Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Season's Greetings

I just wanted to take an opportunity to wish everyone well over the festive period. I’m sure we will all celebrate differently. I don’t have anything overly exciting planned… Xmas eve in the pub with my parents (some quality parent time and drunkenness), a lie in for me on Xmas day while my parents go out to drop off presents, then to my twin sister’s house to join her family for Xmas dinner, followed by too much wine. Boxing day the usual (dreaded) big gathering at my parent’s house for meat and mash, oh and maybe more wine (I’ll need it). Don’t get me wrong I love my family, just not all of them at once. There are a lot of us, I have a twin, a brother, a half brother, a half sister and two step sisters, most of them have children. This year my aim is to be patient and cheerful as I was ill the last two years (not with a hangover).

I’m not expecting any big presents, or anything too extravagant, money is tight for everyone this year, and I do believe it is the thought that counts. A few of my female relatives and friends all agreed to not buy for each other this year, instead we have booked an afternoon in the hammam at the local spa at the end of January.

I don’t feel overly festive, but I am excited it will be a fun few days and I’m seeing friends for drinks in the days that follow, which will be great. So, to try to feel more in the mood for the season I am going to list a few things I do like about the festive season, feel free to join in in the comments…

- Giving presents! The best bit in my opinion. Seeing people’s faces when you get it right is the best (I’m usually quite good at it too).

- Food! Mm pate, cheese with cranberries in, all of Xmas dinner, chocolates, nuts this list could be very very long.

- Fine wine and my newly acquired taste for port.

- Cheesy films. I don’t often admit it but I love some of them, although I wouldn’t buy many of them I will watch them on TV.

- Friends – Of course I have them all year round, but we all have busy lives, many of them have children. This time of year I like that we make extra effort to spend some time together. It is always lovely to catch up.

- Xmas Eve – I love my tradition of spending it with my parents. We go to the pub we drink, we chat and we usually get the giggles. It is my quality time with my parents without the rest of my huge family (they all spend it frantically still wrapping presents for their children or drunk with friends). I like that at around midnight (maybe 1am) we get all sentimental, it is my mushy moment of the year.

None of the above are overly exciting, but they give me a warm fuzzy feeling. I’m am now full of festive spirit. Let me know if you have any more favourite Xmas things (perhaps more interesting than mine).

What ever you are doing, have a lovely time. x

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Hidden Agenda

I am really not sure where I am going with this one yet, but it has played on my mind lately, so I thought I’d have a written ramble and see what happens. I think I have been somewhat naive over the last few months, assuming that many of the people I have met have a similar agenda to my own. It can often not be the case. I’m not saying it is a bad thing, it isn’t always, they have a right to have their own expectations when meeting new people. But in thinking about it I realise that in my opinion we all have hidden agendas a lot of the time.

Not many people in many situations do things for totally altruistic reasons. Most of the time we all want something in return. This is often our agenda, it is not always hidden, it can be explicit. We can all be nice to our boss, not only because we try to be a nice person, but because we know it may help our careers to do so.

I am as guilty as the next person of having an agenda when I meet people, obviously it depends on the person. I often want to feel “part of the crowd” to belong to a group of people, this has often happened when meeting people from twitter or other forums, and I think it is fine to do so. Thankfully, my agenda quickly changes when I get to know someone to either want to be friends or remain online acquaintances. You can’t get on with or close to everyone.

Do we ever meet people with friendship as our one and only agenda? Is it to not be alone at a gig, or to not feel left out, or even just to say hello to someone with a common interest? I’m not sure I have high enough expectations to consider that I would become good friends with all of the people I have met. I have and will continue to meet people, but I want to consider why I am meeting people and be honest about it. Sometimes it is just plain intrigue, I want to know if they are the same in real life as they are online?

I have learned lessons in meeting so many people, not everyone really wants to meet, they may say they do online, but shyness or even that they were being polite online may mean they have a different agenda in real life. A quick hello and then move on can occur if this is the case. The one thing that does annoy me is if people only want to meet or say hello on numerous occasions to just not be alone, or to gain something… surely repeated meetings should lead to friendship unless the agenda is explicit? For example, I don’t mind meeting fellow psychiatric nurses repeatedly as we all know we are meeting to share information and ask questions to improve our work; thankfully over the last few years I have become friends with some of them too, an added bonus to necessary meetings. It can be difficult to tell is if your agenda is to be friends and theirs is to have company, it can lead to disappointment or dissatisfaction at such meetings when such a difference is realised or you don’t get what you want from the chat.

I think I have found that I can tell who is properly friendly, when conversation flows (after some shyness) and it is not only about the common interest that brought us together, but it is also on a more personal nature. To not only chat about gigs and speakers, but how we are and what is happening in our lives, there is a line that has to be crossed if you are to become friends. I don’t mind if it is not always crossed, it certainly shouldn’t always be crossed. I just seem to have become more aware of it now.

I’m happy to have a large group of people I see at gigs and talks that I can say hello to and have some company, and we can have a lovely chat about what we have seen or are about to see. And that is that. But the best benefit to meeting so many people in the last couple of years, is meeting those people that are friends, that I care about on some level (we may not be best buddies) but those people who I know not only want to see a gig/talk and have some company but that are equally as happy to see me as I am to see them. To have a chat and a catch up.

I must admit it has disappointed me more and more when I haven’t had much time for this. For example at TAM (The Amazing Meeting) I met some lovely people, but unfortunately didn’t get much time to chat. It was not just about the meeting and the speakers, but about getting to know people I had looked forward to meeting.

Of course the exception to this “rule” is meeting comedians or speakers, I am not naive enough to expect to become friends with them. That is an unrealistic expectation, of course it may happen very rarely but imagine if an act was aiming to be friends with everyone they met? Ludicrous isn’t it? I am grateful and do enjoy saying hello to a performer, but it is just to say hello and that I admire their work or get something signed. They already have friends, they don’t necessarily want more from an audience. I try to aim to not be stalkery, say hello and then let them relax with people they actually know. I have seen acts constantly harassed following a gig, I know it can be part of the job, but we could all remember that once the hellos are done, it is their time, not ours to continually interrupt, they entertained us on stage, their job is done. *steps off soap box* I know there are exceptions to this, as there are to all situations.

I have been to some great gigs lately and they are always made much better in my opinion when there is chatting time before and after. I enjoy the time I spend with people as much as I do the shows. Except of course if I am only meeting someone to have some company, then the gig and a quick post gig chat is all is needed, that is fine. Should we be honest about our agendas? Should we assume they are implied by how chatty we are or are not? Do people think about their agendas when meeting others?

Thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 22 November 2010


I’m not really sure where to begin in describing this amazing event, so I’ll begin with a big thanks to Michael Legge (@michaellegge) for organising it, and to all of the other people involved behind the scenes. All Day Edinburgh (@AllDayEdinburgh) was a 7 hour (more like 8 hours on the day) comedy gig which aimed to give people a taste of numerous acts who performed (or didn’t) at the Edinburgh fringe festival this year, all in aid of the charity Shelter.

I don’t often blog about shows/gigs because I have an appalling memory for such things, but through friends and tweets I think I can give a pretty good account of how it went. I will include some tweets sent at the time to give those that follow me on twitter more understanding of what really happened. Some descriptions of acts may be brief in order to avoid spoilers for future shows (or more likely because my memory is rubbish). Then you will all see how amazing it was and join me in hoping for another event next year.

It was held at The Phoenix on Cavendish Square in London, a regular host of comedy including Los Quattros Cvnts and London Comedy Improv (@LondonImprov). The pub has had a recent makeover and was an ideal place to hold the intimate marathon of comedy. The audience were eager to begin at just before 2pm, with some tech issues being resolved as they waited it started not long after…

20101121_007On my way to the venue at around lunchtime I read the following tweet…

michaellegge: I hate the homeless, all venues, comedians, comedy fans and the cold hollow sound of laughter.”


Our esteemed host Michael Legge welcomed us to the event and explained how he hated everyone (I think he was a little bit stressed), there is nothing more funny than Michael having a rant, and planning this event provided him with good ammunition. A delightful introduction to the day, taken in the spirit of humour it was meant.

20101121_002First up was Nick Helm, an act I had not had chance to see in Edinburgh this year. With his gruff voice he warmed up the audience well with his loud and shouty explanations of why he *loves being single (*this may have been a little sarcastic) interspersed with a couple of very funny songs, which we were encouraged to join in with and a some audience interaction involving fruit tins connected with a piece of string. He is certainly an act I won’t hesitate to see again.

