‘Tis the season to be jolly.. Or is it?

 

I have a wee bit of a reputation as something of a curmudgeon who isn’t slow to anger on the important issues of the day like beans on a fry up and backpack etiquette on public transport. There are occasions when I, unashamedly, play up to it on social media. Those two subjects aside the reality is that I am not actually like that, most of the time I am quite cheery and not that unpleasant to be around.

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I say most of the time as life rarely travels in straight lines and there are times where my mood is low , and I am pretty sure I am not alone in this. With that in mind I decided to write something as there are times when my favoured social media platform, Twitter doesn’t really lend itself to nuance and getting something serious across in 280 characters is a challenge. As a medium Twitter is great for knob gags less so for mental health issues.

The festive season is upon us with all that entails, Christmas being a time of happiness, peace and goodwill where people spend time with family and loved ones and  New Year where new opportunities and hope abound. Except for many it’s not like that..

The family aspect of Christmas can be a huge blessing but it can also be a time where the absence of a loved one is felt more acutely than at any other time of year. The same goes for New Year and with the subtext of reflection on the past year  it can mean that people focus on the negative experiences which rarely leads to anything good.

I am not trying to harsh anyone’s Christmas buzz, I know people who utterly love this time of year,  I salute you and absolutely fill your boots. This is just a reminder that there are many who either don’t really care for the festive period or absolutely hate it. When you appear to be swimming against a tide of perceived jollity it can take its toll on your mood and in some cases your mental health.

All I am asking is that you bear this in mind, don’t “force” anyone to enjoy the festivities, many see this as a time to be survived and would prefer the normality of the other 11 months of the year to be restored. Feelings of loneliness, personal failings and heart stopping grief can be particularly acute, if you want to embrace the spirit of Christmas keep an eye on each other and be aware of and respect the feelings of those around you..

For those who are really struggling there are people out there to talk to,  the Samaritans  and CALM are fantastic resources that are even more vital at this time of year. On Twitter the very wonderful Sarah Millican will again be championing her #joinin campaign where people who are alone on Christmas Day can chat to each other using that hashtag, it’s a beautiful thing.

I don’t want anyone thinking I’m trying to make people feel guilty or come across as a pious prick, my life experience just means that I don’t particularly enjoy this time of year and just wanted a reminder out there that I am not alone in that

I wish you all as happy and peaceful Christmas as possible.

 

Love

 

Jimbo

 

 

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As O.J. Simpson has never said..

I did it!

The other Sunday I along with tens of thousands of others ran the Great Manchester Run and I can’t deny that I loved every minute of it. From the tram journey into town where I was handing out safety pins to fellow runners like someone in the queue for a Damned concert in 1977 to the soothing post run pint it was a magnificent day.

In truth I was shitting myself beforehand (Insert your own Paula Radcliffe joke here) as I said in the previous blog I injured my knee about six weeks back and have done no training since then. I was scared to do any in case it broke down and I couldn’t to the run. If it was going to go then I’d rather  it was on the day itself.

On arrival in town I had been warned by a seasoned campaigner that using the baggage areas was a ballache so I had to improvise. So I nipped into the City Arms, probably my favourite city centre pub and for the promise of a pint my valuables were in the safest of safe hands. When I went round to the assembly area I bumped into a few people  I kind of know and pleasantries were exchanged, the great news was that one had hip and ankle problems and the other was just back from the physio who had patched him up n the hope he could make it round. I had found the perfect running companions, fellow lame ducks who had the potential to collapse in an ungainly heap at any minute, perfect.

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The injury meant I had to set myself an achievable target and it is a source of immense pride that I achieved it after only 2 kilometres, I overtook some bastard in a Tweety Pie costume. I decided that if anyone in proper fancy dress overtook me I was going to set about them. Thankfully it was after the race when I found out that were was someone ahead of me who did the whole thing with a fucking fridge on his back. I’d have deffo tripped him up.

The good news is the knee held up, four of us went round together, happy to walk when it got too sore and at a pace where we were able to take in the sights and sounds of the day.

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Not remotely fucked

Once I finished I made my way back to the City Arms with my goody bag which I discovered had my bacofoil shawl and medal in it. As I sat there making light work of a pint a very enthusiastic runner type bounded over to my table, his medal proudly round his neck and  despite the presence of the goody bag, the fact I was wearing shorts and looked utterly fucked he still asked if I had done the run.

I’m not *quite* as grumpy as I make out on twitter in real life so I smiled politely and said “yes”. He then asked about my time, how I found it , had I done it before and , not wishing to be impolite I mumbled accurate if not entirely enthusiastic answers. Still failing to get the hint he kept going, “Why are you not wearing your medal?” . I won’t lie, my patience ran out at that point “Mate, we ran 10K, we didn’t storm a German pill box on a Normandy beach”. That did the trick.

