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 for details.

There are plenty of things from the world of arts and entertainment that have contributed to the deep programming of my brain, forming an integral part of the mental DNA of what makes me me and without which I would probably be a different person. I've already written blogs about some of them - Toyah for instance, or Doctor Who. But there are many more. The works of Douglas Adams for instance. And - as I recently realised - a lot of the comedy of Robert Newman from the 1990s. It's all getting a bit tricky now...

And then browsing through Netflix I realised there was another TV show that had subtly and quietly wormed its way into my subconscious. It was comedy naturally. But it was also science fiction. Of course I am talking about Red Dwarf.

People who don't watch it probably have an idea of it as a bit laddish or puerile - toilet humour in space. There may be a grain of truth in that but it is mainly so much more...

I clearly remember when it started. Seeing trailers for a sitcom on BBC2 which looked as if it might be interesting - that poet guy from Saturday Live and the comedian who did voices for Spitting Image on some kind of spaceship in the future. That had to be worth a punt, so I tuned in expecting a Star Trek spoof.

And even though there were elements of that I was pleasantly surprised to find some nuggets of pure Science Fiction - and fairly original ones at that - in the script. The dead crew member George being revived as a hologram. The idea of the stasis booths.

There was a lot of well observed comedy in it as well - as someone who had recently left education Rimmer's exam anxiety stood out as something that was very familiar to me.

But it was twenty minutes in - with only a third of the episode left to run - that I realised I was watching something special, something that wasn't afraid to tell stories on an astronomical scale that might have given Olaf Stapleton pause for though.  And this was done with just two lines of dialogue.

"Everybody's dead Dave."

That alone was bold. The show had already killed off everyone we'd met aside from Lister and Holly. But that was just the appetiser.

"Three million years."

That was insane. That was fantastic. The resurrection of Rimmer as a hologram was  surprise too, although not as big a one thanks to the scene with George earlier on. All in all this was a very promising set up for a sitcom, a first rate first episode.

But wait, they hadn't finished yet.

What the...

A stylish dude in a salmon pink suit just popped out of a ventilation duct. I had absolutely NO idea what was going on now. Was this a dream, a hallucination? A malfunction of the ship's hologrammatic projection system? No, the Cat turned out to be something far more interesting and yet another mind stretchingly brilliant idea.

Everybody's dead.

Three million years.

A creature who evolved from the ship's cat.

When I'd sat down to watch half an hour previously I had no idea of the direction I'd be taken, but needless to say there was no question of me not tuning in again the following week.

And in general the series lived up to its promise. Given that these four characters were the only sentient beings in the universe some of the story-lines had to be quite inventive and also encouraged a lot of comedy where - despite the out of this world surroundings - the humour arose from people's relationships with each other and the anecdotes they'd tell. Their foibles, fear and failures and the rare occasions they overcame them.

This combination was a winning one and went on to spawn four novels (the first of which retold the beginning of the story in far more depth, explaining some of the odd things that there hadn't been time to cover in the TV series and allowing us into the thought processes of Lister and Rimmer) and so far ten TV seasons with more on the horizon.

But for me the show was at its most enjoyable around seasons five and six. Perhaps this is partly due to my own taste - at this point the stories contained the perfect balance of science fiction and comedy for me. We knew the characters well enough by now not to require any more two-handers or bottle shows (such as Marooned) and so the humour and the enjoyment could come purely from the plot and the characters' reactions to it. New character Kryten had added something to the dynamic as well, especially when he occasionally took on a Spock or Data role. Furthermore the emphasis seemed to have changed - no longer was the  funny scenario invented first and then a loose science fiction explanation added afterwards (see Backwards or Timeslides) - now a science fiction idea came first and foremost and the humour flowed naturally from that.

And what science fiction ideas. Being constrained by the rules of the universe they had created - the last human being alive, mechanoids, simulants, gelfs but no aliens or god-like beings - didn't put a dampener on the writers' imaginations whatsoever. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in my favourite Red Dwarf episode of all time - Back to Reality.

One of the first things that strikes me rewatching this episode is that there's no comedy in it whatsoever for the first two minutes. This could just as easily be an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation albeit one that's skipped the Captain's Log and leapt straight into the action. And yet we don't notice. We're caught up in the story straight away.

