Mindfields

The Fat Of The Land came out when I was only 10 years old.

The 10 year old me was listening to pop music. I’d grown really fond of Madness, and was sucked in to the excitement of the Brit Pop battles of Oasis and Blur…trying to sing Oasis songs with my best Liam Gallagher impersonation. But that was it. Other than that, you were looking to whatever was in the charts…at that point it was The Spice Girls so, secretly, I add, I was listening to them, too.

I remember the first time I saw and heard Prodigy. Top of the Pops, ‘Firestarter’. My Dad had heard it on the radio and was saying how amazing this song was and then it was on TV. A black and white music video, in a tunnel, with Keith Flint dancing and shouting his vocals. I remember thinking I’d never seen anything like it before.

The ‘Firestarter’ video got banned by the BBC due to complaints from parents saying it had scared their children. The video didn’t scare me but it did make me take notice and it has always remained one of the most memorable music videos for me.

Ultimately, the thing that made the ‘Firestarter’ video stand out wasn’t the music – as brilliant as it was, and still is – but actually the performance of Keith Flint. I’d seen clips of, say, The Sex Pistols but Flint was different. At age 10, Keith Flint was the most punk rock person I had ever seen. The devil horn hairstyle, the crazy dance moves, the clothes, the make up…I was enamoured by this person.

I always found it odd that the video for ‘Firestarter’ was black listed. There was nothing scary about it to me, it was just punk. And dance. I soon discovered ‘Breathe’, a video that I thought was creepier than ‘Firestarter’ but fewer people seemed to agree. From those two songs and videos came my introduction to ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ – a music video that, even now, pushes boundaries and a song that, even now, causes such controversy.

Prodigy were a dance band, but they were more than just that…they were the most punk rock band I’d ever seen, with Keith Flint, the most punk rock man I’d ever seen, leading the charge. I remember getting their 1997 album ‘Fat Of The Land’ when I was just shy of turning 11 and listening to it all through. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

My love of music is something I often think I got from my Dad. In the car, he’d put on Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Billy Joel, Elton John and so on, and talk to me about the gigs he’d been to. It got me in to rock music from a fairly early age, even if my preferred style was pop. I look back now and think of my Dad introducing me to Prodigy and it makes me laugh a bit. From an outside perspective, to go from introducing your son to ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel to ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ by Prodigy…it may seem a bit odd. But this is how I was raised with music, and another reason as to why I think I like music of so many genres.

All of my Dad’s favourite music had their “angry” songs, protest songs almost, but none of them had the raw energy, anger and aggressive feel of the Prodigy. I loved it.

Keith Flint as front man opened my eyes to a vast surrounding of music I’d otherwise ignored. I often think that had it not been for Flint, for Prodigy, I’d have never listened to some of the punk that I adored in my later years, never had listened to Nirvana, never had listened to punk and metal. My musical tastes would be completely different.

On hearing Keith Flint had passed away, aged only 49, I find myself thinking of that first time I heard ‘Fat Of The Land’, and feeling massively grateful for the lasting effect it had on me with my taste in music.

I saw Prodigy perform live only once, at the Download Festival in 2006. It was insane. They headlined the second stage while Guns n Roses headlined main. It felt like more people had come to the tent for Prodigy and the mix of people was unbelievable. Metal heads, ravers, punk rockers…it was a musical free for all. And when they started the whole tent went berserk. Energy like I’ve rarely, if ever, felt at a gig. People climbing the rafters. The whole place a mosh pit.

My cousin and I lasted a few songs before we had to go. You could feel the mood turning on the night and the band were having to stop performing to encourage people to stop climbing rafters. All in all, it was a recipe for disaster. A mix of ravers and moshers, in a tent too small. But Prodigy were immense. Keith Flint parading the front of the stage sticks in my mind. This man, the first person I saw that made me think “punk rock”, is in front of me and he is still the most punk rock person I’ve ever seen.

That mix of people, that impression of Flint, is part of the reason why Keith Flint is an icon. There are very few people that could bridge the gap between dance, electronic, punk and metal like Keith Flint did…and there may not be many that do it anywhere near as good, with such ease, ever again.

To hear that Keith Flint took his own life adds to the sorrow of the day and he joins an ever growing list of musicians I love that have taken their own lives; including Kurt Cobain, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell and more. All men. All men that other men would look to as a voice – be it a voice to help them release pain, or sadness, or anger…or just a voice they loved.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 in the UK. Bigger than cancer, bigger than road accidents, bigger than heart attacks. Suicide. And with every Chris Cornell, every Chester Bennington and now with Keith Flint we’re all left with it there in front of us. Depression doesn’t care how successful you are, how loved you are or about what you have…but, as men, we struggle to talk. We struggle to admit. Why?

Stigma plays a massive part. With every famous suicide I still see comments online of how selfish the person is, how someone has taken the easy way…”the cowards way”…and it’s all unfair. Suicide is not cowardice, it’s an end to an illness for someone that hasn’t got better. I see comments of “they don’t think about their loved ones”…but I’d argue the contrary and encourage people that believe that to think this way. A suicidal person always thinks of their loved ones. A suicidal person will believe that they are doing the best thing for those people because, and this is the biggest issue, a suicidal person believes more than anything that they are a burden, they are a problem and that everything will be better without them.

Stigmas and attitude can only change when we begin to try to understand. At 49 years old, Keith Flint has added to the number, the already huge number, of UK men aged under 50 that choose to take their own life. Of all those people, how many could have been avoided had more people taken the time to understand and be there rather than pass quick judgements and create stigma?

This is the male problem. And with every famous suicide, the focus comes back. But how sad is it that more death, more pain, is needed to make people reflect, change and talk?

Keith Flint is an icon, and a man I feel I owe a lot to as I know it was him that made me become more open minded to other genres of music and groups of people. The Prodigy and Flint really did take me to another dimension.

And now I hope his passing serves as not just a reminder of his brilliant music, but as a way to make more people become open minded to mental health, removing the stigma around it and maybe give someone the courage to talk to somebody else instead of meeting the end.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Friday 8th January 2010, West Brom are at home to Nottingham Forest. It’s a top of the table clash on a really bitterly cold night. A win for Albion and we’re three points behind Newcastle at the top and making space between second and third, occupied by Forest. Forest win, they leapfrog in to second.

Expectations at the start of the 2009/10 season were high. Albion and Newcastle were the favourites to bounce straight back up. Undoubtedly the quality was there in both sides…Newcastle dominated for near enough the whole season, and had kept the likes of Gutierrez. There was never any doubt with them. Albion, under a highly rated Roberto Di Matteo, had kept several players after relegation the season prior and remained around the top spots all year. There was an air of expectation and arrogance, we knew we were better.

Then Forest came…and it was awful. 3-1 Forest. Absolutely nothing clicked. I remember watching it and debating with other Albion fans that it had been one of those that “had been coming”. For all the good results, there was something about the Albion that felt fragile. That night, we were found out. Focus turned to recovery.

Jump back another couple of years, to the 2007/08 season and Saturday 15th March. Albion are hosting Leicester City, a side in a relegation battle. Albion, fourth, can jump to third if they win.

It starts well enough; a Robert Koren goal putting Albion in the lead…and then disaster. Luke Moore, already fighting unpopularity at The Hawthorns after joining from Villa, runs across the pitch and makes a rash challenge. I was in the East Stand that day, it happened right in front of me and straight away knew he was gone. Moore’s first red card of his career, and perhaps a sign of the disappointment he’d prove to be.

Albion never recovered. Gareth McAuley (who’d in later years become an Albion star) equalised, Lee Hendrie goaded the fans continually and Steve Howard scored a hat trick. Leicester won 4-1. Fears began that Albion might fall away from the top, already five points behind the automatic promotion places.

From both of these matches, the Albion moved forward. Almost as if they were wake up calls, the response that followed changed everything. After the Forest game in 2010, Albion lost only two in 22 and finished the season second. After the Leicester game in 2008, Albion, fourth at the time, went unbeaten for the remaining nine games and won the league. Before that game, Albion had lost 10 in 36.

A big part of leadership is learning from your mistakes and working to ensure they don’t happen again. It’s inevitable that there will be a time where the result isn’t what was intended but then the focus has to be on looking ahead, putting your hands up and acknowledging the errors and working to ensure they don’t happen again.

Albion’s last two games have been massive. Sheffield United and Leeds, both in the top four alongside Albion, both looking towards automatic promotion and both games disasters for the Baggies.

Sheffield United win 1-0, and do so with relative ease. They look so much more organised, they defend in numbers, attack in numbers and look the real deal. Had Rodriguez’s disallowed goal been allowed to stand it would have been a huge injustice (and not only because it was such a blatant handball) – Sheffield United were by far the better team.

We move on, we head to Leeds, a team that lost 4-1 at the Hawthorns. It’s shocking. 4-0 to Leeds, Albion deserve nothing. “We didn’t get a performance”, says Darren Moore, before talking about the togetherness of the players. “We win and lose games as a team.”

These results had been coming. Much like the Di Matteo season in the Championship there have been some wonderful results, but they have largely been due to moments of brilliance from Harvey Barnes (before being recalled by Leicester), Dwight Gayle and a few others. There haven’t been many games that have been dominated by Albion, games without moments that have had fans panicking.

Again, similar to that season under Di Matteo, there’s an air of expectancy around the club…but, unlike that season, there’s heightened fear. Fear that the team won’t turn it around, fear that they won’t learn from the mistakes and fear that promotion will not happen.

Darren Moore, in his first season as a manager, has done well. After a disastrous season in the Premier League (that he almost miraculously saved), he’s done a brilliant job to remove the losing mentality from the team and build them back up. He’s bought a decent atmosphere back to the Hawthorns with more attacking football being played. The club sit fourth in the league, things could be far worse.

But they could be better.

The quality of the Albion team is far greater this year than any other season in the league but the same issues rear their head again and again. Defensively we’re still fragile, and, worse, we now seem to have lost some of the cutting edge. When you struggle defending and struggle scoring you’re going to struggle winning games. It’s that simple.

