Friday, 20 July 2018

Strange truths

The "before and after" school year photos aren't as as dramatic as the kids get older.  In fact, our two looked older (and taller) in the picture on the left back in September than they did this morning. 

Last night we celebrated the eve-of-end-of-term with a parade of prizes. Jamie gained his blue belt in taekwondo about half an hour earlier.  A few hours before that, Charlotte won the year 2 "creativity award" at school prize day.  The evening before that, she earned her level 5 British Gymnastics proficiency award.     

However, this blog is not about lavishing praise on our kids. No, it's about having some fun wherever possible - and ideally at our own expense.

Jamie's class delivered that this afternoon.  His teacher, Miss Gill, is leaving the school to start a new job.  Today she brought in personalised gifts for all of the kids, which were humbling in the extreme.   Each was given their very own "word portrait" made up up words and phrases which best describe the individual in question.  The words and phrases were provided in secret by their classmates and Miss Gill herself.

Jamie's includes some kind words - "friendly," "funny," "chatty" - and some accurate descriptions of the boy - "Oasis lover," "bird lover," "give it a go attitude."

However, my favourite is an absolute barnstormer: "Strange in a good way."    

That's our son.

Framed and ready for his bedroom wall, Miss Gill even took the trouble to sign the back of the picture.

She wrote: "Follow your dreams Jamie!  Don't stop being positive!  Miss Gill J"

What a fabulous human being and credit to her profession she is.  All of us our incredibly grateful for everything she's done. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Farewell to the High Heid Yin

I was very sad to wake up this morning to learn that my old mate John Laird had passed away.

John established Northern Ireland's longest established public relations agency 42 years ago, and it's still going strong. 

I first got to know him after he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Laird of Artigarvan in the County of Tyrone in July 1999.   It was not a surprise as it had been my task to deliver nomination papers, signed by David Trimble, to the Government Chief Whip's office several months before.

John was proud crusader for the Ulster-Scots language and culture and, after the Good Friday Agreement, a tireless Chair (aka High Heid Yin) of the newly-created Ulster-Scots Agency.

What I'll remember most fondly about John was his playfulness and wicked sense of humour. I recall one occasion when a fellow Ulster Unionist peer had a cold sore and bought some ointment to deal with the affliction.  The problem was that John's noble friend kept missing the important area of his face when trying to apply the cure.  So John volunteered to guide his colleague's forefinger toward his face to ensure he hit the target.

I was in a room with them when this process was being gone through for about the third time that day, and John was milking the moment for all he was worth.

He winked at me and said to his patent: "I hope you never need a suppository!"

John presented me with a House of Lords claret decanter when I left my job in Westminster in 2003 and I've cherished it ever since

It is often said when someone passes on that "we'll never see his like again."  In John Laird's case, it is unquestionably true.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Out of office

This is where I've been working for much of the week.

It's the bottom of our garden. This is the first time in the more than seven years we've lived here that I've done such a thing.  That is because it's normally p*ssing down, even in late June.

And get this. We're off camping again tomorrow which long-suffering readers will know is an activity I habitually loathe.  But the sunshine has a strange effect on strange people.  As such, I am actually looking forward to two nights under canvass (excluding short notice, middle-aged dashes to the toilet block in the depth of night).

I suspect that this will not prove to be a permanent reversal of my camping policy position i.e. avoid at all costs.  But I mean, the North is having its first proper summer since weather was invented and I've decided that it's best embraced.  Should the sky turn grey, I will be looking for excuses to return to the cosy familiarity of bricks and mortar.

Last night I flicked between the cricket and the football on the telly.  And throughout my channel-hopping, I felt guilty that I wasn't outside.  I can't recall that ever happening before.

Tonight, England continue their stroll towards inevitable World Cup glory (according to many pundits) and I shall join the rest of the country in cheering them on (probably with the sound down as Glenn Hoddle is commentating.  Why can't they get someone who speaks proper English, maybe a Spaniard or an Argentinian?)  Then I hope to revisit the garden to celebrate.

On our return from camping on Sunday, it'll be time for the annual Guiseley Summer Street Party.  Vanessa is staffing the tombola as she's not very good at making jam.  The we might have another barbecue.  I say "another" as we had one on Tuesday.  We used the same gas tank we bought in 2011 and it's not even a big one.  Total number of barbecues in our garden in the last two years?  Two.  One per summer.

A final observation before the sun stroke finally gets me.  Have you seen the long-range weather forecast?  Other than a few days here and there when a bit of rain is expected, the sun is due to stay with us into September which, last time I looked, was classed as the autumn. The temperature is due to dip a bit but will still be decent.

