I am constantly inspired by some of the physical challenges that people attempt on behalf of various good causes. One of my friends from work has completed two marathons in the past couple of months and Alex Langley (who I met at a badminton event organised by Jenny Wallwork… another inspiring young woman) is nearing the end of a gruelling test to run 26 miles a week for 26 consecutive weeks for her chosen charity—truly amazing.
Unfortunately, the nature of my degenerative hip condition means that I would now struggle to run 26 yards let alone 26 miles; in fact, even walking for more than half an hour becomes really quite painful. Add to that a weak back, a shoulder that clicks constantly due to years of trying to bowl left-arm spin, and various other aches and pains that come with middle age, and I have to be careful both about the goals I set myself, and also how I prepare and train for any big event.
That said over the past three-and-a-half years I have been determined to push myself to complete various challenges to try and raise mental health awareness—the last of these physical challenges will be taking place in November, before the conclusion of the four-year project the following month.
If I can’t run a marathon, then I’m going to attempt the next best thing… I’m going to row a marathon on an indoor rowing machine; and just for good measure, I’m also going to cycle a marathon on an exercise bike—two lots of 26.2 miles.
I managed the equivalent of an English Channel crossing on a rowing machine last December; but that was “only” 21 miles and didn’t include any pedalling. Those 21 miles took me a minute over three hours, due in no small part to the company and support I had throughout the morning (Louise Hobson from BBC Tees and Julian Bunn, my unofficial “trainer” were there for the whole duration), but based on current training times, this double marathon will take something in the region of six hours.
This will make it the longest physical test I’ve ever set myself (I’ve done longer events, but throwing darts for an extended period is not quite the same), and although I’m well aware of my physical limitations, but I believe that with the right preparation I can defy my advancing years and successfully complete this dual challenge.
I’m giving myself a full six months to get myself physically and mentally ready; and the cause will provide constant motivation. The provisional date is Friday 3 November and I’m hoping that Eston Leisure Centre will once again be the venue, Rachael Gage and her team having provided so much support for the cross-channel challenge five months ago.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had some incredible experiences and met some wonderful people since the start of 2014. I’m entering the home straight now, but I’m determined to push myself to my limit and finish on a proverbial high—and I might even lose a few pounds along the way, which would be a nice bonus!
The absolute bottom line remains the same as it did when I started though; it’s fine to talk about mental health… and never be afraid to ask for help.
I’m going to electronically scribble a few lines on the upcoming General Election, and then I’m going to do my absolute best to just get on with my life.
I have been fortunate enough to have met my local MP, Anna Turley, on a couple of occasions—she even made an impromptu appearance to support the darts marathon I did last May. From the brief conversation we had, and from what I’ve seen and read in the media (and social media), Anna is a genuine, dedicated and caring young woman, who is committed to working as hard as she can on behalf of, and for the benefit of her constituents.
And frankly, as far as I’m concerned, that’s all I need to know.
For the record, she is a Labour MP, but whether rightly or wrongly I will be voting on the basis of Anna as a person, and not the party she happens to represent. So yes, I will be voting Labour by default, but my cross will be a reflection of character and integrity, not necessarily political ideals.
I’ll be absolutely honest, I’m not entirely sure exactly what our various parties stand for—and even if I was, I suppose I’d soon by thrown off course by the next convenient U-turn. I have little trust in any of our political leaders; and I also have a fundamental problem with the convincingly-delivered views of so-called experts that we will no doubt hear ad nauseam over the next few weeks.
For example, one party says such-and-such will happen when we leave the European Union; another party says the opposite—a maximum of one view may be right… a minimum of one must be wrong. But these are “experts”; the people we believe can or will do what’s best for this country—for us. Yet fifty percent of what they say must by definition be (for want of a better word) crap.
