When we were young …

This amazing photograph, titled “Kids jumping onto mattresses” was taken by Tish Murtha in 1980, and rather beautifully encapsulates life growing up in urban Britain in the 70s/80s.

Youth Unemployment in Elswick

image by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

Notwithstanding the kid in the foreground holding the ventriloquist’s dummy (wtf?), the rest of the scene could have been from any summer in my early youth growing up in  an industrial corner of Yorkshire. We did that kind of thing to entertain ourselves – we climbed trees, rummaged through quarries for pram wheels (with which we would make and then race trolleys), and we played in and around abandoned, or semi-built, houses and burned out cars.


Elswick Kids, image by Tish Murtha © Ella Murtha, All rights reserved.

How times have changed. No longer would such a derelict house or rusty old car be left so blatantly abandoned and accessible like that. And no responsible, modern day parent would ever dream of letting their children loose, especially unsupervised, in such dangerous environments.

Through modern eyes, and with seemingly ever increasing levels of paranoia, we can see nothing but danger and neglect in these scenes, but with our 70s outlook we can see only fun, excitement, camaraderie and danger.

Back then, we climbed and fell out of trees, we played football on fields laden with broken glass strewn with (white) dog shit. And we jumped out of abandoned or derelict houses onto filthy, disgusting mattresses, before returning home, scruffy, scratched and grazed, starving hungry and totally and completely knackered. If it was Saturday we may have had a bath, otherwise our mums reluctantly washed our faces with a flannel, fed us a jam sandwich and sent us to bed. The next morning we would wake up, hurriedly get dressed and repeat it all over again, for six glorious weeks throughout the summer.

Should we return to those days? Of course not, that’s a bygone age and we have moved on. But looking back, none of us died, yet we did have immense fun and learned ever such a lot about the harsh realities and dangers of life, something I wonder if kids today in their sanitised, indoor, digitised cocoons, will ever get to experience?


Our friend Dave

Dave and I grew up together, we were part of a group that hung around in playground huddles – me (Rammo), Westy, Youngy, Hossy and Sykesy (Dave).  We went through infants, junior school  and then secondary school, and from the ages of around 6 to about 16 we were a fairly tight knit team.

I remember fondly going to Dave’s house one schoolday lunchtime when we were around 14, to listen to his Monty Python records – yes we were the kind of brats on the school bus that would recite the Election Night Special sketch with Tarquin Ptang Ptang Ole Biscuit Barrel. We also had a collective love for rock music and attended many concerts together in our teenage years at glamorous venues such as Sheffield City Hall and Leeds Queens Hall to see bands like Rainbow, Whitesnake, The Scorpions, UFO. We all wore wrangler jackets, we all had band names embroidered on the back. But Dave preferred a leather jacket.

We borrowed albums off each other, we talked about girls, we drank, and we did all the things lads do growing up together, but after O-levels things started to change.  Some of us went on to further education, some of us didn’t, some moved away and went to university, some stayed at home, getting jobs locally. Dave, despite having the intelligence to continue his education as far as he wanted, for he was as bright as any of us, stayed in/around Barnsley.

Fast forward to 2015, we were all 50, and we had a school reunion borne out of Facebook. Many of us hadn’t met for around 35 years and it was scary as shit, but it was also a beautiful moment, not least because most of us had appalling memories of our secondary school days at Kendray Oaks. It was a rough school by anyone’s standards, there was horrendous bullying and violent beatings dotted through our school years and many of us carried that baggage with us well into adulthood.

We all had people we were scared of, our own personal enemies, and there were always groups, ‘us’ and ‘them’ factions throughout. Most of us lads got into scrapes at some point or other, and many of the girls too. All of us in fact, except Dave. Dave was neither Ardsley or Kendray, Dave was Dave. At the reunion we all regaled tales of who we liked and didn’t like, and to a man (and woman) I think I’m right in saying everybody liked Dave.

Some people had forgotten me, some remembered me fondly, some remembered me then ignored me and this was probably true for everyone one on reunion night. Except Dave. Everyone knew Dave and everyone liked Dave.  I honestly can’t remember him ever having a bad word for anyone, or ever getting into any kind of scrape.  Whilst we hid in our cliques, Dave could walk freely between Ardsley and Kendray, knowing he had friends in both camps.  Dave was our bridge, he was our rock, he was what held us together 35 years on.

Despite some fairly serious health issues Dave was pivotal in organising the reunion. He helped sort the venue, he sorted the DJ equipment, he was also the DJ and he was the liaison between Kendray and Ardsley. I remember helping him set up the sound system for the big evening – he was clearly in a lot of pain but never grumbled. He could have easily let others organise things and everyone would have understood perfectly, but he didn’t. When it came to saying a few words, Dave threw the microphone to me, although I helped behind the scenes, Dave was the catalyst that brought us all together, but in true Dave style, he didn’t want any of the glory or praise.

In the photo below, that’s Dave and me at Scout Dyke circa 1981. I’m the gobby twat singing lead vocals and hogging the limelight, Dave is the cool dude playing bass with a snooker cue at the side. That was Dave – always there, always contributing quietly but essentially, keeping the music playing, but never, ever seeking the limelight for himself.


