A Town Not Called Malice

Sometimes I feel a longing for the coast. Or perhaps somewhere more rural, away from the built up concrete confines of my city. This occasionally intensifies into a desire to move to such a place permanently. These are idealistic episodes and don’t normally last too long, for roots are important to me.

But even when traveling through less scenic routes I get curious about other places. It is easy to get superficial, inadequate views of the towns that we pass through, and in our ideals wonder if they could hold an appeal.

Recently I was on a train heading to Manchester from Leeds. Passing through the train stations the landscape began to open out. There was space between the fixed points of these two urban sprawls. The sky, for once blue, lifted the spirits, and there were jackdaws—always jackdaws, scattered upon the fields.  These birds have become something of a personal totem to me, and these familiar friends accompanied me along the way.

We rolled into Hebden Bridge.  This place always looks charming, though I have yet to explore it. There was only a handful of people waiting to board the train here. They looked like walkers ( hikers, I mean, not zombies). They got on board and we moved on.

The next station on our linear amble was the market town of Todmorden. I have wondered about this place also. From my limited views it looks like a nice place to live, but as I said earlier, superficial views are inadequate to get a true feel for a place.

Then, from my window I saw this sign, set back upon a hill:

image

The letters stood there like a miniature version of the famous Hollywood sign. I didn’t know why it was there, but it felt refreshing to be greeted by a (literal) sign of positivity. I searched on Google and found a news reference to it. It seems that some of the town residents were erecting these signs to counter the news that hate crimes throughout the country were on the rise. What a great idea, providing a bit of balance by nailing their colours to their provincial masts.

What noble endeavours, what admirable gestures. Who wouldn’t want to settle in a town that salts its perimeters with the grains of compassion?

image

Introducing High Tide, Low Tide

It is my pleasure to share with you guys a very worthy book, written by two of my Nordland Publishing stablemates Martin Baker and Fran Houston.

bio-photo-martin-baker bio-photo-fran-houston

Their book is called High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder

high_tide_low_tide_cover

 

Although living on different sides of the pond, their story illustrates how, in this modern age of technology, distance need not be a barrier in forging supportive, positive friendships. But it is much more than that, so I will leave Martin to introduce you to their book in his own words. Links follow below.

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder

By Martin Baker

“We live three thousand miles apart and I would not be alive without you. Wherever I go, there you are. However I am, you accept or gently challenge. Whatever I do, you cheer me on. You are the best friend I could ever have.” (Fran Houston)

You never forget the moment your friend tells you they would not be alive without your support. More than 450 million people worldwide have mental health problems. With one in five adults experiencing mental illness in any year, and ten million adults affected by bipolar disorder in America alone, that could include you or someone you care about.

Celebrity-led campaigns such as Bring Change 2 Mind and Time to Change have raised public awareness, but there is little guidance on how to be a good friend when your friend is mentally ill. Memoirs shed light on what it is like to live with mental illness but are of limited practical relevance. Workbooks describe symptoms and treatments but tend to be generic, lack detailed examples, and are usually aimed at the person living with the illness. “Friends and families” titles are almost exclusively written for partners. Crucially, given that friends often live far from one another, there is nothing that describes how to support someone at a distance.

Fran and I are best friends living on opposite sides of the Atlantic: me in the north-east of England, Fran on the east coast of America. Fran has bipolar disorder, also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) and fibromyalgia. Despite living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s primary caregiver and life-line. Since 2011, I have supported her through mania, depression, chronic pain and debilitating fatigue, with her suicidal thinking our almost constant companion.

In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, we share what we’ve learned about growing a close, mutually supportive friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” Writing from the caring friend’s point of view, we offer original approaches and practical tips illustrated with our own genuine conversations and examples.  Uniquely, we show how technology and the internet mean no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. As Fran says in the epilogue:

Friends like Marty who are willing to be with me in the darkness are the ones who give me light. Yes there are medications. Yes there is therapy. Yes there is personal responsibility. But caring friendship is the best medicine of all. Then life begins to have purpose.

With a foreword by Rachel Kelly, best-selling author, mental health campaigner, and Ambassador for SANE and Rethink Mental Illness, our book focuses on being there. Discover how to build a relationship strong and flexible enough to handle mania, depression, and suicidal thinking. Explore what illness means. Learn strategies for wellness and how best to support your friend and take care of yourself, whether you live on the same street or oceans apart.

Links

Published by Nordland Publishing, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at selected booksellers.

About the Authors

A highly successful electrical engineer until illness struck, Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Her first book, For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, was published in 2010. Fran lives in Portland, Maine. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker works in the Information Technology Services industry. He is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider; a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters, Mind and BipolarUK; and Fran’s primary support and life-line. His Collected Poems: 1977–1984 was published in 2008.

 

Sept 11th:Tragedy; Love Story; Poem

Recently was the fifteen-year anniversary of the September eleventh attacks. For my generation, this was our JFK moment, where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard, or saw, the terrorist atrocity taking place.