And it moves fast. Within seven minutes the entire cast are killed and we're presented with another change in perspective as profound as the aforementioned "three million years".

Could it really be true that the entire series had been a total immersion video game?

The shift in perspective is radical and far reaching for the characters, but that doesn't stop it from being incredibly funny at the same time. Their initial reactions to their new personas is telling and hilarious. Craig Charles's character is lost and hopeless when he thinks he's not Lister but rather the kind of sad act who want to spend four years playing a computer game - and this is even before he finds out the truth about Sebastian Doyle. Chris Barrie's character is so relieved to not be Rimmer that he actually starts to relax until he discovers who Billy Doyle is. The underlying pomposity of Robert Llewellyn's Kryten comes to the surface when he starts to believe he's really Jake Bullet.

But one of the best comedy moments in the episode is achieved with no dialogue whatsoever - just a closeup on Danny John-Jules as he comes to the awful realisation that he is Duane Dibbley.

This is obviously such a traumatic experience for him that the alter ego returns to haunt him in the following season's Emohawk - because of course, no matter how much this episode felt like an ending the status quo would be restored by the close.

Watching for the first time though I wasn't so sure. I was caught up in the story and shared Lister's despair when he looks through the viewer at the Red Dwarf game in progress. This tiny scene perfectly reflected the disappointment felt upon waking from a wonderful dream, a disappointment that gets stronger and stronger the more the dream slips away.

And a little later the wonderfully edited cut at 21'15" when we suddenly see our heroes back on Starbug gives us the inverse of that feeling, the relief upon waking from a nightmare, the release of the knowledge that it was all only a bad dream. Of course the Starbug crew have yet to realise this and this reveal serves not only to pull the rug out from under the audience yet again but also as a cheeky wink to the fourth wall - far cheaper to have the four of them run around playing make believe on the Starbug set than film a car chase with helicopters, motorcycles, rocket launchers and a leap over a drawbridge...

And no matter how surprising the final reveal is, it all makes perfect sense. The scenes back at the beginning of the episode on the SS Esperanto - why would a haddock kill itself? - were a blatant clue to the resolution. We even saw the crew getting affected by the despair squid venom. But so well constructed was the group hallucination that they - and the audience - bought into it. For a while we all believed that it could be the end.

In season six there was an episode nearly as good as Back to Reality. Out of Time contained similar misdirection and again felt like it could well have been an ending. Finishing on a cliff-hanger was a genius move - it was just a shame that we had to wait so long for its resolution and (for me personally) that by the time we got there the show had started to change again from the season five and six shape that I'd found so appealing.

I still watch and enjoy of course. These characters are part of me but the show could no more go back to seasons five and six than I could go back to the age I was when I watched them. Or change what I had for breakfast this morning.

Of course I believe in coincidences. They happen all the time. What I am doubtful about is that they mean anything. For a start if they meant something then they wouldn't be coincidences by definition. Furthermore as discussed in a recent blog the human mind is trained to see patterns in things above everything else so any such interpretation should be taken with a pinch of salt.

But sometimes you wonder.

At the beginning of 2014 I finished the first draft of my latest novel. Like the previous one it was partly set in and around the music industry, this time in the early nineties. The central character  - who'd been a supporting character in the previous one - was the singer in an indie band, a band described in the book as shoegaze but with more aggressive vocals than was usual. I must admit that when I was first writing I didn't know exactly what the band (Beam - a very nineties name, I could almost see the logo on the t-shirts) sounded like although I knew that I would have loved them and probably made an effort to go and see them play outside London.

However when starting the revisions at the beginning of 2014 I gave this some more thought and it suddenly struck me that of course Beam would have sounded a lot like Bleach, a four piece from the early nineties whom I did rather like (even though I only got to see them a couple of times). I wondered if perhaps my subconscious had been telling me that all along given the similarity in the bands' names and lineups. After this realisation Bleach's entire canon became my playlist when performing the edits. I had forgotten just how good they were - and criminally underrated.  I tweeted about them occasionally, trying to see if anyone else shared my retrospective passion for this music. But no.

