Make Your Bed”delivered by ADMIRAL WILLIAM H. MCRAVEN

I didn’t write this piece but I find so powerful and inspiring, I wanted to share it with you, we can all take lessons out of this speech, little snippets we can use each day in our lives, the part on “make your bed” inspires me as its so true! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

This speech was delivered as the commencement address to the graduates of The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014. 

President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.

It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT. I remember a lot of things about that day. I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married — that’s important to remember by the way — and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.

But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening, and I certainly don’t remember anything they said. So, acknowledging that fact, if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I will at least try to make it short.

The University’s slogan is, “What starts here changes the world.” I have to admit — I kinda like it. “What starts here changes the world.”

Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people — think of it — over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world — eight billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people — change their lives forever — you’re wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan: A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush. In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.

But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn were also saved. And their children’s children were saved. Generations were saved by one decision, by one person.

But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is — what will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better. But if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world. And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status.

Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward — changing ourselves and the world around us — will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California. Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harrassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are the 10 lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students — three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast. In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each. I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about five-foot-five.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the midwest. They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews. The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle — it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.

There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.

No one wanted a circus.

A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students — who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed wire crawl, to name a few. But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope. You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life head first. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation the student slid down the rope perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.

Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not recently. But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you — then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

As Navy SEALs one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles — underwater — using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors. As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.

The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men — and we could get out of the oppressive cold. Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone-chilling cold.

The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night, one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singingbut the singing persisted. And somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell.

Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world — for the better. It will not be easy.

But, YOU are the class of 2014, the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.

Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.

And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.

Thank you very much. Hook ’em horns.

Saturday/Sunday Morning U12s Football Back Again!!!

There is no better feeling of getting my son up on a Saturday morning, so he can play football again. The COVID-19 pandemic impact has been extremely difficult for adults to handle and manage, but for our children it has been considerably worse.

Prior to the pandemic my son who currently plays for Leigh Genesis Cosmos (Saturday U12 team) and Leigh Genesis Reactors (Sunday U12 team) he was training for an hour on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and playing Saturday and Sunday mornings, this benefitted his fitness, social interaction, health and wellbeing, plus many other benefits! Suddenly it was all gone taken away to nothing.

As all parents have had to do, they soldiered on through trying to motivate our children, and juggle work as well, it’s been difficult prise them from their Xboxe’s or PlayStation’s or their phones  and tablets, many have gained weight and lost fitness, as well as the most valuable aspect of grass roots football “being part of a team” and social interaction. The damage the lockdown has produced could be irreversible due to the lasting mental impact.

But light finally appeared when prime minister Boris Johnson announced lockdown for grass roots football was being lifted, and our clubs could open up and training/games could resume, I myself cheered and I’d hasten a guess a collective cheer from all parents who’s children are involved in grass roots, or any other sports gave out a cheer and relieved sigh. It was the news we desperately needed to hear finally.

For me I was really pleased at how our club “Leigh Genesis” handled the reopening it was done proactively and extremely structured, clear and precise, with everything geared up for the safety of both our kids and the parents/volunteers/coaches it was so encouraging I applaud everything the guys have done to get the kids back playing, which I’m sure has been replicated by all clubs across my area as well as nationwide.

So for me as a parent to wake my son up on a weekend, watch him get his kit on, shin pads and socks, boots cleaned water done ready to go, it’s brilliant!! He’s not match fit as most aren’t but his enthusiasm is excellent, standing freezing cold on the sidelines watching is where I want to be, seeing his red face running around with his team mates is a result, forget the goals, forget the wins/losses etc just seeing him out there running and laughing is what it’s about. Their fitness will improve and as the bonds grow stronger the improvements will come, but for now the feeling of being back on the sidelines, listening to the coaches yelling and watching grass roots football return is the best reward so far. I hope and pray we continue without interruption and these kids get to do what they love “playing football


You came naked,
You will go naked.
You arrived weak
You will leave weak.
You came without money and things,
You will leave without money and things.
Your first bath? Someone washed you
Your last bath? Someone will wash you.

This is life!

So why so much envy, so much malice, so much hate, so much resentment, and so much selfishness?



We have a limited time here on Earth, don’t waste it in uselessness.

