A Hero, A Fallen Idol – My Trouble With Morrissey

As a teenager you’re almost molded by the people around you and by the people you look up to and I was no different. Many of the views I held were founded by my idols…they put the idea in my head and I carried them on, such is the way. A massive voice to me, one of my biggest idols, was Morrissey.

There were certain parts to Morrissey that I couldn’t quite grasp – example, for as much as I am always moved by ‘Meat Is Murder’, I’ve not felt the urge to become vegetarian – but for the most part, I found many of his opinions to be one’s I could approve of. I was never a Royalist, and hearing “The Queen Is Dead” was confirmation that I could never be a Royalist. Seems daft, really, but that’s how it was. I also read his views of Thatcher and Tory Britain and became moved by how against it all he was. Manchester was not a place to be during Thatcher’s time, and Morrissey made that clear. I started to read up on the politics and, starting from his outspoken views of Thatcher, I found my political leaning.

The biggest thing for me with Morrissey was, and always will be, his lyrics. I absorbed them. He was singing words that sounded like they were made for me, words that resonated so much and so well that the emotional connect was like no other. I loved Morrissey, and this was real love – his lyrics changed my life. How many people have that sort of impact on you?

From his interviews, I started to delve in to the works of authors he discussed. Oscar Wilde is an author that I maybe wouldn’t have taken to as much if not for Morrissey. As it turned out, Morrissey talking about Wilde got me interested in him and I was genuinely excited for the fact that I got to study Wilde at university. It was this love of Wilde that played part in me wanting my son to be called Oscar. But the love of Wilde may not have existed were it not for Morrissey.

My first moment of conflict with Morrissey came through an NME interview. The front page had the heading “Bigmouth Strikes Again. Oh Dear, Not Again…”, and featured a quote saying, “The gates of England are flooded. The country’s been thrown away.” The slant was that Morrissey was racist and opposed to immigrants. I read the interview and felt that, with context, it didn’t read like that (it just seemed that he was saying some immigration is good but it should be controlled) but, overall, the interview displayed beliefs that were no longer intertwined with mine. The idol, my idol, was drifting somewhere else and it was to a place I couldn’t go.

As it was, Morrissey ended up getting an apology from the NME for that article and that cover. I remember reading at the time and having people question me on him, declaring Morrissey as racist due to songs like “The National Front Disco” and “Bengali In Platforms” – but I never saw those songs as anything more than Morrissey, an expert writer, writing from the perspective of another person. When he sang “England for the English”, I saw it as writing as a character. Did I think Morrissey believed that? No.

The real tipping point for me came in 2011. News flooded in of an awful terrorist attack in Norway, with 76 people – mostly children – killed by far right extremist Anders Breivik. It was truly horrific. And then Morrissey compared it all to the slaughter of animals for McDonald’s and KFC. “That is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Shit every day.” I was appalled.

I’d always respected Morrissey’s veganism, and understood his view of “Meat is Murder”. Or, at least, I thought I did. For if that view ultimately leads you to believe that the ‘murder’ of chickens is comparable to the murder of children…I just can’t understand that. I certainly can’t agree with it. Suddenly, for the first time, I found myself unable to defend him.

Despite this, I still had his music. Nothing could take that away from me. And when Morrissey’s autobiography came out it was essential that I had it. The autobiography was, I thought, brilliant. Some of it incredibly quotable. Not an easy read at times – the joys of no chapters – but it was enthralling. If nothing else, ‘Autobiography’ reignited the love. He’d messed up with his comments on the Norway attack. We all make mistakes, don’t we?

Time moves forward, Brexit becomes topic. I voted remain, and truly believe that remaining in the EU is better for the UK, but I accept that not everybody will feel that way. When it comes to politics I like to hear all opinions. I think there are points to be heard for every side and I think that, as a people, we should be prepared to listen to the opposition and be prepared to change our minds if the opposite argument is actually valid. However, I’m also a firm believer in research. And through research I discovered more than enough to understand that Nigel Farage is not the voice for me. It broke my heart somewhat when Morrissey declared that he liked Nigel Farage “a great deal” and then put his weight behind Brexit. It felt like a defeat. But this is politics, we can’t all be the same, and it’s his right to have his own views and beliefs…but then he defended Tommy Robinson, and you start to question where his beliefs come from.

Tommy Robinson, former leader of the EDL. A man known for targeting Muslims and other minorities. A criminal that incites racial tension. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And then, in the same piece, Morrissey declared support for For Britain, a far right political group that are Islamophobic and made up of former EDL and BNP MEMBERS. And why? Because of animal rights, apparently. But, deeper than that, is the real possibility of something more. When I read Morrissey’s interview and the answer, “Halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS, and yet in England we have halal meat served in hospitals and schools! UK law is pointless!” I was gobsmacked. It screamed ignorance. Whether you agree with the act of Halal meat is one thing – to say that those that follow Halal are all ISIS supporters (at a time when ISIS were incredibly present), was incredibly offensive and an insanely unfair comment. Morrissey is a smart man, and he will know what those sort of comments will do. It’s fine him now saying he “loves his Muslim friends”, but those comments feed on the people that, like me, had their views molded by him. For some, they’re blinded by it – his words are gospel – and this ignorance will, sadly, be ignored.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. He claimed, in the same interview, that Hitler was left wing and that the word ‘racist’ was meaningless. His argument being that “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is ”hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.“” It was evasive, and it’s a common escape route for people in far right groups that are challenged. It turns those calling out racism in to attackers, rather than victims, for example.

