Warrior

Existing can be tough. Being a functioning human and getting through each day is a challenge, yet if you’re reading this you’ve succeeded. Every single day you’ve achieved a thousand tiny miracles that have made you the person that you are today. It’s one of those things that you’re programmed to take for granted, but it’s worth pausing to think about. You’ve made it, however much the odds were against you. However black some of those days and nights seemed, you’ve won.

You’ll win tomorrow too, whatever it brings.

Yellow Dog

A long drive west, chasing the sunset to the horizon. I blink back tears that blur my vision, red-faced and breathless. My heartbeat is ragged and broken, a chaotic oscillation on the cusp of ruin. I’ve driven this road many times, but this journey is different. I’ve left you behind.

The others thought that we were the perfect couple. Young. Beautiful. Fun. No, not fun. Not any more. I remember the beginning, the hand-holding, the way I could hear the rich timbre of love in your voice. The way our hearts and bones seemed locked together. I hid myself away from the slow dimming of the light, the fading of that fierce glow that once consumed us. You changed. We changed. The love went from your voice, replaced by cruel barbs amid a sea of disinterest. We exist, where once we lived. My hopes and dreams, once so real and tangible, now seem far-fetched and distant. I’m still in love with the idea of you, but it’s not enough. Not anymore.

Motorway gives way to minor road. Minor road gives way to the stony track to the coast. The yellow dog barks joyfully, his shiny eyes gazing at me in the rear view mirror. He’s excited by the sounds and smells of his favourite cove, but I like to think that he knows that things are changing. I park on the crunchy shingle, and we’re soon walking along the shoreline as the sun drips celestial fire on the darkening skyline. The dog bolts into the churning brine as I sink to my knees, overwhelmed. My fingers score the wet sand as my head sinks to my chest, body wracked with savage sobs. I never realised that freedom could hurt this much, or feel this beautiful.

Midsummer Musings

It’s been two weeks since the druids packed away their cloaks and stopped touching each other’s bottoms at Stonehenge, and the race downhill into the dark months has begun. It must seem like a strange thought process for any normal people reading this, but it’s one of the things that marks me out as being one of the mad folk. That and my bright orange scrotum.

I’m hyper-aware of time. I’ve written about it before and won’t bore you with the retelling, but I have two main trains of thought on the subject. Firstly, I obsess over the death of time and the passage of life into memory, and secondly I’m guilty of counting down the days until the veil of bleakness descends for another year. Cheerful eh? It’s not quite as grim as it sounds. I’ve recently made peace with my fears, but I’ve not quite managed to train my fecund mind to stop predicting catastrophe whenever the nights begin to draw in. Today is a great example of this; we’re currently experiencing an epic heatwave and I’ve spend the best part of the afternoon trying to work out whether I can hibernate between October and March. So far the planning hasn’t been hugely successful; I’m pinning my hopes on an injection of bear genes, however my pessimistic brain tells me that I’d probably be the subject of a terrible mixup and end up getting the skunk jab instead. They don’t even bloody hibernate.

I’ve had two awful winters and two average winters since I was diagnosed as an official mental. The awful ones are those where I descend into full on depression, where my brain switches to kamikaze autopilot and I float outside of myself like a grey balloon. In the average winters I retain control of my mental faculties and generally function well – I can get out of bed, dress myself, go to work etc. “But Tom, you handsome bugger, surely that’s a good winter?” I hear you ask. You’re right to ask; any time spent in control of one’s mind can only be a good thing, but it’s more complex than that. I can function, but I’m diminished. The best way to explain it is with a tedious car analogy – I’m like a modern car but my engine management light comes on and my engine switches to ‘limp home’ mode. Eco setting. Low battery. Clogged filter. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a thousand times better than the alternative.

