Wednesday 12 April 2017

Food Review: Plantain Chips

Food Review: Plantain Chips

I like to expand my horizons when the opportunity presents itself. Rather than searching for the venue of the local Fight Club, or getting into an argument with a piss head on the high street, I decided to treat myself to something in the International Food aisle at Tesco. I can’t actually remember the name of the aisle or section, but I would like to acknowledge that the chances are high that even our most British of British cuisine probably comes from distant shores too, but lets not get bogged down with semantics too soon.

As you will see from the picture, I bought myself a packet of Plantain Chips, hoping for some of the “rainforest magic” promised by the packaging. I envisioned myself maybe gaining the power to make it rain whenever I wanted, or to master the calls of myriad creatures, scaring the old and the young alike. At the least, I thought, these chips looked like they might be some kind of dried banana type thing, and I like bananas, so they should taste alright.

A Google search reveals that plantains are indeed a variety of banana, but starchier, less sweet, and inedible unless cooked. When I tasted a chip, I did get this bananary notion, but it was that of a subdued banana, the kind that might not have played the lottery last week and missed out on a hundred quid prize when a few of its usual numbers came out. The few times I’ve eaten dried banana, the taste has been more like an extrovert prancing around a party with its privates hanging out; it just gets your attention. The Plantain Chips were sweet, but in a less exhibitionist way. They’re also loudly crunchy, so I would avoid taking them anywhere that requires any modicum of quietness. Don’t take them to the cinema, as they would definitely violate the Wittertainment Code of Conduct

Would I buy them again? I’m not sure. I do feel my life gained something from having tried them, and the “what is plantain” Internet search certainly gave me something to put in my mental trivia bank for a possible pub quiz one day, even though I don’t do pub quizzes. Never have, never will. All I know is that I danced with the possibility of disappointment and came out on the other side relatively unscathed and mildly satisfied, and that’s a win in my book any time.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Dark Music Review – Devil is Fine

Dark Music Review – Devil is Fine

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Devil is Fine Cover Art

Imagine this: Django sacrifices a goat on stage while intimidating slave chants roar and screeching guitar riffs burn in the background. Then the rhythmic chain rattling evoking a satanic summoning makes way for the eerily familiar melodies of Norwegian black metal.

What do you get if you cross the spirituals of a slave chain gang and black metal? You get something like Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine, a creation that adopts aspects of each style, makes some creative twists, and then puts them back together again to birth something that is quite brilliant. And I almost missed out on it.

I’d heard some of the info about Zeal and Ardor, checked out a little bit of title track Devil is Fine and decided it didn’t really click with me. In my ignorance however, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the chain gang spirituals' words had been changed to worship the devil rather than god. It was a few weeks later and a revealing interview read in Metal Hammer that sent me scurrying back to YouTube for another look at the video. I bought the album on my next trip into town, and I have well and truly clicked with it now.

Devil is Fine makes great use of the associated elements of a chain gang, from the distinctive soulful vocals to the clinking of chains and the clapping of hands to add rhythm. From the metal side of the camp, frenetic strumming, tortured notes and the recognisable sound of the classic metal roar are all used to great effect. Come on Down is a track that is a prime example of this. Beginning with the lyric “I can’t see no devil in the field” a few repetitions later, it’s joined by the artfully played notes of an electric guitar and the aforementioned roar, before quietening again and shortly after giving way to a seriously ear-wormy “oooh ooh ooooh” backing vocal. This is something a few tracks on the album do very well, the slow build and release of an audio roller coaster.

Another reason that I found myself warming very quickly to Devil is Fine is that I have an immediate interest in anything that adopts the tone of devil worship, from books set in Hell to other bands (see Ghost). As far as Devil is Fine, the slaves are turning to Satan as an act of turning away from their Christian captors. Manuel Gagneux, the creator of Zeal and Ardor, spent a lot of time researching the occult to get things right in this regard. The artwork on the front features real slave Robert Smalls and the logo over this is the Sigil of Lucifer.

