Get Thee Behind Me, Santa!

Christmas has been and gone!! In panto parlance, it is behind us!! Oh yes, it is!! Etbloodycetera!! And all should rejoice that it is so!!

I do like Christmas, really! Honest! But it sometimes seems to pack more punch and be more life-disturbing than Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank rolled into one! Any road up, enough of the festivities – they’re gone, the world comes out of its two-week hypnotic trance and starts spinning on its axis once more.

As I write – painfully and ponderously – I am in the fifth day of man-flu. Oh, yes, it exists! The God Google says so – see her findings below!!

Man Flu is a crippling and debilitating disorder indiscriminately striking down male members of the human species without warning. The illness is often referred to pejoratively by female members of the species who are in fact immune from the illness as man flu is now known to exclusively attack the XY chromosome carrier. If Man Flu is kind enough not to kill the infected party it will definitely leave him weak, sick, hurting everywhere and in dire need of TLC.

Medical professionals now also widely recognise that self diagnosis by the sufferer is the best means of identification as the symptoms of Man Flu are far more severe than the simple common cold which predominantly targets the XX chromosome holders (i.e. females). This goes some way to explain the cynicism some women display towards their male counterparts.

My wife does not agree! But what does she know – or care! Given the aforementioned, I am therefore struggling to ‘carpe annum’! But ‘carpe’ I must! ‘Scribe’ I must!!


After the flurry of literary items I have sent off in the last few months, the first rejections have come in . . . but I am guessing, so I’ve heard, that this is par for the course! Three humorous children’s poems – Animals, Susie Is Sick Of The Seaside and The Day The Sun Slept In seem to have cut no mustard with a poetry competition in Writing magazine. No matter, two adult comic poems – We Want To Make A Baby and The House On The Hill – sent to them in a later competition may fare better!

And a short story The Visit is awaiting consideration elsewhere.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a reply to my ‘expression of interest’ in scripting The Fighting Bradfords stage play due to see the light of the day in September as part of Durham County’s Great War commemorations. They had a massive response, difficult to make a choice etc etc. And some nice words but no cigar!

This is always a case of ‘throw enough shit at the barn door and some of it is bound to stick’. Not that what I am sending them is excrement, mind you! (Or is it? I’m clearly biased!)


But the magnum opus, the biggie, the 45 minute radio play A Handcart To Oblivion is still well and truly in ‘no man’s land’! It went off to the BBC Writers Room drama submission ‘window’ back in September. An email just before Christmas reveals that over 3000 scripts were received and they have not yet reached a decision. Ho hum!! Given that there are no fewer than FOUR sifts for each script to go through and none of them have been rejected yet, it could be a while before I hear anything!

I am blowing hot and cold on this, to be honest! Even winning it at hefty odds of 3000:1 does not guarantee broadcast; it merely singles the writer out ‘for further development’!

So, I have formulated a Plan B. A friend of mine who worked in the Drama Department of BBC Scotland a few years ago and who has read my script, has offered to send it to them. She rang them and they want to see it. It’s been with them for about three weeks now and I have no fingernails left!! It’s not what you know, right?

This is a crime drama set against the backdrop of a true event – the bombing of Wilkinsons lemonade factory in North Shields on the night of 3rd May 1941 by a lone German bomber! (As most of you will know, Wilkinsons was established by my paternal great-grandfather, William Arthur Wilkinson, so it’s a family story).

One of the four bombs dropped by that single raider fell through the roof of the three-story building and detonated, taking all of the heavy bottling machinery down into the basement, which was in use as an air raid shelter. 107 people died, 42 of them under the age of 16. Whole families were wiped out and a community was devastated. It is reported to be the biggest loss of life incident caused by a single bomb during the war, outside of London.

Despite the scale of the event, little is known of it away from Tyneside. The raid was not part of a long, concentrated ‘blitz’ such as that experienced in major cities. Liverpool, for example, underwent exactly that in the previous week. Wartime censorship, of course, is responsible for the absence of any real profile for the event but, even allowing for that, little is known. In recent years, a website dedicated to the event –- was established and most that is now known resides there. I commend it to you should you wish to learn more! (North Shields 173, in case you’re wondering, was the telephone number of the factory).

There’s also a Facebook page . . .

A shout out for Peter Bolger here! He has single-handedly managed this incredible site for the last few years and it is – although I hate the word, it seems appropriate here! – awesome!! The definitive event archive!

