Musical Monday #2 – A love letter to Caledonia

 A traditional Scottish breakfast. Kind of. Needs more bacon.

A traditional Scottish breakfast. Kind of. Needs more bacon.

It’s not very often you can say your first heard a song when it was advertising bad beer and it ends up being something that reaches deep into your soul and touches you every time you hear it.

Yet that’s exactly the case with Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia, a song that evokes so much feeling that I went for half a decade without listening to it because it caused me to break down. More on that in a bit.

The first version I ever heard wasn’t sung my Scottish folk legend MacLean, but by Frankie Miller during an advert for Tennents Lager.

Miller’s version is rockier than MacLean’s original version and there’s a growl that suits the advert – but ultimately not the song. It was probably a couple of years later – remember this is pre-internet days where you couldn’t find an answer in just a couple of seconds – when I found out who wrote the song and heard the original version.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX9h558Tz1E&w=640&h=480]

And while it’s great it’s still not quite there. MacLean was quite young – just 24 – when he recorded it. He was overseas and yearning for Scotland again. But his voice in 1978 still had a ways to go. It was when the song was sung live that it came… well, no pun intended, alive.

That first happened, if my poor memory doesn’t fail me, on Hogmanay 1991. I had gathered with friends in Fochabers for some not-quite-traditional new years drinks (I was only 17 and a good boy!) and Dougie appeared on one of the shows around midnight. His voice was better than in the original by quite a bit but it’s still not quite the ultimate version. I can’t remember if it was the last thing I heard in 1991 or the first thing in 1992, but that version was what stuck with me for two decades.

The reason the song means so much is because it never fails to make me think about Scotland. It’s true that you probably never appreciate what you have until it’s gone and that’s certainly true of my homeland. I didn’t think about the pristine beaches, the purple heather hills, the postcard perfect scenery until it wasn’t going to be outside my door anymore. In fact I couldn’t be further away on the face of this earth than in New Zealand.

I first cried hearing this song shortly before I moved here. It was at a gathering of friends and I had the song on a CD. It started playing and I just couldn’t keep it in. Knowing I was going to miss these amazing people, that Scotland was no longer going to be my home left me bereft. It was too late to do anything but for those five minutes I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It hurt. And it hurt for a long time after.

When some of those same friends visited Auckland a few years later we sat around, guitars in hand and I heard the start of the song being plucked. And that was enough to set me off again. Having them there, knowing that it was only temporary? My heart was crushed. And so began my self-imposed exile, until I happened upon, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest version of the song.

I’m sure there will be some who disagree with me, someone who prefers the integrity of a younger Dougie MacLean, or the wistful, more mature sound of a live performance in the 1990s. But nothing captures the feel of the song like the version sung on the occasion of his lifetime achievement at theRadio 2 Folk Awards in 2013.

The crowd on the stage is a who’s who of folk music, Scottish and further afield. MacLean doesn’t sing all of the words, ego free he hands over the best of his greatest creation to others. Karine Polwart and Kris Drever (I think) are the first to break out from MacLean’s lyrics but it’s, unsurprisingly, Eddi Reader who makes it her own. But what really gives this the power is the fiddles – and then the haunting sound of the whistle shortly before three minute mark.

If I’ve composed myself to that point then as soon as that low Gaelic wind starts I’m in tears. Just writing this now and I’m having to wipe my eyes.

I dare you to watch it. And I double fucking dare you to not feel that stirring in your heart.

If I had to listen to just one version of one song every day for the rest of my life then this is it. Every time I listen to it I fall in love with it just a little bit more. There’s something new, a nuance that wasn’t clear first time. It’s everything a song should be and more. And… well, that’s enough from me actually. Because there’s only one appropriate set of words to close this article and that’s from Dougie and guests – so turn up the volume and bathe in its celtic glory.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmxqjzCxNEE&w=854&h=480]

Sunday Life #1 – Wrestling with depression

Depression doesn’t discriminate – rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, it can hit everyone and often with little warning.

