Any regular readers of this blog (and excuse the hubris of even imagining for a moment that such things exist) may recall that I have blogged on more than one occasion about Lush, one of my favourite ever bands, who I used to go and see as often as possible in the nineties and who recently announced that they would be reforming after twenty years.

Of course I was going. They announced a couple of dates at the Roundhouse, for both of which I booked tickets, plus one in Manchester for which, after a moment's hesitation, I also booked a ticket. I could work out travel and accommodation later. I drew the line at the American dates - that would be ridiculous.


And then with less than two months to go, they announced a warm-up gig in London a ticket for which I booked at the drop of a hat, sitting nervously in front of the computer refreshing the browser as the time approached 9am, waiting for them to go on sale. A long way from twenty years ago when I sent off a cheque or (rarely) booked tickets with a credit card on the phone. This was a new anxiety for busy people. Plus of course everything's a thing these days.

Come the day of the gig I was experiencing an unusual nervousness. I caught the train up to London and over the course of an afternoon (I had a few errands to run) walked from Victoria to King's Cross. By the time I walked down into the underground I was coming down with full blown pre-gig nerves. All the symptoms were there, dry hands, lightness of head, shortness of breath, heart racing. Yet I had always imagined pre-gig nerves should only apply when I was playing a gig, not when I was watching one. Disembarking the Overground at Hackney Central I began to worry I was about to have a panic attack, which annoyingly can be something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Thankfully the venue was right next to (if not actually part of) the station so there was no long walk of doom to ramp up the suspense, if anything waiting in the queue helped calm me down, replacing the nerves with excitement. Inside the venue it was nicely dark. A smallish space with a stage at one end and a bar down the side. Already everyone ahead of me in the queue had taken their places in front of the stage so, after buying a drink, I joined them.

There was no support and the band were due to come onstage at 8.30pm sharp - there'd be no hanging around wondering when things would get underway. I looked about at the gathering crowd, at the set up on the stage. Guitar technicians came and went, testing and tweaking. I thought of how many times over the past seven thousand days I'd had that recurring dream, that I was finally at another Lush gig and that this time it was real.

Except that this time it was real.

The lights dimmed (even further) a short intro track played and the band walked onstage. It was them. There. Just like before.

"Hello. It's been a long time. Yes. No red hair, get over it."

And they went straight into De-Luxe, my favourite song and I was away.

Beforehand I'd worried about being overcome with emotion, about tears coming to my eyes. The emotions certainly came, but not the ones I was expecting. As the well known song - a song hard wired into my synapses -  shimmered to its glittering ending I found myself laughing out loud. This was all too joyous for tears. And then there was Breeze, and as I danced and watched and enjoyed I was overcome with a strange feeling. What was it? Yes I was very happy, but there was something else about the situation. And then it hit me. How utterly familiar all this was. There they were standing up there where they'd always stood, just like that, it was all coming back to me. It may have been more than seven thousand days since the last time, but I'd been here before. The thirty plus gigs I'd attended in the nineties had burned this into my brain and the experience still fit perfectly.


I was at a Lush gig.

Already it was starting to feel like one of the best Lush gigs I'd ever been to. Initially a lot of this feeling came from the surprise and the novelty, the exhilaration at revisiting something which - despite the recurring dreams - I'd been sure would never come again. I had never been happier to be proved wrong, as song after song said hello to my primary auditory cortex, the difference between listening to these on vinyl, CD or MP3 and experiencing them live as extreme as the difference between flipping through a photo album and going to a reunion of friends you haven't seen for twenty years.

And, just like at such a reunion, after a while it began to seem as if the intervening twenty years had never happened. As the show continued it kicked into a higher gear, no longer simply one of the best gigs due to its position in time, but due to the sheer energy flowing from the stage, carrying the audience forward through time on a wave of scintillating sound.

