Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Faustian Pact

About a month ago, Dan Williamson of These Football Times contacted me on Twitter in relation to a piece he was writing on Tino Asprilla's career. I sent him a few points that he incorporated in a long piece about Tino's whole career that you can read here -: https://thesefootballtimes.co/2017/10/23/the-magic-and-the-madness-of-faustino-asprilla/  Meanwhile this got me thinking about Aprilla's time on Tyneside, so I penned this piece which can be found in the latest issue of North Ferriby's excellent fanzine View From The Allotment End -:

The last time I saw Faustino Asprilla was a Tuesday night in summer 2015 at Walker Activity Dome (aka The Lightfoot Centre) in the east of the city. On the adjacent court to our usual weekly game of 5 a side, the first and indeed only Colombian to play for Newcastle United, attired in loose singlet, Hawaiian shorts and yellow flip flops, was giving a masterclass in ball juggling skills, while puffing on endless full fat Marlboros. After a while, he gave the ball back to his fellow players, a collection of young Spanish speakers in an array of South American club and international jerseys, and stood to one side to concentrate on his smokes, shouting occasional instructions and encouragement, lubricating his voice with regular gulps of bottled Quilmes. Anyone else smoking or drinking alcohol pitch side would have been given short shrift by security, but nobody batted an eyelid; that’s Tino for you.

Asprilla is still a tremendously popular player on Tyneside, where the lazy, disingenuous mainstream media claim that he was the player responsible for Keegan’s Entertainers blowing the title gets short shrift. Tino’s time on Tyneside, let’s face it, wasn’t an unqualified success, but neither was it the unmitigated disaster some seek to suggest. His transfer had been forecast as early as September 1995 by gossip in several papers. Obviously I knew of him only from C4 Italian football, where he lit up Parma’s glorious outsider team as an explosive show pony, capable of flashes of astonishing brilliance. He was a Keegan player, if ever there was one. When he finally arrived on a snowy day in February 1996, effectively as a replacement for Scott Sellars, he was superb in rescuing 3 points away to Boro, providing the unexpected as an impact sub.  The sight of his languid and mesmerising footwork, as a prelude to slinging over a perfect cross for Steve Watson to convert the winner is an enduring image. Subsequent stories that he’d not been expected to play and had enjoyed a glass or three of wine with lunch added to the glamour.

Being honest, it didn’t get any better in the other 13 games he played that season, in which he scored a total of 3 goals, though he was integral to a stunning team performance as we battered West Ham at home in March. The games in which he was in involved saw 6 wins, 3 draws and 5 losses; not the form of champions in waiting, but not exactly terrible; although the main memory of him in the pitch was the idiotic head-butt on Keith Curle in a 3-3 at Maine Road in his third game. Somehow he didn’t get banned for that; it may have been better if he had. Perhaps he should have been kept back in the role of impact sub, to come on for Beardsley or Lee when the team were labouring. Tino was too mercurial a talent to be effective from the get go every week. His final goal of the season was the glorious outside of the foot lob in the infamous 4-3 at Anfield; it wasn’t a goal you see every day.

If there was one signing Keegan made in early 96 who did unbalance the team, then step forward David Batty, who was completely the wrong player for us. His instinctive negativity stifled our midfield, as he was so deep lying compared to Lee Clark. His conservative positioning placed too much of a burden on the full backs, who had to push up to link up play and the wingers, who had to drop back and inside as there was effectively a huge hole in midfield between Batty and Lee. Batty played his game and did his job, but it wasn’t the job we needed and we ceded the advantage and territory in away games especially. Keegan’s teams didn’t know the meaning of stifling the opposition and hitting them on the break; it was all out gung-ho warfare or nothing.  Ironically, Batty recovered from this early disappointment to become a far more important, indeed integral, player for NUFC the season after, while Asprilla almost disappeared from view in the league. His memory, with Shearer injured and both Ferdinand and Beardsley sold, is assured by the famous treble against Barcelona and various other European evenings (witness hoisting the corner flag in celebration after scoring against Metz), but almost nothing of note in the domestic game, despite a second successive runners-up spot in 1996/1997. That was the last hurrah of the Entertainers as Dalglish’s starched, prosaic brand of anti-football held ineffective sway.  Asprilla’s departure in January 98 after being hauled off in a dreary 1-0 win at Everton in the third round of the FA Cup, with a final record of 46 league games (14 as sub) and 9 goals, was largely unmourned. In just shy of two years he’d gone from being adored to ignored. It was time to go.

While recognising Tino’s spell on Tyneside was emblematic of the performance of the club as a whole, consisting of failure oscillating between heroic and maddening, the responsibility for the destination of the 1995/1996 title is a complex question, I think the final thing that needs to be recognised is that both Cantona and Schmeichel were absolutely crucial to Man United’s eventual success. The margins were so tight that if the NUFC 0 MUFC 1 result were to have been reversed, NUFC would have been champions. On the night itself Cantona scored the only goal and the Dane was in the form of his life; the two of them were utterly magnificent from then on and were players beyond the quality of any in the NUFC squad. There we have the real reason Keegan’s Entertainers failed to win the title.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Prosaic Inquisition

I'd like to dedicate this week's blog to former Newcastle United programme editor Paul Tully, who passed away recently. Paul was a gentleman; a dedicated, honest, hardworking and meticulous professional, who upheld the highest of standards in the job he loved for the club he loved in the game he loved. RIP Paul.

Twitter has let me down; you see, these days I’m just not getting the entire ITK lowdown on Newcastle United in 140-character bon mots from the internet superfans, such as the South Tyneside Anti Joselu Federation’s chief theoreticians: NE32 Chris, NE33 Kriss and NE34 Kris. Just as I’m about to claim checkmate on their nauseating theory that Shay Given is “a traitor” when Ashley drove him out the club, by quoting the exact passages from Any Given Saturday regarding the finest goalkeeper and finest man to play for us in living memory, I find myself hors de combat. This is probably because either they’ve all blocked me for calling them out on other servings of their dreary, supercilious baloney or I’ve lost patience with the lot of them and muted all those dreadful accounts spewing out pompous, ungrammatical toss.

You’ll recall I made my position clear about Newcastle United after the Nottingham Forest defeat in August; I wasn’t going back while Benitez was in charge and I still haven’t. There’s no realistic prospect of me changing my mind either, as thankfully Ginger Dave’s Sky TV subscription has provided me with direct access to almost all non-Saturday 3pm NUFC games, when my beloved Benfield hold sway. Hence the internet has, by necessity, provided a blurred and cracked lens which allegedly refracts the truth about those games I’ve not seen in full. That said, frankly it’s no great hardship to find that after every NUFC game I now have about 3 hours extra free time that used to be wasted on correcting erroneous piffle from the opposing wings of the lunatic fringe that patrols the cyber high seas, loosing off volleys of intemperate drivel on the slightest pretext and without any real provocation.

The two sides of a counterfeit coin are represented by the Benitez loyalists, who display the kind of fanatical devotion to their lord and master not seen since Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición was in its pomp and their sworn adversaries, the Brexit in the betting shop with bevvy for breakfast merchants, whose loyalty is to Mitrovic alone and who take each defeat with the kind of cheerful magnanimity akin to Macduff’s reaction on learning the fate of his family in Act IV of The Scotch Play.  Perhaps the only thing the two opposing factions have in common is their fanatical hatred of Joselu. Certainly, the equaliser against Liverpool provoked the kind of furious cognitive dissonance not seen since we went in 1-0 up against the Mackems during Gullit’s rainy suicide note. You’d think, with their obsessive interest in Spanish culture, they’d both be able to have a proper discussion about Catalan independence, wouldn’t you? Don’t be daft; this is Newcastle United. We don’t debate; we shout.

