Thursday 27 August 2020

A Letter to a Friend... Yes, You

You feel alone.

I've been alone too. Somehow, in a world filled with people circling all around you - brushing past you in the street, on the train, on the bus - it is possible to feel as though you are the only one in it. To feel like everyone else exists in the world, and you're just a passenger, being dragged along on a long drive with the seatbelt cutting into your neck. You are walking down the street and an invisible screen is keeping you from them. They can't see you, they can't even hear you. 

You are alone. 

But in your aloneness, you are not. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of other people in the world thinking the same thing. I was one of them. Staring at the best parts of people's lives posted online. The parties they threw, the experiences they had, the smiles they wore, the parts of the world they saw. If the whole world's a stage then you're just the audience. The world is blurred, like when you're tired or daydreaming and your eyes glaze over, except that your eyes are always glazed over these days, and you're separated from the world by a lens. Everything seems far away, even when it's right in front of you. You are looking out of a one-way mirror or a hotel peephole, and no-one is looking back at you. 

But, I've been looking for you, because there's something I need to say to you. Whether I've known you for 20 years, or for just a minute. Whether we spoke yesterday, 5 months ago, or once at a party. If you look long enough outta that peephole, the hotel door can open. Because this darkness, this loneliness, it isn't forever. I know that it feels that way now. I was once in the room you're in right now, wondering if anyone would ever even notice if I locked the door for good. If they'd miss me if I evaporated myself into the smoke of too many cigarettes or drowned myself in stormy red wineglasses. But then, the door unlocked and I left the room. 

I know I'm not the only one waiting to tell you this... Yes, you. No, don't turn around I'm not talking to anyone else... I'm looking back at you through the peephole. I see you there far away. I am calling through the door to tell you that there is no-one else on this planet like you. You are unique and brilliant. You are worth more than you know in this moment. There is so much you can teach the world that no-one else can. And there is so much that the world is waiting to give back to you.

Please know that you are not alone. 

Please know that you are loved, even from all the way over here. 

Know that the door unlocks. 

And when you're ready... open the door. 

Tuesday 6 November 2018

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

New Diorama Theatre

‘Timely’ and ‘relevant’, seem a cheap way to a describe a piece of theatre that explores an endless timeline of rape, the slander of women and a world where a man’s reputation is valued over and above any truth-telling, justice-seeking woman. It may sound familiar to us now, what with the Kavanaughs and the Weinsteins - but how many of us can name the women who spoke out against them? It is a story that has, devastatingly, been familiar to us for thousands of years and yet we still cannot find it in our patriarchal hearts and minds, to possibly believe a woman. 

Being a lover of documentary, and of theatre, I have found tonight a piece that marries the two. 

‘Women are always on trial’ said (and every person with eyes and ears ever) on 27 of Sept. To all of you who want to - and you should want to - hear the remarkable 1612 (almost-verbatim) testimony of a (very) young woman and artist, Artemisia Gentileschi, then seek out the New Diorama before 10th Nov!!!!

This dramatisation of Agostino Tassi’s trial is a nod of thanks and with respect to all those women, the Artemisia Gentileschis, the Dr Christine Fords and the Ashley Judds - who time and time again, century after century, tell us ‘it’s true, it’s true, it’s true’.

Thursday 4 January 2018

Films - Wonder, Mudbound, Star Wars, The Meyerowitz Stories

Wonder was exactly what the trailer suggests it might be. It's a tale of hardship, telling of how mean kids can be, and one of acceptance following a year of relentless attempts to be liked. Auggie is a likeable kid and we fall in love with him instantly - but I craved an ending that was surprising and unconventional like it's subject - and it never quite delivered. Working in its favour, Owen Wilson makes a wonderful father and it was nice to be presented with the many different perspectives of the narrative. It was different, and allowed a unique glance into the workings of us as humans, in a way that only series seem to normally deliver.

The happy ever after was annoyingly conventional but it did at least deliver its narrative in a way that was fresh and enjoyable. Stand out new stars were: Jacob Tremblay (Room), Noah Jupe, Millie Davis, big sister Izabela Vidovic and Nadji Jeter, all wth productions to look out for in the coming year.

Mudbound was a full 2hrs 40mins of feeling like we too were drowning in the stuff. With original series from Netflix proving to shift the drama void, I was less convinced by original film. But having seen 'The Fundamentals of Caring, Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories, they seem to have gathered pace.

