The existential dread. Join us… or are you already there?

sma niell

The existential dread has hit my little urban family hard this year.

I thought it’d happen at 30. That’s what people tell you. And don’t get me wrong, at 30 I had a fair enough freak out. But it wasn’t dread. At worst, it was just confusion.

The dread, is a whole other thing. I can best describe it as a sense of mild panic, nostalgia and guilt, mixed in with irrational fear. I’ve always been neurotic, so I thought best to ignore it. Concentrate on work in the week, and concentrate on drowning the fear with wine at the weekend.

But it’s come to light that it’s not just me, it’s an epidemic. Which was at first comforting, but then I realised, if we all feel like this, and none of us have a clue what we’re doing, how do we stop it?

The only thing I can think of is to share the fear and hope that it’ll make someone else in the same situation feel better. Safety in numbers after all.

Sleep (including lie-ins)

What the fuck happened to sleep? Lyrics & books are a great way to judge how your outlook changes over time. Read something at a certain point in life, then read it again later and you can feel the meaning shift like a shaky foundation underneath you.

When I was thirteen, me and my friend Donna bought Catatonia’s International Velvet. I remember listening to Cerys singing a particular line in Strange Glue; ‘The end of the night never comes too quickly for me’.

What? (Thought my incredulous 13-year-old-self) The end of the night always comes too quickly. A lie in, bed, a great sleep has always fixed everything.

It’s only recently I’ve understood what she meant. Now (especially on a Sunday), the night is a series of hours where your own bastard brain relentlessly demands to know you what you’re doing. It reminds you about money. Tells you you’re going to fail at work. Tells you you’re going to look like shit in the morning because you haven’t slept. Tells you you should follow your dreams (whatever they are, you aren’t sure) instead of doing what your doing (whatever that is, you’re not sure about that either).

In the morning, you curse yourself for not having slept well, because if you had, all these issues (now a distant and trivial memory) wouldn’t even have occurred with you. You’re like a vampire in the daylight again, hiding the cracks with sunscreen (or foundation) so you don’t have to answer any questions.


Don’t get me wrong, relationships have always been a pain in the arse, and a source of potential panic. I know this. But in your 30′s, for an extra bonus, you’re aware of time. It was painful, cocking things up in your 20’s. But now it’s not a sharply felt pain – it’s a niggling, like a headache about to start.

What if you make the wrong decision? Waste a year in your 20’s – no biggie. Waste one in your 30’s, that’s one year less that anyone, anywhere is going to fancy you because you’re heading to 40.

What if you never get married? What if you don’t want to get married? What if you marry the wrong person? Better end it now than get divorced. But what if you end it now through fear of divorce, and realise everything was actually fine and it was just the fear talking? Do all the people who say ‘when it’s the one, you just know’ actually know? Or are they just lying?

More likely – are they just more practical? Who the fuck knows. This kind of pointless train of thought leads on to the following…


Do I want one? Should I want one?

I like having my time free to write neurotic rants like this, then go to the pub with mates. With my vagina in tact. I like having the option to sleep at night (though often that’s scuppered anyway, as mentioned in point 1). But surely not as scuppered as it would be by an unnecessary, expensive, time and planet resource consuming child.

What if I decide at 45 I did want one, but now I’m too old? What if having a child (quote verbatim from my ma) “will be the making of me”, and I don’t have one, and am therefore never truly, er, made.

What if I don’t have one and I have no girlfriends to hang out with anymore as they all had one, can’t come out at normal adult-with-a-job social hours, and on the odd occasion they do we have nothing to talk about as I don’t know or really care what small people do, and my nearest point of reference is how drunk big people act?

What if I do have one, and (as mentioned in point 2) it was with the wrong man, and he either leaves me stuck with the energy and youth sucking little shit, or worse, doesn’t leave me and we spend the next 30 years resenting each other and putting a face on ‘for the kids’.

Again, I have no answer to this.


What does my job mean? Does it matter?

What happened to my hopes and dreams, of travelling, being a journalist, all that. Do normal people jack all that in for stability and a decent wage?

Did it take so long to haul-ass up the ladder (the climb sustained by the worry I’d be a barmaid forever living on tips and free drinks) that I forgot to look where I was going? Do I actually love my job and feel guilty about it?

