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Poetry Blog: Getting There

This is a poem I wrote about the early stages of my recovery from having pacemaker fitted. It happened in November – as you might know, if you read regularly – and especially in that first month or so, it was pretty much all I thought about. Still, three months on, it dominates my days.

It’s a simple enough poem, about the kinds of things I would find myself doing in those early days. Things like avoiding using my left hand side or getting used to the sight of another scar on my chest and just staring at it for long periods of time.

I didn’t see many people during that time; the fatigue and the pain and discomfort just made me want to hide away, but I did get a lot of messages from concerned friends. And when they’d ask me how I was I’d just tell them I was ‘getting there’ because I didn’t know what else to say and didn’t think they’d really want chapter and verse about how I really felt. It was also the kind of thing I told myself when I was feeling low or poorly – I must be getting there. Hence, the poem, written during any one of a huge number of sleepless nights, downstairs while every else in the house slept soundly above.

Getting There

Check your watch, swiping left three times,
lie awake, listening as your heart pounds,
strong but more vulnerable than ever now, you feel.
Trace the lumps in your scar all along its length, 
then follow the shape of a matchbox jutting out under your skin
and stare endlessly at these ugly changes in the bathroom mirror,
making sure that when you reach for something
it's on your right, never left.
This is the routine now.
Follow it like a child learning dance steps until it becomes second nature,
losing yourself for God knows how long
in a train of thought that feels like it might never switch off
and then remind yourself of them 
and however bad you feel, tell anyone who asks
that you're getting there.

So, since it all happened I’ve never been more aware of my heartbeat. At least nowadays it feels regular, unlike before. And then there’s the scar; a new one to go next to the one I’ve had for over 40 years now from open heart surgery. This new one is only about 3 inches long and at times looks fairly neat and tidy. However, sometimes it turns purple and has lumps in it due to the wires that come out of my pacemaker. Attractive, no?

On top of that there’s the actual pacemaker, which juts out of my chest – not literally – and is fairly visible under the skin. A friend recently explained that his grandad had one – which made me feel great, as you might imagine – and that it looked like someone had put a matchbox under his skin. So, that’s where that line came from.

The last part of the poem and the ‘them’ refers to my family. They’ve had to nurse me through this time, my wife and daughter especially. They were there when I passed out the first time as a result of palpitations and then it was my wife who took me to Accident and Emergency on the afternoon that I was admitted to hospital and her and my daughter who visited during the week I spent on the ward. It was especially difficult to watch how worried my daughter was; too young for all of this. So, when I would feel down about my health I always knew that I couldn’t let them see it and I had to just find a little bit more strength in order to get through the day.

As always, I hope you enjoyed reading the poem. Feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments.

A Few Words on Anthony Gordon.

So, after a bit of a wait and a great deal of disagreement among our fanbase, the signing of Anthony Gordon from Everton was announced on Sunday.

While we were linked with the player – both in Summer and in this January window – there were a lot of dissenting voices. It seemed that the experts among our fans knew better than Messrs Howe, Nickson and Ashworth in terms of the player’s ability, temperament, potential and even his looks and fashion sense.

For what it’s worth I’m very much in favour of this transfer. I think he’s a fantastic player and one I’d rather have in our squad than a one we have to face. So, if you take it at face value, what have we bought? Firstly, a young English Premier League player. Gordon has in fact made just under 80 appearances for Everton, 65 of which have come in the league. So, he has experience; not a vast amount, but valuable experience, all the same. For a little bit of context, Sean Longstaff has just over 120 appearances (98 in the league) and Gabriel Martinelli at Arsenal, 111 (78 in the league). Both would be classed as established Premier League players and Gordon isn’t exactly a million miles behind them.

I’ve read a lot of comments on social media referencing the fact that there is better value to be had, but does that value come with the amount of first team, Premier League experience? If we buy from abroad, then no it doesn’t. And I still don’t believe that the people who recommend these players on social media have even seen them play!

Given what we perceive to be a Newcastle tax as well as an English player tax, I think the fee isn’t bad value at all. Yes, £40m is a ridiculous amount of money, but not in the present climate. Again, we’ve payed a realistic fee, keeping to our stance of evolution not revolution.

In terms of his ability, I really don’t understand the doubt. As far as I can see, he’s a very talented footballer. He’s not afraid to take on a defender, he’s got the odd trick and he’s got a goal in him. Furthermore, in keeping with the demands of the modern game, he seems to have the kind of tactical awareness that helps him sense danger from the other team as well as a chance of nicking the ball when on the attack. He tracks back, covers his defender and can pass. Add in the magic ingredient of Eddie Howe and his team and I think we’re signing a player who will only get better and better. The lad is going to be a real crowd pleaser in my opinion, whether he’s played on the left, right or down the middle.

Gordon’s pace is an obvious asset. Put simply, he’s one of the fastest players in the history of the Premier League. I’m not sure why we’d be too opposed to that. So again, what is it that people want? It’s not as if he’s like an Adama Traore type player where there’s pace to burn but it would seem nowhere near enough end product. And again, I’d hope with the kind of coaching that he’s going to get on a daily basis, his crossing and his assists will improve greatly and Eddie will find a way to exploit the pace that Frank Lampard couldn’t.

