Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney: An Apology

Seamus Heaney died today. 

If you went to school in Northern Ireland, he'll almost certainly need no introduction.  If you didn't, he was a poet.  If you went to school in Northern Ireland and weren't listening, he was a poet.        

Despite taking English Literature at 'A' level, I wasn't a big fan of the old poetry lark (and therefore Seamus Heaney).  I passed, but I think I was just a bit lucky.

I had two specific problems with the old poetry lark (and therefore Seamus Heaney). 

First, I found it boring and had a genuine tendency to nod off during lessons.  Spotting this weakness in my armoury, my teacher - Mr Quigg - used to single me out to answer questions. 

What happened next became almost ritualistic and went as follows:
  1. Colin Andrews would nudge me to wake me up;
  2. Colin Andrews would deliberately whisper me a made-up/incorrect answer; 
  3. I would relay the made-up/incorrect answer to Mr Quigg;
  4. Mr Quigg would gently humiliate me.
Second, when I was conscious and therefore capable of responding on my own behalf, Mr Quigg would pull out lines in Heaney's poems and ask me what I thought he meant.  I found this terribly irritating for one very simple reason, which I had a habit of pointing out. You see, Seamus Heaney didn't actually live that far away from our school.  So why didn't someone - Mr Quigg, for example - just go and ask him?  It would have saved so much time.

Anyway, that's how it went and, as I say, somehow I got though it.  That was in 1990.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I was a student in Newcastle, and a particular Sunday night in my room after Spitting Image had finished.  I was faffing around and the South Bank Show appeared on my portable telly.  It was a Seamus Heaney special.

My instant reaction was to turn it off (boring! boring! boring!) but, for whatever reason - perhaps it was fate - I didn't.  I wasn't initially listening to it, certainly not consciously, but as poems I was familiar with began to be rattled out, I found that I was. 

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the end of my bed almost mouthing the words.  Well before the end of the programme, I even found myself "enjoying" what I was hearing, and Heaney's own explanations of what he had been banging on about for so long.

By the time the show ended, I felt a sense of guilt - verging on uncleanliness - for those lost years of failed appreciation.  Not just of Heaney's work, but of Mr Quigg's efforts in tempting me to like it.

There was only one thing for it; I had to apologise.

Without delay, that Sunday night, I got a pen and some paper out and scribbled a note to Mr Quigg - c/o Coleraine Inst - saying sorry for my failings and conceding that he was right all along.  I posted it first class the following morning.

Only days later, I received an immensely classy and witty response from Mr Quigg - he signed it off as Len - accepting my apology and making clear that he didn't hold any grudges.  I loved that.

So, on the day Seamus Heaney achieved full membership of the Dead Poets' Society, I feel it only proper that I make an unconditional public apology to him and his memory too. 

To quote him: "The end of art is peace.”    

I hope the great man has now found his.  

Thursday, 29 August 2013

They'll see me from space

What do you think of these babies?!

They're my brand spanking new Nike Air Pegasus+ 29 running shoes - in turquoise (they were in sale) - plus some new Nike Dri-Fit cushioned running socks (also in the sale).  

Yes, this Great North Run is becoming an increasingly expensive caper, but the two pairs of shoes I've been training in are knacked so I had very little option.

And it was my choice to do this so it is my wallet that should take the pain. 

But talking of wallets, some particularly kindly friends have been very generous with theirs since my last fundraising update.

As a result, my new "running total" (ho! ho! - gets me every time) has now moved up to £346, before Gift Aid, which ain't bad with a little over two weeks to go until the big day. 

And you know what's coming next. 

Any chance of you chipping in (if you haven't already done so, of course)? 

If the answer is yes, you can do just that by clicking HERE.

Whilst you try to locate your credit card, I'm off out for a run...

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

What are you looking at, big head?

Natives of Ulster will not need to be advised that the man, sorry, potato Jamie and Charlotte are posing with is none other than Mr Tayto whom they met at Belfast City Airport last week.
Mr Tayto - who, of course, lives in Tayto Castle - has been the potato face of Tayto crisps since the 1950s, starring in many of his own global advertisements.
In short, he is a potato worthy of respect and the chance to meet him is normally one to savour.
Which Jamie and Charlotte did.  Initially.
And then, well, Mr Tayto must have spoken out of turn as the mood suddenly changed.
And matters escalated.

Eventually getting totally out of control.

As a result, we didn't take any Tayto crisps with us on the plane back to Yorkshire.
That will teach you Mr Tayto (although, if you're reading this, a box of Onion Rings wouldn't go amiss).    

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Four Jongs - and soon they'll be gone

This is (from the left) Louise, Scarlett, Osian and Tim Jong.  They live in Wales.   But, sadly, only until next Monday when they head for Manchester and then Australia where they intend to put down permanent roots.

