorrow morning. The excitement in just a few hours will be unbelievable,
so I’m not quite sure whether it will be Melatonin for a short sleep, or Mother
and Vodka to power through. The previews and emotional trailers have already
begun on social media, so it’ll be a long day whichever choice transpires.
be prouder of my teams; the town of Llanelli and the city of Liverpool and what
they have represented in me for my life so far. All I ask is for pride in performance,
as it will be worthy of the support which has followed both sets of supporters
to Dublin and Kiev, respectively. Expecting
both teams to win, would be a bit selfish. Wouldn’t it?
How should an overweight, acutely arthritic; depressive, selective, passionate; although potentially-promising forty-two-year-old move on from yet another job debacle? A square in a circle seem to be one way of looking at it when in the above situation.
But, for anyone whose careers could be compared to a mis-curated smorgasbord of roles; a jack of all trades, master of only segments, that haunting, recurring and frankly – nuisance – question of “What do I do now?” – appears to have reared its Chunk-from-The Goonies head again.
Yes, my latest temporary role at a busy, fast-becoming a corporation – style of office, ended prematurely a few days ago. My immediate biggest fear was not of another overstretched period of unemployment, but of my wife’s possible reaction to us facing financial hardship. Purely because my efforts in the job and exhaustion by the time my role ended due to the hard work – did not reflect truly in my early exit, or the actual result of my assignment. I have no shame for my performance. Even my line manager testified to this while delivering the bad news. Square and circle, again.
There are situations I fear far more than being unemployed by now – like having to move back to live with my parents (I think they’s be scared as well), or the natural middle-age fear of losing someone close to me. Or worse still, the possibility of both together. This would probably push me to dropping off the grid and hiding on some remote island.
Because I know my wife’s career, since I’ve been with her these past seven years – has been far more progressive, consistent and stellar. So I immediately would feel the pangs of her frustration, for all of her hard work and patience, as well as her own anxiety for financial hardship. One big, vicious, middle-aged, first world grown up circle of crisis.
“This is life”, I hear you say. Yes, it is. Which is why, after constructing such a faltering and doubly-reinvented CV, I don’t particularly have that much anxiety any more - as long as ‘Me Joolee’ is OK and remains hopeful rather than worried.
My work-in-progress working life has been riddled with irony, what-ifs and crossroads. Like deciding to return to university at 29, to study something I said at 18 I’d never become – a primary teacher, to gain a second degree while at the time I was thriving in hospitality. At the time this was done to cater for a clashing lifestyle with my ex-girlfriend whom got up as I was getting to bed, either as a bar manager or DJ. The second irony is that we split up three days before my PCGE course began, instantly forcing me out of the flat I rented from her parents and having to sleep on sofas for a month.
Fourteen years later it remains one of the toughest years of my life, due to the obstacles which even at the time I felt were suggesting that maybe teaching was not the career for me. Yet I wouldn’t be here now, on the other side of the world, had the ridiculous year not occurred. I am glad I can look back, perhaps roll my eyes and even shake my head and say to myself in absurd abandon – “what was I like??” Even the years fighting depression; including that one year, allow me to look ahead and focus upon what I would like to do.
To have a more tailored job description for my real wants, needs and skills would actually be a dream come true. Since my dad told me at ten years old that I wouldn’t be good enough to play for Liverpool, I have never really had a sophisticated game plan. But something which would extend my creative side. Something which may not be a nine-to-five, but for which I wouldn’t mind working the anti-social hours. Something which does not contain anti-social parents at my door each afternoon, or kids with no social awareness; or managers with narrow-minded, selfish values (that may be difficult in this day and age!), or disjointed commuting distances which can wear your energy levels down.
Then again, I may have to deal with all of the above as a first-step job – just to stabilise the finances. Who knows? The important bits are that today I don’t feel in a rut because my biggest fear was unfounded. I do have support at home and we can have a few (cheap, for Australian prices) drinks on a Sunday afternoon, knowing I’ll throw myself into the mindless arena of job-hunting tomorrow. That I don’t have to see my doctor for possible counselling appointments, or to possibly re-evaluate whether I need strong medication. I’ve been there before. This time I’m going to win.
