Pondering on an emotion that I fear I’ll never feel in the way that I wish I could.

Socrates scores for Brazil against Italy in a titanic clash between two footballing giants in Spain 1982
Socrates scores for Brazil against Italy in a titanic clash between two footballing giants in Spain 1982

You’d struggle to find a scene of such chaotic euphoria and its opposite at a 21st century major football tournament – not least because of the all-seater stadia. Supporters of both sides mixed together on the terraces. In this photo, one side is ecstatic at Brazilian striker Zico turning one of the toughest defenders of the era Claudio Gentile inside out before setting up Socrates (see the video of the goal in the latter’s obituary here), and the other the opposite.

As far as football goes, it was either Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina in France ’98, or probably the goal-feast at Euro ’96 between England and The Netherlands that I felt any sense of euphoria in a football match. In both cases a childhood of football played a huge part. Yet this side of the millennium…well…it simply no longer excites me. As far as sporting events go, probably the Paralympics 2012 (which I took Puffles along to – twice) is probably the only time I’ve got anything more than moderately interested in international sporting events in recent times.

2012 was probably one of the worst years of my life – not least because of a big mental health crisis, the impact of which I still feel every day. Not being able to work full time hours means in this economic climate I’ll never be able to have a place of my own – which then has a knock on impact not just on what you can & cannot afford, but on your own self esteem & even things like going out socialising or even dating.

The curse of depression lingers on…

Things have been rubbish for a lot of us for a very long time. Think back to the economic, political crisis of the late 2000s and ponder to what extent things have improved for the many. This isn’t a party-political point. You only need to look at the media & wonder what would happen if everyone decided they were going to put their weapons down for the day. The wider global context isn’t something anyone can be content with…unless they are an arms dealer perhaps. My point is even if something is going well personally, the mess that is the wider world puts a dampener on it. Is our personal happiness limited by the unhappiness of the world around us? In my case it most definitely is.

Yet I’ve somehow learnt how to grind through the depressive symptoms that crushed me during my teens and early 20s. Only now am I getting some sort of a feeling that I’m emerging from it all while at the same time avoiding the ‘pretend to be confident and it’ll be all OK’ approach. The latter ‘worked’ to some extent – in that it got me to places and events that with hindsight I’d have never have got near, such as going to grand balls full of ballroom dancers – whether locally or in a palace in Vienna. My first ballroom ball (described in this post) was one such euphoric experience – one where you can forget about your past & future & simply enjoy the moment for what it is. Yet so much of what was good in those days never lasted. Why? Because the mindset wasn’t one of being true to myself and the sort of person I wanted to be.

“Be part of it!”

It’s as if every marketing company is trying to tap into our innate desire to be part of a wider collective that achieves something greater than the some of our parts. “We sell niknaks – be part of it! We sell expensive properties! Be part of it!” One of the big new developments is inviting me to be part of it – not that I have the hundreds of thousands spare to be part of it. Inviting people to ‘be part of it’ – ie being part of something positive puts an onus on the person doing the inviting to remove as many of the barriers as possible. As far as music goes, in Cambridge this is what The Dosoco Foundation is helping support. You’ll be hearing more about them in future blogposts.

Talking of London 2012 earlier, there’s this photo much talked about at the time in the media.

Just for a moment Cambridge’s ducal couple were able to forget there were lots of photographers there not interested in the sport but in photographing their reactions. Yet on the part of the former, it’s understandable how they felt very much part of London 2012 in the way that others perhaps felt differently. Remember the run-up to the Olympics wasn’t good. I blogged about it here. What made the Paralympics more exciting for me was seeing the achievements of people who could do more despite their disabilities than most of the general public. When going to see professional artists, one of my criteria over the years has been: “Are they doing something inspiring that I could never do/hope to achieve?” During my dancing days I was incredibly critical in my mind of performances that didn’t meet that standard, even though publicly I acknowledged that for first-time watchers they would have been inspiring for them.

Becoming part of something takes time and effort – and success in your endeavours isn’t guaranteed

If I’m honest with myself, since 2001 the groups, organisations and societies I did long term regular voluntary work for were ones that I never really felt the sense of belonging. This was despite on some occasions spending more than 10 hours a week outside of a full-time job doing unpaid work for them. For me to feel the sense of ‘euphoria’ that I’m looking for, I need to feel that sense of belonging first – sharing both the failures and successes. That was one of the things that struck me about Cambridge Labour Party’s victory in the 2014 city council elections. The people celebrating the hardest were those that had taken the electoral kickings in 2009. I dare say the same will be the case for the Liberal Democrats post-2015.

Close friendships and relationships

Both of which generally have eluded me over the years. (I’ve blogged a few times on the curses of loneliness in a variety of contexts from personal to public policy). There are times that stand out for the right reasons though. For example when I had my own place in Cambridge, having friends round to watch England vs France in Euro 2004. Seven of us – all blokes in a stereotypical beer & junk food scene in front of a big telly talking football. My house, friends from different friendship groups with a shared interest watching & discussing the same event.

