Friday, 12 November 2021

THE DARKNESS IS RETURNING

 


When, earlier this year, I wrote at some length about my experiences of depression and the harrowing effects upon my mental health, I did so as someone who felt that he was emerging from the dark, dank forest; as someone who was no longer feeling doomed to wander, lost and alone among the tangled undergrowth and snaking branches of the great black trees that were blocking my every turn: instead I was now almost on the very outskirts of this grim woodland with the promise of open, blue skies sunlight and fresh air becoming daily closer and more reassuringly within my reach.

Of course, from past experiences of a longish life during which – from my very earliest years – depression has been no stranger, I was aware that the daily (sometimes hourly) existence of the depressive is ever a roller-coaster rising to points on an unpredictable undulating journey where bracing wind is suddenly whipping through your hair, causing tears to start into your eyes and filling your lungs deep-down deep enough to purge the accumulated dust and debris of many wearisome days and unending nights. 

But then, of course and all-too soon, there is always that moment of teetering before the scary-as-hell hurtling plunge into another dark, subterranean abyss from which you cannot believe you will ever again emerge. 

At odd moments, like this bleak early Friday morning, I am going to use this blog-that-no-one-reads-any-more to jot down some of the raw feelings as I am in the grip of experiencing them. 

Maybe it might help me – if and when (or to strike a more positive note, as and when) I claw my way up again – to look back and so better understand the process by which my depression (for it is wholly mine as opposed to some alien force) goes from merely dogging my heels like a constantly shift-shaping shadow to the point where it has me in its claws and is dragging me away into that shuddery darkness where it is most confident of holding its prey hostage. 

Writing even these few over-metaphored paragraphs has caused the shadow to momentarily hesitate and to scuttle a little way off, but I know it only bides its time and will, maybe today or in a few days time will again make its move...

Monday, 8 November 2021

LOST PROPERTY

 

Having taken a sabbatical from Facebook, I'll be returning, now and again, to my blog, safe in the knowledge (as here) that few if any read it these days so I won't have to 'like', 'love' or express some other emotion on reader's comments.

Much on my mind and in my heart right now is the question: "Why does the Church (quite frequently individually although not always collectively) seem to so often let people down?" 

I was recently re-reading (in St Luke's Gospel, Chapter 15) Jesus' words:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

Why hasn't a shepherd come in search of this wandering sheep...? 

 

'The Lost Sheep' by John Everett Millais

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Signed Books: PURE IMAGINATION by Leslie Bricusse

 

This post – in an occasional series devoted to signed books in my 'library' (as I grandly refer to a great many piles of assorted volumes!) – is prompted by the death, at the age of 90, of Leslie Bricusse, the brilliantly gifted British composer, lyricist, and playwright.

Leslie Bricusse's prolific career ranged across stage musicals from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (both with Anthony Newley) to Pickwick and musical films from Doctor Dolittle via Scrooge to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as well as providing unforgettable music and songs for films, among them Goldfinger, Goodbye Mr Chips and, perhaps surprisingly, Superman!

Leslie's career is chronicled with charm and a sly wit in his 'Sorta-biography', Pure Imagination.


 

With Leslie's lavish signature (we collectors love an author with a distinctive hand over the careless scribbler!) on the theatrically-purple front free end-paper.



Over the years, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting with Leslie and his lovely, much-loved wife 'Evie' at their homes in London and Los Angeles in order to quiz his encyclopedic memory in preparation for several of my (now vintage) BBC Radio 2 series on aspects film and stage musicals and performers.

Always a welcoming, gracious host and one of the easiest and most accommodating interviewees who would always deliver the purest of  gold!

I have two particular mementos... 

Firstly in LA where, after giving him a copy of The Unsung Story, my book on A Christmas Carol (in view of his interest in Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge!) he jumped and rushed from the room calling over his shoulder: "I've got something for you that you absolutely won't have in your Dickens collection!" He momentarily returned with a copy of the Japanese libretto for the Tokyo production of Scrooge to which he added a typical inscription...

 

 

 

Then in London in 1989, meeting up with Leslie after the premiere of his stage production of Doctor Dolittle along with Phillip Schofield (playing the Doctor) who was contributing to a programme I was making about Julie Andrews (the voice in the show of the Doc's parrot, Polynesia). Phillip inscribed the cover of my souvenir programme to which Leslie couldn't resist adding his added his own idiosyncratic addition... 