Working At New York JFK 2000-2004 (Part 2: Day 1)

My very first experience of JFK was day 1 when I reported to building#69! This is where Hudson General/GlobeGround North America’s main office was at the airport, there HQ was at that time over in Great Neck NY, I arrived prompt and early as I was required to sort out mu airside permits and my customs clearances etc. I also had to produce a copy of my L1B visa for working in the USA, on top of this I had to sort out my social security number, as well as opening bank accounts and a whole host of other things, sadly I didn’t receive a great deal of help in doing all this, I kind of had to wing it and hope it all worked out? Again another warning sign went ignored, the ladies all working at building#69 were all really nice and friendly, as were the guys in the repair shop below, the senior managers were based here at the corner of the building, three separate offices housing three different managers, a GM, a VP and a SFO as I recall, I remember at the time the VP (GB) wasn’t very polite, I didn’t know where I was supposed to be? He walked up to me and said “Who are you?” I politely introduced myself to which he said “Oh the Limey yeah, well this isn’t where you should be is it?” then he walked back in his office and slammed the door in my face, I kind of stood there for a moment thinking to myself “Welcome to New York” then as I walked off to try and find somebody who would help me, I muttered some sort of expletive! So my first 15 minutes in my new employment only 3,330.89 miles from home was going erm great!

The first really helpful person I ran into at building#69 was the trainer (BDS) he was a small thin chap, Italian American, black mustache, bald head on top but very neatly cut around the edges, he had a bright Pink shirt on and light grey Farrah type slacks lol he was a great guy first words from his mouth was “How the f**k are you doin?” obviously I responded positively to which he said that memorable line “Why the F**k would you wanna work at this s**t hole? It’s absolute f*****g chaos buddy” I’ll never forget that line, only he could of delivered it, we sat chatting for a while about life, the UK, the USA, Hudson General etc. he was gearing up to take a class of new recruits and asked me if I wanted to sit in? I happily accepted, as the new guys came in I stood and watched, please bare in mind I’m from the UK which was very conservative, sadly I could count on one hand, all the colleagues from ethnic minorities, or of foreign nationality, at the time not a single black colleague was employed in the UK business I’d just left, which looking back was appalling, here I was watching 32 guys walking into a room, some had baseball caps on, some had trousers hanging down there ass, some were chatting away on their cell phones, and almost 3/4 had dorags on! Looking back at this now, it really meant nothing and was who the guys were it made no reflection on their individual work ethic, but again coming from the UK, I was used to people arriving for an induction meeting dressed in shirt and trousers, files in their hand full of their qualifications, Resumes, references and experience etc. Yet here I was watching 32 guys shuffle in unorganized to what might be the first day of a new career, believe me I had very little lip left afterwards through biting it throughout. It was interesting as I waited for them to settle which incidentally took 15 minutes as one of the guys was on a call? The trainer opened with a little history on the company including the new transition and a small snippet on what most of these guys would be doing if employed, now as I said in (part 1) I was based at Terminal 7 British Airways, the company had quite a large presence at JFK which included, terminal 1 handling, terminal 7 handling, busing, deicing, JAL cargo, NCA cargo and numerous other areas of expertise. These guys literally could be going into a plethora of different businesses throughout the airport, what I was astonished at was when he mentioned the hours and the job 22 guys got up and left? Just like that! I was astounded, but as it transpired this was a regular occurrence and staff uptake was staggering at the shear amounts of guys that would not make it past 10 minutes, once the session had finished and of the 32 that walked in the door 7 were going forward to the recruitment process I sat and reflected with (BDS) on what had transpired? He said this was the norm, the incentive to work wasn’t great, the guys can earn more working in the terminal serving burgers? It was this conversation that raised the biggest concerns for me at that point, my fears were “What the hell had I let myself in for?

I went and got my airside pass and was driven over to terminal 7 by (JB) another trainer, I had previously met him on my earlier visit, he drove me to the terminal where I was to meet my colleagues, I remember jumping into a beat up Hudson General logoed Ford pick up truck, it was full of crap and stunk of cigarettes, I we arrived at the terminal back entrance, I saw a large truck being loaded with cleaning utilities, as I walked over a portly gent walked over and said “Hi I’m (D) supervisor for the cleaners pleased to meet you” he was very softly spoken almost feminine, but such a nice man and a nice greeting, I said “Hi” back but could hear the whispers from other scattered around, many were apprehensive, a little standoffish to be honest which is understandable, as I wandered into the building, I noticed it was scruffy looking not much in the way of décor, as I strolled down a little further, a lady in a side office popped her head and and said “Well hello there” it turned out she was the PA or secretary or whatever her title was to the manager (MW) again I responded as I wandered further down, until we reached the operations office, it was modest to say the least but this was where all the flight sheets, off loads and loading instructions etc. were found, it was also the work space of the allocator who gave out the assigned jobs etc. As I walked in he called a British Airways flight “In Range” to which I saw guys moving I heard stuff being called out “10 Dollies” “5 over the roads?” “grab some tugs” as I stood listening I was thinking to myself “what the f**k is an Over The Road?” as the guys came past me some said Hi, alot said Yo and a few said nothing at all. As I stood looking around I didn’t see a single white guy which I found confusing, I thought given the incredible diversity of JFK there would of been a mix but it wasn’t the case, as it turned out in those first opening hours in the business, the senior managers were all white guys, the decision makers were white guys, the two white guys I met initially both trainers, two white guys were supervisors. Yet the guys that worked the ramp and provided the business with the graft were all guys and girls of ethnic minorities the disparity was mind blowing, id never seen such an obvious separation of cultural ranks! Whites in positions of authority and minorities in manual positions! I’m trying to use the right words but struggling to do it? As I sat and watched the aircraft come in and observed the guys doing their jobs, it quickly hit me that there was massive indifferences that I need to understand and explore, I needed to know why there was such obvious disparity? I needed to know why there was so few white guys working the ramp? Problem was I was looking at this with an English perspective and sadly no matter how it was painted over, or how much it was covered up institutional racism was very much alive and prominent in the UK and within companies I worked for, It was only when I stepped on the ramp at JFK did the diversity aspect hit me and believe me it hit me hard. I wanted to be amongst the guys to work with them, get to know them, and be apart of their well oiled machine.