Rob Morgan and Mary J Blige are wonderfully dignified as the Jackson parents. Jonathan Banks does well to portray extremist Pappy and Carey Mulligan a woman at her wits end. Stellar performances all round in fact.

It's a trying watch for anyone who needs uplift and positivity in their lives but ultimately one that really brings home the impossible situation that respectable black farming families faced in the American South and anyone who frequented their company - despite in this case, having both fought for their country. It was a time of violence, inequality and of hardship and Mudbound does well to reflect that. We, the audience want Hap's family to fight back but know that the fight would only end in their deaths. We feel as hopeless as they do, as hopeless as Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) is in witnessing his friend's (Jason Mitchell) punishment, for serving his country, and for the freedom of the very men that torture him.

An honest watch, but a frustrating one at that.
Star Wars

There are remarkably few things to say about episode 8.
1) Fin is still pointless.
2) The resistance ship's light speed demolition of Snoke's ship was awesome!
3) Had Poe shut up and let her get on with it, the resistance transports would probably have survived
4) Of all the things that tried to break the mould, heroes being villains and villains being heroes - it all returned to exactly what we'd expect.
5) Way too many Marvel style jokes. Allow me to believe in villains rather than laugh at them for crying out loud.

Ultimately, it's a poor encore following the awesomeness of Rogue One and that's pretty much all I have to say.

The Meyerowitz Stories

Decidedly average. It's a dark comedy that never quite hits tragedy or hilarity. It's been given a lot of 4 star reviews but there didn't feel like there was anything original about the plot. Although, Adam Sandler gives a good performance, constantly warring with his father's difficult personality and his own desire to spread his wings.  Grace Van Patten as Eliza also brought some refreshing energy to a largely one-tone drama. It was a nice dissection of family relationships and how we define our successes but the story just didn't pull me completely, and there were no real new revelations to be had.
Delayed Verdict - The Duchess

Yes I finally watched it.
As a feminist it was relentlessly disappointing in the latter stages. Georgiana a broken woman, came to terms with her dire situation (and one that represents many of the age). But she began as such a refreshing voice that I was almost convinced that she would fight the norm with Mr Grey. Alas, women must remember their place (and their corsets) - and all that nonsense.

Friday 22 December 2017

Bexley Declares War on Woolwich

In March this year, I read in the Evening Standard that Bexley residents were kicking up a fuss about being included in a new Woolwich constituency (see here:

'We have history' they say.
'We have class' they say.
Well, I've got news for you Bexley - so do we!

Our so-called 'undesirable' Woolwich is full of hidden gems - and you're missing out. But let me wave the white flag for a moment, I'm not seeking battle. I just came to say that there's perhaps lots more to discover than the fact that Woolwich was the first UK home for McDonald's.

Royal Arsenal FC 1888 
Woolwich has a history more rich than is widely known. The once booming dockyard brought with it trade from across the world, new foods, new materials - most of which can be found in market stalls and supermarkets in the centre today. (Note: The fruit stalls sell the best blueberries I've ever tasted). The eclectic mix of cultures, religions and language are celebrated here and the town has even had a bid accepted for a new creative district, repurposing it's historic facade into performance spaces, studios and arts spaces that look to celebrate our diversity.

Woolwich Arsenal, speaks for itself. It saw the beginnings of Arsenal Football Club - which began as a munition workers' team in 1886 in Woolwich (then part of Kent) - and reconnected with its routes with the arrival of one of their best strikers of all time, Woolwich-born, Ian Wright who scored 184 goals in his time. But it also tells a deeper story about our city - one of trade unions, workers, class, poverty, wealth, piety, industrialism, beautification and so much more.

Silvertown and Woolwich, Black Saturday
Its factories and military might became major targets in the world wars because of their success. During WW1 the Arsenal employed close to 80,000 people, storing ordnance and manufacturing ammunitions. Such was the demand, in 1915 the government built the 1300 home Well Hall Estate in Eltham to accommodate the workforce. Black Saturday, 7th Sept 1940, is officially recognised as the first day of the Blitz - and its bombings left the warehouses and armouries of Woolwich ablaze. Vast areas of Poplar, Woolwich, Limehouse, Millwall, Stepney, Rotherthithe and Surrey Docks became a raging inferno. Thousands of Auxiliary Fire-fighters joined the London Brigade to battle the flames. It's hard to know what our munitions might have looked like through the world wars, without the workforce of Woolwich Arsenal.