Maybe some of you reading this can recognise your own experiences in mine. Maybe your experiences are different but equally unhelpful. Either way, it’s clear that this tendency towards unhelpful thought processes holds us back, maybe even damages us. So what to do about it? I don’t have all the answers, but I want to share some things that have been helpful for me:

a. Train your mind to take joy in the small things. We’re forever bombarded by the big stuff and it takes a toll on us, but there’s much happiness to be found in the minutiae. When it all seems too much, narrow your world view and really focus on something. Ask yourself questions and try to work out the answer. I immerse myself in nature because I can find a million things to ponder, but you don’t need to go the full David Attenborough like me. Look around you. Take an interest in patterns. Try to figure out how things work. Dogs are weird aren’t they? What the fuck is electricity? Where do ducks come from, and what do they want from us? Is there a squidgier food than malt loaf?

b. Try to live in the moment, and don’t take the amazing things that you do every day for granted. This is a tough one as it’s often very hard to control how you feel, but it’s rewarding if you can. For example, yesterday I went to London to watch a magnificent set by one of my favourite ever bands. Yet I began today by stressing about distant winter instead of reflecting on a wonderful experience. We are constantly making incredible memories but are too often guilty of letting them go, like a balloon release that ends up choking a swan.

c. No matter what, never be afraid to talk. Talk constantly, talk loudly. Write things down and share them with the world. Let the people around you know who you are, let them see your humanity. Your brain might tell you to keep everything inside, but it’s truly never the answer. Those internal musings are often much easier to see as the lies that they are in the cold light of day, whereas they’re infinitely more convincing when you hold them in. Unpack the unhelpful thoughts from your mind, and make room to let the beauty in. Don’t be scared, and don’t be disheartened. Tell your story.

I’m still getting to know myself, but every day I learn new tactics that help me to better understand who I am. I’m a strange aubergine, but I’m learning to like me.

Nurse, fetch me my jelly!

Ode to an Island

Awoken by birdsong on midsummer day,
The solstice dawn mere moments away,
We walk from our cabin to the eastern bay,
To watch the sun rise over Vrångö.

Our burning star ignites the sky,
The light reflected in your eyes,
That dance in my mind like fireflies,
Two hearts entwined on Vrångö.

The winding path to our wooden shack,
You make us coffee, bitter and black,
I load treats into my canvas sack,
For today we explore Vrångö.

This pristine rock, this perfect island,
With its forest, reedswamp and coastal sands,
Our secret retreat from the crowded mainland,
Our paradise, our Vrångö.

You take the lead along the stony path,
I follow behind through the coastal flats,
We pause to rest amid the cotton-grass,
My naturalist’s heart beats for Vrångö.

We skirt the rocks where the eider call,
Where oystercatcher feed and the seals enthral,
Sea holly and aster bloom on the jetty wall,
A magical place, this Vrångö.

Our route emerges by the western road,
Into a cheerful hamlet of wooden abodes,
A bustling hub where the fishing boats unload,
Although it’s never really busy on Vrångö.

I’ve seldom known peace like this before,
Since we first stepped on this granite shore,
An island I love with the one I adore,
Twin souls cast away on Vrångö.

I know I’ll never forget this place,
This perfect moment, your perfect face,
Footprints in the sand were the only trace,
That we left, of ourselves, on Vrångö.

The Glamour of Decay

I stand in the shadow of the old power station,
An iron monolith, unravelled by time and neglect,
Hulking rust, flaking lead paint,
A coastal breeze makes the ferrous corpse howl,
The clangs and screams of a building gone feral.

Twenty years have passed since they last shut the gates,
Twenty years since mankind last asserted control,
Nature now thrives, unshackled and wild,
An erratic caretaker with a cubist’s eye,
Order erased and replaced by chaos.

Birds claim dominion over this mangled fortress,
Each corner of the inglorious ruin an avian metropolis,
Pigeons ubiquitous, gulls rampant,
Cacophonous flocks flooding the sky,
A clumsy murmuration of the unloved ones.

Dragonflies dance above the glaucous saltmarsh,
An old wooden jetty sways with the tidal ebb,
River barges were once unloaded here,
Yet now the hardwood timbers are left to rot,
Watched over by the ghosts of the wharfmen.

Few structures persist in this forgotten place,
Yet relics of the service yards and car parks remain,
Cracked and fissured, asphalt ruptured,
Colt’s-foot, horsetail and beard grass encroaching,
The ephemeral vanguard of a pioneer invasion.

