Mass Observation Day 2021

On the 12th of May every year, the Mass Observation Archive asks people to keep a diary for a day in order to capture the everyday lives of people all over the UK. There’s usually a suggested loose theme; for example, last year, it was suggested that diary entries not focus on exactly but highlight the pandemic and the effect it was having on our lives. This year, the website suggests that “diaries can record 12th May and reflect back over the past year and look forward to the future and life beyond this year.”

I’m a long time diary writer and have been for years so this project was an exciting discovery. I love the idea of so many people’s experiences stored in one place, the idea of collecting as many versions of one day as possible and trying to build the fullest picture of it. So, for the last couple of years, I’ve looked forward to this day, to writing about it, and to sending it off to the Mass Observation Archive. But I also like posting the day here too.

Some important things to know before reading this: I’m autistic and struggle with Treatment Resistant Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. I was also recently diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Inattentive Type). All of the symptoms get worse under stress; I’m beginning the homestretch of a Masters Degree in Songwriting and while things with the pandemic seem to be improving (the vaccines, the lockdown slowly lifting, etc), it’s hard to let go of so much ingrained fear and hard to know what the ‘right’ level of fear is. So I guess I’m still struggling with the pandemic, although not in the same way as I was struggling with it last year.


What I thought was going to be a relatively chilled out day spent at my laptop, working on stuff for the final Masters module, the Major Repertoire Project, and catching up on all the work I’d planned to do when I got hit with last week’s killer migraine (it lasted six days and involved paramedics being called to the house). But then, last night, I got an email from uni with the upcoming events and realised that the upcoming Song Sharing Session was today, this afternoon. I haven’t been back to uni since the first lockdown, working from home as an online student, so going back – and going into London – felt like a real big deal. But instead of spending hours ruminating on whether or not I should go, letting my anxiety make the decision, I decided that I wanted to go and so me and my Mum started making plans to make it possible. As things go, it felt as safe as anything can be right now: Mum had said she’d drive me there and back, I’ve had my first vaccine, and no one can enter the building unless they’ve tested negative. Mum ran out to get to COVID home tests and after that, all there was left to do was play through my songs to be as ready as possible.

Maybe because my subconscious was processing the idea of going to London, I didn’t sleep well and struggled up, later than I’d planned. And it was kind of chaos from that point on. I had a problem with my computer that sent me into a panic. I managed to sort it out but the anxiety of the situation wasn’t a great way to start the day. And then, before I could even make it to the shower, one of the cats got stuck in the attic and since we were going to be out for most of the day, we had to get her down before we left in case she couldn’t figure out how to do it herself or one of the others decided to climb up too. Even with treats, it took ages to get her down and then settle all five of them.

I did my Lateral Flow Home Test and had a shower, got dressed, and did my hair and make up while it did it’s testing thing. It came back negative, which was great obviously, but trying to register the result and get the confirmation email that would allow me to get into the uni building was overly complicated and much more time-consuming than described – particularly frustrating as I was trying to get out of the door. I’d wanted it to be as up to date as possible and suddenly it was making me really late. So that was just more stress on top of an already stressful morning.

The rush out of the house and the stress of going back to uni for the first time in so long made me nauseous and dizzy and I spent most of the drive breathing deeply and trying to keep my mind from spinning. My Mum had very kindly said she’d drive me to London since I’m still feeling very wary of public transport, especially the underground, so we talked and listened to music and by the time we pulled up outside the uni building, I was more excited than nervous. It felt so strange to be back, like it had only been a couple of days and a century at the same time since I’d last been there.

I’d expected to feel nervous there – I mean, I’ve been nervous everywhere but my house since the pandemic began – but given the strict safety procedures, I felt really safe and relaxed. It took me by complete surprise but it was so nice and being back there kind of felt like coming home; I have been studying there, on and off, for the last six years after all.

Slowly, the ten of us that had turned up to the session congregated and we were all just so excited, like a bunch of seven year olds at a birthday party. Some of us had never actually met each other in real life – as a fully online student, there was only one person I’d met before we went into lockdown – so it was very exciting to finally meet these people who I’d only ever seen on a screen. Having said that, it was somewhat weird to be saying, “It’s so nice to meet you!” to people I’ve had hours of classes, discussions, and laughs with.

