I/Mmature Student. 2. Fellow writers. Macbeth.

Ok now that I’m getting the first insights into what the workload is going to be like at Northumbria Uni with my studies of Drama and Script I’m beginning to realise this blog may be a place where I come for a wee break to relax and recharge. I’ve no problem with said work load…but yep we’re going to be busy.

Much to my delight I finally met my fellow writers today.  A great eclectic bunch from India, Latvia, Gateshead and other such exotic places. There are 6 of us but if you include Richard Stockwell our course tutor there will be 7 of us in the room at any given time. That’s a good number, both lucky and magnificent. Obviously Richard is the Yul Brynner leader type. One of my classmates Holly is a Bowie fanatic (there is no other type of Bowie fan) so she’s obviously dead smart/cool/old fashioned. I imagine over the next three years the pair of us will manage to put the other five off The Great Dame David for the rest of their days.

I’m absolutely delighted with the tiny size of our group. Compared to the more common class sizes we can have a lot more feedback and attention provided to our developing skills.

For our first classes we’ve to read The Coen brothers introduction to Fargo. I know, how cool is that. This is my homework! Plus we’ve to read/reread Macbeth. I’m not massively versed in Shakespeare but that is the one play of his I’m pretty familiar with. I’ve got a copy of it in the house somewhere  along with the notes. However as a bit of a cheat I’ve also just downloaded the latest film version staring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard and err…me. Honest I was a member of the English army that invade Scotland. I would be gobsmacked if I can pick myself out as I wore a hood over my head for the days shoot. Possibly a good thing as my many friends in the SNP might find my role that day a wee bit hard to stomach. The shoot that day was pretty rough as we spent most of our time up a massive hill or in a bog in Northumbria at the start of February in sideways rain. Most of us spent most of the day slipping and falling on our arses. At one point I was heard to say in my broad Scots accent, “Ahm no sure if this invasion of Scotland is such a good idea. I think someone’s going to get seriously injured here.” Whether this adlib has made the final cut remains to be seen. I’m not so sure improvising is encouraged when doing the Great Bard.

https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/

macbeth-1
Is this a dagger I see before me… I’d imagine so mate. We’re in Glasgow.

 

 

Living successfully with Bi-polar 1.

Living Successfully with Bi-Polar 1.

I wrote this blog several months ago then didn’t publish it. The stigma issues connected to such stuff were still very much to the fore of my concerns. Since then something happened that changed my viewpoint dramatically. I chose to perform a half hour of comedy about my condition for the mental health charity Mind. I told a good 30 minutes worth of very personal anecdotes about my experience. It turned out to be very funny and deeply cathartic. Perhaps the same effect someone may get from an AA meeting. At the end of the show I met several other service users who thanked me for sharing my experiences. I’m now in the process of writing a one hour show to be performed this October about my life with Bi-Polar 1 which is brutally frank and hopefully as funny. Re-reading this article I find it still quite guarded compared to how I talk about the condition now just a few months later. I’ll publish some of the stories when I get them down on this blog. But in the meantime this serves as a bit of a po-faced synopsis of what’s to come. I look forward to getting it out there.       

“In truth I’m never keen to talk about this on a public forum. However, after recently watching Stephen Fry’s documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive AND meeting a young woman recently diagnosed with the condition I felt compelled to publish something. If it helps one person then that’s of use.”

I had my first episode of Bi-Polar symptoms around the age of 24. I’d not long split from a long term relationship and was self-medicating and smoking a lot of cannabis. At the time it kicked in I was at collage one day when in I became delusional and paranoid. I was convinced criminals were out to get me and that people were conspiring against me. This is all very common symptoms of Bi-Polar.

At the time a lot was being written about direct links between schizophrenia and cannabis and I feel this really contributed to a misdiagnosis. I spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I was then for the next 6 years treated for schizophrenia which in the end turned out to be very detrimental to my health. I can’t really recall the various treatments I was given but I lost those six years. I felt as if I was in some kind of bubble, detached from people and the world.

