A new tune: Never Lonely Again

Here’s another song with an unnaturally long gestation period: it started off as a sci-fi riff in the SoundPrism app, took a detour into PIL-style punk metal, and now we’re claiming there’s always been a G-Funk element to our music. It’s about online friends, who we suspect are all bots.

I’m not a Nat

One of the irritating things about post-election reporting is the way many (English) publications keep banging on about a nationalist surge. The SNP vote was based on many things, and for some people I’m sure nationalism played a part. But for me, and for many of the No voters I know who voted SNP in this election, it wasn’t about nationalism at all. So kudos to the LSE for today’s blog on the subject of Scottish nationalism and voting:

To just make the point absolutely clear: Scottish identity or sentiment has not been increasing, but decreasing gradually since the advent of devolution…  the strongest determinants of both independence and SNP support were pragmatic evaluations about economic prospects, trustworthiness and political personnel. For most people in Scotland the SNP is a normal party, that they like, hate or are indifferent to, but those evaluations for most are based on whether people agree with their policies and how they evaluate their representation.

In The Night Garden is Jacob’s Ladder for kids

You end up watching quite a lot of kids’ TV when you’re a parent, and it gets pretty boring pretty quickly. So you let your mind wander. You create imaginary backstories for the presenters on the assumption that the perkier the presenter, the more depraved the private life. You take things out of context for your own amusement, such as the bit on Baby TV where a creature dressed as a scoutmaster growls “I will take the little ones.” And more than anything, you imagine what the programme is really about.

A good example of the genre is Chris Brown’s Teletubbies video, which is based on the discovery that the Teletubbies in black and white are quite frightening.

But I prefer the theory that In The Night Garden is Jacob’s Ladder remade for kids.

If you’re not familiar with the film, Jacob’s Ladder was a 1990 film directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins. I’m not sure how it’s aged, but I remember it as one of the most frightening and disturbing films I’ve ever seen. It’s very difficult to explain without giving away the whole story, so let’s just leave it at this: it’s about death.

In The Night Garden is about death too.

The programme starts with the main character, Igglepiggle, alone in a boat. It’s dark and the seas are high. Igglepiggle takes down the boat’s sail, lights a light, and is transported to the Night Garden where he meets the love of his life, Upsy Daisy, along with a cast of characters including midget families and giant inflatables with faces on them. After a bit of excitement everybody goes to bed and Igglepiggle goes to sleep on his boat.

Here’s an episode I’ve just watched with my son.

It’s all very lovely, until somebody on the internet tells you that the whole thing is desperately sad. Igglepiggle has been shipwrecked. He’s out of food and water. He’s hallucinating. And everything that happens in the episode is a fever dream as his body shuts down.

Viewed through that prism, it all makes sense. The weird characters. The voice of God (well, Derek Jacobi) talking to the characters. The way everybody leaves, leaving Igglepiggle alone in the garden, wishing the fun would never end. And through that prism, when Derek Jacobi says “Don’t worry, Igglepiggle. It’s time to go”, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s the equivalent of this bit in Jacob’s Ladder (spoiler alert!):

“Don’t worry, Igglepiggle. It’s time to go.”

The camera returns to the boat, where Igglepiggle is silent and still, and the melancholy theme tune swells as the boat disappears into the horizon.

Devastating.

Next week: why Peppa Pig is secretly about Satan.

Sometimes winning elections is very simple

As an elderly woman told our newly elected MP during last week’s canvassing, she was voting for him because he was the only person coming to her door with reasons to vote for a candidate. The only thing the other canvassers talked about, she said, was why she shouldn’t vote for their rivals.

Stop sending me bloody letters

I have the mixed fortune of living in East Dunbartonshire, which is a nice bit of the world but also a crucial Liberal Democrat seat: all the polls point to our MP, Jo Swinson, getting the boot come May 7 and the LDs are spending an astonishing amount of money trying to prevent that from happening.

I’m averaging three pieces of mail a day from the Lib Dems, not including flyers and fake newspapers, and I’m at the point where I think I’d vote for any party that promised I’d never receive another Lib Dem leaflet or letter in my life. But until that happy day, my most recent personalised letter is from a Stewart Moohan urging me to vote Lib Dem. I understand similar letters are going out from a former Tory to voters more affluent than me.