The vast chasm between what is demonstrably true, and the two contradictory control dramas of the Newcastle United support ironically shows how fine the margins between success and failure or what is deemed to be acceptable and unacceptable can be. For instance, in the recent series of games between the October and November international breaks, Newcastle United played 4 league games; until the 92nd minute of the Bournemouth contest, it seemed a racing certainty that the results of that latest mini-series would be won 1, drawn 2, lost 1. Considering the opposition involved, that wouldn’t have been a brilliant set of results, but it would have been par for the course the way the season has gone so far. Sadly, Steve Cook’s last gasp winner for the Cherries managed to deflate the mood on Tyneside and, when seen in conjunction with the dreary 1-0 loss to Burnley the Monday before and the prospect a fortnight’s international break to allow discord to foment and ferment, the usual hysterical on-line civil war has broken out between the Cavaliers, who refuse to accept there is anything to worry about while El Jefe has his hand on the tiller and the Hotheads, who have already proclaimed relegation as a certainty.

I’ve not written about Newcastle United since the September international break at the end of the deeply unsatisfactory summer transfer window. In some ways that’s a shame and a missed opportunity on my part, as the positive message that could have been drawn from events in October, especially after solid wins away to Swansea and home to Stoke, the astonishingly mature on-line response to the Brighton defeat and the Leni Riefenstahl-inspired vexillophilic display against Liverpool, has been largely eroded by subsequent events. We’re back to mud-slinging, posturing and coarse invective, played out to a soundtrack of on-field mundanity and boardroom intrigue.

I’ve no idea whether Amanda Staveley is a devotee of Busby Berkley, but the choreographed hero worship for Benitez she was treated to at the Liverpool game would surely have impressed her as an unapologetic free market Tory, vehemently opposed to state intervention and consensus politics and confidante of autocratic Gulf potentates who view democracy with utter contempt. The swivel-eyed loonies in the Mitrovic Adoration Society might still be punting their scarcely credible conspiracy theories that Ashley isn’t actually selling the club, but just toying with the support and consequently tormenting the Geordie Nation still further, but I don’t buy their nonsense for a second. As most of those advancing such balderdash are probably either still bedded down in their Mam’s box room or living in sheltered accommodation with an on-site warden, they’ve no comprehension of the complexity of high finance. It’s more akin to a lengthy series of property purchases than nipping down to Boozebusters to get your white cider prescription filled.

Let’s be clear about this; Ashley wants to sell the club, but on his terms. Therefore, we ought to consider whether a life swap from Vlad the Impaler’s Transylvania to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge may not be that great a choice at the end of the day. Sadly, all hard questions are off the menu at SJP, while the servile, semaphoric Benitez obsessives conveniently look the other way whenever mention is made not only of the identity and motives of any potential new owners, but of the Inland Revenue’s ongoing interest in Newcastle United’s transfer dealings. The Rafaphiles seem to be pinning their hopes on the unfounded myth that the tax man will simply go away when the club is sold, and the Geordie Arab Spring begins. After all, if Freddy Shepherd’s death can see outbreaks of revisionist grief that has him recalibrated as the Che Guevara of Jesmond Park West, then anything is possible. Isn’t it? Well if you’re the type of person who believes the only interest the legal profession may have in Newcastle United will be in representing claim and counter claim in the civil courts by allegedly wronged guardians of Gallowgate and Leazes banners that have supposedly brought the atmosphere back to wor hyem, then good luck to you. At this point I have to say I’ve no particular brief for Alex Hurst and his mate who set up Gallowgate Flags, but they’ve been falsely accused  and maligned by the likes of Gallowgate Shots and their acolytes, who really ought to take a look at the nonsense they were peddling.

However, going back to the Pyongyang May Day celebrations at the Liverpool game, then I’ve got to say that  if you’ve spent the last six months sneering down your nose at the supposed cult of the personality that has grown up around Jeremy Corbyn, while at the same time hoisting banners bearing the image of an unimaginably wealthy financier who is attempting to broker a deal between the hated current owner and the shady petrochemical, backstage oligarchs, then don’t imagine your conscience can be salved by donating a few jars of Dolmio to the NUFC Foodbank every home game. As fans, we must have the right to question, in moderate, articulate language, the selections and tactics of the manager which have been found wanting on many occasions since he took over. Similarly, we must be allowed to question the motives and morality of those who may potentially own the club soon.

In March 1983, Newcastle lost 1-0 away to a Burnley side that ended up in Division 3; it was my only trip to Turf Moor. In March 2016, Steve MacClaren’s final tortuous team loss was the shambolic 3-1 reverse to Bournemouth. Both games ended in storms of profanity directed at players who had seemingly let the club down. Ostensibly, we’ve not made much progress on the pitch since either of these events, though the clear majority of the support seem supinely complaint to the hectoring of Benitez loyalists who do not tolerate dissent. This is a situation that surely invites challenge, especially as the funereal pace of a season that has seen a mere 11 games played in 81 days picks up considerably, with the next 11 games before the FA Cup third round played in 48 days. Of those 11 games, defeats are inevitable against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, leading to pressure to achieve results away to West Brom, West Ham and Stoke and an unquestioning need to win home contests against Watford, Leicester, Everton and Brighton. Were such results achieved, harvesting 15 points, Newcastle would have 29 points after 22 games and safety would be in sight.

If Benitez, whose preference for prosody over poetry is ingrained in his footballing DNA, is unable to produce such a modest, yet attainable, target, it may well be the case that El Jefe and not Mike Ashley is the main impediment to moving the club forward. Indeed, who is to say that any takeover consortia would be happy to sink the thick end of half a billion into a team playing sterile, one-dimensional, stolid, monochrome football?

Monday, 30 October 2017


With gigs on the horizon by Wire (3rd November) at the Riverside, Penetration (4th November) at The Cluny, The Flatmates (17th November) at The Bridge Hotel, Euros Childs (25th November) at the Mining Institute and Vic Godard with The Band of Holy Joy (8th December) at The Cumberland Arms on the horizon, I thought it appropriate to have a quick cultural snapshot of recent activities before returning for an end of year summary. This is especially important as I’ve recently become the proud owner of a pair of releases that will give Alex Rex’s Vermillion a run for its money in the Album of the Year stakes, as well as a 12” inch single I’m delighted to own.


I had feared that the greatest tragedy in contemporary music is that a person could only experience Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the flesh for the first time once. How could the second exposure to the all-out aural assault by the Quebecois post-rock nonet possibly have the same impact as the initial encounter? Thankfully, the answer, most definitely, is that it can. Two years and one day since GY!BE played the Sage in October 2015 following the release of Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, they returned to Tyneside, this time to The Boiler Shop behind the Central Station, with Luciferian Towers on the agenda.

Unlike the last 2 albums, Luciferian Towers is without the contemplative drone tracks that allow listeners to draw breath and take stock of the punishing sonic vortex into which they’ve been cast. Instead, the four tracks or two movements that hard core fans had taken to calling Buildings and Trains remain at full-throttle intensity from start to finish; however, the endless coruscating crescendos, swoops and explosions are as uplifting and harmonic as anything they’ve ever done. Undoing A Luciferian Tower is almost chart single material at a mere 7 and a half minutes of joyful intensity, while the sheer majestic, brutal power of Bosses Hang is as emphatic and uplifting piece as they’ve ever done in their career and the equal of Mladic, which I’d long held to be their unsurpassable meisterwerk. The pastoral, almost symphonic, Fam Famine is lightly coaxed along by violin and cello interplay, while disturbing prepared guitar and intense percussion hint at a dystopian underbelly to the surface fragility. The deceptively simple minor key guitar patterns of Anthem for No State give way to a hulking, brutal sonic sermon and statement of war against the evils of this world. Breath-taking in scope and execution, Luciferian Towers continues to highlight a band that operate far beyond the realms of mere mortals; to quote Vic Godard they make guitars talk information.

