Forever Young

MY eldest son has just celebrated his 30th birthday and suddenly I feel very old indeed.
Meanwhile, my youngest boy is still only 12 years-old. He provides a natural counter-balance as I stumble through my late 50s.
To state that he keeps me young is a barbed understatement.
My life revolves around him and my wife, as in turns we fetch and carry him to rugby, football, cricket, taekwondo and choir. And as parents we cheer his successes and chastise when needed. Coming up in the next seven days is a school Oscar ceremony (where he has won an Oscar!) a pop choir event, a village summer fete at his old primary school… oh and a trip to the dentist!
But his very being also teaches me my real age. He can run circles around me with any new technology, I cannot understand the music he listens to, far less name any of the artists and I am constantly exhausted.
Would I change things?
Never!
I wrote out the lyrics and recorded this song by Bob Dylan for all my beautiful children. So Ben, Tan, Rhia, Shannon and Nathan… this is for you… and me!

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Poison: Chapter Seven

The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield
Book One: Poison
Chapter Seven

BACK at Greenfield Mansion, Tony read the text on Clara’s phone and was about to alert Lady Felicity to the message when Joy came running into the drawing room.
“Ma’am, ma’am, Bob was telling me… but anyway I thought you ought to know,” she blurted. “You need to know…”
“What do I need to know?” demanded Lady Felicity, while the other adults stared at the young scullery maid.
“Well, I should have said earlier… but when I went to feed the horses at tea-time I noticed something really odd in the stable store, so I went back just now to have another look,” hurried Joy.
“Well what is odd?” her ladyship demanded again, “We are in a bit of rush here, we have two boys to find and a 17-year-old young lady who has some explaining to do… cello lessons, my foot,” she added, glaring at Tony.
“At the back of the stable store I noticed the bags of pony nuts had been moved and I have never seen it before, but in the back wall there is an old door,” continued Joy.
“Well, the door was open and there seems to be a passage beyond it… and I also noticed the tin you keep the cash in for the farrier was open too!”
“Anything else?” asked Lady Felicity, feeling exasperated by Joy’s interruption.
“Yes,” answered Joy. “Clara’s favourite fleece was hanging on the saddle rack… you know the one she was wearing this morning.”
“Oh my God, Joy, why didn’t you mention this sooner?” retorted her Ladyship, before turning to stare daggers in Tony’s direction.
“Well young Anthony, do you know anything about this?” she asked. “It appears you and my daughter have not been exactly honest about the music lessons.”
“No Ma’am, I do not. I haven’t seen Clara since last night… I mean since yesterday afternoon,” he added, correcting himself.
“I am as worried as you are… and for Master Joe too… oh and young Nathan.
“But I think you ought to read this.”
For the second time Tony was about to show her Ladyship the text message, but decided to wait until he had time to talk to Clara on his own.
“Read what?” asked Lady Felicity.
“Oh, it’s nothing really, it can wait,” replied Tony.
Nicolas, who had been a silent observer for the past few minutes suddenly interrupted and suggested they ought to investigate the stable store more closely.
“And we really ought to decide where we are going if we are packing up the car,” he added. “Everything is getting a bit random.”
“Yes, yes,” admitted Felicity, “It is all a bit of a whirlwind at the moment. We do need to get our heads around this.”
With that she grabbed Joe’s silver coloured flashlight and ordered Tony to help Bob get a few essentials packed for their as-yet unplanned journey.
“Nicolas,” she asked quietly, looking into his eyes for reassurance, “do you mind accompanying me to the stable store?”
And turning to the scullery maid, she added more brusquely: “Joy, you had better come too.”
Quickly the trio of adults made their way downstairs to the kitchen and out the back door to the stable block.
A horse whinnied as they opened the side door and another stamped a foot on the floor.
A large black stallion peered curiously over its door at the frenzied humans invading his space at night. Above the door was the name Black Sabbath.
“Ah that’s Clara’s new pony,” exclaimed Lady Felicity, noticing Nicolas look at the horse and the sign. “The store room is this way,” she added, leading them along a passage next to the fourth stable.
Joy unlocked the stable store and switched on the light – a single unshaded bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated the eight foot square wood panelled room.
It was as Joy had described.
In front of them five bags of pony nuts were stacked to one side of an old pine door, which stood partly ajar. Next to the door a rusty and empty money tin lay open on a shelf and to the right, a girl’s beige coloured fleece was hanging on the saddle rack.
“Okay,” said Nicolas, “Let’s see what is beyond this door.”

