Tuesday, 30 September 2014

30 days in September

Well, what a month that has been.

Since the early part of this year when my evil plans were being put together, I was looking forward to/dreading September in equal measure.

First there was the Great North Run which, more than three weeks on, I'm genuinely yet to fully recover from.  I actually went for my first canter since then earlier today and it wasn't pretty.  But, hey ho, no ambulance was required which was a real plus.

Then there was the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner which, looking back, really could not have gone much better.

Well, I say that.  But I suspect my (unplanned) speech could have gone a little more smoothly.

In fact, if anyone can recall anything of what I said, feel free to let me know.

All I can remember with any degree of certainty was the great Willie John McBride shaking my hand halfway through, bidding me a "good morning" (it was around 1130 pm) and heading home.   Once a legend, always a legend.

And then, of course, this month saw me go part-time at work with the mission of setting up Vanbar Associates, the most exciting new entry into the world of media/public relations and corporate communications since whatever the last one was.

Because of the run, the dinner, a bout of illness and the day job, I've had much less time to spend on our new venture than I'd hoped for. But over the past week or so, I am delighted to report that progress is finally being made.

I've long been of the view that, if you need something done, best have a go yourself first.  But this adage has not previously extended to building websites.  However, last Wednesday I started work on ours and I hope to be in a position to let you have a look in the next seven days.  I must warn you that, at this stage, it is more accurately described as a "webshite" than a website but I'm doing my best.

And, of course, expert help is still very much required in a whole range of different areas if the company is to fly.

Later today I'm meeting my clever techy mate Dylan to discuss our logo.  And I'm also planning to give my lifelong friend Colin a call (stand by Wee Man) to see if he'll let me "borrow" some of his very nice professional photos what he took.   I would encourage you to click HERE to see how good he is and fully appreciate why I want Vanbar Associates to bask in his reflected brilliance, fully credited of course.

Other tasks shall be fulfilled which are much more dull so I'll not burden you with them.  

Exciting times ahead?  Who knows.  But in many ways that is exciting in itself.

Bring on October.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

B is for Beginner

Can you notice anything a little different about the piece of music above? 

Yes?  No?  Don't really care?

Well I'll tell you.

It's only got one note, B - immediately explaining why it's called the 'B B Blues.'

Jamie's taken up the recorder, you see. 

And here he is with it.

Unlike in my day when you took one from a box and passed the box along, you now have to buy your own in case one of your classmates didn't have a bath the previous evening.

But back to the note B and Jamie's musical career which does have to start somewhere.  And in a way his path to stardom seems more daunting by the fact that he already has big shoes to fill.

I myself rose to the lofty ranks of first violin in Macosquin Primary School orchestra in 1981 (only to give it up the following year when Louise Madden left to go to Coleraine High School, depriving me of my sole motivation to continue). And I clearly remember being able to play more than one note - I was really good at A, for example.    

But before Jamie reaches such lofty heights, he must obviously master B and only practice can make perfect.

Thankfully, help is at hand. 

To quote from his music book:

"If you want to play more pieces with just B, how about playing 'B Groovy' and 'B Really Groovy!' from Razzamajazz Recorder Book 1? If you want to sing and play, try 'How Cool Can You B,' and 'B with Me' from Red Hot Recorder songs."

I hope he will take up that challenge. It might even B fun.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sounds fun to drink and run

Whilst Vanessa's heroics at the Ilkley Triathlon were certainly inspirational and did lead me to briefly consider having a go myself next year, that thought did not last long.  No, because I stumbled upon another event that also took place yesterday which appears much better suited to my "talents."

I'm talking about the Great Yorkshire Wineathon in Holmfirth.

And rather than explain it poorly, let me quote directly from the official website: 

"Run, wine, run, wine, run, hill, wine, run, wine…the thirstiest race in Yorkshire.

"A 9-mile easy trail run/walk with feed stations every 2 miles. These are stocked with WINE! (Each wine station is based around a different wine region of the world).