Next up were An Hour of Telly Live, I’d heard a lot about Margaret Cabourn Smith (@MCabournSmith) and Zoe Gardner’s show but had not managed to fit them into my hectic Edinburgh schedule. They lived up to those expectations, showing us their versions of adverts (“it’s a tiny yoghurt”) the way they should be done and practicing well known acting techniques such as the use of “barbed comments”. “Your teeth are cunts!” still makes me giggle now. Their set ended with a West End themed sketch which was not only funny but revealed the power in Margaret’s brilliant voice.

The pace continued with Caroline Mabey (@mabeycakes) with her breakfast themed set, complete with various charts and skilled visual representations of the evilness of the meal. A unique delivery which was quirky and fun.

Following a brief interval we were treated to a brief version of Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire with the angry Michael Legge and Robin Ince. I saw this show twice in Edinburgh, no rant can ever be the same. They did not disappoint, *discussing sketch groups, small children and much more briefly than planned the (well known anger fuse) Daily Mail (*shouted furiously to each other and the audience).


nwoolhouseuk: Michael Legge and Robin Ince have just been very very angry. #ADE (I hurt from laughing)”

I really hope to see more Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire in the future.

Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe) was up next, and although she did not perform her Edinburgh material, she did not disappoint. “Penis enlargement spam” we were bluntly told was the topic for the set, ending in Sara showing us her own version of graphic novel porn. I belly laughed throughout. (I won’t give too much away as it is new material, so she will be using it).

20101121_009The Trap are made up of Jeremy Limb (@jeremylimb), Dan Mersh (@danmersh) and Paul Litchfield (@MrPLitchfield) when you add Michael Legge to that mix, they make up Los Quattros Cvnts who perform (almost) monthly at The Phoenix. On this occasion we were treated to some material from The Trap, even though they have not been to Edinburgh for a number of years now. It was great to see some of their original material including the Alphabet Sketch, but the highlight of their set was The Palindromic Sketch blew me away, with all of the audience lulled into a false sense of disappointment as the two Neville’s performed outdated gags but then they really turn it around literally, doing it backwards and show the sketch for it’s true genius.

20101121_013Matt Ricardo was up next, and even though he forgot his balls and had to use apples (I know), he certainly demonstrated his juggling skills and technique. His banter with the crowd making up for any moments of error, ending with a rather spectacular display using cigar boxes, a comedy cigar and some “wine”.

I forget where the intervals were, but there were many, and between acts Michael continued to keep the energy in the room, even providing a prized bag of King of Everything badges for the raffle, which were gently being “warmed” in his trouser pocket for the lucky winner. Other prizes were donated by Adult Swim.

20101121_014Even though they had there own show to perform later in the day, we were lucky enough to be visited by The Horne Section. Alex Horne (@AlexHorne) is obviously the front man with 4 musicians, much of the short set being the introductions of his band and banter with the front row resulting in some hilarious improvisation of Bon Jovi songs. The set ended with The Horne Section’s dance to Beyonce’s Single Ladies.

20101121_018*Clears throat* I really like Pappys (@pappystweet) and have seen them several times… this time was not the same. Tom struggle to even find his way on stage and then chaos. It was funny chaos but for some reason they were unable to actually start their sketches, with Tom explaining the back stories while Matthew and Ben giggled and called each other names (sex addict) or told him to stop, with many tangents (Dogtanian being one) they finally performed the Musketeers sketch, all 1 minute of it! They managed to do the Working Lunch sketch with much less, but still some “explaining” from Tom and then finally ending on a song about modern electronic technology.

Pappystweet: RT @nwoolhouseuk The oddest @Pappystweet gig I’ve ever seen. #ADE (one of the oddest we’ve ever done #breakdown)”

One of the big surprises of the day was a performance from Chris Addison (@chrisaddison) who I had never seen live before. He was much more energetic and passionate than I had previously though, with a hilarious set about what “writes off” people in his eyes (I agree with him on all counts) including (of course) The Daily Mail, a certain type of footwear and some commonly used sayings. Followed with an eloquent and amusing anecdote about his home life, I was pleased to have finally seen him and am already planning to see him perform again.

20101121_022Storytellers was on before the next interval, introduced by Sarah Bennetto with her own anecdote involving an ex boyfriend, some spiderman pants and a box, despite the next story teller, waiting in the wings being her current boyfriend James Dadswell. James did something great with his time and told the story of when his material was stolen by a well known comedian, there was solidarity in the room with so many acts in the audience. (Later Paul Sinha even mentioned it in his blog). The final teller of tales was John Luke Roberts who kept it light hearted with short tales.

Dan Antopolski (@DanAntopolski) jovially talked us through his family’s genetic contribution to the human race, complete with pop up visuals. And then rapped about the delights of owning a domestic lazer (we all want one now).

20101121_026I saw Colin Hoult’s (@wheeliemancrow) amazing show in Edinburgh, for this set we saw one of his many characters, Andy Parker from Nottingham, he does stuff in Nottingham since he left the army, like drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and writing screenplays, which have to be heard to be believed (“Giggle giggle, giggle giggle”). His accent is spot on, as are his mannerisms for the character. I can’t give lots away as the show still has a run in February in London, which I urge you to see (tickets). He has a great talent for chatting to the audience in character during his shows and it was a little bit cold in the room for Andy/Colin’s attire, a fact which he commented on much to our amusement.

Although, it was a very long day, and this blog is also really long, the time flew buy with such great entertainment. Next up was Paul Sinha (@paulsinha) with his anecdotes of debating with the BNP on the radio and a cockney rhyming slang racist insult at a train station toilet. A tight set with lots of laughs from the audience.

Tony Law (@mrtonylaw) was new to me, and quite an experience, starting with googly eyes and persisting to enjoy himself as he told us about animal sounds and revolutions. I have no idea how to explain it, you definitely had to be there, and I’m glad I was.

20101121_029Tara Flynn (@TaraFlynn) delighted the audience with 4 of her songs from her Edinburgh show Big Noise. I was very grateful to get a chance to see it again (Confession – I did see it in Edinburgh, but that day unfortunately learned that too much afternoon drinking and a hot room make for poor concentration, and embarrassingly had to break out the energy drink, naughty naughty me, and such a shame to not give it my all – please learn from my stupid mistake). We saw Bjork Song, The Fog, 80s and Custard, with Tara showing her diverse styles of music, dance moves and comedy talent throughout. Loved every moment.

20101121_032Paul Litchfield who performed earlier in the day in The Trap, spoiled us with a performance of one of the characters from Los Quattros Cvnts, the author of a fusion of sci-fi and erotica, Sean Golsworthy. It never ceases to make me giggle in such an immature way as he reads the tales of sex robots. Go and see Los Quattros Cvnts at The Phoenix!

MCabournSmith: My favourite part of #ADE was when Sting turned up. (@mrjimBob)”

We were nearing the end of #ADE but the quality never dropped with an awesome performance from Jim Bob (@mrjimBob) formerly of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine fame. He was a little green around the gills having been thrown a surprise birthday party the night before, but as a true performer went on to impress the audience with Mrs Fucking MacMurphy, The Wheels on The Bus and the Carter USM song The Only Living Boy in New Cross.20101121_035

Kateweb: My favourite moment of #ADE was watching @turlygod and @michaellegge waltz to @mrjimBob’s Mrs Fucking MacMurphy. Lovely day – well done all.”

The yelps of excitement from “back stage” (behind a screen) revealed that Mr Legge was rather excited to see this particular performer, as did the above mentioned dancing. Much of the audience joined in singing the songs. A joy to see and one I will repeat on Wednesday when I go to see #Guttedfest with Jim Bob and The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra (details).

nwoolhouseuk: The Penny Dreadfuls headlining this shit (their words not mine) #ADE”

20101121_036I did see The Penny Dreadfuls (@dreadfuls) and was happy to see their sketches again, the creepy guy sketch is not one I recall from Edinburgh, made even more repulsive by the chewing of some newspaper balls which has been where the sun don’t shine. the sketch was giggly and a lot longer than anyone (including Penny Dreadfuls) thought it would be. Following this was the Sea skipper sketch and then the Twilight parody, again I cannot give it all away or it spoils it for others. I’ll just say they kept a now weary and a little bit drunk crowd still giggling.

A well deserved standing ovation was given to the embarrassed Michael Legge for his brilliant MCing and organisation of the event. Drinks, hellos and goodbyes followed (yes, more booze).

I suggest you follow @AllDayEdinburgh on twitter and hope that we are lucky enough (or that Michael forgets this year’s breakdown) to have another one next year.

