Two nights ago, I posted a random “Throwback Thursday” photo on Facebook; it was a picture taken with my trusty instamatic of Deon Bird scoring a try in Gateshead Thunder’s Super League game against Warrington back in September 1999.
It was the final fixture of the regular Super League season, and the new squad of mainly Australian players had finished in sixth position (just one place outside the play-offs); an incredible achievement for a fledgling club taking rugby league to a new audience outside the sport’s traditional heartlands.
As the end-of-season party got underway on the Wilderspool terraces, the Gateshead players came to acknowledge their ever-growing band of supporters, the Thunder Army. These were moments of mutual and warm appreciation, made all the more special by subsequent events that resulted in the loss of our players, and the end of the Super League dream after that one campaign.
But what a campaign it was…
You could write a book filled with memories of those 30 games, which included 19 victories—in fact I did write a book… it’s no longer in print, but hopefully some of you have a copy hidden away somewhere. And everyone who watched the Thunder, at home or away, will have their own favourite moments that, almost twenty years later, remain as strong and emotive as they were at the time.
My favourite game? It has to be the win over Wigan Warriors at Tynecastle. It had everything… that “wonder try” by Brian Carney; two great finishes from Matt Daylight; simply stunning defence in the closing minutes; and joyous, truly unforgettable celebrations at the end of a game that brought down the curtain on the career of Danny “the Ox” Lee. What a player he was…
The midweek victory at the Boulevard was pretty special too. A close opening forty minutes following by a second-half demolition, during which David Maiden scored a length of the field try straight from a Hull kick-off. It’s still hard to believe that the players we saw that night would be wearing the black and white of Hull FC just a few months later.
Try of the season? I think Brian Carney’s score in Edinburgh was the official choice, but my vote would have gone to a try by Deon Bird in the home fixture against Castleford, collecting a bouncing ball one-handed, at full pace, before diving over the line. It was a sublime piece of skill.
Time moves on, but nearly two decades after that truly amazing summer, rugby league still exists in the north east; the name “Thunder” now being preceded by the word “Newcastle”, as the current squad is based at Kingston Park, north of the River Tyne.
To say that the road has been rocky would be the mother of all understatements, but I think it’s safe to suggest that none of the various subsequent incarnations of this brilliant club would have existed had it not been for those men who travelled halfway around the world, many with their families, to showcase their particular brand of sporting entertainment and excitement.
Look at all the countless games that have been played from 2000 onwards; all the friendships that have been forged through a love rugby league … a love of Gateshead Thunder. To have created such a legacy in one season, just 30 games, is incredible. Maybe they don’t know quite what a difference they made, but I for one am so grateful.
I suppose that there will always be that nagging question at the back of the mind: what if? How might the future have been had things worked out differently? But even in those few short months a unique bond was created that has clearly stood the test of time. For players and fans alike, it was a remarkable experience, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
So to Ben, Matt, Deon, Craig, Ian, Will, Willie, Danny, Kerrod, Luke, Craig, Andrew, Brett, Tony, David, Adam, Brett, Richard, Sean, Mick, Brian, Garreth, Danny and Steve… and to Shane, Shaun and everyone behind the scenes; thank you.
There’s only one Gateshead Thunder!
Lots of exciting stuff due to happen on the challenge front over the next few weeks, with at least three of the remaining five scheduled to be attempted (and hopefully completed) between now and the end of the month.
Strictly speaking it’s the start of next month, as my indoor rowing marathon will take place at Eston Leisure Centre on the morning, afternoon (and quite possibly evening) of Sunday 1 October.
The distance is 26 miles and 385 yards, or 42,195 metres in new money. Goal number one is obviously to finish, but I’m looking to fulfil a second aim of finishing inside four hours. Actually, the real target is 3 hours 45 minutes (which would almost certainly mean beating my cross Channel—34,000m—record in the process), but it’s important that I’m realistic and focus on just completing the marathon rather than worrying about the time.
That said, it’s pretty hard to ignore the clock, seeing as there’s a performance monitor mounted right in front of your face.
Training has gone pretty well. I started back at the gym in April and have been concentrating on the rowing machine since the beginning of May, since when I have rowed just under 800km (500 miles). If it’s hard to put the bare distance into some sort of perspective, it is roughly the equivalent of rowing from Penzance on the tip of the Cornish coast all the way up to Morpeth in Northumberland.