Back in the main house, Tony had found a quiet corner in the lobby and sat down to reply to Clara’s text message.
“It is Tony. Where are you and what has happened?” he typed quickly.
In an instant Clara replied: “I am okay, but could really do with you here, can you ring me cos I don’t have much credit on this useless phone.”
Tony put Clara’s mobile phone down on the lobby table and retrieved his own phone from his jacket pocket. Looking down at Clara’s pink mobile he copied the new number into his own phone’s memory and tapped dial.
Within seconds he and Clara were talking quietly to each other.
Clara outlined how her “b******” little brother had locked her in the stable store and how after an hour of banging and shouting she had eventually discovered the old door. She had used a farrier’s claw hammer to prise the lock and open it.
“It was really creepy,” she elaborated, “But I used dad’s army flashlight and found this amazing passage to the old air-raid shelter at the other side of the house.
“It is in remarkably good condition, but very damp and smelly,” she continued. “And the shelter door was locked… and it was while I was trying to open it that I saw blinkin’ Joe and his friend Nathan running across the meadow towards the railway station. They both had bags on their backs.
“Anyway I went back to the store, grabbed some money from mum’s tin and used the hammer again to open the door.”
“I had to follow them, cos Joe has been acting really spooky for over a week now.”
“Wow,” said Tony, “A real adventure girl, hey! Now slow down… where are you now?”
Clara explained how she had followed the boys to Shrewsbury and the bed and breakfast, adding that she did not have enough cash for another night.
“I really need you Tony,” she pleaded.
“Don’t worry darling, I will be there in an hour,” he replied.
“No, you had better wait until the morning because the landlady is horrendous and she will never let you in,” warned Clara. “Oh and can you bring some clean clothes and my toothbrush too. And please don’t tell mum where I am, she’ll have a fit… just let her know I am safe.”
Tony took note of the name and address of Clara’s bed and breakfast before hurrying out to his red Porsche Boxster and driving into town to his apartment to gather some things.

Back at the stables, Nicolas, Felicity and Joy had discovered the passage to the old air-raid shelter and the open door onto the paddock.
“What has been going on here?” asked Lady Felicity.
She suddenly gasped as something caught her eye. She reached out and took a small torn piece of floral fabric from the rusty broken catch of the shelter door.
“Well blow me down, if I am not mistaken this is a piece of Clara’s Monsoon blouse I bought for her birthday… and look – this appears to be blood!”
Nicolas took the piece of cotton cloth from Felicity’s hand and examined it closely.
“I think there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye,” he said.
Turning to Joy he asked: “Was the stable store locked or unlocked when you went to feed the horses?”
“It were locked, Sir,” replied the scullery maid, “That’s why I thought the open old door on the back wall was strange.”
“Well it seems that this door here in the shelter has been forced open from the inside,” deduced Nicolas.
“Maybe your daughter Clara became locked in the stable store and found her way out,” he added looking at an increasingly nervous Felicity.
“But that store door can only be locked from the outside,” her Ladyship offered, “And more importantly, where is she now… and where is my little Joe too?”
“And Nathan,” added Nicolas, “I suggest we go back to the house and question young Tony more closely.”
Felicity agreed and together with Joy they followed Nicolas back to the main house.

Once in the lobby they were met by an even more red-faced than usual Bob.
“Ma’am, ma’am… it is Master Anthony,” he blurted. “He’s sort of disappeared and his car is no longer on the drive.”
“I knew he was hiding something,” retorted Lady Felicity. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he knows where Clara is. Do you, Bob, know where he lives?”
Bob shook his head.
“I do!” volunteered Joy suddenly. “His brother used to go out with my sister, Plenty. He recently moved into a very smart penthouse above the old granary in town… and he drives a very nice red Porsche too,” she added, still feeling guilty about forgetting to tell her ladyship about the stable store earlier.
“Well if we needed a plan, I suggest that finding young Mr Woodward is first on our list,” interrupted Lady Felicity. “We’ve only been gone half an hour, he can’t have gone far.”