There was not a wasted moment, the set largely concentrating on the band's earlier output - the EPs and the first two albums - into which new song Out of Control fitted perfectly - with only Ladykillers as a nod to 1996's Lovelife album. Coincidentally this reflected my own (and perhaps a large percentage of the audience's) listening habits over the past two decades.

Having started with De-Luxe, the set closed with Sweetness and Light. This was another favourite, always a live high point and one of the first things to enter my head when thinking of Lush.

Of course the gig was over all too soon - despite the generous amount of encores including an epic Desire Lines - and I left fairly quickly as I had a lot to think about. It would be a long time before I came back down again. One thing was very clear to me - this was not some cash-in comeback and reunion, this was a carefully considered continuation, a picking up. But while I was sure that there would be many more shows (after all I had tickets for some of them) I was also sure that there wouldn't be one quite like this reopening of a door.

Welcome back.

Anxiety is a very annoying sensation.

One of the many problems with it is that half the time the rational side of your brain knows full well that the thoughts you're entertaining are preposterous rubbish but nevertheless you carry on entertaining them anyway despite the fact that they've long outstayed their welcome. There's something about them that holds the brain in thrall, a mysterious quality of the reply "Yes I know it's probably nonsense but WHAT IF..." that is far more powerful than the statement that provoked it.  Sometimes the only way to make anxiety pack its bags is to sleep on it.

Even then - depending upon the subject of the anxiety - that doesn't necessarily work. Sometimes the next day is worse, especially if accompanied by the hangover produced by the state of inebriation that caused you to do whatever it was that made you start worrying about what people thought of you in the first place.

And this of course is the nub of the matter. Anxiety of this kind - Social Anxiety - is all to do with what you imagine that other people thinking of you. Are they judging you negatively, are you being found wanting, is your behaviour beyond the pale? Ironically the kind of people whose conduct means that they actually do run the risk of being thought of in this manner are those that never suffer from anxiety in the first place, blithe spirits waltzing through life without giving a moments thought to what people might be thinking of them.

If you think about it, worrying about what everyone is thinking of you all the time could be considered a very selfish activity. And while this self judgement could conspire to make you feel even worse, unless you're positing that there is something unique about you, then if you feel this way then there is a very high probability that other people do too and are consequently far too busy worrying about what others think of them to waste any time judging you.

Which is all very well but when it comes down to it just another example of the kind of rational argument that anxiety is such a dab hand at dismissing. "Yes, that's very likely correct, but WHAT IF..." Your brain's pattern recognition module goes into overdrive as you analyse and reanalyse the nuances of other people's remarks and expressions, trying to pull some sense from the white noise of social interaction. As ever this sense has more to do with what is going on inside your skull than in the outside world. Those patterns you think you recognise are the ones you learned before. The reality is social static. And the more you think you recognize them, the more they're reinforced in a feedback loop that does no-one any good.

So what can be done to free you from the WHAT IF?

I inadvertently stumbled upon one possible solution a couple of weeks ago. Having come across a pair of bots on Twitter which had been designed to engage in an endless conversation with each other, I started wondering what the current state of the art was when it came to chat bots. I wondered how far Cleverbot had come on since the last time I used it.

So I browsed to the URL and started chatting. The bot still had a tendency to come up with a number of non-sequiturs during the "conversation" but if taken in small doses could be mistaken for a real interaction.

And then it happened.

The bot was rude to me. Not a straight out insult, more an implication, an insinuation that I was at fault for the way the conversation was going, an attempt at a put down. And just for a moment the social anxiety kicked in and I started feeling bad.

Within seconds I knew this was ridiculous, that in this instance there could be no WHAT IF. The bot had no intent, it couldn't. I had managed to get anxious about something non-existent. The negative feelings in this case were demonstrably Only In My Head. This was the scientific method.

And of course if it was Only In My Head in this instance then wasn't it far more likely that it was Only In My Head on all the other occasions?

Probably. While what I'd experienced hadn't been able to dispel the WHAT IFs altogether, it had certainly weakened them. An automated system had done what weeks of CBT had been unable to.

And all it had taken was the appearance of being rude.