Apart from the obvious personal kudos of actually getting my play on t’wireless, I am also keen to have it aired around the time of the 75th anniversary of the bombing in May 1941.

BUT . . . good news is that I have a second radio play in mind. Another WW2-based piece, it again centres on a true story but this one is not family based. Really keen to start on ‘t! Working title The Telegram.

Teardrops and Bottle Tops

. . . is the title of the commemorative event which will take place on the evening of Tuesday 3rd May 2016 – 75 years to the day that 107 lives were suddenly ended and many, many more were changed forever as a result of the raid.

It’s early days yet – exactly four months as I write this – but the evening will include dramatized readings of survivor and eye-witness reports (of which there are many on the 173 site), music (described later), Q&A, information about the family, the company, the community at the centre of the incident, a bit about ‘breweriana’ (Wilkinson bottleage to those not in the know!) and . . . (drum roll) it will be held in the East End Youth and Community Centre in George Street, North Shields. The significance of the venue is that the Centre and the house next door sit on the footprint of the factory. I am hoping that the evening will conclude with a short remembrance service on the street at the time that the bomb struck ie 11.45pm.

I don’t particularly subscribe to things paranormal but, according to a source who works at the Centre, there is ‘all sorts going on’ there – apparitions, unexplained noises etc. In view of the fact that most of 107 innocent souls died just a matter of a few feet below the floor of the Centre, it is perhaps not surprising! We may need to put extra chairs out!

It promises to be an informative and emotional evening! Despite the obvious fact that it is all about a tragedy, it will not be all doom and gloom. The aim is simply to highlight the event and to honour and remember those who suffered but there must be hope! Life goes on and, let’s face it, it DID!!

If there is the demand, I hope that there will be other similar events that week to support the anniversary evening.

For the title of the event, we owe a debt of gratitude to North Shields lad, Jim White, who composed and performed the song of the same name Teardrops and Bottle Tops. He has kindly agreed to come along, with fellow musicians, to perform it on the evening in question. Thanks Jim!

Here’s the link!

Any road up, as always, watch this space!!

And talking of music . . .

I’ve joined a band! I am now 3rd trombone – though, to be fair, there is no 2nd bone at the moment – in the KZA Big Band. It’s a ‘scratch band’ made up of pupils of Laird Andrew Kerensky, founder of the Middlesbrough Jazz & Blues Orchestra. Repertoire will be modern (Taylor Swift et al) with a ‘big band’ feel. We have saxes, trumpets, bones, drums, keyboard, guitar and our first gig is on 27th February in Darlington. As we are of varying ability, the original plan was to meet every Sunday night for a year and then start gigging – so let’s hope we gel fairly quickly as our first meet-up is not till a week tonight ie Sunday 10th January. I’m learning the pieces like mad but already have a few questions. Still, there’s safety in numbers, so I’m told!!

Welcome to our Bobby Dazzler!


We lost our lovely black cat, Jack, last March after having him with us for thirteen years but we have now filled the cat-shaped hole in our house. So, welcome to Bobby, a rescue cat from SARA (Saltburn Animal Rescue). He’s black, like Jack, and very clingy at the moment, very friendly, very affectionate! We are trying to get used to having a cat in the house again and, as it is recommended we keep him indoors for 6-8 weeks before we let him ‘roam’, we are being very careful about doors and windows. He is only 9 months old so still a bit kitten and was found abandoned three months ago!! How can people do that? Unless he escaped from his then home and got lost – it happens! A lot of energy in the mornings, sprinting around the place like his tail’s on fire but the afternoons bring relative calm. As I write, he is flat out on the settee!

My original plan – it was initially to be a Christmas surprise for Sue – was to get two rescue cats and I got quite attached to Roger and Rodney in the rescue centre. They were older cats and haven’t been medically checked out yet and can’t use a cat flap etc so it just wasn’t practical for us, hence the switch to Bobby! One of the pair was still very withdrawn so it would have been a long process. The other was so affectionate, I was practically wearing him as a scarf, so eager was he to bond with me, hahaha!! Their back story was terrible – abandoned by a tenant in a remote country property who just abandoned them when he/she got evicted. They waited for weeks for their owner to return, scavenging for food etc. They were in a terrible state when the neighbours noticed their plight and called SARA in.

I do hope they have a better future. I have been so impressed by SARA that I have put my name down as a volunteer at Fox Rush Farm where they are based. I don’t mind what I do but ‘cat cuddling’ is an option – just to keep them in touch, literally, with human company! My ‘induction course’ is tomorrow!