So now, eyes fall on to Darren Moore. Despite having a good start he has his critics and it is sometimes incredibly difficult to argue against them. Substitutions are a big source of complaint. A stubbornness to alter the game plan if it isn’t working. He has to look at these games and change things going forward.

Moore has done it before, changing from three at the back to four improved things massively, but now, playing 4-3-3, the team are being found out. Other clubs are wise to it. We expect so much from Gibbs and Holgate as wing backs that teams know that if they cancel them out, they stand a chance. Ball retention is still up and down. Gayle plays in the wide position of the front three (not on the wing as many complain…you have no wingers in a 4-3-3 formation), meaning he has to cut in but we are now struggling to create for him.

The optimist would look to the games mentioned beforehand…the Forest match during Di Matteo’s time and, even more so, the Leicester game during Mowbray’s Championship winning year…and argue they were catalysts of change and after that it was excellent…but the pessimist would argue we’ve been here before this season and, despite change obviously being needed, we’ve done very little or nothing at all.

It’s then a concerning thought if Albion do fail at promotion this season. The clear tactic on recruitment has been to get in loans so the club are financially stable either way but if promotion is missed, the loss of players could potentially be huge. Gayle would likely be gone, Rodriguez too. Phillips, Gibbs, Dawson, Hegazi, Livermore all likely to be off, as well as all the loanees. Morrison, Brunt, Barry…even Rakeem Harper…all out of contract.

The potential rebuild as the club also tries to raise funds could be as big as any rebuilding job at the Albion for years. There is often a reason so many teams that get relegated and fail to win promotion first time struggle the following year and this is one of those reasons.

And then you ask, if Albion don’t go up, is Darren Moore the right person for a rebuilding job as big as the one it could be? It pains me to think that more experience would pay dividends, such is my want for Moore to do well, but if it came to it I think the club would have to seriously consider its options.

The hope has to be that Darren Moore treats the Leeds game as the wake up call it should be. It’s not bad leadership to admit you got it wrong and then change things – if anything, that’s heading to great leadership. If he continues with a reluctance to change things when it’s going wrong then the club, and Darren Moore, are in trouble.

In a similar position under Tony Mowbray, the club went on to win the league. Nobody expects that this season, but if Leeds serves as a similar wake up call to the team as that 4-1 defeat against Leicester in 2008 did then, who knows? The Championship is an incredibly unpredictable league.

And this is Albion…very often, over the years, an unpredictable team.

Tales Of The Unexpected Part II

1.

It was a strange feeling seeing a picture I had taken on a night out get repeatedly used on a documentary about a murderer.

On that night, Dan and myself had gone out in to Derby City Centre, as usual, for a few beers. We’d decided to do somewhat of a bar crawl, visiting our usual haunts but also popping in to a few different places too. Well, I say decided…what I mean is we’d gone out with the intention of having “just a couple” and, in the end, had a bar crawl and a fair few couple more.

That was how several nights out would go with Dan. It had got to the point that on “big” nights we’d joke that we weren’t in the mood and would actually only have a couple but on the nights we would purposefully say “just a couple” we’d end up rocking back home at gone three in the morning. One of those “just a couple” nights resulted in visiting a 24 hour off licence after the club, buying the cheapest but biggest vodka they had – Glen’s Vodka…I still have nightmares – finishing the litre bottle in under two hours and me having the worst and longest hangover of my life. It took me a good two weeks to touch any other alcohol after that night.

The night of the picture wasn’t quite as heavy. A bit of a rarity, and it’s weird I remember this, on that night we stuck to pints and had no spirits. The picture was taken at The Old Bell Inn down Sadler Gate. The Bell was one of those pubs that when I was at Uni I loved. It was dirty, it was run down, but it played rock music, served decent beer, had a place for live music and, most importantly, always had a good atmosphere. Prior to this visit with Dan, our last trip to The Bell had seen me somehow remove the hand dryer off the wall in the gents while still trying to figure out how the cubicle door had a hole in it so big meaning that you may as well keep the door open; privacy wasn’t there either way. After that, though not because of that, The Bell closed and got refurbished. We went in to see what it had turned in to on this night (it’s now more of a posh identikit bar) and drank a few pints of Blue Moon.

This would turn out to be one of the last night outs that Dan and myself would have. We’d sometimes pop out for a pint and a chat after, but this was the last “out out” night. Just the two of us with a few pints, completing a greatest hits of all the bars we drank at along the way.

2.

I was at work when I was told that there was going to be a programme on Sky about Dan. I was surprised. Part of me had felt that if there was going to be a programme about Dan I may have been approached to take part. Part of me had felt that if there was going to be a programme about Dan then someone close to it, be it family members or other friends, would have let me know. Finally, part of me just thought that it seemed a bit too soon.

I couldn’t imagine Dan’s Mum or Dan’s brother agreeing to the programme and, initially, I’d wondered if the colleague at work had got the wrong idea. When I got home I checked on Google and, eventually, found what I’d been looking for.

“What The Killer Did Next – Episode 3 – Geoff Seggie”

Suddenly, flashbacks of that week in 2016 hit me. I read the information for the episode and began to wonder what would be on it. The show had a premise of trying to give a motive as to why a murder would have happened. Would they go in to psychological detail on Dan? Would they give reasons as to why he chose to lie so much? Could they actually gather any form of potential motive?

I felt a mixture of dread and intrigue. I was dreading the thought of seeing Dan’s story on Sky TV, watching them uncover the details of the murder and what had happened, but equally I really wanted to see what they could uncover. I still had so many questions about what Dan did and part of me started to think that, potentially, this TV show could help me answer some of them and put my own mind at rest a bit more.

I watched the trailer for the series and started searching for clips of the episode about Dan and Geoff but to no luck. After about a week, the Derbyshire Evening Telegraph posted a story on Facebook – a press release, essentially – concerning the programme and when it would be on TV and what channel. And then something that hasn’t happened in some time began to happen.

The comments on the Facebook page for Derbyshire Live were as anybody would imagine. Derby is a proud city and here is a programme about a son that stabbed his Dad 60 times and hit him with a hammer 20 times after…it’s hardly a good news story. I read through them; “About time he was shot”, “He’s an evil, sick piece of scum”, “Throw away the key” and so on. The more personal ones made me cringe hard and my thumb started hovering over my phone primed to reply.

Despite everything, I found myself wanting to stick up for Dan. Defending the indefensible. I couldn’t clear from my mind the image of the Dan that I’d had that night out with, the Dan that had put a roof over my head when I had no place else to go.

I started to wonder; “Have I started to forgive?”

3.

I received a text informing me the episode of “What The Killer Did Next” about Dan was on the ‘On Demand’ service. There was no doubt about it, the film I was watching had to stop and the documentary had to be put on. From the moment the text came through, there was nothing else in my mind.

The introduction featured the picture I’d taken at the Old Bell. The reality of what I was about to watch was hitting home. I had a few hopes; I wanted to see how it assessed Dan psychologically and whether that would help me get answers to questions I’ve had for the past two years.

Within literally a couple of minutes, my hopes started to fade. The journalist that was n the show came out with a description of Dan that just didn’t marry up to the Dan that I knew, or the Dan that so many others knew. He described Dan as a person that worked at a care home – which was true, albeit hardly anybody knew that until after the murder – and someone that “wasn’t a big drinker.”

“Well, that’s just bollocks!” were the words that came out of my mouth to Lori. It wasn’t to say Dan was an alcoholic, he wasn’t, but this was a guy that I would go out with on a nearly weekly basis, if not more, and have several beers with. Reading through old messages, we talked about going for a pint regularly…it was a big part of our friendship. And the mention of Dan working at the care home stuck out – not because it was a fact, but because it instantly suggested to me that they weren’t going to mention any of Dan’s lies to his closest friends.

I carried on watching but the frustration grew. They continued to present Dan as this level headed person that was a good son and a good boyfriend – “He always had my back” was one comment that stuck with me. It became very apparent very quickly that no family members had been interviewed, no police had been interviewed and a lot of information…information that I know…wasn’t going to be discussed.

As the programme went on, they continued to display footage very readily available from Facebook and local news, detailing Dan’s actions after. They showed CCTV footage of Dan getting fast food. They showed CCTV of Dan withdrawing money – police footage confirming this was money from Geoff’s account. They then showed CCTV of Dan getting money from his Dad’s account at a Post Office branch, talking to the person behind the counter about the injury he’d sustained to his finger. This cut had come from when he had stabbed his Dad but we’re led to believe he told a story that he had done it making sandwiches.

The show’s psychologist tries to argue that Dan had this chat with the counter assistant because he was “lonely”. I don’t dispute that Dan would have been in a very lonely place at that moment in time, but I sat frowning. Knowing Dan as I did, I know that this encounter will have nothing to do with loneliness or even a need for human interaction…this was Dan playing Dan. He talked to people, that’s who he was.

It then followed Dan’s movements to Cardiff. Interestingly, it is suggested on the programme that police had figured out that he had driven to Cardiff and focused their search in that area…but this also happens to be the same day that I get introduced to the case as police search and question me about where Dan could be. It was two days later that police found the car had gone to Wales. By this point, I was getting annoyed at the factual inaccuracies. They showed the CCTV of Dan getting a train to Scotland, and eventually getting arrested in Scotland.

Dan’s former girlfriend showed text messages that he had sent her saying he couldn’t remember how he’d got to where he was, saying he couldn’t see her and so on. I read some as goodbyes. The psychologist discussed that the fact he’d gone so far with no possessions would suggest he was thinking of taking his own life and I could totally get that. To be honest, I agreed with that. He had nowhere else to go.

The documentary closed by failing to deliver on it’s premise. They didn’t deliver a motive as to why Dan did what he did, but I knew they wouldn’t and I knew they’d get nowhere near from the opening gambit.

The show did what it said on the tin, showing ‘what the killer did next’ but it failed on so many more levels. The documentary felt like a story told by public information and his former girlfriend and, due to that, it could never deliver on a psychological level and it would never come close to a proper motive. It talked about a Dan that was real to the press, to his former girlfriend Zoe and, probably, to a few others.

