Riding the waves

I have missed you Dear Reader since I wrote my last article 20 days ago. There goes my idea of writing every week out of the window. I have been going through a rough time lately as far as my mental health is concerned. Let me reassure you that I am still alive, but it’s been like riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Stephen Fry once said that depression is like the weather. It exists. We don’t know how it starts, it’s just there. It’s part of our everyday life. We’re not in the depths of melancholy every day. We even have good days. We even have great days where it seems that nothing can go wrong.

However, when it does go wrong, it can go very wrong, and go very wrong very quickly. You of course try and fight it. Which is perfectly normal and a rational thing to do. But this of course takes an awful lot of effort and leaves you shattered. When you are shattered you feel your energy levels gradually diminish, and when it happens to me I seem to have a few basic tasks that I can carry out. One of the hardest of these tasks is to get out of bed every morning and affront the world. But you do it. Because you have to. You drag yourself to work. You manage to do the basic stuff so as not to be noticed. But you withdraw. You are no longer chatty. You avoid people and only talk when necessary.

You start to get feel the presence of “darker” thoughts which become increasingly darker. You start to think the worst, but the you remember that you are so bloody useless that you can’t even tie a proper knot. Yes. My incompetence has saved me once again!

Another of my basic tasks is to go to mass. It was a couple of weeks ago. I was still going to the cathedral on the Sunday night for the music. That night, my body may have been there but by mind was in turmoil. Little did I know that I was already getting better. A voice in my head said, well now, if you’re here, then it means you haven’t given up yet. It was a voice that comes to me now and again. It’s a voice that is the opposite of the voices trying to put me down. Imagine watching a cartoon where you’re thinking, and on one side you have a daemon trying to drag you down, but on the other you have an angel trying to pull you back up. One is violent in its very essence, whilst the other is pure love and gentleness. It’s at moments like this that I know God exists. God is love and where there is love, there is God. This is such a great comfort to me during these dark episodes. Maybe depression is a truly religious experience?

People generally notice that I’m not so well only after I’ve hit this rock bottom and am back on the way up. I have friends that are Catholic also, and have helped me more than they realise. Others offer simple kindness, which is another form of love. Others will just listen and not treat me as if I’m a headcase even though I might feel like one. This again is pure kindness. this kindness is like a breath of fresh air and so precious to me. I would really like to thank those of you but I can’t thank you enough.

My mental health is like being a sea. I am the ship, and get battered about by the waves. There is always a real risk that I may sink and cease to be, but when I’m at the very bottom of the wave I know that I will start to rise again. Sometime it takes a little longer than I may first have hoped. But I will rise.

I have accepted this as being part of who I am. I am fully conscious of when I am starting to stumble. I know the signs. I know what I am looking out for. Can it be cured? I don’t honestly know. There is certainly no quick fix. There is no pill that you can pop that will make everything right again. At best it offered me an automatic pilot for a given period of time.

Some have said that I suffer from Hypersensitivity. I was given a book as a present from a friend and have actually started reading it. I don’t know what to think about it yet. I’m not a great believer in self-help books and don’t believe there is one solution for everyone, let alone for myself. All I know at the moment is that I am feeling better, and am feeling ready to ride the waves one more time.

Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas dear Reader. Ok. I know I’m a little late but that’s fine. Most of these blog posts have that impression of being slightly out of sync like a news reporter talking live from outside Parliament, or a badly dubbed film… trust me, I will wish you a Happy New Year by the end of June, I just don’t know in what year yet.

Christmas has been great this year. For those who know me I’ll just let that sink in. For those of you who know me as a tea drinker and cake eater, I mean cake amateur, this is the first Christmas where I have not been depressed for so long. The others can come back now.

I always make a difference between Christmas, and the secular Christmas , which is all about joining the orgy of consumerism, eating,and drinking. The kind of Christmas we have in France, buy all this nice food, buy all this nice wine, buy the expensive presents for those you love, and you will have happiness and people will love you. They’re so good at fooling us that we fall for the same bullshit year in, year out.

The Christmas I had this year was post Lourdes and my return to the Church. I still bought presents for my family, and loved the presents my family gave me. One was a machine that made tea. And I’m always so wary of people that claim that it is possible to make tea without using boiling water, scalding the teapot first etc. This machine is actually rather good. Will wonders never cease?