  “Chris Cornell@P&L”  by   Andreas Eldh   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

“Chris Cornell@P&L”  by Andreas Eldh   is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yet still there’s something massively shocking about someone in the public eye taking their own life. The untimely demise of Chris Cornell this week really shook me up. The last time I remember feeling like this was when Wales football manager Gary Speed took his own life.

I was working for Yahoo! New Zealand at the time and I wrote a heartfelt blog that seemed to resonate. I was proud of it yet still surprised to see it being used by others in New Zealand as a good example.

At work I was congratulated on the blog, it was mentioned in a weekly e-mail to staff across Australia and New Zealand – and yet something bothered me about it and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then as I pondered the answer to life, the universe and everything in the wake of Cornell’s death it came to me.

It bugged me, I realise, because people thought I was brave for doing it. And that’s the problem. Depression is still a massive issue because people are still scared to talk about it. Not everyone, but a lot. And why wouldn’t you be? Why would you tell an employer that you suffer from depression knowing there’s a chance they’ll think less of you – or even discriminate? Could it stop you from getting promotion? Could it make you a target if there are redundancies? Will people talk about you behind your back?

And why wouldn’t they when there are their political parties proudly standing on platforms knowing cuts they make will impact on mental health services. Cuts that could kill you, your best friend, your hero, your mother or your child. That’s how little some people think of us.

I wasn’t brave for saying I had depression, no more than I was brave those times I had pneumonia or the flu or the shitty cold that left me under the weather. Yet because some people are ginormous fucking arseholes it might appear that I’m brave to some. And it will continue to be like that while those arseholes have power.

I’ve had experiences at both sides of the spectrum. At Yahoo! New Zealand they were great. I had to take the odd day off because of my depression and it was never questioned. I never felt my job was at risk because of it and no-one ever treated me differently.

The opposite was true at another place of work.

I had a boss, who shall remain nameless, for whom depression was cured by getting some fresh air at lunchtime. I was low, not quite as low as ‘oh my god, I could step off the edge and the pain would be over’ low but low enough. I needed a few hours off to compose myself – I wasn’t putting anything at work at risk and I could have lied, made up a doctor’s appointment or a family emergency. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and admitted my depression. It was dismissed, a fly swatted away by someone who didn’t appear to believe depression was that big a deal.

The reaction, in hindsight, was exactly what I should have expected. And, although I have no way of proving this, I believe I almost lost my job after my 90 day trial (a legal mechanism in New Zealand that allows employers to ditch employees after 90 days with virtually zero recourse) due to it. In the end I waited two days to be told my job was safe, only pushing me further into my depression.

Yeah, I understand why people don’t want to admit it, even to a doctor. Why they’re scared to and why they feel they have no-one to turn to. Why they feel alone and no-one understands. I’ve been there many times. As you may have been too.

Things have improved for me over the last couple of years, so much so that there are times when I’ve felt like I’ve put the Black Dog far behind me. Deaths like Cornell’s remind me that it’s never truly gone but waiting for that opportunity to bite again. I’ve recommitted to myself to never taking it for granted and to live for every glorious new day – and when it does come back to try and remember that this is how it can – and will – feel again.

No-one is immune. This insidious, heart-breaking, shitty fucking disorder can affect everyone – and just because someone seem okay, or are even fully functional doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Chris Cornell played an amazing gig, and gave little indication there was anything wrong – and yet his wife and kids face life without their loved one and – on a much lower level – us fans mourn a voice of a generation.

Thank you Chris Cornell for sharing your gift with the world. For cheering people up at their moment of need, for giving pleasure to many and for reminding us never to make presumptions about someone’s mental health.

But also for giving us this opportunity to support those who show empathy and care in dealing with anyone who suffers. It’s the least we can do.

Saturday Sport #1 – What is sport?

What is sport?

  “A well-used football.”  by   Joe Lodge   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

“A well-used football.”  by Joe Lodge   is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s a heartbreaker, a gatherer of arseholes, homophobia and sexism all mixed up in a ball of hatred bound by flags of all colours and alcohol. It’s the worst of humanity, cheating to win, taking payments under the table, deliberately crippling other players. It’s survival of the fittest, $250k a week, destroyed by television, beholden to gambling and punched into young minds that it matters. It’s a load of balls, a grass stain on the world, an itch that can’t be scratched and a false feeling of superiority. It’s the dregs of society, lording it over your neighbours, smacking the television, spewing of bigotry and an elbow in the guts. It’s the stench of sweat, a jockstrap of emotion, a knife in the back and a killer of dreams. Sport is nothing.

