SUVs Continue To Expand

There is absolutely no downfall in the popularity of SUVs with several new models coming to the market …

Sports Utility Vehicles are continuing to be the number one choice of many car purchasers given their increased ride height and a subjective feeling of greater safety and security. Originally catering to the needs of larger families, such vehicles were generally at the upper end of manufacturers model ranges but such is their popularity that nowadays there is a SUV in almost every sector. They now account for some 25% of the new-car market with this share projected to rise to a staggering 50% by 2025 which is only six years away!

In the space of two years, SEAT have gone from no SUVs to three in their model line up. Volkswagen now have five SUVs, namely the T-Roc, Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace, Touareg and the all-new T-Cross that will feature in this article. Including the new electric e-tron, Audi offer no fewer than seven SUVs, and Škoda have just announced their third model in this category.

It was definitely a shrewd move by manufacturers to cater for all levels of the market given the increasing trend for this style of vehicle. With a majority of personal buyers falling into the compact end of the market, this article will compare the latest small SUVs from the VW Group stable, namely the SEAT Arona, Volkswagen T-Cross and Škoda Kamiq, the latter going on sale later this year. Despite all three models sharing the same MQB-A0 modular platform, they are all different and offer distinct styling cues. Each is easily identifiable within its own family but the bodies are all different, unlike for example, the SEAT Ateca and Škoda Karoq.

The SEAT Arona has been available for over twelve months now. This was the manufacturer’s second SUV and is based on the latest Ibiza. It is available with two three-cylinder 1.0 litre turbocharged petrol engines in 95PS and 115PS guises, dependant upon level of trim, plus the excellent four-cylinder 1.5 litre 150PS unit. Also available are two 1.6 litre diesel engines with 95PS and 115PS ratings. Following the recent scandal on diesel engine emissions, some car makers are minimising the diesel options available as customers are returning to petrol versions, and the VW Group petrol units are extremely refined. Choosing a diesel model will result in a notably noisier cabin plus more vibration through the pedals.

Inside, every Arona is equipped with a touchscreen infotainment system, a facility that is now becoming commonplace across most manufacturers. Entry level models have a 6’5″ screen whilst higher spec cars offer an 8″ display, together with a DAB radio, satnav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto telephone mirroring. Despite its small car dimensions, the Arona is surprisingly capacious with adequate rear leg room for passengers. It boasts 400 litres of boot space with the rear 60:40 split seat backs in place and all models come with a height-adjustable boot floor to eradicate a step when the seats are folded down. The car is 4138mm long, 1780mm wide and 1552mm high. Prices start from €18500 in Spain and £16560 in the UK, no doubt reflected in specification differences.

With the T-Roc already firmly established as a small SUV, one could question the need for the introduction of the new Volkswagen T-Cross. Just as the SEAT Arona is based upon the small Ibiza, so the T-Cross is based on the VW Polo, being slightly longer but considerably taller. Sharing the same MQB-A0 architecture, its dimensions are 4110mm long, 1756mm wide and 1559mm high, and offers a minimum luggage capacity of 385 litres. This can increase to 455 litres depending upon the position of the sliding rear seats. At launch, the model will only offer a choice of the aforementioned three-cylinder 1.0 litre turbocharged petrol engines as seen in the Arona.

Despite the model’s boxy looks, there is a feeling of space inside the cabin which offers adequate elbow and knee room both fore and aft. Whilst the interior virtually mimics that of the Polo, the quality of finish is not as high with hard plastics taking the place of softer, moulded trims. The car will offer advanced technology options and what it may lack in the design stakes will be more than compensated for by its maturity and all round desirability. Facilities available include digital display, emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane assist and blind spot monitoring, most of which are only available on larger, higher specification models. Prices will start from €19000 in Spain and £17000 in the UK.

The latest SUV to be announced by the VW Group is the Škoda Kamiq, a direct competitor to the other models discussed in this article. The Kamiq takes styling cues from its larger siblings but embraces the new Škoda design language with a more pronounced and upright grille, first seen on the new Scala. Upmarket versions will boast stylish LED running lights sitting above the headlights.

Unlike the initial limited choice in the T-Cross, the Kamiq will offer the same range of engines as in the Arona. Despite sharing the same platform, this SUV has more interior space than either of its direct competitors. Its dimensions are 4241mm long, 1793mm wide and 1531mm high, with a boot capacity of 400 litres with the rear seats in place. This makes the car both longer and wider than the other two, but not quite as high so there should be a healthy market for all three marques.

