Well it’s just under three weeks now until my 12-hour solo darts marathon on behalf of the mental health charity, the Jenny Wallwork Foundation, and Grangetown Netball Club.
I have been preparing the event since January and have been fortunate enough to have received some wonderful prizes for the various raffles/ auction/blind cards etc., as well as the appearance on the day of BDO World no.1 Glen Durrant, rising star Jordan “SuperBear” Matthews and, with a bit of luck, my local MP Anna Turley.
Since my last reasonably lengthy blog on the subject, I have had the opportunity not only to meet Jenny Wallwork, but also to play her at badminton; the sport in which she won two Commonwealth Games medals. It was a most enjoyable and memorable afternoon; Jenny is an inspiring young woman (and still a fantastic badminton player… unfortunately!) and I’m so pleased to have this chance to support her work.
As for Grangetown Netball Club, they have teams representing the north east in upcoming national finals at both under 16 and under 14 levels; a brilliant achievement. The club’s senior side plays in a national league, and players of all ages and abilities also have the opportunity to enjoy the physical and social benefits of sport… all overseen by dedicated volunteer coaches and helpers.
The darts marathon is one of a number of “challenges” I have been undertaking for the past two-and-a-half years to raise awareness of mental health issues. I’ve worked with the charity Mind and the Time to Change programme and taken as a whole, it has been a brilliant experience, which has taught me a lot about myself and the condition with which I have lived for over forty years, but more importantly it has allowed me to come into contact with some amazing people who have to show remarkable strength and courage just to get through each day. In addition, I’ve received help from so many people to realise some of the challenges… many of those started as strangers and have become friends. All incredibly humbling.
The darts marathon is my only 2016 event which will involve trying to raise money. Essentially, the project is all about raising awareness through sharing lived experiences, and trying to show just what can be achieved by being willing to reach out and ask for help. I’ve said before that the link between the reality of living with mental health issues and these challenges could be considered slightly tenuous, but for me it underpins everything I am doing….
Going back to the marathon, whilst I wouldn’t profess to be anything better than very average on the dartboard, it is fairly obvious than I am a better darts player than fundraiser. Some people have that happy knack of being able to promote events in such a way that money just seems to roll in… I seem to have the opposite gift, so if any of you think you might be able to help me reach my goal of £500 over the next three weeks, I would be beyond grateful.
There are a number of ways you can get involved:
To everyone that has already helped and supported me… thank you so much. I hope this blog will persuade a few more people to get involved in some way, but whatever happens, I’ll be doing as many hours of practice that I can before May 14 so that I can not only throw darts for 12 hours on May 14, but make the event as successful as it can possibly be.
My desire to keep undertaking various challenges to raise awareness of mental health issues remains every bit as strong (if not stronger) today as it did back in January 2014 when this whole “adventure” began.
It is believed that at some point in their life one in four of us will suffer from some kind of mental health problem. By definition those problems—and their effects or consequences—will vary enormously; but I wonder how many of the people who are suffering do so in silence. There are numerous reasons why people don’t or won’t talk, even when pressures become overwhelming, but somehow finding the strength to take that first step can lead to positive changes that would have previously seemed impossible such is the consuming power of the mind.
The fact that I have told my own story and shared my experiences doesn’t make me brave… just incredibly lucky that I have people in my life who believe in me, and give me the strength to get through each day. Over the past two-and-a-bit years I have met some very special people who have shown remarkable and humbling courage in confronting (and often overcoming) their own issues—I met one such young woman yesterday.
As a successful international badminton player Jenny Wallwork won Commonwealth silver and bronze medals and at one stage was ranked fifth in the world along with her mixed doubles partner Nathan Robertson. Yet during her professional career, she fought a secret battle against bulimia—a truly horrible condition.
Finally opening up to her parents must have been one of the hardest moments of her life, but it was very probably the start of a new chapter that has seen Jenny set up her own charity—the Jenny Wallwork Foundation—as well as becoming an Athlete Mentor for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, and doing some amazing and inspiring work with young people right across the country.
I met Jenny at Eston Leisure Centre yesterday, along with James Kirton, a fellow Athlete Mentor and a swimmer of great distinction who represented Team GB at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Let’s be honest it wasn’t hard to spot the “odd one out”!
Jenny had agreed to play me at badminton to complete challenge no.65 (that of taking on an international athlete at their chosen sport), but as well as that we were able to have a chat about my upcoming darts marathon, which is being held on May 14 to raise funds for Jenny’s charity, as well as Grangetown Netball Club. I was more than happy to support Jenny’s work even though we’d never met, but having spent a short time in her company, I actually feel privileged to be able to make this small contribution.
After being told to give up competitive sport in 2005 following confirmation of the degenerative condition femoro-acetabular impingement (it means my hips hurt), I hadn’t picked up a badminton racket in anger for ten years until last September when I travelled down to Milton Keynes to take on England’s Rhys Walker… although “take on” should really read “get hammered by…”. Any concerns I might have had about testing my worn joints against Jenny were compounded by James’ revelation that he’d challenged Jenny to a game and been on the wrong end of a 21-0 defeat, so it was with some serious trepidation that I lumbered onto the court….
Coincidentally, Grangetown Netball club’s head coach Gel Williams happened to be at the leisure centre and she stayed to watch the warm-up, which consisted mainly of me bending down to pick up shuttlecocks after swishing at thin air. When the serious stuff got underway—well it was serious on my side of the net; I’m not sure Jenny even broke sweat! —I have to say I was really pleased with how I played.
