13 mini stories about 2016

2016. Quite a year. Not a great one for me. Arguably one of the worst ones.

To keep myself from rambling too much, I’ve decided to take 13 things from my year and write a few things about them. It’s not going to be a wave of unrelenting misery, as the title suggests (to be honest, the phrase ‘an evil dozen’ is there just in case Trent Reznor needs a name for the next Nine Inch Nails record), but some of the bleaker subject material might have a lot more words attached to them.

(As a side-note, these are not the main things that happened in my year. There were two or three particular stories that I’ve chosen to keep private.)

So…

Anxiety

anxiety

That book in the picture was something I bought on a whim in November. Little did I know how invaluable it would be for me to understand a lot of what happened in 2016.

I first noticed something was up towards the end of January, because I decided to cancel a party at our flat quite suddenly for no good reason. I’d get nervous thinking about it. I was second guessing what was going to happen. I thought it might be a blip. Then, after quite a terrible cold at the end of February, I was very out of sorts for a few weeks. My confidence was being drained. I wasn’t being responsive with people. I was making really simple mistakes. I thought that I was going to lose everything…that sounds very dramatic, but it’s true.

I made a decision in March to get help. From April to the beginning of June, I undertook a five-week course of CBT over the phone with a counsellor who was eager to listen, understanding, and enormously patient. It definitely helped me to understand my condition so much and, whilst I have had the odd blip here and there, I think I’m getting better at managing myself. There are exercises that can be done when needed. There are always opportunities to back away from situations that might make me uncomfortable.

But it’s hard. If you’re not alert to stop the ‘bad thoughts’ early enough, they infect your thinking and your actions. That’s why it’s always going to be an ongoing struggle.

Anxiety has been constant through 2016. Hopefully it won’t be as constant in future years.

Aurora

aurora

I first saw Aurora at The Great Escape in 2015 – two shows, in fact. One was an acoustic performance in a small tent, and the other was in a dark and sweaty nightclub near Brighton beach. She, to be frank, blew everyone else away by being the most genuine, uplifting and euphoric presence imaginable. It’s been quite amazing to watch her profile rise. Her incredible debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, is the default ‘feel good’ record that I go to when feeling low. Its absence from a lot of best album lists astonishes me. Her most recent headlining show at Shepherds Bush Empire was as joyous as it was spellbinding.

Berlin

berlin

One of three mini-breaks in Europe this year (if you exclude the annual trip to Finland, where I go very frequently), primarily for Lollapalooza Berlin. But I did manage to wander around a lot of the city and fell in love with it. It’s such a vibrant place with so much history. One of my more relaxing memories of the year will be decompressing after the festival in a really quiet cocktail bar, with barely anyone in it, with a couple of beers and a coffee before heading to the airport for my flight home which was delayed by six hours and making me heavily sleep deprived. Bliss.

Boomtown

boomtown-fair

Another new festival for me this year. I don’t think it is without fault in the way it was organised, but it was still a massive revelation. The experience is unlike anything I’ve seen at any other festival (with the exception of Glastonbury) in terms of some of the weirder moments. Two examples: a man looking like Eugene from Gogol Bordello playing on a travelling piano, and winning prizes from a Tom Waits clone in a strange funfair game. Plus I saw Madness, which is always fun. There was one major downside to the weekend, which we will get to later.

Bowie

bowie

I wrote some stuff on here about Bowie’s death earlier in the year. Needless to say, his death still saddens me. Especially given how absolutely incredible Blackstar is. What an album to go out on.

Brexit

brexit

Brexit is one of those things that made me wish that I was a child again and didn’t have to worry about big complicated things. (And I fully accept that that would mean going through the whole bullying thing again, which wasn’t great at all for self-esteem.)

It is hard to explain properly how much the referendum changed my view of the country, the way that politics works in this country, and the media’s role in properly exposing false information and lies. It also took a very long time to find my motivation again. My wife, who is originally from Finland and has lived here for 10 years, was crushed by the result.

My brain knows that this mess that we are now in is only going to get even messier in 2017. But I hope that for every day of rejection, there will be one of jubilation that follows it. That sounds incredibly hippie-ish and optimistic…but it did happen for me this year at least once. On the 25th June, still feeling worried about what was going to happen, I went to the London Pride parade. It was such a happy and jubilant afternoon that I badly needed, enabling me to finally let go of some of the sadness that I had been feeling.

