My experiences of live football have been mainly limited to the old League Division 4, and (after moving away from York to live in Gateshead in 1980s) the Conference; so yesterday’s visit to the Riverside to watch a Premier League game alongside 32,000 other people was definitely unusual, and slightly surreal.
Manchester United provided the opposition for Middlesbrough’s first fixture following the departure of Aitor Karanka. The man placed in temporary charge of Boro was Steve Agnew, whose previous association with both York City and Gateshead presumably makes him the ideal choice for saving Boro from the drop….
I had a really good seat, just a few rows from the front and about ten yards away from the halfway line—but literally right next to the travelling supporters. Well I say “travelling”; I’m assuming only a handful actually lived in Manchester; but in fairness, they made a lot of noise and backed their team for the whole ninety minutes.
After watching the Man United players warming up right in front of us, the respective line-ups were announced (the odd jeer here and there for a couple of the Boro squad…?), the two teams took to the field and, soon after, the afternoon’s entertainment was underway.
The visitors were quite happy to sit back and let Boro have plenty of possession, but the build-up play was deliberate and one-paced, and all-too-often, the final ball lacked any real quality. In contrast, United were lightning quick on the break. Michael Carrick was calmness and assurance personified in front of the defence, Juan Mata was clearly the classiest player on the field, and the speed of Lingard and Rashford caused the Boro defence plenty of problems.
Victor Valdes made a couple of excellent saves in the first half, but United carved open the defence on four or five occasions, yet only found the net once—courtesy of Marouane Fellaini’s far-post header from a pin-point Ashley Young cross.
Boro played with a lone striker (Alvaro Negredo). He was starved of decent service, and despite his best efforts in holding up the ball, support was simply too slow to arrive. For all their possession, Boro just didn’t look like unlocking the visiting defence, and it was no surprise when United extended their lead in the second half.
Much as it was a wonderful run and even better strike from Jesse Lingard, the home defenders just kept backing off and almost invited the shot, which simply rocketed past a motionless Valdes into the top corner.
Lingard is obviously an outstanding athlete; and when he chose to stay on his feet, he looks a really talented and exciting footballer. He does have a tendency to go down very easily; but let’s face it, he’s hardly alone….
Steve Agnew brought on Adam Traoré and Rudy Gestede, whose introduction alongside Negredo along with the real attacking impetus provided by Traoré sparked Boro’s best period of the game. Their pressure was rewarded when an error from Chris Smalling gave Gestede the chance to reduce the arrears from close range. The volume inside the stadium increased and it looked like the stage was set for an enthralling final ten minutes….
But in truth, Boro rarely threatened to equalise. They battled well, and hopefully the closing half hour or so may prove the catalyst for some positive results in the closing weeks of the season; yesterday though, I felt Manchester United were composed, in control, and the result really never looked in doubt.
If the home fans were praying for a dramatic stoppage time goal, they got their wish; but sadly for the Boro faithful, it happened at the wrong end, and the goal itself was down to an absolute howler from Victor Valdes, who lost his footing as he prepared to clear the ball downfield, allowing the onrushing Antonio Valencia to dribble the ball into the empty net.
It was harsh on Valdes, who’d had a decent game until that point, but the final scoreline was probably a reasonable reflection of United’s performance over the ninety minutes.
Overall it was an enjoyable afternoon; a good three points for Manchester United, some positives for Boro; but more importantly a last minute winner for Gateshead over Woking on Saturday kept the Tynesiders in the play-off positions. Seven wins and a draw from their last eight games for Neil Aspin’s men—what Steve Agnew wouldn’t give for a run like that…?
Today marked the completion of the eightieth of my hundred Time to Change challenges to raise mental health awareness.
This morning was, in a sense, a bit of a trip down memory lane as it involved table tennis; a game I always enjoyed at school, but which (until last month) I hadn’t played for over thirty years.
The actual challenge was “to play table tennis against an England international”, and I am indebted to Alan Ransome of Ormesby Table Tennis Club for arranging a game against three-time Commonwealth medallist Danny Reed. I must also mention Malcolm Muldoon, who has given me plenty of advice and encouragement during the three practice sessions I had in the lead up to the “big day”.
I have to admit that I had really enjoyed those sessions—so much so that I fully intend to go back again even though the challenge has been completed. Obviously, I have lost a lot of the speed and movement that I never had in the first place, and I now possess badly won hips and a left shoulder joint that can click to order, but despite the physical constraints, it’s amazing how quickly the competitive edge returns—and how much you realise you’d missed it.