Live, the experience is immersive and intoxicating; the audience literally drowns in sound. It’s not Whitehouse level of volume or even Children of God era Swans bleakness. This is something altogether more beautiful and affecting, with the calming Hope Drone as an opener, the 9 of them hit their stride and take control; this is a telepathic performance. It is the art of noise. An instrumental cri de Coeur. Taken as a whole, Luciferian Towers reaches stratospheric levels of import to the accompaniment of grainy images of abandoned buildings that give way to desolate shots of vast empty plains of telegraph poles, snow and mountains. The Canadian Tourist Board would probably not choose GY!BE to produce their publicity material.

At the end of Luciferian Towers, we’re an hour in and the pressure relents slightly, so I grab a piss and a pint (£4.90 for Wylam!!!) as the set takes an earlier turn with Moya and then BBFIII; 1 hour and 50 minutes for 7 (for want of a better word) “songs” of the very highest quality in what appears to be one of the best big venues in the area. Two bars, pricey but with a good selection and decent quality ales, big and easily accessible bogs, with a minimal, low key security presence. It is as far from the fetid swamp of the Riverside as one could imagine. I intend to return, and I can only hope that I live long enough to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor many more times.

Over the past 35 years, I’ve had only a vague knowledge of the activities of gifted Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Michael Head. I recall seeing The Pale Fountains on either The Tube or The Whistle Test, I forget which, in around 1982, but nothing of the music other than the fact is was pleasant, summery indie pop. Shack passed me by entirely, as have Michael’s more recent adventures, though I knew from Twitter he had a small, fiercely loyal and intensely protective fan base. The Head narrative in the MSM appears to be a predictably voyeuristic tale of skag and bevvy robbing a genius of his talents, though in every interview I’ve read Michael appears utterly without ego or self-pity. I’ve taken as my text the overwhelming adulation of his followers on Twitter and acceded to peer group pressure to buy a copy of newly released Adios Senor Pussycat. I’m so glad I did.

Adios Senor Pussycat is a majestic, melancholy masterpiece. Thirteen succulent slices of the choicest Byrds and Love suffused beauty pop. There is a wistful 60s feel that overarches the whole project, combining perfect, understated instrumentation, beguiling half familiar melodies and back of the mix vocals that tell stories of far greater import than such uplifting, happy music ought to import. Immediate stand outs include Overjoyed, Queen of All Saints, Josephine and Adios Amigo, but after owning it for just over 48 hours and having played it 6 times straight through in total so far, it seems clear that a real sense of love and protection is being engendered by this record. I’m even thinking of the logistics involved in heading to Liverpool on 16th December to see Michael Head in the flesh, but if that proves impossible there’s another 7” available from his website.  

The other record I’ve got my mitts on is The Mekons 12 incher Still Waiting, performed by the original 1977 line-up and the 2017 line up appearing to pay homage to the 1987 line-up on How Many Stars Are Out Tonight? If there was one festival I wish I’d been able to attend in the summer just finished, it was Mekonville, though sadly the timing of the last weekend in July, starting the day of Ben’s graduation, made it simply impossible to get somewhere near Stowmarket in time. Thankfully, this is the next best thing; a joyfully tuneless stumble through their rediscovered DIY aesthetic on the A side and an affecting recreation of the early years of their Nashville inspired Americana period. Also, the labels are very humorous parodies of the old Fast Product and Sin Records logos. Very pleased to have picked this up.


I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered my recent bibliophobia, but at least I’ve read a couple of tomes since we were last here. Roddy Doyle is one of those writers, like David Peace, James Ellroy or Irvine Welsh, that I instinctively react to when a new title is published. In this instance, it’s Smile that grabbed my attention. There are many of the usual Doyle elements here; a recognisable North Dublin setting that had me visualising Killester DART station and Harry Byrne’s pub from the opening page. Smile is narrated by fifty-something recently divorced failure Victor Forde in his local, where he is accosted interrupted by Fitzpatrick, an old friend that Victor doesn’t remember. Fitzpatrick cajoles memories of their shared youth at a Christian Brothers school. “What was the name of the Brother that used to fancy you?” he asks, and his apparently innocuous question leaves Victor immediately hostile. “I wanted to hit him,” he tells us. “I wanted to kill him … I hated this man, whoever he was.”

Victor finds the pub to be a place of safety; he goes there evening after evening and slowly ingratiates himself with the other regulars. His loneliness is profound, but the drink loosens him up enough to consider the things that he has lost: his ex-wife, Rachel, who has become a media celebrity through her television show, and his own music journalism career, which began with great promise but somehow never took off and has now finally ground to a halt, but it is a broken, troubled childhood whose traumas have been buried deep within Victor’s psyche for decades where the story lies. The reason for the novel’s title is revealed early on. Brother Murphy, a small but violent teacher, had always left Victor alone, his explanation coming in eight words that would define the boy’s schooldays and make him the object of scorn among his peers: “Victor Forde, I can never resist your smile.”

Throughout, there’s a sense that Victor is going through a breakdown, taking responsibility for his actions while finally allowing himself to explore the ordeals of his youth. All of this is done in the pub, but there is none of the hilarity of the two grumpy old bollixes from Two Pints here; Victor and Fitzpatrick are combatants from the start and the atmosphere of tension that lingers over their conversations is palpable. There is a brave and complex ending to the novel, one that will leave readers astonished. The devastating and comfortless finale, in which Doyle conjures up a mind-bending narrative swerve, jolts the novel out of everyday realism. A sad and impressive novel that gives us little to smile about.

Meanwhile, The Wedding Present fan project I sent my recollections to last year, has finally surfaced in a whopping 450-page, full colour hardback book. With an introduction and commentary from David Gedge, Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have to Be Said is a collection of over 400 fan memories interspersed with contributions and insights from fellow founder members Peter Solowka and Shaun Charman. The book contains stories from a host of collaborators from throughout the band’s career, including former band members and producers, including Chris Allison, Steve Albini and Grammy Award winning Andrew Scheps.

From David Gedge’s school days through to concerts in 2016, the book is packed with full colour images including many from David Gedge’s personal archive.  It contains stories from a host of celebrity fans including Gaz Coombes, Mark Burgess, Martin Noble, Emma Pollock, John Robb, William Potter, Rolo McGinty and many bands who have performed at David’s annual At the Edge of The Sea festival. Other celebrities who have contributed to the book include Hot Fuzz actor Nick Frost, Game of Thrones actor Ben Crompton, broadcasters Marc Riley, Shaun Keaveny, Andy Kershaw, Andrew Collins and Robin Ince, journalists Mark Beaumont and Ian Gittins and celebrated writers Ian Rankin, Mike Gayle and Peter Bowker.

