The School Yard Bully

Depression is insidious.  It stalks you.  Wherever you might venture, there it is, skulking in the shadows of your mind.  And it is inconsistent.  That’s one of the hardest elements of the condition to effectively communicate.

On any given day you might be fine.  I use “fine” only loosely, because even when not in the pits of a depressive malaise, you never really feel “fine”, just “not as unwell”.  But on some days I might be “fine” in as much as I can go out, I can socialise, I can be with friends, I can work.  But a switch can be flipped at any moment and suddenly I find myself shutting down, unable to effectively cope with people, sounds, lights.  That can look odd to an outsider- it is understandable that they might argue “but you were ok yesterday, you came out with us” but that “ok” is usually me putting on a front because I want to be with you.  I want to spend time with friends, but the wrong noise, the wrong venue and I have to call it a night and go home to what I see as my sanctuary.

One day to the next, one hour to the next can be vastly different.  And social events, being out and busy will take its toll.  I’m at a stage where I need a couple of days recuperation for every day I am out.  If it is a particularly busy couple of days I will find myself tumbling down the rabbit hole of despair and having to shut myself off from the outside world.  Even simple communication can be a challenge.  Phone conversations are virtually a no go, and even text communication very rapidly wears me down.

People often say “if you want to talk, I’m here” and as much as that is appreciated, I don’t know what to talk about.  Rarely is there a specific thing that sets me off.  Though stress can factor in, much of the time it just happens.  There is not always a  trigger.

And it taunts you.  It doesn’t just tell you that you are worthless, unloved, untalented, it cherry picks all of those moments stored in your memory where you did or said something rotten.  Or the majority of the time where you perceived yourself to have said or done something rotten.  Laying awake at night, the cinema projection in your mind splashing all of your perceived mistakes in iMax whilst a small black and white television fuzzily tries sparking in to life to portray any apparent successes.  The latter overwhelmed by the former.  The latter drowned out by a sea of darkness, of blackness enveloping every spark of positivity.

Depression is still seen by many as little more than a case of the sads, of maybe feeling sorry for oneself.  At times you’ll even have former depressives chiming in with “if I got through it, you can” but not in the positive, supportive way that some do, but in the “you’re clearly not trying hard enough” way that so many seem to think is all that’s required.  If you just WANT to be better, you will be better.

Exercise can help, but when all you can physically muster is the strength to make a cup of tea that will simply lie dormant and cold on your bedside table, the idea of going for a run, a swim or even just a walk around the block can seem like ordering a person with no limbs to climb Everest with their teeth.

And even talking about it, when you feel able to do so, can feel like complaining.  No one likes to see their time lines or newsfeeds dripping with misery and complaint and it feels like that’s what you’re doing.  I’ve posted comments on my health before, and had people unfriend me because I was moaning too much, or because they have depression too and you don’t see them moaning.  But I’m not posting necessarily to engage, or to discuss, but to simply put in to words what I’m experiencing, and maybe – just maybe – show people that they aren’t alone.  For the times people have cut me out of their life because they’re sick of my ramblings, there are others that contact me to say how my own openness is helpful to them.  And in truth, if people are themselves made more comfortable and included by my public discussions, then losing some others from a social network is a small price to pay.

Ultimately depression is cruel.  It is vindictive.  Depression is your school yard bully transferred from the real world into your own mind.  Never giving up, and never dropping the taunts and abuse.  And all of our bullies are different, but they have one thing in common – they are cruel.



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Fuckboys For Freedom Review

“A clever, insightful, expertly presented piece of modern comedy theatre, that feels like Monty Python at its satirical best” 4 ½ stars


Note: Fuckboys is styled f*ckboys as this review was presented on the fringe tickets audience review page and they are clearly can’t handle adult language!


Before the show began it was difficult to know exactly what to expect.  The description tells of a theatre/ sketch hybrid with satire and politics – so much at the Fringe uses that language, and so much of it fails to live up to it.  Thankfully this is the exception.  The flyer features a sunshade wearing, joint smoking version of Michelangelo’s “David” and it’s not entirely clear what direction the show will take at this early point.  Although there is a sketch feel to it, it is more akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the structure of the sketch work.  There is a definite through line and narrative arc.

The story follows “James”, played by James Hughes, from his birth to his youth to his rise and fall as King of the F*ckboys.  What is a f*ckboy?  Well, the term first appears on Urban Dictionary in 2004 and generally refers to a less than desirable, drug toting, lazy drunkard with a less than pristine moral compass when it comes to their interaction with, and treatment of, women.  I always think of Scumbag Steve as a great example of a f*ckboy character.  I’m in my 30s so I remember the early days of the f*ckboys, who will forever be linked with the odious Pick up Artist movement.

This particular f*ckboy however seems somewhat different to the cliché in that he doesn’t really seem to want to be a f*ckboy and can recognise the failings of that group.  He’s actually a pretty sympathetic character who is pressured through family and friends to go down a darker path that involves a fun and very clever, if slightly longer than it needs to be, modern version of the Twelve Tasks of Herekles.  James’ guide on this journey is none other than Kanye West in a show stealing performance from Max Reid.  I’m not a fan of Yeezus himself so it was fun to see him lampooned so expertly, even at one point by director, co-star and co-writer Emma Harley.  Because Kanye IS gender.

There are a lot of scenes within the piece that may resonate with audiences, or will at least be recognised as being part of rape culture, something that is brought up throughout.  The show very directly addresses these issues and doesn’t shy away from the nastier side of University life, even at one point making the audience complicit in a pretty horrendous “prank” with an even darker climax.

