Suspicion on steroids

At least when wide awake at 3am I was able to enjoy Suspicion, directed by Hitchcock and starring Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant. Iplayer and iPads are wonderful things. I was contemplating a drama in Gaelic before spotting this thriller, which I’d never seen before. What starts as a rom-com, with Grant a fast-quipping and kissable rogue, slides into an unsettling mind game where it is impossible to tell if he is telling the truth. Because he does lie, a lot – or is it all the time?
Joan Fontaine won an Oscar (the only one for a Hitchcock film) for her affecting performance – passionate, smart, silly, confused, smart and ultimately, suspicious. And she is quite beautiful throughout – in a fascinating timeless 1940s way that you could never dream of replicating. Which made it an unthreatening watch from my pyjamas and bundle of pillows, with Roger the cat trying to find his niche on my feet.
This has happened before when I’ve had a course of IV steroids to speed up a relapse, as is happening right now. I feel really tired, stay up as long as possible, get into bed and stay wide awake. Run-of-the mill side effect…
I try to go with the flow – enjoyed an hour of an Inspector Maigret audio book (I am also hooked on Audible) before the film, and tried hard with my mindfulness meditation app afterwards, before being foiled by random leg spasms. What’s that all about, eh? Roger didn’t know either.
Of course, sleep came two hours before my alarm went off, to get me back here in the day unit by 8am, to watch the drip for an hour and listen to a bit more Simenon.
I’ll let you know how it goes tonight.



Why you should know The Possibilities are Endless




The Possibilities are Endless is a beautiful artistic documentary about musician and singer Edwyn Collins’ ongoing recovery from two major strokes.

To nick the film’s publicity blurb, it is ‘a hymn to happiness, directed, gorgeously, by Ed Lovelace and James Hall about Edwyn. About finding his way back to music, to life, to understanding’.

And it does look and sound gorgeous (Edwyn wrote the soundtrack without seeing the film).

We saw him at the UK premiere at the London Film Festival earlier this week (sounds posh, you just buy tickets). His great wit and sense of mischief were certainly there, but his problems with walking and talking demonstrate the damage a cerebral haemorrhage can do.

As the lead singer of Orange Juice from the late 70s, he had some big hits – Rip it Up being the biggest – and then a successful solo career. And he was a live wire, full of  charisma but loveable and intelligent with it – when I say ‘was’ I mean still is, it just isn’t so obvious.

He has aphasia – damaged speech due to a damaged brain – though more than 10 years of effort on his part has brought him from his first waking phrases, which were ‘Grace Maxwell’ (his wife’s name) and ‘the possibilities are endless’ (which his wonderful wife pointed out is a lot less profound when someone says it 80 times a day).

About 152,000 people have a stroke every year in the UK, and this film shows the consequences. And Grace made it clear that they were more fortunate than many people affected by it.

It made me think, there’s a whole load of people out there who might be dismissed as drunk or a bit ‘odd’ for the way they walk or speak or fail to remember. A whole load of people who are working hard to keep going, and to get as better as they can.

Please watch and share – it is more than your usual documentary.

Though Edwyn (and Grace) made it clear he didn’t want to be a poster boy for any charity, he did mention one that he supported – which of course I can’t remember!

So try out:

(I’ve tweeted asking for the name – I’ll add it if I find out!)

And for full details about stroke, see The Stroke Association


Stuff CBT, I need some anger management




Two hands rip up a piece of paper, in the style of Roy Lichenstein

I found two bits of paper while doing some sorting out yesterday that made me sit down and think. And then get cross.

One was a CBT (cognitive behavourial therapy) appointment letter for next month, and the other was a doctors’ note, referring me for CBT six years ago, to see if it would help me with my ‘unexplained’ chronic body pain.

This will be my fifth set of CBT. The therapist-before-last decided that I had obsessive compulsive disorder because I was convinced that there was something ‘wrong’, all the time. There was, I had MS, which was hitting me physically and cognitively at random. It wasn’t an out-of-body experience, it was a buggered-body experience. I didn’t just imagine thinking was getting harder, it was.

And I’m so angry about that.

I’m more angry about that than I am about having MS. It isn’t ‘fair’ but life isn’t fair. There are many, many ‘unfair’ conditions that afflict probably the majority of the population at some time in their lives. Imperfection is the norm. And rotten things happen to the nicest people. We are vulnerable creatures.

I am so angry that I spent years not knowing what the problem really was, and that nobody worked it out. There should be no stigma with mental health problems – that is one of the unfair conditions – but the source needs to be properly identified.

I’m so angry that I was so very hard on myself and kept pushing, and blaming, and trying to figure out why my efforts to feel better and have more energy never worked.

I think it would be good for me to go a bit Gestalt, and scream at an empty chair – which can be filled by all the GPs who didn’t spot what was really wrong.

But here we again with the measurable CBT. I am grateful for any help I can get and realise I’m fortunate to have the chance – and I would urge anyone to step past my cynicism and try it. CBT does help.  It ALWAYS helps to think about your thinking and talk about it to someone who wants to help you and is trained to do it. Always.

