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I’m Still Me

March 9, 2019 29 comments

As I indicated in my previous post, I’m struggling a bit at present. It was therefore something of a coincidence that a post from three years ago came up in my Timehop feed this morning. I’ve shared this post again previously but, for newer readers – of whom there have been many since this was first written – I thought it worthy of a third airing. As is my habit, I’ll drop in again at the end of this post to round things off. The original post was called ‘This Is Me.’ It was a long one, but I make no apologies for that: it covered an important topic and contained as much advice as I could give to others who might be suffering from depression. This is why I’m sharing it again today, in the hope that it might help even just one person. That is, after all, why I started this blog. This is the original post:

“A few weeks ago a fellow blogger, Stevie Turner, asked me to complete a questionnaire for a book she is compiling. This will be a series of interviews with people who have come through a difficult time, whether it be for something like an addiction or, in my case, depression. This was quite a long questionnaire, especially after I’d given it very full answers, but I wanted to give it my best shot. There would have been no point in giving incomplete answers, and I felt I owed Stevie the full story – after all, she would be in control of her book and could edit out anything she didn’t want to include, couldn’t she?

As I was writing my answers it became clear to me that I should really share this with my own readers too. Many of you will not have been with me when I first started posting in earnest, in November 2012, and may not realise why I started this blog – and you can be forgiven for wondering why I’ve carried on! I’ve made no edits to what I sent to Stevie, so what follows is exactly what she received. I hope you find it helpful and, if you’re a fellow sufferer I hope that you can find something in there to help you, even if it is no more than recognising that you aren’t the only one feeling something similar.

Stevie seemed to like what I gave her, and has posted the full questionnaire on a couple of websites. If you’d like to see them they are on her own site  and also on Lit World, a site for writers. I’ll let you know when her book comes out – which will be a while yet, as she has a lot of work to do on it – and will give you a link to it then.

Here’s the full questionnaire. I recommend making a brew of your choice before you start reading!

 

Did you have a happy childhood?

Yes. My parents weren’t rich, but both worked hard to give my sister and me as much as they could. I used to enjoy reading and playing games, outdoor sports and indoor board games. With much less than today in the way of distractions – only 2, then 3 TV channels, no computer games – we made our own entertainment and were encouraged to talk and discuss things. Above all, we felt loved. 

2. Did you enjoy your schooldays?

Yes, again. I went to a small village primary school, which was a lot of fun. I guess I was lucky in that the academic side came easily to me which always meant that I enjoyed lessons. And we had the use of the local playing field beside the school too, so lunchtimes and sports were great! Moving on to grammar school was good for me, although I admit to being nervous about the change: I was born two weeks after the cut-off date for secondary admission and was allowed to start just before my 11th birthday, rather than wait a whole year. I felt that the other boys would look down on me at first, as some kind of oddity, but I quickly got over that and really enjoyed it. Good friends, some – but not all! – good teachers, and an environment which suited me. But as it was a single sex school I did feel at a disadvantage in chatting up girls when the time came! Fortunately, I got over that quickly too! 

3. Do you tend to suffer from low self-esteem?

This is a really difficult one. It’s complicated, as they say! I don’t lack for self-confidence, and believe in my abilities. But I do feel that I haven’t left much of a mark on the world in my 62 years to date. I don’t feel worthless or undeserving of people’s friendship, but I do think of myself as somehow being less ‘valuable’ than some others. 

4. Are you an extrovert or an introvert?

Definitely an introvert. I’m very comfortable with my own company, and can be quite shy meeting new people, particularly in a group setting where I’m the new one. I’ve always felt happier being part of a team and, although at one time in my career I was managing a team of 15 staff covering 6 different roles I think I make a good second in command! That’s not to say that I shy away from putting myself forward if I have to, but if I’m honest with myself I probably try not to get into that situation in the first place. However, having said all that, I have become very used to going out on my own since I was divorced 8 years ago: I really enjoy concerts and live sport and always chat quite happily with the new people I meet there.

