Random Thoughts: Guilt, Inequality, Austerity and Dreams.

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Welcome to my latest blog, written again (in part) whilst on holiday in sunny Greece.

As a word of warning there are some troubling topics in this blog, so be aware that some of the content may be upsetting.

I didn’t set out to write an emotionally charged blog. I also didn’t set out to write a blog that is all over the place, topic hopping. This blog, I’m afraid, weaves in and out of subjects like a river through pebbles. It does get there in the end (I think).  As I started to write this I was (as stated) on holiday and extremely chilled out, reflecting on how fortunate I am. This year, for example, we’ve had two holidays abroad (one week each) within a short space of time.

Normally we go for one longer holiday for two weeks, but my good lady wife and I wanted a break away alone, without the daughter (who is now 18). So, we did one week with three of us and one separate week as a bit of a second honeymoon (wink, wink).

Just a bit of clarity for those who don’t know me. My eighteen-year-old daughter is technically not my biological daughter. She is my wife’s daughter but adopted me as her dad when she was seven years old. She’s never really seen her biological dad and has no desire to (so far). I class her as mine and treat her as mine. I refer to her as my daughter and she refers to me as dad (or daddy, when she wants something). I actually get somewhat wound up if anyone ever uses the term “step-dad” to describe me.

My youngest (currently aged seventeen) is my biological daughter from a previous relationship. She lives with her mum and her mum’s partner, a decent guy, who my daughter often refers to as “dad”.

As for holidays, the youngest has been away with us previously, but she gets very homesick indeed. Although we’ve had some great holidays in the past with her in this country, she’s not really into the foreign holidays we enjoy. We’ve chatted with her about it but she’s genuinely not bothered about coming away with us on a hot, beach holiday. She tends to prefer a slightly cooler climate and a more active holiday (unlike the lazy, loungy holidays that we like).

Although I understand it’s very much her wish, I can’t help but feel guilty for not taking her. I also feel guilty for being a part time dad. I used to see her a reasonable amount when she was younger, but now she’s older, I guess I’m just not hip enough, so I see her as and when she can come. I’d love to see her more and be more involved in her life.

Needless to say, I carry guilt that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. This can sometimes affect my behaviour and I may show more leniency with the youngest than I do the oldest. This isn’t due to a difference in love but is purely down to the chains of guilt that I feel burdened with. I think it’s something I will struggle with until the last breath has left my body.

This guilt led me to write a poem back in 2007, which I will share with you here. Having reread the poem I am in a different place now, but I still carry that knot of guilt. I’m also now not that keen on the poem either, but it exists, so I’ll share it with you.

 

Baggage:

The clock face stares back

As I wait.

The seconds drag, yet steal my precious time.

As I wait.

As I wait.

 

The life of an estranged father

Is tangled with guilt

Competing affections of

A new love, a new life

A child not of my loins.

 

A smiling child hungry for affection,

Stomach rumbling in anticipation

Of a new love

A new life.

 

Will time ease the guilt I feel towards my own?

Will time make affection come more naturally?

For the seconds steal my precious time.

As I wait

As I wait.

 

But the clock never gives.

Just takes.

Just takes.

 

And now the time has come to bond with my own

And I await her arrival.

My stomach rumbling in knots of guilt

As I wait.

As I wait.

 

Her smiling face,

Her loose pony tails,

Her childish wit and exuberance

Wash the knot loose

And we laugh.

And we laugh.

 

Her giggles ignite in me a love that is not surrogate.

One so small yet strong enough to lift me higher than anyone can.

Strong enough to lift me.

To lift me.

 

Our time together precious

Stolen by the clock

As the seconds race away.

 

Like falling water lost in the rapids

Water that I can never taste again.

And we play.

And we play.

 

Until the clock has stolen the time we had.

Until her giggles turn to goodbyes.

 

Like the rapids she rushes on,

Never looking back.

Takes for granted that goodbye kiss that she forces

When reminded.

 

A tidal wave of fun that leaves silence in her wake.

And my stomach knots with guilt.

As I sigh.

As I sigh.

 

As I turn back,

To my new life.

To my new love.

 

As I turn back

But never turning my back on the giggles in the memory of my heart.

 

The life of an estranged father Is tangled with guilt.

A carousel full of cases,

Travel worn

And bursting with guilt

Awaiting collection from Terminal Three

By me.

 

So I’ll drag behind me my cases.

To Terminal Two

Where I try to offload them to you.

But you have some too.

 

So together we drag our cases.

Together we carry our knots.

With some sideways movements but little progress.

And we wait

And we wait

And we wait.

 

I know, having spoken with a lot of estranged fathers, that I don’t have the monopoly on this, so maybe it will ring true for others.

Anyway … I have digressed. I started off by saying that I’m writing this on holiday. I’m writing it piecemeal so will probably be home by the time I finish.

That said, as I type this (using my fat thumb on a small smartphone screen) I am lounging by our private pool, on a beautiful holiday complex in Kardamena, Kos.

My good lady wife is in the pool and I am chilling on a lounger.

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Just a quick snap with my smartphone, so forgive the quality. Shared to show where I was when I started writing the blog. The photo doesn’t do the view justice.

 

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View from our hotel complex.

 

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Panoramic picture from the beach.

 

I have noticed how we simply take such things for granted. Sure, we have worked hard to come away … to pay our mortgage and save for the holiday. We work hard, and I genuinely feel that we deserve the indulgence, but I must remind myself that what I take for granted in my indulgence is the product of other people’s brains, vision and hard graft.

We simply jump on a plane to Greece, take a taxi ride to our hotel, eat the food, drink the drinks, swim in the pool, sleep in the beds etc.

If I take just one part of that … jump on a plane. If we go back to the Wright Brothers and follow the timeline to now, how many people, how much thought and sweat has gone into making that possible?

