This is something of a departure from what I normally do. Today is my 60th birthday, and is also officially the day I retire from work. I wanted to mark my important day in a suitable manner, and this is what I came up with. This isn’t a standard narrative article – what I’m doing is giving you a flavour of the year in which I was born. The piece contains some clickable links, some videos you can watch straight from here, some pictures, a couple of lists and some more words. I’ve had loads of fun researching this, and I hope you will enjoy it too. There is a lot here and it is probably far too much to take in at one go, so do feel free to revisit if you are exhausted before the end!

I was talking about this a couple of weeks ago with a friend at work, and when I told him what I was doing he showed me the wonderful Pathe News website. This is worth repeat visits, as it carries a huge number of clips from  bygone years. It’s ideal for anyone who, like me, loves those old newsreel films with the terribly terribly posh voiceovers! The only problem is that as the site is aimed at getting you to buy the clips at ridiculous prices they don’t seem to let you embed them in the same way that YouTube does. So I’ve had to make do with some clickable links – not too many, as you can make a cup of tea while you wait for some of them to load, but they really are worth it! The first of these is the Pathe News Coronation Year Review, The Crowning Year which is a ten minute run through some of the year’s most important events. Not all, by a long way, but it’s a lovely snapshot of an historic year. Not that I was aware of what was happening, especially as the two biggest events happened while I was still an expected arrival, but I was lucky enough to be born in the year which saw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the first ascent of Mount Everest. Beat that!

As another taster of what Pathe News were covering that year, and for a glimpse at fashionable home décor, here’s The Queen at the Ideal Homes Exhibition – absolutely spiffing! I have a couple more slices of Pathe 1953, but I’ll save those for later.

To give you an idea of that year was like, here is a totally random selection of things that happened in 1953:

5 Jan – Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett first performed in Paris

Not the original cast!
Not the original cast, I suspect!

22 Jan – The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, opens on BroadwayThe Crucible

28 – Derek Bentley executed at Wandsworth Prison

31 Jan to 1 Feb – North Sea flood kills 1836 in Netherlands, 307 in the UK and several hundreds more at sea

5 Feb – Disney’s Peter Pan premieres


1 March – Death of Joseph Stalin

Seems like a nice chap!
Seems like a nice chap!

13 April – Ian Fleming publishes the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in the UK

Where it all began
Where it all began

29 May – Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reach the summit of Mount Everest (video by The Guardian)

2 June – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey – contrary to popular belief, this did actually happen in colour. This clip is from a full length video of the event, which you can buy from places like Amazon, I believe, and is copyright of Granada Ventures:

23 July – Howard Hawks’ film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) released

What a stunning pair! Or two
What a stunning pair! Or two

4 Sept – Research on the discovery of REM sleep first published by Eugene Aserinsky and Nathaniel Kleitman. As I’ve mentioned before I have a sleep problem, so I couldn’t resist this cartoon, originally released in the USA on Christmas Day 1953. Copyright Disney, of course:

26 –Following the end of sweets rationing earlier in the year, the rationing of cane sugar ends in the UK, to the great relief of the sweet-toothed everywhere!

5 Oct – the UNIVAC 1103 is the first commercial computer to use random access memory

Yes, this really is a computer!
Yes, this really is a computer!

21 November – Natural History Museum announces that the skull of the Piltdown Man is a hoax

Shame, such a good-looking guy too!
Shame, such a good-looking guy too!

December – the first issue of Playboy was published, Marilyn Monroe was the nude centrefold and it sold 54,175 copies at $0.50 eachPlayboy Issue 1

30 Dec – the first colour television sets go on sale in the US, priced at $1,175. At today’s exchange rate ($1.59 to the £) that equates to £739. In today’s money, however, that would be about £17,400!First colour tv 1953

I mentioned earlier that I had another couple of links to Pathe News, to give an insight into life in 1953. The first of these is the Boy Scouts’ Soapbox Derby which really is from another age! The second is a group of Carol Singers in Ashford, Kent which is rather nice – to an oldie like me it somehow seems more Christmassy than nowadays, although it is an unfortunate coincidence that Santa bears an uncanny resemblance to a former BBC DJ currently awaiting trial!