Danny won silver medals in the men’s team competition in both Delhi and Glasgow, and he also claimed bronze in the 2014 mixed doubles with Kelly Sibley—and he’s only just over half my age, so the outcome of the game was always going to come under the heading of “foregone conclusion”. But it’s not the result that’s important; it’s the fact that an elite athlete I hadn’t previously met was prepared to help me fulfil a challenge. Translate that to mental health, and hopefully you can see why I’ve chosen to share my own experiences and why I will keep trying to push myself….
Back at Ormesby Table Tennis Club, I had the chance to have a quick chat with Danny before we knocked up—I believe that is the technical term. I will admit to feeling quite nervous beforehand, but a reasonable number of shots found the table on Danny’s side of the net, and soon it was game time. The table was set up for the upcoming British League Premier Division clash between Ormesby and Cardiff City; there was a scoreboard and even a scorer… and things started well when I won the toss to serve first.
I should probably have quit while I was ahead….
My aims were not to embarrass myself, and maybe play a shot good enough to win a point. At 10-0 in the opener, neither goal had been achieved, but I did win the next point—mainly because Danny deliberately put a bit more air on a return to give me the chance of hitting a blistering forehand. Well it was a forehand….
What felt like moments later, Danny was 10-1 up in the second game too. That became 10-2 after my best point of the match (yes, I know there weren’t many to choose from). Danny’s one and only false shot took the score to 10-3; and to be honest, he was on the ropes at that point—even though I don’t think he realised.
The match was officially best of five, which translates as “how long will I last before losing 3-0”. The answer was not much longer, and it did start to look like my side of the scoreboard was broken because the number never seemed to change.
On match point, I contrived to top edge a smash into the roof, and that was that: a straight sets defeat 11-1, 11-3, 11-1 to one of the best players in the country.
Danny’s speed of thought and movement were superb; his forehand smashes were lightning quick, and I hadn’t a clue what to do with his serves; but it was a great experience. I’ve been lucky enough to have faced several top-class athletes from a number of different sports, and this was another hugely rewarding challenge. I hope Danny enjoyed the game; he seems a genuinely nice bloke, and it was a pleasure to spend some time in his company.
Over the next three months, I’ll hopefully be visiting my first school, recording a song (anything Ed Sheeran can do…), and then in June it’ll be time for my “road trip” to a football ground from all four home nations in a day. For now though, I just want to say a big thank you to Danny and to Ormesby Table Tennis Club; and confirm that contrary to popular belief there are in fact three certainties in life….
Death, taxes—and me not returning a Danny Reed serve.
Over recent years, I’ve must have compiled several hundred blogs, about numerous different subjects; but only ever one album review (the brilliant Only Come Out at Night by Sugar Stems). Today, I am intending to double that total by writing about Some Things Last Longer Than You, the debut full-length album by Doe.
I’ve read countless reviews since my late 1970s musical baptism, and in all that time, I have never quite managed to understand why bands seemingly need to be pigeon-holed into a certain musical genre; and (of equal irritation) how an objective view can somehow be passed off as accurate insight into the mind(s) of the songwriter(s). Maybe personal thoughts and reflections translate into concepts and themes that are glaringly obvious; and I am simply emotionally and culturally lacking…
Or perhaps my Latin literature teacher was right all along: you can never be demonstrably wrong about any work if your interpretation or conclusion is well-reasoned and cogently-argued.
That said it helps when the poet in question died before Jesus was born, and by definition is considerably less able to contradict opinion than a twenty-something musician living roughly 250 miles down the A1.
I’ve seen Doe’s style described as “punk-tinged indie rock”–well that seems to cover most bases. Long gone are those simple, yet glorious days when (in the words of Stiff Little Fingers’ Henry Cluney), punk was “one, two, three, blam, blam, blam” for three minutes; and any lyrical mention of witches or dragons would immediately consign a band to the heavy metal dustbin.
If anyone is able to explain exactly what “punk-tinged indie rock” actually means, my plaintive request would be: “please don’t”. The record that has influenced my life more than any other is All Out Attack, a 1981 four-track EP by Blitz. Punk, skin, hardcore, Oi! (for Someone’s Gonna Die has that very word in the chorus)… I didn’t really care how the music of New Mills’ finest was unofficially defined; their sound was raw—brutal distorted guitars and rasping intimidating vocals—and for one particular seventeen-year old, it was “real”; and that was (and still is) all that mattered.
