Summer in February: A beautiful film that lacks honesty

I grew up in Cornwall. I say “grew up” but really I was there only from age two and-a-bit to age ten. Just eight years in fact. Not very long in the grand scheme of things but in terms of childhood, it was Cornwall that shaped me. I will most likely revisit the impact that Cornwall  had on me – and more specifically my family life there – sometime in the future. For now, my mentioning of the fact merely serves to allow me to introduce my ‘review’ of the film, Summer in February, which is set there. Indeed it was the setting that drew me in to seeing the film in the first place – the promise of rugged coastal scenery, the hope of recognising somewhere familiar and of course, allowing myself to dream the dream of one day returning to live there. The actual story was, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, secondary.

Page 566 of the Autumn/Winter 1911 Kay's Catelogue

Summer in February presents Page 566 of the Autumn/Winter 1911 Kay’s Catelogue

The film, adapted by Jonathan Smith from his novel by the same name, and directed by Christopher Menaul, tells the true story of the inter-mingling between some of the main players in the Edwardian artists’ community of Lamorna in the the early part of the twentieth century. It homes in on the relationship between Alfred “A J” Munnings, his close friend Gilbert Evans and his eventual wife, Florence Carter Wood.

I say this is a ‘review’ but in truth I want to focus on one particular aspect of the film – the character of Florence. Fairly early on in the story we learn that she hides within her a deep unhappiness that affects her ability to cope with the desires and sensibilities of AJ. Although the narrative isn’t explicit there are certainly clues to suggest she suffers from manic depression. She attempts to kill herself on her wedding night, taking cyanide, but is thankfully saved. The episode is thus brushed under the carpet, certainly in the film, and I would suspect, given the period in question, also in reality. A brief period in hospital followed by bed-rest and it’s never mentioned again.  Not something to talk about.

One-hundred years later from the period and I tend to think we’ve done very little growing up as a society in our approach to the intended finality of anyone who has, within themselves reached such a point of grief, that they believe the only option is to end their existence. Of course we have charities and carers who are constant in their attempt to de-stigmatise mental illness. And if we choose to listen, they guide us in how we can be better equipped to react to, and interact with and deal with someone who has suffered some kind of severe depression, had cause to harm themselves, or attempted suicide. But despite best effort, best intentions, best belief, often the easiest thing for us to do, is avoid, ignore or gloss over the topic when faced first-hand with the issue.

It takes a little courage for someone to talk about their own experience of mental illness. However, I suspect it may take greater courage for a friend  to recognise and, not necessarily understand but, engage with that someone.

There. Not really a film review at all. So to finish off then I’ll say there was great acting (particularly from Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning) and beautiful cinematography (you couldn’t fail with such a backdrop). And while I of course fully expected to come away sated by my fix of  Cornish scenery, I also experienced the rare chance to relate to one of the characters. However my one major irritation of Mr Menaul’s handling of the story is that he fell short of his duty to present an honest perspective of Carter Wood’s mental turmoil, choosing only to sensationalise and effectively isolate the depths of her anguish. 

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Hey, I’m Andy and I have…

Not quite sure of the point raised here by Ruby Wax in her article in The Guardian newspaper. The pessimist in me says ‘book promotion’ but then the narrative suggests a selflessness about the work Ruby has done. Click on the link and come back to me.















Would I use such a forum? I’d like to think I would. But then mental health issues span such a wide spectrum that any gathering would perhaps lose it’s purpose through lack of commonality between attendees – yes we’d all have a ‘mental illness’ label about our person but the person sitting to my right may be schizophrenic and the person to my left may have some kind of psychosis. And there’s little ole me in the middle with my depression and anxiety issues.

Personally I’m growing not to like the whole 1-in-4 statistic because although the aim of that was to create awareness of mental health issues and to de-stigmatise, I’m a little suspicious of how that statistic came about and what it represents. It’s also used too much.
Ok. Nuff said

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Hitting it home

I went to see the stage adaptation of To Kill a Mocking Bird this week. Thoroughly recommend it. Anyway there was, for me, a very poignant line at the end of the first half. The girl, Scout, was asking her older brother how old both she and he were when their mother died: he was 6 and she was 2.

Same age as my two are now.

I shed a tear at that point and tried very hard to promise something to myself.

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Arbit-seen it before-rage

WARNING: This post may contain spoilers

Feel like I’m always apologising at the start of my posts. This time it’s because I haven’t posted in a while. That has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been feeling ‘better’ of late (a good thing obviously). I know that shouldn’t be a reason not to blog, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been having thoughts of why am I doing this? I know lots of newbie bloggers have this thought. Plus I have this conflict in my head between blogging and the association with my twitter account, which is linked to work and, well, my twitter account has clients following and I don’t think they need to hear about this stuff. And anyway, the long and short of it is that rather than start a new twitter account for this (personal) side of my life, I’ve ejected my work related  followers (for the most part) and re-purposed my twitter to only be about me and not work (not that I ever tweeted much about work anyway) and I’ll set up a work-related twitter account. There.