We were all hanging out and chatting, catching up since most of us haven’t seen each other – even on a screen – for several weeks, when Sophie, our tutor and course leader, showed up to run the session. She was as excited to see us as we were to see her. It was so lovely to see her: I’ve known her for almost seven years and she’s been so supportive, both of my songwriting and of me as a person. So, yeah, I was super pleased to see her in real life again.

We got ourselves in a circle and had a bit more of an official catch up before taking turns playing songs and talking about our projects. I hadn’t heard music from most of the people there so that was really cool and inspiring and everyone’s working on such fascinating projects. I kept finding myself volunteering as a potential cowriter over and over, despite the voice in my head saying, “You already have so much to do!” The projects were just so fascinating.

I got to play two songs: the first was the song that really got my project rolling, a song I wrote a little over a year ago to a family friend who also has Autism; the second is a new song about my experience of OCD. The newer one was scary to perform but it seemed to go down well, which was reassuring. The whole session was just so fun and so good for me, for my mental health. I wanted to stay and hang out with everyone, even after the session was over, but since my Mum was driving me home, it wasn’t fair to ask her to wait any longer. So I said my goodbyes, made plans to meet up again, picked up my uni’s own facemasks (I mean, that’s the weirdest school merch I’m ever gonna get), and headed out to find my Mum.

On the drive home, I slowly came down from my adrenaline high until I was utterly exhausted. I did manage to catch up with my Mum and then two of my parents on the phone – they wanted to know how my first time back had gone – before I completely ran out of energy. It felt like a very long journey but we finally drove back into Brighton.

We stopped quickly to see one of my parents and her finally finished garden office. It was really nice to see her – we’ve all been incredibly busy (or dealing with an epic migraine) – and her new office looked gorgeous. It could be pretty cool to have a studio like that one day…

Mum and I finally got home, fed the hoard of hungry cats (who seemed to think they’d been abandoned), and crashed in the living room, continuing our rewatch of Grey’s Anatomy. I tried to work on a post for the blog but I was so tired and so drained that I barely managed a handful of sentences in the few hours I sat there. Eventually I just gave up and went to bed but it was still a struggle to sleep, just as it normally is; my thoughts started racing and I just couldn’t grab ahold of any of them long enough to settle. I don’t know how long it took to get to sleep but it was definitely after 1am, possibly even later.

So much has changed in the last three hundred and sixty five days. I look back at my last Mass Observation Day diary entry and my life is so different, in so many different ways. Last year, I was so scared, so terrified that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything because I was so scared. All I could do was sleep and bury myself in the familiar worlds of Fanfiction. I’m still scared but I’m also happy, at least some of the time. I have bad days but I also have good days, even really good days, and just that is a huge deal. I’m writing a lot, researching for my project, and facing my fears around the pandemic. Sometimes I can’t believe that the last fifteen months have happened but I only have to look at myself to see that they did: I’ve been through a lot and changed so much. And that’s just looking inwards. Looking outwards – at people I know, the communities I’m a part of, the world at large – is far too overwhelming to sum up right now in one day’s diary entry.


If you’ve been keeping a diary or still want to jot down some thoughts about the 12th, I would really encourage you to do so and send it to the archive. The page is here, in case you’d like to submit or learn more about this and their other projects.

Tin Pan South 2020

As someone who considers Nashville their home away from home, I was devastated when my trip was cancelled due to the pandemic. I knew it was the right, safe thing to do and I honestly wouldn’t have considered going, given the potential to get stuck there, but I was still incredibly upset. Even though it can be a very stressful time (with all the unknowns and potential for surprises), it’s one of my favourite parts of the year; I was hugely disappointed to miss out on Tin Pan South, Song Suffragettes, seeing my Nashville friends again, visiting my favourite places, and so on. So many things were cancelled but that was one of the hardest.

I knew NSAI were hoping to reschedule Tin Pan South for later in the year but as the pandemic went on, that looked less and less likely. But then they announced that they would be holding an online version of the festival, which was very exciting. There were considerably less shows than usual and some of the big names that always play were missing, which was unexpected, but I assume that that was to do with technical or pandemic-related issues. It was just a bit sad because there were certain people I was really looking forward to seeing again. But oh well. Hopefully I’ll get to see them next time.