Obviously that would be a stupid thing to do, seeing as I live in Middlesbrough and would clearly stop before heading further north … and to be honest, if I was going to travel that far, I’d probably use my car.
Back in December last year, I completed the equivalent of an English Channel crossing thanks to some hugely appreciated support—in fact two people (my unofficial trainer Julian Bunn, and Louise Hobson from BBC Tees) stayed for the entire duration. Dedication beyond the call of duty!
The company made an enormous difference. Long-distance rowing is a tough physical endurance sport; there are mental challenges to face as well, but having people with me provided a constant distraction that helped to make the whole event a memorable experience.
This time however, there will be no company; it’ll be me, my mp3 player and headphones, plenty of fluids and a packet of Jaffa Cakes. I train at 23-24 strokes a minutes, which (over four hours) will equate to between 5000 and 6000 strokes in total. My hands are already a mess from hours of gripping the handles, but my biggest concern is actually sitting on the rower for so long, because it gets really uncomfortable—and lengthy discomfort can actually become painful.
But that is just another part of the test… another challenge to overcome.
And we all have challenges to overcome…
Most of my blogs end in similar fashion because the message stays the same: it’s fine to talk about mental health, and asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.
I’ll let you know how everything goes.
The last contact I had with Niall Mercer before his recent passing was in response to a Facebook post about a band called Honeyblood.
Now it’s not uncommon to see bands mentioned in dispatches on social media, but if Big Niall thought someone was worth a listen, you took his advice…
And, true to form, he was (in my opinion) spot on about Honeyblood—and here’s the audio of “Babes Never Die”, the title track from the duo’s second album by way of proof.
What I’ve loved about music since I gained a real interest in the late 1970s was how often one band could lead you to discover another … and another…
Honeyblood were on tour in April, and their main support was a trio that went by the name of Doe. They also released an album last year, entitled “Some Things Last Longer Than You”—and it is outstanding.
So much so that I wrote a review … only my second ever attempt at offering an opinion about a musical offering. The fact that the word “review” is underlined means you can see the article simply by clicking … the wonders of modern science.
As it transpired, I was in London when Honeyblood and Doe played in York, but within a matter of weeks, the latter returned to the north east—Durham to be precise—and it was great to get the chance not only to hear, but also to meet Nicola, Jake and Dean.
Fast forward to August, and Doe travelled across the Atlantic to play a few shows in the USA. One of those gigs was alongside an American band (another trio coincidentally) called Amanda X. Doe said they were great—so I had a listen; and in true Mercer tradition they were absolutely right.
Their 2017 release “Giant” is the best album I’ve heard all year; and a link to one of the slower songs, “Scarlet Geraniums” is included below … just after the fantastic “Before Her” by Doe (honestly the ending is amazing).
I have no doubt that the chain will continue, and I wonder how often something similar has played out over the years, with Niall helping so many people to discover and enjoy great music.
Niall’s gift has now become his legacy; and whilst his untimely death was a massive shock to everyone who knew the big fella, as long as I’m listening to bands like Honeyblood, Doe, and Amanda X, I will always remember Niall Mercer ... and that's a pretty special legacy.
Today certainly wasn’t the first time Elaine and I had been out for afternoon tea; but our trip to the Old Joiners Shop marks my debut as a “food blogger”—basically that means I’m going to try and write a review…
The Joiners is situated in Ingleby Cross, a lovely little village just off the Stokesley Road (A172), only a mile or so from the A19.
We had booked in advance and a table had been reserved upstairs. There were several wooden tables and chairs, as well as a very comfortable-looking sofa—I’d guess there was room for twenty or so people, plus the downstairs and a couple of small tables outside for those wanting to enjoy the late summer (or early autumn) sunshine.
There seemed to be a decent selection of teas (and coffee if you preferred), but we are a traditional English Breakfast tea couple. The beverages arrived soon after; and extra tea or hot water was no problem.
We had a lengthy wait for the food, but this gave us ample time to chat, as well as allowing Elaine to meet the very handsome Cockapoo that had been lying quietly beside the family on the next table. The Joiners is “dog friendly”, and Elaine’s canine afternoon was completed by meeting a Golden Retriever puppy, a Maltese Terrier and Cocker Spaniel. I was very much surplus to requirements!