"Starts at 1:30, great excuse for an afternoon running in the sun! (and a little wine).

"Registration opens 12:30, run starts 1:30, prize + awards ceremony as soon as the last one wobbles over the finish line! 

"So run, walk or crawl your way around this wine themed event, in aid of the Laura Crane Trust."

Do you know, I think I will.  Entries for next year's race open soon.  I really, really hope. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Carried away

Today was a day of huge emotions which I'm unlikely ever to forget. 

A day of pushing back previously unimaginable boundaries. Of dreaming the impossible and turning the impossible dream into something which actually happened. Of the head telling the heart that the heart can't win - before the heart only goes and darn well does it. 

Yes, today was the day when I defied all odds by successfully installing a bike carrier onto the back of our car. And not only that, but it then managed to get to Ilkley and back without Vanessa's bike falling off and killing someone.

 I mean look. 

Isn't it wonderful?  And, as such, aren't I wonderful too?  I suspect I probably am.

Brilliant, just brilliant.

Before I forget, I should also briefly mention that whilst in Ilkley (we were there anyway), Vanessa managed to complete her first-ever triathlon.

A bit of swimming (no photography allowed).

A bit of pedalling.

And a bit of running at the end.


It's the sort of thing ladies do when they're approaching 40. No big deal. It's just like, you know, a triathlon.

Actually, here's another angle of the bike carrier which I know you'll enjoy. 

Beautiful. I still can't believe I did it. 

Before I go, Jamie and Charlotte have insisted on a final word.

Kinda proud of her myself. But don't ever say. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Harry Potter spellbound by Magic Johnston

I've got cabin fever.

Four days since returning from Saturday's remarkable charity dinner back home - the full impact of which still hasn't fully sunk in - I've spent pretty much all of my time at home trying to juggle my day job with the task of setting up our company.

And, already, I think I need to find an alternative to sitting at our dining room table for 12 hours a day.   I've only left the house briefly three times since Sunday evening, twice to visit Morrisons and once to post a letter, and I don't think it's doing me much good.  Plus I'm still knackered from the weekend's exerts.

But don't think I'm feeling sad, hell no.  Because I have news!

My current decrepit state isn't just down to graft and worry.  It's also got something to do with slightly overstretching myself in my beloved Railway Arms last Thursday.  And again last Friday.  Then last Saturday.  Oh, and we also had time for a couple of swift ones before heading back to the airport on Sunday.  As you do.  

And the major reason I love it so much - as does every distant visitor I've ever met in there - is the hospitality and service provided by Super-Landlady Clare Johnston.

Even Harry Potter came to call on Friday evening.

And we were very happy for him to join everyone else.

Regular readers will hopefully be aware that, last month, I launched a little campaign here to see if we could get our Clare rightfully shortlisted for the 2014 Ulster Bar Person of the Year award.

Well, guess what?  We only bloody did it!

In another White Stuff exclusive (they just never stop), I can reveal that Clare received a call earlier today to say that she had indeed made the final six.  A full-on interview and pic will appear in the Sunday Life in the coming weeks before we all have the chance to vote FOR HER.

Needless to say I'll tell you when and how to do this as soon as that moment arrives.


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Oliver's Army

It's the evening after three evenings before, and I remain a total physical and partially emotional wreck.

After nine months of detailed planning, 180 of us sat down in the Humphreys Hall at Coleraine Inst on Saturday for the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner.  And it seemed to go quite well.

In my experience, the success or otherwise of such events - not that I've ever been to one like this before, never mind organise it - depends on a number of fairly obvious factors including the attitude of the guests, the quality of the food and the quirkiness of the entertainment.  And you also need a bit of luck.  Thankfully, everything and everyone seemed to be on our side.

