About Sid

Photographer, mental health advocate, occasional ranter, in love with Kent.

Me, Jeremy Corbyn and the Special Branch

Forty three years ago in fact when I was 17 years old I walked past the RAF recruitment office in Middlesbrough on my way back home from somewhere and something made me go inside and ask questions. By the time I came out I’d arranged to go in for IQ and psychological testing and decide what job I thought I was going to be good at.

I passed the IQ test easily and then had a one to one with a senior officer to discuss the whys and wherefores of what I’d chosen to do and if I was suitable for the RAF. He questioned the fact that I’d chosen a low grade job (parachute packing) and said I was officer material and would be recommended for an acceleration program. It shocked me as I’d always been told by my teachers, apart from the ones who taught me English, that I was a bit thick. I’d just been bored apparently.

An appointment was made for my final interview and I think I was the most excited out of all the people who were also having theirs that day. I was so excited I gabbled a bit in the interview and was shocked when I was told that I would not be accepted into the RAF and that it was unlikely that I’d been accepted into any of the other armed forces or the police. I burst into tears and ran from the recruitment office.

Fast forward to 1989 when I was applying for a pub licence and things got a little strange. When you apply for a pub licence the local police sergeant talks to you about your suitability to run a pub, talks to the outgoing landlord and then decides whether or not to raise objections. I didn’t hear from the sergeant and I naturally wondered what was going on.

Two police officers visited me at home one Sunday morning to discuss “things”. They ordered my husband out of the house telling him to take our dog for a walk. He protested and they made it quite clear that if he didn’t leave of his own accord then they would make him leave. He did as he was told.

The senior of the two officers told me they were Special Branch and pulled out a file a couple of inches thick and began going through it. My grandfather’s involvement with the IRA, my father’s visit to Donegal (which I never knew had happened) after his National Service, a guy who I met in a night club whose brother was in the IRA all added up, in their eyes at least, to me being a member or at least a sympathiser of the IRA.

There are only two reasons that you don’t get accepted for the armed forces and one is that you have a criminal record which I haven’t and the other is that you are a terrorist or a suspected terrorist.

They went through the file. Transcripts of phone calls, stills from videos, photographs of people I was talking to, photographs of me waiting about in places – countless photos, video stills and phone transcriptions.

I was told that this time they wouldn’t object to a licence but that if I even so much as looked as though I was going to have a “political” meeting in the pub then I’d be spending time in prison.

They told me that they’d never let me go, that I’d always be a person of interest though these days given the way things are going I’m less of an interest.

So what does this have to do with Jeremy Corbyn. He is a public figure, he is not afraid to put his head above the parapet and if he was a terrorist or a suspected terrorist then he would not be in public office. If there were serious suspicions of him associating with terrorists then believe me, he wouldn’t be in the Labour Party let alone the leader of it.

The hysteria around his “links” to terrorism are just that, hysteria. I don’t believe for a moment that it’s true.

I’ve met Jeremy Corbyn and he is an open book. His body language backs up the words he speaks, he is sincere and he is the kind of leader that I need in our Party.

I have a huge mental illness that never goes away. It’s not that long ago that people like me were locked in asylums and kept in straightjackets. When I saw my first psychiatrist I had to go to a secure mental hospital and every door I went through was locked before the next one was open. I was 15 and terrified.

My only income is state benefits which is a hellish way to live. We all dread the brown envelope appearing on the doormat.

Jeremy Corbyn is attuned to my needs and the way that I need to live safely and I am entitled to that security.

I need a Labour government led by a person who understands that the Party was formed to help those who lived in red brick houses not those who were monied and went to red brick universities.

I have no doubt that people will disagree with me on this but let me assure you, if Jeremy Corbyn were an terrorist or a sympathiser of terrorism he would not be holding the public office that he does today. I have had an experience that few have had that proves that point.

Welcome back irritable day…

Mania, building up as hysterical bubbles

 

I’ve been manic for a few weeks now but, as usual, didn’t see the signs until it was too late to do anything about it.