 

Many thanks for all the music, Leslie – and the memories!


Saturday, 18 September 2021

Signed Books: LORD OF MISRULE by Christopher Lee


I own signed books that simply feature the author's name; many (from a long career of interviewing) that have such additions as 'Nice to meet you...' or 'Thanks for the interview'; and there are some inscribed to me or to others (where I bought the volumes from booksellers or at auction) with lengthy, sometimes florid, essays!

In signing this particular book, Lord of Misrule, the seldom taciturn Christopher Lee used very few words (and a number!); but his very personal inscription is charming and delightfully pleasing. 

Modesty forbids, but if you have a copy of Lord of Misrule, you can look up the reference!  



 
 
 



 

Sunday, 5 September 2021

ERIC FRASER'S 'Radio Times' art for the BBC's THE LORD OF THE RINGS

 


This post is for all you aficionados of
the BBC 1981 radio serialisation of The Lord of the Rings who have been following my six-monthly Blog and Facebook journey across the original twenty-six weekly episodes as they were first broadcast on Sundays from 8 March to 30 August, forty years ago.

Here, all in one place, is the complete set of Eric Fraser's black-and-white illustrations made to accompany the credits to the weekly episodes in the BBC's listings magazine, Radio Times

All images, except that for the second episode ('The Shadow of the Past'), are reproduced from Fraser's original art now in my collection; in this one instance, the image used was scanned from its printed reproduction in Radio Times. (I would, incidentally, be grateful for any information about the ownership of this 'missing' piece!)

The three images made for episodes 15-17 ('The Voice of Saruman', 'The Black Gate is Closed' and 'The Window on the West') are published on this blog for the very first time since, during that three week period, there was an industrial dispute at the print-works responsible for producing Radio Times and the magazine was issued only in an slimmed-down emergency format with few, if any, illustrations. The additional image at the top of this post was a generic design Fraser made featuring Gandalf, Frodo and Sam which was used on the BBC souvenir poster for the series and, subsequently, as a decoration for the box containing the cassette-tape release of the recordings. 

 

1.  The Long-awaited Party

 

 

2.  The Shadow of the Past

 


3.  The Black Riders

 


4. Trouble at the Prancing Pony



5. The Knife in the Dark

 


6. The Council of Elrond

 


7. The Fellowship of the Ring

 


8. The Mines of Moria

 


9. The Mirror of Galadriel

 


10. The Breaking of the Fellowship

 


11. The Riders of Rohan

 


12. Treebeard of Fangorn

 


13. The King of the Golden Hall

 


14. Helm’s Deep

 


15. The Voice of Saruman




 

16. The Black Gate is Closed 

 


17. The Window on the West

 


18. Minas Tirith

 


19. Shelob’s Lair

 


20. The Siege of Gondor

 


21. The Battle of Pelennor Fields

 


22. The Houses of Healing

 


23. Mount Doom

 


24. The Return of the King

 


25. Homeward Bound

 


26. The Grey Havens

 


Monday, 30 August 2021

SIR HUMPHREY EXPLAINS...

 

This comic pastiche, first published here in 2107, resulted from a curious anomaly arising from our decision, four years ago, to 'upgrade' our Civil Partnership to a marriage. I'll let Sir Humphrey explain...

 


 

"Sir Humphrey"

"Yes, Minister?"

"Those chaps that converted their Civil Partnership to a Marriage, yesterday..."

"Yes, Minister?"

"What is the date on their Marriage Certificate?"
 

"Well, yesterday of course, Minister."
 

"August 30th, 2017"
 

"Correct, Minister."
 

"So, they were married yesterday?"
 

"Only in a manner of speaking, Minister."
 

"Oh?"
 

"You see, Minister, by section 9(6) of the Marriage Same Sex Couples Act 2013 (subject to any contrary provision made by or under that Act for any particular purpose) the marriage is to be treated as having subsisted from the date on which the Civil Partnership was formed."
 

"Which was when, Sir Humphrey?"
 

"On October 4th, 2007."
 

"So, they were actually married when they became Civil Partners?"
 

"Oh, no, Minister! Same sex couples weren't permitted to marry in 2007!"
 

"But you just said–––"
 

"What I said, Minister was that, 'by section 9(6) of the Marriage Same Sex Couples Act 2013 (subject to any contrary provision made by or under that Act––––'"

"Yes, yes, I heard that, Sir Humphrey! So, are you saying that although they didn't get married in 2007 – because  they couldn't get married – an Act of Parliament passed six years later made it lawful for them to subsequently be considered as being married even though, at the time, it wasn't lawful?"