(please feel free to tell me if any of this is wrong/spoilery too much/needs editing – as I said my memory is not great. Oh, and sorry for the crap quality photos, they are from my phone.)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Manners (Rant)

Today I feel ranty. What happened to people having manners? Yes, someone was rude to me today. Usually this does not bother me, but today it did. I won’t go into what exactly happened but it did get me thinking, so here we go with a ramble as my thoughts spill out.

In my job as a mental health nurse I do expect some rudeness, let’s face it many people who are acutely unwell with mental health problems are frightened or angry, they often don’t have the capacity for manners. This I can understand, it is not their fault, they are reacting to an extreme situation. Many do have manners, lots of patients say please and thank you, ring me to ask for favours and are generally pleasant to talk to. If I can I oblige, it is my job to accommodate when I can, and understand the difficulties people may face, and of course to listen. Sometimes I can say to someone “Don’t speak to me in that way” or even just “Say please” when it is appropriate. Mental health problems are not necessarily an excuse for bad manners. What I don’t understand is when people do have the capacity to be polite, I do help them and they are still rude to me. This can be patients, relatives or colleagues, over the years they have all to some extent irritated me in this way (thankfully not too often).

This has raised the question, is there some sort of scale between duty of care and desire for good manners (or just lack of rudeness)? I sort of know there is, I can’t expect someone who is really unwell to be polite all the time, that is elitist, there should not be an “us and them” culture between nurses and patients, there just needs to be understanding when appropriate. However, when someone is able to understand the consequences of their actions or behaviours then I and many ward areas do not tolerate abuse. And in my opinion, rightly so. After all I go to work to care for people not to face abuse or intimidation. I have unfortunately seen cases of verbal and physical abuse at work, sometimes the hard line is taken and patients are discharged or the police are called. Of course there has to be some weighing up of the risk to fellow inpatients and staff, and the risk to the patient in question if they are discharged. I can see how the police can struggle to take criminal charges to the extent they should, when many people within the legal system do not appear to understand when mental health problems do and do not impact on such decisions to be abusive. See, there are lines which should not be crossed but it is complicated. The same goes in dealing with patient’s relatives, I have to put myself in their place, how angry would I be? What is reasonable behaviour?

With colleagues it is a different matter, in general abuse is not tolerated. This doesn’t mean it is always reported. It is such serious action to take, a formal process (one which I have some experience of). It is not for the occasions when people are just rude, it is for the extreme. So how do we tackle general lack of manners? A simple example is that I run clinics, within which I schedule 1 hour for lunch, this is never an hour long break, NEVER (to be fair it should only be half an hour). Usually, a few morning patients are late, I have urgent phone calls to make, notes to catch up on and people who did not attend to contact, then the morning patients arrive early. The result is I often have 5 minutes for lunch in a very long and busy day. Again, I try to be understanding, there are problems with buses, some people think it helps to be early rather than late, some don’t mind waiting a few minutes (I do keep in mind that many of our patients are anxious about the appointment and the needle). It is when people are rude and demanding in such situations and think I am not entitled to my break, especially if colleagues do it. I addressed this with some staff who bring patients recently, thankfully they were understanding and didn’t realise how busy things can be (only seeing their part of the picture… amazing how often people do that isn’t it?). See, it is the small things that matter in such cases, a phone call to say you will be early or late, then you would be told what time afternoon clinic starts or when there are appointments free, and I get a 10 minute break… simple manners and we are all happier. Unfortunately not all of my patients who attend alone are able to have such forward thinking, so I still don’t get much of a break, this I don’t mind so much. (The above is not what happened today to annoy me, it was another matter entirely). This is just an example of when manners could help.

So when should I look after my own welfare? To have a break, some food, a drink (a wee)? To not be offended, shouted at? Or even to just be spoken to with some respect? (of course I demand I should not suffer any physical abuse, and would do all I could to prevent such situations and deal with them appropriately). But how much can people get away with? Where is the line? People are complicated. Mental health problems are complicated, as are their families and carers. Politics within teams and between teams of colleagues are also complex, when should we not ‘rock the boat’ or when should we ‘fight our corner’? The answer is, I don’t know. Today I was busy, felt stressed and did my best, I did not feel like my needs were being met to have some of the above privileges (are they privileges or rights?). But once the hectic day was over and I had chance to talk to colleagues I gained more understanding of the situation and felt a bit calmer about the whole thing, I gained some perspective. Sometimes you need time to do so before you react (I did keep my nerve at the time and remained polite).

So, please make an effort to be polite to people who help you in any way. In fact people in general. I don’t mean just nurses, but people who work in shops or restaurants, delivery men, anyone… my point is, please remember if they are helping you, they probably have helped a lot of other people that day, not all of them may have been nice to them. A please or thank you and a smile goes a long way, whether you feel like it or not it may be needed and appreciated.

Thanks for reading, any feedback is always appreciated either here or on twitter.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Mental Health Nursing - my ramble/perspective.

I admit it, I miss blogging, I like writing. This week I was struggling to think of a topic to ramble about so I asked on twitter, a couple of people said my job. But I don’t want to come across as pretentious, as I chose my career with its ups and downs, and I’m sure there are a lot of easier and harder jobs than mine, I am not looking for extra thanks or praise in any way for what I do. Oh, and if you didn’t know I am a mental health nurse.

I do feel the need after reading that last paragraph back to point out that “we” (meaning mental health nurses in general) don’t actually get as much thanks as you may expect. I see it all the time on general medical wards. But I understand that we are not always liked by our patients (especially those detained under the Mental Health Act meaning we restrict their activities) and often there is a huge sense of relief for people when they leave a mental health ward, they are not very happy places to be (I am aware hospital isn’t in general but you know what I mean here I’m sure). I assume (possibly wrongly, feel free to correct me) that it may also be due to the fact that hospital is a tiny part of the journey, people don’t usually leave “cured” there is a long way to go, sometimes they still do not have insight as to why the hospital stay was so necessary. Of course there are people who make remarkable steps whilst in hospital, and are often very grateful for the help they received, I thank those people (as I say, we don’t get it very often). Now I work in clinics (currently Clozapine and ECT) so I am a tiny part of people’s journey through mental health services. My team does get a few Xmas cards from patients, but we are a small piece of a big puzzle; our thanks is seeing people well and not in hospital anymore.

[Sorry for that digression but i had to get it off my chest]

As I pointed out at the beginning I am not meaning to be pretentious in any way. I know that even within mental health nursing people deal with the job in different ways. I must admit I have become a lot more cynical in the last 7 years, I try to make sure this doesn’t make me any less caring or empathetic with my patients. Unfortunately I have seen some nurses “burn out” in that way over the years. I personally believe this may be because some people just don’t switch off. I’m not saying it is always easy, but as in many jobs there needs to be a work-life balance. It saddens me to see some people who need the money working extra hours all the time and not truly switching off from the day’s events. I used to be guilty of it, often ringing work when I got home to tell them something I had forgot but thought it was important (it usually wasn’t and could have waited until the next day when I got back) or to check on a patient. I have been qualified long enough now to have a bit of a thicker skin. Oddly, I feel guilty about this sometimes. But it is needed, work has to stay at work. I have to try to remain detached from my patients (to a certain extent), even though I have known some of them for a few years. I have learnt to deal with this by trying to care about the job as a whole, rather than individuals. I have standards I work to, where patient care comes first and I try to change how I and my colleagues do things for the better. You can make changes within the healthcare system for the better, it is about sharing good practice and listening to patients (while understanding the budgetary constraints).

I guess this blog should be more light hearted than this. What do you want to know about mental health nursing? I will go through the top questions I am usually asked.

1. Is it a scary job?

- The short answer is most of the time, no. I’m not saying there aren’t scary moments on the wards, there are sometimes. But with the right training, a good team and adrenaline kicking in those moments usually pass without too much trauma. I can think of maybe a handful of times when I have felt really intimidated by a patient. I have never been seriously hurt at work, and injuries during restraint are rare for both patient and staff. Part of it, (for me) is that you have to build your own persona, my work persona is much braver than I am in the street and more assertive. At the end of the day, you are a part of a team. If a team works well together you can deal with anything. It does not “kick off” every day, there are really boring shifts like in any job, where nothing seems to happen.

2. What are patients like?

They are mostly like your friends and family, nice people who have become unwell. Just because someone has a mental health problem it does not mean their personality vanishes. Yes, when people are psychotic it can be hard to recognise the person you may have known before, but you have to remember that they are still in there. I laugh and joke with patients if I know them well enough. It depends how unwell they are, there are patients who you have to build trust with or may have thought disorder which makes conversation difficult. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. Every patient is different. It depends on which kind of mental illness they have, how ill they are and their underlying personality. You have to listen to what they want/need, whether it is to talk or be left alone, it is all about balance between what they want and what they need. Yes, there is sometimes odd behaviour, but there is also a lot of “normal” behaviour on a psychiatric ward, watching TV, playing games, having a chat. You can’t see everyone’s mental health problem from afar.