Speaking of fires, Woolwich Fire Station can still be seen at 24, Sunbury, Woolwich. Built in 1887 by the architect Robert Pearsall it was one of London's oldest operational fire stations until it closed in 2014.

Woolwich Piers, 1838 'Records of Woolwich District Vol I, W T Vincent'
The early origins of the Arsenal lie with the creation of a dockyard in Woolwich by Henry VIII. The yard, located to the East of the present ferry terminal was originally built for the construction of 'The Great Harry' - a great ship of the King's fleet (now also the name of a popular pub in Woolwich town centre). Land further east of the dockyard, known as 'The Warren' was also used for testing guns and a gun wharf was constructed in 1546. Over the years it included an ammunition lab, gun foundry, carriage works, ordnance stores and was home from 1720 to a military academy, and in the 1770s a military repository, later removed to Woolwich common. Most of the old buildings can still be seen today, many having been converted into apartments and museums and it's hard to walk far in Woolwich without running into a gate pillar or two to the old arsenal, the old steam factory chimneys or some aptly named streets such as Gallions Reach, once the name of the tidal channel passing through Woolwich.

A visit to the Woolwich Firepower Museum and the Docklands Museum in Canary Wharf, pieces together a history Bexley should wish to be part of.

There's more of course. The Woolwich foot tunnel, opened in 1912, connects us to the North Woolwich dwellings of East London, home to the suffragettes and workers' unions. Royal Victoria Gardens is a nice bit of quiet. Opened by London County Council in 1890, the former marshland had been acquired by George Bidder's North Woolwich Land Company in the 1840s. In 1851 the proprietor of the Pavilion Hotel opened tea gardens and crowds of visitors were attracted to its entertainments. The site was thankfully saved from development, though was badly damaged in the Blitz. The riverside terraces survive today and festivals, markets and performances have returned to the location.

Back South, fathers and sons spend weekends fishing in the disused dry docks and there are cannons dotted along the Thames Path to remind us of the area's heritage. In addition, St Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Woolwich new Road is one of only three A.W. Pugin churches in London. Built in 1842, it's a rare work by the architect who helped pioneer the Gothic Revival movements and went on to design the interior of the Palace of Westminster that houses our central government.

The houses at 18 and 19 Green's End, Woolwich are rare 1780s examples, peaking out from behind the Elephant and Castle pub at the Beresford Square Market. The Old Woolwich baths, on Bathway, opened in 1894 with 2 large pools and 52 private baths. They closed in 1982 when Waterfront Leisure Centre was built (now owned by 'Better') and the building is now part of Greenwich University and home to the Bathway Theatre (

The nearby Tramshed Theatre also has origins elsewhere. It began as a generating station in 1916, powering trams in the area until they ceased to run 1953. It then became a music and comedy venue hosting Kool and the Gang, Billy Bragg, Harry Enfield and John Otway. It remains open to this day as a performance space for Greenwich and Lewisham's Young People's Theatre. The Beatles and Buddy Holly played at the former Granada cinema coined 'The most romantic theatre ever built' and is known now as 'The New Wine Church'.

Charlton Park, Charlton House and Maryon Wilson Park are nearby boasting their own histories and community activities. The Maryon-Wilson family were in residence at Charlton House between 1767 and 1923 and in 1889 Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson opened Maryon Park, referred to as the 'lung of Charlton', on the site of ancient woodland known as 'Hanging Wood' and land that had been used for sand quarrying from the early 18th century. A large hill fort was excavated here in 1915 where pottery dating from the 1st to 5th century was found. All that's left is the ridge at the top of the hill otherwise destroyed by quarrying. In the 1920s, 'Hanging Wood' was formally presented to the public (London County Council) to form Maryon Wilson Park. The family donated a herd of deer - the descendants of which can still be seen there today. The family also gave Charlton House to Greenwich Borough Council. The park looked particularly spectacular in the snow this year.

