Chris Brunt: Albion’s Hero, Albion’s Fall Guy

It’s Monday evening on the 28th April in 2008, I’m sat in a back room of a pub in Derby with a few University friends watching West Bromwich Albion play Southampton on TV. The season is so very nearly over, promotion is in our grasps and then it happens. Adam Lallana, not yet the name he is now, scores for Southampton. Celebrations are muted for the time being, it seems. Albion had dominated for large periods, but just couldn’t find the back of the net…something so unusual for a team that ended the season scoring 88 goals.

But here we were with less than 15 minutes to go, losing 1-0 to a team fighting relegation. “Typical Albion” is something I would have undoubtedly muttered under my breath.

Albion continued to push on after the goal, desperately looking for an equaliser. A draw would essentially clinch promotion; only an absolutely incredible turnaround on goal difference on the final day would alter that. Attack, attack, attack…Tony Mowbray’s Albion knew no different approach. A ball got played over the top on the right wing, a cross comes in, Luke Moore just about misses the connection on his attempted header and the ball lands at the feet of Chris Brunt who had come off the bench in the second half. Control, shoot, goal, eruption.

West-Broms-Chris-Brunt

My pint went flying, the scenes I could see on the TV at The Hawthorns were spectacular…fans fell over the advertising hoardings, I actually fell over my chair. Chris Brunt was the man of the moment, ending his first season at the Albion by winning promotion. It was an iconic moment and the first real landmark moment of Brunt’s Albion career. A hero was born.

Just a little over 10 years on, Albion are back in the Championship and Brunt remains one of the key members of the team. This Wednesday (3rd October), the Baggies will travel up North to face the team that they bought Chris Brunt from for £3m, Sheffield Wednesday. If Brunt plays, which he most likely will, it’ll be his 376th game for the club, a feat only beat by a few other players.

Chris Brunt has, for lack of better word, often found himself at the brunt of any criticism aimed at the club in recent years. As captain for several years, he was the face of the club and it was a club that was generally moving away from it’s fans. The business side mattered, not what the fans wanted, and it told. Decisions at board level, senior management, were detaching the club from the people that followed it. Brunt, not shy to put himself forward, often found himself a fall guy. Unfair criticism was aimed at him and it culminated with a coin being thrown at him from an Albion fan after a 3-1 loss to Reading in the FA Cup in 2016.

This moment was met by anger from the majority of Albion fans that understood that Brunt was one of the few players that actually seemed to care about the club, and appreciated the years of service he had put in. While the club continued to gradually detach itself from it’s previous “family club” values, Chris Brunt was genuinely one that tried to keep the connection and this was how he was repaid.

But still, Brunt stuck with it. He knew that the coin throwing incident wasn’t a fair representation of the Albion supporters with a number of fans putting together and raising money for a charity of Chris Brunt’s choosing after. He kept playing. He wore his heart on his sleeve and he tried all he could before being hampered by injuries, one of which ruling him out of the European Championships with Northern Ireland.

Brunt’s character shone through during the relegation season last year. Passion and fight took over and, at times, he ran the games. In a team that looked half arsed, he stood out as one of the few that genuinely cared. For many younger West Brom fans, Chris Brunt is West Bromwich Albion. And for many older West Brom fans, Chris Brunt is a reminder that loyalty does still exist in football, even in this modern era of fame and greed.

brunt celebration.jpg

So why then, is Chris Brunt under so much criticism this season? Featuring in most matches so far this season Brunt is still one of the more consistent passers of the ball in the team with a pass completion rate of 77.8% so far but there are constant calls for him to be dropped. I have been in the party myself calling for a change in the team and to see Brunt on the bench instead.

Playing alongside Jake Livermore in the centre of midfield, Brunt has often found himself as a weak part of the puzzle. The partnership of Brunt and Livermore is questionable. Both more than suitable players but they just haven’t always gelled. It’s got better as time has gone by but, overall, it’s still not a partnership that breeds confidence.

Chris Brunt’s range of passing is, and always has been, superb. His left foot is remarkable and by playing him in the centre it is entirely plausible to consider Brunt as somewhat of a ‘Quarterback’, trying to construct attacks from the back. However, it begins to fall down when the player next to him lacks the energy to be box to box, and is practically demolished when the defence behind struggle to do the basics. Brunt, again, becomes the fall guy and none of it is really his fault.

It’s a strange time at the Albion. Results are going brilliantly, and a win against Sheffield Wednesday will see the club return to the top of the table. However, the performances are still inconsistent; it’s still a club trying to find it’s feet, resting on the potency of a superb forward line to help get the results. Darren Moore, still sitting on an incredible win ratio, is still learning and, although results have been good, shouldn’t be made free of any criticism of decisions made by him. It is possible to enjoy the ride but still see the flaws.

brunt and mozza.jpg

At some point, Chris Brunt will have his testimonial at the Albion…most likely alongside James Morrison…and it should be a day steeped in celebration. He is a modern day icon, certainly for supporters of my age group, and he deserves to be treated like one. Playing him in a central midfield role, with the flaws that do exist in this squad, is heralding the murmurs of “We should have moved on from Chris Brunt a few years back.” The partnership of Livermore and Brunt is improving slowly, but it needs to improve more to quieten the crowd…myself included.

Ten years is a long time in football. I still remember that goal against Southampton like it was yesterday. I still remember Brunt’s wonder goal against Villa, the free kick against Everton. I just hope that, regardless of any criticism he may get, that these are the moments the fans remember him for when he does eventually depart and not as a player “that stayed too long.”

And if Chris Brunt is able to do what Chris Brunt has done several times before and make people eat their words, then nobody will be happier. There’s still a moment or two for him to create just yet.

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Songs That Changed My Life – Pt.1

Songs are powerful. They have an ability to change emotion, an ability to make people feel safe, an ability to make people move and even, sometimes, the ability to make people stop altogether. There’s nothing else really like it.

I think that for every person there is at least one song that they can go to that, regardless of how many times they hear it, they’ll always love. It can be for any reason, too; it may remind you of a loved one, it may remind you of a holiday…it may just have an amazing guitar riff. Whatever it is, you are emotionally tied to that song. Whatever meaning it has to you, it belongs to you. That song, written by somebody that you may never meet, is an important part of your life.

This will become the start to a run of features I’ll do on my blog regarding the songs that are important to me. “Songs That Changed My Life” is titled so because, in some way, each of these songs did just that.

The first song I will talk about is one I have mentioned on this blog before, and the one song that means more to me than any other. It helped me to deal with grief, and it gave me the belief that I could “come back”.

The song is ‘Machines’ by Biffy Clyro.

simon neil machines

The first time I heard ‘Machines’ was on hearing Biffy’s fourth album, ‘Puzzle’. I’d been blown away by the album – it may have lacked the quirkiness of the first three albums but the songs were so strong and it sounded so huge that I found myself in love with it pretty much from the off. I’d always loved Simon Neil’s lyrics but on ‘Puzzle’ it was different. These were honest lyrics, these were the strongest lyrics Neil had written.

I was part of the Biffy Clyro fan forum when ‘Puzzle’ was released. Everybody knew that the majority of the album was about Simon Neil’s Mum passing away and the immediate song that highlighted that was ‘Folding Stars’ in which Neil sings, “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you ’cause it’s not getting easier.” It is such an emotional song and the message was abundantly clear. For many, it was the standout song but for me it wasn’t. Initially, the song I was hooked on was ‘Get Fucked Stud’…it just rocked. It still does.