It totally ignored the fact that Dan had created another life, and was living a whole new life to a large number of people. It totally ignored the fact that Dan portrayed himself differently – would say he had different jobs, for example – to different people. It totally ignored the years of compulsive and pathological lying.

4.

I remember Dan calling me to tell me he’d handed in his notice at the job I met him in. He told me that he had been offered some contractor work in floor laying, a job he had before, and intended to see how he got on with it. I’d always been told that he’d left floor laying because of his knee, but his heart was in it. His plan was that (“if I’ve still got it”) he’d eventually set up his own business.

As weeks passed, and Dan told me more about the contractor work he was doing, he seemed as happy as I’d ever seen him. It was a great time. He’d had such a tough time at his old job, having to have time off with stress and anxiety, and now he was back on his feet. He called me up one day and said, “I’ve got an appointment at the bank. I’m going to ask them for money to start my own business.”

He was successful. Dan told me he had been given a loan which would, in turn, help pay for a van and the parts he would need. He talked through a business model and explained that he’d already managed to get some small jobs in a hotel in Derby that could lead to more work if he did them well. It sounded like he was flying. At one point we even discussed the possibility of me joining in with him but I opted not to, purely because I’m not a floor layer and I was happy enough in my own job and the security the job gave me.

Months passed, and the business continued to boom. Dan told me that one of his best mates was partnering up with him and they’d combine the business to have floor laying and joinery. He told me they’d hired a unit as a showroom on an industrial estate in Burton-Upon-Trent and, as the workload increased, hired trainees. He’d often talk about the one guy, Joe, because he supported Wolves and, with me being a West Brom fan, it incorporated banter in to the conversation although I never actually spoke to, or met, Joe.

As time went by, Dan continued to tell me about his flourishing business and how well he was doing. He sent me pictures of a job he’d done in one of his relatives houses, talked to me about having to go back to some premises to deal with complaints about Joe’s work and explained he was attempting to get contracts on new buildings in London. I was in the process of buying a house and we’d decided we’d want new carpets down. Looking online, out of interest, I couldn’t find anything about Dan’s business.

A few weeks later, we were sat in the pub with Dan asking if I wanted to write words that could be used on a website. We discussed writing press releases in which Dan told me that if they got work from my writing I would get a cut of the profit. I’d offered to do it for nothing but he was adamant that I’d have to have a cut if they got work from my work. I agreed to it, and asked him to let me know what sort of stuff he’d want me to write. Dan said he’d discuss it with his business partner and let me know. I never heard anything back.

Once we’d moved in to a new house Dan offered to do the flooring in the couple of rooms we wanted doing for free; “a moving in gift”. One evening when I was at work, Dan came to the house with carpet samples and he and my ex picked what we would have. A date was decided and it was planned in. I altered my day off and joked that I’d help out by giving him tea.

The day arrived. I waited. No knock on the door. I text. No reply. I called. No answer. I stayed in. He never came.

A few days later Dan finally got in touch with me and apologised, explaining that he had to go to another client because of a complaint on some work Joe had done. Essentially, he had to choose the job that paid over the job that didn’t. I got it, I understood it, but I was angry that he didn’t let us know sooner. For my ex, this was the last straw, and she gave up on him. £500 on new carpets from a local business later, Dan barely mentioned it ever again.

Contracts continued to grow. When me and my ex split up and Dan and his Dad put me up for a few months it was not uncommon to go days or weeks without seeing Dan. When I’d ask where he’d been it was always that he’d been working away.

On 5th October 2016, Dan text me “I’m going down to Southampton for 6 weeks kidda…we’ve got a new housing to do, 152 houses so it may take a while lol” and after that I only saw Dan once more and things started to change.

5.

I had no reason to disbelieve Dan, although I had my own doubts about how successful he claimed his business to be considering there was still no real Internet presence that I could ever find. Perhaps I was gullible. Perhaps I was too trusting. I guess, in all actuality, I couldn’t see any reason why somebody would lie about what they did for work – particularly to one of their best friends…someone they had helped out, put a roof over and spent so many hours and days with.

But it was a lie. I found out after Dan had been arrested that he’d done two weeks of floor laying before giving it up. Two weeks. His own business had existed in my world for about three or four years. The job in the care home was completely unknown to me and several others close to him before the arrest. Why lie?

As time went by after Dan was charged I had numerous people talk to me about Dan and things they knew about Dan and the range in stories was incredible. I don’t know how many of these are true, if any, but I was told stories of Dan being aggressive when rejected, Dan being abused at home when young (though I’d hasten to add that when I was at the house Dan and his Dad seemed to have a good, normal relationship on the surface), Dan being involved in drugs, Dan being knee deep in debt through gambling, Dan stealing from others to fund his own life…it was insane. Every other person that spoke to me about the Dan they knew seemed to describe a different Dan to the one before. The only common ground being that everybody, except those in the family, believed he was floor laying.

And this is what “What The Killer Did Next” missed. It’s an absolutely huge detail – it strays away from the narrative of a good guy that snapped to creating a whole new narrative of a guy that clearly had deep mental health issues, potentially even multiple personality disorder – a disorder that would go some way to explaining why Dan may actually be telling the truth when he says that he “doesn’t remember” committing the murder.

Looking back through old messages has been somewhat harrowing for me, and a few stuck with me. The 21st October to the 24th October 2016 are messages saying Dan had “broken up with Zoe, this time for good.” It’s insane to think that I don’t honestly know if this was true or not now as police informed me during interview that they had spoken with his girlfriend. I find it interesting that Zoe knew what was probably the more “real” Dan and think that he clearly cared for her and her child. I just wish he’d felt he could have been more honest with the rest of us.

There are also a couple of messages that he sent me about feeling down – “I’d like to say I’m good but I’m feeling a bit shit atm. Not really sure why” – and I still hold a bit of guilt because of these texts. Was it a cry for help? Would Dan have opened up? Should I have made more of an effort to get him to talk? Sadly, I’ll never know.

Then, finally, the messages that leave me cold. The last contact I had with Dan, just a few days before he killed his Dad, was one message reading “My Dad hasn’t woken up yet but the doctor is concerned that his blood sugar isn’t rising like it should and his level is dangerously low” and another “No better overnight. Still not woken up. They’ve put him on a new drip this morning because he doesn’t seem to be responding.”

His Dad was never in hospital, and none of that actually happened. Less than three days later, Dan’s poor Dad would never wake up ever again.

“What The Killer Did Next” had a real opportunity to look at these details and try to work out why Dan told these lies. I think the lies about work may have started purely from the basis of feeling like he’d failed, and by presenting himself as this successful businessman we’d be envious of him – it created, almost, a stronger character for him that he’d have felt we’d hold in higher esteem. Reality is, I couldn’t have cared less.

I still find myself thinking of Dan on a regular basis. I miss him. I wish I’d been able to have helped him and I wish that none of it had happened. I wish that he had felt confident enough to be honest with me. I wish. But it happened, and he wasn’t. I still spend a lot of time trying to figure out why he did it and I hoped so much that “What The Killer Did Next” could open up some more doors but it didn’t.

For as much as I read negatives about Dan online and I find myself on the edge of defending him…I know I can’t. I can’t bring myself to forgive Dan for what he did to his own family. I can’t bring myself to forgive him for all of the lies and that is what I tell myself anytime I come close to responding.

I loved Dan, I still do love the Dan I knew…but that Dan is gone and that Dan didn’t commit the crime. The Dan I knew and loved was a made up character, with hints of the real Dan. I don’t doubt that he loved me, I will always be grateful for the support he gave me…but he was a character made up from a lie.

Dan’s tale is sad, but it’s not as sad as Geoff’s, who is now no longer with us, or as sad as his Mum and brother’s, who will live it every single day for the rest of their lives.

Read Part I here

Learning To Deal, Not Heal

Final Words And Flashbacks

My last words to my Mum were “Thank you.”

When I look back at the end of those five days at Papworth Hospital, past the complete darkness associated with it, I think I was lucky to have those last moments. Not happy to have them, but lucky. There are many people who don’t get the chance to have those final words and know that they are final words.

My Mum knew that I loved her, but I don’t know if she ever really knew how much I appreciated her. It felt important to say thank you to her. Thank you for the way she brought me up, brought my sister up, loved my Dad and looked after us all.

How many times do people really stop to say “Thanks Mum/Dad, you did a great job”? I don’t think it does really happen all that much. It’s almost far too easy, especially if you’re from a good home (which I was, fortunately), to take it all for granted.

Loss makes you think about what you had, what you have and what you’ll lack. Fear of loss also makes you think about what you have, and what you could lose.

This year, on January 27th, it will be four years since Mum passed away. It doesn’t feel like four years. Each year since, from the 22nd onwards, I find I suffer with flashbacks.

I remember, vividly, taking the call at work from my then partner saying I needed to call my Dad. I remember, vividly, calling Dad who was then racing home telling me Mum had fallen and my sister, Joy, had found her and paramedics were heading there. I remember speaking to my sister as she was at the house with paramedics. I remember giving first aid rationale when Dad explained the paramedics wouldn’t move her by saying “If she’s hurt her back they won’t move her because she may have broken something”. I remember being told she was going to hospital. I remember my sister knew one of the ambulance staff. I remember being at work. I remember I was doing performance reviews. I remember deciding to stay at work to do one last review. I remember I didn’t even do that review. I remember staying at home instead of driving straight across. I remember, and I know, everlasting regret.

“Regrets, I’ve Had A Few…”

The fact is, on that Thursday evening, I didn’t believe it would be anything serious. My initial thoughts were that Mum had had a fall, and my worst fear was that she’d suffered an injury to her spine. I even said so much to my duty managers at work when I left. The last thing on my mind was any thought of losing her.

So I stayed at home. The journey to Lowestoft is around 200 miles and takes around 3 and a half hours with no traffic. I’d decided that I’d wait and, if anything else happened, then I’d head over. I spent my night playing guitar sat by my phone. I remained set for work the next day. I prioritised my work, my daily life, over getting in the car and going over. I kick myself for it even now.

