Friday, 5 August 2016

have guitar, will travel

or "rocking (gently) in the free world"

the author, looking well moody
So a little over a week ago we (Frankie Machine) played at IndieTracks. And it was great despite me getting ridiculously nervous (as I always have done) beforehand.

I tried to calm my nerves with a visit to the ridiculously well-stocked Real Ale bar. My first choice was for a B-52s-inspired ale, but it was pointed out to me that at 5.2% (in the middle of the day) it probably wasn't the best choice. So like my band-mates I plumped  for a half of Roadrunner. It was a good choice but it didn't help all that much.

I saw a few people who I've not seen for a LONG time, then our travelling army of supporters (wives, partners, kids) turned up.

Everyone at the festival was super-cool, helping me to get over the train tracks and bridges and sorting me out with a chair for our set. Really lovely.

My Mother-in-Law has asked me beforehand how long we would be playing - I told her "there and back", because we got on a train, went to a different part of Midland Railway, and came back again. All told, it took seven songs, including between-song banter and a final song when the train had pulled in.

(because of the position Mrs. and Ms. D took up, I don't appear in any of our videos and photos, so I'm forever indebted to my old friend Brian for taking the picture at the top of this post which proves that I WAS THERE - I'm not glum, that's my concentration face!)

In many ways it was the perfect gig - once the train started moving, the audience (which was surprisingly large and not just our family members) couldn't leave. A dream gig!

IndieTracks is a lovely festival - just a nice vibe. Truth be told, the music is not all to to my taste but everyone seems to be lovely. Rob (the titular Frankie) has been to the DownLoad metal festival and he says that there are many similarities between the two - the audiences are made up of the interesting, quirky and intelligent people who were ridiculed at school for being different and for the duration of the festival they're surrounded by people who understand them and share the same bond - THEIR PEOPLE.

Apparently IndieTracks rules state that acts who play one of the programmed stages (Indoor, Outdoor, Church [where we played last time] and Train) cannot play the festival again for three years.

So thanks once more to IndieTracks, for making us all feel like stars - and not only because of our snazzy performers' wristbands!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

just make it (the moaning) stop

Work nonsense is ongoing. The Occupational Health report came back saying that my MS doesn't affect my ability to do my job. 

So therefore it stands to reason that I just must be shit at my job.

Anyway, it's too depressing (and frankly embarrassing) to go into, so let's get POSITIVE
  • One positive outcome of the Occupational Health visit was the assessor's recommendation that I look into doing regular Meditation. As is the modern way, I downloaded an app for my phone, and I'm not going to pretend that I use it every single day but I know that when I do I find it incredibly helpful - just to stop, switch my brain off and do nothing for a few minutes.
  • Little Ms. Domino has finished her first year at school and had an end-of-year report which to be frank made me sob. She's such a smart cookie and we're so proud. No doubt she can be a massive pain in the arse but we're so lucky in so many ways (for instance, she can also be super-considerate about Daddy's walking). Love her. 
  • Five years after we last played there, Frankie Machine has been asked back to play at the Indietracks Festival this coming weekend. As before we've been rehearsing, and being a bit of a lapsed musician has been challenging (am I a Relapsing and Remitting musician?) but I'm having a blast. My callouses are coming back nicely too (see photo below for evidence). I'm pushing for us to have more regular rehearsals in the future so it will give me some impetus to 'keep my hand in'. But I really am loving it. Although this year we are playing on a (moving) train - you'll be pleased to know that I have requested a chair.
they might look GROSS but those manky bits on my fingertips are a GOOD THING
  • Next month is mine and Mrs D's TENTH Wedding Anniversary. What a long strange trip it has been. As I've mentioned before, we got married in Venice at the height of Summer. We have always intended to go back for our 10th anniversary but we've decided to look at going when the temperature is less oppressive - it's frustrating (to admit defeat to MS) but we'd rather play safe than spend a load of money on a potentially depressing couple of days with me sweating and limping (best case scenario!!) through the crowds. The plan now is to go back at some time next Spring.
  • We went to see The BFG movie at the weekend. It was a good film, a bit sickly-sweet in places (Spielberg) but some good funny bits too. My favourite bit of the film, however, was before the main feature. Our local cinema has a very funky ad ident which is obviously a 21st century version of the classic Pearl & Dean ad - loads of Latin percussion and Jazz Flute, it's fabulous. Anyway this started and Mrs D began to intensively mime playing the flute - apparently this is something she does whenever she goes to this cinema with Little Ms D, who normally takes on the role of percussion. For some reason she wouldn't do it on this occasion so we just clicked our fingers (strictly on 2 and 4) and laughed our asses off at Mum, who was going TO TOWN. This was absolutely my favourite part of the whole weekend - I really love my family.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

show and tell

One of the most “challenging” things about getting Little Miss Domino out of the door of a morning is the fact that, just as she gets ready, she invariably says that she needs to find something for “show and tell”.

