There were setbacks, but overall the year of our lord 2015 was a positive 12 months of self discovery.
|The original TARDIS console in the Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff.|
(Image copyright: Robert Fairclough)
I re-read the blog I wrote summing up 2014 before starting this and I was struck by how straightforward and optimistic it sounded. Looking back, I can see I was on a bit of a manic high after deciding that I was deserting London. The beginning of this year couldn’t have been more different: coming back after the Christmas break and getting down to the nitty gritty of how much equity I had in the house, I realised that I couldn’t actually afford to move (embarrassingly, after I’d told everyone I was going to.)
In January and February, London was the last place I wanted to be. I’d had enough. Back in the dreary cycle of job searching and signing on, I went into a depressive slump and before you could say ‘bipolar’ I was lying on the sofa all day watching box sets of House and 24, sometimes going back to the beginning after I’d finished one and viewing it through again. It was moving wallpaper that blotted things out. If you’re really feeling low, at its worst London can be so anonymous you can disappear; sometimes I didn’t see anybody for days. One plus point, though, was finding a new lodger to pay the mortgage, who, after the horror story of last year, confounded my expectations by being a nice guy who kept himself to himself. There should be more ex-monk pastry chefs in the world.
When I’d been depressed before, the mental health charity MIND had been a great help. So, with the mortgage taken care of, I asked for their help again. It was a bit mechanical and I had to force myself to start with, but weekly walks in local Danson Park, as well as participating in the upkeep of their community garden every Friday in Bexleyheath, really did help. They also found out for me that as a sufferer of bipolar disorder, I was entitled to a Freedom Pass on the trains and buses, meaning that, once I had it, it didn’t cost me anything to travel around the capital. Before I got it, I think I went into London just once every month and only used the bus every two weeks to sign on: imagine what that does to your mental health.
It makes me furious at how much mental health services have been cut back and MIND are overstretched, but what they offer is an essential lifeline for people who often don’t have anyone else at all to turn to. Once I felt I was coming out of my slump, I wanted to give something back. Consulting MIND again, the ideal place appeared to be the Centrepieces Mental Health Arts Project, based in a corner of the beautiful gardens at Hall Place country house, where I started as a volunteer in April.
|Some of the Centrepieces gang. |
(Image copyright: Robert Fairclough)
Well now. Discovering Centrepieces was a turning point in two ways. To begin with, in a creative environment I was familiar with – painting, sculpture and photography – I felt at home and gradually more confident, as I was able to use the skills I’d learned as a graphic designer and writer to streamline their database of artists, include a visual record of every piece of artwork and, more importantly as far as I was concerned, bring their online presence up to date with a blog I oversee and edit. It isn’t false modesty to say that when the duo who run Centrepieces, Geoff Norris and Dawn Tomlin, started telling me what an important contribution I was making, I didn’t know how to react. Social and emotional isolation can do that to you.
|Rob 'n' Dawn. (Image copyright: Dawn Tomlin)|
The other big turning point this year was going into a relationship again. Me and Dawn started going out in June. We see a lot in each other that’s similar, with a history of similar mental health issues, but it wasn’t easy at first. Dawn has two children – Rose, 15, and Poppy, 8 – and at first I ran a mile emotionally. Starting a new romance after so long was a challenge, but one that involved kids… We broke up for a while, but still had to work together at Centrepieces and remained cordial. Almost inevitably, I suppose, we tried again and this time I stuck at it. Dawn said something to me that I often think about, about not ‘hiding away and rotting’ (which is where I came in this year with the House and 24 marathons). It’s pretty scary how easy it is to get into that frame of mind. Thank God she shook me out of it. Now, after two holidays up in the old home town of Lowestoft – one with the girls, one without – with the combined values of our homes it looks like we will be able to relocate to East Anglia, as Dawn fell in love with the place when we visited.
I seem to have acquired a family. I’d never have thought that at the beginning of 2015.
Full-time work has remained elusive. For someone who’s done as much as I have, who hasn’t had one single interview resulting from LinkedIn, my website, blog or the months of job searching I’ve done in Blackfen Library, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Leaving aside the obvious drawbacks of being too old, over qualified or lacking current skills – and I did a 12 week course in web design at City Lit University this summer, which seems to have made bugger-all difference – I’ve concluded that HR departments are the problem. When I started my career, you applied to the person you were going to work with and they interviewed you. Now, before your application reaches your potential colleague, it’s vetted either by a computerised points system or an RHRHRHR checklist and if you don’t measure up exactly, you’re in the bin. I can think of a few jobs in the past I wouldn’t have got if the modern system had been in place. This is another reason for leaving London – after nearly two years out of work, what have I got to lose?
So, work this year has a combination of the voluntary and creative, both of which have been rewarding. As well as Centrepieces, I’ve been volunteering in Blackfen’s Ellenor hospice charity shop (the vivid Saturday morning chats with the stand-in manageress Tracy are always a highlight of the week) and Blackfen Library; the staff jokingly said I was in there so much I might as well work behind the counter. I liked it. If things do work out as we want them to, I could quite happily enjoy a full time, community-driven role such as a librarian, as long as I have time to write. I’ll miss the Balckfen girls, even more so when the library goes into private hands next April – one of the worst decisions the local council has ever made.
One of the other constants this year had been my writing. Even on my blackest days, if I can put my finger tips to a keyboard I feel better, and that’s been one reason for continuing with this blog. Professionally, mine and Mike’s new book The Callan File: The Definitive Guide to the Classic Spy Franchise is finally done and we’re taking in corrections and comments from our read-through crew at the moment. The publication of that next year is one major thing to look forward to, not least because Mike has dedicated it to his fiancée Zoe, who we lost to leukaemia this year. That was such shock: she was only 46. One of the most beautiful pieces of writing Mike has ever done was the eulogy he put together for Zoe’s funeral. He’s a very talented, humane and funny man and I’ll always be proud to know him.
|Daleks in Cardiff! (Image copyright: Robert Fairclough)|
My Doctor Who writing has gone from strength to strength, and for that I’m indebted to Marcus Hearn, who edits the The Essential Doctor Who and Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition publications. In 2015, I’ve written for TEDW: Monsters, TEDW: Davros and Other Villains and The Doctor Who Magazine Yearbook 2016. Even if I wasn’t convinced by the series itself as much as I was last year, I always enjoy every minute of researching and writing about it. When I had to interview Doctor Who’s Supervising Art Director Stephen Nicholas in November, I jumped at the chance of visiting the Roath Lock studios in Cardiff. Even though production had shut down for the year and most of the studios were empty, it was a once in a lifetime thrill to walk through the hallowed halls where so much television history has happened, not to mention stand on the TARDIS set. During this whistle-stop trip, I discovered that I’m a very good photographer. Although in the end none of the photos made the article, I’m delighted that it’s another skill I can develop in the future.
Looking forward, and I am, there’s always more to do: I could drink less, get fitter, be less grumpy and less inclined to slump in front of the TV if I’m feeling down. I’m always saying I could do more, and Dawn’s always saying I don’t give myself enough credit for what I have done. Starting from such a bleak place at the beginning of the year, I realise I have come a long way, certainly more than in 2014. Life’s not just about having a decent job and doing what I want any more, but about how rewarding having a social conscience, doing something for others and being part of a family can be.
Dawn says I’m a natural at it. That’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.