5. Do you have a network of close friends that you can call on for support?

I’ve never been that good at holding on to friendships beyond the context in which they were made. I have one close friend from schooldays, plus a couple of others that I still exchange Christmas cards and news with. But I’m no longer in contact with anyone from my university days – either university! I made a conscious decision not to make that mistake again when I retired, and we have kept together the ‘gang of four’ who used to lunch together, even though none of us still works for that employer. We now meet roughly monthly for lunch and an activity, like a museum, an exhibition or an art gallery, and there is regular telephone contact too. I feel that I can and do rely on this group for support nowadays and, if the depression returned I know I could depend on them. They know me well and look out for me.

But if the question had been asked about my long spell off work with depression, that answer would have been ‘no.’ I took a long time to admit to myself that I was ill, and then shut myself away from people I knew. In fact, I had more contact about it with people on Twitter than I did with people I knew: I guess it was easier to relate to others that way than to try to explain it to people face to face. Mental health issues are stigmatised and I did that to myself. 

6. Was work-related stress a major factor in your depression?

I don’t think it was, but I have difficulty explaining what the triggers might have been. I had a 3-month spell off work with ‘stress’ in 2006/7, but my marriage was falling apart at the time and this seemed the obvious reason for that. But the second, much longer and more severe spell, 9+ months in 2011/2, started at a time when I was under less stress at work than I can ever remember being at any time. My stressful job had been restructured out of existence in 2009 and I’d had 2 years working on projects, being used as a troubleshooting resource on work that needed to be done but which no one had the time to take on. I was happy in this, I was on my third such project and it was going well, so I really can’t see how that could have brought on my depression. But I can’t think of anything else that would have caused it, either. I think I could more realistically have expected it to happen in 2008 after the divorce and my mother’s death, but three years later seems like a very long-delayed reaction! 

7. What do you think caused your panic attacks on your return to work after a long absence of sick leave?

I had several minor feelings of panic after I returned to work in July 2012, but there was no obvious cause for these: I think it was just an underlying nervousness about ‘being out in the world’ again. The major panic attack came one morning about three weeks after I went back, in early August. I live at the end of the Central Line on the London Underground which, at that time, was ‘enjoying’ heavier than normal traffic as it was the main line for the Olympic Stadium. That morning, a system failure meant that we had no trains and were not even allowed into the station. I spent about an hour waiting in what became a fairly large, impatient throng, comprised both of commuters like me trying to get to work and people eager to get to the Olympics. Gradually, as space was limited, people starting pressing forward and I suddenly felt totally incapable of coping with the crowd. I managed to extricate myself and made the short walk home faster than I usually do. I had an appointment with my counsellor booked for the next day and told him about this, and my nervousness at being in a crowd. He encouraged me to develop a coping strategy based on recognising my own space and protecting it from ‘invasion,’ a form of avoidance, really. Sometimes this could be easier said than done but it served me well: I managed to attend the Olympics Football Final in a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium about 10 days later without any problem, until I reached the huge crowd waiting to get into the station after the game. I spoke to a policeman and on his advice made my way to a different station, which had none of the same crowds. I think I may not have managed the larger crowd though! I’m lucky, but I’ve never had a feeling like that since, even on a crowded train – and if you’ve ever travelled on the Central Line in rush hour you’ll know what that can be like! 

8. Did you think you would ever be cured during the ‘black dog’ days of your worst depressive episode?

No. At those times there seemed no end to it. There were no positive thoughts anywhere in my brain, and all I could do was to try to wait for the darkness to lift and hope that I didn’t cause anyone any hurt or upset by my behaviour. I had a couple of fallouts and learned that the best way to cope was to shut myself away until I was capable of interacting with people again. But these only felt like a brief respite: being ‘cured’ just didn’t seem like a possibility.

I don’t think you can ever be ‘cured’ of depression anyway. If it is in one’s make up to suffer from it, or any other mental illness, it could recur at any time. I don’t think of myself as cured nowadays, rather that I am in some kind of remission which will hopefully be permanent. 

9. Do you remember your worst ever day, or in general does the brain tend to try and forget?

To be honest the only day I can really remember is the one on which I finally admitted to myself that something was wrong, and made the call to my GP to seek help. I had a number of really bad days – including a few after I went back to work – but never had any suicidal thoughts. I’m probably too much of a coward to have tried that anyway, even if I had had them. Otherwise, the days just seemed to merge into a long period of horribleness, during which I felt incapable of doing anything. I had no ability to concentrate, e.g. to read or watch a TV programme. Somehow, I just existed. 

