The Bleak Moodiness of my Depressive Woeful Tears

“There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today”
Joni Mitchell ‘Hejira’

Sometimes I feel low. It’s not a bi-polar, manic depressive style type of lowness. I don’t feel that the universe makes such little sense that there is no point in existing (I actually enjoy the pointlessness of the universe and revel in the futility of life).

No. When I say I sometimes feel low, what I mean is that sometimes I just feel…low. I feel lost. It’s not even that I feel alone, or that I want attention, or that I need to cry or throw darts at a picture of Noel Edmunds. No. I just have days when I feel a bit lost.

And it’s not even full days. It’s more like half a day. I think it’s important to clear that up right now. I never spend a whole day feeling lost. That’s just not on and is a bit self-indulgent. Half a day will do nicely thank you very much. If it’s more than half a day I get a bit bored with feeling low and it loses its meaning. More than half a day feeling low and lost and I might as well have not started to feel low and lost in the first place, which just makes me cross.

So what did I do about it today? Well my first thought was to play some music. Some nice, uplifting, feel good music that would renew my faith in my fellow human beings and reassure me that the world we live in was not going to end just yet. So I put an album on.

Low by David Bowie

And jumped forward to this track…

And five minutes later I was happy again!

…but also suffering from an overdose of irony…

When Riaz Met Pami (Part 1)

A still from the 1989 film ‘When Harry Met Sally’

When Harry Met Sally is one of my favourite films. It has an incredibly witty script and great performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, playing Sally Allbright and Harry Burns. When I watched this film in the year of its release, 1989, I had no idea that my life would pan out in a similar way, but with a slightly sadder ending.

In 1988, at the age of 16, I attended a Kate Bush fan gathering at Haworth, West Yorkshire, home of the Bronte sisters. Kate Bush was (and still is) an English songwriter and musician who had a number one hit in 1978 with Wuthering Heights, a song inspired by the work of Emily Bronte, which is why this particular fan gathering took place at Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse on the bleak Yorkshire moors.

It was on November the 5th that we met and a small handful of roughly 20 fans, from all parts of the country, gathered together on that cold afternoon.

Kate Bush fan meeting, Top Withens, Haworth, November 1988

I made a few friends there, namely Neil Davison and Alan Patterson (if you stumble upon this blog post guys, get in touch. It’s been a long time…), and I also met the editors of the Kate Bush fanzine called ‘Homeground’ which was popular at the time. Unbeknownst to me (Unbeknownst – a great word, innit?) there was also a couple there – Pami and Paul Gill – though I never got around to speaking to them.

Pami Gill – this little lady who walked past me on the moors, in 1988, would become such an important part of my life, twenty years later…

The next year, sometime in the spring of 1989, I attended another Kate Bush fan meeting. This time it was at the flat of Paul Gardener in Manchester. Again, Pami and Paul Gill were amongst the guests there on that evening and it was Paul that I got talking to first. Paul Gill was an art teacher in a comprehensive school in Chester at the time, and ten years older than myself. We got talking and it turned out we had a mutual love of the same films and also both played guitar. At some point Pami joined us too and entered the conversation. She struck me then as a very beautiful lady, gothic in appearance, with jet black hair and a black crushed velvet dress. They left later that evening, but not before Paul had given me their address and said “drop us a letter”.

I stayed that night in Paul Gardener’s flat, along with ten or twelve other Kate fans. All of us snuggled in our sleeping bags, strewn across the living room, hallway and bedroom. They were great days and I have such great memories of those more carefree times. Paul Gardener sadly passed away from cancer some years ago. I had lost touch with him in the early nineties and was saddened to hear of his death. I wish I had known him more.

I wrote to Paul Gill but it was Pami who replied. Paul, she said, always enjoyed receiving my letters, but was a poor letter writer. It was always Pami who wrote to me. I had a number of pen-friends back then and would dedicate an awful lot of time throughout each week, composing and writing letters. In these days of email and the internet, handwritten letters from friends are rare, which is a shame as I remember it being one of the most enjoyable things – waiting for the postman each morning to see if a letter from a pen-pal would be pushed through the door.