I don’t recognise the signs when they begin to appear and nor do I recognise the signs of depression when they start creeping in. I have a kind of memory loss I suppose that hides the indicators from me and can get me into all sorts of trouble.

Mania, especially when I am ultradian cycling, can be vicious and those are the days that I sincerely want to die. I want to commit suicide (don’t pick me up on my use of the word suicide, it’s my blog and my words) and I have to talk myself out of it.

I always self harm because it feels like it’s the only thing I can do to ease the pressure. Try putting a piece of sellotape on an inflated balloon and then sticking a pin through it. It will deflate slowly and gently and that’s what the self harm does to me.

I refuse to go into the details of the self harm but it is safe and I am in no danger of death or infection.

The mania has been reaching a peak over the past few days. As usual I’m not getting any joy from this episode. I almost envy people who are elated during mania but only almost.

Mid level mania at its peak

Yesterday was disorganised day and I was genuinely afraid that I wouldn’t eat and as my eating has been patchy lately I really needed to eat. At 9.30 last night I ate nursery food and though it wasn’t what I wanted it was what I needed.

Today I am experiencing irritable day.

My brain is itching and I want to rip it out. Sounds are too loud, my animals want to sit too close, someone knocked on the door too loudly and I need to sleep for another eight hours.

I am desperate for rest.

Community – East Street in Bedminster, Bristol

Communities are strange which seems like a strange thing to say until you think about it.

If you lived in a village in not so long times past you may remember walking into a pub and the bar falling silent as the collective heads of the customers turned to look at you before turning back again and resuming whatever conversations they were having, if any.

If you turned out to be a tourist then all well and good because the village could make money out of you but should you be a incomer then unless you were young you would never be considered a villager and perhaps not even then. Incomers steal properties from the villagers so that theres not enough to go round and the young people can’t afford to buy or rent homes in their own community.

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t then you haven’t noticed what’s going on in the world or, you’re part of the problem.

Cities suffer just as much. Bristol, which is where I live, is a collection of villages that have melted together and become one big place. Those of us who live in Bedminster, again where I live, doesn’t really consider itself part of Bristol at all. We got forced into being part of the city in 1899 and we didn’t see why we should.

Bedminster has a rich history.  The Royal Manor of Bedminster was all the land south of the Avon (from the Avon Gorge to Brislington) and recorded in the Domesday Book as having 25 villeins (tenant farmers), three slaves in the way that slaves are defined now and 27 smallholders, a small holding being a small farm.

Bedminster existed 200 years before Bristol was even thought of. The church of St John the Baptist was the most important church in the area and the sand used in the building of Bristol Cathedral came from a sand mine on Sheene Road and a McDonalds sits above it now.

During the Civil War Prince Rupert razed Bedminster to the ground as he felt it made Bristol vulnerable and it’s reputed that he considered it a dying market town. Some people think that way today but hey, we were over 600 years old when dear Prince Rupert was being judgemental and we’re now well over a thousand years old. Which old lady wouldn’t looked a bit worn round the ages at such a great age?

Let’s fast forward if not into the present date we can get into the 80s.

In the 80s we had a wonderful greengrocer near what is now the bus stop on Bedminster Parade. The bright and yet subtle green boards that covered the window (for practical use not as a guard against vandalism) came down to form a sturdy counter on which the greengrocer displayed fruit and vegetables. It was, as a lot of shops near Bedminster Bridge were, very small. It was one of the most enticing shops in Bedminster. Further along, on East Street opposite the Old Globe, were two tiny shops also. They were owned by the same family and one sold pet food and fish, the other sweets and tobacco.

We were old but we were unique and we are unique in one particular respect today.

As you walk along East Street you cannot help but notice the amount of benches that there are. There is no other street in England with that many benches in such short as space. (I’m discounting the centre of Bristol from this because, as you will see, they have a different use.)

A different use? Surely benches are there for sitting on. But wait, on East Street we do a different kind of sitting.