For me personally, whenever we’ve played Everton in the past couple of years, Anthony Gordon has felt like the only real danger. When they beat us last season at Goodison – and frankly, we threw that one away – Gordon was excellent, playing centrally in behind Richarlison and looking like a constant danger. Even when we beat them at home this season he looked their likeliest threat and certainly ruffled a few Toon feathers. By the looks of some of the photos I’ve seen online however, all has been forgiven!

It was good to see Anthony wearing a pair of black trousers in the photos that emerged of him at St. James’ Park on Saturday. It didn’t bother me, but I hoped that it would appease the readers of Italian Vogue in our fanbase, who seem to have been outraged at the lad’s pair of brown patchwork strides shown in a photo from summer. It certainly seemed to be a major reason why so many disapproved in our interest in the player, so hopefully his choice of what looked like a black, slim fit trouser put minds at rest.

In all seriousness, it amazes me what becomes a concern for some people. The lad is 21 and most likely already a millionaire; he’s probably not going to dress like your average football fan. Why people are taking such offence is beyond me. As long as, when he’s wearing that black and white shirt, he’s giving everything, I don’t care if he wants to dress up like Mr. Tumble occasionally.

There’s also been criticism of the way he looks, with our own fans posting memes of people like Claire Balding and Ellen DeGeneres photoshopped into a Toon shirt. While I’m sure some of this has just been lighthearted, I feel certain that some are doing it because they’re so opposed to the signing. The weird behaviour of the modern football fan, eh?

Finally, it appears like lots of people didn’t want Gordon to sign because of his temperament. They just didn’t fancy this snarling, angry young man representing our club. I say, let’s have more of it. Play with that anger and fire every time you pull on the shirt, lad! Many have pointed to our signing of Craig Bellamy, in order to validate the Gordon deal. He was horrible at times, wasn’t he? But what a player! Bellamy was one of my favourite players to ever wear the shirt. And he wasn’t the only player we’ve had in recent history with a bit of a temper or who could be perceived to be some sort of trouble. Hatem Ben Arfa had a real attitude problem, Laurent Robert too, Bowyer started a fight with his own team mate and Asprilla was absolutely bonkers! All of them gave everything for the shirt and all of them entertained. All of them, also, had the backing of the crowd.

We revel in what we term ‘shithousing’ and then complain when we sign a player that we might well label a shithouse! It beggars belief. Anyway, none of it matters – he’s our shithouse now and I say welcome to The Toon, young man! Let’s get behind him and leave the rest to the player himself and of course, Eddie Howe! I for one, think he’s going to be a genuine success.

Top 5 Benefits of having a pacemaker.

(I’ve added a couple of bonus positives to my Top 5 too. I always manage to think of more than I need!).

Since having my pacemaker fitted in early November, there have been quite a lot of dark times. Some if them have lasted for days, others hours and lots of them mere minutes when I’ve felt really sorry for myself before snapping out of the fog of it all. Ultimately, I can always fall back on the fact that I feel quite lucky to still be here, however dramatic that might sound.

Today though, I’ve decided that this pacemaker lark can’t all be doom and gloom. Obviously there’s a good side – it’s making my heart work properly – but there must be a lighter side too; a side that makes me laugh a bit. Because the lighter side of life is the one I’ve always liked to be on.

So, I sat down and gave some thought to what might be the positives of the fact that I’ve had a little machine surgically embedded into my chest! Because everything has to have a positive, otherwise what’s the point of bothering, right?

So, as a result of having my pacemaker…

  1. I can now tell people I’m part robot. That way, I sound cool, futuristic and I am easily the closest thing I know to Steve Majors, the $6m Dollar Man. When I get back to work I can tell amazing stories about what I’m/it’s capable of. I can make up ridiculous tales to tell classes because experience tells me that they’ll believe practically anything you tell them as long as you can keep a straight face. Come to think of it, I can easily get away with this type of thing with some of my younger colleagues too, as they tend to be quite gullible. I don’t mean that as an insult, they just are and I know this because of the sheer amount of bullshit I’ve told them over the years!

2. I got to grow a beard. I’d never had any interest in growing one before, but during my hospital stay, I couldn’t really shave on account of being attached to a heart monitor. I could have taken it off, but then I ran the risk of having nurses knocking on the bathroom door. I found this out to my horror one time when they were frantically hammering on the door because my alarm was going off and the panic was so evident that even I thought I might be dying, even though I was stood on the other side of the door just having a wash! So, I didn’t bother shaving. Then, once my pacemaker was fitted my left hand side was rendered useless, again ruling shaving out. Before I knew it, I had a beard and to my surprise I really liked it. Thanks, pacemaker!

3. I may be able to get work as Santa later on this year. My cool beard is a great deal more white than I’d like. But, if I can work on my “Ho, ho hos” and other such stereotypically Santaesque dialogue, I might have a rather rewarding sideline come December.