3. Are you psychoanalysing me?

NO! Firstly, I have not trained in psychoanalysis. Secondly, I am not a mind reader (psychics do not exist). I don’t want to know about all of your troubles (unless I ask, or you are my friend, even then sometimes I don’t want to know). It is my job to care for people, not my mission in life to care for everyone I meet. Just as a doctor at a party does not want to hear every medical complaint in the room, I don’t want to find out how scary you all are (joke). In reality, training to be a mental health nurse may make you more observant of behaviours, give you some insight into common behaviours and hopefully make you an empathetic listener. It does not make you everyone’s counsellor. Of course I talk to friends who have problems, they just need to realise I don’t have all the answers. It is much harder to offer that kind of advice to someone you know than to a stranger. Objectivity is often needed, this is difficult to achieve with people you feel close to.

Anymore questions?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

“Skepticism is a tool we apply to parts of our lives.”

This blog is inspired by Rebecca Watson (@rebeccawatson on twitter), I had the privilege of seeing her speak at skeptics in the pub (SitP) this week, and if I’m not mistaken she said the title of this blog (sorry if it is slightly inaccurate), which is what I plan to discuss/ramble through further. For those of you that don’t know skeptics in the pub is a meeting of often like minded people in a pub to discuss science and skepticism over a drink or two, there is often some debunking or consideration of national campaigns along with some lively debate in the Q&A section. It is fun and interesting; at Sheffield SitP we have been lucky enough to have some great speakers such as Simon Singh, Simon Perry, Chris French, Tracy King and coming up is Prof Richard Wiseman and many more. Attending the meetings always gets my neurons firing and makes me feel welcome and comfortable as a relatively new skeptic (in that I have only recently in the last couple of years got back into science and have been open about my atheism).

Rebecca Watson’s talk was called “Don’t be a Dick: Etiquette for atheists and skeptics” and it certainly struck a chord with me. I am aware that some people have the opinion of atheists or skeptics that they think they are above their stations, are always right or better in some way. In reality for the vast majority this is simply not true. Of course there will always be those that “stray into dickishness” (another Rebecca Watson phrase) but I’d hope that for most it is about open-mindedness and while not believing the same things others do, accepting their right to do so or even just being polite. In the Q&A Rebecca pointed out that this rule only applies where people are not being harmed or killed, something I totally agree with. For example even I would be angry and possible offensive towards someone who prevented their child recovering from illness by using homeopathy when they should seek medical attention and prevent further suffering. In an epic 2 hour Q&A many people questioned the need for passion to get things done nationally but compassion when dealing with friends and colleagues. This talk was about interpersonal relationships not national campaigns, but I do understand there is a need to express anger sometimes when in our schools and governments policy is implemented when there exists evidence to the contrary on it’s effectiveness. In such cases anger and even dickishness does gain publicity. It does worry me that it amplifies the generalised impression some people have of atheists or skeptics.

I know this blog is just me talking about Rebecca’s talk, but I am trying not to spoiler it mostly discussing the Q&A, which brings me to why I felt so compelled to blog, the title “Skepticism is a tool we apply to parts of our lives.” I had one of those moments where things fell into place and it just fit. I know I knew it already but that one phrase fit so well and was burned into my brain. I am sure it will be my mantra and where I struggled to verbalise my thoughts before that phrase just does it. Skepticism is not about being right or wrong, it is a tool, a way of thinking. To find out more information or change your views if you come across new information and it is about remaining open-minded. Yes it is much more complicated than that, there is culture and religion involved. As the phrase says we apply skepticism to “parts of our lives”, the parts it fits that we can feel comfortable doing so with and can cope with. Over time we may become more skeptical about more things once we develop our way of thinking, or learn to question things more but we can’t expect to find one thing we believed was wrong and then doubt everything we know, it just doesn’t happen like that.

So yes people can have religious beliefs and be skeptics, they may have not applied skepticism to that part of their lives, they may do so in the future, they may not. They may not want to, it may be important to them and their family, if it is not harming anyone then there is not a problem. I may be an atheist, that is my choice but I would be a hypocrite to try to force my beliefs on someone who did not share them. There may be times if I know someone well enough and it is appropriate to do so that I could maybe ask a question about a religious belief or tradition or plant a seed of doubt, but people need to realise for themselves what they do and don’t believe, it cannot be demanded. It is enough that people can see that often questions do need to be asked, or other sources of information found. It is different in the cases where there is clear peer reviewed empirical evidence that something does or doesn’t work, such as an alternative medicine, I can then say to someone I have read X which states there is no evidence supporting that what you are paying for actually works or that it does more harm than good. But we must be careful to not assume the same of all alternative medicine, I recognise that there are uses for some of the remedies, even if it is just in the placebo effect, relaxation or massage, they do sometimes do “something”. A great book to read to discover more about alternative medicine and what the research actually says is “Trick or Treatment?” by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, it is also a very enjoyable and interesting book.

There is so much information freely available in the media and on the internet, it is now a minefield, unfortunately littered with lies and inaccurate information. Since I became more skeptical I have stopped watching the news on TV, there were too many questions, then I would be on the internet only to find that the story was misreported (especially where it was regarding “miracles” or breakthroughs in science, they are often exaggerated or misinterpreted into media friendly sound bites, it just isn’t that simple). Of course I read and I find things out but mostly online where I can find things out for myself at my own pace, instead of being given the wrong impression by TV. That is one way I apply my skepticism. I cannot do it to all parts of my life, although I have found myself gradually asking more questions, I am in no way, and hope I do not come across as a “know it all”. In know a lot about some things and a little about a lot of things. I do like to find out more and chat.

Full credit for all of the above thoughts goes to Rebecca Watson, she said much of it in her own way at SitP, but I agreed with so many points I wanted to write it out myself, have a ramble and share it. (That’s not plagiarism is it?) Thoughts and comments are as always very welcome. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Truth and Lies

The train of thought for this blog started the other night as I tried to get to sleep after a double shift at work. I don’t work on the psychiatric wards very much anymore, I am largely clinic based, but I need the money and I know the ward so I did an extra few hours to help out. I worked on the wards for 3 years before my current job, and most of the time it never bothered me, you have to get a bit of a thick skin and try to switch off when you walk out of the door. This particular day I struggled. I’m not entirely sure why, but it may be due to seeing a couple of patients who were really poorly. I know all of them are ill to some extent but I hadn’t seen an episode of psychosis that bad for a while, or a person so wrecked by alcohol so badly. A sad sight to see. When I got home I tweeted that it was a humbling shift, it was, it made me ponder a little (when I should have been trying to switch off and get some sleep). As always the lovely people of twitter distracted me, some asking if I was ok. I answered in my usual vague way, not giving much away. It was at this point I realised how much I lie.

I lie in all aspects of my life. I lie on twitter because I often don’t want to be too personal or offend someone, or because I can’t really talk about work in detail. I lie at work, sometimes because it is the appropriate thing to do and sometimes for an easy life. I lie in my personal life to save embarrassment. I know I am not the only one, we all lie, but to what extent? And should we lie so much?

I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I think I am trustworthy, it isn’t that every single thing I say is a lie. There are the obvious examples, when people ask if they look fat or nice in a particular outfit, most people would stretch the truth a little if needed or word their answer very carefully. My lies or avoidance of the truth at work with patients are very much like that, I have to decide if being totally honest would be detrimental to their mental health or our relationship. For example if a patient were to ask me to confirm a delusional belief, I have to decide if that person is ready to consider that what they have thought true for a long time is actually a symptom of their illness; or if they are still lacking insight to the extent that me telling them this would mean they would no longer engage with me, or believe me a part of a conspiracy/delusional construct. It may be the difference between exacerbating a situation potentially leading to aggression or allowing a patient to talk freely and build a therapeutic relationship. Sometimes it is just about offering reassurance to the patient until they are ready to hear a more honest answer, or avoiding answering the question all together (e.g. Why don’t you tell me what you think?).

On twitter I lie a little bit, I have read an interesting blog from a fellow tweeter @wllmtnnt who is also guilty of this crime. I’d hope that people don’t believe everything they read on social networking sites. The majority of the time, I try to avoid actual blatant lies, by either not saying anything or a carefully constructed critical reply. I toyed with the idea of setting up another twitter account with nothing but brutally honest answers to other people’s tweets as a sort of social experiment, but I can’t imagine the account being well liked. It is not socially acceptable to be truthful all the time.

