After setting myself and completing forty tasks in behalf of the mental health charity Mind in 2014 (as well as having being given notice of redundancy and having to find a new job), I was always going to need a bit of a break—both to settle in to my new work surroundings (great job, lovely people), and to recharge my batteries.
But after a wonderfully relaxing week in Crete, and getting through a tough but hugely rewarding 12 hour solo darts marathon for Grangetown Netball Club, I’m officially back!
With the darts being classed as no.41, I have now compiled a list of tasks numbered 42 through to 60, which I will undertake to promote Mind’s “Time to Change” programme. For this second set of challenges, there will be no fundraising or time limit, just a desire to use or share my “lived experiences” of mental health to somehow make a positive difference.
As last year, some of the tasks will require a fair bit (or a lot) of planning, others a great deal of mental and/or physical effort. Hopefully some will be enjoyable, but a good few will really test or push me—but I gain very real strength from a sense of achievement, and I know just how much strength it takes to face up to, talk about and fight against mental illness.
The subject clearly retains some sort of stigma, and although I haven’t personally experienced or seen any discrimination, there is no doubt that it exists. If it’s “time to talk” about mental illness, then I’m willing to do just that, so I’ve already registered as a “Time for Change” champion. I might not be able to make much of a difference... but that won’t stop me from trying.
The new list can be found below. Blogs and updates will follow... but for now, I think I need to get on that exercise bike.
The opening five-day international of the summer between England and New Zealand was a fantastic advert for test match cricket. England rallied after an awful start, only for the Kiwis to build a first innings lead; the pendulum swung back to the home side with a couple of contrasting but equally impressive centuries, and victory was secured with a fine effort from the bowlers (and a couple of excellent catches).
However, the fact that we were bowled out early on day five meant that Alistair Cook did not get the chance to declare England’s second innings and I wonder just how much we have actually learned about how the “new” regime are going to approach the longer form of the game.
For me, the biggest positive is that the side contains three young, dynamic cricketers, all of whom are capable of making significant contributions on (hopefully) a reasonably regular basis. Joe Root is a class act, a definite future captain who has developed into a model of middle-order consistency. Add the occasional invaluable wicket and you have a player around whom you could build a side for another decade.
I’m a big fan of Moeen Ali; a stylish attacking batsman and a more than useful off-spinner, and of course Ben Stokes is the man grabbing all the headlines with his quick-fire ton and crucial wickets.
The latter two (maybe Stokes in particular) will have days when things just don’t go for them, and there will undoubtedly be glaring failures in amongst the sparkling performances. They might not always change a game, but if and when they do, they’ll probably change it very quickly, and the effect on the rest of the team was there for all to see yesterday, as the players showed a spirit and togetherness that has been noticeably absent for quite some time.
I’m pleased Cook got runs, but I do have concerns over his captaincy. There’s a massive difference between playing to win and playing not to lose, and perhaps we might learn more as the summer progresses.
The second opener slot, as well as Ian Bell at no.4 are both open to debate – disappointing in Bell’s case because he is arguably the side’s most technically gifted batsman. Gary Ballance looks a very good cricketer and Jos Buttler’s position is pretty secure. He’s steady enough behind the stumps, and on his day will score runs very quickly. Personally I would still prefer Jonny Bairstow in the role, but for whatever reason, his name is rarely mentioned in dispatches, however well he is playing for Yorkshire. The three pace bowlers used at Lord’s looked a decent unit at times. The experienced Anderson and Broad will be picked all summer if they stay fit, and I hope that Mark Wood gets a decent chance to show what he can do. He generates a lot of pace and bounce from a relatively short run-up and looks are really good prospect.
As for New Zealand, I really enjoy the way they play the game. Had the roles been reversed yesterday, you just know that Brendon McCullum would have declared, and run the risk of losing to give his side the best chance of winning. As with his captaincy, his interviews are refreshingly candid; he accepted the defeat but confirmed the result of one game would not change his (or his team’s) attitude and style of play….
