Brief Encounter #5

Cyril Smith MP

Cyril SmithMY meeting with the obese child abusing MP for Rochdale was thankfully very brief.

It was the late summer of 1980 and I was standing outside Euston Station following an enjoyable day out in London.

Suddenly I heard a kerfuffle at the nearby taxi rank.

I apologise to anyone who may find the following offensive but it really was bizarre in the extreme.

I turned to witness the gargantuan Cyril Smith trying and failing to get into the back of a black cab.

The moment of dark humour was complete when a man – I presume to be his secretary or parliamentary aide – pushed him with both hands into the taxi.

Suddenly he was in!

It was like a dry cork popping from an over-full wine bottle. The aide looked exhausted!

I never did find out how Mr Smith exited the taxi or whether this was a daily exercise in fat cabs.

Cyril Smith died in 2010 aged 82.

In 2012, following allegations of child abuse, the Crown Prosecution Service formally admitted Smith should have been charged with the sexual abuse of boys during his lifetime.

Greater Manchester Police said the boys “were victims of physical and sexual abuse” by Smith.

In November 2012, GMP Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said there was “overwhelming evidence” that young boys were sexually and physically abused by Smith.

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Pardon Monsieur… Am I hearing You Right #3

Jackie StewartTHERE are few interviews I have ever conducted in my journalistic career quite as bizarre as the one with former Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart.

The story may lose something in translation into print, but it has to be told.

It was sometime in 1996 and I had been running a short campaign at The Scotsman to support female race ace Sarah Kavanagh’s breakthrough into Formula 1.

I had already spoken at length with Sarah, her manager and her sponsors; and the day before had managed to tie down F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone for a few words.

Meanwhile, I had made a few bids for a telephone interview with Jackie Stewart or his son Paul.

Then the call came.

“Hello, is that Mr Oooterside?” said the voice at the end of the phone.

Before I could answer, I was deafened by a “Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.” The unmistakeable noise of a Formula 1 racing engine.

“Sorry, we are on practice,” said the voice again.

Then another: Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Hello, Mr Stewart, it is Nic Outterside. I would like to ask you about Sarah Kavanagh,” I replied.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“It’s not a good line,” said Jackie Stewart.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Sarah who?” he added.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Sarah Kavanagh,” I almost shouted back.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“We are in Spain testing a new engine,” replied Jackie.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Well, do you think Sarah is good enough to make it in Formula 1?” I asked.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Yes, but I think you ought to speak to Paul,” came the answer.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“He’ll be here in a while.”

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“What’s the weather like back home?”

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

You will get the drift by now.

I interviewed Jackie Stewart for a full 15 minutes and his son Paul for a further five minutes.

When the phone call was over, I looked at my shorthand notebook.

Deafened by the interruptions of “Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr”, the only things I had established were that Jackie Stewart was testing a new F1 engine with his son Paul, somewhere in Spain; they had both heard of Sarah Kavanagh; the weather was warmer in Spain than in Scotland and they were travelling onto France later in the week… the rest of the interview was lost somewhere in translation.

 

Brief Encounter #4

john cleggJohn Clegg

SO there I am sitting in a forward facing seat on the 3.15pm train for Brighton waiting patiently at Victoria Station. I guess the year is 1979 or something close, but it is definitely summer and the warm air breezes gently through the open windows.

Just as the train is set to leave, the door next to me rattles open and a balding middle-aged man hops in and sits directly opposite me.

I look up, a spark flashes across my brain and a silent voice tells me: “I know him”.

He smiles at me, says “hello” and opens a newspaper. He spends the rest of his journey reading or glancing out of the window.

Our eyes do not meet again, but the longer the journey progresses the more convinced I am that I know this man. And I know him well…

Was I at University with him? Is he a neighbour of my parents? Is he the father of a friend? Where do I know him from?

The likely options tumble into my head.

Should I say hello? Should I ask if he knows me too? Should I make a move to even talk to him?

Then almost as soon as I gain the courage to open my mouth to speak, the train stops at Preston Park, the last stop before Brighton Central. The man opposite stands, opens the door and exits the train without passing me a glance.

