Why do you blog?

Why am I here? Why have I written six hundred (half are private) different entries onto this site? Because I find writing my thoughts down to be therapeutic. Putting in to words the thoughts in my head and then being able to read them back to myself gives me a clarity which thought alone does not.

Being able to look back at previous events in my life enables me to understand the here and now far better than memory alone does. This blog has served me well. When I forgot about good times this reminds me. When the reasons for decisions is lost, a read of these pages causes them to be found.

I wrote, briefly, about my reasons for blogging here: Why I blog | Blog Boards.

You see, the one thing I have always found about having a blog is the cathartic effects of writing. Sometimes the thoughts in my head need an outlet. They need to be allowed out for a walk. Sometimes they dance across the keyboard and words appear. Writing is therapy.

And it’s helped. It really has. When the thoughts in your head get too much for you to sort out, putting those thoughts down as words on a page or a screen is really helpful; even if those words don’t get published. They can sit in drafts for days or weeks or months. They can be written in private and then deleted. It’s entirely up to the writer.

There is something pure and clean about putting words on a page. Its not easy to explain, but have you ever struggled to understand why you feel some way, why you behave some way? This helps me to understand both feelings and behaviour. Often sitting with a blank page and just letting my fingers relay thought into words has helped me to overcome terrible feelings of loss and anger. Its a release to get it out in the open rather than keeping it bottled up.

I’ve never wanted fame or notoriety. I do not expect to be a ‘famous’ blogger. Its never been in my life plans to write for my dinner. This is a hobby and an excuse to see my thoughts ‘in the flesh’ as it were.

My efforts to populate these pages have been intermittent. When I read back its interesting to see that in the past I have turned to blogging when I’m struggling with life and relationships. The purpose of this challenge is to get back into writing about the good times. Tomorrow’s post will be a HUGE good times announcement. I know I’ll still write about the bad and the ugly, but I want to be able to showcase the good also.

I also want to link in with other bloggers. Not those who write for a living but those who write for their life. I want to read your good times and your bad times, to see the struggle and successes of ordinary people going about their ordinary business. That, to me, should be the purpose of blogging. It’s a journal, a story, a timeline of life.

I’ll finish with a little plug. If you are a blogger or want to make a start on becoming one, check out Blog Boards. It’s a small community for bloggers to get help, encouragement and support with their blogs. Check it out below:

 

Your proudest moment

There are a few obvious milestones in life which people will typically think of as their proudest moment. The birth of a child, for example. Or that child graduating from university. Mine are both too young. These are things which stand out as obvious proud moments and when I sat looking at this prompt I got to thinking. Should I be proud of a birth? My efforts were small compared to the efforts of Mum. She carried baby for nine months and nurtured life. She went through labour whilst I stood and watched feeling foolish. Is that something I should be proud of? Billions upon billions of men have become dads. Proud? Perhaps. Proudest moment? Greatest achievement? Perhaps not.

I considered whether my decision to join the police and my acceptance into ‘The Job’ would be my proudest moment. Of course I was proud! Thousands applied when I did and only 26 were successful. That is an achievement to be proud of for sure but it is just the start of a career which could be stellar or mediocre. Thus far I feel like I fall into the latter and are yet to realise my full potential.

There is one event which stands out for me and it is simple and singular. Personal between me and one other.

One day walking through the town centre doing some shopping; performing general, ordinary day-to-day activities I was approached be a man. He said,

“Excuse me, I am sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you. You see, you probably don’t recognise me but I recognised you straight away. Six months ago you came to my house when I was having a tough time. You sat with me and you spoke to me and you made me feel like I had something to live for. I wanted to end my life that day but you made me stop and consider. Thanks to you I am still here. I cannot thank you enough and I just wanted you to know.”

