A good, ordinary week

So last week I was back at work after a week off however it was not a typical week in that I was in the office everyday, leaving at a reasonable time, and able to concentrate on some extra fitness. Well this week was much more back to normality. But I reflected on how nice it is to have an ordinary life and even to have routine. Seeing on the TV the chaos that has hit Eastern Ukraine, Gaza, Northern Iraq and even West Africa with the Ebola threat – I feel so pleased just to have normality. To be able to walk places and feel safe, to have running water and electricity, to be able to look at whatever I want on the internet, and to be able to be open about things like my sexuality and my health issues. Indeed, my life (and the life of most people in the ‘Western’ world) is also so much better than that of people living in peaceful but tightly controlled states like Russia, China, Saudi or Iran. And looking back to last week, I made a big thing about time management particularly around working only the hours I am paid for. The week just gone I was effectively in the office only one day but I did make sure I went in late (and did a gym session in the morning) as I had to work during the evening so perhaps my time management has improved.

This week I had three big external visits to make and they all gave me inspiration plus good feelings. On Tuesday evening I attended the launch of ‘The Tower of London Remembers’. As you may know, the Tower is hosting an amazing installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies spilling into the dry moat and representing the British dead of the First World War. I do not always feel comfortable attending these sort of official events but I was invited by one the charities that will benefit from the sale of the poppies after 11 November, Combat Stress – the leading national charity dealing with Veterans’ mental health issues. And my colleague Meliz basically persuaded me to attend which I am glad she did. We spent a poignant evening talking and then listening to music, songs and poetry. We then heard name readings from the Roll of Honour. I still cannot decide whether the First World War was a war worth fighting or not (I think that we can all agree that the post-war peace settlement was a disaster that led to the Second World War) but we do have to remember and try to make sense of the mass slaughter that happened.photo (1)

The other two visits were to abstinence based recovery projects that I will be working with over the next two years. One of the amazing things about those who have achieved abstinence from alcohol and substance misuse is that their success feels so hidden. There are groups around like NA,AA and CA but it all feels slightly surreptitious so that the significant number of people who have dealt successfully with addiction are never seen or heard from (there is a film from the US out at the moment called ‘The Anonymous People’) and that is one of the things I will be doing in the future, supporting the creation of very public facing Recovery Communities. The first project I visited is The Nelson Trust based in Gloucestershire. They are doing brilliant work targeted at supporting women involved with the criminal justice system and/or substance misuse. And they are doing great stuff supporting people in abstinence based recovery including running several houses and a recreational centre. The other outfit I visited was Changes UK based in Birmingham. I was not sure what to expect and found a set up similar to Nelson with an attractive recreational space, committed staff and volunteers, clean and quality housing provision, and inspirational conversations with people in recovery. My own addiction experiences do not measure up to some of those I have met with but I am reassured every time I meet such people that giving up is the only realistic way forward. I feel so sorry for the young gays being eaten up by the current craze of ‘chemsex’ drugs including crystal meth, mephedrone, and G – I only hope they can find out about the opportunities out there to live without that sort of crap.

Right, now I have got that off my chest… It’s not been the best week in terms of hitting my long-term targets. Around fitness I managed a session with Sara my trainer (those kettlebells are hard work) but only one gym session. I could have had another one but it would have had to be fitted into the morning before I travelled up to Birmingham. I thought about it and decided to concentrate on doing a non-gym workout. So I ended up walking all the way from Victoria to Euston with my relatively heavy travel bag. There is something nice about incorporating exercise and fitness into everyday life without going to the gym (and do not get me started on people who drive to and from the gym). I did my Saturday morning jog but my usual course was disrupted by the Freecycle event. I have no problem with making streets car-free and encouraging pedestrians and cyclists to live together. What does piss me off is an event that is totally commercialised and big parts of pavements and parks are sealed off to the general public. I know I jogged constantly for my longest time but if that actually meant covering a longer area than before, I don’t know.

