Nottingham Diary: September 2019

It’s been a turbulent week on Nottingham’s roads with simply just traversing the city a little problematic to say the least. However, sadly, lives have been lost.

Cityscape(1)(Image: Invest in Nottingham)

Last Saturday evening, a man was stabbed to death in the centre of the city. A friend passing mentioned that he had witnessed the victim being unsuccessfully resuscitated. Another pointless waste of life. The fact that part of the city’s roads were closed for forensics that evening and through most of the next day is of no consequence by comparison.

Wednesday brought another fatality, this time on the main thoroughfare, Upper Parliament Street in the heart of the city. A local man, just 34 years-old, was hit by a single-decker bus and was was reported dead the next day. Passing the scene later in the day was a hard view, with the unfortunate victim’s rucksack still lying in the road behind the bus and hard to not see.

Friday came and saw city centre gridlocks due to different reasons. The earlier part of the day saw demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion by way of a massed cycle ride and later, a gathering in Old Market Square. No question that there are difficult issues to be faced here. The movement’s methods will continue to be debated by the public.

It’s still Friday and it’s that day and weekend where Nottingham’s thousands of students descend back on the city. A lighter note at least to see the pavements near my office teeming with students and their parents, arms full of bedding, clothing and foodstuffs for the young incomers. Perhaps the most amusing sight being two young lads each absolutely laden with two-litre bottles of mineral water, maybe concerned about the availability of running water in their new homes. A visit to the supermarket on leaving work saw a scene resembling a plague of locusts having swarmed its formerly heavily laden shelves.

Some people find the preponderance of students around the city from late September onwards an irritation but not me personally, notwithstanding that they’re not vomiting, staggering and crying in the street in the early hours  in the suburb where I live. I do like though, to see that youthful ebullience tinged with trepidation as they leave home for the first time and sort themselves into their new friendship groups in a strange environment. And let’s face it, there’s nowhere stranger than Nottingham at times.

Finally, and like most Saturdays from September to May in Nottingham one of the city’s two professional football teams are playing at home, this week, Nottingham Forest. Approaching the ground is Trent Bridge where a ‘police incident’ has been reported. This, sadly, is modern day code for a possible suicide attempt, in this case a possible jumper from the Trent Bridge into the River Trent’s dangerous currents far below. An increasing trend in these troubled times. I do hope this person is safe and goes on to continue forwards into a content and meaningful life.

Suicide: Risk Factors, Warning Signs And How To Talk To A Person With Suicide Ideation

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and as so many talk of ‘raising awareness’ as the saying goes nowadays, I’d like to talk a little about communicating with a person experiencing suicidal thoughts. Perhaps a good place to start is in understanding risk factors for suicide and recognising the sometimes subtle warning signs.

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Each and every suicide is a tragedy, and one which leaves unanswered questions. Most often, suicidal thoughts develop from deep feelings of hopelessness and an inability to cope with certain challenges in our lives. From this, a belief that taking our own life is the only possible or most simple solution to our problems can grow. A great pity of course is that those very challenges are often temporary in nature. A permanent solution – suicide – is applied to what in essence is a temporary problem. Indeed, it can be seen that most people who survive suicide attempts go on afterwards to live full and most rewarding lives.

Risk Factors

Arguably, the most prevalent risk factor for suicide is that of depression but there are many others. These diverse factors include experiencing chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychiatric disorders, suicide in the family, substance abuse and not least, a previous suicide attempt. Impulsive thoughts, particularly in the young, can play a role too.

Warning Signs

If a person is felt to be at risk due to any of the above they may exhibit behaviour such as mood changes – even to the extent of a sudden and unexpected upbeat mood. They may alternatively display completely new behaviours. These behaviours can indicate a person who is actively suicidal.

A common myth about suicide is that those who ‘talk about it are not the ones who do it’. This is a fallacy. Whether people talk about it or not has no true bearing on the likelihood of them completing a suicide.

People with suicide ideation will commonly talk of not wanting to be a burden to others in their lives, of having nothing to live for or not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. They may talk of feeling trapped in some way or of their unbearable pain, whether physical or emotional pain. These types of words can indicate a person who is contemplating taking their own life.

Talking To A Suicidal Person

Here we encounter another great myth about suicide, the notion that talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts is somehow encouraging them to carry out the act. In these situations, it is important to begin a dialogue, to initiate a conversation about the subject. The conversation can include discussion about sources of help and assistance such as attending the GP or a therapist. It is wise to identify a help line such as The Samaritans and to keep that number in their phone or wallet/purse. An agreement can be made to follow up these actions with a future chat in which progress can be reported and reviewed.

I feel it’s better to be fairly direct with a person by asking similar to the following questions:

  • How are you coping with your problems?
  • Are you thinking about dying or hurting yourself?
  • Have you made any plans to take your own life?

The latter – making the distinction between a person experiencing suicidal thoughts and one who is actually making the plans to do it is of high importance. This is not only for the helper/listener but also for the person themselves in understanding and clarifying their own situation a little better.

Samaritans: Freecall. 116 123 (24 hours)   E. jo@samaritans.org.uk (response: 24 hours)

 

 

Gambling Urges and Cravings (3) What Can Help With Them?

In general terms, it is good for a recovering gambler to be as busy and occupied as is reasonably possible. This is not necessarily a lifetime strategy but certainly a most important contributor to overcoming the addiction in earlier days of abstinence. To plan activities, tasks, work and pastimes as regularly as possible is the gambler’s friend and this concentration on activity can assist in preventing gambling urges and cravings forming. What can the gambler do however, to deal with them if and when they arrive?

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(Image: Rasto Belan)

It has been an observation of mine from clients that the beginnings of gambling thoughts and urges are most often of a positive nature. Thoughts about opportunity and winning, coupled with additional thoughts about ways of spending those winnings characterise their first notion when the subject of gambling first pops into the head. One might say that without this feeling of positivity, the urges to gamble might be quite ineffectual and short-lived, for obvious reasons. These thoughts contain little balance or cost benefit thinking so an initial task might, after recognising and acknowledging the thoughts, be to challenge them. A train of thought might develop thus: ‘I have time and opportunity to gamble, money to do it with and that football match/horse race has very attractive odds. I could easily make money on them. With those winnings I could buy this or I could pay off that…’. At this point a challenge is required, ‘But what happened the last time I gambled? I lost money I couldn’t afford to lose and left myself short of funds all month. I felt depressed and anxious. I couldn’t talk to my partner and it affected our relationship’. Just an example and like many strategies practicing it makes it more effective.

Another main area I like to concentrate on is that of mental exercises to distract the gambler from gambling thoughts. Again, the initial acknowledgement and recognition that one is having those gambling thoughts is necessary and we can then turn to the distraction techniques. The central principle is that if there are thoughts about gambling in someone’s head then the most beneficial thing that can happen is simply to remove those thoughts as we cannot concentrate on two trains of thought simultaneously. Counting exercises are popular and effective, often the more menial the better. In my office I venture the idea of counting the many leaves on a pot plant, or looking through the window at a nearby building and counting windows, roof tiles or any other feature. It sounds unlikely but it is effective. Concentrate hard enough on the exercise and at this point those gambling thoughts will be extinct, they will not exist We have already established that for most gamblers, the urges are not long-lasting – possibly minutes typically – and so (thankfully!) these exercises need not last long at all until the gambling urges pass. A footnote might be that occasionally, gamblers believe their gambling urges last much longer that the minutes we talk of here. I would posit that much more likely is the fact that for those people, shorter urges are returning over and over again during the day – much like the waves described earlier

Of course, there are many other distraction strategies to choose from but an important factor in whatever one chooses is to have the strategy pre-planned and ready for any urges and cravings coming along. Know these environment, recognise where and when they most often happen and plan accordingly. I also like the idea of simply talking to others, be that face-to-face or over the telephone as conversations can be quickly engrossing. Other strategies people have mentioned to me include, taking a cycle ride, walking the dog, playing with their children and generally participating in hobbies and pastimes. I quite like to hear of physical activities that are in complete contrast to the gambling activity. All of these can assist a gambler in dealing effectively with gambling urges and cravings.

Gambling Urges and Cravings (2) Why Do They Happen?

