Winter of Post-Discontent, or: How I Learned to Stop Griping and Just Chill with the Killer Chill…

IMG_0704

Into the winter wonderland woods…

Oh, snow way! Yes way. Everything went white and the temperature turned subzero. Winter came and my neighbourhood transformed into something resembling Narnia or an Ice King freakout. It’s really, really cold. Even prior to the snowfall it’d been nippy and, to be honest, pretty glum weather-wise most of the time (you probably know what they say about rain and Manchester). It’s winter, so all the green things are dead and now all those dead plants are symbolically buried beneath several inches of snow.

I tend to associate winter with death. I’m a summer sun child, somewhat afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I’m uncomfortable if the temperature dips below 15°c. I’m charged by solar energy and I feel best when I’m wearing only one layer of clothing. My natural temperament is entirely at odds with the winter and, to put it simply, winter kind of kills my buzz. (And in the UK, if winter takes up roughly 2/3rds of the year, then I’m at odds with the season most of the time when I’m here.)

Thus, musing on death happens more often in the bleak midwinter. All the trees are dead. All the flowers are dead. By 4.30pm daylight is dead. All my summer spirit is dead (or, at least, it’s ebbed away). And what’s more, in the real world, great famous people keep on dying and the news reads as a list of obituary notices and posthumous tributes. There is much mourning. It’s dark and cold. Chilly shivers course through my marrow, and then I go to the movies to watch dark, violent films about people dying in unforgiving winter conditions (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight).

And then I take all of this death, darkness and dreariness and I dash out into the snow, slide around a bit and say to myself “Hey, you morbid drippy bitch! Smile! You’re alive and life is beautiful!” And I am smiling and I am alive and life is beautiful (it always is, in spite of it all). Good news! Somewhere along the way I seem to have found a way to co-exist with winter and reconfigure the whole experience as something that’s actually pretty cool (cool as in ‘good’ good and not ‘mildly cold’). Somehow I managed to significantly downgrade my level of SAD and I did it without resorting to indoor hibernation and death by tea, heavy metal and hot water bottle burns (my usual survival remedies for the season).

I’m not sure how this happened, and all I can conclude is that I just acquired a more enlightened and upbeat attitude. I also probably got bored of being freaking hostile to forces far beyond my control (keeping up constant bitterness and antagonism is wearying, y’know). Winter has to happen so I may as well just accept it and enjoy it as best as I can. I operate in this fashion in the summer months – soaking up as much sun as possible while others hide in the shade because I know that the heat of the moment will pass. Winter shall also pass and the cold won’t linger forever (this isn’t Narnia or Hoth). Neither will the fleeting flakes of winter magic that I’ve noticed when I’m not too busy muttering: “Damn, it’s too bloody cold!

Simple pleasures like knitwear, hot showers and steaming teapots after a day out in the cold make winter alright. I’ve also found tremendous beauty in the season this past week. Those aforementioned films showed me humans (and horses) suffering in extreme winter conditions, but they also reminded me – through film artistry and the language of cinema – just how beautiful winter can be. Winter isn’t a war on nature or on me or the pretty precious little flowers and suchlike – it’s a part of the grand cycle of life and has a wonder of its own.

(I apologise for turning into Captain Obvious here. Try and appreciate that this is written by an over-sensitive, simple soul with poor circulation and he’s only recently come out of the cave and cast off his snow-blinds. You may take this stuff for granted but, for me, it’s a psychological breakthrough and personal psychological breakthroughs deserve a “woohoo!“)

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn...

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn…

When I emerged from the cinema having watched The Hateful Eight this weekend, I discovered that light snow was falling. Frost had been on the ground when I entered but now little floaty motes of white were lighting up the early evening dark. It felt a bit magical, and I wandered around Manchester city centre marvelling at the sight, well-aware that I’m about to leave this place for few months. I stuck my tongue out to catch snowdrops. I idled around in neon-lit Chinatown a while, just watching snow fall on the Chinese Arch. Then I got on a train home and, arriving in my neighbourhood, found that the Saturday snow was even thicker up here.

Sunday morning it was thicker still. I woke before dawn and went out on a trek through white stuff at sunrise just to appreciate the winter wonderland that had occurred. I made my way to a vantage point and gazed across the landscape, from Winter Hill right across to the redlights atop Beetham Tower. It struck me that Greater Manchester and the moors of Lancashire in my relative backyard have never looked so beautiful to me. I felt connected to my homeland, and that was the work of winter.