At around half 2, I woke up. I felt wide awake and saw a shadow moving across the room. I thought it was my then partner – we often worked different times so got up at different times – so I sat up to get up. Grabbed my phone, no calls, but saw it was half 2. Partner still in bed asleep. Confused, I lay back down. I know I saw a shadow. I know I saw something. Then the house phone rang.

I have never cried like it in my life. It was howling. It was uncontrollable. My Mum was being sent to Papworth Hospital, and all we really knew is that she may not come out of it alive. My brain was in overdrive. I felt true fear, true sadness and true helplessness.

In the car, that fear of loss grew and grew. I’ve always been a fan of night time driving because I like the time it gives you to think. This time, absolutely not. I started to think of what could happen. I cried more. I thought of my Dad and my sister. I cried more. I thought about all the phone calls I missed and never returned. The chances I could have gone back home to see her, even if only for one day. I sink in regret.

Going back to what I said earlier, regarding what loss makes you do, loss also gives. It gives perspective, it gives hindsight. It gives it, but it’s too late.

My biggest regrets in life all stem to missed time with my Mum. We both worked in retail, so weekends free became sparse. I was in a relationship whereby I felt that most free weekends were spent going anywhere but to Lowestoft (too far away), so I always felt I saw more of one side than the other – my own. I went with it. If we saw family it was a minimum of 7 hours travel to see mine, or 4 the other way. I wish I’d been more persistent and pushed to see my family more. I was too weak. I honestly regret it so much. I regret not using days off to drive down alone. Missed opportunities. Missed time.

I also regret phone calls. Mum would be off on a Thursday and Sunday most weeks and I would usually get a call on at least one of these days. It hit a stage in my relationship at the time that I would intentionally ignore calls in order to ‘spend less time on my phone’ or avoid the ‘been at work all day and now on the phone’ argument. I started making phone calls only when I was out alone walking somewhere. It meant I’d miss alot of calls, rarely managing to call back for days. It was easier at home that way. I was a complete tit and I should have been firmer. I’d have a million arguments for one more call with Mum. As it is, I can’t even remember the last phone call we had together.

Before Mum had even passed away I started to feel regret at my prioritisation and my, well, lack of strength at home. I know I could have seen Mum more had I tried. I could have spoke more with her had I tried. I could have maybe had a final more coherent conversation with her had I left work after the call. But I didn’t. And that all lies on me. Nobody else. And I find it unforgivable.

A Roller-coaster Of Emotion

On that morning of January 23rd, when the surgeon explained that Mum had suffered aortic dissection, I had no idea what it was. He gave some examples of famous people who had also had it. Gérard Houllier, the football manager, had survived. His other example, a member of the UN, died. He was preparing us for the worst. 50/50 were the best odds but, realistically, those odds weren’t ever on the table.

We had it explained that it had all happened because of high blood pressure. A spike in Mum’s blood pressure, that was it. He compared it to a burst pipe after a surge in pressure and water flow. The spike would have been quick, the damage everlasting. A clot had formed in the leg, meaning survival would also come with amputation.

News just got worse. The smallest pieces of positivity felt huge, but they made the subsequent bad news feel even more devastating.

During the five days of operations, and the endless hours of waiting, we all felt emotion like never before. Trying to remain positive was needed but, ultimately, felt like a near impossible task. Me and my then partner had headed home on the Saturday so she could stay there for work and I could get clothes. I was in and out. I remember this being the first time I was affected by an anger that the whole situation and eventual grief put on me. I argued, I grabbed my stuff, I went straight back to Papworth.

What did I argue about? I’d decided I didn’t want to stop and have food. I wanted to get back to Mum and to my family.

Over the following days I suffered with my first anxiety attacks. I’d never had any before, and I wasn’t sure what these were at the time. Somehow, I managed to keep a few to myself as I shared hotel rooms with Dad and wanted to be strong for him, but you can’t hide them forever.

It felt like my rib cage was closing in on itself. Imagine intertwining and locking your fingers together and that’s what it felt like my ribs were doing. It felt like my heart was being crushed. I found breathing difficult. In my head, all I could think was that this must be what a heart attack feels like. It’s terrifying. Yet, I still felt guilt.

My Dad was losing the love of his life, his wife. My sister was losing not only her Mum, but her best friend. In my head I’d be thinking “how can my loss even compare to that?” but here’s the thing; loss makes people react in different ways. We all react differently.

My advice to anybody going through grief, anybody who has recently lost a loved one, is to ignore those that say “I know what you’re going through.” They don’t. Nobody does. What you’re going through is completely personal to you. There’s no right way, there’s no wrong way. Don’t let someone else tell you how to grieve and don’t be ashamed if you feel like you’re grieving more than you should, because you won’t be.

The only thing I would encourage is to talk to those close to you. You’re all in it together.

“Are You Right There, Father Ted?”

Saying goodbye to Mum was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Aged 55, she wasn’t old, and it came from out of nowhere. There were only those days at Papworth where we could prepare for loss but, so good were the team at Papworth, we always had hope she may get through.

My final memories of Mum are my cousin, Mark, closing her eyes, the family stood around her in tears, a kiss on the forehead and hand, and then the curtains from around her bed after I slumped to the floor by a wall outside them after.

A nurse came to me and asked if I was alright. I choked and said, “That’s my Mum” and pointed at the curtain. And that was it.

But, then, the strangest thing happened. Laughter.

My Mum was a “get on with it” type of person. She just didn’t want the fuss…to the extent that when she saw me at the hospital before going to theatre she looked at me, huffed and said “What are you doing here?” She didn’t want me going out of my way to make that journey because she won’t have wanted the fuss.

Once we’d said our goodbyes, time seemed to sit still. There’s a moment where you don’t know what to do. You don’t know where to go. Limbo. But our hands were forced.

Fire alarm. We had to leave. Mum wouldn’t have wanted a fuss, and I still think, somehow, that was her telling us to “sod off” in only the way she could.

It made us laugh because we all thought the same. Even in death my Mum had found a way to tell us all to “get on with it”. What a woman. Not even the end could stop her.

I don’t remember much about the drive back to Lowestoft other than driving Dad home. I was dreading walking in the house but it was fine up until I saw the picture on the wall of my Mum and my late Uncle on Mum and Dad’s wedding day. The picture is taken from behind, with them both turning their heads looking at the camera. I viewed it as they were both back together, looking back at us.

The next thing we did was pivotal to us, and I think sums us up as a family. In that moment of sadness, sat at home, it was decided we needed to laugh. Dad put on Father Ted.

I think to some the idea of “You’ve just lost your Mum/wife and now you’re watching Father Ted?!” would be a bit bizarre, but it made sense. Mum would quote Father Jack sometimes (“Feck”, “Drink”) and Father Ted was one of those things we all loved. Mum would have encouraged us that life moves on, and by sitting down and having a laugh this was life going on. This was us “getting on with it” and not causing a fuss. This is what Mum would have wanted us to do.

A Father Ted marathon. Not essential to a grieving process but not a bad place to start.

A New Normal

The best bit of advice I have ever received regarding grief came from a Papworth Hospital nurse. I’ve talked about it on this blog before. She sat with us and said “Now it’s about you. People say time is a healer, but it’s not. You don’t heal in time, you learn to deal.”

Before then, I’d always thought of time as a healer. I’d never approached it as a “dealing” mechanism. But the nurse was spot on. You don’t heal. You never get over it, but in time you learn to live with it. You enter a new normality. Things will always be different but life must go on.

I struggled more than I probably let on in the first weeks. It took four weeks for the funeral to come, I stayed in Lowestoft for the first two. I’m always in two minds on that now. There’s a huge part of me that looks back and thinks I should have stayed in Lowestoft until the funeral. It would have helped Dad, and it would have helped my sister and her other half. There’s another part that thinks, selfishly, that being alone for a while could have helped me. But then I also think being stuck at home alone caused more issue. More time to think, more time with nobody to turn to. I turned angry, snapping at the smallest things. I couldn’t deal with it. Writing this down for the first time, I now think I should have stayed in Lowestoft.

The funeral added some closure. But not as much as I had imagined. The place was heaving. There were people stood up at the back, in the corridor and entrance. Walking down behind Mum I could feel the eyes looking. I had never wanted anything to be over so quick in my life. The service was lovely, there was even a laugh in the eulogy which, I think, Mum would have liked. But it couldn’t end quick enough.

Life moves on. Two weeks later, I was back at work. I remember going in before my first day back to get schedules and say hello. I sat in the car for half an hour before I could get the courage to walk in. Work were amazing. Incredibly supportive, from normal colleague to senior management. I will never forget how they were with me, and I’ll forever be grateful.

We started doing the charity events to raise money for Papworth Hospital. My sister and her other half really leading it, and it’s something I’m massively proud of us for.

We had a holiday planned before Mum passed away and decided that we should keep it as she’d have wanted us to. It turned in to a disaster. Emotions were too high still, and it wasn’t really good for us. An argument led to a fall out, a fall out led to a letter, a letter led to another argument, another fall out and, eventually, a wake up call.

Mum’s passing taught me that life is too short and that happiness is something that we need. If you’re not happy with how things are, you need to change it. You don’t know what’s around the corner.

A year and a few months later, I ended my relationship. I moved out, and I stayed with friends before moving in with Lori. My priorities and my life had changed. Since Mum passed, I have ended a relationship, started a new one, seen my best mate arrested for murder, got engaged, had a baby son and had a baby daughter.

It’s taken time, but I finally feel comfortable with the ‘new normal’. I’m happy. Largely, that’s because of my relationship. I have everything I’ve wanted – a happy relationship and two amazing children.

Of course, it hurts to know that the kids won’t ever get to meet their Nan. It made both pregnancies, especially the first, an almost bittersweet time. I can’t escape the feeling of how much my Mum would have loved the kids and it does break my heart knowing she never got to see them. It breaks my heart thinking about how she never met Lori, never got to see me now. She’d have been a great Nan, and her and Lori would have got on so well.

Life Goes On

I loved my Mum. I wasn’t the perfect son, I know I could have done more at times and made more of an effort. I know I shouldn’t have prioritised my relationship then and my job over family. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I can’t beat myself up any more over things that I can’t change.