Louise and Vanessa first hooked up as students in Newcastle 20 years ago.  They hooked up again as London flatmates in time for the Millennium celebrations, when I initially encountered Her Curliness.

Fast forward a few more years, and Louise met Aussie Tim whilst travelling in Sydney where they chose to lay down roots together.  They married and Scarlett was born, before all three returned to Louise's native Wales in 2011.  Osian joined the party in 2012 and, as planned, it is now time to leave.

We went across at the weekend to say goodbye and, I have to say, it was emotional.

Particularly when Vanessa left the lights on and our car battery went flat.

But all good things eventually end in tears and, anyway, we've promised Jamie and Charlotte that their good pal Scarlett will be happy to talk to them on Skype.

And I'm sure it won't be long before Osian crawls into shot.

Bon voyage, dear friends; we look forward to seeing you all again soon. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Sand in my sneakers

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Portstewart Strand. 

Alongside the other taxing activities I involved myself in during the Whites' trip to Northern Ireland, I spent a significant amount of time running up, down and around what you see before you. 

There are many worse places for me to train for the Great North Run - now little more than three weeks away - as the sand is soft and my knee continues to be sore.  And the scenery isn't half bad either.

Thanks to a generous donation from Mags' wonderful parents Moira and Alasdair, my "running total" (do you see what I did there?) has reached £176 - which is great.

But I want to increase that amount significantly before the gun goes and I disappear off into the distance, leaving wee Mo Farah crying in my wake

I'll be out training again tonight, and am planning to tackle 10 miles on Sunday. 

You can access my fundraising page by clicking onto THIS LINK

It would be very kind of you if you did.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Home from home - for a rest

As I write, this was the scene at Boucher Road Playing Fields in Belfast at this exact moment last week (that's Snow Patrol in there somewhere).

And this was how wet Vanessa and I were as we watched.

What followed were five more days/nights of kiddie "entertainment" (not sure the Ghost Train was really for them).

Bizarre encounters.

More bizarre encounters.

And even more bizarre encounters.

Yes, dear friends, the remainder of our trip to Northern Ireland was "memorable" (or at least the bits I can remember were).

But we're back in Yorkshire now and, most importantly, the long bank holiday weekend starts tomorrow. 

I do hope you're as pleased about this as I am relieved.

Right, I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Coasting along in the Wee Country

Two days into our eight-day trip to Northern Ireland, and it's going almost perfectly.

Marshalled by their big cousin Katie, the kids are having a whale of a time (although sadly haven't seen one) and are even getting some exercise. Really. 

They spent a big chunk of this morning on Portstewart Strand and, after refuelling, this afternoon got muddy in Downhill Forest. We ended with an ice cream in Castlerock.

Yesterday - after I indulged in a spot of early morning dental tourism - it was playgrounds and kiddie rides all the way. Yes, who needs Las Vegas or Monaco or the Maldives when you come from Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast? (Don't answer that). 

So why has our time only been "almost" perfect I hear you yell?

Three reasons if I'm being picky:
  1. It's not 30 degrees and sunny every minute of the day;
  2. My temporary crown - stuck in yesterday morning - has already fallen out; and
  3. I cannot get rid of this effing hangover (despite going for a three-mile beach run in an attempt to shift it. I'm afraid "hair of the dog" is my sole remaining option. Poor me).
Tonight it's a meal out in Portrush (golf capital of the world) and tomorrow Mrs White and me are off to Belfast to see a little local band called Snow Patrol. I hear they're quite good.

PS Something tells me Jamie's already a touch tired...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

I'll give him Mobot

I don't know if you've heard, but Mo Farah has entered the Great North Run.  Sadly predictable in my book.

As I understand it, the newly crowned world 10,000m champion had no previous interest in taking on the famous Newcastle to South Shields course.  That was until one of his hangers on - probably Sir Richard Branson - advised him that I had thrown my hat into proverbial ring.  And the double Olympic champion wanted my scalp.  

But I'm nothing if not up for a challenge.  So the gauntlet is picked up and the game is on.

After hurting my knee playing for the dads' touch rugby team two weeks ago, I got back into training on Friday and this morning ran just over eight miles.  Very slowly. 

Meanwhile, Mo Farah's triumph in Moscow yesterday was over a distance of little more than six miles.  Pathetic.  I'm thinking ahead, see.  Eyes on the prize.   

My much shrewder approach will be intensified even further tomorrow when the family and I fly to Northern Ireland for a week of intensive cold, wet and windy weather training.  Meanwhile, Mo is off back to America to run in the sun.  What an idiot.  In my three years as a student on Tyneside, I never saw the sun once.  I am so far ahead of Mo's game it's untrue.

I'm also planning several sessions with amateur sports psychologists - street philosophers, if you will - in a range of hostelries around the Causeway Coast.