Right. Back to where I was. I travelled though Advent and what the readings in Mass during Advent teach us. I went to confession to prepare my soul. I asked God to bring my family together and celebrate the giving of Christmas the way that God gave us Jesus, Emmanuel, or God amongst us. Maybe before I was the problem, because this year I was in such a different place mentally.

We have a tradition of always having somebody over for Christmas who is alone or not with their family for Christmas. This year, it was a friend of Killian’s whose family had just suffered a death. He needed to be elsewhere as a self preservation mechanism. The table was laid out with finger foods, but the good stuff that makes this meal special the way Christmas is special. There was wine and beer. There were Christmas crackers that had been spotted my daughter in the shop where I get various cakes and sweets. The French don’t do Christmas crackers, and my son’s friend was slightly put off by the English tradition of putting a stupid flimsy paper crown on. but he did it and we all had a good time. I had just one beer so I would be clear to go to midnight mass.

Midnight mass started with a service at 23h30. As I drove up to Nantes there was hardly anybody on the roads. I parked and had never seen so many spaces in that car park. As I walked though the Quartier Bouffay, I could see nobody on the streets. I could see windows with lights on, and people around tables. As I walked pas the Sainte Croix church, I could hear the singing of hymns already celebrating Christmas. I saw the Soldiers guarding the Church just in case. I wished them Merry Christmas and felt thankful that it wasn’t cold. I walked on past Decré, past the Place de Pilori, and on towards the Cathedral. As I advanced, more people seemed to join me. Otherwise Nantes was sitting down to eat.

The Bishop said mass and the music was special in a way that only Christmas music can be. Despite being part of the body of the Church and celebrating mass like so many other Catholics in the world I felt alone. I was missing having my family by my side. I would have to wait for the next day, Christmas Day, to be able to have my wife and two children with me. That made my Christmas. That and really good tea, and some lovely Christmas cake with cheese on it…

PS. It’s actually the Epiphany today today, so technically I’m not late yet.

The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.

Day out with my son

I’m in the pub after having heard Mass in the Cathedral with my son. Last might he was out having “drinks” with friends for his birthday. I said I would meet him in Nantes the next day and that we would spend the day together.

He would be able to choose his birthday cum Christmas present. Since I’m a nice guy and loving father (sometimes…), but what the heck, I said that I would pick him up at his friend’s flat.  The plan was to go into town, have brunch together in the Passage Pommeraye, go around the shops for him, his sister, and my wife, and then go to mass together.

That, at least, was the plan. I picked him up and he looked almost human. We drove into town and actually had a coherent conversation, but he did say that it was a little too sunny and bright… We parked the car and entered “smug mode!” There wouldn’t be any spaces later on, but I found one quite easily… Lady Luck was smiling on us. Little did I know she was just lulling us into a false sense of security.

First things first, he needed some cigarettes, so of we went to the Tabac, then off for brunch. On the way we met a couple who are those kind of people that know how to make you feel wonderful as soon as you see them. I’m not saying that being Canadian has anything to do with it, but it might explain something. Or it might just be that they are just so special and one of a kind. They’ll know who they are if and when they read this. They’re also the couple that told me about Mass in the Cathedral on a Sunday night.

We left them to their meal and pre-meal drinks on the terrace of the café. Direction, the Passage Pommeraye for a wonderful brunch, and Killian was in need of coffee. We got there and the bloody place was shut! Disaster. That Lady Luck was being somewhat less of a lady.

I started scrambling for a plan B. We found a place that sold hot dogs. Everything made on the premises and sourced locally, and not expensive. But they were massive, and we wondered how we were going to get something so big into our mouths, which as you guessed is what she said… We sat on the steps in the street to eat them. As we ate, we saw children passing and “they” knew they had just seen Father Christmas…. Happens often at this time of year.