You talk so possessively Like you invented time And all the land’s real soul roots Were washed away with lime And orange-onion-sauerkraut And any other caucas - Entitled royal pomp and flake Gluttoned new worlds to carcass. These ancient - yet so childlike - laws, Your ego elders did equate As gods they acted, fiends; behaved And bad society did create. Ran from sickened monarchy In overpreparation, Thus fixing such a vulgar tool As “essential” for the nation. What “right”? What paranoia speaks, For power-spoilt weak subjects - Can only view to a Roman nose, Through blinkered eyes as rejects. Stop thinking in - as freedom fails, Learn from the seas of culture, Which flow outside your federal cells Not as hovering legal vultures; And halt the loss of cheapened lives For sanctified defences By shooting your amendment’s view Through its one-eyed fragile lenses.
I’m very grateful for today’s Melbourne weather, being as would be seasonally expected. Clear blue sky, no clouds and a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. Had it not been so, with the summer having another deviant day as was Friday’s deluge, then today might well have been another long, trudged, unproductive few hours.
Waking earlier to more desperately tragic news from close friends; as well as more notable public figures gone too soon – for anyone of hopeful heart – is not the way to start the day. Regardless of circumstance or mental health condition – bad news is unwelcome bad news. Particularly when it follows bad news in rapid, repetitive succession; as the past, automatic pistol of a month seems to have been. So for the motivationally-challenged, it can become a deeper test. Which is why nations wherein the sun shines more often, tend to be viewed as the supposedly jollier nation states.
However, Mr Sun can be an uplifting fellow, yet not always with the magic wand of warmth in the humdrum of daily life. It can help bring smiles of appreciation on a multitude of faces for a day, but is not mystic enough to do things such as create jobs instantaneously. Or turn evil to good. Or cure diseases. While it can keep the more grumpy of us - less grumpy – in the name of mindfulness and well-being, I for one will always welcome it with a hillsides and vales warmth which us Welsh should still be keeping. Wherever we are.
Because, the thing with nasty combinations such as Trump and power; X-Factor and Saturday nights, Fosters and anything which contains it, or in my case – unemployment and depression; if any of these concoctions take over your lives, it’s not going to be a healthy position! I’m fortunate that while I have lived through four previous Januaries in Melbourne, where almost every aspect of industry, bar tourism dries up – so if you’re out of work, it can become a wall-crawling experience. By that I don’t mean extreme sports or Spider-Man suddenly become vital. You just may as well not expect to get a job until at the earliest – the start of February.
You could apply for a heap of roles, spend days knocking out attempts at employment and never receive as much as a reply from any of them. While the world carries on with its summer madness. There have been so many moments where wanting life to return to routine and normality to kerb the lows of rejection, that in the end you have to learn to play desertion at its own game. You strangle my job opportunities? I’ll enjoy the sunshine. You stop me affording nights out in an expensive land? I’ll find a cheaper way of doing it.
Unreciprocated correspondence (or modern bureaucratic rudeness) is something I’m sure wasn’t as polluting, years ago. I’m pretty sure there would be far more letters of apology, even in the days without the electronic boom of the internet. So while it’s easy – and understandable – to lose faith in people, organisations, systems and society – being a professional/semi-professional/amateur/freelance chameleon is something you learn to become. Again, in particular while careers are changed or altered. No-one tells you that any extensive experience you had in administration years ago, in another country – would be worthless. Why, that would be ridiculous advice! Save you all those worthless hours of applying? Don’t be daft! You need to be banging your head against a wall first before anyone blinks!
Yes, I’d be lying if I professed to always having had these approaches or techniques. Even when you read up articles or “expert” advice on defeating anxiety, depression or improving your CV – you try many ways, but get as frustrated with listening, then trying and not improving your situation – as you were before listening.
The whole motivational equation is one silent, yet deadly little parasitic wheel.