What works so well in this play are the performances.  Every one is strong and nuanced.  Harley and Reid have the hardest task of the trio by having to portray multiple characters, sometimes with very little time to switch off stage.  It is rapid, smart, and above all funny in your face commentary on a modern phenomenon.  The cast utilised a very small space extremely well, and the direction from Harley deserves to be highlighted for its ambition, creativity, flow and execution.

Characterisation is superb.  Reid and Harley easily flit between a gargantuan number of characters with such ease you find it difficult to see them as the same actor, but each as a fully realised character on their own.  Reid’s characters in particular are such an eclectic mix, expertly performed, that whether he is Kanye, a gym buddy with personal space issues, or the inspired creation of Dictionary Dave you just want, no need, to watch him perform. Harley too does a great job with her own characters, such as the creepy uncle and the all too brief stint as the mother.  Her delivery is on point, and several of her characters have valid, biting social commentary to make – even if occasionally it didn’t need to be as spelled out as much as it was, her delivery and character is strong enough that we can draw the conclusions ourselves.  With a lesser performer the spelling out may be necessary, it isn’t so much in this case.  Some might scoff at the overtly sexualised nature of some of her characters, but they are absolutely relevant and vital considering the context in which they appear.  This isn’t sexualisation simply for titillation but for highlighting our own outdated and troublesome attitudes toward women and the belief some men have that they are good for little more than sex.  James Hughes as well really makes us sympathise with his character.  Considering the journey he goes on and the character he plays, he might be a little too sympathetic at times- though it does show how patriarchy affects men as well as women, and in modern society it does well to remember that point.  I’d compare him to Alex of A Clockwork Orange to some degree, in that his journey ends with his own realisation that what he is doing is wrong (A vital development cut from Kubricks film) and he makes his own attempts to turn his life around.  In fact, if he ever gets the chance to, I’d love to see him play the deranged Mr DeLarge. He is forgiven for a particularly heinous action maybe a little too easily, but because of how Hughes plays him, you want that redemption.  He makes you realise that at the heart of the f*ckboy is a real person wanting to get out and that many might turn down this path because of their own inabilities to interact with women as human beings and the culture in which they are raised.

F*ckboys for Freedom is an important production, making some important comments on modern society and the way in which men are encouraged to be sexual leviathans even at the cost of their own ethical moral compass and personal development.  It does a great job of bringing some very delicate topics to the fore and to do it with such comedic prowess is a testament to the strength of the writers, the direction and the stand out performances of all three on stage.  Fringe shows can be hit or miss, but this show is a definite hit with any negatives entirely made irrelevant by the strength of the overall piece.

A clever, insightful, expertly presented piece of modern comedy theatre, that feels like Monty Python at its satirical best.  If you think the Python comparison is too much, I implore you to take the hour to see this piece and judge for yourself.  I’d take another viewing of this over anything in Pythons 3rd and 4th series any day.  If you miss this show, you will be missing out on something rare- a Fringe show that is worth way more than its ticket price asks.

Fuckboys For Freedom runs at Sweet venues, Grassmarket on 13, 15, 17, 23, 25, 27 August at 23:05 and tickets cost £7/ £5 available from

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Nosferatu’s Shadow Review

“Daviot has an intensity, a stare that draws you in, and a presence that demands your attention.” 5 stars

I have never been a fan of Dracula.  Vampires just don’t do anything for me; I’ve always preferred ghosts to their more physical horror counterparts.  I tried reading Dracula once and could never get through it.  And so I didn’t get round to watching the horror classic Nosferatu;  not until recently when I had a day in bed, ill, watching movies on Youtube.  I do like silent movies (The Lodger is beautiful work) and so I spent an afternoon watching a few, Nosferatu was one.

The story of the movie itself is a fascinating one- made and released but without paying royalties (it was an unlicensed version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) it was sentenced to destruction, and yet enough prints survived it has become a masterpiece.

I have seen parts of Nosferatu’s Shadow, Michael Daviot’s biographical account of the life of Count Orlock actor Max Schrek, several times before when he has performed it at variety nights.  So I knew a certain amount of what to expect before going in.  One man theatre shows can be dull if you don’t have the right combination of actor, writer and topic.  Fortunately, this show had them all.

The play starts with Max’s death, a voice over gives part of a eulogy for the late actor and it is from there we get the life story of the thespian.  Starting with his youth and troubled relationship with his father, we proceed to his early film work, meeting his wife and spend time with him as he works on Nosferatu.  I have always thought of Schrek as a horror actor so I was surprised to learn this was the only horror movie he made.  He really did live his life in the shadow of this one film.

Had he lived longer, we may know more about him and his work, but he died whilst Hitler (whom Schrek is presented as hating) was growing his power base.  The play itself is fairly linear, which is a positive thing, as there is so much to cover a lesser writer may have been tempted to jump around more for “artistic reasons”.  Thankfully the script, also by solo actor Daviot, flows from one point in Schreks life to another seamlessly.  The play is punctuated at points by Daviot striking the famous shadow pose of Count Orlock to recite lines from the movie.  Being a silent film, this may be the first time many people hear these words spoken aloud and it is an interesting experiment to see how they may have been delivered.

It is a touching piece in many areas, one such moment is when Max becomes agitated and angry over an implied question as to why he stays in Germany despite the rising of the right.  The scene in question is powerful and really makes one consider what one would do in a similar situation.  How easy is it to uproot your entire life, love, work, career, friends, family and everything you know when at this time you yourself are not the target?  It is suggested, had Schrek lived, he would have been seen as an undesirable and faced persecution for his left wing leanings, and maybe had he lived he would have done what many of his contemporaries did and flee.   But in an emotionally pounding scene we see the very real struggle that very real people experienced, we begin to understand why many might have chosen to remain and it makes us question our own decisions.  With the hindsight of history we may ask why didn’t more just flee, but when we see the reality it is hard to argue or condemn Schrek – and the others- for this decision.