Back at Severn Avenue in Shrewsbury, Klaus was still waiting for Rolf to relieve him on his watch and was smoking his eleventh cigarette of the night.
He turned and reached to below the rear passenger seat and removed a black attaché case from a hidden compartment.
Carefully he opened the case and studied the dismantled Luther high powered rifle inside. He removed the silencer and blew a puff of cigarette smoke through its gunmetal housing.
“Perfect,” he purred to himself, before returning the silencer to the case.
With his right hand he then gently padded the hand gun in the holster under his jacket.
Outside, the grey animal had picked up a new scent. It moved from its cover under the laurel bush and sloped off quietly along the avenue to the far end.
Suddenly the silence of the night was disturbed by a muffled scream from the living room of number 24.
Green and grey eyes turned quickly towards the house.

Poem: Time is an Ocean

Failed to share first time around so re-blogging!

No Time to Think

Windward
The spring day dawned warm
Wrapped in riggings of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Into my strong arms you were born
Wrapped in sheets of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

I cuddled your tiny body close
Wrapped in a spinnaker of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

My promise to you was bonded
Wrapped in a stay sail of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

I watched you grow in beauty
Wrapped in a helm of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Your first word was ‘daddy’
Wrapped in a lateen of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

We watched you laugh and play
Wrapped…

View original post 194 more words

Poem: Time is an Ocean

Windward
The spring day dawned warm
Wrapped in riggings of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Into my strong arms you were born
Wrapped in sheets of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

I cuddled your tiny body close
Wrapped in a spinnaker of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

My promise to you was bonded
Wrapped in a stay sail of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

I watched you grow in beauty
Wrapped in a helm of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Your first word was ‘daddy’
Wrapped in a lateen of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

We watched you laugh and play
Wrapped a genoa of love
Hope bloomed eternal
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Leeward
You were snatched from my arms
Wrapped in a beam of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Tears flowed and lies were told
Wrapped in shrouds of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

They blew out my candle
Wrapped in a foremast of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

They could not blow out the fire
Wrapped in a main sail of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Cos then the flame began to catch
Wrapped in a halyard of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

The wind whispers words of truth
Wrapped in a luff of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

Now you must sail your way home
Wrapped in a lashing of love
My hope never dimmed
On an ocean of time
All those years ago

The single most devastating reason NOT to vote Tory or Lib Dem at the next election

Incisive and true

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Tories and the Lib Dems!)

The NHS has been severely damaged by the coalition government over the last 4 years.

But don’t just take my word for that.

Dr Mark Porter, the head of the BMA, thinks so too. That’s not just some lefty anti-government think-tank – that’s the British Medical Association, which represents 153,000 doctors, GPs and other medical specialists and staff across the country.

Dr Porter gave a devastating speech today to the BMA Annual Representatives Meeting in which he astonishingly said the coalition government must “face up to the damage that they have done” to the NHS.

In his dramatic speech, Dr Porter specifically listed the ways that the NHS has been damaged over the last 4 years by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats:

  • The coalition government have imposed policies that “force us to do the absolute opposite of what our patients need”.