"In a manner of speaking, Minister, yes." 

"Then, if I understand you correctly, even though their marriage certificate is dated yesterday, 30th August, 2017, they are now said to have become married ten years previously – despite the fact that such a union, on that date, was an impossibility?"
 

"Exactly so, Minister: your grasp of the matter is exemplary."
 

"Which means on 4th October 2017 – just five weeks after the date on their Marriage Certificate, they will be celebrating their 10th Wedding Anniversary?"
 

"Indeed, Minister."
 

"Then, maybe we should send a card to congratulate them?"
 

"Yes, Minister!"



by Brian Sibley & His Husband (from an idea by David Weeks!)
and with respectful apologies to Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay

Cartoon
© Gerald Scarfe

HUSBAND & HUSBAND

 

Four years ago, Mr David Weeks and I became... well... Husband-and-Husband here's what happened as recorded on The Day! 

(Glad to say I've lost some weight since then!)


What a day!  

We turned up at Lambeth's temporary Register Office this morning intending to give notice that we we wanted to 'convert' our decade-old 'Civil Partnership' status to 'Marriage' only to find that it was not a future event, but one that happened right there and then!

So, dressed somewhat casually for Our Big Day (as you can see!) we did the deed and – a tad sooner than we'd quite expected – were duly 'converted'!

By a very happy happenstance the Registrar was the same woman who officiated at our Civil Partnership ceremony back in 2007!

Then arriving home – still trying out the sound of "husband" in relation to one another – we bumped into our local vicar (we live next door to a church, you know) who, on hearing the news, instantly laid on an extempore Wedding Breakfast for us in the vicarage –– Gin & Tonics served with hot sausage rolls and tomato sauce dip!!

You know, sometimes, Life just seems to plan itself!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 26

 

I wept writing this final episode of the BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, I wept again as the actors recorded it in the studio and I wept once more when I heard it first transmitted on this Sunday, forty years ago. I still weep every time I hear it...

My plan was always to include 'Bilbo's Last Song' in the final episode as the Ring-bearers sail into the West but – since it did not appear in the novel and Tolkien had gifted the copyright in the poem to Joy Hill, his secretary at George Allen & Unwin – the negotiations for its inclusion were long and tricksy. But it was finally achieved and Stephen Oliver's elegiac setting powered the closing moments of the dramatisation, representing not only the end of Frodo's journey but also that of everyone involved in writing, performing and producing the serial.

Eric Fraser's final illustration for the BBC's weekly listings magazine, Radio Times shows the bittersweet image of Sam, Merry and Pippin watching the boat slip from the harbour into the Firth of Lune...

"And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air  and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that ... the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."

For the moment of Frodo's parting from Sam at the Grey Havens, I transferred a few lines from an earlier conversation in the book as a leave-taking valedictory:

"Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."

Words that I used again, heard by Sam – as an echo in his memory – the moment before opening the door to Bag End and announcing to Rosie and baby Elanor: "Well, I'm back."

Thank you for sharing this pictorial journey with me across the six months and twenty-six illustrations by the magnificent, Eric Fraser. 


 


Sunday, 22 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 25

 

'Homeward Bound' was the title I gave to the penultimate episode of the 1981 BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, originally broadcast on this Sunday, forty years ago. 

The great challenge of the serialisation – after the crisis-after-crisis driven story that reaches its narrative peak in episodes twenty-three and twenty-four with the destruction of the One Ring and Sauron's power and the coronation of Gondor's returning King – is the lengthy and anticlimactic homeward journey with its serial partings and farewells.

All of this textual material had to be ruthlessly compressed to work within the tight structure of weekly half-hour episodes. Despite the demands of condensing Tolkien's rich text, I remained determined that – although heavily edited – the Scouring of the Shire and the Grima's murder of Saruman on the doorstep of Bag End – would be retained since, without those events, the whole drama would be less meaningful.

"The very end of the war, I hope," said Merry.

"I hope so," said Frodo and sighed. The very last stroke. But to think that it should fall here, at the very door of Bag End! Among all my hopes and fears at least I never expected that." 

But Tolkien knew that, in some way or another, battles – large and small – all end at our own front door... 

