Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Back to a four piece

Well, Packmania is at an end and it's great to have our man back.  (He actually returned home yesterday but I'll come on to that).

It was obvious that much fun was had.

Amongst scores of other activities, Jamie and his pack had a go in a big canoe.

(I'm advised that they even took it on to the water.  Eventually).

Then they got spattered with an assortment of pastel colours.

And there was time to rest too.

But yes, back to yesterday and my tardiness in keeping you up to date.

With Jamie away, on Saturday the rest of the White family went shopping for his birthday toys.  And we came away with more than envisaged.

Both he and Charlotte had talked for a while about the "need" for us to have a garden trampoline.  Initially Vanessa and I were up for it.  Fortysomethings are partial to an occasional bounce too.

But then we began to fear for the loss of a significant chunk of our back garden and went quiet on the idea.

However, with an offer on at Smyth's Toys, we crumbled and shoved an 8-footer in the boot.

And that was Jamie's big surprise last night when he got home.

Thankfully its arrival went down as dramatically as he and Charlotte went up.

I'd love to claim full credit for its construction, but it was very much a three-and-a-halfway effort involving Vanessa, Charlotte and - the brains of the operation - Auntie Vicky.

Although how she and Mrs W managed it after their behaviour the previous evening is beyond me.

Friday, 27 May 2016


It was a big night in Guiseley and elsewhere across Yorkshire as we bid goodbye to our Cubs for three whole nights.

Yes it's PACKMANIA in Sheffield, celebrating 100 years since the Cubs were born.  And they ain't doing things by half.

This special centenary anniversary camp will be attended by 3,000 Cubs and many hundreds of helpers.  And to say that the attractions are impressive would be something of an understatement.

Feel free to agree, and I quote:

"PACKMANIA will have -  Live entertainment, a fairground, an open air cinema, a circus and hundreds of activities including.....Climbing, Archery, Water Activities, Crate Climb, The Cube, Zip Wire, Obstacle Course, Orienteering, Cresta Run, Bouldering, Spider Mountain with Slide, Ice Climb, Bouldering Wall, Segways, Face Painting, Stilt Walking, Punch & Judy, High Ropes, Wrecker Ball, Zip Line, Kids Fun Zone, Laser Quest, Penguin Flip, Basketball Game, Balloon Pump, Dart Game, Pole Joust, Surfboard Simulator, Bucking Bronco."    

See, I told you.

And our Jamie will be there to experience it all.

Vanessa is kind of dying inside at his temporary departure, partly because she fears he'll come back with a goatee, hoe and low level drug habit.

Meanwhile, Charlotte sees nothing but a long weekend of personal opportunity.

To be fair, Vanessa was not alone in struggling to say goodbye.

It was as if One Direction were in town.

This was the other side of the road.

But gone they are, if only for a short while.

Let's hope Jamie comes back having changed his pants at least once between now and Monday.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A can of Guinness at the end of the Rainbow

Being a parent educates you in all sorts of ways.

For example, until recently I was completely unaware of the very existence of Rainbows.

Not the rainy, watery type that make us think of Noah; we have plenty of those in Yorkshire.

No, I mean the junior Brownie ones who do fun things and look all cute.

Charlotte joined up a few weeks ago and tonight was the night she made her Rainbow Promise.

She began by walking through the tunnel.

Before it was fingers in the air and away we go.

Repeat after me:

"I promise that I will do my best to think about my beliefs and to be kind and helpful."   

Well done, you get a badge. As did Charlotte.

And three of her friends.

Good for them.

And to prove how kind and helpful she now is, Charlotte has just brought me a Guinness.

Rainbows rock.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Jacquie is feeling fine(s)

It was terrific being back in Northern Ireland for two of the last three weekends, which were full of highlights.

But there was the occasional lowlight, not least when my big sister Jacquie (above with Charlotte) was hit with a parking ticket in Coleraine after not realising she was in a Pay & Display zone.

She'd taken us for lunch so I felt very bad  - particularly as she refused to accept a contribution towards her bill.

However, it must be said that Jacquie does have form.

She was in Dublin recently and, armed with her trusty satnav, went for a pootle.

Dublin is known as the "fair city" with sound reason and pictures taken there are normally looked back upon with affection.

But there can be exceptions to that "rule."

Shortly after her trip, Jacquie received a photo in the post of her cruising in the city centre.

And here it is.  (I've helpfully added some explanatory notes in red)      

Yes, it turns out that driving in the bus lane is frowned upon in the Republic of Ireland every bit as much as it is in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  So a penalty notice was also enclosed.

Hopefully she had some euros left.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Hoax fan evacuated from Old Trafford

Sometimes technology in general and social media in particular do my head in.  But often they can combine to brighten up my day.  

In the wake of weekend events at the North West 200, I tuned into the BBC Northern Ireland evening news - something I couldn't have done in Yorkshire not that long ago - to get an update on the condition of three other injured riders.  Thankfully all are recovering well.

Then another story followed about local Manchester United fans who'd travelled across the Irish Sea for yesterday's game at Old Trafford, only to be left disappointed because of the now infamous "fake bomb" scare.

And this "Man Utd fan" appeared on screen.

It's not just any Andrew Todd.  No, it's my old school friend Andrew Todd who I haven't seen for 20 years at least.

He'd travelled over to Manchester with his son Oliver (still dressed in full kit).