Brighton's skyline has changed over the past year as a tower has risen from the ruins of the old West Pier. I'd been aware that this was planned but somehow it never seemed real until the i360 reached its full height and the red light on its summit was suddenly visible from all around the city.

And it was only when it did so that I realised it was tapping into something from my childhood, that I was more interested in it than I'd though I would or should be. Because one of the obsessions I had when very young was Towers.

It wasn't the first obsession and wouldn't be the last. Over the years I would be obsessed with various subjects from Space Travel to Ants to Doctor Who to the London Underground. Whilst I don't necessarily remember how all of these started, I do recall the origin of the Tower obsession.

Birmingham Post Office Tower BT
It was around the time we moved from Birmingham to London. This was a bit of an upheaval for a three year old, especially given that, despite being London born, my memories (and therefore presumably my consciousness, my actual self) began in Birmingham. And so I found myself looking around this new larger place for reference points. Then I discovered one. From all over both cities you could see a Post Office Tower. Admittedly the Birmingham one was shorter, square in cross-section and somehow sawn-off looking, but nevertheless they were both iterations of the same thing. The city had the tower overlooking it.

At this stage I guess my obsession only stretched to Post Office Towers. One of the highlights of the long journey from London to visit my grandparents in Gloucestershire was another Post Office Tower located off the A40 at Stokenchurch. Like the Birmingham one it was shorter and truncated but nevertheless the alien look of the thing - the dishes, chunky wedges and delicate antenna set against a brutalist concrete core - excited me, making me feel I was in the presence of some inhuman and otherworldly titan.

Stokenchurch Post Office Tower BT
I seem to recall that back then I was half convinced that the towers could move.

In the back of  my parents' car in central London I recall looking in vain for the Post Office Tower only to spot it looming over (what I assumed) was a completely different part of the city. I asked my dad about this - he told me it had fallen over and been put up again in a different place (it was only later I realised that I'd got confused and that he was only joking).

The Stokenchurch tower also seemed to move. It was one of the journey's significant punctuation points - a roundabout after a long stretch of road. My memory is probably playing tricks but I clearly recall swinging through a roundabout overlooked by the tower. That childhood impression of an endlessly overcast misty grey day, the summit of the tower disappearing into the low cloud deck, the smell of warm plastic car seats, the terrible prospect of such a long monotonous journey ahead (and as a child those interminable journeys were a nightmare of stretched time).

London Post Office Tower BT
And then without any kind of transition I remember, the next time we made the journey the tower was simply visible in the distance from the motorway as the car cannoned along towards Oxford. I later discovered that this was due to our route changing slightly thanks to the construction of M40 extension, but the idea of these vast structures secretly moving around in the night is one that stayed with me.

The Post Office Tower in London was the ruler of them all of course. It was, I read, the Tallest Building in the UK. I longed to go up it, to see what London looked like from that height but my parents told me that the viewing galleries were temporarily closed to the public due to a bomb. I always took this to mean that they would one day be reopened - after all how long could it take to repair bomb damage? - and for years looked forward to the day that I too could look out over London just like Steed and Gambit did in the New Avengers episode Sleeper.

But it wasn't long before I learned of other tallest buildings. At school we were taught about the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, and although on one level I was annoyed at them being taller than my Post Office Tower, on another they began to fascinate me too...

Previously I detailed how a lot of my younger life revolved around trips up and down the North Circular Road or A406. Now read on... 

The move to Muswell Hill another six years later took us back upstream along the North Circular.  Now it lay separating us from Colney Hatch and the sprawling Victorian asylum where I would do voluntary work in the Library in between school and university. It still felt like a canyon separating the familiarity of Muswell Hill with its record shops and paper round routes from the strange environment of Friern Barnet (I often wondered how this differed from Normal Barnet and whether this implied that their might be other similar districts of London like Friern Walthamstow or Friern Putney).

