Some brief thoughts on healthcare

Healthcare is nowhere near good enough and that’s the fault of politicians who would rather play with our lives or have forgotten why they are there in the first place.

There has never been any justification for making barriers to research for any substance: cannabis and psychedelics. Don’t legalise until the evidence is clear and a plan is in place, sure, but never block the channels to research.

Cannabis could have stopped people from ever having to go on to opioid painkillers. And why is it that our mental health resources are not anywhere near good enough (WHO: 300 million people with depression worldwide) when psychedelics show such incredible promise.

And not just as a medicine but for the betterment of well people.

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A 20th century warning on #WorldBeeDay

A 20th century warning on #WorldBeeDay, which was yesterday, it appears…

In 1958, Chairman Mao Zedong started the Four Pests Campaign, otherwise known as the Great Sparrow Campaign, as part of the Great Leap Forward.

Mao ordered the eradication of rats, flies, mosquitoes and, notably, sparrows.

But this ecological imbalance caused insect populations to boom, with locusts in particular wreaking havoc, eating crops intended as food.

This horrific error on the part of the Chinese government is widely considered to have worsened the Great Chinese Famine, which caused between 20 to 45 million deaths. Just because sparrows were being exterminated from the ecological system. Seemingly irrelevant animals are often anything but.

Cross-pollination facilitated by bees has a role in the growth of around one-third of the world’s crops. We need to look after the bees.

2017: The year I went numb

It horrifies me to think that I once considered “mental health difficulties” to be attention-seeking bullshit. That changed a few years ago, but the reality of my naivety only truly sank in this year when a single negative occurrence could smack me with waves of darkness punishing enough to leave me bed-stricken for the day. In such periods, the only thing you don’t become numb to is the surprise that matters can get even worse – for me, that happened when I ordered a pizza.

I can’t even remember what pizza it was, but it would have been a very nice pizza. Well, if I could have stomached more than two or three slices without wanting to churn my guts up. Christ, this was bad. I love food – as long as it’s not green. How could I not eat a pizza? How could I not eat anything? Not long after I was in Bristol poking and prodding at a Five Guys burger – usually my favourite – for 15 minutes. But I couldn’t get it all down. Barely touched the fries.

This vicious sickness that was toying and tormenting my brain had started to show itself physically. I felt bony, having shed two stone in about a month. Upon mentioning this struggle to my friends, one noted that I had slimmed down. I hadn’t a clue, so trapped in my own head that reality had ceased to exist. And at that point, what did I care? It was fucking shit anyway.

I tried an experiment a week or so earlier at one of my lowest points. University had ended, three great years with several great mates who pulled me along even if they didn’t realise it at the time.

India and Pakistan were set to duel in the Champions Trophy final at the Oval, about an hour and a half up the road. I didn’t have a ticket, so I paid an obscene amount of money for a ticket. Money was no object, not because I had a lot of it, but because it had ceased to mean anything – a personal economic crash, if you will.

I am a sports nut. I would get up in the middle of the night during school time to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat, Lleyton Hewitt scuttle on the baseline and Ana Ivanovic lose. It was madness but I never cared – I loved it. To watch India v Pakistan live in a match of such importance should have filled me with unmatched adrenaline and joy – but it didn’t.

It was merely okay. Fakhar Zaman’s unexpected, punchy hundred to set the tone was just alright. Mohammad Amir’s unprecedented dismantling of Virat Kohli left me no more than appreciative. Being on the guest list at Pakistan’s date with destiny as they downed their greatest foe should have felt magical, instead, I was numb. Thoughts on other matters. Dark matters. I had a similar experience in Bangalore earlier this year. It was a wonderful trip and I met some wonderful people but one night, at an Indian Premier League match of all places, I felt dead inside. Couldn’t even get hyped for MS Dhoni launching a six out of the stadium.

I was physically and mentally drained by the time I got home from that Champions Trophy final. It was, admittedly, an extremely hot day. I felt my legs going by the time I arrived back at London Victoria. I was knackered, but it was more than the heat. As far as everybody else was concerned, I’d had an amazing day. And while at the time it was indeed my best in weeks, in the grander picture, it was just another blob of misery. And I’m sad for that, because somebody else could have been in my seat to drink in the action and enjoy the atmosphere between the Indian and Pakistani fans – frenemies, always.

Back to my weight. The first stone I lost was unnecessary chub, the second I decided I could bargain away providing there was no more. But I couldn’t eat. I just couldn’t fucking eat. It was unexplainable. I feared losing three, four, maybe even five stone and wasting away entirely. Sometimes that even felt for the best. Depression is a nasty illness. Anxiety stops you from doing the things you love. Depression stops you from even wanting to try.