But…

BUT.

It’s also beautiful, intelligent, wondrous and magnificent. It’s an unexpected victory, a last second winner. It’s a hug with a stranger, a bond otherwise never formed. It’s a Davie Cooper dribble, a united front in times of tragedy, a joyous gathering, a playing field leveler. It doesn’t discriminate. Songs are sung in harmony, it brings cultures together and forces prejudices to be faced. It’s the biggest day of your life, an autograph in a book, a Cup Final of emotions and an opportunity for anyone to succeed. It’s uplifting and never judgemental. It’s a shared language, a uniter of countries, a triumph of will and a game-changer. Sport is love, sport is life. Sport is everything.

And…

AND.

It’s all of these all at once. You can’t separate the good from the bad, but you can try and be only one of them.

Choose carefully.

Fictional Friday #1 – With apologies to Roddy Doyle

A: Awright pal, how’s it goin’?

B: Fucken shite, big man. Totally gutted. 

A: How? Yer sister stop given ye blow jobs?

B: Yer a funny fucker, eh? Naw, she stopped when she saw yer maw given me a swatch o’ her fanny doon the street a few weeks ago.

A: My maw? She’s widnae be seen fucken died wee a pasty prick like you! Your maw, though? Ah always like how she makes me a piece and jam when she’s finished tuggin’ me aff. That’s why I’m a big fat fucker.

B: Forty years old and still slaggin’ ma maw, eh? You’re never goin’ tae grow up.

A: You’re one tae speak. “A swatch o’ her fanny?” Fuck off. Nah, mate. Am a cunt, and a funny one at that.

B: –

A: So how come yer so fucken miserable?

B: How come?

A: Aye! Whit’s maken ye look like ye found a lump on yer bollocks this mornin’?

B: Fucken Rangers. Only went and lost at hame tae Aberdeen. Sheep shagging bastards. First time in 26 year.

A: 26 year, eh? So they last time they won in Glesga was aboot the last time you were last able to see yer tiny cock withoot lookin’ in a mirror?

B: Aye, aboot the same time yer left eye and right eye last baith pointed in the same direction.

A: Fuck me, that long? But you must have expected it, though. They’ve been utter fucken mince all season.

B: Of course, but it disnae make it any easier to take, man. Honestly, Ah’ve had shites that were less of a coward than our fucken midfield. One old cunt, one fucken hairband and a tube fae Arsenal who looks like he’d rather be daen anything other than playing fitba. Ma arse is mare mobile than him and ye’ve seen ma arse!

A: You should dae whit ah dae, pal, and chuck it. Find somethin’ better tae do wi’ yer Saturday afternoons. Besides pumpin’ yer maw.

B: Ah thought aboot it. But I just cannae. It’s been too long and they’re a part o’ ma life. It would be like cuttin’ ma extremely long and fat boaby off. And ah’ve got hopes for Big Pedro.

A: Big Pedro? Funnily enough that’s what I call ma boaby. And ma boaby’s probably got a better chance o’ winnin’ the league next season.

B: – 

A: Aye, that’s what I thought. Anyway, isn’t the season nearly over? At least ye’ll get some respite right?

B: Ah fucken wish. They play their first game o’ next season in just over a month.

A: Still, a lot can happen in a month, right?

B: Aye, but no that much. So how’s things wi’ you anyway?

C: Excuse me for interrupting you pair of cunts, but can ye’s no see there’s a fucken queue? You goin’ tae pay for that cans of piss or stand there gabbin’ all night?

Soapbox Tuesday #1 – Just fucking stop it

I’ve been a political geek for a long time now – certainly back to my early high school days in the late 1980s. As with most people my parents’ political persuasion played a part in where I put myself on the political spectrum – but I quickly found my own path. My first event was a hustings for the Moray electorate during the 1992 UK election campaign. I was there to cheer on Margaret Ewing, wearing my SNP badge – and probably thinking about how clever I was. I asked a question – about higher education if my memory serves – and from there I was hooked.

