Looking back on 2012
Blog piece by Myles Cook
It seems incredible to me that I have been contributing to Your Thurrock since 22 May 2009 and so much has happened to me in that time. I thought I would take this chance to look back at my association with YT and the developments in my own life as well.
I first came to Mr Casey’s attention back in May 2009 when I was organising a depression awareness event at Thurrock Adult Community College where I am a Governor. I am not sure whether Mr Casey believes that to be a good thing or not though. The professional that he is, he came along to cover the actual event with his trusty camera and, spotting the chance to get a blog columnist in my good self, asked if I would like to contribute. That first blog was about beating the stigma surrounding mental health. It was short and sweet as I was given a word count of 400 words to work to but it was on a subject that I am an ‘expert by experience’ in so it was worthwhile doing.
Having videos of myself posted on YT has been both a blessing and a curse because, on the one hand, it has given me the opportunity to write which is something I have always wanted to do but, on the other hand, it has meant that I have been unable to hide my depression which affects my ability to get a job, stigma being still quite a bad problem.
Outside of Your Thurrock I became the Chair of the Thurrock Mental Health Service User and Carer Forum that same month so, despite my wish to be a mere observer in this life, I had become involved. Of course, chairing that group has helped me add quite a few transferrable skills so that was a positive move in some ways.
I also had a brief association with Thurrock LINk, becoming their Mental Health Lead for a short time after they gave a presentation at the Forum.
I was not given a specific brief for my contributions so they tended to skip around as regards content with early blogs covering why people should not vote, a thumbnail prose sketch of my good self and dreams. I did not touch anything that could be considered controversial back then – could I really be the same person as I was back then?
My return to the subject of mental health came in my piece of flash fiction that described what it is like to have depression from the sufferer’s point of view. It was written as a Halloween story but, unfortunately, didn’t get posted until the day after for one reason or another. Of course, one of the reasons for the delay in the Halloween blog was the subject of my first blog attacking the incompetence surrounding the repairs to the immersion heater in my council flat.
It was at about this time that I became involved with a mental health service user and carer involvement project run by Anglia Ruskin University. Over the three years of its life, it provided service users and carers training to become involved in the mental health commissioning process and gave those of us who wanted to the opportunity to go around Essex, Thurrock and Southend gathering the views of the service users on different aspects of the mental health service. I became the Chair of the Service User Advisory Group later on but I thought I would mention it here as I cannot remember the timing of my appointment to that role.
Back here on Your Thurrock, I tried to break the habit of a lifetime and tried to be a little more positive for my December 2009 and January 2010 columns which was a move that would prove to be too much for some of the people who knew me, causing a lot of them to go into shock. I think some of them are still catatonic.
In my ‘real’ life, however, things became rather messy. On the day I had just received the initial rough recording of a song I wrote with my song writing partner, Anne Graham from Facebook, my wife informed me that she wanted us to separate. It pushed me over the edge into a deep depression that resulted in a suicide attempt. A month’s worth of two anti-depressants downed in a single sitting, a day and a half spent floating away with the fairies and several days in the Assessment Unit at Basildon Hospital were the only outcomes.
My next column sparked something in me that I would come back to time and time again – my annoyance with the way society works and, by extension, politics. I have always questioned how we have allowed society to become so corrupted and dehumanised and this was the response I had to that. It was not a conscious move to start to cover politics but it did coincide with the general lead up to that year’s General Election and the Prime Ministerial debates. In fact it was the televised debates that sparked my interest in party politics and the outcome of the election would push me towards my more controversial work.
2010 was a rather dry period as regards contributions to YT but when I came back strong the following year it was to pursue my true calling – politics – after a brief attack on the state of Thurrock Council’s repairs service. I issued my first challenge to the local candidates for the Grays Riverside councillor vacancy. “Come and convince me to vote for you,” I challenged them but only one candidate, Val Morris-Cook (Labour) even bothered. I actually covered the full election race on my personal blog – if anyone is interested. I did not vote for anyone in that local election, a point worth noting for later on.
I also wrote a blog about the Alternative Vote referendum or the bonus round as I called it. I was still not even close to the subject that would push me into being called controversial though. I thought that a later blog on euthanasia and assisted suicide would cause a storm of comments as it is a rather controversial subject and it was written on the back of the wave of publicity provoked by Terry Pratchett’s documentary on the subject. Imagine my surprise when I received nothing but silence. What does a man have to write about to get people’s backs up?
Outside of my contributions to Your Thurrock I was becoming increasingly stressed with my voluntary work with cracks starting to appear in the apparent smooth running of the service user involvement project I was involved with. And to make matters worse, the attacks against the disabled and disadvantage by the Coalition Government were starting to take their toll on those of us who were affected. This, of course, led me to my decision that if, as seemed rather apparent to me, the Government was hoping to kill me and my fellows off, I was going on the offensive. “Cry ‘Havoc’ and let slip the dogs of war” became the battle cry for 2012 and on the offensive I was.
I decided to put forward my vision for a fourth way in politics that got rid of the partisan squabbling and would give the UK a Government of 650 properly motivated MPs who might actually achieve something rather than destroy each other’s work. I thought it might provoke a discussion. I thought it would be controversial. It turned out to achieve neither.
