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A tribute to my dad: James Marriott, February 14 1917- February 14 2012

This is the address I gave at my dad’s funeral at Burnley Crematorium on Friday February 24 2012.
Dad had said he was worried about being forgotten, that people in later years might not know he had been around.
I’m publishing this so that people do know; and every time someone reads it, dad will live on.

 

 

 

 

Today shouldn’t be remembered as one of the saddest of days.

Yes, we’re grieving.

We’re saying goodbye to a dad, grand-dad, great-grand-dad, uncle, and great uncle, cousin, friend, neighbour.

Also a husband, brother and son. And Burnley fan.

But we’re also here to celebrate a life, and what a long one it was. 95 years. Amazing.

I hope he had everything he wished for. Other than maybe Burnley winning the FA Cup in his lifetime.

On Friday February 3, 11 days before dad died, I wrote myself a note. It said “I am very proud of my dad.” I also wrote: “When God gave out balls he gave dad an extra pair.”

Dad had gone into hospital. Now that was one of my saddest days. It was heartbreaking to see him in pain. We were told it was likely dad had hours to live.

But dad had other ideas. He had a 95th birthday to get to. He hung on to mine and my sister Sue’s hand with such an iron grip; as if he wanted us both to pull him up and out of bed. We gently chuckled and told him to save his strength.

But dad said: “This is no laughing matter.” If he could have defiantly pointed his finger he would have.

He wasn’t giving up, not just then. He was fighting, as he had done all his life, from the day he was born.

Dad – Jim- was born at Burnley Victoria Hospital in 1917 and was two months premature. He was delivered by Dr Macgregor Sinclair and  he was given the middle name MacGregor in tribute to the doctor. His mother, my grandma, managed to keep him alive by feeding him through a fountain pen tube and keeping him warm in a drawer by the fire.

This was dad’s start in life. You can see why he wasn’t going to give in easily after that defiant beginning.

Dad went to Coal Clough Lane infant school but when he was nine he became ill and was off school for over a year.

He was taught at home and encouraged to read a lot, which was the start of his thirst for knowledge. He moved to Sheffield in 1927 where he was allowed to take his 11 plus at 12 because he had missed so much schooling. He enjoyed french, mathematics and   English grammar. Many a newspaper reporter – usually from  the Daily Mirror – has been phoned up over the years and criticised for their poor grammar!!

Seventy odd years later that thirst for knowledge was still being quenched. After retiring he passed exams in German at Burnley college. At the age of 84 he learnt computing and up to a year ago was still to be found tapping away on his laptop.

Dad had a stock of stories he’d save up for new blood, usually at weddings, family meals, or funerals.

The time when in the RAF he’d saved an entire bomber squadron from flying into barrage balloons over Sheffield.

The day when he was in a park in Sheffield and a Polish pilot spotted dad’s RAF uniform and landed his plane in the park to ask directions.

His pubs. He loved HIS pubs, the ones he’d managed in his very long career working in breweries.

Cars. Driving. He was an advanced motorist even though he made mum have kittens every time they drove anywhere.

Driving the Monte Carlo rally with his great friend Maurice: And the holiday to Germany he shared with mum, Maurice and Joy.

Raq, his beloved labrador. He loved my little dog Millie. “Now then, now then,” he’d say as she licked his face all over. He gave her half his chips even though I asked him not to.

The day he became pool champion in my old local, the Lion of Vienna in Bolton.

Pythagoras theorem. Everyone at Catherine’s wedding knew Pythagoras theorem by midnight. I’ll be testing you all later.

 

Dad and Millie … both football fans

And of course, football. The first time he went to watch Burnley he was about four and thought he was going to the circus. At half-time he asked when the clowns were coming on. A chap in front heard him and said: Son. They’ve already been on.

He travelled everywhere to watch Burnley. While working and living in the North East he scouted for football talent for his friend and burnley football club hero Harry Potts. He bought me a season ticket when I was 13. I don’t know why he decided to do that, but it defined our relationship ever afterwards.

In dad’s later years it was tragic that he lost both his wife and his leg in the space of 18 months. But dad carried on regardless.

That was his way. Always matter of fact. Doing what needed to be done.

Dad’s Saturday afternoon routine was to watch snooker; tune in to Radio Lancashire for the match; tap on his laptop and update his Excel document on Burnley’s fixtures and goal difference. “Because Burnley Football Club know I’m doing it and will want it you see.”

He had a constant, constant conviction that he could drive if someone let him; that he would still be able to give any Burnley centre half a good run for their money even in his wheelchair.

He could also be quite grumpy.

Then about a year ago dad started getting more and more tired. He was never sentimental, but he started asking for a hug when people left. “Leave the door open,” he’d say. “I’ll come and wave you off . You never know, it might be the last time.”

So there we were a couple of weeks ago at the hospital. Dad came though his crisis, but the prognosis wasn’t good. The last time I saw him we chatted constantly. A lovely, proper chat, about football, school, his family. He said people had visited him, he’d known they’d been there but hadn’t always had the strength to say anything.

He told me he’d been a good runner like his son but “not now, because of this” he said as he tapped his missing leg. He was convinced it was the leg that stopped him running, not the fact that he was nearly 95.

Then dad said, give me a kiss, off you go now, and leave the door open on your way out.

 

Dad. Jim Marriott. God bless.

So I did and when I looked round, there he was, pulling himself up, with the biggest smile, waving me off.

I am very proud of my determined dad. God bless.

 

 

A link to the tribute which appeared in the Burnley Express and Nelson Leader

 

My cousin Peter also gave an address at the funeral and we felt it was fitting that it should appear here too, as special memories of a special uncle.
 