  “Displaying the courage of her SNP convictions, Colinton”  by   Ninian Reid   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0   

“Displaying the courage of her SNP convictions, Colinton”  by Ninian Reid   is licensed under CC BY 2.0  

My time in student politics, as Depute President and then President of the University of Abertay Dundee Students’ Association was the highlight of my political career. It coincided with a place on the National Union of Students (Scotland) executive committee, an eye-opening experience that I remember fondly even now.

Some of the people I worked with went on to become elected politicians in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments – but I could see the writing on the wall from early on and knew it wasn’t for me. For a start I was just too bloody opinionated. And I just couldn’t maintain – or wasn’t willing to commit to – party lines. I found my niche, as someone who could work with all sides and come up with a workable compromise. I’m still very proud of the work my fellow independents and I did to break the Labour domination of the elected positions at NUS Scotland, however briefly. But most of all it was fun.

Age hasn’t changed me, of course. I’m still the same and proud of it. It certainly doesn’t make me better than anyone else, and I wouldn’t claim thus. It does make me less blinded than a decent portion of society, particularly in Scotland. And that’s where it gets really interesting – because I’m something of a Pavlovian political prole.

From my earliest days I’ve been a Rangers fan and that doesn’t sit well with my political beliefs for a lot of people. They were my first love after Tina from Blue Peter and Rentaghost – and have lasted longer than both. I had a season ticket for a few years and even now, 17903.84kms from Glasgow, I still get up in the early hours of the morning to cheer them on. They’re as part of my identity as swearing and XXXL t-shirts. Rangers also comes from my parents – in this case my dad’s side of the family who were Ulster/Scots protestants. But none of that mattered to me. They were my heroes and I didn’t believe in any god – and I certainly was no fan of the assumed unionist politics of the 45,000 who packed Ibrox every week. I once stood outside in the snow rather than watch Rangers being beaten 5-1 by Aberdeen in the mid-80s – that’s how bloody minded I was. Okay, I still am.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older than I realised it was naive of me to think I could separate the two. You can’t, no matter how hard you try and no matter what your stated beliefs are. And that’s because Scottish society is, ultimately, divided. Religion, politics, football, favourite Beechgrove Garden presenter – it doesn’t matter where you draw the line you’ll get division. And it gets even more complicated than that – there’s an old joke that says if three Rangers fans were marooned on a desert island there would be four Rangers Supporters Clubs before the end of the month.

And there’s a kernel of truth in that – because we (as a society) allow our differences to define us rather than focussing on what unites us.

I’m still a paid up member of the Scottish National Party (SNP) because I strongly believe that an independent Scotland in Europe would give Scottish businesses the best hopes of success and allow a Scottish government to prioritise the welfare and care of all our people over tax breaks for the most wealthy in society. That’s a political position and, of course, that’s up for anyone to shoot down, disagree with or argue against. But try having that debate between politial parties, football fans or just between a handful of people in a pub and it all goes to shit.

In the last few months I’ve been called both a cybernat and a yoon – both descriptions used to try and play the man and not the ball (as if there wasn’t enough sport references in here already), unsubtle attempts to belittle an opponent.

I’ve been told I can’t be truly left wing, republican and a supporter of independence if I’m willing to publicly support Rangers. I’ve been dismissed because I tried to call out a prominent SNP supporter for repugnant statements on the Hillsborough disaster and his deliberate misgendering of Chelsea Manning. I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’.

And I can’t be a Rangers fan if I support the SNP. Check out any political posting on FollowFollow.com and, as Billy Connolly once said, I’m as welcome as a fart in a space suit. (And by mentioning Billy Connolly I’ve now proved to those same Rangers fans I can’t possibly be a Rangers fan because Billy supports Celtic. That’s how it works.) And I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’. Sounds familiar, right?

