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The Crystal Maze makes a return to television this Sunday as part of Channel 4’s Stand Up to Cancer season.

This alone, I confess, has been hard to get too excited about; filmed at the Live Experience inside an office block, I’m naturally expecting an episode somewhat less spectacular than its namesake is noted for. The appointment of Stephen Merchant as host doesn’t fill me with much optimism, either, but we’ll have to see how he does. (It didn’t really help that the press broke the story promising David Tennant – how marvellous he’d have been.)

What is intriguing me, though, is that a new, much larger maze has conveniently started going up in Manchester. Hmm! Do they know something we don’t? I remain somewhat apprehensive of a full-scale TV revival – it’s difficult to wonder how any update or format tweak could make The Crystal Maze a better product. Perhaps offering some brand new zones – Arctic, anyone? –  would give it distinction and dilute the inevitable comparisons, but I’d think that doubtful, as you’d risk upsetting a load of the audience from the beginning. They will need to know what they’re doing, paying due respect to the original without confining itself to its shadow.

Still, enough fretting before the event. The news has inspired me to make some more Maze graphics. Off the back of all my 3D works, I’ve long been toying with the idea of recreating the zones in full. Well, I sort of did that; here’s a recreation of the diagram that flashes up in the journey between zones, as Richard and the team navigate the various tunnels, stairways and rivers en route to the next location. This map was enjoyable to me as a child because it confirmed that The Crystal Maze really was the vast, interlocked world it appeared to be. It was even greater to find later on that the diagram came from messing around with the maze’s floor-plan, and the set, the largest in Europe at the time, actually was linked together as shown. Magical!

To be a bit different, I toyed with added details emblematic of each zone and items in the game cells, but have since come to the conclusion that this is little more than superfluous clutter. It looks stronger without.

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To Sunday, then. Browsing the TV schedules and spotting The Crystal Maze is sweet, and something I didn’t think ever likely to happen unless I won the lottery. It’s unlikely to put on the same show, but let’s hope the special – and any developments that may follow – can capture at least a measure of the spirit and fun we remember so very fondly.

j-brollyToday is Time to Talk Day, on which we are encouraged to have conversations about mental health, and in particular extend our hand to those suffering from mental health problems, to remind them that they are not alone, they are not weak, and that they do matter.

I silently endured depression and anxiety for four years, beginning at sixteen, shortly before my GCSEs. They were failed for definite, I would tell myself, and I would abuse myself with visions of success that were now apparently out of reach. That, in itself, probably wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. But it spiralled, so massively. When alone, I would cry floods of tears without really knowing why. I would fantasise about my own death, have visions of my funeral, and see so assuredly that the place would be brighter without me in it, so why not hurry that along? It was toxic – toxic in that the darkest thoughts felt good. I kept pushing myself to go to the doctor several times over that period, but each time my mind managed to convince me not to go. I don’t doubt that this prevention was a form of self-harm in itself – beside the sheer embarrassment, I didn’t ever think I deserved to be listened to. It really didn’t help that every time I tried to talk to them, my parents said I was just being silly – there was obviously nothing wrong with me. I was just lazy, grumpy, just a typical teenager. It took a breakdown for them and indeed anybody to realise that something actually was wrong.

Trust me, that is not how you want it to go. As inadequate a warning as that probably is, you really don’t have to let it go that far. The time after that was the lowest I’ve ever been; I gave up my degree months from completion, riddling me with failure; I stopped working, and spent most of Christmas hiding in the dark, under a duvet (never asleep, though), when I wasn’t running away from telephone calls, or locking myself in the bathroom to get out of speaking to the nurse so concerned he turned up unannounced. I felt as though I’d lost all sense of communication, which lead to me becoming disconnected from my family – supportive though they continued to be – and losing virtually all of my friends. In 2013, at my lowest, I did leave the house with a view to never returning, though, thank heavens, something pulled me away from that mindset on the day.