While it’s nice to read the thoughts of celebrities, the ordinary tales from ordinary fans work best; from daft, drunken teenage pranks in the late 80s, to middle aged American fly drive holidays, everything is there. There’s laughter and tears; some fans died, and others lost their way in life. This book gives an insight into what it’s like to attract, or become one of, a loyal band of passionate fans who have followed the group since the beginning. Many have fallen in love with, and to, the band’s music. As one fan describes it, ‘they have been the sound-track to my life,’ which is as good a quote about the band as I could imagine, though I’ll leave you with the august John Peel’s words, 13 years after his death; ‘the boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the Rock ’n’ Roll era. You may dispute this but I’m right and you’re wrong.’ RIP Peely. All power to Gedgey.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Germany Calling

Stand #23 is out this week; you should buy, not just because I've got this piece in it -:

The first non-musical fanzine I ever came across was back in early 1979, when I bought a copy of the literary periodical Stand from a Bohemian hawker in the foyer of the People’s Theatre in Newcastle, before a production of Brecht’s parable about Nazism, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Stand was founded by the renowned post-war poet and literary critic Jon Silkin in Hampstead in 1962 and he continued to edit it following his move to Tyneside in 1965, until his death in 1997, when the magazine ceased publication. As a teenage pseudo intellectual, I read voraciously and wrote screeds of angst-suffused doggerel, which I sent to magazines in the hope of publication, but without much success. Silkin was unfailingly supportive, offering constructive criticism with every rejection slip. I still have many back issues of Stand in my attic; dog eared, dusty and well-thumbed. Less acceptably, I also still hide behind the pretence of being a literary artiste.

Hence I found myself declaiming a slack handful of my dollops of avant garde bilge to a less than enamoured audience in a South Shields pub at a charity poetry slam on Thursday 14th September. That establishment’s attitude to the participants’ interpretation of the Polyhymnian Muse could be discerned by the fact the pair of 60 inch televisions at either end of the lounge still showed that evening’s Europa League games, though the sound had at least been muted. Taking the stage after Everton’s pitiful thrashing by Atalanta, I ran through my brief set to scornful indifference and retook my seat to a vague smattering of contemptuous applause after my closing tribute to Jeffrey Dahmer; Love Song for a Teenage Boy. Time to dip out the lounge and back in the bar; put my nose in a pint glass and eyes on the screen, not on the punters, lest I be asked to debate my work ootside noo in the car park.

Instead of seeing the Arsenal v Cologne game in all its glory, the telly instead showed pictures of grave faced pundits, opining sombre, shallow notes of disdain and alarm at the presence of 20,000 plus ticketless and exuberant away supporters, who were causing absolutely no bother other than existing, though their presence had caused a delayed kick off. Eventually the game started; Cologne scored a wonder goal before Arsenal hauled them back and everything passed off reasonably peaceably with less than half a dozen arrests and ejections. The game itself won’t live long in the memory, though the impact of the arrival of such a huge, yet peaceable away following, even if Leeds would take more to Newport on a Tuesday night for the Checkatrade Trophy, must stay forever in our collective, footballing consciousness. It felt like something approaching an epochal event.

Responses to the Cologne throng have been fairly evenly split between journalistic comments (almost uniformly negative) and social media users (overwhelmingly in favour); though with more heat than light generated by both sides of the ideological divide. Your average sports journo, whether print or broadcast, notionally tabloid or quality, has sought to knit brows and affect the kind of concerned expression those 1970s television sitcom head masters used to adopt when chastising irreverent scamps for putting a ball through the art room window at break time, before resuscitating the fanciful, doomsday scenario canard about “just what might have happened.” Apparently these Cologne fans could have been the elite Praetorian Guard of Daesh and the DPRK military elite, with mid-range thermonuclear missiles (no doubt stamped Made in Pyongyang like a stick of intercontinental ballistic seaside rock) secreted about their person. Errant nonsense like this should not concern us, as all it shows is that regardless of the lip service paid to the likes of the FSA’s Twenty’s Plenty campaign, the elite owners of the people’s game and their besuited talking head functionaries regard all away fans as an evil of questionable necessity. A boat load of foreign followers over here on the gargle and sitting in the home end, regardless of the jolly intentions of this Cologne crew and the somnolent nature of Arsenal’s support, except when making sweary, tearful posts on You Tube, causes the powers that be to feel concerned, even if that simply shows their ignorance of Bundesliga culture.

If the authorities came over all repressive, then the response from fans, individually and severally, was downright bizarre. The bemusing, accidentally amusing Dadsual social media sub stratum came over all Haight Astbury following this night of the long queues. After nigh on a decade pretending to have been wearing designer labels, staring moodily through the doors of backstreet boozers and throwing plastic garden furniture across Medieval European piazzas since the early 80s, it seems as if they are prepared to trade in their chunky Italian knitwear for rough-hewn Latin American ponchos and their Norman Walsh trabs for open toed sandals. Events on Drayton Park Road are being seen as the dawning of the new age of football Aquarius.

Why, they demand, should football fans be segregated? Why should we on the terraces and in the stands have to endure the most repressive, restrictive set of laws governing any mass sporting gathering under British law? Good questions and ones that have bothered and infuriated me for decades now. Since I choose to watch most of my football at Step 5 with my beloved Benfield in Northern League Division 1, I tend not to have to suffer the indignities visited upon even home supporters in the Premier League or other levels of the professional game; banned from drinking alcohol, given no choice whether to sit or stand, implying their consent to be filmed by authorities for no good reason other than social control and liable to expulsion from the ground or prosecution in the courts on the flimsiest of pretexts. Realistically, there is no other way to describe the situation regarding the legislation surrounding football in this country than as akin to the working of a police state. And yet…

And yet, before we begin to demand a scaling back, if not the total dismantling of all unnecessary and restrictive laws against football fans, is it not time to check we’ve got our own house in order first? While I fully accept the veracity of the fact that if we treat ordinary, decent human beings like children or criminals, they will in time begin to behave accordingly, there have been instances this season of football fans really letting the side down. On Saturday 19th August, Leicester City played host to Brighton in the Seagulls’ first away game in the top flight for 34 years; depressingly there were a few boneheads in the home end who found it acceptable to indulge in lame and offensive homophobic chanting. Three of them have been issued with stadium bans and two of them now have criminal convictions for this; not a huge number in relation to the total crowd, but bad enough to trigger a consciousness-raising debate among those fans who don’t, as yet, accept homophobia, like racism, misogyny, Islamophobia and all other manifestations of prejudice and discrimination, is both illegal and a disgraceful stain on our game.

Or what of events at Parkhead two nights before the Arsenal v Cologne game?  In the east end of Glasgow, one stupid, no doubt plastered, idiotic individual reacted to The Bhoys losing 5-0 to Paris St Germain by running on the pitch and proving he lacked the finesse of a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest when he attempting to land one on Kylian Mbappe and missed. UEFA acted swiftly to charge and subsequently fine Celtic, rightly in this instance, after several previous charges had been served on the club for the conduct of their famous Green Brigade, who regularly display political flags and engage in chanting of an avowedly political nature.

Personally, as I believe Celtic fans to be resolutely and uniformly anti-discriminatory in their attitudes, I find UEFA’s treatment of them to be appalling; to try and equate the Green Brigade’s conduct with the seething hatred of Linfield for instance, shows an utter lack of comprehension of how prejudice and discrimination operates. Suffice to say those claiming that “they’re all as bad as each other” are often the same sorts who lack understanding why campaigns by the likes of the admirable Football v Homophobia aren’t actually “discriminating against straight people,” as I’ve heard a depressingly large number of times.

