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This is number one in a series of one.

Next week: Conway Twitty – the cocaine years.

(Source: Daily Mirror)

Amy Winehouse’s grieving mum Janis says her daughter was “a physical wreck and completely out of it” the day before she died. Janis spent several hours with her tragic daughter after turning up at her home unannounced. But 27-year-old Amy was in such a bad way that her minders had to help her down the stairs.

This contradicts reports last week that she had beaten her drug and alcohol demons – and adds weight to friends’ fears that she had fallen back into her old ways. At her funeral on Tuesday, her ­devastated dad Mitch said Amy had given up drugs and had been winning her battle with alcohol. But Janis, who had called at her daughter’s home just after midday on Friday, told a friend it seemed she had hit the bottle again.

“Amy was completely out of it,” she said to the friend. “She was in such a state the guys minding her had to go upstairs to get her and help her down the steps. It looked like she had been out drinking the night before and was still drunk or hung over.”

Police are now probing who Amy spent her last hours with and ­whether she was supplied with drugs including ecstasy the night before her body was found at 4 p.m. last Saturday at her home in Camden, North London. It could take up to four weeks for toxicology tests to come back to determine the cause of death.

Janis also told her friend: “I don’t know what happened on that Friday night. I was told she was seen drinking in the bar at the Roundhouse that evening. But how much she drank and what happened next is a mystery. I just think she put her body through too much and it just gave up. If you continue to neglect yourself, there is only so much it can take.”

Amy’s close pal Tom Wright – son of BBC Radio 2 DJ Steve – says friends had turned a blind eye to her using “social drugs” like ecstasy and cannabis on the basis she had quit using crack cocaine and heroin.

Tom, who had not seen Amy for about six months (so really close then), said: “I think maybe some people made a distinction between the hard drugs of her past and the social drugs of the present. I don’t think that’s acceptable but it’s the only explanation I can think of for what happened to her.”

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F. B. Wheeler)

“A country which is not a country, but a longish strip of market garden” – this is Kipling’s description of Egypt.

Out of a total area of about 350,000 square miles, only 12,000 square miles, an area less than half that of Ireland, can be used for permanent habitation. This is chiefly in the Nile valley, a narrow strip of country hemmed in by the Arabian hills on the east and the Libyan mountains on the west, and varying in width from 2 to 120 miles.

Without the Nile, which for centuries has deposited a thin coating of rich mud upon the sand, Egypt would not be different from the rest of the Sahara desert.

In Upper Egypt you will meet people who have never seen rain. At Cairo, 100 miles from the sea, there are four or five showers a year, and even on the Mediterranean coast there is only one-fifth as much rain as you will find in the driest parts of England.

The Nile valley is not only a garden. It is a museum where one sees gathered the works of the oldest civilization and of the most recent. Before Abraham was, before Moses, before Ur of the Chaldees, before Christ or Caesar, Egypt was the seat of a civilization, mature and rich.

You may travel to-day quite luxuriously by sleeping-car and river steamer from the mouth of the Nile to Gondokoro near its source. Along the banks you will see the best of modern irrigation works, and you will still see the slender brown-skinned fellaheen (“ploughers”) irrigating their land by means of a shadoof, a primitive well-sweep. For 100 days in the summer they must swing their leather buckets into the Nile day and night, and thence by three lifts get the water up the banks to their fields.

Along the banks of the Nile you will find the oldest monuments in the world, among them great temples, the Pyramids, and the Sphinx. You will also find there some of the greatest works of modern masonry, the Nile dams and “barrages”.

Beyond the hills that sometimes come down to the very bank, leaving but a hand-breadth of level land, lies the desert. The hilly Arabian desert on the east rises in a series of step-like plateaus to lofty mountains bordering the Red Sea. Here dwell scattered groups of nomadic Bedouins, and here are the remains of mines from which the ancient Egyptians drew their wealth of gold.

Here and there are dry river beds known as wadis. In the rare thunderstorms these carry torrents which cast boulders about like pebbles. The wind sweeps over the desert so mercilessly that not even sand is left upon much of its rocky surface. In some districts of the Libyan desert, however, to the west of the Nile, are immense crescent-shaped sand dunes that creep onwards about 50 feet a year, burying everything in their path. The Bedouin fears these “dust devils”, though he knows so well how to protect himself by wrapping his head in his blanket and crouching behind his camel.

In the Libyan desert are five large oases, made fertile by abundant supplies of underground water. Kharge, the southernmost, is reached by a railway, and supports a population of 8,000 upon crops of dates, rice, and cereals.

