Friday, 19 August 2016

Accentuate the Positive

The great thing (if there is indeed anything great) about my blog is that it comes at the most random of moments (which might be explained shortly). As I write this I am supposed to be finalising packing for a long weekend away. Clearly, I'm not packing... but writing. Mrs S will come home and see the house in disarray. She'll roll her eyes at me, we'll get finished off and be away roughly on time and everything will be fine.

I'll come to the point of this post in a minute, but let's bring you up-to-date. Last time you joined us, I was asked "have you considered that you might have ADHD?" I was given mood diaries to complete and some tests to fill out. These would give the doc a better clue as to where we go next.

So I ignored the tests for 3 weeks, got sick of them and rushed through them. The mood diaries I completed once, realised I screwed them up and threw them in the bin before writing a fairly accurate summing up of my symptoms. No sign of ADHD there then!

We went to see the mental man (that's the doctor, not a man who is mental) this week. He reviewed my results and instantly referred me to the ADHD clinic. So we're waiting on appointment, and we're also waiting on an appointment to the sleep clinic because he thinks my erratic sleeping may exacerbate my (possible) ADHD. I'm still classed as unipolar depressive with occasional bipolar tendencies so at some point I'm expect to have a scientific paper written about me.

Right, where were we. Ahhh yes, I was about to put the world to rights. The following will start out being black and horrid, but will hopefully explode into a rainbow of loveliness by the end. Stick with it. I hope you'll find it worth it.

So I think at the moment the world is screwed. Whether people realise it or not, the country, the continent and the world is in a very dark place. Let me elaborate.

The Prime Minister of the country hasn't been elected by the people.
The Leader of the Opposition HAS been elected, but his colleagues don't like that so are trying to oust him. They are trying to replace him with somebody that has that sharp-suited look that makes me think back to the days of Blair, the war criminal.
The third party doesn't appear to exist any more. They have a leader and followers, but could you tell me what Tim Farron looks like? Or any of the current Lib Dem policies? I didn't think so. Me neither.
The fourth party is (as of writing) a leaderless, one policy collection of Daily Mail reading racists. They have achieved what they wanted by getting us out of Europe, thus doing their MEPs out of jobs and making themselves irrelevant. So that's not all bad I suppose.
The fifth party seems to have some good policies and some sound politicians but because they occasionally drop something a bit "too" green out there, they are spurned by large swathes of the populous as "tree huggers".
The most powerful man in Russia is corrupt, evil and not bothered who he upsets or hurts. He clearly wants to take over the world.
Hopefully not, but the US may be about to elect the most stupid and ignorant President anywhere in the history of the planet. I'm not saying that Hilary is the right candidate because I don't follow US politics that closely. What I do know is that Donald Trump us the wrong candidate on every level. And that's before we consider him trying to buddy up with Vladimir Putin (see point above.)
The last President of North Korea was a headcase. Everybody hoped for a bright new future under his son, but it would appear his son is even more bat shit than dear old Daddy. They have a nice arsenal of nuclear weapons, a hatred of everybody, and a president who even insists that his subjects have haircuts in the same style as him.
We've got groups of people all over the world who are killing people and claiming it's in the name of Islam.

So those are the first 10 things that came to the top of my head. I've not touched on climate change, austerity, the health service, Brexit, cronyism, the fact that Boris Johnson is our first port of call if Theresa May gets bombed by so-called Islamic State while on holiday in Switzerland or the amount of war and killing there is out there. I could write a list as long as builder's tea break if you wanted to, but you'd all be looking for nooses and hosepipes to run from the exhaust of your car and trying to work out how to get your hands on 200 paracetamol without arousing suspicion.

It's bleak. It's very bleak.

I'm about to digress slightly, but hopefully this will all come together.

Many years ago, I met a man. This man told me that he didn't have any friends. He told me that all he had were acquaintances. I asked him what he meant and he said that a true friend would do anything to help out someone in need, and that he once faked a breakdown in his car and then rang his, I guess, acquaintances to see who would come to his aid. Not one of them did, and so they all became acquaintances. Not friends. No friends at all.

Now I could have pointed out that a) I wouldn't be a friend of someone if I turned up to help him out and found nothing wrong with his car, b) that some people may have been friends and genuinely unable to help out and c) that maybe the fact he was an insufferable tool with an immense ego and chips on both shoulders that made him look like an 80's soap star (younger readers may want to use your favourite search engine to image search that. There are bound to be some belters out there.) but I didn't. I walked away feeling lucky I didn't have to deal with such a man again.

Which I guess brings me round to the fluffy, rainbow coloured part of the story.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my life lately, and how it all fits together.

As of writing I've got 192 friends (or should that be acquaintances?) that I think enough of or that think enough of me to want to interact with me in some way on Facebook. If I wasn't on Facebook I'd have maybe been able to list 20 people that I considered as friends.