There were two reasons for the delay; firstly, the shop was busy (always a good sign), but secondly—and more compellingly—this was the first ever afternoon tea that The Joiners had served. There were apologies from the staff, we could also sense a few nerves too, but they were as unfounded as the apologies were unnecessary, because when the food arrived, it looked wonderful (photographic evidence follows).
There are four sandwich fillings available, and we had to pick two. If the afternoon teas become popular, I’m sure all four would be included, but I can understand why, for now, a choice had to be made. We picked salmon, cucumber and dill, and brie with cranberry. They were both lovely (especially the brie), and I must admit I did make me wonder what the other sandwiches would have been like—for the record, they are ham and mustard, and beef and chutney.
Unusually, there was one fruit and one cheese scone on the middle plate. Butter was provided for the cheese scone—a good move; I’m not sure jam and cream would go. My first reaction was what if you wanted to share? And then I found the scones were pre-cut … clever!
The plates were decorated with fresh fruit, and I have to admit the raspberries were one of the absolute highlights. I believe much of the produce is locally-sourced … and the raspberries (and the strawberries) tasted amazing. It reminded me of going fruit picking as a kid; everything tasted so fresh and sweet you just kept on eating; and when it was time to pay for what you’d picked, you had filled just the one punnet—and one stomach!
As for the sweet plate; well there was a rich chocolate cake, carrot cake, another cake with a tangy lemon icing, as well as coconut macaroons, meringues and a creamy, fruity offering in a small glass jar. All lovely, but way too much for us to finish.
The atmosphere was great—being dog friendly is a big plus—and the staff couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. The only criticism we could have had was the delay for the food to arrive, but as I said, we actually enjoyed every minute and weren’t bothered in the slightest. And even if it had been an issue, the preparation time will only reduce as more people come to sample afternoon tea at The Joiners—which I’m sure they will.
I suppose I had better mention the price. Given the quality of the food, the service, the ambience (a word I use when I’m trying to sound posh), I would have to say the cost of £26.00 for the two of us was far less than I would have expected. Not that I want the prices to go up, because we’ll definitely be paying another visit—maybe wait until after we’ve been back, then add on another couple of quid!
I believe it is customary to end a review with a score or rating. I’m going to go down the star route—one star is pretty ordinary, five stars means “excellent … pop along and see for yourself”.
The Old Joiners Shop in Ingleby Cross gets … drum roll...
It may sound strange, but for me the change from summer to autumn has little to do with the calendar, or even the weather; every year I wake up one morning and just feel different. There’s a brief sense of euphoria as I experience the first morning of the new season, but it is quickly replaced by a gradually increasing conscious feeling of dread that the darker nights (and accompanying thoughts) are drawing inexorably closer.
This time of year has always been one of often profound introspection and self-analysis. I continually question my worth, as well as battling to balance the co-dependent nature of dysthymia, with a desire for periods of lone reflection. I am aware how selfish that sounds.
Over the past four years, I’ve been able to focus on my “challenges”—thinking up new ideas, planning, finalising arrangements, training or practising for the physical tasks—and that focus has, on occasions, proved a compelling distraction.
But as I write, I only have five unticked tasks on my list of one hundred. When I look back at the photographs (which I have been doing quite a lot recently), there is an element of pride in what I’ve attempted and maybe even accomplished, but it is becoming outweighed by a growing anxiety about how I will fill the void that will undoubtedly be left when the challenges come to an end.
There’s no doubt that these past four years have made a positive difference to me, and more importantly to Elaine. She has given me the strength and belief to push myself beyond what I thought were my mental and physical limits; and the love, support and encouragement to keep going whenever emotions looked like getting the better of me.
And whilst I want to keep trying to raise mental health awareness (to show that it is fine to talk about mental health and that no one should be afraid to ask for help); equally I also need to keep trying to be the very best husband and friend I possibly can … that’s the very least Elaine deserves.
I already know that 2018 will see the publication of my book “Today, Just Like Yesterday” by Trigger Press. It’s not been too difficult telling the stories behind some of the challenges, but recalling (sometimes long-suppressed) memories and emotions has been quite a strain at times. I’ve learned when it’s fine to write, and when I need to switch off; and hopefully I’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the process as those memories and experiences are translated into something tangible.
I’m in “virtual” contact with several other Trigger Press authors – trust me, they are amazing people; and I really hope that at least some paths will cross over the forthcoming months. The members of publishing team are wonderful too; you can almost sense this relatively young company is about to achieve something very special in the field of mental health publishing (and beyond), and it such a privilege to be involved.