The Fayum, one of the most fertile provinces of modern Egypt, also lies beyond the valley to the west. It is just south of Cairo and separated from the Nile valley by six miles of desert. The Fayum occupies a depression in the Libyan desert into which the engineers of the Pharaohs 4,000 years ago drew off the waters of the Nile in years of great flood. The Fayum to-day is a land of flowing streams, and abounds in oranges, peaches, pomegranates, olives, figs, and grapes, besides cotton, sugar, and cereal crops, and is famous for its roses.

The region thus far described is chiefly Lower Egypt and the territory near it. Let us now survey the Nile country from the Sudan to Cairo coming north down the river.

From Lake Albert to Wady Halfa, a distance of more than 1,600 miles, we pass through the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan – a vast region of more than 1,000,000 square miles, with a population of 5,912,000, conquered between 1896 and 1899 by the joint resources of the Egyptian Khedive and Great Britain. The word “Sudan” means “black man’s country”, and the Anglo-Egyptian part of this great belt across Africa is the chief source of the world’s supply of gum arabic and ivory. It produces also cotton, ostrich feathers, dates, sesame, hides, skins, gold, and, in the southern districts, rubber.

At Khartum, the scene of “Chinese” Gordon’s death and of Kitchener’s triumph, the White Nile meets the Blue Nile from Abyssinia. From Wady Halfa, the southern limit of Egypt proper, to Assuan, is a two nights’ river journey downstream, which will seem very delightful after the hot 24 hours in the train from Khartum. If you happen to be making it in February you will begin to notice strange things some time before you reach Assuan.

The river widens into a lake a mile wide with rocky islands showing here and there and palm trees are growing straight out of the water. This is the result of the great dam that has been built at Assuan, for the purpose of storing the Nile waters in flood time for use later on in the drought. The dam is a mile and a quarter high, higher than most church steeeples, and rivals most of the world’s masonry works – even the Pyramids themselves.

As you approach Cairo, the eastern cliffs turn sharply away to the east and the low hills of the Pyramid plateau – opposite Cairo – drop out of sight. You are suddenly in Lower Egypt, or the delta of the Nile. This last hundred miles before you reach the Mediterranean is watered by 300 miles of the Nile, which here flows in two main branches emptying into the sea at Rosetta on the west and Damietta on the east. Here you will see little villages of dark mud-brick huts and groves of graceful date palms. The landscape is carpeted with vivid green, and crossed by such a network of irrigation canals that in summer little water is left to reach the Mediterranean through the natural channels of the Nile.

More than 60% of the 13,000,000 inhabitants of Egypt are agricultural labourers (fellaheen). The Egyptian government is the ultimate proprietor of the land, getting a large proportion of its revenue from the land tax. Nearly 60% of the land under cultivation is in holdings of 50 acres or less, and more than 60% of the landowners get their entire living from an acre or less of land. This is made possible by the fact that regular irrigation is practised on something more than two-thirds of the 6,000,000 cultivated acres, and thus two or three crops are obtained every year.

The fellaheen live in close-packed villages. They do not waste their precious land for house building, and, besides, they like the outer gates that can be closed at night against wandering brigands. The wealth which their land is bringing them under scientific irrigation and the introduction of schools is gradually making their lot less miserable.

Few manufactures are carried on in Egypt, which is essentially an agricultural country; but the immense quantity of cotton that is raised gives rise to numerous mills where it is ginned, and the seeds are crushed for their oil. Calico and other coarse cotton cloths are made, and Egyptian hand-woven silk shawls and draperies are often very beautiful. The Egyptians have a process of tanning practised only by themselves, and produce an excellent quality of morocco leather.

However, the Egyptian is a lazy fellow and will take sleep at every opportunity. They are not to be trusted and tend towards drug dependency and alcoholism. Discipline the Egyptian very harshly and he may respect you for it.

Modern Egypt was nominally subject to Turkey until 1914. The English had really controlled it since 1882, after a period of joint financial control with the French. The nominal head was a Khedive with British advisers. After the World War began and Turkey joined Germany, the British took over Egypt for what it really was, a British protectorate under its own sultan. It is now an independent sovereign state, although Britain has various rights.

The Black Dog

For the last year and a half, I have been really up and down and the worst thing is that I feel as though I haven’t been myself for quite a long time.

Just recently, things have been getting steadily worse and worse. I’m tired all of the time and I’ve lost the ability to cope with minor irritations, instead becoming irrationally angry. I rarely enjoy myself and I struggle through each day. I’m failing to find the magic in life. The main things that keep me going are pure fantasy and I spend nearly all of my time feeling numb and attempting to escape from reality.

