The morning after, the whole thing seems totally surreal.
Back in my house, typing away on the laptop, trying (and usually failing) to wean myself off Candy Crush, it's hard to believe that less than twelve hours ago, I played a leg of darts against Deta Hedman, the world no.1 in the ladies game.
In truth, I had two opponents: Deta... and arguably the toughest opponent of all, me.
Thirty years ago, I was a reasonable player, getting a first experience of testing myself against some of the best local—and even county—players. I might not have won every time, but I could certainly hold my own, until one day, totally out of the blue, my hand and arm started shaking when I went to throw...
The descent was fast, embarrassing to this day, and within a short period of time, the trusty 29g darts were safely locked away in a drawer.
I owe last night's opportunity to Glen Durrant, England international and one of the absolute top players in the BDO. Back in January, Glen agreed to meet, and play against me, as part of my fiftieth birthday charity challenge. We had never met before, and he had no reason to be so supportive, but that evening at North Ormesby WMC, I played darts in public for the first time in a quarter of a century—and three short months later, something approaching one hundred people were going to see me put myself to a very real test.
Glen said some very kind words as he announced my game, but his advice about the number of vodkas needed to calm the nerves was well short of the mark!
I have to say that Deta was lovely. She knew a bit about the background to my challenge and my appearance on the oche (which, incidentally, I tripped over three times during practice...), and both she and Glen couldn't have been more encouraging. His final piece of advice was brilliant: "Don't tut!"
There's a part of me that remembers how I used to be able to play, and during my games against Glen, any dart that sailed into the one or five, was invariably met by some muttered swear word... or tut... that I hadn't realised Glen had heard!
Anyway, back to Whale Hill Social Club, and I was all too well aware that I was relying on my left arm to do as it was being told, and make the first dart travel from my hand, to the board, and land somewhere near the twenty. I can't express just how nervous I was, but the first three darts all landed in the twenty, and for those briefest of moments, I was actually leading the best women's darts player in the world!
But more importantly, I was taking the first steps at proving something to myself, something that I'm pretty sure I would not have considered even attempting, had it not been for Glen's backing.
Deta won—comfortably. She hit a ton and a 140, which was verging on the unfair, but at least I was on a finish (167) when she picked off double sixteen. And although there was a small part of me that wished I'd played better, the rest of me was thrilled that I'd given it a go and not disgraced myself.
As I returned to my chair, there were handshakes and kind words from people I'd never met before, which meant such a lot. Playing Deta was a brilliant experience, an absolute privilege... but last night, I also challenged myself and didn't fail—and believe me, that feels great!
I've now got four months before I face Glen at Boro Boys. I've got a lot of practicing to do, because I desperately want to give a better account of myself, but hopefully there's also enough time for me to work out just how many vodkas it actually takes to feel properly relaxed... without crossing the line and breaking into song when I get on stage!
I'll keep you informed...
On 10th July, Elaine and I will have been together eight years; not the longest relationship in history I know, but it’s a measure of how much better life has become, that I can barely remember what it was like before we met. Maybe negative thoughts and feelings are easier to suppress when you’re in a happier place, I don’t know, but however many obstacles we have had to overcome, it has been worth it to be sharing my life with someone so special.
Elaine was arguably fortunate to have met me shortly after my cricket playing days had come to an end. The sport played a massive part in my life for a quarter of a century, and much as I wasn’t that good a bowler, I actually would have loved Elaine to have seen me play just once...
She could have stood outside the ground and fetched the ball back in...
Writing quickly replaced cricket as my main hobby. Being a properly published author was a long-standing ambition that I never really expected to be fulfilled, but whilst I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of people as the process gathered momentum, there’s no doubt that Elaine’s constant support is the real reason why Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman is now sitting proudly in my bookcase—soon to be joined by my Marie Prevost biography.
Likewise with my charity challenge, Elaine has been with me pretty much every step of the way... and that includes a near four hundred mile round trip to Leicester, and another lengthy (but enjoyable) drive to Huddersfield last week. Without her friendship, love and encouragement, the challenge would never have happened, but on a larger scale, my life would not be what it is now. She is normally content just to fade into the background, but not today...
