Is Beauty only skin deep?

My sister in-law is a big fan of Audrey Hepburn and has collected various things to do with Audrey over the years. So, as she (my sister in-law) has a special birthday coming up we were looking to see if we could get her something to do with Audrey as a birthday present.

While searching the internet I came across lots of beautiful black and white photographs of Audrey and to say that she was beautiful doesn’t do her justice. She was truly stunning.

The saying beauty is only skin deep gets put about quiet a lot, so it got me thinking about Audrey. Was beauty only skin deep with her?

I decided to do some research about her and came across some very amazing facts about her life.

She was born in Brussels, and spent her childhood between Belgium, England and the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem during the Second World War.

Although born in Belgium, Hepburn held British citizenship through her father.

Because of her father’s British background and job with a British company, the family often travelled between Belgium, England and the Netherlands. With her multi-national background, she went on to speak five languages; she picked up French, Spanish, German and Italian in addition to her native English and Dutch.

In 1937, Ella (her mother) and Audrey moved to Kent, South East England. In September 1939, Britain declared war on Germany, and Hepburn’s mother relocated with her daughter back to Arnhem in the belief that the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack, but that was not the case. After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, because an “English sounding” name was considered dangerous during the German occupation.

Ella, and Audrey moved in with Ella’s father Baron Aarnoud van Heemstra in nearby Velp. During her wartime struggles, Hepburn suffered from malnutrition, developed acute anæmia, respiratory problems, and edema.

Audrey occasionally acted as a courier for the resistance, delivering messages and packages. After the Allied landing on D-Day, living conditions grew worse and Arnhem was subsequently devastated in the fighting during Operation Market Garden. During the Dutch famine that followed in the winter of 1944, the Germans had blocked the resupply routes of the Dutch already-limited food and fuel supplies as retaliation for railway strikes that were held to hinder German occupation. People starved and froze to death in the streets.

When the Netherlands was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed. Audrey said in an interview that she fell ill from putting too much sugar in her porridge and eating an entire can of condensed milk. Her war-time experiences sparked her devotion to UNICEF, an international humanitarian organisation, in her later career.

As we know Audrey went on to become a huge film star in such films as Roman Holiday, Sabrina, War & Peace, Love in the Afternoon, The Nuns Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and My Fair Lady etc. Although she had done work for UNICEF in the 1950s starting in 1954 with radio presentations, in later life she took on a much higher level of dedication.

Hepburn’s first field mission for UNICEF was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, “I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. “

She went on to visit many countries with UNICEF and made appeals to US Congress but it was her visits to these countries that helped to promote humanitarian suffering through UNICEF and the  UNICEF supported immunisation and clean water programmes.

In October 1989, Audrey went to Bangladesh.  John Isaac, a UN photographer, said, “Often the kids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them. I had never seen that. Other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them. Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her – she was like the Pied Piper.”

Now you might think that this is just homage to Audrey Hepburn and maybe it is in some way. That Audrey was beautiful is in no doubt, and it was hardly ‘skin deep.’ She devoted her time to help others and like many other good people who have gone before her and after her it was not for self gain.

She never considered herself attractive.  She stated in a 1959 interview, “you can even say that I hated myself at certain periods.”

So when we look at people how do we see them?

We fawn over good-looking celebrities and would-be celebrities following their every move whether they are footballers, sports stars, pop stars, actors or models. We see them as someone to aspire to and to be like, but how many times have we been let down by some of these good-looking celebrities. I’m not saying that all celebrities don’t have other qualities. Some have, and do things in a quiet way not seeking attention.

But there is another kind of celebrity out there – maybe not on television or in magazines every day –  who do everyday things like ourselves but who go that extra mile without reward or recognition to help others.

These people may or may not be physically beautiful, but they do many remarkable things in life for people less fortunate.  Many of these remarkable people are never heard of or recognized and we would probably never give them a second look as we would have Audrey, but nevertheless they are beautiful and it’s not just skin deep.

Having lived with depression for many years I have had people with these qualities help me. Some in ways they will never know by kind words or just being there for me when I need it most. Others, like my doctor and counsellor, with tangible help to get me back on the right track, and they continually do so.