Gambling triggers, broadly speaking, can be placed in two categories – external and internal. External triggers are arguably easier to identify and are exemplified by such as physically passing betting shops or casinos, encountering gambling advertising on the TV or receiving communications electronically from gambling companies, i.e. emails or texts offering ‘free spins’ and other offers. We can observe that external triggers to gamble are from things the stimuli we see or hear from outside of ourselves and induce us to gamble. In addition, we can think here of the way that people, places, situations and times of day can offer external triggers. People might often relate the influence of other people as confined to sharing time with others who gamble but other people who create certain moods in a person are less identified but can be highly relevant, as will be explained. Places and situations can perhaps be more easily recognised, examples being at home alone, with an opportunity to gamble online or being in a situation of needing money for whatever reason and gambling to acquire it. Times of day might follow a pattern of opportunities around work, home and social life. For the purposes of this discussion however, I am more interested in the subject of the other category, that of internal triggers.

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(Image: Jeff Prieb)

We can relate internal triggers to how you are feeling and the thoughts you are experiencing – your mood patterns. A classic example might be of a person experiencing low moods, feeling upset or depressed and this creating gambling activity as an ‘escape’ from those moods – classic escapism. This can be easily compared with other addictions and their escapism factor. Perhaps a most obvious example might be that of alcohol, where someone might indulge in ‘drowning their sorrows’ to use a well-worn phrase. The alcohol might work well temporarily in masking or ‘fixing’ those unwanted feelings for a time at least. A problem being that after the return to sobriety the cause of the low mood may still exist (and be exacerbated by a hangover!) The same is very much true of gambling. Individuals can ‘lose’ themselves in the gambling activity which offers them distraction from whatever is creating their low moods. This I feel, is especially true for those indulging in gambling which requires frequent use and response such as online games or fixed-odds-betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops or fruit/slot machines in arcades or other environments.

Another mood type which can influence and induce betting can be boredom. Being under-occupied, living a generally humdrum lifestyle or lacking excitement or interest can lead to the need to chase a ‘buzz’ or a pattern of gambling behaviour which provides thrills – even if only in a gambler’s addiction. Other moods might be anger, frustration, loneliness or numerous others. It’s a useful exercise to question whether any of these moods are applicable to oneself. It may well be key to understanding the prime driver for the behaviour and therefore beginning to work on helpful changes.

As an aside, the subject of ‘addictive personality’ can be interwoven with this subject. Like many, I do not subscribe to such a concept and there is much evidence against it. Suffice to say, people can reach out to various maladaptive coping strategies such as alcohol, drugs or gambling due to the same basic underlying problems in their life. It’s important to remember that people have been trying to ‘fix’ their feelings since biblical times and this provides a good explanation for the above behaviour.

We know that cravings only lose their power if they are not reinforced by further episodes of gambling. This for me is a pivotal consideration in stopping urges and therefore stopping gambling happening. So how long might this desirable state of affairs take to come about – that of the urges declining to the point of extinction? Statistics – which may well not be the most useful resource when thinking about this subject would indicate that a majority of ex-gamblers’ urges and cravings disappear in around 6-12 months. This can be a little disheartening and worrying for people trying to stop but really shouldn’t be. It does not mean there is a likelihood of 6-12 months of purgatory, being deeply troubled by these urges, for after a much shorter period they can be rendered into mere feeble thoughts than can be easily batted away. The length of time that people experience gambling urges is highly variable due to numerous factors such as the level of the former gambling habit, personality traits and circumstances but a pattern emerges indicating that often, urges decrease quite quickly to the point of being much less troublesome after say, a month of abstinence. Some people don’t even experience urges at all it should be recorded. We therefore can see an encouraging pattern for the recovering gambler of the urges decreasing in both frequency and intensity to the point of extinction. The task becomes ‘easier’ at the days, weeks and months of abstinence draw on.

I sometimes use a nice analogy for urges and cravings and that is of a stray cat. If a stray came to your door and you feed it, what would most likely happen? Yes, it will return for another feed. Gambling urges and cravings work in much the same way. If you feed them by gambling they will certainly return.

In summary, one of the reasons it is often more difficult to decrease gambling levels as opposed to stopping it completely is because the addiction continues to be ‘fed’, albeit on a decreased scale, thus creating urges to gamble further. The cycle can then occur of gradually heavier gambling and a return to the various issues this creates. For people who have never been what we might term as a problem gambler gambling more casually can hold together, it is however, most problematic for a person recovering from problem gambling and not advisable.

Finally, urges can be quite intense in the early stages of stopping and can endure for a period of time after the gambling stops so be prepared to accept them as part of the change process,

Gambling Urges and Cravings (1) What are they?

Often, people speak to me in my capacity as a Gambling Practitioner about the subject of the strong urges and cravings they are experiencing whilst dealing with their addiction. Of course, such feelings can leave a person in recovery feeling vulnerable, not to say, anxious. It can also rob them of their confidence in their ability to overcome a gambling addiction and crucially become a part of the process of lapsing or relapsing. To that end, some psychoeducation around the subject of urges and cravings can be hugely beneficial.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         (Image: Jeff Prieb)

It’s important to understand that urges and cravings are actually a natural part of modifying (either abstaining from or decreasing) the gambling activity. Naturally, the more a person understands them, the more this will assist in overcoming them.
I often ask if clients understand the underlying cause of their urges to gamble but find that very few have an accurate conception of why this is. More often they will refer to certain personal triggers which whilst certainly a contributor are an accessory or facilitator to the underlying reason. Simply speaking, urges to gamble are caused by gambling itself. They are generally the result of reinforced gambling activity over a period of time and can endure for a further period after becoming abstinent from the gambling activity. It follows then that if a person has a history of heavy gambling in particular, it’s quite likely they may still experience strong urges after stopping.

What we see from the above is that people fall into a vicious cycle of gambling activity creating urges – urges creating gambling behaviour – gambling creating further urges and so on. It’s for another conversation but here is where an initial intervention and plan is put in place to stop gambling by controlling funds, access i.e. phone/betting shop and/or time and opportunity.

A useful way in which to conceptualise how a gambling urge works is to think of it being similar to a wave on a beach. The latter will begin as a mere ripple initially before building up to its strongest point prior to breaking and flowing away when it hits the beach. The comparison is of a gambling urge beginning as a small thought in someone’s mind, growing and overtaking other thoughts before finally ‘crashing’. The latter is a direct comparison with a wave breaking, where the urge reaches its culmination – either by gambling or by avoiding it.

We find that urges can last for seconds, minutes or for more protracted periods. This can depend on what you are doing (are you occupied with other thoughts especially). Keeping oneself occupied and busy really is the recovering gambler’s friend – preferably occupied with things you enjoy doing but not necessarily. Clearly, the thoughts about gambling then have less opportunity to occupy your thoughts and create those urges. Duration of thoughts can also be influenced by how a person is feeling and this comes into the area of triggers for the activity.

Some Thoughts On Depression

Seeing ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’ is a subject worth understanding how to think about. It can be acknowledged how difficult or even impossible, that can feel at times. A good subject for general discussion then.

Some define it as a ‘dark tunnel’ others as a ‘dark maze’ to find their way through. From a philosophical viewpoint, bringing about ‘light’ might be thought of as attempting to deliver oneself into a better place – one where one feels happier and more content. Sometimes this can be discovered in finding meaning or purpose in life in some way. So how do we do that? It can present a daunting job to many.

I would like to propose a certain ‘re-framing’ of expectations about one’s life. This doesn’t amount to ‘settling’ (for less) in my view (for this can indeed be a ‘happier’ place). It does though entail learning how to comprehend and enjoy those simple things in our lives that we sometimes find ourselves overlooking.

I often think of this change process as a stepped approach. Psychology for example can be so effective in helping with this and yet effective psychological support can be a longer process which takes time to help and re-orient people’s thought and behaviours. Rather, for me, a behavioural approach initially can be helpful – the ‘first aid’ if you like. Clearly, psychology is suited to treating deeper causes rather then just resultant effects/symptoms. However, it may take time, that’s a given. By contrast, behaviours – by using a behavioural approach can change the situation overnight and quite possibly give one the lift needed to get you on the road. Maybe we should consider some of those behavioural factors. Some of them will been overlooked because they feel ‘difficult’ for someone lacking motivation to help themselves into recovery. Nevertheless, they are worth examining.

We can focus on the fact that, yes, some days will just feel utterly rubbish. I think it’s helpful to have an acceptance of that. What we can say though is that there will be times also when that hurtful feeling will pass and you will feel more well. Remember that too.

Living in the present. We might say that in living too much in the past, there lies triggers for depression from when living though previous difficulties and times. Conversely, looking too far ahead and too often, there can lie the anxieties of not being certain about what the future holds. We can never know these things for certain. I present therefore a suggestion to live in the present as much as we can. Practice a little mindfulness and live life.