I was fortunate to have a friend who told me it would be a good idea to head on over, who then proceeded to make me feel that my and my wife had support, regardless of what happens next. It reinforced that we do have an incredible support network that we’ve relied on. And continue to rely on. In the wake of such devastating news, it’s all you can ask for.

Challengers

challengers-desk

A busier year than ever at Challengers. Hard to believe that I’ve been there for 4 years now. I wrote a thing on their website, which is part of a new monthly series of blogs, talking about the festive season at Challengers schemes and some of my personal work-related highlights of 2016.

Knee

knee

So I injured my knee quite badly at Boomtown Fair on the last day, and it bloody hurt! I was taking down my tent and must have awkwardly twisted it out of shape. The jolt of pain that I then experienced is something I hope never happens again, quite frankly. What made it even worse was the sheer lack of medical assistance from the first aid tents on site, so I had to trundle along for an ENTIRE EVENING with a knee that was swelling up more and more. After an A&E visit the following day, I was on crutches for a good couple of months. The first two weeks of that period, which was spent largely at home, was intensely lonely and my anxiety saw a mini-resurgence at that point. Never again.

Side-note: that pole you can see in the picture is a random ski pole that my friend ‘won’ earlier in the weekend, which she subsequently loaned out to me so that I could use it as a crutch and move around a little easier.

Lisbon

lisbon

Another mini-trip so that I could see The National at Super Bock Super Rock. I was so sad, in hindsight, that I was only there for 24 hours, because it is a very beautiful city that demanded to be explored. The National were great though, and I can’t wait for the new record to drop next year. It will drop next year, right guys? Right?

Muse

muse

Proof that I am a sucker for random flying spheres, I went to see Muse THREE TIMES in 2016. That is three times too many, arguably. However, they hold a special place in my heart. They were a massive part of my teenage years. Even though my affection for them isn’t as strong as it was in the ‘good old days’ (that’s the Absolution period, if you were wondering), the shows themselves were still entertaining and daft in equal measure. Though I did almost get hit by one of their flying inflatables…

Primavera

primavera

I had been waiting to go to Primavera for several years and a chance finally emerged in 2016 to go to Barcelona. We got our tickets before the line up was announced. We couldn’t believe our luck. LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, Sigur Rós, PJ Harvey, Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds in full…astonishing. The highlight of that weekend was during All My Friends, the last song of LCD Soundsystem’s triumphant return to Europe following their reformation, and just seeing a sea of grinning faces. People who didn’t honestly believe that they would get a chance to see this glorious moment at all. But it was happening. And it was incredible.

Radiohead

radiohead

When years are rough, you turn to comfort. For me, the musical equivalent of comfort food is Radiohead. As was mentioned on the All Songs Considered year in review podcast (which I recommend), the release of A Moon Shaped Pool was the right record at the right time. It’s been in heavy rotation all year in my flat. Even more delightful were the three shows I saw this year. Lollapalooza Berlin gave me Let Down, one of my absolute favourites of theirs. Primavera gave me a hits-packed setlist. But the intimate Roundhouse show on my birthday is hard to top. It was one of the few times this year where I truly felt like I was on cloud 9.

Skeleton Tree

skeleton-tree

I have found it very hard to explain why Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, is my album of the year. My default answer is to instruct people to watch One More Time With Feeling, a film about making a record following an unspeakable and personal tragedy. Tim Lee wrote a fantastic review for MusicOMH that is far more eloquent than anything I could have conjured up. Towards the end of his piece, he says:

At the end of One More Time With Feeling, Cave talks about being hopeful, about it being the best, most defiant gesture in the face of tragedy. It’s hard not to then see that in Skeleton Tree, even amongst all that is wrong and dark and tragic. The last track ends with Cave cooing “and it’s / all right now” over gentle keys and it’s as if Skeleton Tree’s arc, its gaze, is upwards. It has a sense of moving on.

I’ve tried to understand what’s happened this year…and even after writing all of the above, I still don’t really have a handle on it. All I know is that I now have to look forward to 2017. I’m aware that more cultural heroes will die. I’m aware that politics may get worse. I’m aware that my anxiety issues will continue to challenge me. I’m aware of all of that. But I have to believe that it will be better.

