A few weeks ago, I wrote about finishing my challenges to raise mental awareness in December, after what will be five years and hopefully 120 tasks (the total currently stands at 115).
The time and effort - both physical and mental - required to plan, prepare and complete the challenges, along with the travelling (8,000 miles and counting); and not forgetting all the work involved with my book … had left me emotionally drained. I realised that I needed time to reflect, to talk (the very thing I was trying to encourage others to do…), and to regain some strength.
Elaine and I have now had the chance to spend some quality time together, and I do feel refreshed … and totally comfortable with the decision to bring down the curtain on the challenges. Aspects of my life have been put into a clearer perspective and priorities re-evaluated.
Of course I will keep doing what I can to keep raising mental health awareness – the subject remains massively important - but it has to be on a more manageable scale.
It’s no secret that Grangetown Netball Club has become a big part of my life, and I am looking forward to doing more interviews and match reports as the Prem squad prepares for its first ever season in the top division of English club netball.
I’ve had so much support from Head Coach Gel Williams, captain Vicky Rees and many others involved with the club, that I want to try and give a bit more back. So, in addition to all the articles and reports, I’m going to attempt a third – and final – 12-hour solo darts marathon to try and raise funds for a club that is flying the flag for local elite women’s sport.
The venue will be the Cleveland Inn in Normanby; the date will be Saturday 15 September, and the festivities will get underway at 8am.
Obviously, having done two of these events before, I know I can complete 12 hours – although I can barely move by the end – so I’m adding a target to make the day genuinely testing.
At this point you need to bear in mind that I don’t play any kind of competitive darts, I’m not in a team or anything like that; I just have the occasional throw at the board in our conservatory…
I’m setting myself a target of at least 300 scores of 100 and above. I won’t bore you with the calculation, but that roughly equates to a ton or more every seventh throw at the board over the whole 12 hours.
I think I’m going to need to practice!
If I can hit 300 good scores, maybe I can raise £300 as well? Not easy because I am far from a “natural” fundraiser. There are so many people out there doing amazing things for great causes … but I’ll just do what I’ve always tried to do – the best I can.
There’ll be more details nearer the time, but please put the date in your diary, and if you happen to be anywhere near Normanby on 15 September, pop in and keep me company for a while. If watching an old bloke throw darts isn’t exciting enough, Cobbler’s Champagne Bar is next door and the cocktails are amazing!
There haven’t been many occasions over the past five years when two of my challenges to raise mental health awareness were ticked off on the same day; but that’s exactly what happened on my recent visit to Kingston Park.
The initial reason for travelling up to the ground that hosts both Newcastle Falcons (rugby union) and Newcastle Thunder (rugby league) was to attempt to kick a conversion, but when Thunder’s Head Coach Jason Payne offered me the chance to chat to his squad about my experiences and challenges, I was more than happy to accept.
Newcastle Thunder was previously known (in numerous former lives) as Gateshead Thunder, and the club brought rugby league to the north east in an unforgettable summer of thrilling Super League action in 1999. The events that followed that amazing season are well-documented, but the fact that the club still exists is testament to the numerous people over the years who have worked tirelessly to keep north east professional rugby league alive.
Thunder was a massive part of my life when I lived in Gateshead and even though I have moved away, I’m still in touch with numerous fans and former players and always keep up-to-date with results. The club was, is and always will be very special.
The 2018 squad plays in League 1 and is currently mid-table but closing in on the play-off places. Jason was kind enough to let me sit in on the squad’s mid-season review, and whilst it wouldn’t be right to mention anything that was discussed, what I will say is that Thunder has a squad of determined, united and impressive athletes; and it certainly would come as no surprise to see the club continue climbing the table.
I was invited to speak at the end of the meeting; it’s actually quite daunting talking to a group of people you don’t know (Jason and club captain Joe Brown apart), but I was given a positive response (which was much appreciated) and talking to the players provided a brief distraction from my upcoming kicking duties.
After the short talk, a couple of the lads came over to shake my hand and say a few words before we headed out onto the pitch for the second part of the evening.
Place-kicking a rugby ball in 2018 is not the same as it was the last time I slotted over a conversion – I reckon it was somewhere around 1980. Back then the ball had laces, weighed a proverbial ton and you had to dig a divot out of the turf and create a mound on which to place the ball…
No divots these days, especially on Kingston Park’s synthetic pitch; instead the much lighter ball is placed at an appropriate angle on a plastic kicking tee.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well when you’re surrounded by a group of elite athletes, the answer is quite a lot. The first attempt was scuffed, the second drifted wide of the upright … as did the third. The ball was moved closer to the posts, but that didn’t stop the ball from sailing just outside the right-hand post once again. All very reminiscent of Don Fox in the classic 1968 “water splash” Challenge Cup final.
“He’s a poor lad!”
