REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2018
The world is old
The world is grey
Lessons of life
Can’t be learned in a day
It’s the last day’s last hour
Of the last happy year
I feel the unknown
In this world is so dear
AS the clock ticks towards midnight on the last day of the year, I pull some ragged guitar strings to sharpen my senses and recall the time retreating.
This year has been unlike any other… a curate’s egg of good, bad, poisonous and beautiful. But while crows’ feet and grey lines etch the passage of my life line, 2018 is a year I will never forget.
- Four remarkable holidays in Dorset (twice), Northumberland and Argyll – where I buried my heart many lifetimes ago.
- A prostate cancer scare, which turned into something more insidious, but far more treatable.
- The hottest UK summer in 40 years.
- The death of two amazing musical friends.
- The publication of five books – yes FIVE!
- Featured in the book Dreaming of Dylan alongside my hero Patti Smith.
- Watching my son grow into a fine young man.
- The redemption of spirit with a family of writers some 5,000 miles away.
But, any review of the year, has to be about the people who made it unique and so very special.
So stay with me as this will be an OCD review on turbo charge, month by month…
I first met Saumyata Bisht in late November 2017 – a spirited and budding young writer from the foothills of the Himalayas in India.
I spent the next six weeks editing her first novel… the astounding Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs, which was published worldwide on 10 January this year.
We spoke daily – sometimes three or four times a day via video calls. We became exceptionally close friends and by the end of January began compiling an anthology of global poetry and made plans for at least three more books. By the end of March we were literary friends for life.
But a moment of madness in early April terminated that friendship – something I will always regret.
She remains, in my view, the most original writer I have come across in more than 20 years, and a beautiful soul.
Caroline Outterside is a second cousin who has many closer family links with me. Her husband is the son of Billy Outterside, my father’s first cousin, who grew up alongside him, attended each other’s weddings and remained close for more than 60 years.
Caroline is a joyous and astute counselling psychologist, but more than that a wondrous mum to three adult children and a dear friend.
But 12 months ago her world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with a malignant cancer of the tongue and tonsils.
Her bravery during surgery and radiation treatment from February onwards is a testament to her spirit and the love of those around her.
She is an inspiration and a true hero.
John Leach has been a friend for more than 10 years.
We were colleagues together at NWM Media and although I was a journalist and he in Credit Control our friendship grew closer after we had both left that part of our working life.
We share a similar passion for football, rock music and corny humour, which ensures a bond.
We are also both dads of amazing kids… but John is a super dad: a foster parent to more lucky children than I can count.
He is also someone who has always been there for me, even when my life is at its darkest, offering friendship, succor and even a roof over my head if ever needed.
John could have been any month of the year, but I chose March, because he encompasses the Spring Equinox of my year.
I first met Komal Arshad in January 2014.
She is a young doctor, currently finishing her studies at a medical college in northern Pakistan.
She hopes to train to become a cardiologist here in the UK.
We met through our shared passion for the liberation of Palestine and have remained close ever since.
She may live 4,000 miles away, but she could equally live next door.
Our friendship is close and over the past few years barely a week goes by without contact either by text, email or video call.
I am often the first person she has turned to with everyday problems such as arguments with her university room-mate, worries about marriage and the aftermath of a house fire in April this year, from which she and her mother miraculously escaped with their lives.
Komal is my surrogate daughter and she lovingly regards me as her second father… for that I am so full of gratitude.
This year was made so special when she said she wanted me and my family to attend her wedding… with the proviso: “I need to find a husband first!”
I first met Annabel James in 2017 as a fellow poet on social media.
Articulate, intelligent, beautiful and musical, this spirit from Tulsa, Oklahoma quickly became a great friend and was the first recruit to my poetry anthology Different Voices. When that book was hijacked by others upon publication, she was one of the first to rally round a new project we called Luminance in May this year.
Annabel was a driving force for Luminance and even recruited a new writer from Kentucky to help the project achieve true greatness. Her unswerving loyalty and friendship will be rewarded with a first paperback copy of the book in February 2019.
Through my own health problems and further writing during this year, she has remained a lovely and true friend across the breadth of the Atlantic and time divides.
Kirsty Scott and I were newspaper colleagues in Scotland some 24 years ago.
While I reveled in hard news, Kirsty was growing into one of the finest feature writers and novelists I have ever known. The last time I saw her to speak to was in an Asda supermarket in Perth in 1995, while she was carrying her first child. We wished each other well before the ensuing years our lives and careers took different tracks.
I caught up with Kirsty about three years ago through the wonders of Facebook and Instagram and we both swapped news about our respective lives and those of our children.