Hopefully I will be able to support Trigger Press at a few events next year; and I’m really keen to explore the possibility of doing talks to any groups that might think that my experiences are worth hearing. I know for certain I can be open and honest; I can be serious, maybe even a little bit interesting; but I can be quite funny too … as anyone who watched me spar with Josh Leather will testify.
Today has been tough. I’ve felt like I could crumble several times, but I’ve managed to maintain a pretty convincing “work face” (at least I think I have). Perhaps the tears will fall silently when I’m on my own; maybe writing these few paragraphs is the release that will help the feelings to pass—either way I’ve been here so many times before and whatever lies ahead next year, I’m confident that tomorrow is going to be a better day.
Sunday’s cricket World Cup final showcased so much that is great about the sport. There was plenty of skill on view, with both bat and ball, and in the field; fluctuating fortunes, tension, drama, a fantastic finish and some wonderful celebrations.
And (whisper it quietly) … the players were all women.
Women? Playing cricket?
Oh, you’d better believe it. And it’s now official—England’s women play cricket better than every other country on the planet!
England are also the reigning rugby union world champions, and the current Olympic hockey gold medallists (albeit in the guise of Great Britain—although the sixteen-strong squad was entirely English). Add to that a third-place finish in the last football World Cup and then compare the equivalent achievements of their male counterparts and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the respective gulf in coverage.
I get the arguments about popularity, fan base, television audiences, money etc., and if you happen to think the physical differences are relevant (which I don’t), then throw them into the mix as well; but now consider the following:
How quickly women’s team sports are developing and improving; the ability, dedication and determination of our elite female athletes; how many of these women are role models for aspiring youngsters; how well England’s women perform on an international stage; how well England’s women perform under pressure; how often England’s women win!
In whatever athletic endeavour, you can do no more than strive to be the best you can be, but when talent and hard work takes you (both individually and collectively) to the pinnacle of your particular sport, then you deserve to be making headlines—to be noticed, congratulated, appreciated, supported (and “support” can take any number of forms).
In the two years leading up to Rio, I had been highlighting the women’s hockey squad, and how they were potentially the “team to watch” in Brazil. What they achieved last year was simply outstanding. I’ve rarely seen such belief and togetherness in any group of athletes, and Hollie Webb’s conversion of the penalty which secured Olympic gold was a sporting moment I will always cherish.
In one little semi-detached house near Middlesbrough, there were shouts of delight and tears of joy; but they were nothing in comparison to the outpouring of emotion from Kate Richardson-Walsh and her squad. I doubt I will witness a greater sporting achievement from any English/British sporting team in my lifetime.
And (say it out loud) … the players were all women.
In fairness, England’s cricket captain Heather Knight and her squad certainly kept the huge crowd at Lord’s and those watching at home on the edge of their seats (or sofa in my case).
At 191-3 chasing England’s 228-7, India looked home and as dry as the threatening clouds would allow. Two crucial-looking chances had been missed, and the balance was very much in favour of a fine Indian side.
Enter Anya Shrubsole.
The Bath-born 25 year-old bowler suddenly produced the spell of her life to demolish the Indian middle and lower order. In truth the first couple of wickets probably shouldn’t have altered the result; but they created pressure … and pressure can affect the very best, especially when you’re playing in front of thousands of people in the biggest game of your life.
India collapsed. Likely victory became almost certain defeat…
With one wicket required, the mother of all easy catches was spilled by Jenny Gunn (a shame because she’d had a great game with both bat and ball), but thankfully it was not a defining moment as two balls later Anya Shrubsole ripped through Rajeshwari Gayakwad’s defence to claim her sixth wicket and, more importantly, secure the victory and the World Cup.
Absolutely brilliant! What a performance; what a game; what a day!
And (shout it from the rooftops) … the players were all women…
It is to my eternal shame that since I passed my English Literature ‘O’ level, I can count the number of plays that I’ve read on the fingers of one … finger. But during our recent visit to the Coronation Street studios, Elaine and I had a lengthy chat with Connor McIntyre (the man behind the villainous but undeniably compelling Pat Phelan), and he spoke with such passion about his craft, and in particular a play by Steven Berkoff entitled “Harry’s Christmas” that I acquired a copy of a book containing the aforementioned work and yesterday settled down to break my adult play duck.