4. I’ve watched a lot of daytime TV, especially in the first four weeks or so of my recovery when my days consisted of getting tired out by washing and eating breakfast and napping. I mean, there had to be something in between. And so, I’ve become a connoisseur of shows on Discovery and Sky History, as well as every show that revolves around buying a house somewhere sunnier than England. I still can’t bring myself to watch ‘Come Dine with Me’ though.

5. I can move to the wilderness with my new found skills. For the first few weeks of my recovery I made a regular 10am appointment with the Raney family and their show, ‘Alaska Homestead Rescue’. From doing so, I’ve realised that all you need to survive in the wilderness appears to be a good roof, a gun to shoot bears with, a greenhouse (who knew?) and probably some sturdy fencing. With a good 7 years on my pacemaker battery, I’m toying with the idea of buying some land in Alaska and moving off grid!

6. I’ve discovered a love of pyjamas. For years, I had refused to wear them. But, having lived almost exclusively in them for weeks, I can tell you those PJs can be a hard habit to break. Even when proper clothes became an option again, I’d regularly head upstairs in the middle of the afternoon to pop my pyjamas on again. And while I feel like, months later, I’ve broken my addiction, I’m still strangely fond of wearing those comfy beauties!

7. I’ve been given a bit of time to re-evaluate – work, fitness, lifestyle, food and drink. Serious stuff now. Although there’s no damage to my heart and I’ve been told that there isn’t a risk of heart attack, I’ve decided to change a few things. Although I wasn’t a big drinker, I’m cutting right back. I’ve been forced to anyway, so I may as well just carry on. I’m trying valiantly to watch what I eat as well and last week I created a new milestone in my life when I cooked a stir fry (the first I’ve ever cooked) that had three (count ’em) different types of vegetable in it. Three! I felt like a proper adult as well! Also, with my fitness now completely gone, I get to stage some kind of Rocky style comeback. I won’t be punching anyone, but I will faced with some kind of training regime, which I actually like. If I can just get over my fear of going running again… Having time off work has also enabled me to sample retirement. And it’s fantastic, if you take away the pain, anxiety, nausea, confusion and exhaustion! But, I’m hoping that actual retirement won’t feature any of this! So now, I have an age in my head that I’d like to semi-retire by and for the first time in many years I’ve done some research into my pension. I love my job, but it clearly hasn’t helped my health, so there has to be some kind of plan, however tentative. It’s no good vowing to change and then doing all of the same things all over again, however much you loved them.

So there we have it. Apologies for ending such a silly, lighthearted piece with such a serious few sentences, but it’s all true. And even the serious stuff has come about because of my pacemaker, so it had to be mentioned as a benefit, however unfunny it was!

I hope you enjoyed reading.

Always Look on the Bright Side: more stuff that made me smile.

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts. Over three months, I think. I suppose given the state of my health there have probably been less things that have made me smile, but having given things a bit of thought, I’ve been a lot less miserable than I imagined I’d be. And I like to write these posts to remind myself – and hopefully others – that there’s usually something to crack a smile about! So here’s a selection of things that have brought a smile to my face in the last month or so.

Walks in the park. If you happen to read my blog with any regularity or you follow me on any kind of social media, you’ll know about the park. Or parks, as we have a few good ones in my corner of Yorkshire and I don’t have to walk far to get to any of them, which is a relief, given the sorry state of my body for the last few months! I’ve been concentrating on one – Dartmouth Park – which was landscaped/built in the Victorian era and is just lovely. This week especially, while we’ve had bright blue skies, frost and crisp Winter temperatures, it’s just been brilliant to walk round. Such is my regularity there that I’m even on nodding/”Good Morning” terms with some of the older folk who go there too! Walking there this week has almost allowed me to forget the fatigue I feel and the irritation of having a little machine sat in my chest, working my heart for me!

Sammy Squirrel. We have a squirrel that visits our garden regularly. When our children were younger we christened him Sammy and to this day, we still refer to him as such. I realise, by the way, that it’s possibly more than one squirrel…I’m not an idiot. In fact, sometimes there are a few running about in our garden. They’re all Sammy. There’s no cause for discussion here. Earlier this week I filled up the bird feeders on our trees. The ground had frozen and although some would advise you not to feed the birds, I just felt sorry for them. About an hour after filling them, I was doing the dishes and some movement at the back of our garden caught my eye. Sammy. And thus, for the remainder of the week I’ve smiled daily at Sammy as he finds ingenious ways of positioning himself in order to raid my nuts (and yes, I did just intentionally make that very childish joke). As the week has progressed he’s got bolder and bolder, appearing at the side of the house, right by the kitchen window, perching on our shed, doing parkour all around the place and even sitting on our patio table to either eat or squirrel away his somewhat ill gotten gains. And yes, that’s another deliberate joke. As I type he has just removed the top from our largest feeder and is now gathering nuts before disappearing over the fence to hide them in the trees behind the house. This process has been going on for a good five minutes. I think he may be preparing for a party. It’s ever so slightly annoying, but I can’t deny that it’s made me smile. Good on you, Sammy!