As time went by and Biffy started to grow in popularity, I decided to introduce one of my new Uni mates to the band. I lent him ‘Puzzle’ and he later came back to me talking about how powerful it was – saying that ‘Machines’, the album closer, had him in tears as he thought about his Granddad, who had not long passed away. I’d always liked ‘Machines’, I loved playing it on guitar, but I wasn’t tied to it and didn’t appreciate it as much as some of the other songs on the album. I think, at the time, I just wanted loud music and ‘Machines’, a beautiful acoustic song, wasn’t top of my list.

As time went by, ‘Machines’ slowly became a favourite. Due to my Uni mate talking about the song and his emotions towards it, I’d focused a bit more time on it and grew to appreciate just how much of a truly powerful song it was. I also felt like I finally understood the hope it tried to present in the lyric, “Take the pieces and build them skyward.” I felt like I finally ‘got it’ but, in reality, it wasn’t until the passing of my own Mum that I honestly did ‘get it’.

Mum passed away very suddenly. None of us expected it, we couldn’t prepare for it – we had five days of hospital and that was it. She was 55, a really young age, and it was really tough to comprehend what had happened. There was no way to understand it. It was life being life, and it was life being incredibly cruel. Personally, I didn’t really know how to deal with it and unfortunately ended up suffering with anxiety/panic attacks and, essentially, sinking within myself. It’s a weird thing…I’m the first to say to people they need to talk to others but, in this instance, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to discuss my emotions with family because we were all feeling it; and I couldn’t face in to talking to friends. I was hiding.

I remember the first time I listened to ‘Machines’ after Mum passed away. I was in the shower and had my music on shuffle and the live version from Wembley started. The song had taken a whole new meaning to me. The opening lyrics, “I would dig a thousand holes to lay next to you, I would dig a thousand more if I needed to” just had me. And the chorus; “I’ve started falling apart, I’m not savouring life. I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive” connected to me like never before. I related to them…I felt them. This was my life at this point.

In the five days spent at the hospital with Mum she was asleep the whole time. We knew the likelihood of her pulling through was incredibly slim, despite the amazing efforts of the doctors and nurses at Papworth Hospital, but we still held hope. I’d sit with Mum…we all would…and we’d talk to her. I just hoped that she could hear anything we were saying. More than anything I just wanted her to wake up and tell me to stop being so soft.

The second verse of ‘Machines’ always takes me back to those days.

“Crazy as it sounds, you won’t feel as low as you feel right now.
At least that’s what I’ve been told by everyone.
I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go…
Take the pieces and build them skyward.”

In that shower, listening to those words, I broke down. No song had ever made me cry before but ‘Machines’ did. I realised that I’d never understood the song properly until now…I’d wished, really, that I’d never had to understand it…but here I was, 28 years old, crying in the shower to a song by my favourite band.

The final lyric to that verse, also the final lyric to the whole song, have become the most important lyrics that I know. Everybody deals with grief differently; some people just carry on, some really struggle. As sung in the chorus, I felt like I had fallen apart, I wasn’t enjoying life…but those lyrics helped remind me that life isn’t always bad (“I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive”). “Take the pieces and build them skyward” gave me a sense of hope that I could pick myself up. If I had fallen apart, fallen to pieces, that lyric was my motivation to pick those pieces back up and rebuild. They encouraged me to find myself again. There are no other lyrics that have ever done that to me.

‘Machines’ is more than a song to me. It’s a reminder of the worst time of my life, and a reminder that from the despair, the grief and the darkness you can build yourself back up.

(You can listen to the song – the Live From Wembley version – here)

Birth, Anxieties and Facing In To Mental Health

Pixar-Post-Inside-Out-Joy-Cheers-Up-Sadness

There was a moment in the aftermath of my son being born whereby all the midwives and nurses had left the room allowing my fiancee to have a shower and for us to have the first time alone as a family. At this time, I’d never really held a baby for that long. I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable holding a baby in the past and I was extremely nervous about holding my boy for the first time. Basically, I didn’t want to drop him.

I imagine it’s a fear that many new Dads have. The thoughts of “will I balls this up?” are always there, ever present, planting seeds of doubt. I had a moment of guilt. I’d watched a baby be born (a baby weighing over 10lbs at that), I’d seen the enormity of what the female body goes through during delivery and here I was, thinking, “Adam, don’t drop the baby.”

Fortunately, I didn’t. For the first time in my life I felt genuinely comfortable holding a baby, my baby, and immediately I was besotted. Here in my arms was a purple (he was a big lad and he came out quick), perfect little boy. My fiancee, once everybody had left the room and we’d had a few minutes with our son, got up and went to have a well deserved shower. I had my first bit of alone time and faced, for the first time alone, tears.

On birth, he didn’t cry. The only cry we had was a solitary cry as he was passed in to his Mother’s arms. Nothing else, really, until this moment. I’d gone from hoping I wouldn’t drop the baby to suddenly thinking “What do I do now?” I kept thinking of the few antenatal classes we’d been to and it popped in to my head that the nurse doing the classes said, “You have to think, these babies have never seen a face, never been outside, not seen anything…it’s initially probably very scary for them being away from the womb.”

I held him close, gently rocked and instinctively started going “sshhh” and whispering a made up song (tired, jumbled words about the world being scary but it’s okay and we love you…or something) before just repeating “It’s okay…it’s okay…” as he fell to sleep in my arms for the first time.

This would turn in to what I’d do (minus the made up song…although they’d still sometimes creep out) every time our boy was crying and I was on duty to comfort him. “It’s okay…it’s okay.” Sometimes it worked, other times it wouldn’t but that’s babies. We’ve been lucky because our little boy is, for the most part, seemingly very happy and that’s absolutely brilliant.

As a new Dad, I’ve started to look at things in life a little differently. My priorities have changed completely. Life has changed completely. It alters your perception on some things, too. You start to look to the future, thinking about what it will be like, not so much for yourself, but for the child. Some of my biggest anxiousness now hangs around the world my little boy (and soon little girl) will grow up in to. Things are so different to when I was younger, and because of that ‘unknown’ factor it sometimes terrifies me. These are parents’ anxieties, I have learned. I have no doubt that when I am 62, and our little boy is 32, I’ll still have similar anxieties.

One thing that has arrived since I left school is social media. We live in an age where people do their best to present an almost false life on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It can be dangerous, it can lead to bullying, narcissistic personalities…but, it can also be good. Fewer days highlight that more than World Suicide Prevention Day, that we had on the 10th September.

Twitter was awash of people sharing their stories and their experiences. Words to help people, let others know that they are not alone and there are other options. Several of my Facebook friends shared posts. The main statement always being “It’s okay, not to be okay.”

It made me think back to my son’s first day when I sat gently rocking him whispering, “it’s okay”, over and over. It made me think of the amount of times I’ve comforted anybody and said either, “it’s okay” or “it’ll be okay, things will be okay.” It’s the ‘go to’ comfort comment, but, I wonder, how many people saying those things actually believe things will be okay? And, more importantly, how many of those people we comfort by saying “it’s okay” actually think it is okay and things will get better? I fear sometimes that we dismiss mental health too quickly by saying “It’s okay not to be okay” when really we should say “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.” There is a worrying lack of real support for those that suffer with mental health, waiting lists can be huge – by constantly telling people it’s okay to not be okay are we potentially risking people ignoring their mental health and shrugging it off as “one of those things”?

