I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

Blog cover

MY social and literary hero Patti Smith once said (three years ago to be precise): “I’m 67 years old; you’re not going to tell me what to do. The only person who can boss me around now is my daughter.”

And just a few short years behind Patti, I know that feeling well… although in my case, substitute son for daughter.

I started writing for myself when I was about 17, and almost five decades later, I am still writing.

As an angst ridden teenager I would while away my evenings writing poetry… you know the stuff, reams of stream of consciousness prose and rhyme littered with passions and desires, knitted together with unrequited love.

So, it was perhaps not much of a surprise that at the age of 22, I pursued a postgraduate teaching course in creative English and drama at Bretton Hall College in West Yorkshire.

I reckoned I had experienced deep love and rejection and that subsequently my own poetry had become profound and real.

Yes, I was a cocky, self-assured young man.

But that cockiness was soon dealt its first blow.

The university’s dean of faculty, a larger than life woman called Caroline St Leger, heard about my poetry and invited me to her room for “a small sherry and a reading”.

I was at first elated… I had an educated audience for my work.

I was a poet!

So armed with an A4 folder containing five years of my finest writing, I soon found myself sitting across a large oak table from the esteemed Ms St Leger, reading aloud a selected few poems.

Red-lipped with Bette Davis eyes and sipping cream sherry, she sat and listened intently.

I delivered my best poems, but she showed no emotion and carefully lit an untipped cigarette.

As the table turned I sat more awkwardly.

The ageing dean took her turn to read more of my writing quietly to herself.

She halted, sipped more sherry and took one long drag of her cigarette.

Then her critique began.

Her disassembling of my poetic structure and rhyming schemes was polite and scholarly.

Even her observation that she enjoyed my ‘lyric simplicity’ seemed like a compliment rather than a damnation.

But her final words dug deep and stayed with me: “It is clear that you don’t yet know love, Nic. When you have discovered love, you should try writing poetry again, until then write about what you know.”

I swallowed hard.

Crestfallen, I thanked her and walked back to my rooms.

“Don’t yet know love,” echoed in my brain.

Over the ensuing years I was married and divorced twice, helped create five wonderful children and kidded myself that along the way I had found love… and a few times too!

But it took 28 years in newspaper and magazine journalism and a nervous breakdown in 2013 for the poetic spark to eventually be re-ignited.

Now five years since the day of the breakdown, I have lost count of the number of poems – and attempted poems – I have written. But the truth is, I simply cannot stop writing.

During that time I have published two well-received books of my own poetry, and edited an amazing anthology of poems from a group of international writers.

Now I am two-thirds the way through writing my autobiography: Survive the Roller Coaster and Assume the Position.

Poetry is my art… and I have little care whether others read my words or not, because for me it is my calling… I write for myself, because it is all I know.

So now in the autumn of my life, dare I pass on any advice to younger writers?

I am unsure I am qualified to do that.

But, I will share Patti Smith’s advice, taken from her discussion with Christian Lund at the Louisiana Literature Festival on 24 August, 2012.

She spoke to an audience captivated by her charismatic charm and frank openness about the life challenges and dilemmas involved in pursuing a creative life.

These are her words, and for me they resonate so loudly. They are a profound lesson for any person diving into the ever-flowing human interaction with writing… or just plain living:

“A writer or any artist can’t expect to be embraced by the people.

You know I’ve done records where it seemed like no one listened to them. You write poetry books that maybe you know 50 people read and you just keep doing your work because you have to because it’s your calling.

But it’s beautiful to be embraced by the people.

Some people have said to me well you know, “Don’t you think that kind of success spoils one as an artist or you know if you’re a punk rocker you don’t want to have a hit record?” and I say “Well I say well fuck you!”

It’s just like one just does their work for the people and the more people you can touch the more wonderful it is. You don’t do your work and then say well I only want the cool people to read it. You know you want everyone to be transported or hopefully inspired by it.

When I was really young, William Burroughs told me – I was really struggling we never had any money – and the advice that William gave me was build a good name and keep your name clean.

Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work.

And if you build a good name eventually you know that name will be its own currency. And I remember when he told me that and I said, “Yeah, but William, my name’s Smith you know (just joking!).”

To be an artist, actually to be a human being in these times it’s all difficult. You have to go through life hopefully you know trying to stay healthy being as happy as you can pursuing and doing what you want.

If what you want is to have children, if what you want is to be a baker. If want you want is to live out in the woods or try to save the environment, or maybe what you want is to write scripts for detective shows. It doesn’t really matter you know.

What matters is to know what you want and pursue it and understand that it’s going to be hard. Because life is really difficult. You’re going to lose people you love. You’re going suffer heartbreak. Sometimes you’ll be sick. Sometimes you’ll have a really bad toothache. Sometimes you’ll be hungry.

But on the other end, you’ll have the most beautiful experiences. Sometimes just the sky. Sometimes you know a piece of work that you do that feels so wonderful. Or you find somebody to love. Or your children. There’s beautiful things in life so when you are suffering it’s part of the package.