A green-fingered crew once cared for these grounds,
Grasslands mown and manicured with pride,
Their box-cut hedges are now long gone,
Lost to leggy avenues of glorious disorder,
Verges transformed to a paradise of wildflowers and anthills.

Rusted and warped, a railway track leads north,
Through unkempt scrublands where the nightingales dwell,
Past dusty fuel ash sidings,
Fiercely alkaline, slate-grey and barren,
Dotted with bright orchids and hardy halophytes.

I rest at the gates of a tumbledown outhouse,
The broken sign still reads “nature education centre”,
Even a celebrity endorsement,
Couldn’t prevent this place from being forgotten,
When the numbers in the balance sheets stopped adding up.

I walk slowly back to the tarnished metal gates,
Through grasslands teeming with a rainbow of insect life,
A basking lizard darts away,
Her gravid body catches my eye as I squeeze past the chainlink fence,
Through a gap the local kids made years before.

As I slink away a sheet of paper catches my eye,
Stapled to a telegraph pole at the roadside,
“Planning permission granted”,
The machines are coming to undo twenty years of natural process,
Shiny new homes to replace a brownfield monstrosity.

It’ll all be gone soon, my secret place,
They don’t value this stuff, but it’s richer than any wild place I’ve ever known,
They’re wrong.
They’re wrong.
They’re wrong.

Don’t Give Up

Suicide has been in the news again this week. It seems that the number of well-known personalities lost to suicide in the past few of years has increased dramatically, and statistics on suicide rates in broader society correspond with this observation. We’ve all heard that it’s currently the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, but it’s also on the rise in almost every other demographic that you could name. It’s become an epidemic, and it’s something that is likely to touch all of our lives at some point.

I find it hugely heartening that people are increasingly willing to speak up about their experiences, as it’s only through learning from these experiences that we can hope to beat it. I’d normally prefer to dig a hole to the centre of the earth and hide in it than talk about what I’m going to talk about, but I think the time is right for the story to be told. I’m not claiming that any of my opinions are unique or provide any answers, but shared experience is ultimately the only way that we as a society can learn to process and deal with tragedy, and indeed try to tackle the underlying issues which ultimately lead someone to follow such a devastating and final path.

I’m going to start with one major plot spoiler – my mom killed herself. This is probably the only time I’ll write about this because it’s not a great deal of fun. If you think that reading about it may upset you then please feel free to bale out now. I understand that this is an uncomfortable subject, and the last thing I want to do is to make anyone feel bad. Go and do something better with your time, I know I would. Climb a tree, paint a picture, have a wank.

The second important point to make before I start is that this isn’t just my story. It’s my telling of some events that I was central to, but it’s equally the story of several others caught up in the shitty maelstrom, most notably my sister Ruth and my dad, but also other family members, in-laws and friends. I haven’t tried to speak for anyone else but I’d imagine their experiences don’t diverge greatly from my own. Right, here goes…

Prior to October 2011 I’d never really thought about suicide. It was certainly never something that had directly touched my life, and my only real contact with it had been through some of my teen heroes and anti-heroes, the likes of Kurt Cobain and Ernest Hemingway, who had found solace in the form of a bullet. To my naive mind these stories had an almost romantic mystique about them, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” and all that, but I’d soon learn how wrong I was. There’s nothing romantic about it, it’s horrific.

6th October 2011. I was sat at work pulling together a tedious report when my phone rang. Dad. It was strange for him to call me during the day. As two taciturn brummie men we generally confined our correspondence to brief weekly calls focused around car maintenance or garden tools. On this occasion he didn’t want to talk about either. In fact, he didn’t talk at all for some time. The first moment I heard his breathless whimper followed by “Thomas, it’s your dad” I knew something was very wrong. I don’t remember the exact words, but the line “your mom’s decided to take a load of tablets” has stayed with me vividly. Decided to. Not by accident. Intent. He then told me that he was at Selly Oak Hospital, which I should have realised had closed down some months before, but he was so frantic that he couldn’t remember where he was. I called my sister to break the news, and she subsequently spoke to Dad and managed to work out which hospital he was actually at.