With Morrissey now openly wearing a ‘For Britain’ badge, the controversy starts again. But this now isn’t new, this is just old. It pains me beyond belief to say that Morrissey, an idol and a hero of mine, is so far detached from the man I loved for singing “it takes guts to be gentle and kind” that I just don’t feel the ‘love’ anymore, or maybe I do, just “slightly less than I used to”.

But, vitally, where the love of the man has declined and gone, the love of the music remains.

I was discussing Morrissey after the image of him wearing the ‘For Britain’ badge appeared online and the question was put to me – “How can you listen to his music and not think about him and the things he stands for?”

It’s a good question. He is standing for the complete opposite of my beliefs now, some of which genuinely upset me. I viewed him as a hero, but would struggle to now. So how do I look past it? For me, it’s about separating the art from the artist, and allowing the meaning that the art has for me be the leading factor.

One of my favourite films is ‘American Beauty’. I also love ‘Seven’. Kevin Spacey is, obviously, a main actor in both. His alleged acts of sexual abuse won’t stop me enjoying those films. It doesn’t mean that I support him. I just don’t view the characters as ‘Kevin Spacey’.

With Morrissey, it’s even easier. I don’t need to think about Morrissey when I listen to his music. For me, as the listener, I now own those songs. ‘Asleep’, ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Life Is A Pigsty’…those songs belong to me. How? Because of the meaning I have put to them. The emotional connection I have between myself and the songs is purely that – it’s between me and the music. I’ve created my own personal meaning behind them that doesn’t need to link to Morrissey. And that’s simply how I continue to love the music of the man, whilst continuing to no longer agree with him. I know that won’t be for everyone, but the songs mean too much for me to just let them go.

And, finally, if nothing else…you can always think of Johnny Marr.

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Disappointment, Frustration and Hope – Doing An Albion

My first taste of an Albion Villa derby came 21 years ago, 1998, in the FA Cup. Managed by Denis Smith, it was a very different time to be an Albion fan compared to what it’s like now. After starting the 97/98 season quite brightly under Ray Harford, the season would eventually peter out after he left to join QPR and Smith could only manage to get to 10th in the league.

I remember when the FA Cup draw was made and we were drawn against Villa my Dad, far more than me, was massively excited. This was the rivalry of his childhood. For my generation we had grown up to despise Wolves, but for my Dad it was all about Villa. This was the first time we’d faced them in 8 years. You could tell that this meant something else.

The day came. I remember that I was kitted out in an Albion tracksuit (the kind of thing an 11 year old can get away with but now, as a 32 year old…not a chance), Dad had his Albion shirt on. Our team had the likes of Alan Miller in goal, Lee Hughes and Andy Hunt up front, Kevin Kilbane and Richard Sneekes in midfield…Shaun Murphy and Shane Nicholson in defence…and we were up against a strong Villa that had Dwight Yorke, Stan Collymore, Gareth Southgate and Ian Taylor in. My Dad and I knew it would be tough to get a result but you’ve always got hope and…

4-0. We were destroyed. Simon Grayson opened the scoring early, Yorke scored two in quick succession and then Collymore (obviously him…it had to be him…) finished it off. A day to forget. We hoped, maybe one day, we could get out revenge. At the time, the play offs were in our sights but it didn’t happen and we wouldn’t see Villa again for a few years.

At that time we used to go to the Midland Red Social Club in Quinton every Saturday (I don’t think it exists anymore). It was populated by Birmingham and Villa fans, few Albion in there and perhaps some silent Wolves. I went still in my Albion tracksuit. I remember my Dad saying to me during the night that he was proud that I was still wearing the colours even though we’d been thrashed to which I replied something along the lines of “well, they need the support more than ever now and I’m still proud to be an Albion fan”.

A full 21 years later and that stance has always remained, albeit tested on several occasions. The tracksuits don’t exist anymore for me, even the shirts have become more “laze around the house” attire, but the love for the club has always been able to fight through and remain, even at the times when I’ve really felt like giving it up.

Since 1998, times at the Albion have changed dramatically. In 98, the thought of sneaking in to the play offs and getting promoted was like a pipe dream. Unimaginable, almost. But we finally got there, and for some time we actually established ourselves as a decent, if unspectacular, Premier League team. A succession of years of bad management, from top to bottom, has seen the club drop back down in to the Championship and now facing the play offs, with Villa being our semi final opponents.

When I think back to how I felt as an 11 year old thinking about Albion, and compare it to now, the difference is huge. I fell out with the club, and refused to go to the Hawthorns at all, during the Tony Pulis years. For me football had always been about the enjoyment, more than anything else really, and I felt we sacrificed that in hiring Pulis just hoping that he’d be able to keep us just afloat in the Premier League. Even thinking to that 1998 team, when we were far from great, we had players that made it entertaining – Hughes, Sneekes, Kilbane, Hunt all had the ability to make you leave a game and feel like you’d witnessed something good. Under Pulis, we had better players, but played a style that nullified them (for an example, look at Rondon at Newcastle and compare to the Rondon that played for Pulis) and just made it so boring.

After Pulis and the shambles that was Alan Pardew, the club went back to one of their icons, Darren Moore. In the space of a year, my connection with the club had grown back. Moore made the club feel like it’s old self again, brought that connection with the fans back and made me care again. Ultimately it never worked out for Moore and he was dismissed. It was a sacking that pained me more than any other, even though I felt it was the right call. I wanted Moore to succeed. I wanted him to be the one to take us up and move the club forward. I wanted him to help turn me back in to that 11 year old kid, excited about the Albion even when we lost. I had missed that feeling…Moore got it back.