The people from Healthy n Happy who have given me brilliant help over the years have been quite literally a life saver for me. Help has been continuous over the last 7 – 8 years encouraging me, understanding me and above all it’s somewhere I can join in with other people like me, suffering with depression or suffering from poor mental health, getting us involved in our community and thus helping to grow our confidence. But most importantly it has given me a voice to talk about mental health openly and has put me on the road to recovery for which I am truly grateful.

Beauty isn’t only skin deep, it might be hidden in the people that use their time to help us and for little recognition or reward, but it’s a beauty that is precious, loving, kind, caring and giving.


Audrey Hepburn.


Are You Busy? Too busy to be Human?

In this world we all seem so busy and seem to have no time for any form of relaxation but are we really that busy?
What with Facebook, Twitter, tablets, laptops, mobile phones and every conceivable thing at our finger tips we wouldn’t think of going out without our mobile phone even if it’s only to the shops. I was even guilty of turning back to get mine you know, “just in case.” What did we do before we had them? We seem to think that the world would stop if we don’t tell our friends and followers of what we are up to or what we have just had for lunch with accompanying picture of said food.
Have we lost the art of conversation, i.e. when we see people only feet away from one another texting what they could just say! Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Luddite and I’m not a machine. I’m “human!” Yes, I like the ease of having quick replies and instant answers to things, and I like to put certain things on to Facebook and Twitter for my friends and family to see, but sometimes it’s nice to have a machine free day and just relax and be human and not be an extension of our machines every minute of every day.
In this world of machines we look like we are really busy all the time and sometimes it feels like we have morphed into our gadgets, but how many people do you know that would admit to saying they have spare time or admit maybe that they just aren’t as busy as they think? Not many I bet! Why? Because in this culture we need to say we are busy all the time. People look at you as if something is wrong with you otherwise, but does it have to be this way to have and keep friends? Of course not! How many people can truthfully say that all their ‘friends’ on Facebook are really friends? I can’t. I have friends on Facebook and I have acquaintances. I also have friends and acquaintances in my “off-line” life although nowhere near as many. I’m sure this is also the case for most people.
So why do we feel we need to be Superman or Superwoman? To run ourselves around at a pace that would set fire to the ground? We don’t need to know everything like some walking Wikipedia or do everything at a blistering pace but somehow we look up to people like this and then we wonder why they burn out and become ill and exhausted.
1 in 4 people suffer with clinical depression and heading for a full-on nervous breakdown because of all of the pressure and the demands put on us to be “busy” and not human anymore.
So what is it to be human? It takes courage in today’s world to be human. To admit to being wrong or scared or to being imperfect. People judge on what they see or more to the point, what they think they see!
It was like that with me and my depression. People with depression are very good at hiding it. I was one of them. I would just put on a brave face and pretend I was okay and keep on and on being busy and pushing myself more and more instead of taking that time to be human and it made things a whole lot worse. I steadily became more and more ill until I couldn’t take anymore and sought help from my doctor. Until you have experienced it for yourself, or supported someone who has, it is very easy to underestimate depression. You can’t fully appreciate its power and how it slowly takes possession of your thoughts, your moods and your character. It isn’t a sulk. It isn’t a strop. It isn’t the same as feeling a bit down and it isn’t the same as feeling fed up.
Depression is a very debilitating and often long-lasting illness that torments you and those who love you. It clouds your memory, erodes your concentration and deprives you of sleep. It makes you anxious, irritable, vague, indecisive and susceptible to other illnesses. It makes it impossible to enjoy anything.
For me being human was to admit to myself that I needed help and wasn’t that super person who I thought I was, constantly working and pushing myself and saying yes to everything and morphing into one of those machines.
I’m so glad I got that help and have started to put my depression on the back foot. I’m not being naïve about it because I know it could strike back at anytime so that’s why it’s important for me and you to be human sometimes.
So come and join me and have a machine free and human day. Even if it’s only once a week, you’ll see the difference it can make.

Ellie Relaxing

Ellie Chilled and Relaxing.



Going to the Torture Chamber – or as my Doctor calls it “The Gym”

It has long been known that regular exercise is good for our physical health but what about mental health?

Well as you know the Commonwealth Games are about to start in Glasgow and depending whether you care or not, it’s a big deal in these parts.