The interior layout is effectively the same as that of the new Scala. The same options will be available including a 10.25″ digital cockpit and an upgraded infotainment touchscreen. Like the Scala, the Kamiq will have permanent Internet connection and safety-wise, both automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance are standard. Prices in the UK are expected to start at around £17000 (€19750) when the car becomes available later in the year although, to date, no firm prices have been announced for the Spanish market.

If you’re in the market for a small SUV, then all these variants are worthy of consideration. The ultimate choice is probably down to styling as mechanically, they’re virtually identical. The Arona has the most design flair whilst the T-Cross appears the most practical with its more robust appearance. If a happy medium between ultimate style and practicality is the answer, then the new Kamiq may well be the solution and worth the wait until it goes on sale. The SUV world is definitely expanding!

 

 

 

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When Concept Meets Reality

Many manufacturers tease potential new products with concept vehicles but should these come to fruition, they rarely show much resemblance to the concept design.

Recently, Škoda has launched a new family hatchback as a replacement for the ageing and much-maligned Rapid range. This new car is called the Scala and, surprisingly, closely resembles their Vision RS concept with only minor design changes. Needless to say, these changes are very much on the conservative side and somewhat dampen the wow factor of the original concept, but few manufacturers to date actually stay close to their creative visions.

The Scala name apparently means ladder or stairs in Latin and it’s fair to say that Škoda are certainly moving upwards with the launch of this vehicle. It will compete directly with the new Mark 8 Volkswagen Golf and the upcoming SEAT Leon replacement. Overall, with each new model release, cars are improving through advancing technologies and light weight components. Accordingly, they become more desirable and fit for purpose, but also increasingly more expensive. For many, this means trading down to a lower segment vehicle when the time comes to change the car. In line with previous models, it is expected the Scala will undercut the Golf by some €2350 (£2000) whilst offering a slightly larger car embracing premium features.

The Scala utilises a stretched version of VW Group’s MQB-A0 platform, the standard version of which underpins the SEAT Ibiza, VW Polo, and the new VW T-Cross. all of which are well regarded for their handling in their respective classes. It will herald subtle revision in Škoda’s design language by featuring a more prominent and upright grille plus standard LED lights. Inside, the infotainment touchscreen is placed at eye level sitting atop the dashboard and will be available up to 9.2″ depending upon the model specification. Also on offer will be a 10.3″ configurable digital display in lieu of conventional analogue instruments, giving the car an upmarket feel. A DAB radio will be fitted as standard across the range. As is the trend with all Škoda models, luggage capacity will exceed that of its main competitors including its sister models from within the VW Group. With the rear seat backs in place, boot capacity is 467 litres, rising to over 1400 litres when folded. It is rumoured that passenger space should almost match that of the Octavia meaning that the Scala will effectively offer a similar package with slightly less luggage space. This must undoubtedly question the long term need for the Octavia in its current guise, but seeing as it is the company’s best-selling model by far, it is unlikely to be discontinued from the model line up. More likely, the Octavia will move further upmarket and possibly emerge as a stylish coupé when the current car is replaced.

Mechanically, the Scala will offer familiar VW Group engines ranging from 1.0 litre turbo petrol 95PS and 115PS to the 1.5 litre 150PS unit, which has cylinder deactivation technology to help save fuel at cruising speed. At launch, there will also be the 1.6 litre 115PS diesel engine. Buyers will be able to spec the car with options including blindspot monitoring, a rear-view camera, and an electric tailgate. In a first for Škoda, the Scala will be permanently connected to the Internet via an eSIM that can call the emergency services and send diagnostic information from the car to franchised dealers. ‘Simply Clever’ features include an umbrella in the driver’s door, tray tables on the back of seats, the now familiar ice scraper in the fuel filler cap and handy USB ports for passengers.

Will it fit in your garage? The Scala, which is only available as a five-door hatchback, is 4362mm long, 1793mm wide and has a wheelbase of 2649mm allowing for greater legroom.