It is also interesting hearing the full story behind the film, and to learn that the producer spent more on the launch party than he did on the movie, and then declared bankruptcy when the Stoker estate rightly filed a violation of copyright suit.

The space is just right for this performance, anything larger and we’d lose the intensity that Daviot brings to the role.  Anything smaller and we’d lose the power of the man. The set is simple- a stool and a bench.  Upon the bench sits a cooks hat and a black, long leather coat.  Both used to represent different characters but the standout use of them is when Schrek talks of his relationship with Bertolt Brecht and drapes the coat over an upturned bench, acting as puppet master over the theatre legend.

There really are some inspired choices in this play and director Robert Williamson uses mime and an almost empty stage so well it is beautiful to watch.  One little moment early on really drew me in because it seemed so natural and so real- when Schrek bats away a bird flying past him in the opening minutes.  It is one of those tiny little details that allow you to sit in the open air with Max and really believe you are there.

Daviot is a theatrical powerhouse, sliding between time periods and scenarios with such ease you are never for a moment taken out of the piece despite its fourth wall breaking nature. You feel for Max, and you sympathise with him.  I don’t know German, so the scenes in which he spoke in the language were lost on me- though thankfully a translation of one longer speech is provided.  Sadly we did not have time to read it before the show as suggested however so I read along as best I could.  This is not a fault of the production, just one of timing at the Fringe meaning we as an audience don’t get chance to settle in before the action begins.  I’ve always felt a longer change over period would benefit, especially theatre, acts at the Fringe, but that would mean losing an act a day and therefore the revenue!

I can’t find a thing to fault with the production, some have criticised the short vignettes of Daviot striking the shadow pose between scenes, but for me these helped to remind me just how much the role took over the actors’ life.  This play is a beautiful, touching production and Daviot brings to life the late Schrek and actually makes me want to actively seek out more of the mans work.  Daviot has an intensity, a stare that draws you in, and a presence that demands your attention. Many plays have me looking at my watch when it comes to fringe theatre, but I didn’t once feel the urge and even found that time flew by far too quickly. I wanted to spend more time in that world, more time with Max.

Nosferatu’s Shadow is playing at Sweet venues, Grassmarket at 21:35 until August 28th.  Tickets are £10/£8 and available from:

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Alcohol and Depression

Talking about depression has never been a problem for me.  I’ve always felt the more open we can be, the less stigma will be attached to the condition.  But there is one part of depression that doesn’t get spoken about much.  I’ve been trying to fathom the reason as to why and I think ultimately it’s because this one aspect is frequently seen as a personal failing.  I’m talking about alcohol abuse.

I really, truly don’t know if I’m an alcoholic.  My doctor isn’t sure.  One thing we are both sure on however is that drinking is a huge problem for me.  I read a comic recently over at that briefly touched upon alcohol- the jist of it was that the person drinking wasn’t doing so because they had a problem, but as a way to fill an empty space caused by an already existing depression problem.  This really resonated with me.  I drink a lot, easily at least a dozen bottles of wine a week.  And anywhere up to four bottles in a sitting.  And I do it to escape.  The pain I feel from depression is masked by the alcohol, at least temporarily.

It is a form of self medicating, and admitting that is harder than mentioning any other aspect of depression.  Depression is ugly, and many people with depression drink to cope.  The Royal College of Psychiatrists and the NHS both acknowledge a link between depression and alcohol abuse and many other resources make the statement that alcohol abuse is common amongst those with depression- so why aren’t we talking about it?

It is common to see people say that drinking alcohol is a choice and so we blame people for making a conscious choice as opposed to them being ill.  And to some degree, choice is there.  In order to get drunk I have to buy alcohol, to do that I have to get dressed, leave the house and go to the shops.  But the way I’d describe it is almost like an autopilot response.  Like my rational brain is screaming at me not to buy it, and constantly berating me as I make my way to the shops.  I don’t have the mental strength to fight it.  And so people see it as a willing choice.  I don’t have withdrawals or incessant cravings, but between the hours of 10 am and 10pm I find myself struggling to avoid going out.

We also have a habit of seeing a problem drinker as an old bearded guy, sat on a park bench swigging white cider.  So when someone who appears functional, working and has friends says they have a drink problem it is easy to overlook.  When I spoke about drinking on an old blog the first comment was from someone saying I didn’t have a problem- because they drank the same.  If I had a problem, they had, and people don’t want to be seen as drunks.  I would argue there is probably more stigma around problem drinkers than with depression.  In fact, the language we use is itself designed to avoid acknowledging a real and serious health issue.  We talk about binge drinking, or problem drinkers.  Alcoholic is a word reserved for those shaking their way through an AA meeting in a draughty church hall.

1 in 11 men and 1 in 25 women in the UK are physically dependent on alcohol.  That’s about 4 million people, and these figures don’t include those not physically dependent, who might still abuse alcohol in some way.  In fact, the number of people who will develop some form of health problem due to alcohol is a whopping 1 in 3 men and 1 in 6 women.  Just over 13 million people, or a little under a quarter of the population.  So this is a very real problem.

So why do I drink?  I like the depressioncomix point about using it to fill an empty space.  When all you can muster the energy to do is sit in front of a computer for the 12 hours you’re awake, you need something to fill that void, that monotony.  Alcohol changes your mind, the way you act, the way you think.  For a few hours I’m someone else.  The problem comes once I’m in full drunk mode because that’s when the depression really ramps up a gear.  I’m liable to self harm (though thankfully I haven’t done so in about 8 months) because I feel I deserve that punishment.  And it also gives a physical and real thing to look at to reflect the invisible illness of depression.