In a lover/relationship context, having just had a messy split which again caused my mental health to implode, I found myself with two opera tickets going spare that I had got a month previously. Fortuitously – and at my lowest point I was whisked off my feet by someone new – just when I least expected it. I had never been to an opera so when I found out there was going to be a performance of Bizet’s Carmen I thought it would be nice to see what an opera is like – one where I’m familiar with at least one of the musical pieces. The latter, being more than familiar with all things choral and classical music chose to come with me even though she had actually sung some of the parts in performances. Having her as my ‘personal guide’ whispering a combination of brief explanations of what was happening (despite the text-LED translations above the stage) along with sweet nothings that you do in the ‘besotted-with-each-other’ stage marks that out as one of the most romantic and euphoric moments of my life.

The next generation 

Having arrived back in Cambridge earlier than planned from a training workshop I was delivering in Suffolk, I popped into the Cambridge Botanic Garden for one of their ‘summer sound’ events. The Yorkshire band ‘Steppin Out’ were playing.

The above filmed on a cameraphone due to battery running out on camcorder. What you don’t see are the hundreds of people behind me and the camera enjoying the evening sunshine and the music. Primary school children where conspicuous by their presence. I spotted one parent taking a photograph of four nursery-school-aged children beaming from cheek to cheek. A memory that makes even the coldest heart melt. It’s the sort of experience that every child should have.

It reminded me about the next generation of my family, which I see regularly as they live close by. With my niece now walking and learning to talk, she’s at the stage where she can recognise and distinguish between individuals. Recently when I popped my head round the door after being out, she ran up to me and gave me a big hug – completely spontaneously. I didn’t see it coming. She’d not done anything like that before. Even though she’ll never remember it when she’s older the emotional power of that hug was immense – to the extent that I felt almost paralysed by it.

“Welcome to the new age, to the new age, to the new age” – Euphoria in music

Here’s the Dowsing Sound Collective missing the 2014 World Cup Final

Bonus points if you don’t spot me in the video above.

It’s not for me to say what makes people tick musically. It’ll be different for different people. If there is something in common though, it’s scale. Lots of people in a packed big venue with a love and familiarity of a similar type of music – or alternatively an open-enough mind to embrace a new style of music. The biggest proper music festival I’ve been to is probably the Cambridge Folk Festival – on numerous occasions. It has been taking place in my childhood neighbourhood since before I was born so is a permanent feature.

I’ve not been to any of the ‘mega-festivals’ or the large classical or stereotypically middle-class ones. Much as I’d like to experience them, I don’t have the close friendship group to go with that would make it meaningful to me. It’s strange when I see acquaintances on Facebook posting pictures of them at such events. My reaction isn’t: “I wish I was there with them” – because I’ve not met the other people in the picture. Rather it’s more: “I wish I could feel similar emotions with a close group of friends at a similar event.”

Facing down my own demons

On the back of a timely and powerful article by Louise Kidney, published in The Guardian here, I’m in this continuous battle against my own mental health demons. One of the reasons Louise’s article is so powerful to me is that so many of her experiences sound similar to mine.

“Underneath all of this, of course, is the bubbling narrative of failure. I failed. I let every one down. I was supposed to be kicking ass and instead I was quietly dying, all the systems going off line, giving up, giving in, all the fight sucked out of me by cognitive absence.”

This was how I often felt when I was on the Fast Stream. ‘Work hard, play hard’ is fine when things are going great, but when they are not it crushes you. It crushed me. Hence looking back on my days in London, I can’t think of many – if any – euphoric moments. The bubbling narrative of ‘not failing’ (along with the financial pressures of London living and pre-existing mental health issues) sapped the energy I needed to enjoy my time down there. That’s not to say I regret the London move. It was both the breaking and the making of who I am today.

Euphoria is temporary, is hard work, but ‘oh!’ the life memories! 

The concert with the Dowsing Sound Collective? Two days of sleep and general inactivity for the rest of the week to recover it took me. Worth every minute of it, but that’s the nature of mental exhaustion. It takes years to recover from the sort of mental health crisis I went through in April 2012 (see blogposts from the time – I blogged through it!) That and collective music is part of my solution of facing up to those demons. Re-living past bad stuff in therapy/counselling has sometimes had the opposite effect. In my case 2014 has been as much fighting those demons with positive experiences rather than over-analysing the past. As far as the first six months of 2014 have been concerned, two things stand out that are Puffles-related:

  • Getting your dragon fairy to appear in a Basement Jaxx-produced music video (See here!!!)
  • Having nearly 100 local residents consciously voting for your dragon fairy in local council elections ahead of four political parties – and getting an article in The Guardian (despite a ‘we don’t want to win’ message)

Recently, it’s been all Dowsing Sound Collective and Be the change – Cambridge. And with good reason. Both are long term commitments on my part, including time, emotions and financial. This brings me back to my first radio interview I did for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in the mid-1990s on the day of my GCSE results. A hot sunny day, I had just opened the envelope with my results and was shaking as they were far higher than I had expected. Some bloke then grabbed me, shoved a microphone in front of my face and asked:

“How do you feel about your results?”

A family friend recorded the interview when it was played on the radio. The reporter said in his report that the common theme was: “All that hard work paid off”. This picked up on one of my comments, which was along the lines of:

“So many people have worked so hard to get the results that they deserve”

Euphoria? In that case there was something that involved lots of hard work over an extended period of time in partnership with lots of people too. The amount of work that went into the Dowsing Sound Collective’s gig at Bury St Edmunds on 13 July 2014 is also testament to this. My favourite track from that gig was ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’. Here’s Coldplay’s version – live. I’ll leave you with tat.



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