From workers in the steel industry to structural engineers, from designers, computer experts and telecommunications wizards to space explorers, from electricians and plumbers to cleaners, chemical engineers, anti-terrorism professionals and customs staff, from security staff, scientists and lawyers to HR specialists etc. How many agreements and foreign treaties will have been drafted up between politicians and lawyers to allow safe and free passage? The list goes on and is far too vast for my tiny brain to comprehend, but it is a list we take wholeheartedly for granted. That is just a tiny part of my holiday, but it is a huge cog amongst many cogs, made possible by small people with acorns of ideas. made possible by people daring to live their dreams.

Every day, in our lives, we take seemingly small things for granted. The loaf of bread in the kitchen, the water from the tap, the light from the bulb or the laughter from the TV.

All of these things are made possible by little people, working together in an overall hugely impressive team effort.

It’s easy to look at the mainstream media and turn the headlines into fear. It is such fear that sells papers (or online advertising space). The media doesn’t make money by dealing in reassurance. They love to feed the nation a daily fix of worry, scandal and fear.

Social media internet trolls, it seems, also like to feed on this fear, in the search for self-validation, likes or furtherance of specific causes. It creates this uncertainty of false news, which seems to be an ever-permeating reality in our society nowadays. In fairness, I’m not convinced as to the truth behind the news historically either, but call me a cynic and all that.

If we believed the slant of the news, if the fear was indeed true, then there’d be a paedophile in every park, a gang of child abusers at every take away and a terrorist at every shopping centre. The truth, of course, is a million miles from this.

Of course, there are terrorists out there, there are child abusers and paedophiles and there are drugs on our streets. We can’t hide from this, but this fear should not define us. The real truth is that there are billions of little people, decent people, each doing their bit to make society work. There are hundreds of thousands of mini societies all interlinking with each other to make the world one place. Of course, some societies will clash, some will disagree, some will fight, but in the main, people work together.

Wildlife documentaries have screened fascinating shows detailing colonies of ants, building tunnels, carrying food, protecting each other and working together. Viewers watch in wonder. As humans, we don’t often observe ourselves in the same way and we tend have a habit of living in silos. If we were on the outside looking in, aboard an alien space craft for example, then perhaps we would see the huge team effort; the tiny individual contributions that each of us makes to form a whole; not perfect, but generally, in the main, effective.

It is for this reason I want to reflect on equality. Not the equality as we have come to recognise it in recent years. Not women’s rights, gay rights or black rights. These things are all vitally important and valid. I feel equality goes deeper than that. I personally feel the current trend of equality just scratches the surface.

I believe that today’s society gives too much credence to the “Big Man” (I use the term loosely and am not being gender specific). When I refer to the “Big Man”, what I really mean is the “Rich and privileged person”. Bosses of banks, giving themselves huge bonuses, CEOs of private companies buying out parts of the NHS for profit, the aristocracy (I’m not an anti-royalist by the way), professional soccer players, rock stars, TV personalities, ministers and music moguls to name but a few.

The point I am trying to make is that these are the people who are paid the most yet get the biggest discounts. These are the people who are already wealthy but get free entry into night clubs. These are the people who can afford their own personal chef yet get a Nando’s black card. These are the people who get VIP treatment at the airport or theme park.

The ants, the little people, are the ones who have to get by. They don’t get the breaks, the discounts or the VIP treatments, but these are the people keeping our hospital wards clean. These are the people who keep the shelves stacked so we can find a tin of beans. These are the people who put the beans in the tin in the first place.

You may think I am alluding to a Socialist ideology. I’m not sure about that. I’m just trying to highlight the value of the little person. It’s right that the person at the top of a corporation, making huge decisions affecting people’s lives should get paid more. I get it (although I feel there should be checks and balances so that this isn’t at the expense of the little person). I also get how the big boss person may want to use that pay to buy certain privileges, such as a nice house or flash car. I really do get it. What I don’t get, however, is how someone’s bank balance or visible wealth should automatically give an enhanced standing in society. What I don’t get is how a person’s physical wealth gives them automatic prior importance over other people.

What I don’t get is how society colludes in keeping the little person down. There’s evidence of it every day. Payday loans, with ridiculously unaffordable interest rates, are advertised alongside TV programmes watched by people who are likely to be retired, unemployed or on low income.

Certain companies, selling widescreen televisions and other luxury items, open impressively tempting showrooms in places of higher social poverty and lure people on already stretched incomes, by seemingly affordable, never ending payment plans.

Utility companies charge much higher rates for gas and electricity customers who use pre-payment meters.

The shops where pre-payment cards are topped up often have cash machines which charge customers to withdraw their own money. These types of cash machines are often placed strategically in places of higher social deprivation.

The people targeted are already living hand to mouth, some barely managing on a day by day basis. These very people must run this gauntlet each time they venture outside to buy groceries. These very people are more likely to go to the shops every day to purchase what they need as they often can’t afford a weekly “big shop” and, due to financial constraints, will barely see beyond the next day. They aren’t the sort of people who can benefit from the luxury of a TESCO (or whichever) home delivery. In essence, these people are likely to face this temptation, to face these hurdles every day, maybe several times a day. It’s a perfect marketing strategy for “The Big Man” to make money from the little person.

Then, when the little person fails to make a payment, or a direct debit is returned, they are often hit twice. There is an extra “admin” charge from the loan company plus and extra charge from the bank. I know this from experience. I have been there. I was once a hospital porter on less than minimum wage (before minimum wage came in) and I worked as many hours as I could to make ends meet. I’ve been there and it’s ridiculously hard to see a way out. This sort of “punishment” for missing a payment (often a double punishment) simply reinforces the cycle, adds to the difficulty, and reiterates the message that you are just a little person of no relevance. Whilst I understand that a lot of these charges can be challenged or negotiated, it’s hard to fight when you’re already beat up. Even when you do have the energy to fight, a lot of the customer service telephone lines are premium rate numbers (they certainly used to be) and this adds to your woes.

It’s ripe pickings for the poorest to become poorer and the richest to become richer. It’s like the opposite of Robin Hood.