I’m as guilty as anybody for shrugging off my own mental health. I can think of times when I have seriously struggled, but not done anything because I’ve taken the stance of either “I’ll be okay” or “this is just normal”. The worst time for me was, without doubt, the passing of my Mum. I remember being sat with my Dad in a hotel when she was in hospital and feeling my chest getting tighter and tighter. It carried on for some time and when we got home I went to the doctors and ended up being given an ECG. It came back normal and it was explained to me that I was probably having anxiety attacks. Nothing more was done because at this moment in time it was okay not to be okay. Of course it was. But the months after that? In the August of that year, 8 months later, I went to the doctor regarding my stomach and got diagnosed with stress related IBS – we talked about my Mum, briefly, before the doctor talked to me about other doctors suffering the same condition. I remember him saying “It’s one of those things, unfortunately, it affects the best of us.” It’s okay not to be okay.

I’m not meaning this as an attack on the people that say “It’s okay not to be okay”. For what it’s worth, I completely agree. I do, however, think it’s fair to worry that we normalise it as being something it is not. I think about friends I’ve had, some I’ve lost, and I wonder if they hadn’t faced in to their own mental health issues because they also dismissed it as a bad day. We need to do more to make people aware of what is out there to help. Yes, we do need to let people know that it’s normal to not feel well, it’s normal to have moments where you struggle and that it can be brought on by almost anything or nothing at all.

But we also need to know when saying “It’s okay”, as I did with my young lad on his first day, isn’t enough.

Car Park Celebrations and the Joy of Darren Moore

Sunday 21st April 2002, West Bromwich Albion are playing Crystal Palace at the Hawthorns. It’s the last game of the season. A win and Albion are promoted to the Premier League, putting them back in the top flight of English football for the first time in 16 years.

I was 15 when that game took place, with all my Albion supporting life filled with watching us lose to Stoke (all the time), struggle against teams like Port Vale and Stockport, and toy with the fear of relegation. The team I started supporting in the Nineties, managed by Alan Buckley, were not good…but they were my team. I’d never expected this day in 2002 to come.

I spent the game not at the Hawthorns, but instead sat in my Dad’s car in a Tesco car park in Great Yarmouth. The September prior we’d moved to Lowestoft, so didn’t go to quite as many games. I remember listening to the radio and Wolves, who we’d raced ahead of after being 11 points behind them in March, took an early lead against Sheffield Wednesday. Pressure was on…Wolves were the only team that could catch us and how typical of Albion it would have been to catch up from 11 points behind to lose out on the last day…nails were getting shorter, the car was becoming unbearably hot.

And then it happened. Goal for Albion. Both me and my Dad jumped out of the car and started jumping up and down screaming with joy, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re going up!” People off to do their weekly shop looked at us like we were insane. We definitely looked it. Dad went up to one of the people going by and said, “It’s okay. We’re Albion.” And I remember thinking that they had no idea what he was talking about.

We went on to win 2-0, and Wolves drew 2-2. I remember after the match hugging Dad, both of us absolutely jubilant, and walking around the shop looking for Mum feeling like nothing could knock me down. I was so proud. I was so happy. All my mates had supported Villa, Manchester United, Liverpool…they’d not watched the struggles I had, they’d not been through the pain of watching your team lose to Crewe Alexandra on a cold winter’s night…and that just made it better. This was years in the making, the reward to the hard work.

The second goal was scored by a man that was already an Albion legend, Bob Taylor. The first, the goal that started the party, came from a defender we’d signed at the start of the season. He’d gained a bit of a cult like following, people loved him. He was massive, he was strong, and he had, apparently, a resemblance to a character from the Pot Noodle advert called Big Dave. His name was Darren Moore and, just like that, that goal transformed him from fan favourite to a set in stone Albion icon. A legend, a hero…a loved man.

Fast forward to Saturday 1st September 2018 and Moore is now the head coach at Albion, having got the job after impressing in a caretaker position and almost…ALMOST…pulling off a miraculous second ‘Great Escape’.

Moore has now been in charge for 14 games, winning 8, drawing 3 and losing 3. It’s a win percentage of 57.1%. It’s a brilliant star for any manager, let alone one who is getting these results in his first job in charge.

Despite that, Moore still has doubters. And, when you consider the points sensibly, you can understand the concerns. Despite a great start to managerial life, Moore’s inexperience does creak through. In searing heat, Moore will only use one substitution even though it can be painfully clear that a number of players are exhausted. He persists with a central midfield of Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt, both good players but not great when playing side by side. Game management comes across as a bit weak, we still concede late goals on a regular basis.

However, despite this, Moore has still been getting results. In the Premier League he oversaw Albion beating Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford, today he constructed a 2-1 win against Stoke. The playing style we’d become so used to at Albion over the years – a style that drove me to stop going altogether – has changed. We look, at times, genuinely exciting. And yes, sometimes it doesn’t work. Even in games we dominate, the defence sometimes looks so unstable it threatens to cost the game. But overall, the football is better.

The club spent three years losing it’s identity. Now, with a club hero in charge, they’re getting it back.

Every time I drive by that Tesco in Great Yarmouth, I think about that day in 2002 and smile. Darren Moore will always have a place in my heart because of that day, too. His time in charge of the club, regardless of how it goes, won’t ever change that.

And the more I think about it, even with my own criticisms of some of his decisions, I’m glad Moore is in charge at Albion. He’s helped me love the club again. It’s not always perfect…it never is perfect…but it’s Albion, it’s my Albion.

And if Moore doesn’t succeed over the season, so be it. But if he does continue to get the results, and it does go well, then there is nobody I’d rather have in charge at the club.

Trapped In The Night Garden…

night garden“Igglepiggle, iggle onk, we’re going to catch…the Pinky Ponk.”

Derek Jacobi’s voice echoed around the garden and the slow drumming “honk…honk” sound of the Pinky Ponk filled the sky. I have been trapped in the Night Garden now for three days.

I’m still unaware of how I got here. I had gone to bed, it was a Friday night, and the next day I found myself lying on a patch of incredibly green grass, surrounded by tall trees, awoken by the booming voice of Derek Jacobi. On the first day I had kept myself hidden from view and watched from afar as Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka went about their duties, seemingly instructed by Derek Jacobi – who I have come to understand is some sort of overlord here.

Back then, I believed I had woken in a dream. But then I fell back to sleep, lying down with my back arched within the wedges of the stump of a tree. Surely if it had been a dream I would have woken up again in my own bed? Instead, I was again awoken by Derek Jacobi’s voice; the alarm clock of the Night Garden. I wondered if I have died and this is actually Limbo, my soul and body waiting to be taken away elsewhere. Typical that it would happen on a Friday night, not even allowing me to enjoy my one last weekend. But I felt alive, I could still feel things…there had to be another explanation.

On the second day, I began to realise the true horror of the Night Garden. I decided to walk stealthily around the Garden, not yet ready to approach the characters I had seen. I found some puddles, but couldn’t find any real water source. I struggled for food – the only way I could eat was by pulling leaves off branches and hoping that they tasted ok. The thirst was crippling. In the end, I went back to a puddle and risked it. I knelt by the side of the puddle and just cupped water in to my mouth. Remarkably, it tasted clean – like mineral water straight from a bottle. And then I saw one. A Pontipine.

It was so small, and looked like an old fashioned wooden toy. It’s pitch black eyes seemed to widen and suddenly it started rocking in an almost deranged fashion, squealing “mi-mi-mi” in a high pitched tone. It moved away from me quickly, now screaming “mi-mi-mi” at what must have been the top of it’s lungs, if it even had lungs. I darted across the garden, found what felt like a quiet area crowded heavily by trees and I hid. By now I could hear what sounded like numerous cries of “mi-mi-mi” coming from a number of different Pontipines. The “honk…honk” sound of the Pinky Ponk had begun to travel throughout the air, the jingle of Iggle Piggle became violently constant, Upsy Daisy was shouting her name louder than I’d heard her do so before, Makka Pakka was cycling around lifting and moving rocks as he went. They were looking for me. But why?