View original post 469 more words

All My Tomorrows

REGULAR readers of my blog may have noticed that I have been an absentee blogger for the past few weeks.
And more avid readers may realise that exactly one year ago, after a full 28 years, I bowed out of a successful career in newspaper and magazine journalism.
For much of the past 12 months I have been flexing my muscles as a freelance writer, blogger and author. I have found escape, refuge, solace and excitement in my WordPress blog, my poetry and my most recent teen novel: Poison (The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield). The period has also been therapeutic and cathartic as I recovered from the breakdown of last June and dealt with some crippling life demons. I have been supported by my gorgeous wife Gill, my youngest son Nathan, my mum and some very dear and life-long friends – you know who you are!
So now I have reached the new tomorrow.
Today I am launching my new company writeahead, from its base here in Shropshire. For my US and Australian friends, Shropshire is a long county bordering Wales in what is known as the English West Midlands.
My company writeahead is a completely new way forward in marketing and publishing for small and medium sized businesses and for individual clients. Drawing on my 28 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine journalism, I provide a one-stop tailor-made service to research, write, design, print and publish:
* Business cards
*Flyers
*Leaflets
*Brochures
*Menus
*Publicity material
*Press releases
*Annual Reports
*Strategies
*Programmes
*Magazines
*and much more…
I also offer a unique service to interview, research, write and publish memorial and celebratory publications for individual clients. Whether it is a one-off eulogy in the local press for a departed loved one, a fuller memorial for a funeral service, a This is Your Life type magazine for a 40th, 65th or 80th birthday or a full bound biography, I will meet your needs.
If you are a single person enterprise, a busy retail premises, a thriving community business or a large public or private sector organisation, writeahead will exceed your expectations.
Please check out my website now at: http://www.writeahead.co.uk
If I can help you or your business in any way please feel welcome to email me (nicoutterside@writeahead.co.uk) or message through WordPress for a chat.
This is tomorrow!

No Direction Home

“I was born very far from where I was meant to be, so I am on my way home” (Bob Dylan)

YEARS which end with number Four seem to have unwittingly become major watersheds in my life as I too quickly approach my 60th year on this planet.

Forty years ago in 1974, I left the sanctuary of my parents’ home in the rolling downland of Sussex to begin studying for a history and geography degree in the cold, grey Yorkshire mill town of Huddersfield.

I was just 18 and the move was at the same time both terrifying and exciting, a time of discovery, rebellion, revelry, reality and education.

The locals spoke with an odd accent I had only heard on a few BBC2 dramas or Emmerdale Farm. Nowt, owt, rintin, snap, spice and eh lad, quickly entered my everyday vocabulary.

At first the people seemed abrupt and cold, but also welcoming and warm. They were different to those I had grown up with but I quickly learned to love them.

I also quickly learned the wonders of Tetley’s and Sam and John Smith’s beer, a pie floater on mushy peas, fish wibbits, Wednesday nights at the seedy Coach House nightclub and cheap second-hand LPs in a record shop secreted on the top floor of a decaying Victorian arcade.

Huddersfield Polytechnic (now University) was truly far from home – 260 miles to be precise – and at times may well have been Mars or Jupiter, such were the rudimentary means of communication with friends and family back home.

Those were indeed different times.

In 1974 the UK was fresh from the miners’ strike and the three day week. It took two general elections that year to re-establish a Labour Government, initially under Huddersfield born Harold Wilson and later (from 1976) under Jim Callaghan. It was a time of increasing industrial unrest and the beginning of the shift to high inflation and unemployment. Strikes were commonplace and the whole country appeared to be in political flux – none of us foresaw Thatcher or the 1980s! It was also the time of rising unrest in Northern Ireland and ever increasing acts of terrorism.

Oh, and finally the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe was still at large – one of his victims Helen Rytka was picked up near Johnnies’ Nightclub – a favourite haunt of Poly students.

At the Poly, life mirrored the world around us. Most of us had the luxury of full maintenance grants and thereby disposable cash which was often spent at the Student Union bar or Trinity Hall bar, nights out at the aforementioned Coach House nightclub or Johnnies’ and at loads of diverse and fabulous music gigs.

During that time we had rent strikes, a sit-in/lock-in in the Admin block, put up Workers Rights marchers in the Union building and two students were arrested and held in police cells for two nights under Terrorism charges – they were later released!

Revolution was in the air, smoke was in the lungs and beer on the carpet.

Twice I was almost sent down, once for failing two first year exams and a second time for being a reckless drunk playing tag on the flat roof of a four storey student hall of residence.

Oh and I also stood for election as president of the student union, but as Leeds United manager Don Revie famously said: “You get nowt for coming second”.

Somehow, between all this, I graduated in 1977 with a good honours degree in my two favourite subjects: geography and medieval history.