Walking onward, the world woke up and I started encountering people – some walking excitable dogs, some clearing driveways and de-icing cars while kids built snowmen and played around with sledges. Little birds bounced around the frosty branches overhanging the footpaths and all the familiar roads looked so picturesque and clean coated with snow. So much for death and dreariness – there’s life, energy and pleasure in winter.

I’ve made peace with the season and had a profound moment the past week that helps me appreciate home all the more before I head off to foreign climes (and those climes aren’t much warmer than Northern England right now). I’m now going to head out for a walk in the snow and enjoy it while I still can. The moral of this winter’s tale, then? Acceptance; living in the moment; appreciation of natural magic and the beauty in all things; opening your mind and venturing outside of your comfort zones (though be sure that you have a hot shower and a cup of tea ready for the aftermath.)

Brrrrr, it’s so pretty…

There's Winter Hill in, erm, winter...

There’s Winter Hill in, erm, winter…

Birthday Reflections and Being Happy About Being Alive…

Pa-zow! Yesterday it was birthday. It was a really good birthday, and I celebrated by reading comics and going for a curry with my Blood-Clan (erm, family). They got me an electric razor and my daily-mutilated face thanks them so, so much. I’m now 27 years old and this website advertising an upcoming Nick Cave film tallies that up to 9,862 days on Earth. I’m really happy to be alive on Earth right now. (Though, of course, I’d like to leave Earth eventually, but now I’ll comfortably settle for this planet. There’s still a lot I’d like to see and do here…)

Times past – especially birthdays past – I didn’t want to be alive or, at least, alive as me (James Clayton). I woke up on my birthday to find that, the night before, a pretty significant figure from my childhood had decided that he didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was – and still am – devastated that a great man, the kind of man I’ve always aspired to one day be in so many ways, decided that his life wasn’t worth it. A considerable number of my heroes and inspirations throughout history have made the same decision and some of them didn’t come out of it alive. It’s shocking and sad, and I felt that even more so as I woke feeling certain that, yes, I am 27 years old today and I’m so happy to be here.

As I say, that hasn’t always been the case so to actually consciously realise – I mean, really realise and acknowledge – that I love being alive is quite surprising. Recently, I’ve had a lot of life-affirming moments – some subtle and some explicit – that have really rubbed that realisation in and made me re-appreciate myself, my life, life in general and the wider Universe. Birthdays are milestone occasions that hammer it home hard and that makes sense when you consider that it’s the anniversary celebrating the fact that you’re a living being who was, at a precise point in time, pulled from a womb (or some special magic clay) to join the party. Woohoo! I was born and I’m still here and that’s brilliant! Let’s have music, dancing and curry!

Birthday whoop, 27-years' XP achievement and level-up mini-celebration moment…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Compare that with me of ages gone and it’s a stark juxtaposition. I remember being utterly miserable. I remember (barely) existing in a world of depression, despair, fear, frustration, hopelessness, self-hatred, anguish, anger and, yeah, all kinds of epic moop. All kinds of overwhelming negativity and self-destructive unpleasantness, where life isn’t enjoyable or even desired at all. Birthdays were especially bad times: sharp reminders that I was born as me when I probably wished I’d never been born. Furthermore, time was passing by and from there you can really go to town on worry that you’re wasting your life and that you’re a waste of life anyway and, aye, you can see the vicious runaway crazy train of thought here that drives you deeper down the dark tunnels…

But here I am, the day after my birthday, laughing and casually poo-pooing that boo-hoo backstory, feeling very sure that I don’t want to join the 27 Club. There is no magic wand/burning bush moment, wonder drug (no drugs at all), superhero mutation shock or anything like that. Mainly, I think it’s just living and maturing that instils gradual change, and life is constant gradual change. Experiences and encounters shape you and I can reel off things I’ve done, things I’ve been through, things I’ve read and watched and people I’ve engaged with that have had small-yet-significant impacts on what I feel is a seismic shift. I’m grateful to all of those people, whether I know them personally or not and whether they know it or not. (If you don’t know it yet, wait for me to finish writing this and I’ll come over there and King Kong-hug you into a coma) The same is true for all the ‘things’ and experiences, even if the ordeals have been hell to go through at the time. Things pass, you learn, you absorb something, you grow and life goes on…

(more…)