Social comparisons – try to avoid them, upwards or downwards. Downwards social comparisons (comparing yourself to others who are less fortunate in order to make you feel better about your life does not work. Indeed it can be counter-productive in the way it may make you experience guilt feelings about this. Making upward social comparisons towards people you see in a ‘better’ position than you can of course be sapping and soul destroying. I think the principle here is don’t judge yourself by others. In fact don’t judge yourself at all if you can begin to avoid doing that.

Look to those simple pleasures as much as you can and concentrate on those small things that fleetingly make life feel beautiful. Holding your child, his or her laughter and smiles and you nurturing the child to adulthood. On the note of children, I have a friend who has a picture of herself as a youngster, growing up in the country she came from. Her intention is to look after that little girl every single day as she sets off to to carry out life’s sometimes tough and demanding business.

Further, we all know the small but not insignificant things than can help us. A splash of fresh air and daylight, being active, enjoying friends and family, taking a little exercise, looking after your sleep and eating good food. Getting into ‘good habits’ as a certain football manager from these parts who was ‘the best in a group of one’ would say.

I hope some of this makes a little sense to anyone reading and doesn’t sound too fanciful. They are, for me, things that have taken a long time to understand better in some cases. this is not just through education and training but just as much through passing through a few things in my life too. Those who know me may remember that I had a personal tragedy a few years ago, the quite violent suicide of a partner, one that took a lot of thinking, hard work and yes, sheer perseverance to get through. There were certainly times when I couldn’t ‘see the light at the end of the tunnel’ either and felt like I’d be better off not living. I made mistakes (because I’m human), tried and tried again and I probably feel more content these days than I have in many a year, even through my personal losses. A huge factor in arriving at that point was finding something I could do that brought great meaning and purpose to my own life but’s another subject for another day.

Social Media And The United Kingdom 2019

What an ignorant and disgusting cesspit social media has become. Certainly a reflection of what this country has developed into – a place I increasingly despise for so many reasons. Division, selfishness, self-serving politicians and their hideous believers. Good friends becoming former friends due to their beliefs. I do believe this country is all but done too. It will never be the same again.

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As for the former, I’m seriously considering distancing myself from the friction and negativity of social media generally. Not a plea for comment or opinion, seriously, just an observation of the reality of the situation and the experience. I feel other ways of spending one’s time are becoming more attractive than trawling through the garbage spewed up constantly through this type of media.

Sorry, it just had to be said.

Of course we are all allowed out own opinions on major issues, that’s a given but I find the cowardly and aggressive way these views are often expressed through the medium of social media a little pathetic.

I’m not sure what the exact answer is as I would also greatly miss talking to friends that I can’t normally enjoy the company of. I am thinking that the way we manage and interact with social media is key. Having said that I walked away from it for a few weeks not long ago and didn’t miss the habit of it at all.

I think a problem generally is the invasive and provocative nature of reading things on social media that we violently disagree with in principle – that even offend our personal code of conduct and what is ‘right’, moral and honourable in life. In ‘real’ life it’s likely that we wouldn’t keep the friendship or even be acquainted with such individuals that we might consider as having what we discern as despicable views.

I have a general premise for my thoughts on this overall subject. Evolving over a long period of time, through both professional and personal learning, I have come to extol these and attempt to practice much of the thinking around Positive Psychology. I find it directs me towards a more content life. Increasingly, as a part of that, I refuse to let the constantly negative that surrounds us be part of my own thinking, especially as regards individuals who behave and communicate such views. This is not a ‘Pollyanna’ way of thinking but more about understanding what things contribute to the ‘good life’ and what things subtract from it. The latter I increasingly see social media as exemplifying.

On Gambling Urges and Cravings

‘The thought of stopping frightens the **** out of me.’

The words above, read from an internet forum and regarding the troubled feelings experienced when considering stopping gambling very much resonate for many individuals I have worked with. There is an understandable fear of stopping felt by many. A significant section of clients may arrive for their initial session extremely tense and anxious (occasionally, some have even had a bet on the way there!) A part of that might be attributed to wondering what they’re going to face, will they be given a difficult time in therapy for instance etc. (absolutely the opposite is true) but much more it’s about finally facing up to a difficult problem.  This can easily be empathised with.

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(Image: Remington Phillips)

People who gamble can be quite frightened of their urges and cravings, they can feel threatened by them or that the urges will always be in control of them. This is often far from the truth in actuality though. To begin with, for the majority of people the cravings last a relatively short period of time – maybe 1-5 minutes or even just seconds at a time. People sometimes feel it’s longer because they tend to arrive in waves throughout a period of time, especially during inactivity, coming and going at frequent intervals.

Some good news.

I often ask clients what they feel might create gambling urges. They may offer suggestions about certain things that trigger their urges but seldom do they identify the base reason for them. In essence, urges and cravings are simply caused by reinforced gambling behaviour – it’s the gambling itself that creates further urges to gamble and therefore a person can become trapped in a vicious cycle of gambling-urges-gambling.

An intervention is usually necessary initially in the form of a barrier or barriers to gambling. A common method is to put in place one or more of the following:

Money – (say by having your cash looked after for a period by another person

The means – (smartphone/ betting shop/casino etc.) Self-exclusion from the latter and blocking software for the former

Time/opportunity – (distracting oneself and keeping busy with other activities can help hugely).

When the vicious cycle of gambling behaviour and urges becomes halted by behavioural changes such as the above, the urges begin to decrease as the individual is not doing the very thing that creates the urges by abstaining. Statistically, this might be a decreasing pattern for say, a few months, people often tell me that the urges decrease quite drastically after about four weeks though whilst some experience very few cravings. It becomes easier and easier, there’s just a need to agree to one of those self-imposed interventions and life can quickly change for the better and the problem unravel.

Blood On The Tracks

I’m a little ambivalent about the Nottingham trams really. Perhaps that’s because I don’t use them very frequently, although at odd times I find them useful. It seems all is not well in the business though and major problems are on the horizon.

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The company, Tramlink, recently filed its annual accounts – some four weeks late. They showed a loss of £18m, this loss in addition to a previous loss of £48.5m in the previous year. Those losses are said by Tramlink to reflect the cost of new trams and the construction of new routes.

Further, debts of £24m from 2017 have risen significantly to a worrying £307m in 2018, including in excess of £277m in bank loans.

When I observe the trams in the city they are often very full – indeed uncomfortably so with people crowded into them like sardines in busier periods, which can be quite protracted. Unlike during quieter periods, they can be overheated, overcrowded and arguably dangerous to a degree. They most certainly are unpleasant at those times of day. Just last week saw major disruption in services practically most days due to power outages and servicing of trams.

So what is going wrong, with the apparent business and customers being evident and plentiful? Many feel that a large amount of individuals actually don’t pay to use the service. That if detected they are merely asked to leave the tram in which case they simply wait for for the next one along in just a few minutes. In my experience ticket inspectors appear rare though that may not be a true overview I’m not sure. What does seem certain is that negotiating the length of a busy tram in order to inspect tickets is a problematic affair with fare dodgers simply alighting when they spot an inspector approaching from a distance. Gone are the days when conductors were employed on the trams – arguably as a cost-cutting measure that has very much rebounded. This is to say nothing of the issues of security and safety on this form of public transport.

Part of the city’s landscape changed and was disrupted greatly when areas were ripped apart to lay tramlines and their associated street furniture, stations et al. Many people, including myself for some time, paid and still pay a Workplace Parking Levy charge within the city boundaries to undoubtedly fund this major project. It would be simply disastrous for it to fail at this point – so much has been invested in it in all sorts of ways. Perhaps the companies that have run the service have been a little penny-wise and pound-foolish I don’t really know. The days of free tram rides for those not qualified for them really have to end for the system to flourish, it appears to me though

Gambling ‘Obscene’ Profits

A somewhat heartfelt posting this evening. I was alerted to a news story today regarding the owner of the Bet365 betting company declaring a huge personal income from profits of the company.

Bet365 founder paid herself an ‘obscene’ £265m in 2017

I’m not particularly here to change anyone’s opinion but here’s a little insight into the other side of things which may or may not be of interest. I am employed by a registered charity as a psychologist, counselling gamblers and their families.

Each and every working day I see broken lives coming through my office, gamblers and their loved ones too who are innocently experiencing the fallout of a family member’s addiction, children very much included. Outcomes for many include bankruptcy, loss of relationships and children, homelessness and prison sentences. Suicide is the ultimate tragedy occasionally and I have to say I have counselled many individuals who have attempted to take their own lives. General symptoms can include:

Criminal Activity
Feeling Isolated
Mental Health Problems
Domestic Abuse
Financial Difficulties
School/University Difficulties
Drug Misuse
General Health
Suicidal
Alcohol Misuse
Family/Relationship Difficulties
Housing Problems
Work Difficulties
Anxiety/Stress

These symptoms are not rare but everyday.