It’s bizarre, insidious and, honestly, I’m sick of it. Another independence referendum in Scotland is bound to fail because not enough people will be willing to actually engage in the arguments and make a decision based on them. What do independent economists tell us is most likely to happen? Why are we so unwilling to give up the pound for the euro? Why do we believe it when we’re told we’re not big enough to go it alone when there are other, smaller, more successful countries than us with less resources open to them? No, people will blindly support one side of the other because they’re protestant, catholic, Rangers supporters, Celtic supporters, misognynists, racists… the list could go on and on.

My anger and angst over this has been prolonged due to the despicable Brexit campaign last year (the very definition of a factless argument, way more so than the Scottish independence referendum campaign) and the hastily-called UK election in early June. It’s time that our political leaders – both on this side of the world and in Scotland – did something about it. Because they have to be the ones who make the first steps. It’s their angry rhetoric that helps drive people to embrace the division. Disagree, and debate but do so while keeping what binds us at the forefront. And this applies to politicians of all sides – no-one can claim the moral high ground here.

And the same is true for those who are willing to dismiss someone’s entire being solely on the basis of sport, religion or favoured name for a morning roll (everyone knows it’s a buttery). I embrace Celtic fans who support independence even though I don’t like their football team because to do so would be idiotic. I embrace Rangers fans who don’t want independence for the same reason.

This, of course, does not apply to people for whom hatred is their raison d’être. We see this reflected today in the racism and xenophobia of the right in the USA, UKIP and even in the likes of the dog-whistle politics of Winston Peters in New Zealand. That needs to be called out at every single opportunity and not be allowed to be ignored by the likes of Labour, both here and it the UK, because politically it’s an acceptable move.

I wrote earlier that I was naive – and from everything I’ve written here you’ll see that I still am. Because I don’t think there’s a political or societal will to do what I believe is right for most people. There’s too much money and too much of our identity bound in it for people to take a step back.

And, ultimately, we’re all going to suffer for it.

Musical Monday #1 – Kirsty MacColl’s Innocence

I figure that even if you’ve never met me, or read more than half a dozen things I’ve written you’re probably already had enough of my Jimmy Buffett fandom – so I want to start Musical Monday with the second most important musical artist in my life – the wonderful Kirsty MacColl.

As time progresses I’ll be writing much more about Kirsty, her music, her tragic death, my pilgrimage to Soho Square and more – but I wanted to start… well, at the very start. And that’s with the first song I can recall ever hearing of Kirsty’s – Innocence, from her album Kite.

Okay, that’s not quite true. It wouldn’t be until quite a bit later that I found out she had written They Don’t Know which Tracey Ullman took to number two in the charts. And I’m almost certain I had heard New England but didn’t make the connection until much later.

But I do remember making a trip to Elgin library in 1989 when I was 15, which is where I found an album of hers for the first time. Remember this was before the internet so finding new music wasn’t as simple as looking up related artists on Spotify. If you were like me you listened to some chart music and whatever was played on the stereo at home – and Kirsty didn’t feature in either of those.

It was in Fochabers, my tiny home town in the North East of Scotland, where I first fell in love with libraries. The local library was run by Mary and Vicky and every time I went in I felt like I was the most important person there. I got extra books, they always had recommendations for me, they never fined me – and often they kept back a book they knew I’d like. As time progressed I graduated to being able to remove the tapes I wanted to borrow from the music library from the giant, complicated tape monster in the middle of the main room.

But the library was small and, as much as I hated to, I started to cheat on Mary and Vicky by taking a bus into Elgin instead to check out the much more impressive library. And that’s where I found a music collection much bigger than I could have imagined.

I can’t recall how much it was to borrow a tape – I’m guessing 20 or 30p, but I took full advantage. And one of those, picked at semi-random, was Kite. With a few exceptions, my preference is for female vocalists – it started with a crush on Debbie Gibson and continues today with Marketa Irglova, Bjork, Nellie McKay, Joanna Newsom and more. And that’s how I happened to choose Kirsty’s tape – there was a picture of her on the cover and her name sounded familiar and a little bit Scottish-y or Irish-y. That was enough for me. And this was the first song I heard:

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qZ2KFRaYtA&w=640&h=480]

It’s a great song and gives a fantastic insight into Kirsty MacColl as a writer and a singer. There are high-pitched melodies, a sense of humour and a withering take on some aspect of life – all of which appear many times in her music.