(me neither)

I don’t know if this is specifically an American thing but I’ve become aware that I’ve been doing this a bit at work - I seem to be going through a period when, even though I consider myself pretty-much out of that particular closet, more and more people have been coming up to me, doing the classic head-cock-thing and asking, “are you ok?”

I know, the bastards.

This isn't just people at work however. People who I see socially - parents of other kids in particular - have been asking the same question. Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been tending to jump straight in with:

“[gesturing to my sticks] Oh these? I just need to use them to get about. I’ve got Multiple Sclerosis so I’m disabled… No I’m OK… It is what it is….”

I don’t know if this is a good way to go about my business, but I’m not trying to get up in anyone’s grill (or anything). 

However it has to be said there is something kind-of militant about rocking the TWO STICK look. But after taking this stance for a while, it just gets a bit tiring.

One day arriving at work recently I was feeling pretty weary when I happened to walk into two circus / acrobatics performers (as you do - seriously, the things these people can do are frankly astonishing. And not a little unnatural).

Anyway, despite the fact one or both sticks are in use every day, they had obviously never clocked them in use, so they asked me “what’s happened?”

It was early in the day, they are lovely (FREAKS but lovely) and I couldn’t bear to get into it, so I ended up mumbling something so inconsequential that I have no memory of it.

So I’m now being hyper-aware of when I choose to “double-stick” - obviously I won’t let myself come a cropper physically for the sake of making anyone feel uncomfortable.

As the more obvious affects of my MS seem to be getting more and more noticeable, I might need to come up with a new answering technique which:
(a) Is honest about the situation
(b) Doesn't make the asker feel like a schmoe

Friday, 29 April 2016

what was that? aftershock

So the basic rule for survival in 2016 seems to be to have never done ANYTHING awesome EVER.

Last Thursday evening I was driving to a work thing after nipping home briefly. I turned on Front Row and realised with horror that people were talking about Prince in the past tense.

When I got to work, I was touched that everyone I spoke to expressed concern for how I was and surprise that I'd made it in!

As a 13yr old growing up in an ex-mining town in the Midlands, flamboyance was something to be avoided. The other boys in my year were all about drinking, smoking, sport, copping off with girls (or at the very least talking about it). Music didn't play a huge part in their lives but it already did for me, which even gave me an 'in' to talking to the quieter more studious girls (nothing ever happened, but still).

There was always something otherworldly about him, aside from his in-your-face “sexualness”. So when I first listened to him it was always in secret. The first album I got was Parade and I was mortified to see that he was showing a fair amount of flesh on the cover. He was incredibly private, obviously shy, androgynous, yet seemingly sexually voracious. It was a weird mix.

I've realised over the past week that, between them, Prince and Morrissey were, for me, kind of the twin guiding lights, showing me that there was a different way to act as a man - similar to the way that Bowie was for people in the 70s. It was ok to be different - intelligent, softly spoken, well-read, funny.

I'm not going to pretend that I bought everything he did. My window for album purchases is Around the World In A Day to The Black Album, but God knows whatever he did and the way he did it was always interesting.

The only time I saw him live was when he did around thirty nights at the O2 in 2007. When he popped up out of the middle of the stage and said, "Dearly beloved..." I'm not ashamed to say that I squealed.

It was pretty much a perfect Prince gig - a fair smattering of the hits and a substantial bit of aimless funk jamming. It's like if you went to see Bob Dylan and he didn't mangle his classics beyond recognition you'd feel shortchanged! But the epic version of Purple Rain (what else?) will live long in my memory.

In the week since his death, there have been a lot of heartfelt remembrances. But I was also incensed by this story on the BBC News site - Five strange stories about mysterious US musician. This was the DAY AFTER his death.

Like Bowie before him, Prince was an artist who liked to keep some things private but who knew how to add to his mystique by sharing tantalising titbits with the press. Were any of them true? I could genuinely give a shit. I like my celebrities to be mysterious, untouchable and little bit eccentric and OTHER.

