Today the curtain fell on my long working association with the city of Newcastle upon Tyne - which stretches back to 1986 – as I left the Newcastle Blood Centre for the very last time. Officially my last day with the organisation is tomorrow, but that will only involve a short trip over to our Teesside depot and not a single solitary mile on the A19.
During the three decades since I moved from York to the north east... or simply further north east depending on your point of view, I have worked in a sports shop, three different insurance brokers and, since 2002, the National Blood Service (as it was then).
To say my life has changed since I took this job would be the mother of all understatements. The biggest – and, by a country mile, the best – change has been meeting (falling in love with, and eventually marrying) Elaine. Now is not the time, nor is here the place to dredge up memories of past relationships; suffice to say that the only reason I applied for the job (and by definition the only reason I met Elaine) was because my ex-wife showed me the advert....
The very definition of “irony”!
I’ve been living in Teesside since 2006, and the daily 100-mile commute has taken its toll – on me and my car. Whether or not I would have ever left is a moot point now, as I, the rest of my team, and colleagues right across the country, were given notice of job disestablishment and redundancy at the start of the year. Having seen two layers of management (including my own line manager – the best I have ever worked with/for) disappear, the writing was very much on the wall, but that doesn’t lessen the blow when the announcement is made.
It’s hard to see so many good people – and friends – so deeply affected by what was effectively one sentence delivered at a presentation (of sorts) back in January, but “change” is part and parcel of the world we live in, and however daunting the future seems, there are still choices to be made, as well as (even though I hate the word) opportunities to be taken.
I feel very lucky to have been offered the chance to work within Hambleton, Richmonshire & Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group. I start on Monday; it’s a wonderful move for me, and I hope that over the months to come those who appointed me will feel they made a good choice. For now, the emotions are all pretty jumbled up; sadness at saying goodbye to some very good friends, a few nerves about turning the next page, but excitement about what the new chapter will contain.
So with one last look over my shoulder I will say goodbye and good luck to everyone I’ve worked with these past twelve years, but the final few words have to be for Elaine. I’m blessed to be sharing my life with you, and I’ll never stop trying to make you happy... and hopefully proud. I love you xxx
Last night’s Strictly was strangely similar to last week’s offering for me. My two favourites (I’ve allowed myself one more than Brucie), Jake Wood and Frankie Bridge both performed strong routines.
Considering he is a forty-something with no previous dance experience, Jake is brilliant. Yes there was a slight stumble during his jive, and the judges were right about his “free arm, darling”, but this was still only a week four dance, and for energy and entertainment it was outstanding. His partner Janette does not seem to get as much exposure as some of the other female professionals (Iveta I can understand, but Ola...?), but she’s excellent and they are a well-matched couple. Prediction no.1... Jake’s role in a popular soap, combined with a likeable personality away from Walford, and his undoubted ability on the dance floor make him a guaranteed finalist.
Frankie too has a strong partner in Kevin from Grimsby, who is clearly a favourite with the show’s producers. She also comes across as genuine and likeable, and whether or not her background has helped from a technical point of view, she’s clearly used to performing in front of a live audience and last night’s Cha Cha Cha was undeniably a great show opener - great costume too, by the way. Prediction no.2... another nailed-on finalist.
As far as ability is concerned, the only two other potential winners are Caroline Flack and Pixie Lott, but I’m honestly not sure about their popularity with the viewers. Caroline seems nice enough, and despite the stylists giving her increasingly bad hair days, she’s a very good dancer, who is likely to keep improving. I don’t know about Pixie though. She’s got all the physical attributes to do really well, but for reasons I can’t actually explain, I just feel she won’t have that public appeal (a bit like Natalie Gumede) and with a partner who’s new to the show, prediction no.3 is that Pixie will not win series 12.
But what about the other end of the leader board? Well ironically, Judy’s comedy fall in the opening moments of her tango will surely save her for another week, and Simon’s performance probably scored well enough to offset his lack of popularity. The cynic in me reckons that Alison’s personality is considered a positive for the show, because she seems to be getting marked in a different way to most of the other dancers – she’ll be safe. Sunetra and Thom keep improving; nice people too... both safe. Steve seems to be flying under the radar at the moment and should survive as well.