We all knew he was ill. I called in to see him on a trip up north earlier this year and he was clearly struggling but managed to wear his trademark smile and brave face. He told me he was fine, we chatted, reminisced, hugged briefly and I went on my way.

Dave passed away two days ago, aged just 51. He lived a private life, often alone, yet he had a warmth and compassion that connected and united many of us. It’s ironic that someone could live alone yet touch so many others at the same time.  Without Dave we had no reunion, without Dave I may never have become such a Monty Python fan, but I have so much more to thank him for – his warmth, his humour, his humility, his friendship.

I know I speak on behalf of everyone in the class of ’81 when I say this – we miss you Dave, you were all our best friend and no-one’s enemy and we miss you terribly.

Take care big man.

From all the class of ’81


Foie-Gras footballers …

Granted this is the Daily Mail, but strip away their usual level of sinister spin and crass veneer and you can still see the very real problem facing English football today.

Raheem Sterling on return from Euro 2016

And I don’t mean to single out Raheem Sterling. I’m sure he’s just one example of the elite clique that represent English football at international level, but this story neatly sums up the current problem we seem to be facing in the English game.

The mere fact that these players earn £180,000 a week says everything you need to know. No human being on earth needs that kind of money. I’m pleased Raheem spent some of it on a home for his mum, a fine gesture, but to video it, to upload onto snapchat (if that’s what he did), and to glory in it just a day or two after returning from the Euros, says to me that he is totally disconnected from the grass roots game of football in this country.

Whilst the rest of us English are still smarting from the disappointing, rather pathetic and lacklustre exit from the Euros, leaving us watching balefully (pun intended) at other teams like Wales and Iceland playing with a genuine passion, a demonstrable camaraderie and togetherness from shirts 1 to 11, Raheem’s making this little video vignette of vulgarity and uploading it to social media.

Such behaviour suggests to me the current crop don’t really give a shit. £180,000 a week, why should they care about anything?  The life of these Premier League rockstars is now so far removed from reality it almost feels like fiction. And the Premier League is the breeding ground, fuelled by Murdoch’s Sky it has become a Hollywood freak show, a grotesque distortion of the grass roots game of football.

Below that we still have the football league – the Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 – 72 teams, the majority of which still play the game the way the fans want it played. Money talks down here too, and it’s far from perfect, but money talks to a far lesser degree and the product is far more representative of what many of us think of as real football.

As a regular watcher of League 1 football this season, did I ever watch Match of the Day with envy and wish my club were in the top flight? Well, yes I did, but that’s because I want my team to beat other teams week in, week out. I am like every other football fan anywhere in that respect, what I am saying is I don’t want the Premier League in its current form, an institution so distorted by money that it’s ruining our national game.

As far as I am concerned the Sky funded Premier League should be cut free, pushed into the Atlantic and floated off to Hollywood where it belongs. Let me be clear, I don’t want us to lose, nor do I have anything at all against, the current Premier League clubs. There’s just as much tradition, fanaticism and passionate loyalty at Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal as there is at Notts County, Huddersfield and Exeter City. There is no difference in the make up of a Liverpool fan and a Barnsley fan. This isn’t a rant against any clubs, or fans, it’s a rant at the system, one created and fuelled by greed, one that solely exists to line the pockets of the few.

Our national team should be filled with our best players, and our best players should earn a fair wage, but not a grotesque one. Our best players should be as normal as possible but also hard working, hungry whilst hopefully also being delightfully talented. Look again at Wales, at Iceland, look at Leicester City, look at what a club like Barnsley can achieve. What happened in ALL these cases is that a team was built around passion, hard work, teamwork and certainly intelligent and skilled management. Teams that care, comprised of players that care, teams that believe, team that can defeat the odds, teams so passionate they almost burst with pride.

That’s what I want from my England team. The answer most certainly isn’t yet another corporate regime change at the management level. We don’t need a different manager who still conforms to the same FA template as the previous 10 managers, all who similarly failed to breathe life into a disparate collection of overpaid, Premier League celebrities.

What we need is a change in the top league if that’s possible. We need to stop force feeding ever more gold sovereigns down the gullets of our spoilt starlets in an attempt to create an even richer blend of grotesque, Foie Gras football. Or if we must do that, if we can’t stop that happening, round them up and put them in a circus tent and let people watch them on a pay-per-view channel.

I want my England team to be formed of players genuinely proud to wear the shirt, players desperate to win,players that bleed, players that hurt like us whenever they lose, simply because they care. Just like us.




A letter to my 17yr old self …

In response to A letter from my 17yr old self.


Dear 17yr old Andy,

Thanks for your letter. Well, here we are. We survived, we are still alive and kicking! The good news is we generally did pretty well. I’m not going to tell you the details as it will spoil it for you, but we get through, so keep on keeping on young man.

What I will say, is that those guilty pleasures of yours – singing in the band, making people laugh – they’re not just lusty and pointless, so don’t keep dismissing them. Those are beacons in the dark, sirens in the quiet still of night. Despite what you might think, they are your soul speaking to you.

I just realised that last sentence might freak you out. Sorry, let me rephrase. Those are the things that make you what you are. Reading your letter brought back many memories for me, how we believed and trusted unerringly in our elders, and by consequence, how we felt anything we experienced that didn’t align with them was somehow incongruous, somewhat deviant and unhealthy.