Around languages I have started listening again to a free Spanish podcast that I used to listen to regularly and I feel that although I do not understand a lot I do understand more than I did previously. But, unfortunately, I think I have only listened to Duolingo once. I have been reading a book about contemporary Spain and so that has given me some language hints. Giles Tremlett’s ‘Ghosts of Spain’ was recommended by a colleague. It is well written though more a series of long newspaper articles than a book. And although it has been updated, it suffers from the common problem of all non-fiction contemporary books that it becomes dated very quickly as new events happen. That has been my reading book this week and after finishing it I have moved onto a gay classic John Rechy’s ‘City of Night’ written in 1965. It’s one of those books I have meant to read for ages and it turns out to be very good – an analysis of the underground gay world of America in the sixties. Unfortunately, I do not feel like I have made any real progress in my digital knowledge.

Socially, I have spent a couple of nights with mum and we have had our usual cantankerous exchanges – she winds me up and I wind her up. Her usual complaints continue about the lack of anything good on TV and the heat although she did visit the cemetery this week which cheers her up. A couple of nights with Dave who is fine though on Friday night we were both knackered and in bed after Coronation Street at 9pm. Me and Dave did manage to get out during the week to see two exhibitions at Tate Britain. ‘British Folk Art’ was a wonderfully quirky exhibition. It showed everyday art since the sixteenth century. A lot of tapestries, quilts and shop signage but also some very quirky things like a chicken with feathers made of bone created by a Napoleonic prisoner of war. Some strange things as well like embroidery portraiture. But the key thing for me was the way that people had created their own art not based on any great artistic movements but simply based on their own ideas and traditions. The other exhibition was all about ‘Kenneth Clark’. I knew he did the wonderful TV programme ‘Civilisation’ but I did not realise what an amazingly diverse art collection he personally owned as well being a great financial supporter of up and coming artists plus playing a key role in government during the Second World War including filling the empty National Gallery (its collection being stored in Welsh mines for safety) with ‘people’s art’ and hosting lunchtime musical performances to encourage people to think to the future and away from the daily nightmare they were living.

Other bits and pieces. My ongoing love affair with the TV programme ‘Royal Marine Commando School’ continues. Caught up with episode four, great fun. Had a great stay over in Birmingham before my visit to Changes UK. Time to chill around the city reading and totty watching (not ‘titty watching’ as I put on Facebook), dinner at Cafe Soya (lovely tofu), and a few drinks out. I love the industrial feeling of Birmingham that just does not exist in London or the south – sexy blokes in work gear and high vis. My mate James is in hospital which has saddened me but we have had some good text banter. And finally… I’ve decided to add ‘Wonker of the week’ to my ‘Website of the week’ – why not, there are sufficiently vile people out there.

Website(s) of the week:

Wonker of the week: Mayor of London Boris Johnson for trying to turn London into the promised land just for his rich friends and private business particularly by doing nothing about the housing crisis, and then deciding he is going to after all seek a return to parliament and so be both a part-time MP and a part-time Mayor for one of the world’s greatest city thus showing disdain for both his constituents (whoever the unlucky people are) and the whole population of London; such arrogance.

2 thoughts on “A good, ordinary week

  1. Hi Billy. Finding your blog a really interesting read. Not sure if you know but in the almost 15 years(!) since we stopped working together I have worked in mental health, then substance misuse & back to mental health again. I was lucky enough to place people in rehabs and so have visited the Nelson Trust as well as many others; visits to those I had placed were probably the highlight of my job. I admit I was a bit of a task-master in getting people to prepare, but it would be the equivalent of me attempting to run a marathon without doing any training (fail to prepare=prepare to fail). Rehabs do offer such hope to those who many do not appreciate have often had pretty grim early lives, however their success rates are probably in the region of only about 1/3 making it through successfully, as many leave or are asked to leave. Many of those who work at such places are also those in recovery themselves who want to utilise their experiences in a more positive way, offering hope and also credibility to those on the programme (i.e. they have had personal experiences so know what they are talking about), but sadly we (society) do not tend to recognise & celebrate their achievements in the same way as other successes. Money spent on such support is well spent (I once heard £5 saved for each £1 spent) in terms of savings through courts, criminal justice, health, social services etc….. however unfortunately I don’t think a lot of people recognise this due to continued stigma etc and I can’t see the signs just yet of things changing in perhaps the way they are beginning to with mental health…..

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