Yesterday was a particularly difficult day. Those who know Elaine will be aware of the significance, yet she carries on, quietly dealing with a sadness that must weigh so heavily. I’m not going to go into any great detail, suffice to I’ve never seen anyone show so much strength and dignity in trying to cope with a set of circumstances over which she has no control.
Much as I wish this one particular part of Elaine’s life was different, change becomes less likely with every passing month and year. The only thing I can guarantee is that whatever may or may not happen, I will stand by Elaine’s side as her husband and her friend, and give her every bit of love and support that I possibly can.
So this is just to say thank you for everything darling. I’m incredibly proud of you and love you so much xxx.
Completing any of the tasks in my 40Fifty charity challenge is a good feeling, but to tick off two in a day was both unexpected and fantastic!
I wrote about meeting Eorl Crabtree yesterday, but when I got home, there was an envelope lying on the mat postmarked Buckingham Palace. Naturally I presumed it contained an invitation to some afternoon tea party chez Elizabeth, or maybe news of my forthcoming investiture, but this is what I found when I looked inside...
I must admit that obtaining a letter from a member of the Royal Family seemed one of the more difficult challenges on the list—one that if I'm honest I thought I might have to attempt (possibly several times) before graciously admitting defeat.
But then I remembered a couple of photos that my parents had, of me as a seven(ish) year-old boy, standing outside York Minster and meeting the Duke and Duchess of Kent (who had been married in the Minster in 1961). As you can see, we got on like a house on fire, so armed with a copy of the pictures, I compiled my letter...
Price Edward, Duke of Kent is a grandson of King George V. He was seventh in line to the throne when he was born in 1935, but following the birth of Zara Phillips' daughter Mia earlier this year, the Duke of Kent, who is the Queen's oldest living cousin, is now thirty-third in line of succession.
Those who know me will be well aware that I am a staunch Royalist, and to say that I was thrilled to receive such a personal letter would be a major understatement. I'm not sure you could get a much greater contrast than a member of our Royal Family and one of rugby league's finest and most recognisable players, but I am indebted to both The Duke of Kent and Eorl Crabtree for making 16th April 2014 a memorable day... the day I completed two charity challenges!
Last time I visited the John Smith's Stadium in Huddersfield, it was in 2003, to watch Great Britain's rugby league side lose 12-18 to the Australian tourists. I thought I'd done a really clever thing arriving at what was then the McAlpine Stadium really early, and getting parked right outside the Ropewalk pub.
Sadly the plan backfired spectacularly, as we fell foul of the "first in last out rule" and were still in the queue to exit the car park an hour after the game had ended.
My previous visit was to watch the reformed Gateshead Thunder take on a Huddersfield Giants squad bound for Super League on the back of a fantastic undefeated league campaign. The home fans genuinely thought their side would rack up a hundred points that day, but Thunder's young squad produced a battling performance to keep the score to a respectable level, and cross for two fine tries of their own.
It was also the day when my friend Gary "Frankie" Davidson decided to give the Thunder players a rousing 1940s-style welcome by throwing his baseball cap into the air as the team ran onto the pitch. The cap was hurled skyward, and Gary had every right to expect that it would come back down again.
But it didn't, and its disappearance remains one of life's biggest unsolved mysteries...
The Giants squad that season included the experienced half back Chris Thorman, and a young, but huge centre called Eorl Crabtree.
Twelve years later, both these England internationals are still at the club: Chris is assistant coach, and Eorl is now a prop forward, an influential and integral part of the side—and still huge.
Because of the link to my club's past, I was really keen to get the chance to meet Eorl, and having known Chris' parents for many years, the arrangements were soon made, and Elaine and I set off for West Yorkshire on what was a glorious morning.
We saw the Ropewalk... but parked nowhere near it. Not falling for that one again! Chris appeared soon after the players had finished training, and it was good to finally meet. A few minutes later, Eorl arrived—and he was huge.
And he's a thoroughly likeable bloke as well. One thing I've found from following rugby league for the past fifteen years, is that even the game's top stars are down-to-earth and approachable, and even though he'd had a tough training session, and had little time to grab some lunch before fulfilling several other commitments, he was happy to chat away and pose for a few pictures inside the magnificent stadium.
Chris then took a couple of pictures with Elaine being flanked by two tall, handsome, rugged athletes; but having seen the old, bald and portly bloke on Elaine's right, I have to seriously question Chris' ability as a photographer!