And did you see how virtually all the Kiwis went to congratulate and shake hands with Cook at the end of the fourth day, after he’s batted through all three sessions? Very impressive indeed…
New Zealand’s lack of a quality spinner should be of little relevance when the next test gets underway at Headingley later this week. In Trent Boult, the Kiwis have probably the best bowler on either side and with Kane Williamson looking in great form with the bat – and playing on his adopted home ground - the stage looks set for another great game of cricket.
If the outcome of the game is hard to predict, one thing I can say for certain is that Michael Vaughan’s commentary will irritate me no end. He seems to delight in using more and more ridiculous words and phrases to describe the action… apparently if the ball is swinging, the pitch is bouncy and a straightforward catch is dropped, what you will actually hear is: “The ball is hooping all over the place, there’s spice in the wicket… oh no… it’s a goober!”
I wonder what the great Richie would make of it…
What better way to spend a warm summer’s afternoon than relaxing in the garden with a glass of chilled vino and a good book?
In fairness, I can’t do much about the wine—we didn’t have a vineyard last time I looked—or the weather for that matter, but I may be able to help with the reading matter....
My Back Pages takes an in-depth look at twelve of my favourite sporting moments. Not just the event itself, but the background, build-up and aftermath. There are stunning individual and team performances in a range of sports spanning over a century, so if you love your sport, then I reckon you’ll really enjoy this book.
Three of the chapters are supplemented by recently conducted interviews with the main protagonists; two Olympic gold medallists, and the scorer of a goal that most will not remember, but which effectively created British football history. I did a lot of research whilst compiling this book; I’m really happy with the content, but there’s no doubt that the collective contribution of Ann Packer, Imran Sherwani and John Byrne has given the book real credibility.
Those of you who know me, will be aware that virtually all my self-published book projects have cost me far more than I’ve actually earned. The same will certainly be true for My Back Pages as well, because I will be taking no money at all from the sale of the book.
Instead, every penny of the profits will be donated to the Danny Jones 29 fund, which was set up in memory of the Keighley Cougars rugby league half-back who so tragically passed away following a game against London Skolars earlier this month. I have contacted the Cougars about this, and I am grateful for their agreement to let me support their fundraising through this book.
It might not raise vast amounts of money, but it will hopefully mean that I can give more than I would have been able to simply donate, and the time effort and cost of creating and publishing the book is basically irrelevant given the circumstances.
The book costs £8.00 + the publisher’s postage and packing. The publisher is Lulu.com and they often have offers and discounts so it might be worth visiting their home page before ordering. The link to order the book is here:
Even if you do not wish to order My Back Pages, please share this blog, or the link... the more people who know about the book, the more that can hopefully be raised. Thank you so much.
I’m sure there aren’t many people who look forward to returning to work after a couple of weeks on annual leave, but my first day back has passed (albeit very slowly) without major incident. I have known plenty of years where going on holiday has almost been more stressful than a regular working week, but I would say this year has been an exception: a lovely week in Crete, a trip to visit my parents in York, and finally my twelve-hour darts marathon.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious about being on my feet for all that time on Saturday, but the old body didn’t let me down. I have to say it was a really great experience, and the £500 raised for Grangetown Netball Club was a huge cherry on the proverbial cake… mmmm… cake….
Throughout last year, I kept a photographic record of all the tasks and challenges I attempted, and the pictures from Saturday will now take their place in the ever-growing album. I’ve still got a couple of book projects on the go (one of which is almost finished), but after that I’m not sure what is next on the agenda.
Although my musical talents are limited to the point of being non-existent, I would still like (somehow) to record a song… or what about singing in a choir? I had an angelic voice (and face to go with it) as a youngster, but sadly neither lasted past my teens. I certainly fancy having another go at stand-up as well… but that might have to wait until the aches and pains from Saturday have eased and I can actually stand up! It’s nearly six months since my first “gig” (as we say in the trade), and it feels like it’s time I got up in front of a crowd again and tried to raise a chuckle or two.
Appearing on TV… as an extra or in a quiz show… having a go at radio presenting… the list is already starting to take shape!
As for sporting challenges, I suppose my hips will have the final say in what I can or can’t do, but there’s definitely a part of me that has the desire the keep pushing and see just what I can still achieve.
