Doing my bit for Grand Depart in Yorkshire

Standing in a steady down-pour of rain that only Leeds could supply in late May, I and more than 5,000 other Grand Depart Tour Makers marshalled outside the Firstdirect Arena, waiting patiently for a full-sodden hour to be allowed to find out what we had volunteered for.
Pulling my hood over my head my first thought was – “all this just to wear a high visibility tabard”. However, the crowd, which spiralled in neat queues around the arena seemed to be cheerful enough in that dour, resentfully cheerful manner only Yorkshire people can muster. One young woman from Halifax joining the queue with her pal summed it up perfectly: “Cheer up you miserable buggers”.
But still the rain came down.
Later, after the presentations, inspirational videos and talks from Nicola Adams, Leeds' Olympic boxing champion – reflecting on the contribution of the Game Makers to the 2012 London Olympics -  Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, who is widely credited with bringing the Grand Depart to Yorkshire; and the wonderful Brian Robinson, the Huddersfield-born cyclist who was the first British rider to finish a Tour de France and the first to win a stage of the famous race, we all emerged into the blinding sunshine that only Leeds could supply in late May.
So why did I volunteer to be a Tour Maker?
Well, I had been lucky enough to go to the 2012 Olympics at Dorney Lake, near Windsor to witness Team GB take nine medals. As a competitive rower, albeit veteran, with Bradford Amateur Rowing Club, that was thrilling enough.
But what impressed me most was the Game Makers – an army of volunteers who had sacrificed their own time and resources to help make the London Games the success it was and which remains an indelible mark of our Britishness. In particular, I remember a cheerful black man, sat in a tall chair calling on everyone to smile as they entered the sports arena.
So, when the chance came to be part of what will probably be the biggest sporting event to ever run through the Broad Acres of Yorkshire, I jumped.
I was lucky. I was chosen. Many weren’t. The process of selecting a Tour Maker is long and, for the organisers, must be a logistical nightmare. For the would-be Tour Maker it begins with an online application, followed by video ‘interview’ – where you respond to camera to a set of questions. If successful you go to the next stage – again in the age of social media and the internet you complete your training online.
And then more than 5,000 us turn up at the Leeds Arena for ‘orientation’ – I know, I’m not sure what this means either – where we find out what is expected of us. It’s all organised by Asda, one of the Grand Depart’s main sponsors and I, for one, think they did a brilliant job. But this, being Yorkshire, there are some snipers.
Particularly online – the true home of moaners and whingers everywhere. A Facebook group has been established and the official Rendezvous website where Tour Makers can post their views on the organisation of the event thus far.
One, atypical whiner on Facebook complained: “Very disheartened with the whole organisation or lack of it. Still waiting to be told where my stage is, clearly it isn't in Leeds. To top it all I'm now lumbered with an off-route role. I'm just thinking sod it, if I don't have the information to do my role then what's the point?”
Others, frustrated with the complainers, simply posted: “Leaving this group had enough of some of the rubbish posted”. Another said: “Is anyone else finding the negativity on Rendevous disappointing tonight?”
Disappointing indeed! I live in Menston, two miles from Otley and Ilkley and have been assigned an off-route position between Skipton and Kettlewell, North Yorkshire, 30 miles away. Which means I won’t see the race.  Sad face. But that’s fine.
It might mean getting up at five in the morning to get to my roster meeting point on July 5 but I know there is going to be 10,000 of us Tour Makers supporting this event to ensure that everyone on the route, from all over the world, has a grand day out.
My role is Waymaker - there’s thousands of us – we’re here to look after you and make sure you enjoy your day. If you see me, say hello to Iggy, my nickname from school.
And while I am disappointed I don’t have a high-visibility tabard – I hope you won’t miss me in my lime green livery.