The higher you climb, the more you find yourself riddled with guilt and terrified of falling off. Half of you is proud, half of you is panicked. But past a certain age, you hide the panicked part because you have to, and your exterior becomes a mask of calm.

Is that normal?

Is it ungrateful to even wonder whether it’s normal? Am I a dick? The last question I can answer definitively. Yes.

Where are all the grownups?

Remember that time you lost your parents in a crowd? You were probably looking at something shiny and grabbed the shiny thing. When you turned round to show them, you were met by a forest of towering legs below a sea of stranger’s blank faces, going about their business.

You felt tiny and lost.

Well your 30′s are like that, but you’re not permitted to have a breakdown on the floor in tears. If you did, rather than kindness, you’d be met by redundancy and and bill you can’t afford from a shrink.

You are the grown up.

The grownups you remember, the ones with mortgages, kids, cars, jobs where you wear a suit and read a paper at the weekend – they’re you and your friends. The same friends you smoked a fatty with in the skate park while necking 20/20 what seemed like five minutes ago.

Got a question and need advice? You’re fucked.

Last but not least… rose tinted specs. 

My friend Donna (remember, from point 1) – has known me since I was 11.

If she reads this, she’ll no doubt (another great 90’s band, with an ironic name given the context) remind me that when we listened to that Catatonia album for the first time, we hugely overanalysed the lyrics, searching for what they meant.

I know (thinking logically, which I do on occasion) I’ve always been a little unsure of everything. I think we all are.

This may be the most irritating thing about your 30’s and the existential dread.

Friendships, jobs, relationships – everything seems easier and more fun when you look back.

I hate it when I hear my dad hark on about the golden days of the 50s, maybe because it strikes a nerve. Do we all turn into our parents in the end, lamenting our lost and semi-fictional youth?


I’m also aware that we aren’t that old.

If anyone could advise on how to get a good night’s sleep and prevent the continuation of this shit, i.e., lamenting the lost awesomeness of my 30’s when I’m 40, I’d like to hear from them.

Anyway, fellow friend of the fear, sleep well…

Review: Red Rope Theatre’s Dracula at Arnos Vale


Walking up the dark and misty moonlit path to Arnos Vale’s Anglican Chapel, past silhouetted graves and toward the light, you can’t help but be in the mood for horror.

There could hardly be a better place to immerse yourself in a familiar Gothic tale of the undead than this beautiful and foreboding cemetery on a dark and blustery November night.

Read the full review in Bristol 24/7…

Zombie popularity may mean society is unhappy. But it doesn’t mean fans want to be the Zombies.


I read an article yesterday about the theory that zombie fads peak when society is unhappy. The researcher and writer of the piece is an American who is not a zombie fan herself. She is an English teacher who ‘can’t stand violence’ but found it interesting that zombie popularity in the US peaked at a time when ‘people felt that they hadn’t been listened to by the Bush administration’. The rise of popularity in the genre is a puzzling one, and it seems very plausible that the spread of ‘Zombie Walks’ and the growing popularity of zombie films and TV Series’ like the Walking Dead have something to say about society – and about our dissatisfaction with it. Otherwise surely we’d pick something a little less, you know, rotten.

I have been a horror fan, and fan of zombie flicks in particular since I was a little kid. Yes, I know you aren’t meant to watch that stuff when you’re a little kid, but I was a sneaky one. I think my first foray into the world of horror was watching A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about seven after being expressly told by my mother not to, which, obviously, is why I watched it.

I have also been on one of the zombie walks that Lauro mentions in her article, although I wasn’t a zombie, I was on the run from them all over Bristol. The following year I played the part of a zombie myself. It was great fun.

Zombie’s aside, I love horror films, trashy horror novels, old and twisted children’s fables, Munch paintings, Grosz paintings, horror film scores, I could go on. So on one hand, I clearly have a passion and intrigue regarding the macabre in general, which partially explains why zombies appeal to me. However, on the other I think the appeal of zombies in particular, to me anyway, is something slightly different. And I do think it has something to do with dissatisfaction with society, but not quite in the way that Lauro mentions.