In truth I am very proud of my achievement and it was incredible to be part of the day. Amazingly thanks to the incredible generosity of many people I managed to raise over £500 for CALM. I simply can’t thank all of those who donated enough.

So that’s it for this year but there is one thing for sure I will be signing up for the 2017 run and if anyone out there considering doing it I can only say do it. If an out of condition 52 year old with a dodgy knee can make it round then so can you

 

(If you feel like donating you still can here is the link , and again a huge thanks to all you who contributed especially the hero of this year’s University Challenge, Newcastle’s very own genial Harry Grout, Tony Richardson who very kindly made a donation based on fact I ripped the pish out him when he was on the telly)

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I managed to beat this guy….

 

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An me wi’ a bad leg tae….

As the week of the Manchester 10k arrives I thought a wee update was in order. Sadly I have to borrow the title of a Billy Connolly play to summarise the last few weeks . Around six weeks back I was running along the banks of the Mersey in Chorlton when I heard a wee pop in my left knee as a result I have been unable to do any training or indeed any running whatsoever…

Now, I am no expert but I am fairly sure that isn’t the ideal preparation for a 10k run but that said you have already been ridiculously generous and I have been overwhelmed with the generosity of the your donations to my Just Giving page already. That left me with a decision to make, sack it off or make some kind of an attempt at it. After literally seconds of deliberation I decided I’m still going to do it even if it means walking or limping through the whole thing.  As the element of danger of a cardiac arrest has been removed I will have to come up with something to make it entertaining for those not taking part . Let’s be honest the marathon coverage has never been the same since they stopped showing the rubber legged participants crawling over the finish line which despite their obvious distress was absolutely bloody hilarious.

I am toying of doing summat like live tweeting it, mebbes talking to other people on the run and posting it on my twitter, some general bawbaggery in hope that it might be a wee bit entertaining .

In truth the reason I am still doing it is that I believe that the charity CALM is worthy of support . Without getting too heavy the sense of community and family I grew up with is a thing of the past. My parents each had three siblings and with the exception of my Uncle John who emigrated to Canada they all lived within a two mile radius of each other and in fact  all my mother’s siblings lived on our street. Add that to friends of my parents who were “Aunties and Uncles” , and factor in a tight community with a strong sense of natural social justice meant there was a powerful support system for those who were struggling for whatever reason.

We live in different times, families are separated for many reasons, some geographical and others through the breakdown of the family unit leaving many isolated and feeling alone. CALM’s focus is prevention of male suicide and my support is based on my own experience of “malehood” where not only do real men not talk about their feelings they don’t actually have any (other than a sense of well being when their football team wins)

So come Sunday I’ll be there in a Jimmy Johnstone t-shirt prepared to limp round the whole course if necessary and, weather permitting, I will attempt some kind of live tweeting nonsense which will hopefully give some sense of the day to those of you outside Manchester.

For those of you in the city who are coming along I will need support and I am told that taking on fluids is vital so if you want to help me on my way then can I suggest you bring some of this along with you…

Bucky1

 

To anyone else running this Sunday I wish you all the very best and you can be safe in the knowledge that there is at least one person doing it who won’t finish in front of you.

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If I had a million dollars..

I think my midlife crisis would have involved buying a Porsche rather than at 52, carrying at least a couple of extra stones of timber and having done no exercise of any note for at least a decade deciding to run the Manchester 10K.  It was prompted by a few things, one being that I was of an age where the barber was taking more time dealing with my eyebrows, nose and ears than he was the hair on my head. I was also starting to feel that the five months pregnant look wasn’t really for me  and that some sort of physical activity might be wise. Finding out the 5 minute walk to and from the pub or chippy doesn’t qualify as exercise was an unwelcome realisation too.

The final straw came as I was listening to the very cheery podcasts by Justin Moorhouse , in one episode he revealed he was training to do the 10K in May. Now, in polite terms, Justin is a man “who looks likes he enjoys a good dinner” and recently has had a hip replacement and I thought if he can do it then so can I. So I’ve downloaded the couch to 5K app and at least three times a week I am wobbling through the streets of Chorlton, undoubtedly putting anyone who sees me off their quinoa and kale.

I also thought that this act of utter stupidity  would give me the opportunity to raise a wee bit of money for a charity. I considered a few options, having lost both my parents to cancer I suppose that would have been the obvious choice but I’m sure cancer charities will be well represented on the day so I thought something a little less high profile would be a better idea.

