“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality”

This Ted talk by Andrew Solomon is very good.

I want to say that the treatments we have for depression are appalling. They’re not very effective.They’re extremely costly. They come with innumerable side effects. They’re a disaster. But I am so grateful that I live now and not 50 years ago, when there would have been almost nothing to be done. I hope that 50 years hence, people will hear about my treatments and be appalled that anyone endured such primitive science.

So now people say, “You take these happy pills, and do you feel happy?” And I don’t. But I don’t feel sad about having to eat lunch, and I don’t feel sad about my answering machine, and I don’t feel sad about taking a shower. I feel more, in fact, I think, because I can feel sadness without nullity.

It’s timely in a week where the Office of National Statistics reports the highest male suicide rates since 2001 (and a rise in all suicides); while women are more likely to suffer from depression, men are more likely to die from it.

Matt Haig, writing in the Guardian about his own depression:

Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US – a leading cause of death, accounting for more than one in 100 fatalities. According to figures from the World Health Organisation, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, assault, gun crime – put together.

…So what should we do? Talk. Listen. Encourage talking. Encourage listening. Keep adding to the conversation. Stay on the lookout for those wanting to join in the conversation. Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something you “admit to”, it is not something you have to blush about, it is a human experience. It is not you. It is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking. Words. Comfort. Support. It took me more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about my experience. I soon discovered the act of talking is in itself a therapy. Where talk exists, so does hope.

An unhealthy obsession with smoking

Bizarre news from Scotland:

Patients and visitors will be banned from using electronic cigarettes in hospital grounds across Scotland within weeks.

NHS boards will be required to ensure that their grounds are smoke-free by April.

Electronic cigarettes don’t produce smoke – they produce water vapour – so why are they part of the ban?

According to a spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde:

These products are currently not regulated and there are concerns over potential safety issues with the products. In addition e-cigarettes mimic the habit and look of smoking and therefore provide negative role modelling for young people.

That’s ridiculous. The argument against smoking indoors is inarguable. A ban on cigs around hospital entrances is reasonable, given that running a gauntlet of cigs isn’t very nice. A ban on cigs in the grounds strikes me as a bit much but okay, there’s still a logic to it (and mess to clean up if there wasn’t a ban). But to ban things that don’t produce smoke on the grounds that they might have some undiscovered health risk and because they look a bit like cigarettes is utterly ridiculous. The risk from e-cigarettes to other people is zero, and the risk to users is probably zero too.

I don’t smoke any more, but I remember the cravings and the way stress would ramp them up to particularly unpleasant levels. Given that we’re rarely in hospitals for happy reasons – with a few exceptions such as maternity wards we’re usually there because we or somebody we care about is having a horrible time – banning nicotine addicts from doing something completely harmless is just kicking people when they’re down.

Return of the son of ID Cards

It turns out that the national political parties don’t have a monopoly on bad ideas: ID cards, something the SNP were very much against when they were planned for the UK, may appear in Scotland as a result of a minor NHS amendment. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group:

in Scotland, the idea is alive and well, and the idea of giving everyone a unique identifier – and placing every citizens’ name and address into a single database – has not been given up by civil servants.

There’s a detailed analysis of it here (thanks to Heather at Idea15 Web Design for the heads-up):

The intention is to transform the current NHS Central Register (“NHSCR”) so it can be accessed by more bodies, to increase the number of individuals recorded in the Register, and to use a Unique Citizen Reference Number (“UCRN”) for each citizen.

The NHSCR can then be accessed by well over 120 Scottish public authorities (including police, prison, national security, visas and immigration) and certain publically owned companies.

It’s well worth a read. There’s a public meeting about it in Glasgow next week, too.

Another victory for the ticket touts

News I’d missed: online ethical ticket exchange Scarlet Mist has shut down.

Richard, the owner, writes:

I’ve been running it more or less single-handledly for the past eleven years, as a part-time hobby whilst doing my day-job as a hospital doctor. It has been fun to run it, and it has been a useful service.