10. What advice did you receive from your counsellor, and did you find it helpful?

Initially, this is where the system failed me. I was referred for the local counselling service almost as soon as I was diagnosed with depression but, despite several reminders from my GP and, later, from me, I was never accepted into a programme. The service was provided by a voluntary organisation and from what I could gather they weren’t able to provide enough capacity to meet demand.

I got lucky later though. I worked for the NHS – perhaps ironically for an organisation providing mental health services – and one of the conditions of my return to work was to agree a programme with the Occupational Health Service. This included a referral to the in-house counselling service, and I was allocated a six session course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which actually became seven sessions. The focus of this was geared towards helping me understand how I thought about myself, how I could see what had happened to me and to develop a way of coping with everyday life and with any times when I might feel low again. It started with him getting me to put some notes together for our sessions, answering some questions he had set to give me a focus. These took the form of a ‘homework,’ which I had to start before our first session. I have managed to find the template he gave me, which was this:

“HOMEWORK:

  • I MUST…[X10]
  • I SHOULD …[X10]
  • I AM A GOOD PERSON WHEN…[X10]
  • I AM A BAD PERSON WHEN… [X10]
  • I GET ANXIOUS WHEN…[X5]
  • PEOPLE THINK I’M …[X5]
  • MY FATHER THINKS I’M…[X5]
  • THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO ME IS…[X2]
  • THE FUTURE IS…[X5]
  • OTHER PEOPLE ARE …[X5]

Thoughts about SELF, EX-WIFE, FUTURE, RELATIOSNHIPS

What are your UNACKNOWLEDGED NEEDS?”

Clearly, he was getting me to look into myself in ways that I had never done before, as a way of drawing out anything which I needed to work on to improve my outlook and approach on life. I don’t know if I still have the originals, but initially these were just handwritten notes, and then he got me to turn these into longer narratives. I imagine that I do have these somewhere, as I’m an habitual hoarder, but the fact that I haven’t felt the need to find them and refer to them for so long is, to me, a good sign. One of the longer pieces that I have never shared with anyone other than him was a ‘letter to my ex-wife’ which I remember was blisteringly honest and which I would never actually say to her! Underlying all of this was his helping me to build confidence in my ability to cope, and to be able to self-assess as I had never done before. Above all, his advice was to try to take a step outside myself and to take as objective a view as possible of what I was feeling and doing, to be able to think my way through any problems or issues. He also encouraged me to be honest with myself about my feelings, and moods, and to relate back to what I had written as a means of recognising any subsequent recurrence of my illness.

He described my writing as ‘inspirational’ and suggested I used it to start a blog, which I did. My first post was just over a year after my depression had been diagnosed. At that time, I was quite active on Twitter and that helped me to build a potential audience for my first attempts at blogging, but I still got a much greater and more positive reaction than I could either have hoped for or expected. Above all, I felt valued in that sharing my experience was helping others, and was amazed how many people shared similar experiences as a result. This is what my counsellor had been telling me, and this was his way of showing me that he was right! It helped me not just to get this response but also in that committing my thoughts into blog posts was a form of catharsis, it somehow took me out of myself and helped me better to understand what I had gone through. This was, I think, the most valuable benefit from the counselling process. 

11. Were you encouraged to join a support group?

One of the possible reasons for my not receiving any counselling from the initial referral was that I had agreed with my GP that a group situation wouldn’t work for me – I would probably withdraw into my shell and not contribute. Group treatment was more readily available but we felt that this just wouldn’t be right for me. This must have been on my record somewhere, as Occupational Health told me that they would seek to provide me with individual, one on one support.

Nowadays I’m much more comfortable talking about mental health, both in general and from my own experience. If I was ever in that situation again I feel that a support group might be helpful for me now.