These are the inequalities in society that I feel systematically pervade almost everything we see.

I’m speaking from an ideological perspective. I know this. The human psyche, since time began, has been blighted by jealousy, envy, gluttony and greed. My words on a blog will do nothing to change that. Society needs to change from within, but I doubt that will ever fully happen. Changes have been made and some things are better (not as many premium rate lines, as an example) but we’re still a long way off true equality.

One thing I do recall from my time as a hospital porter, living in council accommodation, is that I had big dreams. Little people have dreams just as big as the “Big Man” but, sadly, their dreams are easier to quash. It’s important to keep your dream alive and work towards it, no matter where you sit on the ant pile.

Even when I left my job as a porter and started my dream job, I was still struggling financially. My wages were the best I had ever earned, but I was still climbing an uphill battle to get me out of my previous situation. Then came the break-up of my relationship, so I moved out, taking only what I could wear or carry. It was important to me that I left my little girl in a house with a sofa, washing machine, beds, TV etc. What this meant is that I was pretty much starting from scratch.

I bought an empty house but obviously needed my own furniture, TV, cooker and washing machine, amongst other white goods. These don’t come cheap but were needed. Finance was the only way. This set me back for years, despite being in a good job with a reasonable wage. I also had child maintenance to pay, so once again, I found myself living hand to mouth. It was a tough time but it’s important to remember that these things are never insurmountable. It’s so easy to find yourself in a dark place and giving up can feel like an option, but it’s not.

Fortunately, I have never found myself in such a dark place where I have contemplated suicide as a serious option, but I have been lucky. There are many people who do find themselves in that corner.  There are people whom I personally know who have been there (one of whom sadly didn’t come out). No doubt you may have, or have had, similar concerns about individuals. Take heart, because you can help. You can literally help to save a life.

Please see the below link to some free online training which can show you how. It’s a really useful package and I urge anyone and everyone to go through this. It literally could make all the difference:

Suicide Prevention Training

Going back to my story, I had been in a terrible hole following my relationship break up, but a few years later I was married, had two wages coming in and things were improving. We were still struggling a little financially, but we were ok. I hadn’t been married two years when infidelity (not mine) came knocking so divorce soon followed.

Whilst I managed to keep the house, I was left pretty much broke and penniless … in fact I was very deeply in the red, so at 39 years old I found myself on the bones of my backside once more. I now had one wage coming in, but debts for two to pay off, plus child maintenance, mortgage and my bank screaming at me.

Despite having got a promotion at work I was financially as bad as I had ever been.

It’s important for anyone who finds themselves in such a hole to make strides to clamber out; to not give in; to keep your dreams alive. The next link i will share did not exist when i was having my woes, but is a really useful place to start for anyone who is struggling to find a way out:

Money Advice Service

Time has, of course, moved on. I am no longer in the place I was.With the help of an amazing woman (a bloody amazing woman, actually) I am now on my feet again. I married that amazing woman and she has supported me through some difficult times. I’ve now had a further promotion at work and we live in a bigger house in a better area, with no debts apart from a mortgage. We have had two holidays this year and finally things are coming together for us.

Of course, I’m still just an ant in the wide scheme of things, but I’m further up the pile than I’ve ever been. Some of my dreams have come to fruition and I am working on several others.

The point I am trying to make is that when I speak of inequality I speak from lived experience.

I also think that inequality has been concentrated of late with the onset of austerity. Once austerity waved its big flag over the country things changed even more. Private corporations seemed to jump on the band wagon to make savings, or hike prices, at the expense of the consumer. Look at the big energy companies for example, the utilities providers or some of the telecoms giants. Better service? Doubtful. More expensive? I think so.

But by far the hardest hit is the public sector and the little people who rely on the public sector. Small minded austerity policies have looked at each service individually to assess where savings can be gleaned and where efficiencies can be made. So, for example, the Home Secretary looked at the Police Service, the Education Minister looked at schools, the Prisons Minister looked at the Prison Service etc. The list goes on. They all looked at their respective areas of responsibility, but I’m not convinced as to the efficacy of cross communication. The other concerning thing is the amount of cabinet reshuffles. One day I might be the Minister for Arts and the next day I could be the Educations Minister. It seems to me that the people in charge of making the savings don’t fully understand their own areas, least of all have any grasp of other areas that may be interlinked with their area of business. Decisions in one area could have an impact on another and without this cross understanding, how can we truly be efficient?

A situation occurred in my personal life back in August 2016 which caused me to think about this in more detail. That situation was my wonderful mum becoming ill and going into hospital. This story is personal for many reasons, one of which being that my mum never came out of hospital alive and we lost her within a month.

Late August 2016 and I was at work one afternoon. I received a call from one of the carers at the sheltered accommodation complex where my mum was living. Staff were concerned about my mum, nothing too worrying, but she didn’t seem quite right. In herself she was predictably resistant to going to hospital, typically reluctant to make a fuss and in otherwise good spirits. They had an inkling, however, that something was amiss.

I immediately left work and picked my wife up on the way to the hospital. We beat the ambulance there and we waited in the A&E corridor alongside three patients on stretchers and six paramedics who were waiting to discharge the patients into the care of A&E staff.

We waited about ten to fifteen minutes and my mum arrived, in reasonable spirits … and we waited. This isn’t one of those horror stories about waiting for twelve days on a faeces stained stretcher in a corridor full of dead bodies with only grid water to drink. Far from it, but I did learn a lesson that day.

It wasn’t too long (maybe an hour or so) before my mum was taken into hospital care and assessed.  It was discovered that she had a collapsed lung and without immediate treatment could possibly die.

The first thing that struck me about this is that, although ultimately it didn’t end well for my mum, she had been given every chance. I’ll touch on that more as I relay the story, but the first chance she was given was due to “the little person”; the carer who was earning not much more than minimum wage, but who was astute enough to spot the very subtle signs that my mum “wasn’t quite right”. My mum’s chances started with that person, near the bottom of the ant pile, who had enough pride in her job to do the right thing. The world is full of these unsung heroes. The world is littered with them, yet they have no real status in society. That, I feel, is an injustice, but I digress.