Unfortunately my wife is now disabled and I need to devote more time to caring for her and my family.

Ticket touts and the secondary ticket market is here to stay. There is very little political will to address it, money talks in this world.

He’s right. My local MP is one of very many politicians who voted against proposals to crack down on the legal-tout market. Personally I don’t think gigs should only be available to the rich.

From Scotland with love

I went to see the live version of this the other night:

It’s a collection of archive footage from Scotland with a soundtrack by King Creosote. The album’s fantastic and the film’s great too, but live it took on another dimension entirely. One of those shows where the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I think everybody who went vowed to buy the DVD for everybody they know.

All the small things: a little writing app that makes a big difference

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In the old days, writing for magazines was easy: you’d write a piece, send it as a Word doc or a text file, and that was it. Now, though, everything’s online and in a CMS. Creating content for that is often a pain in the backside, especially if you use apps designed for print rather than pixels.

Hurrah, then, for Ulysses. It’s a genuinely great app that’s already saving me stacks of time – not just in terms of creating copy I don’t then need to tweak, but in terms of the massive time savings that come from the way it does things. At £31.99 it’ll pay for itself in no time.

Here’s the obligatory video.

If you need to write words of any kind, it’s a great app. There’s a free demo too.

Switch me off and on again

Last free song of 2014: this one’s called Three Fingered Salute. It’s on Soundcloud too if you prefer to listen there.

2014 and all that

Here’s my 2014 in a nutshell: it’s Hallowe’en, and I’m at a fancy dress party. I’m dressed as Alice Cooper. I have Alice Cooper’s trademark top hat. I have Alice Cooper’s trademark make-up, including the black lines coming down from the mouth and the slashes across the eyes. I have Alice Cooper’s trademark mess of black hair courtesy of a cheap and horrible wig. And I am wearing a T-shirt with ALICE COOPER: SCHOOL’S OUT on it.

All night, people call me Ozzy.

I didn’t have a great 2014. Professionally it’s been awful, with good friends treated terribly by publishers and broadcasters, august titles canned and long-running programmes pulled. I’m still blocked on the two novels I’ve got in progress, and while David and I have made lots of music that I’m very, very proud of (and which you can get for free from here) I haven’t failed to notice that while we’re making the best music of our lives it’s being heard by the fewest people we’ve ever reached. Ho hum.

The big news here in Scotland was of course the referendum on independence, which the No side won 55 to 45. I’m not going to dig through it all here, but other than renewing my faith in (some) human nature, the takeaway for me was profound cynicism about politics and the media. The Telegraph’s Scottish Editor Alan Cochrane epitomised it, writing in his referendum memoirs about how he thought helping the No side win was more important than being a proper journalist. According to Private Eye, Cochrane was promised a bonus of £10,000 to £20,000 by the Telegraph’s Chief Executive if No won; Cochrane denied the allegation. I’d love to see his post-referendum bank statement. The Yes side might not have won the referendum, but if I’m typical then a lot of people are paying a lot more attention to Scottish politics, its reporting and its discussion on social media than ever before.

Personally things were a little rough, although they’re improving, and some great music saved the day again and again: Beck’s Sea Change, Taylor Swift’s 1989, the Royksopp/Robyn collaboration, King Creosote’s From Scotland With Love, Babymetal… okay, probably not Babymetal. And there were some truly exceptional gigs, including a spine-tingling Staves, a superb Pet Shop Boys, a triumphant Chvrches, a ridiculously entertaining Marmozets and old-school fun from Public Enemy (patchy but still great) and Jesus Jones (superb, honestly). Other gigs were less successful, though: shows by Wild Beasts and The 4 of Us both suffered badly from arseholes-talking syndrome and a Bob Mould show I’d been looking forward to for months was murdered by the sound mix from hell.