I learnt to deal with the loss of Mum in my own way. Much of that was learning about myself. I was a grown child aged 28 when Mum passed, and that passing made me reconsider my own choices. Reflection. It’s a shame that it usually takes something so big to happen for people to look at themselves and say “something needs to change”.

When I look back at my childhood, my upbringing, I think I was probably more of a “Daddy’s boy”, but now I actually think I had more in common with Mum than I thought. Her temperament, her understanding, her attitude, how laid back she was. She is, and was (although it was probably unknowingly to me at the time), my inspiration.

Mum never had the easiest upbringing but she made sure that me and Joy got the best she could give. She worked to make sure our lives were better. And, as a parent, that’s always the goal. She was an amazing parent and I hope I’m half as good as she was.

I will always hold regret over the stuff I’ve talked about here but I will always try to imagine Mum sat there encouraging me to just get on, keep on going. Don’t dwell on the past, it’s already happened.

I’ve learnt to deal with my grief by changing, by loving what I have in life and using a lesson I learned from losing Mum. Don’t take anything for granted.

I will always miss my Mum. That pain will never go away. But I can deal with the pain by remembering her, remembering her love and care and by knowing that, at least in my mind, she’ll always be with me.

The Trouble With Albion

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Supporting West Bromwich Albion can often feel like a real labour of love. We know that there will be little chance of reward from following the team but there’s something about it that keeps us going. Keeps us watching.

Currently sat fourth in the league, just three points off an automatic promotion spot and with one of the best attacking records in English football this season, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’d be a great atmosphere around the Hawthorns at the moment. However, a quick look at the “wba” hashtag on Twitter and a trawl through the fan pages on Facebook can paint a different picture.

Yes, there are the happy supporters, but they are interrupted with negative posts. Frustrations over games not won, frustrations over the board, frustrations with players and frustrations with the head coach, Darren Moore. Comments that the team have been lucky, even comments that the team win in spite of Darren Moore and not because of him.

Moore comes in for criticism fairly regularly. Still a novice in the role, his overall record has been superb; a fact backed up by the number of times he has been nominated, and won, manager of the month awards. However, if you speak to some supporters, there is a real concern over ability, in particular in-game management. On more than one occasion the Albion fans have watched the team play well, only to see the players start to tire but have no substitutions made. Inevitably, the opposition take advantage and through the use of subs and fresh legs, they score. By the time an Albion sub comes it is too late.

But Darren Moore isn’t the only manager to do this. He certainly won’t be the last manager to fall victim to this. On the games where there have been no changes until late on it has often been easy to understand why. The danger in leaving subs late is that if you don’t get a result it’s that decision that gets blamed but if you do get a result it’s unlikely many will mention the lack, or timing, of subs.

On the positives, however, Darren Moore and his brand of football has actually made the Hawthorns a fun, exciting place to go again. There is an unpredictability about some of the games, but it’s been refreshing to watch the team attack teams again and really go after games.

Moore was a real fan favourite as a player. A true captain, he was one of those defenders you’d see and just know that he’d do all he could to protect the team. He’s also a marvellous man, and it comes as no surprise that the Albion have started doing more in the community now than they have done for some time (the recent announcement of ‘Baggies Buddies’ a good example of this). Atmosphere around the club should be good – a favourite in charge, a club getting involved with fans more, a team doing well in the league…but still the murmurs of discontent. Still the criticism of Moore. Why?

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For me, I believe part of it is that we’ve maybe been spoiled over the years. When I think back to when I started supporting the club in the mid Nineties, during the Buckley years, I would never have imagined Albion in the Premier League, would never have imagined the club fighting promotion. I remember Albion signing Grimsby player after Grimsby player (but never the one we wanted – imagine wanting a Grimsby player today!), and looking at games against the likes of Tranmere Rovers thinking “this could be a tough game”. We were woeful. Truly, truly awful…and it took a lot of time, and perseverance, to stick it out to the better days; to Gary Megson, to Tony Mowbray, to Roy Hodgson…

Those mid Nineties days make me grateful for what we have now. To be what we were and to turn in to a pretty stable Premier League/top of the table Championship team is incredible and something that, even when aged 14, I’d have never imagined. I imagine if I was born in 2001, turning 18 this year (a real sobering thought), and I’d only really known a Premier League Albion, or a promotion fighting Albion, I’d be quicker to be dissatisfied at not winning every game in the Championship.

There is an arrogance to some of the support, a real belief that we should be winning every game and we are too good for this league and that we are really a Premier League team…and in small doses that’s fine. To have arrogance, to have belief, you need that to win. But there has to some realism in there. The belief that the arrogance carries will be matched by so many other teams and supporters that feel the same; Villa, Stoke, Leeds, Derby, Swansea…to name a few. The quality in this league, the stature of this league, is so far away from what it was in the Nineties, even to the last time we were in the Championship, that we need to expect disappointing days. The good will outweigh the bad, but it won’t be perfect.

As well as the above, there’s also an element of supporters not getting what they actually wanted in the first place, and it almost ties in with the arrogance in our beliefs. Several wanted experience. A team of our stature should be able to attract experience in charge, shouldn’t it? An experienced manager wouldn’t make the same mistakes that Moore has made on several occasions. An experienced manager would have seen us win more games.

But that’s not necessarily true. Ask Arsenal fans about Arsene Wenger and his last five to ten years at the club and the amount of times they bemoaned the fact he made the same decisions that lead to little achievement every year. From the inexperienced to the incredibly experienced, managers make mistakes. It is part of the game.

I was in the party that wanted more experience in charge. I felt Moore had done well almost in spite of the work of Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew in his few weeks in the Premier League but that we’d need more experience to get promoted again. There have even been times this season where I felt extra experience would have been better…but we’re doing well. Darren Moore is doing well. To actually get me back invested and in love with the club again following the Pulis years and Pardew, Moore has performed miracles. He clearly is still learning on the job, some of the in-game management has been ropey, but the fact is his decisions have won us more points than they’ve lost.

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So, considering the fact that Moore is mostly loved for his playing days, considering that Albion have, at times, scored goals for fun and are performing well in a very tough league, why do some still criticise Moore? Is it just because of some of his decisions? Do people genuinely believe he’s not good enough? Stats, so far, would prove otherwise.

If you go through the fan pages on Facebook and look at some Twitter accounts, it is worryingly easy to find examples of racism. Now I’m not going to say people are more critical of Moore because of his skin colour but I think it is worthwhile considering the question of whether colour is a factor. Due to the fact there are so few black managers in the game is there an unconscious bias formed that presents black managers as poorer than white managers? If Moore was white, with the record he has, would he face as much criticism?

I would hope, and I do believe, that colour of skin wouldn’t be a factor in criticising Moore. The proud history at the Albion shows us to be an inclusive club. However, there will be small minorities rumbling their voices based on either racial beliefs or even through a potential unconscious bias.

gaylee

Just over half way through the season, it’s fair to review Moore as doing well. The real discontent should be put to the board; a board that haven’t really supported Moore as they should have. We’re a team reliant on loans, meaning that come the Summer, regardless of whatever league we find ourselves in, a rebuild will be needed. Losing Barnes back to Leicester is a blow. If Gayle doesn’t stay, where do goals come from? Investment will be needed and the board will need to support Moore…but does any Albion fan truly believe this board will do the right thing?

Fourth in the table, still on course to be there or thereabouts for automatic promotion, scoring a lot of goals…it is going well, despite the murmurs of discontent. But the trouble with being Albion is that we somehow have a funny knack of making the negatives outweigh the positives and we rarely allow ourselves to enjoy the ride.

Maybe it’s time to support the team, to enjoy the ride…

…and moan when it all goes wrong in May.

Brick By Brick

I have a growing addiction. It’s not one likely to kill me, not alcohol or drugs, and not one that is likely to see people avoiding me in public. It’s an addiction that only a few people will have known about, but one that I’ll happily talk about with anybody.

What is it? It’s Lego.

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As a child, I loved Lego. It’s a great method of exerting creativity and just having a bit of fun. In my teenage years I stopped playing with it altogether…and then I turned 30. My (then new) partner, Lori, had always loved building Lego and after a while she decided to buy me a Lego Darth Vader. My first new piece of Lego in probably 16-18 years.

I was a bit dubious to how much I’d actually enjoy building it as a grown man, but one Lego model turned in to two, then three, four, five, and so on. I was hooked. I’d become determined to build as many of the Star Wars characters as I could afford to – only the characters from the Dark Side, mind…they’re just ‘cooler’, I guess – and I loved it.

Lori had gone from being the Lego addict to suddenly being the person looking on at me saying, “Even more Lego?!” How times had changed.

So what is it about Lego that has made me spend a huge amount of money on it? What is it about those small plastic bricks that make me (and Lori) feel the need to travel to Sheffield every few weeks so we can visit the Lego store and, most likely, spend more money?

For myself, it’s a mixture of things. Firstly, I love building it. I love seeing what starts as a small plastic piece turn in to a fully sized model – be it a character, a car, a building or something different altogether. But then there’s a deeper reason.

I’ve discussed in previous blogs that I have a few coping mechanisms that I use to help me through my own issues; be it anxiety or low mood…or anything else, for that matter. I’ll play guitar, I’ll write, I’ll go for a walk. These are things I do, but each one has a blocker associated to it. If it’s late at night, I can’t start playing punk rock on the guitar because I’ll wake the house up. If the weather is bad, it’s not always feasible to go on a long walk. Sometimes, you can sit at a screen all night long with the thought of wanting to write and then nothing comes. Each blocker brings it’s own frustration…if you’re stressed and you can’t do the thing that unwinds you, you won’t calm.

And why do we do these things? Why do we go for a walk when we’re stressed? Why do I play guitar? Simply, it occupies the mind. It fills the mind with something completely different, helping to switch off and unwind and think about something unrelated.

If I can’t write, I can grab one of my Lego sets. If I can’t play guitar, I can get some Lego out. If the weather is bad it doesn’t matter…I can build Lego anywhere I like from the comfort of my own home. And, as with any of those other mechanisms, Lego unwinds me. I find it therapeutic. It switches me off. Any stress I’m feeling, it goes away when I start building. And the more complex the build the better. The sense of accomplishment from finishing an ‘Expert’ set is akin to the sense of accomplishment I get from learning a new song on guitar.