Back in A&E, my mum was taken into resus where a chest drain was fitted. I waited outside on the corridor with my wife and what struck us was the number of patients still waiting to be admitted. With every patient stood two paramedics, who couldn’t leave their patient until they were admitted.

There must have been four or five patients and they were stacking up.

I had a chat with a paramedic who told me he had been there for about two hours. He also said, “this is nothing” and alluded to a four hour wait not being out of the question.

If I’m being conservative and I say there were four patients and eight paramedics, stuck for just one hour, then this translates to four ambulances unable to attend emergencies for an hour. In reality it is much more than this and I am only speaking of one A&E department.

I dug a bit deeper and discovered that A&E were unable to clear beds as there were no spaces on hospital wards. This was causing a clog up in A&E, which in turn was preventing paramedics from saving lives. Not only were paramedics stuck waiting but there were more diversions of patients to A&E departments further away. This causes further delays for the ambulance staff but clearly causes delays in vulnerable people getting life saving hospital treatment.

Having had conversations with hospital bed managers, I know that to release a patient there must be adequate support in place, which often involves Social Services.

Austerity has hit Social Services hard also, so there are now inherent delays in assessments. Fewer staff with bigger workloads means that so called efficiency savings are having the opposite effect. The individuals performing patient assessments are under real pressure and strict scrutiny to release more patients into the care of family, despite the families’ ability to cope and despite the risk of falls etc.

I have seen this first hand with my own mum previously; that as soon as she can walk from the bed to the toilet the physio says she is fit. A “bed to bog” walk is hardly a realistic assessment, but these professionals are under increasing pressure to take more risks.

Going back to my previous point, however, these assessments take longer to get nowadays and when they are done they are less thorough and therefore fraught with risk.

In my opinion, many people are getting released when it is unsafe, due to bed blocking pressures … but those releases are taking longer.

It’s not just the assessments, but if certain things need to be put in place before a release, such as equipment for the home, then this takes longer also.

In the meantime, the population is growing. The population is getting older. People keep coming through the doors of A&E and backlogs continue.

On top of this, unsafe discharges result in re-admissions, putting more pressure on paramedics and A&E staff and the cycle deepens.

This blog was complete and ready to publish, when I read this tragic article on the BBC News website:

Tragic Death of a Child – Hospital Failings

I don’t claim to know the exact facts behind this awful story, and the news we read tends to report with certain bias. That said, there is no getting away from the fact that a beautiful child has lost his life.

A further article from the same news website shows a video of this little boy’s grandmother describing the pain that her grandson was in before he passed away:

News Article – Video – A Grandmother’s Description

Was this down to incompetence? Possibly. My view, however, is that hospitals are under so much pressure that mistakes are made every day. Individuals can only work under a limited amount of pressure and remain effective. When this pressure is too much and is present every day, what can we expect? There may have been mistakes made by individuals, but by individuals under great strain and with little support. In my opinion the blame for this tragedy, and many more similar tragedis, lies at Westminster.

It’s not just hospitals and the ambulance service who are affected, in my view.  Taking this wider, because paramedics can’t attend everything, they naturally have to push risk elsewhere.

Calls involving, for example, a suicidal male, are now regularly passed to police to attend (just in case of violence). Upon police attendance the paramedics downgrade their response because the patient is with someone who can keep them safe. Police officers, who have already faced swingeing austerity and huge cuts to numbers, are now sat with this male. Those same officers can’t attend a violent domestic assault or robbery because they are sitting with someone whom they are neither qualified, nor trained, to deal with. Those officers could be tied up for hours awaiting paramedics. If the officers take the patient to hospital, then they too are stuck at A&E awaiting completion of a mental health assessment, so they can discharge the patient to the care of the hospital.

Unfortunately, mental health services have also been stripped back both in hospitals and in the community. Such assessments don’t come quickly.

If you then look at this deeper still … Social Services have been cut back. Mental Health Services have been cut back. Benefits have been cut. Mental health beds have been reduced hugely. Care in the community services are stretched. It’s no surprise that the most vulnerable in our society are having more breakdowns, with less support. This adds greater pressure on police, ambulance and the NHS.

Patients are released from hospital and mental health units before they are ready, and this creates more pressure on community services. These services are bursting with demand and individuals within these services are having to make tough decisions that are against their own personal values; decisions to exclude certain people from their service … but to where do the vulnerable people then go?

There are so many other services to have been hit too; services that aren’t as appetising, such as drug and alcohol services. Without these services, people who are alcohol dependant or drug abusers are getting less support. There is then the knock-on effect of crime but without the police resilience to deal with it.

Prison places are fewer, so the criminal deterrent isn’t as robust. When prisoners are released the support in place isn’t as effective, potentially leading to recidivism. Dangerous prisoners are moved to open prisons earlier than they should be, and violent or predatory offenders are released earlier, or not jailed at all. This leaves the public at greater risk from crime.

Of course, the education system hasn’t escaped austerity and interference. I have several close friends who are teachers and I am a school governor, so I can speak with some (albeit limited) knowledge.

It’s true to say that the perception is that the staff working in education, from teachers to assistants, from welfare officers to administrative staff feel that ministers do not listen to their views. They feel that there is an agenda which is being forced through regardless and not necessarily in the best interests of the children.

One friend works in a special needs school. She is forced to teach the national curriculum when it is wholly inappropriate for some of her class. Some of her children do not have the cognitive ability to appreciate what happened yesterday, yet she must teach them about Victorians. Some children can’t hold a pen and would be best served by teaching them real basics, rather than expecting them to get a grasp of multiplication. She feels that she is fighting a losing battle and is letting down her children, due to internal confines and external interference.