Gambling companies not only feed addiction but actively create and enhance them, often surreptitiously in my view, by carefully considered psychological strategies that induce people to gamble and relapse. It is not enough to only say that people are responsible for themselves (which they are). People are often only as ‘good’ as they can be in difficult circumstances. We may consider here unconditional positive regard for an individual. We have possibly all found ourselves doing inadvisable things in our lives and so judging on that is not appropriate in my view. Perhaps one of the greatest ironies is that a significant section of gamblers bet simply because they don’t have enough money to live on – which of course never works and there follows an inevitable slide deeper into addiction and its negative effects on their lives. In what must now be approaching thousands of clients I’ve treated I have never witnessed one single client bet their way out of trouble permanently. Not one.

What help is available? Well the casinos in the city I live in make huge reported profits and fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops contribute approximately fifty per cent of the gambling industry’s profits. Ever wondered incidentally why there are just so many betting shops on the high street these days? It’s because the law regulates each shop to a maximum of four FOBT machines only. They therefore open shop after shop with four more machines in each. In the meantime and by comparison, currently, I am the only individual in the East Midlands of England and parts of Lincolnshire (approx. four million people catchment area) offering free funded help. You may imagine that many gamblers, deep into their addiction become unable to afford other professional treatment at around fifty pounds per hour. A classic catch-22 situation.

You can possibly understand what my attitude to the Bet365 owner making such huge profits might be – at the expense of much human suffering and even deaths – most often not just by the gamblers themselves but their innocent families.

Should anybody require free help and support they can contact Gamcare’s Helpine or Netline which can be found at: www.gamcare.org.uk

For those finding things getting out of control with their online gambling I can thoroughly recommend self-exclusion via a scheme that began in May 2018 called Gamstop. www.gamstop.co.uk

The scheme is completely free and takes around ten minutes to register to it online from their website.

As we say, if you should have a problem ‘the worst thing to do is nothing’.

Nottingham Railway Station Alight

Sincere thanks to the wonderful firefighters and other agencies of Nottingham and neighbouring areas that bravely fought the devastating fire at Nottingham Railway Station today for fully twelve hours. The fire is thankfully, now extinguished.

The ‘Midland’ Station as we used to call it is a fine and historic building which serves 16,400 commuters every weekday. Barely four years ago it was the subject of a £50m refurbishment which left it looking better than I’d ever seen it. So sad to see some of this work cruelly undone.

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As the fire began early in the day, reputedly in a ladies toilet, there were few commuters around and we can be thankful that no one is reported hurt.

The latest report indicates an arson attack. I hope the people of Nottingham hold together against the kind of element that causes this disruption and destruction of what is still a fine city with a great and storied heritage.

Homeless at Christmas

Interesting twist in the tale of a local news story. A local good Samaritan, asked to pay a hotel for Christmas hotel rooms for homeless people but was refused by the Britannia Hotel chain.

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Just as an aside, it’s what might euphemistically be termed a ‘budget’ hotel, often with crowds of stag and hen parties in residence and all that entails. it was noted that even dogs are allowed in the rooms. Fair enough.

Yesterday, at 11.45pm an eighteen year-old was stabbed inside the same hotel.

Maybe the Britannia hotel chain need to vet their guests a little more diligently. Say, a few decent people who are unfortunately down on their luck and find themselves homeless…

Stay classy, Britannia.

“They have no heart”: Woman who offers to pay for hotel rooms for the homeless at Christmas has gesture refused

Snow Days

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What is going on with this snow reaction these days,really? Tuning into to a local radio station today, they are issuing ominous warnings and instructions similar to if there is going to be a war on or a disaster zone tomorrow. They provide a ‘hot line’ to the travel companies, the utility companies, school closures and so on.

The local newspaper too warns us that along with the normal disruption:

There’s a ‘good chance’ that rural communities could become cut off.

There’s a ‘potential risk’ to life and property

Along with an extensive emergency kit in our cars we are to take sunglasses due to ‘winter glare’

I do take heavy snow seriously and also understand full well its dangers, particularly to the more vulnerable who I have great sympathy with, having spent plenty of winter stretches in Canada with serious blizzards and snowfall (by the way, there is no adequate and full preparation to the type of winter conditions they experience in my humble opinion, as people elsewhere always seem to think). I feel though that there is a certain amount of sensationalising these situations here in the UK which helps nobody.

Time to calm this stuff down, report the facts and stop spreading panic

Kev Crowley (Fynger Cooper)

I am so very sorry to hear the news of the sudden loss of a friend, I met Kev ‘Fynger’ Cooper some years ago and had the pleasure of being regular online friends too. To say I am shocked is an understatement.

I post below, as a tribute to him, an image of one of his great interests, the fabulous Medieval gateway into Nottingham that was Drury Hill, Nottingham’s ‘Shambles’. Something that Kev’s research and modelling gave us a great insight into.

God bless you, Kev and my heartfelt condolences to Martine and loved ones. xx

 

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Drury Hill, Nottingham

(courtesy Picture The Past)

Nottingham: Wollaton Park Deer

Here’s a fair example of pond life behaviour and general stupidity in Nottingham.

The city is fortunate in having an attractive park within its boundary named Wollaton Park which red and fallow deer inhabit. The deer is a symbolic animal in Nottingham quite literally, forming part of the city coat of arms and so it’s particularly satisfying to to see these fine animals, happy and accessible to view from a safe distance.

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Today’s local newspaper has some quite disturbing images of people approaching the deer in rutting season, perhaps the worst one of a young child with an adult who should really know better. Another with a young fool manhandling a red deer.

Excepting the child, I would have no sympathy if these people came to grief for antagonising the animals. It occurs to me though that if they were attacked, sadly, the animals themselves would come under scrutiny.

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(Pics Nottingham Post)

We Are Hibs

It’s a half after midnight, I return home. There’s a wee beetle scrambling across the floor in my bathroom, skittering about happily. It’s just me and the beetle – together.

I’m happy too. My beautiful Hibs have overcome their rivals today, strongly, assuredly and with a new vigour that we can hardly believe. We destroyed them, we own them…

So lad, I’m going to take you out into the garden and you can run around freely, pal. I sincerely hope you do. Tell your little beetle pals that the Hibees are back – with a vengence.

The only way is up.

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Hibernian FC 2017/18

I’ve just had the privilege of watching Hibs 2017/18 vintage via BBc Alba. And I am wondering what it is that has come over my club?.

That was a performance.

I’ll say it again, that was a PERFORMANCE..

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Professional, resilient and combative, every player looked like they knew exactly what their job was out there. They looked confident, aggressive, determined and not least, skilled. They carry the steel and know-how of their experienced manager with them. A little piece of his in will each and every one of them.

It’s easy to state that this squad of players is the strongest in some years at Easter Road. That is quite evident before a ball is kicked in anger. What is even more noticeable is the utter change in attitude which has engulfed the whole club and it’s now-packed stands of supporters since that staggering day back in May 2016 and the following convincing Championship flag. The self belief which speaks of great portents for the winter ahead. It is wonderful to see. It truly is. I love this club.

God Bless The Hibs

Grenfell Tower

When one first set eyes on the horrific and harrowing scenes of Grenfell Tower engulfed in flames it was hard to imagine how hundreds of people could not perish. Figures for the fatalities have thus far however, remained relatively modest, albeit one life lost is one too many.

Suddenly today, that number catapulted to 70. Now word abounds that fire services are advising that more than 200 bodies have been removed so far and that the media is being gagged.

This I believe. My belief has been, from the first dreadful and sad embers, that a wholly sinister cover-up is being implemented. Politicians and others culpable are running scared. They are undoubtedly working away furiously in the background attempting to save their own skin from the blame they have.

There must be justice for the victims and families of Grenfell Tower and more broadly, the missing respect and care restored for the poorer people of this country.

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Betsy

A random email arrives from a family research site that I merely dabbled with around five years ago. It shows quite some information about my Scottish family that I previously knew little of.

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Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Drysdale Archibald. Born: 15 February 1893 – Died: 22 June 1922

Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Drysdale Archibald, my grandmother who I was never destined to meet, died in my father’s infancy, leaving husband Henry Frew and two young sons, my father, John and his older brother, Alexander ‘Sandy’. She lived in Musselburgh, East Lothian and died in Edinburgh where she had worked in the North British Hotel as a head seamstress, that I knew. It seems that Betsy came from ten children, just like my mother and father did. Her father, John came from all of eleven children too. So many, many children. I have never known the cause of her death.