Despite my somewhat curmudgeonly persona I’m a bit of a big girl’s blouse and have more in common with the Chorlton “natural fibres only” sorts than I am comfortable admitting in public. A symptom of this is that I occasionally feel the world is not a nice place, and at certain times in my life have found felt the weight of that realisation a heavy burden to carry. I’ve been fortunate that it has never completely overwhelmed me but I am very aware that for some the world is just too dark.

There are those who only see one way out of this darkness and that is to take their own lives, and for many of those they leave behind they had no idea a loved one was in such distress. This is a difficult subject to write about for there are those who feel that suicide is a selfish act and where they have lived with a loved ones mental illness you simply can’t judge them for having that view, as I said, it’s a complicated subject.

The reason I have decided to run for CALM is this…

In 2014, male suicide accounts for 76% of all suicides and is the single biggest cause of death in men under 45 in the UK. 

With this current government there are cuts to mental health provision across the NHS , cuts that are unlikely to be reversed any time soon which suggests to me that the above statistic is not going to improve in the coming years. The “Real men don’t cry” culture is still too prevalent, more people finding themselves going to work for the right to live in poverty  also play an unwelcome part in forming my view that things are unlikely to improve.

The idea of giving to charity to allow them to do work that should be paid by government never sits easy with me, I’ve been known to shout at the TV during Children In Need and the like “The f**king government should be paying for this” but what’s the alternative? We allow people to die in the absence of helplines , children to go hungry because there are no food banks?  That won’t happen because there are still plenty of us who just won’t allow it, a fact that I am sure the government relies on as they dream up another attack on the vulnerable.

So I am going to rattle the tin for one of the causes that exists almost solely because we have not had a government fit for purpose for more years than even a Labour man like me is comfortable admitting . If you want to help then here’s my Just Giving Page  feel free to make a wee donation. It may make you complicit in getting the government off the hook but could save the life of someone you know, who is painting on a smile to mask the darkest of thoughts…

And one last thing, those of you who do the God thing, I won’t be offended if you pray that I don’t end up in the coronary unit of Manchester Royal as a result of this venture.

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The Reality Bites

Someone said to me if the country votes for a Tory government what did you expect but a Tory government..

Mebbes I was in denial that it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared. I was wrong. There’s a couple of things that I’ve seen on some social media sites that I felt were worth more that the 140 characters I use on Twitter..

First up is a wee thing wot I wrote

Maybe my circumstances are affecting my view but it didn’t take long for my life to change. A year or so ago I had disposable income and life was pretty comfortable. A couple of events that can happen to anyone and I’m watching every penny and any “frivolities” like a pint at lunchtime have to be planned.

I shudder to think what it must be like if you have kids, the toll on your mental state of constantly being borderline skint is something few on here experience.

Yet language like “dodgers” “scroungers” and “handouts” are part of day to day conversation and coming from people who are themselves only a small change in their circumstances away from being in the situation of the people they look down on.

Hateful, utterly hateful and I truly despair…

That provoked my pal Stephen to write this, and I’ve yet to see anything that captures my feelings better..

I can’t remember a budget that ever made a noticeable financial difference to me. No budget has ever changed my life and nor has a change of government. That’s because I’ve been lucky. I’ve slotted into the part of society where I get all the good labels; I’ve generally always had a job, I’ve always had a safe home, I’ve had a secure family around me. My life has never broken down. Politics doesn’t really have much of an effect on me directly.

If you’re at the margins of society – poor or very rich – then the budget matters a great deal and a Tory budget will always benefit the wealthier. It must be heartbreaking to have your lifelines cut by a very privileged man who labels you a “scrounger” as he does it and intends to create a society in which you can never escape poverty whilst all the time holding up lucky, lazy bastards like me as a paragon of hard-working virtue. I fucking hate the Tories. I hate the fucking Mail/Express/Sun reading fuckwits who swallow it all up and vote for them, all the time counting the extra pennies that they may have saved whilst delighting in the misery of those they consider beneath them. By this time next year they’ll be offering tax breaks to anyone who can find a way to make money out of foodbanks because that’s the next boom industry in this country. Fuck the Tories. Fuck them to hell. Long may they burn.

I’ll leave the last word to a friend of mine, Salford poet, JB Barrington who wrote a poem about how we have a society that blames its ills on the weak rather that those who are truly taking the most…

Don’t look down…

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It doesn’t have to be this way….

Friday 29th May 2015.