But I was rocked when I discovered in 2017 that she was battling breast cancer. Her battle throughout that year and into 2018, involving surgery and courses of chemotherapy, was relentless. But Kirsty maintained her humour and indomitable spirit, keeping everyone in her circle of trust and friendship with light and laughter.
She is a true beacon and one of my heroes of the year.
Sometimes in life you meet someone who you know instantly was carved from a different rock than the rest of us.
Vonny Tuzio is one such person. I have known Von for more than 10 years. Football and rugby crazy, she is also a besotted lover of pugs, cats and all animals. She is also the most generous person I have ever known. Besides writing Christmas cards which I will never throw away, she has also showered us with many remarkable gifts, each sealed with genuine love and affection.
So when she turned up at our back door in July, laden down with beer, cheese, plants, chocolates and pickles plus two of her adorable pugs it was like having a second Christmas.
Vonny stayed for four days, enough to swill a lot of beer and wine and cheer on England in two World Cup games.
In years to come when asked about July 2018, I will recall two people: Harry Kane and Vonny Tuzio!
My younger son Nathan Outterside has been the apple of my eye from the day he was born at 4lbs 10oz on Christmas Eve 2001.
Sadly my marriage to his mother broke down when he was only three-years-old and he came to live with me 24/7 after he had just turned four. For the next nine years, as his single parent, Nathan was my sole focus in life… teaching him to read, taking and fetching him from school, endless trips to taekwondo classes and tournaments, playing, supporting and everything else any parent does for their child.
Sometimes it was hard work, but the rewards have been many, including him gaining his black belt in taekwondo in 2016.
But the biggest reward and an enormous moment of personal pride was in August when he achieved nine GCSEs all at the top A grade.
Now he is studying for his A Levels with a focus to become an engineer.
He really is my new clear star!
This was the month when I kicked off my latest book project: Asian Voices – an anthology of poetry, prose, letters, essays and drawings from a team of 20 incredibly talented emerging writers from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
The fact that this team has, in four months, become a family of close friends and embedded souls is a testament to the lyrical journey we are all still carving.
So I salute and embrace you all: Minnie Rai, Agathaa Shelling, Nicky Das, Anshul, Anjali Kumari, Elly, Janvi, Fahmida Shaikh, Shaheeba, Sakshi Walia, Shiraz, Pratik, Alankrita Singh, Sobia, Sanya, Aditya, Shilpa Goel, Shahreen Inftikhar, Pratibha Aasat and our cover girl Jasleen Kaur.
Ian Hine and I have been good friends for the past 15 years through our shared love of Brighton and Hove Albion FC, our passion for music and the quiet joys of parenthood.
We also lived in a similar part of Sussex as teenagers and bonded as adults with our Fans United campaign to save Wrexham FC from its asset-stripping owners.
But much more than that, Ian has been a confidante and close friend through all of life’s troubles, and though he lives 160 miles away he is one of the first people to offer support when I am struggling.
And as a collector of umpteen million football programmes, he is also an amazing literary and football fount of knowledge.
So when in October I decided to write my current book Death in Grimsby (my decades of following Brighton and Hove Albion)… Ian was the first person I turned to for advice and historical facts.
And as always, within a few minutes he came up trumps, and offered ongoing support.
Sometimes people just fall into your path and you stand star-struck at their talent and personality.
So it was on a grey November day when I first came across movie starlet Priyanka Singh.
Priyanka, from Kolkata in India is the close friend of one of my Asian Voices’ writers ALankrita, and the first time I saw her was her beautiful spoken rendition of one of ALan’s poems.
As a refugee from Drama courses, both at first degree and postgraduate studies, I seem to have surrounded myself with thesps all my life. I am humbled that three great friends are professionally trained and accomplished movie actors.
Priyanka has no such formal training, yet her acting and miming across dozens of TikTok videos will entrance and delight the most hardened soul.
Behind her masquerade she is a beautiful, reserved and gentle soul… and has begun to teach me Hindi!
In my life I have cried far too many tears of sorrow and loss that I have drowned happiness.
But twice in December I shed tears of pure joy.
One occasion was when I opened my Christmas present from my son Nathan. It was not the amazing gift of a pair of Levi 501s that made me cry, but his beautiful words written on the wrapping paper which will stay with until I die.
The second occasion occurred a week earlier when one of my treasured writers of Asian Voices asked if I would be her adopted father.
Knowing of the loss of my own daughters, the amazing Nicky Das (who ironically is the same age as my youngest daughter Shannon) simply asked me to be her dad and to promise to fly to Jodhpur in India for her wedding and then to “dance with me like fathers do with their daughters”.
The tears of joy and love flowed freely on both occasions.
What a way to end 2018!