Place names in the family tree linked in the email are most often solidly East Lothian: Gladsmuir, Elvingstone. Tranent, Haddington, as well as Musselburgh.

I have just one picture of Betsy. the only one in existence to my knowledge.

Although never having met her, I have a lot of love for her.

At Night

Returning home, late in the evening to my nice Nottingham suburb.

Dad brought us here. So many years ago.

Midnight approaches…

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A dark night as the heart of summer approaches. Comfortably warm temperatures and the night time air has that familiar sweet scent that is reassuring. A sense of knowing and of continuity.

Through the darkness, the pavement walk alongside the daytime busy main road, yellow tee roses peer out, smelling sweetly. There is a Weeping Willow.

Home and The Smiths’ clarion call…

‘Take me out tonight
Because I want to see people
And I want to see light’

This is how it feels.

Byron and Boatswain

Seldom can such an epitaph have been written to a faithful friend. Byron was no ordinary poet though and nor seemingly was his loyal, Boatswain an ordinary pet in his eyes and heart.

‘Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.’

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When Byron wrote his moving words in 1808, he had deep financial problems. His beloved Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, had died after being bitten by a rabid dog in nearby Mansfield Market Place. The poet concluded to a friend that he had now lost most everything.

Despite his acute pecuniary problems, Byron was driven to demonstrate his love and affection for his dog by commissioning an impressive marble monument at the poet’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire.

Boatswain was buried in an elaborate tomb, which was indeed larger and more impressive than that erected for Byron himself in St Mary Magdalene’s Church at Hucknall, after his passing in Missolonghi in Greece in 1824.

I have many times, when wandering and dreaming through dear Newstead’s remains, admired this monument and its fine and devoted words, many of which were faded over the years. I am very happy to read today of its refurbishment.

Dedicated to the memory of my late friend, Alistair Tait. The kindest and warmest dog lover it was my great pleasure to know.

The Cockle Man of Nottingham

I like this man. Dave Bartram, The ‘Cockle Man’ has been a familiar sight and local character around Nottingham’s pubs since before my first student steps into the city’s many and varied hostelries in the mid-seventies. Dave’s cry of ‘cockles, mussels’ often bringing a response of ‘alive a live-oh!’ in the likes of the Elizabethan Bar in the Bell Inn where I would often see him and the many other public houses where Dave can be found doing his rounds, as he has been since the 1960s

Additionally, each pot of seafood sold to people in Nottingham’s bars these days sees a donation heading towards the Rainbows Hospice for young people and children.

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Dave Bartram, Nottingham’s ‘Cockle Man’

I applaud these fabled great characters of the city like the Cockle Man, people such as Sally the ‘painter girl’ and the late Frank Robinson, also known as ‘Xylophone Man’. In a bland generally characterless modern society these individuals bring colour, fibre and identity to a city.

At the age of 70, Dave, walking along a precinct from The Thurland Arms to The Old Dog And Partridge, was jumped and attacked. As he has professed before, he tried to protect himself with his big basket, what a man. After the incident, whilst being examined by doctors at the Nottingham City hospital, Dave was found to have a cancer diagnosis. Crucially however, a very treatable one that was fortunate enough to be found in its early stages.

I’m happy that some somewhat unlikely good has come out of this story.

Long live ‘The Cockle Man’.

‘The show must go on’ for Nottingham’s famous cockle man after mugging attempt and cancer diagnosis

On A Hillside Far Away

I’ve no idea where this is, or is supposed to be, more accurately but I’ve decided that I’d really, really like to live there, especially if there is a beach to walk on nearby too.

World: ‘(Knock knock) Hello, are you in there, Stuart?’
Stuart: ‘No, go away’.

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Ice Bars

PAH! NOTHING new about ‘ice bars’ in Nottingham. As a lad doing my drinking apprenticeship in the late 1970s, several pubs here were absolutely freezing in the winter. I even recall a portable calor gas heater being wheeled into one hostelry, The Wilberforce Tavern, as the landlord fought valiantly to stop friends and I from entering an extreme hypothermia induced coma. (It was either that or the local, infamous Shipstones bitter which owned an over-optimistic anagram of ‘honest p*ss’.)

Video inside Nottingham’s first Ice Bar – what the punters are saying

 

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The former Wilberforce Tavern, Wollaton Street, Nottingham – several Trent Polytechnic students may have perished on these premises in the 1970s. At least there was a good chippy next door for the wake.

‘Reviewed by Shilpa Shetty’

Actress, Shilpa Shetty has an interesting conception of book reviewing. I had never in fact realised that George Orwell’s classic political satire, Animal Farm, written in 1945 was about animal husbandry.

I’d like to offer a one line book review of my own too and would like to encourage you to do the same…

‘Oliver Twist – a book about a young boy named Oliver who invented a dance craze popular in the early 1960s.’

 

‘We Must Always Love Our Own, Stuart’

Nottingham Goose Fair memories: Big George, The Gentle Giant and my dad.

UP UNTIL THE EARLY NINETIES, ‘George the Gentle Giant’ was a Scotsman who would visit the fair each year who I remember as a youngster being a travelling attraction. Big George Gracie was a Lanarkshire man who measured fully 7ft 3ins tall, weighed 28 stone and stood in size 18 shoes. His size was caused by a brain tumour in his pituitary gland, as I understand.

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Gentle Giant – George Gracie

The big man’s living was to allow people to come and stare at him on a fairground sideshow stall for a few pennies. People would pay their money and file around his pen. The big man was a most affable fellow, in spite of it all.

I recall dad took me to the Goose Fair one early October Saturday afternoon. After the various round of coconut shies, rifle ranges, Waltzers and confectionery, dad decided we would go and see George after spotting a garish ‘Scotland’s Tallest Man’ sign.

What followed was extraordinary to my young eyes. Dad walked in with me trailing behind him, hand in his huge strong hand and greeted George like he had known him all his life – just as he did everyone in fact. Big George instantly recognised dad’s very strong Scottish accent and they began talking like two brothers…far from home. It should be remembered that this was the 1960s when distances had a different conception and where having family 300 miles apart in England and Scotland, as I did, felt like having relatives on the moon.

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George was from the village of Forth in Lanarkshire whilst ma daddy and me had family just a few miles away in Uddingston and Bellshill. The two men sat and talked and talked for what seemed like a very long time, maybe an hour passed instead of the prescribed two or three minutes, everyone else, the sightseers, filing past and being ignored, These two ‘brothers’ from the auld country, talking of young days, people, places. In a world of kinship and brotherhood, of blood being thicker than water. Two Scots lads who had found themselves meeting in strange circumstances.

I learnt something that day from this extraordinarily tender scene between that giant of a man and my big rough, tough dad.

‘We must always love our own, Stuart’ John said as he bade a fond goodbye to a newly met friend in George,

And I always have…

~

In 1993, after having mobility issues from an overworked heart, gentle George passed away from cancer, the same illness that had made him so large claiming him at the age of 53 years.

God Bless, George.

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Jeremy Corbyn and Labour

I WAS GLAD TO HEAR that Jeremy Corbyn won his ‘re-election’ today. It had seemed totally unfair to me that he had to go through this process after his resounding win to become leader just a short while ago – just because some Labour people didn’t agree about what he had to offer and weren’t prepared to accept him. Or the fact that the media and to some degree the electorate, seem to believe that owning a somewhat unkempt beard and not dressing in power suits are relevant political portents in a leader. We rue the fact that Jeremy is not a ‘smart young man’, like Blair and Cameron for example. Excuse me while I rid the thought of them out of my mind… Jeremy Corbyn however, appears a thoroughly decent, fair-minded and scrupulous individual by comparison. That will never do in 2016.

What’s noticeable is the miserablist attitude of the losing Labour side today who seemingly would happily like to see him hung out to dry in a General Election as they were unable to divorce him from his position – by quite some margin actually. Albeit, I do agree with reservations regarding Jeremy’s leadership abilities. Another of the many reasons why the Labour Party is heading nowhere –  apart from oblivion, sadly.

I’m afraid though, after being a solid Labour supporter all my life and a member in the past it all leaves me somewhat cold these days and it is unlikely they will ever receive my vote again. Their duplicitous attitude, when they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories over the Scottish referendum has seen to that. Many of us will not forget talk about armed border controls between England and Scotland by the ridiculous Labour leader of the time and the sickening deceit and lies of Gordon Brown. I have family in both countries and this is unacceptable to me. I actually spoiled my voting slip for what it is worth at the last General Election, scribbling the candidates out and adding SNP – this in Gedling Borough constituency in the heart of England.

