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Blown away by Chester; and a great new Welsh mental health scheme

Posted on 30 October 2010 | 10:10am

I only agreed to do the Chester Literature Festival because it was on a Friday night and I reckoned there would be a good chance Burnley would be at home on the Saturday. A calculated guess rather banjaxed by the fixtures computer which put us at QPR today – the closest Championship ground to where I live.

Still, I had agreed to do it so off to the far North West I toddled, via Cleggland as I reported yesterday. I think the last time I was in Chester was during the 1997 election but life on the campaign bus means that frankly one place just melds into another. I have a vague memory of the bus pulling into the city centre, big crowds surrounding it, TB speaking from what we had ludicrously christened ‘the people’s platform’, back on the bus and onto the next marginal seat.

So yesterday was the first time I had the chance to look around, and I was blown away by the place. First by the crowds – it was heaving with a mix of shoppers, locals and tourists – second by the variety and beauty of the buildings, and third by the cleanliness.

The Festival event in the evening was a lot of fun, with the usual mix of light and serious, and a particularly enjoyable ‘rapid fire’ session at the end, when I take in one go up to 20 questions from those who have been unable to get in during the ‘one at a time’ bit. Owen Coyle, Adam Boulton and Malcolm Tucker seem to have joined George Bush, Princess Diana and the 2005 Lions tour on the list of subjects I now always get asked about.

Talking of Boulton, yesterday I was approached by a Channel 4 documentary team asking for an interview about my spat with the Sky journalist. The bad news for Adam is that the documentary is about ‘the year’s funniest moments’. Can’t decide whether to take part or not. Advice please … Anyway it was a really nice evening, in the wonderful setting of Chester racecourse.

I had hopped over to Wales during the day to help launch a new ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ scheme for the Welsh Assembly Government and Mind Cymru. It is based on a scheme that has been operating for some time in Australia. It is one of those ideas that leaves you thinking ‘why have we never done this before?’

When I am talking about mental illness, I always make the point that we have physical health and we have mental health and some days are good and other days less good, but we would do a better job breaking down stigma and taboo if we were as open about one as we are about the other.

First aid for physical health problems is an accepted and established part of the national life. I hope the idea of first aid for mental health takes off in the same way. It is about all of us developing an understanding of mental distress so that when we come across it in others, whether as friends, family, employer, colleague or total stranger, we have a basic idea of how to help.

So good luck to the Assembly and Mind teams pushing this in Wales. I don’t suppose with all the cuts coming down the track there is much chance of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley rolling it out for England. But he should.

Meanwhile I am now back home in time for the clash against table-topping QPR. When the fixture was first announced I groaned inwardly at the folly of having signed up to Chester in advance. But I’m glad I did, and to anyone who has never been, I strongly recommend a visit.

  • Mit-yap

    do the boulton interview!

    • Andysearson

      Alastair, please stop refering to Sheffield as Cleggland. Its an insult to the great steel city. He is the most despised politician South Yorkshire has ever had. He is held in the same regard as Ian McGregor and that is saying something here in Yorkshire!!

  • Garymactaggart

    Definitely do the Channel 4 interview re-Adam Boulton, it was one of the best bits of TV I watched. can’t wait to see him try and laugh it off while saying it was all your fault and he wasn’t angry at all!

  • Peterleay

    Yes, Chester’s a really nice city.And the improvements are always in keeping with the original buildings.
    I’ve worked as a Community Mental Health Support Worker for the Cheshire & Wirral Trust for 14 years, and it still surprises & annoys me when I encounter prejudice [usually ill informed] towards mental illness.Many people’s “education” of mental health is from the scummy papers who love a ‘Mad psycho axemen’ type story!!
    I like your comparison between physical & mental health. When talking about or to a patient recovering from mental health problems,instead of saying “when you’re normal again” [!], I say when your healthy again.
    But thanks for shining a light onto the subject.
    Oh, incidentally, who gave this unelected coalition to sell off 50% of forest land? Don’t remember that in their manifesto!
    “Macdonalds’ welcomes you to the Forest of Dean” ! I don’t think so!!

  • Mark Wright

    You MUST do the Boulton thing! ANY opportunity to have that wonderful footage shown to the Great British Public once again should be seized upon with indecent haste.

    Good to see Wales leading the way with their mental health initiatives. The stigma that continues to surround mental health compounds the feelings of isolation and despair in the very people that need more than anything to feel connection with the world in which they live.

  • You should do the Boulton interview – they’ll only find someone else to comment otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    You became my hero for taking Boulton down on live tv! so you should do it on the condition that they ask Big Boulton to do a joint interview with you! (would love to see round two). Those channel 4 ‘top 100’ shows are rubbish though. The segment will no doubt be discussed by a half arsed get-me-on-the-tele comedian/soap actor, and you’re priceless moment will probably be followed by some Big Brother freak pooing in a cup or something like that.

  • Grahamscooby

    Do it. I think you should demand that Jeremy Thomson appears to defend his hilarious ‘Alastair, you are being provocative’ comment when it is clear that AB has been on the Red Bull.

  • Petercarrol

    Definitely do the Boulton interview! And the suggestion of a rematch is a very good idea. It will appear as if he is on there to defend the Tories, he will hate that when he realises (hopefully that will happen during the interview).

  • Grahamscooby

    And, by the way, tremendous evening at Chester. You are a born leader (or is that made?). We could have been there all night with questions. Can’t wait for the next set of diaries, you’ve blown away all the mystique. What’s your view on Belbin?

  • Paulddmurphy

    Chester is great with one of the best hotels outside London ( Chester Grosvenor), surrounded by fabulous walking and cycling countryside ( See a great site for visitors and locals alike) The restaurant at the racecourse (1539) is not bad either, great meal last night before your vintage after dinner performance, still cannot quite envisage Tony B stripped to the waist at the Gallowgate end !

