Until today I had never been on a rollercoaster.
And now I know why...
Along with Steph, Nik and Jen from work, and Jen’s ridiculously handsome younger son Tai, I went to the annual “Hoppings” fair on Newcastle’s Town Moor – also for the first time – to complete the twenty-third of my forty challenges.
Amongst the seemingly never-ending array of rides and stalls was “The Wild Mouse”, part rollercoaster, part (as I was soon to discover) waltzer. I was slightly surprised that the ride took its name from a cute little furry rodent. If you were going to go down the animal route, wouldn’t you have chosen something bigger, something with a bit of a presence?
Actually the mouse reference probably had something to do with the regular squeaking sounds that could be heard during the ride’s warm-up run...
Not a great sign, but undeterred, I paid my £3 and took my seat. A padded metal bar was raised up over my lap. It didn’t feel very stable – and I didn’t feel very safe.
Anyway, the roller bit soon got underway, and any prospect of fun disappeared straight after the first ninety degree turn was followed by a fairly rapid descent (which I presume was the coaster part). I genuinely thought I was going to be thrown from my seat, and spent the rest of the ride clinging on to the safety bar for dear life, with Nik and Steph’s laughter and screams ringing in my ears... well, my good ear.
If I’d have kept my eyes open, I might have spotted the next right-angled turn, but I would never have been prepared for my seat starting to spin round and round at the same bloody time. Had I eaten a substantial dinner, this was the moment when it would have been projected far and wide across the Town Moor, but thankfully the contents of my stomach remained in their proper place until the ordeal... sorry the ride... was over.
The girls were fine, but I was decidedly dizzy and struggling to walk in a straight line. I have to say that most of the challenges thus far had been enjoyable (whether all, or in part); this was the exception.
I suppose the whole idea of a “challenge” is that it’s not supposed to be easy, and not necessarily fun either, but if I ever embark on a similar venture, I’ll make sure there is nothing even remotely fairground related on the list.
As of tomorrow, Elaine and I will reach the combined age of one hundred, as she celebrates her fiftieth birthday, just three weeks after I reached my half century.
We had a joint party on Saturday night, which started at 7 o’clock and finally came to an end at something after 2am. It was lovely to see so many people take the time to come along; most had been at our wedding back in 2008, and I hope they enjoyed their night as much as we did. My own personal highlight was just seeing Elaine looking so happy, dancing away in the conservatory to yet another crap Bay City Rollers track!
This year has certainly not been without its struggles and worries, but I know that the worst days with Elaine in my life are still better than the best without her. What I want more than anything is to make her happy . . . to give her the best life I possibly can. We both went through a lot of what is technically known as “crap” before we met, but I suppose we all have tough times in our lives, and we get through them the best we can in the hope that the future that’s mapped out for us is a happy one.
I absolutely believe we were fated to be together and everything that we faced separately, ultimately led to us meeting. If just one thing had happened differently, so the eventual outcome would inevitably change, and if there is only one set of circumstances that brings two people together, then for my part, everything I’ve been through can be justified simply because I’m lucky enough to be sharing my life with somebody so special.
There is still one part of Elaine’s life that I wish was different, but I can’t influence—and a pain that is not eased by the passage of time. I’ve mentioned Elaine’s dignity and strength before, and I just hope that one day her life’s jigsaw is completed by that much missed final piece. . . .
For now though, I just want to wish my wonderful wife a happy 50th birthday—I hope you have a wonderful day darling. Thank you for everything . . . I love you more than you know xxx.
Challenge no.13 on my list was completed last night as I was invited “backstage” at a small gig at the Central in Gateshead. The trip to the north east was part of a tour being headlined by The Slow Death, who hail from Minneapolis (which is in Minnesota) and Epic Problem from New Mills (which isn’t).
For me, it was also a chance to meet Neil “Mackie” Mclellan, Epic Problem’s guitarist, but in a former life the bass player with early 80s punk band Blitz. I’ve mentioned before the impact their 1981 “All Out Attack” EP had on one particular York teenager, and it was great to be able to chat with one of the quartet responsible. The musical conversation drifted from Blitz to Take That... from Epic Problem to One Direction (via GBH)... and was far more entertaining than the poor sporting spectacle being shown on a couple of television screens in the small bar.
