Monday, 2 October 2023

Self-Help For Cynics #6: Conversations With Ben

Catch a shooting star and put it in your pocket
And your pants will start on fire
One bird in the hand or two birds in the bush
Neither do you any good, when you're stuck in the quagmire

Show everyone you're not sure that they're telling the truth
Then you can be known as the universal cynic too

Those of you who have been subjecting yourself to this nonsense for far too long will recall that during lockdown, one of the things that really helped me through was the conversations I had via Whatsapp with my former colleague and good friend, Ben. I shared many of those conversations here, as I felt they might on occasion prove entertaining to others, and also because it saved me having to come up with an idea for a post that day. I don't share our conversations so much anymore, not because Ben and I aren't still communicating, but because mostly we just talk about stuff that won't be of much interest to you guys. However, I wanted to share the following chat because it gave this series - and my "journey" (I hate using that word in this context) "of discovery" (ditto) regarding my mental health - a real direction. And it sets up some of the things I'll be talking about in future posts...

Ben:  How're you doing anyway?

Rol:  Not bad. I'm trying positive thinking.

Stop laughing.




I think that's great actually.

Really helped with my anxiety and low feelings.

I tend to have a few mantras now. Not the shitty religious or spiritualist foo foo ones, but something a bit more grounded.

And then there's the questions and the senses stuff. They really help.


Questioning the logic behind thoughts when you spiral. My doc told me to get this book about anxiety and mental health. Not a woowoo book but by a scientist that kind of explains and outlines that actually your brain is a monkey organ that is essentially forced to learn to function in a developed society so it's more about biological survival urges that are misunderstanding what it's being presented with. 

So questions like "is what you think is happening, happening?" Or "is there any evidence to support that thought?".  And the senses stuff is the non woo woo and more psychological version of mindfulness which is meant to just calm and relax you in the moment but with no snake oil of improving your whole life. When feeling overwhelmed by anything, you sit and spend ten to thirty seconds on all your senses, just mentally describing their sensation. The key is to not explain the sensations, just describe them. Say you start with your taste, maybe it's a bit iron-ish because you've got an ulcer, or you can taste your coffee from earlier still and still some sweetness from a bit of bread stuck in your tooth slowly turning its carbohydrates into sugar. Then touch. What's the chair you're sat in feel like? What's the back support? Maybe one point is sticking into you and it's got leather on the seat that feels cooler on your body than the rest of the chair. Can you feel the lanyard hanging off your neck, how's the top you have on? Then go through the other senses. The whole point is to completely take you away from thoughts running away and just rooting you in a material reality. Really helpful.

There were a few books but two  of the main ones were Unfuck Your Brain by Faith Harper and Don't Feed The Monkey Mind by Jennifer Shannon.

Thanks. I'll look into those. 

What you describe is kind of the process I've adopted, in a ramshackle, amateurish fashion. But I've become interested in the subject (not the rainbows and unicorns side of it) and have started reading up when I get the opportunity. Trying to find the way to approach it while still maintaining my essential cynical bastard side.

I think there's a lot of spiritual bullshit and business focussed books on the matter and poor support. But those books are what my GP told me to read as, in his words, "look, you're a scientist, so self help bullshit won't work, you need to really understand what's happening in your brain". And the techniques, I think, work particularly well and it's not offering snake oil promises of cures but rather they're intended to help in the moment when you need it.

I'm not a scientist, but I have the same reaction to self hell BS, so this is appreciated. I've started a thing on my blog called Self Help for Cynics in which I try to sift through the dross and find usable nuggets. With extra help from songwriters. Writing has always been a help, as is music, so I'm combining them all.

There's so much of it that preys on selling bullshit and something for people to believe in. I just want to understand it and have coping mechanisms, which is all science can handle.

And I know it's kind of hard to break out of the men have to keep it together thing, but you know I'm about.

Cheers. Never really been one of those types anyway. 

I gather, with your love for Morrissey and pop in general.

I just need to do something to fix my mindset.