I quickly made my excuses at work and jumped into my car, driving at breakneck speed to the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch. It was a surreal journey, I had no idea if mom was alive or dead and I was so full of adrenaline that I was on the verge of passing out. It’s a horrible, sickening feeling, I’m sure some of you know it. I was the first to arrive at the hospital and found dad outside, pacing back and forth in tears. I’d only ever seen him cry once before on the night that his own mom died, and throughout my childhood he’d always been a figure of steadfast stoicism. It was yet another surreal moment in a period full of them, and seeing my dad cry was something I would become painfully accustomed to.

Mom was alive. We walked into the Accident and Emergency department, into a small booth behind a curtain where she was on a bed wired up to a series of computers and monitors. I was stunned to find her awake and lucid, although her heart monitor showed 234 bpm as a result of the cocktail of drugs in her system. Dad had come home from work find her on the bed surrounded by empty medicine packages, including a variety of antidepressants and painkillers. It’s the painkillers that fuck you up, your body can’t deal with them in that quantity. I held her hand and we had a brief conversation before we were shepherded back out of the room by a nurse. Mom told me that she was sorry for being so selfish, which I took to be an admission of regret. I thought she was saying that she wanted to live, but then she asked the doctor why the overdose hadn’t worked yet, and when it would. In layman’s terms she was asking “will I die soon?”. That’s haunted me for a long time, it’s one of the few aspects of the whole period that I struggle to think about.

My sister arrived and spent some time with mom, presumably going through a similar experience to me. My next memory is myself and Ruth standing outside the hospital trying to call mom’s sister, Cate. Neither of us managed to keep it together on the phone, although strangely this was one of only two times that I remember crying during the whole incident. I’ve developed a strange relationship with my own emotions, to the point where I’ve built an imaginary wall between myself and the things that happen close to me. A sick puppy will have me in tears, but personal tragedy gets internalised into something ultimately much more unhealthy. I can’t remember whether I’ve always been that way or whether it was a response to that particular time, but I feel that it’s a key trigger behind some of my subsequent tribulations.

At some point mom was moved to a ward and we were advised to go home. I drove back, dad beside me, broken and weeping. At this point I felt reasonably optimistic that things would be alright, that mom had got through the worst and would get better. I told dad this, but he wasn’t listening. I dropped him off and asked if he wanted me to stay, but he said no. I then drove home and got undressed for bed. I lay back, still fizzing with sickening adrenaline, and glanced at my phone. Two missed calls from dad. Fuck. I called him back, and in a child’s voice he said “we’ve got to go back, mom’s very poorly”. Clothes back on and out the door, another mad dash to the hospital. Dad was crying all the way. I put my hand on his knee, I didn’t know what else to do.

Mom had gone into cardiac arrest after we left, and they were still trying to revive her when we arrived. For some reason we were put in a position where we could see them frantically trying to resuscitate her. Ruth also overheard a nurse joking on the phone about how she’d had a crap evening because someone (mom) had gone into cardiac arrest five times (how very inconvenient), something for which we received a piss-poor apology afterwards. They managed to stabilise her, but I think we all knew she’d been gone for too long. The nurse who came to apologise made some faintheartedly reassuring comments and asked if we had any questions. I was angry, and wanted to know why they hadn’t pumped her stomach as soon as she arrived at the hospital. I never got a satisfactory answer, and I still wonder whether they could have saved her. Who knows. I’m not a doctor, I’m sure they did the right thing, but it still niggles.

She was in an induced coma for seven days, kept alive by a machine. We’d visit every day hoping for some sign of improvement, but it never came. Occasionally her body would spasm involuntary, but we never got the miracle we hoped for. Eventually they removed the machines that kept her unconscious and she remained in natural coma for another week, but didn’t improve. My memory of these few days is vague, I’ve deliberately pushed it out of my head, but there is very little more depressing than repeatedly visiting a loved one when you know deep down that things are hopeless. You get to know the ward staff and engage in pointless small talk, and you get to spend time in the ‘family room’, AKA a cupboard with chairs where they put relatives who are waiting for their loved one to die. It’s soul-crushingly sad. The drab decor, the over friendly staff, the horrible attempts at wall art, all of it.