Then I heard a cry. This wasn’t one of the characters, I thought, it sounded human. I witnessed for the first time Iggle Piggle change in size. He was now gigantic. He pointed over to the other side of the garden, sounded a couple of squeaks, and suddenly all the characters gathered together looking in to the trees. The cry had turned to screaming. I could hear a male voice screaming “Get off me!” but I couldn’t see anybody. The Night Garden characters stood motionless, Iggle Piggle still standing above everybody else, pointing at the trees. “Who do we have here?” came the voice of Derek Jacobi. “It’s the Tombliboos!”

Three Tombliboos came from the trees; Tombliboo-Unn, Tombliboo-Ooo and Tombliboo-Eee. Tombliboo’s Unn and Ooo were carrying a man, Unn holding his arms and Ooo holding his legs, with Tombliboo-Eee skipping ahead of them. The man was thrown in front of Iggle Piggle. The other characters circled around him. He wasn’t screaming anymore, but he was sobbing and he looked terrified. I had no idea what was happening. Iggle Piggle pointed to the trees and five gargantuan inflatable looking shapes slowly appeared. It was the HaaHoos.

Derek Jacobi’s voice sounded, “Igglepiggle, iggle onk, we’re going to catch…you.”

The Night Garden characters moved in on the man and started to smother him. The screams from the man were deafening, and then a loud cracking noise followed by silence. I could see blood splattering in to the air. The HaaHoos started making a boinging noise, and the three Tombliboo’s took tippee-cups full of blood over to them. Going to each HaaHoo, the Tombliboos placed their tippee-cups to their inflatable figures, blood draining from each cup with each HaaHoo growing in size. The Pinky Ponk flew back over the Garden back in to the trees. A weird looking train, the Ninky Nonk, came through the bushes. Makka Pakka shrunk in size and got on, leaving the rest of the group in the Garden.

Five minutes passed. The HaaHoos began to move back in to the trees. Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, the Tombliboos and the ten Pontipines all stood in a line. The bright green grass was now painted in blood, there was blood spattered all over the faces and bodies of the Night Garden characters, but there was no body on the floor. The man was no more. Makka Pakka cycled back in to the Garden on his trolley called the Og-Pog, clean from any blood. Makka Pakka grabbed the sponge from the front of the Og-Pog and started to clean all the characters and the floor. Within minutes the blood was all gone, as if nothing had happened. The characters started to dance together.

The Pinky Ponk honked it’s horn, and the characters started to disperse to their own separate areas. All of them, except Iggle Piggle.

“Wait a minute…somebody’s not in bed!” The voice of Derek Jacobi exclaimed, “Who’s Not In bed?”

I panicked. Had I been seen?

“Iggle Piggle’s not in bed!” I sighed a breath of relief. “Don’t worry Iggle Piggle. It’s time to go.” Iggle Piggle skipped to a carousel in the centre of the Garden and lay down to sleep. A tune that seemed to follow Iggle Piggle sounded in the air, the sky turned dark. Night time had come and I knew I had been lucky. I had survived a second day, despite my encounter with a Pontipine, but I knew this encounter put me at risk. They knew I was in the Garden. I had to learn to survive. I needed to find a way out.

So here we are at day number three. I have barely slept…the sound of the other man’s screams were haunting me and I had so many questions. Were there other people in the Garden? How does Iggle Piggle change size? Why did they kill that man? Why were the HaaHoos fed blood? Will the Pontipine try to find me again?

I decided that the only way out was to walk further in to the trees. I’d have to be quiet, I knew that I couldn’t risk being heard and I had no idea where the Tombliboo’s were hiding. Surely I could do this. I set off just before the sun started to rise. Ahead of me were just tall trees, and bushes in full bloom. This place was Hell, but it was an idyllic Hell.

I came to a start as a song played through the trees. It sounded like a nursery rhyme coming from the distance but then, loud and clear, Derek Jacobi’s voice sounded; “But someone I know is safe and snug, and they’re drifting off to sleep.”

Then silence. Something felt off. There was no breeze, no music, no sound. I could hear myself breathing; in…out…in. I was standing still, just waiting for any noise, listening.

“This is the way to the Garden in the Night.” Jacobi’s voice felt closer somehow and it made me jump. My heart started pacing.

“Igglepiggle, iggle onk, we’re going to catch…” I needed to hear the next word, would it be the Pinky Ponk or the Ninky Nonk?

“You.”

It was neither. From behind the trees small wooden characters in blue appeared. Ten of them all turned their heads to me; their eyes as black as the Pontipines. But these weren’t Pontipines…who were they? “Who’s over here?” Derek Jacobi’s voice asked. “It’s the Wottingers.” And just like that, they started to make farting noises. The Garden started to rumble. I began to run.

I could hear the Pinky Ponk in the air, I could hear the farting noises of the Wottingers and the “mi-mi-mi” sounds coming from the Pontipines, I could hear the sounds of Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. They’re after me. I ran as hard as I could but the thirst and hunger of not eating or drinking properly was draining me, I had no energy just adrenaline. I kept running forward. I kept hearing Derek Jacobi’s voice but I wasn’t listening to him; could he see me? Was he telling the characters where to find me?

As I ran through the trees the Garden suddenly opened up and a large green dome stood in front of me. It had what looked like a door way. I’ve not seen this before. I’m running out of breath. If I hide in it, will I be found? It’s dark inside – there doesn’t seem to be anything inside the dome at all – if I stay in here still enough, maybe I can get myself more time?

I tried to steady my breath as I heard Makka Pakka cycle by. I needed to sleep. I needed food and water. These were all things that had to wait. I peered back out the carved doorway of the green dome. The sounds are getting quieter…is my plan working? I breathed a deep sigh. The light coming in from the carved out doorway disappeared, blocked by a shadow. What is it? I held my breath.

“Tombliboo-Ooo!” A hand came round the corner and grabbed me, pulling me out of the dome. I was surrounded by all three of the Tombliboos. I’ve been found. Tombliboo-Ooo grabbed my legs and Tombliboo-Unn took my arms. They began to carry me back in to the centre of the Garden. I began to try to wiggle free but the grip was too tight. The light through the trees kept flickering in my eyes and then I saw the roof of the carousel. We were nearly there, nearly at the place where the other man was taken.

The Tombliboo’s threw me to the floor. I was surrounded. Iggle Piggle looked gigantic, his red blanket blocking the sunlight. Upsy Daisy was dancing around with Makka Pakka. The Pontipines and the Wottingers were bouncing around. And now I can hear the boinging noise of the HaaHoo’s.

“Clever Tombliboo’s!” Proclaimed Derek Jacobi. “What a pip!”

Iggle Piggle placed his red blanket over me. It covered me completely and weighed an enormous amount. I can’t breathe. I try to wave my arms and push the blanket off me but it’s too heavy, it feels like it’s being held down. I can feel myself fading but, wait, it’s lifting. There’s a blinding light coming from behind the blanket. Iggle Piggle removes the blanket.

Sat looking over me is Derek Jacobi. All of the characters except for the Pontipines and Wottingers, who are very small and hardly there at all, are towering over us both. Jacobi smiles at me. What on Earth is happening? His white hair is glowing.

Jacobi grabs my hand and starts circling his finger round my palm.

“Round and round, a little boat no bigger than your hand, out on the ocean, far away from land. Take the little sail down, light the little light. This is the way to the Garden of the Night.” He smiles at me and turns his head up towards Iggle Piggle’s face. “Time for bed.” He glares back at me and points to the HaaHoo’s, Tombliboo-Ooo and Unn grab my arms and legs and pull. I finally scream.

