Blog Nine – Starting Again

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Welcome to my latest blog.

You may be thinking “Latest? Has he ever done any?”

Alternatively you may be thinking “Yeah. What happened to that previous blog?”

These are both valid questions, and you can be forgiven for thinking either of them. That’s why I’ll answer them now.

Yes. I have done previous blogs and they were (I think) reasonably well received. The feedback was good, anyway, but it could be that people were just being kind. I wrote these back in 2014.

What happened to them? I don’t know, really. I just stopped doing them. No reason. I just stopped. Then I got out of the habit. Maybe my motivation waned.

I have no definitive explanation, but you may have sensed, towards the later blogs in 2014, a distinct edge of stress in my writing. Without going into detail here, something happened in my professional life (my day job) that, at the time, had a very detrimental effect on my personal wellbeing.

I think it hit me harder than I acknowledged. It didn’t stop me in my tracks. It didn’t prevent me from getting on with things. What it did do, I think, is stifle my creative mojo.

I’ve really not done a lot of writing; neither songs, stories nor poems since that time. I’ve done a bit, but not a lot. I was once described by a Canadian songwriter as a prolific lyricist. I certainly haven’t lived up to that description since 2014.

Often you hear of a writer’s block and this is simply what I put it down to at the time. Upon reflection it seems coincidental that the block started at around the same time as the work trauma.

Of course, this is the amateur psychologist in me, saying that my block must have been due to some sort of PTSD.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are people out there with real PTSD; Afghan/Iraq veterans and crime victims to name but a few. I wouldn’t dream of trying to compare my seemingly petty experience with what these people are going through. It was, however, and still is, pertinent to me.

Please accept my apologies for arousing your curiosity, because unfortunately I have no plans of going into detail about what happened here. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I retire in eight and a half year’s time, when I’ll be free to comment a little bit more. Even then I’ll still be bound by certain legislation if I don’t want to find myself on the wrong end of a judge’s wrath.

Needless to say, I feel that what  happened is one of the most unfair things that I have personally experienced in my career to date. Unfortunately, for reasons of self-preservation, I have allowed it to change and define me. It still affects me now and is, frustratingly, still not wholly resolved. It represents one of the major negative imbalances of power that affects me and many of my colleagues every day. I resolve that one day I will write about it to some degree, but not today.

Please forgive the huge digression, but I’m just trying to analyse what it was that stole my mojo, back in February 2014.

Since then, there has been much happening in my life, both positive and negative.

I’ll share with you my milestones, but the challenge will be to keep it interesting. Forgive me if I fall short.

June 2014: I left the role I had been in for over 6 years to a new role at work. The catalyst for this had been the events of February 2014, so the move was welcome, but a new challenge.

New challenges always bring uncertainty, and in my case, with uncertainty comes bags of self-doubt. That said, I clearly did alright in my new role and somehow must have impressed who I needed to impress. Within six months I was granted a much sought after promotion. The promotion, however, wasn’t official and was just on a temporary basis.

December 2014: As stated, I was given a temporary promotion, which although positive, was a bit of a poison chalice. (I say, “given” a temporary promotion, but this is typical me, being too humble and self-depreciating. In fairness, I wasn’t “given” anything. I had actually worked really hard and earned something that was long overdue. It’s only now, some three years on, that I’m beginning to realise that).

When in a temporary promotion you feel constant pressure to prove yourself, especially if, like me, you are constantly pricked by self-doubt. I am embarrassed to say that the weight of the constant threat of immediate demotion turned me into a bit of a “yes man”. I didn’t want to rock the boat too much, and I caused myself ridiculous amounts of stress in trying to keep the boat steady.

I’d already had my mojo dented and this temporary position was denting it even more.

It was strange. I could feel it. I could see it. I hated it, but felt powerless. Here I was, with the promotion I had been craving, but I was unhappier (at work) than I had ever been. I felt ungrateful; like a fraud. Surely I shouldn’t be in this position. Should I give the promotion back and return to how I was? There’d certainly be less mither, but the money was good. Financially we were better off. My pension would be far better in future. My wife was proud. My mum was proud. I had friends who were proud. The only one who wasn’t proud was me. Why was this? I really don’t know.

Then the official promotion process re-opened. Due to unprecedented government cut backs, there had been a freeze on promotions for years and now, suddenly, they were open again.

There came the inevitable scramble to enter into a process that was highly competitive and different to any previous process. Everyone going for it was out of their depth, me included. Literally hundreds of good quality, professionally capable people had been awaiting this moment. Consequently the competition was stiff and there was plenty of it.

I’d been temporary for just a few months and I still wasn’t confident, but I was supported by local management when other colleagues weren’t. I was further supported by the central panel, when other, far more capable, colleagues were knocked back. It was a game; say the right things on the application, tick the right boxes and you were winning. I was now well and truly in this game and I got myself a final interview.

My mum was so proud and so excited for me. She paid about £250 for me to attend an interview skills course. It was good. It got me focussed and I was ready.

The day came and unfortunately I was awful. I’d go as far as to say it was probably one of the worst interviews I have ever had. From the moment I opened my dry, nervous mouth I knew I was awful. Every word I uttered echoed back at me with the sound of rank awfulness. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t claw it back. The more I tried, the more I spluttered embarrassing awfulness from my quivering lips. In fact the harder I tried the faster I got at spewing bile.

I’d like to say that the process was unfair. I’d like to say that the interviewers were oppressive and unhelpful, but I can’t. They tried. They really tried to pull out the best of me, but I made it impossible for them. No matter how they tried they really couldn’t polish a turd.

I knew that it was a futile effort, but I am always very pragmatic about these things. I am a believer that it will happen when it’s meant to happen and none of it is personal. It just wasn’t my time. In fact, you must always try to take the positives from these things and this was a valuable learning experience.

I do think that had I gone on a different day, or at a different time on that day, I may have done better. It’s like when you pick up a crossword on Tuesday and can’t fathom it, but you pick it up on Wednesday and you’re all over it. I think it was one of those anomalies of cognitive function. My brain, for whatever reason, was simply not engaged that day.

All candidates had to wait several weeks for the result, but I knew what was coming. I was under no illusion whatsoever.

The time came and I got a text off a colleague, saying the results were out. I was at home with my wife, Angie, and I called one of the Senior Leadership Team, a chap called Mr. Barton, who had the unenviable job of giving out the results, both positive and negative, to multiple candidates.

Angie watched on eagerly, with hope in her eyes. It felt like she was holding her breath and I couldn’t understand why. I suspected, very strongly, that her unwavering hope would be dashed by disappointment. It seemed like I was the only one with realistic expectations of this ‘phone call.

Bear in mind that Mr. Barton is a very serious fellow, with not much by way of a sense of humour. He was in the process of delivering disappointment to many people with these results, and was ringing round people one by one. Bear in mind the fact that instead of waiting for his call (I just struggle doing that) I called him and caught him on the hop. Bear in mind the fact that I had already come to terms with the inevitable, so wasn’t in the least bit downhearted about it. Bear in mind the fact that I have a rather eccentric sense of humour, which is not always appropriate for the occasion. This conversation was never destined to go well.

“Mr. Barton”, I said, cheerfully. “It’s Darren Whitehead. I believe the results are out.”

“Erm. Yes, Darren. They are”, came the firm, rather stern reply. I’d clearly caught him on the back foot by ringing him instead of waiting for him to ring me.

“Well”, I said. “Do I need to get myself a length of rope and a stool or a flute of champagne?”

The reply was even sterner, with a real sense of unease.

“Darren, you’ve put me in a very difficult position, because it’s not good news.”

Suddenly the realisation hit me. This result was so important to some people that there was a real, tangible risk of mental breakdown. Mr. Barton was indeed in a difficult position.

I wondered why Angie had rolled her eyes when I asked the question the way I did, and in a split second of stark realisation, I now knew why.

“It’s ok, Mr. Barton”, I spluttered. “I suspected as much anyway”.

I was scrambling with my words, trying to reassure him; trying to put as much positivity in my tone as I could, to convince him that I wasn’t going to string myself up from the nearest tree.

At the same time, I was stinging, from seeing the hope ripped from Angie’s eyes.

“Well, Darren”, the tone was even harsher now. There was a very serious air to his voice. “I have to challenge that comment about a length of rope and a stool.”

I clearly hadn’t convinced him that I was ok, so I needed to try harder.

“I’m sorry, Sir”, I replied, with a tone of genuine embarrassment. “You’ll have to forgive my sense of humour. It’s not always appropriate.”

There was a pause and I clearly needed to try harder.

“The promotion is important to me, Sir, but it’s not THAT important. I assure you I’m fine. I’d already come to terms with the result anyway so it was expected.”

Pause.

“I’m here with my wife. I’m safe. I promise you, Boss, that it’s just my sense of humour.”

There came an unimpressed reply, but he got it and, deep down … maybe very deep down, I think he appreciated my refreshing approach to failure.

So now my future hung in the balance. In fairness, I’d had my chance and I blew it. I knew that the end was in sight for my temporary promotion and it was simply a matter of time before I was unceremoniously kicked from my elevated pedestal. Maybe it would be a blessing in disguise. The constant stress of trying to prove myself every day really was beginning to take its toll on me. Maybe the demotion wouldn’t be so bad.

There was a huge restructure planned at work, which would affect every team and every individual in some way. All staffing had to be looked at. It was only a month or so away, and my temporary standing was to be reverted in the restructure. I was scheduled to go onto a different team, in a lower position. It was no surprise. I knew it was coming, so I was well prepared.

That is until about two weeks before the day of the restructure. A person on a different team, who was temping up at a lower rank to me, mentioned to me that I was being kept at my temporary rank after the restructure. Apparently his (permanently promoted) boss had resigned and that position in the new restructure was to be filled by me, continuing in a temporary promoted role.

Whilst this was good news, it was annoying. How did someone, lower in rank, from a different team know my destiny before I did? Why was I finding out this way? Apparently this was one of the worst kept secrets in the organisation. Quite a few people knew. Quite a few people  except me.

I decided to ask my boss about it. I thought it was completely unacceptable, but, with my position being so precarious, I chose to keep the boat steady when I asked about it. Regardless, she was livid. She was clearly not happy that this news had leaked out, but she gave me no answers. She neither confirmed, nor denied the rumour, which was unhelpful.

Anyway, the rumour was indeed true. An unexpected resignation created an opportunity for me to stay in my temporary position. I was initially told it would be for six months (I’d already had six months and you usually get a twelve month stint).

It wasn’t long before the six months were up, but by now the promotion process had started again. I was desperately clinging onto my position in the hope I could get through the next process … and this time be successful.

The job was good to me and I kept my position. I knew, however, that I simply had to get through this time. I knew that if I didn’t make the grade on this occasion then it would be over and demotion would soon follow.

