Scenes From a Misunderstood Life (Part 1)

Scene: A 3-storey Victorian terraced house in Lancaster, in the North West of England, looking towards Lancaster Castle and with the hills of the Lake District visible in the distance to the North.

lancaster-castle

Lancaster Castle with the Lake District behind

Our hero (why not?), balding, slim, spectacled (Aldi £2.49) sits at a pineish dining table in the living room, fingers poised over a tiny netbook. Sitting on an old Ikea bentwood chair to the side of him is the interviewer. Taking a notebook and pen from a large and serious-looking leather bag the interviewer turns towards our hero and says:

Interviewer: So, tell me Kevin, what are you reading at the moment?

Our Hero: (turning and removing spectacles) Well, Michael, I’ve just finished reading …..

Interviewer: Let me stop you there, Kevin. You just called me Michael.

OH: That’s right, Michael.

I: But my name isn’t Michael.

OH: (Puzzled) Sorry. I thought all interviewers were called Michael.

I: Not this one.

OH: So what is your name? Continue reading

Writing Songs

I wrote my first song when I was about seventeen, fifty years ago. It was called Gardens and Steve recorded it on a borrowed Revox reel-to-reel in his mother’s wool shop in Heysham Village. We recorded another song I had written called Morning Into….. We took the tape along to a local studio in Hest Bank called, I think, De Lane Lea, and asked them to make a 7″ single from the two songs. They did, but maybe because we played it too soon, or because the quality of the materials wasn’t too good, it soon got very scratchy and almost unlistenable. Anyway, for anyone who is interested, here it is.

 

And here’s the B-side (as we used to call them, back in the day).

I didn’t write anything else for years after this, mainly because I had no confidence in either my songwriting, my singing or my guitar playing. Thinking about it now I did write a couple of things while I was drinking and living in the caravan at Meadowfield (and I must write something about Meadowfield at some point. It was a very unusual caravan site!). I remember writing a song called It’s in the Wires, a sort of paranoid view of the world, unsurprisingly considering my state at the time. I think I wrote a couple of other things but I can’t remember what they are now – with all the alcohol related brain damage it’s a wonder I can remember yesterday!

I carried on playing and trying to sing, but just at home, and eventually, for some reason, I was asked to join a local band, AKA-Bats, as rhythm guitarist. I don’t remember why they asked me, I don’t even know how they knew I could play, but anyway ask me they did. Continue reading

What Is Recovery?

‘Recovery’ is the buzz-word of the moment in drug treatment in Britain. There are ‘Recovery Champions’ and ‘Recovery Access Points’ and you need ‘Recovery Capital’ to help you make it. But what do people mean – and what does the government mean – when they talk about people being in recovery?

As I mentioned in a previous post, which you can read here, when I first started my job as a drug and alcohol trainer with the NHS, attitudes to 12-step fellowships in drug and alcohol services were generally fairly negative. Over the last few years that has changed dramatically, with 12-step meetings being advertised, promoted and even hosted by drug and alcohol services.

But here we hit a problem. Recovery in 12-step terms means abstinence, yet this is not necessarily the only way that recovery can be defined. The UK Drug Policy Commission, a well respected independent, charity funded body whose aim is to stimulate informed, evidence-based debate about drug policy, got together a group of 16 people with various perspectives on recovery, to try to reach a consensus on what constitutes recovery from problematic drug and alcohol use. The ‘vision statement’ they came up with is:

The process of recovery from problematic substance use is characterised by voluntarily-sustained control over substance use which maximises health and wellbeing and participation in the rights, roles and responsibilities of society.

You can read their report here. Continue reading

The Start of NA in Lancaster

Until 1986 there were very few Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the North West. I was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous at this time but I was having some problems with individuals in the meetings who objected to my mentioning drugs in my shares (there were also objections to any mention of sex). I didn’t see, and still don’t, how I could share my experience, strength and hope without talking about the other drugs I had also had serious problems with. In this I was not alone and a group of us (seven if I remember correctly) decided to look into starting an NA group.

By the way, I’m not going to mention any names as, although I am not concerned about my own anonymity (obviously as I am writing this), other people’s anonymity is their responsibility.

Anyway, we looked at what meetings there were. As far as I remember there was a meeting in Manchester, some 60 miles away, and one in Blackpool which was much nearer. We decided to visit the Blackpool meeting to try to get a better idea of how NA meetings were run. It was an eye-opener. It was a small meeting made up, if I remember correctly, of mainly middle-aged women, and the person doing the main share (this was just after Christmas), talked about having a glass of wine with her Christmas dinner, “not that I would advise you to do that”, she made a point of saying.

So we came away with a good idea of how not to do it. Continue reading

Addiction – It’s not about the drugs

When I first went to Alcoholics Anonymous, which you can read about here, I thought that everyone was there because they had a problem with alcohol and that, having stopped drinking, they were now okay. I knew my problems were deeper than that so I soon dropped out.

Eventually the penny dropped, they weren’t there because they had a problem with alcohol, but because their lives were unbearable with or without alcohol. The same for Narcotics Anonymous and drugs (I went to lots of NA meetings as well).