Severndroog Castle, 1801
The Royal Artillery Barracks, in use for over 200yrs, are here too, opposite St. George's Chapel which was badly bombed during the war and the ruins are left as a reminder. The Greenwich Docklands International Festival held a stunning performance of 5 Soldiers here in the Summer. Woolwich is still home to the King's Troop saluting battery and horses, the 2nd Battalion of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment and the site is due to close in 2028, which will be a sad moment of farewell to the area's ongoing military ties.

Woolwich Common, technically still a designated military training area, is a great route for a run or dog walk (and a stones throw from A&E should you injure yourself). And a short walk up Shooters Hill on the Woolwich boundary brings you to Severndroog Castle, begun in 1784 by Lady James of Eltham, the widow of Commodore Sir William James who died the previous year. Sir William had in 1755 attacked and destroyed the island fortress of Suvarnadurg on the Western coast of India helping to consolidate the British position in India.

Woolwich is within walking distance of Blackheath for Bonfire Night and gives access to the tidal Thames for evening walks - I even spotted seals frolicking in the wake of the ferry in September.

Let us not forget the Thames Barrier, operational since 1984, preventing the flood plain of Greater London from flooding over 180 times since its first operation, and protecting central London and predicted to do so until at least 2070. It may not be historic nor everyone's architectural favourite, but it was an engineering feat that should be celebrated and there are gardens to meet it at either bank. I quite enjoy watching outrageously sized cruise ships navigate their way through the barrier with only a small tug either end too.

SS Princess Alice
Our watery history isn't, I must admit, entirely celebratory. On 3 September 1878, the pleasure boat 'Princess Alice' was struck and smashed in two by the 890 ton Bywell Castle - killing 650 people - and apparently remaining Britain's worst public transport disaster in peacetime or war. The paddle steamer sank in under 4 minutes and despite attempts at rescue from the Bywell Castle, many drowned in water and raw sewage, the sleuce gates having been opened just an hour before.  120 of the victims were buried in rows at Woolwich cemetery behind a memorial cross in the Irish style, paid for by sixpenny subscription from 23,000 donors. The cross can still be seen today and a memorial to the Prince Alice and its deceased can be found in nearby Rockliffe Gardens. Also found nearby is William Barefoot Gardens, named after Frances Street born SE London politician who was three times the Mayor of Woolwich and who died of a heart attack in Woolwich Town Hall Council Chamber in Nov 1941. Barefoot had been instrumental in the creation of the Well Hall Pleasaunce, Eltham as a public park and gardens (another of my favourite places) and a plaque erected in Sept 1942 can be found there today reading: 'He loved nature and his efforts to beautify Woolwich are reflected in the creation of this Pleasaunce'.

Tom Cribb
The present St Mary Magdalene Church, was built in 1732 and tells a story of Woolwich as an early Christian settlement upon which site the first church is believed to be pre-10th/11th century - so we have our own claim to Norman history. Its churchyard is now a public park with the tomb of 19th century world champion bare-knuckle boxer, Tom Cribb still visible.

The clock house (once the home and office of the Admiral-Superintendent of the dockyard in the 1780s) on Defiance Walk, a street name fit to define the spirit of its historical residents, is one of the grander remaining buildings and not far from an unassuming subway tunnel explaining the deeper history of the place.

Along the Thames path see if you can spot the mosaics, marked 'Riverside Walk Project 1984-1986' by the National Elfrida Rathbone Society. Around it are listed the months of the year. Steps to the left, have sculpted fish in the stonework. Elfrida was an educationist and believed that all children were capable of learning. She was the cousin of Eleanor Rathbone an MP and long-term campaigner for women's rights. Her work informed the formation of the Rathbone Society in 1969 now incorporated into the Rathbone charity.  The Riverside Walk at Woolwich was decorated with mosaics as part of an arts workshop based at the clock house.

Woolwich Ferry circa. 1925
Woolwich Ferry has quite a history too - dating back to the early 1300s when Woolwich was a fishing village and the town had the right to run a ferry. In 1811 an Act of Parliament was passed to establish a ferry across the Thames from Woolwich. It was run by The Woolwich Ferry Company whose shareholders included the Lady of the manor, Dame Jan Wilson and her son Sr John Maryon Wilson. It seems the Maryon-Wilson's were extremely forward thinking and we have quite a lot to thank them for. It continued to operate until 1844 when the company was dissolved.