As time moved on I began to read up on schizophrenia and Bi Polar disorder and began to realise I wasn’t showing any signs of schizophrenia but was showing all the signs of a Bi-Polar disorder. Eventually one day I phoned a Bi Polar helpline and something really quite unbelievable happened. For anybody that follows my blog you’ll know I’m a professional comedian. It’s how I earn my living. So I rang this helpline and got talking to a woman on the line. I told her about myself when she interjected and asked, “You say you’re a comedian. Were you on in Glasgow this weekend.” I replied that yes I was. The woman then told me, “John I saw you this weekend and spoke to you. You are in my opinion 100% Bi Polar and its very important we get this diagnosis changed and get you the correct treatment.”

It then took almost a year of arguing with consultants etc to get the right treatment and diagnosis. It turned out that once a “professional” gives you a label it can take a hell of a lot of battling to get that opinion turned over.

Eventually I started getting more appropriate treatment and immediately began to feel better and enjoyed a couple of years of relatively “normal” life. But it never truly went away. It just receded for a bit.

Still now feeling better things began to improve in my life. I met and fell in love with the woman who is now my wife. I began to get on the bottom rungs of a career in the comedy industry. I’d stopped self-medicating with cannabis. (I haven’t touched the stuff in about 13 years)

The condition wasn’t quite done with me yet. About 3 years into my relationship I began to suffer some terrible stress at work and eventually another really big episode kicked in. I experienced full blown elations and delusions and frightening paranoia. Then my delusions turned more to a notion that my soul was destined for Hell. Those were terrifying delusions. Just stop and think for a minute what it would be like to believe that a place like Hell was actually real.

My health went up and down over the next few years and from the years 2006-2008 I entered my absolute worse period. Delusions were happening on an almost weekly basis. I was crippled by the condition and finding all kinds of social stimulus almost impossible. I was terrified I was going to burn out and the condition would be the end of me. I’d read once that only around 15% of people with Bi Polar 1 actually manage to function in the real world. Somehow in amongst this I managed to keep working. It was the hardest struggle of my life.

In desperation I one day again handed myself in to psychiatric services and it was decided a new treatment should be tried. That’s when I went onto Seroquel. It pretty much saved my life, my relationship and my sanity. I responded to it fast. I remember 6 weeks in turning up at my consultants office and asking, “What is this? The delusions are gone. The crippling depression is gone too. I remember this feeling. This is what it is to feel normal.”

I’ve been very well for 6 years now. I have a life I’m very happy with. I’ve worked as a professional comedian and writer for 13 years now. I’ve been with my partner for almost 16 years. I’m off to do a degree in Script writing this year at university. Trust me the condition isn’t gone, but the point I’m here to make is it is VERY treatable. So if you’re out there experiencing a bad day with it today remember there is a tomorrow.

Years ago the notion was put to me that geneticists are now heading towards the gene that causes the condition and may be able to eradicate it. If I could live over again would I have my own Bi Polar taken out of my life? I had to think long and hard about that and eventually concluded no. If it wasn’t for the condition, despite the entire struggle, I wouldn’t be who I am and living the life I do today.

For all the detriment this condition causes I believe there are some great plus signs. One being that Bi Polar people experience everything just that wee bit more acutely/intensely than others. From listening to music, watching a film, enjoying other people or looking at the patterns the rain makes on a window. We have an intense appreciation of the good things…and yes the bad.

Focus on the good. Some things this condition gives us are gifts. And always remember it is treatable. Maybe not today but definitely tomorrow.

A real ghost story?

I’ve never really held too much interest or belief in things that go bump in the night. Yes I’m a fan of horror and fantasy but that’s in the world of fiction. I don’t really go in for “based on real events” type stuff. If that’s on the promotion for a film or a book then it’s usually best avoided. But then a thing happened…

About three months ago I was alone in the house I share with my wife. She had gone to visit friends for the weekend. Good, if you’re going to have a ghostly encounter then it’s always best to be on your own. That way you can prove it to no one and the realm of the ghost remains firmly in the not yet explained bracket.