Eric Fraser's original illustration for Radio Times takes the sober, haunting image of the sadly despoiled Shire found by the heroes on their return from war. 

 



Sunday, 15 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 24

 

After the epic drama of Sauron's fall comes the triumphant and long-awaited coronation of Aragorn, King Elessar. So, for obvious reasons, the twenty-fourth episode of the BBC's 1981 dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings – first broadcast forty years ago today – was titled 'The Return of the King'.

Equally obvious was Eric Fraser's choice of the Crown of Gondor as the subject for his illustration accompanying the episode-billing in Radio Times with a design based on Tolkien's description in the novel: 

"It was shaped like the helms of the Guards of the Citadel, save that it was loftier, and it was all white, and the wings at either side were wrought of pearl and silver in the likeness of the wings of a sea-bird, for it was the emblem of kings who came over the Sea; and seven gems of adamant were set in the circlet, and upon its summit was set a single jewel the light of which went up like a flame." 

 


Sunday, 8 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 23

 

And so we come to 'Mount Doom', the twenty-third episode of the 1981 BBC serialisation of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, originally broadcast forty years ago this Sunday.

In so many ways this is the climax (although not the end) of the quest which began in Episode 6 when, at Rivendell, the Council of Elrond determined that the war with Sauron could only be won if the One Ring were to be returned to fires of Orodruin. 

This episode was the second of the final five episodes that I personally dramatised for the serialisation, taking over from Michael Bakewell's brilliant dramatisation of the epic battles that precede the intense, intimate drama that is played out by Frodo, Sam and Gollum on the very edge of the Cracks of Doom.

As a dramatist, this was one of my favourite episodes to have written and I have unforgettable memories of watching Ian Holm, Peter Woodthorpe and Bill Nighy, gathered around a radio microphone, act out their characters' desperate struggle on Sammath Naur, playing out the narrative device that Tolkien described as a 'eucatastrophe'. Writing in a letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien explained: "I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce)."

This original piece of art created by Eric Fraser for the Sunday programme page in the BBC's weekly magazine, Radio Times, is, without question, my favourite of the twenty-six weekly illustrations the artist made to accompany the series: stunningly dramatic and powerfully cataclysmic.



 

Sunday, 1 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 22

 

'The Houses of Healing' was the title of the twenty-second episode of the BBC's 1981 radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, broadcast forty years ago this Sunday. 

In this episode the chatterbox of Ioreth the wise-woman healer (a cameo appearance by Pauline Letts) tells Gandalf of the legend of Gondor that says: "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known," leading to the Christ-like verification of Aragorn as the true King.  

Eric Fraser's original art, created for the programme page in Radio Times shows a pair of leaves of the healing herb called athelas (or 'Kingsfoil') about to be crushed and steeped in boiling water. 

 

Sunday, 25 July 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 21

 

The confrontation between Éowyn and Merry and the Witch-king of Angmar is one of many dramatic highlights in 'The Battle of the Pelennor Fields', the twenty-first episode of the BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, first broadcast forty years ago this Sunday lunchtime.

Eric Fraser's original art to be published in The Radio Times alongside the weekly billing for the programme is, I think, a superb example of this artist's exceptional skill in graphic composition.  


Tuesday, 20 July 2021

DEPRRESSION: THE MENTAL HEART OF DARKNESS



I have been contemplating this post for a long time – for the best part of a year, in fact. Only ‘contemplating’ because the thought of writing it has been too daunting. And, supposing I were to get to the end of what I am now going to attempt to write, it might well prove impossible to share. I am only now, finally trying to write this because I have a feeling that what I want to say needs to be said – not for me, because I know it (and have been living it) but for anyone else who might identify with it and, as a result, might feel a little less alone and, more able to share their own story, possibly even see a glimmer of hope in an oppressive gloom…

 

I am very conscious that holding up the mental health card can, in itself, be additionally dangerous to one’s health of mind. This for a very simple reason: the Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone and, whilst I think most of us realise and accept that we’ve all been through difficult times, it is all too tempting to be competitive about our troubles and measure the woes in our lives against what we suppose to be trouble-free lives of others. You-Think-You’ve-Got-Problems Syndrome can so easily be our default position in stressful times. Nobody has actually said that to me, but I’ve imagined, again and again, that if I once started talking about what was going on in my head, that they might – if not actually say it – at least, think it.

 

So, what has been going on in my head?