Sammy, as bold as brass on our patio, chatting to a garden gnome about breaking my bird feeder, no doubt

I fitted a new light in our cupboard. Now this may not seem much of a thing to smile about, but if you had my light and didn’t smile as it comes on when you opened your cupboard door, I’d have to say that we couldn’t be friends anymore. It didn’t take any fitting; it literally sticks to the ceiling of the cupboard with a combination of sticky stuff (technical term there) and a magnet, which is good because my left arm doesn’t work as well anymore and I couldn’t have fitted anything difficult! However, it is very much a wonder. Now, when we open the door of our walk-in cupboard, where we keep our fridge and our big coats, it is lit up instantly like the Vegas strip! Sometimes, it really doesn’t take much to make me smile!

The prospect of snow. As much as I miss work, if it snows anytime soon, I will certainly not miss trying to drive through the snow to get there. I won’t miss doing an outdoor duty and having to scan the area like Action Man for fiendish snowballs being launched in my direction. I won’t miss the hideous feeling of slush soaking through my shoes. And I won’t miss trying to drive home in the snow as it freezes, adding potentially hours onto my journey. What I will do is sit in my front room and smile at the fact that I’m warm and dry, if still a bit poorly, in my house!

Ted Lasso. We recently got Apple TV free (I think) for 6 months. We’re three episodes into Ted Lasso and it’s superb. Biscuits with The Boss never fails to raise a grin! I think I actually want Ted to be my friend.

So, there we have it. Contrary to popular belief, I do smile. I hope you enjoyed reading about it!

Poetry Blog: ‘Every day, a walk’

I wrote this poem because I’ve become a little bit obsessed with walking. If you don’t know, I had a pacemaker fitted in November and as a result, I’m trying to work my way back to fitness and some kind of normality.

At the time of writing the poem, I was walking every day, like the title suggests. I couldn’t run, because the pacemaker was too uncomfortable and I just wasn’t well enough, so I settled for walking. However, Christmas got in the way of that, so now that my recovery is quieter again and my kids have gone back to school, I walk…every day. I’m building up to running again.

I got so obsessed with walking in the lead up to Christmas that I would get quite grumpy – or more accurately, more grumpy than usual – if I wasn’t able to get out. And I would be out whatever the weather too, because I came to depend on the routine of it all and it was proving a more than adequate substitute for long runs. Furthermore, it gave me time to think about what was going on in my life.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time until I wrote a poem about it. When something takes up such a big space in my life, I tend to write about it. As you’ll see with my next poem, ‘Taking Out The Bins’. Just kidding…

Every day, a walk.

Every day, a walk.
Some days you feel like you're fighting back,
others, like death warmed up.
Almost all, you're glad to be alive.
Whether breathless
or jelly legged,
alone with your thoughts
or in company and chattering away
about anything and everything,
swaddled like a newborn against the biting cold
in your big coat
that she zips up for you, because you cannot,
dazed by the noise or the light,
or the breeze,
bruised but not battered,
tweaked but not torn,
smiling, but not quite as happy as you'd like to be
and always, always tired.
Every day, a walk.

My first walk after surgery came two days after getting home from hospital. Down one street and back up another. I was utterly shattered when I got home.

At that time, I couldn’t dress myself properly, such was the restriction on my movement from the scarring and bruising around the site of my pacemaker. So not only did my wife have to zip up my coat, she had to put my hat on and do my laces too! Then she reversed the process when we got back home. Her reward was to watch me fall asleep on the settee!

I’ve gradually got stronger since then. Some walks feel great, while others are an absolute grind! Today’s, for instance, felt horrendous and I was out of breath and staggering a little having not gone far at all. There are good days and bad days though and hopefully tomorrow’s a bit better!

The final thing on this particular poem is just to mention that it came out of thinking the title out loud. I said it as I walked through the door from a walk one morning and liked it, so I quickly scribbled some ideas down and out of that came a poem! Funny, how inspiration can strike!

As ever, I hope you enjoyed the poem and always appreciate any comments, so feel free to leave one.

Fighting fit: The mind boggles!

As I write, it’s been 62 days since having my pacemaker fitted. A rough estimate puts that at 1492 hours or 89,543 minutes. That’s a lot of time to think. A lot of time to worry, to feel low or even just to find yourself giving up. However, there have been positives in that time too and I hope that from today, I’m going to start feeling the positives outweigh the negatives.

My last ‘fighting fit’ update was a few weeks ago. In the time since then there have been good and bad days. Christmas and New Year came and went and if anything, they slowed my progress down. Not only was my diet a bit worse, but the festivities take up so much of our time that I didn’t manage to fit in anywhere near enough exercise. Turns out no one wants to wander slowly around the streets keeping an eye on a wobbly, wheezing middle aged man dressed in a long coat and a bobble hat when there’s Christmas films to be watched or left over turkey knocking around.