Good luck Jeremy, you’re going to need it, my friend. Far from being the raging lefty you are presented as, you merely represent what a mainstream Labour Party should be all about. As distinct from the red Tories they have scandalously become Labour died in this decade I’m afraid. They are sadly, no longer.

‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’

The Strange Saga of Hughie Green

IN THE 1960s, when game shows were king, perhaps one man stood out for the sheer bulk of presence on our television screens. Hughie Green a Canadian born in London, UK hosted Double Your Money a show that ran for fully 260 episodes until 1968. Based on the US 64,000 Dollar Question the programme was the required viewing on ITV when there were but two and latterly three channels only to choose from as many families would gather to watch Hughie’s antics.

His popularity went from strength to strength as a household name and celebrity as he then hosted Opportunity Knocks the classic talent show which then ran on Thames TV up until 1978 with Green at the helm.

Green, at times, displayed a less savoury side to his character and many were the stories regarding his heavy drinking and generally obnoxious behaviour. The former was said by some to have been the reason that the popular show took a hiatus and he lost his position heading it. Green complained bitterly, even to the degree of a remarkable display of self interest on-air at the end of the final episode when he waxed lyrical, boasting about his wartime service as a veteran.

He was central to something of a scandal at the time when it was revealed that he was the biological father of TV presenter, Paula Yates – a fact she found out through the press.

I recently came across a recording of Green making a personal appearance at the Cavendish Woodhouse furniture store in Nottingham at the time, when he had recently had his show taken off the air and was not at all happy about it. I recall it being reported at the time in the local press that local radio station, Radio Trent, had been there to cover the occasion but refused to air the recording made of journalist, John Darby, also a Canadian, as Green rounded on him in bizarre fashion. The recording can be heard here and is transcribed below.

Green seemed to take umbrage straight away at being corrected on the name of the radio station. He then pounced on where interview Darby hailed from:

Green: Hey listen, we’ve got John Darby from Radio Nottingham, is that right?

Darby: No, it’s actually Radio Trent.

Green: Oh, it’s Radio Trent so…It’s Radio Trent we’ve got John Darby from…and we’ve got some special customers here this morning, John.

Darby: It’s rather fun to be here but one thing I was just thinking about and that is that we’re both Canadians.

Green: Well that’s great, where are you from?

Darby: I’m from Toronto.

Green: You’re from Toronto, well I’m from Montreal so let’s fight. We’ll have a fight right now and have a fight between Montreal and Toronto. So go on, what else have you got to say?

Darby: Well, we want to know what you’re doing now?

Green: What am I doing now? Well look at me, I’m surrounded with beautiful women. The most beautiful women in the world of course come from Nottingham and we were really having a marvellous time, are we having a marvellous time? Come on over here madam (interviews an onlooker).

It was at this point that Darby, unintentionally or not, somewhat hamfistedly admittedly, found Green’s achilles heel when he mentioned the loss of the presenter’s show:

Darby: Hughie, do you think that now that the show (Opportunity Knocks) is now over you may be forgotten?

Green: I couldn’t care less whether I’m forgotten or not, I mean that’s that, doesn’t matter, you can see all the people (shouts) have you forgotten me? Have you forgotten me? I mean that’s the kind of a snide remark you would get from someone from Toronto. That’s why people in Montreal hate Torontonians. They all say you know (affects voice) ah so and so, you’re all so and so. And we’ve got a much nicer city in Montreal than you have in Toronto. Now go on, ask something else nasty.

Darby: Well what are you going to be doing now?

Green: That’s none of your business. Now ask another smart question.

Darby: You must have some future plans?

Green: Never mind. Now may I ask you a question?

Darby: You certainly may.

Green: Why don’t you shave? Ladies and gentlemen, we have just been talking to the four-eyed interviewer from Radio Trent and it has been a delight. We are all enjoying ourselves, now why don’t you go back to your morgue and bury yourself. Thank you very much indeed.

Hughie Green spent his latter life as a recluse in his Baker Street flat. After a life time of heavy drinking, pipe smoking and a latter recreational barbiturate habit he was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away in 1997 at the age of 77.

Focusing on Suicide Prevention

Today marks the first day of Suicide Prevention Week 2016 in the US and World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. Much is said about talking to people who are in difficulties and appear in need. I’m going to add to that the suicide survivors – those who survive the suicide of a close one, whose life changes forever and who are dropped into a strange and frightening world of self-survival, grief, trauma, guilt and anguish.

I unfortunately, became a member of that group over two years ago and the attached article from that time illustrates just some of the myriad ways it affected my life.

The Twenty Truths of Losing Your Partner to Suicide

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The only benefit I understand is that in my work, it has allowed me to talk to people who have suicidal feelings, clearly, concisely and without judgement.

I kindly ask you to talk similarly to these people. Please help them the best way you know how.

In those momentous days afterwards, I called The Samaritans – not primarily because I wanted to die but because I wanted to understand how to live. You can find them on:
Tel: 116 123
Email: jo@samaritans.org
http://www.samaritans.org/

Suicide Prevention

http://www.suicidepreventionapp.com/

The Left Lion and Nottingham’s Old Market Square

NOTTINGHAM’S OLD MARKET SQUARE has been central to the city’s life and times for approximately a thousand years, formerly as a large outdoor market as the name suggests, home of the historic Goose Fair each October and a meeting place renowned over the city and wider county. The wide area, arguably the largest market square in Europe reputedly, now changed from it’s last design of a handsome processional way with trees, fountains and plentiful seating for the public was much-loved by Nottinghamians but is now comparatively sterile and bland in appearance. The re-design, reputedly ordered to allow more freedom and capacity for the various events that are held in ‘Slab Square’ as many local people have called it over the years and a is somewhat controversial decision some years later still.

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The lions, known perhaps most commonly as ‘Leo and Oscar’ are also known by some, more grandly, as ‘Menelaus and Agamemnon’ and also ‘Lennie and Ronnie’, take your pick . They were sculpted by Joseph Else, the Principle of the Nottingham School of Art at the time. His name is now commemorated as the name of a public house nearby in the Square.

This quite severe looking chap below is the ‘Left Lion’ and whilst both lions have been used over the decades as traditional meeting places it is the Left Lion that holds the greater popularity. ‘See you by the Left Lion’ a (or the lions) has especially been a place to meet a romantic date. I’m told it’s ideal to check out a blind date from a distance and it has been my observation that people circling in the nearby vicinity are occasionally apparent. Other than that I couldn’t possibly comment…

Another piece of historic Nottingham folklore was that the lions roar when a virgin walks past. i couldn’t possibly comment on that either.

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The ‘Left Lion’

In the 1920s the former Exchange Building overlooking the Square was replaced by the current Council House construction designed by architect, T. Cecil Howitt, with its 200 foot high dome housing the ‘Little John’ clock, weighing in at over ten tons, which chimes throughout the day as a backdrop and part of the soundtrack to Nottingham city life. Outside the building, two large stone lions stand sentinel, guarding the grand old building opened by the Duke of Windsor in 1929.

Nottingham’s Old Market Square has seen much activity and a few joyous occasions in its history. The annual Goose Fair, so named due to poultry being walked to the event from deepest Norfolk and Lincolnshire was and is a huge landmark on the Nottingham calendar, continuing as it does on the Forest Recreation Ground around a mile away and now over 700 years old. ‘Gooseh’ must have been quite some occasion in the old days as not only did it have such ground breaking innovations as the early travelling cinemas but one could buy practically anything there – even a wife! I think the latter custom has discontinued now.

Football and other sports celebrations have always been a nice feature as the Champions are paraded on the Council House balcony. Notable were celebrations for Nottingham Forest’s European Cup winning teams and, before my time, their great 1959 FA Cup success after they had won their Wembley final with nine and a half fit men on the field. Perhaps Slab Square’s greatest celebration occurred on May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe was over and the people of Nottingham let heir hair down in grand style.

Walking through the square these days I am always disappointed at it’s bland, grey appearance – which cost the council an awful lot of money incidentally. There is a water feature but it isn’t handsome as the previous fountains were – even when students chose to create a bubble-a-thon with washing up liquid emptied into the originals! The seating is at a minimum and the vegetation that saw the Square win awards for its attractiveness is no longer. Instead there are ‘events’ which leave the area looking a little forlorn when they move on.