But it's not just a list of friends, it's a whole diverse world of people. I've got black friends, Asian friends, white friends, friends of mixed race. I've got gay friends, straight friends, single friends, married friends and friends who are happy doing their own thing. I've got Muslim friends, Catholic friends, Christian friends, friends who maybe haven't thought about it, atheist friends, agnostic friends and friends who do something different. I've got friends I've never met, friends I may never meet, friends in the UK, friends in the US, friends in Australia and friends elsewhere in Europe. I've got friends I've known for 3 months, and friends I have known for 30 years.

I don't consider myself special. But I do consider myself lucky. Lucky to know so many people from so many different backgrounds and that have so many different beliefs and viewpoints.

After years of working in a job I wasn't bad at but eventually came to hate, I'm now doing something I love doing, working in a place I love going to every day and working with a lot of tremendous people who I've already built up a great deal of affection for. I wouldn't say I'm particularly good at my job, but I think I do alright. Every day I learn something new from these inspirational and brilliant people. I'm better at it than I was yesterday.

I'll be back on the uni trail in October, and I'm starting my Teaching Assistant qualifications. Let's gloss over the "doing too many things at once" thing and concentrate on the fact that I have goals again. My weight loss plan is finally back in my head which gives me something else to concentrate on, as does my plan for getting my fitness in gear. I've thought about things and think I know what is/isn't possible.

My family remain as dysfunctional as ever. I've got a great set of in-laws* (NEVER tell my mother-in-law I said that), I've got an estranged brother, a mother who lives somewhere between the 1960s, the inside of the Daily Mail and as a Dementor from Harry Potter, and a half-sister I've only met 2 or 3 times but is just a text or message away. * Apart from my father-in-law who could probably run my mother close in the 1960s and Daily Mail stakes.

I'm a depressive with ADHD and possibly a bit of bipolar thrown into the mix for good measure. On the surface I appear to be an angry fat bloke with a lack of attention span and a desire to interject myself into things that are of no concern of mine. I can't change that and even if I could, would I actually want to? Not a chance. I'd like to have less going on inside my head, but I also wouldn't want to be without the spark that makes me want to make people laugh, want to help people or come up with random ideas that *might* just work. On my very best days, I am brilliant. But on my very worst days, you really don't want to know me at all.

So yes, there is a lot of gloom out there. But actually, there is also a lot out there to be thankful for. I've got friends, I've got probably 90% of a decent family and so much positive stuff out there I should be grateful.

I could walk out tomorrow and get blown-up by somebody claiming to be doing it for a religious reason. I could get hit by a bus. I could contract a disease that wipes out me and half of the planet.

But you know what? I'm not going to change the way I do things at all. Because I could not get blown-up tomorrow. Because I could not get hit by that bus. Because I could not contract that disease. And if I changed my life to live in fear of what could happen, then I'll never live my life in the hope of what I want to happen.

We're all blessed in some way, it's just that most of us don't realise it. Have a think about it, I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Until next time friends.


Saturday, 7 May 2016

Polar Exploration

Is this REALLY the first post of the year? Clearly, productivity isn't my strong point. Although what you're about to read may well go some way towards explaining that......

Hope you're all on good form. Despite indications to the contrary, I do actually enjoy writing these things! But you know, sometimes.... SQUIRREL!

Over in Spongville we're in a pretty good place. However as you'd expect with all things Spong what brought us here was something of a scenic route, but then of course you'd not read these things and I'd not enjoy writing them. Let's bring you up to speed:

The bipolar meds are gone (well one of the two). Following an epiphany over Christmas that rather than keeping my mood up and stable, my antipsychotics (I love dropping that word into conversation) were actually keeping me DOWN and stable. I'd had an initial boost, but over time that had tailed off and I was effectively taking tablets that were making me depressed. It wasn't serious and it certainly wasn't enough to worry about, but it kept me lower than I should have been. The effervescent Mrs S described it as "you're not being quite you at the moment". So I saw the doc, had a very awkward conversation about the tablets that had appeared to working so well, spent two weeks in withdrawal (needless to say that it wasn't pretty) and went onto a new medication that did nothing for me except letting me watch my bedside clock all night.

It was at this point my psych did something I wasn't expecting; he took me off medication for bipolar disorder. He upped the dose of the other drugs he'd given me when I was diagnosed (which isn't actually a bipolar drug, but let's not go into pharmacokinetics, it would take too long and will send you to sleep) and sent me on my way. And I felt great. So that's nice.

At which point I quit my job - because that's obviously what grown-up, rational people do. I'd been looking for something else and with nothing smacking me in the face I decided to try supply work until something came up. I worked in everywhere from village schools with less pupils than I'd previously had in a year group to run down inner city schools with crippling debt and no equipment to state-of-the-art schools for pupils with Special Educational Needs. I loved it and for some reason I'm still yet to work out they seemed to love me. It was great. But long term it wouldn't pay the bills. Which meant finding a new job, which I now have.