Regardless of how your 2016 was, I hope your 2017 is even better.

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Glastonbury 2016 Headliner Bingo!

Watching Glastonbury on TV next weekend? Improve your viewing experience by playing Glastonbury bingo for all three headliners!

Click on each bingo sheet to get the full-sized version.

Friday – Muse:

Muse Glastonbury Bingo

Saturday – Adele:

Adele Glastonbury Bingo

Sunday – Coldplay:

Coldplay Glastonbury Bingo

Voting in the EU Referendum next week? Please read this.

It is time to talk about the EU referendum. I know, you are probably just as sick of this referendum as I am. You don’t need to read yet another moderately-informed think piece by some random person on the Internet. But this is an important choice for the country.

We are about a week away from the vote and, if recent polls from The Independent and YouGov are to go by, the Leave camp is looking like it’s gaining quite a bit of momentum. I can understand the appeal for voters; when the rhetoric that is spilling out from their leaflets includes phrases like “take back control,” as well as promising “UK laws will have ultimate authority” and continually implying that it’s the safer choice for you and your family. I get how, on the surface, that sounds enticing. I also understand how voting for a ‘Brexit’ would be sticking two fingers up to the status quo, which would give some people much pleasure.

However, I am voting remain. I am doing so for quite a few reasons – chiefly that I think our economy is stronger when we’re in the EU, I think we are much safer as a country within the EU, and there are many EU laws and grants which have helped to make our society a great one; from working rights to grants that go towards local community projects, and even emergency funds like the £21m the EU gave towards the redevelopment of Manchester city centre after the 1996 bombing vs £450k from the UK government.

But this blog post isn’t really about any of that, partly because it’s been covered elsewhere in more detail, but also because that’s not my main incentive for voting to remain in the EU. So I’d like to provide a little bit of context.

I feel that the Leave campaign has issued a numerous amount of misleading statements (here are four examples), and their electioneering has used an approach that one could only really describe as scaremongering, which really doesn’t sit well with me. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to pick just one example.

On Question Time last week (9th June), Nigel Farage said 508 million people have the opportunity to migrate to the UK from the EU if they wanted to. Full Fact points out that the actual number, due to rules on free movement only applying to citizens of the European Economic Area and Switzerland, is more like 440 million people. He’s out by 68 million. That’s not just wrong. That’s wrong on a scale the size of France with Lithuania thrown in for good measure.

He also said that we have no control as to who enters the country. This is true, except for the bit in European law that states that we can turn away EU nationals if their actions are a “genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat affecting one of the fundamental interests of society.” We can even turn people away later on if they are no longer able to support themselves financially.

But apart from all of that, obviously no control.

That leads us nicely to the issue of what happens to EU nationals if the UK were to leave the EU. The deathly silence on this topic has been frightening. At the moment, EU nationals can come to the UK without needing a visa (with limited exceptions), providing that they can prove their identity.

The only hint of what might happen has been through a comment that Dominic Raab, a Justice under-secretary and Minister for Human Rights, said on Sunday Politics on the BBC in April:

“I think we’d have to look at that as part of the negotiations in detail. But look, at the moment president Barack Obama’s administration … is looking at new visa requirements and screening from Germany, Belgium, Greece, France, because of the recent terrorist attacks.

“I think we should at least have the power and the control to do that and make sure we keep Britain safe,” the minister told BBC1’s Sunday Politics show.

Pressed if this would mean British citizens would need visas to go to France or Germany, Raab said: “Or some other kind of check.”

It’s a very vague proposition, and the fact that it hasn’t seemingly been expanded upon is horrifying. EU nationals currently living here do not know what’s going to happen to them. The failure of any leading politician to clearly state the consequences that EU nationals face if the UK left the EU is bordering on contempt. I suspect that, because EU nationals can’t even vote in this referendum, campaigners simply don’t care about these people: the people whose lives will be affected the most are not the top priority for Johnson, Gove, Grayling, Duncan Smith, Farage, etc.

There are a lot of EU residents who already live in the UK and make a living in this country, who, let me remind you again, can’t even vote. They are people who work as hard as the rest of us and pay taxes like the rest of us, and yet they are utterly voiceless in this major decision that will potentially alter their future in a big way. They are the dictionary definition of “taxation without representation”. Think about that for a second – how the hell did we get to a point where we’re having a vote about the subject of remaining in or leaving the EU, yet the people who will be directly affected have no say whatsoever?