All of which leaves the equally dire Scott and Tim, and Mark Wright, whose not the worst dancer, but whose personality (like Simon, and to a lesser extent Alison) really irritates me, and if the viewing audience are equally turned off, Mark could be in a bit of trouble this week. Much will depend on whether Scott continues to get the sympathy (or comedy) vote and if he and Tim were in the dance-off, I honestly wouldn’t have a clue who’d be voted off.
The next worst dancer is Judy, but as I said before, I don’t think she’ll be in the bottom two. The fall overshadowed a slightly improved performance (and granted, it’s all relative) and whether you agree or not, there’s also the Anton factor too. So overall, one of Scott and Tim must be in the bottom two. Toss of a coin if they both are, but if one is pitched against someone like Mark (and I wouldn’t be shocked), or maybe Steve (and I would be surprised), then the duffer will go.
Prediction no.4... heads it’s Tim, tails it’s Scott. If the coin lands on its side, I’ll say Mark...
One final comment about last night. Is it just me, or are the judges (Craig apart) becoming ever so slightly boring. Len seems to tell every dancer “yer came ahht” and did so-and-so, before saying something vaguely inflammatory to get a reaction from the studio audience. Bruno waves his arms all over, tries and fails to pull some sort of seductive face then says “no, but eet’s true...”, and Darcey... well she somehow sees improvement when the rest of the country can’t, and she has perfected the disdainful look at Craig whenever his mark is lower than hers...
It’s just me isn’t it?!
Amongst my social networking friends are people who have played, coached and officiated at every level of domestic professional rugby league, and even on the international stage... you’ll also find the amazing Mrs Thorman as well. All are better placed than me to have an opinion on the Ben Flowers situation, which has dominated the sports news since the weekend’s Grand Final, but I’d like to add another perspective if I may.
As far as the incident itself is concerned, it occurred within the opening seconds of the biggest game of the season. The adrenaline levels must have been higher than normal - for seasoned professionals let alone the younger players - and everyone on the field will have wanted to get involved and have an immediate (and positive...) impact on proceedings.
So when Wigan’s Ben Flower dropped the ball when he would surely have scored had he held onto it, instant heightened frustration would be an expected consequence. Add to that the fact that Lance Hohaia nailed him with a pretty cheap shot, the right hook that followed was retaliation that was as understandable as it was undeniably effective.
Had it ended there, the referee could have given both players ten minutes to cool down, or maybe even simply calmed an over-wrought situation by taking the time to speak with those involved and their captains. But....
It didn’t end there, and by now everyone will surely have seen what followed.
The punch to the face of a prone player and the melee that ensued made for very unpleasant viewing. The red card was inevitable, and St Helens subsequent hard fought and deserved victory is now written into the rugby league history books.
The grading of Flowers’ offence meant that his punishment was always going to be severe – a minimum ban of eight matches – and whether or not you agree with the final decision of six months (seemingly equating to twelve or thirteen games), Wigan are not appealing the verdict and further debate is therefore frankly pointless.
To his credit, Lance Hohaia (notwithstanding his role as instigator) has been magnanimous in his comments, and statements released by both Wigan and St Helens certainly set the right tone, but what about Flower himself?
I’ve read reports and listened to interviews that describe him as a pleasant and decent person off the pitch, whose actions on Saturday left him inconsolable and genuinely full of remorse. In a few months time, he will return to the fray and his presence will surely provoke a strong reaction from the terraces – and probably a comment or two on the field as well.
That will be tough to deal with, but right at this moment, Ben Flower is nothing more than a 25 (soon to be 26) year-old young man trying to come to terms with the archetypal “moment of madness” that will surely stay with him for the rest of his career and beyond. For him, rehabilitation would have been a swift return to competition and, over time, letting the positive aspects of his game do the talking. Instead he has got an awful lot of time to dwell on his actions;, the team mates, family, friends and fans that he let down, and the fact that he probably cost his club the Grand Final.