You could almost put a 50p coin in charge of the country and whenever there’s a tough decision that needs to be made, just give it a spin and statistically you’ve got a fighting chance of being right at least (if not more) often than your average Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition: heads, we go for a “soft Brexit”, tails, it’s the “hard” option; heads Donald Trump is an idiot… tails, oh… he’s still an idiot.
Fair enough, I’m making light of serious matters; of course, there are issues to resolve that will have far-reaching long-term consequences (for us and perhaps more importantly for the next generation). Many, in fact probably most of you will have opinions on various subjects that are stronger and significantly better-informed than mine, and on 8th June you will make a choice based on the party that best reflects and represents your beliefs and ideologies.
I accept there’s a bigger picture, but I’ve lived through plenty of General Elections, changes of government, good times (relatively speaking), and bad times; and I think I’ve reached the point where my views can be summed up in one line from an old Doris Day song….
“Once I had a secret love….”
Drat, wrong song: “Que sera sera…”
I’ll simply vote for the person who I know will do a great job for the area where I live; as for the country as a whole… whatever will be, will be.
Monday’s visit to my first school, York College for Girls, represented the completion of another of my “Time to Change” challenges to raise mental health awareness–the 82nd out of my list of 100. The following day, I was able to join the Facebook group for former pupils (boys were able to attend the school until the age of eight, despite the name suggesting otherwise).
My time at York College spanned 1968-1972, and I duly posted a couple of photos from 1971, when the Duke and Duchess of Kent visited the school. As a slight digression, one of the earlier challenges was to “receive a letter from a member of the Royal Family”, and back in 2014, the Duke of Kent sent a lovely reply to my letter enclosing the photographs from that trip to York.
Anyway, I was asked if I had any memories to share from those years at York College. I was 7 (nearly 8) when I left; I’m 52 now and I struggle remembering what I did last month, let alone forty-something years ago. The memories I do have seem both random and trivial, but maybe they’ll strike a chord... each of the following starts “I remember…”
And finally, an entry from an old schoolbook dated 25th January 1971. I’ve not made any alterations to my spelling, which is a little bit iffy in places… I was six; give me a break! If I’d been seven, it would have been almost perfect (especially if I’d been to Prague on the weekend in question):
“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 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.”
I’m sure that most of us have, at some point or another, been inspired by a person that we’ve never met—whether that be someone who has passed away, or maybe two paths that simply haven’t crossed. The thought was prompted after watching the recent programme about Marilyn Monroe (specifically the auction of clothes, photos and other memorabilia), because I have a number of friends who know an amazing amount about Marilyn’s life, and it’s quite possible that she been a source of inspiration to some of them.
There are a number of people for whom I have huge admiration and I would love to have met: Stan Laurel, Jean Harlow, Virgil Grissom, Muhammad Ali to name but four; but there is a huge difference between admiration and inspiration. If my readers each gave the name of the one person who inspires or has inspired them the most, I can guarantee that no one else’s choice would match mine.
Her name is Jane Kirby and she is my great great grandmother.
I know virtually nothing about Jane; when she was born, what she looked like, what she sounded like, but what I do know is that she must have been a remarkable, selfless and resilient woman.
Jane was a single mother (hence why my surname is Kirby), who gave birth to my great grandfather John in York’s workhouse in July 1879. The workhouse was the place where you went when there was literally no other option—but the social stigma of being an unmarried mother meant that Jane may well have been simply cast aside by her family.
Whilst the Victorian upper classes enjoyed a life filled with almost unimaginable luxury, those at the opposite end of the social scale often had to ensure squalid, insanitary and overcrowded living conditions—and it was into poverty that John was born. By the following year, Jane was living in Wrightson’s Yard in Walmgate. It was one of the poorest areas of York, home to slaughterhouses, factories and mills; and the crude nature of manufacturing at the time meant that the air above nearby homes would have been literally black with acrid smoke and fumes.