When the process started the application was virtually the same as the previous year, but with a greater word allowance, so I amended it slightly and used that. It had got me all the way through to a final interview the previous year, so I knew it was good. There were a few other new stages added (all candidates had to make an “inspiring” video and we had to do a written exercise). Everything would be marked collectively and then a decision taken as to whether you would be offered a final interview or not.

I was happy with my video (although it was a bit Ricky Gervais), happy with my application and unsure about my written exercise. I was, however, quite confident about getting a final interview. Unfortunately, when the results came out I was 1% shy, so didn’t get as far as the interview stage.

The feedback was surprising; poor marks on the application form, poor marks on the video and good marks on the written exercise. This was completely the opposite of what I expected. My application form was the eyebrow raiser as it scored well the year before, but the latest marking was very different. I appealed, but got nowhere.

As usual, I was pragmatic. This was it for my temporary promotion, it had to be. The writing was on the wall and I knew it.

My poor mum, who was always in my corner, was gutted. She wasn’t half as pragmatic as me. In fact, she wasn’t very pragmatic at all. My mum had a different approach to my failure and she was furious. She wasn’t mad at me, but at my bosses, (who it had nothing to do with, by the way). She was aggrieved about what “they had done” to her boy. When I explained that it wasn’t personal and was simply a process she wouldn’t have it. She threatened to telephone my bosses and give them a piece of her mind. I persuaded her not to do this.

I don’t actually know how she’d have achieved this if she’d tried. I can imagine the conversation on the switchboard, particularly when you consider that the organisation has well over 8,000 employees.

“Ere. I’m ringing about our Darren. It’s not fair what they’ve done to him. Is his boss there?”

I didn’t think my mum’s call would have reached any of the bosses, but when I saw the boss later that day, I tipped her the wink, just in case she did get a call from a furious Mrs. Whitehead.

Anyway, in short, I failed, my appeal failed and my mum never did ring the boss.

So what about my temporary promotion? Well … I don’t know how … I have no idea why, but I managed to cling onto it.

The next milestone in my life was a huge trauma, a huge turning point and also a huge stepping stone. It had nothing to do with my career. Career wise, I was plodding on and keen to keep my position.

This next milestone was in my personal life. I was in work one afternoon in late August 2016, when I received a call from the sheltered housing complex where my mum was living. Nothing too concerning, but they had called an ambulance because she didn’t look right.

Of course, I dropped work, called my wife and we made our way to the hospital. We got there before the ambulance did.

My mum came into A&E and she seemed in good spirits. Her breathing wasn’t best ever and she was weak, but this wasn’t unusual for my mum. To cut a long story short she had a collapsed lung and an infection so needed a chest drain. She was admitted to a ward as an in-patient.

There then followed a roller coaster journey of highs and lows. After roughly four weeks my beautiful mum passed away in quite traumatic circumstances. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog, but I may do in future. Needless to say that both myself and Angie were left devastated, shocked, emotionally scarred and numb at the same time. This feeling lasted and didn’t initially ease. It wasn’t the fact of my mum’s passing. I am generally very balanced about these things. Old people die. It is the commonly accepted way of things; the orders of Mother Nature. The fact that we had lost my mum was devastating, but comprehendable. It was how she ventured into death which shook us. It shook us to seismic proportions. We considered counselling as an option as we both felt unable to move forward.

Of course, in the aftermath of my mum’s passing, I needed time to consolidate. We both did. My boss was fantastic and without a second thought gave me as much paid time off as I needed. This was welcome, because not only did I have my mum’s death to come to terms with, but I had all the time-consuming, practical things to do, such as organising the funeral and sorting out her estate.

My mum had two homes when she died. In the April she had moved into an extra care sheltered housing facility. She kept her own house on in case it didn’t work out, allowing her the option of moving back should she desire. Her own house was owned outright. The sheltered housing was a rented property.

My mum had very quickly made friends at the sheltered housing complex, and her social life had blossomed. She was settled and loving it when she took ill.

In effect, she had less than six months there before she passed and I genuinely feel that life ripped her off. She had so much more fun and so many more laughs to have, but fate stole these from her.

The front line staff at the sheltered housing complex were fantastic. They had given my mum a new lease of life and in death they were genuinely sympathetic and caring. Some were visibly upset.

Within two or three days of my mum’s passing, however, I got a call from the management of the complex, offering their condolences. I’d like to say that this was heartfelt. At first, I thought it was, until the real reason for the call became apparent. The contract requires four weeks notice to quit, but they could allow two weeks under the circumstances. It was as if they were doing me a favour. Because my mum had died, she was no longer entitled to assistance in paying her rent, so we had to physically pay two weeks rent. That was a bit of an unecessary kick in the teeth, but then came the second part. The flat needed emptying of all property within two weeks at the latest … and they really needed me to be getting on with it. Again this felt insensitive as I was still planning my mum’s funeral.

As usual, I was ever the pragmatist, but it felt quite a cold-hearted thing to do, disguised as a call offering condolences. Of course, it also ramped up the pressure somewhat.

Needless to say, this period of my life is iconic for various reasons.

Once the initial shock wave of losing my mum was over, we then had to consider her estate. This all takes time, of course, and trying to tie up all loose ends was problematic. My mum left a very efficient estate. Her funeral was pre-paid, she had an up to date will and her house was in trust to myself and Angie. I am an only one, so it was as simple as simple can be. Even so, closing bank accounts, pension payments, gas accounts etc., is a minefield. There’s always something you forget.

We got there in the end, of course, but it wasn’t as easy as I had anticipated.

I went back to work after a month. Things were nowhere near sorted, but we had made huge strides.

It seemed like no time at all before I was stuck into work again, busy as ever and just plodding on.

Whilst I had been off work the decision was made to move me to a different location. It wasn’t what I wanted, but being in a temporary post, and a tenuous one at that, I wasn’t in a position to argue. I’m also of the mindset that I work for a disciplined organisation and I will do as I am told. So, in November 2016 I moved to a different location and was now managing a different team.

Work was work. It was all much of a muchness and I settled in and just got on with things.

Homelife, on the other hand was a little more difficult. Not the family stuff. For the last eleven years, since I met Angie, she has always been my one constant; my rock; my go to place. She doesn’t always say what I want to hear, she tells it how it is and she unfailingly calls me out for any bullshit but, without a shadow of a doubt, she’s always in my corner. The difficulties I speak of are the ripples from losing my mum.

Both Angie and I were dealing with it. We decided we didn’t need counselling and we just cracked on.

The difficulties were mainly practicalities. My mum had a house full of stuff. Some stuff was good stuff, to my taste. Some stuff was good stuff, not to my taste. Other stuff was just stuff. My mum had a heart made not just of gold, but of diamonds and gold; gold and diamonds of the highest carat. As such, she couldn’t bring herself to part with anything with even the remotest sentimental value.

She kept every card ever sent to her. She kept every piece of ornamental tat that I ever bought her; every letter; every Christmas decoration; every piece of cheap costume jewellery. Going through my mum’s stuff and sorting out the good, the bad and the ugly was physically exhausting but it was also a huge emotional challenge. It was time consuming, filled with various moments of forced ruthlessness mixed with the odd tear or two.

Eventually we got there. Our little house was full to bursting with stuff, to the point where we rented two storage units.

My mum’s house was now on the market. This also came with it’s share of problems and stress but we were getting on with things and the future was looking brighter.

My mum and dad worked tirelessly when I was growing up, to put a roof over my head, food in my belly and to create security. We weren’t rich, by any means but my mum and dad did have foresight. Way back in the late 1960’s/very early 1970’s, they decided to buy their own house. My dad passed away in February 2009 and when my mum left us, she had absolutely no debt whatsoever. Between my parents, apart from providing me with a fantastic childhood, they had collectively left the legacy of the house and a small pot of savings.

The house was now owned outright by both myself and Angie. Apart from the tragic circumstances, it was like a lottery win. It goes without saying that I would gladly take back my mum and dad in exchange for the money any day of the week. That, however, is not possible so we have to do the next best thing and make the most of what my mum and dad left us.

Back in work, as time passed, the writing really was on the wall for my temporary promotion. My temporary extensions in rank were getting shorter and shorter. I had been the longest person to hold a temporary position at that level. Other people were pushing through, desperate for their shot. The pressure was on the Senior Leadership Team to justify why I was still in my position and it was getting harder and harder to do so. Time had passed and it was now April 2017. My last extension was for one month. I knew what was coming, so when I spotted a position on a different unit, advertised for applications at the same level, I was interested. It would mean a move away from operational and into the strategic world, which I did not really want, but it was a means to an end. Without the move, I would be demoted for sure. The position, however, was a minimum twelve month tenure. For me, it was a no brainer, so I applied.

I am pleased to state that my application scored the highest by far and I was offered the job. It’s important to say, however, that I also scored the lowest. I was actually the only applicant.

Having been the only applicant it would have been a tad embarrassing if I didn’t get the job. Needless to say I changed roles in May 2017. I wasn’t looking forward to the new role, but it was needs must. As it so happens, I actually really enjoyed it. Being in a strategic role, where I could use my imagination a bit, helped release some of my creativity. It also gave me much more rounded examples for when the next promotion process started.

Outside of the pressures of work we were still trying to sell my mum’s house. It had been on the market for some time and, after much stress and a change in estate agents, we accepted an offer and the house was eventually sold on 16th June 2017.

Up until then, this valuable asset had attracted bills and extra financial burdens. Simply insuring an empty house, for example, was very costly. Because we owned the house there was no grace period for council tax, so we were paying council tax for almost nine months for services we never used. Keeping an empty property is surprisingly expensive.

The 16th June 2017 was financially a turning point for us. Having previously been struggling; me having historically come off the back of two failed relationships, a divorce and ongoing child maintenence. We were finally in a much stronger position. Any debts could be cleared and we had enough for a really decent deposit on a bigger house.

We started to search. We eventually found what seemed to be the perfect house for us. We negotiated a price and all was going well.

Just before my mum passed away she told Angie and I that she wanted to pay for us a holiday. We had looked but found nothing we really wanted, but now she had gone it felt very important that we go away in my mum’s memory. We booked for Cyprus and whilst there, on 13th July 2017 the new house sale fell through.

It was disappointing because we had our heart set on this beautiful house. As I’ve already stated, however, I am forever the pragmatist. It might sometimes seem like I don’t care but that would be inaccurate. I do care. I do suffer disappointment. I just try not to let that disappointment define me, nor even define my day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as good at sulking as anyone else and I certainty do have my dark moments. In the main, however, I’m a “pick yourself up and brush the dust off your arse” kinda guy.

So again, I’ve digressed, but the point I am badly trying to make is that, despite the disappointment, it wasn’t long before I was splashing in the pool, trying not to lose my shorts. The frustation didn’t last long and certainly didn’t ruin the holiday that my mum sent us on.