Moohan isn’t, or wasn’t, an LD party activist. He’s a former Labour voter, former chair of a community labour association, and he and his wife Mhairi are convinced that the only way to save Earth from demons is for all Labour supporters to vote Lib Dem. Otherwise the SNP will get in and plagues of locusts, boils, etc etc etc.

The thing is, Stewart and his wife Mhairi have appeared in a very different election communication recently. This one.

Mr Moohan, it turns out, was an unsuccessful Labour candidate in 2012 (he got just 700 votes), and he went on to be unsuccessful in his bid to become the Labour candidate for this election. So he did what any man of principle would do: he threw his toys out of the pram and signed up to campaign against Labour with the Lib Dems.

I appreciate that people can change their minds. But I’m pretty sure Moohan hasn’t quit the Labour party, so urging tactical voting is breaking party rules. And I’m absolutely certain that it looks bad leaving your pre-Damascene conversion rhetoric online so people can Google you and see this.

We have seen the damage that has been done already in the last three years to our country’s public services by this Coalition Government’s austerity policies and the effect this has had on our economy, cutting too fast and too deep.

That’ll be the Conservative coalition with, er, the Lib Dems.

Update, later that day

The Lib Dem-supporting letters from “a conservative voter since I have been allowed to vote” are from Tatjana/Tanya Hine, who spoke at a Lib Dem event in 2009, who publicly signed the Lib Dems’ online pro-Europe petition a year ago and who has a habit of appearing in Lib Dem promotional literature (this one is from the run-up to the referendum). That’s hardly damning, but it does suggest an ongoing connection rather than another Damascene conversion. As does suddenly writing to loads of people you don’t know telling them to vote for a party you say you’ve never supported before and getting the local Lib Dem election agent to print and distribute it.

I know it’s just politicking, but it’s just such bollocks. Patronising, misleading, insulting the electorate bollocks.

It’s been a while. Here’s some new music

The trouble with doing music in your spare time is that it can take ages to get anything finished. That was definitely the case with this song, The Sun Is Going To Shine Today: it’s been in half-finished form for months. We finally knuckled down and finished the track, and we hope you like it. We won’t keep you waiting quite so long for the next one.

What’s your point, caller?

A passing thought: what exactly is the point of phone-in programmes? I’ve caught a few this week before turning off in disgust, one about vaccinations where ridiculous claims (knowing loads of people whose kids were harmed by MMR, knowing loads of people who went for homeopathy instead and their kids never contracted the Black Death) went unchallenged while people with evidence and expert knowledge were barracked, and several about political issues where every caller was either an idiot or a party activist. I know phone-in radio is cheap to make, but what’s in it for the listener?

Stayin’ Alive

Image by Anel Rosas on Flickr, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image by Anel Rosas on Flickr, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA 2.0)

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression. It wasn’t a surprise – it’s something I’ve experienced on and off for years – but the act of naming it, of putting up my hand and saying “I need help”, was an important part of getting better. When you hold monsters up to the light, they lose their power.

And depression has a lot of power. As I’m sure you’ve read elsewhere, depression isn’t about feeling a bit sad. In my case it was an inability to feel anything positive. All the things that give me pleasure – family, friends, music, movies, comedy, books, work – didn’t. Imagine eating your favourite meal but something has switched your tastebuds off, seeing your favourite band live but being unable to hear any of it.

The only emotions I still felt were negative. Fear, panic, self loathing, anger. Tiny little things would release furies, anger that would rage and burn everything it could reach. I’m the least frightening man you’ll ever meet, and yet I found myself one morning jumping out of my car to harangue a bull-necked, shaven-headed ogre of a man in a big BMW because he’d had the temerity to beep his horn at me. He could have snapped me in half easily but backed off instead, calling me – with some justification – “fucking mental”.

The feeling of being a passenger in your own body, the feeling that somebody else is driving the bus, is very frightening.

I’m writing this now because I’ve just finished reading Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig, a novelist whose The Humans I really enjoyed. This one is non fiction, and it’s about his experience of depression. It’s a good book, sad and funny and wise, and the conversations between Matt-then and Matt-now really resonated. I particularly liked the list of things Haig experienced that elicited more sympathy than his depression, a list that’s as horrible as it is hilarious.

Like Haig, I’ve come through it and I’m in a much better place. Everybody’s experience is different, but in my own case I found my wife and brother invaluable, seeing a sympathetic GP helpful, Sertraline/Zoloft useful (albeit possibly due to the placebo effect: the dose was small and I was also making big changes that I’m sure had positive effects) and counselling a complete and utter waste of fucking time. Over six weeks of three-hour gaps in my working day (there’s a clinic in my home town but I was sent to a faraway one due to an admin error; once you see your counsellor you can’t change clinics) I was given the following advice:

  • why don’t you get a wee part time job?
  • think you’ve got problems? Remember there are babies with Ebola in Africa!

