Monday, 25 February 2019

Andy's Man Club Opens in Manchester TONIGHT

Mental health is still a taboo issue in the UK today. Depression and other conditions are still rarely discussed outside GP / specialist surgeries, although they affect 1 in 4 of us in the UK. Suicide is the leading cause of men under 50, yet most of us are reluctant to open up about this. Men's support group Andy's Man Club is fighting to change that, and through encouraging talking, is helping to save lives.

After spreading across Yorkshire and into Oldham over the last few years, Andy's Man Club now opens in the heart of Manchester City Centre tonight.

At 7pm the first Manchester group will begin their weekly sessions in Federation House. You can find it down the side of the Printworks, near the Pilcrow. I'll be there, along with a handful of people from the Oldham group. There'll be plenty of newcomers too, so we're expecting mix of experienced and fresh attendees. If you're male, over the age of 18 and feel it would help, you'll be welcomed to drop in tonight.

The group runs on a simple structure nationwide, so no matter what group you attend, the same questions and time structure will apply. Some of the questions change each week, but round 1: 'how's your week been?' and round 3: 'do you have anything to get off your chest' will remain the same every week.

Sunday daytime: If you're quick, you might get a place on a game of Exit the Room, featuring 'games where you will develop and explore new ways of using your brain, explore hidden capabilities, and meet new challenges as they arise during our real-life escape games.' Mental health support group Talk About It Mate has organised the event, and has been prepaid through a voucher. There's one more space. We're meeting at 11am in Piccadilly Gardens.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Aliens vs Predator: Deadliest of the Species

I twice read Aliens Vs Predator: Deadliest of the Species this week. It's a huge, weighty graphic novel in which the remaining humans have escaped the now alien-infested Earth to live in giant skyliners hosting entire cities, floating above the planet's surface.

On one of these skyliners is trophy wife Caryn, whose nightmares are causing great concern for her conglomerate husband. On the arrival of a bunch of intergalactic trophy hunters, she realises these nightmares are closer to reality than she thought. Siding with the hunters, she has no choice but to fight the scourge of the universe- the xenomorphic aliens- along with her tribal hunter friends- if they can be called that.

For a graphic novel, this was weirdly highbrow. I don't know whether I'm just not as smart as the average comic fan, but I found this harder to follow than the original AVP release. What was real? What was a dream? Why do people turn into other people? The book was not only heavy in the sense that it was twice as thick as its two predecessors- AVP and AVP: War- it was a cerebral challenge too. Does the average comic fan know the definitions of words like occlusion, vaunted, amanuensis, patella, progeny, ingress, primo, alecto, maegaera, tisiphone, chattel (I've since come across this word this week) 'didi mau' (Vietnamese for 'go, go quickly,' something American GIs brought back from Vietnam), mondo (perhaps Italian for 'cool', or 'extreme') and sophistry? I know I didn't. I had the app open the whole time I was reading Deadliest of the Species.

But yeah, it had a load of humans, aliens and predators beating the crap out of each other, and that's what we read AVP stuff for, right?

Still, there were a few contentious issues: Why was the predator alert system in English? Why would an alien born by a chestbursted predator have more diluted acid blood than an alien born by a chestbursted human? The soldier who is sprayed suggests it doesn't bun as much as usual, but then in addition there's no mention of him being sprayed with alien blood before. Also, how could a character use the predator-tech invisibility shield to sneak up on... another predator? Don't they use heat vision? Come on.

Great fun but the hardest graphic novel I've read by a long way. I got it discounted and second hand at Manchester Comic Fair, taking place again this coming Saturday at Sachas hotel in the Northern Quarter.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

How to be Human: Review

A month ago I went to TV presenter Ruby Wax's book signing. How to be Human: The Manual was written in conjunction with Ashish Ranpura, a neuroscientist, and Gelong Thubten, a Buddhist monk.

I recently finished the book. It's a light-hearted look into humankind: our behaviours, attitudes, quirks and drives. Although an interesting read, I found I had a lot of problems with it. The book's opening chapters describe our anthropological roots- how our caveman ancestors' behaviours wouldn't have been that different to ours today, and how their small, close-knit communities instilled in us a fear of being outcast. All of this is described as if profound, but there's a lot already written about this out there.

She then moves on to present day mental health conditions, and how these issues are formed. Despite writing this with the help of a capable neurologist, she still touts the now-debunked left-brain / right-brain theory, suggesting one side works with emotion, the other with critical thinking.