Once we came home
the house hunting started again. Angie was relentless. It became almost an obsession for her and it paid off.

She spotted a beautiful property, in an area we both liked and, thanks to the legacy of my mum and dad, it was affordable for us.

We viewed it and fell in love straight away.

We were in Surrey the day after the viewing with our dog at Supervet. (That’s a story for another blog). We decided to put an offer in via the estate agent. The estate agent was an online agent and, to shorten an otherwise long and boring story, they were next to useless. It was frustrating, because we were left unconvinced that our offer had been put to the seller. We certainly didn’t want someone else getting in there first. Me being me, and being (just a tad) unconventional, I decided to stalk … I mean, track down … the seller on Facebook and send him a direct message, thus cutting out the estate agent. He responded and we entered into direct negotiation. We agreed a price and started to progress the sale. All was going well and we were now well on the way to buying the house. After the disappointment of the previous property, this was quite an exciting time.

There was one issue. The affordability of the mortgage was reliant upon me turning my temporary position at work into a permanent promotion, so there was a lot resting on work. That decision was an uncertainty, but we took a risk and went for it regardless.

The promotion process came around soon enough, and in September 2017, I found myself applying once more. The process had changed (again) and was now being done in line with the National Promotion Framework. The new process measured against Behavioural Competencies as opposed to the previous processes, which were measured against Leadership Expectations.

There was now no paper sift. The application form was nothing more than an expression of interest. Everyone who applied got an assessment day. Mine was on 10th November 2017.

I’d been advised from September to prepare, prepare, prepare for it. Unfortunately I didn’t heed this valuable advice. I value my days off work. I value my evenings off. I value the time with my family. I value these things more than gold. This meant that the only time to prepare, prepare, prepare would be in work.

Unfortunately, I am too conscientious at work. All my work time focussed on work and not on the game of preparing for an assessment.

What did this mean in real terms? Well what this meant was I’d done very little, if anything. In fact … I’m kidding myself. I’d dont nothing; nowt; nada.

I decided to take off the week leading up to my assessment day to prepare. This was the first time I had even looked at Behavioural Competencies. This old dinosaur was still thinking about Leadership Expectations.

The time off gave me four days of preparation. Would it be enough? It was doubtful. I was kicking myself.

On Monday I studied the strategic direction of the organisation. The information released about the assessment day said we had to understand this, so understand it I would. I crammed for about eight hours. I still hadn’t looked at Behavioural Competencies.

On Tuesday I went to a friend’s house. He was studying for the same process. Going through interview questions with him made me realise exactly how unprepared I was. His view was that I’d wasted a day studying the organisational strategy as we wouldn’t be tested on it. He was too polite to say it, but I think he genuinely felt that I’d done way too little, way too late. As our study progressed I couldn’t have agreed more. I could find nothing in the bank that reflected the Behavioural Competencies. I had not pepared any examples. Sure, I had been doing stuff at work on a daily basis, but I was clueless on how to translate this into this new process. My head was well and truly stuck far up my twitching backside.

On the Wednesday I was back with my buddy. Having refined some interview examples on Tuesday night, having honed them to reflect the Behavioural Competencies I felt better; not great, but better. Wednesday, however, completely reaffirmed that I was still painfully unprepared for the day. I drove home really kicking myself … which doesn’t make for a safe drive.

I spent Thursday at home. The assessment day would consist of a written exercise. I didn’t know what this would be, so I couldn’t prepare. All I knew is that it would be an in-tray exercise. I figured in advance that it would be a whole bunch of memos, emails and information that would all need prioritising, decisions and comments. I also figured that there would be too much information to absorb in the limited time of 90 minutes. I don’t think there was a great deal of effective preparation I could do for this, because I was going in blind. Another part of the assessment was a role-play scenario which would, doubtless be a complex staffing issue or a customer service problem. Again, I felt it was one of those where you either knew your stuff or you didn’t. I also felt that the role-play would naturally lend itself to my personality, so again, I didn’t prepare for this. Then there would be four interview questions. We didn’t know in advance what each stage would be exactly, but we did know which specific Behavioural Competencies would be tested in each stage.

The general advice for competency based interviews is to have two examples for each question. This would mean eight examples and I was struggling for one. Eventually, by scraping the deep depths of my dark and dusty mind, I managed to come up with four examples only. It would be a matter of luck as to whether the questions fell my way and, in fairness, luck hadn’t traditionally been on my side with these things.

Friday 10th November 2017 arrived. I set off for the assessment day. It’s fair to say that I was anxious. It felt like I’d swallowed a bucketful of angry butterflies. Whilst driving to the assessment centre, I tried to calm myself and boost my confidence from some tricks I learnt when preparing for a charity firewalk (subject for another blog). I was going through these routines in my head, over and again, and it was doing the trick. I started to calm down and feel a bit better.

“It’s going to be ok”, I said aloud to myself, confidently.

I then glanced to my right to see a single magpie flying through gravestones in a church yard.

“No. I’m going to die”, I exclaimed.

When I got to the assessment centre the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed. I was in a cohort of eight people, one of whom was a direct work colleague. It was quite a chilled out assessment day, unlike any other I have been on.

My four examples fit perfectly with the interview questions. All my nerves left me and I felt good throughout the day. I came away feeling quietly confident. Actually, I came away feeling I had stormed it, so I was rather pleased. At last I felt like I was in with a shot, at a time that really mattered.

It wasn’t until December when the results came out. I hadn’t given it much of a second thought as it’s in the lap of the Gods once the assessment is done. There is nothing you can do to affect it so thinking about it only causes anxiety. The results deadline arrived … and passed. It was frustrating and it caused me to start dwelling on it. I think I must be a world champion at over thinking because, by the time I had done with myself, I convinced myself that I’d failed so badly they were considering putting me to sleep.

The weekend came and went and we were now into Monday. Everyone was now anxious and the rumour mill started as to the results not being out for another fortnight.

It was the following day, Tuesday 5th December 2017, that I got a ‘phone call from the boss. I was at an event with some of my staff and staff from the local authority. My heart skipped. Everyone knew what I was waiting for so there were several hearts in several mouths. Unfortunately the boss wanted something else and the call was nothing to do with the results.

“Bloody Hell, Boss!”, I exclaimed to him. “I thought it was the results.”

“They’re out later today, Cocker”, came the reply.

This particular boss is a jovial character. He doesn’t suffer fools, but he’s a genuinely nice guy. We also went to the same school and grew up in the same village, so we know each other on a personal level, which would explain his very personable approach … and why I feel comfortable swearing at him.

“I’ll make sure you’re the first to know when they come through”, he promised.

Now the adrenalin was going. I excitedly told my colleagues that the results would be out so I’d be disappearing to take the call when it came.

It was important to me that as soon as I knew the result I let Angie know, before any of my colleagues found out, which is why I planned to take the call out of the room.

About half an hour passed and I got the call. I scurried out of the room. All my colleagues were awaiting my return eagerly.

The news was fantastic. I’d passed with one of the higher scores of all candidates. This had been a long day coming and I was ecstatic. I was told, however, by the boss not to announce it to my colleagues until every candidate had been told their results. Of course, I was the first to find out, so I had a bit of a wait before I could dance a public jig.

I immediately called Angie and gave her the news. I think she was happier than I was and she actually cried.

I then had the difficult task of returning to my eager colleagues, whilst keeping a poker face. In fact, so poker was my face that they thought I’d failed. There were a few uncomfortable shuffles and awkward glances, but nobody asked me. I think they didn’t want to see a grown man cry.

I decided to put them out of their awkward misery a little by telling them that I couldn’t reveal any result until all candidates knew. I told them that I might have passed, I might not, but all would be revealed in good time. I still kept a poker face and still kept them guessing … which I quite enjoyed, in a sadistic, power hungry sort of way.

The result, for me, was more than just the kudos of passing; more than pride; more than a success. The result helped to secure our future. It gave us reassurance about our mortgage. It meant that I wasn’t going to get demoted. It meant so much and it felt amazing. After three years of being temporary, I could finally say I was there.

One regret is that my wonderful mum never got to see me pass.

That was 5th December. On 15th December 2017 we completed on the house sale and moved in. Moving house, as many people can relate to, is a stress. Moving house just before Christmas is a real stress, but so much worth it.

We are very fortunate to have found the house, at the right time, in the right neighbourhood. We are very fortunate that our neighbours either side and opposite are all really nice people. We have made new friends and we both feel like we have landed firmly on our feet. The disappointment of the first house sale falling through was most definitely a beautiful blessing in disguise.

So that’s a nutshell, condensed version of the last four years. We’ve had great times, but I also feel that I’ve had some real stresses and sometimes found myself being a much darker version of my usual self.

There’s more to the last four years, of course; much more. In time I may share some of this with you. That said, I’m not one for reflecting on the past unless it’s a fantastic memory or a valuable lesson.

So what have I learned from the last four years? I’ve learned to trust myself more. I’ve learned that anyone can find themselves in a dark place. I’ve learned that no matter how dark it gets there’s always a way to find light. I’ve also learned what I already knew; when you have someone amazing in your corner you can breathe a little easier. I’ve learned to keep trying. I’ve also learned to rock the boat sometimes.

This blog has taken me about a week of snatched moments to write; bits and bats here and there. It is my new next door neighbour, Pete, who has inspired me to start writing again and I can’t thank him enough. As I conclude this blog, I am sat onboard a Boeing 767 aircraft, on the tarmac at Manchester Airport. We are waiting to set off to Kos for one week. Our flight has missed its slot and we have been delayed for over 90 minutes. We endured excessive heat with no air conditioning on the plane for over thirty minutes. There were hundreds of stressed people and dozens of stressed babies. As I looked around at all of these over-heated people, I considered my life journey and thought to myself that it’s all cool.

I am so grateful to my mum and dad, to Angie and to my amazing family.

We’ve come so far and I’m exceptionally excited about what’s ahead.

If you’ve enjoyed this read then watch this space for future blogs. I hope to keep them coming and maintain a bit of creative mojo. If you haven’t enjoyed it then don’t worry … I’m off for a week to Kos, so I’ll not worry either.

In the meantime feel free to check out the website of the guy who inspired me to get blogging again. It is here.

Until next time …

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Blog Eight – Plodding On

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Here I am with blog number eight, still plodding on. Plodding is literally the word.I would love to report massive strides, leaps and bounds with my ongoing projects but at this stage I can’t. April has been a very busy month in other ways so initially I will report this before updating about actual progress in my creative projects.

Personal Stuff:

Since my last blog we sadly lost my uncle Colin (my dad’s brother). He was the last of that generation of Whiteheads to survive and his death sparked me off thinking about how short life is. It also made me realise how fragile families are and how life gets in the way of keeping in touch.

