This week saw the completion of my 108th challenge to raise mental health awareness, as well as the official launch of my book, “Today, Just Like Yesterday”.
The challenges will come to a close at the end of the year – and my only (and therefore final) fundraising event will be a skydive in July, which I will undertake on behalf of the Shaw Mind Foundation, the charity which is the parent company of my publisher Trigger. The proceeds from book sales all go back to the charity, which is doing so much to support those suffering from mental health issues.
I’ve never jumped out of a plane that is safely on terra firma, let alone one that is flying at 10,000 feet; the prospect is really scary, but I’ll be strapped to someone who’s done this kind of thing loads of times before - and he apparently brings a parachute with him too … which is reassuring.
Anyway, this most recent “challenge” was to visit six County Cricket grounds (nominally Durham, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire) in as short a time as possible. I’d be planning the “road trip” since December and, with a week to go, five of the six counties were fully supportive of the event … the sixth (am I allowed to say it was Yorkshire?) had said it would simply not be possible to come into the ground and take a photo on a match day– although a space on the pavement outside the ground would be available.
It was a situation I accepted (I was delighted to have received five positive responses), but a friend from work - a long-time member of the county in question - was far from impressed; and a couple of phone calls and e-mails later, the decision was, shall we say, “reconsidered”.
Notwithstanding parking at, and gaining entry into, the grounds on the day, the two biggest worries were the vagaries of the British weather and traffic. The forecast was reasonably encouraging, but it was still quite chilly as Elaine and I headed north to ground no.1 – The Riverside in Chester le Street.
I had played at the ground 20 years earlier, for Chester le Street against Durham’s Academy side. I remember we lost the game, I took one for plenty, but enjoyed a very relaxing bath afterwards. There weren’t many grounds that had baths as well as showers, but this one was individual rather than communal, and all the better for it.
The arena has changed considerably over the intervening two decades; and it is as much a great stage for a test cricketer now, as it was for a humble club player back then.
Only 15 minutes had been allocated for each stop; time for a couple of photos, a comfort break, then straight back on the road. The next stop was Headingley, the second of the three test arenas on the journey. I had played there too, sometime around 1980, but much as The Riverside has developed, Headingley is now unrecognisable from the ground that had witnessed that incredible Ashes test back in ’81.
Durham’s four-day championship game had lasted less than two; and Yorkshire were only two wickets away from defeating Notts when we arrived. That meant that entry was free for anyone wanting to watch the Yorkshire bowling attack deliver the final coups de grace … a fact that rendered the previous e-mail and phone various exchanges essentially meaningless. We strolled into the ground, and a couple of clicks later strolled back out, and set off for Derby.
Ground number three was quite exposed, but had a nice feel about it; the stewards were particularly helpful, and halfway through the trip, things were going better than expected. There had been no problems on the roads, and we were almost an hour ahead of schedule as we trundled along Brian Clough Way towards Nottingham.
Trent Bridge was the highlight of the day. Nottinghamshire had succumbed to Ben Coad up in Leeds, so there was no game on at Trent Bridge; but it is undeniably a superb setting. The outfield looked immaculate, and for the first time in many years, I almost missed the weekly ritual of taking to the cricket field, occasionally taking a wicket or two, but far more frequently being dispatched to all parts…
Matt Halfpenny, the club’s Media and Communications manager, was kind enough to show us into the Long Room and take us out into the ground for a couple of photos and a brief, recorded chat, which he later turned into a really positive article on the county’s website.
We made it to Leicester Forest East services before doing a short interview with Dean Jackson of BBC Radio Nottingham. The scheduled ten minutes was cut to four courtesy of the far more newsworthy arrival of the Royal baby, but I was so grateful to Dean and his producer Hansa, as well as Matt at Trent Bridge for making the Nottinghamshire leg of the journey so memorable.
The fifth port of call was Grace Road, home of Leicestershire, the county that my father had captained back in 1962. Perhaps naively, I was hoping to get some sense of what it would have been like to watch Dad lead out his side onto the field all those years ago, but sadly it didn’t happen. I didn’t even see the tractor whose engine would be started as soon as perennial no.11 Brian Boshier strolled out to the crease…
Five down, one to go; and Northamptonshire’s game had also concluded earlier in the day meaning the pleasant, modern-looking ground was almost deserted by the time we arrived. A few final clicks of the shutter and the challenge was complete.