I was now 21 years old and for the first time I learned the difference between a vocational degree and a non-vocational degree. I had studied for the latter! What career options were open for a young graduate in two academic humanities subjects? The answer was simple: teach or lecture the self-same subjects. To lecture I needed a second degree and was luckily accepted onto an MSc course at Edinburgh University. I had a new focus, but three weeks before the academic year was due to begin the funding body wrote to me to say they had run out of cash and I would have to wait another year.

I flirted with psychiatric nursing during that ‘year out’ and settled for a second best option and enrolled on a post graduate teaching training course at Bretton Hall College – ironically just 12 miles from Huddersfield.

I qualified in 1979 and proved to be a good teacher. I enjoyed five full years teaching in two high schools in Barnsley and later in a small town on the Welsh Marches.

But Four was about to strike…

George Orwell foretold 1984 as a year of doom for mankind; for me it is a year that will be forever Orwellian. As a 27-year-old ‘highly gifted’ teacher I made a monumental blunder that was to end my teaching career and change my life forever.

I won’t bore with the full story as it can be read in detail in a piece titled Regret on my blog.

Thankfully, or rather selfishly, I had started dabbling with early personal computers and had even run a lunchtime computer club at my last school. I had bought myself an Acorn Electron home computer – at just 32k memory it was the little brother of the BBC B computers which were finding their way into most British schools at the time.

My new nerdy hobby soon became a passion and I began writing letters and games solutions to two monthly computer magazines: BBC User and Electron User. In what seemed like no time I was given new software to review and a few months later a regular monthly column in one of the mags, for which I was paid a handsome £120 a month.

Two years of freelance writing, private tutoring and teaching English to YTS trainees followed. Then in the summer of 1988 I was offered a staff job as assistant editor of a new magazine Atari ST User. Somehow this directionless history and geography graduate had become a journalist.

My rise through magazine and later (1990) newspaper journalism was meteoric and reached its zenith when the next Four came around: 1994.

In a nutshell it was an amazing year: a succession of major exclusives unravelling a link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells (the same ones used in both Gulf Wars) and childhood cancer drew international attention. I scooped two major press awards for my work and to cap it all I was informed that 41 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my investigation. Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour.

Later that year I was head-hunted by Scotland’s premier daily broadsheet The Scotsman and elevated to the position of Chief Investigative Reporter.

The next 10 years passed too quickly. The long awaited Millennium was here and gone in the blink of an eye and my hair was turning grey as I made my way into middle age.

In 2004 I had moved away from newspapers and plied my trade in PR and publishing. They were treading water years, but in hindsight I learned and honed new skills of writing precise and detailed copy for demanding clients, including county council and national sporting bodies. I also became a publisher, writing, designing, editing and printing brochures, annual reports and newspapers.

In 2006, due to an unforeseen change in domestic circumstances, I returned to my passion of newspaper journalism and became editor of a thriving county weekly tabloid in North Wales. But life is always a rollercoaster and my demons caught up with me – catalogued in detail in my blog – exactly a year ago. On 12 June 2013, I suffered a nervous breakdown and as I recovered knew I had to change my direction home. Last November I signed off for the last time almost 28 years in employed journalism.

A rocky road to freedom followed. Supported by my gorgeous wife and son I began writing for real. I found escape, refuge, solace, excitement and therapy in my blog, my poetry and my most recent teen novel: Poison (The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield). I was writing for myself and learning more about who I really am than I had glimpsed during the previous 56 years.

Autumn leaves fell, winter came and went and the spring of 2014 heralded a new tomorrow.

This week I am launching my company writeahead, from its base here in North Shropshire. For my US and Australian friends, Shropshire is a long county bordering Wales in what is known as the English West Midlands.

My company promises a new way forward in marketing and publishing for small and medium sized businesses and for individual clients. Drawing on my years in journalism, I aim to provide a one-stop tailor-made service to research, write, design, print and publish, everything from simple business cards to brochures, magazines and books.

I will also offer a unique service to interview, research, write and publish memorial and celebratory publications for individual clients. Whether it is a one-off eulogy in the local press for a departed loved one, a fuller memorial for a funeral service, a This is Your Life type magazine for a 40th, 65th or 80th birthday or a full bound biography, there lies my new tomorrow.

I am home.

Or as John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

NOTE: You can check out my new company at: http://www.writeahead.co.uk