Then just after I finished the first set of revisions (a process which had taken me the best part of a year) I read Caitlin Moran's novel "How To Build A Girl" and was pleased to see that Bleach and singer Salli were namechecked. So it turned out I wasn't the only one to remember them.

And then on Twitter, journalist Simon Price tweeted that Bleach had reformed for a one-off gig and would be playing their hometown of Ipswich for one night only in June. I didn't even have to think once - I booked a ticket. I would worry about getting to Ipswich and where to stay when I got there later.

The first half of 2015 was quite turbulent for me what with one thing and another but June rolled around soon enough, by which time I'd bought advance train tickets and booked a room in a bed and breakfast (although in keeping with what I'd discovered when travelling around the country over the past year playing bass with Das Fluff  breakfast was not included).

I was actually quite nervous on the evening. I had absolutely no idea why. I was quite used to going to gigs on my own - it had been my modus operandi for the past twenty years from hitching round the country to see Lush and Die Cheerleader in the nineties to walking to the Brighton Dome to see The Jesus and Mary Chain perform Psychocandy in full only a few months ago.

I caught the bus from the B&B into Ipswich town centre and then used the map app my phone to guide my walk to the venue. The surroundings were completely unfamiliar - I was sure I must have been to Ipswich before but couldn't have said when.

Part of my anxiety was to do with the uncertainty of finding the venue. Surely this was the wrong place - it looked like a church not a venue. I nearly pulled up the Facebook app to check the event address. And then inside a glass case - which would have been more suited to displaying the latest parish newsletters or information about evensong - was a gig poster on which was a very familiar logo. A logo which probably influenced some of my own early graphic design decisions, a logo which looked as if it had been created by blowing up some text on a photocopier, shrinking it again and then blowing it up, repeat to distress. The disintegrating look of the logo actually added to its strength due to the flaws being repeated on every iteration of the thing, from record and CD sleeves, t-shirts and now a poster in front of me here stranded in the middle of 2015.  Bleach.

Inside was even odder. Despite the stage at one end upon which the equipment had been set up (in front of a backdrop containing another iteration of that familiar logo) the rest of the interior was still very much a church . You almost expected the vicar to appear from behind one of the pillars "Now I hope it's not going to be too loud..."

I was there too early due to my perennial fear of missing something important. I punctuated the next couple of hours by watching the supports, popping outside for a cigarette and buying a couple of beers from the makeshift bar in the narthex. But eventually the wait was over and I drifted towards the front. I had come all this way and I suspected that the claim that this was going to be a one-off was genuine. I didn't want to miss a moment.

The set list was visible on the stage in front of me but I avoided focussing on it I didn't want to know what was coming. All of the songs would be drawn from the Bleach canon and I knew them all.

The gig started and the wall of sound was exactly as I had been expecting, this familiar noise which I had only experienced live a couple of times half a lifetime ago but which for the bulk of the time between now and then had been listened to in solitude, on my walkman, iPod or phone, transcribed from vinyl, laser etched plastic or binary bit into this aural assault.

As the songs washed over me I began to feel emotional, tears springing to just behind my eyes. But why? Was this something to do with how long it had been since I had last heard these songs live or perhaps something to do with how often I had listened to them by myself?

But overanalysing it would have been the same as fiddling with my phone throughout the gig - I was here to enjoy this unrepeatable experience and after a few moments I put away both my phone and my analysis and simply immersed myself in the event, letting it wash over me.

After it was over I slipped away fairly quickly. Now I had the luxury of thinking about what I had just seen. Was the emotion I'd felt a lament for my lost youth or for the lost music industry? Was it a paean to the fact that such sounds could still exist? Part of me thought that it might be because this was the closest I was going to come to experiencing the fictional gigs I'd written about in my novel, that this experience was serving as a porthole into my own imagination...

And in a way it was. I could experience what I had been telling myself about my own life afresh, like youth but with the important added knowledge that this was all finite, never to be repeated and therefore precious.

And of course this applies to everything. When we are young we think we are immortal and can keep doing everything forever. But we can't.

Make the most of every moment.