If, as fans, we can keep off the pitch, while displaying a level of wit and emotional intelligence when it comes to what we chant or display on banners, then perhaps we can think about campaigning for the ending of bubble matches, changed kick-offs, political policing and heavy handed stewarding. Then again, I wonder if what goes on at the City Ground in Nottingham is somehow symbolic of the problems of our society as a whole; the viral grainy camera phone images of Forest fans rucking with each other in a mano a mano tops off bare knuckle brawl over who got the last pie at half time leaves me speechless. Equally, the sight of a Wolves fan being removed from the away end, while subjected to the kind of heavy handed restraint not seen since Dr Hannibal Lector was given his final day in court, is simply appalling. However, the on-going debate about who started this fracas, whether it was an OTT steward or an out of order Wolves fan, seems to have missed the point about stewarding. Namely, football fans should not be forced to endure Camp X-Ray style waterboarding for using curse words.

It would, I suggest, be a fine state of affairs if we could all avoid the language of the snooker hall and treat each other with respect and consideration. And that’s before we’ve even discussed the craven idiocy of songs about Romelu Lukaku’s penis or the sordid conduct of Mark Sampson.  But, hey, what do I know? I’m just a beatnik poet with hippy sensibilities, trying to spread peace and love in the grassroots game.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Me too...

Despite, or possibly because of all the terrible things I’ve read about, witnessed with my own eyes and experienced in the world during my 53 years on this planet, I remain an unreconstructed soppy sentimentalist at heart. Happy endings, especially Shakespearean comedies, make me cry. Back in my youth when sat in night clubs, alone and ignored at tables cluttered with empty glasses as the evening drew close to the denouement, I’d feel a sense of affectionate euphoria when I saw those neophytic couples acting on their own bestial instincts in the hope of a measure of pleasure or a handful of happiness.

Houses for sale can oft produce a lump in my throat; suburban semis in need of full utilisation, grown too large for purpose as the teenagers and twenty-somethings brought up there move away to University or for work, love and adventure, as proud parents age and begin to rediscover each other’s personalities. Most of all, when I see large, friendly, elderly dogs, tired and breathless, being taken on slow walks by their middle-aged owners, my eyes smart with tears at the knowledge of a life well lived. Labradors and spaniels that have been adored since they were puppies, providing a central, focal point for families as the children they were bought to amuse grow, then move on to take their places in the world; buy their own houses, start their own families and bring home new tiny puppies, still clumsy on their oversized paws, for their children to cherish and confide in. The quiet beauty integral to the circle of life.

Nothing brings me more joy than such irrefutable evidence of stable, secure family living; homes full of the joyful laughter and healthy tears of growth and nurture. Parents who care and children who feel the protection and love provided by their own home are the best of all people, but for decades I never understood what their experiences were. I felt fearful and challenged by the safety, order and calm of the world they inhabited as I knew nothing of it. My childhood was a living nightmare; dragged up in an abusive hell with a violent, weak bully for a father who used me as a human punch bag, on which to work out all his frustrations and a vain, selfish, evil manipulative mother who abused me sexually and emotionally, instilling deep within my soul a lifelong sense of worthlessness. I never felt loved or love, only contempt. I had no support, only scorn and judgement. I was not nurtured, but brutalised.  Many would say I should learn to forgive them as they are dead and seek to focus on the good memories I have of my parents. However, I have none.

I will admit that my father was an excellent grandad and that, for around 4 years after my father’s death, I had an enjoyable relationship with my mother, as the dynamics had changed and she grew reliant on me, though as her dementia worsened after my sister engineered a return to the family circle she had voluntarily and unilaterally placed herself outside of, my mother’s behaviour resorted to type; barbed, narcissistic, egotistical and judgemental. On balance, I am unable to absolve my parents of their central roles in destroying my capacity for love and the profoundly negative effect their actions have had on my mental health for most of my adult life, because they were fully aware of the inevitable impact of their behaviour and made a conscious decision to place their needs above those of their children. As I have said many times before, I do not have a single happy memory of my first 14 years on this earth; I can only recollect intense physical pain from repeated assaults, guilt from endless character assassinations, emptiness and longing from those pitiful times I misguidedly sought support or guidance but received wrath and bile in return. The fuck you up your mam and dad, they may not mean to but they do was Larkin’s take on family life and, in my case, it was the truth. Though there is no doubt they meant what they did; no question at all. I never knew how to love or be loved until I was in my 40s. When married, I couldn’t successfully operate in a normal family unit and to this day I struggle with unshakeable feelings of profound personal inadequacy. Suicide, or the wish for death, is never far from the surface; I must fight those urges every day.

And now, my parents are gone. My father died in August 2009, struck down by kidney cancer at the age of 75. My mother followed in September 2017, having been reduced to a denuded chimerical spectre by dementia; shorn of language, motor skills and any shred of dignity. Some would say it was a fitting reward for all she had done to me. They may have damaged me almost beyond the point of repair, but I take solace from the fact I have survived to make a success of my life; my son, my partner, my career, my hobbies and interests are all sources of immense pleasure and satisfaction for me. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my sister, who is an evil, callous, vindictive monster, utterly without emotional intelligence or compassion. She is, by any measure of psychological imbalance one wishes to use, a vain and paranoid sociopath. And a failure.

Her autobiography consists of a lengthy sequence of misbegotten ventures, both personal and professional, for which she is unable to accept responsibility, preferring to blame me for the tatty wreckage of her past and present. Her personal life saw her embark upon her first serious relationship with a violent manipulative abuser 6 years older than her while she was still at school. At the time my father was suffering a bout of ill-health and so my mother, with scant regard for my sister’s emotional wellbeing, tolerated this relationship and hid its true nature, as she tactically viewed it to be the best scenario for her personal circumstances. I think this disastrous, abusive period in her life is the key motivation for all of the subsequent mistakes my sister has made in her personal life, not to mention the hysteria induced back pain she began to suffer at this time and which she has subsequently used as an excuse never to help with any physical work, lying through her teeth that the farcical mumbo jumbo known as The Alexander Technique precluded her from lifting anything. My mother’s conduct at that time was deplorable, but my sister’s subsequent lack of insight into her own behaviour shows the utter lack of compassion within her soul. Incapable of love, she revels in hatred.

The next inappropriate conquest my sister embarked upon was the failed, slow motion deflowering of a timid, homosexual public schoolboy, before she entered into a lengthy relationship with another woman (shy, vulnerable, inadequate) that began in her second year at university. This relationship lasted until the year after her graduation when, having verbally agreed to move from London to the north east in an attempt to start a new life together, she reneged on this commitment in the bogs of a backstreet Brighton pub. Soon after, she met the man who would eventually become her first husband, though his unwillingness to be manipulated by her caused difficulties and they regularly split up. However, perhaps evoking the spirit of Jane Eyre, his involvement in a hit and run accident as an innocent victim, not to mention the sizeable compo payment he received, enabled her to exploit how incapacitated he was and she inveigled him into marriage in 2001; the lavish ceremony entirely at my parents’ expense. Of course it didn’t last as, once he recovered his independence and spirit, he refused to live out his life in a farcical cross between Misery and 84 Charing Cross Road. Unsurprisingly, she quickly found another shill; a weak, worthless, four-eyed non-entity who would have failed a personality test if asked to take one. She moved to Cambridge to be with him, before insisting he retrained as a social worker, to optimise his earning potential, as a prelude to dragging him to live in Newcastle in 2009, where he had the misfortune of becoming her second husband. Rather like her opulent first wedding, this apparently more modest affair (I wasn’t invited) was paid for by my mother. By 2013 this marriage was over and he was shacked up with some podgy young thing, leaving my sister crying bitter tears of recrimination by the coast, before she eventually dovetailed with her current boring lanky, balding loser of a significant other. I’ve no idea whether they’re married yet. I’ve only met him once; the last time I saw my mother he was there and he attempted to swagger out of the room and barge my shoulder. It was perhaps the most risible attempt at acting the chap I’ve ever seen.