I imagined my counsellor hanging around road accidents, yelling at the mangled victims: “look on the bright side! At least you don’t have AIDS!”

One of the questions you’re asked each week is whether you had made plans to kill yourself since your last session. When I said I had I was told that the question really meant was I making plans that I still intended to keep. As I clearly wasn’t trying to top myself at that specific moment, my answer was logged as a no. Presumably that was to keep the figures looking good as my six weeks were nearly over and I wasn’t getting any benefit from the sessions.

I’m not just bitching here. The point is that I got better despite such fuckwittery. Not all counsellors are hopeless. Not all drugs are ineffective. Not all lifestyle changes are pointless. X might not work, but Y just might. And talking to people about it really helps.

Like Haig, now-me could have a conversation with then-me. I’d tell myself that what I was feeling was real, but that I could make changes to deal with it. I’d tell myself that depression is an obstacle, but not a life or death sentence. And I’d tell myself that one day in the not too distant future I’d be sitting with my family, making them howl with laughter, feeling joy so much greater than the worst things depression could ever throw at me.

See ya, Saab

A friend of mine drove one of these off a cliff, and survived.

A friend of mine drove one of these off a cliff, and survived.

I’ve written before about my love of Saabs, but sadly it’s reached the end of the road: I’ve just sold my knackered old 9-5 estate to WeBuyAnyCar.com (who offered me exactly what it’s worth – I was selling it because it wasn’t viable to repair anything any more) and I very much doubt I’ll get another one.

That isn’t just because Saab went bust. My budget means I’m always in old-car territory, and there are plenty of pre-closure 9-5s out there. Certainly, if I wanted to I could drive Saabs for another decade or so.

Sadly, I don’t want to.

Saab is a great example of what can happen when a marque knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Before General Motors came along, Saab was famed for its engineering and its unconventional belief that throwing all the power in the world through a car’s front wheels was a good idea. And it was, because hot Saabs were an absolute hoot.

And then General Motors got involved.

All of my Saabs have been GM-era Saabs: a 900 hatchback, a 9-5 petrol estate and a 9-5 diesel estate. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the 900, which was the one least messed about with by GM, was my favourite. My most recent 9-5 was essentially a Vauxhall Vectra in drag with one of the worst diesel engines imaginable – a tractor engine teamed up with sports suspension and low profile tyres, a match made in hell. I think it’s safe to say brand loyalty blinded me to the hopelessness of that one.

Before GM got involved, Saab was mixing it with the BMWs and Mercedes of the world. Once GM got involved, quality plummeted and despite Saab engineers’ best efforts, the cars weren’t mixing it with BMW and Mercedes any more. If I’m honest, my wife’s 14-year-old VW Golf is a better car than either of my 9-5 estates were.

I still have enormous affection for the Saab of old, but not so much that I want to drive an old Saab. So, like many Saab owners before me, I’m going for a German car instead.

The final Fred show

Tomorrow morning, BBC Radio Scotland will broadcast the last ever MacAulay & Co programme after nearly eighteen years on air. I’m going to miss it, and the people who make it.

I was a listener long before I became a contributor. In 1997 and 1998 I had a real job, and when I was late for work – which I often was, sometimes deliberately because I didn’t want to switch off something particularly funny – I’d listen to the show, laugh like a drain and think: it must be a right laugh to be on a show like that.

I’m not quite sure when I became a contributor – 2003 sounds about right – but I can honestly say that it’s been one of the best things in my life for a very long time. Without exception the people working on the programme – not just the voices you hear on the radio but the people who put the whole thing together and make it work more or less smoothly – are among the nicest, funniest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with, and it’s been a real joy to be part of the team. I’ve met pop stars and actors, comedians and authors, done some very silly things on air and been part of all kinds of tomfoolery, and the crazy buggers paid me to do it.

Fred’s moving on to bigger and brighter things and I’m sure the team will shine elsewhere too. As for me, I’m sure I’ll keep turning up here and there but I doubt I’ll ever be part of something quite like the Fred show ever again.

If you’ve ever listened to the show and thought “it must be a right laugh to be on that show,” man, it was. It really, really was.