However, I enjoyed both Christmas and New Year. We managed to see some family and despite the fact that my kids are a bit older now – 13 and 16 – it was still nice to see them open their presents. And I always enjoy seeing what my wife makes of the gifts that I’ve bought her. It’s nice to give gifts and it was nice this year that I bought my wife something she really wouldn’t have expected, but really liked. It was a print based around The Fairytale of New York, her favourite Christmas song. If you’re a music fan and enjoy artwork you might want to check out where it’s from – – his art really is ace!

Once all of the celebrations were out of the way and the kids were back at school, there was a lot to think about. Given the return of a quiet house, the bonus of having the ability to think returned too! My main conclusion has been that I need to do more exercise and to do it regularly if I’m going to get my normal life back.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve had a few more visits to my favourite park and gone back to look at the two animal sculptures. This time I made sure to read the inscriptions and one of them gave me a lovely glowing feeling. It was on the Harry the Hare sculpture and it was about the fact that a local business had commissioned it. One line in particular got me. It just read, “For the people of Morley.” What a great gift! I hope others appreciate it and take time out to go and have a look. It’s literally a work of art! Whether it’ll succumb to vandalism, who knows? But I sincerely hope not. Anyway, here he is below.

And here’s the owl that I visited again the next time I was in the park.

The mental side of my recovery is something I’ve found really tough going. I’m not used to being poorly and not used to being unable to do the things I want to, physically. I’ve found it all very frustrating. I enjoy my work, but haven’t been in since all of this started. Furthermore, I’m faced with another month off sick now too. It’s led me to see pretty low days and I joined an online support group to see if it would help me.

Talking about my problems isn’t really me, but I’ve managed to ask a few questions and listen to what other people have been through and it’s really helped. Apart from anything else, it’s comforting to know that there are lots of people going through the same as me and lots of them who know a lot more than me and are happy to pass on advice.

The support group has also encouraged me to read a bit about pacemakers and what’s happened to me and that’s been a real positive. It was explained in hospital and on the visit to the cardiologist, but I suppose understandably, I didn’t really take it all in. Anyway, reading about my pacemaker and its genius has really made my mind boggle. It’s about the size of a matchbox but it has the technology to store a ton of data about what’s going on in there, while also pretty much making my heart work properly. I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised by the capability of modern medical technology…but I still am.

Another form of support came as a Christmas gift. My daughter bought me the book below – with her own money for the first time ever – and told me it was so that I could read it and not feel like I was going through it alone. Even typing that feels emotional, so you can imagine how I felt on Christmas day!

It’s quite a remarkable book by a poet called David Toms, who was born with a rare heart condition and faced up to his problems in many ways. In the book he talks a lot about the power of walking and, as this is something I do a lot, I could really relate to his story. He also eventually had to get a pacemaker, so what he had to say about that felt really useful too. Reading the book also helped me to see that I could get through what’s going on with me. David Toms has faced up to a great deal more than I have and despite whatever setbacks or challenges, he’s found the strength to just keep going. So, keep going is exactly what I’ll do.

I’m beginning to realise how long it’s going to take me to feel better both physically and mentally. Two months on and I’m still tired out very easily, especially compared to the way I was before and the level of fitness I had. The area around my pacemaker and my scar is still sore and my movement still restricted and I’m left breathless much more often than I’d like. And mentally, testing myself out terrifies me, but I’m just so incredibly frustrated by how weak I feel. Even when I get back to the normality of work, I know that I’ll still be nowhere near fitness and nowhere near feeling confident. It seems it’s going to be a long road.

And with that, I promise to update you whenever something interesting happens. Fingers crossed that it’s not any kind of setback though!

Another FA Cup nightmare: About last night…

If you’re a Newcastle fan of a certain vintage, you’ll have half expected that result last night. Similarly, if you’re of a certain mindset when it comes to our club, nothing really shocks you anymore. So crashing out of the FA Cup in an early round to lower league opposition is all part of the deal really. But it doesn’t make it any more palatable.

If the truth be told, I’m gutted. In fact, I’m almost thankful for my present health worries, otherwise I’d have really fixated on what we all watched unfold last night. At least I’ve got genuinely better, more important things to think about, even if they are a right royal pain in the arse.

I love the FA Cup though. Despite the many changes over the years, for me it still feels special. Newcastle United have played a big part in the history and the drama of the cup over the years, with a chunk of that being hugely positive. In my lifetime though, it’s been largely negative and at times it’s felt like a competition where we actively strive to plumb new depths. As I said, I was gutted to go out early again.

Last night was the just latest in a long list of underwhelming episodes. After all, we’ve won only four of our last ten third round ties with three of those victories coming after replays. It’s not even a new phenomenon for Eddie Howe, having watched his team go out with a whimper this time last year against Cambridge United. And oh, how football fans loved that one as the ‘richest club in the world’ were beaten by a team where the city is more well known for its university than anything else.

For me, there’s no need for anger after this latest failure. Embarrassment, yes but no point in getting irate and filming yourself shouting at a phone or a webcam all red faced, sweary and reduced to making noises rather than forming sentences. Please, leave that to fans of Arsenal or Everton or that daft mackem that dresses like an 11=year=old and spends lots of time in his videos with his head in his hands making noises like a tortured animal. If you insist on being that Toon fan though, then maybe up your life insurance premium and do some reading about heart health. Shouting and screaming like a child isn’t going to change what is really just a bump in the road.

Eddie Howe said that he thought “the performance was ok” and was of the opinion that we had more than enough chances to win the game. He was right, as he is most of the time. We had a number of good chances that on another night we would have converted and gone home happy. It’s still a worry that we missed so many sitters though. It was the same story against Leeds and to a lesser extent Arsenal and it’s to be hoped that it doesn’t continue.

For me, a bigger worry was the passing. We gave the ball away far too much and wasted possession on a number of occasions. Given that we made eight changes that might be expected, but changed team or not, these players train together every day and most of those who came into the side have been regularly involved this season. It wasn’t like Eddie had thrown a load of kids in. Even the bench looked solid last night and personally I’d have liked to have seen the likes of Turner Cooke and Stephenson given another chance. However, as the coach of an Under 14 team that are currently bottom of their league with no points and a heavily negative goal difference, I have no wish to offer Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall any footballing advice whatsoever. If only certain NUFC related Twitter accounts would take note…

A few players stood out and strengthened the argument for greater squad depth. And while not wishing to dig people out and come across like one of the ‘I told you so’ brigade that lurk around every corner of social media, it’d be remiss of me not to mention them.

I love Matt Ritchie. He’s been my favourite player since Nobby Solano and I think he’s been absolutely vital for the survival of the club in recent years. He’s one of those lads that’s come in and shown that he gets it. He understands the fans and loves the club. However, his presence in the starting eleven last night was indicative of our lack of depth. I actually thought his performance was pretty solid, but having steeled myself for his departure over the last few windows, I was surprised to see him starting.

It’s a similar story with Jacob Murphy. I actually rate him and I think he’s done well when called upon this season. Last night was pretty much an abomination from him though. He just didn’t seem to be able to do anything right. It felt like he gave the ball away far too much and as ever there was a huge question over his decision making with him repeatedly hanging onto the ball for a few seconds too long when there was an obvious pass just yards away. As for his finishing, let’s just say last night wasn’t his first rodeo in terms of missed one on ones. He was a young player that promised much when he signed. He’s not anymore and I for one haven’t a clue where his future lies.

Jamal Lewis was another that promised much when he signed. And while I have sympathy for a player that was so obviously ruined by the previous regime and its emphasis on neglecting training and tactics in favour of days off, it saddens me to say that he just doesn’t look good enough. The lad just looks terrified every time he sets foot on the pitch and it’s just not working out for him as a Newcastle player. I thought he might turn into one of those players that Eddie performed an Eddie miracle on, but sadly, it doesn’t look likely. And if he can’t cut it against League one opposition, then he’s never going to cut the mustard.

I was also disappointed with Elliot Anderson last night, but I firmly believe that his time will come as he seems to have obvious quality. Prior to the game I’d read some of Eddie’s comments about Anderson and the fact that he’s had niggling injuries and illness this season and maybe that was exactly what we watched last night; a player struggling for consistency in a stop start season.

And then there was the elephant in the room: Chris Wood. I’m not keen to say anything too bad and his history in the Premier League suggests that there’s a player in there, but maybe we all have to admit that he’s not got the quality we’re going to need if this team is to keep evolving. It feels like there’s a glaring miss from him with every appearance and perhaps it’s a confidence issue. But perhaps that’s just me being kind for the sake of it. Last night’s glaring miss felt horrible and on the end of a sweeping move like that one was, what you want is a clinical finisher. It wasn’t a particularly difficult finish and if we really are going to win something in the next few years – or ever again – then we need a quality of player that doesn’t miss sitters like that.

So, when push comes to shove, last night just wasn’t good enough. But a bit of perspective is clearly needed here and thankfully I’m not the only one who can remind you that we’re still in the Quarter Final of the Carabao Cup and that we’re third in the league (third, man!) and firmly in the hunt for a place in Europe next season. Everything about our club is on the up, everyone is together and we are at the very start of what promises to be an exciting future. Sheffield Wednesday pretty much deserved the win. Let’s leave it at that, not get too down and look forward to what’s still to come.

Film Review: ‘Another Round’

‘Another Round’, directed by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Mads Mikkelsen is a Danish language film that investigates the fine line between enhancing your life experiences and ruining them entirely.

When actual science gives you permission to have a couple of drinks every day, that’s a chance that most of us would take, right? So, when four bored Danish teachers discover that, according to a psychiatrist called Finn Skarderud, life is just better when your alcohol levels are kept at a certain level, they’re happy enough to take the plunge. I mean, surely when you’re pleasantly tipsy all the time life really is a just a lot more bearable.

When Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) suggests to his friends that they’ll enjoy life more with a constant blood alcohol content of 0.05%, it doesn’t take them too long to agree to give it a try. I mean, boys will be boys, eh? And each one of them has their problems in life, so it’s eventually an easy enough decision to make.

Our main character Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is stuck in a rut with both his teaching and his marriage. Nikolaj himself has a new baby and a young family, so the stress of everyday life make Skarderud’s theory almost too good to resist. And then there’s single Peter (Lars Ranthe) who just has nothing much to lose and elder statesman Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) who simply seems to be looking for an excuse to get drunk.

‘Another Round’ veers between serious issues and serious fun; as you’d possibly expect with four friends intent on keeping their blood alcohol content up. At first, their experiment is positive. They’re all more relaxed and seem to be suddenly enjoying life much more than before. Martin’s classes are going brilliantly and he’s enjoying teaching more than he has in years and Tommy is coaching his football team with some success, despite the alcohol making him slightly more ‘shouty’ on the touchline than usual. And so, the lads decide to up the ante somewhat, adding more alcohol content to their blood and beginning to flout their own rules in the process.

The characters here are great. Not only did four teachers drinking on the job take me back to my own school days, when I suspect that kind of thing had to have been rife, especially in schools like mine, but it exposed some very interesting people. We’re on Martin’s side, regardless of the drinking. Mikkelsen presents us with someone who just seems to be a good bloke who’s lost his way a little bit and I’m guessing that lots of can relate to this. Nikolaj and Peter are great fun and Tommy provides us with something more complex and dark.

The film will give you lots of laughs, as you’d probably expect when you’re watching four men lose their inhibitions via a campaign of prolonged day drinking! There’s plenty of messing around while drunk and even a bit of phenomenal jazz ballet dancing, which was not only unexpected, but a thing that I previously didn’t even know existed. But while you get all of the tomfoolery that you might expect from four drunk men who you could argue possibly just need to grow up, the film has a much darker side to it, which crops up on a few occasions through the action before hitting hard near the end.

However, despite the darkness, I’d like to think that the overall message of the film is that we sometimes need to relax a little more; let go and to not to get too bogged down with everyday stress. Whether that’s by adding a constant stream of alcohol is a matter that I’ll let you decide on. Each to their own…

I’d thoroughly recommend ‘Another Round’. It’s a film that will easily give you a few laughs, while retaining the ability to bring a tear to the eye. With the hilarity of several drunken nights and days out mixed in with ideas about friendship and how we might find happiness in life, I’d say that you won’t go far wrong in giving it a go.

I give ‘Another Round’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Eddie’s Mags: About last night…

Tuesday January 3rd 2023 might well go down in footballing history. Newcastle fans may well remember it for the fact that we kept our sixth clean sheet in a row, with Nick Pope equalling the club record for such a feat. We might also remember it for the fact that we gained a hard earned point against an Arsenal side who many are beginning to view as serious title contenders.

Apparently though, according to a lot of what I’ve read online and to an extent from the reaction of Sky pundits last night, football fans will remember last night as the night that Newcastle United invented what some will refer to as shithousing, others will label cheating and a few will term game-management. And let’s not forget that it was also the night that Dan Burn single-handedly (pardon the pun) invented shirt pulling.

In fact, what actually seems to have happened is that we put yet more noses out of joint. Once again, we kept up our record of not rolling over in the face of one of the top clubs (you know, the ones that didn’t want to stay in this league not so long ago). We showed grit, determination and grafted like tigers. And yes, we employed some tactics that you might say weren’t in the spirit of the game, but then who doesn’t do that these days? I’ve watched football for a long time and if someone’s going to tell me that shirt pulling doesn’t happen at corners, goalkeepers don’t regularly take their time with goal kicks and that players don’t bend the ear of refs in order to gain an advantage, then I’d seriously question their eyesight.

It can’t be that we can happily let Manchester City get away with those ‘tactical fouls’ we’ve all heard about. We can’t just be expected to allow the likes of Salah and Kane to throw themselves to the floor at even the hint of a touch from an opposing player. And you surely can’t believe that VAR should consistently favour the bigger clubs and that pressure can only be put on refs and fourth officials by a select group of managers and players?

Last night, Newcastle United did the kind of things that teams have been getting away with for a long, long time. I know that some of our fans were outraged at Leeds doing it against us just the other day too, but they need to approach the season with a little more realism as well. Everyone does it. We’ve had to grind out results for a long time now. Pardew’s teams did it, as did Rafa’s. And let’s not forget that it was Plan A, B and C for Steve Bruce as well as for Dalglish and Sounness on a regular basis.

Before the game, I think many fans and pundits imagined that Arsenal would make quick work of us. They’d put us in our place. And that feeling would have increased substantially given how quickly they started the game. But we defended like…well, we defended like Newcastle United this season. It was funny to hear Dan ‘ShirtPuller’ Burn intimating that we can’t be expected to just let big clubs beat us because that must be exactly how a lot of us fans feel. Before kick off, Sky reminded us that we’d been beaten 7-3 at the Emirates not too long ago. Plucky Newcastle, having a go and getting precisely nothing out of the game, then being laughed at for conceding seven. I think I prefer the kind of team display that got us a point last night. It was a joy to watch. Sorry, Arsenal fans.