Mom did die, eventually. Fourteen days after the original overdose she finally got her wish. We were called to the hospital when the end was imminent, and I spent several hours in a family room with my sister whilst dad sat by mom’s bedside. I think Ruth went in to say goodbye, but I couldn’t do it. I’m weak in that regard, I hide from things that I know will hurt me. I also made the stupid decision of leaving the hospital for a while to buy some food, however I managed to crash my car due to my mind being broken. It was a fucking stupid decision, something I’m no stranger to. Fortunately nobody was hurt. Back to the hospital and another hour in the family room, before dad appeared. “Mom’s at peace now”. We sort of half hugged, and went home. It was an appalling experience, but it was a relief when it happened. We knew she was going, and I selfishly thought that a quick death would be a much better outcome than having to care for a vegetable. Cruel, but ultimately true. It’s amazing how selfish you can be even when things are at their worst.

I genuinely don’t remember much after that. I don’t remember the funeral, apart from the fact that it ended with an Everly Brothers song that I don’t like. I don’t remember the wake either, which stunned my sister a few years later when we went to the same hotel after my dad’s funeral. I had no recollection of ever going there before. Weird how the mind works huh? The only other thing that I remember is that we had to attend an inquest into the death at a court in Stourport a few weeks later. The coroner returned an open verdict, which is common in the case of suicides. It means that the death was non-natural, but there was insufficient evidence to provide whether the deceased intended to die or not. My dad found this whole procedure incredibly difficult. Once again I retreated into myself and just sat through it like a zombie. Not healthy.

The incident fundamentally changed all of us left behind, and I’m sure it had a profound impact on mom’s other friends and relations too. I’ve personally suffered from a number of bouts of depression since it happened. It’s hard to tell if this would have happened anyway, it’s certainly in the genes, but I personally feel that internalising everything and trying to be strong pushed me to breaking point. I’ve got it under control now, but mental illness is something I’ll always have to manage. I’m simply not the same person that I was before all of this happened.

Ruth went through a similar experience to me in the aftermath, although her story isn’t mine to tell. The fact that she’s had two awesome kids in the past few years and is clearly a brilliant mom is, however, testament to the fact that she’s also learning to cope with things. We both have our wobbles occasionally, but we’re getting there slowly.

Dad never really got over what happened. I never saw the old dad again after mom went, he became increasingly withdrawn and vulnerable. Myself and Ruth effectively became his carers, and he reverted back to being a child. It was heartbreaking to see, because he’d always been someone who could do things, and now he couldn’t do anything. Little more than five years after we lost mom, dad went too. His last couple of years were blighted by his own battle with mental illness, something that he tried to suppress with drink. It took a heavy toll on the rest of us as we tried our best to keep him going, but the end was painfully inevitable. He died in July 2016, and again I felt relief.

I try to avoid thinking of it, but the thing that hurts me most is that they were both so young (54 and 62) when they died, and they spend their whole lives striving for something better, something that never came. I suppose I’m just being a working class martyr, but they fact that they never got their happy ending fucks me up more than anything else. It’s shit, and it’s unfair, and I fucking hate it.

That’s the end of the story, congratulations if you made it this far. You’re probably wondering what the point of me telling it was, and you’re right to ask. Firstly I suppose it’s catharsis for me, it’s something I’ve never talked about and I probably should have. Secondly, we all need to be better at understanding what other people may be going through, and what could happen to them. In this case mom had suffered badly with depression for several years, as had many other members of the wider family, but I had never considered that it would end in the way that it did. I think back now and try to work out what I could have done differently, and whether I could have helped her to deal with things before it got this far. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I would have done anything that I could to have made things different.

A lot of those around us are struggling with things that we can’t see, and this example highlights that fact that we can’t just assume that people will be alright. Sometimes they won’t, but perhaps we can reach out and help divert them from taking such drastic steps? We can at least try.