The words used in the lyrics on Devil is Fine just get to me in that sacrilegious way, but none more so than those found in Blood in the River:

(Backed by chains clanking and echoing beat):

“A good god is a dead one,
a good god is the one that brings the fire.”


“A good lord is a dark one.
a good lord is the one that brings the fire.
the riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy”.

I mean, holy shit, you’ll find no punches pulled here, and I love it, all added to by the heft of a metal core.

There are other surprises on Devil is Fine such as more electronic-based tracks to break things up, a xylophone/glockenspiel type music box quality to Children’s Summon, and a final track that seems to be the audio equivalent of candy floss, something seemingly light but still hinting at sadness (particularly in the case of real candy floss, when you could have eaten something far more tasty than flippin’ candyfloss).

Devil is Fine is a more than fine album (aha!). It’s not very long, which only left me wanting more, although it does lend itself to easy repeat listening due to it’s brevity. If you like the subject matter and music styles involved, you should can check it out here. You can also check out Come On Down below:

Album Title: Devil is Fine
Artist: Zeal and Ardor
Released: 1 March 2017
Label: Radicalis, MVKA Music

Sunday 9 April 2017

Dark Music Review – Endtime Psalms

Dark Music Review – Endtime Psalms

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Endtime Psalms Album Art

Aegri somnia returns with his long awaited second album on Cryo Chamber. The hum of the Endtime Psalms echo through burnt out buildings. Awaiting impending death as the sky grows dark. Black smoke wheezing from charred windows. We were born from stardust, but are but puppets in a mindless game of DNA manipulation, life. Deep analogue drones rumble under the heavy boots of the human machine. Aegri Somnia plays the role of field recorder and audio manipulator with surgical precision.

The analogue drones of Endtime Psalms really put me in mind of some of the 80s synth-type soundtracks seen in sci-fi or horror movies of that era. While not the same, I must admit to half expecting a sun-glasses wearing leather jacket clad hero chewing a toothpick and squinting into the twilight of sunset to appear. Those images soon left me once I broke into the album proper though, the soundscapes created by Aegri Somnia far darker than any film.

Most of the tracks feature a selection of field-recordings that sit well with the drones, from water-based dripping or waves, to more industrial metal creakings, clankings and scrapings. Some of these effects are toyed with and twisted into something more sinister, distortions and strange echoes creating an immersive narrative, even if you don’t fully know what is happening and can only guess. A good example of this is the very first track C.A.H.R, a track that begins with the gentle sound of water, is met by a textured analogue drone and android scream-like distortions, but ends with what sounds like a pursuit through crunching snow.

The track Endtime Psalms also features some wet field-recording, but I must admit that the wet flapping at the start made my mind think more of a body being skinned for some reason. Maybe that is just me being twisted though. A sacral drone and a deeper counterpoint interplay with static as things thicken. The midpoint of the track features voices, insects and more wetness, before a lighter melody sees the track to its end.

DNA Cult is another track that I particularly enjoyed, its gentle start of static and quiet squeaks soon joined by pleasing tones, but around the midpoint changes into a grinding insect-leg scratching space, furtive scurryings accompanied by a quiet bell tolling and chimes. The track ends with delicate beeps of Morse code, changing slightly into a more buzzing-beep as it ends. I liked DNA Cult for creating the sensation of lightness and darkness, and with the title of the track in mind, the inference of a future-looking immortality project being thwarted by human frailty and evil intentions.

Something else that Endtime Psalms does very well is to toy with the listener’s expectations when it comes to how a track is behaving. A number of tracks feature the building of layers, maybe a drone, other tones and field-recordings, but sometimes, just as one element sounds like it is slowly fading out, it might end even more abruptly than you thought, leaving a void that the other sounds still playing make seem even more powerful. This isn’t glaring or disrupting in any way, just a very clever device for keeping things slightly unpredictable.

Anyone who has read enough of my dark ambient reviews will probably know that I appreciate albums that make quite heavy use field-recordings, so I found myself almost naturally liking Endtime Psalms. The analogue drones were something that I was struggling to find words to describe, they certainly feel like they have a warmth or texture that other drones might lack, and I appreciate their effect on the way the other sounds are received by the listener. The soundscapes created are dark and interesting, and the level of talent that has gone in to making this album certainly shines through. If you like drone-heavy field-recorded dark ambient, this is an album well worth checking out.