If you think her personal life is a fiasco, wait until you hear about my sister’s professional one. Having started writing poetry around the age of 16, influenced by her obsession with Morrissey, she had a short collection of juvenile verse published and began to harbour aspirations of being a writer and music journalist.  Consequently, she took a job as a cub reporter in her gap year at The Chronicle, and though she neglected to lift a pen in creative anger while a student, she landed a plum sinecure after graduation at Rock CD magazine, before taking a dream promotion to be News Editor at Select.  Unfortunately, and I am unable to blame her for this, the vicious, backbiting world of print journalism was not for her and she quit after suffering a period of depression. Following this, she began a career as an antiquarian bookseller in Soho, before an ill-starred and poorly financed venture into sole trading via the internet. It didn’t work out and, having had her debts wiped by my parents, she took a post as a Local Authority Recycling Officer, where she remained even after moving to Cambridge, before resigning to move back to Newcastle in 2009. Since which point, she has failed to hold down any proper job, other than a deeply unsuccessful period with the bereavement support charity CRUSE, which it would be best to draw a veil across. In her defence, it was her misfortune to head north after the financial crash and just in time for austerity, when jobs in touchy feely art administration, which she no doubt assumed would be hers for the choosing, dried up or required a far more compelling CV than she could compile.

My belief is that the frustrations stirred up by her failure to secure a sniff of any rewarding work and frustrations at being just another middle aged fish in a huge regional pond, rather than the meteoric media success story she had been at the end of the 1980s, have resulted in her being eaten up by furious but misplaced jealousy and impotent, boiling rage. She has clearly and repeatedly blamed me for the failures in her life for more than a decade now, utterly without foundation. The fact I am so widely published, in journalistic as well as creative circles, not to mention the periodicals I continue to edit, destroys her inside.  My success ruins her. She is eaten up by it. Indeed, it is my contention that her main focus in life is on destroying me, by making endless spurious accusations and attacks on me; a campaign which she is able to wage with the support of Northumbria Police as I’ll explain in due course.

Her initial, unilateral decision to fall out with me happened in July 2007, ironically on the day I successfully gave up smoking. It was the time of my son’s 12th birthday party and a few days previous, when my sister was still in Cambridge, I’d had a row with my mother who, on the birthday itself, had decided to bring out a school photo of me from 1978 that I hated the sight of. Typical of my mother, she thought little and cared less about the impact of her actions. Words were exchanged at high volume. It wasn’t a good time. Since then my sister, despite not being present, has made repeated false allegations that I grabbed my mother around the throat. That’s bollocks as I’ve never been violent in my life. However this “incident” spurred her to break off all contact with me, other than by sending a regular flow of abusive poison pen letters. At the time I tried to understand her problems as I realised her life wasn’t working out and magnanimously forgave her, but any sympathy I had for her ended with her conduct following  my maternal aunt’s death in September 2008.

Being frank, my aunt was a thoroughly irascible, disputatious, bitter old crone; a childless widow without a good word to say for anyone. Living in an exclusive estate, though in a dilapidated bungalow, my aunt made ends meet by constantly borrowing various sums of money from my parents, but never showed any gratitude or made any attempt to settle her debts. My father kept a tally and the sum outstanding exceeded more than £5k at the time of her death. The provisions of my aunt’s will were such that she left 50% of her estate to her late husband’s nephew and 50% to my sister. For whatever reason, my sister pocketed the entire amount she inherited and did not seek to pay back the money my parents had loaned my aunt, or to make any gesture to compensate my mother for being callously left out of her sister’s will. This, to me, is the single most indefensible and evil act of my sister’s life, eclipsing even the terrible wrongs she has done me, my partner and my son. I think now is the time when we need to go back to the very start.

My sister is 5 and a bit years younger than me. As a small child through to her mid-teenage years, when I left the family home forever, she was a timid, conformist Daddy’s girl, who sought and received both praise and acceptance in equal measures in whatever realm or circumstance she found herself. Presumably this is why she willingly sexually assaulted me at my mother’s prompting in May 1981. Seemingly without imagination or any desire to assert her own personality, my sister was a model though stolid student and dutiful daughter.  Her conduct and childhood experiences were the polar opposites of mine; my father showered her with affection and never placed a finger on her, while her utter lack of an independent spirit allowed her to be moulded into the kind of child my mother could be proud of. Whenever conflict arose between my parents and me, she loyally took their side, though this did materially benefit her as she grew older.

As an undergraduate, I never received a penny towards my living costs from my parents. I cashed in my Premium Bonds and utilised a maturing £200 life insurance policy my maternal grandparents established on my birth in an attempt to survive, but in my final year I needed to work full time in a bar to pay the rent. I tried my best to keep up with university work, but the first class honours I’d set my heart on disappeared from view, and as a consequence so did my hopes of a funded PhD. Reassessing my ambitions, I embarked on a PGCE, where I was delighted to unexpectedly benefit from financial contributions from my parents, who had themselves benefitted from my maternal grandmother’s will after her passing in March 1987. This was the only time I ever received financial gifts while my father was alive. Having bought my first flat aged 24 in 1989, I borrowed a grand for the purposes of refurbishment from them and repaid it less than a year later after scrimping to save £100 a month. When my son was born, with my ex-wife on minimal maternity pay, we begged to borrow £2,000 from my parents, which we returned to them in full within 2 years, though I will concede my father bought his grandson’s season ticket for SJP every year.

In contrast, my sister had her debts paid off at the end of each academic year, without question, as well as receiving regular cheques through the post, though this did not enable her to progress beyond the mediocre in her academic career. Perhaps such fiscal indulgence prevented her from learning how to budget effectively, but until my father’s death, at which time she was 39 years of age, she was repeatedly and indulgently bailed out and showered with gifts of cash, though she never displayed any sense of guilt or gratitude, only arrogant entitlement. Not once in her life did she offer my parents a penny piece. In her eyes, she’d done what her parents wanted and demanded payment in return; any suggestion that this may be denied her provoked, and continues to provoke, a vindictive rage that would not be out of place in Greek tragedy.

The last time my sister spoke to me wasn’t our father’s funeral in August 2009, but any contact I’ve had subsequent to that has been minimal and fraught with difficulty to say the least. When the sap who was her second husband moved up north, they initially rented a property in the Tyne Valley, before utilising my sister’s unearned and immoral windfall from my aunt to buy a house in Whitley Bay in 2010, where she still lives I believe, not that I’ve ever been inside. From 2009 to 2012, the two of us, with the help of my partner, took turns to care for my mother. To avoid any unpleasantness, my sister was always given first choice for visiting timesand what have you. After almost 3 years of walking on eggshells, the 2012 Olympics provided my sister with a spurious excuse for a flounce. On the day the Olympic Flag passed through Gateshead, the route included going past the end of my parents’ street. It was a normal work day so my sister was on duty, having little else to occupy her time. Having wheeled my mother in her chair to see the parade, she took exception to my mother saying “I wish your dad had been here” as the procession passed by.