Suicide isn’t quick. It isn’t painless, and it certainly isn’t romantic. People aren’t just bright lights that wink out of existence. Suicides change the fabric of the world around them, leaving a visceral, ragged wound that can never be fixed. The fact that some of us feel so desperate that that this seems to be the only way out needs to be addressed, now.

Traditionally mental illness has never been considered in the same bracket as diseases such as cancer, but that needs to change. Mental illness is a cancer, it’s just a cancer of the psyche rather than the body, and we have to think of it as such. The fact that many mental illnesses are less tangible than physical illnesses makes it difficult, but it’s up to all of us to reach out. Just the simple action of asking someone if they’re ok could save a life.

None of us are alone. None of us are experiencing things that have never been experienced before. There’s always an alternative path, and there’s always a way back from the precipice. Never give up, please.

Tramway to Hell

This is a silly anecdote about a horrible tram journey I took today. Apologies in advance for the toilet language, but sometimes only a good swear will do.

Tram 11 made glacial progress up the long hill, packed tight with human cargo and hotter than the face of the sun. A quirk of the schedule meant that this particular service had coincided with two separate tourist boats arriving into Saltholmen harbour, and as a result the ageing streetcar resembled a warm tin of shop-soiled corned beef. 

My initial joy at grappling my way into a window seat had dissipated the moment that I became surrounded by human flesh on all sides, sticky and unpleasant from the unusually hot spell that shrouded the city. A young mother thrust a pushchair at my legs with the force of an aggrieved bear, making me bite hard on my tongue to avoid shouting “FUCKING TWAT!” directly into a toddler’s face. It wasn’t entirely the toddler’s fault, but he did have a shifty look about him as though he’d orchestrated the incident. As if to prove a point, the toddler looked me in the eye and began to scream. Continuously. For the duration of 14 faltering stops. The twat.

Looking away from the demon child gave no solace, as I found myself gazing directly into the groin of a rotund American man, all sweat and jowls and the scent of spam. It was a fairly unremarkable groin, certainly not one of the all-time greats, although presently it occupied a space altogether too close to my nose and mouth. After all, a groin is a terrible thing to taste (as the famous quote goes). To avoid the ominously jiggling nethers I braced myself in an approximation of the foetal position and stared directly at my feet. To compound matters, and to provide a counterpoint to the ongoing screams from the aforementioned toddler, the American man produced a prolonged coughing fit of such epic proportions that the world seemed to shake and shudder, flecks of spittle and fragments of windpipe raining down on all within the blast radius, myself included. It was a display of snorting and hacking worthy of the Norse gods themselves; he certainly failed to keep things low-key (Pun 1 – check). 

I closed my eyes and tried to block out the screams of beelzebub and the walrus-like ejaculations of the man with the Thor throat (Pun 2 – check), a tightly curled ball of stress and anger. Eons passed before the noises subsided, passengers gradually departing. The air became thinner and cooler, until I could breathe again. I uncurled myself and marvelled at the space around me, unencumbered by toddlers or tourists. I felt something approaching relaxed happiness, until I looked up and realised I had missed my stop by a spectacular margin. 

FUCK IT. FUCK IT ALL. FUCK IT RIGHT IN THE EAR.

Nordic Notions

Wanna hear a secret? For over a decade I’ve been having a secret romantic tryst. Shocking, I know. You’re probably appalled at me, but you needn’t be. My love affair isn’t with a person, but with a place. Scandinavia, Fennoscandia, call it what you will. This beautiful, strange little peninsula has changed and enriched my life beyond measure. This place is a part of me. It’s in my blood.

I’m in Sweden as I write this, ensconced in a small hotel in suburban Gothenburg. It’s 10pm, and the sky above me is beginning to fade to a deep indigo. Time moves slowly here, and the light is different. There’s a tendency to think of this part of the world as a cold, unforgiving place, and for half of the year that’s certainly true, but spring and summer at this latitude are joyous. It’s early June as I write, a time of endless days and the briefest of nights. A time of cloudless skies of the richest blue imaginable, a blue rendered in stereo by the seas, rivers and lakes that permeate this place. A cerulean plexus, serene and perfect.