Jim was uncle to myself and brothers Paul and Tony. He was also great uncle to my children Steph and Ben and Tony’s son James.He was the only uncle we have ever had (as we never knew his brother Bob) and he was very special.Uncle Jim and our dad Wilf were very close brothers and Jim was similarly a very close brother-in-law to our mum Marna, who’s with us today.
I always felt that he became an adopted grandad when my
children came along. They never knew their real Grandad Marriott; and I think because of his closeness to our dad,  Uncle Jim considered himself more than just a great uncle. 
Little James Marriott at the age of two with his big brother Wilfred
I remember when growing up that Jim and his immediate family were avid Burnley fans, yet my Dad and us three lads were massive Sheffield Wednesday fans.We all supported our own teams and were keen to see them win but we have always looked for Burnley’s result in the hope they had done well and Uncle Jim similarly followed Wednesday’s fortunes. We often discussed the ups and downs of both clubs at length.A game I recall attending was at White Hart Lane one evening
in 1983 with Uncle Jim, David and Jane amongst others. Burnley
beat Spurs 4-1 in an historic   victory. I was certainly an
adopted claret & blue that night.Jane reminded me this week that after the match we went to a
pub near where Dave lived in Hertfordshire and Jim as ever was
keen to discuss the finer points of the game with as many people
as possible, but it seemed that almost everyone he spoke to in the pub were Spurs fans so he had a great time talking to them and enjoying Burnley’s night of success.
Though I don’t think Uncle Jim was ever one to gloat, he was just totally enthusiastic about football and its analysis.My brother Tony recalls Uncle Jim watching him play football in the 70s. After the match he would be told what improvements he could make to his game. Always constructive advice and Tony acknowledged Jim’s understanding of the game from his own playing days.Uncle Jim would often talk to me about his time playing for the RAF, he had obviously been an excellent player.Many of us will remember playing snooker and sometimes billiards with Uncle Jim. He was a good player and again eager to teach you a few finer skills of the games.Tony recalls occasions when Uncle Jim would visit us in Sheffield.
We lived on a steep hill. Most routes from our house back to the
main road entailed an easy uphill drive. A less easy exit route was down a winding country lane. Guess which one Uncle Jim would often choose. It was an unmissable challenge for Jim the ex rally driver.His target seemed to be to see how many blind bends he
could negotiate at excessive speed. He always managed to get
down unscathed, though as passengers we were probably a little apprehensive about the outcome. 

Uncle Jim with his nephew Paul
Paul similarly recalls being driven by Uncle Jim over the “Tops”
on the country roads between Sheffield and Burnley. Always
guaranteeing a white knuckle ride to match any roller coaster.Uncle Jim always had to be doing something. I remember often
visiting Uncle Jim and Auntie Sally to be confronted with one or two cars in various states of disarray in the garage and on the drive.
Uncle Jim would appear to say hello up to his elbows in grease
or masked up with a spray gun in his hand. I think it drove Auntie Sally bonkers but he was never happier and always keen to talk you through the latest restoration project.More recently Jim attended college, becoming probably their
oldest-ever student. He wanted to get up to speed with computers and learnt how to use e-mail and spreadsheets.My son Ben recalls how Uncle Jim would show off his recently
acquired skills using them to produce a database of Burnley
Football Club including every result, goal scorers, and probably
even what the weather was like. . . . .
He was amazing, he just never stopped wanting to learn.Many of us will also recall Jim’s liking for other types of technology, not least recording media. He seemed to have more video recorders and tape decks than Phillips. I reckon he was one of the  few who still used the old Betamax tapes.I could go on and on and on ….. there are so many more happy
memories I could share with you but they can wait until later today when I hope we can all share lots more memories. Whatever the memories they are treasured and will last forever.Uncle Jim was the head of our family, he was unique, a true one-off and loved by us all.I think Ben and Steph’s Mum Kay summed Uncle Jim up when on hearing of his passing she told me how sorry she was and that he was a lovely man.Uncle Jim, you certainly were a lovely man.Rest in Peace. God Bless.

James Marriott
Born 14th February 1917
Died 14th February 2012

Not too sure if I like this growing old malarky

Dad has lived on his own 10 years. On February 14 2011 he’s 94.

Which is bloody marvellous if you think about it. For those ten years he’s only had one leg. Luckily he has a wheelchair too, which helps, otherwise getting about would be a little tricky.

Every week – I’ve missed a handful – I’ve tootled over to Burnley to see him.  I used to see him and mum, but she left us 10 years ago in a fug of dementia and cancer.

That’s when dad became just dad, no longer part of the always-there 55-plus-years partnership  that was  “mum and dad”. I’d never have thought dad would still be there for so long, living in his wheelchair-converted home on his own.

dad at the age of two with his brother Wilfred
Dad, right, at the age of two with his brother Wilfred

But he has a character made of iron. A man born during the first world war and in the RAF in the second was not going to back down faced with losing a leg and a wife in the space of 18 months.

So it’s been for ten years, that I’ll go to see him on a Saturday, bearing the hugely important gifts of fish, chips and pies.  my sister goes on a Sunday. Up to a couple of months ago things were hunky dory-ish.

Dad’s Saturday afternoon routine was to endlessly watch snooker; tune in Radio Lancashire; check he had a tape; record the Burnley match; tap on his laptop (yes… at the age of 93) and update his excel document on Burnley’s fixtures and goal difference. “Because Burnley Football Club know I’m doing it and will want it you see.”

His stories we’d all heard many times before; about football, Harry Potts, working in breweries … every Saturday there was an anecdote with a finger-jabbing determination.

My biggest problem has been avoiding my big toe being run over as he went en route for more vinegar.

Don’t get me wrong.  Dad is the most frustrating man I know. We’ve had a love-hate relationship all my life.