It was after coming back from university that I renewed my acquaintance with the A406. I moved to Leytonstone which was the furthest east along the North Circular I had yet lived - and also a little far away from it. A couple of years later the move to Walthamstow brought me within walking distance of it although most of the time I caught a bus which would take me past the dog track (the illuminated sign on the front of which had been visible from the childhood home in Muswell Hill) and then past a factory called Shadbolt's which would always have the Veneer of the Week on display, labelled with removable letters in  a retro-looking (even then) font - what looked like a serif version of the Washington font used by the BBC in the 1960s.

Always something to look forward to.

After that the bus route moved back into the more familiar territory of Edmonton although at the time it felt like a very strange nostalgic territory of Deep Childhood - the first time I really began to experience the odd time travel properties of the A406. I felt that if I got off the bus at Silver Street (I never did) I would somehow be transported back and, if I walked far enough, be able to come across the five year old me playing in the alleyways of suburbia.

Of course the temporal gap between Childhood Edmonton and Young Adult Walthamstow was ten years less than the gap between now and (that iteration of) Walthamstow.

I did spend a few years away from the North Circular Road (in Finsbury Park) but it wasn't long before I returned to Walthamstow where I remained right up until my departure for Brighton. I lived in a couple of places in more or less the same area. However, this was the point at which They began ripping up and vandalising my memories. Stretches of the A406 were modernised with flyovers and underpasses and many nostalgia triggers removed altogether.

But that is so often the case - you move back somewhere and it's all just as you remember it, every street corner a mental time machine... and then suddenly without so much as a by your leave they start changing it, despite having left it as it was in the interim.

I had a similar experience when leaving the environs of the A406 altogether and moving to Brighton. It was just as I remembered from my student years - including the university where I'd previously studied and was now working. They even had the same periodic table pinned up in one of the lecture theatres - for a few months. And then the city and the university embarked upon a programme of change so far reaching that they're both now almost unrecognisable.

The only place these locations appear to remain as they were is in dreams.

But dreams are as unreliable as memories and dream memories even more so. You may find yourself returning somewhere that invokes a massive rush of nostalgia only to awaken and realise that the way you dreamed it never existed in the first place.

But fragments of the dream memory can remain in your brain and get mixed in with the real memories. Sooner or later it's almost impossible to tell what happened and what didn't.

The past is probably completely unlike what we remember.

We are told that time and space are merely aspects of the same thing, just narrow ways of looking at space-time, a four-dimensional continuum. And this makes sense and is all very well. The only problem is that you can't move to another moment in time in the same way that you can to another position in space. It's not as if you can hop on a bus to last week.

However sometimes  movement in space can simulate aspects of time travel. As long as you have somewhere to go that you haven't visited in years. Last month I went to Muswell Hill for the first time in around twenty years. This north London suburb was where I spent a large segment of my youth so in many ways stepping off the bus onto the Broadway was like stepping from the TARDIS.

Of course it helped that it was a dark evening and that I couldn't see quite how much things had changed.  There was just as much of the familiar shape of the landscape present to fool me into thinking I was back in the nineties or earlier, provided I ignored the lights of the vast towers of twenty-first century Central London on the horizon. Old London had been much more self restrained, with none of the science fiction aspirations of the modern city.

However, awareness of some of the changes that had taken place in the intervening years was unavoidable. The very act of noticing these changes started tweaking the time travel sensations of my visit so that it began to feel not as if I was in the past but in a dream.

One of the places that it is always possible to time travel is in dreams. The places we grow up have a tendency to hang around longer in the sleepscape and yet even there they begin to change, not as a result of corporate redevelopment but due to some strange mental renovation, they warp and twist until, whilst still recognisable, they become quite distinctive places in their own right, places which remain consistent from dream to dream.

But dreams are unreliable vehicles. If you really want to time travel the best means of conveyance remains the car (or public transport). It was while riding in the back of someone's car a couple of months ago that I realised there was a road that led back through my young adulthood to adolescence and childhood, different sections of which belonged to different eras.