In both these parts of my life, for me it is about boundaries. At work there are set rules, not to give too much personal information away, don’t tolerate abuse (although this one is stretched if a patient is particularly unwell and unable to comprehend the consequences of such actions), and to tell a patient when their actions are inappropriate. I do actually use that phrase, whether it is asking me if I have a boyfriend, some sexual comment or being offensive to a fellow patient.

On twitter it is a bit harder to define the boundaries. I have a general idea how much I want to give away about my life online, but then I know occasionally when drunk or chatting to someone I feel I know better I overstep this mark. As I am sure other people do, it is sometimes with dread I check my feed after a drunken night out followed by late night tweeting, and then hit delete a few times. But also there is often a lack of tone on twitter, things can be misinterpreted, sometimes taken at face value when they are jokes or sarcasm. Plus it is easy to forget that everyone is not being honest, we have all an online persona to some extent. I have often been surprised by the difference between how I perceive people to be online and how they are when I meet them in reality, an obvious example is that it is easy to be bold and chatty on twitter but this may not be the case in reality when the reality and shyness kicks in.

Often my lies on twitter are very insignificant, I would perhaps say I didn’t like something to join in while harbouring a secret passion for it, we all have our embarrassing interests. Other times I would say something nice or reassuring to someone, knowing it is what they need to hear by their leading tweet, but when in fact I would rather be more honest and challenge the behaviour. It is not the time or place to do such things, honesty in such situations like that is reserved for “real life” friends who I know well enough to know they are ready to hear it, and with whom I can read non verbal communication. I don’t lie all the time, I hasten to add, I am generally nice to everyone. If a tweet bothers me that much, I usually don’t reply at all rather than cause offence or feel I am not being honest.

At the end of the day if someone oversteps the mark online you have three options, ignore it, confront it in a way which is the least offensive, or unfollow (or block). Due to the nature of twitter it is easy to perceive such things wrong, by seeing only part of the story, taking things at face value or misjudging tone. So there needs to be caution if you do decide to be a bit more brutally honest, or question if boundaries have been crossed. At the end of the day I would really only do this if I had to in order to feel comfortable to continue following someone. There is nothing wrong with questioning someone’s opinions in a public forum, so long as it is not in a way which intentionally offends. I can usually ignore most of those moments/tweets that make me wonder about their true beliefs. But I do think it is important to realise that even nice tweeters and lovely people in real life (like me) do lie or stretch the truth; it is expected in society, what we read may not be what they really believe. Sometimes by asking the right questions you may get an honest answer rather than what you perceived from previous tweets. However, remember if you were dis-inhibited to the point where you always spoke the truth and your opinion you may be deemed as suffering from mental heath problems.

So as I have said before, I show a part of myself on twitter, and a bit more on these blogs. But without visual clues of non verbal communication I struggle to feel I really know people online, people are different in reality (this is why I like meeting and getting to know tweeters). I can be brave and exaggerate things or be silly on twitter, it is not necessarily how I would behave in reality, it is stretching the truth about who I am in order to have fun and an online presence.

I’m not really sure what the point to this blog was. I guess it was to just realise that twitter is what it is, sometimes honest, sometimes lies, and sometimes only part of the story. And to say that everything I write may not be entirely accurate all of the time. We all do that, don’t we?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

What should a blog be about?

I recently gave someone some advice about starting a blog, not that I am in any way an expert, but who is? So, it has made me think, what should be in a blog? Of course this is an easy question to answer for those blogs that are focussed on one subject area, such as the law, or science and skepticism. But for blogs written as a more personal experiment, what should they include? And I guess more importantly, what shouldn’t they include?

The problem is, there are no hard and fast rules to blogging. It is and should be an open forum, a way of expressing yourself and letting others read and comment on your thoughts. I think it helps if you have an aim for blog, even if like me, you don’t always stick to it. I aimed to try and use my blog to reflect on my thoughts and experiences, in a way to be more skeptical. For me reflection is a great way of doing this, I consider things I have learned and experienced and then how they may have shaped my thoughts and feelings and enriched my life or opinions. Often, just writing the blog is the part which cements my thinking. Of course I can always change my mind, I try to remain open minded about everything, so as I gain more information or experience I can reconsider what I think about a topic. For instance, I have written about luck in previous blogs, but then I saw Prof Richard Wiseman at the Fringe of Reason in Edinburgh and now I feel I need to read more around the subject, the concept of luck (even with its lack of evidence/logic) may not always be a bad thing. I will read the books I now know exist and perhaps change my views.

My blog is quite personal, for someone who states they don’t write lots of personal information online, I obviously do. These blogs are my opinions, what could be more personal than that? However, I do consider when writing them if it would be detrimental to my career if a patient or work colleague ever stumbled upon them. So I do hold back a little. I recently told a fellow blogger that I don’t post these blogs on FB, only on twitter. I have told a few close friends and family members that I write a blog and it’s purpose, but I haven’t showed it to them. It is not that I am embarrassed, or am I? My friends know me, they know I have strong views, but many are not into social networking in a way I am, nor are they as into science and skepticism as me. It is like I lead two separate lives in a way, the friends and family I grew up with, and my new friends and acquaintances on the internet, the ones who have more of a passion for the topics which vaguely interest my “real friends”. The lines are blurred of course, there are friends who dip into both camps, the “real friends” one and the “online friends”/science/skepticism one. These things are never simple, so I don’t actively separate them. If someone asks me about my blog or shows interest then they are welcome to read it. However, I am aware that many of my facebook “friends” would have a different perception of me all together from reading these rambles.

That brings me onto to another worry, one which I considered before even starting this blog. Does writing my thoughts and feelings in such a concise way change people’s perception of me in a good/bad way? I am unsure. Many people who are lovely enough to read this have met me at various comedy gigs around the country, and I hope to continue meeting more people at comedy/skeptic events. But having a blog can’t help but give someone an opinion about me, how I think, how I write. I guess it depends what you think of the blog? I worry that in concentrating my opinions in blog form I give the impression that I am overly opinionated or pretentious? In reality I am not (always, I hope). I mean I have views on subjects, but when I meet people I am just like everyone else, a bit shy and awkward at first and reserved until I know someone better. Does a blog give the impression that I am bolder than I am? I find it easy to sit back and write thoughts and feelings from behind the protection of my laptop screen. I don’t see anyone’s reaction, yes I get comments every now and then, but without the immediate social interaction of seeing a person give me feedback, I can again sit back and reflect on what people think without over reacting, getting offended or coming across as aggressive if my opinion differs (plus in all honesty I usually just get lots of lovely tweets and comments, even when I expect more challenging opinions to be stirred). Don’t get me wrong, I think I can debate a topic in a rational and polite way in face to face conversation, but not necessarily straight away with strangers (I am not that confident at speaking in public with strangers). In face to face contact I like to find out how far someone can be pushed, or how strong their views are; if the differ greatly to mine, if they are a rational thinker, or easily offended; whether they have a sense of humour. This can usually soon be found out once you have spent some time with someone (and yes, occasionally from lots of online contact over a period of time).

So, what should a blog contain? I still don’t know. I write this one for me, it helps me to think, to vent thoughts and feelings and practice my writing skills (or lack of). With the exception of a few blogs about comedy shows I have seen, I tend to keep it vague, not too much detail about my personal life, but at the same time I accept that it is a very personal blog, after all it is how I feel or think about things. A blog is what ever you need a blog to be, often a recording memories and life, a look at a subject which interests/outrages you or a way in which you feel you can express yourself.

Thanks for reading this entry, please feel free to comment on it, or tweet me any thoughts you have, they would be much appreciated (I need them in order to learn, honest).

Saturday, 4 September 2010


Ok I realise this is not the happiest of subjects to have a ramble through, but I was inspired yesterday when I read Peter Harrison’s excellent blog on the subject, read it here. As his blogs often do it made me consider my views on the subject.

I too do not believe in afterlife, I am an atheist so when we are dead we are gone, I don’t have a spirit that will live on in some other plane of existence. When my heart stops and my brain ceases to function that is it. However, there is one way in which I believe I will live on, I hopefully leave behind people whose life I have touched in some way (I cringe as I write that phrase). The memories I create with others and the impact I have on other people is my legacy. In a sense this is what scares me about death. I wonder what will I leave behind? How will I have impacted on anyone’s life? I have no great ambitions in politics or to write a book or anything like that, but that does not mean I leave no long lasting impression on the people I interact with. While the thought does scare me, I fully accept that once I am gone I won’t care. I can’t, there is no way I can have a thought or regret once the moment of death has passed. In a way this is a benefit to death, I can’t focus on what I leave behind as I won’t know or care beyond the moment of death. The only way I can look at my impact on others and how I live my life is to look at it right now, to talk to people, meet new people and reflect on what happens or has happened in the few insignificant years I have been alive.