If you have ever known me personally, you will know I am something of an eccentric. I have grappled with whether that’s a fake persona or not many times. I have concluded it isn’t. Sure, it’s served as a coping mechanism at times, but my quirks are who I am. But the depression demons first want to kill who you are, before deciding whether to kill you. I’ve never felt suicidal, but I’ve understood why people would. And unless you find a way off that road, I don’t doubt that suicide is likely if not inevitable. Today’s world may well be drugged on hyperbole and exaggeration, but trust me, I’m speaking sober.

Things aren’t so bad at the moment. I’m afraid there’s no monologue as to why – I don’t really know why, and frankly, right now, I don’t care. Certain areas of my life are better, others are worse. But I am encouraged. My anxiety is more under control than it has been for four years. I am laughing again. I am loving sport again. I care about those two things as much as I care about anything.

If you’re struggling, I’m afraid I have no advice. Only you know your situation. The advice given in this area is the most well-meaning in the world, but that doesn’t mean it will help. Nearly everybody recommended I tell my closest family. It was natural advice, the best advice for pretty much anyone I’m sure, but not for me. Because that’s what I did, and it provided additional, needless stress.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. More than you’ll ever know.

Mensur Mania reigns in Cardiff

I won’t feed you any PDC propaganda about Mensur Suljovic winning a “major”, because he hasn’t. But as far as exhibitions go, this BBC gig, the Champions League as its called, is just about the best of them. And if anyone was going to become the first new TV winner in a full-strength field since Michael van Gerwen scooped the 2012 World Grand Prix (not including World Series events or Peter Wright’s 2017 UK Open – a tournament without van Gerwen and Taylor), who better than Big Mensur?

One could say that Suljovic was at an advantage over his rivals, in that he likely didn’t give a damn that this tournament was on the BBC — unlike Peter Wright, who frittered away eight match darts against Gary Anderson in their group-stage decider.

Taylor stitches up van Gerwen once again

What to make of van Gerwen, who has now suffered consecutive humiliations on telly to Taylor? There’s no doubt he’s back in Phil’s pocket, who, in what he promises is his final year, has craftily orchestrated the crowd to ensure they give the Dutchman hell. Imbued from his 16–6 dismantling of MvG at the World Matchplay, Taylor felt confident enough to break out the Green Machine’s double fist pump celebration as he dumped him out in the group.

I don’t buy the line that Phil is on a free roll on his last lap of the circuit — his bratty antics in losing to Corey Cadby in Melbourne last month reek of a sorer loser than ever. He cares alright, and after van Gerwen’s dominance over him in recent years — a sustained run Phil had never experienced in his career — he’s revelling in landing a few blows of his own.

Just desserts for van Gerwen, one could argue, having been so overconfident at the Matchplay to text fellow Dutchie Vincent van der Voort during the interval of his second round match against Simon Whitlock to say that he’d already beaten him. Not that we can glean too much from Taylor’s word salad interviews nowadays, but it was clear that had riled him, as he made sure to mention it in his post-match spiel after beating the world number one in Blackpool.

He mused again in Cardiff on how van Gerwen was a bad loser. Hypocritical, but that doesn’t stop it being true.

After storming to his second world title in January, the Dutchman has found himself facing some unlikely adversity. He’s going to keep getting it in the neck against Phil, and right now, he can’t hack it. Frustrating, really, that the PDC’s greatest, most intriguing and genuine rivalry will be no more after January. They really do not like each other.

Taylor has opted out of next month’s Grand Prix, denying us of a showdown there, but we’ll hopefully see them go at it in Wolverhampton for the Grand Slam of Darts or at the World Championship.

Darts in capable hands on the BBC

Unlike the BDO, the PDC has given the BBC something to work with, and they did a capable job once again. Jason Mohammad fronted the coverage well, while Paul Nicholson and Mark Webster proved good sidekicks.

The only real downers were the showings from Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall, who both failed to record a win. That and a boring Taylor-van Barneveld match, which flatters to deceive more often than not now — even their quarter-final at the World Championships felt flat for the majority. Taylor won this one 10–6, for the record. ‘El Dartico’ or ‘darts’ El Clasico’ is rather generous.

It was a far superior event to last year, which was dulled by far too many one-sided contests. Mensur, whose personality we’re starting to become more acclimatised too, was the highlight throughout — his ballsy 160 match-winning checkout in the semis versus Raymond van Barneveld really was a cracker. And he held his nerve well in the final against Anderson, rallying superbly in the latter stages to finish the job, since he looked tetchy after being pegged back to 6–6.