 

 

The Riches Of Spain

The vast majority of people who visit Spain simply head for the sun-drenched Costas but are missing out on so many riches …

There is little doubt that Spain is a large country covering an area of 505,990 km2 (195,360 sq miles). It is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and the fourth largest country on the continent of Europe. By population, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe and the fifth in the European Union. Spain is divided into seventeen autonomous regions, most of which comprise several separate provinces. I live in the province of Almería which is situated in the north east of Andalucía region in the southern part of the country. Each region is diverse in geography and culture and Almería province provides plenty of interesting places to explore. Much of the area offers clean mountain air, stunning scenery, tranquility and a traditional Spanish lifestyle seemingly unchanged in decades.

In the interests of simplicity, this blog will briefly mention an alphabetical list of places worthy of a visit, beginning with Abrucena. Located in the Alpujarras, a natural and historical landscape on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, this tranquil village has history dating back some 9000 years. Next is Bédar, which lies in the foothills of the Sierra de los Filabres, some 400m above sea level. From the village, there are excellent views of the valley leading to the Mediterranean Sea. The pueblo boasts narrow streets comprising mainly of domestic premises and is a peaceful place in which to relax.

Berja, once famous for its lead mines, is now a wealthy farming village.  Situated in the far south east of the province at the foot of the Sierra de Gádor, this pueblo abounds in historic and artistic heritage. There is a square which once held an Islamic Market, a church dating back to the 15th century, remains of a Roman amphitheatre plus numerous natural water springs.  Cuevas del Almanzora is a thriving market town which is named after caves that can be found there and the river that once ran through the town. Being adjacent to the coast, it attracts large numbers of tourists in the holiday season but away from the beaches, there is history, including a castle, culture and heritage in abundance. Traditional cave homes are noteworthy although these are nowhere near as spectacular as those found in the Granada town of Guadix. Some homes have been completely restored with a museum and tourist accommodation.

Now for a trio of Ls … Laroya, Láujar de Andarax and Lucainena de Las Torres. The first of these is a quaint little remote village almost hidden in the Sierra de Los Filabres and approached via a narrow, twisty road. The main thoroughfares are virtually traffic-free so one can meander at leisure through the narrow streets leading to a 17th century church built in the Mudéjar style and a small square.  Returning to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, one finds Láujar de Andarax situated over 900m above sea level. Points of interest include a late 18th century fine fountain in the Plaza Mayor, a church with a Mudéjar tower and ornate Baroque altarpiece, and quaint cobbled streets. Thirdly, Lucainena de Las Torres, situated 550m above sea level on the perimeter of the Sierra Alhamilla Natural Park. This small village typifies the Andalucian image of narrow streets and whitewashed buildings adorned with colourful plants and flowers. There is an excellent viewing point opposite the 18th century church giving panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and the village mining ovens nearby. Iron was extracted from the hillsides from the late 19th century until the early 1930s and used the latest techniques available at the time. A 35 km railway line was constructed to transport the refined ore to Agua Amarga on the Mediterranean coast from where it was shipped. The village is recognised as one of the most beautiful in Spain although I consider that to be subjective.

Another so-called beautiful village is Mojácar. This ancient pueblo is set upon a rock promontry and overlooks the modern, characterless coastal resort of Mojácar Playa. The pueblo is a mixture of quaint, narrow streets of whitewashed houses and a more commercial element aimed squarely at the tourists. Escape this razzmatazz and you are transported into a world long since past full of charm and antiquity. Back again to the foothills of the Sierra de Los Filabres and the beautiful village of Senés, which due to its location, remains unspoilt by the traits of modern day tourism. About 25 km northwest of Senés as the crow flies is the village of Sorbas with many buildings almost suspended over a ravine as they teeter on the cliff edge. The immediate surrounding area is home to the best karst formation in Spain and one of the most important in Europe. This geological formation is the product of rainfall over thousands of years and yields several stunning caves with stalagmites, stalactites and many coloured gypsum crystals.

Finally, to the very north of Almería province where the charming village of Vélez Blanco and town of Vélez Rubio are situated. A magnificent Renaissance Castle dominates Vélez Blanco and offers spectacular vistas of the village and surrounding landscape. There is also a 16th century church featuring gothic, Renaissance and Mudéjar influences. The village is on the edge of the Sierra Maria-Los Vélez Natural Park with numerous archaeological sites and cave paintings. The main attraction of nearby Vélez Rubio is its 18th century church which has been awarded National Historical Monument status. With its carved facade and main altar carvings, the church is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the province.