As I’ve mentioned before, I love music and it has always played a very important role in my life. So I thought I’d show you what was top of the hit parade (yes, they did call it that!) when I was born. Charts as we know them today had only been introduced in 1952 – previously they had counted sales of sheet music – and sources differ as to what actually was No.1 at the time. As far as I can make out, the No.1 in the UK, for the first of six weeks, was Guy Mitchell, with Look At That Girl

And in the USA it was Les Paul and Mary Ford, Vaya Con Dios, enjoying the sixth of nine weeks at No.1


Reviews of the year always do these, so I thought I should follow suit. Among those who share my year of birth are Lucinda Williams – wonderful singer/songwriter; Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner – President of Argentina; Carl Hiaasen – writer of some of the funniest novels I’ve ever read; Tony Blair – after dinner speaker, world traveller, waste of space; Mike Oldfield – the man with the Tubular Bells; Pierce Brosnan – been in a few films; Victoria Wood – brilliant writer, actor, comedian, singer etc etc; Michael Portillo – bouffant-haired railway traveller and former Tory government minister; Keith Allen – the Sheriff of Nottingham on the BBC, loads of other acting roles, father of two vaguely well-known kids; Cyndi Lauper – who just wants to have fun; Nanci Griffith – another great singer/songwriter; Nigel Mansell – the boring racing driver, used to go ‘Brum Brum’ to himself as he drove round the circuits; and Kim Basinger – blimey, is she really 60 this year? I feel old!

Just a few of those who departed in 1953: Hank Williams – country musician; as mentioned earlier, Joseph Stalin – the man who rewrote history; Sergei Prokoviev – Russian composer; and Dylan Thomas – playwright who wrote Under Milk Wood, set in the fictional town of Llaregub (read it backwards).

A mention for Sir Winston Churchill, who won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Churchill accepting the Nobel, according to the caption - his wife went to Sweden to pick it up!
Churchill accepting the Nobel, according to the caption, though the Nobel website says his wife went to Sweden to pick it up!

To round off, I’m going to add a few more videos for you to dip into if you feel so inclined. They aren’t in any particular order, and the only connection between them is that they date from 1953. Firstly, the famous film of the train journey from London to Brighton:

And I couldn’t do 1953 without Stanley Matthews’ FA Cup Final, with commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme:

From a 2013 perspective this is hysterical:

Do you fancy a trade advert? It seems they couldn’t afford a voiceover, or maybe Martin Clunes was busy that day:

Or a film trailer – great special effects here:

I could go on for ages, but I’ll stop here. One final one, a news story that caught my eye:

If you’ve got this far I really do applaud you, but there are no prizes, I’m afraid. Not even one of those shiny capes they usually give out at the end of marathons! I really do hope you’ve found something to interest and entertain you and that you have an idea of what 1953 was like – not that I really knew, of course!

Have fun!

Sleepless In Epping

Bad idea

When I started this blog it was to share with you my experience of depression, both going through it and getting over it. But as I’ve said before, there were parts of the experience which didn’t really fit into the main story but may be relevant to others. As well as the main illness I was also suffering from severely disrupted sleeping patterns, which I still have now. So I’m sharing them with you. Aren’t you lucky?

What was wrong?

For quite some time, many months at least and maybe years, I have got by with around five hours sleep each night, but in the lead up to my depression diagnosis this got progressively worse. I was managing three hours at best most nights, and not all in the one spell: I would wake up at least once or twice, and sometimes more, every night. Whilst this may not have been the ‘cause’ of depression, it sure as hell didn’t help prevent it! I was asked about this when I first saw my GP, who noticed that I had a slight irregularity in my heartbeat which she thought might be a contributory factor to my nocturnal arousals – the waking up and getting up, even if I didn’t need to pee! So, on top of all the other tests, I was sent for an ECG to see how serious this might be. Fortunately, this confirmed the irregular heartbeat but not to a severe level. So I still have that, untreated, and I know that I’m just going to have to live with it.

