What have you done today to make you feel proud?

In July 2004, London was sitting in 4th place out of the 5 contenders to host the 2012 Olympic games, but just a year later, on 6th July, 2005, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 Olympics to London.  I know exactly where I was at that moment. My eldest son was off school sick, he was tucked up in bed watching TV and I was in the room when a live news bulletin interrupted our viewing to announce the 2012 Olympics decision …

The London 2012 bid team had played an absolute blinder, and set in motion a series of events lasting more than seven years, culminating in one of the greatest Olympics ever held. It didn’t end with the campaigning, it was also in the planning, the preparation and the execution. Historically, olympic projects have always been beset with financial problems and delays, but somehow London 2012 was delivered on time (if not quite to budget), regenerating a part of London long forgotten to many, even those that lived in the UK and even those of us that worked in London.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Team GB athletes delivered the greatest athletic performance the country has ever seen.  For GB (~60 million population) to finish third in the medal table behind USA (>300 million) and China (>1.3 billion) was just staggering. It was as if the momentum of the successful bid and the enthusiasm the nation wore like an overcoat, somehow fuelled the athletes to also overachieve.

We had government funding and we had a willing public, not just the fans that filled every nook and cranny at every event, but also the army of volunteers who helped, supported and advised, from Heathrow in the west, all the way across town to Salford in the east.

Being British, national pride has often been tinged with guilt for me, as it often brings out an ugliness that seems to have its roots in our imperialistic past when Britannia was arrogant enough to believe she truly ruled the waves. The Union Jack has long been associated with extremism and thuggery, yet somehow at London 2012, the flag was reclaimed as simply the colours of a very proud nation.

London 2012 was a great example of humanity at its best and Britons at their finest. It wasn’t just about the medals, it was also about collaboration, about community, about belief and passion, about friendships, and most importantly about pride.

Fast forward four and a half years to 2016, the same people, but now divided, tangled up in a messy divorce from the EU. Much of that national pride has turned to anger and discord, and politics once again feels dirty and corrupt, no longer a lottery funded cause for the greater good. And unlike 2012, where we opened our borders and outstretched our arms to the world, post-Brexit, we seem to be once again pulling up the drawbridges and closing our doors, not just to outsiders, but to our neighbours too.

We seem to consume our daily news these days through gritted teeth and half closed eyes, wondering what on earth will happen next. We have a government which appears incompetent and ill prepared for Brexit and the challenges that lay ahead. Brexit seems to have beaten us down and created a disharmony that feels a world away from London 2012, and our 2012 passion seems lost in a difficult and uncertain 2016.

But it needn’t be this way.  National pride can, and should, be a force for good, free from any strain of politics, government or economic circumstance. And pride should never be about superiority. French people should be just as proud to be French, Americans to be American, Germans to be German, as I am to be British. London 2012 just reminded us British that we have a lot to be proud of, in the same way other nations should rightly be proud of their own achievements – achievements that should be openly shared and celebrated across a unified world, not envied in a divisive one.

Whatever happens in the coming months, post-Brexit, I’d like to think we in the UK can all regain our own sense of national pride, in whatever way seems fitting for us. Pride can be misplaced and misinterpreted, but it can also be a good thing when kept in context.

The following video encapsulates perfectly what pride meant around London 2012. It’s as funny and quirky as it is beautiful, and it’s joyously optimistic too. It portrays a better time perhaps, but one that can be reclaimed, even in today’s turbulent times.

And we don’t need our governments to do that for us, we can start doing that for ourselves, in whatever way feels right for us.

What have you done to make yourself proud today?

 

 

 

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.

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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
xx

 

A letter to my 17yr old self …

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

2016

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.

Love,

Me (2016)
x

 

If I could turn back time …

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I suspect this is a question which has piqued us all at some point:

If you had one turn in a time machine, where would you set the dial?

What a wonderfully indulgent thought, to be given the opportunity to set the record straight, to right that wrong, to write that book. Would you go back to last week to relive that argument with your best friend? Would you go back to your last job? Your first marriage? Back to school? Even back to the crib? Or as far back as the womb?

