Life is Fragile

Time is flying passed and there is never enough of it. This post is about death, but hopefully not in a morbid or morose way. Perhaps more about the joy of living and memories of those who we’ve lost or are going to lose soon. Hopefully it will remain light-hearted and be celebratory but it’s been a tough month so bare with me…

This last month has been tough and the last week much tougher than most – chuck in the latest terror attack on London and the emotional One Love Manchester concert and everything that has been happening hit me at once in a dramatic, teary-eyed explosion of emotions.

My mate’s dad finally lost his battle to leukemia. He died surrounded by family and friends in hospital. We was Jimmy Copley, internationally renowned drummer who played with Paul Rodgers, Tears For Fears, Tony Iommi and Jeff Beck among others. He was a legend, an insanely talented drummer and someone I’m proud to call a friend. I grew up and went to school with his son Jack and we remain friends, although perhaps not as close as we used to be. Growing up with Jack we always knew that his dad was cool and a musician. But he had no airs and graces. He was the most down-to-earth person you could ever hope to meet.

JimmyWhat struck me most during his fight will the illness was his incredible positivity and his love of life. I would often bump into him walking around Bathford or on the bus and he always stopped and chatted and took a genuine interest in my life and what I was doing. His fame didn’t change him. To me he was just an ordinary guy who I felt proud to know and slightly in awe of.  He remained positive until the very end, always with a smile on his face. In fact he spent his last few months recording new material which has just been mixed down and will be released to fundraise for the amazing teams hospital departments that looked after him during his illness. The album features all manner of incredible musicians who came together to help Jimmy finish his final tracks.

For more information about the album “Live on Through the Music” and to donate to the cause visit the website:

http://www.liveonthroughmusic.com/

 

DeanoThe second person who left us suddenly was my friend Deano, who was only 40 years old and was found dead at work. His funeral was Friday. This hasn’t quite sunken in still and the emotion is incredibly raw. He was an amazing guy, incredibly funny and the life and soul of the party. He played rugby for Avonvale RFC, taught rugby to the juniors and also marshaled at Roller Mania at the pavilion in Bath. His sudden death has left the whole community in Bathford in shock. His friends and team mates from Avonvale all had special rugby tops made and wore them to his funeral. It was an amazing and emotional sight seeing them line the pathway up to the church. Deano worked on diggers and he absolutely loved them – the bigger the better. His coffin was paraded through Bathford and down to the church in the front bucket of a digger.

Deano 2When he arrived at the church he was walked through the two lines of his rugby team mates as they formed a guard of honour and clapped as he was carried between them. The service was beautiful with stunning tributes from his friends and family and there were well over 300 people in attendance to say their final goodbyes. I have many happy memories of Deano and we used to go our drinking as a group and had some hilariously funny nights out. One night he got so drunk he was found hanging on to a lamp post for dear life. I’ll always remember him, cider in hand, on the middle of the dance floor leg extended playing it like an electric guitar and singing along with Queen. AC/DC or Guns and Roses. One of his favourite songs was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird which summed him up perfectly. It’s going to take a long time to register that he’s gone. Every time I pass his house I expect to see him standing in the doorway, fag in hand waving out. And then every time I remember that I won’t ever see that again.

 

MickyThe third person to go recently was an old friend, Micky the chef. One of my first jobs when I was 15 or 16 was as Kitchen Porter (posh name for washing up) at the Crown in Bathford. Micky was chef and took me under his wing. The kitchen was a lovely and often hilarious place to work especially when there were difficult customers. Micky would come flying into the kitchen in the campest rage you could ever imagine flapping his tea towel about. He affectionately called everyone “Bitch” or “Hun”. At the time the pub was a proper local where we had the “Cheers” corner where all the regulars sat. Many hours were spent listening to Micky’s stories of working far and wide, serving royalty or his time spent in Rhyl. We often went off on trips to the theatre and we would go off to visit some of his favourite places in Bristol. And sometimes a crowd of us who worked there and regulars would pile back to Micky’s and sit with him and Chris listening to his ever fascinating stories and tales. He was also an incredibly talented artist and painter. He didn’t have an easy early life but he achieved so much on his own terms. And that’s how it was with Micky he did it all his way. He had a particular love of the music of Edith Piaf (he used to do an hilarious full vibrato impression) and Mama Cass. No matter how much time passed without seeing him he would always wave as I passed him on the bus and would always chat to mum whenever she saw him. He was one of a kind and will be missed by everyone who knew him.