At that he thrust his hand out and I shook it – bewildered – and he walked away. I didn’t even get an chance to reply before he was lost in the crowds. I never saw him again. It took me some time to remember the day he was talking about but eventually I did and I was able to put a face to a name. I never chased it up. I left him to get on with his life. I appreciated his kind gesture as he appreciated my intervention.

You see, we do things in life that have an impact. My time with this man meant he was still living. He was still alive. Even if I go to my deathbed having never achieved anything in my life and in my career I will always know that once upon a time, through words and kindness, I saved a life.

2017, a year in photo review

2017 has been a cracking year for me. Lots of travel, lots of places to go and things to see. I’ve been sat here on New Year’s Eve Eve reviewing some of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. And here’s a sample and a reminder. Where I have written about the experience I have added a handy link.

You can find all of these photos on my Instagram. If you’re not yet following; get to it: alsmith77x

 

January: Lindesfarne (I wrote about this!) and The Cleveland Way.


February: Brimham Rocks, Glasgow and London (I wrote about this!).

 

 


April: Auschwitz. (I wrote about this!).


June: Manchester One Love Concert.

July: Kielder Water, Devon, Bamburgh Castle.

 


 


August: Crete.


September: Portugal (I wrote about this!), Bolton Abbey (I wrote about this too!).


 


October: Berlin (I wrote about this!), High Force.

 

November: London.


December: Kielder and Hadrian’s Wall, Whitby.


 


If you made it to the end, reward yourself with a beer. Happy New Year! See you in 2018. 

Perhaps I was wrong about this.

I saw my brother today. We didn’t speak. I don’t think he even looked at me. He didn’t sit with our parents and I, and he left after the funeral service avoiding coming to the wake. It’s the first time I have seen him since we fell out and now that I am home again I wish I had said something; even if that something was just ‘hello’. Perhaps it just wasn’t the time and place.

Today I explained to a good man the reasons why we fell out. I explained why – from my point of view – our relationship broke down. I don’t know what his point of view is. Maybe I never will. This man impressed upon me my responsibilities in this. That my brother is making a mistake which he will, one day, suddenly and quite horrifyingly wake up to. His abandonment of his child; in itself a terrible act, is mirroring the actions of our own father. That I suffered and my brother suffered means I do not wish to see his child suffer the same.

My reaction was to turn my back on him. He was a fool. He was making a huge mistake and I could not be expected to stand by and watch him do what he was doing. But was that the right reaction? I don’t know any longer. Speaking today about it, and talking about it at the weekend, maybe I am wrong. Maybe what I instead need to do is confront and educate? Inform and explain? Will it make any difference? I simply do not know. BUT if there is a chance it won’t make any difference there is equally a chance that it will.

And even if it does not make any difference at all to his decision with regards to seeing his first-born, perhaps in time he will come around to see the sense of things. Perhaps between us, my parents and I, with him not being on the outside looking in but rather and inclusive member of the family; perhaps we can make him understand the error of his ways.

 

Perhaps.

Auschwitz

Just last week it was my privilege to accompany a lovely young lady to Poland for a few days of sightseeing. On the last day we were there we took a trip to the concentration and extermination camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I had been told by people who had been before to anticipate an eerie experience. “There’s no life there” was a typical warning, and very general gist of commentary from the people who had been before me; or who had spoken to others that had been. I’d heard that no birds visit the place where over a million men, women and children were murdered. It’d be wrong to say I was ‘looking forward’ to the experience, but I was anticipating an experience which I would never forget. That’s exactly what I got.

The temperature hovered around freezing when we arrived at Auschwitz-1 and we were taken for a short tour around the camp, into and out of the buildings. There, we saw exhibited, the horrors of the place. Photos of the arrival of prisoners who were then selected for either labour or death. Rows upon rows of shoes taken from men, women and children. The pots and pans and other household items which people brought with them to the camp; under the impression they were to begin a new life. And human hair. Bails of human hair. Which was shorn from the victims of the Nazi’s for use in wartime and textile industries.