Despite having been involved with a band that had been a regular fixture at the top of the indie charts, Blitz never undertook a tour as such, and so this was a belated trek round the country that Mackie and the band were clearly enjoying. The visit to Gateshead offered Mackie a rare opportunity to be photographed alongside that tall, wonderfully sculptured northern icon...namely me... apparently he had also stopped off to see the Angel of the North en route...
The “backstage” area looked very much like a pool room – due to the fact that there was a pool table in the room... oh, and it said pool room on the door. The huge bowl of by then cold curry, accompanied by clumps of claggy rice were the only obvious trappings of life “on the road” – trappings that sadly will prevent a planned appearance by Mariah Carey...
Apparently Ms Carey’s rider included twelve fluffy white kittens; no problem normally, but there were a few issues with the curry and sometimes you just have to improvise...
Anyway, here is the photo of yours truly, with Mackie and three of the guys from The Slow Death...
In an admittedly poor attempt to convince Elaine to come along, I’d told her it was a 60s tribute band night. It soon became blatantly obvious that it wasn’t, although I am grateful to Epic Problem’s front man Jake for removing his shoes at the start of the set, and allowing me to draw an unlikely comparison with Sandie Shaw. A nice touch, but I am still very much in debt to my darling wife.
Epic Problem’s final song of the night, Lines, was actually dedicated to Elaine and I. I’ve never had a song dedicated to me before, and it’s a bit of a shame that I was in the toilet when this one was...
But no matter, it was great to meet Mackie and the rest of the band, and watch them in action. For those who made the schoolboy error of watching the football, here’s the video for Lines. Turn up the volume and enjoy!
Against my better judgement, I watched some (but not all) of last night’s ITV documentary about dental surgery – based around Manchester’s University Dental Hospital.
It’s reasonable to suppose that most people are apprehensive about a trip to the dentist. For some it’s a fear of needles, for others it’s the drill, but whilst I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of pain or discomfort, my fear – and trust me it’s a very real fear – is something (titter ye not) being put in my mouth... or worse still left in my mouth.
I’m not sure if there is a reason, or was a trigger, but I have such a violent gag reflex that I can’t even do something as simple as holding a pencil between my teeth for more than a few seconds before the reflex kicks in. I now use hands for most of my carrying...
I remember one visit to a dental hospital many moons ago, where this young and presumably recently qualified dentist decided to take an impression of my teeth. I told him I’d try to relax, but basically he had no chance. He just laughed and said he’d done this loads of times before... well not to me he bloody hadn’t.
He touched my tongue and that was enough, and he gave up very quickly, mumbling something about never having seen anyone react quite like that.
Well it wasn’t like I hadn’t warned him.
Much more recently I had to have a couple of hospital procedures, both of which ended in “oscopy”. It wasn’t the prospect of the nether end camera that was bothering me, but the throaty one. I’d asked to be given a sedative - actually I’d asked to be put to sleep – but once again, someone else knew better. Just a quick squirt of antiseptic spray on the back of the throat and the rest would apparently be a piece of cake - obviously not literally because I’d been nil by mouth (and, incidentally, plenty by bottom as a result of whatever “cleansing solution” I’d taken the night before).
One squirt, I gagged, and then bizarrely began shaking from head to foot. The next thing I can remember is the tube being removed from my mouth, the procedure successfully completed courtesy of something injected into the back of my hand when I wasn’t looking, and a nurse gently stroking what little hair I have left. The “other end-oscopy” was fine apart from being told there was going to be “one last push which might hurt” (words I hope never to hear again).
He pushed... it hurt... and I let out an “ooh” that could only be described as “camp”. Not great for the image...
Not to worry, everything was fine and even better, for the next hour or so, I found I could fart almost at will. I really wanted to stroll through the ward and treat the nurses and patients to my version of Stranger on the Shore, but Elaine arrived to take me home and the moment was gone.
Anyway, back in Manchester, various children were suffering the consequences of too many sweets, toffees and chocolate – one poor kid had eleven teeth extracted. Parents were interviewed and one woman in particular said she let her son eat all the crap he wanted, and if he lost his teeth, then so be it. Well that’s pretty much what happened, and the mother might just be regretting those words after her son was left facing several toothless years, and half her weekly benefits had been nabbed by the tooth fairy.