I remember sitting with a guy (AG) after he had offloaded his flight, I was sat at the back door drinking a Diet Coke, he sat down and introduced himself, then started asking me questions about who I was etc. my initial problem was I could not understand what he was saying? He wasn’t talking in a foreign dialect, he was speaking English with an accent, the problem was I was not listening closely enough, I stupidly expected the queens English or a steady American accent, again a very stereotypical mindset from me, I apologised to him and said I’d didn’t catch what he had said and could he repeat it, to which he did, I listened carefully and it was as clear as day what he had said, so I asked him where the majority of the guys are from? He responded “Everywhere man” he went on to tell me that there were guys from the USA born and raised, as well as guys from Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia etc. so many cultures, and languages to understand in one small place.

We sat and chatted before I was summoned to go and meet the managers of the terminal, as I wandered down to meet the guys, I saw the cleaning supervisor he said something very poignant to me something that stayed with me, he said “Hey Paul no matter what you do here at the terminal please don’t become like them be different son!” I shook his hand as I went through the doors, I always held onto those words, as I didn’t become one of them and I stayed unique. As I entered the large office at the back of the building it was like a scene from a late 1960s early 1970 airport movie, there was three guys sat at a round table, and a guy down the bottom behind a desk, they all had their ties undone hanging around their necks, apart from the guy at the desk, their top buttons undone it was such a cliché. My boss (RC) said to me in his Italian/American accent “Hey Pwaul how’s it going man, do you wanna Cwoffee or are you a tea man?” I said coffee is good, which we went and fetched we then sat down and discussed what my role was, what we were up against in terms of operational difficulties, I was given a complete low down dossier on the British Airways RDM’s and station managers, along with who was the arseholes and who wasn’t? It was evidently clear there was a divide between our company and some of the British Airways managers, and a huge divide between the British Airways engineers and our staff, after several hours of conversations, I remember my boss saying “Hey it’s getting f*****g late wrap this s**t up, I wanna go home! Pwaul go home drink a beer and we’ll see you tomorrow!” that was it! I was said my goodbyes to the guys in on shift, jumped in (JB) stinky truck and headed back to building#69, jumped in the Taurus and I left. That was pretty much day 1 in a nutshell, my head was spinning by the time I got back, I realised that I had to massively learn to listen carefully and understand the challenges all these inspiring guys were up against.

(Working At New York JFK 2000-2004 (Part 3: Adapting to JFK) to follow shortly

The Faceless Man A Story By James Sargent (Aged 11yrs)

My son James is 11 years old, during lockdown he started writing short stories, creating characters and scenarios in his head. He has had no help from any of us or his teachers, just simply sits down with his laptop and drifts off writing. He really wanted me to share a this teaser from one of his stories, this particular one is called “The Faceless Man” all written in his own words and exactly how he wrote it. As a parent I’m so proud of him, hopefully this could be his vocation as he gets older? Who knows? Perhaps Leigh, Greater Manchester has its very own “Stephen King” in the making?

The Faceless Man

I am a rescue officer stationed in a safe place in America. My name is Davies Jonathon, and this is a story I cannot forget, and it still haunts me today.

I was in a camp and I was investigating a missing kid report of a girl with autism. The parents said ‘’She would never just walk away like that.’’ We always heard that from parents. Me and my buddy new this would be an easy case because how could a girl with autism go so far?