I remember now, thanks to your letter, how we lived our life by a set of rules devised purely by teachers, parents, lawmakers, guidelines always laid down in tablets of stone. Our success was measured not by happiness, but by how well we stayed on that path of righteousness as prescribed by ‘them’.

If I can offer one piece of advice, it’s to stop always looking to others for guidance – instead start to look inwardly at your self, at our self. You know that ‘gut feel’ you get, but always push back if it doesn’t conform to The Book? Well, stop doing that. Stop it now. Immediately. Listen to the voices inside – I bet that spooks you too? Don’t worry, I am sane of mind, I just see life differently, through a less filtered lens.

I don’t mean to suggest you ignore The Book altogether – there’s a lot of great and sound advice out there, advice that’s built on thousands of years of hard earned experience – but complement it with your own thoughts and beliefs. Believe it or not you (we) are unique, and we do have talents that would horrify you if I were to tell you them now.

And so I won’t tell you, for you must find them on your own, because the journey is the biggest part of any experience, not the destination. That obsession of getting somewhere, stop that too. Retune your beliefs, redefine your passions and act accordingly. Most importantly, stop obsessing with trying to define the end point all the time. Instead set the rules (your rules), and let your own moral compass navigate.

By the way – I still don’t get electricity, it just works, and the sooner you get comfortable with the fact that you don’t need to understand everything, the better it will be.

Forget destinations and just enjoy the journey, young man, just make sure it’s your journey and not anyone elses.


Me (2016)


Barnsley 3 Manchester United 2

18 years ago today, Barnsley beat Manchester United in the FA Cup 5th round (replay) at Oakwell. It was a sell-out and I couldn’t get a ticket so had to settle for watching the match at home with my mate Radders.  Remember this was 1998 and the internet was in its infancy and it was us fans that ran the only Barnsley FC Bulletin Board (BBS) back then. Pasted in it’s entirety is my match report from that evening (I didn’t have a blog in those days).


  • The Outpost is our local boozer in Barnsley on match days where we all used to meet up.
  • HRH was Radders nickname, he founded the website so he was royalty to us. He also lived near me, we were both 120 miles south of Barnsley this particular evening.
  • Mr Tuffers was a larger than life regular on the BBS, prone to baring his arse I assume.
  • E.I Addio and London Tyke were two regulars who are still going strong today.
  • AIRTyke is me, Mrs AIRTyke is my wife.

Apologies for the language, I was young and uncouth back then, not cultured like what I am now.

At 4pm I pressed the refresh button to see the Bulletin Board for the last
time. I must have pressed it 100 times, every time thinking there would be
someone, somewhere, offering tickets – someone must have to work or would be
ill, but there was nothing and I resigned myself to watching the match on SKY.

I called Radders and invited him round to ours for the evening. I called in at
Tesco’s on the way home to pick up a few beers and some nibbles, after all it’s not
every night that HRH comes round! At 19:16pm Radders arrived with a bagful of
Taiwanese beers and we settled down in front of the telly.

Our thoughts were with the crew in the Outpost, we both wanted to be there but we were determined to enjoy the evening. Sky coverage was excellent and we saw the boys lining up alongside the Man Utd team in the dressing room (now you don’t see that very often from Oakwell!).

The cameras scanned the stadium and as we saw the nutters in the Ora Stand and we both laughed out loud, as we imagined the camera panning across to Mr Tuffers who
would be baring his arse with ‘Ar luv mi tarn’ written across his bum cheeks … hehehe!

However, when the fanfare began and Neil Redfearn led the team out onto the pitch, the smile suddenly fell from Radders face, and I thought he was going to cry.

AIRTyke : ‘What’s up mate?

Radders (bottom lip all a quiver) : ‘Don’t take this the wrong way but I wish I was there and not here with you!

It was at this point, feeling slightly paranoid (you know how sensitive I am), I fetched the Tortilla Chips and a large jar of Salsa dip from the kitchen to cheer him up. It did the trick, we cranked open our second can of Taiwanese beer and sat back to watch the match.

As expected, end-to-end stuff – not the best Barnsley line-up in the world, methinks. Appleby at right wing-back and Scott ‘midget’ Jones at centre back were probably the two dodgiest selections in my opinion, but given the injuries, Danny could do little else. The Man Utd team wasn’t full strength but it certainly was not the team of youths everyone was predicting – was it 8 internationals?

Anyway, nine minutes into the game and Hendrie picks up a through ball and skillfully beats Schmeichel to give Barnsley the lead. Hendrie didn’t believe it was a goal, I thought it was offside but Radders didn’t and everything seemed to stop for a few seconds – surely the ref would blow, Barnsley had scored against the mighty Man U for heaven’s sake!! But no, the goal stood, I shook Mr Radders firmly by the hand and finished off my Taiwanese beer. It was now time to move up to the heavy duty German Weiss beer, a throw back to my teutonic past-life in Munich. Radders, who was driving, decided to make it his mission to finish off the jar of salsa dip – he was smiling again, maybe my house isn’t that bad, methinks… hehehe!

We all knew Man U would level before half-time and I was just saying to Radders how great it would be if we kept the lead, when Hendrie earned a free-kick. The kick cleared Pallister and May and lo and behold up popped Scott Jones to tap the ball with the bottom of his foot past an amazed Schmeichel. No more hand shakes, this was cuddles time, although we swiftly returned to our respective settees before wifey saw us!!