That said my own teeth aren’t exactly perfect; they may be wonky, but at least they’re all mine. Irrational or otherwise, the fear I have has probably grown over the years, but I’m all too well aware of what could happen if I didn’t keep going for regular check-ups. That said did last night’s programme make me think about stopping eating chocolate? No...
But did I go straight upstairs and clean my teeth (even though I’d only brushed them an hour earlier). Oh yes... and I flossed like I’d never flossed before.
And that’s just about it for today’s blog. See you in six months.
Well that’s an early night and decent sleep I won’t get back—and with it the likelihood of another four more years of hurt. In fairness, Jules Rimet’s probably given up dreaming, and flicked over to another channel to avoid being droned to death by Phil Neville.
He might have been a decent footballer, and might know what he’s talking about . . . it’s the simple act of “talking” that is seemingly beyond him. Usually, when your team is losing, the clock reaches ninety minutes in the blink of an eye; last night/this morning’s game seemed to last an eternity.
In some respects, England actually played well in patches, but were beaten by a better Italian side marshalled by the hugely impressive Andrea Pirlo. Perhaps that’s where Roy Hodgson made his fatal error . . . only picking players with blokes’ names. Where was Casey Stoney when we needed her?
The Liverpool trio of Sterling, Sturridge and Gerard were England’s best performers on the night—the first two in particular gave the watching millions some reasons to be positive about the future of the national side.
That said we were wobbly at the back, and I thought the Italians exposed the defensive frailties of our full backs. Jordan Henderson was anonymous and, apart from a lovely cross for Sturridge’s goal, Wayne Rooney looked pretty much what Paul Scholes had said he was. We have some really exciting talent waiting in the wings, and it’ll be interesting to see what line-up the manager picks for the all-important clash with Uruguay on Thursday.
Overall though, my biggest concerns are the fact that my gearbox &/or clutch on my trusty Corsa have waved the white flag, and that means yet more expense . . . and I’m also worried for Zoë Hanna in Casualty, who is being horribly undermined by the scheming Connie Beauchamp. Never trust anyone whose name bears no resemblance to the way it’s pronounced. . . .
Time to go back to bed, I think. Buonanotte everyone.
Back in March, as part of my charity challenge, I drove for eight hours and the best part of four hundred miles to spend no more than a quarter of an hour in the company of five outstanding athletes, who had been part of the Great Britain women's hockey squad that won a bronze medal at London 2012.
The team's path to the medal podium was filled with all the drama and emotion that makes sport so compelling (and notice how I cleverly avoided using the word "rollercoaster"...) and their collective achievement was one of my absolute highlights of the Games.
For the record, Katherine Grainger's rowing gold, alongside Anna Watkins, was my number one moment...
I've written before that it was both a pleasure and a privilege to meet these five young women who excel in their chosen sport - Kate Richardson-Walsh, Alex Danson, Hannah Macleod, Nicola White and Emily Maguire - and I was so grateful that they were willing to spend a few minutes with someone who they had never met before.
It will have escaped the attention of many sports fans that football's imminent descent on Brazil is not the only major World Cup being held this summer. The hockey equivalent is currently taking place at The Hague in Holland, with the English women being seeded third in the tournament.
Unfortunately, the group stages have started with two desperately disappointing defeats - to the USA and China - and it is already looking unlikely that the team will progress through to the latter stages of the competition, especially as games against current champions Argentina and a very strong German squad are still to come.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be an elite athlete... or any sort of athlete if my Great North Run times are anything to go by! Nor can I fully appreciate the dedication and determination it takes to make the step from simply being an outstanding individual talent, to a vital member of an international team in any sport.
I thoroughly enjoyed my twenty-five years as a club cricketer, and notwithstanding my average ability, I still wanted - and tried - to be the best I could be, and if I spent a week at work, only for the team to play poorly and/or lose on a Saturday, I was more than capable of a good sulk!
But when your job and chosen sport are essentially the same thing, the pain of defeat must hit so much harder. That said, what you hope (as a supporter) and expect (as a player) to get from an international team is a reaction. Ability is a given, as is physical fitness, but mental strength is possibly the attribute that separates the very good from the very best.