And with that, another challenge was completed. I am indebted to Chris Thorman for making it happen, and to Eorl Crabtree for taking the time to meet both of us. It was a pleasure and a privilege, and although I did glance across at the far stand, sadly Gary's baseball cap was still nowhere to be seen...
Today saw the completion of the sixteenth of my forty challenges, and very much a first for me. Depending on who you ask, Stephanie, who is one of my colleagues at work had either volunteered or been volunteered to have her make-up applied—whatever the case, it would have been rude for me to decline...
One of the questions that Steph had asked last week, was whether I was actually intending to do this properly, or if it was an opportunity for some form of comedy face painting. The answer was very much that I was taking it seriously... as I casually dropped the black permanent marker on the floor and kicked it under the desk.
In fairness, I think Steph was more bothered about me wasting some of the contents of her make-up bag, the combined value of which would have seemingly paid for a pleasant week away somewhere hot.
Shows how little I know...
Anyway, cometh the hour, and I managed to persuade Steph to agree to a “before” and “after” photo by way of some sort of proof that she hadn’t just applied the make-up herself. I'm not sure how much the pictures actually show the extent of the difference, but as I’m sure you can see, I would really have to have had the mother of all nightmares to spoil her looks.
The following photo is added to show a) that I did do the challenge and b) half my bloody hair is missing. When did that happen?!
Ten or fifteen minutes (I wasn’t going to be rushed) was taken up with foundation, concealer, eye shadow (two lots, no half measures), mascara, lip gloss et al. I don’t know what was more impressive, me keeping a steady hand throughout, or Steph not flinching—especially when I was near her eyes, but not only did I actually enjoy the whole process, Steph was almost impressed with the end result...
Well that's what she said. More likely it was just relief.
So there you have it. Thanks to Steph (who hopefully will soon recover from the ordeal), I am now officially two-fifths of the way through my 40Fifty Challenge. The fund is now pretty close to £300 of the £1,000 target—still a long way to go, but I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me so far. Hopefully there’ll be some more news on a sport-related challenge in a few days’ time, unless of course I’m offered a job as a beautician in the meantime...
On the evening of Friday 29th August, I will be heading for Thornaby Sports and Leisure Club, not just to watch the fourth annual Boro Boys event, but (rather scarily) to take part... a very small part.
Before this year, if anyone had told me I’d agree to throwing a few darts on a stage in front of 300 people, I’d simply have laughed at the idea. But all that changed in January, when I met England international Glen Durrant for a few games of 501 at North Ormesby WMC as part of my ongoing challenges for the mental health charity Mind.
I loved darts as a teenager, practiced for hours and wasn’t a bad player: not great, but not bad. Then, totally out of the blue my arm and hand started to shake when I tried to throw. It got to the point when I could barely actually let go of a dart, and it wasn’t too long before the embarrassment became too much and I simply stopped playing.
Fast forward over a quarter of a century and although I’d become quite proficient at hitting the board in an often bitterly cold garage, I hadn’t thrown a single dart in public... until Glen agreed to play me.
It’s hard to put into words the effect that a mental fear of failure can have on the body. You know you can throw three darts fairly accurately, but remembering you might not be able let go of a dart sows a seed that basically grows into a self-fulfilling prophesy. You’re so scared of making a fool of yourself, so that's what almost inevitably happens.
So when I met Glen, I genuinely wasn’t sure where that first dart was going to land – and I did make sure Glen was behind me. It hit a single 20, as did the next two... I was partly incredibly relieved, but inside I was ecstatic. I was well beaten in the games that eventually followed, but hit a few decent scores along the way and by the end, I was almost enjoying myself.
And then came Boro Boys.
When I attend training courses at work, I have heard the phrase “fight or flight” a number of times. Sometimes it’s possible to avoid the thing(s) that makes you most apprehensive – however trivial it may outwardly seem – but a few of the challenges I set myself were intended to push me, whether that be mentally or physically (or both).
It was incredibly generous of Glen to extend me the invitation to play him on stage – after all, he’d made arrangements before he’d even met me - and there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity.
Last night, the event was posted on a well known social media site, with Glen adding a comment about how he was going to “destroy me.” I must admit that made me chuckle, after all he’s one of the finest players on the planet, I’m not even sure if I’m in the top ten in our street, but maybe that’s missing the point.