Six grounds, 300 miles, eight and three-quarter hours … all designed to raise mental health awareness and show that it is fine (in whatever circumstances) to ask for help. I’m extremely grateful to everyone from the various counties who was willing to support the trip, and particularly to my beloved navigator Elaine, who did a sterling job in getting us from A to B … C, D, E and F.
And that’s just about it really; next on the list … to meet a current or former soap actor, which is planned for 9 May … blog and photo (as always) to follow.
Today’s short blog is my chance to say “thank you” to everyone who came to my book launch at Cobbler’s Champagne Bar last night.
To my family (my wife Elaine, and stepson Chris), friends from my work, Elaine’s work, the Grangetown Netball family, and friends I’ve met through darts and writing … I am so grateful to all of you for taking time out of your day to come along and help make the evening so special. I really hope that you had a good time.
Thanks too for all the messages from those who were unable to make it – I really appreciated you getting in touch.
“Today, Just Like Yesterday” tells the story of a life with dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder) and the “challenges” I have undertaken to try and raise mental health awareness. It was an incredibly difficult book to write, but it exists as a permanent thank you to everyone who has supported me, both emotionally and in turning 100 challenge ideas into reality; and if one person finds the strength to talk or ask for help after reading the book, then everything has been worthwhile.
Stephanie, my editor at Trigger, came all the way from Newark for the event; Trigger is a mental health publisher that is beginning to make a real difference; and I’m very fortunate that they believed in me and gave me the opportunity to share my story.
Cobbler’s Champagne Bar (which is in Normanby, just outside Middlesbrough) was the perfect place to hold the launch. Gel and Di took care of absolutely everything, and I can’t thank them enough for creating such a lovely welcoming and relaxed atmosphere.
Looking forward, I still have twelve tasks to attempt before the challenges come to a definitive end. I’m now hoping to be able to plan a few talks to share experiences and raise mental health awareness, but for now, I want to close by simply repeating my thanks to everyone who came along to the launch last night. It was everything I could have hoped for … thank you so much.
I broke my Netball Superleague duck last night with a trip to what was (back in the day) my old Polytechnic to watch Team Northumbria take on Severn Stars.
The game offered both clubs a chance to belatedly kick-start their respective seasons after the Commonwealth Games break – Stars’ solitary success had been an admittedly impressive victory at UWS Sirens before the enforced lay-off, whilst Te Aroha Keenan’s squad was still looking for that elusive first win.
With apologies for my ignorance, the names of some of the players on view were new to me, although Team Northumbria’s captain was the instantly-recognisable Ash Neal, who had been so influential in the recent promotion of Grangetown Netball Club to the top division of the National Premier League.
There was a small section of the crowd that was very much orange and black, with Grangetown club captain Vicky Rees, defender (and member of the Superleague squad) Jenny Mrozik cheering on from the sidelines along with the club’s head coach, physio and a number of supporters.
Hayley Mulheron is another player to have represented Grangetown, and she returned to Team Northumbria after helping Scotland to a ninth-place finish at the Gold Coast Games. A play-off victory over Barbados and a great win against Wales were highlights for the Thistles, who also came agonisingly close to sharing the spoils with a Malawi side that had previously defeated New Zealand.
I remember Paige Kindred when she played for Tameside against Grangetown a couple of years ago, as did Stars’ Ellie Cardwell, now a regular member of the England international set-up. However, the visitors also included Jodie Gibson in their starting seven; Jodie having been part of the England squad that secured Commonwealth gold in the most dramatic fashion.
The one-goal win over the host nation was not only the highlight of the entire Games, it was (in my opinion) the finest moment in any team sport since the hockey gold won by Team GB’s women in Rio; and the post-match celebrations were simply wonderful to watch…
Back on Tyneside, Team Northumbria clawed back an early four-goal deficit to lead 13-12 at the end of the opening quarter. The pattern was reversed in the second period, as the home side gained a similar advantage, only for the Stars to level the scores before an all-important goal against a Northumbria centre pass gave them the opportunity to take a two-goal lead into half-time.
With 15 minutes to go, the visitors were seven goals in front and, at that stage, they looked certain to return to Worcestershire as comfortable victors. However, Northumbria produced some superb defensive pressure in the final quarter and secured enough turnover possession to have actually won the game.
The margin was twice reduced to a single goal, but a combination of unforced errors, missed shots and some superb interventions by Phumza Maweni and Sam Cook handed momentum back to the Stars and the scoreboard read 43-47 as the final hooter sounded.