I had decided that my son needed some clothes and I wanted him to have something nice, so we headed to the nice part of town. We hadn’t had coffee yet and he really needed some, so we ordered 2 expressos, and chatted whilst we sipped them. There was a shop that I had been in and thought, oh I have to take Killian there, and I had forgotten the name of the place and where it was. Two hours and quite a few steps later we found the place and our luck changed. The shop was open!!!! He wanted a flat cap à la Peeky Blinders, and he found one. Present for Killian, check!

By this time he was human again and caffeine had obviously worked its magic, in that peculiar way that caffeine seems to do.

We started wondering again, but this time looking for something for my wife. We ended up on a kitchen equipment shop selling any gadget you could need. This is a very dangerous place for me as my eyes light up like those of a child in a sweet shop.

We got a message from a friend’s daughter saying that she and he brother were in town with friends and would we like to meet up. I of course said yes and that we were near such and such a place. She said she would phone me as soon as she was parked. She couldn’t find a space so they would park away from the city centre and catch the tram to joins us and where would we be. I of course said why don’t we meet up at the pub, and here’s how to get there. We arrived just in time to order Guinness and say hello to the guys behind the bar, and in they came. It was good to catch up and we talked about nothing and everything in equal amounts and they left saying how we would meet up in 6 weeks time at their mother’s wedding. I’ll be taking a few photos as a present for the bride.

Killian and I wondered around more shops just in case we found something for the girls (wife, and my daughter) we couldn’t find anything except for my daughter, but as we were talking about my wife, his mother, we knew what we were going to get for her. Except we have no idea on where to look.

We got the the Cathedral with time to spare so looked around before mass started. That organist is amazing, and you can literally feel the organ music and it resonates in the church. It goes right through you. It was lovely not being on my own for mass too.

Afterwards we thanked the priest for mass and headed off to the pub for a quick pint, and then on to get some food. Vegan burger that was actually really good, and even Killian thought so too, which is praise indeed.

A long day, but a good day. The kind of day that any father and son should have once in a while. The only thing missing? Some cake….

 

Mass in the Cathedral

If you’ve read the Lourdes article then you’ll know that I am a practicing Catholic, and after a break away from the Church I’m trying to get back to Mother Church. It was Sunday, and well, I hadn’t been in the morning as I could see the clock turning. I remembered a friend telling me about the 7pm in the Cathedral. I know it sounds like it could be a horse race (try the 7pm in Nantes…) but I thought I could make it.

I’d been in town taking photos; now there’s a surprise! Trying somewhere different in town where the last time I had gone with a film camera and messed up my film development. That will be for another article though.

A friend of mine is very very pregnant and about to pop. I found out when she told me on Facebook but I hadn’t got around to seeing her during her pregnancy and I was so happy for her and her partner be able to start a family. It couldn’t happen to nicer people.

Hang on, I’m missing bits out. So we’ve done photos. Check. We’ve done pregnant friend. Check. Have we done cake? Ah. Not yet.

Ok. Back on track. Right. So I have a pregnant friend about to pop and I asked if I could pop round for a cup of tea. She said yes of course, and I couldn’t turn up empty handed now, could I?

I know a place that does rather nice macaroons. The really nice French ones. The really nice French ones that everybody says, “We can’t eat all those,” but invariably prove ourselves wrong. I saw all the flavours and had to have three of each. I must have come away with about 30 of them. There was chocolate, praline, pistachio, almond, vanilla, lemon, raspberry, mango, salted butter caramel, and I think that was it… oh OK, not thirty, but nearly…

I arrived with my meager offerings and was promptly told that I shouldn’t have, but a large plate appeared and the macaroons were ready to be “tasted” flavour by flavour. We drank Ceylon tea, and talked about the fast approaching birth, and how people should stop giving expecting couples advice on how to raise their children. So I gave them unwanted advice on how to raise their children. Whatever you do to your children, do it with love, and you won’t go far wrong. Time flies like and arrow, and fruit flies like a banana. Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave and head off to Mass, hence the name of this article…

I am obviously a fool. My wife will confirm this. I trusted my GPS to get me to the church on time. Reminds me of a song… I was at the underground car park with only ten minutes to spare before mass. I was at the underground car park with only ten minutes to spare before mass, and, with this very pressing need to pee. That’ll teach me to drink so much tea in so little time.

