On the 9th of January 2014 – on the final day of a sad and bad old year (2013) which I’d extended by an extra 9 days – I was back across the water once again in Glasgow to meet the surgeon who had operated on me for a post-op consultation. The ‘good news’ was that the autopsy report on the larger remaining part of my thyroid seemed to be clear of any further problems, save for what the medics underplayed as something that they referred to as being “incidental” findings. To be honest it was as much of a shock to hear this ‘good news’ as it was to receive the diagnosis on the tumour that had been removed in the summer. Being a wee-bit alpha-male thick when it comes to reactive emotive things (because of the armour I’ve built up over the years out of necessity) and probably still suffering from the effects of a new-year hangover, I was left with a feeling of uncertainty about whether I should now start planning the year ahead, even if it inevitably mean a course of radioactive iodine therapy.
The thing about living life in limbo-land – as I am now doing – is that although I know that there still seems to be some sort of problem that needs sorting, I’m no longer considered a priority, which I also guess means that ATOS and all the Dickensian throw-backs in the government, can now claim I’m a skiver who’s fit to work again if not in my chosen Boho profession (call that work!?) then at least on a zero-hours contract in some tax-dodging super-store that’s staffed by lost souls who’ve had all their dreams taken away from them. So I’ve decided that if it ever does come down to having to choose a different career path to the one I set out on as an idealistic/dreamy teenager (an option which some of us just might have to face in the future the way that things are going) then I’ll either opt to retrain as a surf instructor for alpha-pensioners (a group who are referred to in the surf world as the ‘Sore Shoulder’ crew) or alternatively become a power tool demonstrator for rich 50+ ladies in a DIY store. Having done my research, it seems that +50 something ladies have a particular affinity to power tools, while surfing – or trying to surf in my case – is one of the fastest growing leisure activities among the over 50s.
During the course of my treatment (apart from getting use to the medical doublespeak) among the more serious things that I’ve become acutely aware of is that the emotive language often used to describe how you’re dealing with what’s happening to you is all wrong. And that the use of words like: fight, battle, beat and triumph are really as much about creating a feel good factor for loved ones, as they are about helping you avoid falling into the trap of seeing or calling yourself a victim. Like most life threatening things you fast realize that you’ll never actually beat them, BUT you can and often will cheat them. And along with becoming totally aware of your own mortality, you’re also reminded big-time about the need for humility, compassion and respect for other people’s lives and the preciousness of human life in general. As a film-maker, I’ve now learnt that you can only armour yourself and dodge (invisible) bullets for so long before you too become the target rather than the observer of other people’s misfortunes; Which is something that I’m determined to deal with in a new film project I’m shooting: A Copenhagen Cycle Geography
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As I sit and write this I’m looking out at a snow storm happening over the frozen lakes of central Copenhagen, and waiting to hear about whatever’s next in terms of my treatment which hopefully will be completed in time for the Spring thaw. At that point I can start out on a journey to rebuild my physical health, along with my creative/intellectual/gob-shite energy levels and then set about picking-up the pieces of what’s left of a career. A career – which when I think about it – has really been in a state of inertia since I was cursed both with BAFTA nominations (which are apparently meant to open doors not close them!) and first discovered a lump on my neck. To put it bluntly, I feel that I’ve gone not so much through a career suicide – something that sadly befalls many talented people in the film/art scene if they fall-foul of the powerful, small minded elite who control the so-called creative industries in a third-world country like Scotland – as much as I have experienced a career wake-up call. Because along with scar tissue and medication that knocks you sideways and turns you into an insomniac, the other effect of ‘the crab’ (and I do mean crab and not crap Mr Butler!) is that your self-confidence suffers in ways you’d never expected, as you turn all your available energies – quite rightly and selfishly so – on the battle (or rather cheat?) you’re fighting within yourself. Because you start to question your belief in what it is you do or did and why you were doing it in the first place. A week after my hospital appointment I hit 55, conscious more than I’ve ever been that whatever time I have left on this planet is far too precious to waste on form-filling and pitching (or rather pissing) ideas and creative energy away on a business that’s lost any sense of respect for reality, real people and their dignity (especially after watching the kind of right-wing propaganda being peddled as a serious documentary on Channel 4’s Benefit St) At 55 as well as being pretty much untouchable and also probably unemployable (unless I do-it-for-myself) I’m aware that the material wealth that many have sought and accumulated by lotto-luck , class privilege or shamefaced professional cuntery, has now passed me by (to be frank, I’ve seldom been as economically poor as I am at this moment in time!) and that all that’s left for me to do is to survive/cheat my condition, gather wisdom and contribute something back to a world, which I believe needs nothing short of a revolution to happen in our hearts, minds and creativity. Because it’s time for those that care to start telling stories which don’t follow right-wing tabloid agendas or the bad/wonky science formulas prevalent in both TV eye-candy and on just about every over-produced state-funded Film ‘training’ scheme in existence (just how much training, script-doctoring and rewriting do experienced film-makers need to be trusted to make a film for christsake!?) And it’s time to discover and explore the magic that can be found in new narratives in the world and streets around us, seeking out and making our art in unexpected and lost places as a form of resistance to all that digital and over managed negativity. At the very least, it’s certainly time to put the boot-in and reclaim reality from the ethical cowards and flaky individuals that call themselves TV Professionals, who have no interest in embracing or even championing what independent film-making is really all about.