Then the frustration. More mismanagement. The sacking of Moore did make sense results wise, but the sacking of Moore with no succession plan was, and is, beyond naive. It’s foolish, and it puts the club in limbo. It also alters the way in which the club can be perceived – compared to the other three teams in the play offs this year, we stand out as a team that doesn’t seem to have a plan. If we go up, James Shan will have an undeniably brilliant record of results as caretaker – is it really that unlikely that the club could decide to do the same with Shan as they did with Moore and promote him? Likewise, if we fail, is it really that unlikely that the club could decide to stick with Shan because it’d be a far cheaper alternative than looking elsewhere and “he knows the club”? This isn’t meant as a dig at Shan, but it is laughable, really, that a club potentially 3 games away from promotion doesn’t know who their manager is for after those 3 games. It’s even worse when you’re already thinking the club will probably get it wrong when they make a final decision, too.

And this is the biggest frustration with Albion. We had a chance to really reset this year, but have failed to do so. Although it’s been more exciting this season, performance has been poor most of the time and we’ve been reliant on a great strike force. It pains me to think that several of the issues we face as a club come from planning…and you can look over the years, back to Steve Clarke’s last Summer in charge, perhaps even further, and see that it is planning that hurts us most. This season we’ve struggled defensively…but in Craig Dawson (a player I’ve generally always liked) we have a defender that doesn’t want to be at the club and promotion, essentially, hinders his chances of a move away – we should have sold him last Summer – and then you look at, say, the decision to loan out Allan Nyom but have no plan to replace with another right back. Poor decisions. In hindsight, the last Premier League season, paying the ridiculous wages for Krychowiak and Sturbridge, Chadli and so on, have bitten us. If we don’t go up this year the potential for implosion next year is massive because we will absolutely have to sell to make amends, but we won’t get the money we may have got the year prior for the likes of Dawson and Rodriguez, for example.

But then comes the thing with football, and the Albion. Despite the poor planning, despite the frustration, despite the poor defending and performances, we finished fourth and are now two games away from Wembley, three games away from the Premier League. My heart says we can do it. My head says we need to do it but I don’t think we’re consistent enough. But this is football, and the heart will always override.

In a week that saw the impossible completed by Liverpool and Tottenham, it gives all fans hope. The unlikeliest of results are always possible. We go to Villa Park on Saturday as the unfancied team, in my opinion. Villa have ended the season in brilliant form. They have some of the best players in the league. They are a good team. But so are we. There has to be belief.

For all the frustration, the anger…the Albion are my club, and I have to believe things will go well. Although I have supported Albion long enough to know that, if we can, we will find a way to mess it up. We call it “doing an Albion” in our house.

21 years ago, my Dad was excited because we had Villa in the cup. Now, we have them in the play offs. I’m excited, I’m nervous and I’m absolutely dreading it. We’ve made up for that 4-0 drubbing in 1998 on a fair few occasions in recent years but none would make up for it more than beating them over two legs now. A few good results will make me forget all the frustrations…even if only for a few weeks…and it will mean everything.

The nail biting has already started. The anxiousness has kicked in. But deep down I can’t wait.

Now, I just wait and I hope. Hope that we do it. And, most of all, hope that we don’t “do an Albion”.

Our Secret Tongues

An admission: I had never given Frightened Rabbit much time until Scott Hutchison was found dead. They were a band that I’d heard of, a band that several of my favourite bands and artists discussed as well as friends and fellow posters on Facebook groups I am on…but, for whatever reason, I never gave them a chance until Scott went missing.

Since that awful day in May 2018, and particularly over the past few months, Frightened Rabbit have taken over my life somewhat. Not since Biffy Clyro or The Smiths have I listened to a band and felt an emotional connection like the one I do with Frightened Rabbit. They’re a special band, and Scott Hutchison was a special song writer.

My first sample of Frightened Rabbit came a couple of years before Scott’s passing. An indie compilation I’d downloaded featured the song ‘Holy’ – a brilliant song – but, as is the way with many compilations, it became background music to me. The compilation album was one to go on if people were round or housework was being done.

Looking back, that was a bit of a travesty. ‘Holy’ has become a go-to song for me, one that contains lyrics that I relate to massively – particularly if I think to years gone by. The final refrain in the song feels like it was written for me…I just found it a couple of years too late:

I don’t mind being lonely, so leave me alone
Are you, oh, so holy, that I’ll never be good enough
Don’t care if I’m lonely, ’cause it feels like home
I won’t ever be holy, thank God I’m full of holes.”

This is now a very constant theme between Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison’s lyrics and me. I find I relate to them so much that I’m moved by their music more than I’ve been moved by music in some years. For many others this is also the case. Scott’s lyrics speak to people, connect with people and they offer comfort.

Scott Hutchison suffered with depression, an illness that he openly discussed in interviews and through his lyrics. Some people may argue that other bands and artists have written about depression and anxiety and they’d be right, but with Scott it was a bit different. This guy was baring his soul regularly and in doing so he was doing two things. He was opening a connect to those that suffer with depression and anxiety, and he was also displaying that it’s okay to talk about these things. It’s important. It’s also important to have a male role model voicing this because there have not been enough voices.