At the time I was a postman here in Manchester, and had just caught up on my sleep with a couple of hours in the afternoon. I saw it all unfold, disbelievingly, as I was getting ready to pick my daughter up from school.
On the mantelpiece was a postcard, having arrived that day, from a woman who I had known for many years. We’d first met in infant school, and became best friends in high school, that close friendship continuing long into my adult life. The postcard was from New York, and among the scribbled lines was a throwaway comment that she was intending to go up one of those towers that I’d just seen erupting into flames.

After a few frantic calls, (in the days before we both had mobiles), I discovered that her mother had heard from her: she was safe in L.A. She had been about to travel to San Francisco until all of the planes had been grounded, stranding her there.

This was the first shaking of my complacency about our long relationship.

Today we are married, with children. I’ve seen the photographs she took from the top of one of those towers just a couple of days before it collapsed, unable to fathom the sheer desperation that could force people to jump from such a height.

I wrote a poem not long after that tragic day, a long one called American Trilogy. It wasn’t about 9/11 per se, but it did feature. How could it not.

 The poem didn’t make into my book. Perhaps one day I will publish it in its entirety.

Here I post the closing lines, referring to that day and the idea that my lifelong friend was over there. Somewhere.
I received word across

Atlantic squalls

that your wings

were torn upon the besieged

coast,

your eyes reaping shelter

from a holocaust

of lenses.


A pre-emptive strike

at my complacency,
praying for an eye in the storm.


And you, snug in a motherland 

of flag-waving lambs


where everyone wants to be quarterback,

everyone wants to be General,

everyone wants to lay the homecoming queen.


Icons in an American dream.


©Andrew James Murray


Farewell, Old Friend

A year ago today we lost our family dog, how fast it has gone. When I posted this last year it seems I inadvertently upset people: mothers on the school run was asking me not to post anything else about him, I got a message from a girl on holiday in Spain: ‘I’m in tears, my mum’s in tears, the waitress serving us has two Labradors and she’s in tears!’ It wasn’t my intention then or now, I’m just remembering our old friend.

City Jackdaw

Dog lovers: why do we do it? I mean really, why do we fucking put ourselves through it?

We know, when we let them into our homes and incorporate them into our family dynamics, exactly what their lifespan is. We know that they don’t live as long as we do, and that there is going to be an emotional payback for all of the years of unconditional love and non-judgemental companionship that they offer us. But it is only when you reach that devastating moment of reckoning when you ask the question: is it all worth it?

I’m a Doctor Who fan. How many times have I heard it said, courtesy of the script writers, that the Doctor doesn’t stay with his companions because the hurt of watching them age and die, while he goes on, is too much. Having watched the programme since the 80’s, you think I’d have…

View original post 2,178 more words

The World, Both Small And Wintry

I have said it more than once: what a small world this is. Aside from all redundant technology, sometimes the particulars of conversation highlight this.

I was speaking recently with a friend, a priest of this parish, and mentioned the northern poet Adam Johnson, who died in 1993 in his late twenties. It turns out that this friend knew him back in the eighties, and as ever I marvelled at the coincidence of connections. The conversation led me to seek out the poet’s work, and I share with you now one of his poems that is a favourite of mine, winter lover that I am.

December 1989

The nascent winter turns

Each root into a nail,

And in the West there burns

A sun morbid and pale.



Now, from the city bars

We drift, into a cool

Gymnasium of stars -

The drunkard and the fool:



Into the night we go,

Finding our separate ways -

The darkness fraught with snow,

The leaves falling like days.

             
     - Adam Johnson

In The Moment

I had one of those moments tonight when everything just feels right, when, in some kind of revelatory sense, a glimpse of something extraordinary and meaningful filters through into the everyday life.

I was sat at a table in an Italian restaraunt. We were in between courses, and I found myself in a moment in which, paradoxically, I felt both detached and totally connected.

I sat back in my chair, looking at my two daughters facing me, laughing away as they played some kind of intuitive game together, oblivious to everyone else present in their giggles and playfulness. I shifted my gaze to their right, and my son was sat there sucking on a slice of lemon he had fished out of his glass of coke, absorbed in his own personal explorations and trials.

I turned to my right, where my wife was engaged in an intimate conversation with a good friend of ours, totally at ease in an immediacy of trust that had been brokered over several decades.

I felt no desire to break my silence and join in with any part of this portrait, to engage with either child or adult. I was content to just take in all of this as though I was some invisible witness, unsensed and undetected, and any sudden involvement on my behalf would break this blissful spell. I sat there among these people that I love, joined together around two covered tables, feeling a part of something bigger than myself, drinking it all in in great, savouring gulps.

Outside a dark December night was pressing up against the windows, held at bay by the warmth and light of this perfect evening.

In this eternal now, life was a blessing.

Everything was right.