I’ll be honest, all that could be crushing. Ben Flower is an elite athlete, but is he strong enough to deal with the mental fallout?
I am sure that Flower will be given every support as he serves his ban. It will be incredibly hard for him, but I genuinely hope he comes through this, learns from his mistake and is a better man as a result.
That the game of rugby league has been damaged is beyond question. But irreparably? Personally I don’t think so.
The incident has brought the sport into sharp focus, and to the attention of many casual observers who only cross paths with a certain sport when it makes the headlines (whether for positive or negative reasons). Here is a golden opportunity to take a sizeable negative, and for rugby league to be seen to support those towards whom the media spotlight has been, and will be directed, and prove the doubters wrong. It will take time, and damaging a reputation takes a whole lot less time than building it up, but here is a chance to ultimately showcase all that is good about rugby league. Grab it with both hands...
I’ve purposely held back on reviewing Mummy on the Orient Express, partly because I needed to watch it again (and have only just had the chance) and also because I wanted to see if anyone had mentioned the “throwbacks” I was thinking of including. In fairness, the word “reviewing” should probably have had the inverted comma treatment as well, because I’m not blessed with the ability to offer the kind of prosaic critique that I’ve read elsewhere... but I can apparently be funny every now again.
First things first, I thought this was a belting episode. More brilliant interaction between Jenna Coleman (who looked stunning in her 1920s dress) and Peter Capaldi, who has assumed the role with such assuredness and apparent ease that comparisons with new series predecessors are, frankly, unnecessary. I will always believe that Matt Smith’s tenure was (to a greater or lesser degree) compromised by storylines that became so intertwined that the average viewer – me and the man on the Clapham omnibus – couldn’t see through them. Smith was an excellent Doctor... Capaldi may well be even better.
It’s not necessarily the big scenes and big speeches that showcase the best of the current incarnation; more the subtle moments viz. his double take at the psychic paper when it had made him a mystery shopper, or the gesture that forced a reluctant Moorhouse to shake hands. Forget what I said in the last paragraph... Capaldi must be the best since Troughton....
I’m aware there are series plotlines – and Gus may be part of what is to follow – but they no longer squeeze the life out of an individual story. Mummy on the Orient Express was cleverly constructed, with a good supporting cast... and a “monster” whose fairly gruesome appearance could not hide the fact that it still had straighter teeth than mine.
Of course the Mummy was not the villain... simply the bringer of death (à la Pyramids of Mars... and to think we though those Mummies were creepy!!); presumably we’ve been left to ponder on who or what is (or might be responsible for) Gus, but it was fascinating to see how those fated to die reacted to the 66 seconds they had left. The surprise for me was Moorhouse, who sidestepped the chance to offer the Doctor some real insight into the Foretold, and spent his final moments pitifully offering all his worldly possessions in the vain hope his life would be spared.
I thought Frank Skinner gave a rather good performance as Perkins. The name is very close to Perks, the station master from The Railway Children... who was played by Bernard Cribbins... who played Tom Campbell and Wilfred Mott... see how easy this “throwback” thing is?! Skinner set just the right tone for the character, and I will agree with the many who felt slightly disappointed that he turned down a trip in the TARDIS.
The removal of the train disguise to reveal the laboratory and the all seeing, all hearing, audible yet hidden Gus was a clever touch. A number of passengers disappeared, and who was left...? Well apart from the pretty poor Einstein lookalike, I’m sure I spotted Theodore Maxtible... or was it Professor Kettlewell... not it was definitely Maxtible, Kent’s favourite failed alchemist. Go on, have another look!
There was a hint of predictability about the conclusion. The Doctor was always going to somehow end up in the Mummy’s sights, and obviously our hero would ultimately win the day. That said, the Mummy’s demise was also its freedom and the final salute was actually strangely poignant.
The post-train explosion scene on the contrastingly tranquil rock beach was a surprise however and despite her “last hurrah” assertions, Clara’s adventures – and her story – are far from over. And that can only be a good thing.