There has also been a plethora of birthdays in the family; my nephew’s, mine, my mum’s and Angie’s (my wife). Over Easter Angie and I took a bit of time off work to give us a bit of quality time together. It was overdue and very refreshing.

We organised a surprise 70th birthday party for my mum. It was a complete surprise for her as she is only sixty nine.

I joke, of course, she did turn 70 and the party went really well. I must thank all those who attended and helped make it a really special evening.

For my birthday, Angie planned a lovely surprise for me (which was paid for by my mum as a birthday gift for both of us). She had this planned for months and wouldn’t give me any clues. In fact, she threw a few red herrings in to really put me off the scent.

It was an overnight stay at the beautiful Peckforton Castle in Tarporley, Cheshire. Angie drove and I was blindfolded the whole way so that I wouldn’t have a clue where I was until we arrived. I also had headphones in, listening to music the whole journey (so I couldn’t hear the sat nav). Upon arrival I was very disorientated but It was an amazing surprise and has led to some more inspiration in the form of photography and a new poem (more of that in a while).

The evening at Peckforton Castle also caused me to break my no drinking stint. For our birthdays, my brother and sister in law bought us a bottle of bubbly (amongst other things) and it would have been rude not to partake in a glass or two whilst there. This was the first drink since 1st January 2014. Sadly, I’ve got the taste for it again now, but don’t worry … I’m no Peter Barlow. My intention now is to abstain for another three months.

Weight Loss:

When we held the surprise party for my mum, I was heartily tempted by many of the tasty treats and morsels that we provided by way of food. As such, I broke my strict diet and fell of the wagon with such a bump that I still have gravel rash on my backside.

I have started again on the diet but can’t bring myself to weigh in yet as I don’t want to face the harsh reality that at the moment I am still chasing that wagon down the street, shouting “wait for me”. I will weigh in just before my next blog and report accordingly.

Progress with Projects

As I said previously, there’s been a bit, but not a massive amount, of progress with my projects. There has been a sliver of photography but most of the progress has been in relation to poetry so I’ll start there.

 

Poetry Competitions:

I have entered two more poetry competitions since my last blog and I still await the result from these. I previously entered the poem ‘Caramel’ as featured on a previous blog into a competition with Forward Poetry and I have not yet had the result for this either.

Since my last blog, I entered ‘Monochrome Soldier’ into a competition with the same website. I await the result of this also.

I have also entered another four poems into the Poets and Players competition. Their rules state that any entered poems must not be published elsewhere so I am unable to share these with you on this blog just now. I await the result for this but it won’t be anytime soon. The delay is frustrating, but I guess that I have to play the long game.

 

Poetry Writing:

I said in a previous blog that I had been well and truly bitten by the poetry bug and this is very true. Since my last blog I have written thirteen poems, some of which I am really pleased with.

I also said that I intended to go to Write Out Loud again (an event where anyone can get up and read their poetry). I went along on 20th April and was made to feel like family by the talented poet and organiser, Jeff Dawson (aka Jeffarama!).

I read four poems whilst there, which were very well received.  It was a great night which gave me a chance to showcase some of my work, albeit to a cosy, niche audience and allowed me to listen to other poets also. The work of other poets generates fresh inspiration so going there was a real win, win.

What I love about the Write Out Loud events is the diversity of people; their ages, backgrounds, views and styles. It is a place where, despite any differences, everyone shares the common bond of the written word and gives time and due respect to each other.

On Thursday 1st May 2014, I will be attending a poetry event at George’s. It is a similar event to Write Out Loud but there will be some different faces and poets, so again more inspiration. I should fit right in because George is also where I buy most of my underwear from.

 

Some Actual Poems:

My father in law read my last few blogs and in particular the poem, Monochrome Soldier. His feedback is as follows:

“It’s not a poem. It doesn’t rhyme”.

I suspect that this was a tongue in cheek comment but especially for him I have included within this blog two poems that rhyme, one of which he has heard already.

For formatting reasons it is easier to upload the poems as PDF documents and link to them. Sorry for any inconvenience.

I often say that inspiration to write can come from the most unexpected places. The poem below is called Paupers at the Castle and is inspired by my recent visit to Peckforton Castle. You might say that a beautiful castle setting is an obvious source of inspiration, and I would be inclined to agree. The inspiration for this poem, however, was not the rich history nor architecture of the building, but the people within it.

Paupers at the Castle

 

The next poem has a profanity within it, but I make no apologies for this. It is there for a reason and highlights the point I am trying to make. This poem is called Lessons From a Nightclub. It is years since I have been to a nightclub, but I think that I am accurate in my opening stanza. The style of this poem was inspired by listening to other poets at Write Out Loud. The content has been inspired by years of working with people who have drug problems and years of working in an inner city.

Lessons From a Nightclub

 

I like to experiment with various styles of poetry and the next poem is a series of cinquains which tell a story. A cinquain is a poem which doesn’t rhyme but has 5 lines of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 2 syllables. I have combined them into one poem which I have called No Winners.

No Winners

 

Children’s Book:

No further progress to speak of with this at the moment. Lindsey Davies and I will be meeting up towards the end of May to hopefully finalise the layout of our book “The Hero of Schnool” and to discuss a strategy for promotion.

 

Photographs:

I will share with you some photographs that I took at Peckforton Castle. I hope you enjoy:

Peckforton 3 Peckforton 2 Peckforton 1 Peckforton 6 Peckforton 5 Peckforton 4

© Copyright Notice – All photographs copyright of Darren Lee Whitehead – 2014

 

Finally, please see links to some of the other things that I have simmering at the moment:

Love the Speech:

If you or anyone you know might be interested in utilising my speech writing services then please click here.

Photography Sales:

Please feel free to take a look at some of my photographs, which are available to purchase as canvasses and mobile ‘phone covers. They can be seen by clicking here.

Peering Through the Mist:

You will be aware that my late father, Jeff Whitehead (RIP) and I compiled a book of poetry shortly before he passed away. The book is called Peering Though the Mist and is available on Amazon by clicking here or on Lulu by clicking here. Other book retailers will also sell the book.

Song Writing:

I have done nothing more to report regarding my song writing but as you will probably be aware, I do have some songs on the album Ahead of Time by Frozen Rain. The album can be purchased by clicking here.

Thanks for dropping by and if you have got this far then I guess that you have read the whole blog. Thank you. I hope that you have enjoyed the updates, poetry and photographs. If so, please do share the blog with others and tell others about it. Feel free to shout it from the rooftops, but please consider all aspects of safety first.

Until next time …

Blog Seven – Ripples

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A number of people have asked me how my dad, Jeff Whitehead, became involved in Martial Arts so I have decided to dedicate most of blog seven to that story and in my dad’s memory.

Please bear in mind that the story is written as I see it and as I recall it. I wasn’t there in the beginning (I was just a tadpole) and some of the exact facts may have become distorted with the passage of time and fading memories. Here goes anyway:

The Lifetime Journey of a Martial Artist

When my dad was but a boy growing up in Little Lever, Martial Arts was not a popular concept in this country. Of course, the origins of Martial Arts go back thousands of years. People have been developing fighting systems ever since greed manifested itself as part of the human psyche. Eventually some of these fighting systems have been organised, catalogued and documented into specific styles.

As a teenager my dad trained in boxing and he had a desire to become a professional boxer. His father, however, had other ideas and did not allow him to pursue such an interest, not even allowing him to enter amateur bouts.

Conscription into the army (National Service) ended on 31st December 1960. My dad was 16 years old and missed being called up due to the fact that he hadn’t reached 18. He was confident that he would have performed well in the armed forces, but again his father forbade it.

England, did not see any real influx of Martial Arts until the 1960s, and even then it wasn’t particularly popular. The commonly known “Bruce Lee Boom” of the 1970s saw a massive interest in Martial Arts worldwide, but particularly in the UK and USA. My dad did not initially consider partaking in Martial Arts until a particular turning point in his life.

By then, he was a married man, but still very much enjoying going out with friends and partaking in more than one or two scoops of shandy. He was a cocky young man, very confident with more bottle than fighting ability, although he was quite capable at handling himself. Many a night out resulted in scrapes of one form or another and my dad held his own convincingly. As I said, however, although he had a degree of fighting ability, it was disproportionately outweighed by his confidence and bottle.

One night he was out and was walking through Bolton town centre, somewhat worse for drink. Further along the pavement there was a large group of young men, also cocky and in their prime. The group did not step aside as my dad approached them. Most would say that discretion is the better part of valour, but not my dad. He decided that he would force his way through the centre of the group. If they weren’t prepared to move, then he was prepared to move them.

This was not the best decision he had ever made as he quickly found himself surrounded by a large group of fit, able young men. At this point things turned predictably ugly.

I would love to say that he meticulously picked his assailants to pieces, casually analysing their weaknesses and exploiting them to his advantage. I would love to say how he left a heap of unconscious individuals on the floor in his wake. I would love to say how he walked away from the fracas unscathed, with his head held high. Sadly I can’t say any of that that. Instead, he took a merciless kicking. Once the gang had finished with him, my dad was left in a battered, dishevelled and sorry mess. The once fine, smartly dressed figure was now a blood soaked shadow of what he was earlier. Fortunately, a passing motorist saw him and took pity on him. He took my dad home and dropped him off with my mum, which was undoubtedly a massive shock to her.

It seems that in many ways my dad took the beating in his stride. I’m sure that psychologically it must have affected him deep down, but he turned this into a positive determination. This was his turning point and it was the catalyst that caused him to take up Martial Arts. Not only that, but it was the driving force behind his motivation to practice as he did, mixing styles and disciplines to try to find the most practical system.

He first started training at Spa Sports Centre in Bolton in Kempo Karate under the tutelage of Mick Mulroy. Kempo was seen as a dirty style of Karate as it used knees to the groin amongst other techniques. This, however, suited my dad and he quickly progressed through the grades, eventually becoming an instructor. This is where he gained his black belt 1st Dan.

At some point, and I am not sure when, Mick started to change the style to Shukokai, which was a form of Karate geared up more towards tournament. As such, the techniques were watered down to prevent injury and the style became a non-contact style. Although all Martial Arts have their merits, my dad felt that this direction was not where he wanted to go and he decided to move on to find another Martial Art to practice. He then found Professor Jack Holt, a Ju Jitsu practitioner.

The training under Professor Holt was very much rough and tumble. Ju Jitsu used throwing techniques, arm locks and groundwork and this added to my dad’s knowledge. The training was done without the luxury of mats and took place on a splintery wooden floor with loose floorboards and debris strewn around.

My dad once told me a story of two students who were wrestling, rolling around in the dust. One student, who was pinned by the other, reached for a lump of wood that was lying loose on the floor and promptly struck his opponent on the top of the head with it. This sort of training was not frowned upon and actively encouraged. This really was the dojo of hard knocks. My dad loved it, and he gained his 2nd Dan at this club.