I think that was what impacted upon me most from the main camp; that human beings were as sheep or cattle, to be killed and have their component parts rendered down into raw materials to be used as we would use the leather or wool from livestock. Does anything say dehumanised as much as treating people as we would animals?

Before we left this place we were taken to an ammunition bunker which had been converted into a gas chamber. This is one of the first places used to kill people using poisoned gas at Auschwitz. We stood inside and I looked up at the vent where, just decades previously, others would have looked to see granules of Zyklon B poured in. It was chilling. The impact lessened only by the other people on the tour sharing this space. Some were visibly impacted by being in such a place.

From here were took a short ride to Auschwitz 2-Birkenau. Unlike Auschwitz 1, which was a converted barracks, Birkenau was a purpose built linchpin of the Nazi ‘Final Solution’. A place designed and purpose-built for the extermination of Jews and others deemed unsuitable to exist in the Third Reich. It’s a space quite unlike any other. Most structures beyond the reception building either demolished or destroyed. The few remaining wooden buildings could be visited and showcased the conditions people like you and me were kept in. Seven hundred in a building big enough – by modern standards – to house a family of four. Sleeping on triple-bunks with seven or eight people on each level. Staying alive through harsh winters and freezing temperatures only as a result of shared body heat. We saw the area where the trains pulled in and the SS went through the selection process on new arrivals. People either selected to work – if they had relevant skills – or sentenced to immediate death in the gas chambers.

As we walked up the train lines towards the monument between two of the gas chamber / crematorium ruins, my companion turned to me and reiterated the words I’d heard about Auschwitz many times. “There is no life here. No birds fly.” At this I looked to my left and saw three small birds take flight; black shapes across the grey skies, between the stark ruins, towards the sparse trees. There was life.

And then, as we retraced our steps towards the reception building, I saw an image which shall remain my most abiding memory. Two Hasidic Jews, no more than seventeen or eighteen years old, walking along the railway tracks which conveyed so many of their kin to their deaths. Their younger siblings played games of balance along those same tracks. Those young people, along with the three small birds I saw were, to me, symbols of life returning from death. Of hope coming from hate. I’ll remember that image and that feeling for as long as I live. I left Auschwitz Birkenau, not sullen, but uplifted. Not with feelings of melancholy, instead with an understanding of humanities capacity to change for the better.

I believe that everyone should visit Auschwitz at some point in their lives. It needs to be a lesson that everyone is made aware of so that we do all we can to ensure such horrors never happen again.

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana

Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne, Holy Island as the sun went down on a Saturday late afternoon in January. I don’t think I ever experienced such peace. A silence fell across the place, looking out over the water towards the mainland. I’m not religious. I wouldn’t even dare to consider myself spiritual, but there was something quite special about that moment. No traffic noise, no kids shouting, not even the sound of sea birds to disturb the tranquility of that place and time.

Click here to view the photo album of my trip: Lindisfarne. January 2017.

I put Lindisfarne on my 40 at 40 list because I’d seen photos of the scenery, the castle, the views. I wanted to go and see this for myself. There was no other reason than that. I know of St. Cuthbert, I know of the significance of the place, but that’s not what it was about for me.

Friday evening I spoke to CS about taking a road trip. I looked at the tidal times for crossing the causeway and it was clear from midday until 8pm. Providence? Perhaps. We set off Saturday morning aiming to arrive after midday. I think now that it would have been cool to arrive earlier and see the causeway under water, watch the sea give way to tarmac, and our path clear. The day was unnaturally warm for January, cloudy but dry. Perfect conditions for exploring.

I’m told that Holy Island is ‘manic’ in the summer; that we’d have been swimming in tourists. We were pleased we’d come when it was quiet. Our walk around the island, past the (closed) castle, along the rocky shore, into the lime kilns and along the lonely coast was disturbed by just a handful of people. I loved that. I don’t like places ‘ruined by tourists’ (the irony of that statement is not lost on me) or to have to dodge around people or tolerate noisy children. Especially somewhere like that. I think going in the summer would have been a dismal experience, even with bright sunshine and warmer temperatures. Experiences are impaired by those also experiencing.