But as Ive got older in parallel with his aging, I’ve learnt to soften when his  grumpiness has come out. His frustration at not being able to get out and about as he’d like; his constant, constant conviction that he could drive if someone let him; that he would still be able to give any Burnley centre half a good run for their money even in his wheelchair. Which may be true.

I’ve even joked with him that given a chance he might be capable of getting his leg over. Singular. We’ve chuckled.

But a couple of months ago the subtelty of the clock ticking away the years began to make its mark. It’s been a long horrid winter for all of us; punctuated with a Christmas that certainly in our family we’ll remember for a long time as the whole family got together for the first time in 25 years. For dad. As my sister said, inviting us all, he’s becoming more and more frail.

To see a little old man’s tiny tiny frame tucked up in bed, in the dark, on a Saturday afternoon,  as I’ve arrived in recent weeks bearing the best a Lancashire chippie can offer  has been, if anything, humbling.

I tried to cheer up dad by popping my hat on his head yesterday
I tried to cheer up dad by popping my hat on his head 

He spoke to me yesterday about not seeing people he knew; his friends no longer with us; staring at the same four walls for hours at a time; being confused when  he wakes up that he struggles to remember snippets of his life (and what a long life). And a little frightened to be honest.

Imagine you as you are now. Perhaps watching footie – Blackburn and WBA are on as I write. Going out with friends tonight. Deciding whether to walk to the corner shop for a paper and some tinnies. Texting a mate: You coming round? What’s for tea. Curry or a roast. Walking round the block with the dog.

Then put yourself in a room. It’s dark. You’re tired, no friends to ring, no walks round the block, not being bothered to read. Can’t even be enthused to switch on the laptop. Or the television. Things are, well, getting a bit too much effort.

It’s very sad. I’m not too sure if I like this growing old malarky.

For mum. The memories remain, despite dementia tangling yours

Just about an hour before my mum died, she stretched her arm up from the bed and gently touched my face.

There was a fleeting look of recognition. She wanted to reach out and touch me. She knew who I was.

I’ll never forget that moment. It was the sun shining fleetingly through a crack in a cloud, only to be swamped by greynesss just seconds later.

Mum – Sally – had been suffering from vascular dementia for some time. When she lost her battle nine years ago this month she was fighting cancer too; but for many months she had lived in a cocoon, trapped by her own perceptions of who people were, where she was, and how she could get by each day.

Mum on her last birthday; her 78th

For me, the rest of my family and particularly my dad, we were mourning mum even though she was still around.

She thought my dad was her dad – simply because most of the people around her called him that.

I once walked up the hall of the care home she was staying and I could hear a woman crying out a name. I was taken aback when I got to mum’s room and I realised it was her. She was shouting out for her sister who had been dead many years. She didn’t even know I was in the room. Or rather, she knew someone was there, but not me.

My mum was a sensitive soul; she had once trained as a nurse; she did voluntary work for the Red Cross. In her early 40s she began a new career and when she retired she was a senior manager in the business.

But the first signs of dementia were imperceptible … I know them now, retrospectively. She couldn’t remember how to make a cup of tea. And once she said she’d make  some scrambled egg and I found her in the kitchen furiously whipping an egg to within an inch of it’s life in a cold bowl, dumbfounded as to why it wasn’t scrambling.

So we watched as the “mumness” of mum left her, slowly ebbed away. We could see it but mum was oblivious. Her reality was her own normality; ours was the living grief of seeing her disappear.

I had to train myself how to behave when I was with her. At first it was devastating to hear her say some of the things she did, which were often contradictory, disjointed and often repetitive.

But once I learnt to live within her reality when I was with her, and not impose my own, then acceptance of the situation became a little easier for me.

I have no idea where mum suddenly found that gap in her own dementia cloud, that shaft of recognition in her last moments.

All I know is I’m grateful for it.

I wrote the above piece as a personal aspect to go with a newspaper story about Hoylake Cottage, a Wirral centre which offers both residential and day care for people suffering from dementia.

It was only as I was driving back to the office that I realised it was nine years to the day that my mum had died in a care home in Burnley (November 4 2001). That’s when she had touched my face; the  day I held her hand as she breathed her final moments.

At Hoylake we’d talked about how difficult it was for people who hadn’t had dementia touch their lives, to understand what it meant. For our family, it was a mourning process for mum, visits punctuated by sighs, starting and ending with anxious, deep, deep breaths. Perhaps mum had wanted me to go to Hoylake on that particular day; to then be touched and try and help, in my own little way, to express the pain to others.

 

Mum in her early 20s; wearing her Land Army uniform

Dementia may not be a heartstring-tugging subject, but it sure as hell is a heartrending one when you’re involved in it.

Today I spoke to my sister and she shared her own memories of that terrible not-knowing, the all-encompassing unknown, the shifting sands of sense which had afflicted such a lovely lady, our mum.

These are my sister Sue’s memories …

There were the days when she couldn’t decide which Sue I was, but the most devastating day for me was when dad nearly died in hospital and she said you {me}would be upset because he was your dad. When I said he was mine too she  said ‘Oh I didn’t know that’.
There was some humour
The day she stood in our kitchen and turned round and round and said: I want the toilet and I know it is here somewhere.
And little incidents that made me smile
The lost mince pies that I found three years later in the top cupboard of the wardrobe
The lost knickers that I found with the dusters
The yoghurt sandwich, put away with the cups
The day we went out together and she put elastic bands round her shoes to hold them on becaue they were loose, and she said she always did that
But there was  terrible sadness like when I took her out for new clothes and she was wearing dad’s vest and underpants. A woman who always loved nice underwear.

