Most of the time I’m clear focussed all around

abused childI HAVE been blogging now for almost four weeks and am still learning a lot about the art of writing for a world-wide internet audience.

It is a steep learning curve and one thing is for sure, it is a world away from newspaper journalism, where every day you have a guaranteed audience of X thousand readers who pay a hard earned buck to read your words.

To date my posts on cancer (Saving Grace) and child abuse (When You Gonna Wake Up and Strengthen the Things That Remain?) have been the most widely read and commented upon. Indeed I have been deeply humbled and emotionally affected by some emails, messages and calls I have received from friends and strangers on the back of these postings.

So before I turn to my next big blog – to be posted separately – I want to revisit the second of these subjects: child abuse.

I have been angered by some public comments made in the past eight months over the arrests of certain British showbiz personalities on charges of historic abuse of children and young people. This was particularly evident following the conviction of BBC presenter Stuart Hall and the evidence against the late Jimmy Savile.

Some commentators seem to think that because the allegations of abuse stemmed from instances 30, 40 or 50 years ago, they are in some way not as serious as something which occurred last week. There seems to be an inherent belief that: ‘time is a healer’.

I am sorry to disappoint that view, but quite the reverse is true.

From my own experience, the longer abuse goes unrecognised, untreated and unpunished; the greater is the damage to the victim. Such abuse ruins lives completely and by association can ruin other lives too.

Perversely I am a lifelong supporter of penal reform, but in some of these abuse cases I could quite easily lock up the perpetrators and throw away the key.

I finish by urging anyone who has suffered child abuse to be open, talk about it, report it and seek justice. You really are not alone. Help can be found here:

NSPCC: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/help-and-advice/worried-about-a-child/online-advice/adults-abused-in-childhood/adults-abused-in-childhood_wda87228.html

NAPAC: http://www.napac.org.uk

Young Minds: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/for_children_young_people/whats_worrying_you/abuse?gclid=CPXFkL3QsboCFXHJtAodLC0A0A

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Pardon Monsieur… Am I Hearing You Right? #4

RANGERS - 00MY meeting with England footballer legend Paul Gascoigne was brief, memorable and steeped in humour.

In the summer of 1995, the Gateshead born Geordie had enjoyed three years playing for top Italian side Lazio.

It was no secret that although he enjoyed immense success on the pitch he found the Italian language a little tricky.

Many football punters tipped him to return to England and maybe re-sign for Spurs or even Manchester United or his home team Newcastle United.

So his transfer to Glasgow Rangers for £4.3 million that summer shocked everyone.

On the July day his transfer was to be formally announced, I had been tasked by my newsdesk to attend a Rangers training session and then a press conference at Ibrox to try and grab a word with the great player.

So I spent an hour with my photographer watching a lithe, tanned and fit Gazza train with his team-mates before making our way to Glasgow G51.

The stadium was mobbed by Rangers fans daubed in blue and white, hoping to get a glimpse of their new hero.

I picked my way through the crowd, past a cordon of police officers and showed my press pass at the players’ entrance.

Once inside, the assembled press pack was treated to prawn sandwiches, croissants and coffee before being ushered into a bustling meeting room.

Rangers’ manager Walter Smith and club chairman David Murray sat at the top table next to their new superstar.

The formal press conference lasted about 35 minutes before we were led out pitch side for a photo opportunity.

Gazza was beaming and in a playful mood with the press photographers.

I had not yet managed to ask him a question so waited for my moment.

It wasn’t long before the chance came.

It had crossed my mind that if this Geordie had found the Italian language difficult to deal with, how would he manage broad Glaswegian?

So as Gazza sat in the stands for a final picture opportunity – and remembering my own Tyneside roots – I called to him: “Do you think you will cope with the language here, Paul?”

Quick as a flash, he turned to me and shouted back; “Whey aye man, dyer think thaal understand me. Ye knaa what ah mean leik.”

Both of us broke into a chuckle.

Twenty minutes later as we made our way out of the stadium a couple of my colleagues asked: “What did Gazza say to you?”

I shrugged and lied: “Didn’t understand a word!”

 

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

Ted Heath 2MY first proper interview could not have been with a more eminent British statesman.

It is January 1977, I am 20 years old, and to my lasting embarrassment I am vice chairman of our university society: the Federation of Conservative students. I can only blame my position on political naivety and the right wing doctrines of my late father. Thankfully, my Tory years are brief!

Anyway I will cut to the chase…

The evening before this encounter I am part of a small group of third year students attending a new book signing function in Leeds. The guest of honour is the author and recently defeated Conservative Party leader and former Prime Minister, Edward Heath.

During the evening, two girls in our group share a drink, some jokes and a lengthy chat with Mr Heath’s personal assistant and his Special Branch bodyguard. Bearing in mind this is at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, Mr Heath’s protective partners are amazingly lax in attitude and seem almost too friendly.

But nothing can surpass the surprise as we leave when the Special Branch detective smiles and says: “See you tomorrow then.”

The 20 mile journey home on a number 75 bus answers the obvious question I need to ask.

Our two female companions had persuaded Mr Heath and his police protection to join us for drinks the following day at the university union!

And to top it all, we will get to interview him on his three favourite subjects: music, sailing and politics – in time to publish in the next edition of our society newsletter.

A heady mix of nerves and excitement mean I do not sleep much that night.

The next morning, I organise the logistics for the meeting with my Tory cohorts and officers from the student union.

We set up three students to ask questions and arrange with the Special Branch officer to sneak Mr Heath up a back staircase into the union president’s office and avoid any verbal flak from fellow undergrads.

I also arrange for a bottle of Mr Heath’s favourite malt whisky to be on hand to help lubricate the interview and settle our nerves.

At about 2pm, an ebullient former Prime Minister arrives accompanied by his Special Branch officer and the personal assistant from the previous evening.

Mr H has a quiet air of someone who has held the highest political office and is smartly groomed in his green and grey Saville Row wool worsted suit.

We gather together in the small but tidy office: Mr Heath, his PA and the Special Branch agent and four nervous students.

We take it in turns to socialise and ask questions and I pour Mr Heath his first whisky, which he drinks quite speedily.

Two minutes suddenly become 15 minutes and it is my turn to ask the political questions.

At this point, with my prepared question about the Warnock Report on education reform, at hand I notice the former PM’s glass is empty.

“Would you like another whisky?” I ask, stalling for time.

“That would be very good,” comes the reply.

I smile and reach for the bottle of malt.

But disaster strikes.

I try to juggle my still full glass of whisky (a double measure), a notebook and pen, while taking Mr Heath’s glass from him.

It all goes horribly wrong.

I drop the notebook, struggle to catch the empty glass from Mr Heath’s hand while pouring the entire contents of my glass down his Saville Row suit.

There is a sharp intake of breath from all corners of the room.

I can feel my face reddening as I stutter an apology.

Mr Heath reaches for a white handkerchief and attempts to mop up the spilt whisky and dry his jacket.

One of our party offers some paper tissues,

I apologise once again, still shaking.

But a smile greets me… “It doesn’t matter… it was an accident,” he says.

The rest of the interview remains a blur, except for the fact I did manage to ask my Warnock Report question, but I can’t remember the reply!

I wait another eight years before daring to try and be a journalist again.

 

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.

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!