I was just thinking of phoning Mr Addio when, spookily, he phoned me! I could hear the singing and wished I was there, but it was great to hear Mr Addio’s croaky voice saying

We are f*cking tonking ’em! Wot woz Hendrie’s goal like? It looked f*cking stonking from here!

Moments later the phone rang again and this time it was Mr London Tyke:

Eyup AIRTyke, we’re missing you, I thought of you when the 2nd goal went in“.

It brought a lump to my throat to think of you lot at the game and taking time out to call l’il ole me and Radders at half-time.

Second half, the TV was now playing through the hi-fi speakers, I opened another wheat beer and filled Radders now empty bowl of Tortilla chips.

What a 2nd half! Wave after wave of United attacks and 11 minutes into the half, Sheringham scored with a deflection off Adie Moses (who could not be blamed and had another blinder of a game).

Now what odds would you have got on Hendrie and then Sheringham scoring first in both games? It was all gut wrenching stuff, Hendrie was off, Liddell was on, Markstedt went off, Sheridan came on (What!!! Why does Danny do that?). Barnsley earned a corner:

AIRTyke: ‘Don’t let Redfearn take it, he’s crap at corners, give it to Bullock!!

Redfearn crossed a perfectly weighted ball, midget Jones ran from Monk Bretton into the box and headed the ball into the roof of the net.

AIRTyke: ‘Aaaaaaaagh!! Aaaaaaagh!!!!! 3-1!!! Against Man U!!! Aaaaaagh!!! Redfearn corner!!!

Radders: ‘This salsa is really very tasty, my arse is gonna be on fire tomorrow!!

Big cuddles ensued, this time from the floor in front of the TV from where we watched the rest of the game (Radders had a little table for his dips!).  More beers, a tactical wee, a few more dips, Cole scores (10 goals, 6 games against Barnsley) – oh shit, this was surely going to extra time:

10 IF 90 minutes AND Man U losing THEN continue playing.
20 IF no goal after 5 minutes GOTO 100
100 Continue playing all night if necessary until the rich club score (I never was very good at programming, but you get my drift!).

My fears were unfounded, Barnsley had done it.  Even wifey joined the post match celebrations, more phone calls followed but not until Radders and I had a final big cuddle – HRH now smelling like a flame grilled Fajita, but I wasn’t gonna say anything.

In depth post-match analysis ensued :

AIRTyke : ‘We were f*cking brilliant!!’
Mrs AIRTyke : ‘Andy, stop being so vulgar, you don’t normally swear and we have guests!’

Radders : ‘Magic….. best Salsa I have ever tasted, any more Tortilla chips AIRY?!!’

Mrs AIRTyke : ‘.. and what’s all this AIRy stuff?’

AIRTyke: ‘ Nothing, he said Andy, – is that the baby crying?’

Sometime later I called Mr London Tyke who was now in the EI ADDIO passion wagon winging it’s way South, they were at Leicester and still had a long journey ahead. At 22:15, the Salsa jar was empty and Radders left to get home in time to watch the match highlights on ITV.

I opened another beer, watched the match again myself and just smiled, all night long. Scott Jones was  interviewed, his eyes are very close together, he looks like Beavis but he’s cool!

I awoke with a hangover the size of a small African country but it was all worth it. Newcastle next, now how do I get a ticket……?

This is what Phil Neville (Man Utd) and Dave Watson (Barnsley) said 18 years later:

Neville v Watson ’98 FA Cup clash: who came out on top? | Flashback


The School Reunion

It was 34 years ago when I left secondary school, and 32 years since I left sixth form college. As I lost touch with everyone when I headed off to university in 1983, that means it’s been at least 32 years since I saw anyone from my schooldays, and so you can imagine my nervousness as I went to my first reunion last night. Inside the pub there would be a small group of people, all of whom were between 16-18 the last time I saw them, and now were all aged 49 or 50.

I imagined the worst, I always imagine the worst. I worried about whether I would recognise them (although I had prepped by studying Facebook photos), and I worried if they would remember me. I imagined walking in and being met by a dozen blank faces attached to a dozen youthful, slim bodies that had cheated the ravages of time. I imagined in-jokes which I wasn’t privy to, memories and recollections that didn’t involve me, stories that were unknown to me. I imagined chatty, confident, bright sparkly people and I thought of how I would stutter over my words, finding little or nothing to contribute. I imagined being the outsider because part of me always felt that way at school. I wondered if I had repressed bad memories of school, memories that would spring forth the moment I walked through the door. Were there 10 bullies waiting to confront me for one more playground bullying session? Then there was my accent, I had lived ‘down south’ for all the intervening years and my northern brogue was softened at the edges. To southerners I had a northern accent, to northerners I had a southern one, I didn’t fit in linguistically anywhere, but here I was, on home northern turf, on their turf, more proof, if proof were needed, that I was the outsider. Why was I even here? I started to panic as I approached the door and had to muster all my strength and courage not to just walk away. I had lived without these people for 30+ years, I could do it for a few more surely?

As I entered the pub I saw small groups of people gathered at tables and instantly I panicked. I was looking at them and thinking to myself, ‘is that them?’ I flushed, and started to panic some more, but then in the distance I saw the group.  I recognised Dave first, he hadn’t changed much, here goes nothing.