I am expecting to score feelings and to be told about black and white thinking, catastrophic thinking, guessing what other people  are thinking, and confirmation bias (which translates to ‘see, I told you that would happen!’).

I will observe and track my thinking patterns and try to make them more positive as the weeks progress.

I will be a good, compliant patient who does her homework, as I always did at school. My depression and anxiety scores will improve.

At the end of the course, probably 7-10 weeks, there will be a graph to show how much ‘better’ my improved thinking is making me feel.

There is a confounding variable, of course, which is my knack of working out what people want to hear and instinctively saying it to get a better score (at least that’s what I think I’m doing).

All I have to do is carry on thinking ‘properly’. That’s the hard bit. Maybe this time will be more successful, because this time we know who the enemy is – and it isn’t me.

I’ll let you know how I get on…

Review 30: My favourite things


John Coltrane, Art Blakey & Miles Davis
Nominated by Jason Penn

John Coltrane on soprano saxophone,  Miles Davis on trumpet and Art Blakey on drums – what a band! That would have been something to see.

Mr Coltrane, on My Favourite Things, is fierce. Art Blakey is infectious rhythm and Miles Davis Relaxing is just cool.

I like jazz – I allowed myself to like it by not taking it too seriously. It creates an Etch-a-Sketch image in my mind’s eye, with the slender line jumping up and down, making lovely ellipses, and some jagged lines, and some softly wiggling ones too. And it can get a bit
3-dimensional too. I can’t sit still, it makes me smile and feel, well, groovy.

I think of Martinis, and looking and feeling smart, and bars with everyone just enjoying the music, all blissfully lost together in the mood. With the relaxation only interrupted by bouts of clapping, as one player finishes their part and hands over.

It’s a form of meditation, demanding enough attention to take you away, while rewarding you with surprising melodies and riffs. I’m so impressed by it.

As I have been impressed by everything I’ve listened to in the past 30 days.

True, I’ve found it harder to honestly ‘enjoy’ some artists than others but I respect their talent. ‘Liking’ is a reaction that’s impossible to control – it happens in a synaptic flash that you can’t decide or control it. Music is love at first sight.

So, while I sit here and bob along to Miles, can I say it’s been a challenge and a great, great pleasure to listen to and think about the music that means something to you.

My ability to critic the music itself has found it’s limits and I’ve shown my love of lyrics that make ‘sense’. Tell me a story, and let me sing along. Maybe jazz lets me write my own words to a musical adventure.

Thank you very much, I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Lifting the needle from the record for now…

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Review 29: Awesome wave

awesome wave

An Awesome Wave
Alt J 

Aha, my keboard will do it. ∆ – that’s Alt-J – the name of the indie rock band who met at Leeds university and won the Mercury Prize with this debut album in 2012.

I really enjoyed some of this – Mathilda is the stand out track for me – though it worked more as a background sound. It is interesting, with feedback and dissonance, in the music and the vocals. It engerised me in the morning but brought me down a bit on the way home.

The album cover is an interesting image, which comes from a multi-layered radar image of the Ganges river delta in Bangladesh.

My History of Art degree thesis was about the art of record covers, and ‘how they work as adverts before becoming prized personal possessions, filled with meaning’. That was in 1992 before MP3 players let alone Spotify changed how we access lots of our music – and made most of these reviews possible.

It’s been good over the past month to see the art of the record cover is still thriving. And vinyl is making a comeback: my niece went to university last week with her new record player.

∆ that is quite pleasing ∆ I hope it appears on PCs too… ∆

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Review 28: 20k on 25 Miles


Northern Soul
Nominated by Ian McMurtie

Dammit, I could leap in the air and do the splits. I could jump, spin and flip and bounce back up off the floor.

I walked 20k today, for the MS Society walk from the Cutty Sark to Battersea Park. And I was propelled by listening to Northern Soul music on the way in.

The soundtrack to the film Northern Soul isn’t available on Spotify yet, so I picked a few tracks to listen to. If you don’t know about the Northern Soul phenomenon, check it out. ‘Heavy beat, fast tempo of the mid-1960s Tamla Motown sound’, which spawned a remarkable dance culture in venues such as the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and Wigan Casino in the early 1970s.

So many artists – many little known tracks were rediscovered. So many moves – true, some of the acrobatics were helped by amphetamines, but you can’t fail to be impressed.

Running out of time before I collapse into a well-earned G&T, so my main, big Northern Soul plug is Edwin Starr’s 25 Miles. He was so full of enthusiasm in all of his songs, and this is superb… watch out, I’m gonna go for a move….

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Review 27: Concerns for Van Occupanther


The Trials of Van Occupanther
Nominated by Nia Potter 

Van Occupanther had a tough time, judging by the second album from Texan folk rock band Midlake.

It’s about his struggle to go home, I think.

‘Oh no, I’ve stumbled, was I going too fast?
Some get angry, some of them laugh’

And it was long time ago, as suggested in Roscoe, the stand out radio-friendly opening track.