12. Do you have to continue on a low maintenance dose of anti-depressants for the rest of your life?

No. I continued with medication for just over four years, with a gradual reduction of the dosage to the point where it was planned that I would run out of tablets and have two weeks free of them before my next GP appointment. As I was coping well we agreed that I should come off them. That was just over two months ago and I haven’t felt any need of them since then. But I am being trusted to recognise any return of the signs that led to my original diagnosis and to seek help if I do. 

13. Did you find exercise beneficial on your ‘black dog’ days?

On the worst black dog days nothing could have been further from my mind than exercise! I just wanted to retreat into myself and hope that the world would leave me to myself. I have some exercise equipment at home but prefer to get my exercise from walking and taking in fresh air – at these times that wasn’t a possibility and I don’t ever recall thinking that step or weight exercises would help me feel better. I am well aware of the importance of good physical health towards good mental health, but my brain wasn’t capable of making that connection on those days. 

14. Are you able to daydream and to take your mind off to a better place?

Maybe it’s because I’ve always thought that I don’t have much of an imagination but I don’t really daydream, either now or when my illness was at its worst. I have thoughts about what I want to do with the rest of my life which I guess some would describe as daydreams: to me, though, they are hopes and outline plans!

15. Do you still suffer from panic attacks today?

Not in crowds any more (see above). I do sometimes get a bit more worried than I should about being somewhere on time, but these aren’t really panics as such, more an extension of my tendencies to worry and to not wanting to let people down. 

16. What advice would you give to anyone suffering from depression?

Try to be honest with yourself and seek help. The hardest part is to make that initial judgement on yourself and to do something about it, but if you don’t things may never improve.

Talk to friends and/or family, it can make such a difference if you know that others are aware of how you feel and can be there for you. If friends give up on you question how valuable they are as friends, maybe you don’t really need them in your life. Consider if you would be there for them if things were reversed: if you would, but they aren’t prepared to support you, drop them. It will make things worse for you if you waste time and energy worrying about why they are treating you the way they do.

Don’t make the same mistake that I did and shut yourself away from other people, or shut them out. People can help, and you need them.

Don’t be afraid of it but try not to fight it: try to work round it and through it. If you treat it like a battle you’ll exhaust yourself.

Try to do something – anything – to occupy your mind. If you can rebuild your ability to concentrate on activities, however trivial, it will help you take your mind off yourself.

If you are prescribed medicine, take it! I know that it doesn’t work for everyone and you will hear people say disparaging things about dependence on anti-depressants. But depression is a form of chemical imbalance in the brain and the meds help to adjust that. If you feel uncomfortable about taking them, or if you think they are giving you side effects, talk this through with your doctor. Don’t decide on your own just to stop taking them, as this can do more harm than good.

Never, ever give up hope. 

17. Are you enjoying your retirement?

Yes, very much. I don’t think we can ever underestimate the value of being able to decide how to use our own time, to choose what to do and when, and more importantly what not to do. The big advantage for me is that I now lead a lifestyle almost entirely devoid of stress, which for me is the ultimate benefit that retirement can offer. It gives me hope for my future. 

18. What’s your proudest achievement?

As I’ve said earlier, I’m not sure that I have really achieved all that much in my life so far. I think the things that make me proudest are actually people: my two wonderful daughters, for whose development into well rounded, intelligent, caring adults I must take at least a share of the credit. And for one specific achievement, managing to stand up in front of 150 people and give the father’s speech at my older daughter’s wedding, just three months after I went back to work, is right up there! And in full penguin suit too!

19. What is your favourite hobby?

I have several, and can’t really choose a favourite. I like going to watch live sport, especially football (I’m a season ticket holder at Leyton Orient) but also tennis, and I’m getting my first taste of live athletics later this year. I also like live music, particularly what would be termed folk or Americana. I listen to a lot of music at home, too. I’m fond of my gadgets, and have a collection of computers and tablets, as well as an Xbox. I also enjoy writing, and am trying, unsuccessfully so far, to widen my scope beyond just my blog. I don’t read as much as I’d like to, either. And I’m taking the first faltering steps towards learning to play a musical instrument, something I’ve always wanted to do since the chance at school passed me by. I was hopeless at the recorder and was written off as a result, so I’d like to prove them wrong!