My homework had paid off, I could put names to faces, we shook hands (boys), we hugged (girls). There were only four of them, I was the fifth and in that moment all eyes were on me. I seriously wondered if they were all looking at me and thinking ‘who the fuck is this old bastard?’ but then Dave said “Tha can lose that posh accent nar Andy”. I was in and I headed to the bar for a much needed pint of courage.

They all looked very familiar. Obviously older, but their faces, especially their mannerisms, hadn’t changed. Others arrived and the group grew, and along with it, my confidence.

Some faces were more familiar than others, although all were known to me and it felt nice. As time went on, drink helped melt away any lingering inhibitions and stories unfolded, memories were unearthed as synapses fired in the dark recesses of my brain for the first time in over 30 years. I wanted to chat with everyone, in detail.  I wanted to know where they lived, who they lived with, who they still knew from school. I wanted to know who had kept in touch with whom, and who, like me, hadn’t. People I hadn’t thought of for several decades were mentioned, brought back to life, brought back to my life, all wrapped up in newly found and rediscovered memories.

Best of all was meeting Dave and Andy again. Dave and Andy were in my gang, we did everything together from the age of about 6 to 16. We shared lists of our favourite girls, we went to parties together, we copied each other’s homework, we listened to records together and went to concerts together, we did most things together. And even though that all stopped for over 30 years, within seconds of seeing them it was back, just like it always was. The banter, the in-jokes, the nods and winks, the nudges of familiarity, it was all there just like it always had been.

At the end of the evening, when it was time to say our goodbyes, I felt a real sense of kinship, a bond, not just with Andy and Dave, but with all these people.  It wasn’t a great school, in fact it was pretty grim and shitty if truth be told, but we all got through it and had made something of our lives.  We shared a life as children, and we had a common string of mutual experiences that no-one else knew or understood, and that made us a special group.

All my earlier fears had been unfounded.  It was, in reality, a true and genuine pleasure to meet every single one of them again.  To renew friendships no matter how tenuous.  With 50 yr old heads on our shoulders and a lifetime of experiences behind us, I got the feeling we all felt better for this.  This was like therapy and it felt great.

I can’t wait for the next one now, bring it on.

Progress, what progress?

My Grandma had it tough.  She told me stories about her life as a small child with something like 9, 10, 11 siblings.  I’m afraid I don’t remember the exact number, but she often told me the story of how her dad would tell them that it was time for bed, and they all raced in unison upstairs with all the energy they could muster. Why? How odd! If I ever tried to get my kids to bed they resisted, rebelled, had tantrums, so why was my Gran and her brothers and sisters so conformist?  Turns out they raced to secure the middle part of the bed where you were warm, and safe.  On the edges of the bed, 9 children wide, the latecomer faced being exposed to the brutal elements, often pushed out in the middle of the night onto the stark cold, cockroach infested floor.  In the morning, when the light was turned on, there was a scuttling noise as the cockroaches headed for the dark recesses of the room.  You bet your fcuking ass they ran to bed. And let’s face it, listening to Winston Churchill on the World Service wireless ain’t no Beyonce concert on YouTube.

I can’t imagine that life my Gran had.  It fills me with dread and horror.  And yet I remember walking to school in deep winter, for miles.  I remember PE in the freezing cold, so cold I couldn’t do up my shirt buttons as my fingers were too numb. The PE teacher marched you into the communal showers and flicked your bare arse with his towel if he felt you hadn’t showered properly. He stood at the exit of the shower, watching, barking orders.  Sometimes he got the table tennis bat and smacked you so hard you had DUNLOP emblazoned on your cheeks for several days after.

When I tell my kids that, their reaction is similar to my reaction when I heard my Gran’s stories about cockroaches under the bed.  A reaction of incredulous horror.  How could life have been so stark?  My kids didn’t even shower after sports at school, it wasn’t seen as socially acceptable.  Life progresses, and life becomes more protected, softer, more cushioned, more safe, more predictable, more sterile.  This is progress after all. Studies have been commissioned that say hitting kids with table tennis bats is cruel, just like sleeping 9 to a bed is inhumane and is now more or less outlawed, consigned to the middle pages of the Daily Mail pouring scorn on the working class or foreign immigrants.  Progress.  How lucky we are these days.

And yet, sometimes I wonder if we are now really living. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss those showers, and I would never advocate smacking with ping-pong bats, but it was a life full of living, whereas life these days sometimes feels so sanitised, so protected. We seem, these days, to wander around in a kind of haze, a fug, conforming to an expected ideal, the modern ideal of modern living. We have all the trappings. I have a satellite feed, I have a broadband feed, I have unlimited, plumbed, sanitised water, I have electricity and gas, heat, as much as I can ever muster and more. I have a car and can afford to put petrol in the tank whenever I want. I have a large wall mounted TV, I have smartphones, tablets (prescription and electronic variants), I holiday in the sun, I occasionally ski, I have all that. I have become comfortable. And comfortableness brings freedom, freedom to choose from all these rich pickings at my table, all within arms reach. Progress. And if I as much as see another of God’s creatures in my house I whip out my credit card and call Rentokil who come out to destroy them with the latest man made toxins. Awesome.