The next stage was to be referred to a specialist clinic. I didn’t have to stay in hospital but was invited to add to my apparel for one night – a mini computer, with all sorts of wires and tubes to be attached to my chest, stomach, arms and face (see below). The instructions were like IKEA for sleep disorders, but at least they were in something resembling English and all the parts were there! This test also confirmed the irregular breathing patterns, but nothing more severe. I had been told that I was being tested for sleep apnoea, which was just a name to me, and when the consultant told me the results I said I was almost disappointed – I’d been hoping they would find something wrong so that they could treat it. The look on his face was priceless, somewhere between ‘you have my sympathy’ and ‘you’re a complete imbecile’ and it was then he told me that sleep apnoea can be fatal, so it was just as well I didn’t have it! He also said there was no treatment that would help me, either. So that was it – keep your fingers crossed, lad, you may sleep properly one day!

What the well-dressed insomniac is wearing
What the well-dressed insomniac is wearing

What could I do about it?

I was advised to try sleeping in a chair, rather than my bed, as this might improve airflow though my passages. They thought my irregular heartbeat might be combining with breathing patterns to jolt me awake. As the advice came from a professional I thought it was worth a go, and nearly a year on I’m still doing it. I don’t know if it helps but I’m afraid to stop doing it! I’ve tried a few times to sleep in my bed again, but have still woken up several times in the night and in the mornings I’ve had terrible backache. I must be getting old! But at least chair-sleeping makes it easier to get up in the morning – I just stand up!

I was also advised that weight loss would help, which didn’t really come as a surprise! I’ve lost over three stone in the past seven months and feel much better for it. I’ve no idea if it helps with sleep though, and how could you test it anyway? I don’t think my scales measure sleep times as well as weight.

So I’ve tried a few other things as well, with mixed degrees of failure. To give you an idea:

Sleeping on the settee – mine’s a two-seater, I was constantly moving around trying to get comfortable and keep everything on the settee. I didn’t sleep and I felt like I’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. Not recommended!

Sleeping on the floor – only for the hardy or the terminally stupid. Painful, didn’t work, and guys if you try it be careful to avoid squashing important bits. That doesn’t help you sleep – trust me, I know! Not recommended!

Infusions – I’ve never been much of a fan of the herbal/floral teas. As far as I’m concerned, to be called ‘tea’ it needs to contain ‘tea.’ Grass is for gardens, or for enlivening smoking. But someone recommended lemon and ginger and to my surprise I quite liked it. So I thought I’d try the special  infusions to aid sleep. Verdict? Well, I’ve never drunk liquid compost, but I think I now have an idea of what it would taste like. And it didn’t seem to help me sleep any better either – probably because of the retching. Not recommended!

Herbal sleep tablets – following the ‘it’s good for you’ logic I thought I’d try these. Well, if they’re good enough for Cadfael, why not? They were quite large, it was impossible to swallow them without tongue contact and they tasted like…you guessed it, liquid compost in tablet form. No noticeable difference in sleep either, probably because of the bad taste lingering above toothpaste. Not recommended!

Hot chocolate – tastes much nicer than the shit-in-a-bag stuff. But no noticeable improvement in sleep. Recommended for enjoyment, but not for sleeping.

Keep the TV on with low or no sound – what was I thinking! I just ended up watching movies! Not recommended, well, for sleep anyway. I saw some good films though.

Sleeping with the lights on – also in the ‘what was I thinking’ category. No. Utterly pointless. Not recommended.

Keep the TV and the lights on – see the previous two. Not recommended.

Listen to music – also falls into the ‘enjoyable but didn’t help’ class. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried it with AC/DC? Fun, but not recommended.

Reading to make my brain tired – see watching TV, only in Kindle form. Not recommended.

Going on the computer to make my brain tired – see watching TV, reading etc. Not recommended.

Making the flat very warm, to induce drowsiness – more likely to help with weight loss from the sauna effect. No use whatsoever. Also detrimental to the electricity bill. Not recommended.

Basically, after trying all of these and getting nowhere, I’ve come to the conclusion that my motto should be….

‘I want to go to sleep, but my brain keeps  talking to itself’

So, does anyone know of anything else I could try? I’d love to hear from you if there is, provided it isn’t illegal or immoral.  I think the only thing I haven’t tried is normal sleeping pills from my GP. We’ve discussed it several times but always agreed that they may not work either, they may react with my anti-depressants, and they can be addictive. But I’m going in the morning so I’ll ask again. If you don’t hear from me for a while it will mean I’ve got some and they worked! And if not, I may see you on Twitter at 3am one morning.

As they say..

’Dear 3am. We have to stop meeting like this. I’d much rather sleep with you.’