Considering death should and does inspire me to live a full life, not necessarily to do great things but to be happy and hopefully make those I surround myself with happy in some way too. I can’t live life totally without regret, I will make mistakes, but I can learn from them and move on. Mortality is a great motivator, I would hate to think I was immortal as I can’t see how I would have so much ambition and motivation with an infinite amount of time in which to make mistakes or realise goals. It is like when you go on holiday (stay with me on this bit), you know you only have your two weeks to enjoy the particular destination, it has usually cost a lot of money and excitement has be built up over a number of months. So off you go, things go wrong or not quite to plan, but you carry on making the best of things, not wanting to ruin the precious hours and days you have. People on holiday try to create moments they will remember, day trips, great views, shows, anything to have great memories of that time. To me this is how we should look at life, we may not know how long we have but we should make the best of what we have and create as many wonderful moments as we can, there is an end point.

I understand that for some theists it is a comfort to believe there is an afterlife, but I would consider such a concept much more frightening than not believing in one. A theist would fear the judgement of their life after death, whether they go to heaven or hell would be decided once the moment of death has passed. At least I know (yes, I know as I have no evidence to the contrary) that once death has occurred it doesn’t matter one bit, what is done is done. So I don’t fear death, I fear not living life to it fullest but more so than that I fear not knowing the impact I have on others. The answer for me is to ask, talk to people, tell people how you feel, get the answers and the reactions now. I do not have to wait for some God to pass judgement on how good or full my life is, I am happy and grateful I can find that out for myself now. And if I don’t like what I find, I’d better do something about it.

I can think of times when having this view has helped me, there have been periods in my life where I have stopped and looked back and decided to change. This may be partly influenced by my job, I unfortunately do have patients who die, which of course is very sad and often tragic. But in order to do such a job I have to have a reflective process in place, I have to consider what was done, what could have been done and if mistakes were made can they be learned from. We cannot “save” everyone. This is of course no comfort to relatives, and not a discussion I would have with them. But working with death makes me appreciate life. Add to this the belief that I have that my life is finite, there is nothing after then you can see how I am motivated to “get on with it” and try to live it to the full. So I think I am grateful for death, not frightened of it. I too, like Peter accept death as a part of life. Of course if I know when death is coming (I think I would rather not know in a way, but that is another discussion) I will be frightened of that moment, but more of the possible physical pain and the emotions my loved ones have to go through that I have to see, it is the build up to death, but once the moment has passed there is nothing to be afraid of, well there is nothing at all for me.

In my view having such a view on death and life should make my eventual death easier on my family and friends, I would hope that they understand that I hopefully have said what I wanted to say, and done what I wanted to do, not because of fear of judgement but because I wanted to live a full life, because I am inspired by death.

Thanks for reading, do read Peter Harrison’s much more eloquent discussion on the topic. As always comments are welcome on here or twitter if you wish.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Edinburgh Reflection

I feel bad, I promised myself I would blog more, read more and learn more about skepticism, however in the last few weeks with the run up to Edinburgh fringe and then the two weeks of chaos there, I did very little of either. Or did I?

The fringe was an amazing experience, only now looking back on it do I have so much to think about and write. Some of it is nothing new to most people, but as usual I will have a ramble through the thoughts in my head and see what comes out. I am well aware that there are many comedians who are atheists and or skeptics, it is the kind of comedy I enjoy. I like the silly less serious stuff too and saw a great mix of different kinds of acts in the 60 shows I crammed into my two weeks there. But some shows surprised me, they really made me think. I don’t mean in an obvious way, I know that shows like Baba Brinkman’s rap guide to human nature is supposed to raise issues, and Robin Ince’s shows always make me want to read more, that is not the point I am making.

The shows which surprised me the most were the ones with a personal element in them. Often when we think of comedy shows, we expect a barrel of laughs, funny people who write well and deliver. During the fringe I realised that sometimes there is more to it than that. Many comedians use their personal experiences, reflect on them, maybe embellish them a little and then we get the resulting humorous story. That level of self examination is what struck me, they are a reflective bunch aren’t they? It is something I think more people should do; not the embellishing and making experiences into funny stories, but reflection in itself. I think comedians are incredibly brave, not only getting up on stage but saying “I did this” and showing others how things all went wrong, or they learned from their experiences. I know they often won’t mean it to be so deep, but a couple of shows in particular were quite inspiring. Those that saw Tiernan Douieb’s or Nat Luurtsema’s shows may have more of an understanding of what I mean. Tiernan’s heartfelt yet still hilarious look at friendship and what it means was really poignant to me (I really wanted to blog there and then but had no time). As was Nat’s consideration of her childhood experiences and how they made her who she is today. They not only judge themselves but then allow/ask others to judge them, telling the audience about personal moments in their lives AND making us laugh. I struggle to comprehend how they do it.

I do have great respect for anyone who dares to get on stage and perform. More so for those that manage to push some buttons, whether it is through the use of personal experiences as described above, or by social commentary or asking the difficult questions. I like to be shocked, to be made to question why I am offended, or what my beliefs are on a subject. Even through things like the use of the cunt word, why was I bothered by it? I’m not now, not at all but that may be due to exposure to it more than anything (thanks Michael Legge). After all it is just a word, it is all about context. I like that comedy can change my views just as reading a book, or a skpetics talk can. I know it is dangerous ground and you shouldn’t believe everything a comedian says (in fact believe very little, they lie), but they can make you think and then go and find things out for yourself. For this reason I really enjoyed Pete Johansson’s show, he has said he isn’t very political, but I beg to differ. His show was in your face inspiring and lots of fun, he really reminded me of Bill Hicks (not in any copy cat way), he had views on some topics like children and society and we knew about them, I loved every minute of it.

Not all comedy needs to have an end message, or be so reflective. As I said before I like the silly stuff too, to just sit in a room and lose myself in ridiculous sketches or angry shouty men is and was a great tonic. I overheard lots of people after such shows judging those that had just performed, as is expected. But it amused me that often people forget that comedians can have a stage persona and be very different people off stage. It is easy to do this, after all we only see the on stage persona, we do not know them (well most of them). This occurred to me more when I said hello to a couple of acts after their shows, I am rubbish at it. The conversation is always, “Well done on your show, it was great... [insert some detail I particularly liked].” They reply thank you and then add some small talk, then I dry up. I imagine I could have some great conversations but I get caught up in the thought that they don’t actually want to know anything I have to say. Let’s be honest most of the time it is true. Friends are friends and fans are fans, I don’t want to be friends with every comedian I meet, that would be weird and rather stalkery. I need to figure out how to be more friendly, but to me it is a very fine line between being friendly and being intrusive, so I just get uncomfortable and go quiet (this is not always the case when drunk, but that is another story I will not tell in a blog).

The great thing about the fringe experience apart from all of the great shows, the city and the comedians was being able to meet so many tweeters. Being there so long was great, it meant I had time to talk to some of them properly. Often we all only meet at various shows across the country and I always come away disappointed that I didn’t really get a chance to talk properly. I am not as shy with tweeters, we are on common ground (that kind of suggests I give comedians a higher status, do I? Mm), we are all nervous (a little at first) but already know we have common interests to talk about, so conversation usually flows. Of course some people were different to how I expected, as I am sure I may have been to some people but thankfully they were all very nice and friendly. I am certain I will see many of them again. There was some difficulty in getting my friends from home to mix with tweeters, but that was my friend’s shyness/pre-conceived ideas about “people from the internet”. At one point a friend did call me unsociable for logging onto twitter when sat in a pub, not long after that more people joined us in the pub for drinks, thanks to a tweet... who is unsociable? I should try and remember that not everyone is as open minded about meeting new people as I am, but I wish they were.

I think I may have gone off topic at the end there. So I will sum up and end it here. Comedy can make me think and reflect, it can also help distract me from the world and my thoughts, either way I remain an addict. Meeting people can be scary, but often it can be worth it.

Thanks to everyone I met and saw in Edinburgh this fringe, you all helped make it an awesome two weeks.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Meeting Tweeps.

Well it’s about time I had a ramble again and blurted all of my random thoughts onto the internet. Before I begin, thank you to all of you who do read this and send me lovely comments on here, on twitter or via email. I do really appreciate them.

