On 5th July 1879, my great grand-father John William Kirby was born.
The social divide in Victorian Britain was incredibly wide; the upper classes enjoyed a life of almost unthinkable luxury whereas those at the other end of the scale suffered poverty beyond my imagination. In some towns, families endured squalid living conditions, basic sanitation was far from guaranteed and with large numbers of children often sharing the cramped rooms, disease was rife. Yet all this was happening just over 130 years ago...
John Kirby was born into poverty. His mother Jane was a single parent and she gave birth to her son in York’s Workhouse... the absolutely final option... almost certainly because the social stigma of being an unmarried mother would have seen her cast out of her home by her own family.
Jane did find a place to live... in Wrightson’s Yard, one of fifty-or-so yards that were situated off the main streets in the Walmgate area of the city. This part of York was one of the poorest; it was home to many Irish immigrants who had fled the potato famine of the mid-1840s in search of a “better life” working the land in numerous parts of the British mainland. This part of York was home to slaughterhouses, factories and mills and the crude nature of what could be termed “Second Industrial Revolution” manufacturing at this time meant that the air above these homes would have been literally black with acrid smoke and fumes.
But this was Jane’s life; she had a son and needed to provide for him... and herself. She did so by working from home, making matchboxes. It was incredibly hard work, especially for a mother trying to raise an infant on her own. Raw materials had to be purchased and a solid thirteen hour working day would yield between 9d and one shilling (at a rate of 2d per gross). Out of this, Jane would need to buy the material for the next batch of boxes as well as pay for rent and food. Things we take for granted today, like clothes for example, must have been almost impossible to afford...
The above picture is of a half crown, issued in the year John was born. This single silver coin represented the equivalent of nearly three weeks work for Jane Kirby... I wonder if she even knew what a half crown looked like..?
John Kirby eventually became a railway blacksmith and lived in Darlington; his son Eric was a boilersmith and engineer; then came David, a school teacher... and then me.
I’m sitting here typing on a computer in a nice home with a relatively comfortable life; none of which could or would have been possible without the remarkably selfless Jane Kirby. I may not know much about her and she may have been right on the bottom end of the social ladder, but that just makes me all the more proud that she is my great great grandmother and that I carry her surname...
It was one of the most heated and unsavoury exchanges ever seen on a cricket field... Back in 2003, Aussie fast-bowling legend Glenn McGrath had been dispatched for 21 runs in two overs; his frustration boiled over into a homophobic "sledge" aimed at West Indian batsman Ramnaresh Sarwan.
The retort was a pretty standard cliché which mentioned McGrath's wife...
The giant Australian continued walking away for a couple of paces, then turned and squared up to the diminutive Sarwan, raging that if he ever mentioned his wife again, he would rip out the young West Indian's throat... actually it was his “f***ing throat”, but that's by the by...
On the surface, it seems unreasonable for McGrath to try his hand at verbal intimidation and then run to the umpire because he didn't care for the reply, but there was far more to the situation than met the eye...
Jane Steele was born in Devon in 1966; she first met her future husband Glenn McGrath in a Hong Kong nightclub during 1995 and the couple eventually married four years later.
Jane first learned she had breast cancer in 1997 (during Australia's Ashes tour of England), but after a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she was given the "all clear" the following year and fears that the treatment had left Jane sterile proved unfounded as she gave birth to two children, named James and Holly...
Sadly, the cancer returned... bone cancer in her hip was diagnosed in 2003; yet again Jane survived, but a brain tumour was then detected some three years later. Although the tumour was successfully surgically removed and Jane went into remission, she became gravely ill after complications following yet more surgery...
Jane McGrath passed away on this day in 2008. She was aged just 42.
In 2002, Glenn and Jane McGrath set up their own foundation to help raise money towards breast cancer research and for the training of nurses. Jane continued to work tirelessly even during the times when she was fighting battles of her own; her dedication to campaigning and raising the profile of cancer was inspirational... to the extent that both her and her husband were awarded the Australia Medal for their charitable work.
For Glenn McGrath, one of the finest bowlers the game of cricket has ever seen, life must go on; he has recently remarried, but remains heavily involved with the McGrath Foundation: the annual "Pink Test" took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January this year; pink stumps and bat handles were on view as the world of cricket celebrated the life and work of Jane McGrath, the very special woman to whom this blog is dedicated.