I spent years playing badminton, so maybe one final game (assuming the painkillers work) against someone like Gail Emms? Or perhaps trying to hit a bullseye in archery? It would all need a lot of thought and preparation, but the sense of achievement, coupled with the knowledge that you’re helping a good cause is a powerful and addictive combination.
Watch this space. I could be on a mission!!!
I read an article recently which listed some of the most annoying types of Facebook status updates. The list included short statements ending with the fragment “that is all”, and the cryptic short post (or sad face), the sole reason for which is apparently to get attention and also… providing details of what you have dreamt about.
In which case: L I’m officially annoying….
A few nights ago, I had another in a ridiculous long line of similar recurring dreams that stretch back the best part of thirty years. The actual content varies slightly, but the underlying theme is always the same: it’s my last day at school, I either haven’t revised for, or didn’t pass my exams, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do (presumably with the rest of my life).
I dread to think just how many nights my mind has been filled with these thoughts; but assuming there is some rational explanation behind the imaginary realisation of my subconscious, perhaps I should try and understand what these dreams might actually mean (although I reckon I could probably guess)?
The fact that I lived at the school I attended has maybe created some sort of predisposition for the school to be the setting for so many dreams? Apparently, dreams dating back to schooldays can indicate feelings of inadequacy and/or childhood insecurities that have never been resolved.
The latter is a maybe… but the former is definitely one of my personality traits. I’ve always feared failure… yet always found it easier to remember times when things didn’t (for whatever reason) work out how I wanted. Success sometimes felt like an unexpected or even undeserved outcome; it felt great, but in a funny way it was almost easier to accept or deal with the thing you feared.
It is only now that I feel able to willingly put myself in situations where failure is very much a possibility. Any feeling of long-term personal inadequacy is more likely to be an internal perception, but despite public opinion not necessarily having much bearing on the original sense of a lack of self-worth, surprisingly it might be public reaction that actually provides the catalyst for some level of greater self-acceptance.
I am not the sort of person to blow my own trumpet (although I did get a Grade 3 Merit in the mid-70s…), but I have started to gain a real sense of pride from some of the things I have achieved—especially over the past few years since I have been with Elaine. Success is obviously relative; and for me it means exceeding your own expectations… for example losing a game of darts would not normally be seen as a success. But when that game is against the world darts champion; you’ve played well, hit a 140 on the way, and were left one dart from a shot at a double… well for someone whose nerves stopped him playing in public for twenty-five years, I’d say that’s a pretty good effort. Similarly with getting a new job, with my writing, my stand-up, I’m not the best, but I’m doing my best, and if that is appreciated by those who matter, and accepted by my worst critic (me), then I’m making belated progress—albeit not enough to stop the dreams.
From what I’ve read, the concept of not completing your school studies can suggest a doubting of your own accomplishments, or an inability to measure up to the expectations of others. In my opinion, those expectations are unspoken; they are what I assume or believe to exist, and I am solely responsible for creating the pressure to reach those possibly unrealistic goals.
Some people have little difficulty banishing negative thoughts from their minds. Whether or not I can consistently do it during the daytime is largely irrelevant, because however far I’ve come, my insecurities still have little problem surfacing when I fall asleep….
I suppose that for some of you, these ramblings will make little or no sense, which is fine; but I reckon there will be a few who might be able to relate to what I’ve said—in sum, or in part—and if so, please feel free to leave a comment….
That is all.
Hopefully sometime in June, my latest book will be finished, preaf rood, and ready to be unleashed on the public at large... well my parents will want a copy!
The book is entitled My Back Pages and is a look back at some of what I consider to be some of the greatest, most emotive moments in sport. Obviously it’s all very subjective, but the point isn’t whether or not you agree with my selections [mini spoiler... you won’t!], but that you enjoy reading about the event in question, and getting a flavour of the background and the impact of what took place....