Visit the Endtime Psalms page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out DNA Cult below.

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Endtime Psalms
Artist: Aegri Somnia
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: March 7, 2017

Saturday 8 April 2017



Tasty, but not the eggs I am looking for...

No, the title isn’t some kind of lame Mr Burns impression or pun. It wasn’t even intended to reflect that it’s Easter, or be a nod to Lent. It was prompted by thinking about some really rather lovely tuck shop sweets that I used to buy when I was in the Cub Scouts. I know that when you are hovering around double digits in age, it’s quite easy to be impressed by anything, even reaching double digits in age. After Cubs, I used to buy about 20 pence worth of tuck shop bounty. That’s probably confusing as I’m not sure they sold Bounty, let alone one for that price. 20 pence used to buy me ten jelly fried eggs, a 5p Highland Toffee bar, and probably the last 5p went on something frivolous like fizzy cola bottle jellies. I'll take each in turn, as I did back then actually:

Jelly fried eggs : I’m not sure if this is what they were really called. I know we called them fried eggs, but to someone ignorant of sweet-based lingo, they might think we had a genuine fried egg placed in our eager palms, ready to suck at the yoke before someone offered us an ill-timed high five. These jelly fried eggs were lovely. The whites were soft and pleasant to chew, the yolks chewier and tasted different enough to approximate the difference found between real egg yolks and whites. I miss those jelly fried eggs, because the ones you can by today are utter trash. They are either so hard that they feel like the thing the dentist puts in your mouth to take an impression, or they are so bland that you might as well suck at the breeze as a van drives past, you’d get more flavour (and probably a lung problem too before long).

Highland Toffee bar : For 5p, this was the investment, or long term purchase. This flat bar that was so very attached to its wrapper, once opened, would last you the walk home, and then some. It was a sheet of toffee basically, thin and bendy. Some serious web searching just now (in expression, if not time spent) didn't really throw up anything that looked like the bar I used to buy. The ones on the image search either look too long, too skinny or too new. Or old (just to cover all bases). I must make the effort to try a new one at some point, although I will brace myself for the disappointment that I can predict looming over the horizon.

Finally, we get to the fizzy cola jellies (or even the non-fizzy ones, depending on what was left): Modern day equivalents certainly seem acceptable when compared to the memory of the ones of my youth. Naturally you can get the really cheap and nasty ones that taste like bleach, or the amazing ones that actually taste of actual cola. Of course, you also get the fifty shades of cola in-between. It’s nice that some things don’t seem to change too much, although tell that to someone who grew up with cola cubes and I’m sure they’ll chase you on their penny farthing like the cheeky git you are.

So while you are scoffing your chocolate and sweets this Easter, pause and wonder what delights you might never have tried and that are probably now lost to us, unless someone had the forsight to place some in a time capsule somewhere. I truly believe that the first time traveller will be someone tired of their chocolate bars growing smaller and their jelly sweets tasting like pre-chewed gum. Okay, I don’t truly believe that, but it made me giggle.

Friday 7 April 2017

Dark Music Review – Red Moon

Dark Music Review – Red Moon

Review Written By Casey Douglass

Red Moon Album Art

Red Moon is Phonothek’s second album on Cryo Chamber, continuing the theme of the inevitable death of our planet. A sad lonely trumpet echoes between ruined apartment complexes. The ground is dry and dusty, nothing grows here. Where once laughter of children lingered, now only the creak of broken swings remain. The earth is dying. The chosen got on the ships, but not you. Red Moon explores a world in flames through use of atonal instrumentation and layered atmospherics. Recorded in Georgia (Europe) it brings the sound of the old world to life as it shines light on the new and dying one.