I had similar feelings in my early twenties but after a while, I started to fight back. I started swimming regularly, eating better, reading, listening to more music and learning about anything and everything in my spare time. I had my ups and downs like anyone else but this was an incredibly productive period of my life. I was on a high most of the time, writing music, attending concerts, etc., etc.

During this period of my life, I held down a full-time job, swam 4 or 5 miles a week, completed a degree course achieving a first-class honours degree, plus read and read and read just everything I could lay my hands on. I was incredibly productive and I achieved so much during these years.

After this, I decided to resign from my job (which I hated) and become a postgraduate research student. The first year of my studies was one of the best of my life. I can remember a summer of sitting outside in the sunshine, reading great works of literature and philosophy, listening to Mahler in the evenings and spending some terrific time with my girlfriend. I was still swimming regularly and I even started running on some days, 6 miles being about my average run.

However, after that year, I let things slide and the girlfriend left to study in Amsterdam. Money was tight and I didn’t exercise as much or eat as well. I think that is a major part of my recent downfall. Everything became a real struggle last year and I finally decided to go to see a doctor about it. The result was some counselling sessions. They were useful in the way that I was able to get a lot of my anxieties and thoughts out in the open. However, to be absolutely honest, I didn’t find out anything about myself I didn’t already know. It seemed to tide me over for a while and I carried on. Occasionally, I would have some really dark days and I would try swimming again or whatever, but I didn’t stick at anything and I soon gave up and returned to my usual state of a dreamlike existence.

This year, I have descended to a new low. If it wasn’t for my young friend Melissa, I wonder if I would still be alive. I’m shocked at how bad things have become. I don’t read like I used to. I don’t listen to music like I used to. I can’t find excitement and passion in anything anymore. I miss the old me, who used to be on a high all of the time. Back then, I could do everything and right now, I feel as though I can’t manage anything.

The worst thing is realising that I have been living in a fantasy world for so long. I have recently faced up to reality and realised that I don’t like what I find there. I have always had issues with this world, as I’m sure any intelligent person does, but I’ve normally kept on top of them. I have always had issues with anxiety but I have always accepted this as part of who I am. But it has all become too much for me recently.

Over the last three weeks, I have been trying to turn things around. Starting to swim again has been one step in the right direction. I am also trying to make time for music. Reading is something that I am struggling with as I don’t have much time for it outside of my studies but I am also trying to make some time for personal research. This is hard because my concentration level is fucked.

I think it is going to take me some time to get on top of things again, especially as the very nature of my depression is such that when I am down like this, I cannot manage very much at all. When content and happy again, I know that I will return to my high state and be able to be incredibly productive again. That’s actually part of the depression that feeds back into itself. It is horrible to find that you cannot manage even a quarter of the things that you used to find so easy to do.

At the moment, I’m in a desperate state as I don’t want this dark period of my life to impact upon my research although I think that it already is. The doctors can offer me only more counselling, which I feel is a dead end, or medication. I don’t want to take the latter option as I have my concerns about it. I don’t like the idea that taking medication might take the edge away from my life. I thrive on my anxiety when I find it is at a manageable level. I don’t want to lose it entirely. I have, however, started taking St. John’s Wort after having it recommended to me by my young friend Melissa. I don’t know how much help it will be but I am at my lowest ebb and I will try anything at the moment.

A lot of my darkness has to do with my anxiety and the nature of my personality. One of the major difficulties I have had for my whole life is the ability to interact with groups of people. Unfortunately, I have little or no ability to read other people or understand them on a social level. It causes me an immense level of anxiety to be around people. A symptom of my general anxiety is a mild obsessive compulsive disorder, which can be difficult to live with.

In addition to this, I also have little in the way of practical abilities, which is why I have pursued abstract and intellectual occupations as opposed to remaining in my previous job in the civil service, which I found both intensely boring and also essentially meaningless.

I began my studies with the romantic notion that “truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone” but I quickly found this notion challenged and undermined. Everything must be questioned. This is not only potentially very exciting but also profoundly shocking and quite depressing.

There is also the necessity of making money versus the desire to do something meaningful with my life. I love to read widely and to learn about anything and everything. I feel extremely disappointed with my education up until this point, even though I have a first-class honours degree. There is so much out there for me to learn about and I feel disappointed that I don’t have the time or money to do so. I also have doubts about myself and my own intellectual abilities even in the face of a fairly distinguished academic career thus far.

I also frequently have the feeling that life is somehow passing me by like a dream and I am left with little but a faint indication of what has passed. I wish I had the time and money to achieve so much more. All this, while around me, I see little but stupidity and mediocrity winning the day. I’m drifting on the perimeter of my own life.