But mum always was happy, never really aggressive, and alway loved to have a laugh even at her own mistakes (like the toilet incident and the knickers incident).

The week before she died, I went to see her and she was perfectly mum. We had a long conversation about all sorts and she told me that people thought she was losing her mind, but she wouldn’t accept it. (I’ve forgotten her exact words but she implied she was fooling everybody).

That day I told my neighbours who worked for the hospice that mum seemed alot better and said how she behaved. They took one look at each other and said: Sue, I don’t think it will be long.

She died three days later.

Oh mum. We’re missing you.

We started to miss you when you were still with us. God bless.

Watching the clock of the eBay, seeing my cash roll away

I’ve just had my first eBay experience.

As a seller that is; not as a buyer. No, I pushed the boat out on that one way back in 2005 when I bought a pedometer.

I was given feedback after the exchange of a heady £4.92 as: “One of the best buyers!! Thank you! Thank You! Thank You!”.

I slept well after that, knowing that someone in the ether had used five exclamation marks with reference to me.

For the first time last week I decided to sell; tops that no longer fitted me thanks to the eat-and-drink-what-you-want-on-Friday-night-and-Saturday-and-Sunday-but-pull-out-all-the-stops-before-weigh-in-on-Tuesday-night-then-buy-a-bottle-of-wine-on-the-way-home-diet. It’s worked quite well to be honest. One stone and 8lb-ish well so far.

So a week last Saturday I burrowed into my wardrobe; unwanted clothes were flipped over my shoulder and onto the bed faster than a dog digging up a favourite bone ….. Six hours later I was taking photographs. Cor blimey, my clothes had NO personality. Trying to get them to pose in an attractive, alluring ‘you-know-you-want-me-look’ was pointless. And as for descriptions … Embellished with beads? I’ll give you bloody beads; and geometric designs; and silky-feel and snug and warm; and thanks for looking; and selling because of weight-loss. Maybe a charity shop could have been easier, less selfish and I wouldn’t have needed a thesaurus.

But it would all be worth it. I’d have a little extra cash to buy something for my birthday (50th, I know I’ve told you … this Sunday in fact.)

I clicked a button; my things were uploaded and up for sale. Then I suddenly became the most boring person in the world for seven days (ok ok, some people who know me may extend that timeframe).

I watched; I counted-down; I prayed someone would want my things. I was slighted when two days, then three then four went past and no-one had put a bet on. Nooo. Said t’other half; it’s a bid. Well whatever it was, it wasn’t happening to me. Did I have terrible taste? I felt sorry for my unwanted things, even at only 99p starting price and £2.50 postage and packing. Even a silky-feel wasn’t enough verbal embellishment to encourage a bet.

But then it happened five days in and I HAD BETS. (nooooo…. said t’other half BIDS). I was £3 up. £3!!! This was great. What would I buy. Wow four hours later I had £6.72! The betting had gone into overdrive. “BIDDING,  BIDDING’ (exasperated t’other half exits right to kitchen for can of Murphy’s).

Talk about addicted … I watched the countdown to one item and in the last few seconds the sale went up by 50p. I was ecstatic. People were stumbling over themselves to pay an extra 50p in the dying moments of betting (*****B-I-D-D-I-N-G***** grrrrr) to buy something that was bead-embellished. So at the end of that I was up £30.34. Howzabout that then boys and girls.

But then panic set in. How do I post them. I haven’t got anything to post them in. And wrap them? I haven’t got bubble wrap or brown paper or bags or postage labels.  The latter seemed easy to sort out. There was a link on eBay to click through to print postage labels and … yup, I’ll click on this Royal Mail link… what size parcel… this? OK. ooops I didn’t mean to REALLY press. Shit. I’ve just paid £4.41 for postage on something that should have been £2.75. I won’t do that again. At least I’m still about £26 up. I’ll be able to treat myself.

I’d better go to the post office and buy some of those plastic postage bags. Oh. No postage bags, I’ll get these little Jiffy bags. Yes, quite a few. Of course things will fit in them. That’s £7 please Madam …. OK. here you are … right, no prob, I’m still about £20 up and the postage will work out a little bit cheaper  than I quoted people. So I’m still on target for a little birthday treat.

Nope …the Jiffy bags are useless. I’ll have to buy some of those little plastic postage bags after all. (Next day, lunchtime: There you are madam. And bubble wrap too? That’s £10.15 madam. Thank-you).

Well, stay positive. You can get a nice bottle of wine for a tenner.

So, at last. This afternoon,  in the pouring rain,  I threw the car in the closest parking space to the post office and  posted all my items. I was happy. Tickety-boo. I’d learnt a few lessons, but I’d still made a little money, despite being bloody hopeless. I’ll go and buy that wine next. Perhaps I might stretch to some sparklie?

I ran through the deluge and back to the car, jumping in faster than a German in a hotel reception queue. What’s this? What’s this on my windscreen? I’ve only been gone 10 minutes.

Bloody hell. A parking ticket.

Yes madam. That’s £35 please.

Ah yes; just the ticket! There goes the wine ...
Ah yes; just the ticket! There goes the wine …

Hot-footing it to raise cash for Clatterbridge Cancer Research

Well.

Saturday.  It started off a cold October day in 2010, but in a few hours it will be hot, hot hot.

Or rather, I will be hot, hot hot. As of course, I always am.

But the bottom line is, today I have feet, including a particularly attractive big toe. Tomorrow, who knows.

Heel and Toes ... the stars of the show this evening.
Heel and Toes … the stars of the show this evening.

This evening (Oct 16th) at about 9pm-ish, after two hours of training and psyching up – which no doubt will mainly consist of conversations along the line of “what the hell am I doing?” – I will be walking over hot coals.

Call me mad if you like. I’d prefer to call it barking mad.