I’m tempted to say I would go back to being a baby and do everything again. I’d grow up eating healthy food, I’d pass on the deep fried spam fritters and 1/4 pound bags of kali (northern English word for sherbert) that undoubtedly rotted my teeth beyond redemption. I would have continued running, cross country running was my thing, I was good at it as a kid, as a teenager. I found running easier than walking, and I should have exploited that, not neglected it.

I would have been more confident, less shy. I would have asked girls out at school and I wouldn’t have turned down that kind offer from Jane T. in 1981. I was bright and fairly academic, but I wasted my education. Had I applied myself I would have certainly attained better grades and that in turn would have led to better career choices and more money and … and …

So many choices, how far back do I turn the dial? So many choices! However, university was probably my greatest tragedy – 3 years of drinking beer and very little else, probably the single, greatest downturn in my life, certainly the period I look back on with the most regret, and so that seems to be a good place to return to in my time machine.

But wait, I met my wife at University. The Butterfly Effect, borne out of chaos theory, tells us that infinitesimally small changes can have huge longer term effects. Had I not been a beer monster, I may have turned left into the library rather than turn right into the top bar at Essex University. Had I done that I wouldn’t have seen her, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the girl that rocked my world. We would never have married, and in turn, our children would have never existed, and that’s unthinkable.

If I step into that time machine, whichever point I choose to return to, I risk losing everything I now hold dear. The butterfly effect tells us that anything we do differently during our trip back in time, risks changing everything from thereon in. If I stop eating kali, perhaps I replace it with something else more sinister – I may have nicer teeth on my 2nd attempt, but perhaps I have a more addled brain. If I start running more in my second life, perhaps I end up at a different university, studying a different subject, and most certainly never get to the top bar at Essex University in the spring of ’82, and never actually meet that girl in the green combat trousers.

To imagine, or to wish for a different outcome from our past, is to risk changing everything going forward, including all that one holds dear. I don’t think we can pick and choose, we just act spontaneously and we must therefore live with the consequences of our actions. You pays your money, you takes your choice, and you have to accept all that comes with it.  I might wish I had better teeth and a flatter stomach but would I risk everything for that? To change anything about us is to change ourselves forever, and that has unintended consequences.

On reflection I think I’m OK after all, so I think I’ll pass on the offer of a spin in the time machine, thanks.

These boots were made for walking …

These Boots Were Made for Walking

The boots shown below are my walking boots. I bought them circa 1991, so long ago I forget their exact age, but I think they are dated ‘BC’ (before children). I was with my wife in the Yorkshire Dales, I think we were walking Malham Tarn that week, and we treated ourselves to brand new Scarpa walking boots.

It’s never a wise thing, some would say foolish, buying boots and walking in them straight-away, especially up and around Malham Tarn, but we were young and reckless back then. You’re meant to wear them in, gradual mileage at first, allowing them time to mould themselves to the unique shape of your feet to prevent chafing and blisters. We did none of that, we just put them on and walked and we were just fine.

In 1992 our first child was born and within 5 years we were a family of 5 and walking was soon a long forgotten pastime, replaced by visits to zoos, petting farms and the seaside. Nevertheless the boots made regular appearances over the years. Weekends in the country often involved a sturdy walk, carrying the kids in slings or backpacks.  Both sets of parents enjoyed walking and our boots always accompanied us on day-trips and weekend jaunts.

In 2005 I took my boots with me to the Himalayas for my charity Trek in India. We endured all weathers and all terrain and my Scarpas, already teenagers by then, behaved impeccably, never once letting in water or rubbing.  Friends with newer and fancier boots fell by the wayside whilst my trusty old Scarpas marched on proudly.

And then, in 2015, wild camping with friends in the Lake District, my 24 year old Scarpas marched their final journey. It was cold and very wet, we were trekking with 15kg rucksacks on our backs, often through boggy, sodden ground for 12 hours a day and I noticed my feet were wet, tired and blistered. In over 20 years they had protected my feet through all weathers, over many different terrains spanning North America, Europe and Asia, always uncomplaining, always doing their job impeccably and unflinchingly.