By now, he had a good background in Kempo and in Ju Jitsu, but he still felt that something was lacking. He decided to experiment and added boxing style punches and boxing style defences (ducking, dodging, parrying and rolling) to what he knew. He also studied books such as Jukado by Bruce Tegner, This is Karate and Essential Karate by Masotatsu Oyama.

For years, he practiced the techniques from these books with a friend of his (Graham Lane) and he repeated over and over his training until it became second nature to him. My dad had the remarkable ability to train, train and train, even in the most mundane task. He was always willing to repeat and repeat in order to develop muscle memory. He didn’t seem to get bored and was amazing at self motivation.

He now had aspects of Jukado (a mix of techniques from Karate, Ju Jitsu, Judo and Aikido) and Kyokushinkai Karate, as well as his Kempo, Ju Jitsu and boxing background. He decided that it was time to run his own dojo.

My dad was a real old fashioned journeyman, yet remarkably forward thinking in many ways. Back in the 70s in England you were either a purist Martial Artist or you were a cowboy. My dad refused to conform and was not satisfied with pure styles, choosing instead to mix and match. He was viewed as a charlatan and a cowboy by the Martial Arts authorities, but he paid no heed.

Bruce Lee was already mixing styles, in his creation of Jeet Kune Do, but no-one said that he rode a horse. There was certainly some disparity, but that’s the way it was.

Of course, nowadays MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is all the rage and seems to be the fashion in Martial Arts gyms across the country. This is why I say that my dad was remarkably ahead of his time. (So was Bruce Lee, obviously).

My dad’s first Martial Arts class was opened around 1974 (there or thereabouts) at Radcliffe Civic Centre. He called the style Hybrid Karate Kempo and he put up a single postcard in the newsagent window to advertise it. On the opening class he arrived to see people queued up right round the corner and down the street. Such was the impact of the Bruce Lee Boom.

In about 1976 my dad moved his class to a shed that was in the grounds of Little Lever Cricket Club where his class was remarkably popular. Sandy Holt was one of my dad’s pupils back then.

The shed was eventually demolished which forced my dad to open in a new venue, so he used Little Lever Labour Club (now Hardy Hall) as the venue. In 1977, Sandy Holt left my dad to train in Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) with Master Sken. This was with my dad’s blessing, as he could see the benefit that Sandy would get by progressing into other things. He also opened a class at Little Lever Civic Hall.

He taught there until 1981 when he closed down his class in order to train and develop his style further. At this time, I was a 13 year old boy. I still wanted to train in Martial Arts, so I took up Muay Thai with Sandy Holt. Sandy had just opened a class in Bolton at Silverwell Street Sports Centre.

My dad trained for the next four years religiously, practicing with his friend, Graham, and going to various Martial Arts clubs. He used rooms above pubs, the back of Sandy’s class, fields, car parks or anywhere he could to train. In October 1985 he decided to reopen his Martial Arts class again. I made the difficult decision to leave Sandy at this point and rejoin my dad.

 (Sandy Holt, incidentally, was an amazing role model for me growing up. He actively discouraged drugs and alcohol and promoted fitness with an evangelical attitude. I have ultimate respect for Sandy, who to this day is just as passionate about Martial Arts and fitness anyone I have ever known).

Thai Boxing was becoming very fashionable, so my dad decided to call his style Goshin Boxing. (Goshin, meaning self defence and boxing speaks for itself). Nowadays he would have called it MMA. It was based very much on boxing and had a real emphasis on boxing stances and punches. I also imparted some of my four years of Thai Boxing experience, which assisted in the development of my dad’s style even further.

My dad decided to join a multi style Martial Arts organisation for mutual support and he joined the Nippon Dai Budo Kai (NDBK), which was overseen by Professor Dave Hodgson. Here he was introduced to other Martial Arts and he developed a further insight into multi style systems. He was awarded his 3rd Dan (having been a 2nd Dan since about 1974).

His journey took him eventually from NDBK to UKASKO (United Kingdom All Styles Karate Organisation) run by Roy Stanhope and here he gained a useful insight into WUKO (World Union Karate Organisation) tournament rules and the grading system used by this group, which he adopted. Membership of UKASKO also encouraged my dad to amend his syllabus to include more Karate based striking and combinations. He gained his 4th Dan with UKASKO.

In 1990 he returned to NDBK, where together we practiced and taught on numerous courses and seminars in a variety of styles, adding further knowledge and development to the style.

It was in 1990 that I met Rick Oswalt, a Tae Kwon Do practitioner in Orlando, Florida. I trained with Rick intensely and visited Florida every year until 1996, training with Rick every time. The influence of Tae Kwon Do also helped develop my dad’s style even further.

In around 1991, my dad decided to change the name of the style again, to reflect the mixed influence so it became Goshin Budo. He gained his 5th Dan and eventually his 6th Dan with NDBK.

Eventually my dad formed his own association, the British Goshin Budo Association, which was a multi style association with members from all over the country and abroad in a multitude of styles, from Ninjutsu to Judo, from Ju Jitsu to Wado Ryu.

During the 1990s my dad was plagued with trouble with his hip and he eventually had a hip replacement. He was determined that this would not stop him from training, but my dad being my dad, overdid it and snapped a wire which held the hip together. This caused multiple problems, least of all the fact that his hip continued to come out on average three times a year.

In about 2000, my dad had some surgery to rectify the problem but it meant that if he overdid it again and it came out, it would be completely ruined and he would be left with no hip at all. I reluctantly persuaded him to give up Martial Arts at this point. It was a very difficult decision for him. He agonised over the decision but it was one that he had to make. It was Hobson’s choice that was the end of my dad’s Martial Arts journey.

He took up creative writing instead and was fast becoming an accomplished poet and writer. In 2007, however, he was diagnosed with cancer and a long battle began. In February 2009 my dad lost that battle with cancer and passed away peacefully at Bolton Hospice at the age of 64.

During his Martial Arts career, my dad and I have taught in London, Horsham, Brighton, Lancing, Great Yarmouth, Rhyll, Hull, Blackburn, Padiham, Wigan, Altrincham, Darwen and Burnley, as well as very locally in Walkden, Little Hulton, Little Lever, Bury and Bolton. We have also taught in the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Spain and the USA. Both my dad and I have taught in numerous schools including Little Lever School, Canon Slade, Saint James and Harper Green.

I still find it amazing that even now, people speak to me with memories about my dad and his classes, and also the classes of instructors under my dad. I couldn’t begin to estimate how many people he has taught throughout the years, but he has had a massive and positive impact on many people’s lives and I know that people remember him with fondness.

Sandy Holt openly acknowledges the influence that my dad had on him in starting his Martial Arts journey and the amount of lives that Sandy has touched with his classes is immense.

Directly and indirectly, my dad has impacted on countless lives and his legacy certainly lives on. One knock on effect of him taking up Martial Arts is the fact that I met someone with whom I have had a wonderful daughter. Indirectly this has led to meeting my wife and my beautiful step-daughter. I know of several marriages and strong friendships that have formed as a result of people getting together and meeting at my dad’s classes. I know of another friend who has a daughter as a result of meeting someone at one of our many Martial Arts events. It is staggering when I think of the ripple effect.

I refer to my earlier comment, when I implied that my dad forcing his way through a group of unruly young men was an unwise decision. With hindsight it seems that the ripples have been something very positive indeed and I may need to retract my statement. Upon viewing the wider picture, the decision may in fact have been the best one he ever made.

The decisions that my grandfather made when he refused to allow my dad to take up boxing properly or join the army had the ripple effect that resulted in my mum and dad meeting. That same ripple caused my dad to be in Bolton on that fateful night. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Rest of the Blog:

On with the rest of the blog. There is no major progress to speak of regarding any of my projects, although I have written another poem, ‘Corroded Man’, which I will paste below. I have also entered a poetry competition with my poem ‘Caramel’ which featured in my second blog. I will update on any news for that as and when I know.

I am going to start going to Write Out Loud again, an open evening of poetry reading as this is an amazing source of inspiration and learning. The next Write Out Loud gig close to me is on Sunday 20th April 2014. I will update my blog further with any news from this.

Older Song Lyrics:

Some years ago I started to write quite a lot of song lyrics. I have compiled these into one document which is available by clicking the below link:

Book of Songs by Darren Whitehead

Any musicians out there, who feel that they can put music to them, please let me know. I am always looking for collaboration opportunities.

The song lyrics that I spoke of in my last blog, for the Belgian rock group Frozen Rain, are now completely finished and work is well on the way for the completion of their third album. This does take time and will probably be by the end of the year.

I have recently been listening to music of a good friend of mine, Warren Malone. I went to school with Warren and he had talent even then. He is an amazing song writer and performer and some of his music can he heard here.

Links:

Below are some links to some of my projects, which you may find interesting:

Peering Through the Mist 

Love The Speech

Photography

 

New Poem:

As promised, below is the new poem, ‘Corroded Man’:

Corroded Man

 Thirty years of others’ ruin

Of over-wound body clock,

Fractured sleep,

And cheap lunches at 2am.

 

Tipple before bedtime

As his child skips to school.

 

Thirty years of dozing through daylight

Broken by the annoying tune

Of the postman’s whistle,

The salesman’s knock,

The harsh telephone shrill.

 

Broken by twisted thoughts,

On permanent rewind,

  

Daggered back for daring to own a spine,

Rusted through shovelling sewage

From one day to the next.

 

Eroding,

Day by day.

 

Thirty years watching the end of the tunnel.

But too crumbled to enjoy the light

When it finally comes.

 

Thirty years of others’ ruin,

Leaves him

A corroded man.

© Copyright – Darren Lee Whitehead – 18th March 2014

Finally, now that the clocks have gone forward, I will share with you a springtime photo. I hope you enjoy.

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That’s it for now. Please do keep checking by and please do let other people know about my blog. Feel free to share it with as many people as you can.

Until next time …

Sixth Blog – Some Real Progress

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First of all, before I begin, I must take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those people who contacted me with messages of support following my last blog.

Upon reflection, I didn’t mean to make my last blog sound so dramatic (hazards of being a creative writer, I guess). It is true that I had been through a difficult time at work, but this was not meant to be the main subject of my blog.

My last blog was posted on 25th February 2014, and in the two weeks since there has been some really positive progress with a number of things. I will outline below the progress to date:

Change of Job:

I haven’t changed my job as such, but I have been given a much less stressful role (on a purely temporary basis). The new role that I am currently doing is long overdue and I feel better already. Although it is just temporary it has given me a completely new lease of life. Much of the inner stress that I was feeling (but maybe not acknowledging) has been lifted and my creative mojo has returned.

Although a cliché, it is very true that a change is as good as a rest. My working day is now far less exciting but that’s a good thing. I really believe that excitement isn’t all it is made out to be and sometimes a ‘bit of sedentary’ is a positive thing.