I’d thought that I would have to get up in the middle of the night (never have time zones affected my life as much as they have in the last six months) to watch the livestreams, which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to, but then I discovered that the shows were available on the website the next day so I could at least attempt to get some real sleep and then watch the shows during normal waking hours. That was a very pleasant and much appreciated surprise, making my experience of it as a virtual festival so much better than expected.


TUESDAY

I didn’t end up watching any shows from the first night. Both Tuesday and Wednesday were very long, stressful days for me and I just couldn’t manage anything more than I absolutely had to do. Fortunately there wasn’t anyone that I was desperate to see so it wasn’t a disaster. I would’ve liked to browse the livestreams afterwards to potentially find new (to me anyway), awesome songwriters – that’s always one of my favourite parts of the festival – but as far as I can tell, the livestreams only stayed up for twenty four hours and they were gone before I had time to look.

WEDNESDAY

Aaron Barker, Jim Collins, and Mignon – I’ll admit that it took me a while to get used to Tin Pan South looking like my university lectures rather than a songwriters’ round. That definitely threw me more than I’d expected but I did still enjoy it. Mignon was the draw for me: she was great when I saw her back in 2017 (I think) at Song Suffragettes and she was amazing in this round. She was definitely my favourite. I really loved ‘I Got You’ and ‘Story of My Heart’ was a close second.

Desmond Child, Erika Ender, and Victoria Shaw – This one had some really good performances (especially Desmond Child singing ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ although I still have to see him perform it at a live round one day – I bet the atmosphere in the room is amazing!) but it felt very much like a series of separate performances glued together. One of the best bits of these rounds are how the performers interact and join in on each other’s songs and I really missed that.

THURSDAY

Chris Barron, Jeff Cohen, and Toby Lightman – This show felt much more like a Tin Pan South round, with the writers chatting and joking around. I found myself smiling A LOT. The reason I picked this show was Jeff Cohen: I’ve met him a few times and seen him perform at various similar events and not only is he a great writer, he’s also a genuinely lovely guy. So I was really excited to see him play again. Toby Lightman was an awesome new find; I loved all of her songs but I especially loved ‘Breathe In.’ Chris Barron was probably furthest from my musical tastes but he was a great performer and had some hilarious stories to tell about the songs and about touring. So I really enjoyed that show and I think a big part of that was because it felt like a real show.

Kris Delmhorst, Mark Erelli, and Lori McKenna – I really enjoyed this round and I think a big part of that was that it was an actual songwriters’ round: it was the three of them in a room together. The conversation and interaction was so real and natural and that was really nice to see. I always enjoy seeing Lori McKenna perform and I love how she talks about songwriting. She played ‘People Get Old’ and ‘Humble and Kind,’ which I’m pretty sure is my favourite of hers. It’s so simple but so beautiful and so emotional, so heartbreakingly sincere. I also really liked Kris Delmhorst; I thought she was awesome. I especially loved her first song, ‘Wind’s Gonna Find A Way.’ They ended with ‘Girl Crush,’ a song I really dislike so I stopped the stream there. I wanted to finish on a positive, inspired note, which I knew I wouldn’t if I listened to ‘Girl Crush.’

FRIDAY

I didn’t end up watching any of the Friday shows. The combination of lots to do and trying to fight off a headache just made it one thing too many to manage. Plus there wasn’t anyone I felt super strongly about seeing. So I just took the day off from Tin Pan South, especially as there were three shows on the Saturday that I needed to pack in.

SATURDAY

Phil Barton, Seth Ennis, and Liz Rose – I really enjoyed this round because the three of them were just having such a great time, just having so much fun, joking around and being silly. They really didn’t let the virtual format put a dent in their show; they completely went to town, acting like they were playing Glastonbury and it was just so much fun to watch. I’ve always tried to go to the Liz Rose show at Tin Pan South so it was really cool to see her perform again, even if I have heard her perform some of the same songs before. I think I’ve seen Seth Ennis a couple of times now and he’s always great. I love his voice. But in this particular round, I think my favourite had to be Phil Barton. He just had so much energy; he was almost bouncing off the walls and it just made me smile and laugh and feel good. And there hasn’t been a lot of that to spare recently. He played ‘Skin & Bones’ (Eli Young Band), ‘Why Baby Why’ (Mickey Guyton), and ‘A Woman Like You’ (Lee Brice), which were all great. It was a really, really fun show – definitely the one I smiled most during.

