A year to the day after it should have gone out, here is the last episode of this second series of Muselings. It features the sound of footsteps in the snow, distant traffic, aeroplanes, trains, birds and a dog.
CN: There is some discussion of poor mental health in this episode. I have marked it as explicit on Apple Podcasts because of swearing.
More information about the Gunnersbury Triangle is here.
You can watch some of the videos that I was transcribing for my alter-ego Ms Samantha Mann on YouTube here.
As a counterpoint to what I say about fencing off a corner of my (white) life, you can listen to Guilaine Kinouani talking to Dave Pickering about care as a radical act for POC, among other things, here.
Organisations that I am aware of, which I think are doing good work in the current aggressive political climate include:
Action For Trans Health
Committee to Protect Journalists
Hope Not Hate
Refugee Community Kitchen
The Big Issue
(List compiled February 2018. Obviously, this is far from being an exhaustive list.)
A transcript of this episode is below.
You can find the podcast and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here.
Content note: There is some discussion of poor mental health in this episode. And, just for your information, that slight crackling sound that you might be able to hear in a moment, when the backing track comes in, is snow melt.
Here’s the jingle.
[Sound of water dripping; bird song; distant traffic; footsteps in snow]
On the 10th of December, 2017, which was a Sunday, it snowed in my part of West London. And, towards the middle of the afternoon, having finished a pot of particularly good jasmine tea, I decided to take a break from uploading and transcribing videos for my alter-ego, the online Agony Aunt Ms Samantha Mann, and to go for a walk. So I changed out of my pyjamas, took my walking boots out of their mud-and-stone-filled plastic bag and set out along damp pavements in the thin grey light of a cloud-covered December afternoon. The thaw, needless to say, had already set in – snow never lasts very long in London – and the thermal vest and longjohns that I’d put on under my clothes – not to mention my woolly hat and mittens, and my red alpaca scarf – were none of them quite as essential as I’d thought they would be.
In any case, I didn’t have a plan but I found myself passing the Gunnersbury Triangle. I’ve lived in this part of London for just over 10 years now and it might be nearly that long since I last visited the Gunnersbury Triangle. When I first moved here, I was sharing a flat and I used to feel the need to escape sometimes. On most Sunday afternoons, while my flatmate watched TV, I would go out and walk around, exploring the area, discovering roads and shops and green spaces.
The Gunnersbury Triangle is a green space, but one that you could easily miss these days because it’s hidden behind shiny new apartment buildings. It’s a nature reserve. Quite possibly the world’s smallest but don’t take my word for it – I don’t have any information about that. Two sides of the triangle are formed by the tracks that take underground trains on the District line from Richmond to places like Tower Hill and Barking and Upminster, and the tracks that take Overground trains on the North London line from Richmond to Stratford, past my flat as it happens. The two lines separate at what you might call the top of the reserve and run very close down either side.
Here comes an Overground train now.
[Sound of Overground train passing]
At no point, while you’re in the Gunnersbury Triangle, can you pretend that you’re not in London. Although you might not be able to pick it up on this recording, which I made on impulse with my iPhone as I walked around, there is a constant background hum of traffic and the almost constant roar of planes making their way into Heathrow, which is reflected off apartment buildings on two sides of the triangle and, on the third side, off the shiny glass boxes of the Chiswick business park – currently the UK headquarters of Foxtons, Danone, PepsiCo, Swarovski and Pernod Ricard, the European headquarters of Halliburton, Starbucks, Pokémon and the Discovery channel, and the global headquarters of Open Bet and Avon. Every few minutes, there’s also the fainter sound of Piccadilly line trains bustling busily through Chiswick Park station, whose brick tower, built in the early 1930s, is sometimes visible above you.
[Sound of aeroplane passing]
For all that, it is a beautiful space, with well-marked winding paths through trees and dense undergrowth. It’s clearly very well looked after by a team of volunteers and there’s plenty of information about the plants and animals that you might find here. There are two miniature meadows, still thinly covered this afternoon in the snow that’s dripping from the trees, and steps leading up the sides of small hillocks, and wooden bridges across frozen ponds, and winding trails that lead to dark spaces beneath damp trees where mysterious bodies of standing water can be circumvented.