Head teachers are under real pressure to balance the books and whilst the government say that education funding has not been cut, when you offset against inflation in real terms there have been huge cuts.

A lot of inner city schools are also catering for unprecedented influxes of pupils with English as a second language, so this affects attainment and results. The extra time needed for these pupils isn’t reflected in the funding so there is a knock-on impact on other pupils. Certain non-academic subjects may get put aside as a consequence, in favour of conventional subjects and, as such, many of the practical, but not particularly academic children are falling by the wayside. A system has been created where a student’s worth is measured by their exam results and this creates further division and injustice for children who aren’t as bright in a conventional sense.

A quote which has (rightly or wrongly) been attributed to Albert Einstein is as follows:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I agree with this statement in that I believe that everyone is good at something. Everyone, in my opinion, has a gift. It is up to us, as adults and parents and it is up to our education system to find out what that gift is in each child and help them to hone it. It is up to us to shun the perception of conventional knowledge and help each child identify their talent.

Unfortunately, austerity and policy are working against schools and not making this an easy task.  If we fail to identify our talent, we risk isolating a whole bunch of geniuses, who will feel excluded and potentially feel worthless. This social exclusion and injustice is one of the causes of crime. Society simply doesn’t have the resources to continue putting sticking plasters on crime so more radical thinking is needed, in my humble opinion.

I hope to have in some way illustrated how cuts to one service affect another.

Austerity has hit virtually every service from bin collections to education and from drug and alcohol services to fire stations.

The pressures on the “little people” to give a cursory service are higher than ever and the people suffering are the public. The very people who need a police officer to come are not getting one. The vulnerable people who need an ambulance might end up getting a police officer instead, if anyone at all. A person desperate to be discharged from hospital to home might be stuck, blocking a bed for a week whilst those who really need hospital care are sometimes discharged unsafely. People who need support with housing or mental health are going without and at a lower level, motorists are finding their cars damaged from unrepaired pot holes. Geniuses are not being recognised and those in need of urgent surgery are waiting longer for it.

I’m sure anyone reading this can come up with personal examples of how austerity has bit and created further social exclusion and further inequality.

Before I continue with the story of my mum’s final hospital admission, I will share another example that highlights my point.

A previous incident involving the hospitalisation of my mum saw an appalling level of care. She was unable to get herself to the toilet, she had sickness and diarrhoea but was not incontinent. When she needed to go she needed to go and she needed to go quite often, through no fault of her own. She had, quite rightly, been placed in a side ward (to avoid cross infection) so she had to use her buzzer to summon help.

I arrived one afternoon with my wife to visit her to find my mum confused, semi-conscious and her eyes rolling. I genuinely thought she was dying. She was also wearing a nappy.

I discovered, to my absolute disgust, that she had been drugged up and put in a nappy to stop her soiling the bed and to reduce the demand that she created. The decision was a direct result of low staffing. Whilst I understood the pressures, this was far from acceptable and I made a robust complaint. As a result, I met with the matron who was extremely apologetic and begged for a chance to get it right. Things improved, although not to a fantastic extent, but our hands were tied. My mum was unwell and needed to be there. Eventually she recovered but not without anger, frustration and tears at the way she was treated.

I genuinely don’t think that anyone goes into the nursing profession, the paramedics, teaching, the police service or social services to give a poor level of service. I’m sure that when the vast majority of these dedicated individuals take up their roles they do so with the best intentions.

Unfortunately, pressures due to austerity and efficiency policies, coupled with higher demand are causing perverse thinking and behaviour.

Who would ever think that putting an adult, who is not incontinent, into a nappy and drugging them up unnecessarily is a good idea? Who would ever think that is acceptable?

On the flip side, however, it might be the only option when, as a qualified nurse, you are dealing with 15 to 20 patients (maybe more), all with complex needs and persistent demands; you are also having to document every interaction, double check medications and fit multiple catheters; you have to show compassion with each patient and understand their individual needs; you have to accurately conduct hourly observations including blood pressure and temperature checks and document the same; you have to act on each observation whenever there are any concerns; you have to answer buzzer after buzzer from patients who may simply want a cup of tea or a chat, to patients who can’t breathe or have defecated the bed; you have to liaise with the doctor and double check their notes to ensure you are following instructions; you have to ensure that no medications are missed; you have to answer questions and challenges from concerned families; you have to fit all this in and more whilst working on your feet for twelve hours, barely getting your own toilet break and probably eating on the move. Under such pressure, in order to allow you to do all that and more, calming someone with drugs and putting them in a nappy might seem like a sensible way of managing one of the many competing demands during the day.

In my opinion, it is not the little person who is wrong. Of course, there are members of the caring profession who shouldn’t be paid in washers, but thankfully these are few and far between. In the main, the little person is doing their level best, but they are breaking. The system, battered by austerity, is responsible for breaking these people and broken people can’t fix broken people in the way they would like to do. Sadly, day in and day out, working within a broken system alongside broken colleagues becomes the new normal, and this can’t be right.

The little people suffer; the workers and the service users.

I do take real heart, however, in that the politicians who have overseen years of cuts and pay freezes, who have presided over a system that sees war veterans going to food banks, tell us that we are all in it together. I take real comfort from this when in the midst of all this, those very same politicians have received offensive pay rises on the back of the expenses scandal. I am warmed and comforted that we’re all in it together.

The inequality is staggeringly blatant and frighteningly shameless.

I have colleagues who are financially worse off now than they were eight years ago. I am fortunate, in that I’ve worked hard and been successful at promotion. Consequently, I am financially better off but promotion isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot to be said for job satisfaction and it would also be unsustainable to promote everyone. Job satisfaction, for the reasons stated, is not as prevalent as it once was and not as obviously present as it should be.

Anyway … true to form, I have hugely digressed. Let me take you back to late August 2016.

My mum was admitted to a hospital ward, complete with a nice, new shiny chest drain. The plan was to ensure that her lung was re-inflated and repaired so she could be “unsafely” discharged. (I joke, of course. Any discharge at this point would, I suspect, have been quite safe as she lived in sheltered accommodation with carers on site).