Jane McGrath (4th May 1966-22nd June 2008).
As you know, I really enjoy writing... the research, the drafts, the checking (actually, I’m not too keen on that bit), the finished product; but most of all, I gain enormous pleasure from someone reading one of the books and telling me they’ve enjoyed it.
You can’t really put a price on a feeling like that... which is just as well because I dread to think how much my hobby has cost over the past few years. Trust me, it’s an awful lot of time and effort for what ends up being less than no financial return.
But not to worry; I didn’t start writing to become rich and famous – rich would have been enough – and I fully intend to plod along in the hope that one day my slightly off-beat writing style might be spotted (and appreciated) by someone willing to take a punt on a ageing author.
What has become clear is that using a print-to-order website is fine as far as book quality is concerned, the cost of postage and packing effective makes individual orders prohibitive and whilst I’ve tried to cover some of the outlay by offering the books via my web site (the domain name was yet more expense...), you would probably laugh if I told you that the number of orders in two months amounts to... one.
It’s not exactly soul-destroying, but it’s pretty bloody close.
I’ve sent off a few e-mails to publishers to see what other avenues there are to explore; the answer appears to be plenty providing you’re willing to shell out upwards of £700... which (for very good reasons) I’m not... Most of those reasons include the word “skint”.
So I am left with three options: do what I’m doing and accept that I’ll pay for the privilege; stop writing... or at least stop selling... and thirdly, hope and pray for the bit of luck that I’d like to think I deserve. For the record, Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman... the“revised” edition is just about finished. It’s a decent little read though I say so myself; I suppose it’s unlikely to be taking up any shelf space in your nearest WH Smith... but it would be great to be proved wrong!
A few days ago, I watched an old Doctor Who story from 1965 called The Space Museum.
In a strange parallel with my blogs, it started really well before going rapidly downhill, but the basic premise of this particular adventure was that the Doctor and his three companions arrived on a planet and saw a vision of their future selves encased as exhibits in this museum.
They realised that unless they changed the course of history, they were destined to end up in glass cases, to be gawped at for the rest of eternity. And therein lay the paradox; if you are faced with a choice and make what you believe is the decision that will ultimately change your fate; do you unintentionally, yet simply continue further down the path towards unavoidable destiny?
I'm not great expert in philosophy, but I understand that the doctrine of causality implies that every event is a consequence of a previous event (ie the "cause"). This principle of cause and effect is central to determinism which suggests that the world - or even the universe - exists as a chain of events where outcomes are essentially unavoidable given the set of circumstances that led to a decision being made, or an event taking place.
I believe in "fate"; that life is pre-determined and therefore that "everything happens for a reason" - and yes, I was always destined to write this blog... I also still consider there is "free will" (as opposed to the film about the killer whale) although there would appear to be a fundamental issue between free will and a pre-determined outcome... but for me, the concept of free will demands choices and an ability to choose. I understand (although I had to look it up), that this makes me a "compatibilist"... which is nice to know.
But if the outcome and therefore the consequent effect of any event is pre-determined, then how can "free" will play a part in that process? For the two to co-exist (viz. determinism and free will) it is the possibility of acting in a way that is viewed as unexpected by someone else that is the defining factor (according to Daniel Dennett b.1942). Interestingly based on number of books, Dennett has been described as one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism"... another one of whom is Richard Dawkins, who is married to Lalla Ward, who played Romana in Doctor Who...
And somewhat unexpectedly we appear to have come full circle...
Of course, back on the planet Xeros, the Doctor and his friends manage to avoid their fate... shredding my beliefs into tatters in the process, so it's back to the philosophical drawing board for me... but not until I've watched another Doctor Who DVD...
Sir Terry Pratchett’s documentary Choosing to Die was incredibly powerful. The subject of assisted suicide polarises opinion... pretty much as you would expect from any such emotive subject but what is for certain is that this programme forced the viewer to think, evaluate and wonder just what the future holds...
My thoughts are no more relevant than anyone else’s, but I would like to air them nonetheless in the hope of provoking a few comments.
The main focal point of the documentary was a gentleman named Peter Smedley, a successful and obviously rich man who would have wanted for nothing... except the one thing his money could not buy. Mr Smedley was suffering from motor neurone disease; he was lucid, capable of limited movement, but the fact that his condition would deteriorate (dramatically) was unavoidable.
