Confucius allegedly said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
On Friday morning I left our house at 8.00 am, knowing that I probably wouldn’t see my front door again before 11 pm; it was going to be a LONG day but I was really looking forward to it.
I work for a recovery charity in Keighley, helping people experiencing health problems – both mental and physical – due to their alcohol use and I’m passionate about my job, but it does take an emotional toll.
Fact is, being in long-term recovery myself, I’m a passionate advocate of sobriety and as such the whole philosophy behind 5 WAYS for Wellbeing @ the Recovery Academy – the 5 Ways to Wellbeing – is invaluable to my life and my practice.
Quick primer for those unfamiliar with the 5 WAYS principles; in a similar way to the importance to your physical health of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, they hold that for good mental health, we should incorporate the following practices into our daily life:
- Connect – with the people around you; family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Take the time to smile and say hello to people and, if it’s clear that someone is struggling – make the effort to really listen to them.
- Be active – find a physical activity that suits you and incorporate it in your daily life; wear a pedometer or fit bit, if you work at a desk, set your alarm to have a walk around every hour or so, try swimming or cycling.
- Take notice – be curious, notice the beauty of your surroundings and savour it. If you seen an unusual flower, animal or insect; take a photo and find out what it is. When you’re alone in the evening, take the time to reflect on your day and quietly express gratitude for positive events and experiences.
- Keep learning – try something new, rediscover an old interest, cook a new recipe, set yourself a new challenge. Learning new things is fun and can really help your self-confidence.
- Give – Perform random acts of kindness – for friends AND strangers. Volunteer, join a community group, create connections with other people in your area.
It should therefore be obvious why I’m such a big fan of the 5 WAYS @ the Recovery Academy Open Mic nights – I’ve attended 4 out of 5 so far – they clearly embody at least 3 of these principles; connecting, learning and giving.
For this reason, and because the audience are always warm and appreciative, I always try to prepare some fresh material to perform on the night. I’m always blown away by the quality and talent of all the acts performing, so here’s my review of what was yet another wonderful night on the 19th July.
First up was Phil Pearce and here I must first of all declare an interest, Phil is not only a good friend but he also runs what I consider to be THE BEST spoken word night in West Yorkshire (SWALK – Spoken Word @ Lux Kafe in Pudsey) and as such has been a huge influence on my poetry. Phil had to rush off straight after performing – his girlfriend was stranded in Manchester in a Biblical flood and Uber didn’t have any arks – but his words were as polished and powerful as always.
Second up was Daniel, who started with an acoustic version of Coldplay’s Yellow and then put down his guitar and blew me away with 2 powerful poems – the first about the effects of bullying and the second – called Bird of Praise – which he wrote in prison and was significant in his recovery journey.
Next was Hank, he’s been described as the Vaudevillian Poet and always makes be laugh; this time his rendition of I Am The Walrus – complete with harmonica solo – was a particular highlight.
Then Trevor, who is clearly a proud Yorkshireman, gave us a taste of how the Bible might sound had Moses emerged from Oakwell with the Ten Commandments written on breadcakes. Clever, amusing but as a Mancunian, ultimately baffling…
Also baffling, but also quite scary was Phil Green, who performed what I can only describe as acapella punk turned up to 11. Apparently he’s in the process of reforming his band – Alpine Movement – who, if this was any guide, will make Sleaford Mods look like Little Mix!
The lovely Denise then stepped up to the mic, bravely sang and then quietened the room with a poem dedicated to her daughter. I think this was her first time performing and she was clearly nervous, but if she can get to a few more nights like this I’m sure she’ll soon build her confidence.
Behla was up next, I’m sure I’ve seen her perform at 5 WAYS before – the second one? – and she’s an accomplished guitarist/singer/songwriter. I particularly enjoyed her song about washing a jumper to the right size.
Mike, another singer/songwriter followed up with the moving “Song For Cyrus” and then it was time for curry, which of course was well up to the usual standard – thanks Carla!