Then the penny drops… yes, of course I know him: it is La-di-da Gunner Graham (actor John Clegg) from the hit TV sit-com It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

I had watched and laughed at him countless times on TV… but had never met him in my life before that train journey!

Love minus zero / No Limit

FriendsSOME of my blog postings are off-the-cuff and I guess this is the first of such posts.

The replies, text messages, emails and phone call responses to my recent post When You Gonna Wake Up and Strengthen the Things that Remain made me lose two nights’ sleep. The insomnia was not for any negative reasons, but rather a warm feeling of love and friendship.

You see, it is easy to know who you love and who loves you… my wife, my children and my mother come instantly to mind. But it is less easy to appreciate who are true friends.

I guess that due to my inherent OCD nature I have always demanded loyalty from friends and in return given my entire loyalty to them, through good times and bad. Some, who I regarded as true close friends have let me down and so were jettisoned from my world, something I now regret, because we are all human and all make mistakes – me more than most!

Google the word ‘friendship’ and a myriad of advice is offered from all corners of the world:

Friendship is a type of relationship between two people who care about each other. But such a dry definition doesn’t do the concept of friendship justice. Consider these examples: A friend is the first person you want to call when you hear good news. A friend remembers that you don’t like pickles on your sandwich. A friend will accompany you on the most boring of errands and make them seem fun.

In other words, friendship is wonderful. But that’s not to say friendship is easy, though. It demands time and effort, and it requires that people put someone other than themselves first sometimes. But in exchange for that work, a friend can provide an immense amount of support and comfort in good times and in bad.

Many qualities are necessary for a good friendship, including honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty and unconditional acceptance. A friendship should make both people in the relationship happy; both people should have fun when they spend time together. To be perfectly frank, that’s a tall order. Human beings can clash very easily, which is why it’s hard for some people to maintain many friendships. It’s possible that friendship can exist between two people at one stage of life, but life changes and personal growth may make friendship impossible at another stage.

Very true.

So my best friend is also the woman I love, my wife Gill.

For longevity I also count at least two friends from school, Alex (who has known me since I was 12) and Graham, who has been a best mate since we were in sixth form together, and with whom I share many life similarities.

Then I am blessed to count upon two more friends from my university days, Jo and Judith. In Jo’s case I feel a close affinity even though we have not seen each other in 35 years. So Facebook has been our saviour! Judith and I have remained friends even after both were battered blue by life experiences, but have been there for each other.

Next are the friends I picked up along the way at work and at home and who are still there even after 15, 20 or 30 years: a former student Andy, ex work colleagues Jane, Karen, Debs, Stephen and Peter. My son’s child-minder and her husband Catheryn and Colin; friends through thick and thin Judith and Lawson; and Sue who was one of my first visitors when I had cancer even though she was phobic about hospitals!

And finally there are those I should classify as new friends – people who have only been in my life a few years, but mean so much: the wonderful Angela and Alex, the rock solid and caring Caryn and her son Sam (by chance my son’s best friend), my best friend at work Craig, my almost surrogate daughter Helen, who was my witness at my wedding to Gill; the amazing and lovely reporting duo Adele and Natalie; my former boss who is still there to offer advice Graham; the lovely Hannah and Karen, whose words in the past few days have had me in tears; the gorgeous Sue, two friends and among the best journalists I have worked with Sophie and Rachel and the pug loving Yvonne, again whose words have given me great comfort.

A man is known by his friends and not his enemies and I am a very lucky man.

All of the above have been there when my life was at the bottom and to them I can only give my love and thanks and the knowledge that I will never forget any of you.

Thank you.

Pardon Monsieur… Am I Hearing you Right? #2

antanddecIT is January 1998 and I am sitting eating my lunch at my desk at the Sunday Sun newspaper just off Newcastle’s Groat Market.

The winter sun is whispering through the window over my shoulder and the office is almost deserted.

Suddenly a phone rings on the desk next to me. Following office protocol I answer the vacant desk phone.

“Is that Mike?” a broad Geordie voice asks.

I politely explain that he is out to lunch.

“Dinna worry,” is the reply. “Can you just let him know that Anton Deck rang.”

