Hypegiaphobia

As many of you will be aware, I am engaged to be married to the lovely Lauren, and while I am enthusiastically looking forward to August next year (the date of the wedding), there are a few things I am not so keen on facing. Firstly, will I be able to cope with the responsibilities of being a husband? I hope so, and I will certainly do my best. Secondly, and more worryingly, Lauren is adamant that she wants children and, while I would also like to be a father, I am terrified about the levels of responsibility required for that role. I’ll be honest, when I was living on my own I would happily go a couple of days without eating, just because I’d forget. I would only eat crap, because cooking a proper meal for one person is far more effort than it’s worth. I would go without sleep (partly because I suffer from insomnia and partly because sleeping alone is depressing) for long stretches. I would spend days playing video games because I could. Unlike now, when the opportunity rarely presents itself.

I won’t be able to do any of that when I become a father (except for the sleep part). It isn’t that I want to do any of that, really, it’s just that the option will have been removed from me. I’ve never been very good with being told not to do something. It has always triggered that retarded slice of my brain labelled ‘rebel‘ and I have to force myself not to immediately go and do the thing I’ve been told not to. Stupid, I know, but that’s what my brain does. I blame James Dean and Marlon Brando.

“Hey, Jon! What are you rebelling against?”
“Whaddya got?”

So Lauren wants kids, and I am certainly not going to tell her that I don’t, because I do. Really, I do want children. I am just terrified that I won’t be able to cope with the pressures of fatherhood. I look at those friends of mine who have kids and marvel at the way they manage (and even flourish) in what seems to be a non-stop cavalcade of bizarre conversations, shitty nappies, sleepless nights, stress, fear and pain. Kids cost a fortune as well, and stop you doing the things that you may want to do. It amazes me that anyone would ever have kids by choice.

And yet…

Yes, I still do want kids. And I want Lauren to be the mother of those kids. Ideally, I want a son, and I want to be able to bring him up to be a good person, but I’m terrified of that responsibility. Once you have a child, there is no way of walking away from that. You become a parent and, regardless of anything else that happens, you will always be a parent. The only choice is to be a good parent or a bad one.

I hope I can be a good dad. My dad is someone who I look up to tremendously, a true role model. He and my mum instilled in me a sense of morality that, while difficult to live up to sometimes, is an excellent guide to social existence. I don’t think I can be as good a father as my dad is to me, but I can try to meet his standards. I won’t succeed, but even if I only get halfway there I’ll consider myself a good father.

The fear is still there, but it’s the fear of something that is at least two years away. We aren’t going to be trying for a baby until after we are married, so I have some time to get used to the idea. It doesn’t stop the creeping dread. What if I have another nervous breakdown? What if I simply cannot cope with the demands of parenthood and it triggers a serious depressive reaction? What if the strain is too much for our relationship and Lauren leaves me? What if..? What if..? What if..?

Of course, it might be wonderful. It might be all soft-focus lenses and the smell of babies heads. It might be a nappy commercial from start to finish. But that’s not how my brain works. It obviously homes in on the negative and rolls that around my brain until my stomach is a tight, twisted ball of anxiety and my head is pounding.

And this fear is for something that hasn’t even happened yet! Imagine how I feel about going back to work!

I hate my brain…

Brraaiinns! Or How To Survive When The Zombies Arrive

So, let’s say that it has finally happened. The zombie apocalypse that we have all been secretly hoping for has arrived. The ravening hordes are shuffling slowly up your street, intent on feasting on the flesh of the living. What do you do?

PPPPP: Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

Be prepared, like a good Boy Scout. I’m obviously not suggesting that you have a ‘Zombie Emergency Kit’ stashed in your garage, just plan ahead and make sure you have all the things you might need within easy reach when the inevitable happens. Make sure that the car has at least fifty miles of fuel in the tank and is in reasonable running order. Ensure that your wardrobe contains at least one suit of hard-wearing clothing that covers all areas (leather is good and tough – it’s also wipe clean and sexy as hell). Maintain a good few days worth of tinned food in the cupboard and keep a few clean plastic bottles to fill with drinking water. And a first aid kit is a total necessity, packed with bandages, needles, broad-spectrum antibiotics, painkillers and so on. Water purification kits are also a good idea, in case you get lost out in the wilderness, many miles from Starbucks.

Of course, if you are an American (or a similarly unhinged nationality), you will have relatively easy access to firearms. You should therefore ensure that you are well tooled up in terms of your projectile weapon of choice. May I suggest something in a fully automatic shotgun?