However, that wild camping weekend was to be their swansong. They could no longer keep out mother nature, they were tired and finally flagging. They had done their job and some. In an era when things aren’t designed to last, my Scarpas refused to comply, their ne’er say die attitude saw them through the most of the 90’s, all the 00’s and half the 10’s.

I have new walking boots now, and I like them, but I don’t yet love them. They’re just not my old Scarpas.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away and so I still have them now. In fact this photograph was taken this evening. They still sit out the back – wise, proud and loyal.

These boots weren’t just made for walking, they were made for me, and if it’s dry tomorrow I might just take them for one last jaunt down the lane, for old time’s sake.

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The idiocy of being me …

I’ve been set an assignment by my Blogging101 course, to ‘write a blog to my target audience, on any subject, but with an interesting twist’.

I immediately panicked, I don’t have a target audience…

Target audience -> all human beings

That feels a bit vague …

Target audience -> people like me

This is hard, really hard.

The Blogging101 students have a common room, an online chatroom. I’ve already been on there several times and seen that loads of people have already done their homework and this is just like school all over again, all those feelings I used to have, have come flooding back. I’m more obsessed by how far others have got on their assignments than actually doing my own, and the more I procrastinate, the bigger my crisis becomes.

And yet it feels ever so slightly comforting and familiar, like slipping into an old pair of jeans. Part of me likes being told what to do, part of me likes to rebel, I will do my homework assignment but not without a small drama, a quiet rebel yell, a Tim Henman-esque fistpump.

It’s getting late, but here I am, doing my assignment, writing about not doing my assignment. This is like a bloody John Le Carre novel.

And this is a picture of a twisty snake, next to Tim Henman, fist-pumping. Pretty interesting huh? My classmates are gonna love this …

 

twisty snakeHenman

Woe betide the squirrels …

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George became part of our family in September 2001. We bought him as a young puppy from a farm in Dorset whilst visiting Donna’s parents, and we all remember excitedly driving him home, George sitting in the footwell between Donna’s feet.

He had a tricky arrival due to him contracting a nasty dose of campylobacter down on the farm, but once that cleared up, and once we had cleared up(!), he very quickly became the family dog, from thereon in inextricably linked with the 3 young kids (partners in crime) and mum and dad.

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As a young dog he came everywhere with us in our 7-seater people carrier, his preferred position being centre of middle row, in between two kids and resting his chin on the armrest between driver and passenger – prime spot.

Like most dogs he loved the outdoors. When he was young he often came running with me, although when he hit middle age he got wise to recognising the running gear, and took to hiding under the table whenever I put my running shoes on. From that point on we stuck to walks, often long ones where he loved sniffing in the undergrowth, chasing sticks and swimming in the river whenever possible.

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For the last year or so he hasn’t been able to walk due to a steady decline in his legs/hips – a common affliction in ageing labradors, and in George’s case this was exacerbated by rather bad arthritis along his spine. Nevertheless he continued to enjoy life, albeit a much more sedentary existence which stretched no further than the back garden.

Recently even the garden became difficult. He was struggling to stand up unaided and we often had to wait for a hoarse bark to signal a request for us to lift him so he could stagger outside, but often we were too late …

The best thing about George was his personality – he had an unrelenting warmth and a 100% good soul. From day 1 he had kids climbing on him, sleeping alongside him, pulling him, pushing him, waking him, chasing him, brushing him – yet he never once got cross. He did growl, but only when he had a bone, and only ever as a gentle warning, but never, ever, did he growl or bite or frighten a child in all those 14 years.

He did however have a pathological and irrational hatred of squirrels. He could spot a squirrel on a garden fence from 100 paces, and would always raise his hackles, bark fiercely and run out into the garden to chase them away. He had no problem with pigeons or any other animal for that matter, but squirrels were definitely persona-non-grata, perhaps it was the bushy tail. Even recently, with failing eyesight, he managed to spot a squirrel through the window and his genetically coded vitriol sparked into life – he tried desperately to get up from his cushion, but he just couldn’t manage it. The soul was willing but the body wasn’t.