20. Nowadays, is your glass half empty or half full?

The glass is always full: what isn’t occupied by liquid is air. Sorry, that’s the pedantic Virgo in me! I’m definitely an optimist, both in terms of how I see life and how I always want to believe the best of people, even if the evidence suggests otherwise. Having come through a long period of depression, and having felt worse than I can ever have imagined possible, I tend to see the best in everything now. However, destroy that viewpoint or let me down and I can be very unforgiving!

 And a final word from me. Thank you for reading this far, and I really hope there was something in that which helped you. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will recognise that we take some enjoyment from talking about ourselves, and I wouldn’t deny that. But that isn’t why I’m doing this, honest!”

 

And this is me again today, in 2019. Reading that again, with the knowledge that I came through it, should be a positive experience for me but it doesn’t feel like that. The details I gave Stevie in answering her questionnaire appear uncomfortably similar to how I’m feeling right now, if I’m honest. The events which combined to refill my life with stress and to cause me concern again happened just over two weeks ago and I haven’t yet felt strong enough to book an appointment with my GP. I know I should take my own advice, as outlined above, but it has been easier to retreat into my shell and isolate myself. I know from past experience how damaging that can be and am fully resolved to ring on Monday for that appointment. I know I need help, and I know that I will be supported. I just hope I can stay strong enough to make that call. The current stress factors on my life have a time limit, so I really need to be taking some action before it is too late: not doing so would increase those stress levels dramatically and I really don’t want to make additional difficulties for myself!

I’m not really sure what is going to be happening in my short term future, and will admit to being very apprehensive. I have much to do in a practical sense, as well as taking steps I know are necessary to ensure that my mental health can sustain me. Hopefully there will be some ups as well as downs on the rollercoaster. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how things are going. As I said last time, I’d appreciate it if you kept your fingers crossed for me, please.

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Still All Right?

March 4, 2019 18 comments

With this post I’m completing the resharing of my 2016 ‘trilogy’ about when I was 16 years old, back in 1969/70. This was originally posted in my now largely defunct series of #SaturdaySongs – though perhaps it will get the occasional reprise when the mood takes me. As usual, I’ll share the post again and come back at the end to the present day. The post was based around the song ‘All Right Now,’ by Free:

I didn’t know it at the time but when I wrote Summer of ’69 back in February I was, in a way, starting what has become this new series of #SaturdaySongs. I followed it up with a companion piece – Born to Be Wild(ish) – in August, and with today’s song I am in effect completing a trilogy about the days when I was a mere 16 years old.

In those previous posts I described how I worked for the first time through the long school summer holiday in 1969, saving up to buy a motor scooter, and how this opened up a time of freedom and enjoyment for me. I described joining the local scooter club and going on long weekend rides – this took me through the winter of 69-70 and right through the summer of 1970. I also joined the local youth centre in Dover, which was based at a place called Centre 365. As well as running youth nights the Centre also provided support for the needy and the homeless. It was a great place to be at that time and, as one of the managers was a friend of my father it felt like home for me. If you’ve read Summer of ’69 you’ll know that Dad left home at the end of the week in which I bought my scooter, and I think my younger self was looking for somewhere welcoming where I could just enjoy myself, away from the new responsibilities I had taken on as the ‘man of the house’ supporting Mum.

Today’s song is this:

This was released in May 1970. It spent 16 weeks in the UK charts but never actually made it to the top: it reached as far as no.2, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Five of these were behind Mungo Bloody Jerry, the other behind Elvis in his latterday bloated crooner days. Even back then the British public couldn’t be trusted to make the right choices! But the song was the soundtrack to my summer that year, and whenever I hear it – I play it often – I’m taken back to those days. For me, 1970 was the only year in a five year spell in which I had no public exams at school, so the pressure was off a lot. The school’s own exams were much better! It was the year when England failed to defend the World Cup, but I stayed up late on many nights watching the matches being broadcast live from Mexico – it was the year of Gordon Banks’ wonder save against the great Pele, and of the amazing semi-final between Italy and West Germany that seemed to go on forever, and finished 4-3 to Italy, with Franz Beckenbauer playing with one arm in a sling. To this day, that stands as the best game I’ve ever seen, for drama. Well, so my increasingly hazy memory tells me, anyway.