9 out of 10
It’s been a good few years since I used to regularly watch my younger daughter Rebecca playing county junior and club netball. I used to love going along to see her play, and with my local club, Grangetown, having kindly let me make what was simultaneously my debut and farewell appearance a few weeks ago, today was my chance to go along to cheer on their Premier squad who were in action against Bristol-based Premier Romans.
Before I continue, whilst I know many of the rules (in theory at least), I am far from a netball expert – as those who saw me on court will testify – but I’ve played a lot of sport down the years, and I hope that those who know far more than me won’t mind me sharing my thoughts.
The Grangetown girls actually got off to a perfect start, scoring three times without reply. However the momentum seemed to change when a shooting chance was refused in favour of a pass that was intercepted... the visitors went down the other end of the court, scored, and quickly went into a lead they would never relinquish.
The 11-4 scoreline at quarter time didn’t really reflect the Grangetown performance. The main difference was that the Romans’ shooters were in fine form - especially the Goal Attack who never really looked like missing – whereas things just weren’t running for the home attackers. But as the visitors extended their lead, Grangetown seemed (to me) to start trying to chase the game a bit; passes were forced, possession lost, and shooting opportunities squandered.
The Romans built on their advantage in the second period, although Grangetown’s shooting success also improved (it was 26-12 at half-time). What was noticeable was that most of the 50/50 calls seemed to against Grangetown, and every bounce, ricochet or rebound started to favour the visitors: so often the case when one team is in the ascendancy in any sport.
The Bristol side continued to look dangerous in the third period. Their Goal Attack was probably their most accomplished player on court, but they had a lightning quick Wing Attack and a commanding Goal Defence as well. However the visitors’ Goal Shooter, who had looked particularly strong, was marked out of the almost the whole third quarter by Katie Walton, who had joined the game at half time. To my untrained eye, the attacker looked almost intimidated, and her shooting ability deserted her completely for those fifteen minutes.
Equally as impressive was the girls’ fourth quarter performance. With the game gone, it would have been easy to succumb to fatigue, but the whole Grangetown side showed real character and determination to lose the quarter by just a couple of goals. Faye Summerhill returned to the fray and was able to capitalise on the team’s efforts with a number of goals in what was offensively Grangetown’s best period of the game.
The final score was 48-27. You couldn’t argue with the result, the Romans are a very good side, that played with pace, strength and skill, but there’s an awful lot of ability in the Grangetown squad too. And remembering what I could be like on a cricket field, I was really impressed at how the girls never let their heads drop – especially when decisions and the bounce of the ball seemed to go against them.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the game – and I’ll definitely be back to see how the girls’ season progresses.
Man of the Match (if I’m allowed to pick one...) – Katie Walton.
Three weeks in, and the new series of Strictly Come Dancing is starting to take shape, and I think it’s high time that I committed my thoughts to electronic paper. Obviously, my views come with the ever-present caveat that I can’t dance to save my life, and I therefore have nothing but admiration for anyone prepared not only to try, but also to display their varying skills to a live audience.
First and foremost, the show is so much better without Bruce Forsyth. I suppose his longevity in the industry is testament to his ability and popularity, but the viewer wants to cringe at the worst dancers, not a presenter long past his sell-by date.
Claudia Winkleman might divide opinion, but I think she’s fantastic. Naturally funny, often without even realising, her presenting style is perfect for the Saturday show – and how funny was the popcorn flying down Tess’s top! – and now that her fringe is once again nearing her eyes, she looks fantastic too.
What Claudia has also done is highlight how poor Tess Daly is. Maybe Tess benefited from being paired with “Brucie”, who stumbling stuttering performances overshadowed her own shortcomings? Just an opinion remember...
But what about the Class of 2014?
Even though it’s early in the competition, there is a clear divide between the “top four” and the majority of the remainder. In no particular order... Frankie, Caroline, Pixie and Jake are streets ahead of anybody else at the moment. The producers must have been slightly concerned at the female-dominated end to last year’s series, and if a repeat is to be avoided, much will depend on Jake.