 

And finally we get on to my dad. I’ve mentioned in previous posts about his illness but to give you a bit of background. Six years ago he was rushed into hospital. He could barely breathe. In fact he had a heart attack on the way to the hospital and had to be revived. He was put in an induced coma for ten days and we were told that he may not survive it. This happened just after Christmas – I believe it may have even been Boxing Day. Whilst he was in a coma my nan also passed away. It was not great time by any stretch of the imagination. Thanks to the amazing staff at the Royal United Hospital Bath’s intensive care unit he pulled through and we were told he had about a year left to live. He was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) or Chronic Lung Disease. Six years later, a couple more heart attacks and fighting off skin cancer and he’s still going. Until this Wednesday when things took a turn for the worse. He was having real difficulty breathing so we called out the district nurses who came in and spent most of the night with us trying to stabilize him. We were told he’d be lucky to last out the night. So we prepared ourselves for the worse. At the time of writing this he’s still very much alive but we’ve been told he could go at any moment. He’s currently bed-bound and being fed drugs intravenously through a machine. He has up and down days. Today was a bit more of a down day. He was confused and slightly not with it. Making comments about making sure the cat didn’t steal his tablets and then this evening my mum found him very seriously trying to unplug his bed – which I’m afraid to say did make me laugh – it’s a normal double bed and not plugged in at all – I guess it’s gallows humour . Possibly a water infection – possibly some kind of hallucination bought on by the morphine and other cocktail of drugs that are currently keeping him going. The whole experience is incredibly emotionally draining. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched someone slipping away slowly in front of your eyes but that’s exactly what is happening. He’s currently disappearing piece by piece and we’re pretty much sitting here waiting for him to die. Wondering if the next breath he will take will be his final one. We don’t know when it will be but we just know that it could be soon.

Life is a funny old thing sometimes isn’t it!

But what do I take from all of this? It would be very easy to just sit and cry right now and just become a sobbing, sniffly, emotional wreck. And I have sat and I have cried and for a brief but all to fleeting moment you get some sense of empty release. But what I have chosen to take from all of this is the overwhelming support and kindness that’s around me and actually around the world in general.

My favourite quote to pull out at times like this is by Fred Rogers:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

There is always shit going on. In life. In the world. But there are always – 100% without fail, people there offering to help. People coming together. People uniting. It would be easy to turn to fear or anger or even hate. But love always wins. Always.

For all of those who have been lost above the overwhelming thing has been the unity it has created. The sense of togetherness. People uniting in grief and going out of their way to help and support each other. Love always wins.

To the amazing teams of paramedics, doctors, nurses, consultants all fighting day in and out to save lives. To our amazing NHS. The amazing people who have chosen to spend their lives serving and saving others. They are the real heroes. They have propped us all up so many times and are always there without fail. The come together when you need them most. They don’t judge. They perform miracles. They show compassion and give hope. Love always wins.

To the people of the world who keep on offering help to each other no matter what life throws at them. Even after disgusting and cowardly terror attacks. Their spirit cannot be broken. They offer up their homes, open their hearts wide and let people enter in. Helping complete strangers. I guess a stranger really is a friend you haven’t met yet. They continue to support each other. They are there for each other. Love always wins.

Shedding tears tonight watching the one love Manchester concert. Seeing people sharing their grief. Coming together and proclaiming loudly that hate and terror will never win and never stop us living our lives and enjoying ourselves. Hate has no place here. Love always wins.

I choose to remain positive. I choose to continue fighting for what I believe in. I choose to stand by the community that has always been there and always stood by me. I choose love over hate. Peace over war. Calm over fear.

Love, ALWAYS, wins!

xXx

Dear Terrorists #WeStandTogether

For Manchester x

Dear Terrorists,

You can never win.
Your hate, anger, rage against us is in vain,
You try and then you try again.
But each time we come back stronger and more humane.

Your acts are nothing more than cowardly deeds,
The aim – to plant the hatred seeds of doubts and fears,
Reduce the country and the people to tears.
But every time you rear your ugly heads,
We meet you face on with love instead, and hope and togetherness.
Class, religion and politics get cast aside,
People of all faiths, religions and beliefs side-by-side,
Together we come and in plain sight we stand, not hide,

We do not cower and we will not fear you,
We are humanity, we are one, we belong to something much bigger than you.
And what you fail to grasp,
And what you fail to see,
Is your actions bring out the greatest and best of humanity,
A stronger, more loving society.