A day when six FIFA officials were consulting their lawyers about how they will undoubtedly wriggle out of charges leveled against them and the “Capo Di Capi Tutti”, Sepp Blatter was being elected President of FIFA. Against a background of bribery allegations and a horrific death toll among the immigrant workforce building stadia for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar no one would blame anyone who turned their back on the game of football.

As my phone bleeped to advise me of a Guardian newsflash that Blatter had been reelected I was standing in a queue to get on this bus.

FC

In the Moston area of Manchester, a club born of frustration at many of the values held dear by Blatter and his corrupt cohorts was playing its first game at its own home against an illustrious and world famous football club.

This was FC United Of Manchester, a club founded 10 years ago by disaffected Manchester United fans over a Chicken Tikka Massala and a couple of Peshwari Naans. Founded on the principles of one member, one vote and owned wholly by the fans played their first match at Broadhurst Park against Benfica, the club that 47 years earlier United defeated to become the second British Club and first English Club to win the European Cup*.

In truth I wouldn’t forgive anyone for complaining about the coverage that FC United have received in recent months. Their promotion to Conference North, putting them two steps from the Football League and the new stadium opening has meant a raft of articles and coverage in national media. I’ve written a couple of blogs of my own about the club which were more akin to love letters than objective observations so I’ve done my bit to add to the “narrative” of FC being some kind of football utopia. I thought on this visit I’d keep one eye out for bandwagon jumpers, jester hat wallopers, Sankt Pauli T-shirt wearing hipsters and, “Worst In Breed”, the Lovejoys.

The bus I boarded in Manchester city centre was one of a number of free buses laid on to take fans out to the stadium. I was told that this may be a regular thing next season as the club has a desire to reduce the traffic impact to the local community on match days. This could be nonsense but I couldn’t help but think it sounds the sort of thing that they would do. On the bus I struck up a couple of conversations. There was a woman taking her 13 year old to his first FC game when he was of an age to remember it (she used to take him when the club was first founded). She was keen to expose her son to this sort of experience rather than the more corporate match day on offer at Old Trafford. This threw up what is possibly the biggest problem that some have with FC, the fact that there are many in the support who do go to see FC yet still go to Old Trafford.  She admitted that she still goes to see United whenever she gets the opportunity and her son has been, again when the opportunity arose.

So what is going on there, can you do both?

In short the answer is yes. Everyone I have spoken to has said that the love they have for Manchester United is not something they could turn off, some among the support have never been back but will still watch the games and they celebrated the recent victories over Liverpool and City in the same way they have their whole lives. I’m sure that explanation isn’t going to convince anyone, in fact, writing it I can see how you could drive a bus through it, it doesn’t stand up to even the most basic examination. How can you be a fan of two clubs when one was set up in part as a protest against the owners of the other?

The answer is simple, go to a game…

My team is Celtic, who have many similarities with United, a huge club, with a worldwide support whose support have traditionally been seen as having a more left leaning philosophy than some other clubs yet, as I said in my first blog, one visit to FC and I just “got it” and I’ve met supporters of other clubs, Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday, for example who had a similar tale to tell. On that basis for traditional United fans the familiarity of the people around you, the colours and some of the songs would make the process of falling in love with FC even easier. (There’s one song they sing at FC that is a traditional Rangers song, have never sung it, never will!)

On to the match experience itself. The plan was to have a couple in the Miner’s Club a couple of minutes walk from the stadium but for obvious reasons this place has already become the natural rallying point for what would probably be called the Ultras, and a great bunch of lads they are. Utterly committed, politically switched on, funny and one in particular is a demon for a good skin care regime. Despite a dry run a week earlier it was clear the club wasn’t expecting the numbers so I decided just to hop across to the stadium.

Miner's Club

Miner’s Club

I’m glad I did. The whole place was just buzzing, the feeling of pride on what has been achieved was palpable this is where it dawned on me this wasn’t a passing fad for the majority there is a deep sense of “I did this”. I sensed it stemmed from the concept of everyone being a  co-owner with the one member one vote principle at its core.

Class banner

Class banner

The game itself was secondary to the occasion. Benfica sent across their B side and their quality was there for all to see. Despite the fact that FC hadn’t played a competitive game in weeks they gave a fine account of themselves losing out to a late goal.

On the terraces it was business as usual, 90 minutes of raucous support, with people finding their place in the ground that they will call home in the coming seasons (halfway up terrace behind goal to the left as you look at the park for me) There were still some teething problems with bar facilities but that will resolve itself after a couple of games and with decent prices (a tenner for two bottles of cider and two lager) then getting along to the ground early isn’t going to be an excuse for getting fleeced as it is at most places.