East Street’s uniqueness is that the Street is the gathering place and not the cafes and pubs that are up and down it. You meet someone outside whichever cafe or whatever shop is convenient and then decide where to go or what to do. The street is the most important part of this bit of Bedminster when it comes to community.

Personally I cannot go out to get shopping without factoring an hour extra for talking time. Meeting half a dozen people to say a quick hello to is normal, meeting a couple of people to have a brief chat to is normal and meeting one person to have a long chat to is normal and this happens every time not just now and then. As we chat we sit on a bench and are sometimes joined by other people who will walk towards home and chat as you go.

We have independent shops and big chains on the street. I can’t just nip into the pet shop and buy something quickly because Hayley loves to chat, I can’t get a key cut or shoes repaired because the shoe man and I have to put the world to rights. I can’t pop in and out of Greggs if Jacqueline is working because we exchange stories about my pets and the squirrels she feeds. I go into Boots and Jean always has a chat, I pick up my prescription in Superdrug and Edyta, the pharmacist always says more than a few words. I rarely go through a check out in Asda without someone I know being on the till and there’s always a grumpy queue of people waiting behind me as we chat.

As a community we all agree that East Street needs regeneration but it does not need gentrification. We all want tagging reduced but “legal” graffiti walls are not the answer but that’s another topic all together. We need  new businesses but we don’t need posh ones. We need businesses that the people here will use. We are not ashamed of our working class backgrounds because there is nothing to be ashamed of.

This blog post has been a the laying down of history which demonstrates our pride in our little town and one street in particular. The next one will be about another retail street in Bedminster namely West Street and then I’ll get on to the blog I set out to write. Oh and did I mention that both East and West Street were part of the ancient Glastonbury Way?

So much history, such a community.

Back in the day…

I’m so old I can remember when I didn’t talk about having Manic Depression because people would take a step back. I don’t know if they thought they’d catch it or they didn’t know what it was but the name scared them.

Sometimes you could tell that they did know what it was and they pictured me hanging round bus stops with a machete because we all know that people with mental health problems have the desire to murder someone just under their skin.

A few years ago a did an hour long interview on the local BBC radio station and that came up during the broadcast. The presenter said “Well we all know that couldn’t happen here because the buses are so bad you’d get fed up of waiting.” I couldn’t help but laugh because he’d deflated a misconception in a way that had a bigger impact than discussing it in a sober way.

When they changed the name from Manic Depression (which I thought described it well) to Bipolar Disorder it became a bit of a fashion item and it’s increased in popularity over the years. There appears to be a tendency that experiencing moods make you “bipolar”. It a load of fucking shit of course.

While we’re on it, I hate the terms Self Stigma and Imposter Syndrome. You’re experiencing doubts. THAT IS ALL.

Anyway on to the point of this blog post. I read a tweet from @simonfromharlow about dishing out unsolicited advice to strangers. Whether it was tongue in cheek or not I don’t care (sorry Simon) but I get it a lot. I mean every single day.

It’s worse now we have the internet of course because everyone is an expert because they read an article in an outdated magazine while they were waiting to see the doctor. Or some celebrity “bravely fights it” We don’t fight it by the way, we live with the effects it has on us and learn coping strategies to help us manage it.

People are well meaning, I know that but it’s physically and mentally exhausting to fend off someone’s advice when they haven’t a clue what they’re experiencing.

While we’re on the subject of well meaning advice NEVER suggest to anyone with a mental health problem that they should take medication and have a lie down. Would you tell someone with cancer to have a bit of chemo? No, so don’t tell me to take my medication.

Unless you know someone personally and they’ve talked to you about their particular brand of Bipolar Disorder then lay off. The kindest and best thing you can do is give them time, space and no advice. Truly.

 

I am a hero…

I have looked one of my biggest phobias in the face today and I wasn’t exactly happy about it.

A long time ago when I was around seven years old I went to see a dentist who, without warning, slapped a rubber mask on my face and I blacked out. I could hear sounds while I was under and I thought someone was cutting a rubber band close to my ear. To a young child that’s what a tooth being extracted under general anaesthic sounds like. Except it wasn’t one tooth it was twelve.

