Fear of Climate

Pink Floyd

What comes between fear and sex?
Geddit? Vier Funf Sechs. More of a verbal than a written gag i guess and one that probably appeals to the Modern Linguist in me (French and German with subsidiary Norwegian – but that’s another story). I’ve been thinking quite a lot on and off about Fear over the last few years and have a sense it’s a massively important subject.

Nick Baylis of the Well-being Institute at Cambridge spoke about it the day before yesterday at the Channel 4 Education spring conference entitled In the Wild, exploring informal learning from the starting point of the current state of well-being of children in the UK.

The conference got off to a cracking start with Richard Reeves, author of Happy Mondays, who writes and presents on making work more fun. Smoothly and entertainingly he presented a couple of graphs indicating that beyond a certain relatively modest point money doesn’t make you any happier (apparently the modest point being about the average wealth in Portugal) and showing the comparative duration of happiness prompted by different life events (marriage, etc.).

Then things really took off with a fabulously disheveled, natural, impassioned semi-rant from Nick Baylis. He spoke with great conviction about the way just keeping your head above water is the default state for most of us these days; how the pursuit of happiness (as per the constitution of the good ol’ US of A) is a misleading goal – it’s a question of living life well; how emotions are neither intrinsically positive or negative – it’s how we ride them that counts, pain and anger being rocket fuel for creative expression, by way of simple example; how loneliness (stemming from rampant individualism) and exhaustion underly so much of our being; and how at the core of all this is Fear.

One of the principal antidotes to this fear and isolation he identified as “Beautiful Partnerships”.

His study of Positive Psychology focuses on lives that go well and he encourages us to get better at living life.

“Beautiful Partnerships”. The distance between people within which they can touch, embrace, kiss – really connect. A phrase and space that were the inspiration and focus of the day for me.

A few hours later I found myself only slightly further away – about 12 to 15 feet – from John Paul Jones of Led Zep, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Captain Sensible of The Damned and the great producer of Nick Drake et al, Joe Boyd. A few inches to my right was my best friend from school (from the days when you had a few less than 864 ‘friends’). [The photo above was taken on a phone with no zoom – we’re talking close.]

Before I get sucked into psychedelia let me swing by a man who loathed rock’n’roll – Frank Sinatra. He had this to say on fear: “Fear is the enemy of logic. There is no more debilitating, crushing, self-defeating, sickening thing in the world – to an individual or to a nation.” Ol’ Blue Eyes had some real insight (Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters is a recommended read).

Back on Planet Syd, Madcap’s Last Laugh was a tribute to Syd Barrett who died last year. Joe Boyd (whose Whitebicycles is also recommended reading) helped pull the gig together with added enthusiasm from Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders fame.

The connection, beside the circle of 12 feet and the Cambridge base of both Syd and Nick, is several references during the course of the evening to Syd as “fearless”. He was the experimenter and catalyser of creativity. Roger Waters appeared solo and said without the inspiration of Syd’s fearlessness he would probably have ended up as a property developer.

Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright also pitched up to sing Syd’s Arnold Layne. I remember being introduced to the Relics LP by same said friend on my right in our school daze.

Damon Albarn provided one of the highlights of an evening that still has me high after three days with a rendition of Words from Syd’s Opal record. At the end of the song he handed me the lyrics he had been using – which was nice! The Enfants Terribles were well impressed the next morning – they love Blur.

Among the gals, Chrissie Hynde was her usual charming, laid-back self; Vashti Bunyan had a delightful delicateness as she re-emerges into music (I only came across her a year or so ago at an IDEASFACTORY Northern Ireland workshop on music & film, thanks to Kieran Evans); Kate St John (who I first came across thanks to Van) provided spot-on oboe accompaniment on Words and one or two other songs; Martha Wainwright and her mom (Kate McGarrigle) did a fine See Emily Play, all the more impressive as the former had been on the raz since her gig the night before and the latter only learnt it a couple of hours before coming on stage.

John Paul Jones played mandolin (cue flashbacks to Led Zep 4) – I’m now in awe thanks to having had my eyes opened to the sophistication of Led Zeppelin by Chris Cawte, the Jimmy Page of the impassioned Letz Zep tribute band and the composer of the music on all my films and productions from 1993 on – I never fully realised how talented he is as a musician until I first saw him as Jimmy.

Captain Sensible clearly found Syd a huge inspiration and paid tribute with gusto and joy. Since my sid is more Sid (Vicious) than Syd (Barrett) his contribution was a thrill.

During the In The Wild conference I chaired a session including Pat Kane of Hue & Cry, who in talking about play and its importance in learning invoked the spirit of Punk. At its heart Punk had a wild fearlessness which has provided me and Pat and the Captain with inspiration and Simple Pleasure for 30 years (1977 was the Big Year for me thanks to The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and The Clash). Next time I hear See Emily Play I’m going to think Syd and Sid – a beautiful partnership free of fear.