When this vicious circle grips you, like being locked onto a rollercoaster which you convince yourself you must stay on, then the mind tricks via doubts start. Were it a situation of fending for myself and only myself, I’m pretty sure I’d have moved to Byron Bay or back to London. But when your partner is in a progressive professional role – and that relationship side of your life is rather special and worth keeping (otherwise what was the point in the first place?) – being supportive in return for support rewards you, keeping you that hopeful heart.
It is a precarious, ever-evolving outlook at the age of forty-two, when nothing is concrete in your working life. While you keep your own personal hopes, goals and needs – without kids to fix (or bend) your life balance, things still remain open to happening. It’s definitely nice to not have to take the dearer,peak-time holidays during school breaks any more, as a teacher or parent, but the eternal kid in me – while mindful to a degree; eating healthily through the week, trying to exercise this rusty frame with mainly Pilates-based workouts; come five o’clock on a Friday, it often feels like the raver in me never wanted to be discarded for growing-up purposes.
When you are frequently presented with shocks, disappointment and tragedies; when all the advice, good practice and moderation has been exhausted and when all your efforts feel like trying to single-handedly overcome Agent Smith and his cyber-cronies – remember that mindfulness for each person is like clothes fitting. You may be similar – almost identical in sizes to many others, but there will be something which fits you differently, or that you want to wear which sets you apart. It may be as small as a badge, belt, hat, shoe colour or even haircut.
When the sun won’t shine wherever you are, weather-wise or in your minds, listen to your needs. Your own personal, particular, finicky, fussy, weird, unique needs. If it’s a walk to the beach, a favourite film, a session at the gym or even a blowout with the only company you can find, to clear the cobwebs of your struggles away, don’t fight it out mentally due to an over-talkative, indecisive conscience. Make hay while the sun shines. As we Northern-Europeans know – summer is not guaranteed.
years ago, Bjork’s first album; Debut – made a huge statement in its
first song, “Human Behaviour”. The first lines spoke:
“If you ever get close to a human
ready, be ready to get confused
definitely, definitely, definitely no logic
yet so, yet so irresistible
there’s no map…”
Whilst I began
writing this a few weeks ago, on holiday
- as a personal review of 2017, the refreshing of mind, the starting of
a new year and inadvertent reflections as usual - bolster the topics to be
covered. Bjork happened to come in a brainwave which fits in to the last year’s
many incidents. Hear me out.
back to 1993 – twenty-five years ago - and when I bought the album, thinking
what kind of year it was. I was experiencing real bereavement for the first
time as my grandfather and other close relatives from my his (my mother’s) side
of the family, were lost. My father first experienced the depths of mental
health issues clashing with work, forcing him to retire from his headmaster’s
position. I was supposedly sitting important exams, which had to be retaken. At
the same time, I broke through into the Welsh Schools U-18 Rugby Union squad.
Llanelli RFC were arguably the best rugby club in Britain at the time, having
won the league and cup double, before the European Cup was introduced.
Liverpool FC was still recovering from the highs of the 1980s and the low of
Hillsborough. I also began learning the guitar. Still a kid, wanting to leave a
small town and see the world. Master Naïve, esq at your service.
behaviour analogy clicked into the same gear as my first ideas of how we humans
like to peculiarly categorise things for reference purposes. Music and arts are
sorted into genres. Wine into grape and year. OK… I’m already listing my priorities
in life, but there is a point, as I will focus primarily upon wines and how
they are recognised by their makers; as well as connoisseurs for the quality of
anybody who wouldn’t understand the term “a good year” in wine terms – this directs
the drinker or buyer into knowing the climate of that year and its effect on
wine standards and grape fermentation. In my-almost five years of life in
Australia, I know 2013 was a good year for making Cabernet Sauvignon (my
preferred red), as it is a dry climate red wine. During that year, the grapes in
the dryer areas ripened on a long summer of high temperatures,creating a great
selection of wines of this grape from certain regions in Australia.