I live not too far from some of the big venues like the Velodrome and the Emirates arena and to say it has caused an uproar with the locals of the area is to say the least.  You see not everybody thinks that clearing a whole area (Dalmarnock) to build some fancy big games room or track for a couple of weeks fun was worth losing their old house for, but like it or not, that is just what they have done.

Far be it from me to criticize but having had a private tour around the new venues and the new housing that will be a legacy for the area it all looks fantastic.

New housing, schools, a residential elderly care home and of course the new venues which I have to say are very busy even now with the general public using the facilities right up to the start of the games, are all good, so only time will tell if the money spent will create the legacy the council want for the people of the area. I for one think it will.

This brings me to exercise!

When I was diagnosed with depression I was told that one of the best things for me to do was exercise of some sort but to be honest it’s probably the last thing that you want to do. But I now know it is one of the best self treatments you can do.

When I asked my doctor how exercise could help me mentally and make me feel better she explained that regular physical activity can help people with depression and prevent them becoming depressed in the first place and when people get depressed or anxious, they often feel they’re not in control of their lives.  Boy is that true and it certainly was for me.

She went on to say that it’s important to do something you enjoy otherwise it will be hard to find the motivation to do it regularly. I found that out the hard way with cycling (I’ll come to that later).

She also said that improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. It also triggers a positive feeling in the body the feeling that follows a workout can be accompanied by a positive outlook on life.

I told her that I would like to cycle and that way I could be on my own or with somebody of my choosing.  How hard could this cycling be after all I did it all day when I was a boy in the school holidays.  However, I soon discovered how hard it was for me – an overweight unfit and older guy.

She suggested that I join a gym and pointed me in the right direction.

Luckily for me the local council would give me half price membership for a year to help get me going.

How was I going to go to a gym?  I found it hard enough just to go out of the house never mind mixing with other people in close sweaty proximity!

But I did however get a bike. Wrong thing to do! Too much too soon – I wasn’t that kid at school anymore and it very nearly killed me.

So to the gym.  The hard part was me bucking up the courage to actually go to the gym.

The induction came first which was a one to one so not too bad, but what about actually joining in and going on my own? Well I summoned up the courage and went very early the following morning (it’ll be much quieter I thought) Hah! That fooled me it was packed, but here I was so in for a penny and off I went keeping my head down and myself to myself.

I used the various machines as I had been taught in the induction class.  Boy!  That showed them! Then I went home having thought that I had worked up a great sweat it turned out all I had done was about a total of half an hour. I thought I was going to die! I was knackered and I thought this was suppose to get me better mentally maybe it was – but physically?!

As the weeks went on I started to feel the benefit both mentally and physically.  I still have a long way to go to get my fitness to some level where I don’t feel as if I’m knackered all the time but at least I’m doing it and slowly and surely and I’ll get there.

Is it making a difference? I have to say yes it is and I feel better for it both mentally and physically.

The beauty of it is that I don’t have to go at it all at once.  As the saying goes if you want to eat an elephant do it a bit at a time one sitting will kill you.

Am I going to get back out on my bike? I’ll tell you in a blog sometime if I ever get my breath back!  Happy exercising!

The XX Commonwealth Games Glasgow 23rd July – 3rd August


Sir Chris Hoy VelodromeEmirates Arena

The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome                  The Emirates Arena

DSC_0061 DSC_0062

Part of the Athletes Village, some will be Legacy Homes others will be for sale.



Do YOU have a Hobby?

Do YOU have a Hobby? Everybody has a hobby.  Well I would think most of us have and some people have more than one but how seriously do you take yours?

My hobby has always been photography. I have loved it ever since my dad gave me my first camera at about ten or twelve.  I had only been able to use his with his supervision and with great care.  Don’t get me wrong – he wasn’t strict about it but just encouraged me to take photos and taught me the basics as there was no auto on cameras back then and it was very suck it and see what you get with me at first.

Anyway, I have kept up this hobby now for far many years then I care to remember which brings me to now.

When I was first diagnosed with depression and having one to one counselling I was asked the very same question as I have asked you at the top of this blog.