I hope you're as excited about all of this as I am bemused.  So please enjoy it - especially if you're going camping this weekend and feared you might drown.                  . 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

10 of the best

Jamie officially turns 10 years old in a couple of hours' time (I'm delaying accepting the inevitable for as long as I can).

The picture above was taken this morning in Bramhope where he is currently on a two-night Cub camp (thanks to Andy Parsons for sending it to me).

He even appeared to make a speech before cutting his cake. 

He set off last night, looking all grown up.  

Earlier he opened his main present, an electric acoustic guitar complete with amp (for him) and headphones (for the rest of us). 

Our boy is aging well.

That makes me jealous. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Good Sports

It was Sports Day at St Oswald's PS today and, despite claiming otherwise, Jamie was determined to defend his unbeaten record in the sprint race.

This is what happened.


And Charlotte did well too.

Afterwards its was homemade pizzas in the garden.

And a little drink for Daddy whilst he documented the historic occasion.

A bigger celebration might yet be required.  Followed by a lie down.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Whitsun with the Whites


The first of four camping trips planned for this year (yes two, plus another two) is done and, well, it wasn't too bad. OK, it was actually really good.  This might have something to do with the fact that we didn't have to erect (or dismantle) the structure you see above you.  It even had a heater, a fridge, a cooker and a kettle.

Oh, and a sofa. 


The Scarborough weather disappointed to begin with.


But the sun eventually came out, along with the disposable barbecue. 


The most bizarre element of the trip was a visit to the Alpamare water park, the like of which I'd not seen before. 

Below is a picture of one of its two outdoor pools. Yes, outdoors.  In Scarborough.  In North Yorkshire.  And it's open all year round.   

Vanessa sold the visit idea to me on the basis that the pools are heated.  I confess that I was not in any way a believer before sliding in with the air temperature already close to freezing.  But, for possibly the first time ever, I was wrong.  Both pools were genuinely like entering a bath.

Then it was back inside to try all four water slides on offer.  Loads of times.  I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.  Prior to the kids' arrival in our lives, I lost count of the number of small children who gave me dirty looks as I stood in front of them in a water slide queue waiting impatiently for my turn. And the Scarborough slides were as good if not better than any I'd been on before.   

Do yourself a favour and go if you can. 

And so on to Monday and a visit to Bempton Cliffs near Bridlington to allow Jamie to indulge in a spot of bird watching. 


Unfortunately because we are the Whites, the fog rolled in and sightings were limited.  


With some exceptions, such as these gannets.  


Jamie also managed to spy seven puffins, bringing the grand total of real puffins he's seen in his lifetime to, er, seven.

So that was our half-term treat.  I hope you enjoyed yours if you had one, or are having fun if still on location.

Our next trip?  Camping.  In a little tent.  Which I have to put up myself as Vanessa is arriving late.  And after that?  Oh yes, camping.  Sometimes I wonder why we even bothered to buy an actual house.  

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Sun, son and daughter

Greeting Pop Pickers where you join me in our back garden nursing my burns (and listening to Pick of the Pops.  They're doing Harry and Meghan's birth years, driving home how much younger both of them are compared to me. That's why I've also got beer). 

I haven't "spoken" to you in a while so I thought I'd better put that right.

First, my burns. I was back on the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland last week for the North West 200 motorbike races.  And for once we got some decent weather.

No one could believe it, least of all me who refused to don sun cream because I was cold - possibly because I wore shorts.  The result was an incinerated head and fried knees.  Still, all riders came home safe which is the important part of the story.

My trip back meant that I couldn't also justify travelling across for the Irish Cup Final earlier in the month (plus I'd already promised to decorate our living room).  But the Bannsiders lifted the trophy so at least I didn't jinx them which, again, is all that matters.

In other news, Charlotte entered the World of The Brownies after making her promise.  I'm not a Freemason myself but I suspect the respective initiation ceremonies may bear some similarities.   


Jamie rocked as Leyton in the Year 5 school play. (I thought he should've played the part in a thick Ulster accent but he chose to be English.  I can't believe he still got the girl).


Charlotte continues to enjoy the never-ending media coverage of the Royal wedding and wonders if she may be next in line.  (I've explained that it's Charles followed by William, but she doesn't really understand).


And last night Jamie met the Harlem Globetrotters after an exhibition game at the Leeds Arena. Here he is with Cheese, his favourite player.   