A look on the Samaritans website shows desperate statistics around suicide. In the UK, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women (in Ireland its four times more likely to be a man). In Scotland, suicide rates in young men in 2017 had increased for the third year in a row. There are many reasons why a person may feel that suicide is the only option, even if those reasons don’t seem logical to everybody else. I’ve discussed on this blog before that suicide is an end to an illness that someone hasn’t recovered from and I still believe that, but it doesn’t need to be that way. With men there is still that macho culture whereby a stigma exists against mental health and I’ve even witnessed when other men have mocked people for being depressed. The end result of this is that it leads to other men being hesitant in discussing their illness, their issues, and ultimately leads to an increase in drastic final actions. Where else do they go if they’re ashamed to seek out help and, more importantly, how much worse will those men that suffer feel by feeling that, on top of everything, they should be ashamed of themselves for feeling like they can’t go on? This is why people like Scott Hutchison are so important – he’s opened doors, encouraging men to talk, showing that we shouldn’t be ashamed to feel that way.

However, it wasn’t enough for Scott. He used his Twitter account to write, “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.” and a final, “I’m away now. Thanks.”. Three days later, Scott was found on the banks of the Firth of Forth dead. He was 36. His light had gone out, and for many people that voice was gone.

I remember at the time reading one person argue that Scott’s death showed that talking had little impact for depression but to think that is to look at depression in the wrong light. If a person with cancer dies it doesn’t mean that every person with that cancer will also die, it just means that, sadly, the illness beat the other person. Medication works better for some than others. It’s the same with depression…it needs to be viewed as an illness to understand it, and it needs to be understood that what works for one doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for the other. By talking a person takes a first step to trying to find a way to recover. Talking is the start, and that’s something men have not been comfortable doing. It’s why Scott helped so many others, even if ultimately he couldn’t save himself. He allowed others to feel they could take that first step. When Scott sang about speaking in “our secret tongue” in the song, “The Woodpile”, I have always tried to interpret it as a way of expressing opening up about emotions. The things people don’t talk about, the feelings that we so often keep secret.

In retrospect, listening to Frightened Rabbit is sometimes incredibly difficult. The song ‘Floating In The Forth’ is about suicide and even poses the question, “is there peace beneath the roar of the Forth Road bridge?” which is haunting when considering where Scott was found 10 years later. One of my favourite songs, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”, is also quite haunting to listen to when you consider the lyrics…but it would be unfair to focus on Frightened Rabbit and Scott’s lyrics just for that.

The magic of Frightened Rabbit, the power of Scott’s lyrics, are that they give you hope. The lyric many go to now, from the song ‘Head Rolls Off’, is “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth”. Everybody will have their own interpretation of these words but, for me, I listen to that song and think about it stressing the importance of making the most of what we have, and doing what we can to make an impact. Much like I found myself connecting to The Smiths and feeling comfort because they made me feel “not alone”, Frightened Rabbit have the same effect…but lyrics like “make tiny changes…” give a motivation that Morrissey’s lyrics don’t. They give you hope that there is a meaning. There is more.

I found Frightened Rabbit some years too late, but it hasn’t lessened their impact. They are one of the most important bands of the past decade but not many will know them, which is a complete injustice.

The ending may have been sad, but Scott’s lyrics and words live on. They remain important. They still give hope. They still give comfort. They’ll still help countless people.

And, at the end of the day, that’s how Scott Hutchison “made tiny changes to Earth” – he made other men feel like they could talk about their battles and demons. Although he couldn’t save himself he saved many others.

(Click here to watch the music video for their song “Head Rolls Off” – and then, please, dig further and listen to more.)

The Black And The Blue – Part One

The Blue

Chapter 1 All The Way Down

“This could be a bad idea.”

It wasn’t what I expected to be thinking as I peered over the edge of the roof of my office building. Yet here I am, looking down at the small crowd that has gathered, trembling in fear. I thought it would be easier.

I can hear sirens in the distance getting closer. Police? Ambulance? Both? I’m trying to guess but I have no idea. There are some kids yelling “jump”, cheerleaders of my demise. I wonder how they’ll react when I do jump. Will they cheer? Will they get excited by the blood that may splatter on to them? Will there even be blood splatter?

I look around. It’s actually a really lovely day. Barely a cloud in the sky. I could just walk down the stairs and go for a walk somewhere. It would disappoint my cheerleaders, no doubt. I dare say it would even disappoint the old ladies who have stopped their weekly shop to watch me. If I just walk off they’ll have nothing to talk about. I’ll be hated more for being alive and wasting their time than I would be if I jumped and got some blood on their beige coats.

Am I even high up enough to die if I jump? There are four floors in this building, so it’s a decent drop…but would a jump just result in me being paralysed? I’m not sure. If that happened, how would I feel? You read about people that have tried to take their own lives, failed and then felt like they have been given another chance at life. A free roll of the dice. But if I jumped and ended up destroying my body but still being stuck here, what then? That’d be absolutely shit.

“You jumping or not mate? Lunch is nearly over!”

I look down to see who it is shouting and, unbelievably, it’s my boss, Neil. I can’t decide whether he’s telling me to jump because his lunch is nearly over, or whether he wants me to do something because my lunch is nearly over. Either one is believable. Neil is one of those managers that make you wonder if they had ever actually dealt with any type of person before in their life. Zero empathy, zero personality. He’s not even organised. I’m still not sure what he did to get a management role. I’m not sure I want to know.

The crowd has built up some more. I never perform well in front of an audience. This is going disastrously. When I decided to end things today I knew that I should have done it another way. Toaster in the bath, or something. Private. Now I’m a show. A pretty bloody depressing and boring show, but a show nonetheless. A police car has turned up with two officers. One has entered the building, so I expect company soon.