For a far more relevant and eloquent account of Bleach's brief comeback I strongly recommend you read singer Salli's blog at

Not that long ago by the timescale of the universe there was no-one on Earth to observe anything.

The solar system had been in existence for billions of years and the various bodies within it had long settled into their orbits with clockwork precision. Close in to the parent star smaller rocky bodies circled in the light, ring fenced by a zone in which gravitational perturbation had prevented any single body coalescing from the thousands that still swarmed within. Beyond that larger bodies formed chiefly of gas orbited in stately majesty, themselves circled by vast extended families of smaller bodies.

And out on the fringes of the system lay further belts of small rocky and icy worlds some of which circled the star in a wildly eccentric manner. Occasionally one of these most distant of the star's children would fall inwards, jets of gas and vapour blown from their surfaces by the solar wind in tails millions of miles long.

None of the bodies in the solar system or beyond had names or types. They just were.  Even time was abstract, there being nothing to measure it, to compare this time with that time. Orbits and other movements were simply equations made solid, scrawled across the blackboard of eternity.

And then something began to happen on the third world, the largest body in the inner system. Complex chemical reactions took place which led to self replicating molecules which spread and evolved - a process that given big enough numbers and long enough spans of time was inevitable due to the laws of mathematics. As the numbers increased and the spans of time available inflated, these complex molecules gave rise to a specialised subset of chemistry (in itself a subset of physics which ultimately was just another part of mathematics) called biology.

At this point of course - just like the celestial bodies turning over and over in the blackness above - these disciplines had no names either and were all just part of the single Way That Things Were.

Quite recently the biological structures developed an awareness of themselves and of the universe around them.  Quite how this arose is unclear - possibly to do with the complexity of the systems and the feedback loops they had developed in order to have survived this long. It could also have been that they started to exist in time, counting off the periods when the star appeared to travel overhead and comparing what had happened with what might happen. Perhaps this process meant that self awareness was bound to follow.

They defined themselves as people and began looking around at the universe that had spawned them and tried to make sense of it in terms they could understand.

The people started to change the environment around them using tools. Once this had become part and parcel of who they were they wondered if that was how the universe around them had come to be, that someone else - a bigger and earlier variety of people - had used tools to create what they saw around them. They looked the lights in the sky and gave them names - perhaps these lights were the older and bigger beings that had shaped the world they saw around them?

However as belief systems became more complex and the ways of looking at the universe more accurate it became obvious that the lights in the sky were in fact other worlds and other stars. And due to the way the minds of people worked - the conditions that had shaped their minds in the first place - they began classifying what they saw up in the heavens, assigning categories to things that neither needed nor understood them.

That was a planet, that was an asteroid, that was a gas giant. That was a moon. That was a comet. This was hydrogen. This was nuclear fusion. That was the big bang.

These were the categories that gave the people the impression that they understood the universe when all they had done was create a one dimensional sketch of it using language and understood that instead.

The people discovered yet more worlds and begun reaching out to them with marvellously
complex tools getting closer and closer views of the extraordinary diversity of the universe. Unfortunately the more information there was the more elaborate and baroque the taxonomies invented to control it had to be.

Eventually people had to start hacking and patching the rules they'd invented in the first place simply to make them fit the observable facts. That body they'd named Pluto? Apparently it no longer fitted into the artificial category "planet" so another artificial category had to be invented to accommodate it and a handful of other bodies. It was now a "dwarf planet".

And even though these categories were purely arbitrary some people became furious about this change in nomenclature and began campaigning for the restoration of Pluto's imagined status.

Pluto existed for billions of years before humanity without a name or category - and will no doubt exist for billions more after we have gone. Getting het up about what we call it is futile and misses the entire point. Our name for Pluto is part of us, not part of it.

We will be able to see the reality of Pluto close up for the very first time on 14 July.

Now that is something worth getting excited about.

I can't believe that it's already five years since I wrote the first blog in the I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan series, a series which turned into a book self-published on kindle and paperback.
Five years now is very different from five years back then. As a Teenage Toyah Fan five years was the gap between my first Toyah LP The Blue Meaning and the realise of Minx - five long years of adventure many of which are detailed in the book and which at the time seemed to last forever.