Any normal, rational human being would have understood that this was a widow expressing regret that her life partner wasn’t around to share in this auspicious moment. My sister isn’t a rational human being though. Instead she reacted with fury, seeing a slight where none had been intended, and broke off all contact with my mother for a couple of months, only calming down by early November. On this occasion, my sister managed to keep her temper for about a month until they went to The Sage for a Northern Sinfonia Sunday afternoon carol concert. At my sister’s insistence and my mother’s expense, they went for lunch in the Tyneside Cinema tea-rooms, which in their original incarnation had been her hang out of choice in sixth form. However, it didn’t go to plan; my mother was becoming slower and more doddery, meaning it took her an age to eat lunch and, because my sister refused to stump up for a taxi, the journey on foot down Grey Street, along the Quayside, across the Swing Bridge and up the stairs to The Sage took it out of my mother whose mobility was by now severely restricted. Consequently, they were late for the start and at the interval my mother, fatigued and disorientated, vomited her lunch back up. The fact my mother had apparently disrespected the catering of the wonderful Tyneside Cinema tea-rooms in such a manner was enough for my sister to withdraw from my mother for almost 2 years, other than her favoured tactic of a series of poison pen letters directed each month in my mother’s direction. My mother attempted to apologise, but this cut no ice; my sister had decreed she had behaved unacceptably. Seriously, throwing up an overly spiced potato rosti caused my sister to turn her back on my mother for almost two years; to the extent she never set foot in the family home ever again. I’m not making this up you know.

As 2013 dawned, with all care responsibilities resting on my shoulders, with the assistance of my partner, we did our best and my mother was thankful. I’ll not lie; it was very hard and I was thankful when in March 2013, she pointed out an advert in The Sunday Sun for retirement apartments in Monkseaton. The house was too big for her and she felt increasingly isolated. As a result we embarked upon a programme of moving her to the Coast. I have never worked so hard in my life during the period leading up to the moment my mother took up residence in August that year. I’d spent every single day of my summer holidays emptying the house of what was extraneous to requirements. As my father never threw anything away, this was an enormous task for someone who didn’t drive and lived 15 miles away, or a lengthy metro and equally tedious bus journey away. I didn’t mind. Despite the garage being an Aladdin’s Cave of otiose detritus, I felt a sense of both affection and responsibility for my mother and she showed gratitude. Not once in this whole time did my sister show any inclination to visit the house to help or even to take any keepsakes she wanted, which has directly led to her unshakeable and erroneous belief that I either threw out or took for myself the collection of photo albums my parents had compiled over the years. I didn’t. Why would I?

As a result of my sister’s antagonistic conduct, it was my mother’s decision at this point, bearing in my mind that my sister had inherited everything from my aunt and withdrawn from all contact with my mother, other than her regular abusive letters, to change the terms of her will, from an equal split for us both, to leaving the apartment for me, on the basis that I’d done so much to help my mother and was more likely to reach the age of being eligible to live there than my sister. I did not ask her to do this and, with witnesses, regularly asked her if she was sure that’s what she wanted, which she assured everyone she did. Also, I insisted that my mother still split the money equally between my sister and my son. With those conditions met, a solicitor who judged my mother to be of sound mind drew up a draft will that my mother fully intended to sign; if it had ever arrived that is. For some reason, we never received it and it somehow ended up in my sister’s possession.

Sadly, moving house probably accelerated my mother’s decline. By early 2014, it was clear she was unable to cope with the new electrical appliances or the lay out of the flat and was struggling. An appointment with her new GP resulted in a diagnosis of a severe bladder infection, which was causing a state of confusion bordering on delirium. Several courses of antibiotics were required before my mother was seemingly cured. It was tough, having to visit her every single day, do all her shopping, organise all utilities and so on, but we were coping, just.

All of a sudden, for whatever reason, my sister reappeared on the scene. After over 18 months away, over a year after my mother moved into her apartment, my sister was back, needless to say without any apology for her conduct. Initially it was helpful that she was involved, but things soon escalated as she sought, as ever, to pursue her own agenda. Somehow, she’d obtained the draft of the new will and, presumably as it suggested a pecuniary inconvenience for her, all hell broke loose. In the autumn of 2014, she got social services involved, suggesting my partner and I were abusing my mother; of course social services incontinently dismissed her allegations of impropriety out of hand. However the elephant in the room had to be addressed; my mother’s repeated wanderings, confusion and inability to look after herself were no longer simply a case of the effects of regular urinary tract infections. Having been hospitalised after a fall, the hammer blow came after a routine blood test showed that there was no infection present. The only possible diagnosis for my mother’s condition was dementia. An extensive care package, with the assistance of social services was put in place to keep my mother in her apartment, but only time would tell if it could be successful. This was not something my sister was happy with, as she began a determined campaign to have my mother institutionalised as quickly as possible.

About 4pm on the Sunday before Christmas in December 2014, convicted paedophile Adam Johnson scored the winner for Sunderland at SJP. At that exact moment, I was privy to the pitiful sight of an aged, distressed woman soiling herself in the main corridor of the Helen McArdle Care Home on Rake Lane, next door to North Tyneside General Hospital. My sister, without consulting me or social services, had booked my mother in for a week at this establishment, where I frankly wouldn’t board my dog, to allow “respite care;” not for my mother, but for her. Helen McArdle didn’t become the Care industry’s first multi-millionaire by displaying compassion; this modern equivalent of the Bethlehem Asylum takes anyone, mendaciously assesses them as lacking capacity on the flimsiest of pretexts, deprives them of their liberty then charges £500 a week minimum for allowing residents the privilege of crying their eyes out while covered in shit.

With the help of the CAB, I managed to get my mother out of there and to stay with us for Christmas, but it was a losing battle to keep her out of permanent residential care. One final 2am trip along the Esplanade at Whitley in the middle of February, attired in only her nighty and slippers, supposedly to get her husband’s tea, was enough for everyone. The young plod who rescued her took her to the hospital, who got the duty social worker involved. A full case conference confirmed the inevitable deprivation of liberty order (DOLT). It was March 9th; my father’s birthday. My mother never went home to her apartment again. A few weeks in hospital were followed by her final move to St. Ann’s Care Home in Cullercoats, where she died on September 2nd 2017, having declined to a state you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. I’d like to say her passing was the end of the story, but it isn’t. In some ways it is only the beginning, as I’ll now explain the scale of both incompetence and corruption by Northumbria Police in this matter, as well as the truly barbarous evil at the heart of my sister’s conduct.

The day after my mother’s DOLT order was confirmed, I received a menacing, intimidating call from a Northumbria Police detective based at Middle Engine Lane. To my immense regret, I didn’t get his name. Never in my life have I been subjected to such snarling threats, all based on my sister’s spurious allegations to the cops. Having been thwarted by the professionalism of social services, immediately after the conclusion of the case conference about my mother, my sister had gone straight to Northumbria Police and accused me, my partner, my son and my ex-wife of stealing money from my mother, as well as fraudulently producing a replacement will. Lies; all lies and she knew that, though it didn’t stop her from spreading these malicious falsehoods among the stupid, cretinous remnants of my father’s family. These tragically limited, mentally ill and mentally deficient morons from Felling, Low Fell, Watford and Vitoria Gasteiz unthinkingly accepted the specious propaganda they were fed and, despite none of them ever having a decent word to say about my mother previously (either because she was bourgeois or apparently complicit in the murder of a family dog in 1971), reinvented themselves as her best pals, even if she didn’t have a clue who they were by this stage.

Thankfully a cursory check by the plod completely exonerated us all, though no apology was ever received, which is par for the course from Northumbria Police I’ve subsequently discovered. Neither were they interested in discussing the bare faced lies my sister had told with her, for no apparently good reason as I can tell. It seems to me Northumbria Police refuse to behave in an even handed manner when dealing with allegations made by my sister; for whatever reason, their default position is that they take her word as the truth and insist those accused disprove her lies. It is an abhorrent, corrupt and sickening course of action. I have regularly sought redress by complaining to the IPC, but have had no satisfaction thus far.