I think it’s important to explain that a couple of nights prior to this event I’d watched the horror film the Babadook. It had spooked me slightly, but in a fun way. I certainly had no problem sleeping after watching. I feel it’s worth mentioning though as maybe that did play a part on my general mood and imagination.

I live in a house built around the 1920-30s. It’s had many prior inhabitants. I know nothing of any dubious events having taken place under our roof. I’ve shared this place with my wife for around 7 years. Nothing unusual has ever happened prior to the events of a few months back.

My wife and I have separate bedrooms. Please understand this is nothing to do with a strained relationship. I’m a restless sleeper and I work late hours while she works early. We love each other very much. It’s fair to say though that my wife’s bed is much comfier than mine. So with her being away I’d decided to sleep for the night in her room. I was just settling into bed when the noise started.

As I’ve already mentioned I’ve lived in this house for a while. I know the noises it makes. I can place where they come from and what’s causing them around 99% of the time. This was a new noise but it was also I initially thought familiar and completely explainable. I live on the second floor of two flats with my neighbour below me. Her front door is right next to mine. So when I heard what I thought was the noise of somebody struggling with a key in the lock of either mine or her front door my first thought was, that’s the girl downstairs coming home. But the noise didn’t stop. My next thought was well she must be drunk, it’s Saturday night, she’s obviously put the wrong key in the lock. But the noise didn’t stop.

After maybe one or two minutes of this I then began to become concerned that someone was trying to get in my door. So up out of bed I got and went to the window. I strained at an angle to see if anyone was on the door step. I could see no one. I’m hearing things I thought. Bloody Babadook.

I climbed back into bed. Now, I’m not entirely sure of the duration of the wrong key in the lock noise I could hear but it did stop. ah well that’s that I thought and began to drift into sleep. Then it started again. By this point I was getting irritable and a little spooked. It was distinctly coming from downstairs front door area. Was I wrong? Is it the sound of a key? It had rhythm to it chk…chk…chkchkchk…chk.chk.chk over and over again.

Once again I went to the window. Still nothing. Fuck this there’s definitely something going on down there. I decided to get dressed and go down and investigate. I actually felt a bit tentative opening the front door but of course once I did there was nothing there. Back up to bed.

Over the next hour the noise seemed to intensify and it began to be joined by others. I obviously understand these new noises would most likely be attributed to my hearing now being on heightened alert. As well as intermittent and fairly lengthy periods of the key noise there were loud creaks and yes bumps that sounded like they were coming from inside the room I was in. Some of them were  loud and distinct and always in the background the now fairly constant key noise.

By now I was spooked yet in not panicked…just disconcerted. I decided the only plan of action would be to go sleep on the couch. I’d come to regret that.

Lying on the couch I could still hear the key noise but now it was more distant, as it should have been I was now further from the front door but the bumps and the creaks I could now hear were coming clearly from the room I had just vacated. I must have been exhausted (we were by now into the middle of the night around 3 a.m.) because despite all this I started to drift into sleep. That’s when the next thing happened.

The door leading into the living room where I’d decided to bed down can have a fantastically loud creak if it is allowed to close very slowly. I was now positioned with my head on the couch closest to said door. Just as I was drifting off a loud creaking almost cracking noise started. I sat bolt upright and turned to see the door to my living room opening slowly. It had been ajar by about and inch initially but now was swinging toward me and towards being open fully.

Rather than be dumbstruck I actually said aloud, “You have to be fucking joking.” Once the door was fully open it connected with the side of the couch I was on. I grabbed it and swung it shut with such force the door jammed in the frame. I was now convinced there was someone in the house with me.

I didn’t even run for a weapon which on reflection would have been the smarter move. Instead I took a breath and pulled the door back open. Nothing there. I then searched both my room and that of my wife. Nothing…but the noises had stopped.

As I pointed out I must have been exhausted because despite all this I did manage to fall asleep on my couch. I dismissed the door to the fact this is an old house. I also reminded myself that, yes that door does swing on it’s own it does it all the time.

It was while being out in town the next day that a thought about the swinging door occurred to me. I was so stuck by my realisation that I was eager to get home and test this theory that had just struck me.