I drink to avoid reality, to hide the pain for a few hours, and to fill the time because when you are too depressed to do much you have to do something.  Even watching a movie can be draining.  And it isn’t just the depression elevated whilst drunk, there is an emotional hangover that lasts days- guilt, remorse, self loathing.  All of this.  In truth I’m not sure how long I’ve been depressed, probably since my teens and discovering alcohol has only had the effect of prolonging my condition.  Like the depression itself feeds on the booze.  When I’ve gone months sober I feel better- not entirely well, the depression is still there, but it is manageable.  I can control it.  And finding the motivation and energy to fight two conditions- the depression and the boozing- is difficult to muster.  So I crack open another bottle of wine.

I don’t see the point in being sober if I’m just going to feel wretched.  If I’m going to feel like shit, I might as well feel like shit and be drunk.  And I don’t need to- because I do the exact same things sober as drunk.  I will sit in front of the computer for hours.  The difference is I find my online entertainment far easier to just sit through.  If I’m going to be ill, I might as well be drunk.  That is the thinking.  And it is definitely used as a form of self medicating.

I wish I could drive, I’d be out at castles and museums a lot more.  I feel very isolated because of where I live, and that was a conscious choice because I like the area and house.  But it has the effect of cutting me off from society.  I could go for a walk on the beech but once you’ve seen one rock pool you’ve seen them all.  I need human contact and to be able to socialise more.  But instead I socialise with one thing, not a person, but a glass and bottle.

I’m tired.  I’m exhausted.  And like many, maybe even most, people with depression I have my own self destructive coping mechanism.  Talking about that is difficult because of the stigma associated with problem drinking- but when 13 million people develop health issues related to alcohol, maybe it is time we did start talking about it more.  You know many, many people who abuse alcohol.  Maybe you do so yourself.  It isn’t nice, it makes you act out in ways you never would, and it damages your friendships and reputation.  But for many it is intricately linked to their continuing struggle with mental health disorders.  And I guess if we’re going to talk about mental health, we need to be talking about the uglier side of it too.

If you are dealing with an alcohol problem- contact your doctor.  They can help.  I just wish I could take my own advice.

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The Quest for Jake

“I’m sorry, I’ve not seen him”

That was the fifth person in a row that had no idea where he had gone, where he was, or where he might be going.  I’d been searching for him for so long I almost forget what he looks like.  If it wasn’t for the photograph I’d have no idea.  Everyone so far knew Jake, but they hadn’t seen him in almost as long as I had.  They were worried, but my concern was something else.  Mine went beyond worry and into fear.  I remember when we were kids, me and Jake would spend those long summer days- summer days were always long as a kid, and every day the sun shined- going to the park.  Humberlain Park, named for some Lord or something.  We’d play on the large spider frame, climb to the top, then go down to the brook to catch sticklebacks.  This was always followed by a journey into the woods- well, the nature reserve.

I remember one day, we were out minding our own business when we met one of Jake’s bullies skulking around with his ragtag bunch of thugs. You know the type, the ones that provided the evolutionary missing link between apes and man.  If Creationists saw them, they’d be an instant science convert.  I heard and felt the punch myself as Jake recoiled.  No explanation, no reason.  He was just there.  His jaw still clicks to this day.  We spent the rest of the day in Jake’s room playing video games, avoiding any chance of bumping into his tormentors.

The last time I actually saw Jake was several years ago.  He was always out, meeting people, doing things.  He ran lecture groups, put on shows, took tour groups around the city.  Always out, always talking, doing something.  But over time he became invisible, a ghost.  He drifted away and I stopped hearing from him.  He was gone.  I don’t know what took him, he used to talk about this creature hiding behind every corner.  A darkness, like a spectre of death.  The reaper himself followed.

He once told me a story, how he was lying in bed one night and this shadow grew from beneath.  Eventually engulfing the entire room in darkness, a beast with fangs dripping with slime and saliva.  Something conjured from anyones darkest nightmare but this was solid.  It pounced, snarling and fangs flashing and pinned Jake to the bed.  He couldn’t even struggle.  Couldn’t let out even a whimper.  And it held him there for days, letting him out only to piss and shit.  I asked him if it scared him- but it didn’t.  It sapped him of every ounce of strength.  When it eventually faded away Jake said he was always certain that it would come for him again, as if it’s true purpose wasn’t revealed then.

Now many people don’t believe in ghosts, Jake was one of them, but experiencing something like that can change your perspective.  It was like he was haunted by it.  It was some time ago that Jake went missing.  I knew it was the spectre that took him, but it left no clues as to where he’d gone.  Well I say no clue, but there was a glimmer.  Something otherworldly had taken him.  From time to time I’d look in the mirror and catch a glimpse of him, only fleetingly, as if something was holding him in there.  Trapping him in the glass.  Behind him, as he smiled at me, was the spectre and before I had a chance to call his name the beast snatched him away again.  Dragging him back to whatever hell he was keeping Jake in.  It was at that moment I knew I had to find him.  Find wherever the monster had taken him to.

I packed a bag, some pop, some sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and a potion that gave strength and confidence in your quest, and went on my way.  At first the quest seemed to be leading me somewhere, the first person I spoke to recalled seeing him not long ago, but had no idea where he’d gone to now.  Some people said they saw him with the shadow, others didn’t believe in the shadow, others just didn’t see it at all.  It was stealthy like that.

I looked everywhere that Jake used to visit, spoke to the people he loved, and spent years seeking him out.  The longer the journey, the further he seemed to disappear.  I quickly ran out of the pop – cherry flavoured Pepsi if you must know- and started on the only other liquid I had.  The potion.  I’m not sure how it happened, but with every sip it seemed Jake was taking another step further and further away.  I looked up from my perch and saw him in the distance.  Just over the hill where I sat.  Springing to my feet I launched into a sprint, running made me thirsty, the potion made me thirsty, but potion was all I had.  And with every step I took, every swig, Jake moved yet another two steps away.  He was always just within reach, but also so far away.  In the end, after years of running, years of hydrating with the wrong hydration I had to rest.