The book salutes the achievements of some wonderful athletes, covering eight different sports and spanning over one hundred years (1908-2012). On a personal level, three of the main protagonists have been interviewed—namely Ann Packer (Olympic 800m gold medallist in Tokyo 1964), Imran Sherwani (scorer of two goals in the 1988 Olympic Hockey Final in Seoul), and John Byrne (QPR, Sunderland and Republic of Ireland footballer, and part of the York City side which became the first club to amass one hundred points in a season in 1984).
It was fantastic to be given the chance to speak to Ann, Imran and John. Their collective contribution has given the book added interest and a credibility I could not have achieved on my own. A brief excerpt of each interview is reproduced below, and maybe when the time comes you may consider purchasing a copy of My Back Pages?
The profits will be donated to sport-related charity, but as yet I am undecided as to who to support. Any suggestions would be welcome....
Anyway, back to the interviews; firstly Ann Packer (now Brightwell): “I shared a room with Mary Peters, Mary Rand and a hurdler called Pat Pryce, There were only twelve women’s events that year, but between the four of us, we managed two golds, two silvers, one bronze and one fourth place. It’s quite an achievement for the occupants of one small room to have accumulated that many medals. Mary Peters was fourth in the pentathlon, as it was then, but of course she went on to win the gold medal in Munich eight years later We all got on very well because we travelled and competed more as a team than they probably do now. Sometimes it would only be a small team and we’d go to places like Russia, Hungary, Italy, or if we were lucky the States; and we also had these big international meetings at White City, so we definitely met up more often as a team rather than as individuals, Mary [Peters] of course came from Northern Ireland, but every time we competed as Great Britain she would be considered.
“As far as Mary Rand is concerned, in my opinion she is the greatest woman athlete that we’ve ever seen, she was such a natural talent. I know that we can now look at people like Kelly Holmes and Jessica Ennis-Hill, but Mary could do anything, whether it was athletics, swimming or team games, she was very very gifted. She lives in the States now, in California, but we’re still in touch.”
Next, Imran Sherwani: “We were quietly confident before the tournament. We were ranked second; we’d been playing well, prepared in a really professional manner, and spent time in Hong Kong getting acclimatised to the sort of conditions we’d face out in Seoul. I remember when we were told that Ian [Taylor] had been chosen to carry the British flag at the Opening Ceremony. We were having a training session on the pitch where we actually played our first game. It wasn’t the main arena; it was sort of the second pitch just outside the village. We had gathered in a huddle and it was announced that Ian would be carrying the flag and leading the GB team into the stadium. It was great news and a real honour for Ian. The following day however, Roger Self, who was such a stickler for discipline and for giving us the best chance to win, said to us all, ‘Guys unfortunately I’m not going to be able to let you go to the Opening Ceremony, because it’s the day before our first game, and it means you’re going to be standing out in the heat in ninety degree temperatures and a little bit of humidity. We’ve got to play [South] Korea the day after, and so me and the coach have decided that you’re not going!’”
And finally, John Byrne remembers his strike partner, the late, great Keith Walwyn: “Obviously Keith and I built up a great partnership. We were completely different players, but a good foil for each other. Keith was seen as a big battering-ram sort of player, which to a certain extent he was. Defenders were scared of him, but he had far more technical ability than people gave him credit for, and he was an amazing finisher. In those days you were playing against defenders who would try and knock you about a bit, so Keith took a bit of pressure off me and gave me the chance to flourish. But you’ve get to remember that me and Keith only hit it off because we were getting the service from the likes of Brian Pollard and Gary Ford out on the wing, and Sean Haselgrave in midfield; so it was never just about me and Keith; it was the whole team really. They provided the ammunition, which we readily accepted....”
The other nine stories feature (in no particular order): Muhammad Ali (or Cassius Clay as he was at the time), Bob Beamon, Ray Ewry, David Hughes, Nadia Comăneci, Mike Eruzione, Ian Botham, Danny Lee, and Kate Richardson-Walsh.
160 pages, and 40,000+ words of sheer sporting indulgence... perfect for those glorious idyllic summer afternoons, lazing in the garden, with a chilled glass of vino... Or curled up in the warm, whilst the rain pounds off the windows... either way, I’m sure you’ll love the book.
As always, please form an orderly queue.