As the Edinburgh fringe festival looms next month and I have reflected on my eventful birthday weekend in London I have been thinking more about meeting people. I don’t just meeting friends of friends but the random way in which I have met more and more people from twitter. I know this will escalate in Edinburgh and it is one of the things I am really looking forward to. There are many people I have chatted to on twitter on an almost daily basis; to meet those people will be intriguing and I’m sure lots of fun. I know (as I have done before) we will find it mostly quite easy to talk, especially as there will be so many shows we have seen or are seeing in Edinburgh to chat about.

But then there is the other side...

I am sometimes shy, especially with people I have never met or when sober (so may not be too much of a problem in Edinburgh). It is easy not to be shy on twitter, you can hide behind the laptop, if people don’t respond, so what? There is no risk, I use twitter for fun, if people get offended they can unfollow or block me. Face to face is not so simple. Body language greatly changes social interaction, you can tell if someone is offended, even if they are polite enough to try and hide it. Just as you know quite soon if you have good chemistry (no I don’t mean in a sexy way) or they are bored with what you are saying. Other people I meet will also be just as shy, this can make drumming up conversation not that easy. Don’t get me wrong, once I get going I can talk for England, more so if I am nervous ( I am aware not everyone wants to hear me wittering on and on), but in a large group I can be the quieter person hiding at the back.

If there are people there that I know already I am more comfortable as they act like a kind of safety net, people who I know understand that no matter how much I come across as a twat to these new people, they know the real me and will forgive my momentary lapse. I can always turn around and talk to them when a conversation with a new person fails.

Sometimes I do ok, if I can talk about my interests and it is appealing to others and stimulates conversation then we are usually off to a good start. This is why I usually don’t do so well when meeting the comedians and acts I admire. They have (mostly) all been lovely and chatted, but it is usually brief, which is sometimes all that was needed. But occasionally this could be my lack of preparation for the situation, I am focussed on my admiration of their talent and usually have a few questions or comments about their shows, but after that there needs to be more of a conversation (unless they are not friendly/interested). This is where I am totally unprepared. Or it could just be that I am not funny or entertaining. However, sometimes it is different not so long ago a lovely comedienne who I had met a couple of times politely answered my questions and then asked “So, how are you, how are things?” I stumbled over my words and awkwardly said “Erm... fine thanks *long pause* just busy with work.” Not the best conversation starter, but I didn’t expect “normal” conversation so was totally unprepared for it. I need to remember sometimes comedians are everyday friendly people too not just there to answer my interrogations. I do think this is sometimes why I get shy, a moment of paranoia I don’t think people are interested in my life, why would they be? I am nothing special. What I need to do is realise none of us are (or we all are depending on your philosophy). People in general are interesting, if it seems like someone wants to chat then tell them about yourself, but then don’t be rude do also remember to listen and ask about them and their interests. (I do find myself thinking “stop talking, let them say something” but it can lead to an awkward silence if they are not as chatty as me). And no this does not mean I think we should all start telling comedians our life stories, not all of them even want to chat, saying “I really enjoyed your show [some comment about a particular part]” is often enough. I mean in the situations in bars where conversation is more expected, the same advice goes for meeting people from twitter (this is advice to myself, this is why I am rambling); where conversation is expected do have some questions prepared, not in an interrogating way, but ones which (you hope) would stimulate conversation.

I will give away some of my questions now (some are obvious and corny I know and I do plan to think about this more before Edinburgh), feel free to use them if you meet me in Edinburgh, I won’t be offended, actually I think they could break the ice...

- Who have you just seen/seen today?
- Which has been your favourite show so far?
- Who are you most excited to see?
- Is it your first fringe?
- Are you managing to find your way around yet?
- Is your accommodation nice?
- Are you seeing [insert my favourite show/one I am most looking forward to]?
- Have you met many tweeters?

I would hope by this point they too have asked questions and we are locked in Edinburgh conversation, which goes on to anecdotes and friendship (unless we don’t get on, then we just have to make excuses and run away, although sometimes I will need the loo/food/sleep/beer/to meet people/to get to a show).

Anyway, I feel a little more confident now I have thought this through by having a ramble on here. I also realise that many other people will feel exactly the same meeting new people, maybe we should all remember that? Please feel free to comment or offer any advice/ice breaker suggestions/conversation starters (it doesn’t matter that we may all say the same things, in fact it may amuse us). I hope I don’t do what I tend to and stick to talking more to people I have already met than people I haven’t. I am determined to be more outgoing this time.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Day 2 of what a weekend! #PreciousLittle LIVE party

For those of you that don't know, #PreciousLittle (hashtag used on twitter) is a comedy podcast by Michael Legge and James Hingley, see their website here I have been a listener since the beginning last September. Michael calls us fans of the podcast, Podophiles and we often have #ListeningParties where we all listen together and write on twitter. For more about #PreciousLittle see my previous blog The idea behind the events of the 11th of July were to do the podcast with an audience of 40 podophiles, as it was the 40th podcast. It also happened to be my 30th birthday which suited me very well, thanks Michael. So that is the background, here is what happened...

Vicky (@tainted_harmony) and I met up with Neale (@ColonelHitch) to head over to Euston to our hotels (more hot tube journeys). We had a lovely breakfast in the sun (lining our stomachs), checked in and then set off towards the secret venue. Oh, that is not quite accurate, we then searched 6 shops down lots of back streets for a pineapple, but I will come to that in a while. We met up with a few podophiles before the podcast in a pub nearby, it was nice to break the ice in a smaller group, although I had met a number of them before at Los Quattros Cvnts gigs. I think everyone was as nervous as each other walking into a pub and asking a group of strangers if they were podophiles. But soon we were all giggling about the gifts and contributions we had brought to the recording. At this point Neale (@ColonelHitch) revealed the pineapple (see the photo), we had joked that he was the hardest person to recognise as his twitter avatar is of a pineapple in a bow tie, so we recreated it and Neale carried it around all day (until in began to get rather mushy later). We then realised that Graham (@GDLockuk) had a similar avatar of a pint of lager, hence the photos above of them meeting for the first time. We had a drink and a chat, the lovely Neal (@Neal55) gave me a brilliant birthday present of lots of American candy, and Ashley (@waytowastetime) gave me more chocolate. The ice broken we headed across the road to the venue.

At the venue there were more podophiles already waiting, some were recognisable, some were not. We all mingled and said hello, and I was very grateful that Sarah (drunk Sarah @misswiz) had sent everyone a badge, as it was my task to give them out, another great ice breaker. They were also very funny badges which said "I am a pair of bastards" on them, this does make sense if you listen to the podcast. There were too many podophiles to mention but some of the ones I speak to more regularly on twitter were there making it not too awkward to chat (@howlieT, @AndyMcH or Jingle Jim, @BarrySkellern, @The MightyBlackout, @Neal55, @waytowastetime, @GDLockUK, @tainted_harmony or Vicky Harsehole, @wllmtnnnt, @GordyODT oh and many more, sorry if I missed you off this list). Finally we went into the basement for the recording.

Pre-recording Michael had a bit of a funny rant at James due to the microphones being in pint glasses... "I asked you to do one thing... set this whole thing up!" which had us all giggling ready for our treat of a warm up act Mushybees. As podophiles we all know Mushybees does the voice of Pam Ayre for Ayres Rocks, where we send in poetry to be read out. It was great to see Mushybees do her own material and she wonderfully chose William Tennant (@wllmtnnnt) to hold her flip chart and turn it when promtped. Do go and see his work here. The set end with rather a lot of Madeleine McCann material which had me in stitches and William struggling to hold up the chart.

Then it was podcast time. I do not need to go through it in detail as you can go and listen to it yourself, episode 40 of Precious Little is on iTunes now or available from the website here. I will point out some of the highlights for me though. At the beginning of the podcast they played the theme tune by Ian (@IanReentrant) as always, but James was obviously shocked that we all sang along! Of course we did. IN some of the chats with the podophiles we discussed how they all get stuck in your head like little earworms. We did sing other jingles too, my favourite being in the mini podcast, so I can't mention it as it isn't out yet. Michael seemed to bounce off the crowd's reactions as I would have expected but it was great to see and hear James get so many laughs and stand his own ground. Sadly Misha's (@HowlieT) friend Lauren couldn't get in as she was only 17 years old (although another 17 year old did get in), as sorry for her as we felt it did lead to rather a lot of the podcast being dedicated to her in a sick and twisted way, leading to Bunky (@mushybees partner) bringing a barely 18 porn magazine for Michael in the interval. The whole show felt very warm (in the good way) and comfortable, I'm not sure Michael and James would agree with this. Michael did of course look beautiful in his grey t-shirt (which he blogged about here). They seemed incredibly touched that we had a whip around for some beer money for them, the gig was free after all! A wonderful idea from Andy/Jingle Jim (@AndyMcH). I laughed too much at the use of the wanker sign throughout the recording, especially when both Michael and James did it to each other when the other turned their back, a visual catchphrase on a podcast brilliant! Imagine that is what is happening for all unexplained laughter in the podcast. The Gentleman's Review finally joined Michael and James on stage and were almost buried in biscuits from the podophiles (they then had to carry them around all day, there were loads). They were as always very funny, when they could get a word in over Michael, thankfully they do speak more in the mini podcast. Lots of us also brought postcards for the last ever Fuck A Thing, but it will not be heard until the mini podcast later in the week so I won't spoil it, but there were prizes and another live jingle.