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When I first started making stuff back in the late 1970’s as a kid from a council estate with a second-hand S8mm camera, it was never about aspiring to a career in the middle-class media business or an elitist and inaccessible art-world, but more about finding a way of escaping from a financially poor and culturally impoverished world that – like many others before me and since – that I didn’t want to be a part of and which I certainly didn’t feel that I belonged in. I wanted out – as do many kids today – from a racist, narrow-minded, bully boy, militaristic, home county Conservative little England. A world in which everyone “knew their place” didn’t talk politics for fear of being called a lefty, and who voted Tory as much out of stupidity and greed as they did out of an imaginary fear they all had of the Trotskyite hoards and waves of immigrants who were coming to steal their dead-end jobs, besiege their safe-European homes, corrupt their sons minds and fuck their daughters. Sadly it seems things haven’t changed that much in the decades since then. In fact it seems that things have almost come full circle. However back then Filmmaking/Art/DIY culture or whatever you wanted to call it was all about idealism (nothing wrong in wanting to change the world btw!) because it was all about resistance and about feeling the sweat of youth in all that you did. And like just about any teenager/20 something is today, it was also about being an arrogant fucker that challenged authority at every opportunity – because it’s something that’s in your hormones when you’re that age – and something that needs to be embraced rather than declared war on by politicians and media professionals alike. Just by doing what you do at that age – searching for truths and daring to dream the impossible – originality, style and an attitude just come naturally. There really was and still is a kind of magic to all this stuff that can’t really be explained in my broken/grammatically imperfect English. There’s no real formula to it and thankfully no X-factor that makes reality work, despite what many privileged documentary makers may claim. But above all there was room to get it wrong and fail, because in the end the exploration and the journey is what really matters.
Now as a (reluctant) and pissed-off Outsider who through bad health has had a chance to look-in on worlds that I’ve been a part of both nationally and internationally, I see a generation coming to power through their class privilege rather than through any raw talent, intent or hard-work. Tragically it’s a bit like watching a real-life version of Chris Morris’s shamefully ignored series Nathan Barley (made by the old regime at Channel 4) turning into a real-life farce and starring a selfie-shooting, ‘Generation Me’ of rich-kids who seem more obsessed with the size of their film sensors then they are with cultivating a sensibility or compassion in what they do (which actually explains a lot when you consider the Dickensian throw-back mindset of the ‘professionals’ responsible for documentaries like Benefit Street and ‘the rise of the idiots’ – a metropolitan gang of dazed and confused geeks and hipsters, who are busily reinventing the wheel and claiming to be the future of film) Is it really now all about making films that set out to kick and condemn those who through poverty and a lack of educational opportunity are unable to stand up intellectually to the privileged/cultivated robots who work in TV any more?; let alone who are confident enough to take on the bully boy lawyers that some broadcasters are using to threaten anyone who dares to challenge the integrity of their soulless and heartless Production teams? (As happened in the case of one wonderful community leader I knew who dared to stand-up to a nations and regions broadcaster on a Glasgow housing scheme?)
Somewhere along the line it seems to me that we’ve lost something that really mattered in the past – and not just as film-makers or artists – but as decent human beings. Reading back through this and correcting (revision number 33!) my confused rage and inarticulate ramblings here (which I can put down to something called Liothyronine, a bad phone-call with my head-and-neck nurse and sleepless nights caused by my medication) I’m left with a feeling that I’ve lost not just a thyroid, my self-confidence and any faith in what I do (which I know will come back again) but also something else that’s far more important.
Something that in the past was worth working up a sweat for.
As I upload this and revise it to the point of abandoning it, I’m also just about to pack my bag again and leave the frozen lakes of Copenhagen, to head back over the Nordic Sea to Glasgow for an appointment with an Oncologist at the Beatson Cancer Unit and the start of the next stage of my journey .