The smiles on people's faces right from the outset made me think that we might be alright.  The food - as guaranteed by the caterers - was superb.  And the Rugby World Personality of the Century - Willie John McBride - comedians Grimes & McKee, and everyone else in part-time charge of a microphone could not have been better.

Well, I say that.  In truth, I can barely recall a word I spoke.

But anyway. Chuck in a top drawer short video and a random bagpiper and it all came together better than we could ever have hoped.

A lot of money was raised for good causes and, most importantly for me, many old acquaintances were renewed.  Whilst I would not expect a future event to be on the same scale, I'm confident that it will not be another 25 years before some form of follow-up gathering is attempted.

Wherever it takes place, I intend to be there.

Monday, 8 September 2014


There is a famous scene in Only Fools and Horses where Trigger is having his photo taken after winning an award for owning the same broom for 20 years. (The one with 17 new heads and 14 new handles).  And either Del or Rodney encourages him to smile.  Trigger replies: "I am smiling."

That's kind of what I'm like today.

If you saw me, you'd insist that I brighten up a bit.  And I am trying.  But yesterday's Great North Run almost physically did me in. On the Metro back into Newcastle after the race, I was in deep conversation with a charming fellow runner who seemed to know as many people from Portstewart as I do.  Without warning, I broke out in a cold sweat, started to feel disorientated and felt on the point of fainting.  I had no option but to excuse myself and sit down on the train floor before I fell on it.  I remained there for the rest of the journey eating Jelly Babies as my kindly new mate fanned me with his jacket.  A couple of steak bakes from Greggs at the other end re-established some sort of equilibrium, but I still have a little way to go yet.

And yet, underneath the clapped-out middle-aged man exterior, I'm sickeningly happy.

The reasons are three-fold.  First, I completed the course without stopping - other than to use "the bathroom" (I went behind a street sign) - after four miles.  And whilst with a time of 1:52:27 I was almost five minutes slower than last year, the heat and the fact that I'm now a physical wreck meant that it truly was all I had to give.

Second - and much more importantly - the grand total raised for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research as a result of my little misadventure now stands at more than £1,100.   The credit for that does not belong to me, but to the long list of kindly souls who gave so willingly to a such wonderful cause.  Your efforts will forever stand as a lasting tribute to David McClarty and Margaret Maciver, my friends - your friends - who will never be forgotten by those of us privileged to have known them.

And finally, the best news of all.  I am never, ever doing the Great North Run - or any other half-marathon or above - ever, ever, EVER again.  I'm finished, done, it's over. I have come to the end of the road.  (Do you see what I did there?!)   I am officially retired.  Yes, I will take part in the odd 10k here and there for "fun," but that will be the extent of it.   I hope you approve.

(Please note that I didn't say anything about cycling.  Thought it might be worth pointing that out.  No plans.  Just saying.  Cycling).

Friday, 5 September 2014

The last beg

Well, it's almost Great North Run time again - my fourth and, unless I have a body transplant in the interim, my last.

I didn't ask for any sponsorship when I first had a go back in 2004, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to complete the course.

I ran it next with Wee John in 2011 after Mags was diagnosed with leukaemia.  And then last year after it cruelly took her life.

This Sunday, I'm running in joint memory of Mags and my old friend David McClarty, a great man of Coleraine, who tragically passed away on Good Friday after bravely battling lymphoma.  My charity of choice, logically enough, is Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.  

Mags' and David's families are right behind what I'm doing and, indeed, have generously donated to the fund.  With their permission, I will carry both names on the back of my vest.

You know the drill.


Please give something if you can.      

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Non-progress update

It's day four of the "Vanbar venture" (I'll have to remember that newly made-up phrase, might use it again), and life has not been normal.  

People who know more about these things than I do (everyone) keep telling me to go slowly, get it right, be patient, there will be some tough months ahead and so on and so on.  And no doubt they're quite correct in their analysis.  But I don't do slowly and patient very well.  That said, given all the other things going on, I haven't really had much option. 