Along with this, she touts the dubious 'higher power' reference in addiction groups- the idea that we ask God or some other entity to 'remove defects of character.' I have some small experience of attending addiction groups, and some experience of being a neuropsychology patient. Take it from me, putting religion into treatment for a neurological condition will only cause more harm. Science won't. (That's why I'd personally advise people to avoid the Anonymous groups.)

Ms Wax is also guilty of using the phrase 'commit suicide.' It's generally accepted that we should change the language to say 'died by suicide.' People who take their own lives should not be viewed as criminals, but people who didn't get the help that they drastically needed, and a mental health advocate like Ms Wax should have known better.

One of the more interesting parts of the book is about 'mindfulness,' a buzzword at the moment, and a form of meditation. A few people have encouraged me to give it a shot. Ms Wax describes, though, 'when I slip into the depths of depression, it would be cruel to do any kind of therapy, let alone mindfulness... If you could tune into your mind in the depths of depression, you'd most likely hear the voices of hell, because that is a symptom of the disease.'

What concerns me is that a number of professionals and relatives have tried to push mindfulness on me, and when I gave it a shot I had this exact problem. I overthink. And I don't need more of that. Given all of this... Why didn't the neuroscientist Ash proof read this and make those corrections?!

How to be Human is an interesting but somewhat misleading read. Approach with caution.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Come and try some cocktails in The Ivy

Spinningfields restaurant The Ivy has recently reopened after a fire damaged part of the Byrom Street building. I dropped in a while ago, before the fire, and knew it would be a great place for a Manchester Cool Bars meetup. We're going on Saturday night! There are 6 of us so far, and The Ivy has said that we don't need a reservation for cocktails. So I haven't put a limit on RSVPs. Still, we're starting in The Alchemist just in case there's any problem getting in.

Away from the bar scene, Twitter has dealt a blow to third party programs like Statusbrew, making it harder than ever to find out who unfollowed you. These sites are largely used to mass follow-unfollow, which is an annoying spammy habit some accounts indulge in. I use it to unfollow those who aren't following back, aren't currently tweeting or don't have many followers. I do it, admittedly, to keep my following number below my followers number. To wean out those exact accounts with the spammy behaviour.

This will now be substantially more difficult. 


Cheers, Twitter. If anyone knows of any sites still operational that perform a similar function, let me know.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A return to clean living

We're now way into February and Dry January, or the idea of it at least, a distant memory. I'm late to the party, but as of today, I'm going to live a little cleaner.

I'm cutting out what little alcohol I drink, and more importantly, cutting out chocolate. Doing away with desserts. Pieing the apple pies. Jacking in the flapjack. You get the impression. The plan? Fit back into some suit trousers, beat a few gym records, and hopefully get down to 77kg. (I'm currently at a horrendous 86.1.) To do this, I'll make lots of veg soup, eat mountains of chicken stir fry and plenty of sweet potato fries.

A few records to beat:
Horizontal Dumbbell fly: 2x38kg
Running at 14km/ph: 4 mins 30
Chest press: 103.75 kg
Wide grip chin-ups: 15
Cross train 10 mins: .69km
Dips: 75
10 minute cycle without backrest: 3.55km

As well as hitting the gym I'm going to do some weights at home and get through my Netflix watch list.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Valentines is the best time to be single.

Valentines Day is on Thursday this week- some say nothing more than money-spinning charade, others the most romantic day of the year. I say, if the couples are in the restaurants and 'staying in' (no need for further descriptions needed there), then that leaves the bars and clubs largely... full of single people.

Well, no matter what, we might as well go do cocktails somewhere. That's why Manchester Cool Bars are going to Albert's Schloss on Thursday night. It's the most likely place to be busy, it'll have a roaring fire, a live band and a load of drinks offers. Their weekly 'North by North Wurst' event claims to offer 'live music, beir and sausage...' Their words, not mine. Meet me in there from 8 onwards!

On Friday night Manchester Cool Bars are out again, this time around the Northern Quarter. We're starting in Daisy, a hidden cocktail bar underneath Evelyn's on Tib Street. Who knows where we'll end up but there are plenty of new trendy places that are easy on the wallet and fun to visit.

On Saturday night Young Professionals in Manchester are out on the town. Their 'Anti-Valentines night' has the same vibe as mine: balls to Valentines, let's just go out, drink and 'have fun in our glorious city, meeting new people.' A damned good idea if you ask me. They're a few steps ahead, with 99 people so far on the RSVP list. They've got a section of Dive Bar in the Northern Quarter cordoned off for the meetup, so come and meet us from 9pm onwards.