people reflect upon years in the same way – personal years – the climate of
mood and high - or low temperatures; of happenings and incidents in lives along
with health, as we get older – will dictate to our recall whether it was a good
year, a passable year; a bad year, or a “this wine is vile plonk, waiter” –
kind of year. When Bjork’s Debut first arrived, all I knew of wine was that
France was supposedly la crème de la crème
of making it, having only travelled as far as France, Germany and Cyprus in
my then - eighteen years. The only wines which pubs in small town Wales near me
served in those days – were the lavish choices of….red and… white.
vast majority of friends, acquaintances and public writers would agree that
2016 was like a sour, flat, out-of-date Echo Falls red; this past twelve months
since the “year of grand obituaries” – has not been short of incidents. Moving
into January 2017 I felt a necessary steely resolve, not only within myself to
face the world head-on, but by the sensitive wider public in the face of
political adversity and solidarity i.e. terrorism, the rise of the far right,
dumb voting and megalomaniac buffoon “leaders” (easier to narrow down the worst
ones by their own anti-title).
encourangement that this was the approach and long may it continue. For my own
personal year was packed with more and more corners to turn than New Zealand’s
mountainous, indirect roads. Spectacular views along the way, yet
flabbergastingly ongoing for such short distances. It was as much a relief as
it was a shuddering shock at point of diagnosis in March; to learn that I have
had deteriorating osteoarthritis in
my left hip for over fifteen years. Knowing where exactly it happened (as it was
intensely painful at the time), nearly eighteen years ago – and that a guy with
whom I played football as a kid – did it maliciously, causing gradual physical
damage to me since then was the hardest part to swallow. Still, I don’t have to look like
an overweight carthorse on the rugby masters pitches any more (wink-wink,
nudge-nudge, say no more ;) ).
It was a
year of beginnings, sporting highs; tragedy and heartbreak; along with the steadiest
of professional change progress through learning. Returning to work in a
previous capacity was good, despite a gratuitous office ogre choosing to make
daily life a little hairy. Seeing my
beloved Scarlets return to champion
material has been a long time coming, but oh, so sweet. The British and Irish Lions also gave me
great pride in July, as did Melbourne
Storm in October (and throughout the season), living in very unhomely sport
territory. Losing a dear friend to bowel cancer – a young mother of thirty and
wife of a dear, close friend was almost as heartbreaking and awakening as the
sheer time-stopping revelation itself, when it happened. Living on the other
side of the world in that instance is such an indigestible matter. If there is
no logic to human behaviour, then there is as little in such demons as cancer
or depression. You are missed, Jas.
I have, in
recent years wanted to play more of a part in raising awareness and support for
my chosen charities, thus this was as biting an invitation as could come. Plus
it added to my ethos of 2017 of putting myself out of my comfort zone in order
to face fear. In November, I was honoured to raise $2000AUD for beyondblue - my own drive for mental health awareness – which was shared with Bowel Cancer UK, in memory of Jasmine
Penarroja. A taste of how to raise more money next time was a personal
highlight. Of course, jumping out of a plane also was, but it’s also a promise
to myself that next time will be better and will raise more revenue.
the whole mental health cause (while again remembering Bjork’s line that there’s
“no logic to human behaviour”), I can say that my daily, weekly, monthly and
long-term management of depression
has benefitted. Facing, identifying and managing what is a daily crusade – can be
done. Plus sharing stories, communing with others and knowing there is a way;
there is a reason for staying alive and there are people who want you alive –
not dead – is the message. I am aware to the grass’ roots beneath my feet that
to people who struggle worse than I do – it may be easier said than done – but that’s
the point of raising awareness and the steely resolve I mentioned earlier.
Having a wonderful wife and partner with the patience of an archangel as well
as her own tribulations – also helps. So don’t ostracise yourselves from each
other, people. While one person’s logic is another’s melange, you can only make
it work how ONLY you need it.
piano lessons after thirty years was
a highlight, as was another jump from the comfort zone to perform at a recital.