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Over the last couple of months we have had several family chats about what to do with George – a horrifically difficult family subject to discuss at the best of times, but nevertheless a very important and necessary one, and we finally all agreed that George had reached the point where he no longer seemed happy. He had lost that sparkle, that mischievous charm, that spirit that made him George. Life had become a struggle with very little, if any, upside for him, and so as a family we decided to call the vet to the house, George’s home, to release him from his pain. He was 14, around 98 in human years, and during that time he had lived a perfectly wonderful, happy family life. He had given so much love, pleasure and happiness to our family, and in return he had food, shelter and as much love and attention as a family of 5 could throw his way.

George was as perfect a family dog as you could ever wish for and we will all miss him terribly, but we have to be thankful for the 14 brilliant years he shared with us. We have a huge memory bank of experiences and happy times to fall back on and enjoy recollecting, a treasure trove of George stories that I am certain will continue to be regaled by the family, and by friends, for many years to come.

His favourite ever spot was sitting in the garden where he would follow the sun, keeping watch for bushy tailed rodents. And whilst local Sherington wildlife might now be breathing a sigh of relief, if there are squirrels in dog heaven they had better watch out.

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Dear Friend …

When asked the “Beatles” question, the cool kids always answer Lennon because he was the anti-establishment one, the protestor, the rebel … oh and of course he was the genius. And his legendary status was further underlined, as so often happens, with his untimely demise in New York in 1980.

In 1980, Lennon was elevated even further, from the ranks of rebellious young man, to martyr, becoming even more of an icon, a James Dean, a JFK – where were you when Lennon got shot?

Meanwhile Paul, George and Ringo – John’s support band, faded even further into the background.

As a kid growing up I loved The Beatles, initially it was the records my parents played, but as I reached adolescence I started to make my own choices, and it was Paul’s songs I (unwittingly) gravitated towards. This was long before John’s death.

Yesterday, Hey Jude, Let It Be -> McCartney
Strawberry Fields, Lucy in the Sky, Revolution -> Lennon

Six great songs, six true, timeless classics – three make you want to cry, three make you want to rebel. As a kid I really was a lover, not a fighter.

When I was a teenager Macca went on to form Wings, whilst John did his Yoko sit-ins writing solo stuff. Macca wrote pop songs and toured big stadiums, John stayed in bed and smoked dope. Paul was in love, John was angry.

The ‘Lennonites’ despised Wings more than they despised McCartney, for everything it stood for. And don’t get them started on Linda. Admittedly Macca did himself no favours post Wings with his poppy collaborations and frog chorusses, but I do think much of the Wings material was just as brilliant as much of The Beatles stuff. Much of the Wings material probably was Beatles stuff, but repackaged under the less cool brand of McCartney, yet it barely saw the light of day and certainly seems to have been left behind, consigned to the annals of history.

One track that stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, was ‘Dear Friend’, the closing track on the album ‘Wildlife’ which was recorded in 1971. I didn’t get to hear it until around 1978 when my brother brought the record home, but ‘Dear Friend’ had me on first hearing. I was only 13 yrs old and yet I was mesmerised by the simplistic beauty of this haunting song. I rarely listened to lyrics then, but ‘Dear Friend’ sounded really, really sad, beautifully sad.

“Dear friend, throw the wine,
I’m in love with a friend of mine.”

I was 13, I thought I knew what love was, but of course I didn’t. I did however know what unrequited love felt like, and this song was painting a picture for me, packaging it up and presenting back to me exactly what unrequited love felt like in musical form. It was perfect, and it made me want to cry in that nice way only beautiful songs can.

Years on, I now know this song was about Lennon, about Paul and John’s fractious relationship. It was Paul’s attempt at reconciliation and it remains as beautiful and poignant today as it did back then, over 35 years ago. Emotional lightweight? I think not.

I never was one of the cool kids, I shied away from rebellion, and I never ‘got’ John. Hey Jude is (in my opinion) one of the greatest songs ever written but Dear Friend isn’t far behind.