So we've got a new school, a new set of work colleagues and a new bunch of students for me to learn about. I love it there. It's a little bit more of a commute but  the plus point is that it gives me more time in the car to catch up on new music. It's not a hardship, and it's nowhere near been my most arduous work commute. That's that then. We're all caught up and I can sign off this post? Not a chance.

Last week was 3 monthly check-up time. My psych invited Mrs S along to get her perspective on my health - which was never likely to produce fireworks because she's such a shy and retiring flower who would never offer an opinion......

We covered everything. Health, happiness, review of conversations I'd had previously to bring Vic up to speed. The Doc asked Vic a few questions and then sat quietly for what seemed like ages but was probably no more than 30 seconds. And then he dropped the bombshell: "You're not bipolar."

Well this wasn't where the conversation was supposed to go. I was happy being bipolar, I'd got a diagnosis I could work with, even if the drugs don't work (they just made me worse.) No points for spotting the lyrical reference, it's fairly unsubtle even by my standards.

"You're not bipolar, you're unipolar with occasional transient episodes of bipolar tendencies."

Clear as mud.

Basically it means that when I go manic, it doesn't last long enough to count as true bipolar. Just bear (grrr!) with me a few minutes, I'm just going to add "failed bipolar" to my CV.

Unipolar is basically what it means. I have a "normal" and then I get bouts of (sometimes crippling) depression. My current long-term medication treats the depression and the bipolar/not-bipolar tablets are great for keeping the mood stablilised and keeping the edge off those "transient episodes of bipolar tendencies." My bipolar doesn't pole. So we're all good. Well sort of.

"Have you considered you may have ADHD?"

Balls. I knew it couldn't be that simple.

The psych printed off a pile of research from a couple of websites and databases and put them in front of me and Vic. We sat, we read, we laughed at each other and then the penny dropped. Yes, of course I could bloody well have ADHD! I bet you're all sat there thinking "no shit, Sherlock", but it's not something you ever consider when you're in the thick of it.

Which is where we currently are. While things are stable we're not going to do anything radical. We're going to sit on things for a few weeks, I'm going to spend some time reading up on ADHD and then I'm going to go back and see the man and we'll investigate it further with a view to adding that to my diagnosis. What happens then is anybody's guess, but I'll probably have got distracted and gone off to study Nepalese or something.

For now though I'm going to go and find somewhere that serves good coffee and good sandwiches and try and sit still for long enough to read my book.

Until next time friends,

P.S. I've written this full of cold and without the watchful eye of Mrs Spong to provide grown-up editing of this post, so it may change a bit once she's got her hands on it!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Death of Common Sense


I have a bit of a reputation. No not that one - the charges were dropped and the judge let me go with nothing more than some advice about "poor judgement". No, long-term friends will know that when it comes to poor customer service, gross stupidity, salesmen and cold-callers, I am somewhat direct in my approach, and failure to see things my way means I might become a little "antsy". In contrast I should point out that I will bend over backwards to be nice to companies that are efficient and helpful. And when you're my size, bending over in any direction isn't easy, so it's quite a concession to make.

Still with me? Good. I appreciate most of you already know the above, but it's important that we set the scene up before I share a couple of anecdotes with you. Both of these anecdotes feature some of the biggest companies in the country, and both of whom appear to employ people in customer service with the IQ of a tree stump.

i) Home Energy Services
Long term friends will remember the "sales call in the lighthouse" from my recent sojourn to Dorset. To recap briefly, I went to Dorset for half term and while there we decided to take a trip to the top of Portland Bill (♫ "Oh come with me to the rolling sea. While the weather's calm and still." ♫) lighthouse. We are just finishing the tour and I've stepped onto the ladder at the top of the lighthouse (remember falling from a lighthouse is a fairly long and painful process) to begin our descent. When my mobile phone rings. Now I know you are thinking "don't answer it you moron", but I'm a moron so I was always going to take the call. The chap at the end of the phone is from Home Energy Services and "wanted to talk to me" - which presumably explains why he rang. Now I appreciate that the "big book of brush-off excuses" probably doesn't contain the line "I can't talk now, I'm at the top of a lighthouse" but you'd think that a modicum of common sense would infer that maybe ringing back later would be a good idea. Certainly what wouldn't be a good idea would then be to ask the person on the ladder, in the lighthouse, if he'd answer some personal security questions....

So, Home Energy Services. You may or may not know the name but basically they fix central heating, plumbing and electrical stuff. You pay a monthly premium and when you've got water peeing out of your light sockets, they come and mop it up. Grand. Two years ago we took out a contract with them and at the end of the first year our contract rocketed in price as is the norm with these things. I investigated prices for new customers to HES and looked at a couple of other suppliers, and having decided that being rogered with a rigid rogering device isn't what I wanted (well not from them), I rang HES and they agreed to charge me the same rate as for new customers. All good. Roll forward twelve months and my new contract renewal comes through with a premium akin to the budget of a medium-sized African country. So in accordance with the regulations I shop around. I find a really good contract with British Gas and instead of ringing HES to haggle with them, I sign up with British Gas. Being the conscientious customer I am I ring HES and tell them that I'm off, tell them why I'm off, and tell them that I'm not playing the "I'll ring you all butthurt, you'll lower the premium and we'll meet up again in 12 months for more of the same" game with them this year. All sorted, account closed. I cancel the direct debit and it's happy days.