All with the aim of raising cash for Clatterbridge Cancer Research in  Wirral.

On the grand scale of things it’s not a life-changing action; I’m not setting new Olympic records; I’m not rescuing Chilean miners from the depths; I’m not flying to the moon; I’m not brokering a Middle East peace agreement. Mind you, no-one else is either.

But for me it is a little step forward in my life, a  noticeable derring-do-devilish action which 18 months ago, no six months, if even maybe four, I wouldn’t even have considered. Or rather dared to consider.

Over a year ago I wanted to challenge myself to 50 things this year; 50 mini-accomplishments to celebrate my 50th birthday (it’s nearing, oh yes it is). But that wasn’t to happen as I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome which left me wiped out.

When you have CFS it’s not like feeling “tired”. It’s feeling exhausted.  Consistently. But it wasn’t “in my mind” even though some people no doubt thought it was. Essentially my body clock was arse over tit; I couldn’t sleep; I was exhausted.

I needed much more adrenalin than “normal” people just to get me through the day; but the adrenalin itself caused the mischief. The chemicals in the adrenalin didn’t leave me. Instead they lingered. Like unwelcome guests at a party, they wouldn’t bugger off.

Imagine the ebb and flow of a tide. The tide comes in, and out it goes again, leaving behind flotsam and jetsam. Apply that to adrenalin – of which I needed loads just to even get up in the morning. When it should have withdrawn (ie after I stopped doing whatever I was doing) it didn’t. Or if it did, it left behind chemical flotsam and jetsam that I had to clamber over,  hobble around, negotiate for days on end.

For me that flotsam included leg pain, lack of concentration, a complete inability to structure thought processes, a constant ‘pins and needles’ feeling in my face  like I was having a bath in dandelion and burdock. I rarely crossed a road or drove a car for three months because I couldn’t work out how.

I couldn’t remember words  when talking to people.  Or I’d use the wrong words. Luckily my t’other half adjusted to my strange Stanley Unwin CFS-speak. (Google him …. I am nearly 50 you know.) T’other half has got so good at it he’s going to publish a CFS Dixie Mary. Oh, sorry. Dictionary.

So 50 things to celebrate my 50th birthday went the way of most of my plans for this year. I had as much chance of succeeding as Owen Coyle has of organising a Festival of Fun  in Burnley town centre.

But I’m on the up … sort of. Touch wood. Or perhaps torch bloody wood.

So. Along came firewalking for a cancer charity.

I’ll do that I thought. I’ll do that for my 50th, for charity, for fun, to put a marker down that I’ve turned a corner without bumping into anything on the way.

But I’m also doing it for everyone whose lives have been blighted by the horrid disease which is cancer. I have family and workmates who are being treated, or who have come through the treatment and are feeling positive again.

But more than anything I’m doing it as a 50th birthday present to a very dear friend who  lost his life last year because of cancer. A friend, about six weeks older than me, who I really miss. While I was struggling to string a sentence together, he was fighting for his life.

A much-missed friend

I’m still around to celebrate being 50, he isn’t; although we sometimes joked about being old fogeys and remembering the 70s and punk music. Today I’d say Gareth, do you know that 30 years ago Message in a Bottle was Number 1? And we might laugh as it feels like yesterday.

But cancer took him away and to mark his 50th, and mine, it would be great if I could help raise only a little bit of money to fund cancer research. So that someone else, if not Gareth, will have the chance to be teased on their 50th birthday about their taste in music and the punk trousers they once wore; or even be given the chance to see their soon-to-be-born first grandchild.

As a birthday present I once gave Gareth a box of scotch bonnet chillis. Tonight I’ll be giving him some hot, hot coals. I hope he appreciates the theme.

Dieting tips … WeightWatchers, a pedometer and tweeting your way to success

I think I should buy shares in WeightWatchers.

Mind you, saying that, I should also buy shares in Carling, Gordon’s Gin and anything white, red or inbetween.

Which may be part of the problem. However. Moving on.

This year I joined WeightWatchers for the 752nd time. Ok, not really, but I reckon it must be the 4th or 5th. I get weighed on a Tuesday teatime and I eat for England on a Tuesday night.

I think I’ve done every diet going, apart perhaps from the cabbage diet, and I can imagine there is probably alot of ‘going’ with that one.

Atkins. Which makes your breath smell. That red/green one which made me blue, as I couldn’t understand it. Rosemary Conley with all the little-girlie-keepie-fit exercises at the end.

WeightWatchers is the easiest; and to be honest has provided me with the most fun. In one of my membership incarnations the meetings were held in a room above a pub in Bolton. Well, that was like nectar to a bee as far as me and my pals were concerned. We’d get there early for the weigh-in, nip down to the bar, bring up two pints each and natter while the rest of the ladies (and one gent) ummed and aahed about where they slipped up.

I   had terrible hangovers the next day, which always tickled my journo colleagues. I couldn’t even slim without getting hammered. Actually, that was very true. I couldn’t even slim! Eventually we were told we couldn’t drink in the meetings as “we were a bad influence”. Barred from drinking, in a pub. I ask you.

But this year I’ve had to knuckle down as I’ve put on more weight than ever before, mainly due to being on sick leave such a long time at the beginning of the year and having no energy to do anything. Except increase in girth.

But you’ll be pleased to know that so far I’ve lost a stone. I think it may have fallen down the back of the settee, but I’ve pulled the furniture out and still can’t find it.

As I’ve been going along I’ve been tweeting my dieting and get-healthy tips. And they have obviously been so succesful that I thought I’d find some of those tweets and share them with you. Here goes.