Street Parades on opening of Woolwich Ferry
In the late 1880s, the people of Woolwich pointed out to the Metropolitan Board of Works that through their rates, they had helped pay for toll bridges in West London that the board had recently purchased and opened to free public use. They insisted that they too should be able to cross the Thames free of charge. In 1884, the board agreed to provide a free ferry and on 23 March 1889 it was opened. Woolwich was decorated with flags and bunting, the streets were lined with volunteers from the local artillery. There was a huge procession preceded by mounted police and followed by local traders and associations with their bands. Lord Rosebery and other members of the newly formed London County Council and other dignitaries travelled in open carriages to declare to the thousands of people gathered, 'The free ferry is open to the public'. That weekend alone, the Great Eastern Railway Company carried 25,000 people to its North Woolwich terminus, most intent on riding the ferry.

John Burns, 1895
In 1963 paddle steamers were replaced by the current serving motor ships. The vessels are named after; James Newman, Mayor of Woolwich between 1923-25; Ernest Bevin, a trade union leader and labour politician whose ashes are buried at Westminster Abbey; and John Burns, a shareholder in the original Woolwich Ferry Company and a trade unionist and politician who played a major part in the infamous London Dock Strike of 1889 and in 1929 coined the phrase, 'The Thames is liquid history' - and how right he is.

Oh and if you're worried about house prices going down Bexley - don't worry, frustratingly for first time buyers like me, they're going up. The pricey arrival of the Elizabeth Line will soon mean that the people like me who already live here, and really appreciate the place, won't be able to afford it anymore.

But I'll leave this post not by lamenting or picking a fight, but by thanking the men and women who came before us, for the pockets of beauty I've come to enjoy and the fascinating history they've left behind.

Woolwich Dockyard (Nicholas Pocock, 1790 National Maritime Museum). the surviving clock house (then newly-built) is seen centre-right, and the Parish Church far left. Left to right along the shoreline: three shipbuilding slips (two survive, much rebuilt, at mast Quay), two dry docks (still survive, much rebuilt) and a further slip (since filled in). Behind the latter stands the large Sail and Mould Loft of 1740, with the Great Storehouse to its rights and the Officer's Terrace (houses with gardens) to the right of that.


Thursday 21 December 2017


I was excited by the prospect of a Syrian playwright presenting their work at the Royal Court, renowned for its experiment.  It was a chance to obliterate our idea of Syrians as victims and celebrate them as artists and as writers. It was an opportunity - but one that sadly failed to break even with expectations. Two star reviews have been generous.

Albeit a preview, approximately half of the audience left at the interval, which goes some way towards explaining the general verdict. Those who remained weren't exactly overawed with reward.

Royal Court Theatre
Every scene was too long, particularly in Act One, with far too many words saying essentially the same things. With less lines perhaps Abu Firas could have remembered his lines in his scene with Imm Ghassan. The scene following Abu Firas' suicide, could have given us a moment in which to ground ourselves in the enormity of the tragic truth behind the endless words thrust in our direction. Instead we're met with a huge unnecessary speech from Abu Al-Tayyib pushing the girl to stay quiet. A few stern lines would have sufficed, we understand what's at stake by this point. It might have helped him remember his lines too.

Ensemble characters had unnecessary speaking roles that really broke up the pace in the main scenes. Comments like 'that happened to my dad too' just needed to be said in the background and allow the scene to continue.

The Stage
There needed to be clearer differentiation between characters played by multi-rolling cast members. I did not recognise that Imm Al-Tayyib's was a different character than the presenter either. I could not always understand when the four boys were boys, or fathers who had lost their sons, or village men. Between the four boys there was no rapport, despite attempts from Ali Barouti. There were just saying their lines, not acting them, but maybe this comes from playing so many characters and having so many pointless lines. The scene outside Aby Al-Tayyib's home adds nothing to the piece at all. The constant back and forth between a scene of conflict that we want to see play out between a wife and husband kept being interrupted by four boys with nothing to say to one another. A waste of time.

Royal Court Theatre
There are two scenes I would like to have seen more of.

- Adnan and Abu Firas sitting side by side, lit by the light of a mobile phone, watching footage that reflects a hard truth at the core of the piece. It was a moment of let up for the father who had spent the first half saying the same thing over and over like a broken record and chance to see that there is a very real threat underneath the bleating from character and goat.