Northumbria will surely take a great deal from that final period. To restrict Stars to just six goals in 15 minutes (three of which came right at the end of the game), was an outstanding effort. They applied pressure throughout the court and the visitors were definitely rattled; but the disappointment will come with the realisation that this was ultimately a chance lost.
Choosing a player of the match was no easy task. Ellie Cardwell was the pick of the shooters; she was really strong in the circle and (for all bar a few minutes in the final quarter) assured under the net. The Northumbria attacking combinations never achieved Ellie’s conversion rate, so her performance was crucial.
However, my selection would come from the other end of the court, as the Maweni-Cook partnership was instrumental in forcing errors or interceptions at the most vital moments.
Over the past few months, I’ve seen Sam Cook play three times for her club (Hucclecote) as well as the Stars, and she has been outstanding on each occasion. Sam is a superb athlete, who reads the game really well, and she would be my totally unofficial choice for the player of the match award.
As a brief postscript, my evening ended with a chance to meet Severn Stars’ Becky Oatley. Although she didn’t get any time on court last night, Becky is a determined, brave and genuinely inspiring young woman and it was a pleasure to spend a couple of minutes in her company…
I have to say that yesterday was a pretty surreal day.
Almost exactly one year ago (on 30 April to be exact), I spent an afternoon looking at the websites of various mental health publishers, with a view to sending some e-mails in the hope that there might be some interest in a book I was writing.
There were plenty of possible companies, but there was only one that stood out - Trigger Press. They were a relatively new publisher, set up by a charitable foundation, totally dedicated to mental health, and committed to publishing individual stories about mental illness … the real-life struggles, and the fight towards recovery.
They just felt “right”, so I sent a message.
They were genuinely the only company I contacted, and I suppose the rest is, as they say…
It’s no secret that I found aspects of the writing and editing process really difficult. I dipped quite badly on a couple of occasions after remembering, thinking and writing about some moments in my life that I’d spent any number of years trying to suppress.
Trigger (they’ve recently dropped the Press) are much more than simply a publishing house though. There is a passion for the subject and for making sure every book is as good as it can possibly be. Some of the staff have lived experience of mental illness, but all of them genuinely care about the welfare of their authors.
So, despite some tough times along the way, and however busy the Trigger team was becoming, they were so supportive – not just in relation to the technical aspects of writing, but emotionally as well, which is something very special indeed.
As the months passed, so the edits and drafts became a final proof (with a cover that, quite by chance, was orange – my favourite colour), and eventually a box containing ten advance copies was delivered to my modest little semi on the outskirts of Middlesbrough.
The overwhelming feeling on seeing and holding the book for the very first time was relief … relief that there would be no more edits or requests for more content … no more thinking. Relief developed into a sense of pride, but didn’t quite extend as far as excitement (bloody dysthymia...).
At the final proof stage, my parents read the whole book. Much as it was hard to recall and relate episodes from so long ago, I was more concerned with how Mum and Dad might react to seeing those episodes in print – whether or not they actually knew about the moments in question. Obviously we talked through some things, but the fact that they were fine and as unfailingly supportive as they have been throughout my entire life … well, that meant the world to me.
I had (and still have) doubts about my ability as a writer, and worries about how I might be perceived – or even judged – particularly by people I don’t know; but I can say for certain that knowing that my wife and parents believe in me and are proud of me is more important than I have the ability to convey.
“Today Just Like Yesterday” was published … er … yesterday; a date that coincided with Trigger’s second birthday, and an invitation to visit the office in Newark to meet the team, fellow authors, and hopefully grab a sausage roll or two along the way.
The trip to Nottinghamshire was actually a last-minute decision which was fortunately supported by work; but their birthday party turned out to be a really enjoyable event, during which I met so many lovely people (the overwhelming majority for the very first time).
And I was successful in the sausage roll department as well…
I stopped off on the way back north to see Mum and Dad, before heading home to find that the Trigger team had arranged for a box of publication day cupcakes to be delivered. It was such a lovely gesture, that was totally unexpected, but which maybe gives an insight into the relationship between this particular publisher and its authors.
Trigger is creating something very special on the banks of the River Trent; I feel incredibly lucky to be part of what is rapidly growing into a “family”, with every member dedicated to removing mental health stigma, to show that talking is fine, and recovery (in whatever form) is possible.
Yesterday was a good day…