It starts with a message from a man who I don’t know.
He says he likes my blog and asks would I be interested in taking part in a podcast.
The problem is I don’t know what a podcast is.
But then, a couple of years ago I didn’t know what a blog was.
I send him a message asking for more information and he sends me some links. I start to watch the first episode.
I watch two men in a studio talking about mental health. In truth it’s a little robotic. But it’s also funny, direct and incredibly well-intentioned.
I watch a few more episodes. I see the two men begin to relax, to find their comfort zone and their true voices. They tackle difficult subjects in an accessible and positive way.
The podcast is called Mind Your Bap. I send a message back to this man.
‘I’d be delighted to take part.’
A few days later I’m in a studio. It’s a different studio than they had used before because people had been telling them that the sound quality on their podcasts wasn’t great. This is a radio studio from where Lisburn’s 98FM is broadcast and it is full of microphones.
There are four other people here. Robbie is a small bearded man and Marty is a large bearded man. I’m a medium bearded man so I feel immediately at home.
Sarah completes the Mind Your Bap team, doing all the camera and production work and holding the whole thing together. Michael runs the studio and quietly asks Marty not to break anything.
Michael asks Marty to tap the microphone to ensure it’s working. Then he has to show him which part of the microphone to tap.
Robbie and Marty are the unlikely duo who are the faces of Mind Your Bap. A local politician and a businessman who have come together to try and start a positive conversation about mental health.
They tell me they are Liverpool supporters. I think of great partnerships in history. Keegan and Toshack. Dalglish and Rush. Torvill and Dean. Little and Large.
We take our seats. There’s no real rehearsals or discussion about what we’ll talk about. Marty has scratched a few questions on a notebook which he shows to me. Robbie asks him if he can have a page from the book.
Then they practise the fist bump. The fist bump is a big thing on Mind Your Bap, the signature move which starts and ends every podcast. But in the new studio Robbie is at the other side of the desk. It’s agreed that Marty and I will do the fist bump.
The fist bump is is important. It’s their signature, their calling card, what they’re known for.
We start filming. We forget to do the fist bump.
The format is simple. The guys ask me to tell them about my experiences, about a life spent battling depression and anxiety.
I nod my head. Then I begin to talk.
As I said I’ve watched a few of the earlier blogs. They are often about 12 minutes long. Some of them are 20 minutes.
When I stop to take a breath Robbie tells me that we’ve been going for more than 40 minutes. And I’ve still got loads more to say. The truth is it’s been easy, comfortable and natural. Robbie and Marty let the conversation assume its own dynamic, gently nudging it in the right direction. The camaraderie is the strength of the format.
We take a break and have coffees. Marty and Robbie film a shorter piece, a promo for upcoming episodes. They agree that they will start talking after one claps his hands. Then the camera begins and they both clap their hands at the same time. Then they laugh and row gently as each claims that the hand clap was their designated task.
Then they record the promo. Robbie talks about my upcoming appearance. He mentions one of my recent blogs, the one I wrote about getting lost in a small village called Corbet. He talks about how Corbet is a metaphor for feeling lost in life. How we all have our own versions of Corbet, a place of uncertainty and fear.
I’m impressed. He’s found a depth in my writing that I didn’t know existed. I nod along sagely.
Then I’m back behind the microphone to record some more. I talk about launching my blog and writing about mental health problems. It’s honest and raw and I’m on the edge of tears a few times.
It feels like we could probably talk all day but Sarah is waving her arms frantically. We’ve gone on for so long that the batteries in the cameras are starting to fail. We have to wrap it now.
I finish the podcast by reading one of my blogs. It’s the one I wrote as a letter to myself when I was a younger man, a letter that seemed to touch a lot of people (https://whatsadaddyfor.blog/2019/05/17/letter-to-my-pre-parent-self/).
There’s no sound in the studio as I read other than my thick country bumpkin accent. My words are always intended to be read, I never expected to be reading them aloud. A few times I have to fight to hold my composure as I feel the emotion washing over me.
Then I finish and the silence stretches on for just a couple of seconds. I think in that silence there is a shared recognition that we have achieved something together. Out of all of the messiness and the laughter we have created something bigger than its own parts.
Then we do the fist bump.
And it’s over.
We hang around chatting for a bit, perhaps unwilling to let go of the feeling that’s been created.
But then handshakes are exchanged because we all have to go back to our own lives.
As we leave we tell each other that we’d like to meet another time, to do something together again.
I hope we do.