Suljovic winning with a sub-88 average — that was more than 10 points inferior to Anderson’s — was also a delight. It won’t deter those drunk on statistics; we’re sure to keep seeing “leg averages” and being told “you can’t win with anything less than 100 average”. But it’s nice to know darts remains a game of checking out 501 more quickly than your opponent, with each leg being independent from the other.

More darts on the BBC? Yes please. More Mensur Mania? Yes please. More El Darticos? No thanks.

Tony Blair’s strategic move to oust Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader

Contrary to popular opinion, Tony Blair is not an idiot – idiots don’t win three general elections. Furthermore, Blair isn’t out of sync with the British people either. A classy manipulator, the former prime minister used his anti-Brexit speech not to orchestrate an uprising against Britain’s departure from the European Union, but to strike a blow closer to home.

Blair’s move is a bold and strategic effort to oust Labour leader and destructor Jeremy Corbyn, by dousing petrol on an already rip-roaring fire.

There’s no coincidence that he gave his high-profile whinge less than a week before two crunch by-elections – one in Copeland, the other in Stoke-on-Trent. The former went 62 percent for Leave while the latter chalked up a whopping 70 percent Brexit vote. Both are, at least for a few more days, Labour-held constituencies. If Blair has his way, neither will be come 24 February.

Why does Blair want Labour to lose? Because two by-election losses by a party in opposition would undoubtedly spell doom for their leader, especially as a Stoke-on-Trent Central defeat equates to a UK Independence Party and Paul Nuttall triumph. With UKIP promising to leech on Labour’s northern, working class vote, a Stoke win would knock the first brick from the wall.

Bookmakers have Copeland trending towards the Tories, while Labour are narrow favourites in Stoke following Nuttall’s Hillsborough gaffe, which is appropriately now old news. In 2015, the combined UKIP-Tory Stoke vote bested Labour, making a purple heist and a first home-grown UKIP parliamentary win realistic.

Blair has no stock as a positive influence – you’ll struggle to find a more loathed British politician, and he’s not blinded by narcissism enough to be unaware. However, being loathed brings a few benefits, not least Blair’s ability to be a negative influence.

With more than two decades’ experience in understanding and capitalising on the public’s psyche, Blair, like President Donald Trump, knows exactly what to say to get exactly what he wants. Give it a fortnight and no one will care what this political has-been said, but for the next few days it’s juicy content.

What better Brexit rallying cry than a detested ex-PM who wants to thwart the will of the British people? It’ll likely be even more effective in Stoke, since immigration concerns are invariably blamed on Blair and Labour. Brexiteers are already cashing in, their obvious narratives sure winners. We may even see a Blair piñata before the show’s over.

It’s unlikely there’d ever be an era suited to a Blair comeback, but you won’t find tougher than this anti-establishment one. But Labour rightly realise that Calamity Corbyn has to go, and anything which can bring that reality closer will be secretly cheered – there’s no way Corbyn critic Tristram Hunt wasn’t aware of the implications when he resigned from Stoke either.

For all the talk of a strong democracy having a strong opposition, the last thing Conservatives and Brexiteers need at this moment is Corbyn’s resignation. His haplessness gives Theresa May and her government the necessary breathing space – and huge polling lead – to handle the country’s trickiest negotiations in generations.

An effective opposition would be primed to cash in on perhaps inevitable Brexit fallout with their vision for the nation. Instead, Corbyn, a closet Brexiter who choked and campaigned to Remain, took months to try and establish his party’s position on the issue – not helped by a poorly-timed leadership contest – before leaving many incandescent after giving May a “blank cheque”.

For Labour, the party’s survival is much more important than backlash from Moany Tony’s speech – short-term pain for long-term gain. If Blair’s blathering compromises Labour next week, Corbyn could be out soon after, starting a difficult but not impossible search for a talented leader in a talentless party.

Brexiteers should hold off on the celebrations for now.

Why I stopped listening to LBC

LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) does pretty well for itself these days. The UK’s most popular speech radio station has cashed in on the glut of wannabe politicos, who’ve relished in the social media boom to believe they’re more important than they actually are.

If you regularly muse on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr (okay, nobody serious uses Tumblr) you’re guilty of said self-obsession – I know I am. I wish I wasn’t such a narcissist.

One of the most ignored “isms” on the rise, narcissism isn’t shunned because there’s a lot of capital to be made from it. Narcissists tend not to be the smartest eggs but they do fancy themselves, which plays right into LBC’s hands.