Whereas this last five years seems to have lasted just a few months in comparison.

That is not to say that the most recent half-decade was without incident - far from it. The self publishing was an adventure in itself which gave me far more confidence in my writing as a whole and contributed to the fact that I have now had several short stories published (with more on the way). Fingers crossed for the novels as well...

Plus since writing those first blogs - quite by coincidence - there was a renaissance of Toyah shows when she began touring in earnest once more, resurrecting her earlier material thirty years on... The first of these tours, From Sheep Farming to Anthem, I managed to catch in the epilogue of the book.

This tour was the first in a series of annual outings which saw some songs performed for the first time in thirty years and others performed live for the first time ever. The Changeling Resurrection tour in 2012 was particularly impressive, boasting one of the best Toyah set lists ever. Having recently written about my teenage experiences of gigs I was delighted to discover that these songs still had the power to reach into my brain and fiddle with the graphic equaliser of my soul and were still hard-wired into whatever it is that passes as me.

Another adventure took me completely by surprise.

You'd have thought that after all this time - from following Toyah around in the era of the book, to running the fan club in the decade following it, to recording the single Killing Made Easy with her in the afterglow of the new millennium - you'd have thought that there was nothing left that could surprise me, no further ambitions in this direction that would have blown my teenage self's mind.

But you'd be wrong.

I've played bass in bands since 1998 - a late starter but what the hell. From pop-punk band Chester which introduced me to the enjoyment of playing gigs (as I discovered the only thing more exciting that watching a gig was playing one) to the Bonzo Dog tribute band The Gonzo Dog-Do Bar band which allowed me to share a stage with some surprising and exciting guest stars.

By 2011 things were slowing down on that front and I was beginning to wonder whether the time had come to hang up my plectrum.  I had reckoned without fate flinging Das Fluff in my path.

I was introduced to the band by long-time friend (and one of the co-stars of I Was A Teenage Toyah Fan) Bob. He recommended that I come to see this band he'd discovered which he reckoned would be exactly my kind of music.
He was right. Electronic, alternative and edgy with fierce, dramatic female vocals, Das Fluff were very much the kind of music I liked to listen to and I was delighted that even at this stage in my life there were new bands to discover and that New Favourite Band Syndrome was still active in my brain. Once the Syndrome had kicked off then I started making an effort to go to their gigs both in London and Brighton.

In 2013 I discovered that they were due to support Toyah in both Brighton and London on the Love is the Law and More tour. This was an exciting coincidence - my New Favourite Band supporting my All Time Favourite Singer - and I looked forward to the gigs immensely.

At the Brighton gig The Elusive Stranger and I got talking to Das Fluff singer Dawn and the fact that we played together in Chester came up. One thing led to another and before I knew what was happening I was playing bass for them at Electrowerks the following April - and The Elusive Stranger joining me in the band on percussion in September.

This was altogether a very different experience to any I'd had before. These were songs I had gone to gigs to hear and dance to and now here I was playing them. This was the next level in being in a band - the best of both worlds.

I didn't realise that there were further and better levels ahead. In the autumn of that year Das Fluff had the good fortune to be offered three more Toyah support slots on the Songs From the Intergalactic Ranch House tour in Glasgow, Brighton and Bristol. These came at a very special time for me - I was just leaving my job of sixteen years to go freelance so they contained an extra cause for celebration. In particular the Brighton (my home town) date came the day after my very last day at work...

The experience of all three was fantastic - thankfully I didn't know until after we'd played at the first (Glasgow) gig that Toyah had been watching from the wings as that might have made me even more nervous than I already was - although nerves of that kind were part and parcel of the whole playing live adventure and contributed to the ultimate enjoyment of the experience. The greater the nerves beforehand the more enjoyable the gig itself. After I came off stage I always wanted to go and do it all over again.

It was like bungee jumping (I imagine).

Further Das Fluff gigs continued thick and fast over the following six months which brings us right up to the present. You would think that the story had no more surprises to spring on me but Das Fluff recently had another Toyah support slot confirmed, this time in London at The Garage in November.