Upon a grand piano. At a church. Oof. Comfort zone well and truly guffed out and
almost followed through there. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the last
month or so of 2017 was recording DJ sets for Black Sheep Radio, which was set up by some of my expat football
mates. I sincerely hope the station will take off in 2018 and that I can
contribute to its rise.
certain flat Lambrini of 2017 being launched into Room 101 will be having three (yes, 3) motor accidents in the last
month, after 23 years of none. Fortunately only one occurred on a public road
and a freakish, questionable one at that. Not to mention the obtuse, three-interview
process which devoured a chunk of me in May, at the same time as Jasmine’s
death and starting a new job. Had I been trying for a high-flying financial trophy
of a role – I’d have understood the killer late evenings of attendance and best
behaviour after work. But for a mediocre salary and to be unsuccessful after
(for the sake of gaining more office experience) what can only be described as “mind
games” from the CEO can only be categorised as a pretentious, overhyped wine
which wasn’t worth the price. I dodged a bullet there.
If I had
to judge 2017 in wine terms or another category, it sadly wasn’t a vintage but
a staying afloat year, much as was 1993. Certainly, with its uncorking and
after giving it time to breathe you could appreciate its qualities in some
ways. What it does give the beginning of 2018, is more depth of experience and
a tool for sculpting the year into a hopefully more palatable period of time.
After nearly five years on this large land, I can only remind myself that
thousands of immigrants who try to experience a better life by moving to a new
terrain, by completely adapting to new cultures (or lack of at times) often don’t
build their happy homes in a few years. I have no right to demand more, despite frequent headspins about my CV’s content. There is always the option of a return
to the original source to hopefully taste the champagne of life again. Yet, after
five years here and the grit and resolve of gradual career change and ever-so-steady
progress, would a return to - what may by now be - a possibly unfamiliar homeland – be as
“And there’s no map, and the compass wouldn’t
help at all”
One of the very few perks about being
out of work is occasionally you can make the utmost of your time and good
weather. In particular if it all coincides with a special occasion.
As it happens, today I have the
weather and the jersey to commemorate a significant day in my existence, along
with those of my family, friends and circle of people with whom I grew to my
adulthood (notice I didn’t say maturity).
It is now twenty-five years to the
date where my home town of Llanelli defeated the world champions, Australia –
in what would prove to be the last of its kind for a famous rugby club and
community, entrenched in challenging politically and industrially-changing times. More than just that, it
became more timely for my family and I, as it was the first time I’d lost
someone close to me.
And what a place to do so. At the very
end of the first half, the stadium was sent into rapture with a world-class
back move leading to a try, under the posts for Ieuan Evans. One moment I’ll
Yet it was the drama which followed
that even today’s top scriptwriters would struggle to invent. An ambulance,
upon the half-time whistle boarded the playing field which was rocking with
expectation and excitation for the second half to come. One of my crew of
school friends; as we stood behind one set of posts, recognised my mother and her
unmistakeable pink puffer jacket climbing aboard the back of the ambulance.
No sooner had Ryan’s words alerted me –
a tannoy announcement asking for my father and I to come to reception, immediately.
Something unrelated, yet clearly occurring at this monumental match; something
serious had happened. Something the seventeen year-old in me couldn’t have
In the unbelievable excitement of
Evans scoring what would prove to be the winning (and only) try of the match,
my grandfather had suffered a severe heart attack. Up in the stand, among
another twenty-thousand people.
A numbness fell over the
seventeen-year-old me. I was due to start work for the first time, part-time
work at the local Co-op Supermarket at 4pm, after the match. Scarlets were
beating the world champions and my grandfather was being rushed to the
hospital. It was as though time had stood still. In the days before mobile
phones, today’s medical technology and professional rugby, I can only imagine
how it could pan out today. Regardless; on Saturday November 14th,
1992 at around 3:40pm, my father took me to the Co-op.
