Lookin’ into the lost forgotten year of 2013

2013MUCH of my life has been a rollercoaster but I would never change that for a humdrum merry-go-round, even if I was offered my time over again.

The highs have been at oxygen mask altitude level while the lows have reached depths I could never have imagined.

That is life!

But nothing prepared me for 2013… the Pepsi Max Big One of all rollercoaster years, and with 13 days still to go until the New Year, anything could still happen!

My then fiancée Gill and I saw in the year with a wonderful meal, too much champagne and loving family evening as we planned our future together.

January was a whirlwind from start to finish. Highlights included planning our nuptials, buying wedding outfits and a dinner with good friends and former work colleagues Rachel, Sophie, Angela and her brilliant husband Alex. We ended the month with our own pre-wedding party couched in a distinct Mexican theme… bucket loads of chilli, Margaritas and Tequila-a-plenty and a multi-coloured Pinata called Barry, which we filled with goodies and bashed into oblivion in a shared act of joy! The assembled friends made it a night to remember.

February was a month of two halves.

Gill and my wedding, with my younger son Nathan as best man, was a day we will never forget. Despite the rain and cold outside, the warmth and love inside ensured something that would bond us together forever.

We needed that bond, because 48 hours later we discovered Gill had a hard lump in her left breast. A GP’s diagnosis of a tumour some three days later began two weeks of more tests amid mutual panic and fear. The eventual all-clear following a breast scan and negative biopsy allowed us to begin living again.

March was a blast from beginning to end. It was as much about the weather as anything else. We had planned our honeymoon for the last week of the month. It was going to be a road trip starting in the Lake District and taking in large parts of Scotland, including Galloway, Argyll and Edinburgh and finishing in York. We had carefully booked our hotels and began packing. But then came the worse spring snow in living memory. At the time, we lived near the top of Hope Mountain in North Wales and we were quickly marooned in waist deep snow and 10 foot high drifts. A two day power failure left us shivering and re-planning our honeymoon… if we had it bad, the Lake District and western Scotland was sub-arctic.

On Tuesday 26 March, we eventually managed to dig one of our cars free and begin a hastily rescheduled honeymoon taking in a more accessible Whitby, Masham, York, the Dales and Cheshire. It was cold but brilliantly unforgettable.

April was the month to plan our future as husband and wife with greater purpose. And with my son finishing primary school it seemed a good time to move. We soon found a new home – a wonderful 19th century stone cottage – in a cosy market town across the English border, which was easier commuting distance for work for us both. The rest of the month was filled with conveyancing, buying and selling furniture, early packing and working on new practicalities.

May became the first of four pivotal months in our lives. While steeped in packing and preparations for removal, something totally unexpected happened at work. In my job as a newspaper editor, that something 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 I was carrying in my paper, I decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser… the man who had ruined my life 43 years earlier.

I discovered that my abuser had died in 1996, aged 64… some five years AFTER the police had previously told me he was already dead!  Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? 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. I was nearing breaking point.

Then on Wednesday 12 June, two days before we were due to pick up the keys for our new cottage, the breakdown occurred. I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness. And so began six months of medication, counselling, recuperating and… moving house! And this second pivotal month became even more pivotal. On Friday 28 June as we moved into our new home – with the removal van unpacking our belongings – Gill fell in a hidden hole in the back garden, breaking her left leg and tearing the tendons either side of her knee. Life went into auto pilot and overdrive. Ambulances, operations, hospital visits, and tending to my son’s last days at primary school and making the house habitable for my wife’s return home became a blur… but I did lose over a stone in weight.

July was the hottest on record outside, but for me, much of that month was spent cooking, unpacking, gardening, cleaning and caring for my bed-bound wife or attending final school events. The highlight was undoubtedly my son starring as Prospero in a school adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest. A close second was him passing his blue/red belt grading at Taekwondo, which means he is just two belts away from black.

Gradually as Gill regained some mobility we managed to venture out together to enjoy some summer warmth. We also delighted in finding a wonderful high school for Nathan, just a short walk from the front door of our new cottage. All the while I was slowly recovering from my breakdown.

August came too quickly and the month began with multiple cancellations of planned holiday events due to Gill’s incapacity. So it was goodbye to the annual Fairport’s Cropredy Convention music festival, farewell Steve Harley concert and so long to a planned short break in Whitby. But more sunshine, trips into the countryside and time to re-evaluate our lives and a new way forward. Plus a hectic and expensive month buying uniform and sports gear for Nathan’s new school.

September became the third of our pivotal months. I had been writing about my life experiences as a form of therapy since early July, but now decided to go public and began blogging for the first time in my life. I have been doing this now for almost three months and I 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. It is at times lonely but also very rewarding and indeed therapeutic.

But the world of blogging also gave me insight into the work of other bloggers – many from the USA and Canada – and some have become firm favourites… so much so that I have ventured forth and bought their published works. Others have become soul mates from afar due our shared experiences.

In September, I also started work on my first children’s novel The Adventures of Nathan Sunnybank and Joe Greenfield, a project I began four years earlier, but which had gathered dust on a shelf ever since.

As the month ended, decisions were starting to form about a new career path away from the bustle, back-biting and grime of 28 years of newspaper journalism.

October saw Gill return to work for the first time since her accident, my son Nathan discover rugby and me write creatively for every day of the month as my blog and book began to blossom. The blog grew like Topsy with light-hearted shorter biographical pieces in the Pardon Monsieur and Brief Encounter categories and more in-depth writing collected under a selection of headings taken from lines in Bob Dylan songs. I also began writing poetry on a regular basis for the first time in 35 years. I still have strong reservations about my ability as a poet. Some others disagree.

But deep insecurities were set aside and more chapters also grew on my novel as I started to believe in myself as a writer at large. I also gained inner strength from dozens of supportive emails and text messages from old and new friends and a ream of testimonials from former trainees and employees. Life in general was beginning to create a purpose as Gill, Nathan and I became a fully-fledged and mutually supportive family.

November became the fourth and probably most important of our pivotal months. It was the month when I finally decided to leave journalism behind. Journalism had been the largest and most consistent part of my life since I stumbled into it by accident way back in the spring of 1985.

It has often been hard work – with long unsocial hours as standard – and it has sometimes been grueling, harrowing and frightening… but it has also been immense fun.

But the decision was made and on paper at least, my last day as a newspaper editor and journalist was 30 November 2013. The next day I reformed my old writing company Time is An Ocean (another Dylan reference) and life was for real.

Meanwhile, I finished 12 chapters of my novel (I envisage 22!) and posted drafts and a synopsis to promising literary agents. Watch this space for news and positive developments.

Life has a real future and depression has been pushed into a small corner.

So we are now midway through December, I am in full mid-life crisis mode with a new sports car and a leather jacket… oh and Christmas is a week away. As a family we have already sampled one school Christmas Fair, the town’s annual Frost Festival and a mass day out to the cinema and a restaurant for Nathan and nine of his friends to celebrate his 12th birthday. Meanwhile, the boy wonder has been appointed a Year 7 ambassador and crowned as the student with most merit points in his first year at high school. We are all very proud and will continue to nurture him over the next year towards teenage-hood and increasing use of his dad’s taxi service!

From a personal perspective I am so grateful for the love of my wife and family for helping me through this rollercoaster ride and view the coming years with confidence and happiness.

So to you all… have a very Merry Christmas (or Holiday Season as you Yanks call it!) and a New Year of peace and social justice.


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!