Your terror and fear are short lived,
We respond with the love we all have to give.
From the angel of Manchester rescuing fifty kids,
To everyday folk offering up their beds.
Taxi drivers giving rides for free,
Thousands giving blood and hospitality.
All religions, ages, races and creeds.
To the man without a house or home,
Who lept to his feet and raced into danger,
Pulled people out, risked his lives for strangers.
For someone who has nothing to give so much, so freely,
And expect nothing back because “it’s just what anyone would have done”.
Emergency services, our police, paramedics, firefighters and nurses,
To venue staff, who reacted with calm and saved many more people from coming to harm.
Small random acts of kindness – hotels throwing open their doors,
People offering food and sandwiches,
Buskers playing music & singing songs of hope.

The aftermath, a vigil attended by thousands in solidarity,
United as one, a whole,
And that’s the reality.
Although we shed tears, come together and grieve,
And our love and thoughts go to all of the families,
You can never accomplish what you hope to achieve.
Their memories live on, in our hearts, spirits and minds they will never leave.
The fear you seek to create bonds us closer and stronger.
And the one thing we all know to be true,
Our lives will not stop just because of you.
We rise above hate, above racism, religion, above blame.
We see you for what you are and refuse to call you by name.

Dear Terrorists,
You have not won, for tonight the world is united and we all stand as one.

  

  

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Have a look at some of the amazing acts of kindness happening in and around Manchester today:

http://bzfd.it/2rdwkpl

The Theatre Bath Bus and the Creative Process (or YES! We bloody did it!)

The Theatre Bus has launched – wahoo!

I’m feeling incredibly happy, proud and thankful for everyone’s hard work and support. Particularly to Zoe and the Theatre Bus team for putting up with my mad ideas for the last year. But also to everyone who has donated money – however much and to everyone who has donated their time, commented on ideas on Facebook or supported the project in any way. The bus is for you. It’s not for me and never has been. This is about a creative space that can be used by the whole community and can benefit so many different people in so many inspirational different ways. We have merely provided you with a blank canvas to use; how you choose to fill it is up to you! I cannot wait to see what you all come up with and supporting your creative projects going forwards.

 

I’ve had a lot of people asking me how I do the things that I do and why so I thought I’d write a brief blog about my creative process and what works best for me. Different people work in different ways and if the arts teach us anything its that we all have unique individual strengths and weaknesses. So what works for me may not necessarily work for you and vice-versa.

1. Come up with an idea

“From small acorns grow mighty oaks”

The first thing is just come up with an idea. It does not have to be groundbreaking, original or unique. It doesn’t have to be something on a epic scale. Just an idea. Any idea. Even if it’s just the faint shimmer of an idea parked on your periphery and you have no idea what form it will eventually take. Grab hold of it. Write it down. Leave it in the desk drawer for a week and come back to it. Discuss it with close friends or colleagues. Find an idea that works for you and begin thinking about where it may go.

 

2. Expand Your Idea

Brainstorm or write notes. Expand on your original idea. Use keywords or word association to expand your thoughts about the idea. Your idea will change. It will evolve. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Don’t become so fixed on one final outcome that you miss other potential opportunities. See the bigger picture. Evolve with your idea and see where it leads.

 

3. How Will You Make Your Idea A Reality?

So you have the idea. You have played with it and expanded it. You probably have a whole load of other ideas now. How do you bring it into fruition? Think about the end goal. Why are you doing this? What is your driving force behind it? What do you wish to achieve from doing it? What is your purpose? What does your idea look like in its fullest form? Visualise the end product. Once you have that clear you can begin to move backwards from there. So for me the end goal was a multi-purpose mobile performance space situated inside a bus. That was the vision. I then looked backwards from there to see what steps I would need to take to make that happen.

In my case it looked something like this:

  • END GOAL – Mobile Performance space in a bus
  • Need a bus – where do you buy a bus? How much will it cost?
  • Need someone to convert the bus – who does bus conversions locally?
  • Need to raise money to make that happen – who will fund it? How? Why?
  • Need a team with different sets of skills – who? why?
  • Need help from a designer
  • Need a timescale – how long will this take?
  • Technical equipment – what will the bus need to be able to operate?
  • Paperwork and legislation – what will we need in place? Who will insure it?
  • Where will the bus be able to go?
  • Who will use it? What is its goal?

There were several hundred more bullet points to add to this list but already you can see how once you have an idea you can work backwards and create yourself steps. Each step raises more questions. More questions lead to more knowledge and more answers. Question EVERYTHING. Do not stop questioning. The more you question the more different ideas you’ll come up with and solutions you’ll find.