A letter to my 16 yr old self …

Summer, 1981

Dear Andy,

Hi, it’s you from 2015. Don’t get up off the settee, stay where you are and enjoy the cricket because things are about to change. Let’s cut to the chase – you know that nagging sense of guilt you have right now watching the test match? That sense of guilt you carry around with you and wear like a cloak? Well, it doesn’t ever go away, it continues to follow you around, so try and get used to it. Stop searching for answers as to why it’s there, because you won’t find any, it’s part of your DNA, sorry.

Also, whilst we’re being honest, you’re not that bright. Ouch, sorry, what am I like! How can I put this … you know how you’ve never really worked hard at anything at all whatsoever, but somehow you’ve always got by and done quite well? Well, that changes from hereon in too I’m afraid. You can’t just turn up any more, instead you have to plan and prepare things in advance, you have to invest time and effort in seemingly unpleasant tasks to get the desired outcome, weird as that must sound to you. Fundamentally, you have to earn any merit from now on. I know it’s a difficult concept for you to grasp aged 16, and I know you are struggling with it, so let me explain it a different way.

You know how you want to be a singer like David Coverdale? Well, David had singing lessons as a child when all his mates just wanted to play football.  He started singing in pubs and clubs when he was about your age and he had to lie about his age to sing in bands in clubs in the north of England.  He was booed off stage, had bottles of piss thrown at him, he was chased off stage and was skint for years travelling in a beaten up old transit van up and down and up and down the M1 for what seemed like eternity, long before he ever joined Deep Purple/Whitesnake and sang to thousands of adoring fans and made his fortune. Shocking as it may seem, he didn’t just practice singing in the mirror for a couple of weeks, using his mum’s hairbrush as a microphone, waiting for the phone to ring. Like you he had a dream, but unlike you, he worked hard to get that dream.

You know Kenny Dalglish? When he was your age he didn’t just want to be a footballer who asked his mum and dad for a football kit for Christmas so he could become one. He didn’t score a goal against St Dominics U-11s and decide he was ready to play at Wembley, no, he went outside every day in the wind and the pissing rain and he practiced his skills, kicking a ball up against a wall time after time after time until his toes bled.  He drove his parents and neighbours mad.  He played football against everyone and anyone he could. He played against older blokes who tried to kick seven shades of shit out of him, so he could get stronger and better. He played football at every possible opportunity, often sacrificing lots of other, more enjoyable things in the process.

You see Ian Botham at Headingley on your TV in the 3rd test match of the Ashes? He’s not there, playing the match that incidentally will go down in history as one of the greatest comebacks of all time by accident. He didn’t just arrive on the international cricket scene because he thought it might be cool, he did it because he was driven, he had ambition, had desire and bags of endeavour, as did Coverdale, as did Dalglish.

I know it’s shit 16 yr old Andy, but you can’t dream your way to success, sorry. It won’t just ‘happen’. Nor will you live forever. You’re mortal, dare I say it, and you’ll like this least of all … you’re pretty average. Ouch!

But hey, don’t be maudlin’ young fella mi lad, for there’s some good news! You see, you can actually be anything you want! You can be Coverdale, or Dalglish, or Botham, but, and it’s a big but, you will have to earn the right. You might not appreciate this, and I know you feel like this is a shitty stupid thing only old people say, but you really do have all your life ahead of you. Look at you, you healthy stick insect!

I’m not going to tell you what 50yr old Andy without this letter aged 16 turns out like, but it’s not at all bad, so imagine what 16yr old Andy can do armed with this advice? Get out there and make life happen, don’t let life happen to you. Life really is amazing, but only if you allow it to be. Make tough decisions and seize opportunities when they come your way. Don’t be afraid to stand up and fight for everything you believe in. Above all, and this is the hardest thing for you I know, but don’t worry what others think of you. You have an inherently good soul, so trust in it and wonderful things can and will happen.

Oh and finally, and there’s no easy way to say this, but you never did marry Steph Middleton, that snog at the Xmas disco last year, that was it I’m afraid.  But don’t worry, because someone even better comes along, so just hold tight and hang on in there and amazing things can and will happen, just so long as you work hard.

Yours,

Me, aged 50

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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.