So, genre aside, what is it about Doe that makes their album stand out?
The band is unusual in that none of the three members (Nicola Leel, Jake Popyura, and relatively recent addition Dean Smitten) play bass guitar. One of the two guitars is apparently a baritone (although my uneducated ear thought it might have been a bass), and another interesting element to the dynamic is that one of the two vocalists (Jake) sits behind the drum kit.
Dave Clark (he of the Five) was a drummer who sang lead vocals; and one of the most wonderful voices in the history of popular music belonged to a drummer: Karen Carpenter. There are others, but I’m carefully side-stepping Ringo Starr on the basis that he was neither a great singer, nor….
The vocal strength and range of Nicola and Jake are obvious throughout the album’s ten tracks, but something exceptional happens when their voices combine. Their harmonies are mostly melodic, but occasionally discordant—an obvious allusion to the theme that life’s relationships don’t always work out, because people are not always what they seem….
Actually, this is so much easier than I thought!
Nicola seems to have a natural ability to convey emotion through her vocals: from heartfelt and impassioned, through to angst and barely suppressed anger, via the ironically over-enunciated f**k right off delivery at the start of Monopoly. Jake has a great voice too, and he gets his chance to take centre stage in Before Her, the album’s outstanding highlight.
From personal experience comes a raw emotion that is incredibly difficult to manufacture; and in a sense, Before Her is every bit as “real” as that aggressive anti-violence anthem from ‘81—and that makes this song very special indeed. The instrumental power simply adds to the intensity of the vocals, but the final minute contains a stunning build-up to a wonderfully haunting finale that genuinely moved me. The other song with a notable ending is Respite; it is not nominally the title track, but the album’s title is contained within the lyrics, so presumably that counts. It is a fascinating composition (wasting time discovering “pointless truth” about the past), which culminates in a totally unexpected atmospheric section—a few moments of melodic introspection that The Edge and Adam Clayton couldn’t have bettered.
The first single from the album was Sincere, a pretty good choice as it showcases almost all of the band’s finest qualities. The song builds from a fairly quiet start to a crescendo of guitar sound with Nicola screaming in anger at the unravelling of the pretense of a person who claimed to care. It’s very hard indeed not to be hugely impressed. The strong tracks continue… Turn Around, Anywhere and Last Ditch, either add more dimensions, or build on rock-solid foundations. If there’s a weaker moment (and it’s as comparative as it is subjective), it’s the album opener No.1, which just hasn’t resonated with me as much as some of the other songs, but when one of those songs is Before Her, it’s hardly a criticism.
So what else is there to say? Doe may not (yet) be a household name, but they have a musical style (or styles) that should appeal to a wide audience, as well as the ability to write and play songs that deserve to be heard. Some Things Last Longer Than You is a superb album; sadly the same will probably not be said about my review.
It’s weird how some months seem to drag, yet fly by at the same time. On the one hand, it’s March already, but on the other the first two months of the year seem to have been a real slog—as they are most years, I suppose.
I’m really not a big fan of dark mornings and evenings, but I’m thankful that (thus far at least) we’ve had a fairly mild winter with only one snowfall of any significance. Of course my half empty glass now assumes we’ll get a wet summer by way of compensation… but warm rain beats ice every time.
I do tend to withdraw into myself once the nights start closing in, which isn’t so much of a problem at home (because I share my life with someone incredibly special) , but it does mean numerous outings for my “work face”. I’m lucky that I work in a supportive environment, but it’s still very much part of my nature (and probably always will be) that I will try and hide the fact I’m struggling.
So far this year, every morning has started pretty much the same; I wake up feeling flat usually after some version of recurring dream that I’ve been having since my late teens. I won’t bore you with the details, but the dream relates to a fear of failure that has been a constant companion throughout my adult years. I have vivid dreams every night without exception; and this particular recurrent dream reappears probably two or three times a week. The effect is that I wake feeling mentally drained, yet there’s almost some strange sort of comfort in the normality of a dream I know so well.
Sometimes the sense of heavy-headed negativity has eased fairly quickly, yet there have been days when it just lingers; and one of the worst things about the condition I have is that sometimes I almost want to feel low. Much as I have strategies to cope with, manage or reduce all the worst characteristics of dysthymia, I am also well aware what I have (or even need) to do to make sure the feelings persist.