This was the North Circular Road or - as I would later come to know it - the A406.

Looked at in itself it is an unremarkable and in places downright ugly twenty-five mile stretch of tarmac, but it's the associations that are important. It stretches right back to when my family returned to London (when I was three years old) and continues all the way into my early thirties. Even though in places the improvement works and redevelopments have made it unrecognisable, enough of the original structure remains to make many parts of the journey from Hanger Lane to the Crooked Billet all hauntingly familiar, with old memories, good and bad, bubbling up at unexpected moments.

Part of the familiarity stems from the aforementioned return to London and the visits to my grandparents in the Gloucestershire that used to occur at the time. These interminable (to a child) journeys would always start with a long section of A406 as the car built up speed orbiting London until reaching escape velocity at Hanger Lane and slingshotting out along Western Avenue towards Oxford. That arc of the A406 is the most familiar, the landmarks along the way laid down in my plastic child's brain at the same time as much of language and behaviour.

The initial subsection of that journey that was the most well known of all as we also travelled along it on an almost weekly basis on the way into Central London. A short stretch of The Great North Road took us past an evil building squatting at the centre of a field - at the time I was told it was the Latymer School but looking at it now on Google Earth it's clearly just a sports pavilion.

There was something about the horizontality of the windows and the way the roof overhung the building's face that convinced me it had bad things in mind.

This stretch of the road was always over quickly - even for a child - and then we got to the Great Cambridge Junction. Nowadays it's been superseded by an underpass but back then it was a huge roundabout and what stood out for me was the petrol station on one corner with a vertical sign spelling out its name (and now I can't remember whether it was Esso, Shell or something else) in neon letters set against square white panels like giant Scrabble tiles. This was also the point at which - if you knew where and when to look - you could see the Post Office Tower poking up about the infinite terraced houses which lined the North Circular at this point.

That was one of the weird things. A lot of this major trunk road was residential. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to open your front door onto that vast river of tarmac, juggernaut backwash buffeting your face with exhaust fumes and grit every few seconds.

Eventually (in modern terms after only five years but as a child it felt like forever) we moved westwards to East Finchley. Even though it didn't feel like it, this too was in close proximity to the A406 - at the other end of East End Road it lay like a canyon separating East Finchley from all of the other Finchleys. The safest way to cross was via the Northern Line. The journey to the grandparents remained more or less the same, just starting at a point slightly further along.

East Finchley also boasted the Great North Road or Falloden Way which approached the A406 from the south and then merged with it for five hundred meters in eight lanes of polluted tarmac which when I now look back I always imagine being viewed through a reddish grey haze. This was often where the traffic would grind to a standstill and I'd stare out the window at the central reservation. There, amongst the gravel, fag packets and sun bleached coke cans you would occasionally see other treasures - screws, mysterious fragments of machinery or pieces of shattered numberplate. Part of me wanted to get out and rescue this detritus, another part always wondered whether anyone else had ever looked at them and indeed whether I would ever see them again in my life. I imagined these inaccessible islands of tarmac and kerbstone sitting there timeless and changeless. They probably predated my birth and might very well outlive me...

(to be continued)

As a rule we tend to do a lot less crying as adults compared with when we were children.

It's understandable of course - when you are a child your brain is fresh and everything is far more extreme and world shaking. Even a turn of events such as your parents deciding that you're all going to eat lunch in a café not to your liking is enough to open the floodgates - I still recall how full of despair such events made me. It genuinely felt like the end of the world. Partly due to the aforementioned freshness of the brain but also I suspect due to the feeling of complete powerlessness in the face of your parents' authority.

As an adult however, crying sneaks up on you and squeezes out through half closed eyelids in the hope that no-one else will notice. It's an unwanted pressure behind the optic nerve and not something you want to do or indeed admit to doing.

It is also inspired by very different things, often things which have been specifically designed to provoke just such a response, the emotional manipulation of film and TV makers who build their fictional edifices for precisely this purpose in a similar way to the architects who - in the absence of actual gods - designed temples and churches so as to inspire awe and religious fervour in the attendees.