Or so I thought.

The phone rang this afternoon. It was Lighthouse Boy.

LB - "Mr Spong?"
Me - "Yes."
LB - "I'm calling from Home Energy Services."
Me - "Okay. We've had this conversation before. I'm not interested in dealing with you. Please just leave me alone."

All polite. Dealt with.
Ten minutes later, the phone rings again. Lighthouse Boy. Glutton for punishment this one but I'm intrigued that he's come back for another go. So I lower my guard slightly.

LB - "Mr Spong."
Me - "You're calling from Home Energy Services. I know."
LB - "If I can just get to speak to you before you...."
Me - "Be VERY careful what your next words are."
LB  - "If I can just speak to you."

We go through the most pathetic attempt at security and then I set out the terms of the conversation.

Me - "You can have 20 seconds to get to the point. If you say something ludicrous or that I don't agree with, I put the phone down and any further calls from your company are treated with contempt."
LB - "Okay well it's probably going to take a little bit longer than that to go through..."
Me - "15"
LB - "So what it is is that I've been looking through your accounts..."
Me - "10"
LB - "And blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...."
Me -"5"
LB - "You've cancelled your direct debit with us and I wanted to ask why?"
Me - "You what?"
LB - "You've cancelled your direct debit with us and I wanted to ask why?"
"I suggest you go and read my account notes and not call me again. Goodbye."

Now I really don't understand this. I've gone through the whole process properly. I've told them why I'm going, I've told them I've gone with a different supplier, and I've told them I'm not for negotiating. There is no need to ring me. I've done everything by the book and yet HES employ someone of limited intelligence to ring me and try and find out why I've done what I've told them I'm doing.

Tell you something, when their inevitable renewal letter comes in 12 months I'm tempted to take this guy's lead:

ii) Debenhams
You all know Debenhams. Like John Lewis only not as nice. Always a bit dark and a bit jumble sale. Anyway, on Sunday night I ordered a lamp from them. Nice one, you'd like it a lot. £45 which I wasn't thrilled to pay but given that it's the only one myself and the effervescent Mrs Spong have agreed on, we bought it. Remember. Sunday night.

So yesterday I get an email telling me my order has been updated. I click on the link to a sign that says "sales across the store, up to 30% off". Being a bit canny, I have a look and find that the lamp I've paid £45 for is now priced at £30.50. Bargainous! So given that Debenhams haven't taken any money, haven't wrapped my lamp and certainly haven't sent it out, I email them with what I thought was a decent suggestion.

"Dear Debenhams.

I ordered a lamp at £45 on Sunday night which 12 hours later you have reduced in price to £30.50. Could you see your way to reducing the cost of my purchase to the sale price? If not, then I'll order another lamp at the lower price and return the original for a refund.



Now I thought that was a pretty good idea. They reduce the price of my lamp to the sale price, I get my lamp and it's all good. Minimal hassle.

Except they send me an email today which basically says.


Hahahaha, you paid over the odds, don't get your knickers in a twist. Shit happens.



Now I'm a little bit irked at this. Anyone who knows anything about anything knows that the Distance Selling Regulations allow you to return anything ordered over the Internet within 7 days without reason* - it's because you have no way of knowing what the item is like before you receive it.

* yes there are caveats, but let's keep it simple here.

So that's what I'm going to have to do. Instead of:

I place order.
Debenhams pack order.
Debenhams receive email and adjust price.
Debenhams dispatch order.
I receive lamp.
I'm happy.

We now have.

I place order.
Debenhams pack order.
Debenhams receive email and do nothing.
Mrs Spong places second order.
Debenhams dispatch first order.
I receive first lamp.
I receive second lamp.
I return first lamp.
Debenhams have to process returned lamp.
I'm cheesed off with Debenhams for being so thick.
I don't use Debenhams for unspecified period of time because I'm narked off.

What makes it even more ridiculous is that postage and packing are free! So not content with me getting a lamp for 30% less than I'd planned on paying, Debenhams are having to pay for two deliveries and one return - presumably because they have no flexibility in their system to deal with common sense.

I tell you folks. Common sense? It's on the way out.

Until next time,


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Where's Your Head At

Apologies in advance, these posts don’t come along very often (it’s been over a year!) and when they do, it’s all a bit self-indulgent. If you aren’t excited at this prospect, then please feel free to click away now!

