In my ‘younger’ years I was a huge Coldplay fan. The first concert I ever went to, was to see Coldplay in September 2009 at Wembley Stadium with my sister. It was the Viva la Vida Tour and I remember being pretty amazed by the whole thing.
In recent years Coldplay have more or less fallen off my musical radar. However, recently I was looking through Spotify and listening to the Coldplay discography. I was surprised to find that many of the tunes from the album’s Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, X & Y, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends and Mylo Xyloto, mentally took me on a journey from younger shy and nervous surgical house officer in North East London to older paediatric consultant in West London. It appears that during my most lonely and stressful junior doctors days, I listened to a lot of Coldplay…
‘Interesting’and crazy fact: I am 8 months older than Chris Martin, we are both the eldest of 5 siblings and have first class degrees from UCL.
I qualified as doctor in 2000. This makes me a doctor of the ‘new millennium’ (still working on what that really means!). 2000 was also the year that the first Coldplay album, Parachutes was released. My first job was working as surgical house officer at Chase Farm hospital, these first six months as a junior doctor were quite challenging. I will not bore you with the details (haha, maybe I’ll save it for that book I am meant to have written) but suffice to say, it was the start was the beginning of a busy life in the NHS and I remember being stressed and tired most of the time . I moved out of my family home into house officer residence. I am not sure what junior doctor residence is like now, but then as house officer it was free, basic but livable enough. Having shared a room with my sisters for all of childhood and almost halfway through my twenties, it was nice to finally have a space to call my own, even if was on hospital grounds. TV and the internet were not big features of my life back then, music was what kept me sane. This album, takes me straight back to that time. I had my little silver tape machine and later silver CD player.
Parachutes is less than an hour long and therefore got many repeat plays on my evenings off. Yellow, seemed to be a song that frequently floated through my head but my favourite song on that album is Shiver. Not sure why, I think I just like the guitar melodies – especially at the beginning of the song and the vocals all the way through. At time that I was listening to Parachutes the most, I am reminded of the tail end of summer of 2000, evenings of golden sunlight and that something dramatic and hopeful was going to happen in some future or other. Strange memory, but there it is.
I finished my house officer year in the summer of 2001 and by that time I was of course listening many other things, Nelly Furtado (Whoa, Nelly!) and Sade (Lovers rock) are just two artists that spring to mind. In fact, the Nelly Furtado album pretty much takes me straight back to my medical house officer ‘residency’ at the Whittington Hospital and the many hours I spent on the respiratory and medical wards. Every time I think back to those 6 months in that job, I am reminded that it was the happiest time in my junior doctor/doctors existence. February to August 2001, so coming out of winter and floating into a lovely spring and summer. During this time I formed two strong friendships at that time, that kept me sane and at the same time made me question my very existence on earth. Those people know who they are but it unlikely they’ll ever read this. At that time, I remember feeling part of a team, to some extent and working with a senior colleague that just made life and medicine fun. I have to say that sadly, I have not felt that way since. During that time as a house officer, I guess it was the first time anybody paid attention to me as a doctor and a person, to make me pay attention to myself in a positive way. It is interesting reflecting on in now, some 20 years later. I can now see that everything since then has been a process external and internal criticism, fear of failure and immense pressure to succeed. In the first year of being a doctor, while I works ridiculously hard, I did not at that point have the pressure of exams and how to get ‘ahead’, that all came immediately after!
It would be remiss of me not to mention Richard Ashcroft’s album Alone With Everybody as an absolutely (in my opinion) epic album that took me from one stressful house officer posting to another of the polar opposite circumstances. The songs on this album that I could listen to forever are: I Get My Beat, Brave New World, New York, You on My Mind In My Sleep, On A Beach, Slow Was My Heart, C’Mon People (We’re Making It Now) and Everybody. They would soothe me and uplift me. Is that strange? I do not know. Even now this album is like a tonic to the soul.
I did my first senior house officer year at the hospital of my birth, starting in August 2001, a quarter of a century after my arrival on planet Earth. It felt a bit like the universe had planned this for me, that I was to be a children’s doctor at the hospital that I entered this world. Coldplay did not feature in this year. Instead Aretha Franklin (30 Greatest Hits) and Ash (Free All Angels) seem to spring to mind as artists I was listening to back and forth to work. Although neither albums were released at that time they were a big part of my musical narrative. Somehow, the tunes playing in my head, got me through hours and hours on the neonatal unit and the postnatal ward. I had also moved back home with all the constraints and comforts that family life brings. During this time I decided I was going to be a paediatrician, so I started preparing for the first set of written examinations. I was also in the process of learning to drive so it would either be in the bus with my CD walkman or driving around with my compilations tapes that I would have spent hours planing and creating. As you can see from the links below, music really did feature significantly in those days!