Other random memories of Old Market Square come to mind of Mods and Rockers gathering there in the 1960s in their two factions at either end of the Square, shepherded apart by the local constabulary. One of the latter’s number was ‘Tug Wilson, a formidable and well known character, standing some 6ft 8ins and fully 7ft 2ins in his policeman’s helmet!

The fabulous mosaic of the Nottingham heraldic crest has disappeared and the ‘feel’ of Nottingham’s Old Market Square appears long gone and spoiled. In balance, there are some good points though. A German Christmas Fair appeared some years ago and was a pleasant winter addition. These days the ‘German’ has been taken out of it and, to my eyes, ears and taste buds has unfortunately become not only expensive but mediocre too. A great plus though is the outdoor ice rink which adds significantly to the winter atmosphere.

Conversely, each summer now, the Square welcomes the ‘Nottingham Rivera’, an urban beach constructed for some weeks in the high season with its sandy beach, padding pool, funfair rides and popular beach bar along with special events throughout its duration.

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As a visitor to Nottingham, it is difficult to become lost in it’s concise city centre as all roads lead to the Square and its dominant Council House dome. Unlike many cities, it is easy to discern exactly where the centre of ‘town’ is and for that reason and a few others, wherever I roam in the world, the Council House and it’s lions will always symbolise Nottingham to me.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I really want to like some of these Monty Python reunions and various documentaries that keep getting aired on the Gold channel and elsewhere. but I’m struggling with them. I loved these guys and grew up with their amazing humour and sketches, recited the lines with pals in the school yard religiously and carried it through the teen years and beyond, like so many people.

Now it feels as though it should just be left alone. Like telling the same gag over and over but it just doesn’t ‘fit’ or feel fresh any more. Nor perhaps should it after all these years.

The re-runs are classic, ground breaking and wonderful and I’d like to make the distinction there – they always will be, the reunions though with the troop on stage in their dinner jackets hamming it up for a late pay day (and who can blame them)  seem to amuse the Python members more than me, sad to say. It feels tired and the laughter forced. There’s no shame in that I suppose – they are arguably the greatest and most innovative comedy group of all time. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend that those genius sketches are the best part of fifty years old.

Luxury…when I were a lad…

Lasse Viren – ‘The Flying Finn’

CONGRATULATIONS GO TO Mo Farah on a ridiculously good run to retain his Olympic 10,000m title in Rio de Janeiro.

Mo actually hit the ground after being accidentally tripped, picked himself up, controlled the race and won it in style and with absolute class and qualty. With a few hundred metres to go the experienced Brendan Foster commentating, was urging Mo not to look around over his shoulder at the possible threat from the runner in third place but rather concentrate on the man leading him in first place. Mo kept a cool head however, trusted his great ability and reeled the leader in, in classic style to finish a comfortable winner.

There were emotional scenes for Mo afterwards, understandably, as he was obviously recounted in his mind the long hours away from his family whilst training.

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Lasse Viren

His performance reminded me of my own middle distance hero, the ‘Flying Finn’ Lasse Viren who fell in the same 10,000 metre event in the Munich Olympics in 1972. Lasse defeated Australian, Ron Clarke’s seven year-old world record although falling heavily during the twelfth lap when getting tangled up with Belgian, Emiel Puttemans. Mohamed Gammoudi additionally fell over Lasse’s legs during the incident.

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Lasse falls on the way to his classic win

In under 150 metres, Virén raced back up to the leaders however, after losing approximately 20 metres to them. With around 600 metres left, Virén initiated an amazing and totally unprecedented one-and-a-half lap ‘kick’ that only Puttemans could respond meaningfully to. The great Lasse Viren ran through the tape to win the classic event in 27:38:40, still the record for the Olympiastadion München forty-four years later.

Rest in Peace, James Murtha

THE SAD NEWS reached me from Burbank, California this week that a much-revered old friend and correspondent of mine had passed away.

Jim Murtha was a man like no other – totally unique. A good man, an intelligent man – and one who possessed the heart of a lion.

His genuine, raw courage was a sight to behold in the way he faced cancer on more than one occasion. I recall him reporting to me that the cancer had returned in his little finger, if I recall correctly,, and his saying to the doctor, ‘just cut the f*cker off, doc, I don’t need it’ – as if it was an absurdity for the cancer to challenge him in such a ridiculous way.

Jim brought a different way of thinking about things in general, to read his words was absolutely inspirational.

I can barely believe that cancer had the temerity to return to his world but it did and for that I shall be eternally sorry. I guess Jim had already had his fun kicking it’s ass on several occasions and ‘opening a can of whoop-ass’ to it as he would tell us.

What a man. What a great, great man. He will be sorely missed but never, ever forgotten.

My deepest condolences go to his family, friends and all those who loved him, of which there were many.

Rest in Peace, Jim. The memory of your courage will live on.

Stu

A few words I wrote back in 2008 about Jim’s story and in particular, his Marathon in Dublin:

A Special Day: James Murtha The Tears of a Clown

Remembering Ali Tait

More than two weeks on and I have barely known what to say about the passing of my friend Ali Tait, so shocked was I at his death. it seems so many feel the same way and during these recent days there has been an avalanche of love and respect for him like non I’ve seen in the Hibs community and wider social media among people that knew him.

 

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I called Ali a friend and met him a few times. Like many others we talked and shared comments online frequently. One evening we were pondering our shared background with both our families originally having people from Fisherrow. We mused that, living very close together, our grandfathers couldn’t have failed to know each other and be friends – just like we had become a couple of generations on. I couldn’t have been prouder or more happy at that thought because I loved the guy.

Ali’s politics, football favours and music tastes are documented widely and it’s perhaps for those things that many people will remember him. They were certainly all things that bound he and I together. Those of us who were fortunate enough in life to have met him and known him will remember his tremendous warmth and intelligence. He was an entertaining man and one you always wanted to listen to at length, so much did he have to say.

The next time I’m in Musselburgh I’ll raise a glass in his favourite, Staggs, to our old friend.

I’ll sink another one to you in our favourite Cafe Royal too if that’s alright, Ali?

God rest and keep you pal. There’s none like you.

Deepest condolences to his dear wife, Tiina, his family and friends and all who knew him and loved him.

God bless
Stu x

Free Sister Mary

I do enjoy the scarecrow competitions around the local villages in the summer. This is ‘Sister Mary’ from Caythorpe  Nottinghamshire who was abducted two years ago. Last seen with her feet ‘poking out the back of a grey car’. Sister Mary’s owner offered free cupcakes to anyone with information, which seemed quite appropriate…

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Sister Mary

It’s recorded that although the ‘nun-nappers’ had taken Mary away she still finished a creditable joint second in the competition alongside a ‘zombie scarecrow’. First place went to a witch stuck in a tree, accompanied by a sign saying ‘Don’t drink and fly’.

Bless you, Sister Mary.

In and around Lambley village, Nottinghamshire

THOSE WHO KNOW ME will understand that I have a special affinity with some of the pretty villages local to me. This relationship has been formed over many years of running, walking, cycling, eating a drinking around those villages which I have a I have come to think of as my ‘playground’ since being a youngster.

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Early days in and around Lambley village meant a cycle with schooldays pals to the Lambley Dumbles. A dumble is a local word for a steep-sided stream. We would play in the dumbles – and my favourite, the ‘Little Dumbles’, making dams, rafts, climbing the overhanging trees, wading, fishing and generally getting lost in those hazy 1960s endless summer days as they seemed to me. The limited sustenance taken on these all-day country safaris tended to be a jam sandwich and some fizzy water. Our bikes consisting of all shapes and sizes – mine had just the one pedal – were the only things we needed to transport us to this heavenly weekend delight. We usually arrived home at dusk, exhausted and hungry. Muddied, sometimes bloodied, unbowed.

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This very afternoon I took myself in my car down to lovely Lambley, beginning at a favourite tea-stop, Floralands garden centre, ‘Wickes’ as we used to know it. These days, as is the way of garden centres generally, there is modern decking to sit outside and take tea and a bite to eat. What remains the same though are those beautiful emerald green rolling hills of my youth to look out to.

Today there is a petting zoo for the children and not-so-young children right here! Goats, ducks, chickens, lamas. A peacock is screeching insistently in the distance.

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Descending the intriguingly named Catfoot Lane, I entered the pretty and ancient village of Lambley, ‘Leah of the lambs’ by origin and named in the Domesday Book. Nestled in its cosy valley are a church built around the 13th century and the Woodlark and Robin Hood inns. I pass by the footpath to the Lambley Dumbles, perhaps less known to the cars that cruise steadily past in 2016.