But this was Jane’s life; she had a son and needed to provide for him... and herself. She did so by working from home, making matchboxes. It was incredibly hard work, especially for a mother trying to raise an infant on her own. Raw materials had to be purchased and a solid thirteen hour working day would yield between 9d and one shilling (at a rate of 2d per gross). Out of this, Jane would need to buy the material for the next batch of boxes as well as pay for rent and food. Things we take for granted today, like clothes for example, must have been almost impossible to afford....
I keep a coin in my wallet; a half crown issued in the year John was born. In decimal terms the half crown was worth 12½p, but to earn this single coin, Jane would have had to work for three weeks. I sometimes wonder if she ever even held a half crown….
The coin serves as a daily reminder of Jane and the amazing sacrifices she made to give her son a chance in life. John took his chance; he moved to Darlington (via Leeds) where he worked as a railway blacksmith. He named his eldest son Eric, whose only child David is my father. All my direct ancestors on both sides of my family have played a part in shaping the person I am and, to an extent, the life I have; but if ever I feel like I’m taking life for granted, I can hold this coin and think about Jane—my great great grandmother… and an inspiration.
Preparations for two of my biggest Time to Change challenges are now well underway, so I thought I’d let you know what’s been happening… and what is hopefully going to happen.
On 23rd June, the challenge is to visit a football ground in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales… in one day. The timetable is starting to take shape, and the day will start in Belfast, very early on the morning as I will have to go to The Oval, home of Glentoran FC before catching the ferry (now booked!) over to Cairnryan (latest time to embark is 6:30am).
The crossing takes over two hours, but from Cairnryan, it’s only a few minutes to Stranraer FC’s Stair Park. The next leg of the journey is over four hours, but I’m hoping it will just be a case of pointing the car south and enjoying a leisurely trundle down to the DW Stadium in Wigan where, with a bit of luck, I might be able to catch up with Steve McCormack, the Scotland rugby league coach, who also works for Wigan Warriors who share the stadium with the football club.
The last leg of the journey (from the challenge point of view) is down to Wrexham. No chance of getting inside the Racecourse Ground sadly, as work will be underway for the following evening’s Olly Murs concert—although I’m hopeful that my arrival will be greeted by a crowd of screaming fans....
As opposed to some burly security guard.
The absolute final leg is actually the trek back home from North Wales. The total distance is something in the region of 620 miles. Elaine has agreed to come along and navigate (meaning the distance will now be in excess of 700 miles), but the “rules” are that I must do all the driving.
I’m hoping that one or two local radio stations might be interested enough to want to talk to me either before or on the day—I’ll certainly be doing everything possible to maintain the profile of the cause throughout the trip. The prospect is quite daunting, but exciting at the same time.
Before then however (on 8th May), there is the small matter of recording a song….
This was always going to be one of the harder tasks to arrange, but things are starting to come together thanks to Lee Tuck from The Garage Studios in South Shields.
I first met Lee about six years ago, when he was playing bass for The Karma Heart, an excellent band who I saw play live on a number of occasions. I contacted him pretty much out of the blue to ask if he happened to know anyone involved with a recording studio who might just be willing to help—quality research on my part.
Lee and I are due to meet towards the end of the month to chat things through; my first question will be whether the technology is good enough to do something with my voice!
What I can tell you is that the song in question is “Set the Fire to the Third Bar” by Snow Patrol. If you know the song, you’ll have realised it’s a male-female duet… the song choice was actually the idea of a young lady who is both a colleague at work and my future singing partner. If anyone from work is reading this, I wonder if they can work out who it is?!
Sadly, the crystal clear note-perfect treble voice I possessed as a twelve year-old is nothing more than a dim and distant memory, but I will practice hard, and try my absolute best to do a good job on the day. As with the “road trip”, the prospect is exciting, but I’m more nervous about the recording because at least I know I’m a decent driver!
For Lee to get involved is a huge deal; and I’m extremely grateful. I really believe that this challenge will make a real difference in helping me to continue raising mental health awareness, but probably less likely to result in a world tour!