Another grand day out at Bradford Sprint Regatta

Hundreds of competitors and spectators from rowing clubs across the north of England descended on this year’s Bradford Sprint Regatta organised by Bradford Amateur Rowing Club (BARC), at Hirst Weir, Shipley.
The 600 metre course, down a gently curving River Aire, is a popular splash-and-dash sprint regatta which attracted crews from across the North including Mersey, Tees, York City, Ancholme, Sheffield and Doncaster.
The diminutive nature of this picturesque stretch of slack water above Hirst Weir means that West Yorkshire’s only regatta attracts a lot of pot hunters and novice crews seeking to notch up their first points. And this year was no exception with 142 crews competing in more than 40 events throughout the day – all in small boats.
The most heavily contested race of the day was the Junior 15A double sculls with several crews from across the north turning up to show their worth. In the event the final was decided between Curt Iles and Rhys Mould from Bradford and the York City duo of Charles Proctor and Alex Howe who snatched victory at a tight finish.
Charles said: “That was a hard close race and we were chased right to the end with Bradford coming back at us. I think they might have caught something in the end which allowed us to get away.”
Another tight finish saw Doncaster take the tankards off Ancholme in the women’s IM3 coxed fours while an inter-club grudge match between Bradford’s masters double sculls Smith and Hoskins and Dunhill and Hobbs saw the Smith boat go through to victory in the final in revenge for being beaten by the Dunhill crew at Tees Regatta.
Mersey, who travelled the furthest to compete at Bradford in a scratch crew in the men’s IM2 coxed four, beat Bradford’s crew by two lengths to pick up a pot. Originally, Mersey had no competition but Bradford likes to give everyone a race so put together a scratch crew to accommodate the Scousers with a race.
In the event the Merseysiders, coxed by Haley Rooney, beat Bradford with Matt Ward at stroke, Andy Coyne, Steve Forshaw and Chris Cheng at bow triumphed over a Bradford crew coxed by Sally Gowitts with Mick Brickley at stroke supported by Mike Gaunt, Simon Scull and bowman Carlo Smith.
Regatta Secretary Celia Hickson said: “Bradford Sprint Regatta is always a popular, cheerful event in the Northern rowing calendar, attracting crews from both the East and West coasts – today we had a contingent from the River Tees and the River Mersey – and always delivers some tight competitive rowing.
“The most far-flung club to attend was Mersey and they have had a great day along with everyone else – we pride ourselves on running a cheerful, friendly regatta and so it has proved today.
“This is my first year as Regatta Secretary and, I have to say, I am delighted how well it has gone – the weather has held good, the feedback from crews has been very positive. There has been a lot of junior competition but it’s been good to see so many mature mixed crews during the day.”
Also attending the event was a team from Hirst Weir Ltd (HWL), a charitable company set up by BARC to preserve the 750-year-old weir at Hirst Mill on the River Aire at Shipley, West Yorkshire set out its stall this.
Hirst Weir is an important historical structure in Shipley and is first mentioned in 1249. Its loss would be a major blow to BARC which has rowed from the weir for almost 150 years.
BARC President Richard Phillips said: “In the floods on July 2012 the weir suffered significant damage and was in danger of collapsing before emergency repairs were carried out by HWL funded by the club’s members and our annual regatta is the ideal occasion to raise funds to secure the future of the weir.”
Working in partnership with the Environmental Agency, HWL is now seeking to raise £600,000 to repair the weir and introduce a fish pass which would facilitate the free migration of fish to the upper reaches of River Aire including salmon, trout and eels.
Full results can be found at bradfordrowing.co.uk and details of the Hirst Weir project at hirstweir.co.uk.

Record entries at 150th York Regatta

As the GB Rowing Team men’s four, stroked by Yorkshireman Andrew Triggs Hodge, battered the competition at the second World Rowing Cup in France, another crew was celebrating in the 150th York Regatta at the weekend.
A women’s novice eight from Van Mildert College from Durham University had their own special victory when they won their first race and put points on their tally for the first time.
Audrey Bellis at stroke – like the rest of the crew - was ecstatic. She said: “That was a great race. We had a really strong start and went away from St Aidan’s College (also from Durham) from the beginning. We were rating an average of 36 but at one point we went up to 40. We’re delighted.”
With its long bend at the start, York Regatta is a testing race for all crews but makes for interesting competition with all the advantage on the Minster side of the River Ouse until crews come under the railway bridge where the race is normally decided, or, at least, balanced.
And so it was for the men’s IM3 coxed four which was taken by York City, beating Durham University’s Trevelyan College by two lengths at the boat house, stroked by Luke Cooper and backed up by Micah Cooper, Sebastian Reid and Paul Wainwright at bow.
One stand-out event was the Masters I quad race between York and Nottingham. The York quad featured local legend Dick Gradley, 82, an Olympic gymnast at the 1960 Games in Rome. Though beaten by the visitors from the Midlands, both crews earned the respect of the crowds who applauded enthusiastically.
Rounding off the regatta was the Challenge Cup, a blue riband event at York for coxed fours, which was captured mercilessly by the host team at the end of a long day.
Stroke, Dan Lewis, Ben Bollans, Gav Campbell, Chris Wright and cox Andy Wilkinson took the trophy from Durham University’s St Aidan’s College by a length and half.
A special mention must be made for Nottingham’s newest club, Devil’s Elbow, whose novice women’s double made an excellent debut and collected their first points.
Afterwards Regatta Secretary Anne Homa said: “It’s been a good day of racing. We’ve had 198 entries which is a massive record for us and very encouraging when you consider we had to cancel this event two years ago for lack of entries.
“We’ve had a lot of entries particularly at the junior level with schools across the region putting in crews. And, it being end of term, we have had a lot of crews from Durham University for their last hurrah.
“Also York is such a lovely setting, with the cathedral in the background, and the fact that the Tour de France is coming here in two weeks has brought a lot of people in as competitors and spectators.