I’ve been feeling a bit flat the last couple of weeks and this was going to be a “woe is me” post. But I’ve shaken myself down and decided to make it a bit of a retrospective because things are, well, a little bit different. So where would be a good place to be the “then”? I could go back to being 21 or I could go back to being 30. But we got married in September 2000, so that seems as good a place as any. All aboard, we’re going back in time!

Ahhh yes. I was working shifts in the network operations department at the head office of a large chain of high street chemists (yeah, that one.) Shifts didn’t suit me, I don’t think I ever fitted in with the staff and with 1 or 2 exceptions I’m happy not to still be in touch with any of them. Just one of those things. The good news was that the following year I moved into telecoms project management for stores which suited me considerably better. Not only that but I met the bizarre but wonderful Rob Grimes... a man I am pleased to call my friend to this very day. Unless the police are reading this in which case I’ve never even heard of the man.

Now I’m as far removed from that as I can be. Working 8:30 until 3 in a school, predominantly with children with special needs. Do I enjoy it? Yes I do. The money is a fraction of what it was and some days you want to head butt a wall, but sometimes you have to go with what makes you happy. So yep I can tick that one off. Studying for a degree (although this year I am really not feeling remotely academic!) and generally I’m in a good place. While I miss the likes of Rachael, John, Lesley, Pete and Lou from IBM and all of the Beacon crew, they are still people I consider good friends – and the friends I’ve made at CHJS are all tremendous. So I guess you can say I’m in a considerably better place than I was back then!

I was in the middle of my second bout of depression. So nothing really changes! Feeling it a bit at the moment and have had my antidepressants upped and one of my bipolar meds increased, but at least I know what’s wrong with me. The other downside is discovering that one of my meds can cause tremendous weight gains.... so my overactive pie-arm isn’t entirely my fault! I still need to get myself back into gear and get back to the place that lost me 9 stone, but it’s slowly coming back. The good news is that once I’m settled into my new meds, my GP is going to swap my pie-arm tablets for something that isn’t quite as good at flattening out my manics, but certainly will help with the urge to shovel food. Should we call that being in a better place or not? I think it probably is... after all I’ve at least got a diagnosis to work with.

Back in 2000 we had a 2 bed place above a shop in Mountsorrel. We were secure; we had a great landlord and paid a pittance in rent. We’ve moved onwards and (possibly) upwards and now have our own place in Sileby. Yes it’s not as big as we’d like it, but it’s an ace house. If we could just pick it up and move it to somewhere a little bit less shit then we’d certainly be happy. We’ll call that a win for home ownership over renting.

The Wedding
Well this is where things are different. When you look at our wedding party it’s been wholly decimated. While my best man is still intact and Vic is still in touch with her childhood best friend and bridesmaid (albeit are on the other side of the world) that’s where things begin and end. Of our 3 ushers, one of them took offence with me not less religious than God and excommunicated us, one of them I fell out with in the pits of a depression which I wholly regret, and the other usher and his bridesmaid other half seem to have decided we aren’t their sort of people and are no longer in touch. Nowt so queer as folk. As for the guests, life has moved on. People have passed on or gone astray and we’ve more than replaced them with new friends, while social media has seen us reacquire friends from years gone by. Seems odd to say we’re happy with fewer friends than we had back then, but the ones we have are much more tightly-knit. That has to be a good thing.

Generally speaking we’re about the same, although I didn’t know it back then. Having married into Vic’s family, the immediate numbers aren’t massive, but once you extend that to our relatives in Australia, it’s where things really pick up. Four beautiful and talented cousins, four handsome and talented husbands, and a raft of wonderful kids – and that’s not to mention Uncle Colin and Aunty Yol who have been like second parents to me. Throw in me meeting up with my sister and although we’ve sadly lost a few people along the way (most notably my Auntie Betty), I’m certainly in a much better place than I was. Well I am - I’m not sure Vic is quite as excited with the in-laws she’s inherited!

So yes, generally speaking I think I’m in a considerably better place than I was 15 years ago. And it’s by writing this post that it’s reminded me of how lucky I am. I’m signing off this post with a smile on my face.

Thanks for being part of my life. You’re all awesome.


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tao Now, Brown Cow

Stop what you’re doing for a minute.

Just stop.

Just listen.

What can you hear?

I can hear the occasional snatch of bird song, the gentle hum of the refrigerator and the irregular rumble of a car passing in the distance. I can’t hear the television, or music, or the ring of a mobile phone or the trill of a text message. I can’t hear anybody telling me that the government are corrupt or that the opposition are worse or that somebody who has acquired the title celebrity by accident rather than because they’ve done something worthy of the title has been snapped doing something they shouldn’t with somebody they shouldn’t. I can’t hear any of that.

It feels wonderful.

By the time you read this, I will probably be back home and the maelstrom that is life will be trying to pull me back into its centre. It’s dragging me into a whirlpool of work, of home life and of social media and it’s bombarding me with images and opinions, with news and speculation. This time though instead of trying to swim to keep up with it all, I’m going to let it all wash over me.
I’m writing this blog post from a village in the middle of West Sussex. I’ve got my laptop to type up a few notes for university, and I can see both a television and my mobile phone. Neither of which are on.