Of course, the one area where my great rival currently has the edge is in relation to sponsorship.   He has several multi-squillion dollar deals with the likes of Nike, Lucozade, Bupa and Virgin Media.  Meanwhile, I have so far raised £151 in support of children with cancer and their families (thank you so much to everyone who has donated thus far).

If you'd like to even up this imbalance, please click here and give me - or rather Candlelighters - what you can. 

I'll update you shortly from one of my designated training bases (most likely the Railway Arms).

Friday, 9 August 2013

Smurf Too

If you're looking for a good film to pass a couple of hours with the kids over the next few weeks, Charlotte heartily recommends Smurfs 2.  Because she's in it.
Well, she says she is.  The reality (yes, I know the Smurfs aren't real - sshhh!) is that Smurfette's in it, and Charlotte thinks she looks like Smurfette.  And so every time Smurfette appeared on screen on Monday when we Whites went to the cinema, Charlotte instantly stood up, pointed at her new heroine and shrieked: "It's me!  It's me!"
And she does have a point. 

Yes, separated at smurf, sorry, birth I'd say. 

With Jamie having had his fair share of goodies over the past couple of days whilst Charlotte was at nursery, I thought it only proper that his little sister didn't miss out. 

And so it was that Charlotte and Smurfette were properly united.

Plus, there wasn't much else in the shop. 

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Half Dad Half Red Coat

Do you like my handiwork?  It's Jamie's UNIT soldier ID card which, according to the Doctor Who magazine it came with, enables him to "gain access to top security sites" (yet, I imagine, won't allow him to go to the bar and buy me a pint of Guinness.  The new Doctor's first assignment will hopefully be to sort that out).

His beret did remind me of another renowned urban warrior.  Uncanny, isn't it?

Yes, it's day three of me being in sole charge of the kids - albeit that Charlotte's been at nursery for two of them.

On Tuesday, I took Prince Him and Princess Her to nearby Tumble Town for some soft play, followed by an afternoon train ride to Ilkley...

and a go on the bouncy castle.

Yesterday, us boys headed to the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds, where Jamie became a true White Knight...

...and had a close look at what a real one used to climb into.

Later, he got to examine a lady boar's toilet equipment - which led me to delay our sandwich lunch.

He followed this with his first ever whole fish for tea, which he wolfed down like an Eskimo. 

And he has eaten well.

This morning, we went for a big boys' breakfast at Morrisons (there are more reasons to go there than somewhere nice, predominantly based around cost).

And after a lunch of fish fingers, Smiles and beans - which I'm just about to knock up - it's microwaved spaghetti bolognese for tea. 

In between, he and me are off to the swimming pool so I can make a mouth of myself on the inflatables.  

Yes, I just about remember when I had school holidays too.

Thankfully, Vanessa reclaims the captain's armband tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

There was even a cricket match on

And so it was last Friday that I headed off to Manchester with some familiar faces to sample the Ashes.

Here are those faces early on in proceedings...

...and here are Daniel, Wee John and Other John after play had ended.

Yes, they are holding each other up.

Other sights traditionally associated with a big day at the Test included a beer snake worthy of applause.. 

.....and the leader of the Barmy Army (previously known as Jimmy Savile, but I suggest he's now changed his nick name).

Less expected was the sound and vision of cheering Aussies.

To be fair, their team did much better in this game than in most recent encounters with the mother country - but still couldn't win.

One particular high point for Wee John and me was the chance to hook up with two very old school friends; that's Tom on the left and Andy in the middle.  

Tommy and I first met at primary school and went on to Coleraine Inst together - where we became mates with Andy, already a pal and neighbour of Wee John's.  Tommy and Andy's friendship has strongly endured in Liverpool where they made their lives after university.

Two fine men, plans are already in train to meet up next month. 

I suggest Wee John and I might be well-advised to drink for a slightly shorter stint than the 14 hours we braved on Friday.   

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Fame is in the eye of the beholder

Wee John is due in our midst this evening in preparation for tomorrow when a gaggle of us head across to Manchester for the second day of the Third Ashes Test.

I told Jamie about this at breakfast, but explained that he'd probably not see our tiny guest until tomorrow morning as he was arriving late (and meeting me in the pub).

I also thought it prudent to point out that, whilst he and Charlotte would be able to spend all day Saturday and Sunday with Uncle John, we'd be at the cricket until past his bedtime on Friday. 

But, chucking him a bone, I added: "You might be able to see us on TV!"

Jamie's response was not what I hoped for: "I won't be able to see you on TV!"

"Oh? Why not?"

"Because they only show the players and famous people on TV. You're not a player and you're definitely not famous!"

Oh really.

Well he mustn't have been watching the Fourth Ashes Test at Headingley four years ago then.

Because he'd have quite clearly seen me in the crowd sitting alongside dopey Dagenham Dave.

That's me on the right.

So Jamie, my son, you know nothing.