The album description above certainly paints a tantalising picture for fans of the post-apocalyptic and dark ambient music genre. If you fall into either, or both, of these camps, I think you will enjoy any time spent in the company of Red Moon. I think it also might be an album that uses more brass instruments than any other I’ve listened to, in any genre. This certainly added to my interest in the compositions but on a personal level, I think that I found I’m not the biggest fan of brass instruments, no matter how skilfully deployed. There are other instruments too, some lovely violin notes and the tones of a piano, so I don’t mean to make the brass stuff more prominent than it is.

Phonothek makes excellent use of voices to add strange atmospheres to his soundscapes. Whether they are talking calmly and roaming from ear to ear, or more distant echoes, they add a human element to soundscapes that hint at the very scarcity of human involvement. I was particularly impressed with the effect achieved on third track: Come in the Whisper, the “te-te-te” aspect of what is being said setting up a hypnotic beat that sits perfectly with the other sounds around it, which in this case are echoing whispers, the see-sawing of strings and deep vibrations. Think of Gollum’s cave in LOTR, but a much more hostile and creepy space, and you are half way there.

Cry From The Abyss is another standout track for me, one that begins with bubbling water pressure and seems to get deeper and deeper as it progresses. The high tones and deep thrum made me think of some kind of leviathan creature swimming through the darkness, a halo of luminescent plankton or something similar illuminating its massive flanks. This track created a feeling of “stifling distance” for me, and it was quite enjoyable.

In the Smell of the Wolves is another track that I wanted to mention, and in this the brass instrument used does a tremendous job of sounding like a wolf’s howl at times. The track also features a strong beat and a chant-like vocal that gives every impression of a wolf hunting along abandoned streets as rain washes the asphalt.

I enjoyed Red Moon but I did find the brass instruments really not to my taste. There were a few instances of the blowing of air down one instrument without a note being played, almost like trying to clear a non-existent blockage. I just found it slightly irritating and it brought me out of any revelry I might have entered. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as other tracks do this in their own way at times too, the earlier mentioned Come in the Whisper gets a little overloaded for me after a sinister start, but in that instance I appreciated the effect. I could imagine that Red Moon will really chime with someone who has a more natural warmth towards brass tones, but as with all music, check it out yourself and make up your own mind. A very decent album.

Visit the Red Moon page on Bandcamp here for more information, and be sure to check out Come in the Whisper below:

I was given a free copy of this album to review.

Album Title: Red Moon
Artist: Phonothek
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: April 4, 2017

Thursday 6 April 2017

Dark Humour – Spider Warfare Is Just The Beginning...

Dark Humour – Spider Warfare Is Just The Beginning...

By Casey Douglass

Danger ahead.

Living in England has its benefits, one of which is the apparent lack of wildlife that wants to kill you, drag out outside and slowly digest your body in some dark corner of the garden. I say apparent, because there is an insidious threat lurking in every house, shed, woodland and allotment. The creepy-crawlies and bugs are out to get us.

Take the spider as my first example. How many times have you strolled between two objects and felt a strand of web wrap itself across your face? Some think these are just passive support structures for a web not yet finished but these people are so very wrong. Every silken strand across your face is a failed attempt by a spider to garrotte you. Don’t be fooled by the full web nearby, its occupant watching and trying to steer you into the trap. Turn and walk away. One day they will perfect the consistency of the strands, getting them upto a lethal specification for removing heads from necks. These strands seem at their most abundant during the morning, so I would make sure you don’t leave the house until at least midday.

No matter how sceptical you might be, carry on dear reader, the information here just might save your life.

My next warning concerns the humble snail, the proverbial slow coach that leaves a glistening trail like a slippery kiss wherever it goes. This trail is placed in the hope that it will make you slip and break your neck. Snails occasionally team up with slugs in this endeavour but there is a strange class system at work whenever they meet and commune, loosely based around housing permits and residency rights. Don’t be fooled though, if you see a snail and a slug together, they’ve put their differences aside to bring about your downfall.

Now we move onto bees, and their often allies, wasps. These insects are adjusting their own humming, fine-tuning it as we speak to interfere with our Wi-Fi signals. Everyone knows that Internet speed into the countryside is usually a joke. This isn’t just down to slow infrastructure and distance, the hives of these creatures are like our Wi-Fi Extenders but in reverse, crippling phone technology with the mighty humming they produce. Moving to the city might be advisable to avoid this threat, although the mobile networks are likely to become a target too at some point.