But really, am I any happier, any better off, than my Gran was? Had my Gran been asked to predict what would life be like if it had been full of heat, light, cleanliness, more than you could ever imagine, she would of course have grabbed it with both hands. She would have probably imagined a life of unimaginable pleasures, a life filled with joy – parties, feasts, mass rallies of people, social gatherings, debates, more parties, unlimited travel, and yet here we are – with all these comforts, and what do we do? We choose to watch others through the medium of our televisions, our modern drug of choice. We surf the web looking for wheatgrass juicers or frictionless drawers for our kitchen. We watch, ostracised from others, viewing reality TV and becoming angry by the behaviour of the ‘celebrities’ within. We crave the life of our heroes – footballers that earn £200k a week, movie stars that have had surgery to keep them beautiful.  We desire the renovated house, we watch with green envy as the TV chef cooks a feast to astound and amaze their friends. We go to bed mentally exhausted, yet physically moribund, corpulent and unfulfilled.

My Gran went to bed exhausted, and if she wasn’t on the edge of the bed she grinned herself into a deep slumber, wiped out from a day of stark but real living.  She lived to a ripe old age too, and I remember seeing her on her death bed and I thought to myself, now that was a character, that was a life well lived, a life full of stories, of experience, of interaction.

And I wonder if we will feel the same.  Progress, what progress?

A new beginning, again …

It’s that time of year, the end of the year, my favourite time of the year.

As a child I always enjoyed moving bedrooms. I can’t remember why we did, but we seemed to do it with some regularity. Not mum and dad, they didn’t, but me and my brother did. It was a 3-bedroomed semi so the choice was simple – he took mine and I took his. The reason I liked it, is that the reasons underlying my motivation to switch rooms, are the same reasons I enjoyed starting a new exercise book at school, the same reasons I like the beginning of the new year – it’s a chance for a new beginning.

I got bored of staring at the walls of my bedroom, bored of the view out of my window, sick of the clutter I had amassed. My old school exercise book was messy, full of untidy scribbles, ink stained, error strewn.

A new bedroom meant starting again, a new exercise book was an opportunity to get it right this time. In hindsight it never worked. My new bedroom became, over time, just like my old bedroom – messy, cluttered, boring. My new exercise book just like the old one – still smudging the ink with my clumsy right fist, still getting answers wrong, still crossing out.

Now I am older, and a parent/adult rather than a child, I tend not to switch bedroom unless we move house, and I don’t use exercise books that much, and so the new year is my outlet, my way of serving this in-built desire for a fresh, clean start.

And yet what is strange, is that the pattern is alarmingly predictable. Every year I make plans, and every Jan 1st my head is buzzing, awash with new goals, targets and objectives for the coming 12 months. The resolutions do vary, a little, but are largely centred around health, family, work and personal development. And every single year I fail, often spectacularly, occasionally moderately, but almost always never reach any of my preset targets.

So why bother? People often ask me that, bemused why I haven’t grown up and out of this silly practice dictated and driven by the turn of a page on a calendar. Such nonsense.

And yet, as I get older, it seems to become even more important. Maybe as time becomes a scarce commodity, which means the future does too, I feel the need more than ever to plan my time properly. I wish I didn’t. I look admiringly at people who seemingly live life with gay abandon, meeting new challenges head on, as and when they occur.

It’s a double edged sword as this annual exercise includes a fair degree of reflection as I look back on the year that was, listing my faults, my mistakes, my failings along the way. That’s not a very uplifting experience and can be quite depressing, but that’s counterbalanced and wiped away by the thought of the new year – when I can start again and put right all those wrongs!!

It’s Dec 31st as I write this, and I am starting to realise I have so much to do in 2014, I just don’t know where to start. I have no list of New Years resolutions prepared and I feel sightly panicked. Tomorrow means I move into my new bedroom, start my new exercise book and start all over again.

But what will the view be out of my new bedroom window? What should I write in my new book?

Happy new year.

I warned you …

When I started this blog, way back in March 2012, I predicted, and in fact pronounced in the tagline of my blog, that it would become ” … tumbleweed within a month”.  I was wrong, it took just over a year before the tumbleweed rolled into town.

April 2013 was my last entry and it’s now November 2013, some 7 (seven) months on.  That’s how they do it on the football vidiprinter, for large numbers they spell the number (word) just in case you can’t believe your eyes.

Vidiprinter: Barnsley 7 (SEVEN) Huddersfield 1.  “Is that a ‘7’ or a ‘1’?  Was it a draw? Surely Barnsley didn’t score SEVEN did they??  But wait, if you look closer, they actually spelled it out S-E-V-E-N, it really is SEVEN-ONE to Barnsley!”

And that did in fact happen in November 1998, and this was the best goal of the match, no the season, no, ever:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UdBOgZPHLw  See, told you.

I tried to work out why that happened.  No, not Darren Barnard’s screaming volley, I will never understand why or how that ever happened, but rather why did I stop blogging? I had a year to get used to the fact my blog wasn’t going to set the world alight, and anyway my enjoyment came from the writing, not from the responses.  ‘Good job!’ I hear you heckle, but fair heckle, for indeed the responses were indeed spartan at best.  In fact if I had a penny for every response I ever got, I would have about 13p.  I’m guessing, I really haven’t counted but it’s a low number, certainly not one worthy of spelling out on the vidiprinter of “Blog response” scores on a Saturday afternoon, that’s for sure.