But still. You've got a millennial friend. We're much more open to talk about these things. I know the acerbic wit is our basis, but I like you alive and well.

Appreciate that, but I'm not about to top myself. Just want to get through the week without ping-ponging between anxiety, rage and other emotions I can't find the right words for because it's very late.

I'm not saying you are, but more so I mean life, when in the depths can be colourless and you become a shell of a person... but I prefer the acerbic wit and humour of you not in that position and the negative impact that has on life.

Now for a put-down to equalise our friendship: Morrissey is a wanker.

Hardly a point of contention these days. And yet...

And there's no-one left to blame
Oh, tell me when will you...
When will you accept your life?
(The one that you hate)
For anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes

Sunday, 1 October 2023

Snapshots #312: A Top Ten Songs Named After Classic Novels

If you've Rushdie'd here this morning for the answers to yesterdays quiz, I hope it wasn't because you felt like a Salman swimming upstream, trying to work out the connection.

Here are ten songs named after famous novels, straight from your favourite English teacher. You might even call them "iconic", except you'd probably upset C

Prepare yourself for some Satantic Verses... and Heavenly choruses, of course.

10. Shot in Sarajevo. 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo, sparking World War I.

Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses

9. You're on your own in court.

You're about to face some Lone Justice!

Lone Justice - The Grapes Of Wrath

8. Clocking off time.

It used to be 5.30. These days, people seem to finish work at all kinds of different times.

5.30! - Catcher In The Rye

7. What time is it, Mr. McGoohan?

What time is it, Mr. Wolf? Patrick time!

Patrick Wolf - To The Lighthouse

6. Found confused in a nerd alley.

"A nerd alley" was an anagram...

Lana Del Rey - Lolita

5. A wee insect.

A midge is a wee insect. 

Midge Ure - Call Of The Wild

4. This is a fiery Topic.

A Topic is a chocolate bar. Fiery is hot.

Hot Chocolate - Emma

3. Stars of the small screen.

Television Personalities - A Picture Of Dorian Gray

2. Ask Rik when he's got himself back together.

"Ask Rik when", put back together in a different order, gives us...

Nik Kershaw - Don Quixote

We had an English teacher who insisted on pronouncing Quixote "kwik-oat". Obviously not a Nik Kershaw fan.

1. Hedge and Thicket.


Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights

Let me in your window again next Saturday for more of the same...

Saturday, 30 September 2023

Saturday Snapshots #312

Let's be Frank... sometimes you feel like a bit of a Munster on a Saturday morning, so I really appreciate you dragging yourself to your phone or computer screen to stare at these ten photographs, identify the artists, and work out what might connect their songs. Herman does too.

10. Shot in Sarajevo. 

9. You're on your own in court.

8. Clocking off time.

7. What time is it, Mr. McGoohan?

6. Found confused in a nerd alley.

5. A wee insect.

4. This is a fiery Topic.

3. Stars of the small screen.

2. Ask Rik when he's got himself back together.

1. Hedge and Thicket.

Answers tomorrow morning.

Friday, 29 September 2023

Product Placement #22: Jelly Babies

In case you've just arrived from another planet, iffypedia tells us that, "Jelly Babies are a type of soft sugar jelly sweets in the shape of plump babies, sold in a variety of colours." Something about the use of the phrase "plump babies" in that sentence makes me consider Jelly Babies in a far more sinister light than I ever have. If you have just arrived from another planet, please note that we do not eat human babies, no matter how plump and tasty they might look.

To make matters worse, Jelly Babies were originally called "Unclaimed Babies". I'd like to reiterate... we do not eat human babies, claimed or unclaimed.

Jelly Babies were a big favourite of Tom Baker's Doctor Who...

When Beatles fans found out that George Harrison liked the odd Jelly Baby, they started chucking them at the band. But they didn't have Jelly Babies in the USA, so when the band went over there, people chucked Jelly Beans at them instead. Which were a lot harder.

George Harrison on Jelly Beans.