It’s funny, again, thinking back to those times, I seem to have had more space to either think about listening and enjoying music or just enough space for it to form the wallpaper, sky and carpet for my existence. That does not seem to happen anymore. Maybe, I have more responsibilities, maybe I have filled my head with other things but in the process have lost something unnamable.
A Rush of Blood to the Head is probably my favourite of the Coldplay albums. When it was released in August 2002, I was at this point living in Portsmouth and just staring my two year senior house officer rotation. This time on the south coast, was one of the loneliest times of my life. In retrospect, I see that I just did not fit in, I did not know how to fit in. I constantly thought that there was something ‘wrong’ with me. I missed my home, my family and I missed ‘my London’. I did make multiple attempts to carve out a social life, dancing classes and swimming, but there were many evenings I would get back to my flat, lie on my sofa after long shifts at work, listen to this album and silently cry inside. Sounds a bit tragic and self-indulgent now, but it was what it was. I should do myself the service of remembering that I was at the time a junior doctor working long hours in a busy hospital away from social support and I should remember the emotional toll that takes on a person. I will also remember that in this time I was preparing for the next set of examinations on the way to being a paediatrician, which brought another set of stresses.
The worse part about the job was in the first year, I was rostered on nights over Christmas of 2002, so I did Christmas Eve and Christmas Day nights. I do not think they were especially busy and we even had Christmas Dinner curtesy of the hospital. However what was my enduring memory of that time was the feeling when I got home to my cold and empty flat on Christmas morning. I felt sad, lonely and bereft. The same feeling haunted me when I woke up later in the evening to go back to work.
My favourite song on this album is Warning Sign. It is one of my all time favourite songs, it just is. It appears on all my melancholy playlists and if I was ever interviewed for desert island discs, that would be one of the tunes going with me. It’s sad but touches my soul in ways that I just do not have words for. Maybe that says something odd about me, I do not know. Then, I listened to all the time, I’ll admit I was pretty miserable and lonely. Now 20 years later, I listen to this song when I want to disappear into another time and place and when I comeback I feel like earth when the rain has stopped and the sun has come out again.
Don’t remember much about X&Y. It came out in June 2005 and I had returned to London the previous year, I had bought a flat and felt more myself, whatever that was at the time, and I was just ‘ticking along’. I completed two stand alone senior house officer jobs, tertiary neonates and community paediatrics in South London, before getting a place on a 5 year registrar training programme in North London. My registrar years were busy and tough in many ways. I am not sure I had time to feel quite so sorry for myself, I was busy writing audits, presentations and applying for postgraduate university courses. I had made more friends, and significantly I joined a Church, got baptised and there was generally less of a ‘woe is me’ attitude. I think at time I was more likely to be found listening to worship songs from artists such as Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Tim Hughes and the like. I somehow at the time I took much joy in this music. Even now, while I do not believe, in quite the same way anymore, if I were to hear song like Beautiful One (Tim Hughes) and I Stand Amazed (How Marvellous) (Chris Tomlin) I probably stop what I was doing a revel in general feeling of rejoicing that it induced in the past. I think at this time I also ‘discovered’ the band Keane and during this time I remember listening to tracks from Hopes and Fears and Under The Iron Sea. The latter album was released in 2006 but at that time – time seemed both long, short and blurred – so the memories are in the same box in my brain.
So, while I bought X&Y album, I think it did not have the same emotional tug as the other Coldplay albums. I have more memories of the other albums and artists that I was listening to! When I think of the X&Y album, I think of The Frog Prince and Crystal Ball from Under The Iron Sea.
A Message is one song from X&Y that did pull at my heart strings and did make me feel like crying for reasons that I could not and still cannot articulate. Maybe it’s the lyrics. In a way this tune takes me back to the melancholy Portsmouth days.
When Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends came out in 2008, I was working in East London. I was well into my community paediatrics and had by then decided that that was the speciality that I wanted to follow. I worked pretty hard in that job, ridiculously hard. The start of the pattern of working that I have found very difficult to alter over a decade later. I remember leaving the building every evening listening to Strawberry Swing on my little green iPod and feeling that I had just lost something by being one of the last to leave the building and thinking that perhaps there might be different way of being. Still now when I hear that song, I can picture the sun rays hitting the pavement on Downs Park road as I made my way to my car or the train station – it’s a very specific memory recall! It felt like a joyful song which buoyed me up at the time when I was feeling the polar opposite. But interestingly is not my favourite song on that album – instead it is Death and All His Friends that captured my imagination. The tune I think.
When Mylo Xyloto was released in 2011 I had been a new consultant for a few months. I don’t remember the album being either memorable or featuring much in my existence, but I remember listening Everydrop is a Waterfall, every morning on repeat for weeks, while getting ready for work. Not even sure, now what the fascination was. At that time I was still going to Church and all things related an I was also listening to Matt Redman’s 10,000 reasons. Randomly after watching an episode from Glee I bought the Fleetwood Mac album Rumours. I love that album and now it reminds me of the those first few honeymoon months of being a brand new consultant before reality kicks in!
Then all of a sudden my interest in Coldplay just stopped. I was aware that they had another album, Ghost Stories but I did not pay much attention. It was 2014, the year my father passed away so it was likely I had many other things on my mind, they certainly were not on my musical radar. In fact in that last horrible six months of 2014, I was quite mindful the music that I listened to, because I knew it would forever remind of tragedy that was unfolding before our eyes. Perhaps another blog post for another day but certain tracks take me back to the hospital visits and the feeling of utter-helplessness. So this 6th album does not feature in my memory bank at all.
Then A Head Full of Dreams was released in 2015, almost exactly a year after my father passed. Life was still difficult because I was finding the loss difficult to process. It was and still is unbelievable, dominating many of my thoughts then and now. I do not write much about my father, perhaps I might in the future perhaps it might help me. However music in these past years is not quite the same. It does not have the same hold over me. I ‘feel’ but with a different type of thought and intensity. For this 7th Coldplay and I was attracted to the pretty album cover so I brought a CD copy in Tesco using my vouchers. It feels terrible to say it, but it sat in my car for months. I cannot recall playing it or liking any of the tracks. Maybe it signalled that my love of all things Coldplay was over. Or maybe it was just a casualty of the times. It now sits on the shelf with my other Coldplay albums but every time I pick it up, I immediately feel the sadness that I now feel when December time comes around. I won’t dwell on too much. I am sure one day it will change. Maybe I’ll play it on a sunny summer afternoon.
In March 2018, I was in a cafe in Portugal minding my own business and enjoying my food…
At this point in my life I had been married for just under 2 years. I’d left my first consultant post of six years and had almost a year into my new consultant post. Life was completely different in so many ways. I was also an aunt and wondering if my own motherhood journey was ever going to get off the ground. This little European jaunt, was the first holiday I had taken alone since being with Nacho. I found I that I really enjoyed being on my own, lost in my thoughts, not having to explain anything to anyone. It was extremely liberating and peaceful. For me, going away, knowing that I had somebody and something to come back to, was a very different experience from my previous holidays.
All of sudden Coldplay was on the TV that was on above my head. I looked up and Magic was playing and was I a little mesmerised for a few minutes. Hearing it like I was hearing it for the first time, which was more or less true.
When I got back to my hotel room I downloaded the song from Spotify and listened to it for the rest of the evening and the rest of my holiday (yes, I can be a little intense at times!) . So that song just takes me back to those glorious few days away.
The Coldplay bug struck again when I was on holiday, again, on my own, always the way huh? I was in Paris in May last year.
One my last evening, I decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower to see what it looked like lit up at night. I was not disappointed. And what do you know, somebody was playing Coldplay – before or after marriage proposal (the woman said yes). The night was warm and the atmosphere lovely and I felt such peace. It was a nice feeling. It did occur to me that it might have been nice to share that with somebody but I think sometimes I just need to be OK with being by oneself.
So what now…? When I started writing this post in November 2019, just by coincidence Coldplay were about to release another album, Everyday Life. I have yet to explore it and I am not sure if I will do this or what I will think if I do. But I do think, after reading what I have just written, is that I probably need to be alone, with plenty of space head space to appreciate it. Maybe I’ll take my own advice and listen to it on my commute to work, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think…