Some people really shouldn't have access to this kind of firepower.

On the other hand, if you live in a country that has slightly more rigorous gun control, the best you’re likely to get is a knackered old double-barrel, and even then only if you happen to live on or near a farm or gun shop (which are few and far between – gun shops that is; there are lots of farms). If you live in the city, you could wait for the armed response units or the military to rock up and get eaten, thus leaving lots of shiny, military-grade weapons and ammo lying around, but then you’ll have to deal with all the zombies enjoying the al fresco soldier buffet.

One thing we can be sure of: melee weapons are a bad idea. If you’re that close, you’re probably already dead, and no amount of stabbing or pummeling is going to make a difference.

Have An Exit Strategy

Ok, you’re all prepared to get the hell out of Dodge. But where are you going? If, like me, you live in a big city, you are surrounded by a couple of million other people, of which a large proportion will be trying to dine on the brains of the remaining few, while those few are trying to also flee the carnage. If we assume a 99% infection rate, that still leaves 78,000 people trying to leave London, 20,000 trying to leave Birmingham. New York? 82,000. Shanghai? 178,000.

That’s a lot of traffic. Panicking traffic.

Beep beep!

You think normal rush hour is bad? Wait until you’ve got zombies stumbling into the flow of traffic, beloved family members zombing out in the back seat of the Zafira and the antics of the kind of people who have been looking forward to a zombie apocalypse just so they could play Mad Max on the ring road.

May I recommend staying at home? At least for a day or two. The zombies are unlikely to target you if you draw no attention to yourself. Lock doors and windows, turn out all lights and make no loud noises. Let the terrified and unprepared draw the danger away. Make sure that there is at least one secure exit to your home, one that will cause difficulties for pursuing zombies; a route across rooftops, or a series of lockable doors (zombies have trouble with doorknobs anyway), just in case the zombies do figure out where you are.

Once the roads have cleared a little, get the hell out of the city and head for a safe place in the country. Which leads us to our next point…

Drive Carefully!

This may be a minor point, but I think it bears close examination. The roads will be filled with abandoned vehicles, discarded rubbish and corpses, both shambling and otherwise. These can be problematic when driving, as I’m sure you remember from your own driving tests. The natural reaction will be to wait until nightfall before making your move. DO NOT DO THIS! At night, you will need to use headlights to avoid the dangers in the road. You will therefore be more obvious than a transvestite at a Klan rally. Drive during the day, you’ll be less noticeable.

And as for running over the zombies, well, check out the windscreen on this car after it hit a pedestrian.

Imagine hitting more than two zombies. The third one’s going to be sat in the car with you.

And then you’re lunch. And talking of cars…

A Decent Set Of Wheels

What are you driving? Something quick? A big V8, maybe the last of the V8s? Probably not a lot of use, considering the state of the roads in the post-apocalyptic world (roads in the pre-apocalyptic world aren’t all that great). One fire will fuck up the tarmac so much that a low-slung muscle car just isn’t going to cut it. You want something with four-wheel drive, something rugged, something easy to fix. Basically, you want one of these:

 

Proper motor!

There’s a reason that the British Army have been using this baby for about sixty years. And that reason is that it’s virtually unbreakable. The bodywork is made of solid hardness and the chassis is constructed from girders and stiff-upper-lippedness. It can be fixed in the field by squaddies with sticks and it can be converted to run on just about anything that will burn. It can also be fitted with riot protection really easily, which means you can actually drive through a bunch of zombies without being eaten. They may be noisy, thus attracting zombies to your location, but they are tough, and can protect you while you make your escape.

Have A Place To Go

There is no point in running if you’re just running away. You need to have somewhere to run to. Somewhere safe, but where is that? What constitutes ‘safe’ in world mostly populated with wandering, hungry corpses? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food, water and sleep are right at the bottom, with property and bodily security right above them. So you want a good, solid and well-defended base, right? Somewhere with just one way in, so it’s easy to barricade, right?

Wrong.

One way in is one way out, and if it’s crawling with zombies, you’re not getting out that way. You’re trapped inside. Still, as long as it’s safe, right? Wrong again. You’re surrounded by zombies. Sooner or later, you’re going to need to get out for more food. How long does it take for a zombie to starve to death? Or get bored and wander off, especially if it knows there are tasty people inside? Want to risk it?