- The other is the conflict between Abu and Imm Al-Tayyib, knowing that in pushing the agenda and propaganda - their own son was put to death, using their own very words. It could have been a  powerful scene, another opportunity missed due to the interruption of four young boys. It gave us the conflict we so badly carved. I wanted to see more of Imm Al-Tayyib's struggle.

And finally...the goats. Oh God, the goats.

Royal Court Theatre
In the final scene I lost so much of what was said. The hooves of the goats were so loud that I failed to understand if the mockery was intentional or not. Either way, the wooden boards needed covering with some kind of sound dulling material - I could even hear them in the wings. On the most part I understand that the mockery was intentional, with the many words representing the voices of the world that often leave the truth silenced, the goats representing the irrational sentiments of those in power to tell the rest of us what we're fighting for, an inescapable web of lies and words and comedy that snubs honest speaking men and snuffs out good will.

The Stage
But there is a time for mockery. And when goats treading on a dead man received the most laughs of the evening, went beyond black comedy, we all applauded the cast in keeping straight faces. But the problem was that many of us began to watch the goats and ignore what was being said because the scenes were too long. They are a distraction. I liked that the use of real goats amplifies the horrifying gimmick of replacing dead sons with animals as well as acting as gimmick to pull in an audience but it was so much of a mess that the attempt to lift meaning from the rubble was smothered before we left the auditorium.

There are elements that carried weight but there is far too much on the words and characters that distract. Most importantly, it was at least an hour too long. It was messy and boring to hear the same thing over and over. It might just be the worst production I've ever seen. The lesson? When opportunity knocks, don't put on a play that manages to be 3hrs long and yet still say nothing - if you expect your audience to stay to the end - and don't invite the goats!


2017 - A Year of Self-Discovery

Perhaps it's a cliché - but 2017 for me, has been a year of self discovery. A year that began with unemployment, crippling anxiety and constant self criticism. A year that is ending with unemployment too, but there's one big difference, and that is that I'm ok.

Late in 2016 I had my first experience of anxiety following a traumatic evening in a pitch black restaurant. Subsequently, I couldn't go out for a meal, I couldn't go to the theatre, I struggled going to the cinema - unless I had an aisle seat and knew I could run out. I couldn't be close with relatives or sit on the bus with the windows all fogged up so I couldn't see outside. I couldn't sit in a busy room unless it was by the door. A lot of Christmas was spent in bed, over analysing why I felt so anxious with the people I love and crying my eyes out because all I wanted was to be ok, to scoop up my nephew and cuddle him and not worry about the nearest exit (or the nearest loo). It left me feeling disconnected and numb to the world and it was a real struggle, sometimes impossible to muster the energy to fight back. (A big thank you to my mum who did absolutely everything over Christmas to understand, who hugged me and let me cry as well as propping me up and pushing me on. Forever there to listen to my woes).

Once back in London, January was hard, but it was the first time Kamal and I had properly spent time together since I'd got back from working in Cardiff in November. Slowly, I felt able to take small steps towards returning to normal. Kamal was patient and supportive and he'd constantly remind me that it was ok to step outside if I needed to, to pop to the loo to take some deep breaths or just take my time. I reminded myself that talking it through with him helped both of us to understand that it wasn't an issue between us, it was that anxiety had a grip of every part of me - but slowly the grip loosened. We started going out for meals and to the cinema, not all without a hitch and a few tears, but I was fighting back and that's all we said we wanted. Kamal was happy to spend more time going for walks and being outdoors, because I felt at my most comfortable in the open. I am eternally grateful for having someone who is willing to listen, to understand, to back off when I need to fight things on my own but to always be there when I need a helping hand. 

I told myself that the first step to fighting anxiety was to begin to accept the parts of me that I didn't always like - like my scars. I took some photos that didn't shy away from showing off my scars, they are a part of me and I refused to let my fear of what people thought of me to get in the way of accepting myself. Eleven months later and it's not a total transformation, work being the hardest place to show this version of me - but I hope to conquer that one too.