The caller hung up.

I left a suitable note on Mike’s desk which read: “Anton Deck rang at 12.45pm.”

The guffaws of laughter after Mike read my note still stay with me.

When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?

abused child

THE breakdown was a long time coming… 43 years to be precise. Yes, that really is a long time to keep a secret and many events along the way could have been my undoing much sooner. So I marvel that it took so long.

Two massive battles with cancer; the loss of most of my right lung and shoulder; the ruination of a much loved career by my own stupidity; the death of my best friend and later my father; divorces and more failed relationships than you care to shake a stick at; bankruptcy; the suicide of a family member; denial of access to two of my children for 10 years; the repossession of my home; discovering my wife was enjoying sex with another man; becoming a single parent at the age of 50 and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.

Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition at the highest level, the chance to meet and talk with some stellar people, five wonderful kids, a host of amazing and loyal friends and finally, the woman who saved me, my darling wife Gill.

These are just snippits of my life so far and more than enough to form the framework of a somewhat gripping autobiography.

But casting a huge shadow over every move I have made, every tear, every relationship, every job and every sick joke was something much more sinister.

Wednesday 12 June 2013 was the day the elastic band finally broke and my life unravelled before my eyes, and those of my darling wife and precious son, who could only watch with me.

It all began in another time and another place…

I was, a young 14-year-old boy standing in darkness in open woodland, with my trousers around my ankles, being sexually abused by a 38-year-old man – a man trusted by my parents to care for me.

It was 1970.

He was the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town and over many months had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.

I was a bright, gentle and slightly quirky kid who had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.

But not anymore.

The abuse had begun some months earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend at the Scout-owned woodland campsite – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.

Over the course of 15 months, it had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.

I had been sworn to secrecy by my abuser. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.

I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ (gay) to allow this to happen. But the over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this nightmare.

I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these frequent camps. When eventually my loving parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!

How I wish I had told them the truth. But I was sure my mother would not have believed me and accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I felt he would humiliate me further, if I told him, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something. Sadly in adult hindsight he would probably have hugged me close and physically attacked my abuser had he known.

I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different then and there were many things in life that were taboo.

Anyway, the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and as I turned more introspective and aloof to friends.

I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free.

But I did eventually escape in the June of 1971.

My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.

I had met a lad called Brian from another troop and we had agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.

We arrived at this spacious bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.

The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the dark woods.  And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.

My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.

Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper!”

Without hesitation we ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac. No sign of my fecking dad! Where the hell was he?

We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway, and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.

We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.

Shaking, I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety. She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.

He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.

That night was a watershed for so many reasons.

I had begun to face this demon, by knowing that in Brian I was not alone.

From that day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to Scouts or camping again. Even when my own troop leader called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.

My passion for football and hard school work helped mask the real reasons.

But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.

I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.

Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.

The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour sometimes borders on OCD.

Once away at university in the far flung environs of Yorkshire I also had a need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight! Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ at uni’, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say yes as I could, proving to myself I was ‘straight’!

I also needed female company, as a fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me. By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a girl who promised to always care for me.

By the age of 24, we were wed. It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help!

But I survived my first divorce – and an 18 month battle with cancer – and tried to start over.

In 1990, aged 34, I moved to Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past. It involved burying myself in my job. Often working 16 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.

One year after moving north I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old, adding that I was the first person she had confided in. I could not share my abuse with her… but this was an epiphany and I saw a possible way out.

A colleague at work was married to a police officer and I used him to help me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station. He, in turn, passed on the complaint to the police force in the area of southern England where I had lived as a young teenager.

It was November 1991.

I waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and preparing to come clean with my parents if a court case was involved.

Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again. He invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!

I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.

How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice for what he had done? How could I carry on?

The anger inside me was immense.

The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.

The next 20 years were much like the previous 20 with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.

Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.

By 2003 I recognised I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.

But life happens and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.

In January 2006 I moved to Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.

Work had a purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards. This time it was treading water, but enjoyable all the same and allowed stability for a full seven years.

Stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people. I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘paedo files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like unsolicited cathartic therapy.