‘Do you have a hobby?’ My answer was yes I do but hadn’t being doing much with it lately.  ‘So what is it?’  ‘Well it’s photography.’    ‘Good so why don’t you keep it up?’ ‘Ha! Well I can’t go out and take photos!  What would people think of me like this feeling as I am?  I can barely go out anywhere – but to go out and take photographs you must be joking!’   She wasn’t!!

‘Your first step to getting back on track is to go out in the wide world and take some photographs for me.’  ‘Of what? What would you like to take? Nothing to be honest.’ ‘Well I’ll leave it up to you to take something nice for me for the next session.’

To let you understand the sessions were every fortnight so I had exactly two weeks to do something, anything, but what? I couldn’t even go out on my own, answer the phone or door let alone go out and take photographs so I started to worry about it.  Sleepless nights and all that goes with it took over, but with encouragement from my wife and some ideas from her, a lot of which I first knocked back as couldn’t go here or there I finally bucked up the courage to go somewhere I thought was okay.

I wasn’t going to let this black rain cloud ruin my washing (see blog ‘Ever Been Humbled’) and so the next thing was more worrying and time was running out to go and get them.

The big day!

Well the afternoon the day before my next session was my goal.  A bit late I know but when you suffer from depression small things are huge and trust me this was HUGE.

They just happened to be building a new by-pass around my town and that included putting up big bridges and one of them was over the local railway station.

Now I hear you say ‘That’s not very romantic or lovely,’ but what I knew was that one of the roads down to it was closed and I could just park nearby and nip around with nobody to bump in to and I could be quick about it.

I got my photographs of this huge lifting crane which had lifted the bridge sections in and so the next day arrived of my session with the counsellor.

‘How are you?’   ‘Just the same really.’  ‘Did you manage to go and get me some photographs?’  ‘Well yes but they aren’t very inspiring and I was terrified.’  ‘Yes, but you did it.’

And I suppose I did, I got some photographs for her.  She didn’t care what they were of but she did care that I had made that first step and along with lots of talking and listening I slowly got more photographs for her at each session and as time went on it got a little easier, but I can honestly say that without her encouragement and listening ear I probably still wouldn’t have gone out and taken those photographs.

You see this depression does strange things to you.  It closes in around you and says things like, ‘ You can’t do that. What would people think?’   It’s because when you are ill it seems everybody is watching you, or so you think.  But I was reminded by her that 1 in 4 people are experiencing some form of mental ill health to some degree or another. So, unless you know a remarkably small number of people, this means that several people you know as friends or colleagues either have, or have had, a problem with their mental health.

Don’t think for a minute it’s a lifestyle choice. The whole idea of choosing to have depression is just daft. But some people still believe that idea, and especially in a society where people are programmed to ‘man up’ and use phrases like ‘We all get sad sometimes’ and ‘Big boys don’t cry.’ Believe me these people don’t know what they are talking about. We all have physical health and we all have mental health and each varies from one week to the next and it can be a debilitating and often long-lasting illness.  Anybody can get mental health problems and believe me they are far more common than you think.

My first step to confronting depression was to admit to myself that I needed some help. My second step was to get that help, and my third was to come out and talk about it.

Well I kept taking the photographs and I still sometimes find it hard to go out and do it but I will, and I will because I want to get better and if having a hobby helps me to do that then it’s worth persevering. It gets me to go out in the fresh air and lovely countryside and yes occasionally I do meet people and it’s then that I remember the 1 in 4 and know I’m not alone.

So do you have a hobby?

I’m glad I do and I thank my dad for introducing me to it because who knows what might have been if I didn’t have that hobby.

Now say ‘cheese’ please!

Sunset on Cheshire Plain

Sunset over the Cheshire Plain.


Ever Been Humbled?

Ever been humbled? Well I was truly humbled today (but I will come to that later).

If you read my very first blog “Like Cissie and Ada over the Garden fence” then you will know that I’m a long time sufferer of depression. While I’m feeling good right now it has its days when it sneaks up on me and grabs a hold like a big black cloud you just know is going to bring rain and ruin the washing hanging out the back door.

Well after having a couple of days feeling like that washing I received a letter from the council.  Not unusual I hear you say but when you are feeling like the rain is battering you it makes you fear the worst, or so my black rain cloud of the day was telling me.