You look at it: we’re born and we also have to die. We know that. So it makes sense that we’re going to be really happy and things are going to be really fucked up too. Just ride with it. It’s like a roller coaster ride. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s going to have perfect moments and then rough spots but it’s all worth it. Believe me, I think it is.

You know I’m sure that each generation can say that their time was the best and the worst of times.

But I think the right now we are at something different that I’ve never seen. It’s a pioneering time because there is no other their time in history like right now.

And that’s what makes it unique. It’s not unique because we have renaissance style artists – it’s unique because it’s a time of the people because technology has really democratized self-expression.

Instead of a handful of people making their own records or writing their own songs everybody can write them.

Everyone can post a poem on the Internet and have people read it. Everyone has access and access that they’ve never had before.

There is possibilities for global striking. There’s possibilities for bringing down these corporations and governments who think they rule the world because we can unite as one people through technology.

We’re all still figuring it out and what power that we actually have. But the people still do have the power more than ever.

And I think right now we’re going through this painful sort of like adolescence. Again, what do we do with this technology? What do we do with our world? Who are we?

But it also makes it exciting. You know all the young people right now, the new generations they’re pioneers in a new time.

So, I say stay strong. Try to have fun, but stay clean, stay healthy because you know you have a lot of challenges ahead.

And be happy.”

A video of Patti Smith’s Advice to the Young can be found on Vimeo at: http://vimeo.com/57857893

 

Half a century following the Albion

Knockhaert

This season I am celebrating 50 years supporting the Albion. Now with our first season in the Premier League almost finished, I thought it might be a time for a snapshot of 10 of my personal highs and lows following our team over that half century.

 

2 September 1967

The Goldstone Ground

League Division 3

B&HA 1 Bury 0

My first Albion game. I witnessed in boyish awe a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd with Kit Napier scoring the only goal. Two weeks later I was back to watch us lose by the same score to Torquay. But I was already hooked!

 

13 August 1969

The Goldstone Ground

League Cup 2nd Round

B&HA 1 Portsmouth 0

My first night game against 2nd Division giants and fierce rivals Pompey. Standing in the middle of a packed North Stand I sucked in the pungent air of cigarette smoke and testosterone. On the pitch Alex Dawson scored our winner and Kit Napier had his shirt ripped off his back by Pompey full-back Eoin Hand as he raced towards their goal.

 

1 December 1973

The Goldstone Ground

League Division 3

B&HA 2 Bristol Rovers 8

Brian Clough had just been appointed manager and Albion euphoria was at a new height… but it didn’t last long! Hot on the heels of a 4-0 defeat against Walton and Hersham in the FA Cup, we faced high-flying Bristol Rovers. Smash and Grab strikers Bruce Bannister and Alan Warboys did the damage; and 44 years later I have not since witnessed such an Albion humiliation.

 

5 May 1979

St James Park

League Division 2

Newcastle United 1 B&HA 3

I wrote about this game extensively in TAM#4. What else is there to say, except I was there, and prior to the promotion clinching win against Wigan last month, this was my most exciting moment, supporting the Albion.

 

29 November 1980

Elland Road

League Division 1

Leeds United 1 B&HA 0

I hate Leeds United and I hate Elland Road. I have so many bad memories of the place, including almost being maimed for life as Leeds thugs hurled house bricks at me and friends after a Newcastle United v Bolton League Cup replay in 1976. This game was little different as we were huddled in caged open terracing and spent the whole game trying to dodge coins and other metal objects being thrown at us by Leeds supporters.

 

10 November 1981

Oakwell

League Cup 3rd Round

Barnsley 4 B&HA 1

I was teaching in Barnsley and my 5th form class persuaded me into to going to the game and standing with the home supporters. Gatting scored for us in the second minute and I jumped around like a demented monkey. I was soon put in my place by the surrounding Barnsley supporters and the four goals which followed. I had to put up with ridicule from my pupils until well after Christmas.

 

3 May 1997

Edgar Street

League Division 4

Hereford United 1 B&HA 1

I had lived near Hereford for seven years during the 1980s and knew the town and the Edgar Street ground well; so by hook and crook I managed to get a ticket. At half time we were staring oblivion fully in the face. And we all know what happened next. The defining moment as an Albion supporter.

 

21 April 2001

Brunton Park

League Division 4

Carlisle United 0 B&HA 0

The first and only game I ever took my two daughters to. Basking in sunshine and with hundreds of blue and white balloons we watched and ate crisps as the Albion held out for drab goalless draw and promotion out of the bottom division for the first time since before Bellotti and Archer! Two years later was the last time I ever saw my daughters.

 

14 February 2004

Blundell Park

League Division 2

Grimsby Town 2 B&HA 1

This was the day we delivered a huge Valentine’s card to John Prescott’s office in Hull as part of the Falmer for All campaign. I then drove across the Humber Bridge for a routine league game against Grimsby. It was cold and wet and with no parking close to the ground I was already soaked to the skin by the time I had walked five streets and bought my first Bovril. We lost thanks to two goalkeeping howlers by our young third choice keeper Stuart Jones. This was the match where I came closest to dying of hypothermia!