“Harry’s Christmas” is a monologue; and even I was capable of working out the identity of the lone character and the time of year when the scene was set. On paper, it is not a lengthy composition, but it is a deep, dark and complex piece of work that I found difficult to read, probably because there were moments to which it was uncomfortably easy to relate.
Harry is approaching middle age, single, evidently lonely, and quite obviously suffering from a mental health condition. The “condition” is represented in the text by capitalisation; a companion with a powerful voice that can (and will) persuade Harry to analyse anything and everything that will lead him to question “why”?
The power of that unseen companion is magnified by the timing of the play. Remove any element of childhood wonderment and Christmas leaves you with ample time for introspection. Harry judges his life’s achievements as a number. The number is six … the six Christmas cards that Harry received.
But add four more from the previous year and Harry would reach double figures, and “ten would be acceptable”. Harry’s struggle for self-justification is already taking shape. The notion of cards defining life is absurd, but how many of us already see something of ourselves in Harry?
All Harry wants is to be “normal”, but Harry sees himself as “UNBEING”, a word that his mind takes great delight in defining: “LONELY, UNPOPULAR, UNLIKED, UNDESIRABLE, UNBEFRIENDED, UNKNOWN, UNCARED FOR, UNINTERESTING …”
The desire to “reach out” becomes irresistible. “Give us a ring sometime” … a meaningless message in a card … “DO IT…”
What could be simpler than picking up a phone? Harry’s confidence ebbs and flows as his mind exerts more control. Eventually he rings Jack. Jack needs to ask Harry’s surname. Harry thanks Jack for the card. Jack tells Harry his wife sent it.
SHIT, SHIT, SHIT, SHIT, SHIT…
Harry rings Clara. He “loved” Clara … Clara is out.
All Harry has to do is ring his mother if he wants to talk. All Harry has to do is switch on the television if he wants to be distracted from what is becoming more than just seasonal misery. But these are “easy options”. Harry wants more than a guarantee. He wants to know that someone cares—someone who doesn’t have to.
He rings Annie. The call is a disaster.
SHIT, SHIT, SHIT, SHIT, SHIT…
Harry’s mind tightens its grip. If life is nothing more than “SLEEP, WAKE, SMOKE, EAT, WATCH, DIE”, then why bother? Harry’s mental state is clearly in decline. How can receiving six cards lead so quickly to believing death is better than being lonely and miserable?
It’s a steep downward spiral, but the sound of the phone ringing suddenly creates a positive surge of hope. This could be the call that changes everything … somebody wants Harry … somebody needs Harry…
It’s a wrong number.
Harry’s attempt to reach out to a total stranger is literally pathetic. The descent gathers pace and Harry lies to his mother about having friends over for a party and renames the television a “flickering idiot box”. The one person and one inanimate object to whom and which Harry could have reached out at any point are all-too-readily discarded, as a final call to Clara is answered by her partner.
Harry decides to take a few pills—just to sleep through Christmas. As the tablets take effect, Harry believes he has the strength to contact Clara and simply invite himself to share her Christmas. And that is the sum of his courage … making a phone call. And now that Harry is the dominant negative partner (“I’m a coward”), his mind simply states the opposite (“NO YOU’RE NOT”). Clever…
The possibility of objective clarity disappeared the moment the first pills were swallowed. The descent accelerates with every subsequent tablet, and as they start to take effect, Harry suddenly imagines he is with Clara. Everything is perfect … until he feels her slipping away; and the sudden panic in Harry’s mind (It’s cold … it’s dark … where … are … you?”) coincides with Harry taking his final breath.
The play ends with three simple words: “Harry is dead.”
There’s nothing much more to say. That is literally the end. The reader is left to wonder just who (his mother notwithstanding) will genuinely mourn Harry’s passing. How many people will go to his funeral? And if they go, do they go out of duty, or because they care? And if they cared, why didn’t they just take a minute to send him a Christmas card? Four more could have been the difference.
This play isn’t good; it’s thought-provokingly good; it’s frighteningly good. The way Harry’s mood swings so far and so quickly is superbly realised; as is the fascinating and destructive struggle between Harry and his own mind. Whatever combination of factors resulted in Harry becoming quite so lonely and isolated is largely irrelevant; what strikes the reader is the fact that it only takes something trivial to tip the balance.