Power is a State of Mind offers no guarantee of coitus.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Power is a State of Mind is now listed on Gorkana!

Gorkana, the publication database from Cision UK, details many magazines and blogs that are currently looking for writing to feature. I've recently done some work experience where I learned about Gorkana, and decided I'd throw my blog in as a punt. It's been accepted! Hopefully now people may send me some guest writing about psychology or Manchester events.

This week I read The Batman Judge Dredd Collection, a graphic novel I found at Golden Orbit's Comic Fair in Sacha's a while back. Rather than one story, it's a collection of escapades made possible by a 'dimension belt' that transports Batman from Gotham to Megacity One. Yeah, it's far-fetched, but if you're going to put the two characters together, whose respective towns are so different to each others (not to mention in different time periods) then the scriptwriters have to pull out the stops. It's a little corny, but it's entertaining, generously weighty and beautifully illustrated, with various artists chipping in. The cover doesn't do it justice. The narrative gets a little strained in that, with any comic strip being a series of images, certain things have to be written out as an explanation. A great find.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Barking Tales

So Wednesday night I listened to a girl stand on stage and tell a story about, literally, shitting herself. A Comic Con panel it was not. Well, actually, it kinda was.

Barking Tales is a night of stand-up comedy with a mental health theme, held in the hangar-like tikki bar Zombie Shack, just under Oxford Road train station.

I went with two different meetup groups: Socially Awkward and Talk About It Mate. Both of these groups have a mental health theme, evident (hopefully) in their names, and I made an attempt to bring the two groups together- I definitely spoke to people from both groups and don't remember any difference. Good, welcoming people. Great for first-timers and shy people. I presume we coalesced before the compare Harriet Dyer took the mic.

Harriet was a good compare in all fairness: she never ran out of ideas and had good rapport with the crowd. A problem, which I frequently have at stand-up comedy gigs: she just wasn't very funny.

There was a funny story from someone- I can't remember whether it was her or the first act. If I remember rightly, it was about soiling herself in someone else's house. You really had to be there.

Glad I experienced it, though, and it's worth a look next time it's on. It's held on the 1st Wednesday of the month.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Andy's Man Club Comes to Manchester / Barking Tales / Oldhamhour Social

We are now out of January and the events scene in Manchester is coming back to life. I've got three things lined up. But first...

Aliens: Outbreak
I picked up this graphic novel at the comic fair in Sachas 2 weeks ago. It's a great spin-off story from the Aliens franchise, which later became the Earth Hive spin-off novel from Millennium. I read the latter of these when I was about 14, and I became obsessed with them. A marine with a heart teams up with a terrified child whom he'd previously rescued on a search-and-destroy mission. Now let out of prison early, he has to face the Aliens a second time- as does she...

A good story, albeit one that wasn't properly proof-read. A few minor grammar errors. Also, being first published in 1996, it makes an interesting claim that the World Trade Center would be 'smoked' in 2024, resulting in the development of 'jet rescue' technology.

Barking Tales
Wednesday night sees the return of Barking Tales to Northern Quarter bar Zombie Shack

Their Facebook says: 'Barking Tales came about because mental health is something that folk often don't know how to react / deal with and definitely wouldn't usually find funny in it. There definitely can be funny in it. Hopefully the more it's covered, the less of a stigma there shall be.'

It's a first for me, but expect mental health-related stand-up comedy. That's all I know.

Free tickets here

Two Meetup support groups are going to the night- Socially Awkward and Talk About It Mate. I'm going to try to get the two groups to notice each other and see how we might help each other out.

Oldhamhour Social
Weekly Twitter chat Oldhamhour runs on Monday nights online, between 9-10pm. Every month, contributors drop into Oldham's Molino Lounge to network, eat, and drink. This week find me and a few others by the bar at Parliament Square for a relaxed chat.

AMC launches Manchester Group
Men's support group Andy's Man Club has gone from strength to strength since its inception in Yorkshire in 2016. It's an opportunity for men to meet and discuss any problems they might be having, in private and with like-minded men. It's a support system open to anyone male an over the age of 18. There's no sign-in sheet and no fee.

The group has now secured a city-centre meeting room for use from the end of th emonth onwards. The group meeting will be held at Federation House, close to the Printworks and the CIS. I'll be there on the 25th to bulk up beginners numbers. With experienced members talking, new attendees might feel easier about sharing their experiences.