I’m not alone with this feeling, either. If you Google for “Lego Therapy” you’ll find endless links talking about the benefits of using Lego, links for therapy classes for disabled and autistic children, therapy classes for people suffering with anxiety. Yes, Lego is a toy…but it’s a toy that gives back. A toy that helps. A toy that isn’t necessarily just for kids.

When I look through my own collection, I love my Star Wars sets. My BB-8, a gift from Lori, was a build that took over 6 hours and the mechanism with it, the movement of the head and the internal ‘lighter’ is just so incredibly clever and was a joy to put together. My James Bond Aston Martin is wonderful – the detail to it is sensational. The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine looks as good in Lego, if not better, than it did in the film. These are builds that remain stood on display, builds that I look at and feel proud about. Builds that took time but were worth it. Worth every penny, worth every minute.

There will be many people that probably won’t get it; won’t get past the riding impression that Lego is a toy for children…and I get that. Less than three years ago, I was on that boat. But I would encourage people to try it. Buy a mini-kit, give it fifteen minutes, see if it takes your mind off things. You may enjoy it!

I’ve had several friends talk to me about buying Lego for their kids and as the kids get bored building it or following instruction, the adult continues and they get wrapped up in it. They have to finish it. Nobody likes leaving things half done, do they? And it’s in these moments I’ve had a fair few come to me and say, “I get it now.”

Finally, Lego gives me something to look forward to with my own children. My little boy is already playing around with Duplo. As he grows and maybe starts playing with Lego, it gives us something we can do together as father and son. Something that isn’t just football or music or, even further on, drinking…something that can be ours. Projects we can start and finish together. Our own little accomplishments.

But if not, and my boy or daughter don’t get in to Lego, that’s still okay. It’ll still be there for both Lori and myself. We can still keep having our frequent trips to the Lego store in Sheffield. We’ll still keep building. Piece by piece. Brick by brick.

Songs That Changed My Life Pt.3 – Keep Your Head Up

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“All I was searching for was me…”

A fact of life is that we all change. Whether it’s due to events that have happened, people you’ve met, relationships formed, decisions made…we all change. Sometimes that can be for the better, sometimes for the worse, but all these changes go in to creating the person that you become. It’s not very often you meet anybody who, aged 30, would say “I’m still exactly the same person I was when I was 15.”

My late teens to my late twenties was a period of huge change for me. As mentioned in previous blogs, I spent most of my teenage years as a very shy, very quiet boy. When I had finished at sixth form, my next step was to go to university. This was the message that had been almost forced on to me by the school I was in; to not want Uni as a next step was to want failure. Or, at least, that’s how it felt for me.

It was completely wrong. By the end of sixth form, aged 18, I felt lost. I’d had enough of education and I didn’t feel ready for University, but I didn’t feel that there was all that much to keep me at home in Lowestoft other than family. Job wise, there wasn’t much to go for and then there was the fact that several of my friends were heading to different Universities up and down the country. Feeling forced in to university gave a feeling of hopelessness when, deep down, I knew I didn’t want to go but was being told that other paths meant a poorer life.

I contacted the uni I’d been accepted in to and asked to take a gap year. I worked three jobs, at one point all at the same time, and began to build in confidence. I almost exploited the fact I had friends in uni by going out on several fresher events even though I wasn’t a student. I was enjoying the uni life but without the lectures or the student debt and it was great. The gap year was enough to make me decide to go to uni and embrace the next change to my character.

Going to uni was an experience I will never forget and one that I absolutely loved. By the end of the third year I felt I’d developed in to a different man, a more confident person and someone that had ‘a plan’. I knew what I wanted from life, whereas three years prior I had no idea. Uni allowed me to meet some great people; some of whom became some of my closest friends.

Before uni, I’d not really had any relationships. Two weeks in, just turning 20, I was in a relationship…a relationship I stayed in for nearly 10 years. Going back to what I said at the start of this post, people change and after several turbulent years full of personal struggles and tragedy on both sides it was enough. I certainly wasn’t feeling it any more and a culmination of those tragedies – Mum passing away, for example – and a change in my own emotions towards the relationship as well as other factors just made me feel it had to end, definitely before we were married. In all honesty, I’d fallen within myself for much of the last year or so of the relationship and as bad as it sounds stayed in it for perhaps longer than I should have. It was easier that way. I stayed at work longer than needed, went for drinks with fellow colleagues and just stayed out of the house. I was unhappy but afraid to really do anything or even really face in to it.

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“I spent my time watching the spaces that have grown between us…”

When I moved to a different work place I started talking to one of the team leaders and developed a great friendship. I found a person I could confide in, a person I felt comfortable talking to about my own personal ‘demons’ and unhappiness. It opened my eyes when we talked about issues in our relationships as I realised that many of the things I felt were wrong in hers were actually wrong in mine. It was easier talking to her purely because she had no relationship with anybody in my inner circle so honesty became really easy. Neither of us really had anything to lose by being honest to each other, but we gave each other a person to talk to about things that were deeply playing on us – something that I think neither of us had beforehand.

On the day that I ended the relationship I drove to Bakewell in the Peak District and, as ridiculous as this may sound, I took a notepad and pen and just wrote out all of my reasons for wanting out. Despite knowing I needed to leave, the fact was that I’d been in a relationship for a third of my life and I knew that by actually leaving I was taking a giant leap into the unknown. It was scary, daunting and I had no idea how things would go. I’d contacted my friend, Dan, and sorted out a place to stay after.

Even though I knew I was doing the right thing for me, there’s still a hardship to ending any relationship and this was no different. I felt fortunate because I was still able to confide to the team leader at work, as well as speak to some of my other closest friends. I decided to take a step back from many of my University relationships and in time deleted much of my social media presence. This was a time for me to look in to myself, rebuild myself and develop new relationships. This was what I needed.

In that time, music continued to be a massive life saver for me. I devoted a lot of my listening to Ben Howard and, in particular, the song ‘Keep Your Head Up’. The chorus of “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” was, and remains, motivational to the point that I would listen to the song at the start of every day to lift me up. The team leader I confided in was going through her own issues at home and we would share this song with one another. It was our mutual anthem. Our uplifting chorus. The motivational message we both needed.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

How did the song change my life? It helped keep me above board during one of the most tumultuous periods of my life. Sofa hopping, staying in hotels – even contemplating quitting my job and moving back to Lowestoft with my Dad. Those eight words were what I needed.

Eventually the team leader ended her relationship, too. After a few months we decided to try as a couple. My life changed again, for the better, as it became clear that I’d met the person that would be the love of my life and, sooner than either of us would have thought, the mother of my children. The girl that was there for me when I needed to talk is now the girl I share my life with. Sometimes, life does work out.

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Swimming In Darkness

There is a lyric in “Keep Your Head Up” that goes, “I tried my best to embrace the darkness in which I swim”. It’s a lyric that I relate to on several levels.

I’ve always struggled against low mood. I find it far easier to see the negatives than I do the positives. Self doubt is always intensely high for me and I over think absolutely everything. A by product of my over thinking is anxiety. I get anxious over anything. For example, if somebody messages me with just an “OK”, I’ll think something is wrong and I’ve maybe, somehow, upset the other person. Things said to me, whether in jest or in seriousness, can stay on my mind not only for days but for months or years. It takes a lot to really fight against the emotions that come with these issues but, over time, I’ve been able to learn how to control it and be alright. The support I get from Lori, my fiancee, is a massive help, and music is another help for me – music is an energy that helps me and that is why I believe that these songs helped changed my life. It may sound OTT, maybe it is, but I don’t know who I would be without songs like ‘Keep Your Head Up’ or the music of bands and artists like Biffy Clyro, The Smiths, Jeff Buckley and Nirvana.

Once Lori and myself had settled in to a relationship (which was incredibly easy – I do believe we were made for one another), we were placed in to a situation that neither of us could have ever foreseen.

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My friend, Dan, who had put me up when I ended my previous relationship must have found himself swimming in darkness and, sadly, unable to control it. I detail the story of what happened in my post, ‘Tales Of The Unexpected‘.

From the moment the police came in to Lori’s flat, I sank deeper in to my own darkness. I always feel selfish saying that because the emotions I felt will have been nothing compared to the family of Dan’s murdered Dad, and there is no way that I would ever want to pretend my emotions would come close but I was distraught. I’d lost my best friend in one of the most horrific ways, realising I didn’t really know the guy at all, and due to that my self doubt, my insecurities…they all grew out of control. How could I not see it? How could I be so stupid, so gullible as to believe all the different stories? Why didn’t he tell me the truth? Why couldn’t I help him to get better? Could I have helped to prevent it? Will Lori leave me because, honestly, police raiding your flat because of your new boyfriend’s friend isn’t a great start…I was scared. I was confused. I was a mess.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

The police found Dan on the night Lori and I saw Biffy Clyro in Birmingham. Biffy are an incredibly important band for me and I saw them perform both songs that I associate with my Mum (‘Folding Stars’ and ‘Machines’) together for the first time. My emotions were going. Over the next week, after doing police statements, a development would come that would change my life completely and forever.

Lori was pregnant. It was a surprise but the elation I felt was insane. People often talk of feeling the weight lift off their shoulders…that evening, I felt like I could float. I felt, as Ben Howard sings in ‘Keep Your Head Up’, the “comfort invested in my soul” from Lori and, importantly, in myself.

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“Because I’ll always remember you the same…”

‘Keep Your Head Up’ has remained the anthem that I’ve needed. It has also remained the anthem that myself and Lori turn to in unhappier times. It reminds us that things may be bad now, we may be “embracing the darkness”, but things can get better. You have to try to keep the positivity, you have to try to “keep your head up”.