You’ll see that the performance I chose to share was from Free’s appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. This was arranged as a British answer to the legendary Woodstock, which had taken place the previous year and had helped change the face of live rock music performance in a way that had hitherto been unknown. The IoW Festival was promoted well in advance, and a mate and I hatched a plan to go to it. Like most plans dreamed up in our youth, however, it fell apart in spectacular fashion, along with the friendship. Thinking about it, I’ve long preferred indoor events anyway – the acoustics are better and I don’t like huge crowds!

The success of All Right Now is credited with getting the band their spot in the Festival, at which they played to over 600,000 people. Astonishing numbers, and you only get a small sense of that from the video. It was the song that gave them their chart breakthrough too and the album from which it came – Fire and Water – which was their third of six studio albums in their four years together, was their most successful. Forget the sales figures: it is one of the few albums which has enjoyed the ultimate accolade of having been bought by me on vinyl, cassette and CD! I still play it regularly – it is a brilliant blues-rock album, and has stood the test of time well over the 46 years since its release. Wow! Where did that time go?

The joys of that summer were, sadly, never to be repeated for me. Later that year Mum sold the family home and moved us back to where she had spent her childhood, and the geography just didn’t work any more in respect of the scooter club or Centre 365. Still, it was one of the best summers I’ve ever had – it was all right then and it’s still All Right Now 😊

I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on my three-part journey down memory lane. That post was written in Autumn 2016 and I’m not sure that I’d still use the song title to describe how I’m feeling about life just now. I am about to face one of those life changes that are always rated high on the list of stress factors and, without attempting to be melodramatic or pathetic, I really do feel more than at any time since I went back to work in 2012 that my mental health is under pressure. To be totally honest, it doesn’t feel good, but I know I have to get through it and will need help to do so. I have a feeling that you may be hearing more about this from me in the coming months! But for now, the jury is deliberating on the question of whether I’m ‘Still All Right.’ Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

Not So Wild(ish) Nowadays

February 26, 2019 16 comments

When I re-shared Summer Of ‘69 I reminded myself that, although I didn’t plan it that way, it became the first of three posts in 2016 that saw me reminiscing about the 1969-70 period, during which I became 16, took on the ‘man of the house’ role after Dad left, and generally started to grow up a bit. But it was also a time for a lot of fun, too, so I thought that newer readers – and there have been a lot of you in the past three years – might also like to take my trip down memory lane. The second of those three posts was entitled ‘Born To Be Wild(ish)’ and I’m sharing it again now – the final part of my ‘trilogy’ will follow in a few days. I’ll drop by again at the end of the post to have another word on this.

Born To Be Wild(ish)

Do you ever find yourself looking back at earlier versions of yourself, and wondering about how different life was? As we get older, we have a lot more to look back on and while some might contend that we should always look ahead, and never look back, I think we can learn from our past. As I said in my post Summer of ’69 that was a momentous year for me. It was also the year that the movie Easy Rider first graced the screen – in June in the US, a little later in the UK – and it opened up the eyes of impressionable teenagers around the world to a way of life that was very different from our normal, humdrum existences.

If you haven’t seen the movie I’ll try to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that it doesn’t end well! But for most of us at the time, that wasn’t the point. What we saw in the film was a lifestyle based on doing what you want to do, free from the constraints of regular life. Sure, it was fuelled by an illegal drug deal at the very beginning, but did we care? I know I didn’t! The concept of road movies hadn’t really been explored much until then, and the idea of watching 95 minutes of two guys riding motorbikes around was very strange to my parents: “what’s it about?” “that sounds boring” and “you aren’t old enough to see it” being just some of what they said. It was rated ‘X’ in the UK, which meant that you had to be 18 to be allowed into the cinema, but I somehow managed to raise my short, just-turned-16 frame enough to get past the prison cinema guards. Or maybe they were just glad to take anyone’s cash that they could!

I have the movie on DVD and occasionally dust it off for a viewing. Mostly, it now looks incredibly dated, a real period piece. But there is still much to enjoy in it, especially the scene accompanied by the Byrds’ song I Wasn’t Born To Follow, which is such a joyous expression of youthful freedom.