Even more dangerous is the popular school science experiment, The Screaming Jelly Baby. Luckily nobody ever chucked one of those at The Beatles.

There were a couple of bands named after Jelly Babies, but I could only find music by one of them...

The Jelly Babies - The Pleasure Of Her Company

Beyond those guys, who else likes their Jelly Babies in the world of pop...?

Let's start with a classy B-side from Hot Chip...

You're choosing something sweet, you chew on something sweet
A fleshy rubber made of me
A packet does contain a beautiful refrain
Least when the two of you stand free

Hot Chip - Jelly Babies

1982 was a great year for music. And then there was Johnny Demestos...

Johnny Demestos – Leave My Jelly Babies Alone

Did you know that Barbra Streisand once sang a song about Jelly Babies?

OK, that's not strictly the truth. However, once you've read the lyrics below, you might wish that was what the song was about...

Like Guava Jelly 
Baby, here I am,
Come rub it on my belly 
Like Guava Jelly 

Barbra Streisand - Guava Jelly

I always thought Babs was such a sweet young thing. Like butter wouldn't melt. Then I saw the cover of the album that came from...

 ...which has surely got to be one of the worst album covers ever. You call your album ButterFly, and that's the image you decide to go with, Babs? 

I subsequently learned that the album was solely produced by her then-boyfriend, Jon Peters... so I'm guessing clear heads might not have been involved in the cover selection process.

Guava Jelly was originally recorded by Bob Marley. And somehow, his version seems a lot less sordid...

Bob Marley - Guava Jelly

But I've gone off on a tangent as I'm pretty sure neither Bob nor Babs were thinking about Jelly Babies when they sang that song (although the white powder the sweets are often covered in might have been of interest to Jon Peters).

Here's a whole shop full of sweets, including Jelly Babies, Rhubarb & Custard and a quarter of Sherbet Lemons...

Eddie's Brother - Sweet Shop

But today's best tune comes from Ipswich punks The Adicts (originally known as Afterbirth, until wiser minds prevailed), from their 1985 album, Smart Alex. If only because it includes the lyrical couplet below...

Why do you have to be such a party-pooper?
You wouldn't even dance to Alice Cooper!

They don't write 'em like that anymore.

Thursday, 28 September 2023

Neverending Top Ten #6.4: Modern Songs

What are you doing at the party, Sam?


Yeah? What are you going to sing?

Some of my favourite songs that are modern and you won't know.

Huh. You want modern songs? I'll give you modern songs, son. Look, I made you a CD!

The Jam - The Modern World

The News - Modern Toys

Boomtown Rats - She's So Modern

The Strokes - The Modern Age

Crashland - Modern Animal

Meat Loaf - Modern Girl

Idlewild - A Modern Way Of Letting Go

Neil Diamond -A Modern Day Version Of Love

Ben Kyle & Romantica - How to Live in a Modern World

Art Brut - Modern Art

Terry, Blair & Anouchka - Ultra Modern Nursery Rhyme

Sleeper - The Modern Age

The Crooks - Modern Boys

Be Bop Deluxe - Modern Music

Jesse Malin - In The Modern World

Sondre Lerche - Modern Nature

Generation X - Modern Boys

Daryl Hall & John Oates - Method of Modern Love

Charm School – Excerpts from the Modern Song

The Humdrum Express - The Curse Of The Modern Musician

Belle and Sebastian - This Is Just A Modern Rock Song

David Bowie - Modern Love

Beck - Modern Guilt

The Mekons - Ancient & Modern

Lou Reed - Modern Dance

Jefferson Starship - Modern Times

The Courteeners - Modern Love

Billy Joel - Modern Woman

Bloc Party - This Modern Love

Actually, wait, seriously... here's a song that was only released last week. You don't get more modern than that, do you?

Bleachers are from New Jersey. They're the brainchild of guitarist and producer Jack Antanoff, who used to be in Fun. They have featured here before, but this is their latest single, and it's pretty damned good for a modern pop song... even though it does harken back to the 70s and 80s, like most of their stuff.

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