During the interval I gave Michael his present from my twin sister, which was a book "The 100 World's Greatest Podcasting Tips", we thought it was appropriate. Michael read some of it out while we waited for people to return, it is obviously the work of a genius and should greatly improve the podcast.

After the podcast we had more booze and chatted, although as always happens I was sad to not get chance to chat with everyone. We also ate my birthday cake, made by Misha. And we skype called Wet Sarah (@h2osarah) in Canada so that she could see all of the podophiles, although we did struggle to hear her on my phone and the picture was a bit rubbish for her, at least we tried. Then followed more booze and more chatting, it was great to meet Andy (@DrBobChoco) and Martin (@Martinwolfenden) from The Gentleman's Review. There was one casualty of the night, a blue ukulele, but it is too upsetting to talk about *sobs*.

A brilliant day/night thanks to everyone involved, I couldn't have had a better 30th birthday.

What a weekend... part 1 (Don’t worry there are only 2 parts).

I know I usually write reflective blogs about issues and topics which I believe I need to think about more. But I had a great birthday weekend full of comedy fun and meeting lots of new people from twitter, so I shall tell you about that instead, you lucky people.

The 11th July was my 30th birthday, not something I was dreading, mainly because I’m generally ok with getting older (see this blog) but also because I had such a full weekend planned. My twin sister was a little bit annoyed that I was missing her party on Saturday night, but we compromised and went to Alton Towers together last week with some friends. So on Saturday the 10th July I headed to London town. I had managed to book first class train travel as it worked out only a couple of pounds more expensive (if you know where to shop for cheap train tickets it helps), I was extremely glad I had done this as it was a very hot day and the air conditioning was only working in those carriages. Free tea is always a bonus too.

On arrival to London I soon met up with Vicky (@tainted_harmony) who I had met before and we got the tube the Southwark to check in to our hotel. I don’t need to go on about it but I will just point out the tube is ridiculously hot on a sunny day, think of this whenever I mention tubes in this blog. So we freshened up and headed on the TUBE (see earlier comment) to Hyde park to find the Watsonian’s picnic (Mark Watson fans from his forum set up by the lovely Misha (@HowlieT) had arranged a meet up). Being as rubbish at keeping up with forums as I am, I had already booked later trains for us to get there fashionably late at 4pm (ish), it started at 12pm. We also failed to bring any food (everyone else had contributed), but there was plenty left and they were all very friendly and fed and watered us. I didn’t catch everyone’s name (nor would I have remembered them if I did) but it was nice to finally see some people from twitter in the flesh and have a chat (I had met a couple of them before). As we arrived the blog entry was being written, each person was writing one word and passing it on, the result can be found here. There was lots of chat about gigs, comedians, arenas and the travelling we had all done just to see comedy. It was all very pleasant and civilised. After burning in the sun for a while we said our goodbyes and headed for the tube again.

The Penny Dreadfuls were an act I had never seen or heard much about, but I trust Simone’s (@Simone_QOF) comedy judgement as should everyone (see her blog) and so we headed to Greenwich with Vicky to meet up with a few more people and watch the preview of their Edinburgh show. I really should thank Kerri (@KerriSullivan) for organising my ticket, thank you! Now I won’t give too much away about the show as it is not fair to spoil it for others, but I can say the opening was very Pappy’s (fans of Pappy’s Fun Club, as they used to be known may guess what this means). It was a wonderful hour of dreadful overacting in brilliantly clich├ęd sketches. Some of the twists on other sketches I had seen were much more clever than I expected. I was also impressed at the colour theme which ran throughout all of the intricate costume, set and prop changes. I do recommend you go and see them in Edinburgh or anywhere else if you can. We hung around in the bar for a little while after, again talking to a variety of people I hadn’t met before, and a few I had. And then we realised that our plan to get the boat to Southbank for our next gig had some timing flaws in it, so we dashed for the train, only to find our timing was not quite right there either. But it didn’t matter, the lovely Kirsty still had cookies in her bag from the Watsonian’s picnic, so fed us as we looked at Venus in the night sky. Until a random man came and ranted at us that we were wrong (there is an app for that and we checked, we were not wrong), he told us to google someone, as this wise woman knew what the mystical light in the sky was... we laughed, a lot.

We dashed into the upside down purple cow tent, that is Udderbelly on Southbank, just a couple of minutes after Andrew Maxwell’s Fullmooners had started.

Words cannot describe Andrew Maxwell’s outfit (see the photo, you will know which one I mean). He had a go, he said he was going for “summer” and then later there was some discussion about how the tight 80s shorts were squashing his knicker kittens. It was my first Fullmooners, and I did enjoy the cabaret aspect of it, it felt like a proper Edinburgh late show (which is where I will see it next), the only part of the concept I wonder about is the howling at the moon. I understand why... Fullmooners, but is it not forcing people to react to comedy rather than waiting for the laughs? The idea is that people howl instead of laugh, sometimes the crowd start it off and then the moon picture is projected onto the back of the stage, but sometimes the picture is up first and the audience reacts. The howling was lots of fun, but there were one or two times it felt like I was in the audience of a sitcom and someone had held up the APPLAUSE sign. The first act was Adam Bloom, I had never seen him before and although he was very energetic and I did laugh out loud a few times there were a couple of bits of his material I was not comfortable with. I had heard about his vegetarian material from Michael Legge’s blog which he did at the end of his set. I don’t mind offensiveness or pushing boundaries, but it just didn’t make me giggle as much as I had hoped. I didn’t think it went as well as it could have done for Adam, despite him stating every few minutes how much he was enjoying the gig. The breakdancers are a regular feature of Fullmooners and do it very well, I do think it is a great way of energising the crowd again. Lady Carol is another regular, she was very beautiful and played the ukulele while singing a song (I think some of the lyrics of the song passed me by, but it was entertaining none the less). Abandoman were another act I had not seen and they were excellent. I can’t say I am a fan of hip hop but the way they improvised the lyrics and had fun with the audience was genius. There first song being “Something in my pocket”, I did hope to see more of them but it was a packed show. The final act was Steve Hughes, I think I have seen him before maybe at Latitude?), he is an Australian comic who is very at ease on stage. Some interesting political commentary including a bit of ranting, just my kind of comedy. I really enjoyed his set. After all of the acts had performed (breakdancers and Lady Carol twice) it was time for the closing ceremony. This takes place outside of Udderbelly as we reached the 1am kick out time (they wouldn’t even let us go back in to wee after). Sir Timothy Fitzhighham (who was on the sound and lights desk all evening and had some wonderful banter with Andrew Maxwell between acts) brought the ceremonial bugle following the still caped and caned Andrew Maxwell. They climbed onto a raised flower bed at the entrance to the udderbelly pasture where the crowd surrounded them. Sir Tim drank a pint of beer through the bugle which he then played as we all saluted. Someone had thought it a great idea to light a Chinese lantern at this point and watch it float into the sky. However, it flew straight into the tree above us and staying there burning dangerously, resulting in Andrew and Sir Tim climbing around trying to know it out of the tree. As all of this was going on some of the people I was with remembered it was now my birthday and sang to me... aw lovely.

We then wandered through Waterloo (for the wee the Udderbelly staff wouldn’t let us have) and in search of food, realising we had only had a couple of bits of cake at the picnic and nothing else since breakfast. Neale (@ColonelHitch), Vicky and I not only found chips n cheese, but we also found a possible entry for Pun Street on Dave Gorman’s Absolute radio podcast (I think it deserves fail lane, but I have not checked the website yet to see if it already exists). Then finally after a great day, we were needed sleep ready for day 2 of the comedy adventure...

Thank you for reading if you got this far (I do realise this is more for my own future recollection than anything else). Oh and sorry I didn’t mention all of the tweeters I met up with, there were too many of you, and I don’t know all of the twitter names, do say hello though.