In terms of wildlife, a week or two before Christmas, there are small birds here – possibly long-tailed tits if I believe what it says in the leaflet I took home with me – and there are magpies and then… [sound of bird calling] these rooks or crows or whatever they are – they’re not mentioned in the leaflet but maybe some of you who are listening can identify them by ear and you’re already saying to yourselves “Ah yes, rooks.” Or “Ah yes, crows.” Or “What kind of an idiot can’t tell the difference between a rook and a crow? Call yourself a Londoner?” It doesn’t really matter. What else… Oh yes, there… there’s a… there was a dog. Somebody was walking a dog that you’ll hear later. And, at one point, I came up a rise that leads up to one edge of the triangle, overlooking the North London line, the Overground line, and surprised quite a large fox. It can’t have been more than five feet away when I came around the corner and saw it streak off, orange, into the undergrowth where I couldn’t follow it. Foxes are pretty common around here but I’ve never been so close to one.
Oh yeah! This is where I saw it.
[Aeroplane; bird calls; rustles of cagoule; footsteps resume]
And all of this is a way of avoiding what I really want to talk about, which is how do I stay naked. It’s a year to the day since I originally wanted to put this episode out. Or… not this episode exactly but an episode about the political implications of being and staying naked for somebody who looks like and sounds like and is me. An episode that would have acknowledged, cleverly and self-deprecatingly, that not everybody has it as good as I do and that I am not doing enough to change that.
And instead, what happened? Well, I was very much on time with the first three episodes, which I put together between October 2016 and January 2017 and uploaded in a timely fashion, ready to go out one a week throughout February 2017. And even at the beginning of February, when the introduction went out, I thought to myself: I’ve still got three weeks in hand. Deadlines are good. I’ll get this done. Then I had two weeks in hand. And then one week.
And then I took to my bed and I slept while the deadline passed.
I mean that quite literally. I remember spending two or three days in bed on the week that this episode should have gone out, sleeping and waking and texting people to cancel things and feeling exhausted and ashamed and thinking about the fact that I hadn’t been able to meet my own, self-imposed deadline.
And as it turns out, a lot of the last twelve months has ended up being like that. Although I should say that I’ve had periods, sometimes weeks long, where I’ve been able to pull myself together and feel relatively OK. There have even been weeks when I’ve woken up day after day feeling basically normal and I’ve found myself thinking: “Ah! Maybe I’m better now. This is it! This is what life is meant to be!”
I’ve also tended to feel better when I’ve been with people, especially people that I like, people that I find interesting – but being around people, especially people who interest me, has often tired me out in a way that effectively puts me out of action for a couple of days afterwards. The same has gone for doing any creative work. Or reading too much. Or thinking too much.
[Footsteps stop; distant traffic sounds]
What I finally noticed, a few months into this, was that there is a physical symptom that I could learn recognise so that I’d at least know when I’d overdone it: I get a feeling in my head that I can only compare to what I imagine is going on inside my tired, old laptop when it’s turned up its little fan to the max in a last-ditch attempt to cool the circuits and squeeze a few more drops of use out of its dangerously full hard drive. I don’t know whether that evokes anything for anyone else but, at any rate, whenever I get that feeling now, and it’s been happening less and less, I know that I should probably cancel any plans that I might have for the next couple of days.
I’ve been depressed, in other words. Burned out. And, rather than fighting it, my tactic this year has been to try to befriend it. To open the door and welcome it in, not as a martyrdom but in the spirit of acceptance. As a learning exercise. As a way of… staying naked, if you like. I decided to slow down, take it easy, sleep when I need, feel the feelings and… [footsteps stop] to wait and see what comes out. Because I’m in a position where I can fence off and protect a corner of my world, in which I can dwell for as long as I need. The protection is imperfect, of course; the noise and mess of life still bleed in; but it is an extraordinary luxury.
There’s the dog.