I slept for God knows how long.  A deep and dreamless sleep.  When I eventually woke I found myself in a place I’d never ventured.  Jake’s world.  The potion had done its duty.

The world that I found myself in was one of violent fire and quakes.  Jake had been here, how had he survived it?  I was burning up, but Jake, who also now seemed to be in the distance, looked so calm, always so cool and protected from the elements.  I soon realised it was the shadow.  The shadow that snatched him was protecting him.  The danger and damage of this savage netherworld I found myself in had been kept at bay because of the shadow that haunted him.  Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the dangerous beast he’d thought, but a protective barrier.  But even a safe prison is still a prison.  I staggered to my feet, dizzy and numbed after years of using the potion that brought me here, and took up the sprint.  I ran faster, I had to catch him, had to save him from whatever that shadow beast was.  Twenty feet away, fifteen, ten, five… I ran.  I hit a barrier.  Some sort of forced field- I was so close, I could touch him.

I raised my right hand, he his left and we pressed our palms against each others.  The shadow wasn’t just a shadow any more, it spread all the way back, enveloping the world around Jake.  I tried to scream his name but nothing came out.  He screamed back, I heard the same nothing.  I looked behind me and saw… nothing.  The shadow had passed through the barrier and was now covering the land around me.  I stared at Jake and he stared back, neither of us knew what to make of the other.  I’d spent so long searching for him I didn’t know what to do now I’d found him.  Had I found him?  The barrier between us kept us both apart.  The shadow began to rumble, almost as if screaming in anger.  This was my only chance, I lifted the potion bottle and brought it crashing down on the barrier, reality around me began to quake as the invisible barrier shattered into a million pieces, crashing down around us and the darkness on both sides merged together trapping us in this space.  The shattered barrier lay at our feet as we stared at a broken image of one another.

There was a shout from behind me, somewhere in the distance.  Someone was calling out, they were calling for Jake.  There was a crack and suddenly light engulfed us both, a bright shining flash and I could see again.

“What the hell was that?”

I turned around and found my housemate standing at the bathroom door, looking from me to the shattered mirror on the floor.  The empty bottle of wine on the tiles.

“For fucks sake Jake, this has to stop”.

She slammed the door, going back to her room.  All I could do is turn back to what remained of the mirror, caught a glimpse of Jake, the one I remembered looking back at me.  The shadow hanging behind him still.

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How to survive the Edinburgh Fringe

We are now a little over two months away from the Edinburgh Fringe.  Its odd we refer to anything going on there as “The Fringe” when its only one – albeit the largest- of many festivals taking place.  There are plenty of guides for people, giving advice and suggestions about how to make the Fringe work, and being a local I thought I’d join those ranks and maybe add some local knowledge too.

So this will mainly be for people who are coming in from out of town, and also first timers.  Don’t be discouraged by any negative points- for all its problems, the Fringe is an experience I believe every performer needs to have at least once.  If you can survive the Fringe you can get through almost anything.  It is the hardest work you will do, but likely the most fun and if the bug bites you, then you’ll be planning next year on your train home.


If you’ve never been to the Fringe before then you need to prepare yourself for a level of crowds and business that makes New York look like a deserted post apocalyptic city.  In 2015 there were over 3000 different productions over the three weeks, 50,000 individual performances and over £2 million in ticket sales.  And that is just those registered with the actual Fringe.  That number could easily double when you account for those not in the programme, free productions such as PBH Free Fringe or Laughing Horse, the International Festival, those who just come up to do guest slots and street artists.  And all of that is also on top of the usual productions and theatrical walking tours that happen.

And the above only accounts for performers.  Add in audiences and visitors and you are looking at the city, at any one time, doubling in population.  Some estimates suggest almost 4 million extra people will come through Edinburgh over the month of August.  Not bad for a city with less than 400,000 residents.

You will see so many weird and wonderful sights as performers try to drum up business on the Royal Mile.  You’ll likely meet Elaine, the world’s most pierced woman, or the chap on Princes Street who stands on his head in a bucket, or the Big Issue seller usually on the corner of South Bridge as a surreal frozen human statue.  There is a game to play- try and get from George IV Bridge to South Bridge without getting flyered! If you manage it then I believe you get the keys to the city.

If you can, get some Public Liability insurence.  Equity give a decent amount upon membership and student membership is less than £20.  Also, do not forget about PRS licenses.  If you use copyrighted music in your show you could be hit with a fine or even shut down.  The licenses are not expensive and will save you hassle in the long run.

Depending on your venue and who you are with, you might simply have a small pub back room with a mic and a bedside lamp for lighting.  Or you might find yourself with a proper stage and full backstage crew.  And everything in between.  First things first, when you see your venue for the first time do not be disheartened if it looks a little small, or ramshackle.  You make it work.  If you can perform in a pop up Fringe venue you can perform anywhere.  The Fringe is the best learning curve in the arts world.


To build on that- especially if you are with one of the Free groups- get to know the staff by name.  Say hi to them, drink there.  Many of these venues are giving their space for free and put in a hell of a lot of work on your behalf.  Respect them.  Most of the Free groups will have some sort of intermediary such as a Venue captain with PBH.  These are the people you take your problems to, don’t hassle the staff or your company.

In nearly all situations you will have a short amount of time between the previous act ending and yours starting (and the same at the end).  Sometimes this might be 15 minutes but rarely will you find anything more than half an hour.  In that 15 minute window the previous act has to get out and you have to get in.  If you can travel light, with not too many props then do so.