I changed jobs in February 2013, and then again in May 2013, and such changes are always quite significant.  On both occasions I had to adjust to commuting again after years of being a homeworker.  That was very significant.  Going from a 2-minute commute to a 4hr round trip commute certainly has an impact on one’s work/life balance.  Something had to give and I think the blog was probably a casualty, but is that really an excuse?  A long commute means a lot of down-time, a lot of sitting, surely there was time right there to do some blogging?  Damn you and your logic …

So what else changed?  Probably the biggest change (after commuting) was travelling.  My Feb 2013 job was entirely UK based, in stark contrast to the transatlantic jet setting life oft blogged about before.  In fact the May 2013 job was also UK based and involved no overseas travel .. until last month.  Last month involved a trip to New York. This month has seen trips to Germany, Poland and France, and more are planned. And here I am, blogging again.

I’ve said it before,  I love travel, in fact I said it at the very beginning of this blog. For sure I find it stressful, tiring, sometimes a little lonely, occasionally a bit scary, but I really do love it. It feels like it’s always meant to be there. My first ever job, way back in 1986, was an international job, and ever since I have gravitated towards international work.  It’s like the travelling awakens the blogger within.  Sitting on a BA plane isn’t that different from sitting on a First Capital Connect commuter train but it certainly feels different.  You feel part of a bigger world, you meet new people, you hear different news, encounter different problems.  You experience different cultures and hear fresh perspectives, and you see your self differently too, and I think it’s that essence of travel that sparks my desire to be more introspective and therefore to blog*, more than anything else. More than anything else in the whole wide world in fact.

*This blog was written on a Paris to London Eurostar train on 14th November, 2013.

A revolution in new year’s resolutions …

Part I – History

When I was a school-kid, I loved it when I finished my exercise book and needed a new one.

Me: “Eyup Sir! ‘Av finished me book Sir!
Sir: “Then get a new one Ramsbottom! Cupboard!
Me: “Aw nice one, thanks Sir!
Sir: “And put that bloody bird down!

And I would giddily run over to the bleak looking store cupboard and select my new, clean, shiny, blank, untarnished exercise book.  It was exciting, an almost spiritual experience. That first page felt so soft and spongy, with all those other cleanly ironed pages behind, cushioning it. Tactile-tastic. Writing your name on the front in best handwriting “BILLY CASPER, 3BG” before opening it up to that fresh, virgin, welcoming first page.  Time for your first words, “12th January, 1973, in the top right hand corner.

I probably wrote the date in a special colour. And then next came the title, best handwriting, “How I Spent My Christmas“, perfectly centred, underlined, (oddly capitalised?). My shiny new exercise book was so soft, so easy to write on. This book was going to be different.  A game changer.  This was going to be neat all the way through. Best handwriting ever. And it would change my life, or so I thought. This must be where the saying, “Turning a new leaf comes from?” I jauntily mused in a light humoured and good natured fashion.

And then you turned the page, side 2 of page 1, the hard, cold, bare, unpleasant and most difficult page of them all. Oh you could rest your old exercise book underneath to provide some cushioned support, but it wasn’t the same, not like those pristine pages cushioning page 1 side 1. And the old exercise book didn’t quite fit all the way to the spine and so what cushioning you had disappeared two-thirds along the line, causing your words to fall off a precipice into the abyss of mediocrity, unpleasantness and typical untidiness.

And that was it. The love affair was over. Ink now rubbed from the page to your hand and back to the page again. Blotchy, scratchy, untidy, side 2 of page 1 had ruined the entire exercise book from hereonin.

Me: “Aw Sir!!  Can ar gerranother Sir? Av mucked it up Sir!
Sir: “Do you think I’m made of money Casper? Do you!? Why don’t you sell that bloody bird and then you can buy another book, eh?  How about that!?
Me: “Fcuk you Sir
Sir: “What did you say Casper?
Me: “Err, ar dint seh nowt Sir!

A memory from childhood, but a recurring theme throughout life, in various differing guises. And in a similar vein, that’s why New Year feels significant now, much more so than Christmas ever will for me. January 1st represents a brand new start, a full reboot, a metaphorical clean first page in a new exercise book, side 1 page 1.

I relish the chance to start again, looking forward to New Years Day when I can put all these foibles, errors, mistakes in life, all behind me, to start afresh again. Having said that, I am still appallingly bad at keeping new years resolutions, and in truth I have stopped talking about them as it got quite embarrassing, often failing, sometimes epically, occasionally spectacularly.

For years I have been going to write a book. I could see friends’ eyes glaze over when I trotted this one out, drunk, on 31st December around midnight.  Usually that was a sign that my wife needed to sort me out, not just for my sake, but for everyone else’s, as it was a strong indication that I had crossed the rubicon and was about to tell everyone all my plans for the new year, again:

Gone midnight and then some, NYE, every year:
Me: “Sod it, I’m gonna jack in my job next week and write a book.  This is it.  A new start.  I’ve seen the light and I’ve had enough.  I’m sick of it, sick of leading a hollow life, a slave to the corporate machine.  I want to break free, I know … I’m gonna write a novel!