  • Dammit, Alistair – I’ve lived near Chester all my life and nothing interesting ever happened. I pop off to uni in Newcastle and it’s all action stations back home … !

  • Teresa

    I really hope you do the interview for Channel 4, so many people adore you for it. Alastair our hero 🙂

  • Sarah-dodds

    Yes to Chester being fab, yes to the Boulton thing, and yes to anything that helps people check, analyse and discuss their own state of mental health.
    After suffering muliltiple miscarriages I felt pushed to the ultimate limit when my best friend produced a bouncing baby boy. I had a totally emotional and highly illogical response which shocked me as much as anyone else. I don’t think I had any idea until then just how badly I had been coping – I was just on auto-pilot, not really feeling anything until my friend had her baby. But with the support of a wonderful husband, family, colleagues, friends and a brilliant GP I was able to regain control of a crisis that I thought had beaten me. And what had pushed me to the brink was not the miscarriages themselves but the “stiff upper lip girl, you can always have another go”, and “why you so upset you have already got kids?” attitude of not all , but many. When I finally went to see my GP (once I actually recognisd that I was in emotional bits), his comment was “of course you feel like this. How the f**k are you meant to feel after what you have been through?” He taught me not to judge my emotional reaction against other people’s perceptions at all. And he taught me that regaining mental health is a bit like skidding in a car. The way to avoid crashing is to give to the skid, and then recover. Not to fight against it and then end up crashing. I don’t know how that fits with mental health treatment in general, but it certainly worked for me.
    (And the best happy ending is my own gorgeous twenty month old bouncing boy.)

  • Bryan H.

    The Festival evening was entertaining and equally thought provoking from presenter and audience alike. Several times Alastair used the word “we” and I just wonder if there might be some regal connotation as I think back to Thatcher those years ago. I doubt it very much but I heard some very wise words spoken from the heart that many should take on board. Return to Chester Alastair and I think you’ll have another “nice evening”. Bring the family and let them see and share its nicety as well.

  • Lord Cowshed

    So you decided against a trip to Prenton Park? Pity that.

  • Richard

    Your bullying , and then belittling of Boulton was a disgrace and showed you in a dreadful light. You should not be so proud of it.
    Your campaigning on mental health issues is wonderful, and with your weight behind it you, alone in public life in the UK, could cause a massive breakthrough in public attitudes, and change Government policy. Keep up this necessary work.

  • Grahamscooby

    Do it. I want them to ask Jeremy Thomson why he thought you were being so provocative! AB clearly on Red Bull.

  • Another vote for doing the Bolton interview, your performance cheered me up during a very dark time…

  • Teresa

    Sarah you brought tears to my eyes, I feel for you and I’m happy for you.

  • Janete

    ‘Your bullying , and then belittling of Boulton…’ You must be watching a different version than the rest of us!

  • Laura

    Check out who’s doing the punterish commentary on the ‘Funniest Things’ show. If they look like the typical snide bunch, don’t bother. If they look genuinely interesting or witty, I’d say go for it. Always good to show you can laugh at yourself – and laughing at Boulton is surely theraputic. Almost like mental health first aid 😀

  • Gilliebc

    Yet another very good blog if I may say so AC. For me the most interesting part of the blog was what you had to say regarding mental health problems and the scheme imported from Australia. Such a good idea. I have been plagued with bouts of depression, for no particular reason since I was about 5 years old. I rarely if ever talk about it because I still feel even in these so called enlightened times that it is something to be ashamed of. Anyway even with depression I managed to have a successful career and a happy marriage and family life. After giving that bit of background on my own experience of mental health issues, I come to the main point of this post. Because of how I am, I am able to spot or detect when another person may be struggling a bit. The first time was in a friend of a friend. I then thought I must be mistaken because he was such a tough and maccho bloke. I said nothing to him or indeed anyone else. About eight months later he took his own life. Just over 2 years ago my husband and I met up with some of his former colleagues and I had a very definate feeling that all was not well with one of them. Again I said nothing. Just two months after we last saw him, he also took his own life. It later emerged that he had been suffering from depression for 15 years. So I don’t think anything I might or could have said to him would have made a difference anyway. I don’t feel guilty about these two people, because we are all responsible for our own lives ultimately. But I do wonder if a scheme such as the Australian one might be of help in the future to some people. It must make some difference I would have thought and finally what can I and other interested people do to help get it rolled-out nationwide?

  • JonathanCR

    I visited Chester for the first time earlier this year when my better half was running in the first Chester marathon. It’s a lovely town and she loved the marathon!

    And yes, of course you should be interviewed for the Boulton piece.

  • Quinney

    How about another NW destination this week Ally? Rochdale to be precise, the birthplace of the Co-Op movement. Rochdale FC host a football club that is a Co-Operative in its own right.
    FC United of Manchester travel to the Dale on Bonfire night to play in the first round proper of the FA Cup, FC United have already sold 2,000 tickets so the atmosphere should be as electric as Campbell v Boulton.

  • Anonymous

    Glad you liked Chester Alastair – I’m sure Adam Boulton must want the ground to open up and swallow him every time he sees that clip!

  • Ehtch

    Lived in Chester for three years at the end of the 1980s – a grand place and an excellent place to live in or near. I should never have left.

    Go to racing day on the Roodee – a day out I well recommend.

  • Nerysgjones

    Hi, I had the pleasure of meeting you at the launch on Mental Health First Aid. I am pleased to say that my students and I have now completed the course. It is so worthwhile and we all felt that although very emotional at times we should all now be able to cope much better in situations when we or others around us are suffering. Hurry back to Chester.
    Nerys Jones