A slash of green divides the blue, a jagged horizon that reminds me that this is a place of trees and forests where man is but an interloper. It’s been written that the human eye can detect more shades of green that any other colour, and sometimes it seems like this place has them all. Green is my colour. I derive a huge feeling of calm from being enveloped by it, from the deep, dark greens of the pine canopies to the soft, sun-dappled shades of the parkland broadleaves. As a functioning depressive it’s one of my great releases and a well of succour that I will always return to.

I felt a special connection with this region from the moment I first visited. I came here from a world that I always found, and still find, claustrophobic, a world of relentless cerebral overstimulation that comes from urban living, work pressure and family drama/tragedy. My standard response has always been to retreat and hide away like a modern day anchorite, venturing out sporadically to remind people that I’m not dead yet. I feel different here though, calmer and more confident. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about the wide streets and empty open spaces that nourishes me, both physically and mentally. I imagine it’s the difference between a caged tiger and one living freely. This is my natural habitat, my niche gestalt.

It sounds as though I’m unhappy with regular life, but that’s not the case. By any measure I have a very privileged existence, living in a place I love and doing a job that I enjoy. I’ve learned to accept the things that used to stop me from being happy and to live my life in a way that works for me. My frequent retreats to the northern latitudes are part of my self-prescribed therapy, and part of my attempt to live my best life. Maybe I’ve got some Viking blood in me – it would certainly explain the daft ginger beard.

I’ll draw this to a close now as my eyelids are growing heavy. It’s 11.45pm, and the sky is still a rich navy hue. The sound of trams rattling along outside reverberates in my ears as the gentle hum of the city at night lulls me to sleep.

Try to find your natural habitat. It’ll save your life x

Saturnine

I had the bird dream again. It never changes; the eternal corridor with the blinding light. I vary my direction but it’s always there. Hours pass, or maybe seconds. A silent world apart from my own haltering breath. Adrenaline surges. The quiet is crushed by wingbeats and the chatter of its cruel bill. I run from the cruel talons until my heart bursts and the light fades to black.

It waits for me there, always. Some nights I don’t sleep. It’s killing me.

Nature Rap

I’m special agent Tom and I’m a nature detective.
My flow is pretty weak but my words are effective.
I don’t have a badge.
I don’t have a gun.
But my bat detector is set to stun.

I’m a naturalist, not a naturist.
I keep my trousers on when I’m looking at tits.
The great and the blue.
The crested and coal.
All my homies need is a nesting hole.

Trails in the grass and tracks in the dirt.
I crawled through the brambles, tore a hole in my shirt.
Trapped on barbed wire.
Fox shit on my shoes.
It’s started to rain, I’ve got the badger sett blues.

A skylark in a country park.
A scratch mark on some tree bark.
Sunrise on the equinox.
Making friends with a city fox.

Grab your field guides and join my collective.
I’m special agent Tom and I’m a nature detective.

I’m a nature lover, not a nature fighter.
Don’t be jealous of my A3 weatherwriter.
Don’t envy my hand lens.
Don’t diss my chest waders.
Save your rage for knotweed and the alien invaders.

I travel around in an old Citroen van.
Full of bottle traps and my beat up trailcam.
The idols I worship,
Are Rose and Rackham.
I was raised on Attenborough and schooled by Packham.

Winter hits and I’m trapped in the office.
Dreaming of hedgerows and the hazel coppice.
I’ve still got the fieldfare.
I’ve still got the redwing.
But I’m counting down the days until I hear the first cuckoo sing.

A bullhead on a riverbed.
A barn owl in a farm shed.
Barbastelle in a woodland dell.
A brown smear and a strange smell.

Grab your field guides and join my collective.
I’m special agent Tom and I’m a nature detective.

I hang around at night in weird locations.
I swear I’m not a pervert, it’s my eco-occupation.

Grab your field guides and join my collective.
I’m special agent Tom and I’m a nature detective.