What a fuck up. I’m looking over the edge again but this has gone on for too long. I need to either jump now or say sod it and try again next week. Maybe at a different time.

“Hello, my name is Charlie, I’ve just come up to have a chat. What’s your name mate?”

Oh, for fucks sake. Police are here and of all the police to come up it’s Charlie, the same Charlie that lives on my street. I turn around and he straight away recognises me. He shakes his head a bit, smirks and starts pointing towards me almost laughing – like you would if you bumped in to an old mate at a pub.

“Fuck me, mate…what are you doing up here?”

It’s a different approach to what I expected and from being PC Sensitivity he’s now PC One-Of-The-Lads.

“Well, to be honest,” I start, “I was planning on, you know, jumping off this building.” He looked at me with a smile and started to walk over.

“You’ve fucked it up a bit, matey.” He looked over the edge. “Taken too long. If you wanted to do it you’d have done it straight off before the crowd at least. No standing about.”

And then he jumped off.

No warning, no signal that it was going to happen…one minute he was there, the next he wasn’t. There was a sickening thud as his body hit the ground. A mixture of screams, gasps and the sound of people throwing up overtake the sound of the streets. And then silence.

I look over the edge and look at where Charlie landed. There’s no blood, just a crumpled body. The kids that were yelling at me to jump are sobbing. Some people are looking up at me. I step back and head to the stairs.

Typical, I thought. I can’t even attempt suicide without someone doing it better than me.

 

Chapter 2 Make Tiny Changes

With the shock of Charlie’s unexpected jump still alive in everybody’s system I was able to sneak off without much notice. It struck me that in this moment Charlie was no longer alone. People were mourning him already, all stood around him. Some had no idea who he was, but they felt that sorrow and a care that Charlie must have felt was missing.

A few years prior to this day, Charlie had been involved in an accident during a police chase. He was driving the car that followed an uninsured driver. Nothing too out of the ordinary, I remember reading about the chase in the paper and they talked abut how it was a common issue in the area. But every chase has a risk and, unfortunately for Charlie, he found that out first hand.

Driving at a speed of about 50mph, they came to some traffic lights and a crossing. The black Honda Civic they were chasing went through a red light. Lights and sirens on, Charlie followed in his squad car when a fifteen year old teenage girl jumped in front of them. Her body went flying in to the air and was sent forward where she bounced off a street sign on to the ground. The Civic was gone. More importantly, the young girl was gone. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

There was nothing anybody could have done. Witnesses explained that the girl saw the Civic roar past and, without explanation, she just ran in to the road in front of the police car. The police chiefs were in the media offering support to both the girls family and the police involved. Therapy sessions. There was talk of money going to the family but I am certain that was only a rumour. An Internet campaign ran that helped raise money for the funeral, but after that there was nothing in the press. The fifteen year old girl had come and gone in the blink of an eye, a tragic story to sell just a couple of days worth of newspapers before disappearing in to the abyss.

There was nothing in the press about the police officers in the car except for a paragraph in the initial story. They both took the therapy but the one, PC James Fuller, resigned only a few weeks later due to the stress (he now works as security at the local supermarket), and Charlie dropped the therapy after a month. He said he was fine to go on as normal, and people believed him. He’d been around a while, he’d seen some horrible things…foolishly, they let him carry on. He just didn’t drive.

I got to know Charlie as a neighbour. When he wasn’t at work he kept himself to himself. He had an amazing knack of remembering birthdays and, every year without fail, he’d post a card for me on my birthday and every year it read, “Happy birthday mate, have a good one. Charlie.” If the weather was good, he’d be out cleaning his car – a white Ford Fiesta – until it was spotless. He’d spend hours on it.

I look at things like that now and wonder whether he washed his car so much not because it was a hobby, but because he had nothing else. Did he remember birthdays because he was lonely, and it at least gave him a sense of other people? Nobody will ever know.

Time moved on. Eventually, the police did find me and question me on what had happened. They recommended me some support groups and I said I’d go but I never did. Trying to explain that Charlie succeeded where I failed felt wrong, so I spent the majority of my interview apologising. I was sincere, and I meant it…you could tell that they were suffering…but I wasn’t feeling the overriding sense of getting another chance at life. All I could think was how brave Charlie had been to just go and do it, just like that. That takes guts. Takes more than what I had.

As the months went by and I sat at home watching daytime TV and Netflix documentary specials, I couldn’t shake the image of Charlie just having one look over the edge and jumping. Why couldn’t I do it? What held me back? Also, would Charlie have gone that day had I not decided to stand up there myself?

A letter dropped through my letter box. Who even sends mail these days? Not least to me? It was work. It’s been six months now since the day on the roof, and I’ve been signed off work ever since. Loved it, too. Now they’re inviting me to a meeting to discuss my health and any plans to return to work, with a lovely message on the letter that reads, “It should be noted that if no return is deemed possible we may have to consider your position within the company.” I throw the letter in the bin.

Fuck it. I quit. I was never really there, anyway.

 

Chapter 3 Paul And Alexander

“The way I see it, you’re either in the black or the blue.” This was one of Paul’s favourite analogies, if you even class it as an analogy, and he’d talk to me about it any time we had a drink. “If you’re in the black,” He’d say, “You’re absolutely fine. No issues for you. You’re happy, life is good, finances are good – I mean, they say money can’t buy happiness but when did you last see a happy poor guy? – and you’re swimming. If you’re in the blue, which is where you keep finding yourself, Scott, then you’re struggling. You’re not swimming, you’re drowning and the blue is the sea choking you. You need to get back to land, get in to the black and start to live on land with other people.”