That first chorus is a thing of beauty:

Oh innocence has passed you by
A long long time ago
I was the fly upon your wall
And I saw what you know
Your pornographic priestess left you for another guy
You frighten little children and you’ll always wonder why
Always wonder why

I mean ‘pornographic priestess’? Kirsty’s way with words never fail to conjure an image in my mind and by the time finishes I’ve got a strong idea of just who this person is, this man who seems to have taken one liberty two many with our warbling heroine.

The rest of the album was medicine for my soul. Her acerbic, almost misanthropic at times, glorious lyrics still make me want to cheer, laugh and cry every time I listen to them today. And Kite isn’t even her best album. In fact I’d put it in fourth place behind Electric Landlady, Titanic Days and Tropical Brainstorm.

But that will have to wait for another day. Search for Kite on your streaming music source of choice, or even better pick up a copy of her album from your favourite second hand music store and envelope yourself in the brilliance.

Whether it’s the country homage of Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!, the excellent cover of The Kinks’ Days or the haunting but beautiful Mother’s Ruin you’ll find something that resonates, a lyric that nags you to think more about it, a feeling of life that feels more real than any other singer I can name. And weep for a life lost way too early and a songwriter of undoubted genius unable to gift her music to us any more.

Forceful creation

I have one of those weird relationships with time – I crave more of it do all the things I want to do, yet when given the opportunity I’ll almost certainly waste it by doing nothing for hours on end.

 Less of this, more of writing

Less of this, more of writing

Yesterday, for example, I could have written for this website, worked on one of the many novels I’ve started, done some more work on my memoir, talked to old friends, sold some stuff on Trade Me… you get the point, the list is nearly endless. So what did I do, I hear you ask?

Of course I sat and streamed the entire Season 2 of Masters of None on Netflix. Now you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find out what I thought about that but it got me thinking – if I leave things to my own lazy self then I’ll never achieve anything. It’s time to put this out there in the hope by going public I’ll shame myself into writing more. And losing weight, but that’s another story!

So starting today I’m instituting a daily blog – some days will be just a couple of words, others will be thousands, but I’m committing to putting my virtual pen to this virtual paper and doing what I desperately want to do but haven’t managed yet.

You can break down what I write about into a few general categories:

  • Music
  • Wrestling
  • Politics
  • Reading/Writing
  • Sport
  • TV & Movies
  • General life

Handily there are seven things on that list and seven days in a week. Okay, that might not be entirely by luck – and by including ‘life’ as one then I can pretty much write about anything. But fuck me, give me a break. The intent is there!

While I try and come up with better labels for the content I hereby declare the following days of the week exist as part of You Had To Be There.

  • Musical Monday – for my thoughts on music old and new (but almost certainly always old)
  • Soapbox Tuesday – ramblings from my left-wing, liberal perspective
  • Watching on Wednesday – this will be a little like my old Couch Potato blog on Stuff.co.nz
  • Grappling with Thursday – for all my wrestling reckons
  • Fictional Friday – books, some of my writing or just recommendations to read Chris Brookmyre? Who knows!
  • Saturday Sport – with significantly less breasts than the UK newspaper of a similar title
  • Sunday Life – whatever doesn’t fit anywhere else. Probably.

So there, dear reader, I have committed to you to give you something to ignore, skim over, ridicule or to not your head with every day until such time as I realise this was a terrible idea. So probably the end of this week.

A bucket list now smaller

In this megalo-modern world
You’ve got to try
Try a little love and luck
And you’ll get by

Jimmy Buffett, ‘Love and Luck’

Me and Jimmy Buffett

Me and Jimmy Buffett

You’ve heard the old adage about meeting your heroes, right? Disappointment, fortunately, has been missing from my life for a few years now so I was loathe to put myself in the position where Jimmy Buffett – singer, songwriter, businessman, raconteur and more – could unevolve from music idol to mere mortal. But if listening to his songs for nearly 40 years taught me anything then life is all about grabbing those opportunities. And sailing, smoking marijuana and getting drunk – but that’s another story.