When Lori was faced with redundancy, she shared the song on her Facebook. Several others also facing in to redundancy reacted with love. They all got it. They all understood, and, I imagine, it’s the song that they will have all listened to at that point and have helped them to feel, even if only for those few minutes, a bit better. Music is really one of the only forms of media that can do that. It’s powerful. It does change lives because it gives you an emotion that can change your outlook on the way things are going. What else can really do that?

In loss, also, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ has been a song that has kept us going.

The simplest message can sometimes be the most important and the most life saving, the most life changing. That’s why, in those dark moments, I try my best to remember this song and follow what it says.

Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.

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You can listen to ‘Keep Your Head Up’ by clicking HERE

Pee, Poo and Pride – Being A Parent

It took twelve days for my new baby daughter to wee all over me.

Sitting down to watch a film, my fiancée and I noticed a certain whiff in the air. Through sheer luck and good timing, I’d avoided the pooey nappies but this time it was my turn. Unfortunately, our little girl hadn’t finished so I had to sit and hold her legs up while she did her stuff.

A minute and a strong smell later, she was done. I start cleaning when I notice her start to wee. It’s an explosion. It’s everywhere. My little girl has turned in to a water feature. My arms are covered, my jeans are splattered, my shirt is decorated with polka dots of piss. I’m covered in my daughter’s urine.

It may sound like I’m having a moan but, actually, I’m not. To go twelve days without any accidents…I was happy with that. I know of people who have gone seconds before facing the baptism of piss. I’d gone nearly two weeks. I view it as a bit of an achievement.

For those without children reading this I can imagine you’re possibly confused and maybe even disgusted by this opening. But, I imagine, anybody with kids or young relatives will be thinking of similar experiences.

One of the first things I learnt when we had our first baby was that wee and poo went from being almost taboo topics of conversation to everyday topics of conversation. Speaking to other parents about the colour of your babies poo becomes the new opening to a conversation. Sharing stories of “My son pissed in my mouth” (sadly true for me…) replace stories of what happened at the pub last night.

And you know what? It’s amazing. These conversations are as funny as they are disgusting, but, most importantly, they’re always lovingly told. I think you see a different side to people when they have kids and when they’re around kids, and you see a love in people for others that you don’t see at any other time.

I’m lucky enough to now have two children. Both still babies, really, although our first is up and walking all over the place. They have absolutely changed my life. I feel more complete. I feel more focused. I feel very lucky to have such an amazing little family.

Both of our children came from quick labours. Our first was born 7 hours after arriving at hospital. Our most recent, 3 hours.

Child birth is incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the side of my fiancée for both labours and both times I’ve been almost in awe of how strong she is to go through delivery and actually give birth. However, before I’d sat in a delivery suite I’d always read people saying it was the most amazing time of their life. That labour time really isn’t. I found the labour hard to sit through in that I hated seeing Lori in such pain, knowing there was nothing I could do. As a man you have a sense of helplessness in that situation because there’s so little you actually can do. Women reading this would be well within their right to say they’d rather be sat where the man is but it’s true. I ended up turning to humour and positive words, perhaps fortunate that Lori was just incredibly loving and apologetic during labour rather than taking the “this is all your fault” approach I’d seen on “One Born Every Minute” or talked of so much by my Dad and others.

With our second we very nearly never made the hospital. Lori had been suffering with cramps for a few days and got an appointment at half 4. By half 3 the cramps had gone and we discussed cancelling the appointment. One sharp pain as Lori went to call kept us that appointment. At 5pm, a midwife measures Lori and she’s fully dilated. At 7.38, our little girl is with us.

The delivery of the baby itself…the end…is incredible; and every one different. Our first tried to cling on and not come out. Our second was born initially in the sack as Lori’s waters didn’t break until the final push.

Its hard to explain but when our babies were born, the first time I saw them, they looked exactly like I knew they would. I felt like I already knew them. It felt like they’d always been there.

There is no other feeling like holding your baby for the first time. I’ve written on here before how with my first born I’d had no prior experience with a new born so I was extremely anxious I’d drop him or not know what to do. That anxiety is still there with my second, even though I like to think I do alright as a Dad and keep hands on. But the sense of pride is unreal. It’s unmatched by anything.

Tonight, my first born started eating food with a spoon unaided for the first time. I’m exuberant with pride. I remember when he smiled for the first time I was beaming. When he walked I nearly cried. When he first rolled over, I cheered. They’re the smallest of things, the smallest of milestones in the grand scheme of things, but some of the proudest moments of my life. I can’t wait to go through them again with our little girl.

Songs That Changed My Life Pt.2 – This Charming Man

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I was 16 years old when I first heard The Smiths. By this point of my life I was growing more and more in to indie music and rock music, veering away from the rap, hip-hop and dance I’d loved as a kid growing up in Birmingham. I knew of The Smiths, had seen several of my favourite bands talk about them, but I’d not taken the time to listen.

My first encounter with the band, with Morrissey, came one day when I was watching MTV2. I’d watch the Zane Lowe show, ‘Gonzo’, and it became central to me finding new music. Lowe was, essentially, the John Peel of my era. I was watching for Biffy Clyro, Nirvana, White Stripes and Franz Ferdinand when suddenly I had the image of a band playing atop floral decoration with the lead singer swinging gladioli from side to side singing of punctured bicycles on desolate hillsides.

The lyrics were fascinating, the video was beautifully simple, Johnny Marr’s guitar was hypnotic and fused with Andy Rourke’s bass and Mike Joyce’s drums it felt like the perfect indie song. I was enamoured by it. From then I went on to hunt more Smiths music and discovered ‘How Soon Is Now?’, ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ and ‘Hand In Glove’. I ended up buying ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ and I played it on loop. I ate in Morrissey’s lyrics and fell in love with him and his music. I found his solo work and loved that, too. ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ became my own private theme tune to Lowestoft, where we’d moved to just before my 15th.

It never dawned on me the impact that The Smiths and, more so, Morrissey’s lyrics would have on me as a teenager growing up but I always view The Smiths as more than a band. Morrissey is a man that, for a long time, I gave god-like status to. It’s only really in recent years, as I’ve become far more political that I’ve veered away from that thought but that’s only because I can’t stand the political leaning Morrissey takes. Despite that, I still regard him as one of my heroes. He is a man that if I met in real life I’d probably freeze or break down or both. Either way, it’d be hugely embarrassing for me and, most likely, for him so it’s probably good that the likelihood of it happening is so slim.

To give an example of how The Smiths affected me is actually genuinely difficult. When I first started writing this series about songs that changed my life I very nearly titled it “The Songs That Saved My Life” as a roundabout testament to The Smiths’ song ‘Rubber Ring’. Even picking ‘This Charming Man’ as the Smiths song to write about was difficult, and, in a way, a lie, because there are a number of Smiths songs that I relate to far more. However, it was ‘This Charming Man’ that got me started on the band and for that reason it’s the one that will always, deep down, mean the most.

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Aged 16, I was very much the type of boy Morrissey sings about in ‘Half A Person’. “Sixteen, clumsy and shy; that’s the story of my life.” I was very quiet, I had my close circle of friends and, for the most part, I really tried to keep myself to myself. The move from Birmingham to Lowestoft had knocked my confidence a bit and I struggled initially to ever really feel comfortable in my new surroundings.

Part of the issue for me was that it took a month for me to get in to a school. At the time I was probably loving the fact that I was 15 and getting a month off for free but in reality it actually made things a little harder when it came to starting at my new school. My classmates all knew one another, they’d mostly grown up together, and here I was, an outsider with a weird accent, with the challenge of fitting in.

In that month of no school I got bored. It taught me that I’d never want to be the type of person that just does nothing at all because I just couldn’t do it myself. I learnt the guitar to fill my time. No real inspirations, just something to fill the time. Over the years, my guitars came to be a way to release emotion. Any thoughts I was having would disappear when I started playing any song or just, in a lot of cases, made noise. The day I found out my dog had been put down the first thing I did on getting home was play on my guitar and butcher a few Led Zeppelin classics.

It was also that month out of school, when I started playing guitar, that I started to listen more intently to music. Between the ages of 15 and 18 my musical tastes blew wide open. I never stopped listening to the rap and hip hop, but I also began to appreciate the music my Dad listened to such as Pink Floyd and Led Zep, and I started to appreciate heavier, darker music as well as indie. I started to get more in to literature, too, and started to write. Words were powerful. Pete Doherty wrote incredible lyrics for The Libertines and I became totally invested in them. I often felt The Libertines wouldn’t have existed were it not for The Clash, but when I listened to The Smiths I realised that many of the bands I loved would never have been the way they were had it not been for Morrissey and Marr.

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At school I was in the middle. Never one of the cool kids, but in touch with them just enough to not be recognised solely as a ‘geek’. I found it easier to associate with the kids outside of the “cool” group, but my love of football, more than anything, meant that I could approach a lot of them and talk about the weekends matches. It meant I got through school quietly, really, and I was left to just enjoy the time with my mates when I wanted to. However, there were some issues.

I suffered some mild bullying from a lad called Louis in my art class. We started at the school around the same time and initially got on alright. As the weeks went on, he became friends with one group, and me another. He tried to become the alpha male in that first year through bullying. Maybe thought it made him look strong. I don’t know. I’d put up with the insults, and if anything ever got physical (which only really happened a couple of times) I was strong enough to hold my own. I’m a skinny guy but I’ve always, somehow, been strong on my feet and it throws people. Once it became clear he couldn’t knock me down it all became verbal. Sticks and stones and all that. It all stopped towards the end of year 10, but the worst stuff happened elsewhere.

The school bus was hell in my first couple of years, to the extent that I’d often sneak on to another bus to avoid heading on the bus I should use. On our designated bus I’d become mates with a few people that suffered verbal insults and physical abuse at the hands of a lad called Michael. It’s crazy that you’ll remember the names of these idiots but not all of the people that were good to you. On that bus I saw one of my friends get abused for being a Jew, another abused for being gay…by association, I was in the firing line. The worst I would get for some time was stuff thrown from the back until one day my mates weren’t in and I was at the stop alone waiting for the bus. He walked over and pushed me, taunted me to retaliate. I didn’t fall, I didn’t retaliate. He threw his fist towards my face, stopping literally a few centimetres in front of my nose. It was my turn now.

