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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THIS TRAIN CALLS AT ALL STATIONS TO NOSTALGIA

In the opening to one of my novels (sorry, there is no way to write that phrase in a way that doesn’t sound pretentious) the main character Holly is on the tube, musing to her boyfriend about the voice of the tube announcer.

 

She begins to wonder whether the owner of said voice is still alive, and if they’re not, whether their loved ones might take the tube as a way of being with them again? Getting carried away, she suggests there’s a sense in which the actor has been immortalised by Transport for London… at which point her boyfriend tells her off for being mental.

 

My mum also read it and suggested to me gently that this was a bit far-fetched and I should take it out. But then this happened. The gorgeous story of Margaret McCollum,who used to plan her Tube journeys so that she would hear her late husband’s voice.

It’s funny how you write things that seem ridiculous at the time, and then they go and come true! But what’s even lovelier about the story of Margaret and Oswald is that that the reason they got together in the first place was due to the allure of his dulcet tones:

 

‘She met Mr Laurence in 1992 on a trip to Morocco when he was working as a tour and cruise company guide. She was instantly taken by his “gorgeous voice”. They married in 2003 and were together until his death in 2007.’

 

How lovely. I challenge you to read the last line of this article and NOT get completely choked up. Skip to the bottom of the ‘update’ – the last line is a fiendish tear-jerker.

 

On a similar theme, Nat and I also have a short film called ‘The Voice’ that we wrote years ago which is about something similar. One man, a bowl of spag bol, and his SatNav…

 

 

LONDON AS IT COULD BE NOW

In a second ‘wild swimming’ related post, today I’d like to draw your attention to an exciting new venture being organised by a small group of people connected to London’s ad agencies.

The plan to build a swimming pool in the middle of the Thames.

Of course, everyone’s first thought when you mention being able to swim in the Thames is ‘yuk, it’s poo brown.’

But stay with me a minute.

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As this stunning photo from 1952 shows, swimming in the Thames isn’t a weird or revolting idea at all. It turns out we’ve been at it for centuries. There used to be pontoons all the way along the river, and even a ‘children’s beach’ along Tower Bridge (seen above), where kids who couldn’t afford to get to the seaside could go and learn to swim. As Caitlin Davies (author of a new book called Downstream:a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames) spoke about at the British Library last week, there’s never been any mention of the water being unclean in the history books. Only in 1960 did it formally stop happening, mainly due to safety reasons.

But that’s all about to change, if the Thames Baths – a brilliant wild-swimming venture following the footsteps of the Kings Cross Pond Club – gets off the ground. Its Director is Rainey Kelly’s Strategy Director Matt Bamford-Bowes, and it’s a very well-thought out plan which I think every man and his goldfish should pledge to support.

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The most important thing to mention about this pool is that it will be clean. I know. Thames. Fresh. Water. The mind boggles.

The water will be naturally filtered through an intricate system of reeds.  It will be safe too, with balustrades all around it. It will be warmed naturally, through a heat exchanger. It will be free to visit, and around £5-6 to swim in. You can see more at the Kickstarter campaign here. They have truly thought of everything.

The bath plans first came about as part of an Architecture Foundation and Royal Academy initiative, to find ideas that reconnect Londoners with the river, stirringly entitled London As It Could Be Now.  As well as Matt Rainey Kelly, the Baths vision is being realised by Studio Octopi; an architect firm who have revolutionised the layouts of many of London’s ad agencies. Architect Chris Romer-Lee had just been on holiday in Zurich, swimming in the river, and found himself asking, ‘why is there nowhere similar in London?’ (I couldn’t help thinking the same when I went to the incredible ‘Badis’ all the way along Lake Zurich – they are lovely). Anyway, Chris decided to ‘bring the idea home’, along with his colleague James Lowe. They’re both also now working on the Bring Back Peckham Lido campaign. Basically, what’s not to love.

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And as Guardian writer and swimming blogger Jenny Landreth put it so poignantly at the campaign event at the Royal Academy last week, ‘London is being stripped out from under our feet…swimming outdoors is a place to feel free… We need lidos in London now, more than ever. In the gloom after last Thursday, this is a really bright pocket of positivity.’ More brilliant words from Jenny here.

Here are the very latest designs of the different locations:

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Small point to anyone working in the South Bank area – One of the possible locations is in Blackfriars, very close to the new Bankside Omnicon building. Making it pretty much the perfect place to cool off during Summer lunch times… In 2017, when it opens. Unless they get their funding sooner, that is.

The deadline to pledge is this friday, so please do think about it, if you’re even slightly tempted.

There are a range of lovely incentives for pledging too, from lifetime membership, to a gorgeous limited edition ‘SWIM’ print, designed by Michael C Place:

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The last thing to say is that Kickstarter is only the half of it. The Baths are also open to finding ‘a carefully chosen partner’ to sponsor them. In case you know of any brands that want to “jump in”.