This is the way out of the Garden of the Night…

Rainbows Over The Hawthorns

These are strange times. It feels very much like the extreme views of anyone can be presented, and will be presented, due to social media. Facebook is under pressure, but despite that pressure many people read what they find on there, true or false, and believe it.

When I was at Uni, I wrote my dissertation on how media and media portrayal can affect the result of elections and change public perception. I wrote on the American election; Obama vs McCain. The media presentation of Obama was unlike anything else – regardless of policy, there was no way McCain would beat him. The media loved Obama, loved his catchphrases…he was money, he was change, he was exciting, he sold papers. Years later, McCain is now presented as he wanted to be in that election; a war hero with smart ideas. Just see how his Trump comments are presented.

It’s beyond easy to find racist or xenophobic posts on Facebook and Twitter. Both sites have attempted to thwart some major bodies – but, for example, removing a blue tick from the side of Tommy Robinson’s Twitter handle doesn’t diminish his influence on people. You need only search for “#FreeTommy” to see how many cling on to and believe the nonsense he spouts.

To suggest that Facebook or any form of social media is what makes people support the likes of Robinson is somewhat ridiculous. The EDL didn’t need Facebook to have supporters, the BNP were widely recognised before Twitter – what social media has done is given those people extra reach. What social media has also done is allow you to see who in your circle follows these views…it sparks debate, it sparks arguments, it can bring education and it can also enlighten. Different views, different opinions aren’t always negatives. If you can back it up, you can move things forward.

wba lgbt

But, adding to that element of social media that allows you to see other people’s views, no matter how backward they may seem, can be disturbing. It can be disappointing, rage inducing, offensive. I’d like to share some tweets (spelling mistakes and all) I have seen regarding news about West Bromwich Albion agreeing to fly a rainbow flag at The Hawthorns in support of the LGBT community.

“So it will be now known as the Gay stand. Away fans are gunna love it. Thanks Albion but the majority of the East stand I reckon are heterosexuals. Oh I forgot the majority doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Next it will be the “proud to support paedophilies flag” which the LGBT (let’s go bang toddlers) also believes is just a sexual preference rather than a perversion.”

“PC Bollocks…How about a stand for blokes that shag women 5 times a night? Not PC enough?”

“Ffs what’s happened to football? PC gone fucking mad”

“So because youre gay you have to tell everyone by having a flag. I feel victimised because i am straight and we havent got a flag”

In a time where being openly gay is widely accepted, there is still an underbelly of homophobia. Sadly, in football, it’s seemingly more common than in other areas. The above tweets are all from a minority, and thankfully many were pulled up by others and rightly lambasted, but that’s not to say others don’t have these feelings. Unfortunately the sad truth is that the first tweet may have some truth to it – it’s not far fetched at all to believe that some away fans would, and will, target it.

The list of openly gay footballers is ridiculously short. Perhaps the most famous player being Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 and tragically committed suicide in 1998 aged only 37. The most recent high profile player, Thomas Hitzlsperger, only came out after retiring from the game. There are rumours that there are several gay players in the Premier League yet none have come out. Yes, it’s up to the person as to whether they announce their sexuality to the press, but it’s equally so concerning that even now, in this day and age, there is a belief that players are scared to come out as gay for fear of the impact it would have on their career.

A huge part of that will be because of the vitriol they know they would receive from the fans of different clubs, and to an extent even their own (as seen above). Why would you put yourself in line for the abuse?

This is football’s problem. Hooliganism raises it’s head every now and then, but homophobia is easier to find. It’s a massive issue, and one that Albion should be praised for trying to tackle. The founder of the WBALGBT group, Piero Zizzi, has said, “If the flag makes just one person feel more welcome at The Hawthorns, then it’s served its purpose” and he is correct. The hope has to be that it does help, and that the supporters contribute and ensure they do their bit to tackle homophobia in the game.

It’s quite apt that Albion have taken the decision to support the LGBT community. It’s a club with a proud history and a club with a history of tackling discrimination. The “Three Degrees”, Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham were the most high profile black players in English football at the time the Albion had them in the team. Bananas were thrown on the pitches, but the club and, perhaps more importantly, the fans really ensured those three players were looked after and were seen as “one of their own”. Colour didn’t matter to them. They loved those three players. They still do.

And now, sexuality shouldn’t matter. It may only be a flag hanging in the East Stand this coming season, but it may make a difference. Earlier I wrote how difference of opinion on social media can be healthy, and it can be educational. For some people, I genuinely hope that this is educational, and that it opens eyes to see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a different sexual orientation. And then comes the hope that one day a player would feel more comfortable in being openly gay. For all we know, the next Lionel Messi may be in this country, afraid to display his or her talent, because of the stigma that is still apparently attached to homosexuality in football today. It needs to change. It will change.

On a final note, the placing of the flag is rather fitting. The East Stand was built in 2001, replacing the old family stand that was called The Rainbow Stand.

There’s something quite nice about the LGBT flag flying in the Rainbow Stand…perhaps they should bring the old name back.

Tales Of The Unexpected

1.

“Hi Adam, are you at this address? Can we come in?”

It was half past 10 at night on Saturday 3rd December 2016 when my phone started ringing. A private number was calling. Usually I’d ignore private numbers but, for some reason, this time, I answered. It was a detective, and that’s when he asked me the above questions. And so began the most surreal time of my life.

Before I could get up, the door knocked. At this point I was in a flat and the only way to get in was to be buzzed in through the front so both myself and my then new partner were surprised by how someone had got in without us letting them in. I looked through the peephole on the door and saw a group of men, some in heavy gear. I opened the door.

“Hello, is Danny here?”

Around 10 police, several fully kitted out ready for more than just a chat, come in to the flat. Me and my partner are practically separated to different sides of the room. Every part of the flat from the bedroom to the loft to underneath the sofa bed are searched. There’s utter confusion. Why are they looking for my mate? What has happened? is he ok? has he done something? Has something happened to him? All answers to these questions would become painfully clear very suddenly.

Sat down for questioning, I decided to ask – and I remember word for word – “I know this seems a silly thing to ask right now, but, is Dan alright?” I was told that they wanted to ensure his safety but, almost chillingly, left saying to me “If he calls, ignore it. If he texts, ignore it. If he turns up at the front door, no matter what he says, don’t let him in. Call us immediately.”

We were left with a business card and a case reference number to use if there was any contact or further information. Shaking, I turned to my partner and just said “What the fuck has he done? What the fuck just happened?” She took the card from me and googled the reference number. And then we found the news story; a body had been found at an address. I saw the picture of the house. I collapsed to the floor.

2.

I met Dan at work. We’d often joke about the fact that the first time we met each other we both disliked each other. Somewhere along the way, over a few beers (as was always the way with us), that changed. In a relatively short time we’d gone from just being work colleagues to being best mates. Often referred to as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at work, we were practically inseparable.

As our friendship grew we started talking to each other about everything. We were both someone to confide in for the other person and there was no area that we felt we couldn’t discuss together. I loved him, and I do honestly believe the feeling was mutual. He got me through some tough times, and likewise I felt I had helped him through some of his.

We got to know each others families, and I had also brought Dan in to my circle of friends from uni and before. The “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” relationship had gone past being just a work relationship to being how we were viewed in the ‘real world’. In our work we’d get moved to different locations and people would ask how the other was – we were a double act.