I've listened to Kate Richardson-Walsh being interviewed a number of times: she is clearly a proud and inspirational leader. The next three games - starting with South Africa tomorrow - will be a massive test of character for Kate and her team. Obviously the squad entered the tournament with a hope, probably even an expectation that they would do well. But it is the very essence of team sport that you have opponents with every bit as much desire, trying to make sure you don't succeed.
I watched every available minute of the girls' Olympic campaign, and I have watched the opening two World Cup games in full as well. Nothing has changed my admiration of each member of the squad as elite athletes and although Kate, Alex, Hannah and Nicola will have long forgotten meeting me, I will be tuning in tomorrow, to cheer on the Leicester and Reading quartet and the rest of the team, and fully expecting that this squad has the ability, pride and strength of character to produce their best when it really matters.
Come on England!
I just wanted to use today's blog to say a massive thank you to everyone who has taken the time to wish me a happy 50th birthday, whether by card, phone, text, e-mail or via Facebook. I've had a lovely day with Elaine, Chris and Amber - this is the cake that Chris and Amber got for me... and yes, it's bigger on the inside - and it's been wonderful to receive so many messages from:
Friends I see regularly, and those I'm yet to meet...
Work colleagues past and present...
Friends I've played cricket (with and against) for Gateshead Fell and Chester le Street...
Friends I've made through my love of Gateshead Thunder and the Heed Army...
Friends I've found through music (most especially the brilliant Killing for Company)...
Friends who have read my books and been so supportive and positive about my writing...
Friends I had many years ago, who've come back into my life over the past couple of years...
Friends from just a few miles up the road, and those who live on the other side of the world...
Some of the fantastic people I've met because of my charity challenge...
The past few days have been a time for remembering the past, counting my blessings and looking to the future. It's been a period of massive uncertainty, but yesterday I received some great news about my medium-term working future, and I enter my sixth decade feeling happy, strong and positive... and that's the way I'd like things to stay!!
Thanks again to all of you who got in touch and helped to make today such a special day x.
From the outset, can I state for the record that I am not an expert in any aspect of philosophy, and nothing in what follows is intended to suggest otherwise. I am sure that anyone with even a reasonable knowledge of the various “-isms” that will be mentioned could pick plenty of holes in my reasoning, but how many of them have clean bowled a test cricketer, hit numerous 180s on a dart board and run five half marathons..?
During my recent (and long overdue) meeting with Sarah, a primary school classmate I hadn’t seen since the 1970s, she asked if I was a “fatalist”. To be honest, I thought it was more important to ask if I wanted any cake with my tea, but no matter...
The doctrinal answer is probably “yes... to a point” (cake is always “yes please, how much can I have?”).
Strictly speaking I would presume that belief in Fate implies that we have no ability to influence the future, and by definition our own actions. We do what we do because we were always “fated” to do so. My understanding is that is that if every event is causally determined (by “God” in whatever form), this is strictly speaking “determinism”. Fate does not require a “cause” as such, just an inevitable outcome.
But if our actions and consequent outcomes are all pre-determined, I find it hard to reconcile things that I would class as morally wrong. For example, could a murderer reasonably claim that they could not be at fault or responsible for actions that were theoretically unavoidable?
For me, there just has to be an element of free will in the decisions or choices that we make. Even if free will simply relates to a person’s ability to have some control over their own conduct, to choose between what is considered morally (or ultimately legally) right and wrong; then that seems to be a more logical notion. At least then, there can be no issue with accountability for the actions we take.
From a religious perspective, I class myself as agnostic. I absolutely accept there could be some divine power that controls us, our world, and beyond, but I do not know it to be true. It is perhaps that lack of knowledge or understanding that allows me to believe that we do have some freedom in the actions and decisions were take – even if they simply guide us towards our ultimate destiny. If there is no free will, then what is the actual point?
The determinist would consider that the actions of the past, coupled with the laws of nature, absolutely decide the future; the fatalist might shrug his or her shoulders and accept the inevitable, but include the concept of free will and you have the compatibilist. The end might still be inevitable, but at least you have the freedom to choose the path(s) you take.
I accept that this standpoint is the equivalent of straddling the philosophical fence, but it’s where I prefer to sit. Compatibilism seems a contrary concept, but it offers justification, and even some element of comfort to this particular deep thinker...
And it has also made me realise that I knew the answer to the question all along...