 

I could offer that catchall word ‘depression’, but – despite being an acknowledged clinical definition – it feels too grey, too indistinct and inadequate a word to apply to what I am talking about…

 

Instead, I’ll need to resort to random word association here: deep sadness – not just a ‘sad’ sadness, but a full-on, ocean-deep sorrow; an unfathomable emptiness; a void of hopelessness.

 

Then there’s the devastating sense of worthlessness; the constant and restless anxiety accelerating, suddenly, to rabid fear; the smouldering anger that flares into volcanic, plate-smashing, book-tearing rage; and the terrifying moments of blind panic reaching a point of no return where you feel as if your heart will disconnect from your chest and leap out of your mouth.

 

Resulting from a combination of these ‘symptoms’ comes a crippling tiredness. There is nothing that needs to be done that doesn’t sap you of all energy. The effort required for even simple tasks is wearisome. Tiredness is, in truth, too meagre a word to describe the daily sense of exhaustion. Sleep is constantly pulling at you, begging you to close your eyes and relinquish your mind to the overpowering feeling of fatigue; and yet, again and again, insomnia robs you of even that solace.

 

Underlying some or all of these experiences is, I have found, a deep-set, despairing, loneliness – a claim that I realise will be read as a brutally savage statement by my close friends and, especially, by the man who is my husband, lover and friend.

 

These feelings, in some form or other, are more or less always present: from the very first moment of waking through to the last moment of awareness. Sometimes it is nothing more than a mildly unsettling butterflies-in-the-stomach fluttering; at other times it is like a gnawing, insatiable hunger. On a good day, it may feel like little more than a dull headache and can even be numbed by a Novocaine moment of laughter or loving or, most effectively in my experience, by retreating into a reassuring imaginary room where the walls are metaphorically papered with rose-tinted photographs of treasured memories and mementos from long-ago. At other times the headache spirals into a incapacitating migraine and those fearful demons – sorrow, hopelessness, self-loathing and anger – return in packs, circling ever nearer and nearer until they attack…

 

And when, after they have mauled you, torn and ripped and gnawed at the uncertain essence of what you think you are, they depart into the darkness and leave you – with no tears left to shed – in a deep, dark place to contemplate your misery and shame.

 

I doubt if it’s worth trying to chronicle how, during the Covid-19 pandemic, this oppressive state of mind began first to stalk me and then cornered and ensnared me, because, as I have already said, Covid has affected no two people in the quite the same way. Those who were mobile could not understand those who had to cope with serious mobility issues; nor could those who lived in a house with a garden understand what it was like for a family of four or more in a cramped high-rise flat; the situation of those furloughed from work was quite different from that of the thousands of self-employed who had no support. And those with a significant other couldn’t hope to fully empathise with the single or bereaved person or a couple parted by many miles. 

 

What I want to try to convey is the corrosive damage of the mental health obstacles Covid has placed in the path of so many of us, as much as to articulate the voice of an illness that so often leaves its suffers inarticulate. In fact, Covid is only an incidental factor, as anyone who has battled depression will know, since it is no respecter of time, place or circumstance.

 

In my personal experience, it began – as it always begins – innocently and insidiously, like the distant murmur of an approaching train or some vague shape glimpsed on the periphery of your vision. It’s not quite here yet – but it’s coming: like the brooding clouds and sudden stillness that precedes the storm and then, before can take shelter, it is upon you: a deluge of despair swamping your mind and body.

 

For me the process of succumbing to this disease was a slow, but insistent, daily decent into an increasingly dark abyss. So gradual was the process that I think, at first, I mistook the process as one of trying to ensure that I was in a place of safety – create for myself a dugout on the Covid-ravaged battlefield of our time. It was only as I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper that I realised that I was not only finding it difficult to think with any clarity but that, physically, I was battling to see and hear and even breath.

 

My mind curled itself into a foetal position; I retreated into interminable, sorrowful contemplation of the past, raking over the ashes of long-cold fires: relationships – parents, friends, lovers – irreconcilable breaches, missed or bungled opportunities, unfulfilled ambitions… Drained of positivity, yet drowning in regret and remorse, I was adrift on a dead sea where everything for as far as I could see to the infinitely distant horizon was littered with the wreckage of misconnections, disconnections, painful memories and failed achievements.