So, I went to see a film at the cinema the other night – actually I’ve seen a few new releases lately thanks to my new ‘commitment’ (lol) of subscribing to Cineworld Unlimited. But this one in particular struck me as one that I wanted to share my opinion on. My last (and only to date) film review on here was for Argo – which I loved and have been pleased to see glean success at the annual awards ceremonies. Seriously, though, Lincoln?!?

I’ve gone with Arbitrage this time – a film that has been touted as its headline star Richard Gere’s best ever performance. This did rather draw me in – good job PR people. I’m really not a fan of Gere. In fact I must admit he would normally put me off a film – though not as much as Tom Hanks of course. But I went along with an open mind – promise. An open mind about him at least, not about the plot-line which in no way caught my imagination:

A troubled hedge fund magnate desperate to complete the sale of his trading empire makes an error that forces him to turn to an unlikely person for help.

Still, at the very least I was promised performances by Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth if all else failed. I did say I had an open mind, right?

Uh-oh these little piggy eyes are about to close

Uh-oh these little piggy eyes are about to close

Gere plays Robert Miller, a wealthy New York CEO in the midst of a deal to sell his company. A man also in the throws of an extra-marital affair with a promising artist to whom he is benefactor also. But beneath the surface things aren’t going well for Miller. It appears the deal is stalling and the funds borrowed to help secure it all are under threat, leaving the potential to ruin Miller and his family. Which of course takes its toll on those around him, and in particular, his bit on the side who, in recompense for his inattention, he decides to whisk away on a spur of the moment trip to an up-state love-nest. Poor Miller is stressed and tired, falls asleep at the wheel and crashes the car, killing the girl.

What he does next, of course, provides the intrigue for the rest of the film. He walks away and tries to cover up the crime in order to help prevent a situation that could jeopardise the sale of his company – what was he thinking!  He calls on the son of a deceased former employee and Harlem resident Jimmy Parker (played admirably by Nate Parker) to help cover up his actions. Will he get away with it? Enter Tim Roth as terrier-like NYPD Detective Michael Bryer who, once he gets the scent of rich-guy cover-up, goes to great lengths to savage his suspect.

Bearded and bold but left me cold

Roth: Bearded and bold but left me cold

It’s all a bit ‘so what?’ really. I don’t know if this was Gere’s finest performance or not. I’m guessing it wasn’t so stand out even to its producers that it warranted an earlier release in the hope of winning him an Oscar (says cynical me). He puts in a good performance but this role and plot was hardly groundbreaking and while the piece overall just about kept my interest I was by no means captivated by any aspect of it. Susan Sarandon is woefully under-used in the first half of the film for such a fine actress but then the role never really offered much opportunity to surprise. Tim Roth is fine but, similarly to Sarandon, I felt any other number of actors could have played that part and offered up the same kind of performance.

I felt the part of the plot to use Jimmy Parker to cover Miller’s trail was cliche and frankly left me a little uncomfortable. Really, is Hollywood still so dated in its attitudes as to have the only possible option for an accomplice to be a young black guy from Harlem with a criminal record whose association to Miller is as the son of a now deceased former worker (probably the office janitor) ? Oh. Yeah. Incidentally there were no other actors of colour in any significant role in the movie. And don’t give me the line that ‘yes, but this reflects true-life corporate America’ because I don’t believe that this is a valid reason to stick with out-dated and prejudiced stereotypes.  Perhaps first-time full-length feature director Nicholas Jarecki lacks maturity to see this.

At the end you’re left a little puzzled as to what has really transpired. Yes he was guilty. Does he get his comeuppance?  I’ll leave that unanswered so as not to ruin completely, suffice to say I’m not sure. Do we learn anything? Yeah. It’s tough at the top. Boo-hoo!

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Some kind of death wish

So there’s an aspect of depression that is very difficult to talk about. Yeah, I know, like the rest of it isn’t, right? Well. That’s true. But I manage ok with talking about the rest of it. I think. At least I’m learning to. I guess what I mean is that while the rest of it may be difficult to talk about in person, it doesn’t seem so hard here.

But what I have in mind is very difficult to write about too. The ‘S’ word. There. I can’t even write the word.

I remember when I first thought about ending my life – even that phrase is hard to write – and I felt so ashamed of the thought. I had to tell my wife. But I couldn’t tell her using my voice – I had to write it down. And this was a few days after the fact too. And I had to dress it up in a way that wouldn’t scare her – I even put a smiley at the end. To lighten the tone. Yep. A smiley.

I feel hugely guilty that I’ve ever had those thoughts. And that may be why it’s so uncomfortable to write about.

Anyway. I wanted to relay something I learnt about a friend the other day. They were very brave to share this with me. And before you question whether I should be sharing this, they know I blog and are happy for me to share.

So. Here’s what they told me. They too have had thoughts of ending their life – since their depression began. They, like me, have never acted upon it (thankfully) but the fact that they have had those thoughts haunts them in a particular way.

Their paternal grandfather ended his own life. A very sad thing for my friend to hold in their knowledge. In addition though, they also believe that their father made an attempt at taking his own life – mercifully he his still alive. But these two factors weigh heavily on my friend – and I can certainly see why. What is particularly troubling though is that there is a big part of them,  that believes it is destiny that they will end their own life too. That they will be completing the circle. Like they have some kind of death wish.