Young Master Cheese looked even more lacking in years up close, which made my middle-aged high-five seem all the more inappropriate.  

So that's what we've been up to and, with the Bank Holiday weekend rapidly approaching, hopefully there's a bit more fun in the sun to be had.

It might help my thick coating of calamine lotion to finally dry out.     


Sunday, 15 April 2018

A City within a city

Well, that's the Easter holidays almost done for another year.  We wrapped ours up in a less than obvious way, as it was off to Salford and an overnight stay at MediaCityUK.  What a truly magnificent place it turned out to be.


Most people will be aware that the BBC moved a load of jobs to Salford Quays a few years ago.  BBC Sport is now based there together with BBC Breakfast, 5 Live, CBeebies, CBBC and various other strands of the Corporation's output.


What's less known is that ITV has a major operation there too, alongside around 250 mostly digital businesses.

Coronation Street is now filmed there, as well as other familiar programmes such as Countdown for Channel 4.


We stayed at the on-site Premier Inn, which had a great view from the seventh floor.


(Jamie was hoping to bump into local hero Liam Gallagher).

Later we clambered onto the tram...


...and journeyed the short distance into Manchester to pig out.


It seems that not all MediaCityUK employees are local, with many BBC staff heading back to London every weekend to eat tofu.  The deserted multi-story car park - which was jammed on Friday - served as evidence of this when we left yesterday morning.


If you get a chance for a visit and a look around, take it.  The Imperial War Museum North, The Lowry and a top notch shopping outlet are there too.

We will definitely return for another nosy.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Jen's all set to face the music

My good friend Jennifer McCracken (now Trohear) is doing something rather wonderful next weekend and would welcome your support.

From Coleraine (of course she is), the only intensive physical exercise I ever remember Jen engaging in at school was playing the cello.  That said, as an ex-violinist myself, I can confirm that string bashing can still be very tiring.  And a cello is a lot bigger. In fact, as this lifesize comparison shows, it's even bigger than Jen.

But I digress.  Yes, Jennifer has upped her game.  She's entered the London Marathon.  (All lapsed cellists end up doing the London Marathon one day).

Jen is running in memory of a little guy called Edward Dee who brought happiness to many before being cruelly taken away by Meningitis.  The cash raised will go towards raising awareness of this b*stard of a disease, as well as finding a way to destroy it.

As a parent myself, I can think of no better cause.     

Crucially, wee Jen has been putting the miles in.  This matters.  Having run the race myself 10 years ago.....honestly...

told you...there are two crucial facts you need to be aware of. 

First, it is bloody hard.  And second, the training is even harder.

I trained up to six days a week for 16 weeks and only missed one session in that period through illness.

Jen has adopted a similarly punishing schedule.  She completed her 20-mile "long run" a fortnight ago and is now in the "tapering" stage.  Before that, she ran all sorts of silly distances including her first-ever half marathon in Blackpool also exactly a year ago.

Our Jennifer has done magnificently well and will smash it in London (the course, not her cello).

You can read Jen's story and throw a few pennies into her virtual bucket by following THIS LINK

Good luck you madster.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Black and White


Following yesterday's little reminisce about political events in Northern Ireland a mere 20 years ago, I must share a related matter with you.

I was down in that London last month to attend a memorial service for my departed friend Sean O'Callaghan.  And whilst there I met up with my thankfully still-very-much-with-us pal Steve Donoughue.  I went to university with Steve and we've stayed in touch.

When I worked in Westminster back in the day, I also got to know Steve's dad Bernard, aka Lord Donoughue.

Bernard is a remarkable man whose life story is much too long to tell.  Career highlights include being Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, a source for the writers of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, and a stint as Minister for Agriculture in Tony Blair's first Government.  He was in the latter role when I first met him.

Bernard's deep experience of Whitehall, something the Labour Party lacked after 18 years in Opposition, was of great value to the new Prime Minister.  So too was his knowledge of Northern Ireland, a place that was very high on Blair's agenda upon taking office.  After encountering me through Steve, Bernard quickly decided he and I should have a proper chat.  Over a period of months, this turned into a series of exchanges.

What I hadn't realised until I saw Steve three weeks ago was that some of these conversations have been chronicled in Bernard's recently published book, "Westminster Diary Volume 2 - Farewell to Office."  My copy arrived in the post on Monday.

I'll not burden you with too many details, but I will share a small selection of Bernard's more colourful observations.

Let's begin on Monday 12 January 1998.