To conclude, this is just a small selection of places worth visiting in Almería province. No visit, however, would be complete without time being spent in the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata situated close to Almería city and a hotspot for tourists in the main holiday season. This rugged and semi-desert terrain is punctuated with remote white villages protected from urban development and isolated farmsteads together with eerie rock formations and abandoned mines. It is home to many rare species of fauna and flora.

The best thing of all about these ‘riches’ is that they are all relatively easy to access. The A7-E15 Mediterranean autoroute traverses the entire province of Almería on the eastern side whilst there are good main roads in other areas. Access to some of the more remote locations may require more driving stamina in order to negotiate narrow, twisty and often substandard roads but the ultimate rewards will be well worth the effort.

Setting The Standard

If you’re looking for a new car in the subcompact class, then the upcoming Audi A1 might be all the car you need …

Despite its premium price in relation to subcompact models from competitors. the Audi A1, which is the smallest car in their line-up, has been a sales success since debuting some seven years ago. With the advent of new models from both the VW Group stable and other manufacturers, the current model is beginning to date and therefore an all-new model is shortly to be released. Following trends, this is an evolution of the current model and therefore instantly recognisable as an A1.

In line with the decision of other brands including sister companies Volkswagen and SEAT, the new A1 will now only be available with five doors. In addition, it is both longer and wider than the outgoing model, and will offer increased technology and practicality. The trend to discontinue three-door models is basically down to a lack of demand as consumers expect greater functionality from cars, even at the lower end of the scale. Furthermore, as each reiteration of a replacement model has a tendency to increase in size, this renders three doors obsolete as they were invariably an indication of either smaller vehicles or sports cars.

Not only will five doors make the new A1 more accessible, but the increased size will provide more driver and passenger accommodation. The driver’s seat will be height adjustable and the steering wheel will have rake and reach movement. Rear seat space will be the most noticeable change with rumours that this could equal that of the larger A3. However, that model is due for an update very shortly. The new A1 shares the same modular platform as its sister cars the VW Polo and SEAT Ibiza. The current ŠKODA Fabia is built on an older platform and will remain so until that model is replaced in or around 2020. The A1’s measurements are 4030mm in length, 1740mm in width and has a height of 1410mm which is lower than the VW Polo to accentuate its sportiness. Normal boot space on offer is 335 litres, an increase of 65 litres over the old model. Folding the rear seats increases luggage capacity to 1090 litres.

In line with current trends, no diesel engine is proposed in the model range. The A1 will offer three TFSI petrol engines from launch, namely a 1.0 litre three-cylinder turbo with either 95PS or 115PS, the highly regarded 1.5 litre turbo with 150PS, and the flagship model boasting a 200PS 2.0 litre turbo. The car is front wheel drive and will have the option of a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox, depending upon engine choice. External styling touches set the new car apart from other Audi models whilst still retaining the overall Audi-esque image. It’s the interior that really sets the benchmark, however, with even better materials than used in the current model. Technology and its infotainment system are streets ahead and, in all but entry level models, the car is fitted with an 8.8 inch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility as standard. The flagship model will boast a 10.1 inch satnav display which is way ahead of most of the competition.

Standard or optional safety kit will include lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera. Full LED headlamps will be available as will a fully digital instrument driver display in lieu of traditional analogue dials. On top of all this, the car can be fully personalised and customised including interior mood lighting, brightly coloured trim and upholstery. With prices likely to start at around €17420 (£15500), the car should appeal to younger motorists.

The A1 illustrates that one can have a highly specced car without having to part with a small fortune. The standard has been set.

 

 

 

TV Channel Overload

A few weeks ago, I made the rare decision to cast my eyes over a TV listings magazine …

Every time I access the programme guide on my television, there appear to be additional channels, most of which I have never heard of. The same applies to listing magazines that strive to list as many channels as possible in the limited space at their disposal. This usually means that the font size is sometimes barely legible and often only a certain time frame of programmes is listed. Presumably, this is an editorial decision based on an assumption of when their readers are likely to tune into the channels. When I was growing up, there were just three terrestrial channels broadcasting in the United Kingdom. How times change!