My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long.

Last year fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and now my darling wife. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I turned 14. Life was starting to have a meaning.

But just when life breathes fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.

Four months ago that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.

While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case we were carrying in the paper, I decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.

It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.

I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died in 1996, aged 64… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead! I double and triple checked my facts.

I still cannot comprehend what happened.

Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community? I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.

The rages and tears came again as I struggled to take back control.

Work was corrosive and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own. I felt managed out of my job and was losing control of my own newspaper and my life.

On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of these junior charge hands had changed my front page – after I had gone to press – without any reference to me. I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.

But now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon. And it is my abuser who is the demon, not some bungling police officer.

The demon will never go away, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous youngest son and some amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating. I am recovering.

And it is for them that I need to live and share my inner self. The abuser has not won… I am fighting back.

This blog is the means to that end.

Pardon Monsieur… am I hearing you right? #1

I MUST start by admitting that I know nothing about snooker and class it as a sport left on my personal coat stand, along with show jumping, all-in wrestling and synchronised swimming.Stephen Hendry

I must also add that I spent the first four years of my life in Hull and the next 14 in Sussex and North London. Upon leaving home at 18, I have lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Manchester, North Wales and now Shropshire.

So my natural speaking accent is somewhat neutral and I pride myself that I can often place someone to any area of the UK by their dialect.

But nothing prepared me for the 11 wonderful years I spent in Scotland where the regional accents and dialects vie for total uniqueness.

And lay ready to trap me many times.

In my first year in Argyll, I was bemused whenever I covered a district council meeting.

The chairman of the council was called Dick Walsh, yet the clerk kept referring to him as Jim!

It took me four meetings to discover that the clerk was actually saying “Chairm’n”, which to my un-tuned ears sounded clearly as Jim!

So I now take you forward a few years to 1995.

I was working as a reporter at The Herald newspaper in Glasgow – then a big selling broadsheet daily.

I have just come off the back of a week-long 10th anniversary investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist Willie MacRae. I was in need of a couple of days of routine news writing.

Suddenly, the news editor Colin calls across to me: “Nic, we’d like you to cover the wedding of Stephen Hendry later today.”

“Okay,” I answer nervously.

I think deeply… I recognise the name, but who the fuck is Stephen Hendry?

Within 10 minutes, I have grabbed my reporter’s notebook, latched up with a staff photographer and together we share a car to the village church near Stirling, where the wedding is to take place.

We arrive in good time and join a small but growing band of journalists outside the church.

The as yet unknown Mr Hendry has provided the press pack with a stack of Coca Cola and brief but clear instructions to give the wedding party space and respect the happy occasion.

I have yet to admit to either my photographer or any fellow journalists that I haven’t the foggiest idea who Stephen Hendry is!

Cars start to pull up and an assortment of Scottish VIPs emerge and mingle with family and friends of the bride and groom as they enter the church.

Another car drives up and a smiling young man gets out.

I recognise his face and instantly realise this is Stephen Hendry. But I am still no clearer about why he is so famous.

The cameras start to flash and snap and the reporters around me scribble notes. A few questions and greetings are yelled and I hear the words: “The man’s a tart”!

Open mouthed, I jot down a few notes and wonder why he is being called such a term… maybe he’s a comedian!

But then my moment arrives.

Behind the groom’s car, another is decanting its occupants and outsteps football mega star and Celtic legend Kenny Dalglish.

I make a short move in his direction and blurt out some inane question such as: “Good weather today, Mr Dalglish?”

He smiles and utters a reply: “Yes, perfect,” and follows the groom’s party into the church.

I kick myself at not asking more obvious questions, such as “Are you interested in managing Celtic?” or “How do you know Mr Hendry?”

But the moment is lost.

A few minutes pass and the bridal car arrives and outsteps the beautiful bride. She turns and smiles at our press gallery and disappears into the church.

As the service begins, a grey-suited usher hands us all smart orders of service and a press release.

I read through the sheets carefully and everything becomes clear… world snooker champion Stephen Hendry is marrying his childhood sweetheart Mandy Tart!

Woosh…..