Your best bet is to have a number of bolt-holes scattered about the countryside. Look at what you need. Food and water easily accessible, so a river or lake with plenty of life in is a good start (unless the fish are zombies – I don’t recall any literature dealing with undead trout, but keep your eyes open just in case). An independent power supply, such as a petrol driven generator or effective renewable energy sources are essential – how else will you practise zombie slaying on the Xbox? Farms are good, especially if they are built on reasonably open ground, as are nice, large and fertile islands; this gives you multiple escape routes and lots of land for growing food and raising livestock in the long-term. Open ground also allows excellent sight-lines for picking off the odd wandering zombie.

So, you’ve got a place to hide out, without hordes of zombies, with good sight-lines for…

Neca Eos Omnes…

Ok, I mentioned guns earlier. This is the bit that all true zombie fans are really interested in. What’s the point in having a world over-run by zombies if you aren’t going to spray their internal organs all over the place with fully automatic weaponry? So let’s just assume that you have the pick of any firearms that you could possibly want: which ones do you carry?

"We need to get bigger guns. Big fucking guns!"

We need to remember that, despite what video games would have us believe, one man cannot carry that much in the way of guns. A typical handgun weighs a couple of pounds, fully loaded. A submachine gun weighs in at around eight pounds. An assault rifle, twelve. Shotgun, seven. Add in a reasonable amount of ammunition for the guns and you’re talking between three and ten pounds per hundred rounds. A soldier may carry up to ninety pounds into combat, including water, first-aid kits, GPS, radios, a belt of ammo for a squad support weapon and so on. And they are trained to do it.

Go to a mirror and take a long, hard look at yourself. Reckon you could manage it?

Thought not. Realistically, an average person could probably carry a pistol and an assault rifle or auto-shotgun, plus enough ammo to be useful, for any extended period of time. Of course, you can load up the 4X4 with extra weaponry, but each additional gun is a couple of days worth of food or water that you don’t have room for.

While we’re on the subject, how good a shot are you? Do you practise often? And I’m not sure how much Time Crisis counts. The point is, headshots (the traditional method of dispatching the zombie menace) are tricky, especially in a high stress situation. The good news is that you don’t need to kill them. Blowing their legs off would allow you to get away too. Ok, so you’ll be leaving an extremely pissed off zombie lying around with no legs, just waiting for the next poor sap to stumble past, but fuck him! At least you’ll get away. Don’t waste time and ammo on fancy shots. Take out chunks of zombie with some massive tissue damage and simple engineering principles will do the rest. It can’t run after you if its femurs are shattered. Of course, if you’ve got a safe, elevated position and a sniper rifle, then knock yourself out!

Mum! I got an ouchie!

As I mentioned earlier, melee weapons are asking for trouble, but explosives of various types can be useful. Molotov cocktails, if you have a plentiful supply of petrol, will crisp a zombie up nicely, but leave the more tricky ones to the experts. Grenades are fairly simple to use, but hard to get hold of unless you’re in the military, and homemade explosives are just a cheap way to blow your own arms off.

Old school defensive structures are surprisingly useful against zombies, because they don’t have the sense to spot them. Pit traps, log falls, even mechanical bear traps can all be used to keep zombies away from your perimeter.

Who’s With You?

The final part of this article deals with the people around you. How do you decide who you band together with? The obvious answer goes hand in hand with the ‘planning’ suggestion earlier; figure out before the apocalypse who is going to be a useful addition to the team. Mechanical skills, medical skills, survival skills are all useful, and don’t forget someone who can make tinned food not taste like week-old arse. Once you have a good idea where you are going, you can figure out whose skills will be most useful to you. The temptation will be to save family members and other loved ones, but you may not have the luxury of compassion in the zombified world.

Unless they are plump and slow-moving, in which case you might want to take them along in case you need a distraction. Working in groups is a good idea, though. Safety in numbers isn’t just a cliché, it could save lives. Ideally, contact other potential survivor cells before the apocalypse and arrange to meet up at a secret location and form a super-commune, to help repopulate the world.

But remember to invite some members of the opposite sex…

Sink or Swim

I have been thinking again about my depression, and since I have been on the tablets for a couple of months and have been attending counselling sessions, I seem to be able to think about it in a more rational way. I have therefore decided to try to examine the way that my depression has affected me.