One cannot argue that the advent of digital television has improved broadcasting quality considerably. Besides the usual standard definition transmissions, many channels are also available in high definition depending upon location and the means by which one receives the broadcasts. Additionally, especially in the UK, the mainstream broadcasters all provide catch-up services. When these first started, they were simply a means of watching programmes that had been missed and within a specified time frame. However, nowadays, most offer the facility of watching boxed sets of programmes from the broadcasters’ archives and, occasionally, watching a programme before it appears in the schedules. On top of this, countless channels in the UK are also available on time shift, usually one hour behind the original transmission, accessible via smart tv sets or online. With the exception of the BBC, who have actually reduced the number of channels they offer due to financial constraints, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 offer numerous off-shoot channels. Whilst some of these have a ‘theme’, a target audience or a specific genre (eg 5USA) others are little more than a mishmash of programmes with many old series broadcast at random and not in chronological order.

By definition, there are very few or new programmes on these secondary channels and they are a platform for repeats but therein lies the main problem. I’m sure I’m not alone in being angry when mainstream channels show repeats up to a year after first transmission so sometimes it is nice to have the opportunity to catch up with old favourites a few years down the line by watching these off-shoot channels. Sadly, the television controllers appear to have no thought or respect for their viewers as programmes are often grouped together as well as some being shown up to three times each day. The end result is programmes being shown out of order and the same series being shown on a loop over several years. It all seems very short-sighted as there are literally hundreds of excellent drama series from yesteryear that would make excellent viewing rather than the same few series being shown ad infinitum.

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Other lesser known channels sometimes offer a day filled with episodes of the same programme, ideal if one is an addict and has nothing better to do with one’s time. Another annoying occurrence is when one finds different channels showing episodes of the same series. The CSI and NCIS franchises are a prime example, appearing on no fewer than seven different channels on the same day. One might expect channels with the word ‘movie’ in their title to show films, but strangely, this is not always the case. I suspect it is a question of desperation as channels try to find programmes to fill their schedules. So many broadcast virtually around the clock, undoubtedly making it difficult finding suitable material at times, bearing in mind what the channel is licensed to show. The scheduling of programmes is often illogical and confusing with no indication of episode or series number so it is impossible to know whether or not one has seen the programme previously.

The listings magazine at my disposal lists 61 English-speaking channels (excluding +1 services) available to me if I were to subscribe to a broadcast provider. In addition, there are fifteen sports channels plus many more which aren’t listed because of limited space such as children”s, so-called music and shopping channels. Firstly, there is enough dross on the free-to-air channels without me considering parting with money to access many of the lesser-known channels. Secondly, who on earth watches all these programmes, as there are insufficient hours in a day to achieve most things? So far, I’ve concentrated on conventional tv broadcasting, but in recent years, the likes of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime have burst on to the scene, all trying to persuade people to subscribe monthly. Whilst these providers do offer some unique programming, the majority comprises old material, much of which emanates from UK and US mainstream broadcasters. If these new services are factored in, then so-called viewing choice goes through the roof. I use the word ‘choice’ somewhat guardedly as in reality, there is not an awful lot of variety as the listings so ably illustrate.

I also have access to Spanish digital terrestrial tv, of which the least said, the better! The number of channels available in this part of the country appears somewhat limited and is less than half those provided in the UK. Furthermore, so far as terrestrial tv is concerned, they don’t provide time-shift channels but I am unable to comment on satellite tv here in Spain. Most of the programming is dire and even makes some of the schedules on UK digital channels look appealing and that really is saying something.

The advent of digital tv has been a mixed blessing in my opinion. Notwithstanding the much better picture quality and cross device accessibility, the irony is that programming standards have plummeted as a result. This is inevitable with so many channels at the disposal of viewers. To me, it would make sound financial sense to reduce the number of channels, thereby eradicating so much programme duplication and paying far more attention to the broadcast schedules by focusing on the viewer and providing a logical transmission stream. As things stand, I perceive that television as we know it has a limited lifespan as viewing habits continue to change. Broadcast executives need to regenerate the medium before it is too late and viewers switch off in their droves. Even now, with considerable choice at my disposal, I struggle almost daily to find things of interest that I actually want to watch and will withhold my interest.

The Brexit Speech

In the words of The Observer, Brexit is shaping up to be a dreadful deal for Britain …

Be in no doubt. Theresa May’s watershed Brexit speech on Friday was a sobering defeat for the United Kingdom.