We explained the situation to the
assistant manager, who was very sympathetic. He kindly gave me the option of
not working. I declined as I had absolutely no idea what I should have done. Had it been
another job in this era or today; it would certainly have been a different
outcome. Still, as we listened to the end of the match on the radio in the
Co-op staff room, the jubilation of beating Australia felt a bit muffled inside
Before the big showdown at Stradey
Park – the curtain-raiser match (as was always the case before a big
international touring team visited) was Llanelli Under-11s playing against
another South Wales team. That day it was the Vale of Glamorgan Under-11s. Both
my father and grandfather were the coaches, so were involved in not only the
pre-match event, but had raised some of the match-winners playing against
Australia in the main event, during their previous twenty-five years as coaches
there. Colin Stephens (who kicked two drop-goals putting the match beyond
Australia’s reach), Mark Perego and Nigel Davies – all of whom represented
Wales during their careers – all stood tall against the world champions. Yet as
my “student shift” of four hours seems now to have flown by, it was an
anaesthetised following twelve hours among the ecstatic and celebratory town
My parents had told me not to come to
the hospital, as the man I called “Dats” was a mass of tubes. So I am forever
grateful to my great friend Karl who stayed as not only my company for Saturday
night, but then let me stay at his parents’ house. Until my parents called at
his family home around 8:15 the following morning of the fifteenth. Five hours
before that, Thomas Howard John had failed to recover from a heart aneurysm and
had passed away. He was sixty-eight.
Among the immobilised emotions which
would not really hit me for quite a few weeks (but when they did they hit
hard); the gunshot salute by the Royal Air Force as I bore the body at a
classically wet, Llanelli funeral; most poignantly my Auntie Gwen – my grandfather’s
eldest sister of six sisters, who was a good decade older than he was; hugging
me uncontrollably upon her arrival at her little brother’s house, in a feeling of devastation.
Notably, the Friday evening following
the grand victory; Llanelli played Cambridge University at home in a friendly
match. Before the match there was a minute’s silence, as well as a deserved
mention in the match programme for all he and my father had done over many
years at the club. It still hadn’t sunk in with me.
It has probably taken me twenty-five years
to be able to recount the whole experience in as much detail. As not only a
grandfather, but a friend and role-model, a war veteran and enthusiast of many
cultural aspects - it became a huge void
which opened for my life, as well as my family’s lives in the following few years.
Only two weeks later, I was selected
in the extended Wales Schools Under-18s squad. Not only was I disappointed and
upset he would not see it, I felt aggrieved – for all he had given me could not
What seems a lifetime later; perhaps
fittingly – in Australia’s sun - with a beautiful wife whom I wish he could
have met and my two little canine friends (whom I address yngNgymraeg), I wear the
same jersey with utmost pride, which beat the 1991 World Champion Wallabies at
Stradey Park. He couldn’t have chosen a better last memory, nor could many
others write it.
“…the running off the ball…. Ieuan
Evans! Does to the Australians, what they’ve been doing to the rest of the world for the last
Davies, BBC Match Commentator, Llanelli
vs Australia 14.11.92
As a pale white
kid (sometimes nicknamed Albino) in deepest, rainiest Wales, it was incredibly
common to hear – the word “weird”. On the school yard, at home with brothers
and sisters; in a team changing room – if any suggestion was made out of the
ordinary, you were “weird”.
“Let’s play CHiPs
instead of Dukes of Hazzard!” “No, don’t be weird”.
Chelsea football jersey? What’s that weird jersey (they were second division
after all, plus you’d never get one in Wales 30 years ago)?
Hip-Hop instead of Bon Jovi? Weird.
As you grow
older – perhaps not immediately wiser, but at least more inquisitive – things
which used to be “weird” to all – became the most popular things. Chips (OK,
the potato kind always had the upper hand – not the retro cop show). Chelsea
(deep, painful, stinging sigh with wincing face). Hip-Hop got bastardised by
the charts, but regenerated as all true art forms do. But this is the cycle of
life in all its financial trendiness, do we not agree?
So what, during
Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 does this word mean in the context of daily
life? After all, we have grown in knowledge in the last thirty years, have we
not? Kids are far more clued up, are they not? Far more streetwise than our
past generations and far more multicultural and scientifically informed, which
should enforce understanding, surely. Yet to coin a common adage – “the more I know, the less I understand.”