Over a period of about four weeks she remained, bed bound, attached to a chest drain. It was a pretty grim time for her, but she was an inspirational woman, who kept her spirits up pretty much the whole time.

As I stated before, she was given every chance. Whilst there, staff spotted an infection by careful observations of her temperature and blood samples and hit her with antibiotics at the right time. At one point she was exceptionally weak, and we were warned that we would be likely to lose her. We discussed it with her, we all had a good cry and came to terms with it. The staff didn’t give up, however, and continued to make efforts to save her. I went home, fully expecting a call through the night, but the call never came. Instead, a combination of the hospital staffs’ efforts and my mum’s resilience resulted in a remarkable recovery, which baffled the doctors. Again, she was afforded a chance, thanks to the little people.

My mum was a real fighter and lasted another two weeks. Unfortunately, her lung just wasn’t re-inflating and the consultant couldn’t understand why. He was confident, however, that my mum would recover, and he assured us of this. My mum looked otherwise well, and she was in good spirits (as usual). As I left her I had a bad feeling and I told my wife that I didn’t think we’d see my mum alive again. There was nothing to suggest it; nothing but my gut instinct.

I worked nights that night and at 12 noon the following day I was awoken by my wife. The hospital had called, and we needed to get there. My mum had rapidly deteriorated and was unlikely to survive.

The journey to the hospital was frustrating as we hit every red light, but we got there in good time. My mum was still alive but was barely conscious. She had become very weak and had no reserves left to fight. We were told it was a matter of hours. They moved my mum into a side ward to give us privacy and told us we could stay as long as necessary.

We were paid a visit by the palliative care team to talk through my mum’s imminent departure from this world. They explained that towards the end my mum would probably get anxious, but they would write up and prescribe drugs now to be administered to calm her as soon as it was necessary. A doctor would not be required to sign them off and the drugs could therefore be administered without delay to ease my mum’s passing. We were promised that the ward staff were on high alert for my mum’s buzzer and would come the second we needed them. This was certainly reassuring.

We stayed with my mum for several hours and throughout most of that time she was unconscious. There were odd moments of lucidity, but in the main she was sleeping.

During my mum’s hospital stay, as a result of the chest drain, she had developed subcutaneous emphysema. This is trapped air under the skin, which causes swelling. It’s usually nothing to worry about and temporary. It started at her chest and we joked that she looked like Jordan (without the false lips). Eventually it started to spread and by the day she passed away it had spread to her arms, neck, face and eyes. It was exceptionally unpleasant and not what anyone would want to see a loved one go through.

We watched, and my mum’s breathing became more laboured. We watched as she gradually started to swell. The journey was a rollercoaster of extreme emotions, but I promised I would hold it together and remain strong for my mum; to be there for her as a familiar and reassuring face should she wake with any anxiety. I was desperate for love to fill the room, so that in my mum’s final moments she would have no doubts and could slip away in peace.

As expected, my mum awoke, and she was anxious. She was more anxious than I have ever seen her. She was scared, and her fear was painfully obvious. It was also immediate; from 0 to 10 in a heartbeat. I pressed the buzzer, confident that staff would attend immediately with drugs as promised. As soon as I pressed the buzzer an alarm went off on the ward and staff went running to this alarm. Seemingly someone had gone into cardiac arrest at the very moment that I pressed the buzzer, so it was all hands to the deck to save this person’s life. The sound of my mum’s buzzer fell into obscurity and no one came.

Whilst I understood the situation outside my mum’s room, the situation in my mum’s room was excruciatingly real. She was trying to sit up, panicking, trying to get out of bed and shouting with no punctuation: “Oh my God help me Darren help me help me oh my God Darren help me Darren help me!”

And I was helpless to help her. Both my wife and I were helpless. Despite our loving reassurances and calm words, the only help that could come was outside of the room and it wasn’t coming.

We both tried our best to calm my mum; to assure her the nurse was coming, but we were utterly helpless. My efforts to fill the room with calm serenity and love were failing.

I knew the staff were trying to save someone’s life, so I did not want to interrupt them, but I was failing my mum. I was failing a beautiful person who had never failed me, and I was failing her at her greatest hour of need.

I started to break. I felt myself starting to break and I couldn’t let my mum see this, so I went to the en-suite toilet room, leaving my stricken mum in the care of my amazing wife.

I closed the door and broke. I sobbed like I have never sobbed before. It was an uncontrollable sob; the sort of sob where your bottom lip curls without choice; where you can’t breathe and the sort of sob that hurts your ribs. I was a mess. I was swearing at God, demanding that he intervene. I hated God and everything that God stood for. I cursed him. After a few minutes, I gained some strength and managed to pull myself together. Now, however, I was angry.

I walked back into my mum’s room feeling stronger and more capable, but the room started to fill with anger, not love. By now about ten very long minutes had passed and my mum was still in a horrendous state of panic. I decided to go out and confront the staff.

A young doctor was sitting behind the nursing station and there were no nurses to be seen. He was writing and looked almost offended to see me standing there. I suspect it was an unwelcome surprise to see a visitor outside of visiting hours.

“Yes?” he questioned, in an accusatory manner.

It was obvious to me that he didn’t even know we were in the side ward, least of all what the situation was.

I responded in a sharp manner, but still, I feel remarkably restrained, given my anger.

“I’m here with my mum, Norma Whitehead. She’s in the side ward because she’s dying”.

His manner immediately changed, but to one of annoying platitude.

“Oh, Mrs. Whitehead. I’ve treated her. She’s a lovely lady.”

I replied with a touch of venom in my voice.

“I’m not bothered about whether you think she’s a lovely lady. She’s dying right now and she’s scared. We pressed the buzzer ten minutes ago because we need somebody, and no one has been. We were promised this wouldn’t happen”.