It was a defeat for the Leavers’ vision of a sovereign country freed from the constraints imposed by European politicians, laws and regulations … and a defeat for those who voted Remain and hoped against hope that Britain would, at the last moment, draw back from this gross act of national self-harm.

May’s speech, signalling a fundamental parting of the ways, was a defeat for the business people, trade unionists and community leaders who rightly fear for the country’s future prosperity, cohesion and jobs. It was a defeat for young people, British and European, who, more so than older generations, will perforce inhabit an ugly new world of harder borders, work permits, bureaucracy and pervasive state intrusion.

In a wider context, May’s speech marked a moment of British retreat from the shared ideals and principles of collaborative internationalism that have guided the western democracies since 1945. It presaged an historic abdication of leadership that many in Europe and beyond will neither understand nor quickly forgive.

The gaunt post-Brexit future towards which May is stubbornly leading us will make Britain a poorer, meaner, lonelier and shabbier place, hostile to immigrants yet badly in need of their skills, struggling to maintain its trade across the barriers we ourselves erected, and exploited by the world’s big economies whose governments and multinationals, imposing unequal trade treaties, will take what they want and leave the rest.

May’s speech was welcomed by hard Tory Brexiters, who imagine that quitting the EU single market and customs union, whatever the consequences, is a sufficient victory for their blinkered, jingoistic cause. It was seen by Tory Remainers as recognition of the need for compromise.

And this blurry reconciliation of her party’s schismatic factions, albeit probably temporary, was May’s main achievement. It may be a good deal for the Tories, but is a bad deal for Britain. Bad because, in overall terms, the proposed settlement is neither one thing nor the other. Britain will not have its cake and eat it, in Boris Johnson’s preposterous parlance. It will simply have less cake.

May rejected the single market largely because of its freedom-of-movement provisions. Even though employers have been telling her for months that Britain relies on EU workers, the PM remains foolishly frit of Daily Mail spectres of invading foreign hordes. Yet even as she rejected it, May recognised the benefits of the single market, sought continued, frictionless, access to it, and lamely admitted that we will all be the poorer for being outside it. What kind of leadership is this?

Such self-contradictory thinking would give Descartes a headache. The same applies to her Through the Looking Glass “customs partnership” wheeze that, she said, would “mirror EU requirements”. If she means future customs arrangements will be reversed, back to front and inside out, she may well be right.

In prospect now is a nightmare of red tape from those who promised a liberating bonfire on the cliffs of Dover and will create, instead, a giant lorry park.

© The Guardian

• This extract from The Observer’s article is reproduced here courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd under their Open Licence agreement.

• You can read The Observer’s full editorial here:

http://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/04/the-observer-view-on-theresa-mays-brexit-speech

#StopBrexit

The Curse of Depression

A few days ago, I read of yet another tragedy when a 21-year-old man fell to his death from the Tamar Bridge linking Devon and Cornwall in the UK …

You may be wondering why this is of any significance to me. Apparently, it is the third similar tragedy from the same bridge to have happened in the last twelve months, when previously, a 38-year-old male and a 22-year-old woman both died in separate incidents. Sadly, there has been a sharp increase in the number of police call-outs to the Tamar Bridge, rising from 36 in 2015 to 59 incidents in 2016, which is an average of more than one per week.

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The report of the tragedy attracted my attention as I regularly crossed the bridge by car prior to leaving the United Kingdom just over three years ago. On more than one occasion, I witnessed individuals in a precarious position on the bridge, but to the best of my knowledge, situations were resolved and tragedy was averted. Whilst no official reason for the latest incident has been given, it is widely assumed that the person jumped to his death whilst the balance of his mind was disturbed … in other words, he was suffering from depression. So what exactly is depression?

Depression is a mental illness and according to the World Health Organisation, it is currently the leading cause of ill health and disability. It is estimated that over 300 million people globally are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% in the ten year period from 2005 to 2015. Like other mental illnesses, depression is steeped in stigma, meaning that those who are struggling often find it difficult to reach out and seek help. People are too scared to admit what, to them, are failings for fear of ridicule and discrimination but the simple fact is that talking about their worries and concerns could be life-saving. However, in some form or another, depression affects everyone … either personally or through interaction with family, friends and work colleagues.

