The week Deirdre Barlow died

Sun 18 – Sat 24 Jan

It really was quite a strange week. Deirdre died unexpectedly. OK she is only a soap character but she’s a person who has been around throughout my lifetime as a constant presence. Her passing does remind me how my own life is ticking by, she was not that much older than me. I am going to miss her long suffering lifestyle and drawing on a fag to relieve the pressures of everyday life. But it was not just Deirdre’s unfair and unexpected death that made this week strange, a couple of other things happened closer to home that made me think.

A shift in my thinking
I had a situation during last week that made me feel really pissed off and left me feeling stupid. It dwelt on me during the night, a classic example of how anxiety and catastrophisation can negatively affect my thinking. But then the next day I realised I had to take what had happened, learn from it, and use it to take myself forward which is what I did. Basically I got taught a lesson – absorb the blow and use it to your advantage, don’t seethe with resentment and feel sorry for yourself.

The dreariness of darkness
Then last Thursday night I was with mum. We were happily watching Eastenders when suddenly everything electric went off. Me and mum were experiencing a power cut. We looked out the window to check it was not just us, and all the streets and blocks of flats around us were dark though with some people on the street using their phones for light – the streetlights had also gone. I remember the power cuts when I was a kid during the seventies due to various strikes but I haven’t experienced a black-out like that for years. We found a candle and a torch and listened to my wind-up radio. Everything went out around 7.45 and by 9 there really was nothing left to do but go to bed. Made me think how in the past night-time must have been so grim and unproductive. Just think how difficult it would have been to read or write by candle accompanied by the fear of it causing a fire surrounded by easily combustible material. Despite lots of things, we are lucky to be living now. The electric came on again about 10pm so off for over two hours. And we knew it had come on because loads of lights came on – it is very hard in a power cut to make sure you turn everything off and not turn anything on by accident.

Work, work, work
I am on holiday next week – Gran Canaria. So a large part of last week was making sure all the decks are clear workwise. It is time for new committee papers to be written which makes things extra busy. I worked remotely the weekend just gone and the weekend before that. I was in the office last week all day on Wednesday and some of Thursday afternoon. I got all my payments up to date and printed off holiday paperwork. There was remote working on Thursday morning (a big multi-person Skype call) and Friday after the gym I worked remotely on preparing my committee papers. That old truth came through, it is so much easier to get stuff done not being in the office.

Digital progress!
I have finally made steps forward in this area. Last Tuesday was a work day but spent at a workshop discussing the data analytics on five digital products I financed the development of, backed up by qualitative analysis based on online survey and interviews. It was a really good workshop and two things came through strongly for me. First, how data analytics and qualitative feedback can reinforce each other such as proving the things people most like on apps and websites plus how they use them and what for. Second, how this can then be used to develop and improve services – making a service user’s journey on an app or website easier and meeting their needs better. However this will only work if those who control such digital pathways have humility and listen to their customers. Unfortunately many organisations and people can’t do this because they think they know more than their customers and refuse to accept evidence or change their ways.

The other big digital achievement last week was on Tuesday evening when I attended MeetUp.com’s WordPress Users Group London. I was very nervous about going (and tired after the day workshop), always useful to remember what it is like to be a stranger. My main worry was that the other participants would be unfriendly techies and would know far more than me. But I was pleasantly surprised and had a good time. A big part of this was due to the great presenter/facilitator Eugene who was so open and funny, he really put us all at our ease. There were about 25 of us and the initial presentation gave some useful info like good online videos to watch giving guidance on doing WordPress well. The break gave us a chance to look at each others websites (like Good News Shared in WotW) and chat. Then we finished off with a presentation about backing up – very interesting though I simply pay a company to do it each day. I will definitely be going back to the next meeting – anyone want to join me then just yell. I have also been inspired to look into other groups on Meet Up (see WotW) like the Queer Reading Group; it is amazing the selection of meet-ups available.

Movies
Last week I finally got to the cinema and not just once but twice. I love reading and I always feel a bit guilty spending time watching films instead but there are some great films to be seen. Last Sunday, Dave and I went to see ‘Foxcatcher’ which has had excellent reviews. It is a great film based on a strange real life story. The main thing for me was how wonderfully homo-erotic it was as well. Wrestling is sexy (big men in singlets) and Channing Tatum is to die for.