I had an invitation to visit them at their home in Chester, so visit them I did. It was a wonderful weekend. Paul was a kind and generous man, maybe a bit ‘teacherly’ and parental at times, but his heart was in the right place. He was artistic yet practical. Pami was a strange but alluring mixture. Although outwardly, she could appear quite gothic, her ideas and beliefs were very hippyish. She loved fairies, ghosts, the supernatural, Laurel & Hardy, Monty Python, the myths of Glastonbury, Kate Bush (of course) and many other things that intrigued me.

Later that year I visited them again, along with Krystyna and Peter Fitzgerald-Morris, the editors of Homeground magazine. On that particular weekend we visited Pendle Hill in Lancashire, famous for the ‘Pendle Witch Trials’ that took place in 1612. It was a rainy day and the four of us spent a few hours hiking to the top of that hill, barely able to see more than ten feet in front of us due to the dense fog that increased the higher we got. I remember resting at one point and being able to sit next to Pami, on a large flat stone. I had no confidence with women at that point in my life. At 18, I could barely say hello to a girl without laughing to hide my acute embarrassment. Pami, being ten years older, made me feel comfortable. I could talk to her and I enjoyed her company a lot.

Pami Gill circa 1991

The years passed by. Letters came and went. I lived in Cwmbran, South Wales and Pami and Paul lived in Chester. Most of my Kate Bush friends lived far from me and I was only on the Youth Training Scheme allowance of £27 a week at the time, so didn’t get the chance to visit my friends that often.

Their friendship with the Fitzgeralds turned into something more. I visited them one weekend and Paul and I were at a pub alone, when suddenly he asked me what I thought of ‘swinging’.

“Well, I’ve always preferred the slide,” I said, which was true. “But if you can get on a really cool roundabout, then that can be so much fun.”

Paul patiently explained to me that swinging wasn’t about slides, swings, roundabouts or those little painted horses on springs that rock back and fore. He told me that he and Pami were now happily involved in an ‘open’ relationship with Krys and Peter. I felt a strange mixture of emotions at this revelation. A part of me was slightly jealous as it seemed to follow the bohemian way of life – that ‘hippy ideal’ – that I had romanticised for so long. But to paraphrase a Woody Allen quote from ‘Manhattan’ – I had romanticised that sort of life out of all proportion.

Paul continued talking and I half listened, but my mind was elsewhere. Things had changed.

I went to college for a few years. I forgot my old Kate Bush fan friends for a few years. I became a full time carer for my grandmother for a few years. She passed away in 1998. I got a job, met a girl, settled down and married. I was living the dream (or was I living the Cat Stevens song? I’m not sure now). It was 2001 and I was now 27. My friendships with a lot of the Kate Bush crowd had waxed and waned though there were a few constants.

“Just before our love got lost you said
‘I am as constant as the northern star’….” – Joni Mitchell ‘A Case Of You’

Pami and Paul were a constant and I renewed contact with them again in the summer of 2007 and once again, began visiting them several times a year. They had by this time moved to Calne, Wiltshire and also, by this time, Pami had given birth to two children, Jake and Emily. Their days of swinging had long since passed. Pami was eager to tell me that on my first visit to them in their new home, and they seemed to have settled down into a comfortable (from the outside) middle-aged lifestyle. By this time they were both in their late 40s and I was in my mid thirties. I was no longer the insecure, gawky, naive teenager they had first met on the moors over twenty years ago. I was now a tall, gawky adult, confident, inquisitive and creative.

Pami introduced me to Facebook and a curious thing began to happen. The little messages and posts we began to send each other, began to matter more and more to me. Her comments to my posts were waited for with baited breath. Pictures she posted to my wall made me beam and I treasured the little pm’s we would share. I began to realise I was very attracted to her and, from the messages I was receiving from Pami, my hunch was that this was a mutual attraction.

In the summer of 2008 a Kate Bush fan gathering was arranged at Glastonbury Tor, and Pami and Paul invited me to their home in Calne on that weekend, where on the Saturday we would go to Glastonbury together to meet up with other Kate Bush fans.

I looked forward to that weekend a lot and I had a strange feeling that if Pami and I had an opportunity to be alone together, something good was going to happen…






I Hate to Love Facebook

There it is. Just look at it. Look at that lovely small ‘f’ swimming in that carefully designed sea of blue. That ‘f’ has come to represent a world of love, peace and harmony to some, while to others it represents a dystopian future governed by a robotic ruling class where money is obsolete and the only legal tender is sweat.

That’s right. I’m talking about Facebook. That social media network thing that has revolutionised the world of, well, networking.