LBC loves a narcissist, even more so if they’re an unintelligent one with a big ego, as they can bring in their own big ego host to slap them down, knowing they’ll “win” an argument purely on their debating savvy acquired from hours of droning behind a microphone.

Now, I should point out that it’s not ubiquitous and there are some long-term regular callers who sound thoroughly decent, but they are becoming few and far between.

When you ring into LBC – as I regrettably did on three occasions to talk about the electoral system, the European Union and fat people – you get pre-screened to see whether you’re up to the task. Qualifications, however, seem not to include being smart or having anything original to add to the conversation.

I’m a bit outlandish, a rabble-rouser – you have to be unique, controversial or simply an arse to write for a living nowadays (a combination of all three helps – so I, unwittingly, fit the bill perfectly.

“You simply must hear what this caller had to say about the EU,” their clickbait professional will tweet out. Having a broad Somerset accent would have only added to the circus-like theatre. While none of my calls ever received an ego-satisfying “OMG LISTEN TO THIS” tweet, LBC is usually good for a couple a show. Let’s have a gander at their recent ones:

On 30 January, Iain Dale – who, in fairness, hosts an enjoyable weekday show between 4pm and 7pm – was put up against a fact-free Floridian Trump supporter.

Indeed, Dale himself said that the caller didn’t know what they were talking about. Surely this would have been apparent during pre-screening and they would have recognised this and denied them a spot on air. But no, Sherri from Clearwater, FL, was the perfect low-information Trump fan that they could exploit for, well, not knowing very much.

And then they struck the motherlode – Sherri cut the call. Crazy radio moment: tick. Trump advocate looking like an idiot: tick. Viral material: tick.

If LBC aren’t parading a wacky caller, they’re chucking out bait masquerading as a question to get one on the line.

James O’Brien’s “unmissable reaction” to something – usually Trump or Brexit – will be tweeted, or a deliberately wild quote from new and newish LBC provocateurs, Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins, will be posted. Follow their Twitter feed for a fortnight if you suspect me to be nit-picking.

Don’t get me wrong, radio is better than the telly in the UK as you can say more and get away with more – it’s what makes Fox News and MSNBC appealing to conservative and liberal Americans. Opinionated news and bashful debate is much more attractive than beige reporting which you probably think is biased against you anyway.

That’s why LBC is fun for a bit. If you’re a politics addict – and right now, how could you not be? – the station is mighty enjoyable, at first. But after a few weeks or months you see the flaw: there’s not a lot else to do it.

Listening to LBC’s “debates” will do nothing to improve your knowledge of a topic. With hosts firmly on the Left, staunchly on the Right and a few floating in the centre, there’s not an overall bias issue, just a quality one.

You’ll either be subject to a few minutes of caller-presenter love-in, or a deliberately aggressive battle between two hotheads which is remembered more for insults than substance.

There’s nothing surprising about absurdity on LBC, it’s a stock trait. And once you’ve clocked that they don’t only welcome it, but pre-plan the chaos, the novelty erodes and so does the will to listen.

At least that’s what happened with me.

Michael van Gerwen fires fantasy darts in performance for the ages

Picking the correct adjectives is essential when describing sport – labelling every significant moment “fantastic” or “great” just serves to devalue your lexicon. Very rarely do we see the stuff of fantasy that would equate to being fantastic, or an act of true greatness. We have to find ways of separating the highest tiers of brilliance in sport, or we cannot do them justice.

Last night Michael van Gerwen was fantastic. Last night Michael van Gerwen was great. Raymond van Barneveld fell barely short of both descriptors, yet he was still hammered 6-2 in the PDC World Championship semi-final by his ruthless Dutch counterpart.

Yes, van Gerwen’s romp was nearly 10 points shy of his imperfect – yes, imperfect – 123.40 world record average, but you cannot compare eight exhibition legs with eight of the hugest sets in darts. This semi-final showing was the best performance of all-time, beating a subjective honour previously bestowed upon Phil Taylor for his 7-1 thrashing of van Barneveld in the 2009 world final, where his average nudged 111.

Here comes the van Gerwen stats barrage: the highest ever average in a World Championship match 114.05 – almost three points superior to Taylor’s destruction of Shayne Burgess in 2002 –15 180s, 29 140s and a further cluster of big scores utilising the treble 19. Compared to van Barneveld’s two-out-of-three doubling, the 26-year-old was found wanting, but he still nailed more than half of his attempts. Oh, and he missed double 12 for a nine-darter too.