Let’s not forget that Arsenal committed their fair share of fouls. Dan Burn was furious that we weren’t awarded a penalty when his shirt was pulled and he was hauled to the ground in the box in the first half. This of course, was highly mysterious, given that Dan himself hadn’t even invented shirt-pulling yet. Our law abiding opposition also picked up a number of yellow cards, with Granit Xhaka being fortunate to stay on the field after one foul too many. Lucky for him that the ref had lost the plot a good while previously.

If these big clubs and top teams are so good though, they’ll surely be able to play through whatever they’re faced with. Yet, I don’t remember Arsenal cutting through us too much last night. Nick Pope made one save of note, our defenders made blocks, but that is simply a group of footballers doing their jobs, surely? Having watched a bit of Arsenal this season the song they sing about centre half William Saliba hasn’t escaped my attention. Do they sing that on repeat because he’s a good defender who defends well or just because his name fits a song and they’re happy enough to pat themselves on the back because they think they’re funny?

As it happens, Eddie’s Mags showed a side we actually all knew about last night. Six clean sheets on the bounce and the meanest defence in the league suggests that defensively, we’re very good. We haven’t just defended well against Arsenal. We’ve defended well everywhere we’ve been this season. So the outrage that I’ve seen online this morning and on the touchline last night is laughable really. They said that Eddie Howe couldn’t organise a defence and now that it seems they were wrong and that he can, those same people are crying. Grow up.

What happened last night was that one team adapted to get something from the game, while the other team didn’t. No outrage required.

New Year’s (quiet) resolutions!

It’s that time of year again. Time to put the last one behind you and start kidding yourself that everything will be a great deal better for the next 365 days simply because one year rolled over into the next one. A new year, a fresh start, time to make some changes and all that.

As it happens, things have been so bad for me lately that the turn of the year is actually just convenient for change in my life. My previously documented health problems mean that things need to change and I’m now just about well enough to start changing them. On top of that, I think I can be more than hopeful that next year will be far better than this one was!

I’m keen not to set myself too many big targets though, hence the quiet resolutions. And I know that there are previous targets and goals that I’ve set and then never really done anything about, so I’ll stick to a manageable number this year. I mean, it’s still very early in the year and healthwise, I already feel shattered, so let’s keep things in perspective!

Here goes…

  1. Stop keeping secrets. An important one, this. It’s not me blatantly telling anyone who reads that they can’t trust me, by the way. However, I kept my heart problems to myself last year, in the hope that they’d go away and that I wouldn’t have to bother anyone. Fat lot of good that did me! Hopefully, there won’t be much to report, but if there’s any action in my chest, I’ll be sure to let someone know. Anything more and I’ll blab to the nearest medical professional. Common sense, I know, but that’s not always been my strong point where health is concerned.
  2. Get fit…again. Heart problems blighted last year for me, culminating with time spent in hospital and the shock of having to have a pacemaker fitted. It’s been a long recuperation and it’s left me feeling decidedly unfit and still pretty poorly. I’m breathless and wobbly on my feet if we walk too far! Just before Christmas though, my cardiologist gave the all clear to start running again, albeit really gradually. I’ll freely admit that this is something that scares the living daylights out of me, but once I find a bit of courage, I’ll be back out there getting fit. Hopefully, come the Spring time, I can start taking part in races again. Baby steps for now though. I’ll keep you posted!
  3. Get healthy and stay that way. I’ve been off work now for around 7 weeks and to be honest, while I know when my latest sick note ends, I’m really not sure when I’ll be well enough to go back to work, although I hope it’s sooner rather than later. And then there’s the matter of getting back to normal life. It’s not just been about being off work. If I run upstairs, I’m out of breath. If my clothes are too tight, I struggle to get them on or off and it hurts to do so. Tying my laces still hurts. If I take one thing too many out of the cupboard, I struggle with the weight on my left hand side. I can’t think fast and I struggle to get my words out quite frequently; I don’t know why. And I’m genuinely quite scared when I feel any kind of activity in my chest. So it’s not just the physical side of things that need to get better. It’s all too easy to tell people that you’re ‘getting there’ or whatever other platitude I might use when asked how I’m doing, but I’m not coping anywhere near as well as I’d like. So, getting healthy is going to continue to be a big old job!
  4. Finally send some poetry to somewhere other than my blog. I’ve had this ambition for a while now, but although I write poems on a fairly regular basis, I always seem to end up just adding them to my blog. I’ve resolved to enter some poetry competitions before now, as well as looking into sending stuff into literary magazines. I’ve just never found the time or I suppose, the courage to do it. However, I have a few things that I’m working on at the moment and a few finished poems that I’ve done nothing with, so 2023 has to be the year that I break my duck in this area.

And that’s that. Part of me wishes I had a fifth resolution, just because it looks like a better number. But then, if I’m trying to lessen the burden a little bit, adding a fifth would just be counter-productive and I’d be even less inclined to actually do anything about it. Anyway, that top three is going to keep me pretty busy, I reckon!

I’ll keep you posted about how things are going. In the meantime, perhaps you could let me know about your own resolutions in the comments? Maybe someone might yet inspire that fifth one for me!