And I think that one of the reasons that it’s taken me so long to write and record this episode, in which I knew that I would want to talk about why it’s taken me so long to write and record this episode, is that I’m ashamed of the relative ease with which I’ve been able to do this. I know perfectly well that not everybody can stay in bed if they need to, or choose whether or not to take anti-depressants [footsteps resume] without having to think too much about the effect of that decision on their productivity, their capacity to earn or look after other people. Not everybody has access to the support that I’m able to call on. And I would like to live in a world in which that’s not the case. I would like to live in a world of progressive, redistributive taxation and adequate universal healthcare and universal basic income and a better understanding of the structures of oppression and the cumulative effects of classism and racism and ableism and misogyny and fat-phobia and transphobia and homophobia and biphobia and so on.
And, while I’m aware of people doing good work in all of those areas, and while I look for ways to support some of that work in small ways, usually financially…
[Sound of Underground train]
Sorry… hang on, I don’t know if you can hear this but… this is what a District Line train sounds like… OK. Sorry. I was saying, I don’t believe, to pluck a phrase from the second episode in this little series, Museling number 10, How Do I Stay Naked part 1, that I contribute enough. And I’m ashamed of that. I had hoped that that might change.
It’s also true to say that I feel like a fraud. I call this series How Do I Stay Naked but look at me: I’m not naked. I am, if anything, swaddled in protective clothing, much more than I need. And I’m so used to it that even to take off a single layer feels like a trauma.
And then… there’s the question of perfectionism, which needs to be mentioned, I think. This is the last of four episodes on the subject of being naked and, in it, I want to pick up all of the loose threads from the other three and to draw them together in a way that will feel complete and satisfying for you the listener. I want to make you sigh as we reach the end. And, with each attempt – I’ve been drafting and redrafting this episode all year – I’ve seen more clearly that I’m not going to be able to do it. In itself, that’s not so very unusual. Whenever I put something out into the world, I do it in the knowledge that it’s not really good enough. I’m quite used to finding myself caught between the conviction that I haven’t done my best and the fear that I couldn’t have done any better even if I’d wanted to. But, generally speaking, in my less depressive phases, I’m a pragmatic perfectionist; I see a lot of my own faults and, usually, I can make my peace with them. I’m slap-dash and lazy and inclined to be pleased with my own cleverness – and, unlike a lot of people, I really do like the sound of my own voice – and, paradoxically, although those things are bad for my work, they usually mean that I don’t have to reach very far to conjure up a surge of confidence that I can ride to the finish.
This time, though, I haven’t been able to get away from the knowledge that I just haven’t had the courage or the cleverness to make the episode that I wanted to make. As I say, the episode that I wanted to make is about how I’ve transformed as a result of this journey, this question, and how I’m a better person now, using whatever power I have to help others. None of those things feel true and I can’t find a way to make that admission sound useful.
But I want to put this episode out, selfishly. I want to have it off my mind and my conscience. I want to be able to say that, however imperfectly, I have finished the series. So that I can move on to something else. Make another funny episode maybe. Something else about how silly I am sometimes. There haven’t been so many funny muselings, have there.
Listen… [blackbird song] I want to believe in a paradigm of progress. I want to believe that I am getting better, mentally, morally, professionally. And this year has reminded me that sometimes, to go forwards, we must put up with going back. And so maybe, if I were to pull out a trite phrase to round off my investigation, it would be something to the effect that, the only way to stay naked is just to keep taking off the damn clothes. Will that do?
[Footsteps stop; blackbird song; distant traffic noise]
As I got back towards the entrance of the triangle, from where I could see the road that crosses the notional boundary between the boroughs of Ealing, where I live, and Hounslow, where I shop, I stopped to listen to these duelling blackbirds who may somehow have known, although I could hardly tell in the gloaming, that the sun was approaching the horizon. It’s difficult to hear, on this recording, that there are two of them. But… two of them there were. Each telling the other to fuck off, I suppose.
This episode has turned out a bit longer than the others but thank you for listening to it. It’s been the 12th Museling. Please feel free to share it… and, obviously, to respond to it in whatever way seems appropriate. My name is Charles Adrian and I’m on twitter as @charldrian. More information about the podcast is at muselings.uk.
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020