“So what are you saying? I’m currently living in the sea?”

“You’re a fucking idiot.” Paul took a sip of his pint, “You’re in the blue. Everything around you is blue. You look at things and see the bad in it all, you actively look for the blue, look for the sadness in it all. You’d find something sad in a Jack Johnson song and that guy, that guy is pure black.”

It was a stupid argument, but despite that Paul probably made a better point than I’d ever want to admit. I’d known Paul for about eight years. He was a good guy, and one of the few I could trust. I could depend on him to tell me exactly what he thought and, sometimes, that’s what you need…even if you think the guy is talking complete shit. I’d look at Paul every so often and wonder where he would put himself; the black or the blue? He was 32, single, self employed and still living with his Dad. Nights out with him often turned to him trying to pull, only to come unstuck if someone said they’d go back with him and he declined because he didn’t fancy disturbing his 60 year old Dad.

Alexander, who sometimes came for drinks with us, was different to Paul. A quiet and small fair haired 28 year old who we met at work a few years back was a stark contrast to the rugby player physique of Paul. I liked Alexander because he’d regularly call Paul up on his bullshit and, the most important thing for me, you could actually go for a quiet pint with him. I had one night at the pub with him where we said literally about three things to each other and it was bliss. One of the best nights I ever had. He was sat across the way from Paul cupping his pint glass with both hands, looking down and nodding slowly with pursed lips. I could tell he had something on his mind but half the fun with Alexander was guessing whether he’d say something or whether you’d be guessing at what he was thinking for the rest of the night.

“Are you alright, mate?” He asked, looking at me. It was the last thing I expected. I’d wanted to hear Alexander’s take on the black and the blue, but instead he caught me off guard with a simple question.

“Yeah, of course.”

“But, honestly, are you? You know we’re here for you.”

Oh, God. The dreaded “we’re here for you” line. I mean, how do you respond to that without admitting that you’re not alright? If I push it off I’m being rude. If I ignore it altogether that’s even worse, and it further demonstrates how far from fucking alright I am. If I answer it honestly, I’m making myself too open. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t even really want understanding. I just want to come out, have a few pints and go home where I can then regret the decision to go out by looking at my online banking and pondering over whether a month of Super Noodles teas is viable and whether I’ll even have enough for that. I certainly don’t need Alexander’s sorry eyes looking at me and Paul leaning in with his arm round my back as if I’ve lost a close relative and need a hug. The fact that Alexander asked the question is even worse. He never does this. He just sits there and makes a sarcastic comment every so often, not this. He’s done me.

“You know what?” I look at them both and nod my head, “I will be.” And I take a swig of my IPA and listen to the silence that follows. They’re both still looking at me. It’s become a bit of a stand off as to who will talk next. In this situation, though, there’s only ever one winner and that’s Paul.

“You’ll be alright? Well, that was convinc-” Paul is told to shut up by Alexander. Suddenly it’s not just me feeling thrown by Alexander’s actions, Paul looks stunned. Alexander’s sad eyes are looking at me in almost a frown now.

“Don’t fob us off, mate. You’re not well. You know it and we know it. I’m not going to talk about ‘the black and the blue’, I’m not gonna give you advice or even tell you that you’re in the wrong. I just want to know why you felt that you would rather jump off a fucking roof than talk to one of us. I just want to know what got you to that point. I want you to talk to us about everything and I want you to do it now.”

To say I was taken aback was an understatement of gargantuan extent. I looked at Paul who looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He had some of his pint dripping off his chin. It was pretty rank. I kept trying to utter a word to start a reply but couldn’t get anything out. I could feel myself rubbing at the back of my head, ruffling up my hair. I felt like I was itching all over. My heart was pacing. My breathing was shorter. My chest felt tight. I could feel my eyes welling up. I couldn’t control it.

Alexander removed his hands from around his pint glass and gripped my left hand, which had been resting on the table. “Scott, from the beginning. I just want you to talk to us. Nothing else. It’s okay.”

I looked at both Paul and Alexander who were now staring at me intently. I had a moment of clarity. “Okay, I’ll talk. I’ll talk.” I let my breathing calm a bit. “But we’re gonna need another pint, and I need the toilet. Same again?”

They nodded. Alexander let go of me. I got up.

I ran out of the door as quick as I could. I heard them call my name as they ran after me but I didn’t stop. I ran home, I locked the door, I ignored the banging on the door, turned my phone off and tried to sleep on the sofa.

The sleep could not stop my mind from wandering.

 

Chapter 4 Rabbits In Boxes

Rosie wasn’t a spectacularly good looking girl but there was something about her that I found myself almost besotted with. The first time I saw her she was wearing a red top, black shorts and red tights with black rabbits patterned all over them. She was a mixture of goth and emo and I was sold. I approached her, clumsily in hindsight as I stuttered saying hello, and we talked about music.

“I love The Cure,” She said, “But I also like The Smiths. Really, I shouldn’t like them both, but I do. And you?”

I knew how important this was, this was the deal breaker question. If I answered incorrectly, then any future hopes of romance were gone. I couldn’t choose anything too mainstream, but I couldn’t choose anything too far out there.

“Well, firstly, I think The Smiths are better but for me I love stuff like Hell Is For Heroes, Biffy Clyro, Reuben…that sort of stuff.”