Just so you know...

I am now also Northern Correspondent for Rowing & Regatta magazine - so expect a lot of stuff about rowing on this blog. This weekend I am at Durham Regatta - the oldest in the country...

Bertie's war - you couldn't make it up!

04.21.14 bertie war 2Only the British army would take a ventriloquist’s dummy on the D-Day landings in 1944!
Yes, it’s true. A British Army Captain, took ‘Bertie’, a ventriloquist doll onto the beaches of Normandy in the first few days of invasion.
Admittedly, Bertie did wear an army uniform - even resplendent, proudly bearing a number of campaign medals.
Just imagine if he had got captured. Imagine the Gestapo trying to interrogate him!
I now have a new creative hero. Capt.E.H.‘Ted’ North.
Captain North landed on the Mike Sector of Juno beach shortly after June 6th.
A Member of the Magic Circle and a ventriloquist, he packed in his kitbag his dummy, Bertie, in uniform, ready for action.
Alongside getting into action, Ted ensured Bertie played his part, combining inspecting the D-Day battlefield and going on to entertain the troops and wounded soldiers to boost morale.
Thankfully, both Ted and Bertie survived the war. Yet, they returned to the Normandy beaches on various anniversaries and continued to entertain audiences of all ages, their last performance at the Harlow Playhouse in 1985, celebrating a partnership of 50 years together.
Ted passed away the following year.
Bertie is now retired and resides at the D-Day Museum, at Southsea, Hampshire, still proudly wearing his original uniform and medals, and still bringing a glow of pleasure to visitors.
Their story lives on however, in a delightful book I acquired at the Royal Warwickshire Regiment Museum. (There to trace my wife’s grandfather’s World War I records)
The book, titled Bertie’s War and published by Ted North’s family, contains absolute gems of the delight and absurdity of Bertie’s Normandy Tour.
Ted’s terrible puns caption pictures of Bertie, in uniform on the D-Day beach. “I’ve found some lovely shells on the beach” as Bertie sits among the spent ammunition is one typical bon mots.
Ted’s family recreated one of the act’s scripts [abridged version].

Ted: Wake up Bertie and get dressed quick, I’m taking you for a surprise trip to the seaside.  
Bertie:  A surprise trip? Do you mean like the surprise trip you had on the stairs last night when you got back from the Officer’s mess.  
Ted: Just put on your battledress and boots because we’ll be wading ashore.  
Bertie: Wading ashore? Gattledress and goots? What, on a nice sandy beach in France? I knew there’d be a catch in it, there always is - and what about my gucket and spade?  
Ted: You won’t be needing your gucket - I mean bucket….This is a very important mission because we are going to help our lads to liberate Europe from Hitler and his armies. Just think, you might even win some medals.  
Bertie: Medals? Really? Me? Well in that case pass me my uniform quick Ted, there’s no time to waste, I can’t wait to get at ‘em and get rid of that nasty old Hitler.

For me, Ted and Bertie still live on as creative heroes. If you are ever thinking down, demotivated, or just need a new strategy or direction, invoke the images of Ted and Bertie and their D-Day landings.
Fantasy Mentors are a brilliant 24 7 creativity tool. Whenever you are faced with a challenge simply pose the question to your role model: “How would Ted and Bertie tackle the problem of…?”
Before long, your mind is taking you instantly in new, sometimes unexpected directions and lines of inquiry. Try it now.
For me, I’m eternally grateful to Ted, Bertie and their generation for the sacrifices they made in defeating that ‘nasty old Hitler.
I’m also grateful for their joining my portfolio of Fantasy Mentors. With a Fantasy Mentor for any situation, I’m better equipped for any battle I face in my life, by being more capable to think flexibly, and think flexibly faster.
Thank you Ted and Bertie.
(Please do buy your copy of Bertie’s War)
04.21.14 bertie war cover