It seemed that, since then, I actually found myself seeking the ears of others more than I had done. I’m not sure exactly what it was that clicked; perhaps a revelation that I didn’t want to die after all? As I’ve said before, it’s all about finding the lights in the dark. People who are not necessarily doctors or professionals, but those that listen, even if they haven’t a clue how to respond. It is the absolute hardest thing I’ve done, ever. But the mere release is huge. Indeed, blogging and the web as a whole helped me tremendously in this regard – I see it as something of an ‘in between’ the silence and conversation, allowing you to speak but with the anonymity that comes with online exchanges – it was an excellent starting block for me and the responses were all so lovely and caring. I also found myself writing letters to my doctor and preparing notes for our sessions, which helped no end in getting it all out.

It’s still difficult – my depression has not gone away, no matter how much I rattle with pills or how familiar I am to my GP. I miss my old friends – well, a couple of them. But what I do know is that I began 2016 feeling stronger than I had for a long time – dare I say, I was even optimistic about it – and that can’t be a coincidence, with some of the outings, revelations and progressions made last year by just opening my mouth, and indeed through wittering on via WordPress to such lovely people as yourself. You never know, I might even find a job soon! Perhaps that might offer just a shred of hope to someone – when you are ready, it will happen. There are so many stories of recovery out there.

A conversation about mental health can be one of the most crucial you ever have – and today is all about educating and removing the stigma, allowing these to become less of a daunting prospect for both parties. Indeed, the purpose of this post was primarily not to tell you about my ordeal but to offer that listening ear to anybody out there reading this – please feel free to comment and we can have a chat. I’ve mentioned already the benefit I felt using the internet as a starting point; a further bonus is that you don’t even have to actually get under the umbrella with that strange chap!

For information about today and for support on both sides, see the Time to Change site; Rethink and Mind have similar material. You can contact The Samaritans if you are in urgent need of help.

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I post today in tribute to Nic Hughes, who passed away three years ago today. I write this because Nic was so much more than just a designer or tutor; to cite him as an inspiration would be an understatement. He had more of an impact on me in than most ever have, or will.

He was an important education to me on first impressions, too. I thought him terrifying to begin with. It was just before Christmas 2010, in the first of my two-and-a-bit years undertaking a Graphic Communications degree at Norwich University College of the Arts. We’d all been ushered in for a big end-of-term course meeting, and upon entering the esteemed final year studio, Nic was right there, unmissable in his trademark beret and jacket-and-jeans apparel, having a debate with a group of students over design decisions, and from the looks of things, most definitely winning. I eavesdropped with mounting dread and thought this was a man who was going to be hard to please. I remember being full of nerves and apprehension when, after Christmas, I saw that he’d been timetabled in to start teaching us, even more so when said sessions arrived, and I saw that ominous beret edging toward me to see what I was up to!

I was right in my assumption that he wasn’t easily pleased; praise from Nic, fuelling that smile of approval, became a fix strove for – you knew you’d truly done well. But I was so wrong about him being scary. He was wonderful: critical, constructive and ever encouraging, Nic could actually tear your work to shreds, but in doing so he would never strike the wrong note; it felt as if it was just a discussion amongst friends. He just wanted you to build and rebuild – iterate was his word. When he questioned your rationale and suggested an alternative, he really just wanted you to go and prove him wrong – he was wise enough to know that he wasn’t always right (though I’d say he was far more often than not). Most of his fellows on the course could have learnt a lot from that.

Talking to Nic quickly went from terror to treat, fear morphed into awe, and soon enough I was discussing my work with him more than anybody else. It seemed a criminal waste to do otherwise. I found it so easy to talk to him, which, being horrendously shy, is something I find very rare and very special. He respected my organisation (I still question this), the fact that I beat him to the studio in the mornings, and that I didn’t waltz off home at lunchtime like most on the course; indeed, I missed my bus home several times because I was talking to Nic about colours or kerning… I didn’t care. You couldn’t leave – his enthusiasm was too infectious and his input too valuable. Nic would make you see differently by citing the most thoughtful references, philosophies and frameworks from disciplines far removed from the realms of design, and showing ways of using these to inform and lift what you were doing. How grateful I am for these exchanges and making the most of them now, knowing what would happen just the next year. They paid off exponentially, too, as I improved hugely thanks to his guidance and shared wisdom – the course leader branded me ‘Disciple of Nic’, which I rightly took as a tremendous compliment!