 

Although I was still consciously aware of 2020’s endless summer of sunny, blue, aircraft-free skies, I had been seduced by the comforting safety-snare of my emotional fall-out shelter that felt secure even though it was, at the very same time, shutting the windows, locking the doors, switching off the lights and closing down the systems of everything that made my life worth living. The inner loneliness of this time reduced me, again and again, to a place where I felt I was losing my sanity.

 

Gradually I ceased to function beyond the rudimentary daily routine: I had work that I could do – a commission to complete and several creative projects that could have occupied me – but I couldn’t work; didn't want to work… My Facebook friends and acquaintances daily announced that they were now learning their third language in lock-down, or were taking up needlepoint, or were tracing their ancestry back to the days of Noah, or had installed a home kiln and were making pots and mugs to sell on-line.

 

My Facebook page (when I could be bothered to post) comprised wistful photos of earlier summers and pictures of long-lost childhood treasures recently reclaimed via eBay…

 

I found it increasingly difficult to engage: emails went unanswered, texts ignored, phone calls declined and not returned; despite a growing fear at my debilitating – yet deliberate – inner self-isolation, I could not see a way back from the encircling hedges of the maze I had allowed to grow up around what I now believed was my total insignificance.

 

I knew the world ­– even our locked-down prison garden ­– was still full of the light, colour and sounds of continuing life, but I was now beginning to see only in a drab monochrome or a faded sepia like old photographs; I knew that thrushes and blackbirds were singing, but I heard only the inane chatter of magpies and raucous cries of the crows, the shadow of whose black wings fell constantly across the sun.

 

It would be foolish to claim that what I experienced was solely the result of the pandemic. Covid-19 was merely a catalyst, a lens through which over seventy years of life-problems – sorrows, angers and heartaches – were now being focused and projected in an all-enveloping, IMAX-screen format that blinded me to everything else.

 

And so a night came – at three o’clock in the morning, with the flood level of anguish lapping at my chin – when I sat at the dining-room table with an array of medicine bottles and packets and asked myself how many I would need to take to put an end to this overwhelming despondency. I didn’t so much as want to kill myself as to just stop living. I wanted the show to be over, to bring down the curtain and vacate the theatre.

 

I realise this sounds melodramatic, but there was nothing theatrical about the moment. It felt, instead, completely natural as if what I was contemplating was the only rational and unavoidable option open to me. It felt like having come to end of a long, long, darkened corridor and being faced by a single open door leading to a space where there was nothing but calm, rest, stillness and an absence of all those burdensome thoughts and emotions that were weighing me down. Standing on the threshold of that doorway, I was powerfully aware of my ‘aloneness’ and of being pulled towards a release from loneliness.   

 

Of course, I was not truly ‘alone’ – my husband, whom I love – was asleep in our bedroom, and yet I felt remote, isolated and solitary, cut-off from everyone and everything. One or two of the few who have recently heard me speak of this night, have asked how I could conceivably have contemplated ending my life without thinking what impact – if I had succeeded – it would have upon my partner of many years. The question shames me, but I have to truthfully reply that my reasoning was twofold: it felt simply impossible to carry on and, I argued, since I had already used up my three-score-years-and-ten, had health issues that would only continue to deteriorate and might inevitable render me a burden, it would – in the long term – be a release and a relief…

 

Driven by this admittedly selfish aim, I woke up the computer typed into a search engine the question I needed answering: ‘How can I kill myself?’ The much-maligned Internet instantly threw up a page of links offering help to those contemplating suicide. It is perhaps bizarre but true that poised on a cliff edge, I was pulled back from the brink by the anonymity of Google. I didn’t ring the Samaritans, whose number was at the top of the search results; for me, it was enough of a moment to think again, to take a step back – though, at the time, unconditional – to a place where I could reflect, draw breath, take a second or third look at things and put self-destruction on hold.

 

I told no one, at the time, what had happened that night but, shortly afterwards, I was thrown a lifeline. I hadn’t called for help and this unsought professional offer to keep me afloat came about solely because of a professor of rheumatology at London’s Guy’s hospital decided to reach out to his patients to ask after their mental health. 

 

My response resulted in an opportunity to talk with someone outside of friends and family; someone with whom I could be as honest and open as I wanted without needing to make excuses or apologies; someone who wouldn't be dismissive or censorious; someone who would listen to whatever I had to say – regardless of whether it made any sense – and who would still listen in those seemingly endless moments of silence when I didn't know what to say. It was the beginning of a journey back towards finding Me...