At the end of January I was finally offered some interviews after three months of unemployment. I met with a producer at the BBC and a few weeks later was back in the world of work - fighting my anxiety quietly in the background. Work has always helped me - focussing my mind on other things, learning about the world and helping to make my problems feel smaller. At work day to day I felt relatively anxiety-free but I was incredibly nervous about the live broadcast at the end of it. I knew that for two hours we would be live on air and I would be unable to step outside, use the loo or take my time. In March came the big day, and I felt myself getting anxious. But despite the craziness of a live broadcast and two newbies to events commentary sitting in the firing line, it all went well (with the assistance of a couple of Imodium). I was proud of myself at having not had a complete meltdown but at the same time, incredibly frustrated that it had taken an Imodium to put my brain at ease. I told myself that next time, I'd fight it without.

I stopped giving anxiety a name because by putting every hiccup or feeling of unease down to anxiety was giving it power over me. We all get nervous, we all have moments where we think we can't do it - that's not anxiety, that's human. I took each day as it came and did my best. For a few months I had barely drunk any alcohol because I feared what the slight loosening of control would prompt of my anxiety and from about March this year I decided that I could throw caffeine out of my diet too. Alcohol has made a comeback without side effect but caffeine has gone for good and I don't miss it one bit.

Since March I've worked across 6 more programmes this year, including plane journeys and immense pressure - and every one without anxiety. Following the successful flights, I'm back to the old me, lusting over foreign excursions and beauty spots across the globe. I've pushed myself in other ways too. Speaking to people on the phone has always been a big deal for me. Being a researcher I have to swallow that anxiety every day because I want to get the job done and do it well. And as soon as they pick up the phone I love talking to them. But sometimes by the end of the day, when you've been battling away the 'don't pick up the phone' demons - you are absolutely exhausted. But I'd done it.

In August after recovering from an ankle injury involving a curb and a few loud cracks, I decided that football was something I needed in my life again too. Late last year it had really helped to run off the demons with a few 5kms. My belief in my ability suffered a hit at the end of last year on leaving Cardiff City but some games with Orpington Ladies (possibly the most fun and supportive team I've ever played for) and a chance to play at Charlton ground The Valley told me that if I was ever going to do it, then it should be now. So I re-signed with Maidenhead Ladies with a view to play in the Women's Premier League and every Wednesday I've been travelling to Maidenhead for training and every Saturday night too to play on Sundays. Frustratingly my first game resulted in injury, meaning a month of rest, rehab and training which was entirely frustrating and meant a lot of commitment to getting match fit again. But I did, and considering that I committed myself alongside a TV job, which many of you know becomes your entire life - I'm pretty proud that despite anxiety, despite the workload, I came through on a promise to myself to get back in the game. I've got a long way to go to get back to my best, but I'm glad to be in place to do it.

I didn't come out of anxiety completely unscathed. My ability to multitask through a large to-do list left me feeling overwhelmed a lot quicker than usual. By November though, on perhaps the most overwhelming job of them all, remembrance Sunday, I felt back in control and I'm getting better at breaking up my tasks into manageable chunks. I've even got a few edits done at home which have been on a list on my wardrobe for about 3 years!

Two injuries, a few relapses in anxiety-fighting, a cockroach infestation in the flat - all could have thrown me over the edge. In November I was so ill I went through 5 boxes of tissues in a week and even forced myself to drink Lemsip, which to those who know me, is a big no no! And now, in December I'm unemployed. But none of these things won, I did. There were moments when anxiety won, and when the world felt so distant from me that my duvet was about the only obstacle I could conquer - but at the end of the year the resounding victory most definitely goes to me.

I've learned a lot about myself this year. I read a book about my ENFP personality which threw me into a whirlwind of over-thinking every aspect of the way I lived my life, the way I made decisions, the way I interact with others - I had to call it out and forget about it. I learned that analysing everything I do and why I do it is exhausting and sometimes makes a problem bigger than it needs to be, so I've stopped analysing. I've stopped overthinking what other people say to me. I've stopped seeking reassurance from others and tried instead to reassure myself, to be my own best friend, encouraging myself onwards and reminding me to constantly push the limits of what I think I can achieve.

I've pushed myself and tested myself. I've done things that I thought might be too much too soon. I can go to the theatre again, and to big meals in busy restaurants, and venture into the unknown. I may still have to take a few deep breaths to get myself there but ultimately I know as soon as I get there, I'll be absolutely fine. I recognise how much the outdoors benefits me, how much being active benefits me and how lowering my own expectations of myself has been the best thing I've ever done. I've committed myself to football, to work, to various other projects and I've started to feel like myself again - but a version of myself that cares less about what the world thinks of me, and less about piling on the pressure and the constant need to be productive (hence the lack of blogposts this year). I'm ok that right now there's no money coming in, I am deliberately careful with my money for moments like these. I'm ok that a lot of my days off this month I've been in bed til 11 because you know what - I deserve it.