The rest of this blog post will mention cultural references that many of you won’t know. What’s important though is that while you may not know them, you will understand why I’ve included them and the point I’m trying to make.

I’ll start off with a song lyric. It’s from a song by one of my favourite artists.

“I eat too much,
I drink too much,
I want too much.
Too much.”

- “Too Much” by Dave Matthews Band (from the album “Crash”)

Does that sound familiar in any way? Not specifically to you, but to society in general? I know that I eat too much and while I give the impression that I drink too much, I really don’t (although I should cut down). I do however want too much, albeit not necessarily material things. Admittedly I like a good coffee gadget, although that’s more down to me wanting easier ways to make good coffee with less effort and less mess than the last one I bought. But in the scheme of things, I’m not THAT materialistic.

The things I want are more personal. I suspect on social media I give this impression of being an angry man full of hate and bitterness. But I’m not. I talk about inflicting pain on a number of famous people, but really I don’t want to. I just want them to go shut up and go away. The people I’m talking about aren’t famous because of any particular skill or talent but because they were deemed worthy of elevating to celebrity status. I know people who are infinitely more entertaining than many of these so-called superstars than the people with the 6 and 7 figure salaries, yet because they weren’t in the right place at the right time, or don’t have what the media thinks is the right look they aren’t ever considered worthy of the “privilege” and so we’re left with these second-rate icons.

Apologies, as always I’ve digressed. What I want is for there to be more understanding of people, more appreciation of people’s feelings, and more compassion in the world.

Those of you that know me well know that I’ve long been on a voyage to discover myself and to have some kind of spiritual meaning. It’s a journey that has taken me many years to complete (assuming one ever does complete these things) mainly because of my refusal to believe in a man (or indeed woman) upstairs (or indeed downstairs) who does all the doing and makes everything happen. Oh and before any of you disown me as a heretic, remember that I am comfortable with the fact that Jesus Christ existed. It’s just the bits around the edges of that which cause me problems. Judging by the amount of war and disharmony that exists around the world today in the name of religion, it’s those bits that seem to cause quite a few people problems. You never hear of radicalised atheists or humanist fundamentalism, do you? Just a thought…

So having written off all of the major religions of the world (well apart from Buddhism, but I’ll save my blog on why the Dalai Lama is a top bloke for another day) I came across Taoism. I got talking to a man on the Internet about Taoism and something about it struck a chord with me. So I bought a book (not the first book on “religious teachings” (I enclose that in quotes not out of scorn for religion but because I don’t consider Taoism to be a religion in the true sense) and started reading. Now being a simple soul I didn’t opt for the official book on Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. No, I bought a book called the Tao of Pooh (no sniggering at the back.) The Tao of Pooh explains the concepts of Taoism (by the way, that’s pronounced Daoism) but through the stories of Winnie the Pooh. It sounds childish, but if you look at the characters in Winnie the Pooh you will see that it’s a perfect fit. There’s the donkey that assumes the worst, the piglet that worries about things, the owl that’s a know-it-all and the Tigger that bounces about everywhere with little thought for the consequences. And at the centre of it is this little yellow bear who likes honey and just “is”. He gets on with things and if something happens he deals with it but he doesn’t try to change things that aren’t his to change. I’m not really doing it justice, but The Tao of Pooh must be a fairly important book. For nearly 40 years it has been one of the standard texts when studying Taoism and has been for nearly 40 years. By the way I do also own a copy of the Tao Te Ching as well, so don’t think I base ALL of my ideology on the stories of the fictitious bear that lives in 100 Acre Wood. For completionists there’s a follow up book as well “The Te of Piglet” but we don’t need to touch on that for the purposes of today’s ramble.

For a few years I followed the ways of the Tao (that makes no sense, “Tao” translates direct as way, so I’m following the way of the Way.) The problem is that to some extent, these last few months I’ve lost MY way (are you confused yet, I know I am.) I’ve spent too much time fighting battles that aren’t mine to fight. Not because I love a good scrap, but because the battles are those of friends of mine and because I care (probably too much) and take things on. It’s because I set high standards of myself and expect everybody to behave honourably to other people and to see that everything you do has an effect on somebody else and to consider it, rather than a “the book/government/powers-that-be says we have to do it and therefore we shall, and bugger the implications” kind of way. We’ve talked about my mental health issues and the fact I’m bipolar in the past and on my most manic days I’ll happily take on the world and probably win. But I also need to remember that on my worst days, I can barely get through them just being me. I need to remember that and not try and put my underpants outside my trousers on my manic days to fight the system. Actually I shouldn’t try and put my underpants on outside my trousers any day.