Further on in years, I used to walk these hills as a young teenager, with my favoured notebook and pencil, to settle in one of the many sweet-scented grassy meadows in the sunshine and write my early young poetry. I yearned to be a Byronic figure, writing romantic poetry as Lord Byron had done a century before, leaving his indelible mark on the Nottinghamshire landscape and around the world.

Tolerance and Acceptance

THIS WEEKEND HERALDS the annual Nottinghamshire Pride march through the city and its surrounding festivities. The March began at Castlegate in the city at 11.30 am and concluded a short distance away on Broad Street in the ‘Creative Quarter’ of Nottingham around and about the nowadays, trendy Hockley area. Along the way, near Thurland Street, a minutes’ silence was held for the victims of the recent sad atrocities in Orlando, Florida. A street fair and entertainment is part of the celebrations in a day for everyone that chooses to let their hair down a little.

In my view, these types of events add a significant and vivid splash of colour, energy and vitality to the city centre and should be welcomed. I observe at times though that this particular event draws some mixed reactions which extend across the full spectrum of tolerance and acceptance. I occasionally despair for the state of humanity when we cannot manifest those qualities to any degree, to understand and acknowledge diversity in all its hues, to open our minds and, where necessary, build bridges between older thinking and new conceptions.

A couple of days ago, I read an internet forum thread which focused on the subject of Nottingham Pride’s annual March and festival. Among the highly predictable, monumentally unfunny and ignorant, 1970s stand-up comedian terminology and general ‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ bristling was one splendid individual who actually ‘hoped it would rain all day’. How very, very bitter. That someone should actually wish the participants’ special day and celebrations to be ruined by bad weather.

Homophobia, racialism and a wide range of other general bigotry are unfortunately part of our daily lives to some degree but this single comment really struck me for it’s ultimate sadness and lack of generosity of human spirit. I feel that, especially in a world clouded by hate, fanaticism and animosity, love – in all its forms – can never, ever be a bad thing.

Peace, love and understanding.

Stuart

Good Luck, The Hibees

When I was a very young boy, barely old enough to understand, I was informed by my dad and my granda that there really was only one team worth supporting, that it was the only true way. This especially applied in my family where tradition lay strong and was not in any way to be tampered with.

Not in the least.

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All these years later that feeling remains strong and true. Down through the decades those colours green and white have woven themselves through my life. That makes me happy.

I love this team and all it has stood for, both widely and personally for me. I will always love this team, especially for the reasons it was formed which are dear to me. I love the people that support it.

I’d like to wish all my Hibernian brothers and sisters a wonderful day out tomorrow and the best of all incredible conclusions to it. As my good pal likes to say to me, ‘I hope your team win’.

Dedicated to the bravest Hibby I know, Shaun McKinley. Keep your chin up, pal. I’m thinking of you.

Arise You Gallant Sweeneys!

ON OCCASION, I mentally register a subject to write about and file it away until a window of opportunity and the inclination to explore it arises. This might be some record for me as I began writing these words some five years ago, for what it is worth. These years later and with much water having flowed under the bridge I still feel it is a subject worthy of talking about.

At that time, in October 2011, I attended a function for Mental Health Awareness Week which was being held in the excellent, independent Broadway Media Centre in Nottingham. The film, Arise You Gallant Sweeneys! had been organised as a private showing for the Framework charity’s 10th Anniversary celebrations at the cinema and I was fortunate enough to receive an invite due to my research work in the area of mental health. Framework, should also be commended here for the excellent work they carry out with the homeless and the vulnerable.

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Arise You Gallant Sweeneys! was a small budget documentary film that told the story of four elderly Irishmen living in a hostel in Nottingham, who left their home shores for economic reasons during the United Kingdom’s building boom of the 1950s and 1960s. None of the men, for disparate reasons, had ever returned home to Ireland since migrating all those decades ago, living the rest of their lives in exile for different reasons in different parts across Great Britain.

The four now-elderly alcohol-dependant men whose tale was documented were Sean Lynch, who was but ten years old when he left his home, Tom Coffey, who departed at just eighteen years, Tom Sweeney, who was of similar age and lastly, Pat Kelly, aged twenty four when he bade farewell to his home country.

The story documents a road trip to their original homeland for the four men and relates a poignant tale of homelessness, penury and alcoholism against a background of exploitation as ‘navvies’ creating the roadways of England, Scotland and Wales with its hard labour and equally hard drinking. Tangentially, folk singer Ralph McTell told an echoing lamenting story in his beautiful and haunting ballad, From Clare to Here:

‘There’s four who share this room as we work hard for the Craic

And sleeping late on Sundays I never get to Mass

It almost breaks my heart when I think of Josephine

I told her I’d be coming home with my pockets full of green

And the only time I feel alright is when I’m into drinking

It sort of eases the pain of it and levels out my thinking’

In the Broadway Cinema as I took my seat, an Irish fiddler played at the corner of the auditorium. Maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s because of my own origins but there is something that seeps into one’s very soul when the strains of Celtic music sound, it’s lilt, it’s sadness, sometimes it’s pure joyousness too. Presently, after a , heartfelt and dignified spoken introduction, the film began and we saw the inception of the road trip – men who after a drink or two would always talk about home – how they’d perhaps like to see it for one last time before it was too late and they met their maker. To the good people who organised it, great credit, including Framework I understand. Soon, a small party including the four men set sail with a provided mini-bus, back home to Ireland after all those years.

One might be forgiven to imagine this to be a sentimental story but this is not the case. The men’s humour and character serve to make it not so.

Of course things had changed for the men over many years. Families had become fractured and information was hard to find in some cases, even to the point of one of the group discovering that the brother he had thought was long passed away was in fact still very much alive, leading to some emotionally draining scenes. The returning brother showed little love for his long-lost sibling, even claiming he should be ‘drowned in the Atlantic’.

‘Come all ye loyal heroes and listen on to me.

Don’t hire with any farmer till you know what your work will be

You will rise up early in the morning from the clear day light till the dawn

and you never will be able for to plough the Rocks of Bawn.

Rise up, gallant Sweeney, and get your horses hay

And give them a good feed of oats before they start away’

(From The Rocks of Bawn by Patrick Kelly)

The little film, whilst roughly-hewn was extremely moving as we were taken through the decades and on the road, explored each of the men’s home towns. It engaged and yet was disturbing at times, even by turns wickedly funny. As a viewer, I had the feeling that I wanted to somehow ‘make it right’ for the men and to understand the real reasons they had never returned home before.

Many men of this ilk worked their hearts and guts out in those days, they took their pay, often drank it and lived from week to week or from day to day. The men in our story it is explained now lived in supported accommodation in Nottingham. One is no longer with us, God bless him. The others’ road will most likely end here. Thankfully though, after this one final visit of their roots.

It would be true to say that there was little sentiment in the film. It was nevertheless, an engaging one, at times unsettling and more than anything, ultimately a moving one.

 

Watch the original trailer here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3ara2Pfo7g

On Heroes

I WAS CONSIDERING THIS subject recently after reading the question on an internet forum, ‘Do we live in an unheroic age?’. In answering this, I suppose it all depends to some degree on your conception of what constitutes a hero. Acts of bravery, selflessness, possessing a special talent etc. Maybe manning a lifeboat, fighting for a just cause or quietly going about the business of being an unsung hero, helping others.

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‘Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished’ – Madiba

In a looser sense, where we might think in terms of simple admiration, I have many ‘heroes’ if you may term them that way. Sporting heroes such as dynamic Scottish football legend, Denis Law, Canadian, Terry Fox and his beautiful and heart-rending ‘Marathon of Hope’ and Finnish middle distance running phenomenon, Lasse Viren. Then there are the musicians, the likes of Otis Redding, Peter Green and so on. There are revered literary figures to me too such as Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas and Byron and perhaps most significantly, the inspirational figures that, in my belief, are/were an unstoppable force for good, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. but then we’re moving into a different area in my humble opinion, that of sainthood.

It is interesting to note that some of these people and examples no longer walk among us – but that their legacy lives with us and affects our lives. Perhaps that legendary eminence is part of the necessary make-up of a ‘hero’, I’m really not sure.

For me personally though, my real heroes were my mother and father. For their selflessness, courage, principled ways and strength in what were at times life threatening situations in their own acutely difficult situations at times in their years. In addition, for all the lessons in life they taught me which were many.

I’m going to suggest that there are countless other mothers and fathers out there all over the world, doing the same for their children, every day, doing those things for their children out of selfless and pure love.

For that reason alone, yes, for me, we still do live in heroic times.