The doctor was speechless, but fortunately for him a nurse emerged from the office. My attentions were turned to her.

“We’re just checking the medication now”, she said. “We’ll be with you in a few minutes”.

“You wouldn’t treat a dog like this”, I snapped.

I went on. “This is a really important time for me and my mum. She’s dying. We’ll never get this time back. I didn’t want to spend this time angry, but I’m angry right now”.

I realised, however, that the more I went on, the longer I would delay my mum’s drugs, so I shut up and returned to be with my mum.

Very soon after the nurse came in and was confronted by my equally upset and angry wife. She reiterated “we were promised that this wouldn’t happen”.

It was a devastating time for us both, to see my beautiful mum go through this.

The nurse injected my mum with a drug to calm her down. It would normally work immediately, but because my mum was so swollen it had to be given subcutaneously, which takes longer to work. After about ten more long minutes my mum drifted to sleep and started to rest.

The nurse explained that even though the drugs were written up by the doctor they still must be double checked by two nurses. Due to the emergency, a second nurse wasn’t available to double check, hence the delay. It didn’t make me feel better, but at least I could understand. In essence, there weren’t enough staff to deal with more than one emergency.

About an hour or so later my mum awoke one final time and again was anxious, but this time the response was quicker, this time by a different nurse from the night team. She commented that she would give the full prescribed dose this time, not half the prescribed dose that the previous nurse gave. This was annoying also and raised a question that I will venture into later.

My mum was soon asleep and a short time later she passed away as I held her delicate, little hand.

The relief was immense, but the loss was devastating. My wife, as always, was an absolute rock. We held each other and sobbed a while as my dearest mum grew cold.

I think this must have been the most traumatic thing to ever happen in my life and for a while both my wife and I thought we may need counselling. We haven’t had counselling and we’re doing ok, but this awful situation highlighted to me another cost to austerity. Again, due to low staffing, hospital staff were unable to deal with two emergencies at once and my mum was disgustingly failed.

One thing struck me, even in the midst of my angst. It related to the half dose of medication that my mum had been given first time around. First of all, had she been given the full dose, as prescribed in advance by the doctor, then perhaps she wouldn’t have had to endure the second trauma when she awoke. Perhaps she would have just slipped away. So that annoyed me. But it also made me think.

I feel that because we live in a blatant blame culture, professionals are scared in case they do the wrong thing. They are second guessing themselves all the time for fear of civil litigation. This has the perverse consequence of actually making them less efficient.

In this situation, my mum was dying, and not dying well. Why, under these circumstances, would you second guess a doctor’s decision and give less dosage than prescribed? Was the nurse so much in fear of being accused of euthanasia? I don’t know, as I never got the chance to ask, but why else? You can see that this person is going to die within hours, if not minutes. You can see that they are suffering and having an awful death. You have the option to give a full dose of medication, backed up by written authorisation from a senior, qualified staff member. Why then, would you do different? I don’t get it. I can only assume it is fear of civil litigation.

So, in my opinion, such public servants are not only held back by austerity, their hands are also tied by fear.

Not only is austerity letting down the living, it is also responsible for creating a system where hospitals are so short staffed that even the dying are being let down.

This concludes what has been a long blog, with multiple diversions and various topics. I’ve tried to cover some experiences of my own which have led me to the conclusions and my beliefs about social inequality.

As I said earlier, this has been written piecemeal and what started out being written by our private pool, midway through our holiday, has been partly finished off on the flight home, but completed fully back in Blighty.

I’m not sure if I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve, but if anyone takes anything from the blog then please take the following:

Value the small person. The small person’s genius is as big as yours and their dreams are just as vivid.

Don’t look down on the small person, unless you are giving them a hand up.

Try to see the genius in everyone and try to help people recognise their own.

Don’t assess your wealth on the value of your car, house or bank balance.

Value yourself and your personal contribution to society.

Trust the opinions of those who value you. Discard the opinions of those who show you no value.

Be satisfied with where you are and what you have but keep your big dreams alive.

That’s it for now. Until next time …

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Beware the Long Grass

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Hello and welcome to my latest blog.

You’ll probably already be aware that I am very much into my creative writing and I am confident that some of the things I have written (especially for children) are as good as anything out there.

The question you may ask is, is this confidence misplaced? I am my own harshest critic and I genuinely don’t think it is. Could my work be improved? Possibly, but couldn’t everybody’s?

The difficulty with writing is that the creative bit is the easiest part. Thinking of stories, characters, plot twists, comedy etcetera isn’t child’s-play, but it’s fun. It’s what makes most aspiring writers get out of bed in the morning. It’s what motivates us.

The hard bit, and nobody ever told me how hard (if they did I didn’t believe them), is getting your work accepted by an agent or publisher.

With the onset of the digital age, physically getting your work in front of agents and publishers is easier now than ever. No longer does a budding writer find him or herself printing out and photocopying reams of manuscript, binding them, putting them in painstakingly written envelopes trudging to the Post Office and buying enough stamps for the return. Nowadays, many agents and publishers will accept work digitally, via email or online portals. That, however, is as easy as it gets.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook used to be the “go to” place for reliable advice, and details of publishers and agents. Of course, this still is a mighty useful reference tool, but the internet is now littered with searchable information, accessible without even getting out of bed.

Handy, you may say. The problem is, sorting the good from the bad. Knowing what information is genuinely useful and which will lead you down a blind alley, or worse, is a skill. I say “or worse” because although a blind alley is annoying and costly of time, it is not financially costly. Some internet searches can lead you into traps; traps which will have you throwing good money after bad, in order to bring your creative genius to life.

It is those very traps which I will touch on in this blog.

I have not yet mastered the skill of whittling the good from the bad (I wish I had), so I can speak from very recent experience. That experience has left me frustrated and annoyed, but more determined than ever to push ahead with work that I have allowed to fester for far too long.