Around three million people will be watching the results unfold on the evening of the 23rd June, knowing that they have no say in what happens.

One of those people will be my wife.

My wife moved here from Finland in September 2006 to work as an au pair. After that time, she has continued to work in various different jobs (even when studying for a BSc Honours degree in Psychology) and has lived here long enough to contribute to society in an incredibly meaningful and substantial way through taxes.

If we vote to leave, what happens to her? Will she have to get some sort of visa? Will she be forced to become a UK national, which she has said repeatedly that she doesn’t want to do? Will she be forced to leave? These questions have been hanging in the air since the referendum was announced in February and we still don’t have any concrete answers. If we vote to leave, a big question mark will loom over her right to reside in the UK. What’s even worse is that we may have at least two years of uncertainty as a deal is negotiated between the UK and the EU.

Imagine that: two years of not knowing what kind of long-term future you might be entitled to in a country that you’ve called home for nearly ten years. What would you feel? Afraid? Anxious? Angry? Maybe all three? Considering how much the Leave campaign keeps banging the drum about the safety of families across the country, all that they have done is made both of us afraid of what future family life might be like if we were out of the EU.

It’s not just my wife who is in this boat. I have had the pleasure of getting to know lots of friends and friends of friends over the past few years who moved to the UK from elsewhere in the EU to work in various sectors – healthcare, local councils, bar staff, accountants, childcare workers…the list goes on and on. These people came to the UK because they wanted to make a good life for themselves here. They’ve been told, effectively, that they are a threat to the UK’s future. This is deeply unfair and hurtful.

I read the other day that there are a third of voters who will undecided on how to vote until a week before the big day, so I’d like to take this opportunity to say two things to those votes.

1) At the very least turn up and vote.
2) Have a really good think about the people whose lives are going to be affected by your vote, because if you vote to leave then the consequences affect quite a lot more of your family, friends, and colleagues than you originally thought.

Thank you for reading.

Footnote 1: If you enjoyed reading this, although I’m sure that ‘enjoyed’ may not be the appropriate word, please share with your family, friends and work colleagues.

Footnote 2: Whatever way you vote on Thursday 23rd June, I would encourage you to read up on some of the fantastic articles that Full Fact have been posting about the EU – unbiased and completely based in fact. It was also a tremendous help when researching for this post.

Footnote 3: Thank you to Liam and my wife for reading this and proofing this before I posted this.

Footnote 4: Obviously, these are my views alone and do not represent the views of my employers past and present.

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Register to vote in the EU referendum

I would like to encourage people, if they haven’t already, to register to vote in the EU referendum on the 23rd June.

The link is here: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Me and my wife (who, because she is a Finnish national, cannot vote despite the fact that she’s lived in the UK for nine years and is a taxpayer) both have strong opinions on the EU referendum, which I will talk about eventually. I just need to figure out a way of doing it that won’t get me into trouble. Either way, thoughts need to be put down on something at some point.

However, our main concern at this point is that people are actually able to vote. Whether we like of this vote or not, this is a referendum that could have huge ramifications on the UK’s place in the world, and it is to that extent that as many people as possible should be able to have a say. I can’t think of a single good reason as to why you shouldn’t vote.

The deadline is the 7th June. Please register. Now. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

In the meantime, could I please ask all politicians involved in this sorry state of affairs to stop bitching about other politicians and actually discuss the issues around this referendum? It’s so DULL. This is a referendum that affects so many people – more than you may originally think – and to see this reduced to a game of politicians slagging off other politicians is a real low point in modern politics. Or at least it is to me anyway,

A reminder of the link: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

The above writing is nothing to do with any organisations that I work for or have worked for in the past. Just so you are aware.

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M.Ward – Post-War

Post-War

I felt a bit despondent this afternoon, for various reasons, so decided to see if now was the good time to try out an album by M. Ward, who I’ve only come across before as the Him of She & Him. Turns out it really did the trick in lifting my mood, at least a little bit. It’s very hard to listen to a song like Rollercoaster and not feel charmed by it. The record itself has a lot of heart and emotional weight, but also just enough playfulness to keep it light. Really, really impressed.

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