 

4. So I Now Have An Idea And A Massive To Do List – Help I’m Overwhelmed & A Tiny Bit Scared!

Good. If you’re not scared your project or idea is not ambitious enough. You’re being too safe and playing within your comfort zone. It is absolutely okay to be terrified. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. And it’s okay to not know where to start and what to do first.

Create yourself a to-do list. Actually create yourself several. We broke the project up into different sections and had to-do lists for each of them. Breaking the project down into manageable sections allows you to really focus on the details and not feel completely overwhelmed with looking at the project as one whole thing.

Our sections looked something like this:

  • Conversion work – stage one – emptying the bus
  • Conversion work – stage two – creating the wooden structures within the bus
  • Conversion work – stage three – electrics, cabling and distribution around the bus
  • Conversion work – stage four – painting the inside of the bus
  • Conversion work – stage five – Curtains, Seating and other fixutres
  • Conversion work – stage six – Technical equipment
  • Paperwork
  • Fundraising
  • Materials and sourcing
  • Research and ideas
  • Launch party
  • Marketing

There were more sections but this gives you an idea. Under each of these headings we then could look in more detail at what we needed to achieve each thing. So for example the first stage – emptying the bus. We knew that we needed to take out the chairs. All the metal vertical poles. Barriers around the front wheel arches. Old fluorescent lighting. Old display boards in the front, back and sides. Once all of that was done we then knew we could move on to the other sections.

A lot of these sections over-lapped and were running concurrently at the same time. But it became more manageable because we had a plan in place that we could follow.

 

5. My Plan Has Gone Out Of The Window What Do I Do?

Sit and cry!!!

No.

Projects evolve. They change all the time. You are constantly challenged by different things that come up and surprise you. No project ever goes 100% smoothly. That’s a fact. What you have to do is be able to adapt to the changes and challenges when they arise in a positive way. Don’t focus on the problem. If you focus on the problem it won’t go away. Focus on the solution. Or better still focus on different solutions. Rome was not built in a day. Which is just as well as the Roman’s would have all been knackered and wouldn’t have been able to enjoy all they had achieved. There is always a way forwards. Don’t become so obsessed with something having to be a particular way that you allow it to stunt and damage your end vision. Be open to change, embrace it and see it as a natural evolution of you idea.

 

6. Ask For Help & Share With Others

This is a biggy. Do not try and do everything yourself. You will burn out and the project will probably whither and die or will not live up to expectations. Two heads are definitely better than one (and four or five is an explosion of creativity). Be open to others suggestions and advice. A fresh pair of eyes on an idea can bring solutions that you would have never dreamed of. It can also help identify problems before they crop up. When you’re passionate about a project you become very close to it, attached and somewhat protective. Don’t be scared to let others in. Step out of your comfort zone and collaborate. Use other people’s knowledge and experience and fuse it with your own.

 

The Theatre Bus has changed constantly. In fact it’s still changing now even after the launch we already have a list of things we can do to make it better. To improve upon what we have already done. This has come from seeing the bus in action at the launch and also from the suggestions and ideas of those who were present. Their feedback, both positive and negative has been a massive help to us and will allow us to move the project onto the next level.

 

7. People Tell Me It’s A Bad Idea And It Will Never Work

You always get negative people with small minds who have the creative ambition of an overripe peach and if you leave them in the sun they start sprouting little hairs and grow moldy.

There will always be negative people.

There will always be those who doubt you.

But you know what – they don’t matter. Not an iota. Who knows why they like to put others down or rubbish their ideas. The fact is they exist. Acknowledge that fact and move swiftly on. Focus on the people who do believe in what you are doing. Focus back on why you are doing the project in the first place. Don’t let them suck the life out of your creativity and ambition. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you too. When met with negativity always go back to your idea, find that inspiration, find that drive and hug it a little tighter.

 

8. Just Do It

Seriously. Stop procrastinating. Stop reading this blog looking for answers you already know and have inside you. Get off your arse and start work. No, put Facebook away… no more posts of hilarious cats or cute dogs… No… Twitter will still be there in a few hours… Put that phone down… Pull out your notebook and just get on with it. There never will be a right time or a good time except right now. Just get on with it. If you want my advice. Turn off the electronics. A notepad and pen (or pencil) are your best friends. Get away from distractions. Allow yourself the time to work. And then just do it. It will only happen if you make it happen. Do not wait for anyone’s permission but your own. Allow yourself the time and get on with it.

Happy creating!

xXx