I once had an experience where the act before me had been a play and had a rather too large set for what they were doing.  This resulted in my own show starting late on numerous occasions- something that should not ever happen.  But when the act before you doesn’t finish until five minutes before you go on and they STILL have to do their get out it creates all manner of problems.  By mid week two they had got their act together, but these timings need to be factored in.  The Fringe is a collaborative endeavour regardless of where you are performing and under which company.  Respect the acts in your venue.

Do not expect a full AV set up or intricate lighting rig or sound design.  Unless you are lucky enough to have the funds to get one of the big venues you are likely to be performing in a pub back room or similar.  You will have only the most basic of set ups- find out who else is in your venue, ask if they’d be willing to contribute to hiring a simple lighting set up (checking with your venue first of course).  But many years we simply pop to Argos and buy a couple of cheap halogen lamps.  It gets a bit warm but really you don’t need anything intricate.  Just enough so the audience can see you.

Don’t automatically reject the use of a mic.  Many people think they can project well- but in a larger venue that’s filled with bodies you might find your deep and powerful voice gets lost after the first few rows.  There is no shame in using a mic.

Finally, make sure you leave the space clean and neat and tidy.  I’ve known some acts use glitter- don’t if you can avoid it.  It just means you have less time to do your get out and it might piss off the venue, especially if it’s a bar that will be operating after the shows finish.


This is the big one here.  Lots of people have advice.  Lots of it is good, and lots of it is bad.  First things first, if you are getting fliers then you wont want more than 5000, and even then I always end up with loads left over.  This will be my eighth Fringe and I have to say, fliers are very over rated.  Absolutely you must have them, but don’t rely on them.  I’ve heard it said that for every 1000 people you flier, maybe 100 will take them.  Of those only 10 will give coming to your show any real consideration.  And of those 10 you might get one or two who actually do come along.  Unless your show is well known, features a celebrity or is incredibly unique don’t expect fliers to do a great deal for you.  For all but one Fringe I have been with PBH and found that the wee blue book they produce is my main source of audiences.  In reality you could probably get audiences just with that alone.  I have when one year I was unable to flier for a couple of days  due to personal issues, and still had almost full houses.

Remember too that fliering on the Royal Mile might seem like a good idea but the other 3000 acts are doing the same thing.  Pop down to the Grassmarket or Princes Street, or work the lower half of the mile.  Another thing I found useful was to flier outside your venue for 15 minutes before the show starts.  This is the most effective fliering I have ever done and is now pretty much the only fliering I do specifically for my own show – I still flier at other times but mostly that is giving out the wee blue book with my flier as a bookmark for my page.

Don’t think flyering will be the main way you get people in.  It is a useful “and also” thing to do but this is the Fringe where everyone and their mother is flyering.  Don’t not do it, but don’t also think it will be a huge help.  I know only one show that did well with fliers- and that was a unique show.

It might be tempting to get a Facebook ad.  Having known people do this, I’d suggest it isn’t worth the money.  But be active on social media, tweet reviews, have conversations.  Don’t just tweet a reviewer and say come to my show, engage with them as if you aren’t marketing.  Reviewers will get bombarded with requests and many will simply ignore them.  On the topic of reviewers, unless you are getting five stars in the Scotsman reviews are unlikely to get you bums on seats.  Almost any act can get a three or even four star review quite easily, and find a good tag line even in the most damning review.  Audiences wont really pay much attention- and as the Edinburgh Evening News now use a seven star system, getting a five star review is even easier.

Network as much as you can, go to the events put on by the Fringe Society.  Do send press releases but use a more appealing subject heading than just “David’s Show Press release”.  Marketing at the Fringe is difficult to really say what is best to do, and far easier to say what to avoid.  If you are signed up with the actual Fringe take advantage of their street spots they will offer you, so potential audiences can see bits of your show.

So to sum up- yes have fliers (and posters, but really only in your venue) but you don’t need to go overboard with flyering as you will throw away so many.  Flier near your venue, flier just before the show and find other similar acts and ask to exit flier THEIR shows.  And if with something like PBH Free Fringe, use that wee blue book.  It will do you more good than 100,000 of your own fliers.  Now a bit of advice for those with more money- if you can find a couple of street flierers to hire then that won’t hurt, but really you’d need to be either a quirky show or be well known to really justify that outlay.  There really is little good advice to offer on marketing- try a few things, who knows, maybe fliering on the mile on your tod MIGHT sell your show out.  Eight years experience however tells me that is not guaranteed.

Oh, one other thing- do not go with an A5 flyer.  Go A6.  People hate taking A5 as they are too big.  An A6 fits nicely in the pocket.  Also saves a little money!


It is likely you will be staying within walking distance of your venue.  Edinburgh is not a big city- thanks to spending much of its life enclosed in a one mile by quarter mile area (to find out why, go on one of the history tours).  It is worth getting a bus pass for the month.  These can be bought from any Lothian Buses shop and means you will always have travel.  We have night busses so there is travel to pretty much everywhere 24 hours a day.  This also means you can go out on day trips quite easily.

Taxis are not overly expensive, but unless you’re pissed at 5am (lots of places have a 5am license!) avoid taxis.  We also have a decent rail network to get further out.


This is the suckiest part of the Fringe.  Locals will rent out their space sometimes for over a grand a week.  You’ll likely have to share.  And you want to book it NOW if you haven’t already.  The later you leave it the less chance you’ll find a good deal.

Go on to Fringe groups on Facebook, find other people who are coming up.  Have a look on Gumtree- there are already numerous flats being advertised.  Hell, even consider camping out in Seton Sans!  It’s a bit of a journey but you’ll be away from the busy noise for when you want to relax and there is a nightbus that drops you off at the camp site.