I've been reminded that spending time with friends, family and with the wonderful Kamal is what matters to me and accepting that I am not forever invincible nor always exceptional, may have been a huge shock this time last year, but for now I'm ok with being just ok. My anxiety might still be there somewhere, but it's just going to have to deal with my superior existence - sorry bud.

Friday 17 November 2017

Remembrance Sunday: The Cenotaph

There comes a point in every researcher job when you feel like Everest would be an easier summit to reach, against the mountainous pile of decrepit post-it notes to your left.

That moment has come and gone and come again.

The BBC broadcast of Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph is such a mammoth logistical task for all parties that it can only take time to work your way through - only there is no time.

With 3 days to go, I was still piercing together the notes from over 262 contingents taking part, listing wreath layers, confirming live interviews and working my way through far too many chocolate biscuits. Of course, a lot can happen in three days. For 2 weeks I'd been in the office 12hrs a day. Because this is one you want to get right.

Not only are you working with broadcasting legend David Dimbleby, you are entrusted with the knowledge that for some of those on parade, it will be the last time. Many WW2 veterans are too elderly to walk the 2km route or stand for 2hrs, and many have sadly crossed the bar in recent years. A whole generation who fought for our freedom, will soon be lost and it is you who are given the knowledge of who is taking part in the event this year and who may not be here to see in the next.

Ernie Searling
The oldest veteran on parade is WW2 Royal Marine Ernest Searling at 99yrs. Broadcasts like this are our last chance to walk with these men, and women, as they salute those who did not grow old with them. It is an honour to read, hear and learn about the experiences of so many.

Ernie said during the programme: 'I feel very humble seeing so many hundreds of men and women on parade today. So very, very humble. And I'm thinking of those who are not with us on this parade today and some of the fine, fine people I served with and we've lost them. But all I hope is that the future generations can see this parade, see some solidarity in it and see that the betterment of mankind, in England, especially Great Britain should be at its highest level'. It is hard not to realise then, how lucky we are to have heard from men like Ernie and to have witnessed the solidarity embodied by this event each year.

Speaking to Heather Wood, who lost her husband Charlie in Afghanistan it made me realise how important the good times are, how serving women and men like Charlie give their lives so that others might live a better life. 'Don't be bitter, be better' she says. And I have taken on those words in my work. I am not bitter about the long hours I've chosen to work because I know that to the 8700 people on parade and to those watching at home, it means something.

And that is the overwhelming feeling when working on events like these. That you don't want to miss a moment, whether it is a serving bugle major's last hours in the job, or a man who will march carrying the photo of a fallen comrade. Whether it is an injured serviceman who has defied the odds or a firefighter who won a gallantry award for placing his life in danger for the service of another. Or if it is the daughter marching in memory of her father who at 18 was on the field of battle in Italy and last month sadly left us, or a Falklands veteran who lost his friends on the islands and who plays his pipes in their memory.

A WAAF wireless operator receiving a message in morse code.
I have spoken to a lady who wrote the orders for d-day, a serving woman who suffered PTSD following service in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan and has since competed in the Invictus Games. I've spoken to ladies of the special operations executive, and women who worked in anti aircraft batteries defending Britain at home and another who traveled from America by ship in total darkness so as not to become a target for the enemy and spent the weeks leading up to her 17th birthday sitting on the steps outside the WRNS office until she was old enough to join.

'When I am laid in Earth...remember me, remember me'.

There are men marching who survived Far East prisoner of war camps - remembering so many of their colleagues that did not. There is a captain from C Company, The Rifles who remembers the men he lost in Afghanistan and a Navy veteran who remembers the men who died aboard HMS Coventry.

For many, Remembrance Day is every day. And I feel the weight that falls on my shoulders to give each story their moment. We want to capture it all and of course, every year, we fail. Because every person on parade at the Cenotaph, in the hollow square, in the service, in the march past, has their own story. And every one of them are fascinating.

It has been a pleasure to immerse myself in their world for a short time. They are each an inspiration.