The half hour to school and the half hour back could feel like the longest parts of the day. I tried regularly to avoid the bus because I hated it. I got slapped in the face one day for just being there. The worst part to it all was that there was no reasoning behind the abuse at all. I hadn’t done anything, but I was being beaten. Physically there was never anything that really hurt me but mentally it was killing me. And it was confusing, too. I was friends with several of Michael’s mates. They had no idea this was happening. I sometimes wondered what they’d say but at the same time I became too scared to mention it in case it deterred them from being my friends. He left at the end of year 11 and Sixth Form onwards was fine. Two years of emotional torment was enough, though, and the damage was done. I was a victim, there had to be a reason for that, and my mind would go in to critical overdrive as I beat myself up over why it was me. I formed the belief that there had to be something wrong with me. That stayed with me for a long time, even up to now, and the self doubt that was born in me over those two years is still something I battle with now.

Every now and then I used to see Michael appear on my Facebook as a ‘person I may know’. Several times I pondered contacting him to ask if he ever thought of the way he treated us on that bus and if he ever regretted any of it or felt guilty but why waste time? The only time I saw him after those years was some years later in a shop and he looked straight through me. He has no memory of me, and one day I hope to lose the memory of him. This is all stuff I’ve never talked about before.

The emotions I felt over that period created a huge sense of self doubt, and built my anxieties and low mood. At this point, I became addicted to The Smiths. Morrissey’s lyrics were no longer just words to songs…they were me. My self doubt increased how shy I was, ‘How Soon Is Now?’ opened with the lyric “I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar” and it clicked. ‘Ask’ was somewhat of an anthem for me. I reached a point where I would listen to ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ and associate so much with the lyric “And I’m not happy and I’m not sad”, knowing that I just felt numb. There were only a few people I talked to about any of this back then. Some of that was because I couldn’t understand myself so how could I talk to others? Another part was a fear of opening up and, as daft as it sounds, coming across as weak. At least in listening to The Smiths, and listening to Morrissey’s words, I felt like I wasn’t alone.

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‘Asleep’ became a favourite of mine. I’ve always interpreted it as a song that challenges people to think about suicide and depression.

“Don’t feel bad for me, I want you to know,

Deep in the cell of my heart, I really want to go.”

Despite the tough topic of the song, it was one I felt comfort in. It’s a different Smiths song in the sense that it is essentially just piano and vocals but that bare naked feel of it makes it even more poignant. I know that to many, ‘Asleep’ will be one of those songs that several people, especially those that dislike The Smiths, would call too depressing. For me, I found it hopeful at the end.

“There is another world,

There is a better world.

There must be.”

It’s the one Smiths song that I listen to now that sends me back to those years at school, but those final lyrics are the ones I now cling on to. There is a better world, and fortunately I feel like I’m in it now. Despite still struggling with low mood and anxiety, I know I am in a better place now. And, as ridiculous as it may sound to some, I don’t know if I’d have got to a better place in the first place if not for The Smiths.

The older I have become, the more I see the humour in the lyrics of The Smiths. With my first job, I was insistent that there were no truer words in music than “I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and Heaven knows I’m miserable now.” I can laugh at the lyrics to ‘The Queen Is Dead’ (“Charles, don’t you ever crave to appear on the front of the Daily Mail dressed in your mother’s bridal veil?”). And then the tongue in cheek approach of a lot of Morrissey’s solo work; “Life is a pigsty…and if you don’t know this, then what do you know?”

I love The Smiths. I owe a lot to The Smiths. They made me feel safe. Morrissey helped me to understand my inner feelings in a way that no other artist could. I loved Kurt Cobain, but his lyrics didn’t transcend anything that Morrissey could do. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd wrote incredible lyrics, still does, but none of them spoke to me as much as, say, ‘Half A Person’, ‘Ask’ or ‘How Soon Is Now?’

‘This Charming Man’ may not be the Smiths song I listen to and say “I relate to this song”, but it is and it will always be one of my favourite songs of all time. Not just only one of my favourite Smiths songs. Without ‘This Charming Man’ I may have never fallen in love with The Smiths and I may never have fallen in love with Morrissey’s lyrics.

‘This Charming Man’. It probably changed my life more than any other song ever could.

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(You can watch the video and listen to This Charming Man HERE.)

Soldiers And Artists – The Tony Mowbray Era

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I first started going to The Hawthorns with my Dad in 1995. I’d been to see Birmingham a few times, but my Dad finally got me to the Albion. We were playing Sunderland. I don’t really remember the result, I think it ended 1-1, but I do have one lasting memory. That memory is a ball played across the field to Stacy Coldicott, who was out wide.

Coldicott, like many of the players at the time, was nothing special. The Albion were a hard working team but that really was it for the most part. The Nineties were not a great time. But I fell in love with Albion because of Stacey Coldicott. As that ball went across the pitch to Coldicott, who had no players around him, he did something I’ll never forget. Did he score a wonder goal? No. Did he have a moment of brilliance and control a football like nobody I’d ever seen before? Absolutely not. What did he do?

He caught the ball.

Nobody around him, ball still in play; he inexplicably catches the ball. In doing so, he gets a yellow card.

I’m sat in the stands in hysterics. The few games I’d seen at Birmingham had never made me laugh – they’d made me feel scared (Cardiff fans ripping seats out and throwing them around still vivid in my mind), they’d made me feel excited…but they never made me laugh. All in one huge cock up, Stacy Coldicott had embarrassed himself but also made a fan out of me. I loved laughing, and therefore I loved the Albion. I was hooked from that moment.

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The years that followed were dreadful. Alan Buckley’s West Brom were shocking…that 11 game losing streak…Ray Harford’s Albion boring but too short lived…Denis Smith’s Albion were erratic…and then Brian Little came along and came so, so close to sending us down before change of board and the arrival of one Gary Megson. In school in Birmingham all my mates supported Villa, Birmingham, Manchester United, Liverpool…one Arsenal fan…and I could see why for most of it. I loved Albion but for a long time it was impossible to really enjoy watching Albion.

And so life goes on. Times change and the turn of the Millennium sees promotions and a change in fortune. But West Brom yo-yo between the leagues, and we either get relegated or go up. We weren’t fancy to watch…there were some great moments…but for the most part we weren’t exciting. I found myself loving watching the likes of Arsenal because they played football how I felt it should be played. It was neat, it was stylistic, it was fun, it was enjoyable. It’s that enjoyment that we all want from football at the end of the day.

On 13th October 2006, 11 years after my Stacey Coldicott moment, Albion hired Tony Mowbray to replace Bryan Robson. I didn’t really know much about Mowbray; I’d heard he’d done well in Scotland with Hibs and knew little bits of him as a player at Ipswich but that was it. His first job was to try to get the club back in to the Premier League. We finished fourth and got in to the play offs, beating Wolves in the Semi Finals (two amazing games) but ultimately losing to Derby in the final 1-0.

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This was a make or break time. Several of the players in the team at the time didn’t want to play for the club, there were rumours that there was unrest…something had to give. Mowbray sold key players…Jason Koumas, Curtis Davies, Diomansy Kamara…and he bought in his own players. Chris Brunt and James Morrison were signed. Ishmael Miller joined the club to play up front alongside Kevin Phillips. The shape of the team changed. The make up of the team changed. Tony Mowbray talked of wanting ‘soldiers and artists’ on a football pitch and he had formed that team.

The midfield was incredible, the attack was sublime…Albion were brilliant. We played football better than anybody else in the league. We could outscore anybody and everybody. It was a dream to watch when it worked, and even when it didn’t work there was still always that feeling that we only needed one chance.

The game that showed how far we’d progressed for me was John Gregory’s last game as QPR manager. It ended 5-1 and it could have been more. It was a masterclass. Kevin Phillips was sensational – his second goal my favourite of his Albion career. I had fallen in love all over again. This was the Albion I wanted to see. This was the Albion I was proud to go to everybody and say “That is my team.” We were electric.

Tony Mowbray had transformed the club. There was a fear at the start of the season that with the loss of the likes of Koumas and Davies that the club would struggle but, instead, we were better than ever. Defensively we were always suspect, but we had a midfield and strike force that made that almost impossible to care about. You score 3 against us? We’ll score 4.

It wasn’t all golden. In the March of that year Leicester came to the Hawthorns to beat us 4-1 (a game made famous by Luke Moore getting sent off pretty instantaneously)…Colchester United beating us 3-2, Coventry beating us 4-2…these games happened. It was perhaps the risk with our style of play; we played an expansive brand of football and if a team countered it it could be a disaster. But fortunately these were just odd games. We went on to win the league. We deserved it. Tony Mowbray deserved it.

mowbray trophy

Alongside the league performance, we also had an incredible cup run. I think back to when I started watching Albion in 1995 and I could have never dreamed of seeing them in an FA Cup Semi Final but Mowbray got us there. One handball and a poor refereeing decision cost us that game against Portsmouth. I still believe that, had the ref seen Baros handle the ball before Portsmouth’s goal, Albion would have won the FA Cup that year. It would have been an incredible double. Regardless, it was an experience I will never forget. A moment I will always treasure. Watching Albion walk out on to the Wembley pitch in the FA Cup – it was sensational.

mowbray wembley

Tony Mowbray’s footballing philosophy was the same as my own. His near three years at the club were the favourite of my lifetime. We were entertaining, we were adventurous and we were good. Outside of football, I found Tony Mowbray an inspiration. After losing his first wife to breast cancer aged just 25, he just continued to move forward. Such personal tragedy had hit him but he remained focused, he achieved so much. He is a soldier, with the mind of a footballing artist.

On Saturday (27th October), Mowbray returns to the Hawthorns for the first time since leaving the club for Celtic. Some fans felt let down by Mowbray but I always felt, with his history with Celtic and the size of a club such as Celtic, he had to go. He gave Albion three brilliant years, and while it’s a shame that the Premier League year with Mowbray never worked, his time at the club remains my favourite period.

My hope is that he’s welcomed back to the Hawthorns with massive applause. My fear is that his Blackburn side do to us what his Albion sides used to do to many others.