We completed our circuit of the island, getting lost and disorientated by the dunes at one point, and then headed back towards the village and the Priory – which was also sadly closing just as we arrived.

But then I suppose that’s the issue with spontaneous trips. No planning, just going off and doing. You’re not always going to get it right. Although to tell you the truth, I’d rather do it my way than be thrust into expected patterns of behaviour.

We stopped at the Manor House Hotel for a quick bite before going up to the lookout tower to watch the sun set. It was a fitting way to end the day. No noise, no people, no words said, just a shared moment. Calm, peace, solitude. Looking out over the water you could feel the significance of the islands.

img_4974Click to view full size.

Goodbye 2016, or ‘what I’ll do differently in 2017’.

People keep saying that 2016 has been a really shitty year. Mainly as a result of the celebrity deaths we have experienced in the last 365 days. It’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon on death and disaster. The rise of Donald Trump The Anti-Christ, for example, and #BREXIT as a decision made by 50% of the UK population to be isolationist, backwards and to undo decades of progress. It’s very easy to look back at 2016 and think just how terribly awful it has been. And I very nearly got sucked into that pit of despair.

But then I stopped. I thunked for a bit. And remembered. You know what? My bad years have passed. 2014 was brutal. I lost Clare in the most wicked, cruel and evil way. Taken by cancer before turning 40. My world collapsed and I didn’t know how I would get through each day. 2015 wasn’t much better. I fell out with my brother which ultimately lead to our family being splintered and me not being invited to his wedding. Those wounds have yet to heal.

2016 hasn’t been bad to me. I have had my fair share of crazy experiences and dangerous liaisons, I’ve had stresses, I’ve tolerated fools. I’ve fending off stalkers and compulsive liars. I’ve been mis-sold on an idea which didn’t manifest in reality. I’ve been gullible, deceived, shallow and vain. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in my personal life.

Professionally it’s nothing but positives. There are no complaints.
I’ve maintained friendships with those I’m interested in and cast aside those who bring me down.
I’m closer to my parents despite being estranged from my brother. They see my side of things. We’re allies.
I’ve been to Portugal, I’ve been to Lanzarote. I’ve bought a car. I’ve made improvements to my home. I have more money than I have ever had. I’m far from ‘rich beyond my wildest dreams’ but my bills are paid, there’s money in the bank, and there’s wine in the fridge.
My relationship with the boy’s mum goes from strength to strength. My relationship with the boy evolves as expected with a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old. He’s stubborn and headstrong. He is his father’s son.

As the clock ticks over to midnight it’s time to consider what I’ll do differently in 2017. One criticism I’ll level at myself from the past year is my tendency to rush in. I’ve been so keen to capture that which I lost before that I have thrown caution to the wind and involved myself in situations too early and too soon. Too deeply. Too personally. I’ve opened myself up to people and given myself to them before I first weighed up their worth. I’ve invested time and emotion in people who did not deserve my time or my emotion. I’ve been stupid. I’ve been kind. I’ve been cruel.

2017 is to be a year of standing still and taking stock – I’ve said that before. I have plans to do interesting things and read a lot of books. I might even move house, but if I don’t or if I can’t I’ll make my current house more of a home. I’m going to go on holiday; maybe twice(!) (maybe thrice!!). I’m going to enjoy life and living it.

But there’s going to be No More Mister Nice Al. It’s time for me to be careful, calculated, cautious. Rather than taking people at face value I need to wait until the big reveal. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It’s time, 2017 is going to be the time, for Al to no longer be foolish.

I’ll see y’all on the other side of the bells.

Spend time not money

I asked The Boy the other day what he wanted to do on Saturday. I had a full tank of diesel and a reasonable swedge of cash available. The world was our oyster. “Let’s go to Roseberry Topping” was his reply. Deal.