Ryan Griffin, Carly Pearce, Riley Roth, and Emily Shackelton – This one was a very emotional show given that it was a tribute to busbee (an amazing songwriter who died last year, for those of you who didn’t know). It was very emotional with many of the writers performing important songs they’d written with him or songs they’d written about him since his death. Of the four of them, Carly Pearce and Emily Shackelton were my favourites.

Carly played her first big song, ‘Every Little Thing,’ which she’d written with and was then produced by busbee. Before playing her second song – a new one – she told the story of its inspiration: they were all at busbee’s funeral and Barry Dean was making a speech about him, talking about how it was just like him to have to get to Heaven first so that he could get the lay of the land and find all the best places to show his loved ones when they joined him. She just heard the song in that and pulled out her phone to write it down – she knew that, out of everyone, he wouldn’t have minded. The song was called ‘Show Me Around’ and it was absolutely stunning. I was in tears from the first few lines; it was a beautiful tribute but so heartbreakingly sad. Her final song was the last song that busbee had worked on, called, ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now.’ It was really powerful but I don’t think anything could’ve beaten ‘Show Me Around.’

I’ve seen Emily Shackelton before and I always try to see her if I can. She’s a gorgeous writer. She played ‘Doin’ Fine’ (Lauren Alaina), which is a song I love and then a new song, which I think was called ‘Killing Me’ that was super emotional. And then, before her last song, she spoke briefly about busbee. She talked about one of the last times they’d texted and she’d asked him whether he was writing anything. He replied, “I don’t think I’m gonna make any more music here, but I hear echoes of eternity.” That phrase has just enthralled me, ever since I heard it. From everything they said about him, he sounds like an incredible human being. She played a song she’d written not long after his death as she was trying to deal with all of her emotions, called ‘Raining For Months.’ It was so sad and so beautiful. She seemed especially emotional and I just wanted to reach through the screen and give her a hug.

Both Ryan Griffin and Riley Roth were good too; I particularly enjoyed Riley’s ‘Parents’ and ‘I Did This To Myself.’

It was a truly stunning round. It’s hard to choose a favourite because they all varied so drastically in mood and intensity but I think it’s safe to say that this one had the biggest effect on me and will be one that stays with me. I wish we could’ve all been there in person but since we couldn’t, I’m just so grateful that we could experience it at all. It was really special. Really, really special.

Chris Destephano and Emily Weisband – I immediately picked out this round because I love Chris Destephano. He was great: he told some great stories (and some great jokes) and delivered some really powerful performances. And Emily Weisband turned out to be a stunning new find (for me, at least). All of her songs were gorgeous but I particularly loved her unreleased song, ‘Sinning With You.’ It was just so delicate and beautiful. I also loved her performance of ‘Older Than I Am’ (Lennon Stella) and I definitely related to parts of ‘Getting Good’ (Lauren Alaina). It was a really, really good show, a nice balance of the first and second shows of the night and the perfect end to Tin Pan South 2020.


So it was a week of pretty incredible and emotional shows. Tin Pan South has never failed to inspire me and apparently the virtual experience doesn’t change that. Of course, it wasn’t the same as the normal in-person experience – it didn’t have that same magic that you get from being in a room with these other people who are so passionate about songwriting but that’s not exactly surprising. But having said that, it was still so wonderful and so special and I’m so grateful to NSAI and everyone who worked to make it happen because I absolutely loved it. Tin Pan South is one of the highlights of my year and I feel so, so lucky not to have had to miss out on it as I’ve had to miss out on so many other things. This year, we’re all making huge compromises and having to come to terms with months worth of missed opportunities and stolen joy and I’m just so grateful that this experience wasn’t one of the things taken away by the pandemic and lockdown.