It was with Dan’s first move that things started to go downhill for him at work. He was in a difficult place, and, for various reasons, he struggled. At this point, we spoke on the phone every day. After months of struggling, Dan ended up taking some time off work. I felt desperately for him. He was very good at what he did, but for some reason it just wasn’t happening for him. His stubbornness played against him at times, he didn’t necessarily have the best relationships with certain people, and although I always felt there were things he could do (I often tried to discuss this with him), you could tell he was lost. He’d lost the motivation for the job and wanted out.

As any mate would over a time like this, I’d invite him round to mine for a few drinks every now and then to try to help build him back up. We’d talk for hours about anything and everything. I wanted him to be better, and I really hoped that I could help him. Around this time Dan told me he was going to leave our work and go in to floor laying with his mate. He seemed genuinely excited and it felt like the old Dan was back. I was over the moon for him.

Over the next 4 or 5 years, things seemed to be flourishing for Dan and his floor laying business. He’d speak to me about new contracts that they were getting; big contracts with hotels and hospitals up and down the country. They’d had to hire a couple of lads and get a unit on an industrial estate due to their growth. My mate had made it, he was happy, and I was made up for him.

3.

The day after police had come to the flat looking for Dan, me and my partner were still not sure what was going on. We’d been advised that we weren’t to contact Dan, but were assured that they were looking for him for his safety. Hanging over this was the fact we knew a dead body had been found at his address.

Two detectives came to the flat to see us for questioning. By the time they were with us the news had broke that the dead body was Dan’s Dad. Even at this point I was thinking ‘maybe somebody broke in, maybe Dan’s been taken’. The detectives sat on the sofa and asked if we’d seen the news, “You know how serious this is, then?”

I was asked about the last contact I’d had with Dan. I explained that we’d arranged that he was going to help get a bed to the flat, that he was going to use his work van to bring it over but due to his Dad being unwell he’d not been able to do it. The two detectives looked at each other puzzled.

“The way you’re looking at each other I get the feeling I’ve said something that can’t be true?” I asked.

For the first time in 5 years, I found out Dan didn’t have his own business, he didn’t have a work van and he didn’t work in floor laying. I found out from the two detectives sat in front of me that the person I thought I knew like the back of my hand was actually a stranger.

It suddenly started to dawn that the worst fears I had were most likely true but I didn’t want to believe it. I was clinging on to some weird hope that it couldn’t be, that there was more to it. I just couldn’t grasp the thought that he could have killed his Dad.

4.

Early June 2016, I went to London to see AC/DC with my Dad. I was in a long term relationship but I felt like I was just going through the motions, not really enjoying it. I was coming back home on Dan’s birthday and he said he’d meet me at the train station and we’d have a drink to celebrate. I spoke to him about how I was feeling and explained that I was going to have a chat at home but expected it to go only one way. Dan offered me a place to stay if it came to it.

One week later, I was in Dan’s spare room, staying with him and his Dad. Over the next 5 months I effectively classed his house as my ‘base’, but I also stayed in hotels and occasionally with other friends while I tried to sort myself out. Dan’s Dad was quiet, kept himself to himself, but I had a lot of time for him. I would find it awkward in the house at times, in part due to how quiet his Dad was, and also because I didn’t want to come across as intruding. Because of this, I’d try to spend a lot of time out, be it at work or just with other people.

Dan was out a lot for his work, so in a bizarre way I actually ended up seeing and talking to Dan less when I lived with him than when I didn’t.

There was never anything that stood out as odd in the house or with the relationship between Dan and his Dad. I remember us all watching one of the utterly awful England matches from Euro 2016 and us all talking football. It was just normal.

5.

Everyone has watched news programmes or documentaries about criminals where a neighbour is interviewed and says something like, “Well, you just wouldn’t imagine it, he/she was such a quiet person, always seemed alright…”

For years I’d watch those interviews and think that they must have been stupid to not realise that something wasn’t quite right. Suddenly, I was that guy. I was the idiot.

For the next week following the search of the flat I was faced with at least one moment of contact with the police every day. Some days I’d be the first to get in touch, other days they’d call me. I felt like I was living a TV drama. At one stage there was even the discussion of using me to try to contact Dan as if nothing had happened to see if we could find where he was. It was unreal.

I spent a fair bit of time in a daze throughout this period. The story had hit the news, and some people at work had put two and two together (I was now working in the same place Dan had been placed before leaving the company) and I remember hearing people discussing it then stopping when they noticed me.

I sat on lunch one day and after hearing that police believed his Dad’s car was in Wales I checked on my messages to see if I could find anything to give an idea of who he could see in Wales. To my shock I noticed Dan was ‘Active Now’, for the first time in some time, on Facebook Messenger. I called the police and let them know. I didn’t know if it would matter, if they knew…in my head I believed that they’d be able to use this information to hopefully pinpoint his location.

I have no idea whether my call did help but the next day as I drove to Birmingham to see Biffy Clyro I got a call from the detective to say they’d found Dan, and he was safe. By the time I’d got back to my car after the gig the story was on the news that he had been charged with murder.

It was an absolutely shattering moment. I’d had an amazing time at the gig, had the usual post-gig euphoric feeling and then an immediate crash. The realisation that my best mate was a murderer was something I can’t truly explain. I thought I knew him better than anybody, but over the course of five days found that I knew very little.

I felt broken hearted. Two days later, two detectives came to my work to interview me for a statement. I felt nervous beyond belief but in reality I had no reason to be. I just didn’t know what to think. A couple of hours later and I’d given my character reference. The female detective, on her way out, turns to me and says, “only two people know what happened that night and why. One of them is Dan, the other one is dead.”

6.

Nearly 15 months have passed and it’s still hard to believe what happened. I didn’t attend at court due to wishes of the family but the media reported the horror of it all. Sixty stab wounds, twenty hammer blows. I felt physically sick when I saw the news. I felt even worse when I saw the CCTV that the police released showing Dan’s actions afterwards. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get over how ‘normal’ he appeared to be.

I feel so sorry for his Mum and his younger brother, who in reality has lost both a father and a brother needlessly. And, although a reason won’t change anything, I can’t even begin to imagine the grief and pain they have faced with no reason given as to why it happened.

I’d been thinking about writing this post for some time; debating how to write it, whether to do it as just a personal piece of writing or to share the story. Writing is something I’ve always found therapeutic and I still often find it easier to get things out through my writing.

The whole situation changed me. I find that I have a much harder time trusting people now, and I guess the best way I can describe how I felt was actually to compare it to grief. I seemed to go through so many emotions it was unbelievable.

The sadness and the anger I felt were unparalleled and the closest I’d come to those feelings at any other time was when my Mum passed away. I couldn’t understand the lies over the past years, and it eats at me to know that I’ll never understand why he felt the need to do it. It pains me that the lies seem to have continued even now as I was told to expect a letter, but it never came because a guard was sacked for throwing mail away.

I felt a ton of guilt, too. This may seem the strangest thing for people to understand but I felt insanely guilty. In my head, I kept thinking “I should have been there for him more. I could have helped him. If he’d opened up to me would it have happened?” I beat myself up. It took so long to stop doing that and realise that the chances of me doing anything that could have changed things were slim to none.

I felt, and still do feel, so confused about it all. On some days I wish I knew why things happened, from the lies to the actual act of murder itself, but then other days I don’t want to know at all.

And then comes this; the fact that, regardless of what happened, I find myself missing him. I absolutely loved the guy. When I did my character statement I explained how he was a person that you always felt you could depend upon if you needed someone. But the reality is, that wasn’t all him. I miss a character. I miss someone that was, in some part, make believe. I don’t know how much of the Dan I knew was the ‘real’ Dan and when I think about that, and the fact that this guy was so important to me, it makes me genuinely sad.