She looked at me smiling and flicked her brown hair over her shoulder. She replied, quiet simply, with “I don’t know them.”

What followed was a silence where she kept constant eye contact with me, her brown eyes were practically sparkling, and she let out a faint giggle. From that moment, we were inseparable. I couldn’t believe it. For the first time ever, I’d approached a girl and things had worked out. This was massive.

I’d always suffered with low self esteem, low confidence. A childhood of moving from place to place does that to you; I was never in the same place long enough to make friends so I spent much of my time growing up as a bit of a loner. It was only in the last couple of years at Sixth Form had I gathered two or three truly close friends. My biggest issue, for the most part, was that I was too shy to approach anybody and make conversation…I’d wait for it to come to me.

And that’s what made the initial interaction with Rosie so special. This was all me! I’d made the approach and, somehow, she liked me enough to exchange numbers. I was on cloud nine.

The first couple of years were exciting for me. A new experience, something I’d never felt before. I was introduced to Rosie’s friends and family and we started to see them on a more regular basis. This was fine with me because it kept her happy and that was the most important thing for me. I didn’t come from money but Rosie seemed to be able to flaunt it. Her parents house was huge. I felt like I was batting above my league and early on decided that if I had to make sacrifices to keep her happy then that’s what I’d do. I couldn’t lose this.

After a while, we moved in together. A small place, it was all we needed, but it wasn’t cheap. I was living beyond my means but I chose not to say anything. I didn’t want to lessen Rosie’s opinion of me by saying that I was broke but the reality was that I was massively broke. I didn’t have a penny to my name. When it came to the first rent coming out I had to come clean. She went ballistic. This was a side to Rosie I’d never witnessed before, and it scared me. I broke down in tears apologising, saying that I only tried to do things to give her what she wanted and that I’d miscalculated. I promised it wouldn’t happen again, and that I’d make it up to her. She grabbed her phone and called her Mum, and before I could even gather my own thoughts she thrust the phone in my face and shouted at me, “You tell my Mum what you’ve done! You tell my Mum what you’ve got in the bank.”

I looked at her and said, “No way. I’m not talking to your Mum about my finances! I could barely bring myself to talk to you!”

But it wasn’t good enough. She gave me the phone, and a few minutes later I was sobbing down the phone as Rosie’s Mum told me how much of an idiot I’d been.

By the time rent day came, Rosie decided that she’d pay the rent and I would buy the food until I was earning enough to go halves on the rent. I got a part time job and worked more overtime than I thought I could. Rosie wanted good food, so I would ensure that we had fresh food each week and in time I always worked to ensure that I had dinner on the table when she got home. After a while, the part time job turned in to a full time job and I was able to pay half of the rent.

We celebrated me getting a full time job by going for a meal out followed by some drinks. Finally, I thought, I can start to provide the kind of life she’s after. We can enjoy life.

I slowly started to lose touch with my friends at home. I worked shifts and it meant I missed a lot of people, and spent a lot of time alone at home. Rosie got in to the habit of leaving me lists of jobs to complete when she was at work. At first, I didn’t mind. They gave me something to focus on. And then I started to build friendships at work.

I met Paul and we instantly clicked. I thought he was a bit of a dick but, behind it all, a nice guy with a heart of gold. We arranged to meet up on one of my days off in the week. Rosie had left a list but I decided that I’d do it when I got home after. It was a mistake. I finished a couple of the jobs, but didn’t have dinner ready and hadn’t got round to a few other household chores. Rosie was furious. She told me that she deserved better, and that by going out with Paul I’d chosen clear priorities and that was friends over her. We didn’t speak for the rest of the night and I felt terrible.

As the years followed, it became a recurring theme. Any day off was greeted with a larger list than the one prior. I came to learn that I couldn’t plan anything on my days off because I needed to finish my list of jobs. I would meet Paul on a weekend, always with Rosie, unless Rosie had gone away with her friends for the weekend. If I questioned anything Rosie would go on to explain that she deserved the best and that if I didn’t do what she asked then I was showing a lack of commitment to “us”. She booked some trips away for us both, including trips to London that I couldn’t afford, but it just enforced that she was better than me and that I needed to remember that. She wanted this life, I was some way off it and that made me feel awful. Rosie told me I needed to look at these trips away and see that this is the life she deserved to have. When I said I couldn’t provide it yet, she told me to “get better, then.” and we carried on.

Against my better judgement, we got a house. I was skint again. I’d been paying half of the rent and buying all of the food as well as paying bills, but I was earning less money than Rosie and I couldn’t keep it up. I ended up borrowing from my family, and kept it quiet. I just wanted to keep her happy. All the while, however, I was sinking further within myself.

I ended up doing everything to the house, from building furniture to general tidying. I didn’t see my friends. I saw Rosie’s family but she refused to see mine so that meant I never saw them either. I was under house arrest, only leaving to go to work. One day I decided to tell Rosie that I felt trapped indoors and she turned to me and said “You can leave, but you’ll never get anything as good as me again.” My confidence and self belief were rock bottom. Deep down I believed she could be right. I’m still punching above my weight, she’s better than I am worth.

Then came the night. Out with a friend, she’d asked me to wait up to pick them up. It was fine by me, I was a shit sleeper. Pick up at about midnight, fine. Midnight comes, no call. One o’clock. No call. Two o’clock. No call. Five o’clock, phone rings. Rosie is hammered. I get her, shattered, and when we get home head to bed. Rosie shouts at me for not wanting to stay up with her. I tell her to get some sleep. She comes upstairs and throws a plate at me, narrowly missing my head and smashing off the wall. She forces me to sleep on the floor. “This is because you don’t listen. You don’t give me what I want.” She spits out at me.