I remember reading once that “a Gentleman should never run” and with my level of unfitness it has never been easier to be a gentleman… but I will accept walking at a brisk pace. I arrived at the cathedral doors and entered, trying to catch my breath, and compose myself. I saw the Père Hubert already dressed in his robes and in the starting blocks. He gestured to me as if to say, don’t worry son, you’re not late yet…

The music is amazing. They have the Cathedral organist just whacking one out on his massive organ. Yes. You know what I mean and I certainly don’t mean that! This is church after all!

Mass took its usual course but with the echo I couldn’t make out what the people were saying during the readings. The place seem quite full and I was very impressed by the whole feeling of the mass. Looking towards the high altar all light up. And the columns taking our prayers directly to God. I went to communion and regained my seat. At the end of Mass I recited the rosary as if to say thank you and please look after my family. Then I heard a bell being rung as the sacristan told people that he was going to lock all the doors and make sure every one was out. There was a small boy with his parents who seemed really impressed by the whole shebang.

Afterwards, I headed off to the pub for a couple of pints. Well, not really, I just had to find a place to pee!

Lourdes.

For those of you who don’t know Lourdes, let me tell you about it. It is no ordinary place, and there is a feeling of profound hope, and healing, that strikes you immediately. There are mountains, souvenir shops for Catholic pilgrims, and the sanctuary itself.

Oh. I said that “C” word again. Except this one doesn’t rhyme with “punt.” I am unashamedly Catholic, and had drifted from the church, but I wanted to drift back.

When people go on pilgrimages, even unofficial ones like this, we talk about the voyage being almost as important as the destination. This is, of course, not just the physical journey, but the mental, and spiritual voyage also. I’ve wanted to return to Lourdes since I was 9, and this time I took my son with me.

As a parent you can only do so much, and part of my faith is to know that I can’t control everything in my life, let alone in the lives of others, and that there is something else that is beyond my comprehension. I wanted to help my son in his life, and despite maintaining a dialogue, I had done as much as I could. I could do no more, so I asked Our Lady to look after him. We all need a mother, and most of the Jewish people that I know, seem to agree that a Jewish mother is the best. And you don’t need to be a Jewish to be a Jewish mother. It’s a state of mind. And if God decided on a Jewish mother for His Son, then it was good enough for me. As a Catholic, we see Mary as being a mother to all of us. So when the proverbial **** hits the fan, you ask your Mum if she can help, before you ask your (heavenly) Father. Mums have a way of talking to Dads that help make things alright.

That’s something I understood once I became a father myself. God has that relationship with us. In Judaism, and Christianity, He does anyway. A father loves his child. Even when that child is “naughty,” we still love them. We might punish them, but we always want to forgive them. God is the same with us. You could argue that it’s a way of showing humanity through divinity.

Wow, this got heavy all of a sudden!

Anyway. I went to Lourdes to try and reconcile myself with God. To ask forgiveness for my many sins, to make reparation, to heal, and to try and return towards my Father. We do this with our own fathers here on earth, and so it was the same process for my soul. Does that make sense?

My son was my carer, and he did his job admirably. He also benefitted from his trip. In the Sanctuary there is an overwhelming sense of peace. We went to the grotto, and prayed. We did the night time procession and recited the rosary holding our candles. We bathed in the baths with the water from the source that appeared when Mary asked Saint Bernadette to dig. That source is still there and provides water for the many pilgrims. We put some of that water into bottles to take home with us. I went to Confession.

We also went up a mountain, and came down again. It was almost as much a religious experience as the rest of the pilgrimage. When Moses goes up the mountain to receive the ten commandments it is to be closer to God. At the top of that mountain we saw a nun talking to a young friend. They were laughing and taking selfies. We saw a priest praying from his Brievery. It was a moving experience seeing the cloud coming over the summit. We saw the clouds clear, and we looked over the valley to the other mountains. I still don’t understand how people can look at that scenery and doubt the existence of a creator.

Anyway. Let’s talk about the photos. They were taken with the X100F which is compact enough not to be noticed, and a little less heavy than my DSLR and all the lenses that I use with it. It limits me, but makes it all simpler. No unnecessary questions about which lens to use etc. Feel free to comment on the article or the photos. Any feedback is always welcome.