All That Was Left

All That Was Left: The remnants of Bede Company from the Durham Light Infantry
Since 1853 Durham Regatta’s blue riband is the Grand Challenge Cup, which this year garnered a significant resonance during the 100 anniversary of the First World War.
In 1910 a crew from the Durham University’s College of the Venerable Bede won the Grand by three-quarters of a length.
This “excellent” crew – R Wheldon (bow), RH Robson (2), JO Wilson (3), CE Walker (stroke) and cox AW Bramwell), won the cup by three-quarters of a length and were later to join the Durham Light Infantry alongside other students from the ‘Bede’.
‘A’ Company of Durhams were known as the Bede Contingent, comprising more than 100 students from the college. They were soon thrown into the front line trenches on Gravenstafel Ridge during the second battle of Ypres.
The Bedes’ spirit was not extinguished by their first experience of gunfire and the regimental history records that “'through the darkness came the voice of some irrepressible Bede College member of ‘A’ Company as a shell passed over: “Aye it reminds yer of Durham regatta. Now lads, up goes another! All together! Bang! Mind the stick!”  Then someone called “Who’s won the Grand?” And there were rival cries of “City!” and “Bede!”
In the fighting which followed on April 25, the Bede men helped save Ypres, but they suffered grievous losses with 17 killed, 10 wounded, and 31 taken prisoner. A picture after the conflict, shows the Bedes poised rather like a athletes posing for a post-race picture, with poignant message: All that was left.
The Bede men had good reason to wonder about the Grand at Durham - the regatta would have been due within a week or two – and the soldiers would not have been forgotten that the Bede had won the Grand Challenge Cup for the first time in 1910.
Of the Bede crew who had won the Grand in 1910, Robson was killed, Wheldon lost an eye, and the cox Bramwell became a prisoner of war. Only Wheldon is in the photograph.


RIP: Liverpool Daily Post

Today the last edition of the Liverpool Daily Post after 158 years – it’s a very sad day for regional journalism.
The Daily Post, a pioneering newspaper that challenged the decision makers of the city and Merseyside, was my first newspaper where I worked for a while on the subs’ bench for the business desk. Since then I have worked on a number of regional newspapers as well as a spell on Fleet Street.
Back then we thought newspapers would last for ever but even by the 1980s we could see circulations were declining and that strong regional journalism was at risk and then the internet came along and newspaper management were left scratching their heads about how they should respond.
Indeed, many simply ignored the world wide web and were unable to accept that the internet was one of those disruptive technologies which would impact on every industry including newspapers.
The slow, predictable decline of the UK's regional newspaper decline is continuing unabated.
For the 257 regional and local papers that reported stats for the first six months of this year, there was a total year-on-year decline in circulation from 7.32 million to 7.1 million - a drop of three percent. Very few publications had anything very positive to report when to print figures:
15 regionals saw a fall in circulation in excess of 20 percent.
61 suffered a decline of at least 10 percent.
 40 saw a rise in circulation, but only four of those added more than 10 percent.
It's not a great picture, but not a terrible one either. Industry-wide declines of three percent year-on-year seem sustainable for a while yet, even if some regionals are doing far worse than others. The transition from print to multiple digital screens is not an overnight phenomenon.
Among the top five dailies - total circulation dropped more than 40,000 year on year, or 10 percent of the total.
Looking at the sector from the outside – although I speak to journalists regularly – the future does not look good. Management still continue to make swinging job cuts, newsrooms are under staffed and under resourced.
There has always been a traditional of gallows humour in the newsroom. Even in my day when I think the regional press was still reasonably strong – the hacks would hark back to the good old days of boozy lunches, generous expenses and the opportunity to take the time to investigate and write really good news stories which impacted on peoples’ life. 
It’s a sad day for the Post – but I do not think this will be the last obituary written for the regional Press.


New book from my mate Joe Moorwood

Congratulations to my old colleague Joe Moorwood who has just had his first book published.
Joe, a former account manager with GREEN and now a fire fighter in South Yorkshire, wrote The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.
Inspired by John Lloyd’s and Douglas Adams’ cult-classic The Meaning of Liff, first published thirty years ago, The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff recycles the lesser known place names of God’s own county, and twins them with all things in life there should be words for (aka ‘liffs’)…
John Lloyd says: “After 40 years in radio and television, I think I’m right in saying I have never produced a show, directed a movie or got involved in a book based on a script sent to me out of the blue by someone I’ve never met. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s never happened yet. Until now, that is.
“Joe first wrote to me earlier this year, after hearing an appeal on Radio 4 for contributions to a programme called The Meaning of Liff At 30. Designed to mark three decades in print of a book I wrote with Douglas Adams in 1983, listeners were invited to submit new ‘liffs’ – definitions of ‘things there should be words for’ brought to life by attaching them to a place name.
“Some 400 people responded to the BBC’s call and the standard of entries was impressively high, but one person in particular stood out. He had not, like most contributors, come up with one or two ideas, he had written an entire book.
Here’s some of Joe’s Yorkshire Liffs:
The tilt of an imaginary pint glass to ask if someone on the other side of a noisy pub wants a drink.
Holding areas used for guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
To lock eyes with someone inside a parked car in the process of checking out one's appearance in their window.
An adolescent male's first attempt at sideburns.
The high-pitched screaming noise emitted by fairground ghost trains.
The first person in a motorway traffic jam to get out of their car and walk about sighing.
You can buy the book here.