This adventure will cost you.  Even if you find somewhere for just £300 a week, that’s nearly a grand already.  Add on food, travel and general living expenses and you are looking at several thousands of pounds.  It is not uncommon for people even running a sell out show to leave in huge amounts of debt.  It is very unlikely you will make a profit.  That’s just the way it is.  If it were not for living locally, I’d probably only break even at best.

Now people will tell you not to expect to make money.  To expect to go home in debt.  But I believe with correct management you can avoid that.  Treat the Fringe like a job not a jolly.  Be resigned to the real possibility you may go home without turning a profit, but do set out with the goal to make some.  Budget appropriately.  Think of the Fringe like any other job you do and you will be much more likely to come out at least breaking even.

But do not be disheartened if (more likely when) you go away making a loss- what you will gain in experience far outweighs any financial hit.  You cannot pay for this type of experience (well I guess technically you are!) and doing it will make you a better performer.


When you are not performing there are all sorts of things to do.  Obviously, go and see shows!  But aside from that here are some suggestions:

  • Go to Edinburgh Castle. Its in the middle of the city and can take a full day to really experience every part.  Also, there are many castles in the surrounding area just a bus ride away such as Craigmillar.
  • Hop on a train to North Berwick for a sea side day out. Its only about 25 minutes and you would have a chance to visit Tantallon castle, where for you ghost geeks, the worlds most convincing ghost photograph was taken (it was probably a tourist)
  • Take a walk in Princes Street gardens and have an ice cream whilst listening to music on the bandstand.
  • We have a wealth of museums. Obviously the big museum on Chambers Street is a must (they have a motorolla flip phone on display to make you feel old) but also take in the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile and the Peoples Story next to Canongait Kirk.
  • The Royal Yatch Britannia is a short bus ride away, maybe end it with a meal at one of the many bars on the shore.
  • Portobello is only a short bus ride away too and is Edinburgh’s Seaside
  • Cemeteries… stick with me… there are many, all open 24 hours, so you can pop along. Maybe go to Dean cemetery where Joseph Bell is buried (the real life Sherlock Holmes whom Doyle based the character on).  We have David Hume up on Calton Cemetery, Adam Smith and a few poets in Canonsgait, and for magic fans The Great Lafayette is buried in Piershill which is on the bus route to Portobello.
  • Camera Obscurer is a great afternoon out, just by the castle, but don’t go hungover!
  • If you can afford it, eat at the Witchery restaurant. They do a two course offer in the afternoon for £17 a person.  But if you splash out you could easily reach several hundreds for two people!
  • Take in some of the tours of the city. If you want to see the best looking vaults go with Mercat.  You want absolute terror hit up Auld Reekie.  A theatrical flair and access to a locked off open air prison in Grayfriars Cemetery you want City of the Dead.  And there are numerous free tours on offer too (but tip your guide- they usually have to pay their employers £1 per head before they actually take any earnings)
  • Mary Kings Close is a street that was sealed over several hundred years ago so you get to see the city as it was during the plague years up to the Victorian era.
  • There are plenty of pubs but I’d recommend Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street- its part of the Vaults and has a reputation as most haunted pub in Scotland. Also, I’m quite a fan of the Tron.  It’s a bit chain-pubby but they do good food.
  • And of course, just wander around the city. There is so much to just take in on a wander.



The Edinburgh Fringe is an experience I believe all people working in the arts must have.  You will meet lifelong friends, get to try out new work, see shows ranging from the greatest thing ever all the way down to ones that make you want to remove your own head as it’s the easiest way to stop the pain.  Don’t come into the Fringe thinking you will make it big and be discovered.  You won’t.  You will get a nice addition to a CV and a great learning experience but the Fringe is a means to an end, not the end.  A successful show at Edinburgh might get you bookings and tours.  Or it might just be a fun adventure.  Your five star review might sound great, but after August no one is really going to care- in fact there has been much discussion about doing away with star ratings altogether.  What you get out of the Fringe is dependent on what you put in.  It is one of the hardest jobs in the arts industry and I promise you, by mid week two you will be wondering why you even bothered.  I’ve known acts do a runner because they simply couldn’t hack it.  But by the last few days of week three you’ll be emotional and weepy as you realise it is nearly over.  The Fringe is one of the best things you will do, but it will swallow your soul and spit it out either broken or far, far stronger and more confident than when you went in.

And my last bit of advice is this- everything I said above?  Could well be bullshit.  Many people will have different views and opinions.  Listen to them all and decide what works best for you.

Enjoy the Fringe, at worst you get to spend a few weeks in one of the most energetic places in the world, surrounded by people all doing the same thing.  At best it will be the greatest thing you ever do.


I use the following place for my flyers.  5000 A6, full colour front and back 135gsm for less than £30 (as long as you check the right options on checking out).  You will not find a better deal.  You don’t need heavy weighted flyers- in fact if someone offers me one I tend to reject it.  –

Visiting Edinburgh:

Lothian Buses

Edinburgh Castle

The Fringe

And this is a great website for royalty free music, you just need to credit the guy





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A Magician confesses.

I think it is time to talk about something that many magicians like to keep secret but a lot of braver people have tried to expose. I’ve been uncomfortable about the world in which I work for some time now. When I first started in the magic world I looked up to people like Derren Brown, David Copperfield and David Blaine. What they did seemed to defy logic and reality and I had to know what was behind it all.

At the start, I came to magic through an interest in spiritualism, especially what the Victorians would demonstrate and I was desperate to know how they accomplished what they did. Initially I passed it all of as little more than hokey deception and stage magic was where I wanted to be putting my focus so I picked up a magic book. Let me be clear from the outset, these basic level books are really all there is to magic. It is often said that there are only really about a dozen tricks in magic, and that’s quite true. But at that stage I didn’t realise it. I’ve now got in so deep, that stepping back is not easy. I began to look more into the work of Derren Brown. I thought that although it was impressive, what he did, there had to be a natural explanation for it.