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Above are some posters that I created in late 2011, the start of my second year, in response to a brief asking for three posters – type only, image only, hybrid – centred around a news item. I chose to focus on the moral and physical conflict at the Dale Farm travellers site, and the dilemmas such a situation dealt society. Nic seemed ridiculously engaged by these, ordering me to hang them in the studio and telling me they were “sick… fucking amazing”. He voiced no fears, offered no criticism… after being initially uncertain of them, I was buzzing. It was the most emphatic reaction I’d ever coaxed from him.

That was our last exchange. Upon returning in 2012, Nic had disappeared, we were told due to ill health. He had cancer. There was always the enduring hope in me that he would recover… that one day I’d venture into the studio and he’d be prowling around excitably once more, but sadly it wasn’t to be. He had been diagnosed far too late; nothing that could be done.

I was hit hard by the news of his death, even if it was becoming increasingly inevitable – if I were a disciple, I had lost my leader. I later found out, via my course leader, that Nic had put in a good word for a design job (that I landed) just a couple of months before his death. I was so touched, I couldn’t believe it. Even more owed to this very special man.

Nic’s passing was not only a tremendous loss to all that were touched by him, but also to the design industry as a whole; the students of today and tomorrow, unable to be approached by the beret and unable to become the disciple that I did.

That just seems so wholly unfair.

Miss you, Nic.

Nic Hughes

1968 – 2012

A tribute and an example of Nic’s methodical practice via the sketchbook can be seen here.

Nic also kept a blog which happily is still online. It’s full of interesting design nuggets, far-reaching observations and a deeply moving, typically eloquent passage about his illness.

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Thanks to Movember for alerting me that it’s World Suicide Prevention Day today. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under fifty. Mental illness, of course, cares not what gender you are, but it’s something that we men find particularly hard to deal with and open up about. We are emotional and far more sensitive than society likes to try and condition us to be, yet collectively still appear to fall for the fallacies, viewing talking about such things as a sign of weakness.

I know as well as anybody how horrendously frightening and just impossible it seems to begin communicating such dark, hideous thoughts – hence the drawing. It feels as though nobody is there; no-one will understand. I bottled up my mounting depression and anxieties for several years, until, in 2012, I could take no more and suffered a breakdown whose magnitude was such that I’m still coming to terms with it and receiving treatment (currently a combination of medication and counselling). It scuppered the final year of my degree and put me completely out of action; I spent Christmas that year and later my 21st birthday in the dark, hiding under a duvet, because I’d convinced myself it was all that I deserved.

The path has certainly not been easy since then. In the intervening period, suicide has flirted with me on a number of occasions: It would be the only way out. It would mean nobody had to worry anymore. I don’t deserve the people around me. I don’t deserve to live anymore. I’m useless. I’m such a disgusting person…

But, reach out to the right places, and there are lights in the dark. There is stardust in the nightmare. I’m not over all that happened, and there have been some worrying relapses, but I’m in a better place right now than I have been for a while. I owe that to a select group of people, most of whom are not doctors or psychiatrists. Please don’t let it get to such desperate stages, and certainly don’t leave it until your suicide note. Remember that there are people and services out there who want to help and can lead you in the right direction, and, with time, help guide you away from this awful mindset.

Likewise, if you know anybody who’s in a dark place right now, remind them that you care. An act of kindness or generosity you know they’ll appreciate. Give them a hug. You don’t have all the answers – I certainly bloody don’t – and it’s naive to think that you will, but it could just be one of the most important exchanges you ever have. Just being there is worth more than you know, and it most definitely won’t go unappreciated.

Be the light in the dark.

On this vein, I feel I must, with my experiences, offer my own ears; if anybody finds this who would like to have a chat privately, I’m around anytime. You can also contact Mind or The Samaritans if you are in need of help.