Playing London is always good, playing London in support of Toyah I am hoping will be fantastic. I am sure it will be a blast coming after nearly two years of Das Fluff activity (and - rather scarily - 36 years of Toyah activity) for me. If you've not already got your ticket we do have a limited amount of tickets at the reduced price of £16 available from our web site at:

Here's to what the next five years brings... I can hardly wait.

There is no-one to blame. The whole feeling of being put upon by fate, the weather or other so-called acts of God comes not from reality but from the human brain's almost infinite capacity for Pattern Recognition.

Pattern recognition is how life makes sense of the universe. In the case of human beings the process has become so baroque and complex that it's unsurprising when it starts to throw out anomalies.

We may think we see what is in front of us but that is very far from the truth.

Without the high intensity interpretation and pattern matching going on in the visual cortex of the brain, the field of view is a chaotic mess of shape and shade. Even something as simple as identifying colour is tied up with image identification and processing. As the recent furore about a certain dress and - more interestingly - the very different colour palette perceived by the Himba tribe of Namibia prove, it seems that the ability to distinguish between shades of colour is linked to what we think they are and the words we have for them.

Thus the identification and interpretation of reality has control over reality itself. Before we see what is in front of us, we need to know what to expect to see in front of us. Something we weren't expecting - and have no experience of - might even be ignored, effectively invisible. Furthermore we might see things that aren't there simply because that's what we were expecting.

This skewing of reality isn't unique to vision. The human brain is just as adept at recognising and scouring for patterns in sound and behaviour (with all the consequences of errors as described above).

One feature thrown up by this process is a failure to notice that something has changed. The older we get the more patterns there are in our memory to search when we come across something new - and after a while we stop bothering. Instead of comparing and contrasting the data coming in through our senses with what we think is the case we just take it as read that everything is as it was the last time we looked. This is why it's possible to lose something, look everywhere for it, and then discover it was in front of our nose all this time. Children's brains are less full and far more elastic - they're constantly on the look out for something new to add to their brain's pattern database. Show a child a room in which something minor has changed and they will spot it straight away. An adult on the other hand can miss it for days if they ever notice it at all.

Getting older also increases the incidence of pattern recognition errors. If something is hauntingly familiar but we just can't place it then it's more likely that our brain is misidentifying something rather than struggling to find something that's there somewhere. After all what's the point of "half a memory"? Either we've found the data or you haven't.

But by far the biggest anomaly thrown out by the brain's pattern recognition routines is the feeling that there's some kind of plan, that things happen for a reason. The brain is constantly looking for patterns and sees them in chaos, imposing order on the random universe around us.

Sometimes the universe throws us some mad synchronicity or coincidence. Something that - purely by chance - fits together with something in the pattern database. This kicks the the pattern recognition into high gear, setting off all sorts of alarms. This has happened! This has happened! And we begin looking around for the underlying meaning. There must be one of course! Even though there isn't.

One of the reasons we see specific patterns is because we're on the lookout for them. We discard and ignore the myriad non-coincidental things that come our way constantly, picking out the ones we feel are significant thereby giving them significance in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This doesn't make the coincidences less valuable.  We are constructing something we want to see (or in the case of those with extreme self-loathing something they don't want to see) so despite the randomness of the source material we draw meaningful information about our hopes and fears from the chaos. This is how tarot cards work.

Human beings use the accidental nature of reality as a substrate to provide random input to their brains in order to what's most on their minds. We might as well stare at a television screen full of static as a spread of tarot cards - the information extracted will be the same.

We see ourselves in the chaos.

Of course when I first got referred to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I was delighted.

For too long it had been that whenever I mentioned problems with anxiety, panic and terror to my GP I was prescribed drugs - not a bad thing in itself but generally lacking. The SSRIs for depression tended to make me put on weight and the beta-blockers for panic were more of a short-term solution. I wanted to get to the root of the problem and it seemed that the Holy Grail was some kind of therapy, getting to talk to someone. It was of course difficult to get my GP to refer me and even when she did she warned that there would likely be a long waiting list.

By the time I eventually got to see someone my life had changed somewhat and I had made plans to leave my day job which was one of the major causes of the anxiety I suffered. I had no illusions that this would be a cure all, some kind of magical fix, but I did feel that I was taking control of my own life and that made a big difference.