At 16, we all have dreams of what we want our lives to become, and a release from a late 1960s Britain, with economic troubles putting a real dampener on all the Swinging 60s stuff that had gone before, was incredibly appealing. We all wanted to do it! If you have read my Summer of ’69 you’ll know that I spent that school holiday working to earn the cash to buy my first motorised transport. This was where one of life’s major lessons first hit home: I was never going to be able to earn enough to buy a bike like Peter Fonda’s! So, with reality dawning rapidly, I adjusted my ambitions – another early life lesson – and bought myself a secondhand scooter, a Lambretta Ld to be precise. It wasn’t even the most recent model made by Lambretta, but it was mine! In case you’ve never heard of it – and you can be forgiven for that – this is what it looked like:

The same colour as mine!

The same colour as mine!

Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for me. I could go anywhere I wanted, without the need to consult copious bus timetables, and I really took advantage of this new freedom. I joined the local scooter club, called the ‘Saints’ for reasons no one actually knew, and as well as club nights we went on group outings. We often went to a place called Camber Sands, which was pretty desolate, although it did afford a lovely view of the nuclear power plant under construction at nearby Dungeness. But that didn’t matter to us – we enjoyed the camaraderie of the ride, the wind (and rain, lots of rain) in our hair, and as long as someone had remembered to bring a ball we had a game of football on the sands when we got there. I have been thinking about this post for some time, and it feels very poignant to be looking back at my own youth, and happy times, when the sea has just claimed the lives of five young men who had gone to the very same place to have a good day out. As I said, we can learn from our past: that could have been us. There was never any sign of a lifeguard there, and apparently there still isn’t, 47 years on. It always takes a tragedy for something necessary to be enacted, sadly. In our innocent youth, we don’t really think about potential dangers, do we? Life is for living, we’re young and it is all stretching out in front of us. Why worry?

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

Going back to buying the scooter and becoming part of the local ‘scene’, where the cool kids hung out – as if, in my dreams, etc. – it amuses me that despite the fact that what we thought we were looking for was a freedom from normality, we rapidly adopted a style that became our new normal. If you had a scooter but didn’t wear one of these (look left), you were nobody!

I didn’t quite manage to copy Peter Fonda’s crash helmet either. Although it wasn’t at that time illegal to ride a bike without wearing one, we prided ourselves on being a responsible scooter club, so I bought myself another fashion accessory, just like this one:

Stylish, or what!

Stylish, or what!

But we were happy, that was the most important thing to us. We may not have been like Wyatt and Billy in the movie, but we had a sense of freedom, and I felt that every single time I got on the scooter, even if I was only using it to go shopping or to go to school. In those moments, the world was all mine, and I felt a kind of invincibility. Admittedly, I didn’t feel quite the same way the day I came off it and embedded a stone in my arm, but that was just another life lesson: don’t be a prat! Looking back, through what are probably very rose-tinted spectacles, I do feel a sense of loss, the loss of the innocence of youth. I hope my 16 year old self would have approved of the way my life has developed: I may not be riding the breeze on the open road, but I’ve learnt to recognise how to find the best in life, and to enjoy it.

And finally, for anyone feeling short changed by the edited version of the song in the opening video, I leave you with a full version of what is still the best driving song I know:

And this is me again, now. It is a sobering, even slightly frightening, thought that the events I’m describing here took place exactly fifty years ago. It really does seem like another lifetime, although I still recognise it as a part of my life experience. But how times have changed! Social, political and technological developments have transformed the world in ways we couldn’t have envisaged back then. Much of this has been for the general good, but I’m not convinced that we are living in a completely better place than in 1969. Then again, utopia is probably an impossible dream! For me, personally, much about my life is better than in my teenage years, but I look back fondly on those days of innocence. I’m facing some big changes in my life this year, which are causing me some apprehension – maybe I’ll be writing about those at some point but, for now, I’m happy to keep on the rose tinted glasses through which I’m viewing 1969. It is my way of dealing with what feel like major threats to my mental well-being. Reality does have a way of intruding on us, doesn’t it, and life feels anything but wild just now.

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