Maybe I was just drawn in by the man’s actual mesmerism- something well studied for centuries and developed in the 18th century by Karl Mesmer. He makes no secret of his hypnotism past. I had assumed his wonderful mind reading routines were conducted by using trick decks of cards, or gimmicked boxes worth thousands of pounds. But studying him closer and closer I soon realised that it simply wasn’t possible to do what he did through natural trickery. Some have suggested he uses Neuro Linguistic Programming and this could explain some of his simpler routines, but not all. When he presented, at the end of one show, a scroll that had been sealed inside a hanging box to reveal all of the predictions of the show I was dumbstruck and could not figure out how he did it. What he did was not possible. Unless there was some trick to it.

Take a trip back with me to a few years back. I was supposed to do a magic show for some friends and wanted to have all of their predictions appear on a slip of paper one person had kept for the entire show. But how to accomplish it? This was not covered in those basic magic books so surely the explanation must lie in something else. That was my first real misstep.

Right away I started looking in sections of the internet I had not spent time in and started a conversation on a forum with a user named DarkMagix362. DM claimed he had been using spirit magick in his routines for some time (Spirit Magick is the use of Jinns in the presentation of a trick). I wasn’t entirely sure at first- being an atheist I wasn’t convinced in demonic spirits, nor that they could assist in my routines. DM offered to perform a spell for me on his end, somewhere in America, and that it would guide me and convince me. I wasn’t sold at first and thought he was just some nutter.

On the day of the performance however, I sat for some time beforehand going through the standard routines I wanted to do, but with less than 30 minutes before show time I still hadn’t found a way to get the prediction on the paper before the show. I didn’t think anything of it, and really thought it was a daft idea but for the first time in 20 years I prayed. I prayed. Not to the God of the Bible but to his fallen angels. I can not stress enough how stupid I felt. But then something came over me, something almost tingling. I can’t describe it properly. Its that feeling of when your arm goes to sleep but all over the body. It only lasted a few seconds, but almost immediately I had to pick up a pen. I started writing down a few words, not entirely sure where they came from but they seemed to flow naturally like a stream of consciousness. And then the show began. I handed someone the scrolled up paper and started performing. I had heard about mind reading demonstrations using keys selected some keys from the audience, but not knowing from who, and handing them back by divining who they belonged to. I got a straight hit of 5 out of 5. Its hard to say how that happened, but I just felt a connection between those keys and that person sat there. At the end of the show the scroll was opened and of the predictions I had made for the 6 different routines, I had got 4 out of the 6 predictions correct. By chance alone that is near impossible. I was disappointed not to have got all 6, but this was my first try. I was hooked.

Looking back now, I should have stopped there and then. I should have hung up what I was doing and followed a different path but the acclaim and positive feedback left me needing more. I emailed DM to tell him how well the show went. He assured me that getting a couple wrong is common when you first start down this path and the more faith I put in the Dark Prince the more I would get accurate hits. He advised me to look back at the spiritualists of the 19th century and try to incorporate some of their demonstrations. I started using chalk slates for demonic communication on stage and encouraging my volunteers into this hellish world by including them. I would have them pick a word from a book and within moments that chosen word had materialised in chalk upon the slates. I must stress again that there is no way to accomplish this naturally.

Like a lot of people who follow this path it started to get quite overwhelming. I was advised to look at more and more dangerous routines, assured I would be safe. The first time I hammered a nail in to my skull I was clutching a pentagram ring. Pushing a needle through my arm came next and the blood that dripped from it was saved in a vial.

I had gone too far. I knew my soul was in danger but the rush of adrenaline, the reaction of the crowd was just too much. I craved it like a drug. Eventually I would meet DM in person, he was head of a sect of the Church of Satan in Pennsylvania, and he was visiting Scotland to look at expanding his influence. He wanted ME to head up a sect. I wasn’t sure but then he offered me a chance to increase my skill set. Until now I had been little more than a conduit for an outside force but he assured me I could have more direct control by allying myself with my own Jinn/ Daemon. He helped me prepare, and it was nothing like you see on television. It was nothing more than a few prayers followed by shattering a bulb which he assured me I’d be protected if I ate. I was.

Now I had more influence and could do much more amazing things- such as levitating furniture, or having someone think of a word and be able to instantly tell them what it was. Again, something else not possible by natural means- I took the table cloth off after each levitation to show there were no gimmicks, but people still thought it a trick and nothing more. We now come to today. Having spent hours watching videos on Youtube of preachers denouncing magicians as in league with Satan and then those magicians DENYING it, it went too far. Of course they using Daemons. Derren Brown, Dynamo, all these people are not able to do what they do with skill or practice. They use Daemons. Of course they do. How else do you think they can perform their routines? What, are there online shops where you can buy them or something? eBay? No. I had to speak out. For too long we have held the secrets of magic- have you ever really wondered why magicians are so secretive of their tricks? It is NOT because we want to preserve illusion. And it is definitely NOT because some are actually so simple you’d feel insulted. It is because we can not speak the truth. We are encouraged not to. Why do you think the Magic Circle is a circle? Circles are protective spaces, and we need those as it is not just our own Jinns that we may have to contend with. Some of these tricks are just out of this world, the force involved is too great.

Going over everything here, and looking at what my life has become, I must thank those wise Youtube Vloggers speaking out. They have opened my eyes. No matter how clever we magicians think we are, we will never be able to beat a guy with a Youtube account. After all, what I do cannot possibly be explained by natural means.

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