At the end of the first game (which I lost 21-13) Jenny commented that my height was a definite advantage… something that I felt was more than cancelled out by my age and lack of mobility; my reactions were still reasonably good and I’d played one or two pretty decent shots along the way. Kind words, which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time because I was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion. I sneaked into double figures in the second game and lost the third 21-14, but loved every minute.
Jenny made sure that I worked really hard and much as she didn’t need to get out of first gear during our hour together, it was obvious that she is a superb athlete—her movement around the court was incredible. As you’d expect, she has every shot in the proverbial book, including a backhand that can reach the back of the court with ease and a smash that even at half speed was hard enough to see, let alone try and return.
The smile that was on Jenny’s face when James took a couple of photos of us afterwards had been there right throughout our games. It seemed like she’d enjoyed her afternoon… I hope so; I definitely did.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet Jenny, and James as well—two people who have achieved so much in their chosen sport, and are prepared to give so much back. I’m sure Jenny and I will cross paths again in the not too distant future, but in the meantime and with the weekend looming, please click the button below go to my darts marathon page… where you can follow a link to Jenny’s charity site.
Obviously it would be fantastic if you wanted to make a donation towards my darts marathon fundraising by visiting my JustGiving page, but please do take the time to read about Jenny’s life and career in a bit more detail: she is a charming and inspiring young woman.
And, as I found out yesterday, a bloody good badminton player!
Yesterday I ticked off the 58th of my 75 challenges, as "meeting someone who has had a top ten single" (no.60 on the list) was duly completed.
Since the official charts began back in 1952, there must have been hundreds and hundreds of artists and bands who have recorded songs that reached those heights, but sadly the number of those people I actually know totals… roughly… none.
So to narrow it down, I decided to do two things… look at all the upcoming concerts/gigs/shows (delete depending on your age) to see who might be appearing in the north east; and rather randomly, the second was to see how many singers or musicians shared by birthday—which, from a present-receiving perspective, is 3rd June.
I counted six potential candidates… which rapidly decreased to five as the former T-Rex drummer Mickey Finn passed away in 2003. However, amazingly… there was one person who actually fulfilled both criteria, and that lady was Anita Harris, who reached no.6 in the charts back in 1967 with a song called “Just Loving You”.
Anita was scheduled to top the bill in a variety show being held at Darlington Civic Theatre. We bought tickets (front row no less) and yesterday Elaine and I made the short journey across the A66 in the hope of not only enjoying an afternoon’s entertainment, but also meeting someone whose performances on television I can remember from way back when I was far younger and slimmer than I am now.
We arrived in my father’s home town early enough to have a relaxing cup of coffee (or hot chocolate in my case), and we would have had a scone each, but the woman in front of me ordered the second-last one. At least there was still one left; it was just a shame that Elaine had to miss out….
That’s a lie (of course): I had a raspberry and white chocolate muffin.
Onward to the theatre and as the foyer began to fill, it became very clear very quickly that this was one of those very rare occasions when Elaine and I would bring down the average age of the audience… quite considerably, in fact. Proceedings eventually got underway shortly after two o’clock, and I’d have to admit the show itself was actually a lot of fun.
Amongst the guests was a magician (John Styles), who later appeared in the guise of a Chelsea Pensioner to deliver a comedy routine; and Mark Andrews sang a few old favourites (and I am almost ashamed to admit that I was able to join in with most of them). Mark Walsh compered the afternoon in a kind of semi-homage to Leonard Sachs, but I doubt very much whether the South African-born effusive epitome of extrovert effervescence could play the banjo with quite as much dexterity….
The Grumbleweeds were one of the headline acts. Rob Colville is the only original member of a group who started performing as long ago as 1962. Today they appear as a duo with the partnership completed by James Brandon, who joined following the passing of another founder member Graham Walker in 2013. There were chuckles galore throughout both their sets; although I really should have returned the feathers of the sadly departed pigeon (Eddie R.I.P) which came to rest on my jumper after the bird was unfortunately—and unceremoniously—blown to smithereens.
All of which brings me to Anita Harris.
I’m not really sure where to start. Anita has still got a wonderful voice, but there is a love for the songs and an emotion in her performance that absolutely radiated from the stage. Anita has had such an extraordinary career; she’s played all the big venues, rubbed shoulders with so many of the biggest names in entertainment, yet on a Wednesday April afternoon in Darlington, she was still able to reach out to every member of the audience and make them feel special.
That is a gift….
As well as sounding great, Anita certainly looked fabulous from seat A9… but when I had the chance to actually meet her afterwards, I think it’s reasonable to say (and I hope she won’t be offended) that she is a stunningly beautiful woman. It’s not the done thing to discuss a lady’s age, but look at the photo, have a guess, then do a quick search on the internet….
Bet you were wrong!
She was so charming to Elaine and I… we both got a hug; and it was really kind of Anita to agree to have her photo taken with me to formally complete the challenge. It was a lovely way to end a really enjoyable day… hopefully there’ll be more positive news to follow next week; but for now, thank you Anita.
Oh, and happy birthday for 3rd June!
PS: In case you were wondering, the other four people sharing our birthday who have had top ten singles are: Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), Deniece Williams, Suzi Quatro and Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics. You weren’t wondering, were you?!