[POP QUIZ: as an aside, can anyone think of a difference between Prince and Bowie which might mean that the way they're talked about in memoriam is in itself somewhat different? anyone? hmmm...]

The worlds of celebrity and music are getting duller by the second!


Thursday, 21 April 2016

one step forward, two steps back

So the Swimming Pool that I've been going to has closed down!

We'd got a plan in place and everything - I was going to drop the two female Dominoes off at Kiddy Ballet [CULTURAL ELITE], head round the block to the pool, do a few lengths, and get back to ballet in time to pick them up. But no.

This means that there is now no Swimming Pool open in Derby City Centre.

Working in the Arts [see CE], I know all too well that there's NO MONEY IN THE POT. I get that.

But be honest, is this really anyone's idea of a city?

Having said that, I do appreciate the irony of  closing down the Queen's Leisure Centre on Liz's 90th birthday.

The nearest good quality pool (the Queens was, to be honest, a sh*t hole but it was convenient) is in the town where I was born. Not a million miles away but not exactly handy.


EDIT: oft of this parish and someone who I frequently add to a list of 'Friends who I am yet to meet', SwissLet is running the London Marathon again this weekend - as before, sling him a few quid if you are able as he's running in aid of the MS Trust.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

dog paddle, belly flop

Kind-of prompted by the woe-is-me whinging of the last post, I've just been swimming for the first time in bloomin ages.

I know that 10 lengths is hardly swimming the channel, but it is a start. 

It was quite funny - I haven't done any swimming since we were in Italy last year so I decided to go in the slow lane with two other people. For some reason the slow lane was right next to the one for people who think they're David Wilkie or even a swimmer from this century - Rebecca Adlington, maybe.

I didn't let it get to me and did my lengths slowly - the plan is to try to get the same amount done more regularly.

Looking for something to illustrate this post I found this, being very careful to make sure that it didn't feature any disgraced former TV stars of my youth - although I'm not too sure about the old fella at 0:34.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

let's count the rings around my eyes

March is the time when I have my annual work appraisal - I've mentioned it on here a couple of times before. Usually it involves an intense period of handwringing (from me) before my boss tells me that things are going well and we talk about ways we can make things better.

This year was different. It's a very difficult time in the UK for businesses of any kind but maybe even more so for charities or non-profit organisations.

The place where I work is funded jointly by Arts Council England and our local city council. We have good relationships with both of our funders (as well as a healthy entrepreneurial streak) but money is tight all over.

As such we're having to look at every aspect of our business including people's jobs. Which is fine and healthy. But...

My appraisal was really difficult. It took three separate sessions before we got it sorted and things are ok now but the process was horrible.

My boss and I have shared an office for nine years - I might even say we were friends.

But it was hard not to feel like I was under the microscope - like it or not, there is something about me which sets me apart. It might be an invisible disability but it's still there.

My boss was keen to stress the respect he has for me, as well as the value of my work. But there was a lot of talk about targets and tasks, and being under intense scrutiny just adds to my paranoia. The conversation was difficult on both sides - I felt I was being attacked, he didn't want to be misunderstood.

I get the fact that it's a difficult time for a business like ours - but the talk about job descriptions and changing roles really got the alarm bells ringing.

I fact his main concern was for the business to be able to support me in the future, whatever shape my condition takes. But it took three sessions over one month (with many Dark Nights Of The Soul in between) to get to that realisation.

He has always found it difficult to talk about my MS. But the fact is, it doesn't affect my work. If I'm having a really bad day, I won't be in the office. As I've mentioned before, I rarely have any time off with illness - I don't want people to view me as weak so I'll "bravely soldier on", or something.

Anyway, long story short - everything is ok.

But I was a bloody horrible person to be around during the process. I've been lucky that depression has only had a walk-on part in my disease but this was some dark shit. And - as usual - the people closest to me were the ones to get it in the neck.

All the CBT stuff I did back in the day, the physio - every positive step I've taken just went out the window. I'm trying to claw things back but I'm thinking I might need to have some more therapy, maybe make some changes to my diet, start doing some proper exercise, stop making so many bloody excuses all the time. It's pathetic.

I'm feeling pretty fed up with myself right now so I'm putting this out there, almost as a dare to myself. I need to sort my shit out. And soon.