Saturday, 20 June 2015

I used to TFI Friday but not anymore

Dear all,

To give this blog post its full title, "I used to TFI Friday but not anymore - or - How long writing takes & watching other’s progress…"

I wasn’t planning on this blog post but I had a very mixed week so I felt like quickly posting, please excuse the lack of editing or re-reading.

It started off last Friday night. For those circa my age and above (35) and who grew up in the UK you probably very well remember TFI Friday ( madcap weekly program dedicated to all that seemed good in the world back then (aged 15+ anyway… and the sort of 15+ that would immediately go out to the pub afterwards without the need for I.D, THAT was the 90s I remember) and I don’t know many people who didn’t love it. It was the start of the weekend and that sounds so terribly clich├ęd but it’s true.

TFI Friday Logo
Courtesy of Channel 4

There was a sense of excitement about what would happen as for a long period it was live (swearing put a stop to that), had great guests and bizarre and outrageous stunts and events. Now, you can’t look back with rose tinted glassed too much as I’m sure there was the occasional stinker of a show, I’m not going to pretend everything in life was so magically fantastic and amazing but the essence of what it was to be excited by the future is something I can clearly remember, it was a physical reaction to what was going on in society and what may happen once you got out there in the midst of it. The truth is, it was a very lively, energetic, free spirited time with a lot of political and social change... but I was also a teenager becoming an adult and that contributes to those feeling anyway.

Can you believe I got served? Okay, you got me, the moustache is a fake...
Last day of school which is the same year as TFI Friday first aired, 1996.

Every teenager (in the main) looks back on the crazy times of their youth with fondness (and maybe relief that it's over and you got away with it all) yet I do feel particularly fortunate to have been in my teens in the 90s and whether it is unfounded bias or not, I wouldn’t swap for any other time... than perhaps the 60s. There are far too many reasons to explain this here but what I want to express is the position I find myself in now, aged 35, watching TFI Friday and realising that what I want to do with my life is still inextricably linked to my teenage years and the understanding that I haven't really got anywhere.

Host, Chris Evans
Courtesy of Channel 4

The crux of it is that twenty years later I look back at that show with all the wonderful talent that worked or appeared on it and realise how incredibly young most of those people were. Not just Chris Evans, but the bands, the guests, the crowd and so on. They had all been successful in their fields and were making names for themselves in their early 20s and 30s. It seems silly to think of this now but at school I remember clearly thinking how simple life seemed to be. You finish school, you get a good job, you get all the things you want and by the time you reach 30 it's all wrapped up and under control. It was so naive I’m ashamed to admit I thought that way but it’s how I felt, if you wanted to act, you became an actor, if you want to sing, you became a singer… and so on. There was no understanding of what it took to get there at all. There was no understanding of what money really meant, what ‘living costs’ were and how difficult it would be just to get by. At 35 you bet I understand those things now!

That’s the problem with thinking about being young, you think of all the hopes you had because for the most part you still have them. It’s difficult to accept growing older for most people but in the main we get on with it, we make jokes about it, we recall old times and laugh about the situations we found ourselves in, but with an acknowledgement that our bodies and minds have changed, we have different responsibilities and a different outlook on life and again for the most part we find acceptance and relative happiness in our place in life. 

However, for me personally, there have been a few upheavals along the way and if I am honest it is hard to think of myself in one particular stage in my life. I feel very lost and disjointed from those around me and from the ordinary expectations of society. It feels as though I should be something, but I’m not sure what, and when I was watching TFI Friday, beer in hand (that wasn't the case in '96!)  I found myself getting quite upset at times because it dawned on me that I should be enjoying my life as much now as I was then; not in the same way of course, I’m not for a second trying to convince myself of acting like a seventeen year old don’t worry, but in the sense that I should be in a place in my life where I find excitement and fulfilment in new ways, and the fact is, I don’t. However, there is a contradiction which I will explain in a second. When I went through a depressed period three or so years ago, which I am still dealing with today but on a greatly reduced scale, I quit my job, used up all my savings to live abroad for a year, and had a lot of time to think about my future. I came back home and felt a lot better and a lot more sympathetic to my emotions (that  probably doesn't make sense) and that is where the contradiction really hit me and why I am now struggling to cope with that contradiction but in a positive and constructive way, not in a depressed way. It is not something I see as a problem, but rather the route to the success I want in my life. 

The contradiction is this. I have always been interested in contemporary affairs and examining how people cope in their surroundings .. everyday lives and dramas, you could say. And I realise now that everything I have gone through or everything I have missed out on for whatever reason, if looked at from a positive perspective, can help me in my ‘artistic’ mission to describe this. I want to write about normal people and what they go through and the melancholy that goes with examining sadness and disappointment and unfulfilled expectations and unrewarding adult lives is pretty much what I enjoy detailing. So the problem is, I am living an unhappy unfulfilled life, yet somehow this is helping me work towards my goals. Don't for one second think I am asking you to get the violins out for me, it is hard to describe negative feelings without giving the impression you are feeling sorry for yourself or seeking attention and comfort and someone to give you answers and tell you 'it will all be okay'; I promise you that is not what I am doing. I am extremely lucky in general, I have no serious problems in life at all compared to the vast majority of the world's population! So, take this as simply an introspective examination of my feelings based on a shock at realising how quickly twenty years have passed, that's all. 