They looked around the forest
They made their house from cedars
They made their house from stones

Is he going through the woods on the unsettling album cover? Is Van the guy in the yellow onesie, or the bloke sitting down with a bin bag over his head?

There are Bandits, My Young Bride, Branches, a camp, a hillside and Van the man looks up at his lost wife from several viewpoints. And there’s some deer, in the odd Chasing after Deer, which is superficially about chasing deer over a cliff (a sad image, well created) but probably more meaningful. Is it all about something I wonder, or not very much?

It’s guitars and folk and then suddenly gets more upbeat and groovy in It Covers the Hillside, as though he’s decided to come out of the trees for a beer in the late 70s. (Ok, it made me think of the Hart to Hart theme music …  a confabulation along the lines of the Neil Young/Kermit incident and hard to shift once it’s crossed my mind. That’s the power of music.)

Fleetwood Mac seem to be the biggest influence musically, though I’m sure there’s all sorts in there. Good melodies, pleasing vocals – I found it a nice listen… if I didn’t listen too closely.

Review 26: Mirrors on the ceiling…


Hotel California
The Eagles
Nominated by me

I’m playing my joker. For a raft of reasons, I’ve not managed to listen to anything new today, so you get my favourite, Hotel California by The Eagles.

I don’t where to start with why I love this record. It’s not cool. But it was very big and it’s clever, with brilliant guitar riffs and lyrics that tell stories so well. And I love that.

It’s rock, it’s country, and it’s in my key. I can sing it from start to finish, and I did when my dad played it in the car.

I can see the cassette now, with his handwriting on the label (it was Steely Dan on the other side). We had such fun listening to it, all together.

Like when he used to break in time to Bat out of Hell, or did head-banging to Rockin’ all Over the World at Christmas, with a tinsel bandana around his bald head. And my sister and me arm waving in put-me-up beds to I am Sailing, and Mull of Kintyre, too excited to go to sleep.

Good? Significant? Nostalgic? MOR? ‘Classic’ rock? It was number one in the USA for nearly five months at the start of 1977, replacing Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder – now I know that’s a cool and credible album. You decide. I know I sing along loudly and get lost in a curious California I invented in my head as a kid.

I could take you through my favourite tracks, and list the lyrics, but maybe some of you already know it pretty well. If you haven’t listened recently, dust it off and give it a go.

One lyric made me smile, sitting in the courtyard this morning…

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…’

Remind you of anywhere?

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Review 25: King of the castle


Diamond Mine

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins

Nominated by Matt Saywell

What a beautiful voice. I listened to Diamond Mine in the background while working today and I kept stopping and thinking that. How beautiful.

King Creosote (Kenneth Anderson) is from Fife, Scotland, and Jon Hopkins is an electronica musician from England. And they sound they produce is just, well, beautiful, and earned a Mercury prize nomination in 2011.

I won’t try to dissect this album (if I’ve managed that yet) because it washes over  you, in a lovely way. They create a soundscape, and layer it with kindly lyrics and melodies. They mention a cat along the way, which caught my attention because my cat, Roger, was curled up next to me at the time. And I think there are birds, and some loss, and Scotland, and lots of love.

Though different in many ways, it reminds me of listening to Sigur Ros, which also makes me feel all melty. I was fairly cross at certain points today and listening to this created a sense of ‘ah well’.

What the heck, I’ll say it again. Beautiful.

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Review 24: Foot-tapping thrill

Steely_Dan_Cant_Buy_A Thrill

Can’t Buy a Thrill
Steely Dan
Nominated by Cecilia Smart

What a surprise. I thought I didn’t like Steely Dan but I was tapping my foot all the way home listening to Can’t Buy a Thrill.

It was a longer journey than usual, because I was coming home from the Soho Walk In Centre after getting a burn checked and dressed properly (see below for burns advice). It turned out my brush with a red-hot loaf tin on Sunday hadn’t done too much damage after all. What price home-baked bread?

Back to the record, a strong debut released in 1972. It includes some tracks I really recognised – Rolling in the Years, Do it Again, and Midnight Cruiser – and some interesting ones I didn’t know, like Kings – ‘We seen the last of Good King Richard’ – about a drug dealer who pretended he was a royal.

It’s very catchy, almost poppy, and then a little bit mysterious and complex when you start to listen to the lyrics.

From Change of the Guard:
‘If you listen you can hear it
It’s the laughter in the street
It’s the motion in the music
And the fire beneath your feet ‘

Maybe I’ve grown into them and their jazz-rock-funk sound. I was always amused by the source of the band’s name though – I’ll let you find that out for yourselves.

Burns advice: Always seek medical advice for burns, whatever size, according to the lovely nurse I saw. It’s hard to tell how serious they are and self-treatment can leave you feeling sore for longer, or worse. See a nurse and they’ll put on a special dressing, which can stay in place for 7 days.

And I would recommend the Soho Walk In Centre – it’s close, friendly and the wait was just an hour.

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