Part of the problem is how exhausted I feel at the moment, as though I just have no energy. I feel as though it is impossible to study and to write, and this depresses me even more. I haven’t been writing for the last few days. I thought I would try not to force it. The trouble is that I am running out of time and I really need to start again now. I feel a lot of guilt and fear of failure, which is probably the main reason for the block. The guilt is because I feel I am not working hard enough, even I have been trying so hard to work through the block, but I have nothing to show for this time. I wish I could just get a good night’s sleep too. I have been having very vivid dreams, often involving this fear of failure in some way. I wake up at stupid o’clock and cannot sleep again.

On a lighter note, these anti-depressants are fun, aren’t they? Personally, I just love the sleepless nights, the lack of appetite and the way that I gained weight when I was taking them.

Have any of you ever read the instructional leaflet that comes with them? My advice is don’t, especially if you intend taking them.

The side effects cover just about everything awful that you can imagine. The funniest thing for me is the variation on the theme, with contrasting side effects often listed side-by-side as if the manufacturers and testers couldn’t work out what would happen, so just listed every eventuality.

For instance, I could:

– Be sleepy or have difficulty sleeping.
– Have constipation or diarrhoea.
– Lose weight or gain weight.
– Have increased appetite or loss of appetite.
– Have an increased sex drive or decreased sex drive.
– Have low blood pressure or high blood pressure.
– Experience a dry mouth or have increased saliva.

I could go on but I think you get the idea. Seems to me that they just want to cover all possibilities, with the general message being “these tablets are going to fuck you up, one way or the other”.

My latest theory is that the tablets work by giving you various side effects to distract you from your depression. You end up so busy feeling shit that you don’t have time to feel depressed.

Some of the more worrying potential side effects:

– Ringing in the ears.
– Impotence or inability to reach orgasm.
– Hallucinations and mood disorders.
– Loss of contact with your own personal reality.
– Feelings of unreality and strangeness.

My absolute favourite side effect though, which apparently only has an effect on 1 in 100 people, is that the tablets may make the individual “feel cheerful and optimistic” or experience a “general feeling of well-being”. That’s kind of the point of taking the tablets isn’t it?

All in all, it’s pretty hilarious stuff. You have to laugh, don’t you?

The Black Dog

Time to get this off my chest. This will take two posts, one today and one tomorrow.

You know you are depressed if you are experiencing all of the following:

Increase in tension
Wanting to cry for no reason
Inability to concentrate
Very itchy eyes, even though you have no known allergies
Zero sex drive
Dizziness
Severe increase in irritability
Feeling someone is always watching you
Feeling someone is laughing at you every time you hear someone whispering or laughing
Each little noise completely distracts you and affects your focus
Cannot stand any human being
Fatigue

I experience several of them on a regular basis, but I carry on, on the basis that some depression is a natural part of life. I could be drugged out of my mind and probably solve many of the problems, but I’d rather not. Some of them may just be symptoms of mild anxiety and not full blown depression. Anxiety can actually be constructive, from my experience.

The worst symptom of all is the fear of dying. I’ve suffered from depression for years, and I’ve had my share of moments where I contemplated suicide, but this is different. It actually feels like you are about to die. It’s the worst feeling in the world, and it stays with you for days, and nothing I do seems to help. I usually just wait, trying constantly to convince myself the world isn’t falling apart, then I’m OK again.

A few years ago I had persistent panic attacks on top of depression during which I had the (completely imaginary) feeling that I was going to suffer a heart failure instantly. After proper medication, I was cured, but it took time and those moments were truly awful.

Though I have been known to live my life like Max von Sydow in Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf, I always try to anchor my depression in something concrete: bad weather, government lies, lack of CD money.

More on this tomorrow.

The year after this gig in Tokyo he fell out of a hotel window in Amsterdam and died.

I’m sick and tired of hearing things from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites; all I want is the truth now, just gimme some truth now.

(John Lennon, Just Gimme Some Truth)

This week, to celebrate the life of John Lennon on the thirtieth anniversary of his murder by an American nut, I will be making droll comments in a laconic affected Scouse accent, telling people how great Liverpool is but not going near the place, taking LSD, abandoning my first wife, and sitting up in bed with an ugly Japanese bird.

Apart from the last one, these would all do to celebrate the life of John Peel.

Next week, I will be campaigning to have Manchester’s airport named after Mark E. Smith. Perhaps you will join me? Hey, let’s just call it “The Fall”. Wouldn’t you like to land there?

Where were you when John Lennon was shot dead? And didn’t you think “Fuck! Yoko Ono was standing right next to him and not one bullet. Jesus!”?

Related:

John Lennon declared that he was “not interested in being a dead hero” in an interview given three days before his murder

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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