His Samba was jaw-droppingly brilliant; as close to a genuine “10” as I’ve seen in a week two dance – and had the same dance been judged in a month’s time, it would surely have received three tens (and a nine from Craig!). Unfortunately, last night’s show was the victim of some bizarre scoring (mainly courtesy of the totally unnecessary guest judge Donny Osmond) and Frankie’s top marks for her Paso Doblé was just one of several examples of over-marking from Utah’s finest. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great dance, and I think the Frankie/Kevin from Grimsby pairing is excellent, but it wasn’t a ten.
Jake and Frankie are my personal favourites, but Caroline is undoubtedly a talented dancer and should go a long way in the competition. Likewise Pixie Lott is a strong contender, but the marks she’s been given seem to indicate she is being pushed by the judges. Maybe there’s a feeling that she might not be all that popular with the viewers; she seems a nice enough young woman, but maybe not as warm or endearing (whether individually or as part of a couple) as Frankie and Kevin, or even Jake and Janette.
I do think Sunetra and Thom are making real progress and should get a decent run in the show, but there’s not a great deal left after that and it’s perm two from half a dozen for tonight’s dance-off .
If I was to try and predict the second departure, I’d have to choose between contestants who maybe aren’t the worst dancers, but who maybe have less (perceived) public appeal.
Jennifer’s appearance in last week’s dance-off, coupled with a poor score last night would suggest she’s bang in the frame again. Judy and Scott are terrible, but seem to have some level of popularity (the former possibly as a result of being paired with Anton), and Tim probably has another week or two left before appearing in the bottom two. If it’s not Judy, I actually think there might be a surprise tonight with either Mark Wright or Simon Webbe featuring in the bottom two. If so, it wouldn’t look great for Jennifer, but if Judy is in the dance-off, she’ll definitely go.
Put me on the spot and I’ll say Judy will sneak through on the public vote, Jennifer will be paired with either Mark or Simon, and the Mrs Brown’s Boys actress will not be saved for a second week.
But I’m wrong far more often than I’m right!
The video at the foot of this blog shows highlights from York City's 4th round FA Cup tie on 23rd January 1971 against a Southampton side that would end up finishing 7th in the old First Division. Southampton won the replay 3-2, before bowing out of the competition following a 1-0 defeat at Liverpool in the 5th round.
The first game against Southampton was memorable for the York faithful, and the season ended with City finishing 4th in the 4th Division, and securing promotion, mainly on the back of an impressive series of home results, with only Oldham Athletic taking the points (it was still the "good old days") away from Bootham Crescent.
However, the reason for attaching the video is because my Mum has recently unearthed some of my old school books, one of which was a diary of sorts, and included this entry from Monday 25th January 1971 - with no alterations to my spelling... I was six, give me a break!!
"On Saturday I played football and I got very dirty and I kept telling Mummy to get the rolled oats to make some biscuits. When I had played football I went in to have tea. I had a biscuit called crunch. On Sunday I watched soccer and it was York City versus Southampton and six six goals were scored. In the second half when Ron Hillyard the goalkeeper had let a goal in number nine of Southampton whos name was Rob Davis scored the second. So it was 2-0 to Southampton then 2-1 3-1 3-2 and last of all a magnifisant header by Paul Aimson got the equliseng goal so it was 3 all and York again have to play Southampton. And I supose that even if Southampton win nobody will forget that day when York drew against Southampton."
October got off to a great start with the completion of another challenge. Officially, task no.2 was to “train with a professional boxer”, but unfortunately my friend Imran Naeem, who coaches the highly-rated unbeaten welterweight prospect Josh Leather decided to change “train” to “spar”!
Even though I didn’t know what Imran had in mind, I was already slightly apprehensive when I arrived at Natural Progression Boxing Academy in Stockton-on-Tees. Imran was putting a very impressive group of youngsters through their paces and, not for the first time during these challenges, I felt every single one of my fifty years.
Josh arrived, taped up his hands (I couldn’t possibly tell you what he uses for padding) and started to warm up for his “proper” training session, whilst Imran laced up my gloves, before taking the pads and giving me my first ever boxing lesson. Despite being slow of movement, with the weakest right hand jab in history, the old “Kirby left” managed to connect a couple of times; but after about five minutes Imran’s declaration that I was “ready” was the very definition of misplaced confidence!