 

This was several months ago now and, as a result, I’m still – more or less – in the swim. My help came through a combination of therapy and mindfulness, through the support of a handful of friends and the patience and steadfastness of my partner, but not everybody’s path back from the cliff-edge will be the same. Whatever form it takes, it is slow: a series of often infinitesimally small increments of progress.

 

The story of someone climbing and conquering a mountain is so much more compelling than the anticlimactic account of coming down afterwards. With depression it’s easier to find words to describe the descent into the darkness than the laborious crawl back into the light. Milton’s Paradise Lost is a much better read than his Paradise Regained.

 

My way out has been – and sometimes still is – painfully hesitant and there are days when one uncertain step forward is followed by several blundering steps back. At times the water still feels choppy and, all too easily, I can become overwhelmed and find myself wallowing again.

 

I am still, sometimes, finding it difficult to engage with others; I still let occasional phone calls go to message and make feeble excuses to myself for failing to contact friends. Anyone who has experienced these symptoms will know it is hard to talk about them and how insular and self-focused they can make you.

 

Basically, no two days are ever alike. Invariably, a good day is followed by a less good one where clouds begin to gather and I find myself being drawn towards those crumbling stairs that lead down into that nihilistic place where everything is darkness and despair.

 

But – and this is the good and hopeful news – the lulls between the storms are getting longer, the panics are more quickly recovered from, the bleak moments more easily dispelled; I am a work in progress – but then all of us are and life always is. 

 

I realise that I run the risk of sounding incredibly self-indulgent, but, having decided to write this, it is important that I tell it how it is – or has been – for me: so that, if you are now or have ever been in a similar place, you will know that – however alone, empty and fearful you feel – I am, right now, very close to you.

 

For too long I was too shy, too scared, too proud or too selfish to give a cry for help; more concerned that everyone should think I was waving not drowning. Then – whether by chance, luck or providence – a lifebelt floated within my grasp and I fumblingly grabbed hold.   

 

If you, or someone you know, is floundering in the treacherous currents of this emotional Sargasso Sea, please don’t let those waters swirl around your head and wait for chance, luck or providence to throw you a lifeline. It is never too soon – and absolutely never too late – to call for help.

 

And look! I’ve actually managed to put into words at least some of what I wanted to say…


POST SCRIPT

(added on 27 July 2021)

This is a huge and profound ‘Thank You’ to everyone who responded to my recent blog post about depression through comments via Facebook messenger, texts and emails. 
 
I have been truly overwhelmed by your caring, loving and supportive expressions of understanding and encouragement and I want you to know how very much that has meant to me.
 
I realise that my essay didn’t provide a time-line from which you could assess where I am on my journey and I apologise to everyone who envisaged me as currently standing on a metaphorical narrow ledge outside a window on the forty-second floor of a very tall building. If I were still there I would not have been able to write about my experience. I won’t deny that I’m still grappling with depression and that there are bad times and good times –– but there are also times that are not-so-bad and others that are better-than-good! 
 
I want to stress that my chief reason for writing was not a pity-poor-me call for sympathy, but to speak to anyone who might identify with what I had been – and am – going through and might, as a result, be encouraged to seek help. 
 
Several readers have asked if they could share my post and the answer is, of course, ‘Yes!’ because I would be very happy if what I wrote reaches anyone who might need reminding that – though they might find it hard to believe – they are not as alone as they fear.
 
Meanwhile, thank you again: your responses have given me a new strength and determination…


Sunday, 18 July 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 20

 

The twentieth episode of the BBC's radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings was broadcast on this day, forty years ago, and the serialisation entered the home straight of its twenty-six parts with 'The Siege of Gondor'.

In publishing the original art of Eric Fraser's illustration to accompany the billing for this episode in The Radio Times, I want to comment on the discipline under which Fraser produced these small decorations.  

As a regular artist for the BBC's listings magazine, he was especially well-versed with the demand for illustrations required to fit within specific column-width dimensions and with the absolute requirement for his work having to "read" at a very small scale. 

The original art I have been reproducing here over the past five months were drawn 9.5 x 1.5 centimeters (3 x 1.5 inches) and were then reduced for reproduction in print to just 1.2 x 3.2 centimeters (or 1.5 x 0.5 inches). Bearing in mind the size of the art – and the size at which it was eventually published – I think of these little black-and-white drawings as mini-masterpieces.