I have always been prone to depression, although I referred to it a ‘cynicism’ and was terribly proud of it. You see, a cynic (as far as I am concerned) is someone who rejects blind optimism and reacts to the world in a more realistic manner. He (or she, obviously) recognises that the world is in a bad way, and that any change is likely to be for the worse, rather than for the better. I would call my cynicism ‘realism’ and quote the old cliché that ‘a cynic is what an optimist calls a realist’. This mindset served me well – or so I thought – from my mid teen years until my early thirties.

This current cycle of depression probably started about two years ago. I was trying to get work as a supply teacher but I was being messed around by a couple of agencies and not getting any work. I was therefore not getting paid. I was struggling to get my Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit sorted (the main reason that I tend to side with benefit fraudsters – if they can get money from that system, they deserve it!) and as a result I was very short of money. Fortunately, I was flat-sharing with a very good friend who was willing to loan me the money to survive. Unfortunately, that situation played host to a horde of other issues that weighed heavily on my mind and caused me to slip further into the depressive cycle. My mood swings – usually from depressed to angry to self-obsessed to manic – were, understandably, placing a heavy burden on my friendships.

When I eventually got a new job (and a new girlfriend – the lovely Lauren who is now my fiancée), my mood began to improve, but it wasn’t long before the depression started impacting on my work life. I have always been terrified of failure, so much so that it often prevents me from trying. My cynicism rises to the fore and tells me that I am so likely to fail, there is no use even attempting things because the feeling of failure will be terrible. It tells me that there is nothing worse than failure, that one failure eradicates the total number of previous successes in my life. If I fail once, I fail completely. Of course, logically I know that this is utter bullshit. I know that failure is part of being human. We all fail occasionally, just like we all need help occasionally, but in my depression I cannot see that. I refuse to ask for help, or admit I need help, or even admit I find something difficult, because that is an admission of failure and I would rather be accused of laziness than incompetence. Even though I got a decent degree (a 2:1 in English and Education) I still feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m waiting for someone to burst into the classroom and denounce me as a fake, an imposter. I feel like I don’t belong, like a kid playing at being a teacher. My subject knowledge is good (it’s the one thing I feel confident in), but I don’t believe I am able to pass that knowledge on to the children in my care. I don’t feel that I deserve to be there. That obviously has an effect on me. When I am observed by a member of management, I automatically assume I’m going to fail, so the standard of my teaching drops. I know that my teaching is far better when there is no observation happening, but obviously that is a subjective view, and therefore useless. Without observation, it cannot be proved.

This turned out to be too much for my mind to cope with. I collapsed at home a couple of times, had panic attacks, constant dizziness and weakness, was exhausted all the time. My joints ached, I had chronic headaches and felt nauseated. I spent several nights sitting in the dark, in tears, holding a knife to my wrists, desperately trying to think of reasons not to end it all. After a whole bunch of tests it was decided that I had suffered what the medical profession no longer refers to as a nervous breakdown (apparently it’s a ‘medically unhelpful’ term). They tend to use the terms ‘stress-related disorders’ or ‘neurasthenia’. So that was it. I was ‘stressed’. My depression had finally broken me.

I was a failure.

Well, not quite. I finally realised that my depression was a thing. It was an illness that I could recognise and accept. It wasn’t just cynicism, or ‘feeling down’, or ‘being a miserable sod’. When I accepted that I had depression, it was a turning point for me. It was surprisingly liberating. I’m still depressed, but I can acknowledge that the depressive thought processes are a symptom, rather than an accurate portrayal of the world and my place in it. However, I still – for the moment – see myself in the black and white terms of ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

This is essentially the whole basis of my depression. I would love to be a writer, but my depression tells me I will fail, that I will be judged harshly, that I don’t deserve to be a writer. Because of this, I never seem able to complete a piece of writing. Whenever I read over what I have written, it fails to live up to my own standards, and therefore it cannot live up to anyone else’s standards either, so it gets buried on my hard drive with every other piece of writing. I am desperately trying to break this vicious cycle, to get writing and keep writing, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show anyone else. I hope I can get over this hurdle. I enjoy writing and exercising my imagination, and I would love for my writing to bring pleasure to others. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s quite enough whining for now!

Toodle-pip!

Looking on the Bright Side…

Yesterday I wrote an article in which I discussed a couple of things that piss me off. I realised that i had rather ‘gone off on one’ so called it a day after only talking about three things. Believe me, I could still be writing that list. I’ll probably go back to it at some point and add more bits and pieces, but today i thought I’d try and balance the scales a little by writing about things that make me happy.