I quickly found Andrew on Facebook and sent him a message (and friend request) expressing my disgust at his choice of football team.

After kindly accepting my friend request, he replied with a confession: "Not a fan - Oliver is so I need to pretend."


It now feels even better to be back in touch.  

Sunday, 15 May 2016

A dark day in the sunshine

I'm not long back from George Best Airport after another pilgrimage to the North West 200 motorcycle road races.

I had hoped to concentrate my comments on my pal Sandy's "reverse panda" tan; dark face and white around the eyes.  Thank heavens for sunglasses.

Or, indeed, to observe how much my old school mate Sean - with added hair - could be a dead ringer for the Mona Lisa.

But tragically, it was the death of 20-year-old boy racer Malachi Mitchell-Thomas which will forever be the abiding memory of the past few days.

I'd not seen Malachi - from Lancashire - ride before.  But, despite being a North West first timer, his performances in practice earlier in the week and in Thursday night's races made him one to watch yesterday.

He finished in a hugely creditable fourth place in the first race of the day.  And in race four, the Supertwins, Malachi was in third spot as he sped out of Portrush on lap three towards the start and finish where I was perched.

But he didn't make it and the race was stopped.

What followed were almost two hours of information blackout - quite right too - as he was treated by medics on the trackside.  

Shortly after 4.30pm, it was announced that the race meeting has been abandoned after a competitor had lost his life.  Confirmation that Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was the rider involved in the incident came a little later once his family had been informed.

Predictably enough, non-road racing fans have since been queuing up to declare that the sport should be banned  - even though most of them have no clue about its ethos.  This was made clear when Malachi's distraught father, Kevin, spoke from the heart to the BBC's Stephen Watson.  Truly heart-wrenching stuff.

But I'll be back again next year, as will Mr Thomas.

It is just so desperately sad that his boy won't be there too.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Autumn preparations underway

Good evening from our driveway where I am squeezing every skin-burning millisecond out of Yorkshire's annual three-day allocation of sunshine.  How blessed we are.

Yes, spring has sprung and summer will soon be on its way out here in Leeds.

To be fair, this was our back garden last Friday morning so the locals should be grateful that I've had the chance to get my legs out at all this year.  

So, yes, our sunny day.  Well, we had a family barbecue (obviously) followed by traditional summer sports in the garden.

Charlotte won the pool competition.

But Jamie levelled things up with a clean knock-out in round three of the bare knuckle boxing final.

I'll be back in my jumper again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

This is your captain writing


You may have noticed that I'm quite a fan of Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast which is rightly attracting a lot of positive global publicity these days.  And this is guaranteed to reach new heights in the summer of 2019 when the Open Golf Championship tees off at Royal Portrush.

But one place that is often forgotten is the biggest town in the area, Coleraine.

Despite the local football team being known as the Bannsiders, the River Bann itself - which flows through Coleraine's heart - has for many years been under utilised and certainly undersold.

Four members of the Great Britain & Northern Ireland Olympic rowing team in Rio will have learnt their craft on the Bann.  But unless you're a member of a rowing club or perhaps a canoeist, the chances are that you won't have spent any time using the river which helped propel them to the top of their sport.

Enter my pal Tony Hodges.  He's the big dog on the right.

Tony's had a long association with the Bann, having set up his business - Tony's Marine Service - in 1990.  He has since established it as Ireland's leading marine engine and boat service specialist.  

Last year Tony launched a new venture, Bann Boat Hire.

And it does exactly what it says on the, er, boats.

Here's a closer look.

Tony kindly invited me to try one out on Saturday morning, following a demonstration from the boat master himself.  

My fellow passengers Jamie, Charlotte and cousin Katie enjoyed it when Skipper Hodges was in command.  He even took this picture.

But the kids were much less enthused when their fate was in my shaking hands, Charlotte in particular.

However, we made it back safely to the marina with Tony's boat still in one piece.

And not only that, I'm even planning to clamber back on board next weekend when I return home for the North West 200.

If you live in Coleraine or are planning a trip to the Causeway Coast this summer, I urge you follow my watery footsteps to the Crannagh Complex and take one of Tony's boats out for a spin.  

A great way to spend to a couple of hours, or longer if you have the time.  

You might even spot a future Olympic rower speeding past.       

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Macosquin rocks as Mary Pat's does it again

Proving once more that hard work and ingenuity make the perfect cocktail, Big Marquee Weekend II was indeed a massive, roaring, joyous success.

The three-day music festival got off to a regal start on Friday evening when Lizzy Todd, the Mayor of Macosquin, performed the official opening duties before inviting Scotland's top DJ, Mallorca Lee, to take to the decks.

It was Madchester night on Saturday with original Stone Roses tribute band Resurrection topping the bill.

And they were terrific.

But for me, returning Oasis dead ringers Roll With It stole the show once again.

They're as good as it gets, and the Big Marquee Weekenders loved every single second of their show.

And on Sunday, Irish country's leading light Lee Matthews and his five-piece band brought a glorious festival to an end with two hours of genius in front of a full house crowd.

Huge congratulations to my oldest friend Drew "Steady" Hutchinson (below), Robert Todd, Lizzy Todd, Hughie Hamiliton, Thomas Kay and everyone else at Mary Pat's for that they achieved.

Even bigger and better next year?   Almost certainly.  And I for one look forward to being there again.

(I hope you like my country music shirt.  Sadly I couldn't fit my cowboy hat into my suitcase).