Saturday the 7th of January 2012: a date that some cultural historians are already suggesting be ranked alongside such culinary landmarks as the publication of Elizabeth David's 'A Book of Mediterranean Food', the opening of the River Café, and the launch of Asda's 'Alex James Presents' range of cheeses. For it was on the morning of that very day, dear reader, that I published my first ever blog post.
While it's still probably a little too soon for any talk of a campaign to establish a national holiday, I hope that you'll allow me, meanwhile, to indulge in a moment or two of reflection. I apologise for the vulgarity and presumption. To quote P. G. Wodehouse:
It was one of the worst speeches I ever heard. The Adams woman told us for an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.
life before the blog
As I'm not sure I can adequately convey, in words, the abominably rancid morass of self-loathing, sloth and despair in which I languished for much of 2011, here's a photo of the kitchen area of my flat, taken in the late autumn of that year, which pretty well sums things up:
By the way, please don't imagine for one moment that I'm deserving of any particular sympathy here. This was a hell entirely of my own devising, due penance for past sins. During the early period of my booze-fuelled voyage towards mental ill-health I behaved despicably - towards loved ones, friends and colleagues, everyone. If you had me in your life between (roughly) the years 2000 to 2005, it's you who are deserving of sympathy. I turned love into hate, respect into pity, affection into disdain. An exasperated close friend was speaking for many when he summed up the situation thusly: I was, he informed me with admirable brevity, 'a cunt'.
2011 had actually begun fairly brightly: I'd started volunteering a few days a week for SLaM (the NHS Trust who provide mental health services for Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon - and yours truly) at the Maudsley Hospital, working on their Social Inclusion and Recovery Strategy (you can find an introduction to the concept of Recovery in mental health here). And I also joined Twitter. That, together with the volunteering, represented the first social interaction of any kind that I'd had for five years - before then I was effectively a hermit. The idea in volunteering was to get some structure back into my life and, hopefully, a smidgen of self-respect.
The one weak link in my cunning plan, unfortunately, was that I still had all the mental stability of a rabid chihuahua on a crystal meth binge.
So one day at the beginning of March I walked out of the office at the Maudsley, went home, locked the door, and promptly dived head first into an Olympic-sized shit-pit of depression. I came up for air now and again, of course - kept reading and listening to music, kept on with Twitter, sporadically - and in the autumn began to work on a long dormant idea: a food blog.
the last twelve months
After a month or two of knocking the site into shape (note to self: typing out endless recipes is boring as fuck), it was kind of ready in the first week of January. It took me a few days to work up the courage, but finally, still all a-quiver, I hit the 'publish' button.
And the response was...simply phenomenal. Least-wise, it was for someone starved of any kind of validation, with no sense of self-worth, with no hope for the future. I got such a lift from it that I found the confidence to get back in touch with the team at the Maudsley to ask if I might come back and start volunteering again. Wonderfully, they'd kept my desk ready for my return, the crazy fools. Not only that, I was now afforded the opportunity to get involved in a really exciting project - the development of a Recovery College at SlaM (you can find out about Recovery Colleges by reading this briefing paper from the Centre for Mental Health).
And I finally tidied up the flat:
In the summer, I started using StatCounter to check visitor numbers to the site. By their reckoning, in the six months from July to December, this site has had 249,173 visits. This is a figure that I believe statisticians refer to as 'fucking incredible'. Mahoosive thanks to all of you - especially those who have commented here, on the Facebook page, via Twitter or by email. You are all really rather lovely.
Over the course of the year I got the chance to meet some of my favourite bloggers and was even, I shit you not, taken to lunch a few times by people from the publishing world. And I also:
the dragon café
And at the beginning of October I started volunteering for the early shift in the kitchen of The Dragon Café. This is the latest endeavour from The Mental Fight Club, which was founded by the inspirational Sarah Wheeler. Every Monday, Sarah and a team of volunteers create a relaxing and imaginative space, open to all, located in the Crypt of St George the Martyr Church, which is opposite Borough tube station. Much more than just a café, you'll find all manner of creative activities, performances, events and discussions taking place here. There's also free head, hand or foot massage and basic sessions in Tai Chi or non-contact boxing. Here's a few photos to give you a sense of the place:
Brilliant, don't you think?
every day above ground is a good day
Just before Christmas, and with no little sorrow (on my part at least), I had my final appointment with the woman who, in 2006, picked me up out of the gutter when I was headed for oblivion and who has looked after me ever since - my care co-ordinator, the blessed Rachel Sheppard of the Lordship Lane Community Mental Health Team. I guess she must think I'm ready to stand on my own now.
At the heart of the concept of recovery in mental health is the idea that for anyone to have any kind of meaningful life these three elements must be present: hope, control and opportunity. If you're an alcoholic mentalist on the dole those things tend to be in short supply. Writing this blog and volunteering have, in the last year, given me a glimpse of all three.
Right. I think that's more than enough solipsistic jism to be going on with, don't you? Enough to last the next twelve months and more.
As a very paltry recompense for having to put up with it, here's a playlist of some of the music that I've liked in 2012 (240 tracks). I hope you'll find something here you'll like too.
Oh, and one more thing: food is still the bollocks. We'll get back to it in the next post. Promise.
A doctor writes: If you find yourself affected in the near future by any of the issues raised in this post, my best advice is to get down on your knees and pray that the utter shower currently in government have left enough of the NHS and the social services in place to provide you with at least some kind of a safety net by the time you need it. Here's a few links regarding mental health and welfare/poverty:
SHORTLISTED FOR FOOD BLOG OF THE YEAR 2014