I tried to show the difficulties of claiming for benefits that people are eligible for and that people suffering from mental ill-health are not the scroungers that they are painted as being by the Coalition. Of course, there was little discussion on the piece but that is what you would expect in the current climate thanks in large part to the demonisation of the sufferers of mental ill-health.
My next piece did provoke a reaction, however. Writing about the apparent move towards a slave trade by the Government with their ‘workfare’ scheme, a scheme that has had the effect of forcing people out of paying jobs and replacing them with people working to keep their benefits, I used a particular word that annoyed a fellow blogger. It was never covered on Your Thurrock but the author of the externally hosted blog in question called me ‘an extreme Left blogger’ with a ‘dark philosophy’ among other attacks on my column. Name-calling does not affect me except when people assign a political ideology to my good self; this is understandable as I despise all partisan politics and would rather those who practice it disappear from the world. Mr Casey e-mailed me to see how I was coping and he informed me that Cllr Val Morris-Cook had left her details in case I wanted her help over the attack. I actually had not seen the offending blog but dutifully looked it up and took the fight to my critic. After a few publically viewable comments back and forth, my critic realised (s)he was losing the battle and stopped displaying our comments. What a coward!
I ‘phoned Cllr Morris-Cook to thank her for her offer of help but made her aware that, as she was the only person to vie for my vote in that particular election, I had not voted at all. She replied that that did not matter to her, that I was one of her constituents and that was all the justification she needed to make the offer. In case Cllr Morris-Cook is reading this – I may not be a Labour supporter but, with your attitude to the job, you have my vote the next time you are up for the local council elections. It is a free pass. You do not have to come around to my door to win my vote.
I issued my local election challenge again for the second year and waited for the response. All I actually got was a load of flyers shoved unceremoniously through my letterbox but it was enough to judge the candidates. I voted in the election based on the literature I had been given, the marking of which was based on my own handy-dandy scoring system that can be read on my personal blog – if anyone is interested. For the record, I voted for Cllr John Kent (Labour) who won on points; the Conservatives were in front but scuppered their own chances with some of the literature.
Alongside my local election challenge, I also attacked the Coalition Government over its decision not to publish the Transitional Risk Register regarding the NHS reforms and the fact that the Tribunal set up to rule on whether it should have been published questioned the Coalition’s methods in bringing the reforms in. However, despite the content of the latter half of the column, the only real debate was on whether I was really a floating voter or not which kind of missed the important point.
My next blog was my argument supporting the need for political change. It was the first of my columns to provoke a proper debate and showed the current electoral system as being totally out-of-touch with the electorate to the point that our ‘democratically’ elected representatives in Parliament are hardly representative of the electorate as they are voted in by the minority. This highlights the fact that people are essentially apathetic due to the lack of true representation of their views shown by the candidates in the elections.
Something amazing happened in the ‘real’ world a few months ago. Eric Pickles opened up opportunities for bloggers and other social media users to attend council meetings as ‘the Media’. This was to have a profound effect on me and my association with Your Thurrock.
My next blog turned out to be the most controversial of my columns for YT. Unaware that I would cause such a storm but hoping that my critic from the slave trade article was reading, I wrote in a particular style, building a case against the Coalition Government on the grounds of the perpetration of the largest disability hate crime in UK history. People criticised the writing style, the content and the tone of the column. Some disputed the statistics I used and some criticised my omission of certain personal facts to which they had no right of knowledge. It caused such a storm that the ‘popularity’ rating hit 13% within a month which was unheard of for my columns. I even wrote a follow-up column defending myself from my critics and showing them that, not only did I read their comments; I listened to them too…even if I did not agree with them.
Since September, Mr Casey has asked me to attend council meetings on behalf of Your Thurrock and has actually posted some of the pieces I have submitted. This has had the effect of making me feel ‘professionally’ validated as a journalist and has improved my mental health much more than all the prescription drugs and group therapy has. It also gave me the opportunity to write a blog about a specific local news item and cover it in a well-balanced way with quotes from Cllr Ojetola (Conservative) and Cllr Hale (Labour). I have covered care proceeding costs, Council Tax changes, planning applications and the discussions about HealthWatch Thurrock as ‘proper’ news items.
I was even the cameraman at one of the school prize-giving events lately although, thankfully, uncredited so I do not get any hate mail for it. It has been fantastic to see my name associated with a ‘by line’ on something other than a blog.
The opportunity to spread my journalistic wings over the last couple of months, given to me by Mr Casey, has been a great bonus in my life. So great, in fact, that it has helped me build a portfolio of journalistic work and is making me consider going to college to get a journalism qualification (if I can find a way to fund it).
So, what is next for me? More of the same, I suppose. I will continue to put out my views on my personal blog for as long as I have my reader and I will continue to submit columns for Your Thurrock for as long as I can and as long as I have a reader. Unfortunately, despite all the transferrable skills and training I have received with all my voluntary work, I have been stuck at square one unable to move forward and I doubt that is going to change any time soon.
Until next time…?
If you would like to comment on any of my columns, please send comments and death threats to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out my personal blog at http://valen1971.blogspot.com. You can also find me on Twitter (@valen1971).
Thank you Myles for all your interesting blogs of 2012.
Along with Mr Peter Perrin’s, yours are the most that I find fascinating to read.
Keep up all your good work in 2013 please.
I certainly echo jmw118’s comments and hope there is a lot more to come in 2013
Have a great New Year