 

7 January 2012

FA Cup 3rd Round

The Amex

B&HA 1 Wrexham 1

This game – and the replay at the Racecourse – will always stay with me. I developed a close bond with Wrexham FC during their battle against their asset stripping owners in 2004-05 and as a result ended up living in the town for eight years. The love and bond between the two clubs endured, and after our promotion was secured last month, I was showered with ‘well-done’ and ‘thanks’ messages from Wrexham supporters.

 

 

A day and a life following the Albion with a little help from a friend

Albion cover

IT was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… and 50 years since my very first Albion game.

Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds, but at the end of the so-called Summer of Love I was about to begin a love affair that would give me greater highs than any acid trip.

I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old kid when a neighbour in my home village of Mile Oak offered to take me to my first proper football match, at a place I had only ever seen from the top deck of a bus on the Old Shoreham Road.

David Knott was 32, and as an Albion nut he seemed cursed to have a daughter who hated football. So I became his Saturday surrogate son, at least for the purposes of having someone to take to matches at the Goldstone Ground.

My first Albion game was on a bright and sunny Saturday, 2 September 1967; and it was a trip into dreamland as I witnessed a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd.

I stood with David near the front right of the North Stand and watched in awe as these 22 men battled it out on the sun-kissed grass.

I soaked it all in, including the fact that Bury were captained by Scottish international Bobby Collins, who was hard in the tackle and ran the show from midfield, until we scored.

Our scorer was a tousle-haired inside forward named Kit Napier. He became my immediate hero, and along with Brylcreem-blonde crowd favourite Charlie Livesey, they remain personal Albion legends.

Others in our team that day were the solid Norman Gall, John Napier (no relation to Kit), George Dalton, the emerging midfield dynamo John Templeman and two wingers Wally Gould and Brian “Tiger” Tawse, who would match Knockaert and Skalak for trickery, but maybe not pace!

So I was hooked for life and began a routine of a bus ride on the number 26 from Mile Oak to the ground for a home match every fortnight, and a Football Combination (reserve game) on alternate Saturdays – the matches when you got to talk with the keeper during the game!

Then there came the waiting-in-line at the North-West corner gates for players’ autographs after training, during the school holidays, scrapbooks of match cuttings from the Argus and the obligatory club scarf and a matching Subbuteo team.

It was an all-consuming schoolboy passion.

And a passion, which over these 50 years has endured living in Scotland, Yorkshire and the North East, the hellish fight for the survival of our club in the mid-1990s, the Gillingham and Withdean years and at last the glory of the Amex and our promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.

In 1967, England were World Champions, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the newest must-have car was the Ford Escort, mods still fought rockers on Brighton beach, man had yet to land on the moon and colour TV was still just a dream.

Yep, times have changed…

My return bus journey to the Goldstone in 1967 was 8d (about 3p), admission to the North Stand was 2s 9d (13p) – a lot less for the reserve games – the match programme was 1s (5p), a cup of Bovril 2d (1p) and a bag of crisps the same!

So to travel and watch my heroes every Saturday, and enjoy a half-time snack cost a stately 22p!

To put things in perspective: in 1967 a man’s average annual wage was £900, the average mortgage was £80 a year and a loaf of bread was just 5p… a season ticket to watch the English champions Manchester United was £8.50.

To allow for inflation, £1 in 1967 is worth £16.80 today, so I’ll let you do the maths and comparisons.

Now, aged 62 and sitting in front of a state-of-the-art PC with Sergeant Pepper’s playing on iPlayer, the years come tumbling back and memories of that sunny Saturday in 1967 will never leave me.

Sex abuse survivor’s first poetry book now available on Kindle and paperback

WP Hill

MULTI award winning writer Nic Outterside quit his job as editor of North Wales’ flagship newspaper The Denbighshire Free Press following a nervous breakdown in June 2013.

Nic launched his own publishing company and began the slow road to recovery under the watchful eyes of his doctor and the support of his family. Part of the suggested therapy was for him to begin writing and talking about the life experiences which had led to his breakdown.

From childhood sexual abuse, through cancer, bereavement, bankruptcy, divorce, repossession of my home, the loss of two of my children and an assault which almost took my life, I guess there was a lot to write about,” says Nic.

“My first book a paperback The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light, published in November 2014 was a huge success, and last winter I started work on the follow-up.

“I also decided to make the book more widely available this week by publishing a second edition worldwide on Amazon Kindle,” he adds.

The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light is a raw, and at times shocking, book of angst, joy and reflection on subjects as diverse as abuse, cancer, politics, depression, bereavement, love and joy. The full story behind the book can be listened to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2N2X7t7awo

You can buy the book on Kindle, priced just £1.43 at:

www.amazon.co.uk/Hill-Songs-Poems-Darkness-Light-ebook/dp/B07CNZ75MZ

Alternatively you can still buy the First Edition paperback (120 copies left of the print run of 1,000) The Hill – Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light in paperback, is priced at just £1.99 with £1.80 for UK post and packing and is available via Ebay: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/The-Hill-Songs-and-Poems-of-Darkness-and-Light-Nic-Outterside-Paperback/222959978770?hash=item33e9734912:g:3O0AAOSwdjha6DvY