Poetry:

I often say that motivation comes from the strangest of places. The other weekend my wife and I decided to have an afternoon out round Salford Quays (a place that has been featured on a previous blog). We did a spot of shopping at the Lowry Outlet Mall, had a bite to eat and then had a walk round Media City.

Whilst at Media City, I thought that I’d spotted a very handsome and dashing TV star. He really did look familiar and certainly cut a fine figure. He seemed to recognise me too as he was smiling and waving at me. My wife then pointed out that it was just my reflection in a window.

Modesty aside, we decided on the spur of the moment to have a flying visit to The Imperial War Museum North. Whilst there, I saw a photograph from WW1, of a group of soldiers, carrying a man on a stretcher through thick mud. One soldier was looking at the camera and his eyes immediately struck me. I instantly saw determination, fear, anger and hopelessness in his eyes. I am not ashamed to say that this photograph moved me. I welled up and had to take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

I found it incredible (and still do) that a foreign scene from 1917 could move me in this way. It inspired me to write the poem, ‘Monochrome Soldier’. I will reproduce this poem at the end of this blog, together with the photo that inspired it. I have been given permission by the Imperial War Museum to use the photograph.

Peering Through the Mist:

No further sales of this book as of yet. I am looking at the possibility of creating this electronically also so it can be downloaded for Kindle etc. Watch this space on that one. If, in the meantime you fancy getting your hands on a copy of it, please click one of the following links:

Purchase ‘Peering Through the Mist’ from Lulu.com

Purchase ‘Peering Through the Mist’ from Amazon

Song Lyrics:

I have virtually finalised the lyrics for three songs for the Belgian rock group Frozen Rain. Just a little tweaking should have them complete. This is a good three weeks earlier than expected so very good progress made.

Their style is very much 80s rock and known as AOR  (Album Orientated Rock).

I already have three songs on their album ‘Ahead of Time’ and I am currently writing for their third album. They are thinking of naming the album after a song that I have written, but that’s some way off yet and not decided.

If anyone is interested in the Album ‘Ahead of Time’ then click here:

Purchase ‘Ahead of Time’ on Amazon

As for me writing my own music, I’m afraid that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, so I don’t write the music, just the lyrics. If there are any budding musicians out there who might be interested in collaboration then drop me a line.

Children’s Stories:

I finally met up with the very talented illustrator, Lindsey Davies  last week and we discussed progress with our book, ‘The Hero of Schnool’. To say that I am thrilled with the illustrations is an understatement. We have made some major progress after what seemed like a long period of inertia. We have agreed on the layout, formatting and even the fonts to use. The book is almost complete and I genuinely believe that it is as good as anything out there on the market currently.

We are considering self-publishing electronically, but ideally we would like an agent to represent us to get a conventional publishing deal. If you are an agent, looking for that next big thing please get in touch with me or Lindsey.

I have also written a number of other stories but we have decided just to concentrate our efforts at this stage on ‘The Hero of Schnool’. That said, if an agent were to show interest in any of my stories as they stand (without accompanying illustrations) then I would be happy to push forward with these also. At the moment, however, it is a matter of little steps.

My stories so far are as follows:

Hero of Schnool:

The story of a snappy crocodile who just wants friends, but no one trusts him. That is, until he rescues some creatures in the swamp and becomes a hero.

When Snufflewakka Came to Town:

The story of the very huge and clumsy Snufflewakka. His visit to a local town causes chaos and panic amongst the locals and the authorities. A tale where local children are the heroes.

The Rainbow of Billingbob:

A story of a rainbow which paints all the children of a village different colours. Despite their differences, the children eventually learn to play together. This story has a serious underlying message of valuing diversity.

The Withered Witch and the Cobweb Stew:

The story of a witch who grows a large hump on her back. She visits the witch doctor to discover that the cause is something very silly indeed.

The Withered Witch Goes Back to School:

The withered witch returns and goes back to her old school. She soon becomes popular with the youngsters there and uses her age and wisdom to win everyone over.

Ronnie Rhino’s Dance:

A simple tale of a rhino who just wants to dance. The tale visits many other animals and their excuses not to join him.

The Snotty Grotty:

A humorous tale of how the common cold spreads from one strange creature to another, even infecting the local doctor.

It’s Good to be a Child:

A little girl wants to be grown up, but when her wish is granted by a mischievous fairy she soon realises that being a grown up is no fun at all.

A Dark & Dusty Place:

A story of how two children rescue Santa who is stuck in their chimney.

Too Cold to Play:

A little girl daydreams about an adventure where she saves the King’s horse from the nasty Nutcrack brothers and foils a plot to steal the Queen. She comes out of the daydream to realise that she might have really been in an adventure after all.

Which Witch Tricked the Switch?:

A very simple idea for younger children which encompasses a spot the difference game.

Rastafairy and the Butterflies:

Introducing Rastafairy, a Rastafarian fairy with beautiful dreadlocks. His dreadlocks are too heavy and he cannot fly, so he enlists the help of some butterflies to help carry them. This character is an idea by Lindsey Davies and the first of a number of planned books featuring him.

Finally, I wrote a story about a new character, Minty Mouse this week.

Minty Mouse and the Big Adventure:

Minty Mouse’s friends don’t want to play so she walks round alone, but gets into more than a spot of bother. Poor Minty Mouse is almost eaten by a cat (dressed as a pirate) and a falcon. She is rescued from trouble by a friendly fish and a bored bear. This is the first in a planned series of books featuring Minty Mouse.

All of the above poems are in rhyme (similar in style to Julia Donaldson or Dr. Seuss). I also have a story in prose:

Cyril – The Lion With No Roar:

A story of a sorry lion with no roar. Poor Cyril is laughed at by the children visiting the zoo and he has no sympathy from the cruel zoo owner. With the help of the kindly zoo keeper he escapes. Whilst away from the zoo he eventually learns to roar. I guess he got his mojo back, a bit like me.

Photography:

I have not been out with my camera at all of late. No doubt, I have been too busy writing. I do have photos for sale (or you can simply browse them out of curiosity) and these can be accessed by clicking here.

I am also available to help with any specific photography needs if anyone is interested. Please bear in mind that I am still learning and don’t have a raft of fancy equipment. My rates are very low as a consequence.

I earlier mentioned Salford Quays. Below are a couple of photographs of mine that I took there. Any comments would be gratefully received.

Neon on Black - Media City

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Speech Writing:

Not a scrap of news, I’m afraid. If you know of anyone who has to plan a speech and they are a bag of nerves, please point them in my direction. My rates are reasonable and I like to think that in most cases I can come up with something really unique and appropriate. My website can be accessed here.

Script Writing:

Last week I completed a story for a short film, which I need to turn into an actual script. It is called ‘The Conversion’ and explores the difficult subject of Islamic radicalisation. This will be a very long term project and I don’t anticipate any major movement with this just yet.

Weight Loss:

I got down to 12st 12lb last week, by diet and exercise (lots of swimming), although I have cheated a little and my weigh in this week revealed that I have put a few pounds back on. I have so far lost 19lbs so I’m doing alright.

Loft:

My loft is lonely. I haven’t visited in ages. No progress with this so far.

Progress Breakdown:

So in short I have made progress with the following:

  • New poem – Monochrome Soldier (see below):
  • Three sets of lyrics 99% complete.
  • Major progress with ‘The Hero of Schnool’.
  • New story written ‘Minty Mouse and the Big Adventure’.
  • New story written for a short film.
  • Continued weight loss.

It has been a very productive and refreshing two weeks.

To finalise this blog, as promised, please see below the poem ‘Monochrome Soldier’ plus the photograph that inspired it:

Stretcher_bearers_Passchendaele_August_1917

 ©IWM Q 5935

Photograph subject to copyright – This image cannot be subsequently used without permission from The Imperial War Museum.

Monochrome Soldier

Monochrome soldier,
With bullet eyes,
Like bayonets fixed.
Canons.

In them, I see fierce explosions,
But what lies behind?

A man of bravery.
A frightened hero,
With frightening pupils.
Living moment by precious moment,
Moment by moment on his prickly wits.

Stories to tell.
Some to haunt, never to be told.
Forever locked away. Irreversibly glued to his scarred soul.

Confusion and fear.
Stale hope cannot blot out the stain of realistic doubt.

Positively negative.
For positive thoughts cannot outweigh
The viciously hostile odds.

If he makes it today then what of tomorrow?

Makes it from this stench.
This quagmire of uncertain filth,
Knee deep in the treacle mix hybrid
Of stangant limbs,
Rats,
Horses,
Corpses.
Blood, sweat and tears have saturated this rancid potion.
Literally.

Dead eyes watch from their putrid beds.
Slain in the slew.
Still.

As he tows his gasping, lifeless friend on a harsh stretcher.  

An ambulance of beaten, unbeaten men.
Seven frightened heroes
Scrag through the black tar,
Heaving their sodden, trench bitten feet,
Laboured step after laboured step.

Each heave slowed.
Dragged by the cruel thrutch
Of rotting suction.
The swampish vomit
Hungry for more.
Swallowing.
Gulping at their feet with every tardy step.

Then belching in protest as they heft themselves free.

Only to be swallowed again and pitch on.

Each broken rhythmic effort
Moving their torpid trooper
To brittle safety.

A tableau of movement.
Contrasts.
Life and death.
Hope and hopelessness.

But those bayonet eyes,
Colourful on their monochrome canvas,
Burst.

Those eyes were long since closed,
Yet they breathe today
In magical stillness. 

His eyes move me.
They move me greater than the eyes of any lover.

They live on.
Tell a story never told.

Pierce to my core.

The monochrome man with the colourful eyes.

He doesn’t see me,
But I see him.

And I wish him
Peace.

© Copyright – Darren Lee Whitehead – 3rd March 2014

Finally, as Spring is in the air, I thought I’d share another photograph of mine. This photograph always makes me think about seizing the moment. Hope you enjoy.

Insect and Buttercup

If anyone wants to get in contact with me (to ask me questions or leave me feedback) please feel free to use the contact form here:

(The contact form doesn’t seem to work on mobiles).

Thank you all, once more, for reading. Please do keep dropping by. Tell your friends. Tell your friend’s friends. Tell your dog. You know where I’m going with this, right?

Until next time …

Fifth Blog – Nothing Worth Striving For Is Ever Easy

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Welcome to blog five. I haven’t provided any updates of late on the progress of my projects and personal goals. I will do so towards the end of this blog.

Before I do that, however, I would like to share some thoughts about overcoming difficulties along with some inspirational words (that sadly aren’t mine … I wish they were).

As you may already know, I am currently juggling a full time job, working shifts, in a risky, high pressure environment.

My work is subject to observation, detailed scrutiny and transparency 24/7.