Music aside, though, I’ll be glad to see the back of 2014 and I’m looking forward to seeing the beginning of what I hope will be an interesting, exciting and happy 2015. I hope that whatever you do and wherever you are, 2015 brings you everything you want and nothing that you don’t. Happy New Year when it comes.

That’s not really funny

One of my favourite jokes: a kiddie-fiddler and a child are walking through the woods. “I’m scared!” cries the child. “You’re scared?” retorts the kiddie-fiddler. “I have to walk back alone!”

Like many such jokes, the sheer awfulness of it is what makes it funny – but would it still be funny if I tweeted it because a real child had gone missing?

Last night, as six people lay dead in Glasgow’s George Square after a terrible accident, a parody account on Twitter ( @hackneyabbatt) tweeted a joke about the lorry crash causing £3 of damage. It wasn’t very funny, but more importantly the timing was crass and insensitive: people searching Twitter for news of the deaths in George Square, a situation that was still ongoing – the bodies hadn’t been removed at the time and as I write this, their identities haven’t been revealed yet – would see it.

I was one of a few people who replied to the poster – “shame on you”, in my case – and hoped they might realise they’d been a bit of a dick; it’s easy to post something on the internet thinking it’s funny without thinking of who it might upset. The poster deleted the tweet and went off in a huff.

But I think somebody called the police. According to The Drum:

Northumbria Police have announced that they are investigating a crass joke published on Twitter, since deleted, poking fun at yesterday’s bin lorry crash in Glasgow in which six people died and eight were injured.

If it’s the same post, and I’m assuming it is, that’s all kinds of wrong. The post was insensitive, yes, but the poster wasn’t responding to anybody or hurling abuse: they were just making the kind of off-colour joke they’d make to friends in the pub, posting something they thought was hilarious. There are lots of things online the police should take more seriously, but that isn’t one of them.

Primary school politics

Last year, the local council decided that it needed to close some local schools. The process generated a great deal of controversy, because the consultation process was seen by many as a sham. The local Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson, came in for particular criticism: she told parents of local schools that the decision was entirely up to the council and then threw her considerable clout behind the campaign to save a single school in the affluent area of Bearsden.

Incidentally, I don’t have a dog in this fight: the school my daughter goes to wasn’t one of the ones marked for potential closure.

In the end, the council decided to close St Joseph’s Primary School, the only Catholic school in the area. The decision was made by 14 votes to 10, with SNP councillors voting against and 9 Labour, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Tory councillors voting for the closure.

So it was rather odd to see our local MP tweet this:

The tweet has led to angry responses from St Joseph parents and a rebuke from the Keep St Joe’s campaign, the very local families who are devastated by the decision. So why are they pissed off at the messenger?

The answer’s simple enough: Swinson’s carefully worded tweet is trying to paint the “SNP govt” as the bad guys, even though the decision to close the school was made by Lib Dem, Labour and Tory councillors – and the Lib Dem councillor for Milngavie, where St Joseph’s is, voted for the school’s closure. He’s the Education Convener.

So how on earth is the government the bad guy here? The answer probably won’t surprise you: it’s spin. Swinson again, replying to a critic:

“Backed”? As Swinson knows very well, the government’s involvement is what’s known as “calling in”, which is when a complaint about a council decision is escalated to the Scottish government.

Calling in is very simple. It’s not up to the government to judge whether the decision is a good one; their remit is merely to ensure that procedures have been followed. If you care about such things it’s detailed under section 17(2) of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which says that a call-in can only be made if ministers believe that the education authority may have failed to comply with the law, or if they have failed to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to the decision. The “SNP govt” judged that the council had indeed followed procedures. The letter is here if you fancy a read.

I’m picking on my local MP here but this is part of a wider malaise, a kind of playground politics where politicians on all sides indulge in yah-boo attempts to score points off one another and hope that people don’t look beyond the headline or the tweet. It’s no wonder that so many people have become so cynical.