My life has changed to such a positive degree since this all happened, and it hurts to think the guy that seriously helped me out when I needed it may not actually really be the guy that helped me out.

I’ve not been to see him since the arrest. My stance is that I never will because my life is in such a different place and I don’t want that tie. I also know that if I was to go I’d be a wreck, I’d be unable to handle it and, simply, I don’t want that. I won’t forget, and I dare say I’ll never forgive what he put his family through and what he put me through.

It’s difficult to not think about the guy I knew, and it’s difficult to think of that guy behind bars. But who is that guy? I’ll never know.

Putting The Pieces Back Together

Biffy_Clyro_-_Puzzle

For as long as I can remember music has been a major part of my life. It has been there through the highs and the lows; helped me celebrate, helped me through sorrow. Ultimately, music has been a lifeline and one of the only real constants in my life. For every occasion, a song. For every moment, a tune. For every emotion, a lyric.

When I think back through the years I can remember several moments in my life purely by the music. I used to listen to Jamiroquai in 1999 because I believed every time I listened to Jamiroquai my football team would win. I remember going to see West Brom and listening to Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ with my Dad because of West Brom’s nickname, The Baggies. I remember hearing Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now…’ at the age of 16 and at the most unfortunate, yet in hindsight funniest of times, as my first ‘relationship’ ended. Simply, music has always been there.

As I grew up, my music tastes broadened. I grew up in Birmingham, around a mixed race society, and although my Dad had got me in to the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zep and Manic Street Preachers, my favoured taste was more towards Eminem, Craig David and Darude. We moved to Lowestoft just days before my 15th birthday and, through boredom more than anything, I picked up the guitar. I started listening to Nirvana (fell in love with Nirvana…especially In Utero), The Smiths and The Libertines. It took over a month to get in to school after we moved. I didn’t fit in as quick as I’d have liked, and for some time school was difficult. The music I listened to spoke to me. Cobain’s screams were my hidden anger. Even Fred Durst seemed like a voice for me to believe in.

As I made the transition in to sixth form, my tastes continued to widen. I started listening to quirkier music, started exploring weirder sounds on guitar. I would watch 120 Minutes on MTV2 religiously and Gonzo, hosted by Zane Lowe, became my gospel. It was through watching Gonzo one day in 2003 that I was introduced to a band that, unbeknownst to me, would become my favourite band, and the band that would provide me with the greatest comfort I could have in years to come. That band? Biffy Clyro.

My first sight of Biffy was the video for Questions and Answers. A ‘garage rock’ band sound to it, I initially thought it was a band in the likes of the Strokes, but I loved the song so I always kept an eye out for them. Then Gonzo On Tour, ‘Eradicate The Doubt’, Simon Neil vs a glittery jacket…I was hooked. I saw them live for the first time on their ‘Infinity Land’ tour at the UEA in Norwich. My love for Nirvana started to drown a little as I became a fan of what was at that time regarded a ‘cult band’. I soaked them in, started to learn songs on guitar, got every album, downloaded b-sides…it was, and still is, an addiction.

By the time Biffy had released ‘Puzzle’, I was at Uni. I remember forcing two of my flatmates to listen to ‘Semi-Mental’ on Zane Lowe’s Radio One Show (it was Hottest Record In The World that day), and I have been the same for every album and song since. With every album, with every success, I feel proud of this band. For several people I know who supported Biffy during the first three albums, the mainstream success disconnected them. For me, I just saw that the world had finally woken up.

‘Puzzle’ would soon become a massive support for me. Largely focussing on the passing of Simon Neil’s mother and his emotions after, I always felt it was the most personal record but I never truly understood it until after January 2015, when my Mum also sadly passed away unexpectedly aged only 55.

mum

I can’t begin to explain the emotions I felt at that time. I remember when I was at Papworth Hospital when we were told there was nothing more that could be done and we all left to walk around he gardens and collect our thoughts before the life support machines were turned off. I remember walking away from my family, not knowing really where to turn. I was lost. It literally felt like a piece of me had been torn out and was suddenly missing.

It took me some time to pluck the courage to listen to ‘Puzzle’. In the meantime, I’d taken to listening to Biffy b-sides. ‘Time Jazz’ became a comfort song, “Time Jazz confronts us all…It’s fine, there’s a throbbing in my shoulder, it’s fine, don’t think it’s getting bigger, it’s fine, I’ll dig it out to ease the pain, I can’t face final fortunes ever again”. I heard those lyrics and hid behind them. I took it as focussing on other feelings and hiding the pain of ‘final fortunes’, death, and found solace.

I remember the first time I listened to Machines after Mum passed. I cried. Hearing “I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go” took me back to being sat at the side of Mum’s hospital bed, telling her I loved her, even joking with her, hoping she could hear me, hoping she’d return a word but ultimately feeling like she couldn’t hear me. “Folding Stars” tore me to shreds. Even now, when I saw Biffy on their Ellipsis tour and they played ‘Folding Stars’ (first time in 7 shows I’d seen them play it live), I welled up. The lyrics mean so much to me, and suddenly every word in ‘Puzzle’ resonates with me.

The build to ‘9/15ths’ represents perfectly my slip in to anxiety and depression at that time. “How do you become one again?” was a lyric that, again, hit me. It was a question I frequently asked. I knew I was missing this piece of me, and I didn’t know how to recover. How do you recover? Do you EVER recover? I don’t think so.

For some time I worried that I’d never be able to listen to Puzzle again. ‘The Conversation Is…’, ‘Love Has A Diameter’, even ‘Saturday Superhouse’ (the lyric, “Then I see a darkness, you see a blinding light”, just made me think of the funeral) became too much for me. But ‘Time Jazz’ kept me going.

One day, when I was in the shower, I listened to ‘Machines’ again. It was at this point that I finally started to feel comfortable listening to it again. “Take the pieces and build them skywards” became a lyric of constant solace. Whereas beforehand the song filled me with sadness, suddenly I felt hope. I listened to ‘Folding Stars’ and the lyric “I hope that you’re folding stars” made me think of my Mum again, filling me with this idea of beauty. Ultimately, the songs made me feel closer to Mum. They all gave me comfort.

‘Puzzle’ became my comfort in sound. It made me feel, as a 28 year old man, that I was okay to feel down. It was okay to have the emotions I felt. The Smiths and Nirvana had helped me as a teenager during times of loneliness, but neither gave me the comfort that Biffy Clyro did in grief. They are more than a band to me. They helped save me.

There are really very few ways to say to a band how grateful you are to them for anything and I can only hope that one day, somehow, they see this and they know how grateful I am to them for unknowingly helping a young man deal with bereavement.

Over the past two years since, I have dedicated a lot of time in to raising money for Papworth Hospital in memory of my Mum. I’m extremely proud to say I’ve helped raise over £4,500 for the hospital’s charity and I will continue to raise money for them for as long as I possibly can. This year, I’ll be doing the Three Peaks Challenge, starting in the homeland of Biffy Clyro, Scotland, as we climb Ben Nevis, Sca Fell Pike and end on Snowdon. I will be listening to Puzzle, as well as the other hundreds of Biffy songs I have, on my way up and down each mountain. Biffy have been part of my journey, and they will always remain so.

If anybody reading this is interested in donating to the charity and sponsoring me, please visit my Just Giving page HERE and donate. I cannot tell you how much it means to me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

And, finally, ‘Mon The Biff.
x

A Fresh Start

It feels like an age has passed since I last posted any form of update on this blog. I remember when I started it up I had what were almost ideas of grandeur about it; I was going to update almost daily, I was going to use it to post articles, opinion pieces (well, blogs, duh…), links to published articles…

Somehow, somewhere, life kinda got in the way.