What I realised over time was that alcohol and other drugs (and by the way I don’t think of alcohol separately from other drugs but, if I just write ‘drugs’, some people will think I’m not also writing about alcohol; they’re all ‘drugs’), anyway, what I realised that alcohol and drugs were what I used to try and fix what was wrong with me and, being the person I am (see herehere and here), they eventually became problems in themselves. So, in order to do anything about the underlying fears and phobias and insecurities, I needed to stop drinking and using. Continue reading

What About Books?

“But what about books?” I hear you ask. After all it does say at the top of this blog “A lifetime of music, books, addiction and recovery”. So where are the books?

Well they’re here, on my desk and on my bookshelves and, most of all, on my Kobo, my e-reader. I read addictively, which is to say I start another book as soon as I have finished the one I am reading and I always want more books, even though I have far more than I could read if I live to be a hundred.

At the moment I’m reading The Restless Generation by Pete Frame, about the birth of rock music in Britain in the 1950s. It’s fascinating, and Frame goes into great detail about the trad jazz movement, the birth of skiffle and its eventual mutation into rock-and-roll. Being quite old I remember a lot of the performers and songs – Mary Wilde, Billy Fury, Skeeter Davis and many others. Pete Frame, if you don’t already know his work, is the originator of the Rock Family Tree Continue reading

Why am I in Recovery While Others Didn’t Make It? (part 2)

I started writing about this in my previous post which you can read here.

So I ended up sitting on Sandylands Promenade, between Heysham and Morecambe, on the morning of April 22nd 1984 (I always thought it was the 21st until I checked on Google Calendar).

 

a_slopes_1

Called Sunshine Slopes on the photo but known to me as Sunny Slopes

Anyway, there I was, no money, nothing to drink, not sure if I had any baccy or papers but I certainly felt as though I was at the end of something.

And it was then that things changed. Continue reading

Why I Play Rhythm Guitar Not Lead

I have been playing guitar for fifty-two years and I have always been a rhythm guitarist. Lying in bed this morning I started thinking about why that is.

Well, for one thing I’m not a good enough lead guitarist to play lead. But it’s not that; I love playing rhythm.

I started playing guitar because I was excited by the music I was hearing, on the radio (occasionally), on TV (even more occasionally) and on record. When I think back to the records that made an impression, a big part of their effect was due to the rhythm – Bo Diddley, The Kinks, The Beatles – and I wanted to be able to play those rhythms.

So, when I was fourteen, my parents bought me a guitar for Christmas, a small, steel string acoustic. Of course I didn’t know how to play it or tune it or even that you could get different notes by using the fingers of your left hand (I’m right-handed) to make chords. I didn’t even know what chords were. I moved my thumb across the strings and got six out-of-tune sounds. “Is that it?” I thought. “Is that all it can do?” I was very disappointed. Continue reading

How Heavy is my Data?

I was musing in my living room earlier, sitting back in my Ikea frötal chair (I don’t know if there is such a chair, I just made it up, although this is an Ikea chair), thinking about all the data I have online, at Dropbox and Onedrive and Google and Youtube and here on WordPress.com and I don’t remember where else and I suddenly thought to myself, ‘How heavy is it? I mean, if I piled it up on top of a set of scales, what would it weigh?’

I know, it’s data, and that data is digital and doesn’t weigh anything. But can something exist and not weigh anything? What if I double it? What if I keep doubling it? You know, like the story about the man who was asked what he wanted as a reward and said he would like one grain of rice to be placed on the first square of a chessboard (nearly typed cheeseboard then but that would be ridiculous!), and then to have it doubled on the second square and so on, doubling on each square until it came to the last, the sixty-fourth. He said he wanted the number of grains that were on that last square. It turned out there would be more grains of rice on the sixty-fourth square than there are atoms in the universe – I think, I haven’t actually counted how many atoms there are in the universe but I’m sure there are lots.

chessboard-theory

So if I double my data sixty four times what happens then? Would there be too much to fit in the observable universe? Or would it not make any difference, still weighing nothing?

Just a thought. Any answers much appreciated or I’ll probably spend days worrying about it.

And what if I compress it!!?

Take care

10 Songs That Bring Back Memories

There are some songs that, when I hear them, take me back to the first time I heard them. All of them except one are from the 60s and the other is from the 50s. In fact when I look through my (growing) list of favourite songs, about 70 or 80 at the moment, some are from the 50s but the majority are from the 60s, quite a few are from the 70s and early 80s, and very few after that. That could mean:

  • the songs were better then and they’ve been going downhill ever since
  • I’m getting older and my palate is becoming more jaded
  • I’m getting older and don’t listen to as much music as I used to
  • I’m getting older and my hearing is gradually getting worse
  • All of the above

I could have chosen 20, or 50, but I thought that 10 was a reasonable number to start with. Anyway, here they are. I’ve added the intro for each song so you can have a listen and see what you think. They may not all be great songs (some of them are), but they all bring back memories.

Let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other thoughts on the songs I’ve chosen and my reasons for choosing them.

1. God Only Knows by The Beach Boys (1966)

god-only-knows-the-beach-boys

I don’t know what to say about this song – Two minutes fifty-five seconds of perfection?The greatest pop song ever written? Whatever you say, I can remember hearing this, probably on Radio Caroline, in the summer of 1966, walking round in the sun on Morecambe fairground behind the Winter Gardens, seventeen years old and touched by bliss. It still touches me deeply when I hear it but, of course, never in the way it did then.

Ah well.

Here’s the intro

If you’re interested I’ve written more about God Only Knows here Continue reading