There are many shades of grey which makes decision making difficult. Every decision has to be balanced against risk, guidelines and legislation. Sometimes risk, guidelines and legislation contradict each other, making decision making even harder. Add into the mix external pressures from management and an ever increasing workload and you may be getting close to seeing how much of a powder keg I work in.

Allied to the above, I am often dealing with people who are very unhappy to be dealing with me. Many are angry. Many are very demanding. Most are vulnerable. Some have serious psychiatric or psychological disorders. Most have health complications. Some are determined to self-harm or attempt suicide. Some are remarkably crafty and resourceful. Some are unbelievably adept at utilising the limitations and loopholes of the system to sneak in contraband, such as drugs or weapons. Some are very rude and some are extremely violent. Some have done some nasty and heinous things.

Often, in a 12 hour shift I deal with at least two people who are a combination of all the above. The rest have a scattered combination of three or four of the above.

Every now and then I meet someone who is a breath of fresh air, but this is a rarity.

During my dealings, I have to be fair, impartial, professional, calm, rational, polite and restrained. All of my actions must be both necessary and proportionate. The rationale for my decisions must be documented in writing. Everything that I say and do is recorded on CCTV.

I am expected to quash my human instincts, but I am expected to be human. I am expected to be as fresh at the end of a busy 12 hour shift as I am at the beginning. I also have the responsibility of managing a team of staff and the health and safety of everyone who comes into my workplace (professionals and service users alike).

This may sound like I am bleating about my lot, but I am not. I just want to give you an idea as to some of the pressures that I face on a daily basis. The reason that I want to share this is because some of my inspiration has been drawn from this, so it may help you understand my motivations.

Those of you who know me personally will already know what I do for a living. Those who don’t can probably guess. It is not something that I want to announce on here but if you want to know feel free to send me a private e-mail and ask.

Of late, I have faced some extra pressures and I have let the stress of a number of situations affect me badly.

About ten days ago I was faced with some extreme violence and I have struggled to deal with the aftermath. Fortunately I wasn’t injured but the fallout from the situation has been very difficult for me and for a number of my colleagues.

It affected my mood and my frame of mind in a very negative way and it is fair to say that last week was probably the worst week in my career.

This is where the inspiration has come from to share with you a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. My manager pointed this out to me and I think that it is worth sharing:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

What I take from this remarkable piece of writing is a sense of pride. If you are reading this thinking: “That’s me. I am the one in the arena”, then take heart. Take pride.
It is easy for the critic, with an unfettered view from the clean windows of an ivory tower, to point out where you could have been better. If there is genuine learning from it then take it, but don’t take it to heart. If there is no learning from the criticism then discard it as stale air and move on.

Remember that when you are in the thick of it, (whatever “it” may be) you don’t have the luxury of clear unfettered vision or the luxury of distance that a pedestal on an ivory tower gives. Don’t beat yourself up about perceived failings. Learn what you need and crack on.

If you are reading this quote and recognise yourself as the critic, be aware of the responsibility that your privileged role gives you. Be aware of how your observations and criticisms are perceived and felt by the person who is striving to do their best.

If your observations and feedback are not gilded with support, constructive guidance and a genuine willingness to help, then bite your tongue. Keep them to yourself.

Progress:
At the start of this blog I did state that I would share with you my progress to date concerning my projects and personal goals.

My progress is slow, unfortunately. This is due in part to my shift work, but I am also juggling hospital and medical appointments for my mother. Sadly, she is quite infirm at present and awaiting hip surgery. She is unable to get out of the house without the aid of a wheelchair. Most of my time off work is spent helping her to appointments, running errands and making sure that she is ok.

I am also a busy father with a house to keep clean, dogs to walk and a taxi/school run service to provide. This leaves little time for creativity but I keep trying. Some would say I’m very trying.

Even this blog is being typed up whilst in bed, next to my sleeping wife, using my right thumb on a smartphone.

So … here is the update on my slow progress so far:

Poetry:
Other than the poems that I shared in an earlier blog I have not written any more. I am still on the lookout for suitable poetry competitions to enter.

Song Lyrics:
I have been working on some lyrics for a few songs for the third album by Frozen Rain. I anticipate that these will be complete by the end of March.

Children’s Stories
I was supposed to be meeting up with Lindsey Davies, the very talented illustrator, at the end of January. Sadly, every time we have tried to meet recently our plans have been scuppered due to other commitments. We have agreed to meet up in early March.

I have had a sneak preview of some of the illustrations already and they are fantastic. I really do think that we will have some great success with our project and I am very excited about it. Watch this space.

Photography:
I have done nothing since my third blog. I just haven’t had time. I am pleased to hear that a good friend of mine has sold one of his photos on the same website that I use, so that’s promising. That said, he is a far better photographer than I am. I have some learning to do.

Feel free to have a look at my photographs. They can be found on the following website:

Photo4me

Speech Writing:
I have had no work or requests at all this year. If you or anyone you know might be interested in using my services then take a look at my website:

Love the Speech

Peering Through The Mist:
There have been no more sales of the book that I wrote with my late father, Jeff Whitehead.

Anyone interested in buying it should check the following link:

Peering Through The Mist

I recently read it again after not reading it for a long time and I can genuinely say that some of my dad’s poems are genius. His imagination and ability to translate it into words is inspirational.

It is such a pity that he has passed away so soon. Apart from the fact that his passing has left a massive void in my life, I genuinely believe that the world of poetry is a duller place without him. He had so much more to share but lost the opportunity to do so.

That said, I do have some unpublished work of his which must be shared so I may look to publish a compilation of these also. I don’t anticipate that this will be imminent, but maybe towards the end of this year.

Script Writing:
Apart from a few ideas I have made no progress with my scripts. I never expected any progress at this stage.

Weight Loss:
I have lost 1 stone 2 lbs (16 lbs for my American friends) since 8th January 2014.

I have managed it with diet and exercise (mainly swimming). My wonderful wife and I are partaking in this together, so we are keeping each other motivated. We had a few cheat days last week, but we are back on it now.

Loft:
I haven’t found the time nor the motivation to make any real progress with the loft clearance. I have cleared one box only since my last blog … but it’s a start.

So that’s about it for me. No major progress with anything, but some motivation borne out of a very difficult time.

As I said, I have had a really difficult time since my last blog, but I always like to stay positive … eventually. It just took me a while to find my mojo again last week. I think that I have it back now.

Things are looking promising for some progress, particularly with the children’s book. Hopefully this will be in time for my next blog. Fingers crossed and all that.

Please keep dropping by and checking in on me. If my mojo goes astray again and any of you see it knocking about, please return it to me. I didn’t like being without it.

Until next time …

Fourth Blog – Lessons From a Grand Master

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This article detracts a little from the style of my previous blogs and does not give any update on progress so far with my poetry, book sales etc.

Many of you will know that I have spent many years practicing Martial Arts, although I don’t do much now. I have had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful and charismatic individuals. One such person was Senior Grand Master Edward B Sell (9th Degree Black Belt) of the United States Chung Do Kwan Association.

Sadly, Senior Grand Master Sell passed away on 6th February 2014, so I feel that I need to use this update to tell my story as to how I met him and the influence he had on me.

Lessons From a Grand Master

I was introduced to Grand Master Sell (before he was Snr) back in November 1993 by Rick Oswalt, then 3rd Dan. I was on vacation in Florida from England. The introduction took place at Grand Master Sell’s academy in Lakeland.

I was a newly promoted 4th Dan back then, not fully confident of my 4th Dan status. I am not a TaeKwonDo practitioner and I gained my grades in other Martial Arts.

I was unfamiliar with the dress code before the Grand Master (everyone must wear white). I was in a black gi jacket with red trousers! (Not my first, nor my last fashion faux pas, but embarrassing, none the less).

I suspect that Grand Master Sell was a tad suspicious of this new foreign face, in precocious clothing, with 4 stripes on his black belt.

He was immediately challenging of my 4th Dan rank and asked me “under who’s name” had I achieved my grade. He was satisfied that I was able to give him an immediate answer. Regardless of my potentially offensive attire, he invited me to join in with the instructor seminar that he was about to run.

What immediately struck me was Grand Master Sell’s confidence and self-belief. I was also in awe at the impressive Dojang and the amount of black belt students present and willing to learn. During the course of the session I was astonished at the genuine admiration held towards the Grand Master (and Masters under him) by spectators (family and the like) who watched the session throughout.

Another thing that amazed me, was how the Grand Master instilled his Christian ethos throughout the lesson, something which was again unfamiliar to me. Regardless of religious belief, faith or otherwise, you can’t help but admire such confidence and enthusiasm. This was a good place, filled with good people.

When it came to line up, I would have been happy to stand at the back and try to blend in (as much as someone dressed in red and black can blend in amongst the sea of white) but Grand Master Sell stood me at the front, second from right. At my Dojo in England we lined up with the highest rank to the left, whereas within the USCDK it was highest rank to the right. (Heck, we drive on the left in the UK too, so I guess we do everything the other way round).

I was somewhat overwhelmed to be standing where I did, when I was not a TaeKwonDo practitioner, and I was just a visitor. Grand Master Sell, however, put me in what he saw as my rightful place at the front (one from the right). To my right was a 5th Dan Master (sadly, I don’t recall his name).

I didn’t see it at the time, but this day was instrumental for me on my Martial Arts journey. I was not confident of my 4th Dan status as I had been promoted early from 3rd Dan. Back in England, I had been tested, very vigorously, whilst unaware but whilst “helping” at a 4th Dan testing of someone else. I had been told to act as Uke (fall guy) for a man who was testing for 4th Dan. I was told, however, that I had to perform to the best of my ability alongside him, as I was representing my Association and style. I was also told to perform the same techniques as he did, so that he could be tested as Uke also. This, I did, and the event was a 6 hour affair (maybe longer) with little by way of breaks. I broke a rib three quarters way through but carried on through the pain. At the end of it, I was awarded my 4th Dan. I had been railroaded into it, unbeknown to me. I had not realised that I was being tested and I felt that it was too early for me to be promoted to this rank. Part of me wanted to refuse the promotion, but I knew that this would have been disrespectful to the head examiner, Dave Hodgson, 6th Dan, so I gracefully accepted. Inside, however, I had my own secret inner demons of self-doubt.

At the start of the lesson, Grand Master Sell introduced me as a visiting Master from England. He told everyone to treat me as such, but then ended the statement with a “We’ll see. We’ll see”, whilst looking me in the eye. I knew exactly what he meant. He was still naturally suspicious of my credentials (so was I) and I immediately felt that the day would be both a lesson and a test for me. I knew that no matter what, I had to do my best. I felt that I was not just representing myself, but my style, my Association and the UK.