Believe me, I will practice as hard and as often as I can, because I absolutely intend to give Glen a game, but let’s be realistic, he will beat me, probably hammer me, but that actually doesn’t matter. Glen might be my opponent on the oche – and it will be a genuine privilege to share the stage with him – but my real opponent on the night won’t be Glen Durrant... it’ll be me.
So if you’re around Teesside at the back end of August and looking for a great night out, with loads of quality darts players, a special mystery guest, and the old bloke who gets the shakes, then here’s a link to the event... just remember it’s me you need to cheer for!!
After ten years (on and off) of writing, deleting, starting again, more deleting, rewriting etc etc, I recently sent the finished draft of my first - and last - novel to five readers for their appraisal.
It was - and will remain - important that any reviews or comments that are received are totally (but perhaps not brutally) honest, because I really have no idea whether or not my writing style can adapt to a work of fiction.
As well as that, there is a decision to be made about what I do with the book. Do I self-publish for the sake of it? Or how about an e-book? If reaction is positive, do I maybe try and see if there are publishers out there who might be interested? Or if the reviews are crap, do I just shrug my shoulders and move on?
Well, earlier today, the first review arrived - unexpectedly quickly despite apologies for a slow reply! The sender was Sarah, a primary school classmate from way back when, and someone I haven't seen for well over thirty years - see, I didn't just plump for the "safe option"!
Sarah has therefore become the first person to read the completed work; she said she'd be honest - and that worried me - but here is what she had to say about The Beige Beetle:
"I really enjoyed the book - I think you write beautifully and the characters are totally believable. I was interested in them both, their lives and, of course, clever of you to provide tension right from the beginning - it meant I couldn't wait to get to the end!
"Very very good insight into the female mind; conversation was well thought through and easy to read - and yes, I liked the plot and [spoiler alert] the fact it wasn't a happy ending. It left me wanting more.
"I suppose the only thing I would say is that although I was sympathetic toward the couple, I felt a little too sorry for them, but that is such a minor observation. Really, I was hugely impressed!"
Wow! It's safe to say I wasn't expecting that... and I'm absolutely thrilled, flattered (and surprised if the truth be told) to receive such encouraging feedback. Hopefully over the weeks and months that follow, the positive theme will continue, but people who know me will be only too aware that I take nothing for granted...
What is for certain though, is that task no.28 on my 40Fifty Challenge - that of actually completing the novel - has now been achieved. Tick number fourteen, and for a while at least, a very happy writer!
Yesterday marked my 40Fifty Challenge’s second newspaper appearance, with a lengthy article in our local daily, The Evening Gazette.
Actually, the name is slightly misleading, as I acquired my copy just before 6am – and believe me, that’s far too early to be greeted by a picture of yourself holding an electric shaver to your head.
The feature was on page 7, and if I remember correctly, The Daily Star used to include a “page 7 fella” many moons ago, as a contrast to a tabloid rival’s universally-known topless page 3 models. It’s comforting to know that Teesside’s daily paper is continuing the tradition of hunky men appearing on this particular page...
The very definition of irony...
The opening paragraph certainly gave me the big build-up, by stating I was “brave” [I’m not], and that the challenge was “taking the country by storm [it’s barely taking my house by storm...]. Obviously I wasn’t naive enough to expect my words to be quoted verbatim, and the article did utilise an element of journalistic licence to overstate a few things – I might have had some difficult times in my life, but I wouldn’t have called it “a troubled past”, and my hip condition (femoro-acetabular impingement) doesn’t mean I “can’t run”, just that it will bloody hurt if I do. And five Great North Runs, as well as a 25-year cricket career suggests that whilst I might not have been the fittest or the fastest, I wasn’t completely immobile.
In fairness however, the only thing that was something of a disappointment, in what was otherwise excellent coverage for the challenge, was that neither my website address nor the Just Giving page address were included, meaning that even if a reader had wanted to make a donation, they probably wouldn’t know how or where.
But no matter, it was great that the paper was prepared to feature my story and confirm (not that proof was really needed) that I take a terrible photo, and now it’s time to get back to the challenge and try and tick off a couple more tasks. Boxing and netball are next on the list – about as wide a sporting contrast as you could get, but one thing is for certain... I’m likely to be rubbish at both!