It was after all a comment on society that made zombies popular in the early days – when Romero and Savini were making their now cult classics. Their films clearly expressed dissatisfaction with society. While Night of the Living Dead commented on race and intolerance, Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead was the film that really struck a chord with me. It is a deviation, evolution or mutation of this original societal statement that has held my interest in the genre ever since, and it is that original statement I feel has led to the growing popularity of the zombie genre in recent years.

The original film was, among other themes, a comment on capitalism, and the lack of any real meaning that comes from blindly chasing things that aren’t necessary. That’s both the undead who unthinkingly chase flesh they don’t need to consume, and the group of survivors who end up in an abandoned shopping mall surrounded by all the things money can buy for the perfect consumer lifestyle, which now mean nothing at all.

It is this blind pursuit of material things without application of reason that is intriguing. Further than that I think the genre has gained popularity due to its theme of survival in it’s most raw and basic sense. It’s the theme of hunting, of going back to basics, back to the wild, to the brutal and unembellished skill of taking care of yourself without all the unnecessary things that we now pursue that appeals. It is also interesting that this theme first appeared in the genre in the late seventies, just before the ‘greed is good’ capitalist eighties. However, it is an unrest that has reared it’s head in horrific pop culture manifestations ever since, with the publication of books like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho portraying the same loss of direction and retreat to violence in order to feel something real and visceral.

As we become increasingly removed from nature and buried in city life, and as new technology distances us from reality and throws us into the virtual, zombies represent something animal and a return to our roots.

In a horribly escapist, simplistic and brutal way of course.

Whether or not fans would want the situations we love so much on screen to occur in reality, (let alone whether we could actually survive them, softened as we are) it’s a way to use the neglected part of our psyche that wonders what would happen if zombies really were.

The genre also addresses a loss of traditional ‘masculinity’. I say this for lack of a better word, as I am a woman, and feel the same way. What I mean is a lack of hands on, necessary pursuits, a lack of having to fight for your survival and fend for yourself. A disconnect from nature and necessity.

Modern living, in places like Britain and America at least where the genre is incredibly popular, is often so sterile it can lead to a lust for getting back to basics. We live a life full of internet friendships, of shrink wrapped meat that bears no resemblance to what it once was, of vitamin pills, fashion, music that appears for judgment in various ‘streams’, likes and shares on Facebook and other social media, design and cult interests that are supposed to display your personality.

You can log in your location to show people the trendy places you have been. You can hire people to do your odd jobs, learning a practical trade has lost it’s respect and doesn’t pay as well anymore. Industry is dying – contracted out to the point that we see no assembly at all, we just buy the finished product. The closest we get is the pre-cut and sanded kit complete with allen keys from Ikea, with that confused little bloke on the manual, baby stepping us through the process just in case we still can’t work it out. We make up for this lack by doing a bit of DIY on the weekend, you know, with real tools. Nothing is hands on anymore, and like the zombies, we are lost and lacking a sense of purpose.

To me, zombies are appealing as they are something to fight against. They make me picture myself as the survivor, fighting that dead, decaying and purposeless part of myself. The survivor is free from banal and pathetic concerns about Spotify appearing in their stream to be judged by someone else, the concerns about the place they live and the way they dress. They are immune to and unaware of marketing, of unnecessary embellishment.

They just survive the way they want to and have to, roaming and fighting their way out of the droning, baying crowd who so badly want to bite them them and make them just another zombie – senseless, rotting, consuming and mindlessly wandering in herds. Without ever wondering what the purpose of it is.

But then maybe that’s just me.


The Ted Bundy Project – Review

210514143024--The Ted Bundy Project at Mayfest Bristol review

“Don’t expect to settle in comfortably for Greg Wohead’s thought provoking and deeply disturbing one man show, The Ted Bundy Project. Expect to be a little scared – not of serial killers as you would probably expect, but of something much more threatening and personal”.

Genuinely unsettling and highly recommended, read my review in Guide2Bristol here

Zombies & HR!


Don’t usually include my marketing writing on here, but I got to write about zombies for work – hurrah! Read my post for Carbon360 here! 