My spot, my home

My spot, my home

I mentioned earlier that I intended to keep an eye out for anything negative in the support and mebbes it is through red coloured specs but with only a couple of exceptions it was a reassuringly positive experience. The exceptions I spotted in the second half when I needed to nip down to the loo. Down there I saw a few people standing under the terrace having a beer, I know a couple of them from the pub where I watch United games and talking to them they said they were just along with a few mates for the carry on. It was clear that they are unlikely to be regulars at Broadhurst any time soon.

I make no apologies for this being yet another FC United love letter, as I said above I totally understand those who look at the club and have that “too good to be bloody true” feeling about it. What I would say is this, get along to a game, get along early, go to the Miner’s club, stand behind the goal and just go with it. You won’t have had a better matchday experience in many years, I promise, especially if your normal team of choice plays or has played in the Premiership.

Come enjoy “this thing of ours”

This is ours, we own it

This is ours, we own it

*The first British club to win the European Cup was, of course Glasgow Celtic….

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Nostalgia, it ain’t what it used to be…

This time last week as a result of a very kind invitation from Iain Macintosh, Head Honcho and Chief Pot And Bottle Washer at The Set Pieces I pitched up for a night at the Grosvenor Didsbury Casino. The event was pulled together by Will O’Hara   and before I go on I’d like to thank both of these guys for a great night out.

The format for the evening was we were to arrive at the Casino for six thirty,  mix with Iain, ex-United players David May, Clayton Blackmore and UWS Editor and all-round good egg , Andy Mitten then watch the game between  United and Newcastle. Sounds decent enough, but throw in the big comfy sofas, excellent and regular table service from the FREE BAR then you can see that the chances of the night being anything less than a success were pretty slim. My use of a tactical holiday the day after proved a masterstroke worthy of Sir Alex Ferguson himself.

Any of you who follow me on Twitter will know I have little love in my heart for the modern game at times and, if at all possible, even less for the average modern player. Their sense of entitlement, that air of “I can do anything I want” and detachment from the average fan that so many of them exude means I think I’d struggle to spend two minutes in a lift with them never mind two or three hours watching football with them.

Let’s be frank, in terms of the greats that have played for United the names of May and Blackmore are unlikely to feature in the Best Ever 11 of many fans. However, like most players of that generation I have met their gratitude for having had the opportunity to play for a club like United was obvious. On arrival the two of them were talking about the previous United game, a truly uninspiring 2-0 home victory against Sunderland.They talked like what they are, two experienced professionals with an insight that comes with that CV. Then we started piping up with our half-arsed ideas and theories and then I saw something I don’t think you’d get in the modern-day footballer, interest and genuine engagement. The other guests were, clearly, proper United fans, very passionate about their team. They listened to every point, agreed when they could agree,  disagreed and then explained why. I just couldn’t shake feeling that this sort of pro, conscious of the hand that the football Gods dealt them is a rarity these days.

I won’t lie, a few pints got supped and both players were incredibly cheery company. Blackmore spent his formative years under the very watchful eye of Fergie and when he moved on to Boro he was a senior pro, a role model to his teammates  so his tales, engaging and entertaining though they were centred around his playing career. David May on the other hand had six years at Blackburn Rovers where, under Dalglish the players had an off field freedom unthinkable under Sir Alex.

Who's that wi' Jimbo?

Who’s that wi’ Jimbo?

 

In truth the effects of the free bar have affected my powers of recall but the tales of pre and post match hotel stays as a Blackburn player had me howling with laughter. Mike Newell crashing through a ceiling in a failed effort to surprise his teammates, the removal of the spy holes in hotel doors allowing a fire extinguisher to be discharged through the hole and Kevin Moran adopting the “battering you in your bed in the middle of the night” tactic should he find himself subject to any nonsense from one of the boys .

This is the thing, in the course of the evening we got an idea of the wages they were on during their playing days. Don’t get me wrong, they were tidy but not of a level where they didn’t have to worry about working once their playing days were over. Nowadays a player can be financially secure for life by the time he reaches his 21st birthday. I don’t really grudge the players that money in some ways, clubs are getting fortunes from Sky so why shouldn’t the players be the main beneficiaries of the TV billions but I wonder at what cost in terms of relationship with the fans.

I can’t shake the feeling that the disconnect caused by the wealth, the gulf between the average fan and player means that we are losing something. Many years ago I used to live near Joe McBride, a Celtic legend from the Lisbon Lions era, we used to walk our dogs together and I could have listened to his tales for hours. I suspect that in the years to come very few of the current Premier League “superstars” will find themselves in the company of the ordinary fans  and engage with them so easily. These tales are part of the unwritten history of every club, players being so removed that they can’t pass them on is sad.

 

 

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