The Dignitas clinic in Zurich offers a “release” providing that the person wishes to take his or her own life is capable of rational thought and possesses bodily control to drink two glasses of fluid: the first enables the stomach to accept the poison... thesecond is the poison.
Pratchett suffers from Alzheimer’s disease; he will not recover and his mental health will gradually worsen beyond the point when Dignitas would be an option. This means there is a decision to be made... a decision with extreme consequences, but one that has to be taken at a point in time when natural life would otherwise continue... albeit in a downward spiral.
A few things bother me about the subject: my main issue is with those people who spout their ethical arguments from the safety of good health. How can someone who does not have a terminal illness (and a distinction needs to be drawn with incurable illness here) judge what is right or otherwise for someone fighting a battle they will never win?
I accept that any such illness affects close family as much (but in a different way) as the sufferer and that emotion can affect the decision-making process should assisted suicide be under consideration. But the harsh reality is that we are all going to die... and is it better to choose to end your life “on your own terms”, thereby avoiding the guarantee of distress and pain that lies ahead? Is it a chance to die with the dignity which the illness will gradually take from you?
Peter Smedley had made up his mind; his wife would have wanted him around for longer (and who wouldn’t have selfish feelings in such terrible circumstances), but what her husband wanted was more important. They both displayed remarkable courage as the final moment drew closer; for me the intention of the programme was for the viewer to imagine the size of the decision Mr Smedley had made, its impact on his family and the emotion of the whole scenario.
I tried to imagine... I couldn’t... but I cried... I really cried. I watched Peter Smedley die... his incredible bravery was hard to comprehend, but remarkable to witness. The programme moved me immensely: do I think assisted suicide should be legalised? In principle and given specific criteria, my answer would be “yes”,but how would I feel if I was in Peter Smedley’s position.
I hope and pray I will never have to find out...
Earlier this week, Radio 5 Live broadcast a programme highlighting the issue of depression in sport... but focussing mainly on cricket.
Even in an age when mental illness of whatever degree is (or at least appears to be) more openly discussed, there is still a fundamental lack of under-standing about depression. This was made abundantly clear when Michael Yardy flew home from the recent cricket World Cup and ex-England opener and current pundit Geoff Boycott suggested that Yardy was depressed because he wasn’t good enough to be in the international one-day side and the reason he himself had never suffered from a similar illness was because he was a far better player. His comments were probably borne out of ignorance rather than malice and a retraction of sorts swiftly followed; the fact is that depression is an illness which doesn’t pick and choose its victims according to social status, wealth or sporting ability.
The case of Somerset batsman Marcus Trescothick brought the whole subject to public attention because he was one of the finest test players in world cricket when he quit an overseas tour to return home. There was an “old school” theory that playing for your country is an honour and therefore Trescothick should have just “got on with it”, but illness or disease does not have to be visible to have incredibly debilitating effects.
I believe that certain people may be predisposed to the condition, but there may be a link or a trigger in the game of cricket because of the length and nature of the game. The higher the level, the greater the demands (both on and off the field) and the more time you spend with team mates... and obviously less with family. Does that bond become a dependency that can have serious health implications – especially when the bond is broken by retirement? Being around a dressing room, in the company of friends and team mates possibly for many years, is a great experience even for a club cricketer like I was (or tried to be). When you stop playing though, that’s that; you can never go back or recreate the feeling you enjoyed so much for so long and the relatively recent suicides of Mark Saxelby and David Bairstow are testament to some degree of the difficulty players can have adjusting to “normal” life. Bairstow’s death is particularly poignant because his son Jonny attended my old school; he’s a fine player who is currently a regular in Yorkshire’s first team with a fantastic future ahead of him...
I am not ashamed to say that I have suffered from depression. Even when I knew I wasn’t right, I firmly believed that I should be able to carry on, but it’s a downward spiral that can only be stopped by full acceptance that you are ill and that treatment is necessary. In my case, there was a trigger and possibly a predisposition, but I ignored a great deal of sound advice (because the illness can be spotted by others much earlier than it is admitted by the sufferer) before I went to see a doctor. My symptoms were a constant feeling of pressure in my head, a sense of incredible sorrow that I just couldn’t shrug off and an ability to burst into tears without reason at regular intervals....