There were two main reasons why the original task was simply based around training. Firstly I would never have insulted a professional athlete (or the other youngsters at the gym for that matter) by suggesting that a total novice like me could – or should – climb into a boxing ring. Secondly (and probably more importantly if the truth be told) I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of getting hurt!
That said, there was no way I was going to back out: I was fitted with a headguard and clambered rather clumsily into the ring (which was smaller than I imagined, and didn’t seem to have an emergency exit).
Was I nervous? You bet I was. I was in a boxing ring with one of the best young fighters of his weight in the country... about to attempt to spar for three one-minute rounds. And much as I realised Josh wasn’t going unleash his hardest shots, he wasn’t going to simply move around the ring and let me try and hit him either. I wasn’t wearing a gumshield, so at least I knew he wouldn’t punch me in the mouth.
Towards the end of the first minute, I attempted a pretty feeble combination, and the next thing I knew my upper lip was stinging and Imran was laughing. I thought my gloves were up... evidently they weren’t, and I honestly never saw the punch coming. I got tagged a few more times over the next couple of minutes, a second one in the mouth, one in the right eye and another to the side of the head... I quickly realised I needed to watch for Josh’s right hand... so I did... but it didn’t make any difference!
I dread to think how hard Josh can actually punch, but his hand speed is incredible. His sixth professional fight is scheduled for the end of November and judging by his training regime, he’ll be in fantastic shape when that opening bell rings. For me however, retirement is the only option!
I know I was rubbish, but that doesn’t matter. Not taking on this challenge would have been a whole lot easier than actually going through with it... and I’m actually quite proud of myself for having a go. So, with just five of my forty tasks remaining, I will close by offering my thanks to Imran - and also to Josh, not only for letting me keep all my teeth, but also for giving me an experience on which I fully intend to dine out when he hits the big time!
On this day, 104 years ago, an incident occurred that would have a massive impact on America’s labor “trade union” movement.
Shortly after one o’clock in the morning on October 1, 1910, a bomb exploded in an alleyway next to the Los Angeles Times building. The bomb itself was relatively crude; sixteen sticks of dynamite connected to a cheap wind-up clock, but the force of the detonation caused panic in the nearby streets, as people believed the city was being rocked by an earthquake.
The explosion destroyed the LA Times building, killing twenty and injuring many others. Two other bombs, one apparently intended for the newspaper publisher’s president Harrison Gray Otis and the other for business leader Felix Zeehandelaar, were discovered the following morning, hidden under bushes near their respective homes: the mechanisms had jammed.
The perpetrators were brothers; James (J.B.) and John (J.J.) McNamara (pictured below). The former had planted the bombs and the latter, an official with the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers union, had ordered the attack.
The brothers were arrested and, in order to spare the lives of the accused, the high-profile labor defender Clarence Darrow was hired. He tried to argue that the brothers had been framed, but when it became evident they were responsible, Darrow negotiated a deal with the District Attorney; the brothers pleaded guilty in return for prison sentences. Darrow’s reputation was all but ruined by the trial, and he had to face subsequent charges of attempting to bribe members of the jury.
During the McNamaras’ trial, evidence was given that revealed numerous union-funded terrorist bombings across America over the preceding three years. Many union leaders were investigated and arrested, with thirty-nine cases resulting in prison sentences.
It’s difficult to imagine the impact of the bombing – other than it has been quoted as the early twentieth century equivalent of September 11th. The response of the majority of American citizens was one of disgust at the actions of the McNamara brothers. Amongst the working class, they had been viewed almost as martyrs, who had been framed for the crime... only for public opinion to change completely once the guilty pleas were entered.
For his part J.B. McNamara never showed any remorse for his actions: “As far as my act on the industrial [battle]field is concerned,” he wrote in a letter to his mother, “I have never gave it a second thought, and I never intend to. Why should I? Does a soldier worry about his act if it happens in the line of duty?”
It was left to former US President Theodore Roosevelt to sum up in just three words the death of working class people at the hands of those who were supposed to protect their interests: “Murder,” he simply said, “is murder.”