The highlight of the week thus far has been Jamie going back to school (YES!)...

...and Charlotte joining him in its baby jail department (AW!)

(Apologies if you've already seen these pictures, but their granny in Portstewart doesn't "do" Facebook and, 42 years on, remains scary to me).  

But that's not what's been keeping me busy.  With the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner now a mere nine days away, there is a hell of a lot of work yet to do.  There are tickets to be sold (going well but still available), publicity to pump out, menu cards to be designed, raffle/auction prizes to be secured, event running orders to be finalised, speakers to be briefed and a new suit to be bought.  And progress is being made in each of these areas, other than the suit which I tried to buy today but couldn't find anything that fitted me or my non-shoulders.  Thankfully, there is a dry cleaner's up the road which I might be forced to visit instead.  I'm bound to spill red wine on my suit, so it's probably for the best.  

Meanwhile, there are just three days to go until the Great North Run.  I went out for my final little trot yesterday morning, and didn't arrive home feeling particularly "up" for Sunday's race.  However, last night as I was climbing into bed, I received notification of a sizeable donation from Mags' mum and dad, Moira and Alasdair.  To say that this gave me a boost would be something of an understatement.  So much so that now I can't wait for the gun to go and Mo Farah to disappear over the horizon.   More on this tomorrow but, in the meantime, feel free to chuck your tuppence into the my cyber tin by following THIS LINK

And now, it's back to Vanbar Associates.....although I might have a cuppa first.....and a biscuit.....but no alcohol.....until Sunday.....really.....I know.....it's Thursday and everything.....go on, sponsor me....................please............................go on..... 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Introducing Vanbar Associates

I have news.  And dear readers - yes, both of you - I thought it only proper to tell you first.

Those who know me best will understand that I like to have a "project" on the go.

At some point this coming Sunday afternoon, my fourth and almost certainly final Great North Run will hopefully have been conquered. (Donations still most welcome by clicking on HERE).

And the weekend after, the much-anticipated Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner will take place in Coleraine.  (Some tickets are still available by calling Diane Armstrong on Tel: 028 7034 4433).

But what to do next?  So I thought about it for a while - at least two cups of tea and several biscuits were involved - and finally it came to me.  I'll set up a communications company!

Well, I say that.

As it happens, the company - given the catchy name of Vanbar Associates - was formally registered by Vanessa at the turn of the year.  The more vigilant amongst you may have noticed that Vanessa begins with Van.  And Barry begins with....come on now.....someone.....anyone?   Yes, Bar.  Put the two together and what do you get?   That's right, an almost brand new communications company.

Vanessa took on her first client back in January, and all has gone well.  Meanwhile, I have remained in full-time employment with little or no involvement.  But it's time to up our game.

So, as of today, I have gone part-time at work with the purpose of turning Vanbar Associates into a communications company worthy of respect, admiration and contractual engagement with third parties.

None of this will happen without lots of hard work, which requires time, which - with Jamie and Charlotte running around - requires me to create some extra weekday hours.

And Jamie and Charlotte - together with Vanessa, obviously - are obviously relevant to all of this. Because we have to eat, Jamie needs new school shoes at least once a year, and Charlotte is relatively demanding in the "I want a new dress!" department.  And for these objectives to be achieved, our new venture has to be a commercial success.

For those with a passing interest, be assured - particularly you, Mother - that I haven't taken this decision lightly.  I have worked for communications firms in the the past, and press and PR are essentially what I've done day and daily for the past 18 years.  So I know what is involved.  I'm also confident that both Vanessa and I have the collective wherewithal to make our little enterprise work.  But, clearly, there are challenges ahead.

Something I can guarantee is that we will try to have fun along the way.  And, if you're really good, I'll tell you what I can here as we go along

There will be a new website and this will include a new blog.  But White Stuff is staying put for the foreseeable future.  I am sorry.

I do hope you approve of all of the above.

I'll keep you informed.