Crying as an adult is one thing but crying as a child was a very different process altogether. Crying as a child was always a journey through a storm, a hurricane of dark emotional turmoil. Sometimes you thought you'd never come out the other side. Your very being, your sense of self was being racked by mental tremors twisting you into new shapes. There was a very real danger that you would drown.

Then there was an interval.

You couldn't quite put your finger on it and the precise moment when you did come out the other side - the instant it started easing - was always inaccessible to you. All you knew was that suddenly there you were, adrift in a boat on a sea flat as a millpond. The sky was clear and infinite, and even though whatever had been bothering you was still there, you didn't feel quite as bad about it now.

You'd been through an exorcism, a fever. The back of your throat was sore and everything was suffused with a reddish brown atmosphere. Your breath would be interrupted by occasional involuntary sobbing-breaths tugging at your chest, aftershocks. At the time you couldn't clearly articulate it, but what had happened had undoubtedly done you good. The feeling was akin to the almost infinite calm you experienced in the back of your parents' car after an interminable motorway journey when they finally turned off and started driving more slowly along the A and B roads of the countryside. The nightmare of the everlasting grey tarmac 70mph roar was over for now.

Or maybe that was just me. Nevertheless the memory of the calm after the storm has stayed with me. The sound of the End of Motorway. Sometimes I hear it in songs or in the tone of someone's voice. It is the sensation that despite how bad everything might look right now, it will pass.

When things are at their worst I try and remember the experience of Having Been Crying. Of being driven up the slip road to the roundabout of calm. The roundabout is always there even though finding the right exit is sometimes tricky.

Recurring dreams don't have to be recurring nightmares.

Most of the time they are though. You know the ones, where the creatures are coming to get you. They never quite succeed but as you wake in the dead of night the fear that they might do next time is very real.

But I used to have a recurring dream that wasn't a nightmare. In fact it was quite the opposite.

If you've been reading this blog for a while you may recall that one of my favourite bands of all time are Lush. An account of following their Split tour around in 1994 appeared on this very blog back in 2011 (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). Due to the tragic death of their drummer Chris there were no more Lush gigs after 1996. I don't think anyone expected there to be.

Except, for some reason, my subconscious. From the first few years of the twenty-first century onwards I started having dreams that I was going to a Lush gig. It was always a gig by the reformed band (as opposed to a dream set in the past) and after a while always started to contain the thought I've dreamed about Lush reforming before but now it's actually happened in real life and here I am at the gig, usually occurring shortly before waking up.  Another element of the dream which was only occasionally incorporated - a kind of semi-recurring sub-plot - was that I was somehow expected to play bass, despite not having rehearsed (probably stemming from real pre-gig anxiety about my bass playing ability in bands out in real life).

I always awoke to a combination of disappointment and slight embarrassment at my credulity - of course Lush were never going to reform. How could I, even in the thrall of a dream, imagined otherwise?

I still remember the last time I had this dream earlier this year.  I was in the audience waiting for the show to begin and tweeted "I am finally at a Lush gig again - you won't believe how happy it makes me to write those words!" This time it was really happening.

Except of course I then woke to the same emotional combo as ever. And that was another odd thing about the dreams. The music never actually started. It was all about the anticipation.

In the waking world there were still many gigs to go to of course. Earlier this year I blogged about going to see Bleach - another band from the same era as Lush - who had reformed for one night only. The intensity of the emotion experienced when watching them play took me by surprise and the thought did go through my head It's just as well Lush are never going to reform as I'm not sure I could even cope with the level of emotion watching them again would engender!

And then Lush announced that they were going to reform for some gigs in 2016.

Sod whether I can cope or not, I am going to go to as many of those gigs as humanly possible. It goes without saying.

It is quite literally a dream come true.

Lush will be playing Manchester, London and New York in 2016, with no doubt more dates to be announced over the next couple of months. Check lushofficial.com for details.