FOR WHOM THE SAD BELL TOLLS: THIS WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY, MEET MISTER BOB BRIAN.

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We dearly love the artist Rob Ryan. We really do. Truth be told, I find his stuff so moving and unabashedly sentimental that I’ve been known to weep when faced with too many of his paper-cut poems in one go. A friend once had to physically extract me from Ryantown because it was all so romantic I thought I was going to pop.

Some friends and I got to thinking what MisterRob’s work would look like if you sprinkled a bit of um, realism over it…for realism, read clinical depression. Something all too common, but that’s only just becoming ok to admit… thanks to initiatives like World Mental Health Day. These days the Sad bell rings for 1 in 4 of us. Which is how we ended up with this curmudgeonly old bastard, Mister Bob Brian.

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Dreamed up by my childhood BFF and I, Lauren Taylor, Danni Emery and illustrated by Graeme McGregor we bring you this loving, cutting pastiche. Paper-cuts from a world that’s glass half empty. More here at misterbobbrian.tumblr.com

We first made these a few years ago, and were lucky to get a lot of praise from the internet but in re-launching them for World Mental Health Day as part of our new cause-driven comedy page, I can see that looking back I can see that whilst they were funny AF to make, at least one of the artists behind it was struggling with an ‘inner Bob’ of our own. I certainly was. Perhaps a reaction to the perky, excessively whimsical perky Ryanny idealism of our twenties, and the Voice of Doom, pessimistic grumpelstiltskin Briannyness of our thirties. Perhaps the Rob Ryan bell of hope was being drowned out by the Bob Brian cacophony of doom. 

But now, 5 years on – wiser, wrinklier, we’ve found our way out – through the mediums of art, in its many guises. Much like the aims behind this brilliant new initiative MADE OF MILLIONS, launching tomorrow. We all walk a daily line between choosing to focus on the clouds or the suns rays. Or trying to be someone’s rainbow… I think Bob runs in my family a bit. Just this week, my siblings and I were teasing one of our family members about needing to invest in a ‘Doom Jar’ so that every time they felt the urge to utter something pessimistic, they’d have to put a coin in. (proceeds to CALM, or MIND). And what happened? We all laughed our heads off.  

Because that’s the one big thing we’ve learned – myself and my co-writer Em have both found that the only way out is through laughter. Every time something bad happens to us, we have a routine now. Ring each other and tell the story. Then there’s a 30 sec pause while we go ‘c’mon, let’s find the joke. Where’s the joke, Lol? Then. There it is! Next thing, we’re roaring with laughter. Feeling less alone. Crying happy tears again. For us, comedy is alchemy. The other side of a coin marked tragedy. Shit happens. Then, skit happens.

So in honour of Trevor Griffiths’ words, ‘Comedy is medicine. Not coloured sweeties to rot the teeth with’ we set up Melon Comedy. A cause-powered comedy collective, specialising in silly films about melancholy things. From Ghosting, to mental illness to Plastic pollution. Oh, and Mister Bob.

Follow/Subscribe/LOL at fb.com/meloncomedy 

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Fall In Love With The Museum of Broken Relationships

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From a singular smelly sneaker, to a half-completed Sodoku puzzle book, my fictional characters would have gladly donated their break-up debris to the Museum of Broken Relationships. But when I first wrote the first draft of ‘Break Up Club’, there was no such thing. So the Club had to make do with building a bonfire that led to the fire brigade being called out, and almost being thrown in jail.

Luckily, now there’s a real place you can send your break-up detritus (date-tritus, anyone?). I was lucky enough to go to the sneak preview ahead of its opening today, June 4th, at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard.*

#BrokenshipsLA is a cathedral of catharsis, where only the brave have shed their most intimate, sentimental memories, and laid their broken dreams to rest. Reading the plaques, the relief is palpable. You get a real sense of these people having finally attained peace in themselves, having finally let go.

Being a geek about break-ups (an occupational hazard), I’ve been to the museum twice before over the years. But this time, I was struck dumb by the quality of the writing in all the stories. I feel disloyal saying this, but I don’t remember the plaques in London all being as impeccably written. Perhaps there has been a more shrewd editing process this time, but they are all brilliantly balanced – both as pieces in themselves, and in relation to each other. Sensitively curated, some stories are brutally short; a real power in their brevity. Others are as long and meandering as the lifetimes they span.

The artefacts range from the funny (a mirror weighed down with the memory of a break-up), the freaky (curled up contacts collected in a baggy), the frightening (belly button fluff)… to the heartbreaking (the teddy who no longer has music in his fingertips)… and the adorably mundane:

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At this point I can’t not mention another similarity to ‘Break Up Club’ – which has its own fluoride motif, first mentioned here:

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But back to the museum. Below are some of my all time favourites.

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Heavy baggage
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Free in every sense of the word
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Nobody’s hero
The butterfly effect
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When a butterfly flaps its wings… all the way to the rubbish dump
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Bear of little heart
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No picnic
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Uncomfortable silence

After an hour in the Museum, you are bowled over by the universality of break-ups. A sense that Love is the best feeling in the world, whereas break-ups are worse than death. But most of all you come away realising that it’s only by sharing our hoarding with others that we can declutter our emotional attics and finally move on. A break-up shared really is a break-up halved.

In the spirit of sharing, then – if I was ever going to donate an object, it would be one red high-heeled shoe. A symbol of one particularly significant love story I lived through. I won’t bore you with the details, but it began with a romantic Cinderella-esque meet-cute, and ended when the relationship turned into a pumpkin 10 months later. Sadly, I can’t donate the original shoe because the ‘real life Break Up Club’ and I burned it in a bonfire. This was back in 2009, before Zagreb’s first Brokenships had opened. So like my characters, we had to improvise.

I had to laugh when the invite came into my inbox with one red high-heeled shoe on it. 

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*Incidentally, ‘Break-Up Club’ itself has also finally just opened its doors, thanks to Harper Collins. You can join here, or find out more at breakupclub.co.uk

 

 

GOING GAGA FOR LIDOS ON THE RADIO

I recently had a serendipitous encounter at my local lido with a friendly stranger. He was stood loitering by the swim-suit dryer, recording the sound of it on his phone. Like you do. We got chatting. I quickly unleashed my lido geekery on him (when I’m not writing novels, I’m a nutcase about outdoor swimming and lidos)… and before I knew it, I’d agreed to co-host on his show all about London Fields Lido, on Hoxton.FM.

It was insane amounts of fun. I’m going back on again this Saturday (23rd April), at 3pm to talk all about Break Up Club and its mega-therapeutic sound-track. We’re after recommendations – if you’ve got a song that’s saved your broken-hearted ass – let me know and we might play it.

‘Til then, here’s a handy link to listen to my goofy radio debut here:

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If you don’t have two hours spare and you fancy dipping your toe in to some of it, here’s what we chat about and when…

Break Up Club and my novels: 10 mins 33 to 11

My next book after Break Up Club, and Lidos and their history, and : 12 mins & 46 mins

Peckham Rye Lido and Thames Baths: 15 mins

Darren Hayman, London Fields Lido and Thames Baths: 33- 36 mins

Brockwell Lido: 50 mins and 1 min 50

The Salad Spinner: 52 mins

Lido love, and literature and swimming: 1 min 8- 11

Lucy Blakstad and her film Lido:1 min 11, and 1 min 50

Heavy Petting: 1 min 16