"Son Stephen came in with his clever young friend Barry White, who is research officer to the Ulster Unionists.  Said he had heard of me as the Unionists' middle man to No.10, but was not aware how much drafting I had done.  Discussed the whole Ulster situation, where he is very knowledgeable."

I've got to be happy with that.

We'll move on to Wednesday 29 April 1998, less than three weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Fascinating meeting with young Barry White, the bright political adviser to the Ulster Unionists."

Excellent, another good start.

"Told me that the Ulster Unionists are totally divided and Trimble is in real trouble."

Bugger.  All true, but mildly uncomfortable to read all these years on.
Let's try Thursday 14 May 1998.

"Barry White, Unionist adviser, came in to brief me.  He is tall, craggy, remarkably mature and with a wonderfully incomprehensible Ulster accent."

Once from Coleraine, always from Coleraine is what I say - although you might have to ask me to say it again.

Bernard's book is now available from all good book retailers - and some rubbish ones as well.

I plan to read what he's said about everyone else over a series of early nights.              

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Long Good Friday

The picture you can see above was taken 20 years ago today.  That's me in the top right-hand corner.  Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble is at the microphone offering the world's media his perspective on the Good Friday Agreement which had just been signed.

He was my boss back then and, earlier that day, he and I had a brief discussion over my concerns on the early release of paramilitary prisoners which was part of the deal.  I wasn't a fan of that bit and expressed my worry that these provisions could lead to the Agreement being effectively still born.

"This is about giving the people of Northern Ireland a chance," he told me, calmly but with sincerity.

A few hours later, after taking a call from President Clinton and having received two crucial "side letters" on other contentious issues from Prime Minister Tony Blair, David addressed the Ulster Unionist team.  He told us that he was minded to run with what was on the table.

A well-known Belfast city councillor asked what would happen if he was wrong.

"We're all expendable," David replied 

And with that, the long battle began, first to "sell" the Agreement and then keep the peace process on track.

My role was London-based, looking after the interests of Ulster Unionist MPs and peers in Parliament.  The UUP had 10 MPs back then and, during the referendum campaign, six campaigned in favour of the Good Friday Agreement with the other four arguing for a "No" vote.

The people of Ireland - north and south - resoundingly supported the Agreement in that referendum.  So common sense might lead you to believe that the right thing to do was rally round and make it work, despite its weaknesses.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite play out that way and I spent the next five years tearing my hair out whilst doing my best to hold the Ulster Unionist Parliamentary Party together as a functional unit.   

Fast forward to the present day and you'll probably be aware that there is no longer even an Assembly meeting at Stormont, let alone a devolved government.  Many of the old arguments that I had to deal with continue to rage on with no obvious end in sight.

But the bottom line is that Northern Ireland is now a much better, happier and peaceful place than it was 20 years ago today. 

Let's hope that the bravery and goodwill that I was so privileged to witness at first hand on 10 April 1998 will be replicated some time soon.   

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Halfway there

Fresh from my April Fools' Day appointment as the new manager of Guiseley AFC, I headed off to London on Thursday to check out the Olympic Stadium where we will be playing our homes games next season.   


Seriously, you didn't fall for that did you?! It appears that some daddies most certainly did, at least according to a number of Jamie's schoolmates.  RE-SULT!

Anyway, London, well we Whites did go there and we did visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (as it's now known).

Whilst at Stratford Underground station, we also paid homage to Coleraine's three 2012 Olympic medal-winning heroes. (I'm determined that Jamie will get to meet the great Alan Campbell, having personally witnessed him heroically capture the bronze on a very special day). 


Next, it was back into the centre and the cable cars that go over the Thames and back.

The highest car on the left contains my wife and children.  I took the picture.  Honestly, if you think I was going up there, well, you must be really stupid.   


We then clambered onto a speedy boat where sights included the Millennium Dome turned O2 Arena.  Yet another London attraction that neither Mrs White nor I could be arsed to go and see when we actually lived there. 


Following Nandos for tea, the other members of the clan once again proved their foolhardiness by risking vomiting it back up again.  Thankfully they didn't. 


The next morning, we stopped off for a quick picture at The Charlotte (can't think why).  


And then it was off to the Tower of London for a morning with a Beefeater who sounded like Al Murray.   


After lunch, we indulged in a bit of torture... 


....they've had it coming for some time...


...before bird-loving Jamie met a real raver, sorry, raven.


Yesterday we stopped off at the BBC but didn't see anyone famous.  (Hopefully somebody famous saw us).


Back in Yorkshire now, half-term is half-done - leaving another half to go.  Wish us luck.