In late May this year I had a bit of midweek time off work. I currently work Monday to Friday so a weekday off is very precious to me. It’s time that I can spend alone; time to be creative, time to be lazy, do the gardening or simply catch up on TV. On this particular day I was feeling very motivated and keen to promote my stories. I had already researched some publishers on the world wide web and discovered one specific publisher who sounded fantastic. They were taking submissions in all genres and promised to be quick to respond.

As per any publisher, they have their own submission guidelines and it is important to understand these so that you fit the criteria; give yourself a head start and all that. As a consequence, I had to do a bit of editing, a bit of formatting and I had to compile five of my stories together into one file for upload. I have more than five stories, so I chose the five that I felt would be the most commercially viable. I wrote synopses for these and did a bit of a blurb about myself. This took me a good few hours and I then uploaded them to the publisher.

As promised, I got a response within a few days. These few days had felt like a week or so because I found myself repeatedly checking my e-mails, every hour (at least), every day, until I got a reply.

Excited, I opened the e-mail to read a generic message saying that my submission had been received and I would hear back in due course! It was a bit of a blow, but deep down I wasn’t really expecting the publisher to read all my work, consult on it and accept it within a few days. I had to be realistic. I was, however, hopeful and I was really looking forward to hearing back.

My e-mails became an obsession. My outlook in box has a “focussed” in box and an “other” in box. Being a middle-aged man, I still haven’t figured out the difference, as I have e-mails coming into both, so I habitually check them both. I now found myself checking both of these, plus my spam, several times a day (probably more than several), every day for the next three weeks or so. Nothing came.

Then, however, I received a thick envelope through the post. Contained within was an official letter and a contract for signing. How very exciting. Was this it? Was this my big break? Finally … after all this time.

The letter was detailed and spoke of how impressive my work was. My five stories had been discussed by the board and all board members were impressed. They felt for now that they should just run with one story “The Rainbow of Billingbob” and perhaps look at the others when I am established.

Wow! This was looking good. My heart was racing and I could barely finish reading one paragraph before rushing onto the next.

This was a great company; offices in London, Cambridge, New York and Sharjah and representation all over the place. They liked my work. THEY LIKED MY WORK! I was reassured that they weren’t running with all my stories, because this showed me that they were serious and balanced. It gave me confidence.

This was the same day we were going on holiday to Greece, so it already felt like a good day, about to get a whole lot better.

I then skipped onto the next paragraph, about the enclosed contract. This is where a huge knot grew inside my stomach and tightened. This is where I realised that this was an elaborate effort to take money from me.

What was actually offered was a “contributory contract”. This smelled to me like vanity publishing, a scam that has been prevalent for years. This one, however was dressed up as a professional outfit, with a good web presence and slick marketing strategy.

For those who don’t know, a vanity publisher targets the fragile ego of writers who want to be published. They massage that ego by blowing smoke up the backside of the writer, making them feel special. They inflate that ego and then ask for money to contribute to publishing the work. This is exactly what this letter was.

What this publisher wanted me to do was give them several thousand pounds for them to own the copyright to my work. No doubt they would have produced a book but what would have then happened to that book after that is anyone’s guess. Maybe it would go on sale, but I suspect their efforts would go onto the next mug who uploaded their work.

For me, this was a “no brainer”. They wanted me to give them money and give my copyright to them as well. It wasn’t happening.

I’m not going to name the publisher as I am given to understand that they fight vehemently to maintain their reputation and I don’t want to find myself on the wrong end of civil litigation. I have since, however, done some research on them. Whilst I make no statement as to whether the research I have found is true or not, I will allow you, dear reader, to follow the link* to that research should you wish to do so.

I have to say that I am a little disheartened by this turn of events, although I do like to view every experience, negative and positive, as a learning experience. I am now a little wiser and will not get my hopes up in future. I will probably also do a bit more digging before submitting my work and wasting my time.

Had I been a little more desperate, a little more vulnerable or a little more gullible, then perhaps I would have fallen for this scam. The “publisher” would, doubtless, have you believe that it is a fair deal; that they shouldn’t take all the risks with a new author … blah, blah, blah. In short, it is at best a bad deal and at worst, criminal. They’d have had to come and do my washing, cooking and gardening every day for ten years to make that a good deal … and I didn’t see that in the contract. Needless to say, I didn’t sign the contract and I shall be going no further with this outfit.

So … what about “The Hero of Schnool”?

Readers of my previous blog may recall the collaborative work I was doing with an artist for my story “The Hero of Schnool”. The very talented artist put a lot of work into creating illustrations and a world that was perfect for the story and we did submit this to numerous agents and publishers, but unfortunately, we got nowhere. This is a shame, but it was far from the end of the road for us. We decided to consider self-publishing as an option.

Unfortunately my busy world and her’s meant that we weren’t able to catch up as frequently as we would have liked so progress was regularly stalled. My recent efforts to catch up with her (I’ve tried numerous times since January) have proven fruitless and, for some reason, she is not returning my calls, texts nor messages. I have no idea why. In the modern, digital age, they call this “ghosting”, but sadly this has left The Hero of Schnool somewhat in limbo. The time has probably come for me to seek alternative publishers, with or without the illustrations, which is a massive shame, given the work that has gone into them.

So where am I now? I have ten stories, very much in the style of Dr. Seuss or Julia Donaldson and they are (I think) rather good. I have no illustrations, so am going to have to look at getting an agent or a contract with a publisher. I could self-publish, which is an option, but I feel that I would have more kudos if backed by a conventional publishing house.

I now need to start researching again and sending my work off to legitimate publishers or agents. This time I need to tread carefully and beware of the snakes in the long grass.

In the meantime, the book of poetry “Peering Through the Mist” that I compiled, with my late father, Jeff Whitehead (RIP) is available for sale on Amazon. This is adult poetry, so for goodness sake, don’t buy it for your kids! It can be found here.

Peering Through the Mist Cover

Until next time …

 

* The link may or may not take you to details of the specific publisher I dealt with.

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 …

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 …