Plenty of encouragement (and understandable laughter) from the players behind me – whose training session I was now shortening – but the next kick was sweetly struck and flew high over the middle of the crossbar. Cheers and applause echoed around the stadium – sort of – and just in case you want to relive the magical moment … here’s the video of the penultimate and belatedly successful kicks.
I want to say a massive thank you to Jason and the whole Newcastle Thunder squad for making me feel so welcome. I’m heading back to Kingston Park next month to watch the team in action – and if anyone wants to book a kicking master class … I’m always available!
At first glance, this is a simply a lovely photograph of a proud-looking elderly gentleman and a young bride on her wedding day, but behind the smiles is a remarkable … and tragic story.
The gentleman is Thomas Liddle; my great great grandfather, and the woman is my grandmother Gertrude Liddle, pictured on the day she married Eric Kirby in August 1934.
This is not just a random family snapshot though; Gertrude was given away by her grandfather, because her father had died when “Gertie” was just nine years of age.
William Liddle was born in Darlington on this very day in 1885, the third oldest of ten children born to Thomas and his wife Annie (née Trotter). He married Gertrude Horton in 1910, and by the time the census was taken the following year, the couple had set up home in a house on Cockerton Green. William was working as a cellarman for a wine and spirit merchant, and my gran was born on 9 March 1911 (she was barely three-weeks old when the enumerator called…).
William and Gertrude had three other children: Vera (in 1914), William (in 1916) and Leslie, the birth of the last-named being recorded during the first half of 1920; yet within months of becoming a father for the fourth time, William had passed away…
One of the causes of death (on 6 September) was given as “phlebitis”, which had resulted in an eight-day stay in hospital. Many years ago, I had heard that his condition may have been as a result of complications following injuries sustained in the First World War, but I wasn’t prepared for the awful truth that was revealed in William’s pension records.
On 1 August 1917, William was in the Belgian town of Poperinge. It was an important rail centre behind the front line, used for distributing supplies and billeting troops, Poperinge had been a target for German long-range artillery, but on 31 July 1917, the town and surrounding areas were bombed by enemy aircraft. The Allies launched an attack on German lines, which marked the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, one of the most controversial and costly offensives of the First World War. The heaviest fighting would be concentrated around the village of Passchendaele; and this is the better-known name of the battle that ended in November 1917, with the combined loss of over half a million lives…
William was injured on the first full day of fighting, and the immediate sense of foreboding came from the title of the first document I found: “Medical Report on an Invalid”…
I’m not sure that the bare statistics – shocking as they are – convey the true horror of war; for me, that comes from reading individual stories or experiences, trying to comprehend how a few words represent a life that has been extinguished or changed forever in the cruellest blinking of a proverbial eye, thinking about the resulting devastation for the family that is left behind … then multiply all that half a million times.
William’s injury – sustained on the first full day of fighting – was described as the “amputation of right arm at shoulder”.
Just six words … with such far-reaching consequences.
The graphic report continues: “… arm amputated on Aug 2nd. Aug 4th gangrene set in in ant[erior] muscle flap. Flap was excised. Sep 22nd excision of head of humerus” (“excise” means to completely remove – in medical terms).
It was difficult to read, and all sorts of images started to flash through my mind. The next section of the report described William as being 5’9” tall, with light blue eyes and light brown hair; information that suddenly made those mental images even more real – especially as the only two pictures I have are creased and stained black and white portraits (and this is one of them).
What I found really surprising is that details of William’s injury (both the cause and extent) were never passed down to subsequent generations. The loss of limb would have been impossible to hide; maybe there was some social stigma, I don’t know, but in my eyes William was a hero.
William was awarded the Victory medal, as well as the 1914-15 Star and British War medal – although it would seem unlikely that these were any great source of comfort for Gertrude (above), who just three years after her husband returned from Belgium was facing life as a 33-year old widow with four children to raise…
It is hard to believe that things could have got any worse for Gertrude, but in August 1923, she had to deal with the loss of her elder son William, who was crushed to death after slipping and falling from the coupling bar of a traction engine that was on its way to the annual Cockerton fair.
He was seven-years old…
I can’t even begin to imagine how you can cope with the death of a husband and child in such traumatic circumstances, but over the decades that followed, Gertrude displayed genuinely humbling courage and selflessness. In her own quiet and dignified way, she devoted her own life to giving her family the best chance she possibly could. Gertrude never remarried – in fact, to the best of my knowledge she never had another relationship – and by the time she passed away in 1983 (aged 96), she had been widowed for almost 63 years.
Gertrude’s slight stature belied her incredible strength and resolve and I am fortunate that she lived long enough for me to visit her, spend time with her, and most importantly remember her.
Everyone’s family history will include stories of remarkable people and events that have helped to shape our own lives. One picture can paint a thousand words – in this case, the image at the top of the page tells (in exactly 1,000 words) the story of two people who weren’t even in the photo.
This blog is dedicated to William and Gertrude Liddle, from your proud great grandson Richard, with much love x
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest