This was Definitely an Eleven Moment

 

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Every now and again someone does something so breathtakingly spectacular that it will be remembered as long as people tell stories to each other. In my world these moments are known as elevens.

Let me explain, if you take a picture of a black wall that would illicit a score of one. Take a picture of a white wall with someone stood in front of it then that arguably would be a two and so on. To get to an eleven it has to be an earth changing moment, for example the assassination of J F Kennedy, First man on the Moon, even 911.

So what happened today that changed the world. A young Skydiver named Felix Baumgartner completed a challenge that took him and his team five years to complete which was so breathtaking in its vision and complexity that it led me to sit spell bound looking at a small youtube screen for the best part of three hours.

The last time my generation saw anything this extraordinary was back in the early seventies watching Niel Armstrong step onto the Moon for the first time, watching on a grainy black and white TV stuck in the corner of the lounge with all the neighbors watching intently, I can’t believe that was more than Forty years ago.

Most of us would I am sure surrounded by the people who we try to impress do things we would not normally do, just look at any small airfield on any given weekend to see various everyday people jumping out of planes for some worthy cause or another.

This guy although surrounded by the very best engineers and designers who created the balloon, the suit and the procedures that would ensure success trusted them enough to put his life on the line. 

Watching the progress on my computer what I didn’t expect was the time it took to get to the altitude for the jump and the fact that this guy was sat on his own for two or more hours in a tiny capsule checking his equipment and rehearsing his exit. What type of bravery does it take to do that, far more than I have. 

To take that gigantic leap of faith this guy must have the biggest balls on earth, as he stepped out and started his decent my heart skipped more that a beat or two.

Was it the awful silence when at 833 mph he was tumbling head over heals through the atmosphere, or was it the fact that it seemed a very long time before his parachute opened or was it just the fear of the unknown. 

Live TV does that, it makes you wonder what the outcome will be, and you brain tries to compute the odds of success whilst its happening, this is what makes it gripping to watch, It was without doubt the longest five minutes of my life. Programmes like the X Factor talk about pressure and suspense, they don’t know the meaning of the word.

This mans photograph should be posted on every classroom wall in the country and we should tell our young people every day that anything is possible with hard work, teamwork and being brave enough to overcome fear so we can achieve great things.

Someone said to me once that if you wish to be famous make sure its for something you can be proud of, today this brave individual will go down in history as someone who did something unbelievable, something that will be remembered for years to come and for me it was a definitely eleven moment. 

 

 

I Hope We Remember Lessons Learned

After the past six weeks of breathtaking feats of athleticism, and superhuman performances in the Olympics and Para Olympics it is back to earth with a bang. 

I have calculated that it took exactly seven hours before the news channels brought us down to earth with a bump with threats of mass industrial action and further financial gloom.

So what difference did the Olympics make to me? Not a great deal really apart from one glorious Saturday afternoon / evening watching Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah strut there stuff with three hundred other out of shape middle aged men with pints in there hands cheering with all there hearts. A wonderful moment to savor.

The Para Olympics on the other hand has had a profound effect. At the start of the event I felt uncomfortable watching these athletes with limbs missing and severe disabilities doing superhuman things. Things I wouldn’t even attempt with this crumbling body which isn’t in to bad a shape. 

What it did, it put these people in the spotlight, gave them a stage and made it acceptable  to look at someone with a less than perfect body and not feel uneasy. 

I have started to look past the disabilities and look at the individuals, heroes one and all. Not because of the superhuman effort that these feats must have taken but the fact that they show me that the human spirit can overcome almost anything. 

I only hope that just like the news it doesn’t take me seven hours to forget the lesson I have learned.

 

You Can’t Beat a Quiet Pint

I have often wondered how Doctors feel when trying to have a quiet drink after a hard day at the office and a patient comes up and starts the conversation about some symptom or another. Now I know.

Its been a long time since I felt annoyed enough to try and punch someones lights out,  but tonight I came really close and was ready to try. 

Why is it that everyone who went to school, have children who go to school or university seem to be experts in the education system and seem to think that every child in this country has the same opportunities that they had. This is a preposterous idea. 

Social mobility or what ever the latest government terminology is which purports to give everyone an even chance is as far away now as it was for my grandfather. Not every child in every school or college in the country has the same opportunities and that is a fact. When you look at the education system in this country there is a gulf between good schools and bad schools in every town let alone the north south divide.

So tonight while I was having a quiet pint as I do on a Friday night when I was led into a discussion that started with the following sentence. The Sixth Form College is were all the bright kids go and the Oldham College is for all the other kids who are not intelligent enough to try for university. 

I tried to explain that not everyone learns in the same way or has equal opportunities in this world and that the Oldham College suits people who learn by doing rather than learning academically and that it is possible to get to university from the college even though it might take twelve months longer, trying very hard to give a balanced response.

My annoyance came from the fact in five minutes this person undermined the hard work and dedication of the staff of an institution that probably at some point over the past hundred or so years has educated at least one member of his family. Has given thousands of students the opportunity to to go to university or get jobs in industry.

At this point the argument gathered momentum, then he introduced the argument that the Oldham College should not be allowed to sponsor the Waterhead Academy because it would profit them to suppress pupils attainment so they would have more students therefore making the college more sustainable. 

This as anyone who works under the rigorous inspection framework of OFSTED knows would be organisational suicide. He had totally chosen to overlook the fact that schools have by law a board of governors recruited not only from local government, local business and even the Sixth Form College but are responsible for the institution delivering the best possible opportunities and education possible.

He couldn’t understand why the college was forcing the two schools to merge which in his eyes would be a disaster, I pointed out that it was the local education authority under the building schools for the future scheme who had in fact made the decision and that the partnership of the two colleges and the council formulated the plan to deliver the project.

I sometimes despair that people always compare situations to there own lifestyle and make rash statements without any research and make wild accusations that are totally unsubstantiated. 

It seems strange to me that I went out to try and forget my working week and finished up embroiled in what can only be described as someone else’s misinformed rant. 

The beer still tasted good though.

 

 

Social Experiment Number One – Be Nice

 

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I had an epiphany the other night whilst I lay awake in the early hours, I thought i would conduct a social experiment using myself as the preverbal lab rat (some may say that I have been typecast).

What if for twenty four hours I was nice and thoughtful to the people I came into contact with, rather than being the cynical grumpy northern bloke that I am so proud to be. So Friday last week I got out of bed and started the experiment.

The first thing I did was make Ann a cup of tea in bed (that was not to difficult, I do that every morning) Kissed her on the cheek and said “good morning darling and how are you today”? The look on her face was that of someone who had woken up in a parallel universe, you know the sort of look that says “I know your up to something, what is it and will it cost me”?

Not to be deterred by this shall we say luke warm reception I had a shower got ready to go to the Hospital for a check up on my broken arm. I arrived at the hospital smiled nicely at the receptionist and said “good morning and how are you today”? I was greeted with a look that would stop a Rottweiler at fifty paces, she looked at my notes, I think she was checking to see if I had mental issues and interrogated me in a way that only an NHS receptionist can.

After a short wait I was summoned to see the doctor who informed me that my arm was broken (no shit Sherlock) I could have told him that, without any medical credentials and to go and get an Xray. I was still nice and smiled and dutifully made my way to the Xray department were the Radiologist started to torture me and made me cry. I again smiled in between the stifled sobbing and returned to the waiting room to see the doctor once more who informed me that my arm was still broken and there was nothing they could do but look at it again next month.

After this ordeal I thought I would try my experiment out on my colleagues at work. I thought I would treat them to a coffee and duly delivered it to there desks. Being cynical media types (they had already read my twitter message about my experiment) proceeded to remind me of all that weeks misdemeanors and one even suggested that I might have spiked her coffee and was very dubious about drinking it.

Throughout this ordeal I still was pleasant, wasn’t grumpy once although there was plenty of situations that warranted it, I just smiled and and tried to be positive.

It is strange though that most people when faced with someone who is smiling and being polite react in two ways the first one is that you are obviously a nutter and scuttle away as quick as possible or secondly join in and make the experience of human interaction a very pleasant experience.

We tend to blame technology and social media for the lack of communication skills in the young  but I think its just that we have become lazy and cannot be bothered with small talk anymore, it takes effort to be pleasant all the time. I really enjoyed this experience and I cannot promise not to be cynical in the future but I think I will make the effort to make small talk more often, and not only with blonde lithe young women. it is amazing the effect it has on you and your day.

Just one last point in the defense of technology, to celebrate my fifteen hours of being nice I tweeted that I was going for a celebratory pint to my local, to my surprise the pint was waiting for me on the bar as I walked in, now that is a useful piece of technology.

The End of the Age of Innocence

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I discovered an old family photograph stuck in a tin box that was in a chest at the back of our garage, things from my long deceased parents, belongings that somehow I couldn’t bring myself to look at.

It is almost thirty five years since they died but somedays it seems like only yesterday. In this faded photograph is me, my Mother holding my younger Brother and my Aunty. It was taken on a holiday in the summer of Nineteen Sixty Four at South Stack Lighthouse near Hollyhead, Angelsey.

I can remember like it was yesterday, not because of the endless sun filled summer’s that seem to propagate my early years but the terrifying journey that I endured getting to the lighthouse. It has been etched in my mind like a vivid nightmare even to this day. So one night as I lay in bed I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the spot and see if it was really as scary as I remembered all those years ago.

Last week we spent on a great time on the island, even the weather was kind and the bays and secluded coves were every bit as beautiful as my memory had painted them. 

We arrived at South Stack twice, the first time on Tuesday only to discover a rather swish looking visitors centre and coaches full of American and Eastern European tourists, something that I couldn’t remember from my previous visit but because of a extended stay on the glorious beach at Trearddur Bay it was too late to go onto the island therefore we made arrangements to try again on Thursday.

The day arrived but the weather was a little less kind but myself and Dave Wickham a friend who is always up for an adventure decided that we firstly needed to find the location were the photograph was taken. That was the easy bit, on the way up to the entrance to the steps down to the lighthouse I spotted a grassy area that when we checked must have been were I was sat some forty odd years ago.

I duly took a photograph and then decided that we would make a start down the 400 plus steps down to the footbridge that connects the island to the mainland. (Our respective partners had far more sense that to follow us, they decided that an afternoon tea would be far more enjoyable and left us to it). 

So off we started down the pathway to the location of my worst nightmares. We started out  down the gentle slope and rounded a bend and then down another gentle slope, reminiscent of the roads you see in the alps when traversing mountain sides. 

This didn’t seem anything like my memories and I thought all these years I had been a wimp. We then rounded the third corner which can only be likened to stepping out onto the ledge of a thirty story office block, even with the reassuring thick stone walls it still induced a feeling of vertigo that made my head spin, just like in my dreams. This time however because I didn’t want to appear a wimp in front of my friend I gritted my teeth  looked at the ever steepening steps and got on with it.

It is a spectacular environment, the roar of the large waves crashing agains the cliffs and the feeling of the wind on your face is fantastic, worth every step. After making it down the traditional stairs you are then met with a ladder some twenty feet almost vertical to get you to the footbridge across to the island. It was at this point we met with a slight problem, the footbridge had a gate on it which was locked and I was unable to finish what I had started. So I was left with the only option left to me, I did what every Japanese tourist would do I took a photograph to prove I had made it.

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We started to make our way back to the top of the cliffs.  All I can say it was a good job that some one of a similar age to myself had planned the pathway because every hundred yards or so was a bench, handy if you are as fit as myself. So I had completed my journey back into my childhood and discovered one instead of fear and dread was now memories full of sunny summer days, holidays on beaches and a feeling of freedom that somehow we seem to have lost.

Today I was again reminded of my childhood with the saddest of news that Winnie Johnson passed away tragically without knowing what happened to her son Keith Bennett at the hands of the Moor’s Murderers Ian Brady and Miora Hindley.

I seems coincidental the same time that my photograph was being taken these two monsters changed everyones childhood forever. The crimes they committed were so unimaginable they led to children everywhere being kept close to home and parents in case it could happen again.

It was drilled into children at school never talk to strangers and if you were approached by a stranger run to any door and knock for help. I personally was never let loose to explore and use my bicycle like before and always had to tell my parents were I was going and who with. Even with my own children I turned into Dads taxi, a service that my own daughter has taken over with her own children.

I am lucky in many respects, I am fairly heathy, I have a close family and I have never known what it is like to lose a child and I even remember long lost hot summers on my bicycle with some sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper so I didn’t need to return home for lunch enabling me and my mates to go to Hollingworth Lake for the day.

I think I am the type of person who tries to forgive and forget but some things I cannot forgive, I cannot forgive Ian Brady for what he did to those poor children and their families and for what he did to the subsequent generations he has robbed of the childhood I had for a short while.

The age of innocence in my eyes ended in nineteen sixty five at the hands of two cowardly murderers who changed everyone’s lives. I pray that Winnie Johnson finds the answers she was looking for and may she rest in peace

Everything Comes in Three’s

What a week it was last week. In the space of five days I delivered a conference to 500 people, got awarded an outstanding achievement award and lost my boss.

The first one of these was stressful, the second delightful (I hate that word, it sounds so home counties) and the third has turned my working world upside down. For those who work in a corporate environment know what it is like to loose a bad boss and the the effects can be seen from space when the collective workforce start to smile and skip out of the office.

In my case however this is not the case, the guy in question is a diamond, someone who is supportive when needed but gave people enough freedom to do what they do best, something which does not happen very often these days.  Above all he was a calculated risk taker, someone who placed his faith in the people under him and got them all to consistently deliver time after time. 

All that remains for me to say is that I hope he finds success in whatever he turns his hand to next. So now I have got that off my chest I only hope my new Boss will be of the same caliber.

 

The Perils of Being an Early Adopter!

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Not one to shy away from trying something new we decided to go into manchester on our shiny new Metrolink to save the aggravation of trying to get through 86 sets of traffic lights on the way into the City Centre.

So that was the plan, so armed with my trusty I Phone I downloaded the app that told us how to plan our journey, how much it would cost and the frequency of the service. I must say this was very handy.

I discovered that our nearest stop was at Oldham Mumps and the tram would arrive at Victoria 16 minutes later. So what could possibly go wrong? We arrived at the station only to find that all the parking spaces were taken and the nearest parking was a quarter a mile away and would cost £4.00 for three hours. 

Me being a renown tightwad thought this was a bit steep seeing as we didn’t know when we would be back I had the brilliant Idea of going to the next station which would be in Werneth somewhere near the tram tracks (how hard can it be to find a station.?). So back in the car and we made our way down to Hollinwood were the makeshift park and ride facilities were a welcome site. So far the journey had already taken us three quarters of an hour and we hadn’t even got on the tram yet!

Challenge number three using the ticket machine what is essentially an ATM which charges astronomical amounts for tickets however having my wife, grand daughter and her friend with us I was warned by Ann to behave, not to swear at the machine and calm down, so I bit the bullet and paid my £10.20 for our tickets. 

The next tram according to the LED screens was due in twelve minutes so we waited patiently and to my surprise it turned up on time and looked all shiny and new, brilliant I thought until the doors opened  and I realised there are only a few seats so for the journey I was hanging from the strap like an elderly chimp performing party tricks at the zoo.

So is it progress? maybe I am being a little unkind and when the car park at mumps is finished then maybe it will be fantastic. My only concern that the tram was full going to manchester but almost empty on the return journey. My theory of it being an escape pod out of oldham rather that the vehicle which will regenerate the town may prove to be correct.

 

Thanking my Lucky Stars

I am fortunate to have been born into a generation who are lucky enough not to have had to go to war or been poor enough to know what its like to go to bed hungry. 

My fathers generation lived through the horror of both of these things and to all intents and purposes it wasn’t that long ago. I was listening to an interview on Radio 4 with a 90 year old veteran who was a rear gunner in a Lancaster during the war. Listening him tell his story of what it was like to be shot down chilled me to the bone. 

I felt an enormous feeling of gratitude toward this man who in his twenties along with many of his comrades who were not quite so lucky, risked everything to protect our way of life.

So next time you are stuck in traffic or your boss is giving you a hard time, bear a thought of how much you really have to complain about, and if like me you you wake up and open your eyes and all your bodily functions are all still working you are quids in already.

 

I have had this ludicrous idea

I have been working with a great photographer this week. Chris Willan a freelancer from Liverpool (don’t hold that against him) has taken some fantastic portraits of young people at the start of there careers. I am always impressed by photographers who capture the essence of the moment in the blink of an eye.

Whilst working with Chris I had this ludicrous idea which made me think about how I could try to get people to think more positively about our town. What if we took portraits of people and added a paragraph about what they do were they live. 

If you took say 500 portraits and found a wall big enough to put them on and get people talking about them, you never know people may get involved in other projects around the town.

So here we go I have set up a Facebook page www.facebook.com/MadeInOldham to see what demand there is, once we know there is a demand we will then get out with our portable studio and talented Photographers and take the portraits.

 I have been pitching again this week, with better results we will be televising Bury Council meeting on the 4th July live on the internet, a must see event (if you live in Bury). The last council meeting we televised was in Oldham on the same night as the European Cup Semi final with Chelsea, obviously a tough decision to make if you live in Oldham.

So now I am reinvigorated with my new found success this week, perhaps I am not quite ready for the old folks home yet.

 

Not My Greatest Week!

I have had what can only be described as a rude awakening this week. 

I realised some time ago that I have reached the age were most bright young things have started to see me as almost transparent and that my considerable skills are being dismissed as old fashioned. I accept this because I work in an industry which has always judged people on talent rather than the date on a birth certificate.

But the thing that has annoyed me more than anything else this week is that I was told my pitch for my latest project was “too northern”!

This came as a shock considering the content of this extravaganza was to promote a northern town. I now truly feel like the lunatics have taken over the asylum!