Dieting and getting fit the claretsgirl way:

  • Make sure you do alot of wees before you get weighed; preferably in a room set aside specifically for the function
  • If red wine manages to blur the memory of what you eat at a barbecue, then luckily you don’t have to count up the calories
  • The word ‘pie’ only has three letters so is a lot better for you than ‘pie and chips’ which has 11.

    A pie is much better for you than pie and chips
    A pie is much better for you than pie and chips
  • If you eat one of your dad’s chips when he’s not looking then they become invisible calories so therefore don’t count
  • If you watch The One Show you will burn loads of calories by constantly tapping the remote trying to find something better
  • Girls. The quicker you drink wine, the more an arm (lifting glass) and lips (sipping) need to move. So more calories are used
  • Girls. If you drink red wine while reclining on the settee there’s no way it will find it’s way to your hips. Same for crisps.
  • 90 mins ironing = one very large glass of red
  • On hangover days your body needs stodge. Opening the fridge salad drawer is an impossibility. You must have Chinese curry. That’s science.
  • Drinking cider and eating cheese and onion crisps provides fruit and protein in one sitting
  • Dieting tip: DON’T DRINK
  • If you have a gulp of water before a gulp of red wine, the alcohol can hide from the internal calorie-counting antibody police
  • Save your calories for lager when there’s a big match on
  • It’s ok to have a chocolate cream eclair and glass(es) of wine and crisps as it gets dark as you can’t see the calories to count them
  • Try a procrastination diet and eat today what you might not eat tomorrow
  • If the footie’s on, stuff the diet. Repeat as necessary on Saturdays and Sundays.

    Me, claretsgirl ... I am what I eat
    Me, claretsgirl ... I am what I eat
  • You are what you eat. I’m often a lightly battered cod. Only slightly crusty round the edges.
  • Calories don’t count if someone else has done the cooking
  • If you join a salsa class, remember you don’t need to take your own tomatoes
  • Jogging. There’s a thing. And a thing it will remain
  • Drop your pedometer a few times to register steps, taking you nearer to your ‘healthy treat’ each day. Without moving an inch.
  • 1000 steps on a pedometer cancels out calories of a glass of wine. So Ive taken to sitting down and stamping my feet. Easier.
  • Use your pedometer to check how many times you walk to the bar. Reward your healthiness with a double gin.
  • Finally … tapping out just over 800 words on a blog uses one calorie per letter. This allows you to have a mediumy-large-go-on-make-it-a-bit-larger glass of Chardonnay.
    Cheers!!

Burnley FC … why I became a Clarets girl

The story of a Burnley fan … Part 1

One day in the summer of 1974 I was hanging around on a street corner with my friends, discussing whether David Essex was more fanciable than Les from Mud, as you do, when my dad came out of the house and shouted me over.

I thought bloody hell, what have I done now.

Look, he said. I’ve got you a season ticket to come and see Burnley with me. I was gobsmacked. What the hell gave him the idea I would want to do that?

I was devastated that dad hadn’t even asked me. I mean, I DID THINGS on a Saturday afternoon. I went into town and hung around the Wimpy bar in Burnley town centre; walked up and down streets; sat in friends’ bedrooms; drank coffee; giggled about boys; avoided homework; watched Play Away.

Why on earth would I want to go to football matches? My life was full. It didn’t need football. I wasn’t interested.

So my season ticket remained untouched until September 14 1974 when I decided to go. After all, Burnley were playing the champions Leeds United. If my memory serves me right I think  Ted Heath the prime minister was there opening the new Bob Lord stand. If I was ever going to go that was the day. Besides, dad had been pursuading me.

Isn’t it funny how snap decisions can change the template of your life; can take you in a direction as straight as a Roman road for years and years.

Dad had supported Burnley all his life; born in the town, he’d moved away as a young boy but would cycle over from Sheffield to watch matches. He’d lived in Nottingham and the North East but would still travel to the games whenever he could.

I’ve even created an urban myth around my own existence, which is that dad had a twinkle in his eye when it was pretty apparent that Burnley would win  the league in 1960. A fellow Burnley fan and journalist colleague  is just a few weeks older than me. A couple of years ago we spent a Saturday afternoon drunk-texting each other to work out which Burnley victory early in 1960 our respective fathers had decided to celebrate. We concluded it may have been a Bolton game. That theory is  absolute bollocks, if you pardon the pun, but it amuses me.

I was born in the North East and can remember having a claret and blue teddy bear   but at the time I didn’t know why. Dad had begun to work for Burnley Football Club and had to travel down to Lancashire regularly. Eventually we moved from the north east to Burnley, at the behest of the infamous Bob Lord, so dad would be nearer to work.

Dad was even friends with club hero Harry Potts and I remember being taken to Harry Potts’ mum’s house for tea and cake more than once.

But despite dad’s strong connection with the Clarets, I had not been interested in supporting them.

That is, until  September 14 1974. I walked up some steps inside the Cricket Field Stand at Turf Moor and for the first time had that magical moment … which still happens … of seeing a football pitch rise into view in front of me, green as an emerald, as expectant as the buzz around me.

I was hooked. And the game hadn’t even kicked off.

To be continued …

(This post has also appeared on the Burnley fans’ forum No Nay Never)

Facts about claretsgirl: David Cassidy, Jane Austen and Bacardi

In my very first blog I dangled the carrot of expectation, teasing you with the prospect of more facts about me, claretsgirl, by way of introduction.

That was a little while ago and the carrot has probably shrivelled up by now, and you’ve all  moved on to thinking about the new football season.

But I’m back with more.

It’s quite tough really thinking of interesting things about me. Confounds me why I started a blog in the first place to be honest if, out of all of my almost-50 years (catch up; you need to read my first blog) the claretsgirl facts I’ve come up with this time include drinking and kissing.