Then last Monday afternoon I took myself off to see ‘Wild’. Surprisingly it turned out that Dave had already been to see it at the London Film Festival, taken along by a mate of his. Another very good film with lots to say about coping and finding contentment. Also based on fact, it is about a woman in a bad place emotionally who sorts herself out by walking across America from Mexico up to Canada.The main weakness for me it that it hit that old theme of going back to nature to find yourself. I’m not a nature person – I love the craziness of cities more. But it certainly is true that sometimes you have to go to the bottom and a place you least want to be in order to find your strength and make your way back. Certainly happened to me when I finished with my ex and had to come to the realisation that staying in Brighton was not going to be the answer to my emotional and mental health problems.

The social side of last week
Time with Dave at both weekends and I stayed with him on Tuesday night as he had to go away from London for work for a few days – it was really nice to have a catch up meal on Friday evening. We did have a panic on the previous Sunday night as I could not get hold of mum all evening. I was thinking the worst and planning at what time I would have to go back to check she was OK – a great example of my catastrophisation in practice. Eventually I phoned and she answered, turns out she had taken the phone into the bedroom during her afternoon snooze and left it in there not realising various people were trying to call her. She is still in a lot of pain and using either a stick or umbrella to help when she goes out walking.

I did meet up with an old friend on Wednesday night. I have known James (not the same James as the one with cancer) for over 20 years. We’ve kept in contact on and off. He’s not been very happy recently but he has changed his job and now he is in a nice place – it is so good to see him like that after the tough times he has been through. However, I did have some bad news as well last week. A close friend sent me a text to say he had been contacted by someone we both know who was now in a home because of dementia. The friend with dementia is Peter and he is in his seventies or eighties but I can remember him when he was totally articulate and he has no family. Indeed, my worry was that he was dead as I had not been able to contact him. Great to know he is still alive but apparently he is very confused and so I may have gained another older person to keep an eye on.

Exercise
I managed to get to the gym three times last week – not bad especially as the previous weekend I had felt so lacking in gumption that on the Saturday I had not been for my jog-run or to the gym. I got my motivation together on the Sunday and forced myself to the gym for my new short but intensive sessions concentrating on all the main body parts. I was so pleased I went afterwards. It is fascinating that the main problem for nearly exercise is motivation to go in the first place being very rarely regretted afterwards. I next hit the gym on Friday doing a session concentrating on my legs and core followed by a session on Saturday focusing on upper body and core. On Friday there were a group of male models in the gym and sauna doing a photo-shoot and boy they were pretty much a bunch of prissy, queeny tossers. One made a comment to another guy that people over 35 need to basically stop eating otherwise they can’t keep their shape. Not sure if it was a dig at me but I had unwisely chosen to wear a white t-shirt that really showed off my jelly belly – bugger. Monday I got a session in with Sara despite feeling a bit coldy, this went well doing intense and slow exercises on my legs and core.

Health
Not doing my jog-run the previous week gave me time to rest my Achilles; perhaps I will do my jog-run every two weeks but more than that if it feels OK? By the end of last week it did feel fairly comfortable. I did have a cold last week which many people have or have had at the moment. I was not especially ill (I’ve had flu before and that put me in bed hallucinating for three days) although I did wake up several mornings very sweaty and coughing up green phlegm. My attempt to lose weight continues and my new strategy is to eat small portions and items of food. We will know shortly if it works.

Reading
Three books to write about last week. First, I finished the Vasquez book I mentioned in last week’s blog. Overall a very well written story of Colombian life during the turbulent 70s, 80s and 90s. It is amazing how the awful events around the drugs barons impacted so much on ordinary people’s everyday life – perhaps a bit like Mexico today? Plus the book reminded me the way shocking events can change people’s lives. I then moved onto Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s ‘The Long War’. This is the second part of their Long Earth series. Their idea is that an infinite number of replica Earths are discovered that humans have learnt to escape to. In a strange way it is similar to the isolationist/back to nature escapism of the film ‘Wild’. People go off to another world to start all over again and so avoid dealing with everyday problems such as having to live in close proximity to others and being mutually dependent but still needing to find inner peace.

The final book I started last week meant me going back to my beloved retro gay fiction. ‘Christopher Street’ was the leading American gay magazine of the late 70s and early 80s. ‘Aphrodisiac’ is a collection of short stories that appeared in the magazine. All are from the period of gay liberation and pre-AIDS. The first two stories were fascinating. The first was by Edmund White about one of his first sexual experiences (‘First Love’). Of course, he went on to become one of the greatest gay writers though that was never inevitable and it is interesting to read his early stuff and try to work out how it fits alongside his later works. The second story was one by Tennessee Williams written shortly before his death. A nasty bitchy story (‘The Killer Chicken and the Closet Queen’) that reminded me of the worst aspects of 70s gay literature. More details of the other stories in next week’s blog as I work my way through the book.

Website of the Week
http://www.meetup.com/
http://goodnewsshared.com/

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