I figured it was still worth attending these sessions though, given how long I had waited for them. The first sessions I attended weren't Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - they were just a short series of four which gave me some kind of assessment. I found them very useful - if only for the fact that I was able to talk to someone about how I felt without the danger of them thinking it was something to do with them and taking it personally - or rather the danger of me thinking that they might think it was something to do with them and taking  it personally. Someone whose job it was to listen. Someone impartial. As someone who has been described as a good listener it was good to finally experience this from the other side.

Of course it didn't last. There were only four sessions and I had no reason to expect that I would get any more. However I was pleasantly surprised when the person I had been dealing with said that she thought I would benefit from further help and referred me "up" to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. I'd have to wait a bit before they started but I figured it was worthwhile. Better to have to wait a couple of months than not have it all together.

I was quite enthusiastic when sessions started. A lot of what the therapist talked about made sense - and the instructions to question my own anxiety as I experienced actually seemed to work. This was clearly the start of a major change in my life. I was very excited.

Email comes in with a message that sends the familiar dread spiralling up into my brain and down into my guts? Stop and think about it. Ask what I think is the worst that could actually happen and then ask whether that is actually likely to happen. Then ask what IS likely to happen. And so on and so forth.

It worked!

I started keeping notes of whenever this happened, comparing and contrasting. During the sessions I got to the root of a lot of my anxiety - worrying about what people think of me; specifically worrying that people might think me boring. It wasn't too difficult to trace back these feelings of anxiety either - when I was a child in the days before anxiety I did used to endlessly go on about my enthusiasms (such as the London Underground or ants) in a monomaniacal manner which resulted in people telling me I was boring.

So now that I had uncovered this it was simply a case of overcoming it using the techniques I had been taught right? I was ready for a brave new world in which I would be able to go to social gatherings and talk to people and finally after all this time Have A Life.

Or so I thought.

The problem was that the techniques didn't work with everything and didn't work all the time. Sometimes I would get an email or other electronic communication to which I would have The Reaction but on which The Technique simply wouldn't work. It was like trying to paint an ice cube. No matter how much I kept telling myself that the imagined consequences wouldn't actually be that bad even if they did happen which they probably wouldn't, the dread remained. The dread hung around for several days.

I thought that this was probably something to do with brain chemistry. It made sense - after all I had in the past noticed a definite positive change when taking anti-depressants (even if the physical side-effects meant that this wasn't a permanent solution) which showed that some of what I was feeling was based in the chemical world. When discussing these intractable anxieties at the next session I happened to mentioned my brain chemistry theory to the therapist at which point - while not actually saying anything - they got an expression of extreme disapproval on their face and then carried on talking without referring to my suggestion. I could tell that in their worldview there was no such thing as brain chemistry and that as far as they were concerned the root of all problems lay in cognitive behavioural therapy.

Still if this had been the only disagreement I could have coped and might even have finished the course of sessions.

But there was something else. I was going through a period of simultaneously being very busy but not socializing very much. Readers may have noticed that when talking about the anxiety triggers in this blog entry I keep mentioning emails or other messages (and I do believe that such things are just as valid as other forms of social interaction). I simply wasn't getting out so keeping the diary or putting the techniques into practice in the real world was difficult. Plus on the rare occasions when I was out and about making notes wasn't that easy.  It's not as if I could pause a conversation that I was finding difficult anyway by asking the other participant if they didn't mind if I made notes on my phone.

Eventually I found myself frantically scrabbling around on the morning of the session trying to remember (or even making up) occasions to put in the diary I had to keep. Without me being aware of the point at which it had done so, the therapy sessions had themselves become the main thing in my life giving me anxiety.

I had to think about it for a bit - I don't like leaving things undone or bailing out - but in the end I had to stand up for what I wanted, just as I had done the previous year when deciding to leave my day job. I cancelled the remaining sessions.

I still wonder whether I did the right thing. Was the anxiety that the sessions were inducing me part of the cure; should I have let it take me outside my comfort zone in order to cure me?

I guess I will never know.

Icon created by Julian Claus from The Noun Project