That might sound ridiculous; it certainly looks ridiculous on paper, but there are times when it seems easier to simply accept feelings that I’ve known so well for so long, and wait until those feelings eventually, but inevitably pass; rather than trying to find the strength for yet another fight with an unseen foe—sometimes you have to pick your battles. My mind will wander on the way to work; negative emotions fill my head, but thankfully I’ve managed to keep the tears at bay; and when I arrive I seem to be ready to switch from introspective to work mode—only eight hours to not give away how I’m really feeling.
For so many years I did not know what was “wrong” with me—and even when I finally realised, I stayed in denial because I mistakenly believed that admitting to any form of mental illness was to admit to weakness. I may not have fully come to terms with the fact that I have a mental health condition, but I am thankful that despite it being chronic, it is also mild; and over recent years I’ve been able to get to know and understand myself and dysthymia pretty well.
There are still times when I feel weak, others when I know I have to be strong; I don’t think I’m brave, nor do I think I am a coward–at least I hope I’m not. I am just me—contrasts, contradictions, flaws and all. Dysthymia has undoubtedly made me who I am… or put another way, I wouldn’t be where I am today without dysthymia. So yes, the past two months haven’t been great, but even on the toughest day, I honestly wouldn’t change the life I have....
I’m very lucky… mental illness can be so cruel. Never be afraid to talk.
Time to Change challenge no.96 was originally to meet a dog of a less commonly-known breed, but after a visit to Maxi’s Mates Rescue and Rehoming Centre near Guisborough, I thought it would be right to modify the wording to meeting “a special dog”.
The original task was arguably still completed when Elaine and I were introduced to Roxy, a Malinois puppy who hasn’t yet reached her first birthday.
The Malinois is a breed of Belgian sheepdog. It is similar to a German Shepherd in appearance, but they are smaller, fawn, red, or brown-coloured dogs with a black face, and they have a straight back, as opposed to the sloping back of the German Shepherd. Malinois are energetic, intelligent, agile dogs, that are often used in police work.
Roxy had been available for adoption, but unfortunately, she has had a bit of a setback over the past week, and is currently awaiting a rescue transfer to the south of England where she will hopefully thrive.
Maxi’s Mates does some amazing work in taking in stray dogs, and providing them with all the love, care and attention they need to ensure they are in the best possible position to find a permanent home with the right family.
What strikes you when you arrive is that inside each kennel is a dog with a story to tell—from the badly treated, to dogs who have issues and need a bit more care. The fact is that without organisations like Maxi’s Mates and the people who give so much time and effort to protect and strengthen these animals, many would be put to sleep without ever having known life within a loving family….
Which brings me on to Rico.
Rico is a two-year old white Lurcher (with a brown patch over his right eye). He had a tendency to bite (or rather nip) when he got excited, and for a time it looked like Rico might be put to sleep, but thankfully a member of the owner’s family decided to contact Maxi’s Mates and they immediately stepped in to give Rico a home.
I’m not sure quite how high Rico’s kennel was—maybe eight feet—but he was easily able to reach the top of the cage from a standing spring, so the possibility of leaping over a fence was something of a concern when we took him for a walk and a run around the nearby paddock (Rico was going to do the running around… not me).
As you can see from the pictures, Rico is a handsome dog, and he was fine when we let him off the lead. He just trotted round the perimeter of the paddock, and wasn’t fazed at all by being with strangers—in fact he did a pretty good job of ignoring us completely; he had more important things to do… you know, doggy stuff.
Watching him bounding across the grass, it was hard to imagine that without Jane (who was kind enough to show us round) and everyone at Maxi’s mates, Rico probably wouldn’t be alive. Yet in the right home with the right people, he will hopefully enjoy a happy life, and bring his own brand of happiness to his new family.
There are a number of other dogs in the adjoining kennels, all waiting for the right owner to appear. Obviously looking after the medical, physical and emotional needs of the animals is as costly as it is time-consuming, and as with any registered charity, Maxi’s Mates relies on donations to be able to do their work. If you want to have a look at their website, see some of the dogs and read some of the stories, here is the link.
On what was a fascinating, but undeniably thought-provoking morning, my challenge was to meet a special dog….
I did; his name is Rico.