Theatre Review – ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’

Read my Review of Darkstuff Production’s performance of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ at Bierkellar Theatre Bristol in Guide2Bristol. A really interesting and unique venue for theatre productions – check them out if you haven’t already!


Theatre Review – Misery at Bierkeller Theatre

Read my review of Oliver Hume’s adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic ‘Misery’ in Guide2Bristol. Play performed at Bierkeller Theatre, Bristol.


Film Review – Room 237 – A look behind the door of The Shining

The Shining is without doubt one of my all-time favourite horror films.

I also love the book, and despite Stephen King’s vehement objections to the film’s deviation from the original themes (the horror of a volatile and abusive alcoholic father, struggling with demons, while his traumatised son invents an imaginary friend to escape his memories) Kubrick’s version is equally interesting and terrifying. The maze scene in which Nicholson’s ‘Jack Torrence’ meets his end is one of the most memorable cinematic moments in horror history, and something that was not part of King’s original telling.

Kubrick has undoubtedly a completely different way of building tension, suspense and paranoid, uneasy terror. His almost visceral lack of subtlety bludgeons you into submission, and the surreal and intense colours and sickeningly long corridors (which make as little sense to your overloaded senses as the maze makes to the characters in the film) affect in a completely different way to the book. In a way that couldn’t be achieved in a book.

Kubrick’s reworking is also primed for conspiracy theory, as is all of his work. His infamously obsessive attention to detail, and insistence on cinematic continuity down to the tiniest insignificant detail makes his films the perfect playground for other obsessives to read into, to pour over, frame by frame, noticing a seemingly inexhaustible number of tiny oddities – possibly deliberate, possibly accidental, but all wholly and compellingly open to speculation over what the eccentric director intended them to show.

Room 237 explores some of these theories, in the style of a deconstructive literary interpretation – a presentation of five theories put forward by five very different obsessives whom we never actually see. What we do see is a beautifully directed and painstakingly thorough walk through of what led them to their varying conclusions – some of which are totally plausible, some of which are disturbingly paranoid and others which are just plain daft. We journey with these fanatics, who have watched the film, frame by frame, who knows how many hundreds of times.

The theories proponents range from historians, to journalists, to simply obsessively interested fanatics, and the readings vary wildly. That is the really interesting thing about this documentary – the vast difference of human minds, all of whom are obsessed with the same thing, and all of whom reach such utterly different conclusions – and like a dog with a bone, once they get a taste, they simply cannot let go.

From a historical commentary about the holocaust, to a narrative charting America’s systematic denial and refusal to really admit their responsibility for the genocide of the Native Americans, to a secret confession of Kubrick’s staging of the NASA moon landing in the sixties, each interpretation is passionately backed with perceived ‘evidence’. Some of which is compelling; some of which is utterly bizarre.

The question is, to what extent should we let ourselves indulge artistic interpretation before it becomes a kind of insanity – and again, The Shining is the perfect sphere in which to explore such a notion.

We also have to ask, with knowledge of the directors obsessive, deliberate nature and his filmic insistence on detail, is it in fact us – the average viewer, the fan of horror – that has missed the point.

Whichever way you look at it, the film, and the characters of those possessed by it (which some of them clearly are) make for very interesting viewing. Just be careful you don’t get as lost in the maze as Jack Torrence does. Most standard filmgoers will no doubt give you a frosty reception.

The other great thing about the documentary is that it made me sorry I had not been born when the film was originally released, to have seen it without expectation, and to have seen is as it was intended, in all its glory, on the big screen.

Thankfully, the last one is achievable. The director’s cut of The Shining is showing at the Watershed, so that is where I’ll be. Trying not to read too much into one of my favourite films, which I suspect will now look to me, slightly different.



Theatre Review – Bierkeller Theatre’s Halloween Cabaret

More Halloween fun with Bristol newcomers Bierkeller Theatre’s latest offering. Read my review here - and be sure to check out what they’ve got coming up. Really good fun!


Theatre Review – The Graveyard Slot

A great way to get in the mood for Halloween! The Wardrobe Theatre present The Graveyard Slot - a really fun play by the Hecate Theatre. Read my review in Guide2Bristol here - and get over to see it if you can!

Many more Halloween related reviews to follow. You know how I love my Horror! Happy October everyone :)