Saturday morning I pick him up and we head off into the Cleveland hills. And do you know, my boy is growing up! And I think that sometimes if you don’t stop and think about it, you miss it. You miss the development of infant into child into young man. Driving along listening to him natter away. Pointing out cars he likes (“COOL FORD FOCUS RS, MATE!”) as we swing through Yarm. Telling me about getting detention two days in a row because “Peter is a grass”. He’s his own little person and I wasn’t paying attention to that. Guiltily, I wasn’t paying attention to that; to him.

We walked up Roseberry Topping, stopping along the way to rest and to chat and to look out across the scenery. Kids are inquisitive aren’t they? They observe stuff. “I can see your car” and “I can see the sea”. A helicopter flew overhead, “Do you think he can see us?” Parts were slippery. He insisted on holding my hand. I don’t think it was entirely for balance either. These are the moments kids remember. Tramping up through the mud towards the summit. Holding onto Dad. The years and months pass by so rapidly. Soon he won’t want to do that. Soon he’ll forge on ahead and leave his old man behind, I’m sure. But for now my boy wanted to hold my hand, and that’s a feeling I won’t ever forget.

We got to the top and looked out over Teesside. North towards the sea, south towards Captain Cook’s Monument (I’ve promised that next year we will walk all the way there and back). He wants to sit on the edge and dangle his feet over. NO! Funny how invincible kids think they are.

We start the walk down and he says, “This is awesome.”

“What is?” 

“You and me doing this. Mum said if she wasn’t going out she would have come with us but I said in my head, ‘I don’t think so, it’s me and Dad time’.”

Which is when I thought, you know what? This is what it’s all about. It’s not about spending money. It’s about spending time. Your time is invaluable. You’ll never get that time again. The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. img_4271

(If you click the image you’ll get it full size)

The Rocky Horror Show

“On the way to visit an old college professor, two clean cut kids, Brad Majors and his fiancée Janet Weiss, run into tyre trouble and seek help at the site of a light down the road. It’s coming from the Frankenstein place, where Dr Frank’n’furter is in the midst of one of his maniacal experiments…”

The weekend got off to a great start with a trip to the theatre to see Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show. I’ll admit, not all of the entires on the ‘challenge’ are all that challenging. Some are up there just because it’s something I want to do. This is the latter. I adore Rocky Horror. It is one of my favourite things ever. I’ve seen the stage show eight times so far; three times this year alone. One of the standout points of Rocky Horror is the audience participation and dressing up aspect. I had never had the desire guts to dress up before. That had to change this time. My previous experiences of audience participation had been shouting ASSHOLE! after the narrator mentions Brad Majors, and SLUT! after he refers to Janet. That too had to change.

Costume wise we decided to go as Brad and Janet following their disrobing at the hands of Riff Raff and others. Prepare yourselves:

It’s the massive pants, isn’t it?

Hey, I never said it was going to be pretty, but dressing up certainly made the experience richer – even if it took a little bit of dutch courage. Others also dressed up wanted to get photos with us; there was a spirit of camaraderie. Lots of laughs. Quite a lot of drinks too.

Throughout the show there are times where the audience is encouraged (that’s might not be the right choice of word) to shout out, engaging with the performers. The narrator speaks, ‘It’s true there were dark storm clouds.’ Yours truly shouts out, ‘DESCRIBE YOUR BALLS!’ He continues, ‘Heavy, black and pendulous.’ Just before Riff Raff first speaks to Brad and Janet my companion shouts, ‘WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE LIONEL RICHIE SONG?’ Riff Raff answers; ‘Hello’.

Maybe it’s one of those you had to be there things. If so, I encourage you to book to go see this awesome musical.

If you’re that way inclined you can also watch the stage show on YouTube:

You can visit the official website here: http://rockyhorror.co.uk