So I’m going back to basics. Not in a Conservative party autoerotic asphyxiation wearing stockings and dying in a hotel room with an orange in my mouth kind of way, but in a following the Tao kind of way (okay that’s a following the Way, way. Enough already!)  It’s not about me being selfish, I’ll still be there for any of my friends. But for the sake of my sanity I’m going to be standing behind people saying “I’ll support you” rather than standing in front of people saying “cover my back, I’m going in”. At the end of the day I’m only one man with one (admittedly rather broad) pair of shoulders and I need to live my life rather than help everybody else live theirs.

It’s about not wanting too much. And every day do just that.

I’ll leave you with a final thought from an equally obscure source. Many of you know that I play World of Warcraft online. In a world of orcs and elves and fighting and killing there are a lot of things that you could take from there and apply to real life (not the fighting and killing bit I hasten to add, that’s not a good thing.) The last expansion saw the introduction of a new land and a new race of people which is very much based on ancient Chinese philosophies. I’d wager that it’s very much based on the principles of Taoism, and the reason I mention it is because while playing it you’ll encounter many of a race of people who all offer the same piece of advice:

“Slow down.”

Which I think is something we should all think about doing once in a while.

Until next time,

(P.S. I got to the end of that without mentioning the quote from Ferris Bueller about life moving pretty fast. You see, sometimes I even surprise myself!)
(P.P.S. I’m also getting on the case with the “eat too much” thing. It was only 12 months ago I was 16½ stone and I was much happier. Once I get back home, the game is very much afoot – so if you see me reaching for pies and cake you are free to slap me.)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Bi Curious?

I'm sure there are a few of you out there that didn't know I used to be a Slimming World consultant. As you may imagined being the best part of 20 stone in weight, I wasn't what you'd call the most orthodox consultant they'd ever had (although remember that at my lightest I was 16 1/2 stone and at my heaviest I was over 26 stone, so I did have some idea of what I was doing!) Quite often I'd bumble around, I'd forget things, I'd fluff my lines. Generally I would appear to be something of a fool. The thing is, I wasn't. Over time people realised while I was quite happy to play the absent-minded professor, I was actually extremely conscientious. I'd even go so far as to say I was "quite good" at what I did. Mrs Spong obviously had a grip on me behind the scenes (steady!) but if people wanted to lose weight they'd have been hard pushed to find anyone more committed to their cause than me. My manager did an assessment on me as a consultant and the one comment that I keep going back to is "theatrical". For me, it's not just about the end result - it's also about how we get there. Losing weight isn't exciting. It can be a very lonely journey. If I could get people to where they wanted to be then that was great, but I didn't want them to get there hating every step of the way.

So that's nice. But why am I telling you this? Well as with all of my blog posts (there are others, they just don't come along that often) I usually need something to set the scene, and this is no different from the others. Mainly because for once I'm genuinely scared about what I'm about to reveal.

My mental health issues are well chronicled. Since the age of 22, I've suffered from depression. I've had periods where I've been really good, but equally I've had periods where I've been really bad. There have been times where I've been dangerously out of control, but there have also been incidents such as me sat on the floor in Malaga airport rocking backwards and forwards. The good news is that a combination of a great GP, a top wife (you can stop twisting my arm up my back now, dearest) a good understanding of how I'm feeling and working bloody hard to not let things get me down mean that I am extremely stable. I emphasise that last bit in case anybody I work for is reading this. I'm perfectly safe, honest!

But I do still get periods of being down. Last week I was on holiday and although I was staying with family and friends, I found it mentally very tough. For every waking hour of every day, I had to be alert, be sociable and be on the ball. Normally I'd find it no problem but I got home on Sunday night and I was absolutely shattered. Still wired from the week away, I was awake until 5am on Monday morning. I tried to get some sleep through the day but my mind wouldn't let go. No reason for it. I was at home with nothing to do but chill, I simply couldn't relax. I slept on Monday night more out of exhaustion than anything but on Tuesday I was no better. I was wound up tight, I was feeling angsty. I rang my GP and told him what was going on and despite not having surgery, he told me to go in.

We talked. I have always had a good relationship with my GP and we discussed my moods, and what makes me tick. One thing we've never talked about though is the other end of the spectrum. About how high my moods can become. About how excitable I can get. About how invincible I can feel.

It was then that the penny dropped. I'm not your common or garden depressive.

I'm bipolar.

I'm not sure how I feel about this to be honest. I've suspected it for a while but in absence of any concrete medical opinion, I'd not considered it that deeply. It was only a chance conversation that cleared the fog. These past couple of days I've read a lot about being bipolar. I've read about signs and symptoms, I've read about management, I've read all sorts of things. It would appear that if there was a textbook case of being bipolar (which because it's a mental condition, there isn't), I would appear to be it.

I've been prescribed lithium. It sounds olde worlde and from a time of leeches and shock therapy, but lithium is still one of the best mood stabilisers there is. It means weekly blood tests for the foreseeable so that it doesn't poison me, and the list of side effects is as long as a builder's tea break but 2 days in and the only thing I've had was a hot flush after the sun came out. If that's as tough as it gets, then I'll take it.