An even more baffling scheme now, and this concerns the humble woodlouse, the armadillo of the insect world. For some time now, woodlice have been rolling themselves into little balls and slowly replacing the cavity wall insulation of buildings. To what end I have no idea, I guess that we can only shrug our shoulders and stay vigilant for any sound of mobilisation.

This is only a brief look at the dangers that scurry, buzz and slither around us, but I can’t wrap it up without mentioning the fly. A fly is mainly thought of as being a pathogen spreader and general nuisance, but its real aim is psychological warfare. This takes the form of buzzing around a sleeper’s bedroom at night, tickling their face, and generally doing anything to keep them awake. This is such a common occurrence, nothing is thought of it, but sleep deprivation can cause all manner of issues, from low concentration to paranoia. Sleep with windows closed, even in summer!

I will end this post here as I feel I’ve given enough warning about the perils that litter the ground ahead. I apologise for any spelling mistakes or garbled words, I haven’t been sleeping lately. Take care and stay sharp.

If you've enjoyed this post, that's fantastic. If wouldn't mind, please give it a like or a share on whichever social media you arrived from. Thank you very much and have a great day.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Dark Fiction - Sob, Gurgle and Scream

Sob, Gurgle and Scream

By Casey Douglass

The small claw pushed the bowl away, the heat-stained metal grating on the ancient rock tabletop. ‘I don’t want it!’
‘Come on my little chopping block, Mummy wants you to grow up big and strong, just like Daddy. You’ve got to eat your breakfast or that won’t happen!’
‘Like Daddy?’
‘Yes my darling plague bearer, he always eats his breakfast.’
A small smile shaped itself around stubby fangs as this fact was considered.
A large claw dragged the bowl back to where it should be. ‘Put your ear near the bowl and you can hear them sob, gurgle and scream. Well, that’s what the box says anyway.’
The little face looked down into the bowl, its nose wrinkling at the smell.
‘Can I have angel powder?’
‘Will you eat it all up if you do?’
‘Yes Mummy!’
Two onyx eyes continued to look into the bowl, edging nearer and nearer to the contents, until they were close enough to make out the shapes. What at a distance had looked like little stubby grubs began to coalesce into slithering bipeds bobbing and rolling in a red milky fluid. Their screams and shrieks tinny and at the edge of hearing.
A snow storm descended on the bobbling creatures, fluttering wings and golden hair falling like moth-dust, sparkling and fizzing as it hit the moisture below.
‘Thank you Mummy!’
The small claw picked up the spoon and mashed it into the heaving contents, turning it all into a gooey mush, each movement causing a crescendo of shrieks before crushing them into oblivion.
‘Eat up now, don’t play with your food!’
‘I’ve got to get them all Mummy, they tickle if they wriggle too much!’
‘That’s a good boy!’
‘Where’s Daddy?’
‘He’s working my darling black heart, toiling to put food on our table!’

Tuesday 4 April 2017

The King of the Hipsters, Happiness by Trouser Rack and Social Awkwardness

The King of the Hipsters, Happiness by Trouser Rack and Social Awkwardness

The King of the Hipsters just might live here, you never know.

On my last visit into the city center, I had enough amusement to make at least one friend chuckle in the telling, so I thought I would relate my tale here as well.

I saw the King of the Hipsters buying Cadburys Cream Eggs in a Tesco Metro. That sentence continues to tickle me, it just seems so right. I walked into the Tesco after scarfing a tasty Burger King, which in light of my post yesterday about changing my fat git status, kind of takes on the status of the shouting of some choice expletives moments before a swear jar comes into force. Anyway, I was craving a drink so in I walk and see the King, rummaging in the cream eggs. I’m not calling him a hipster to take the piss, it was just what came to mind. He was taller than me, larger than me, and his trousers were far tighter than mine, which isn’t much of a feat as mine were average fit jeans. He bought his sustenance and left, leaving me with the glow of having witnessed something special.