I climbed up the stairs and there was the door as it usually always is, slightly ajar about an inch. I gave it a gentle push and it did what I was expecting it to do. It swung back shut on me. I was right in thinking that the door moves on its own…but it swings shut not open. No matter how many times I tried to get it to swing slowly open and stay there it always swung shut on me.

Was that the end of things? No. On arrival home I told my wife of the events she put it down too many films like the Babadook or a rat in the floorboards. I think it’s fair to say she came up with these explanations more for reassurance of herself than anything else.

The following night I was back in my own room and drifting off to sleep. That’s when the key in the door came back. Chk…chk…chkchkchk…chk.chk.chk. It wasn’t just the noise that made me immediately sit up. it was the fact the rhythm of it was identical to the night before. It was as if I was listening to some kind of recording.

I didn’t hang about and headed straight for the couch. while back in my refuge all the other noises started coming from the room my wife was now in. I could hear them actually disrupting her sleep as she was muttering and stirring in her bed. she is however a really deep sleeper and they didn’t wake her fully…but they still went on for a bit.

After that I heard the key noise only once more. A single play of it’s usual rhythm then nothing. And that’s the way it’s stayed.

Just the other week I was telling my mother about this and she reminded me of the footsteps on the stairs that can be heard in the house I grew up in. this reminded me this isn’t the only spooky story I know. But I’ll tell that one another time.

I once heard a theory that perhaps the  stone and mortar and general fabric of  the buildings that surround us could perhaps record sounds or memories. Like a tape can. I’m starting to think that’s maybe not such a bad theory…and still sounds a bit more reasonable than ghosts.

Stand up comedy. Set 3.

And here we are still working up the routines for those whom it may be of interest to. Here’s some stuff we put out over the weekend….

BEE-GEE.

I’m always saying I look a bit like a homeless Bee-Gee. But when you think about it the Scots are quite like the Bee-Gees. We’re hairy, we like to sing…and two thirds of us die prematurely.

In fact sorry if I sound a bit chesty tonight, but I drive a Volkswagen. You combine that with fact I’m a Scot and I like sausages and I’ll be lucky to make it to the end of this set.

HEALTH.

I see the government want to raise retirement age in this country to 70. Which means most men in Scotland will enjoy their retirement 20 years after they’ve passed away.

We’re just not healthy. Life expectancy for a man in certain areas of Scotland is 57! Mind you if you live in Dundee…that’s probably enough.

Good old Dundee where the heroin comes in batter.

DIET

I’m still a bit tubby me but I was really over weight not so long back. My young smug doctor recommended I go on a diet. He said, “You’re now 16 stone. You’re clinically obese.” And then he asked, “How do you think this has happened?

How did I think  it had happened? I felt like getting a hold of his stethoscope and shouting into it, “Err…Cheese burger and chips please.”

So I went on a diet. And it was horrible. This diet was so austere as a treat I was brushing my teeth for a pudding. So what I do now to improve my diet is I watch Master Chef. Because before I watched Master Chef lunch for me would be a pie and a blob of brown sauce. But not since watching Master Chef. No, what I do now is I put the pie in the middle of the plate…and I drizzle the brown sauce around the edge of the plate.

DEAD BRIAN.

I’ve never been the most healthy of people. At school I was never very good at sports. I used to get called names…things like…goalkeeper.

I’m becoming aware of my mortality now, because there’s a thing that happens in your 40s that you don’t expect…a couple of your friends get ill and die. You get this really ominous phone call that starts with, “Hullo…Have you heard about Brian?”

Now when you get a phone call that starts with Hullo have you heard about Brian…there’s only two things that Brian could have done. He’s either touched a kid or he’s dead. Thankfully ladies and gentlemen he was dead. It was such a relief. Well I was getting suspicious…he’d been watching a lot of Rasta Mouse.

TREE.

I have to watch now. I used to live excessively. I used to do a lot of drugs. Hell, we used to drug drive. Well my mate Jimmy would drive and I would roll the joints. It really does affect your judgement. One day I glanced up from my rolling and said, “Hey Jimmy man look out we’re going to hit that tree. No really…Jimmy! Look out there’s a tree right in the middle of the road…Oh no, hang on a minute…It’s the air freshener.