My last post was by far my most viewed on this page, regarding the walk up Snowdon me and a few others did in memory of my Mum, raising money for Papworth Hospital. It seems insane to think that was over a year ago. It also feels insane to think that since then we’ve also climbed up Sca Fell Pike raising more for Papworth. I think we’ve raised over £4500, which, when I look at it, is quite phenomenal. Definitely something I’m proud of. It still feels odd to think that January will mark 2 years since Mum passed. Time flies, memories don’t die, and I still think of that week and that day all the time.

I think that for some time now I’ve been stalling. After everything happened, we all dealt with things differently. I did what I tend to do and I withdrew in to myself and didn’t take the chance to really use the support I had around me. I became anxious, which in turn caused (and still does cause) issues with my stomach, I became a bit numb to other things that were happening and I fell. I’d picture myself in a dark room with no windows and just one door, which on certain days would feel a million miles away. I held all of this in, I can’t tell you why. Perhaps it was easier? Perhaps I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t right? Either way I’d spend most of my time ‘being me’ to anyone I saw in public, before entering that dark room again as soon as I was alone.

I don’t even know how I got on to this, but now I’m typing and it feels okay to get it out. Ironically, despite my best efforts to not let on about my own demons, I’m always the first to tell people they should “talk to someone”. But, you know what…it’s not easy. It’s not fucking easy. Anyone that says it is is lying to you. Facing in to your problems, and admitting that you’re feeling broken and struggling to fix it is really hard. Why would anyone want to openly say it? But, equally, it is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t need to be a doctor. It can be a friend.

Someone very special to me listened to me when I was having a, let’s call it a ‘dark day’, and said “Always keep one eye on that door.” I had someone that understood and would hear me out and would listen. And every time I think I’m dropping, I remember that simple “keep one eye on that door” – there’s always a way back.

I’m on my way. Life has changed, and you have to keep moving. You have to keep going. And, you have to smile. And always keep an eye on that door. Things will, and things do, get better.

I won’t promise to write on this blog every single day. Maybe not even every single week. But I will keep it regular. It won’t all be personal. It won’t all be football. It won’t all be garbage…but some of it may be. It’ll be whatever I choose it to be.

This is a fresh start.

Hi, my name is Adam Townsend.
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Climbing Mountains

snowdon group

I always used to think that when people would say “I think about them everyday” they were being almost too over sentimental, saying things that people are ‘expected’ and ‘ought’ to say. As it turns out, I was the one that was wrong.

Since Mum’s passing in January I can honestly say I have not had one day go by where I haven’t thought about her, and the thoughts can be about anything, brought on by the smallest things. In my own way, I don’t mind having these thoughts because I guess it almost makes it feel like she’s still there, still with me.

I vividly remember when Mum fell ill. I was at work, due to be working to 7pm, a shift I had intentionally put myself on in order to complete some colleague performance reviews. Around half 5/quarter to 6, a colleague came to me with the work phone saying he had Lexi, my fiancée, on the phone for me, which started alarm bells because, well, I don’t get personal calls at work. She told me I needed to contact my Dad. I called him and he explained my Mum had collapsed on the landing. My sister, Joy had found her on the floor, but Mum was awake and talking, just unable to move. Paramedics were on the way.

I remember leaving work and saying to my duty manager that I thought Mum may have just hurt her back, and that was why she couldn’t move or, later, be moved by the paramedic. At no point did I think that things would turn as they did.

mum

Mum was 55 years old when she passed away. She hadn’t suffered with any previous serious illness, the only thing that had affected her was high blood pressure which she was taking medication for. Ultimately, that high blood pressure played a major factor in Mum’s collapse and subsequent illness.

Five days after that fall, after I thought she may have damaged her back, Mum passed away with aortic dissection.

I struggled to come to terms with the shock of that. The whole family did. I can’t write about how my Dad, Joy, Aunt, Cousins felt, but personally I felt like I almost went through two stages of grief – an initial bout of shock that was followed by some large bouts of denial, followed by the realisation that, yes, this had happened, and, no, Mum wasn’t going to walk through the front door and tell us that it was all some sort of joke. Coming to five months on, I know we still all have those bad days, bad moments…but as time goes by we learn to deal and will get better at that.

Somebody, I think it was a nurse, said to me “You’ll always hear people saying that you need time to heal, time is the greatest healer. Ignore it. You never heal; you deal. You learn to deal with it in your way. It’s not about healing, it’s about dealing.” I think they were right.

The five days Mum fell ill and was in hospital getting treatment were five of the longest days of my life, and I can remember so much so clearly it still feels like it was only yesterday. I won’t go in to more details, but I will talk about where she was, and talk about the team that looked after her at the amazing Papworth Hospital.

On the Friday morning, at 7am, I left my Mum after talking to her for what would be the last time while she was awake. We had to leave as the operation was due to start. The surgeon looking after my Mum, a man named Mr Choo, took us in to his office to explain the operation he was about to carry out. I next saw my Mum at 2am on the Saturday morning, Mr Choo sat us in the office to explain how things had gone. 19 hours later, this man was still working, he hadn’t stopped. The next morning, we couldn’t sleep, we were back at the hospital early and so was Mr Choo, continuing to monitor Mum. He was always there, the dedication he put in to it was so incredible to watch and on that Tuesday when the end had come you could see how disappointed and upset he also was. He was with us all the way through it. You don’t forget things like that.

Mr Choo is just an example of the staff at Papworth. Everyday we saw the dedication from so many of the staff there, both working for my Mum and for other patients…it was truly inspirational. To see someone work the hours they do, but never drop the amount of effort they put in, just to try to help, try to save others, was phenomenal. I wonder whether some of them even sleep, to be honest!

The team at Papworth supported us all so much during those last days, and for some people they may struggle to understand why I feel so fondly for a place where my Mum didn’t make it. I feel so strongly for the hospital because of what I saw in every hour of every day; they don’t switch off, they never give up, they do everything they can and they go through it with you, supporting you all the way. They’re a credit to the NHS, these are people we should be proud of, and should support.

One thing that sits in my mind was when I was sat with Mum while she was sleeping post-op, and the nurse was talking to her, explaining what she was doing. It may sound odd, but just something like that alone gave you hope. Every member of that team did what they could to keep our spirits high through an ultimately devastating period of time.

For that reason, a team of us decided to raise some money for the Papworth Hospital Charity; a way to say thank you. A team of 8 of us chose to climb Mount Snowdon at the end of May. None of us particularly experienced walkers/climbers, we set the challenge of doing the climb to raise £2000. The weather was difficult, the walk was tough…both mentally (the Miners Track…constantly looking for the car park on every corner) and physically…but we made it. And, at the time of writing this, I am immensely proud to say we have so far raised £2,591.95.

snowdon climb group

Throughout everything that has happened, it has totally opened my eyes to just how kind and how brilliant people can be. Whether it was the support my work gave me, the team at Papworth, to the several people that have donated out of their own good will and sent messages to us all…I can’t say thank you enough. You have all helped to make positives out of an incredibly negative situation.

I know full well my Mum would have been watching us, calling us “crazy” for going up on what turned out to be a rather wet day, but I know she’d have also been proud of what we have achieved.

She’d also be proud of the work my cousin, Mark, has done in raising £535.34 through his own fund raising efforts.

My Mum was the life of the party, a wonderful woman, and I miss her dearly. I have so much to thank her for, and so much to love her for. I will never stop thinking about her. And if there is another place we go to after life, I hope she’s there having a party now, showing the others how to have a good time.

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