But here we go ….

1. I had my first kiss at a junior disco in the Silverman Hall, Nelson. I kept my eyes open all the time.

2. The lad who gave me my first kiss at a junior disco in the Silverman Hall, Nelson, kept his eyes open all the time.

3. My first kiss at a junior disco in the Silverman Hall, Nelson, consisted of a staring competition.

4. The first album I ever owned was 20 Power Hits. The first single I ever owned was Storm In a Teacup by The Fortunes. My taste in music has gone downhill since then. We used to sing this this one in the playground. And at one point I even fancied this bloke.  But then David Cassidy came into my life … “hanging around with my head up, upside down”. Ooh. Butterflies, even now.

5. The first time I had a hangover I was 14 when someone spiked my coke with Bacardi. The last time I had a hangover was last Sunday after someone spiked my Bacardi with coke.

6.  All through school I had the maddest crush on *** ******. I’m not disgusing his name, that’s what he was called. Caused mayhem for new teachers doing register.

7.  I was a founder member of the Pendle Home Brew Society. In other words, a bunch of beer-loving journos had come up with an excuse to get together and drink lots of beer. I was social secretary, which was great.  There was  a lot of  emphasis on social and hardly any on secretary.

8. I once did a parachute jump even though I’d never flown before. For three years I was able to say I had taken off in a plane but never landed. I got a few pints out of that  teaser.

9. I don’t swim very well. I look like I’m doing the Okey Cokey underwater and that’s when I’m just paddling.

10. I named my daughter Emma after the book of the same name by Jane Austen. If I’d had twins they would have been called Pride and Prejudice.

“Oi, Pride, your tea’s ready! And put Prejudice down!!” I think that would have worked, don’t you?

Next time on claretsgirl facts: There will be more facts about claretsgirl. Keep going, I’ll quiz you all later.

Not so much Who Do You think You Are, as Where Do You Think He Went

Let me tell you a little about my dad.

The other week I went for a meal with my sister,  brother-in-law, niece, dad  and a couple of cousins about four times removed from California.

An ordinary meal with extended family. Perhaps. But it was a little more poignant than that.

It was the search for a dad, for dad, that had brought us together.

A family gathering

My dad was born in 1917 on February 14th. The 1st World War was raging; it was a year before women over the age of 30 were given the vote; just the day before, Mata Hari had been arrested on suspicion of spying; when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the Russian throne dad was just over one month old.

It never ceases to fascinate me that dad was born when all these sepia, consigned-to-history-books events took place.

But there he is, at 93, the umbilical cord between me – us – and events almost a century ago.

Dad weighed just 2lb when he was born at Victoria Hospital in Burnley. A doctor called MacGregor suggested dad be incubated in a warm drawer to try and keep him alive. He was fed using the tube from inside a fountain pen. Obviously it worked … and dad has forever borne the middle name MacGregor in lasting thanks to that canny medical man.

When dad was about five his dad – Wilfred – left home, never to return. Dad often recalls going into a shop on Manchester Road in Burnley as a little boy, urged on by his own mother, to pull on his dad’s coat-tails and ask for a little money.

But other than that, for practically 90 years, dad – my dad – has never known what happened to his dad.

So step in my sister. The Miss Marple of the genealogy world. Perhaps she’d prefer Jessica Fletcher. I’ll let you know if I survive after this paragraph is published.

To cut to the chase, my sister recorded the memories of my great aunt, who lived to the age of 99 and from that moment she caught the family history bug. She set herself a challenge to track down dad’s dad.

I won’t bore you with the fine detail, but eventually my sister pieced together a family jigsaw which had seen our grandfather bought up with a surname which wasn’t his own; it was his mother’s from a previous marriage.

A woman’s decision to revert to a former marital surname when she was left alone when her husband – our grandfather’s father – left home, confused my sister’s family search. A surname which my dad, his sons, grandson and great-grandson still bear.

A political pamphlet hidden in some of dad’s belongings led to the breakthrough of tracking down dad’s ancestry. Written by JR Widdup, it was a socialist mantra written in Burnley in the late 19th century. My sister explained her discoveries, and requested information, at the time in 2004. She had  discovered that JR Widdup – a strident socialist in the late 19th century – was the father of our  grandfather Wilfred Widdup. But there was still no sign of him.

It is very odd but once I knew my true family surname  – Widdup –  I felt as if I’d come home somehow. You may think that’s an odd thing to say, but Marriott had been my maiden name but I had never felt comfortable with it.

Me and dad

It transpired dad’s family had a strong connection to Barnoldswick and the beautiful St Mary le Ghyll Church is the resting place of many of our ancestors. Weddings, christenings and funerals; the church cradles the shadows of long-lost emotions of my forebears in its historic walls. I was moved by those shadows when I visited and had a little weep.

Up until very recently dad knew nothing of this family background. Now he is just as likely to say ‘I should have been a Widdup you know’ as he is to comment on Burnley’s chances of getting back in the Premiership.

Once my sister ‘cracked’ the mystery of my grandfather’s background she was able to trace back the history of the Widdups some way and is even now known as an expert on them.

But still no sign of Wilfred.

My sister also traced back my grandfather’s maternal side – the lady who changed her name to a former marital name. My dad’s grandma. Even she lost touch with her son Wilfred when he moved away, which for years led the family to believe that some tragedy had befallen him, as mother and son were very close.

Her own father Thomas had worked on the railways and was killed at a now-defunct Burnley train station, leaving his widow to bring up her young family.  Thomas’ own siblings had already moved away from Burnley with their minister father to a new church in Yorkshire.