We started with basics in line up. Punching, blocking, kicking, stances, open hand strikes, turns etc. I am pleased to say that I held my own, but that said, this was just basics. If I couldn’t hold my own on basics then I shouldn’t have been on the mat. The basics session was intense, but I was fit, supple and sharp in my technique. This was one thing that I was fully confident about. At the end of the basics session, Grand Master Sell asked the people present to give the visiting Master from England a round of applause and added “Hasn’t he done well?”

I acknowledged the round of applause, but still felt that a bigger test was to come. We had only done basics, and although good basics are the foundation of a good Martial Artist, they are only ever the first test. What comes after that is how you are able to adapt your basics to more advanced partner work and sparring. I knew more was to come, but my confidence was growing as I felt I had passed stage one of the test.

Grand Master Sell then gathered his group at a different part of the Dojang. Master Brenda (as was) was teaching the finer parts of Poomse to the third degree students and above who were testing that weekend.

Grand Master Sell told a story about miracles. He explained how some time ago he had been let down last minute by a nunchaku instructor for a course, where lots of students were due to arrive in the next hour. He told how he prayed and prayed for help, as he knew that he would have to take the class but how he had never used a pair of nunchaku before. He went on to explain how he then ran the nunchaku class, performing complex moves, and how the class was a resounding success. Some students were present from that day who confirmed what a great class it had been.

What was apparent about Grand Master Sell, was his enthusiasm and charisma. He was unashamed of his Christian beliefs, unashamed to tell stories that may not be believed by everyone and unashamed to combine his Martial Arts lesson with lessons from the scriptures. His enthusiasm was contagious, exciting and consuming.

We then moved on to one step sparring. Routines 1 to 20, if I recall correctly. These weren’t something that I was 100% familiar with as they were not part of the art that I practiced, but I had been shown them by Rick Oswalt so I was partly au fait with some of them. I was partnered with an excellent practitioner, a 3rd Dan by the name of Ricky. Ricky was one of the club champions, I believe. He was exceptionally sharp and precise with his technique and he oozed confidence from every pore. Ricky was of Oriental heritage, so although it is a wild generalisation, he looked the part too. To say that Ricky was good is a gross understatement. To say that I was nervous of him is an understatement also.

After we had completed steps 1 to 20 of the one step sparring, Grand Master Sell went on to demonstrate and talk about control. He gave the best display of control in a technique that I have ever seen. Whilst talking about control, he threw a punch from nowhere. The punch had full power, speed, accuracy and amazing control. I have always prided myself on my control, but the way I control a technique is by only just touching or by pulling short by quarter of an inch. Grand Master Sell’s punch didn’t stop short. I was amazed to see it make contact and fold the guy’s skin on his chin, yet go no deeper. What amazed me about this is the fact that the punch didn’t just touch, it penetrated the skin by a millimetre or so and stopped there. The punch caused the student no discomfort or pain. A millimetre deeper and it would have hurt the student. A millimetre less and it would have just touched. This was control (at full speed) like I had never seen before. I have studied and trained with some serious names in the Martial Arts, George Dillman, Wally Jay, Grand Master Yip Chun, Master Sken Kaewpadung, Vic Charles, Phil Nurse, Sandy Holt and many more, not to mention my trainer and father Jeff Whitehead (RIP). The control I witnessed with Grand Master Sell was unprecedented.

After the amazing display of control we went on to practice free style one step sparring. Ricky asked me to simply copy him so I did. Whatever Ricky did, I copied and the techniques became more and more complicated. The lesson was not just about practicing the one step, but we had to look at control of the technique and practice this to the best of our ability (and to the risk of our brave partners). Ricky originally asked me to pull short by about 6 inches. I don’t think that he had faith in my ability to control a technique. I was a tad offended by this suggestion and explained to Ricky that I would demonstrate control throughout. I demonstrated either touch control, or control to within half an inch, depending upon the technique being thrown.

It became obvious to me that Ricky was deliberately practicing more and more complex techniques in an effort to make me reach my limits. By the end of this part of the session the techniques involved blocking with two hands simultaneously, checks, parrys, blocking against complex joint movements, high kicks, low kicks, sweeps, spinning kicks, jumping kicks and jump spinning kicks, from both left and right sides.

As things got more complicated, the more I felt that this was a test of my abilities. I felt the need to perform better than I ever had. This didn’t feel just like a normal training session. Although it wasn’t, I felt like I was taking a grading/testing. I had the uncanny feeling that this visiting Master from England was being watched the whole time.

I am pleased to say that I matched Ricky with everything that he did. Eventually he threw his arms down and said “You’re doing everything. Whatever I do, you do. I can’t outdo you”, and he gave me a friendly hug and pat on the back, whilst beaming a big smile. This was a nice moment, a confidence boost even and I felt that I had passed the second stage of the test.

Then came sparring. Grand Master Sell explained how sparring is the “proving ground”. I knew what was to come and I felt as though I was about to be really tested in order to vindicate myself.

Sparring was fun, and there was lots of it. Initially I was paired with lower graded students, second or third degree black belts (I think), slowly moving up to sparring with fourth degrees and finally partnered with the fifth degree black belt (who had been stood to my right earlier). During the sparring I had held my own convincingly against people of a lower rank and against people of the same grade. Now, however, I was facing a person of higher rank. I explained to him that I was looking forward to this and that I would doubtless learn something in the process.

We bowed off and adopted the fighting stance. I made my move to attack to be thrust backwards with one of the best side-kicks that I have ever had the pleasure of being hit with. The kick struck me squarely under my chin, forcing my head backwards and causing me to step back several paces. It was a beautiful kick, the sort of kick that you always remember. One of those where every time you bite down for days afterwards, your jaw hurts on both sides just under your ears. My only regret is that I didn’t see it coming so I missed the delivery of it, but that was part of the beauty of the kick, I guess.

I thanked him for the kick. It deserved praise, after all. He was much taller than me, with fast legs and I decided that out kicking him may be difficult for someone of my stature. I am just 5’5” in height and this guy was easily a 6 footer plus. My only hope was to try to get in close, where his range wouldn’t be as effective and try to utilise my boxing skills. This worked really well for a while, but he realised what I was doing and eventually made it more difficult, by keeping his distance, not allowing me to close in. This effectively forced me to fight at range. I was much more wary of his kicks by this time, so fortunately he didn’t have the same effect as earlier.

At one point Ricky stepped in and whispered to him “He favours his right side. Watch for his right side”. This was true, I do favour my right side and most of my kicks had been thrown with my right leg. I don’t think that I was supposed to hear Ricky, but once I’d heard it I couldn’t unhear it. I knew that my opponent would be expecting a right sided attack, so I threw a left round kick, which landed really well.

Soon after, Ricky stepped in and began to spar with me. I immediately noticed his timing, rhythm and sharpness. As I said earlier, I was nervous of Ricky. Ricky was definitely a natural. I could see at a glance that the way he moved his body he was going to be a handful.

We squared off, moved and threw a few feigns, trying to draw each other. What followed was uncanny. We both launched an attack at the same time. We both threw exactly the same technique, a jump spinning back kick and we passed each other in the air, landing on opposite sides of each other at exactly the same time, facing each other from the other side of the mat. Ricky burst into laughter, patted me jovially and walked away shaking his head. I then recommenced sparring with the 5th degree black belt.

Not long after, the session was over. I felt that I had passed stage three of the test.

Grand Master Sell gathered the group to close the session and again announced how well I had done. He gave me a knowing look and nod, which said “well done”. I was thrilled.

After the session, I got to meet some of the spectators who were all amazingly supportive of me, even asking for me to sign pieces of equipment. They clearly held me in high esteem and I was overwhelmed by their kindness. Grand Master Sell also gave me a signed copy of TaeKwonDo Times where he was featured on the cover. I still have this and still cherish it to this day.

I earlier alluded to the fact that this session was an instrumental day for me on my Martial Arts journey. Prior to this day I hadn’t felt fully confident in my 4th Dan status. My 4th Dan testing had been something that had been sprung on me and as a consequence I never felt that I had been given a true testing. I was awarded the grade after an arduous day and although with hindsight I know that I deserved it, I hadn’t fully felt this at the time.

What Grand Master Sell did for me on this one session with him was allow me to blossom, to test myself and to gain confidence. I don’t know if he realised it at the time, but my small time with him and his wonderful students was massively impactive. I had spent months and months doubting myself but after about four hours with Grand Master Sell I felt worthy of my rank.

I don’t think that I actually thanked him for the wonderful opportunity so I would like to express my gratitude posthumously via The United States Chung Do Kwan Association and via Grand Master Brenda Sell. May you all continue to flourish and continue to nurture talent and develop good people into better individuals. Thank you.

My Third Blog – Progress

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So here I am still blogging. I need to keep up my quota of blogs but at the same time I don’t want to update with petty nothingness.

This is why (for now) just one or two blogs per month should suffice. Maybe, as more progress is made with my projects, I will update with more frequency.

Hopefully those reading this will find at least one thing of interest. If not, let me know and I will try to do better.

Weight Loss:
As far as progress goes my main achievement so far this year is my weight loss and healthy eating regime. Since 8th January I have lost 11lbs. Just 39lbs to go to reach my target weight.

The discipline of healthy eating has also seen me eating my five a day too, which is a bonus. I have also been exercising more to try to boost my weight loss. This is something that I must keep up.

The reason that I am bleating on about this here, is because going public with progress will make it more difficult for me to relapse. This is an investment into my future health and I must stay focused.

Peering Through The Mist
I have started to push the promotion of the book that I wrote with my late father, Jeff Whitehead and sales have marginally increased. The sales unfortunately aren’t enough to break the bank. Far from it. It has made enough so far to purchase a tub of high quality ice cream, but the problem is, I am dieting so that’s no good.

The Hero of Schnool:
I am meeting with the fantastic and very talented Lindsey Davis on Friday 31st January, to look at the progress with her illustrations. I have a really good feeling about the meeting and I think that we will make some real advances with the book. Watch this space for news about this children’s book.

Poetry:
I think that it is safe to say that I have been well and truly bitten by the poetry bug again. I have written a number of new poems and learned that inspiration can be found in the most unusual of places (see my second blog). More competitions this year, I think.

Photography:
I went out last week to Salford Quays to take some photos. I braved the bitter cold in an effort to get some beautiful snaps. The neon lights on the water create stunning opportunities for great photos. I spent a good few hours there, shivering and trying to stop my bottom teeth tap dancing on my top teeth.

The result – about 250 really mediocre photographs, hardly a suitable reward for my suffering.

That’s the problem with photography; if you are not highly skilled at it, and don’t have a natural eye, you are relying on luck to get that great shot. Sadly, my luck deserted me last week for pizza and beer. I guess that my healthy eating regimen was just too boring to keep Lady Luck interested.

That’s it for progress so far. I will keep posting as and when anything happens, so please keep checking by.

Thanks for reading.