I don't know what happens next, but you know what my biggest worry is? That the lithium will work TOO well. That as well as flattening out the troughs in my mood, it will flatten out my peaks and that my undoubted genius (that was a joke) will be blunted, leaving me as something of a monomood dullard. That really would be pants. Big ones with skid marks in the back.

The other downside is that I have to be careful how much I drink; lithium not only dehydrates you but also stops you feeling intoxicated. This might sound good, but it's easy to feel okay, keep drinking and then end up in a lithium/alcohol coma. Not so good!

So we're diagnosed. We're being treated. And I guess we'll see what the next chapter brings. Interesting times indeed. What's also interesting is that these last two days I've felt pretty good about myself. Could be relief, or talking to someone or a change in the weather. I don't know but I'm glad it's happened.

The other good piece of news is that I'm seeing the Open University on Saturday about enrolling on my teaching degree course. That's going to be something of a challenge for old Bipolar Spong here.

Keep smiling folks. It keeps everyone else guessing.

Until next time,


Thursday, 29 May 2014


Two blogs in a month, must be something of a miracle. I'll start this one with a question.

What were you doing a year ago today?

Can't remember? Probably a good thing. I've just trawled back and checked and there doesn't appear to have been anything particularly exciting happen on 29th May last year. Or probably May 30th as it was last year. In Nigeria they banned same-sex marriage on the 30th and on the 29th Shania Twain got divorced. Doubtful either of the above affected you unless you were Shania Twain's husband, you'd decided you were homosexual and you wanted to get married in Nigeria.

Me? I can remember it clearly. I was at my father-in-laws.

Now I don't remember that because it was a particularly momentous occasion. I've been to his house before and I will go to his house again of that I'm sure. The reason I remember it was because I was waiting on a particularly important phone call and I was somewhat nervous.

It was the day I was made redundant.

To many people that would be a day of dread and hate, but to me it was a fantastic day. It was a day I'd asked for at the beginning of the year and they had been unable to grant and then the Corporation hadn't made a squillion bucks in profit in the first quarter and so true to form they asked for people to put in for redundancy. As is often the case, the people that were any good (and I don't mean to be big headed, but I had several yearly appraisals to prove it) put in to leave, and those that weren't very good (not just those, a lot of good people chose to stay!) kept their heads down and hoped those of us that were good would make a large enough number that the powers-that-be wouldn't need to call on those with (on paper) a lesser track record and make compulsory redundancies.

I left on July 5th, and life has changed immeasurably since then. I promise I won't write a "One year on from July 5th blog" in little over a month.

Back then I was a desperately unhappy project manager type with "Large Corporation" as they will be known from this post onwards. The people I was working with were great and most of them I'm still in touch with to this day, but the job I hated and I was beginning to hate Large Corporation. Those of you that know me know that I am many things, but I am not a hateful person.

So I left.

What a difference a year makes. Want to see where I'm writing this blog from?

That's right. I'm in the pub. The laptop screen you can see is mine, the size 12 shoe you can see is mine, the pint of ale is indeed mine. I'm on holiday and I'm happy as a pig submerged in faecal matter. It's half term, school holidays, and I am on holiday.

Back in the old days, we'd take time off to avoid school holidays (except for Christmas, that one is kind of unavoidable) but this year things have changed. I've just done a 4 week term, I've got a week off and then a 6 week term beckons before those long school holidays that I thought I'd left behind in my youth.

I've gone from a reasonably well paid but grumpy project manager to a not as well paid but ridiculously happy Learning Support Assistant in a primary school.

And I couldn't be happier.

I won't pretend there aren't days when I think "what the shitting Christ have I done here?" and go home to a beer and a moan, but those days are few and far between. Up until July 5th of last year there were far more days when I'd go home (well downstairs, I worked from home) for a beer and thought "what the shitting Christ am I STILL doing here". I'd probably have more beers and more of a moan but still I'd go in and do my best, day after day.

I had a conversation with the effervescent Mrs Spong earlier this week. It was a short conversation and although it wasn't prompted by an offer to go and become a project manager for another Large Corporation this time, it was one I periodically raise. Here is the general gist of it:

"You know, our bank balance would look a lot healthier if I went and got a project management job working for a Large Corporation. Do you think I should?
"Are you taking the piss? You're happy and I'd rather you be happy than we be much better off."
"Okay then."

And that was the sum total of said conversation. I never say it because I really want out, but because I see Mrs Spong earning considerably more than me and think I should contribute more to the family pot. But we've sorted our finances out and can cope with the relative downturn in our finances.

I'm going to keep it short. But what I will say to you is this. When I write my blog posts, there is usually a moral to the story. When I started writing this one, I don't think I truly had one. But 3 pints of ale will see to that. The moral of this story is very simple.

Don't look at the paycheck. Look at what makes you happy.

Until next time,