For me the gathering momentum of the fall is summed up by Berkoff’s use of the three-dot ellipsis; my second-favourite piece of punctuation—after the em dash. It gives the impression of uninterrupted (maybe even uninterruptable) flow towards a conclusion that the readers can see long before the play’s protagonist. Of course, I could be totally wide of the mark, but I was always told that if you argue your point well enough, you could never be proven conclusively wrong.
Advice I clearly didn’t take when I barely scraped a ‘C’ in my English Literature ‘O’ level…
Maybe some of us know a Harry. Maybe some of us feel some connection to Harry. All I would say is don’t wait for Christmas—it’s good to talk and it’s fine to ask for help.
81. Learn to knit
83. Appear on television
88. Get back in the boxing ring with Josh Leather
91. Meet an actor who has appeared in Coronation Street
93. Meet someone who has had a no.1 single
94. Have a race against an Olympic swimmer
98. Row a marathon
100. Allow Sarah from work to dye my hair pink
These are the remaining challenges from the total list of one hundred that I started way back in January 2014. I honestly can’t believe that 92 tasks have been completed; some were reasonably straightforward, but others have really tested me (both mentally and physically). So whilst the editing process is underway for the book I never imagined would be professionally published, here is how things are looking for the outstanding eight challenges.
Learn to knit
I am left-handed, so I gather this isn’t going to be easy, but Elaine has the needles, the wool and hopefully the patience. The plan is to knit something that will benefit local wildlife… a blanket for a baby shrew seems like a good idea.
Appear on television
I’ve only made one conscious effort to see if this was possible, but nothing came of it. If all else fails, I’ll stand behind a news reporter doing a live outside broadcast piece to camera and do a comedy walk…
Get back in the boxing ring with Josh Leather
I met Josh in Middlesbrough the weekend before last; he suggested we do our sparring challenge again, after describing our first meeting as “fun”—not one of the words I would have used. I was so bad back in 2014, that having another go seemed like a good idea. As soon as I put it on the list, it seemed like a really bad idea, but I’ll be getting some expert training from Coach Imran, I’ll work hard to get in shape, and hopefully come the day (and we’re looking at November) I’ll do a little bit better than last time.
Meet an actor who has appeared in Coronation Street
Not an easy task… but I’m working on it.
Meet someone who has had a no.1 single
All being well, this should be accomplished at the end of September, when three-quarters of the original Bucks Fizz bring their current line-up to Billingham. Is it wrong to be looking forward to it?!
Have a race against an Olympic swimmer
I have an opponent… Chris Cook, the dual Commonwealth gold medallist from Melbourne in 2006, who reached the Olympic 100m semi-final in Beijing two years later, as well as being a member of the 4x100m relay team who finished sixth in the Olympic final. We are going to race over 100m at a time and place that is yet to be determined, but on the basis that Chris has completed four lengths of breaststroke in under a minute, it looks odds-on that I’m actually going to be lapped. No matter, I’m really looking forward to meeting Chris and to giving the challenge my best shot….
Row a marathon
Training is going well for my first attempt at just over 26 miles (42195m). I’ve rowing on average 40km a week, and I’m looking at taking on the marathon in mid-September. Target no.1 is to finish, no.2 is to finish in less than 4 hours, but what I’m really aiming for is no.3… to complete the distance in under 3 hours 45 minutes.
Allow Sarah from work to dye my hair pink
This was Sarah’s idea, and she clearly caught me in a weak moment. The “pink pizazz” will be applied on the last Friday in August. I won’t be going out on the Saturday… I’ll be washing my hair… frequently.
One of the mind’s most powerful weapons is its ability to make you perceive yourself in a way that nobody else sees you. To make the reflection in the mirror appear subjectively “huge” when the objective view—in fact the obvious reality—would be the polar opposite.
In “Stand Tall Little Girl”, Hope Virgo tells the story about how “her” Anorexia—her so-called “best friend”—very nearly robbed a teenager of her life, a family of a daughter and sister…
And there was even a time when Hope genuinely believed that would be the best outcome for everyone…
Mental illness can be incredibly cruel; anorexia (nervosa) is a particularly nasty condition that exerts such control that the sufferer readily listens to its voice over and above all others (even if one of those voices belongs to the person who actually brought you into the world).