Some time later, I was walking down the street when a gentleman walked past me with some kind of rack over his shoulder. He was talking into his mobile, beaming, and saying the word trouser or trousers at least ten times in five seconds. I remember thinking to myself that there was a happy customer, and maybe happiness by trouser rack is something I should investigate, as I don’t have a rack myself.

I popped into Smiths not long after the rack gentleman passed me and then proceeded to accidentally upset a lady that seemed to be mentally handicapped. I’m not sure if that term is accurate and I don’t mean it to be offensive, but she seemed to be struggling. My own part in things was as one half of an unwitting “I move here to get out of your way but you move there to get around me” dance. She seemed to get quite irate and not just with me but other people who got in her way. I hate getting into these “dances of politeness” at the best of times but this one really sucked and made me feel guilty far beyond what was actually warranted, if any was at all. I was really exhausted by this point which might account for some of it. 

Maybe there is an unwritten rule that two whimsical events must be followed by a shitty one or the world will spin away into space and freeze somewhere near Neptune. If so, I say we invoke article Nifty and rewrite that part of the universal order.

Spanks for reading.

Monday 3 April 2017

I Need To Lower My Fat Git Statistics

I Need To Lower My Fat Git Statistics

The holes kind of look like two eyes. "Why you no eat me? Whyyyy?"

227.5 would be fantastic if it represented my I.Q, or happened to be the number of book sales I’ve had (although the .5 would be a little strange in both cases no doubt). Sadly, 227.5 is my current fat git weight in lbs, after a really shitty start to the year.

I don’t so much comfort eat as try to ingest happiness in bulk. Sugary, rich and creamy happiness, a kind that would no doubt have long seen me off if I was even remotely diabetic. I know my reasons for eating, the foods that trigger me, and the moods that break my discipline, but sometimes things just slip, despite my best intentions.

As is often the case (I’m always the Case now I come to think of it), taking a bigger (no pun intended) view can be helpful. At my heaviest I was 19 stone, giving me a BMI of 35. Shrugging off weight with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is difficult. Scratch that, it’s bloody difficult. Gone are the days where you can exercise and lift weights to address your over abundance of calories. If you struggle with a ten minute walk, losing it all by dietary means is often the only solution. This is what I did to get from 19 st to my current 16 st.

A BMI of 29 means that I’ve gone from being obese to merely overweight, but to get anywhere near a healthy weight I need to lose another few stone. This is something I am now going to attempt, hence this post to make it feel real rather than some kind of calorie burning wank fantasy. My path, as has been the case before, will be to reduce the comfort eating and then move on to portion control. If I change too much too soon I know from experience that I’ll bounce off it harder than truth off the ignorant.

One area that I do feel I need to spend more time thinking about will be my motivation for losing weight. It’s not a simple topic for me, as I have no illusion that trimming down will increase my self-esteem or ease/cure my health issues (I weighed less than this in the early years of my illness). I’m not even bothered about it supposedly adding years to my life. At the moment, I just have this nebulous feeling that I want to try again, to find some intrinsic reward in the process itself, rather than have my eye on any goal ahead. That is what I am going to do.

As an aside, I heard part of an interesting TED talk by Keith Chen the other day about how the language we speak might decide how much money we save. English is a futured language, we treat the future differently grammar-wise than another language that might have a more blurred approach to time. Futured language speakers tended to save less, due to a possible disconnect caused by speech, whereas the blurred approach languages saved a bit more. I wonder if diet might fall under the same umbrella, short term pain for long term pleasure/reward etc. Maybe I could learn one of these other languages but even then, I don’t suppose it would have quite the same effect as a second language. Guess I’ll stick to the diet idea, for now...

Sunday 2 April 2017

Book Review - Notes on Blindness: A Journey Through The Dark

Book Review – Notes on Blindness: A Journey Through The Dark

Review By Casey Douglass

Notes on Blindness Cover
Cover Image © Copyright Profile Books

Going blind is one of my very greatest fears, right up there alongside death, and being locked into a totally paralysed body. As I was browsing in my local Waterstones, I came across Notes on Blindness nestling amongst other books that, if memory serves, were all collected around the theme of giving insight into other peoples’ lives. I picked it up, read the blurb, felt my insides turn cold, put the book down again and mentally said “Hell no!” before walking off to look at a different section. Whether I came back to Notes on Blindness due to the lack of anything else of interest on the shelves, or whether I came back to it through a sense of facing my fears, I came back to it and bought it. The woman who served me commented that she would have liked to read it, and I shared my concerns about my ability to cope with it, but also my resolve to expose my fears to a dose of reality, even if only second-hand reality. She wished me luck. Did the book reassure me, or did it send me further into dread? You’ll have to read on to find out.


Days before the birth of his first son, writer and academic John M. Hull started to go blind. He would lose his sight entirely, plunged into darkness, unable to distinguish any sense of light or shadow. Isolated and claustrophobic, he sank into a deep depression. Soon, he had forgotten what his wife and daughter looked like. In Notes on Blindness, John reveals his profound sense of loss, his altered perceptions of time and space, of waking and sleeping, love and companionship. With astonishing lucidity of thought and no self-pity, he describes the horror of being faceless, and asks what it truly means to be a husband and father. And eventually, he finds a new way of experiencing the world, of seeing the light despite the darkness.Based on John's diaries recorded on audio tape, this is a profoundly moving, wise and life-affirming account of one man's journey into blindness. Notes on Blindness was the basis for a major documentary in 2016.

John is a very astute author, the descriptions and thought he gives to things that would have never even have occurred to me was, and I don’t use this word lightly, a revelation. While being quick to explain that he can’t talk for all blind people, only his own experience, John does a fantastic job of giving voice to the fears and obstacles that he himself struggled with.

One of the many things he ponders is the role that sight plays in memory. John became fully blind later in life so was able to draw comparisons between his earlier sighted life and the period that came after his blindness. He mulls over the issue of how it became harder to remember faces, often having to remember a photo he had seen previously, rather than more interactive exchanges with the person involved. He also became aware of how visually loaded our language is, when we ask someone if they have “seen” this or that, or say “I see what you mean”. This becomes just one of a number of areas in which he becomes aware of the difficulties that the blind and the sighted can face in interacting with each other.

Another aspect of John’s experience is what he viewed as the passive nature of his dealings with the environment around him. Sitting in a park, listening to the various aspects of the soundscape, he could build a picture of the ducks quacking, the pedestrians walking by, and the wind rustling the leaves of the trees. It doesn’t take him long to notice that if something falls silent, it has in many ways, ceased to exist for him. He has to wait for something to announce itself or he is unaware of its presence. Even someone calling his name becomes a bolt out of the blue, as he has no idea it is coming. Visual sensory experience isn’t like this.

When it comes to his dealings with other people, things are expectedly a mixed bag. He loves his family but feels isolated from the Christmas celebrations as they are based so much around the visual. His experience with strangers varies from touching to frustrating, from the man who walks him around a recently crashed car on the pavement at one end of the spectrum, to the idiots warning him of non-existent cars as he crosses the street unaccompanied at the other. John also takes a number of instances of God/Jesus based healing in a good natured and patient manner, seemingly by focussing on the good intentions of the people involved rather than their ignorance as to how they might be coming across to him. His own religious faith also plays its part in the avenues his thoughts end up going down.

I could mention much more but I’ve already said a good deal, and even what little I’ve said doesn’t really do John’s writing justice. One thing that I will add is that John’s dreams become very important to him, providing anything from a sense of release and adventure, to a means for him to see how he might actually be mentally coping with the loss of his sight. These dream accounts proved to be just as interesting as the other areas of the book.

I highly recommend Notes on Blindness to anyone that feels ignorant about what it might be like to be blind. As far as my own feelings and fears, I would say that the book may have slightly reduced them, quite possibly by simply exposing myself to the topic in this particular way. I am still afraid, but in the fears and thoughts of John, I found a connection, even if only mental, that seemed to spread that fear out a little bit, to soften its edges and roll back some of the more uninformed aspects of what thoughts I’d held on the matter. A very good book indeed.

Notes on Blindness was first published as Touching the Rock in 1990 and was later reissued in 2013. The version reviewed came out in 2017 on the back of the success of an award winning documentary, also called Notes on Blindness, that was an adaptation of Touching the Rock. Find out more here :

Book Title: Notes on Blindness: A Journey Through The Dark
Author: John Hull
Published: This edition: 2017
Publisher: Welcome Collection and Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1781258590
RRP: Paperback £8.99

Saturday 1 April 2017

The Problem of Adding Value When Depressed

The Problem of Adding Value When Depressed

A lot is said about the importance of adding value to others’ lives, particularly with regards to connecting with people, positive mental health, and also increasing some virtual numbers such as website hits or social media followers. Adding value when depressed often seems as likely as going into a burger joint and trying to buy a car.

I’ll freely admit that when I see an article about the importance of adding value in my news feed, the shutters of gloom slam shut in my mind. A familiar thought then starts pacing the mental corridors: I don’t even add value to my own life, how the fuck am I going to add it to others?

Blinkers Attached

I’m an ill, depressed guy struggling to make money and to carve out any sense of being a part of the world, tying myself in knots trying to give myself some worth somehow.

If I see another ill, depressed guy struggling in the same way, thoughts along the lines of them not having any worth wouldn’t even cross my mind. The same applies to anyone else I see, they don’t need to prove their worth to justify being alive, being here is worth enough.

Sure, if someone pisses me off or commits some atrocity, I might revise that sentiment at the time, but on the whole, barring these special cases, people don’t have to do anything special to get the proverbial thumbs up from me.

Being here is worth enough. I know this intellectually, but the saying that goes along the lines of “the journey from the head to the heart is a long one” couldn’t be more right.

It’s not even a case of falling into the trap of comparing myself with others, I’m more than capable of kicking myself even when in a social vacuum.

The Stick That Smashed The Carrot

I think a largish part of the problem is that sometimes being so harsh on myself has produced the desired result.

As an example, I have continuous issues with my weight, as being active is complicated by my health problems. Nothing seems to help me lose more weight than turning any kind of diet that I might be on, into some kind of self punishment for being the way I am.

Every hunger pang takes on the guise of a pain well earned, every impulse to eat denied becomes a mental slap on the hand that feeds. It’s all a bit masochistic in a way. The weight comes off, the result is achieved. The pattern is set for other areas of my life.

I know that attaining goals in this way is harmful. I know that it flicks a switch in my mind that is hard to turn back off again, leaving me more emotionally numb to the positives in life. It also makes me more susceptible to the upsetting emotions that seem to be permanent residents in my body.

The Carrot That Went To Sea

Depression is truly mind numbing: it cripples my creativity and sends my motivation to the moon.

It’s often hard to see any kind of future for myself that would be worth living. I do have some very low aspirations for what would constitute a reasonable future, but rather than being helpful in their mediocrity, they seem to make being thwarted even harder to deal with.

I know there are various ways to reframe how you view your life, learning to be more flexible in your thinking and showing yourself self-compassion along the way. I really, really get it.

In practice, I can do it a small proportion of the time, so I know it can be done. I also realise I’m making more progress than I’m aware of at least half of the time.

I need to keep coming back to the same theme though, over and over until it does reach my heart:

"I am enough as I am, whatever else happens in my life, either through my actions or outside of my control. I am enough."

Maybe one day I will feel it on more than on an intellectual level. Maybe I will be able to see the ways that I can and do add value to the lives of the people around me, the small acts of kindness that I do carry out, and the ways that I do actually help other people. Maybe on the following day, I will be able to see the ways that I am actually kind to myself too.

Until that time, I will try to anchor myself to the idea of being enough, and hope that it holds firm in the choppy mental seas that surround me. I might even see a mermaid too, you never know. I could ask her if she wanted to join me and rest awhile, all of that swimming must be very tiring after all. Ooh I was just kind to a self-made mental construct. It’s starting already.