After the break it was time for Steve with some more acapella, a faithful rendition of Harvey Andrews’ 1972 song “Unaccompanied”. If you haven’t heard it, it’s a powerful and evocative lament reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding” from the ‘80s and well worth a search on YouTube. He then played us a cover of Wonderwall, probably my second favourite Oasis track – after Half the World Away – and I thoroughly enjoyed singing along!
Then came a welcome appearance from one of my favourite poets, Josh Hall. He announced that he was back from a recent slip but was now 60 days clean, then he blew the room away with 3 stunning poems; Leave, Just Today and Road to Nowhere – welcome back brother.
There followed a brief hiatus while the band set up. They were tentatively/controversially/wittily dubbed – delete as appropriate – Mentallica, a four-piece comprising two guitars (rhythm and lead), ukelele and an acoustic bass.
The band all hark from Bringing it All Back Home, a mental health and music project in Holbeck.
My notes have let me down on the content of their set, but Mad World was a highlight alongside covers of Del Shannon’s Runaway and Oasis’ Live Forever.
For a debut performance they were pretty impressive and most enjoyable.
Charlie – who has recently got clean – then read a text that he’d recently received from his dad, who has been sober for 14 years, saying how proud he was of his son for starting the same journey. The room fell silent while he read this and I think I got something in my eye. Well done Charlie, keep the faith.
Next up was Yvonne, who I’ve seen perform many times before. She’s been writing since her teens and I’ve rarely heard her read the same poem twice, tonight she did Earthsong (about ecology), The Losing Game (about addiction) and The Richest Gifts – love it when she does the voices!
The penultimate act was Nick (singer/guitarist/harmonica) – fresh out of rehab and looking great – who performed Springsteen’s This Hard Land and Land of Hopes and Dreams, which I knew, and Frank Turner’s “Photosynthesis“, which I didn’t. Nick then harmonised with Tony, who’d earlier led Mentallica, on a rather wonderful version of Hallelujah utilising some clever loop pedal action.
The whole evening was brilliantly compèred by Andy Price, who kept things moving at a good pace and kept perfectly to schedule – not bad for your first time, Andy!
The more observant of you may have noticed that I haven’t reviewed my own performance. Well, I always like to bring something new to these occasions and given that it was the 3rd birthday of the 5 WAYS @ the Recovery Academy, I did a short stand up set on birthdays and anniversaries which seemed to be well received.
Then I read a new poem/parody song based on Abba’s The Day Before You Came (which is reproduced below) and closed with a, rather rude, version of My Favourite Things; which ALWAYS goes down well.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
See you at the next one?
The Day Before You Came
(with apologies to Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus)
by Jem Stuart
I must have left the call centre just minutes after seven,
Another shitty night shift the antithesis of heaven
I must have donned my helmet and started up my motorbike
The journey home the only part of that crappy job I liked
Close to home I stopped for tins of Carlsberg Special Brew
I’d have those for my breakfast, overnight I’d already guzzled two,
Then I’d have to wait, for my wife to leave the house and close the gate
There wasn’t any laughter in my life I must admit,
The day before I quit.
I must have been on my computer shortly after eight
Breakfast was the first can but I’m still not feeling great
My stomach couldn’t handle anything like solid food
So I’d have a liquid breakfast and spend time online just being rude
At ten I’d go to bed, I’d finished off my lager ration
My habits and routines, not providing much by way of passion
Then I’d go to bed, to wake too soon with full bladder and sore head.
My life summed up the saying different day the same old shit,
The day before I quit.
That evening in my living room, I was rocking to and fro.
Overdue for yet another shift, but I couldn’t bear to go.
Panicking and in despair, I just couldn’t stop my tears,
Frozen by depression; unable to overcome my fears.
Didn’t know what I should do, could my life get any worse?
The sonnet of my life, seemed about to reach its final verse.
I knew I needed space, to find myself, perhaps serenity and grace.
In terms of mental health I was a right miserable git,
The day before I quit.
In that darkest hour, I somehow found reserves of my spiritual power.
I admitted I was powerless, to sobriety I must submit,
The day before I quit.