Hope relates how her “friend” turned her into a compulsive calorie counter and obsessive trainer, who would use any ruse to dispose of food before or even after being ingested. Anorexia filled Hope with pride whenever someone was fooled by her increasingly desperate attempts to mask the effects of her condition—to the extent of hiding weights inside her clothing to artificially increase her weight and BMI when it was time to step on the hospital scales. To the reader it is literally pathetic; to the sufferer it was a triumph…
Hope talks of her descent and gradual recovery in graphic detail. There is no attempt to glamorise a story that could so easily have ended in tragedy; and Hope leaves the reader in no doubt how hard it has been to fight such a persistent confidante. Anorexia does not simply go away; in fact, it’s almost as if it temporarily releases its grip, allows you to take a few tentative steps towards recovery, then returns to remind you how weak you’ve been for now skipping meals, missing a run, or a workout.
As well as control, the other central theme is guilt; albeit often in more lucid hindsight. The loss of her Grandmother feels like a pivotal moment in Hope’s story (and how many of us can relate to missing a chance to say those final words), but even when pieces finally seem to be slotting into place, the spectre of an increasingly unwanted companion still looms large on the horizon.
You don’t need to suffer from any mental health condition to be inspired by Hope Virgo—and her family. The fact is that one in four adults will be affected by mental illness… logically there will be very few who are totally immune (especially indirectly) from the effects and impact of mental health. For those who have been struggling, whether openly or silently, certain aspects of Hope’s symptoms and situation will resonate—perhaps uncomfortably… even unpleasantly. She knows only too well that recovery is unbelievably tough. There will be seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome; there will be setbacks, and so much pain and hurt along the way.
But Hope never gave up—and importantly, her family never gave up.
Hope Virgo is an amazing young woman; a survivor. Her story will upset you (as it’s surely meant to), but it will just as surely inspire you too.
It has hardly been a bumper year for the region’s local football clubs, with Middlesbrough and Sunderland bound for the Championship, Hartlepool losing their league status, and York City (FA Trophy notwithstanding) facing virtual oblivion in National League North after a second successive relegation.
Newcastle United’s immediate elevation back to the top flight is some positive news, although most praise should be reserved for South Shields, who have the chance to end an outstanding campaign in the best possible style if they win Sunday’s FA Vase final at Wembley.
But away from the headlines and the back pages, a local club has achieved a promotion that effectively ranks them as one of the top twenty clubs in their sport in the entire country….
Earlier this month, Grangetown Netball Club travelled down to Nottingham to compete in the end-of-season play-offs, and try and secure a place in National League Premier 2. Aside from the sport’s Super League (which is run on a franchise basis), the National Premier League is netball’s foremost domestic club competition; Grangetown had been relegated from Prem 2 last year, but a new young squad had been consistent and competitive throughout a demanding Prem 3 season, which involved travelling in excess of 3,000 miles for just nine away fixtures.
Last season’s relegation via the play-offs was all the more difficult to accept because no less than five squad members were unavailable due to international commitments with Scotland and Ireland in the annual European Championships.
This year however, coach Gel Williams chose to focus on the future by recruiting a number of talented youngsters to join Grangetown’s own gifted teenagers Hannah Raine and Tasha Grylls in a squad led by club captain Vicky Rees and vice-captain Ria Small.
Ireland’s Australian-born defender Gen Slater travelled over from Dublin virtually every weekend to take her place in the squad alongside fellow Ireland international Katie Walton, and Jenny Mrozik.
It was very much a blend of youth and experience, but the squad gelled quickly and after a couple of narrow reverses, the team acquired the winning habit and began to climb the table. The squad was arguably the fittest in the division and their relentless combination of defensive pressure and speed through the court resulted in some thrilling and dramatic matches over the past seven months; and their third-placed finish was as hard-earned as it was thoroughly deserved.
Although Grangetown made the trip to Nottingham without Jaydene Robinson and Brie Grierson (due to Team Northumbria commitments), fellow Newcastle-based students Abbie le Brocq and Kate Hill joined the squad for the four-club round robin. The equation was simple: the two clubs with the best records would be in Prem 2 for 2017/18, the other two would be in the third division….
Grangetown recorded two convincing wins from their three fixtures, but lost to a dominant Linden side that retained its Prem 2 status with a 100% record. There were a few nervous moments before Grangetown’s promotion was confirmed, but results went the way of the Middlesbrough club and the celebrations could begin in earnest.
To play netball at a national level demands huge dedication and commitment as well as sporting ability. There may be no comparison between football and netball in terms of popularity, money and audiences, but in fairness, as far as respective seasons are concerned, there has been no comparison between results and achievements either….
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest