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.

Memories

I saw some tweets on Twitter recently about people who had been talking about mental health. One of them was a woman who I’d known briefly on Twitter and who blocked me after a series of bullying tweets. Some of these were directly at me and some were subtweets; aimed at me but not mentioning me.

People always ask how you know subtweets are about you and believe me you know. Most of us have written subtweets, some of us in a nasty way, and all of us have been on the other end of them.

This is how it began.

I had a mutual follow with a woman on Twitter for about six months or so when she announced that she was  moving to the town in which I live. I briefly tweeted them about  it with lots of exclamation marks and an exchange of tweets followed with overuse of exclamation marks. She promised to get in touch when she moved here. She didn’t.

I shrugged it off because she was in a new town and probably out of work and, in this area, good jobs in her field aren’t that easy to come by. Her tweets showed that she was living on the breadline in a part of town you wouldn’t expect to find a newcomer but that she was mixing with people who were supporting her in one way or another.

An opportunity arose (in a voluntary capacity) that would suit her so I let her know. She came to meet me and I introduced her to the setup and she seemed to fit in well with the established group.

Then the group began to disintegrate. There was unease and discomfort and within weeks the people who had started the group left and there were few people left. Strange things happened. I’m not saying she was a thief but things went missing and there was always a scapegoat mentioned.

She played to my sense of paranoia and made me feel as though I was going more than a little mad. As the group photographer I found myself being sidelined more and more. I left the group under a carefully orchestrated cloud.

I tweeted about it. I tweet a lot of rubbish but I tweet a lot of the big stuff that goes on in my life too. I tweeted about how I’d been abused by that person and then the abuse from the person I mentioned above began. Subtweets saying that if anyone hurt her friend they’d have to answer to her, tweets directly to me asking me why I thought I had the right to stand in judgement.

This is what this woman did so swell. She divided people, she gossiped about people and told lies about her life. You can guarantee that if she was gossiping to you about one person then she was gossiping about you about someone else. She took delight in telling me about one person whose relationship had broken down because he was impotent. She is a nasty piece of work.

To see her defender talking mental health in public last week was a shock but it also brought back some memories that hurt. It seemed that her mental health had to be protected and treated as something precious but mine was tossed aside and stood on by her. In my opinion, this person is not an adovacte for mental health. You cannot talk of equality if you act in a way that is destructive to someone else’s mental health.

If either of them recognise themselves from this blog post then shame on them. If they’re not happy about it then it’s tough. This is how my experience of them affected me, this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have one.

Bullying is wrong no matter why we do it and covert abuse of people with mental health problems is vile.

PIP, anxiety and a microwave

I don’t think that anyone who lives in the UK hasn’t heard of Disability Living Allowancce (DLA) and about the way that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is handling the converion of DLA to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) that is the benefit that is replacing it.

I’ve had a lifetime award of DLA because I’m not expected to get any better – there will be no improvement in my illness and so I was awarded the benefit without having to have an assessment either face to face or over the phone. Similarly with my recent conversion to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) it has been accepted that I’ll never work again and there was no assessment either face to face or on the telephone. I have to hasten to add that this is very unusual. Either the assessors in Bristol are extremely skilled and understanding or somebody up there likes me.

I got the letter this week that my DLA is changing to PIP and that the process has started.I didn’t expect to be as anxious as I became or that it would escalate the way that it did. The DLA is an important part of my income. It means that I can pay to have groceries deliverd or take taxis to places on the days that I can’t face buses or become too stressed to even get on one. My world has become smaller lately and it vital that I have DLA and its successor PIP in order to live in a wider world.

Getting to talk to my GP about a supporting letter was stressful to say the least. The receptionists at the practice I go to are like giant Rotweillers so fiercely do they protect the doctors from the general public. In the end I demanded that I speak to the doctor even though he was half way through his list. He apologised profusely for the lack of urgency that his staff had put on the messages to him and saw me within two hours.

We agreed a short term plan to reduce the ultra anxiety (sleeping pills and diazepam for a few days only) and extra rest. This will be easy to adhere to; I like sleep days.

One of the things that I’ve done to help myself cope with anxiety and mania is to buy a microwave oven. I last had one 20 years ago have used one since the late 80s when I worked in a pub kitchen in North Yorkshire (in those days they were at least £500 a pop).

It means that when I want to eat something I’ve frozen I can eat it that day instead of taking it out of the freezer and seeing if I still feel like eating it the next day. It almost means that I can make microwave chocolate cakes in a mug. I often want cake but just a slice, a large slice but still just a slice.

I think the lesson I’ve learned from the past few days is that bravado doesn’t stop anxiety and it doesn’t heal it or mask it. No matter how much of a wise person people think you are you’re allowed to be a real person and real people have crises and suffer illnesses. Wisdom doesn’t come from leading a life that you sail through it comes  through leading a hard life.

I’ve also learned that it’s okay to lean on friends. It’s not a weakness to love or be loved and it’s certainly not a weaknness to take comfort in that.