When I was kid, networking meant taking a blank cassette to your mate’s house to get them to do a copy of Knight Lore for you.

Knight Lore

(Knight Lore was a game for the Sinclair Spectrum 48k. The Sinclair Spectrum was an 8-bit home comp…oh never mind…)
‘Liking’ something meant writing a letter to Smash Hits hoping to get a signed photograph of Rick Astley.
Having ‘friends’ meant dashing home from school, wolfing down a plate of chips and beans and then racing to the next street to call on your friend Andrew, who owned a battery operated AT-AT walker from The Empire Strikes Back. We would set it walking down the street and follow it holding guns which we made from taping two sticks together.

But that was long ago. Things changed. Sinclair was bought by Amstrad. Rick Astley opened a fish & chip shop in Porthcawl. And chips and beans were suddenly classed as ‘unhealthy’ due to the F-plan diet. Worst of all, pretending to have a gun became an arrestable offence. At this point, Facebook entered my life.

Around 2008 I was introduced to Facebook via a friend. I had used MySpace for a few weeks – again, on the recommendation of a friend. The friend in question was Pami Gill and our network was a large group of Kate Bush fans. I had been out of the Kate Bush fan ‘scene’ for several years but Pami persuaded me to enter the fray again (a very big mistake, but more about that in a future blog). A month or so after joining MySpace, Pami told me that everyone was migrating to Facebook as it was ‘better’. So I joined Facebook.

Initially, Facebook was fun. I would type a message and post it to my ‘wall’. Other people would ‘like’ my post and reply. Suddenly, that innocuous remark about me spying on the next door neighbour while she had a bath became interesting to everyone.

“This is fun,” I thought.

Days turned into months and months turned into years. My posts about spying on the neighbour while she was bathing were interspersed with posts about my neighbour spying on me while I was shaving. Occasionally I might post something a bit off the wall, such as “I’ve had a good day in work today” or “Do you think totalitarianism is an excuse for misogyny?” but mostly my posts consisted of harmless accounts of my voyeuristic activities.

My friends list grew. I tracked down a lot of old school friends (and some tracked me down) and added them. Some people I added randomly because I liked their profile picture, or they may have commented on a post of a friend. But then slowly, I became aware of some of the negative aspects of Facebook.

Pami, whom I lived with at the time, would become extremely upset if someone ‘unfriended’ her. This I found bewildering. Particularly as they were usually people she had never met or spoken to – she had met them on Facebook and all they had exchanged was a few posts on each other’s wall. To me, there was no real depth or substance to that sort of friendship. I wouldn’t even call it a friendship. And I think this is where Facebook plays its canny psychological game – it uses the word ‘friend’ in a new, looser and more freeform way. As a child, having a friend was significant. It meant someone that you would invite around to your house to play Top Trumps, or you would go around their house to try and program their Big Trak.

Big Trak flyer – 1979


That’s what a *real* friend is to me. Facebook uses the word friend to describe anyone you happen to link up with, within its little virtual social networking world. Instead of ‘contacts’ or ‘links’ or ‘web pals’, the word ‘friend’ was deliberately used. The word ‘friend’ is more emotionally charged and has much more meaning to most people, than ‘contact’ (of which, to many people, is exactly what a lot of their Facebook friends are).

So that was one thing that irked me. The other thing was the use of Facebook to promote a cause or charity or even worse, to post graphic pictures of, for example, a starved and beaten dog with some banal caption such as “You wouldn’t want this would you?” and then become aggrieved when all 4,567 of their friends didn’t ‘like’ it. Not once, after viewing these sorts of pictures, has my conscience been raised. Not once, upon viewing some picture of a soldier, silhouetted against the sunset with the caption “They give their lives for us”, has it made me want to pack in my job and go and get photographed against a beautiful sunset. All these causes and supposedly ‘conscious raising’ issues are noble, I am sure. But the majority of us are perfectly aware of them and have made our decision long ago as to whether we want to set up a direct debit to plant a monthly tree or stop the cruel farming of ants in Swindon.

Unfortunately I am only too well aware of the pros of Facebook. Roughly half the sales of my books have come from Facebook. It is the perfect platform from which to promote a book, a record, a movie or any other artistic endeavour. So for now, I will stick with Facebook.

At least until my rival social networking site ‘Bookface’ is up and running…