But imagine my surprise when I read that I had been nominated for a Community Service Award by my local Councillor.  Talk about knocking me down with a feather.  I think to say I was dumfounded was an understatement (those of you who know me, know that would be nigh on impossible)!  Well what was it for?  Are you sure, and why me was about as much as I could utter. So after a quick rub down with a damp newspaper I got my thoughts together and found out that Healthy ‘n’ Happy Community Development Trust (from now on I shall refer to them as HnH) had been asked to put my name forward along with others to the local councillor for the nomination board.

To fill you in I have been volunteering at HnH for about 4 or 5 years doing radio broadcasts about mental health, giving talks about my journey with depression, helping to compile a book about mental health, taking part in mental health film festival projects, building and maintaining websites for other local charities and many more things in my community.

But it hasn’t been all give from me, far from it!  I have had brilliant help from HnH over the years and they have been quite literally a life saver for me.  A listening ear when I needed to talk or a place where I have had great encouragement to go on and do things that normally I would shy away from because of that black rain cloud.

Well today I was truly humbled.

I have just come back from the said awards presentation and lunch and to see all these people that have won an award was very humbling to say the least. People from every walk of life all with different circumstances and problems of their own but willing to go that extra mile for their community even in some small way.

And yes today I was truly humbled to receive one such award and certificate for my work in our local community. I’m still not sure I deserve it but it is accepted by me with all graciousness and I’m grateful of the opportunity I have had to volunteer with HnH who have encouraged, nurtured and been with me on my journey.  To them I say a big thank you.

So today that big black cloud is on the back foot and I’m still standing and fighting albeit ever so humbled.


With Provost Eileen Logan and Councillor Christine Deanie.

With Provost Eileen Logan and Councillor Christine Deanie.


Like Cissie and Ada over the garden fence

Life was going well for me.  I was married had three children and a good job. I was working hard and enjoying life with my family and life for me just flowed along with the usual cycle of sleep, work and leisure time. At my age I thought I was bullet proof having good physical health and never at the doctors. Mental health was for someone else and anyway, how could I have something like that? That was for somebody that was unstable! Mental health was really a taboo subject I suppose.One that nobody talked about except like Les Dawson’s Characters Cissie and Ada in hushed tones over the garden fence. A subject that no one wanted on their doorstep.

I had seen how it could affect people and how it could destroy families but what was this mental health? It was just something I had no interest in.  Why would I? It couldn’t affect me? Or could it? Boy was I in for a shock! I’d been working long hours, taking on too much and putting too much pressure on myself  and all the time thinking I’m not good enough but still pushing myself to do more.Without me realising stress hit me like a battering ram and without me noticing at first, the dark creature of depression crept in to my mind telling me ‘You’re not good enough’ and “You’re a failure”  and all the time picking away at my self-esteem pushing it lower and lower. Coupled to this is the side of not wanting to mix with anybody, not answering the phone or the door and generally becoming isolated, wanting only my own company and withdrawing in to myself.

I became very tired and suffered both poor physical and mental health and all the time working and pushing myself, thus making my health worse. It was like a deep black hole that I couldn’t get out of, but I didn’t want to give in to it and become its slave, so after months of this torture I finally made the appointment and I went to see my doctor. She was brilliant from the start.  Encouraging me, understanding me and above all, she listened to me. After counselling I was encouraged to come along to Healthy n Happy to a stress management course called Changes. It has given me a lot more faith in myself and has definitely put me back on the road to recovery. I have done Mental Health awareness and Mental Health first aid courses with Healthy n Happy and I am more involved in my community than ever before.

I volunteer with various things such as helping to write a book to do with mental health, radio broadcasts and a ‘Tell Your Story’ group where we share our journey with mental health to various community groups. Healthy n Happy has helped me to get me back on track mixing with people and joining in with my community, but most importantly it has given me a voice to talk about mental health openly. Although still not fully recovered, the training has made me stand up against the darkness of depression and the fight is still going on.  It tries to come back and it will be a while before I can lead a life free from my medication, but with the help of my doctor, Healthy n Happy, my wife and my family the darkness of depression is on the back foot.