Chelsea being so popular, for instance is one thing I’ll not figure out. Or
maybe not accept (*pinches self while still wincing*)
ago, any child who had “weird” or irregular behaviour would be told to keep
quiet, or sent to the headmaster’s office, or smacked or just ignored. Very,
very few people had a grasp on what we now recognise as learning difficulties
and how they should be handled. Adults with inexplicable mannerisms or
incomprehensible ideas to the wider world were either outcast and ridiculed. Alternatively
they became geniuses, working for Apple or Microsoft. Weird how these days,
they’re called hipsters.
Japes aside, when
we think of the adults who had passed through these many ages without
understanding their own conditions because they were simply frowned upon, or
cast away into loneliness – now, with today’s insight - we should be the ones
questioning our own weirdness, or close-mindedness for not striving to know
more about Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome when they occur at early ages, or
depression, anxiety and psychological challenges when they occur at any age.
think it’s not only weird, but should be a flagged occurrence when public
figures with access to more personal support or advice than the average Joe
choose to ridicule depression on social media as a fallacy, or search for
attention. How quickly the jaws of irony will tense and their sharp teeth will
bite the arses of those - who decide that a “search for attention” is as
measurable as the celebrity they exaggerate for themselves. Not that I’m
particularly looking at any sportspeople who have the surname Tate and the
first name of Andrew, incidentally. Yet the word “denial” does spring to mind.
Along with “medieval” and “pity”.
usually results in a longer road to mental recovery and personal freedom in my
experience. Once people actually accept that depression is not the social
“lurgy” or the inanely-categorised affliction which “weirdness” used to be – it
can be managed as well as possible. What absolutely does need to happen is for
governments to regulate mental health as they do physical health, so that if
fitness is boosted by fresh air, exercise, a healthy diet and being active, so
would mental health be extended by less cost for counselling, medication and
crushing fear of discussion. Now, in Australia; based on your health insurance
as an average arthritic or stiff-limbed, middle-aged expat (which is almost ten
times the cost of car insurance per month), you’d still be paying an
out-of-pocket fee of around $120 per session after your benevolent health fund
covers the other half of expense in each visit. Which means when your health
insurance cover for each year has been exhausted (normally around $1000), you
would be paying $250 for a counselling meeting.
out per year, beginning in January - if it were one session a week ongoing for
someone who had major trauma after an accident or a loss, or simply a generic diagnosis
of depression – by the end of February, you’d need a hefty wage to cover the
rest of the year’s counselling sessions. Added to the cost of medication which
- purchased on prescription (a $10 administration cost of which needs to be
paid for after every 6 repeats) in any high street pharmacy – would be around
$18 for 28. Hypothetically, the cost of having a mental health issue in
Australia with very limited financial support – can cost around $11,000 per
year. People then wonder why the trams around Melbourne’s CBD are always full
unsustainable. The health insurance system in Australia is outlandishly
indulgent for a government which changes every other year and for many of those
whom now fight for jobs, for citizenship and have few civil rights having
worked here in specialised industries for years. Yet as usual for shuffling
pack parliamentaries whose shelf lives in governments last less than top level
sportspeople, it is easy money for the economy.
leading to change is what is necessary. Looking around the global sandcastle
democracies, stifling knowledge is what media has always done. But things
change. Generations change. It would only take a person in power having
experienced mental health tribulations – in themselves or a person close to
them - to raise awareness in others. But the chain of information won’t be
continued if we don’t open our own eyes, or those closed eyes around us by
talking about how chemically, naturally, unequivocably human these behavioural
To raise money
for mental health awareness (and bowel cancer), I dived last Saturday 7th
of October. So far, we have raised $2122. As a first-time fundraiser, I am
highly grateful to all donators. It also seems to be just scratching the
surface, as I know I could have done more in raising money, so it won’t be the
last. If you are able, please donate at www.gofundme.com/mentalhealthandbowelcancer and help jump
to a place where people are more clued up, more savvy and less feel weird about
visiting a professional about how they feel. The link will remain open for a
few weeks to come, so there’s no closure as yet.