It was one of their descendents we met in a pub in Burnley the other week. Herb, dad’s 3rd cousin removed.  My sister had found him via the network of genealogists that refer and cross-refer to each other when fellow researchers ask questions and seek information. You help me, and I’ll try and help you, seems to be their informal philosophy.

Since then their internet friendship has developed into a real one, with the family connection coming back together all those years after Thomas lost touch with his own family when they moved away to another town.

So there we were in a pub. Nothing but steak and kidney pie and a few generations several times removed between us.

Dad was so chuffed. Not least because there was one portion of chicken dinner still left in the kitchens. He looked at me and my sister and said ‘ah, there’s my daughters’. He looked at Herb and his wife and said ‘ah, who’d have thought’.

On the back of a menu card Herb – our American cousin – drew up our relationship in the form of a family tree.

All those lives crunched onto a a scrap of paper

People once living, breathing, walking and talking, confined to the syllables of their names, attached to each other by a horizontal blue ink line, each hanging off it in their designated time and space, like a family hangman game.

I remember thinking one day I’ll be one of those, waiting for someone like my sister to come along and press-stud me to my own horizontal line, my dates below me in brackets, framing the start and end of a lifetime of experiences. Attached to cousins four or five times removed I’ve never met, or even known of their existence. I hope they laugh at my jokes.

So far Wilfred has escaped detection. It’s not so much Who Do You think You Are, as Where Do You Think He Went.

The closest physical proof to his very existence is my dad. Scuttling around in his wheelchair, the family bridge between a long-gone generation and mine.

Dad still doesn’t know what happened to his dad. But a whole backstory of family history has opened up. It’s fascinating stuff.

Dad was tired at the end of the night, as you would be after chicken dinner AND vanilla ice cream at the age of 93. But thanks to my sister, we’d all shared in reaching out and touching part of his family history and he was happy for that.

But whether sister/Jessica/Miss Marple/the geneaology network will finally come up trumps in the search for a dad for dad only time will tell.

Sadly though, in dad’s case, we don’t know how much of that he has.

Twitter and Burnley FC have alot to answer for

If you’re reading this you may have found me through Twitter.

If you didn’t, then how the hell did you? Answers on a postcard please …

So who am I, why am I here, if claretsgirl falls in a forest and there’s no-one there to hear does she make a noise.

Most likely ‘Yes’. Because I’m very clumsy. That, my friends, is the first uninteresting fact I am going to share with you about me.

The second is the reason this blog is called claretsgirl. One; I am not claret (though I go a little flushed after one too many) and two; I am definitely not a girl (I was once, I might add, just in case you are doubting my sexuality).

No. In fact the avatar ‘claretsgirl’ came about because I am a Burnley fan, and last summer when we were promoted to the Premiership at Wembley I was as giddy as a kipper. Have you ever seen a grown kipper cry? Well .. I was so excited and enthused that  I decided to start a Twitter account to prepare for a bit of angst-sharing along the way.

I ‘virtually’ met other clarets fans, and between us we are collectively known as twitterclarets. Angst is now most definitely shared. Quite often.

But that aside, discovering Twitter rekindled my love of words; a quirky quip or two between complete strangers about which Beatles song sounds like a fruit and there you have it. Fulfilment on an average at-home Friday night. (If you don’t do Twitter then to clarify…. Yes. It is total bollocks).

To the point then.

I’m writing a blog because I want to share my reflective ramblings at a pivotal time of my life. Pivotal because I’m 50 this year.

Shit. I’ll say it again. I’m 50 this year.

When I was 21 I thought people who were 50 were sad, chunky, crinkly and didn’t like decent music. I must have had fantastic visionary skills in those days as all are now true. Apart, maybe, from the crinkly bit. I’ve escaped that. People think I’m younger which is nice. Keep it up, I say.

So half a century old. In November. (The 7th if you want to send a card and some flowers, but I’ll remind you nearer the time.)

At the back end of last year I had great plans for this year. I wanted to do 50 things to mark my birthday and blog about them. Erm …. well, that kind of fell by the wayside. One of the reasons being that I was diagnosed with a bugger of an  illness which wiped me out for the good part of at least a year. More on that another time.

Hey-ho. It’s now July 2010, I’m 50 in just over three months, but here I am at last. My first blog post. I hope it’s up to the mark, whoever he may be.

So instead of doing 50 things and blogging about them,  I’ll share 50 facts with you about me. That should get us on a friendly footing I reckon.

I wouldn’t be so mean as to do 50 at once .. so here’s a starter for 10.

The first 10 facts about claretsgirl

1. I am not really claret-coloured (see above)

2. I quite like drinking it though

3. I am not a girl (see above)

4. I am getting on a bit (see above)

5. I support Burnley FC. This is me being as giddy as a kipper moments after we were promoted to the Premiership {a) I am giddy b) I don’t look like a kipper}

6) I am very clumsy (see above)

7) My daughter is clumsy too. (This year I will be exactly double her age. Emsiz {that’s Emma} will be 25 and mumsiz {that’s me} will be 50. Have I mentioned that? November 7th? Gift vouchers accepted)

8) I live in Liverpool. But I have also lived in county Durham, the county of Lancashire, the county of Hertfordshire and the county of Greater Manchester. The latter was a made up county in some 1974 admin-revolution, so I’ll change that to Bolton. And there I lived for 20 years.

9) My best friend when I was about 8 was called Lanky. Not a tall gangly girl, but a plank. Literally. I was heartbroken when someone snapped it in two.

10) I like words. Particularly ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ and ‘I’ll have a pint’. Or even ‘I’ll have a pint please. Thank-you.’ Great when you can string them together like that.

But the bottom line is it’s a love of words that’s brought me here to my first blog. Words. And a drop of angst.

I’m blogging, at last. You can thank Twitter and Burnley FC for that.