There began the long sequence of experiences that ended with me becoming dental phobic.

I had a tooth broken diagonally in an accident at school when we were playing rounders. It was probably the most painful experience of my life and I was left with a tooth that was unfilled and with a nerve exposed. It was agony.

When I was 15 I had the tooth extracted, again under a general anaesthetic, and had a denture fitted. Dentures are great these days but back then they were made less robustly and I broke it often.

I moved from my home town in 1986 and developed dental problems because if something is going to happen then it’s going to happen to me. I ended up with one side of my mouth filled with gold crown and it tuned out that that particular dentist was famous for it.

It seemed to me that all the decisions about my oral health bypassed me somehow. Dentists and dental nurses looked at x-rays then whispered in the corner of the room before subjecting me to treatment without telling me about it.

I moved to a different part of the city when I divorced (well almost divorced but that’s another story) and a Welsh dentist called Murphy decided on a line of treatment, again without consulting me.

I found myself in his chair having my top row of teeth drilled for so long I had to ask for a break to go to the loo. While I was there I looked in the mirror to see what he was doing that took so long and saw that what had been good teeth except for the missing one now resembled a mountain range.

I was having a bridge done he told me so I needed a set of crowns and that was that. Snide remarks about free treatment made me feel as though I’d been subject to a bizarre form of vivisection since I was seven years old.

All good until I was back in the part of the city I felt at home in and where I still live now. I went to the local dentist because I had toothache and ended up with root canal surgery in three teeth. That, not to put to fine a point on it, is fucking agony.

He called me a baby when I cried and I always come away from his surgery with a bruised face whatever he did. He was an ex-RAF dentist and I was one of the people who he considered had to be told what to do and do it without question.

Then my head blew up and I ended up with a dental phobia.

In around 10 years and many referalls to the local dental hospital I’ve had four teeth filled under sedation and the rest of my mouth has went to pieces. Again, I was told what had to be done but not why and not how.

On one occasion I asked if I could have treatment done and then have somewhere quiet to sit and I ended up on a hospital ward so that I could lie on a bed after the procedure. Instead of a dentist and a dental nurse in the room there was a professor, a consultant dentist, a theatre nurse, an anaestetist and a dental nurse. Oh and half a dozen students popped in for a look while it was all going on. It was a ridiculous amount of money to fill two teeth.

The dental hospital doesn’t take referalls for fillings under sedation anymore so I’ve had to take myself off to a regular dentist and throw myself at his mercy. Except that’s not quite what happened.

My first visit was to sit and talk about my fears, what would happen, when it would happen and if I was happy about it. I was okay with the extraction, I wasn’t happy about the fillings but I was being consulted about what was going to happen in my mouth. It felt extraordinary to be given this level of consultation 52 years after a butcher of a dentist thought it was okay to rip half my teeth out.

I had an infection so I had to have antibiotics leading up to the extraction. The tooth pulling went well and then I developed dry socket as the clots in the tooth bed got too big and wouldn’t hold on. Now I have a dissolvable sponge in my mouth and it’s working well.

I had the fillings today. We talked about what was going to happen. I put my iPod on and he began to drill. I asked him to stop. He did. This went on for a while and each time he was patient and considerate.

While he was doing the filling I was stressed as it was a deep filling and took quite a while. I shook badly (the adrenaline in the local anaesthetic doesn’t help), cried, shook some more and when it was over I cried some more.

I stood up to go and wobbled. You know you’re not in a good way when you see _that_ amount of concern on someone’s face. I wobbled into the waiting room to sit for a while and got the same look from the receptionist. My arms were white and I couldn’t stop crying and when I did all I could say was, “I’m phobic, I’m a fucking hero for doing this.”

I am still phobic, I have to have check-ups every three months and I’ve been advised to cut right back on the sugar. I’ll have to go cold turkey on that one but it will help my teeth and I will lose weight.

So here I am, a fucking hero.