To be honest, it can be very difficult to recognise depression as it is more than simply a low mood. It causes mental anguish, impacts on the ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, and can cause poor function in work, education and socially. The worst case scenario is that depression can lead to suicide, this being the second main cause of death amongst 15-29-year-olds. Symptoms of depression develop gradually and affect different people in different ways but here are some of the key causes:

Mood swings・Lack of motivation・Anxiety・Irritability・Feeling helpless・Guilt・ Sadness・Low self-esteem・Intolerance・No hope・No energy・Self harming・Indecisiveness・Avoiding contact with friends and family・Suicidal thoughts・Having work problems・Crying for no apparent reason・Change in sleeping habits・Loss of interest in things usually enjoyed・Change in appetite (over eating or not eating)

Any of the above causes will likely last for several weeks or even months. Most people experience ‘down’ periods at some point in their lives, but these usually pass after a week or so. Unfortunately, far too many people either don’t recognise the onset of depression or see it as a trivial complaint and not a genuine health condition. They could not be more wrong as depression is a real illness with real symptoms. Never think of depression as a sign of weakness that can be overcome with a few mindset changes. Like any other illness, once it establishes itself,  proper medical treatment is required but with that and support from others, most people make a full recovery.

If you think you may be depressed, it’s very important to seek help from your doctor. The earlier the problem is addressed, the easier it will be to resolve. So what exactly causes the onset of depression? Often, it is triggered by life-changing events such as bereavement, job loss or the birth of a child, but more minor things can also cause the illness. There is no age barrier and affects both men and women, and recent studies in the UK suggest that about 4% of children between the ages of 5 to 16 are either anxious or depressed. Treatment for depression will vary depending upon the diagnosed severity of the condition, but will likely involve a combination of medication, lifestyle changes and talking therapies. Medication will not be prescribed automatically in cases of mild depression as lifestyle changes may well be all that’s needed. However, for moderate to severe depression, a combination of talking therapy and antidepressants is often recommended. In cases of severe depression, referral to a specialist mental health team for intensive specialist talking treatments and prescribed medication may be recommended.

In many cases, changes in lifestyle such as reduced alcohol consumption, healthy diet, stopping smoking and taking more exercise will benefit sufferers of long term depression. The most important first step, however, is to entrust other people and talk openly about your feelings, concerns and anxieties. The words of an old proverb come to mind … a problem shared is a problem halved!

Having read this far, readers may be wondering what prompted this blog. Some twenty-nine years ago, I was diagnosed with severe depression although I failed to recognise the symptoms. It was business associates at the time who made frequent comments that I looked very unwell although I saw nothing to confirm this when looking in the mirror. I was working redundancy notice, having been stabbed in the back by a senior manager despite having bailed him out of operational disasters on more than one occasion. As soon as my unemployment became official, and tiring of all the negative comments being aired about my state of health, I visited my doctor. At first, I was disappointed that my usual GP was unavailable and had to see a locum but this turned out to be for the best as he was very empathetic and concerned. I was prescribed a course of non-addictive antidepressants as well as receiving some specialist talking treatment. My depression was mainly attributable to the situation at work where I was demeaned, belittled and made to feel worthless. Although it took many months before I was fully back to normal, I focused on new things and received tremendous support from my mother and friendly neighbours, without whom things might have been quite different. I’m not ashamed to admit that I experienced suicide tendencies but also recognised the impact that would have on my loved ones. The final boost to my recovery was two-fold … firstly, my friendly neighbours presented me with an air ticket to spend a week with them in Tenerife, and secondly, I received an offer of new employment. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones and emerged from the curse of depression relatively unscathed. There were casualties along the way, however, as I lost several so-called friends; people who could not cope with my symptoms and failed to understand the illness. These people are not missed though as I embarked upon a new chapter in my life.

Depression is certainly not the end and can actually have positive effects. I learnt to not let things get the better of me, no matter how bad they appeared at the time. This wasn’t an easy thing to do by any means but knowing where the depression route could lead, it was by far the preferred option. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people who are feeling depressed, no matter how slight, to seek early help and to start talking things through with people they can trust. If necessary, contact the Samaritans who will listen without prejudice and provide guidance and advice where necessary. If you recognise any of the aforementioned symptoms in people you love or simply know, be that first person to lend an ear as this could easily avert a tragedy and loss of a precious life.