Barring Barney, the least enchanted by this darting wizardry was van Gerwen himself, who espoused the same brutal and commendable honesty he has for weeks. Some call it arrogance, that it may be, but we all know it’s what he’s thinking, and we’re thinking it too. Should he not win seven sets before Gary Anderson does and lift the Sid Waddell Trophy on Monday evening, the year will go down as a failure for Mighty Mike. Beating van Barneveld was another step towards that goal, the manner of it was just a happy little bonus, and something he won’t dwell on or coo over – the rest of us can do that.

Van Gerwen’s stunning second-half assault makes it easy to forget that for the first four sets this match was looking like a classic to end all classics. One constant of this famous rivalry has been van Barneveld’s feisty fight, a trait he has invariably brought to this contest even if it’s been sorely missing elsewhere – last year’s World Championship scalp is well-documented, but the less-talked about 2012 Grand Slam of Darts final is an exquisite example too.

Van Barneveld, seeking a first TV title in more than five years ran into a rampant young protagonist finally finding his feet in the PDC. Van Gerwen had blown away the field, including Phil Taylor, and was seeking a second PDC major to go with his first at the World Grand Prix a month prior, and he was the undeniable favourite to claim it.

But the elder Dutch boss hadn’t read the script. Clutch 180s and key finishes tormented a van Gerwen who just wanted to bulldoze, but he was unable too. Nerves crept in for van Barneveld near the end, but he banished them with a match-winning 11-darter against the throw to pinch the tournament 16-14. For four sets on Sunday we were seeing that same resolve, but in overload.

It was the best van Barneveld, a veteran of more than two decades and a winner of five world championships, had ever played on television, and it came because van Gerwen is the only man able to extract such darts from him. Not even Taylor could inspire Barney to this standard – in fact, after a while, he would rather quit than battle.

In terms of this match, van Gerwen started like a sloth, as van Barneveld cruised to the opening set 3-0 with a settling 107 and a gorgeous 131. All doubts surrounding which RvB would turn up following his long overdue scalp of tormenter Taylor 48 hours earlier diminished.

Red-hot Ray was in an even meaner mood after the break, sinking a never-in-doubt 160 to break – van Gerwen, who was waiting on 25, cast a slightly stunned look but was unperturbed. Then came the most crucial leg of the match, and had van Barneveld won it, he would have taken a commanding two-set lead. But he was never winning it, despite being on double 12 after 12 darts thrown.

Bish, bash, bosh. Triple 20, single 14, double 20 for MvG. A 12-darter, a break, a set back on throw and a dagger in the heart of his opponent. Van Barneveld positioned himself on the same double in the deciding fifth leg after four visits – once again, he never got a shot.

The bizarre was happening at Alexandra Palace. The averages were north of 110, the crowd were watching darts, and ‘Chase the Sun’ had been shunned for ‘Freed from Desire’.

Van Gerwen whizzed to the third set flinging yet more fire, but he was kept honest by his adversary, who pinned a routine 127 effortlessly on his way to levelling the scores after the Green Machine missed tops for a 94 that was, in the context of this match, a blink.

With no precedent for such mastery, one wondered whether the pummelling would eventually tell on somebody. It surely had to, and it did. Van Gerwen, somehow, got better while van Barneveld lost a couple of percentage points – but it was no more than that. MvG didn’t run riot for fun in the latter sets, he did so because he had to. The ageing Dutch master was nipping at his heels throughout, and even flirted at a comeback in the eighth set, before being savagely snuffed out.

A gutted van Barneveld oozed class in a beautifully miserable interview in the backroom after. He was devastated, not in awe. He couldn’t give a jot that he averaged 109 or played in the most mind-boggling match of all-time. Why give a valiant loss the time of the day when you’ve been crowned five times? Van Barneveld and van Gerwen have the same champion brain – there’s no substitute to this tournament and being successful in it.

It’s why van Barneveld has reached the semi-final at this event four times in the last five while generally being a pale shadow elsewhere. He doesn’t care about the rest. Victory in the Premier League was nice but it’s a mere career footnote.

For van Gerwen, oodles of expectation will be on him versus Anderson, who has staved off 11 World Championship challenges as the hunted – however, the 12th will be the Scot’s toughest by far. If van Gerwen has an outing remotely similar to the semi-final, Anderson will have to be more powerful and clinical than ever before. A rubbish cliché, granted, but it is true: if anyone can do it, he can.

The third and possibly deciding part of the Michael van Gerwen-Gary Anderson World Championship saga promises everything. The former won the first but invigorated the latter’s career in doing so, and Anderson repaid the favour 12 months’ later on his way to his first world title.

The darting world awaits a showdown usually only sports entertainment can provide. Buckle up.

Question everything

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