Which is why, on Tuesday 18th April 2017, I was stood outside the stage door at the Wellington Opera House at 4.30pm with nothing but a partly-shaved arm, a permanent marker and a look of sheer terror combined with an emotional state on a knife-edge between weeping and never leaving the house again.

I had a companion, a man who insisted he was a massive Jimmy Buffett fan but had to ask who the people in Jimmy’s latest social media photos were. One was Jimmy and one was his long-time collaborator and an independent musician of some repute, Mac McAnally so it’s fair to say I judged him just a wee bit. Yes, I can be an arsehole too, even if it doesn’t show that often.

I stood as close to the stage door as possible, listening to Mac taking Jimmy’s place in the sound-check. ‘Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes’, lyrics of which are permanently inked on my arm, was belting out. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Well, except for my companion shouting ‘it’s him’ every time a piece of rubbish moved in the back alley. My internal monologue screamed ‘shut up’ as I teetered on the edge of tears.

And then some movement, a few more people at the back door. And then a car came around the corner, driving slowly towards where I was standing. The door slid open and there he was. The man who has been a major part of my life for so many years, whether he knows it or not. He steps out, sunglasses and baseball cap on. He’s barely touched the Wellington soil and The World’s Biggest Parrothead(TM) has rushed up to him.

I’m standing there, unable to move, not quite comprehending the reality of what’s transpiring. And my first thought is ‘why is he so goddamned small?’. I’ve seen him in videos, interviewed on television and – from a distance – on stage in Orlando in 2004. But six feet away from me and his stature is a surprise. I don’t know if I expected him to be much taller than me or not – but him being more than half a head shorter just seemed weird to me. And then it’s my turn. I give him some space and then reached my hand out, calling him Mr Buffett in the process. Hey, he doesn’t know me and I’m a polite kind of guy, right?

He likes my t-shirt, a ‘Wrestling with Depression’ mix-tape shirt from my favourite podcast and one chosen because it sums me up perfectly.

I then ask him for his indulgence for a massive favour. I explain, no blurt… actually, probably mumble, some words about how important his music and lyrics have been to my for the last few decades. And then I show him my tattoo and ask him if he would consider signing it for me.

And to my delight he’s impressed. He thinks the tattoo is great and compares it to the size of his. Mine is bigger, apparently. And he’s more than happy to sign it but he wants some photos with me and the tattoo first. My head is spinning and I’m trying to process it all. I’m here, standing next to Jimmy. He’s touching me. OH. MY. GOD. HE’S TOUCHING ME! I’m an emotional wreck at the best of times – don’t ask me how many times I cried at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony earlier this month – and I can feel the tears running down my cheek. One of his entourage offers to take my phone so he can take some photos and then it’s over.

What’s that emerging between the sobs? Is it the crushing disappointment of having achieved a life’s goal and having nothing beyond it? Was he not everything I hoped? Nope, it was different. It was… joy? A wave of happiness that until just a few years ago had been relatively sparse. My fellow autograph hunter had departed, the car gone and just a couple of Jimmy’s entourage were left out back. They look at me shaking and crying and I can’t work out what their faces are trying to tell me besides ‘seriously, dude?’. And then I stumble away, stunned and with a level of peace that I can’t remember feeling before. I had done it. Nothing of importance, not an event that was going to impact on anyone else, but one which I’d dreamed – literally – about so many times.

I keep looking at the photos. I don’t know if I need the assurance it definitely happened or just want to wallow in it but it feels great. And now I have to fly back to Auckland to take care of one more thing – finding a tattooist who can follow Jimmy’s signature and stop it fading away.

A permanent reminder of a temporary feeling, as a certain Mr Buffett might sing.

Oh, and the partly-shaved arm? That’s all thanks to Sam, who believed I was going to meet Jimmy Buffett more than I ever did. She made sure I was prepared – and that meant taking no risks his autograph would be destroyed by my gorilla-like arms. And that I had a marker for the occasion. I can say with absolute certainty that I would not have met my idol without her – and I will never be able to thank her enough. Of course Buffett has a lyric for that too:

All I want’s the quiet and the comforts
That livin’ with my lovely lady brings

Wrestling With Depression

Today I’m proudly wearing my ‘Wrestling With Depression‘ t-shirt. It’s from a podcast hosted by Chicago comedian and wrestling fan Marty DeRosa, who also hosts my favourite podcast Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling. You should listen to them both.