In July 2015, I received another call from the female officer who had interviewed us and investigated the case. Unsurprisingly my sister had made another complaint; this time her wrath had been stirred up because I’d liked a Facebook page about Tynemouth Market Book Fair, which she had some involvement in at the time. I’d done so because my partner’s best friend was running a stall there. However this apparently provocative act resulted in a strongly worded complaint to the filth. You couldn’t make it up. I unliked the page and asked the law to tell my sister to leave us alone, agreeing as an olive branch to only visit my mother 3 Sundays a month, to allow my sister the flexibility to visit on the other one.  It should be pointed out that from the day of the phone call from the testosterone fuelled detective onwards, I was on sick leave until early November 2015, as the stress of the lies being told about me and the emotion of having to deal with my mother’s deterioration caused me to have a nervous breakdown. I honestly came within a few inches of suicide on several occasions, which is what I believe my sister wanted and still wants.

This call from the female officer was not the end alas; I began to receive a series of letters of greater and greater hysteria, demanding I return those photo albums that I did not possess. I replied to the first letter saying this and, after about the fourth one, I got the peelers involved and they went round to have a word. Silence after that, but as my mother’s condition deteriorated ever more rapidly, the inevitability of death and the attendant funeral difficulties loomed on the horizon.

As a Golden Wedding gift to each other, my parents had purchased Co-Op Funeral Plans. It’s what that generation did. When my father died, despite an unnecessary delay before the funeral, no doubt engineered by my sister to discomfit as many people as possible, everything went smoothly. We had the service in St. Whatever’s, the burial in the graveyard next door, then sandwiches and pints in Blaydon Rugby Club. It wasn’t a good do, but it was the best anyone could have hoped for. My mother had always said that is what she wanted, the same as her husband, to the extent of leaving a bequest for £1,000 in her will for the church. Somewhat typically, my sister’s intervention immediately after my mother’s death resulted in the utter disregard of my mother’s wishes.

Because my mother had been subject to a DOLT order, the Court of Protection was in sole charge of her affairs and they don’t work weekends. Hence, her death on the Saturday meant nothing could be done for 48 hours, other than removing her body to Co-Op funeral care in North Shields after the doctor had issued a death certificate. As an aside, a few days later I visited my mother’s room at St. Ann’s for the last time to remove the few personal artefacts left behind; it appeared my sister had stripped the place of all items of value, including every single piece of my mother’s jewellery. Legally, she was not entitled to do that. She wasn’t entitled to make knowingly false accusations or to sexually assault me either, but she had done.

The Court of Protection registered my mother’s death first thing on the Monday, passed all documentation regarding her estate to the Co-Op Legal Services department who had been granted probate in the terms of my mother’s will and effectively had no further involvement from that moment on. Having found this out after phoning them, I was instructed to contact Co-Op Funeral Care directly, which I did, only to discover that my sister had already made arrangements that were completely alien to what my mother would have wanted.

The burial would take place first, followed by a service of remembrance in Monkseaton, but there would be no gathering afterwards. There would be 2 funeral limousines, as per the details of the Funeral Plan; one for my sister and her current partner, while the other was to be used to transport the idiots from Felling. My son was allowed in the limousine with my sister, if he wanted; obviously he didn’t. There was no provision made for my partner, my ex-wife or me. Clearly, I was both stunned and appalled by this, but in fairness to the Co-Op, they acted in good faith when my sister contacted them. They had no knowledge of the volcanic, poisonous rancour in her heart and regarded her as the client, whose wishes were to be accepted at face value. However, once I’d explained my side of the story, they pretty soon realised they’d made an error acquiescing to the monster that is my sister, as in the end, the Co-Op put on an extra limousine for me, my partner, her mother and a friend free of charge; a gesture I very much appreciated and one that was clearly made because of their shame in being unwittingly complicit in my sister’s sordid acts of revenge. However, she had more high jinks in store for us all.

At 23.30 on Sunday 17th September, the night before my mother’s funeral, my mobile rang. It was a certain PC 8151 Pilgreen of Northumbria Police who was responding to a complaint my sister had made that I was allegedly going to kill her and then kill myself at my mother’s funeral. She had made her initial complaint on Thursday 7th September, specifically that I might disrupt the funeral. As the police did not act on this, she intensified her allegations, apparently repeating what the Co-Op Funeral Services had told her. Obviously, this was another lie and her hope was to stop me from attending the funeral, which I’d already offered to do as a way of keeping my sister from going off the deep end, but been dissuaded from doing. I believe she hoped, and PC Pilgreen expected, that I would lose it and start ranting and raving. This was why he was parked outside my partner’s house no doubt.

I did not respond in an impolite way, despite discovering that the severely intellectually impaired PC Pilgreen, who was accompanied by the apparently catatonic PC 1214 Williams, had not even bothered to do any cursory checks about the background into the case. Blustering and floundering, he made limp excuses for turning up at such a ludicrously anti-social time and claimed that such behaviour by the police wasn’t unreasonable or intimidatory and that “people react in different ways.” Needless to say when they finally arrived, no doubt devastated at not having made an easy collar feel on a quiet Sunday night, I was utterly broken emotionally. I can state here and now that I did not sleep one second that night and that my current long term absence from work with anxiety and depression is entirely as a result of the disgraceful conduct of Northumbria Police in bowing to my sister’s malicious falsehoods. As yet, I do not feel I have properly been able to grieve for my mother’s death because of Northumbria Police’s involvement and their insistence on giving these nonsensical allegations credence. This is in contrast to my sister who, apparently, delivered one of her truly awful poetry pieces at a gathering of Tyneside’s least talented scribes in the Old George on 21st September. This doggerel was apparently viciously derogatory about me, but I’ve not sought to have her lifted for it. Yet.

The woefully inadequate PC Pilgreen subsequently made several ham-fisted attempts to interview me about my sister’s allegations. Initially he emailed me asking I come to Middle Engine Lane as a “voluntary offender.” So much for innocent until proven guilty eh? When I pointed this out to him, he curtly dismissed it as “just a typo,” rather than an insight into his and Northumbria Police’s default attitude towards me. Then he made an appointment and cancelled it an hour beforehand. Finally, when he did interview me (I’d not been so daft as to go without legal representation you’ll be glad to know), he didn’t bother to read me my rights until halfway through the interview. Any wonder I feel like Northumbria Police has got it in for me?

Thankfully the funeral itself passed off without incident, despite my sister and her entourage pointedly ignoring me. I did feel sorry for two of my cousins caught between the two sides; hectored and brainwashed by my sister, but refusing to accept her lies about me. Hopefully this marks the end of all contact with my sister and her functionaries in Northumbria Police, meaning I can live the rest of my life free from the twin prongs of Northumbria Police oppression, spurred on by the lies of my sister to Middle Engine Lane and the lies of a certain hosiery entrepreneur to Forth Banks. While I know that nothing untoward will happen to me because of the lies they’ve told about me, I need reassurance that I too will have the law’s protection, to stop people maliciously attempting to ruin my life. Those of you who know of either or both my sister and the hosiery entrepreneur may wish to pause to consider that; Northumbria Police must do.

All I desire is the chance to quietly live out the rest of my life, free from harassment, intimidation and persecution. Let me recover my mental health and rebuild my career. Let me be happy. Let me be myself. Let me live.