The further issue is that I do feel like I am an adult who can reason and contemplate (there are times when depression can make you low and at those times it is incredibly difficult to view things objectively and with optimism but for the most part) and work through the issues I have in a calm manner. I feel I understand myself fairly well and have separated the things that are important to me and the things I used to think were important but no longer are. I don’t feel trapped by society or by external pressures at all. I probably feel freer and more liberated than ever before but that does not equal happiness. I am also wise enough to understand that the goals I have set myself and the hopes I have for the future may not bring about happiness in their own right either, if I had told myself that 20 years ago while watching Sleeper play over the credits of TFI Friday I don’t think I would have understood that, my perception was very much good job = money, money = house & girlfriend, house & girlfriend = being an adult, being and adult = happiness and contentment. That was my teenage reasoning, not my adult reasoning and it's very comforting to realise that the goal is happiness in itself. The old Emerson quote, ‘Life is a journey, not a destination.’ rings very true.

Taken just before GCSE's. A few of us came in to school on a Saturday
to finish our design & technology projects... not sure how much work was done.
I can see I may have convinced a barman or two I was a couple of years older.

I do not have any of the things I thought I would have when I was fifteen years old. Perhaps it is not just that I thought I would have them, I probably expected them, probably assumed they would simply be there. Yet I do have a more resolved expectation of what I want my life to mean than I did then. My sense of expectation in fulfilling my potential is entirely marked by what I will achieve internally, the emotional fulfilment of what I want my life to have achieved rather than any external symbol of success that I thought was typified in the glorious antics of TFI Friday. However, there is one serious issue that I still have not come to terms with and is probably the reason why I was upset watching the programme (again, don't worry, I was in stitches at parts too…) and that is, I know myself better now and I know myself as an adult, but I do not want to lose that sense of carefree wonder at the craziness of life, the sense of being unchained, the sense of embracing every single moment and squeezing as much fun into it as you can, that you have as a teenager… I feel the balance of those feelings swing to extremes all the time and as much as I understand how much hard work I have ahead of me and the discipline and the rigidity that requires, I would like to be happy again and laugh with that sense of abandonment that is difficult to come by these days. That's the contradiction of getting older, how to balance out those feelings and for me, how do I translate it into words - characters, events, plots - in my stories that will do justice to my emotions. Can I accurately produce works that highlight this journey? That's going to be my workload for the rest of my life I think. 

Then the second shock of the week. This may have happened to you as I bet it is very common now with the necessity of social media. Out of the damn blue I had a LinkedIn connection request come through on email from someone I had not heard from in three years. I won’t tell you about the person but it coincides with the TFI Friday issue. At first I was in shock, then I was upset, then I was angry and then I was upset again. Aside from my issues with the person it made me think... what if they had asked me what I had been doing for the last three years? What could I say? Three years is a long time really, a person can do a lot. It was upsetting for me to question my position in life as in all honesty, I couldn't say I've done much. A lot of people I know would argue with me on that, they would say I started my company Thinking Plainly Limited three years ago and look at what I have achieved with it... and I think that is where the niggle is, the word 'achieve'. It feels to me like I may have done a lot of ground work (yes, that is essential I know) but that doesn't necessarily correlate to any real achievements. The same question if extended to my TFI Friday watching days would result in me having to say the same thing. If my sixteen year old self came up to me in the street and asked me what to expect over the next 20 years would I be happy with what I tell them? I'm not so sure. I have led an interesting and eventful adult life but what have I got to show for it? I have just as much to my name now as I did when I was 16 and that's not the nicest of thoughts, but that's why you must judge yourself against yourself and not against others. I am happy that I have got a very good idea of what I want from life and I still have ambition to succeed, I actually feel like the main journey is only just starting, but it's just a little hard to say it at 35 when part of me always thought I would be more 'formally' settled by now. I couldn't help but think of my friends who would be watching TFI Friday with their wives or husbands, their kids in bed and their feet up on their own couches in their own houses, secure in their choice of careers, etc, etc...shouldn't that be me too? Of course, I know that were I actually to ask them, the reality versus the portrayal would be very different, I know that, yet it's difficult to shrug off. 

That’s why I titled this blog post, “I used to Thank F**K It’s Friday” because as much as I love what that meant for me, time is going too quickly and I have so much yet to do. I don’t want Friday’s to come around because I haven’t done enough during the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday! Give me more time!  Friday night used to be the time when you felt released and free to get on with your life and be who you actually are, you would escape from your uniform, your studies, your scheduled-for-you life and go out and have fun... but now?

In another twenty years I want to look back at the 90s as a wonderful time but knowing I am still having a wonderful time, and that means a lot of hard work ahead of me. So for me, the phrase TFI Friday is staying in the 90s, it is just the title of a t.v programme, not a feeling I want to have. I know how long writing takes me, I know what I need to do to improve, I know the hard work involved. I have fully accepted that and I measure my future in a very different way now, when I think about writing a book I confront the reality of this taking up years. The arbitrary targets I once set myself have no place in my life anymore, I mark my progress in life differently and for damn sure I know to only mark myself against myself! Have I worked as hard as I should have today? 

Final photo of me at 16. This was the night our school year received
our GCSE certificates. We all went for a curry afterwards, which is how
a lot of nights still end today :) Those who watch my YouTube channel (you
can subscribe by pressing the red button on the top right of this page may recognise
the face behind me... he'll kill me for posting this.

I wrote this out in one morning and I have only re-read it once so I hope it hasn't come across too miserable, it was just a reflection of two incidents that made me realise I need to really push harder with my work. Writing, or any artist endeavour, is about creating something you are proud of and you think is meaningful... that is what is important to me and I wish that when I was 16 I had more of that insight rather than worrying so much about my position in society and setting milestones and reminding myself at every birthday how far away I am from being successful... but then again, that's not what being a teenager is about, it's about laughing your head off at TFI Friday and then going out with your mates and having a good time, and I wouldn't change that for anything.

I guess I could have saved you a lot of time and just condensed this whole blog post into the words, “My 30s can go to hell!”

Just kidding :)


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