PERMA STONE.

I was perma stoned man. I was always doing that thing where you wander into a room and then ask…why did I come in here? What’s that?…..Oh I see…This is where I work.

SOBER OCTOBER.

I’ve been trying though…I’ve just done the whole Sober October thing. And I’ll try to keep going on into Just say no November. I’ll probably relapse during the festive period. That will be can’t remember December. Jacked up January. Fucked for February…in a morgue by March.

Thing is I don’t really trust people that don’t drink. Hitler didn’t drink. Apparently one pint and he turned into a right bastard.

SCARY STORY.

You’re always learning about yourself. I recently discovered I’m still afraid of the dark. I did a gig in December and got of as train in the countryside in the evening and it was already dark. My Google maps said I can either pay 10 pounds in a taxi to get me to the gig…or…there’s a 15 minute shortcut across the moors. That’s the actual words it used…across the moors. Everybody knows you shouldn’t cross the moor. That’s where the werewolf lives!

But I thought to hell with it. I’m saving a tenner. 10 minutes in I was shitting myself. It was pitch dark and I hear a coughing noise coming from a field. That’s a sheep I told myself…they’re notorious for their tickly throats…it’s all that wool.

A few minutes later things got worse. I went into a valley and came to a tunnel. It was too late to turn back now. So I was edging my way through pitch darkness in this tunnel. By now I’ve got a small pair of scissors that I use to trim my beard held out in front of me. Had anybody just stepped out of the darkness and said good evening…fuck it…they were getting stabbed in the throat.

And then I realised…This is how friendly fire happens. I’m in the country and I’m terrified of a sneezy sheep.  Imagine if you were at war. If you were spread out. What’s that noise. Who goes there? No answer. fuck it I’d fire. And that’s when it happens. Shit that was one of us.

Well, it happens all the time this is a war after all. Never mind I’ll make the phone call…hello…have you heard about Brian?

Favourite Jokes no.2 (The funniest thing I ever saw)

In this series of occasional blogs I’m going to post some of the routines I’ve done as comedian and explain where they came from. This one below is probably the first routine I ever wrote. When I started out I was a very different comic. Much of my shtick was about being a camp guy growing up in a tough mining town. This piece very much comes from that world. The core of the story and punch line are very much based in fact. Of course I’ve embellished and gagged things up to turn it into comedy….

KARMA FOR THE SCHOOL BULLY.

“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” So said primo New Romantic Adam Ant. He obviously never grew up where I did. If ridicule came in the form of 10 skinheads chasing you down the high street it was plenty to be scared of.

skinheads

I grew up in the 80s and was a New Romantic.

Gay clown.

Brave. Essentially I could be found running around a Scottish mining town in my mums blouse. Life for me could be like a 16th century Witch trial. The locals would proclaim, “Yeah, throw him in the pond…and if he floats he’s a poof.”

I’d be thinking, “Oh God. Not the pond again. Not with this blouse. I’m wearing a black bra.”

Bra

I used to have a flick over fringe like Phil Oakey from the Human league.   

Phil Oakey

I didn’t look like Phil Oakey though…I looked like Hitler had let himself go.

Hitler

Anyway. I was always getting stress from the bullies. In particular there was a guy called Bobby Schoolar. he was a right bastard.

Prince Harry 

So one day we were in chemistry and Bobby was trying to get my attention by stabbing me in the thigh with a compass. he leans over and says, “Hey Scotty you’re gay this should interest you.” I said look Bobby I’ve told you it’s the 1980s. I’m not gay. I’m a dandy highwayman.”

adam Ant.

So anyway he still leans over and says. “Whatever!” Then he started to whisper in my ear. he says. “Look don’t tell anybody this right…but last night I was in the bath…and I stuck my thumb….up my bumb…and it was good. now you wont tell anybody will you?”