And, with that, the girl I approached that me feel like I was on cloud nine had made me feel smaller than small. A spec of dirt on a shoe, good for nothing. I was mentally beat. I was battered.

The next day I got up and got in the car and drove to nowhere in particular. For the first time ever I looked across at the other side of the road, watching the convoy of lorries travelling at 60 mph and I started to think, for the first time, “If I just turned my car in to the other side of the road, that could take all of this away.”

I got back home. I packed my boxes. I never went back.

 

(Part Two to follow soon. As this is the first time I have ever attempted anything like this (as in a proper piece of original fiction), I’d be very appreciative of any feedback. Fully aware that it’s not the happiest of stories so far but any other feedback would be amazing. Thank you.)

I Watch cBeebies More Than My Son

It sounds a little ridiculous but when I found out I was becoming a father one of the things that really excited me was having an excuse to get my old favourite TV shows out and have my child grow up on them while I enjoyed the nostalgia. Thomas The Tank Engine was, and is, a must, for example…though watching the trains decide on the best way to go on strike really showed how much went over my head when I was younger.

What I never expected was to find myself sat in pyjamas at midday watching Andy Day on cBeebies singing “You’ve been playing so hard, and now you’re ready to eat!” with the sinking realisation that I’ve been watching cBeebies more than my 19 month old son, and we’re only just having breakfast.

cbeebies

I’ve become a cBeebies parent. There are times when I feel like I enjoy watching it more than my children. There have been far more times than I care to remember where I have found myself sat watching it with no kids around. There’s just something really likeable about so much on the channel.

The presenters are essentially variety artists. They do everything. Introduce the programmes? Obviously. Present/act in there own programmes? Easily. Sing original songs and read stories? You bet. Perform Shakespeare plays on a children’s TV channel? They do that, too.

There’s an intrigue for me when I watch some of the presenters. I like to think of myself as a pretty confident Dad when I’m out with the kids (I discovered you can dance in the street pushing a pram because it’s “sweet/cute”, but it’s not so “sweet/cute” if there’s no baby around – you’re just a man dancing in the street.), but the confidence required to dress up as a farmer and ride a child’s tractor on the streets of Northwich with none of your kids about, as they do in Show Me, Show Me, is a level of confidence I’m nowhere near. I find myself admiring the hosts, but also thinking “I hope they pay you well for that…”

When it dawned on me that Something Special, Justin Fletcher’s show, only featured children with disabilities I found myself massively moved, as I also did when I realised Pablo (which is brilliant, and has an amazing theme tune) is about the thoughts of an autistic boy. There’s something really quite touching about these programmes – they make you think about disability in a different way…how do you react to it? To see how genuinely excited the kids get when they see Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumble) is sometimes enough to make you crumble. You don’t get that on any other channel.

But as well as that, you get brilliant shows like How Does It Work? Hosted by Maddie Moate, it’s just an incredibly interesting show. It’s probably the show that I get more sucked in on than any other (far more than the kids do), purely because who doesn’t want to know the inside mechanisms of a cat flap or how they make the red, blue and white colour stay separate in toothpaste?

There’s a big trend, it seems, towards having kids TV being CGI rather than cartoons. Bing, Octonaughts, Go Jetters are all brilliant examples of how to do kids’ CGI right…but the simplistic cartoon nature of Hey Duggee! is where cBeebies has really struck gold. Duggee is just incredible and, featuring a host of adult references (for example, they’ve referenced Apocalypse Now and Stranger Things), you find yourself as invested in it as the kids do. Duggee is now a key figure in our house. Both Lori and myself love him…and our little lad adores him.

duggee stranger things

The time when I truly realised that I had become a cBeebies parent was when I became almost distraught at the change in schedule of the cBeebies Bedtime Hour – particularly at the removal of the completely bizarre, porridge filled Abney and Teal – a show about these odd characters living on an island in a park (that I’m convinced is Hyde Park) that seem addicted to porridge. Thankfully, it got moved to another time in the day. I, too, need my porridge fix, apparently.

The Bedtime Hour is the tour de force for cBeebies. In The Night Garden is still tremendously out there and incredibly surreal (and inspiration for my piece of fan fiction ‘Trapped In The Night Garden‘)…and the bedtime story has become a bit of a geek out time for me, waiting to see who is reading. Tom Hardy is brilliant, Dolly Parton strangely good but my personal favourite was the least expected, in my opinion…Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.

I mean…on what other children’s channel, one aimed at toddlers too, would you have a rock star who sang “I want to lick you too much” in the song Skin On Skin and “Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol. C-c-c-c-c-Cocaine…” in the song Feel Good Hit Of The Summer reading a bedtime story to your little children?

CBeebies. Never change.

I’d had this idea, before having kids, that I’d try to keep TV to a minimum (introducing my old favourites in intervals) and instead go out more and play games…keep them active and so on. Lori and I still do those things but, nine times out of ten at home, cBeebies is on – even if only in the background. It’s educational, it’s fun, and it’s genuinely great. I’d even go as far as to argue that if you don’t feel happy paying a TV licence watch cBeebies, and then watch another kids channel. You’ll change your mind.

I was excited about introducing my children to the likes of Thomas The Tank Engine, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles etc. Now I’m hooked on Go Jetters, Hey Duggee and Pablo.

I think the kids won.

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.

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

moore wba

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?

wba

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.

moore red top

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.