As you’d expect from a depressive, this isn’t going to be as long a list. In fact, I suspect it will be much, much harder to write, but hopefully some of the things that give me pleasure will bring a smile to your faces as well. So let’s start with a picture:

Seth Casteel's awesome underwater dog photography

I challenge anyone with a soul to look into that dog’s eyes and not feel just a little happier. You can see lots more of Seth Casteel’s amazing photography at www.littlefriendsphoto.com. Seriously, if you’re down, go and have a look. You will be smiling by the end of it. Dogs in general make me happy anyway, especially when they are displaying that special joy of just being alive. A dog running about, or playing with a ball, actually lifts my cynical, calloused soul into something approaching happiness. I freely admit to being a totally soppy bastard when it comes to dogs, although bigger dogs are much nicer than little rat-type things in my opinion.

Next on the list are lizards. I know, lizards aren’t necessarily what you’d call cute, but they are kind of cool. Take a look at what I mean:

"I'm watching you."

It is difficult not to anthropomorphise animals at the best of times, but a photo like this makes it next to impossible. That lizard is clearly smiling! Why is he happy? What does he know? And why does it make me smile when I see it? I’m a rational man in his mid-thirties, there is no way I should be swayed by an image like this, but if this was an advert I’d definitely be buying that product. Silly, isn’t it? Whenever I go into a pet shop (which is more often than you’d think, considering that I don’t have any pets) I always make a bee-line for the lizards. I have been considering buying one for a long time, but my fiancée really isn’t keen! So it remains an unfulfilled dream.

Next up, reading. Well, obviously. I love getting lost in a good story. It doesn’t even have to be that well written, just a good story is enough to keep me happy. Currently at the top of my list are The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman (as well as American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere by the same author), the Space Captain Smith series by Toby Frost (and if ubermunchkin is reading this, I want them back, damn you! ;)), the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay and others too numerous to mention. I tend to have several books on the go at any one time and chew through them at a slightly annoying rate. It costs a fortune…

Ok, moving on, I also get happiness from intelligent comedy. My all-time favourite television programme is the BBCs QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. If you haven’t seen the show, check it out on youtube. It’s brilliant. The concept is that of a quiz show, except that the questions are insanely difficult, because they generally appear to be things that everyone knows. However, the show hinges on the fact that what everyone knows is usually wrong.

QI host Stephen Fry with regular panellist Alan Davies

Points are awarded for correct answers (obviously) but more often for just being interesting or funny, and obvious answers are penalised. That’s the theory anyway. In reality, the scoring system is so arcane and (possibly) random, not even the guests understand how they achieved the scores that they did. It is fairly common for every panellist to end the show with a negative score, and not unheard of for an episode to be won by the audience! The other thing about QI is that it turns you into the most annoying pedant in the world. You become the sort of person who points out that people used to believe that Saturn’s rings were formed from Jesus’ foreskin, or Henry VIII technically only had two wives (or possibly three. Maybe four. But definitely not six), or that the sun has already set when the bottom of it touches the horizon (because of the light-bending properties of the atmosphere). I can watch it over and over again, and frequently do.

Because I enjoy science-fiction, the idea of concept vehicles fascinate me. It is slightly depressing that none of these incredible machines ever make it into production, but it is fun to look through a bunch of photos of them. Here are a couple for your delectation:

A Moto-Guzzi concept bike

A Cadillac concept car

I like cars and bikes. Not in a ‘This model produces nearly 500bhp per tonne and a top speed of blah blah blah’, but more in a ‘Wow, that looks really cool’ kind of a way. Yep, I really am that shallow! I watch Top Gear mainly for the outrageous challenges and Clarkson’s latest bout of racist/sexist/anythingelseist logorrhea, but I do like admiring the shape of the vehicles on display. I just couldn’t care less about lap times and so on.

Finally, the thing that gives me most happiness is simply this: Friends and family. A little cheesy, perhaps, but true. I, like most people, enjoy spending time with people that I respect. I don’t have to agree with them all the time, in fact friendly arguments can be hugely entertaining (one argument concerning the veracity of claims that Deckard from Blade Runner is a replicant [SPOILER: HE IS!] has been running for a good fifteen years). Just taking time to chat and relax with friends is a source of proper joy.

Most of all, though, my fiancée makes me happy. She is loving and caring (probably far more so than I deserve!), with all the common sense and forward planning that I lack. She is gorgeous and I love her very much. She makes me happy and I want to make her happy in return.

So on that rather soppy note, I’ll finish up with a question: What makes you happy?