What would you have done? I was on my feet so fast I nearly created a Higs Boson particle. I shouted to the class, “Hey everybody!! Schoolar just told me he stuck his thumb up his arse last night. And he said HE ENJOYED IT.”

Batman2

There was instant bedlam in the class room.

classroom

Everybody started chanting, “up the bum, up the bum, up the bum.” (I RESISTED AN IMAGE FOR THIS BIT) In amongst all the mayhem Bobby panicked and he tried to make a run for it. Just as he got to the door the teacher came in. Bobby slammed right into him.  The teacher saw this near riot and went insane. he screamed, “Bobby! Get back to your chair. I want you, to explain to me…EXACTLY what is going on in here?”

I thought…can this day get any better.  

cheesy grin.

Any way the outcome of the story was  for my bad karma I got a detention. But that’s nothing compared to what Bobby had to endure for his homophobic bad karma. he spent the next two years at high school with everybody that passed him in the corner holding up their thumbs and going, “Hey Bobby…are you alright.”

thumb

Newcastle. no. 1.

I think I can quite comfortably say that ten of my happiest years have been the ones I’ve just spent living in Newcastle. I first came here to do a support slot for local comedy stalwart and star Mr Gav Webster. I was very new and he’d kindly given me a go so I could see what it was like gigging further away from home. As it turned out I didn’t do very well as my material was too parochial. But it was a great lesson.

But something happened that night that really stuck with me. During the interval a Geordie man came up to me and said, “Here pal that was great. I didn’t realise someone else was coming on I thought you were the main turn.”

Now, obviously none of what he was saying was true. But he had gone out of his way to be kind and cheer me up. He had to make a side step from his journey to the loo to do that. He went literally went out of his way. Trust me in 15 years in comedy you don’t find that everywhere.

Canny is a word often used in the Geordie dialect, “he’s a canny lad.” The more common definition of the word means shrewd, but in the old Scots/Northern English definition of the word it means steady, restrained, gentle. It’s a perfect term for describing the Geordies. Geordies have an ingrained stoicism. This may make them sound a bit cold. They’re not. It’s actually a very endearing quality. It comes from them being able to endure hardship and pain without showing feelings or complaining. It’s among the most noble of qualities and I find Geordies (and much of the north east other peoples)  to be among the most egalitarian and noble this country has to offer.

By pure coincidence I ended up in a relationship with a North East Lass just a year later. Coincidence because we met in Scotland not Newcastle.  She’s now my wife Lesley. One pivotal night I was lying on the couch and I remarked on impulse, “Pet, I think I could quite happily pursue my comedy career in Newcastle. You travel with your job. Could you maybe inquire if you could work there?”

Next day Lesley came back from work and told me, “Yes I can get a job in Newcastle. But we have to move in the next two weeks.” So move we did.

Newcastle like Scotland has a reputation for the hard man. In the 10 years I’ve been here I’ve never seen violence. I’ve hardly seen a raised voice in anger. It’s a city I feel safe walking across at night. I did have one moment on a sunny day when dressed in Jesus sandals, linen trousers and flowery shirt a young Geordie drove past, lent out his car window and shouted, “How Ye! Fuck off.”  He was laughing heartily as he did this and rather than be insulted I laughed along with him. To be fair in the Geordie Catwalk of fashion trends I did look like a ponce.

One of the main things as a Scot I share with the Geordies is there is a dark edge to our humour. it comes from hardship, factory work and precarious living standards. On the very first week I moved here I had a gig at a well known local folk pub called the Cumberland Arms. I was trying to find the place and had arrived at the edge of a thicket of trees. Looking confused a young Charva happened by and saw me lost. (And I use that word in it’s Geordie Romany definition meaning child. It’s horrendous how it’s been misappropriated)I told him where I was looking for. He said, “Aye Bonny Lad it’s right through them trees there.” I looked at him with a bit of worried uncertainty in my eyes. He spotted this and added, “Aye mind bonny lad, ye want tae gan through them trees there. Because if you go up that road over there….you’ll get murdered.” And that was me set off by Geordie humour and laughing like a drain again. And thankfully…I didn’t get murdered.

Funny fuckers.