Friends: “Donna?  Can you come here a minute? Quickly!
Wife: “Oh, there you are.  Shall we take you to bed?  It’s getting late and you’re tired
Me: “Wait I haven’t finished, things are changing, I’m serious this time.  I mean it.  I’m lost in a lullaby, caught by the side of the road, melted in memories, sliding in solitude, I want to read by the moon
Wife: “I know you do.  And you’re all of those things, really you are, but you’re tired, why don’t you get some rest?
Me: “I love you .. and her … and him .. he’s my best mate
Wife: “That’s a microwave, come along, say good night to all your friends?
Friends: “Night Andy!  Sleep tight! Happy New Year!

My resolutions are usually thus:

– write a book
– change my job
– lose weight
– do voluntary work
– be less materialistic
– be a nicer person
– stop drinking

I have to admit it is getting a little boring, even to me, so I can only imagine what it’s like for everyone else, and sadly this year was no different. I couldn’t sleep as I made my plans for 2013, the list was forming in my head, this was it, I was adamant that this time it was going to be different after all, this was the year it would all change!

My list was revised and rewritten, it was much more pragmatic:

– forget ever writing a book you delusional idiot
– change my job
– lose weight
– do voluntary work
– be less materialistic
– be a nicer person
– stop drinking

So not a huge change then.

That my birthday happens to be 2nd January is somewhat problematic, as I often get drunk on my birthday, eating my take-away (birthday treat Chicken Dhansak) as I open my presents, which means stop drinking, lose weight and be less materialistic can be crossed off the list straight away, not even 48 hrs into the new year.

By the time January is completed, I’m usually left with “change my job” and “stop drinking”, and the whole resolution thing kind of fizzles away for another 11 months.

Part II – Present

The “stop drinking” resolution is a real pain.  I keep records and track my progress using a metric of “Alcohol Free Days” hitherto known as AFDs. In the 80s I used to note them in my paper diary, more recently I have developed sophisticated spreadsheets to track progress. I set targets – AFDs/year. In 1987 I achieved 32 AFDs, so just over 2.5 AFDs a month.  One year, 1991, I hit 100, over 8 AFDs a month.  They were my lowest and highest since records began, and they make pretty shoddy reading as I never once hit my target of 120 (10/month).

Over the last few years I changed tactics slightly and started to monitor Consecutive AFDs (CAFDs) on the premise that these were a) easier to track and b) healthier for you.  Someone once told me your liver starts to go into repair mode after four CAFDs, and that spurred me on.  I don’t want to know if that’s true or not, but it sounds good and it’s motivational.

Conveniently, four CAFDs also fits nicely into the working week.  Mon to Thurs means a mild liver detox and makes work a little more bearable ‘sans hangover’.  There was a slight problem though, as I usually got so excited at such a monumental achievement, that I got so drunk on the Friday, I undid all the good I had done over the previous four days. This ‘rebound effect’ is a bummer.  It’s like I have a new years resolution deathwish.

My wife is completely different.  For a start, she is only a light/moderate drinker, but if she ever feels she is drinking too much, she just cuts down. Instead of having two glasses of wine she has one, and I can only sit and stare in admiration at this alien concept of moderation. I can see it’s so healthy, and I am respectfully envious of people that can do that, but I know that if I open that bottle of wine, I finish it.  One glass is all it takes to sound the klaxons – PARTY TIME! LET’S ROCK! and before you know it, it’s 2am and I’m sat in the dark, in my underpants, eating Wotsits and playing Championship Manager on my iPhone.

Next day
Me: “I’m fed up, I’m never drinking again
Wife: “Oh really? Again? We’ve been here before though, haven’t we?
Me: “Yeah but, no but … no!  I mean it this time!  This time it’s for real! I’m never drinking again!
Wife: “Ok, by the way I found your underpants down the back of the sofa … inside an empty pack of cheesy Wotsits?
Me: {Awkward} {Embarrassed face}

2007 was a major milestone for me, I achieved 22 CAFDs which straddled Jan/Feb.  From 20th January to 10th February I was alcohol-less, and in so doing, I had achieved the longest CAFD run since records began.  One mistake I made was starting mid-January, so I lost the incentive as there was no symmetry to it.  I also remember we were invited to a neighbour’s for dinner on the Saturday, and I got all panicky and ended up drinking so much that I loathed myself for ending my record breaking CAFD run in such disappointing, crash and burn circumstances.  You can probably guess what happened next, suffice to say a fair few Wotsits were consumed.

So, onto today, January 24th 2013, which is significant for me as I have now gone 23 days without a drop of alcohol (CAFD = 23*).  And it’s symmetrical.  I haven’t had a drink since 2012.  I like that and it appeals to my Aspergers need for neat lines and numerical orderliness.  It even included my birthday, and it’s the longest I have ever gone without alcohol since I was a boy. Fact. On. A. Stick.

A shameful record for most adult humans, particularly a 48yr old human, but nevertheless a milestone for me personally. I do worry about the inevitable day when it all ends, so if you see me out shopping in the next few days, and I have a bumper pack of orangey coloured, cheesy flavoured snacks in my trolley, I suggest you duck down the next aisle and give me a wide berth.

Me: coming shortly (date: TBC)

* and counting …