Most of you know I suffered from deep ‘oh my god, I don’t know if I can survive this’ depression for 15 years until I got to the point where I could contextualise it a bit and deal with the triggers. It’s got to the point where I can say I haven’t been depressed for two years – but I know that’s no guarantee that I won’t suffer again.

There were times when knowing just one other person is feeling the way you are can be a life-saver, the knowledge that you’re not alone. Knowing there is a way out can make the difference between darkness and light.

If you’re suffering right now then know you don’t have to suffer in silence. There is help out there for you, from your fellow sufferers and from those who have managed to put depression behind them, temporarily or not. From doctors and therapists to comedians like Marty who can lift the blackness temporarily with their honesty and openness.

Aroha to you all.

Fuck you DEATH*, not-quite-ready-to-kick-the-bucket list

When you’re a fat, unfit, formerly-depressed misanthropic wrestling nerd with a keen ability to overshare (did you know I once pooped six times in one day when I didn’t have diarrhea?) there are a few things I could have done with my life as I hit middle age.
The sensible approach would have been to cut down on the treats, get a little bit fitter, and settle into a job which could maintain my interest for the next quarter of a century.

The benefits from that path would have been immense – no longer would long walks be met with a groan and swelling of my fucked ankle, for example.

I could become a mentor to those younger members of staff who must surely be impressed with someone who couldn’t decide what they wanted to do with their lives until their fifth decade on this planet.

And I could retire with enough money to pay for the upkeep on the retinal implants which, in just a few years time, will serve me my daily dose of news, movies and television shows as I lie around in a wooden shack because I can’t afford to buy a house in Auckland. Again (but that’s another story).

But for someone who still watches wrestling – and both cries and cheers while watching it – ‘sensible’ was never the likely option.

So I continue to do what I’ve always done – dream of all the experiences I should be doing while spending money on shit that doesn’t mean anything. All while stuffing as much Sal’s Pizza into my distended belly as possible. Fuck it, their half and half cheese and pepperoni pizzas are stunning. And the garlic knots are pretty damned tasty too. And they have Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream. The bastards.

The idea of a bucket list always appealed to me – but giving yourself a list of things to do before you die sounds like a bad idea, especially if you don’t want to think about actually fucking dying.

I mean getting around to finally solving a Rubik’s Cube when I was 82 isn’t exactly appealing. For a start I’m not actually sure I’m going to get to that age.

And even if I do, given the amount of offal I ate in my twenties in Scotland, I’m almost certain to come down with some form of encephalopathy which renders my brain more useless than an honest politician.

Nope, if I was going to achieve those things I always wanted to in life I am going to do it before I hit the big 47. Fuck it, why not? It’s as arbitrary as death and makes as little sense as the list that follows.

Besides, if I don’t do it soon there’s no chance I’m going to get away with buying only one seat on an airplane rather than the two when my middle-age spread really starts to bite.

So here’s my ‘Fuck you DEATH*, not-quite-ready-to-kick-the-bucket’ list:

  • Interview Jimmy Buffett
  • Do a stand-up comedy set – and not suck
  • Write a non-fiction book
  • Score a penalty at Ibrox
  • Do a triathlon
  • Play an instrument on an album
  • Play a round of golf at a Major championship course
  • Appear as an extra on a television show/movie
  • Ride a wave standing on a surfboard
  • Go to Key West and drink beer
  • Learn to throw a pot
  • Sell a painting
  • Volunteer overseas
  • Walk the West Highland Way and the Tongariro Crossing
  • Ride a motorcycle
  • Write and make a short movie
  • Bungee jump
  • Get naked outside
  • Fly first class
  • Learn to sing
  • Wrestle a match (or more likely, call a wrestling match)

Some are self explanatory. Others not so. I’ll expand. When I can be arsed.

*Miss you, Terry Pratchett.