11 comments so far

  1. ArkAngel on

    Here’s Oli Barrett‘s take on Nick Baylis’ speech – from the Daily Networker (see Blogroll above):

    Happy Feat

    For some, it’s a cigar called Hamlet, for John Lennon it was a warm gun and for Morecambe and Wise, the greatest gift they possessed. Happiness, you see, has been pondered for centuries, and so it was with an open mind that I went along to Channel 4’s In The Wild event last week, covering Wellbeing, the Web and the Future of Education.

    It was excellent, and, as luck would have it, the highlight of my day was the opening session on ‘happiness’, kicked off by Richard Reeves, author of Happy Mondays, and recently featured in the documentary, Making Slough Happy. Jane Austen said that ”a large income is the best recipe for happiness I have ever heard of” and, with the effective use of a flip-chart, Richard’s deliberately manic charts revealed that yes, money DOES make you happier, but ONLY in countries where the average GDP is up to $15,000 dollars per head, per year, at which point the connection seems to fade. He also explained how individuals are (by and large) likely to bounce back from some often devastating events (disability or beravement for example) within one or two years. Although his view is “God help us if we get a Ministry for happiness”, it would be very strange for our political leaders not to take an interest in the work that he has been doing.

    Richard was followed by Nick Baylis who gave what was, for me, the most enjoyable speech of the day. Again the topic was happiness and Nick opened in a style that would have made Richard Curtis proud, documenting the woeful beginnings of his own career. From record-breakingly bad degree, via Wyoming (think Brokeback Mountain) to Feltham Young Offenders Institute (”This, by the way, is a CV to break a mother’s heart”), eventually Nick ended up in Cambridge, and spent the next 12 years becoming a well-being scientist studying “the hows and whys of wonderful lives”.

    “There is no good or bad emotion. It’s what we do with it.”

    Nick’s main priority was to set straight a few minsconceptions, the first being the myth that we are somehow, as humans, hardwired to prioritize happiness. Nonsense, he says (or more accurately, a richer word beginning with B). We are hardwired to improve our relationship with life , that is to say ‘to get better at living life.’ One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to view emotions like anger, shame and loneliness as our enemy, something to be banished, to be drenched with booze. In fact these (positive, not ‘negative’ emotions) are our rocket fuel, and by learning to ride them, we can achieve incredible things.

    As the Minister for Happiness scuttled out of the main entrance, Nick warmed to his theme, explaining his theory of WHY we are becoming so unhappy as a nation. In a nutshell, it’s because we are scared, lonely and exhausted. We’re scared because the future is scary. Is it any surprise that Titanic was such a huge blockbuster when its central theme was ‘Mankind built something and then nature sunk it’. ”Is that a little theme going round…?” wonders Nick. We’re lonely because we’re spending too much time doing things alone, rather than in groups and we’re exhausted because technology is stripping us of our sleep. For Nick, (who hasn’t owned a TV for over 20 years), sleep is our best friend, and we underestimate its power at our peril. In fact, lack of sleep is thought to have been a contributary factor to many international disasters including Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez and the Challenger shuttle explosion.

    Listening to Nick Baylis, I built up such a sense of trust in his words that had he recommended fish eyes thrice daily, it would have been off to Tesco for me. In fact, his remedy is far more elegant; Beautiful Partnerships. By that, he means the space between two people. Real connection, and space in which they can touch, kiss and hug each other. And on a day when several hours were given, quite rightly, to the future of technology and the web, this came as a breath of fresh air.

  2. […] been a Big Music Week for me. After all the excitement of Madcap’s Last Laugh last Thursday this Thursday was marked by a fabulous performance by Patti Smith at the Roundhouse. […]

  3. Practical Psychologist on

    You mention keeping your head above water as the default state for many of us in Nick Baylis’ speech. I was reminded of the Roger Waters lyric when I read this.

    ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the english way’

    I did watch the whole of the Make Slough Happy series as I was researching my anxiety book at the time. I must say that I thought the programme was so superficial – it seemed to consist of making people sing and dance in public and doing funny things in supermarkets.

  4. ArkAngel on

    I believe Nick Baylis is pretty damning about Make Slough Happy. Richard Reeves, on the other hand, was involved in the production (how happy he was with the end result I’m not sure).

  5. ArkAngel on

    I came across this quotation today from Aung San Suu Ky (pro-democracy leader/activist in Burma) through Oli Barrett’s Daily Networker. It was clearly meant to be as by co-incidence it is Aung San’s birthday today (Happy Birthday Aung San from Simple Pleasures).

    “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

  6. Practical Psychologist on

    Or in the words of George Clinton of Parliament and Funkadelic fame:
    ‘Freedom is freedom from the need to be free’
    Album- Free your mind and your ass will follow

  7. ArkAngel on

    On balance I reckon George may well have the edge regarding their way with words

  8. ArkAngel on

    “Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?”

    Kahlil Gibran

  9. […] oldie but goldie I cited when first reflecting on this subject on […]

  10. […] [Anxiety is seeping out of every opening crack] It starts when you’re always afraid [Yet fear is what holds us back individually and […]

  11. […] tribute to Syd Barratt, prime mover of Pink Floyd. I saw him, Dave Gilmour & Rick Wright play at a Syd tribute gig at the Barbican, with Roger Waters playing separately. That night they played Arnold Layne, the debut single that […]

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