That was a very sad thing to hear. And I had no idea what to say – other than the obvious response of ‘please don’t believe that’.

But is that good enough? At their darkest times the thoughts that will enter their head are not likely to be rational ones. And I would guess that we all look for reason as to why we are here and what our own destiny will be. And if their belief at those darkest moments are that they are fulfilling a destiny – on top of the fact they already feel worthless, or hate themselves, or can only see darkness, or all of the above, then my words are, quite frankly, going to sound pretty hollow.

If ever I wanted some words of advice – to pass on – it is now.

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My family, and other animals

I feel it’s about time I write a post about my family. I was reminded the other day by a friend and blogger (a more experienced one than I) that this blog need not be solely about me and my monkey. Monkey? Yeah, if you remember I also vowed in an earlier post to find another word for depression. So, inspired by a certain former member of a boy-band in his solo work, I’ve gone with monkey for now. Anyway, this friend said that I’m not defined by my monkey and she reminded me that there are so many other aspects to both me and this blog – or at least there could be. She’s right of course – and I thank her for that. While the blogger in me wanted my monkey to be the key theme behind what might otherwise turn out to be another rambling journal of someone’s life, I do have the freedom to be a little more creative and broaden it out to other related aspects of my life. It was always my intention to cover other topics – as in fact I mention in my ‘About me‘ bit and of course my ‘review’ of the film Argo is a perfect example. But that could seem rather disjointed and so I’m going to be a little subtler in covering other topics – at least for now. Hence this post. Think of it as a segue to other things.

So. My family.

I have two lovely, amazing, funny, clever, inquisitive, brilliant daughters. One is five and the other is one and a half. They would be all those things to me (and more) even if I didn’t have my monkey but because I do, they’re all those things multiplied by x. And I say that because I feel like my monkey intensifies my thoughts and feelings about them. It also intensifies the challenging aspects of parenting as well but that’s not the point of this post.

My children and my wonderful wife are what get me through the difficult times. My wife, is able to offer support in the full knowledge of my illness. Clearly my daughters don’t have this understanding (thank goodness) but they help in so many ways. They help to ground me – in a really important and necessary way. They focus me and they distract me from myself. They help me to see what’s important. They keep me busy. They give me structure. They also free me. They make me realise I have an endless supply of love to give them – if not myself. They make me cry (in a good way). Ultimately they, together with my wife, ensure I will always have a very good reason for being.

I’m going to leave it there, for now. I wanted in this post to share something positive – that I am immensely thankful for my family. It’s not that I couldn’t or wouldn’t have felt this way if I didn’t have depression, but it does, in more lucid periods, take that feeling of thankfulness to the nth degree.

Oh, and as to the title of this post? I have two cool cats as well as my monkey.

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I love to hate me – apparently

So after many many weeks of therapy I, together with my therapist of course, have unearthed a biggie. Before I say what exactly, I want to say up front that I kind of both agree and disagree with the conclusion that she and I came to.

I hate myself.

Short and sweet though it sounds – and to those other more experienced self-haters out there perhaps not such a realisation and more of a “yep…and?”moment – it does, for me, present itself as a more of an ‘ohhhh, so that’s why I feel like I do’ moment. It’s both a kind of validation of my illness (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a sec.) and, more importantly, it’s a root cause which I can now (apparently) begin to pick away at, and eradicate from the hard-wiring of my being. Those words are of course easier to say than believe – much easier.

I’d really welcome any feedback at this juncture – y’know reply, respond, comment on this post – because I’m a little in the dark about whether I am alone in believing, as I said just now, that this realisation of my self-hate is a ‘validation’ of my illness. Is that just me? I say it because all the way through this period in my life, I have had a very strong belief that my thoughts, feelings, actions were wrong; wrong in the sense that I had no right to be experiencing them; wrong in the sense also that I was in some way over-dramatising in my own head the fact I was perhaps simply feeling at odds with myself. Even when I’ve been at my lowest and wanted to end it all; that that was just a way of simply feeling sorry for myself. I know. Even as I write that I know it’ll sound daft.

And I know that I have an illness – one of those quiet, non painful (physically) ones. And I know that my referrals back to the CMHC are for real. That my medication is for real. That, thanks to talking to others and reading other blogs I’m not alone in experiencing the things I do. Yep. Rational me knows all of that. But another me also doubts, maybe? So I do feel validated by this realisation of self-hate – every cloud? And as I say, it perhaps gives me a root cause to work on. I may share my findings as I begin to pick away at this with my therapist, or I may not – depends if it’s something I want to share or if it’s even worth sharing i.e. it’s something that I feel might help anyone else out there.

Before I sign off on this, I said at the start that I both agree and disagree with this discovery. That’s difficult to explain. I agree that there is an element of self-hate within me that was unearthed through admitting a few things to myself and through some difficult thought processes, but I also find it hard to agree with the idea. But I think that’s probably because I’ve got used to masking it all and bouncing along with life. Is that what we all do? I don’t know.

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