There are more plans for next week too, with 2events lined up. Stay tuned.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

White Noise and Netflix

January is now out of the way, but the snow is not. And I want to avoid it as much as possible, so, cue Netflix.

There are a handful of decent shows listed on the site. Many are Netflix exclusives (SF comedy Final Space is worth a look) and imported shows like Archer and Rick and Morty are available, but there's no South Park or Family Guy. If you think Netflix are dismissing them for being 'past it,' how do you explain the inclusion of Monty Python's Flying Circus and 8 series' of Red Dwarf?

There are also a few good movies, but there's a chasm of missing titles. Not only is there a limited selection, but as movies and shows lose their appeal they drop off the database. Cloverfield and The Cloverfield Paradox are on there, the 1st and 3rd in the Cloverfield series, but not 10 Cloverfield Lane, the middle of the 3. Recent movies like High Rise and Black Mass are missing, and 80s classics like Weekend at Bernie's and Fatal Attraction are absent.

I've finished Love Island Season 1, something I missed at the time it was on ITV2. I'm now more familiar with a handful of 'special guests' that I met in various swimwear competitions and fashion launches over the past few years.

There's enough on Netflix to keep you entertained, but the variety isn't as wide as would be ideal. It'll be interesting to see how this changes over the next few years (if I renew my subscription).

Away from the TV, I finished Don Delillo's White Noise, a mesmerizing novel about celebrity deaths, a chemical spill, a medication that causes you to believe something is happening just by the very mention of it, and cheating spouses. It's a trip. So weird, but as per, DeLillo's captivating prose keeps you turning the pages even through a few mundane typified conversations.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Should You Make Friends Out of the Mental Health Community?

Dark... and deep. Man.

With roughly 1 in 4 people suffering from poor mental health every year in the UK (source:, and with mental health now being a much more talked about subject than in previous years, it's now easier than ever for people to find assistance when things start to bring them down.

That isn't to say it isn't a challenge to step forward and meet people who also face their conditions head-on: the first step through the door to your chosen support group will always be the hardest. Having been a long-term member of at least three groups, I've seen that hesitancy, and that plunge head-first into a challenging social situation, in myself and others many times. The feeling that people know, by you walking into that room and approaching that organiser, that you have 'some issues,' as some might put it, puts more pressure on you than anything before.

But you'll quickly realise you're not that different from anyone else there: that your issues make up a part of you. They aren't all of you, nor are they all of anyone else. You're a regular bunch of guys and girls who happen to be- for the most part privately- dealing with their insecurities.

Before long, though, there will be moments when people will open up about their problems- not only in the group, but through group chats and private social media pages. These can be updated 24/7, and you'll be alerted via your phone while you're asleep, while you're at work, while you're at a family gathering. It might feel at times like there's no escape from the collective trauma.

But is there? You can mute Whatsapp and Facebook conversations, but not Facebook group updates. It's likely that these pages are private and only viewable for those who are invited, but there is a trick you can do to distance yourself from these, without deleting the whole app. On Facebook, If a post is getting a lot of comments and your phone is buzzing away, go to said post. Look for the three dots in the top right and click 'Turn off notifications for this post.' That way you don't get alerted when people continue that conversation, and you can go back to it at your leisure and give an encouraging comment when you're not so busy or overwhelmed.

All of the above may be helpful, but remember that there is more to your social time than the mental health community. Yes, they are here to help, but we all have friends and relatives outside of these circles who also deserve our time. Remember, also, that many people attend mental health support groups specifically because they have no money. That's a major cause of depression. So they aren't going to come out and do anything with you. If you don't have those other friends, making new friends is now easier than ever. You've already joined the support groups; why not join some other groups? Take up a new hobby. Join a dance class. Attend an art group.

Myself, I did a few of these things- different classes and creative writing performances, in my case- but ended up using the website to attend nights out and meet the friends that I now see regularly.

Meetup allows you to see what's happening in your area for you to join in, events purposefully put in place so people can meet new people. There are other similar platforms, but this one has helped me the most. This past week I can see that there's been a night of standup comedy, an introduction to 'bullet journaling,' drawing and printing, meditation at a Buddhist Centre, an afternoon of board games and a 'plogging' trip along a canal (jogging and picking up litter, a voluntary cleaning initiative), to name a few. These are a few examples from the Manchester area. The site is used worldwide, so no matter where you are there's likely to be a Meetup presence (if you're reading this, at least).

The point is, the MH community is there to help your life, not to become it. Yes, make your friends there, of course. But variety is key.