The treatment I received enabled me to have an objective view of my life, my problems, whatever you will and once those issues weren’t overwhelming, then it became easier to deal with them. I don’t know if it ever goes away completely, but being strong enough to be honest with yourself is the first – and the biggest – step on the road to recovery.
I have so much respect for people like Marcus Trescothick (who is pictured below) – as much as a man than as a cricketer; I didn’t have anywhere near his ability as a sportsman, but I have some understanding of the way the mind can affect the body. It was a superb programme and in an age when sport is driven by money and success, the stories of Messrs Trescothick and Yardy show that behind the professional front, there are real people, with genuine issues and raising awareness can only benefit cricketers – in fact people from all walks of life – both now and in the future...
One year ago today Stuart Cable, drummer with the rock band Killing for Company, passed away. He was 40 years old.
I’ve already written one blog about Stuart, but what about his legacy... and the bandmates he left behind?
Stuart was the “household name” in the group because of his time with The Stereophonics and having seen Killing for Company perform during last year’s Alarm tour, there’s no doubt his presence and personality was a huge driving force from the back of the stage.
His loss was a cruel and devastating blow to his family and friends and I can completely understand the period of mourning and introspection that followed. From the outside looking in, Stuart must have been so much more than a bandmate to Greg, Andy, Steve and Richie and I haven’t got the ability to imagine how you even begin to try and come to terms with such a tragedy.
I’ve never been totally sure about the oft-used phrase “it’s what he (or she) would have wanted” and the reason(s) why the boys decided to carry on performing is nobody’s business but their own; however in doing so, they undoubtedly kept alive the memory of Stuart Cable with their incredibly powerful live sets and the way they have embraced fans from around their South Wales home and much farther beyond.
Strangers have become friends because of Killing for Company; brought together by a bond created by the music and passion of five young men. No one knows what the future holds... the events of twelve months ago are a sad reminder of life’s uncertainty... but in saluting Stuart Cable, I also want to say “thank you” to Greg Jones, Andy Williams, Steve Williams, Richie King, Jamie Williams and Aled Richards; Killing for Company may not have gained the recognition and success their talent derserves, but the genuine difference they have made to the lives of so many people is a far greater achievement and a lasting tribute to the man they call “the Duke”...
Today would have been (or is, depending on how you look at it) the 85th birthday of Marilyn Monroe.
Last year, I spent eight months and 550 pages writing about this remarkable woman, so quite why I’m attempting a blog of a four hundred or so words I’m not really sure, but I just felt the day needed to be marked in some way...
As a person, Marilyn Monroe was compelling; she was deeply introspective, arguably because of a “pillar to post” upbringing which resulted in a deep-seated trauma which she never fully overcame. She was far brighter than her platinum blonde Harlowesque image may have suggested; well read and an actress of genuine talent... (viz. Nell Forbes in Don’t Bother to Knock).
Marilyn’s private life was never likely to be simple – and it wasn’t; three husbands, numerous lovers and “friends” in the highest places. At the time of her death, husband number two, ex-baseball star Joe DiMaggio was “back on the scene”; there’s no doubt he loved Marilyn, but his views on the female role in a relationship were as strict as they were outdated. Marilyn’s quest was probably not just about love, but the paternal guidance she never had whilst growing up. She maybe saw that in Arthur Miller, but his notebook betrayal was another devastating blow for a young woman by now dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs just to make a belated appearance on the film set...
Her death in August 1962 was a goldmine for the conspiracy theorists. Many authors have described the “truth” in convincing fashion, but all arguments bar a maximum of one must, by definition, be flawed. The fact that the truth is unlikely to be known for certain will ensure the legend of Marilyn Monroe will live on but, for the record, I think she died accidentally at the hands of Drs Engelberg and Greenson; the former distracted by a marital separation and the latter guilty of creating a situation that rendered a professional doctor/patient relationship almost impossible. Unbeknown to each other, I believe their intervention led to fatal doses of Nembutal and Choral Hydrate being introduced into Marilyn’s body and what followed became a tragic inevitability.
Eunice Murray’s feeble attempts at track covering suggest (to me, at least) that she should have been central to any investigation and her ever-changing story only helped to fuel Kennedy or mob-related theorists. And one of them may be right... I’m only venturing an “educated guess”.
Today though, I am going to remember Marilyn Monroe in life... the very definition of both beauty and vulnerability. “Happy birthday to you...”
All my own work... almost.