Goodbye to the Bunker

Every day I drive past it in the morning on the way to work, and for many years I worked in it – under a murky glass dome in stygian gloom – and now that it’s going I can’t say I am sorry.
Anyone familiar with Leeds or northern provincial journalism will know the Yorkshire Post building on Wellington Street home to some great regional journalists and one of Yorkshire greatest indictments of 1960s Brutalist architecture. It always seemed risible to me that it was officially opened by Prince Charles The Carbunclist.
The huge joint newsroom – housing the Post and the Evening Post - was often referred to as the “bunker” as it was surrounded by grey concrete with no windows. Later is was known as the aquarium after the management thought it would be a good idea to paint the interior walls aqua-marine – which just seemed to add to the gloom.
English Heritage said in February the building would not be listed owing to the tight integration of the architecture with the building’s use for printing, and the loss of that use diminished “its ability to demonstrate its original function” and had “impacted on the integrity of the building”.
Yesterday it was announced the building in could be bulldozed, after a demolition order was submitted to Leeds City Council.
It was never a beautiful building compared with the old premises in Leeds city centre on Albion Street but it still contains many happy memories for me, especially through old colleagues. Nowhere else have I experienced the buzz I’ve had from a job other than as a journalist but even then back in the late 1990s we knew we were witnessing the last huzzah of good, quality journalism where the work of the reporters, sub-editors, production editors and snappers were still recognised by management.
Serious journalism was still cherished then before the swathe of takeovers and mergers turned regional newspaper journalism in to a homogenous mash of bland and tepid news reporting.
The building on Wellington Street, which used to house 1,300 people, is now empty with bug For Sale signs plastered all over it – which is a neat testament to the decline of regional journalism.
The Yorkshire Post is still there – stoutly supported by a loyal team of journalist determined to do their best during a time of cuts and redundancies. I wish them luck.



Comic Sans fights back

Listen up. I know the shit you’ve been saying behind my back. You think I’m stupid. You think I’m immature. You think I’m a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I’m Comic Sans, and I’m the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg.
You don’t like that your coworker used me on that note about stealing her yogurt from the break room fridge? You don’t like that I’m all over your sister-in-law’s blog? You don’t like that I’m on the sign for that new Thai place? You think I’m pedestrian and tacky? Guess the fuck what, Picasso. We don’t all have seventy-three weights of stick-up-my-ass Helvetica sitting on our seventeen-inch MacBook Pros. Sorry the entire world can’t all be done in stark Eurotrash Swiss type. Sorry some people like to have fun. Sorry I’m standing in the way of your minimalist Bauhaus-esque fascist snoozefest. Maybe sometime you should take off your black turtleneck, stop compulsively adjusting your Tumblr theme, and lighten the fuck up for once.
People love me. Why? Because I’m fun. I’m the life of the party. I bring levity to any situation. Need to soften the blow of a harsh message about restroom etiquette? SLAM. There I am. Need to spice up the directions to your graduation party? WHAM. There again. Need to convey your fun-loving, approachable nature on your business’ website? SMACK. Like daffodils in motherfucking spring.
When people need to kick back, have fun, and party, I will be there, unlike your pathetic fonts. While Gotham is at the science fair, I’m banging the prom queen behind the woodshop. While Avenir is practicing the clarinet, I’m shredding “Reign In Blood” on my double-necked Stratocaster. While Univers is refilling his allergy prescriptions, I’m racing my tricked-out, nitrous-laden Honda Civic against Tokyo gangsters who’ll kill me if I don’t cross the finish line first. I am a sans serif Superman and my only kryptonite is pretentious buzzkills like you.
It doesn’t even matter what you think. You know why, jagoff? Cause I’m famous. I am on every major operating system since Microsoft fucking Bob. I’m in your signs. I’m in your browsers. I’m in your instant messengers. I’m not just a font. I am a force of motherfucking nature and I will not rest until every uptight armchair typographer cock-hat like you is surrounded by my lovable, comic-book inspired, sans-serif badassery.
Enough of this bullshit. I’m gonna go get hammered with Papyrus.

This is courtesy of Timonthy McSweeney