Soon, we set off into the woods near a hot-spot place we find missing people. The sticks were impossible to get through because it looked like a trap. The sticks were covering a hole like 9 feet down and 12 feet wide. While we were looking something caught my eye. There was a man. A fully grown man…

I could not see facial expressions but when I got closer, I almost threw up. He did not have a face. It looked like a mask, but it was just smooth skin, no eyes, no mouth and no nose. Suddenly, he ran away and I jumped back a bit because he also zoomed like a cartoon character.

I signalled my buddy to leave, and we went further into the woods. That was messed up I thought. But what creeped me out was why would he be here and why did not he have a face? Soon we were about 10 miles into the woods and I almost forgot that a girl could go this far.

We came up to a stair in the middle of the woods. Like a video game glitched and the stairs was the only thing that spawned or like you took the stairs in your house and put it in the middle of the woods. When we were rookies all we got told was the stairs are common and never go near or touch them.

Soon we heard cries of a girl. A rush of energy filled inside me and me and my buddy sprinted towards the sound. But something was not right. I asked my buddy if he felt the same and he said ‘’yeah.’’ I listened to the cries more and then I realised that it was a loop the same cry, hiccup then whimper.

I looked behind us and there he was the faceless man but this time I was even more creeped out. He was with a child, not just any child, the child we had been looking for, but the scariest thing was she did not have a face either.

We full on booked it back to the camp and we knew we were followed but when we got to the camp, we saw the man stood with her by the treeline. My friend screamed and the whole camp woke up and the faceless man left with her…

4 weeks later we found the girl dead in a canyon 40 miles away from camp.
We do not know what happened but this was something that haunted me for the rest of the time I was in that job…

James Sargent aged 11 years old

The Boy In The Branches A Story By James Sargent (Aged 11 years old)

My 11 year old son James during lockdown, started writing short stories all from his imagination. He received no help with his short pieces just sat quietly and put them together, he wanted me to share a couple of teasers from his stories this one is called “The Boy In The Branches” all in his own words and exactly how he has written them. As a parent I’m immensely proud of him, hopefully this could be his vocation as he gets older? Who knows? Perhaps Leigh, Greater Manchester has its very own “Stephen King” in the making?

The Boy In The Branches

My name is Kyle Jones, and I am a firefighter in the state Ohio, and this is one of my traumatising story’s I had in my career. For a quick disclaimer, the story will contain gore…

I was sat in my truck in the station slouched fidgeting with a rubix cube waiting for a call. You might think that not having calls is fun and you get money for playing with a cube. Well to make it clear, you are very wrong. Suddenly, I sprung up from my chair when I heard the echoing, ear-piercing ring tone.

Rapidly, I sprinted towards the phone and called on the radio to get ready. The person on the line said ‘’Come quick! There is a boy in the tree, and he is not answering or moving a muscle. Come quick!’’ I was very confused because as weird as it seems the person had an almost calm tone in their voice. But anyway, I politely said ‘’Help is on the way.’’ Then I passed the person into the call centre.

Quickly, I got my gear on, started the engine and called my team to get in. The sirens were so loud one of the guys had to cover their ears to muffle the sound that was almost deafening us all. A few minutes later, we got to the site where the boy was.

Cautiously, I climbed up the tree, I was thinking how could a kid get this high? If you do not know the tree was about 30-40 feet tall. At this point, I was almost scared for my life! It took a while but when I finally got to the top, I saw the kid, but he was partially covered by trees and branches. I screamed his name over and over. Then I just muttered ‘’screw it’’ to myself and lunged to a branch towards the kid. Suddenly the branch I was just on just fell off the tree, and it fell on the moist soil below us or should I say me…

Carefully I tapped his back and he just sat there stiff. When I turned his whole body around, I almost screamed. His intestines were hanging out of his body, they were like Swiss Cheese I tell you. His eyes were completely gone, his hair was wiry and dry. I saw a part of his internal organs scattered all over the tree. It was horrific, almost like a Christmas tree but with parts of an innocent boy.

A loose stick was next to me, so I poked his body down the tree and I closed my eyes when I heard screams of the parents. I should stop for a second, there was parents and a few rescue officers down there comforting the neighbours, parents and grandparents. I almost lost my job for pushing his body down.

When I got down, I walked over to the rescue officers and they said to me ‘’Thank you for getting the evidence down.’’ I just stood there thinking over what he just said ‘the evidence’ like he did not have a life, a family I remember that exactly. This case really made me feel uneasy for a while. I had to take a full 2 weeks off work.

Please everyone, there is monsters unimaginable out there what happened to this boy was horrific.

Stay safe everyone.”

James Sargent aged 11 years old

Has The Pandemic Unwittingly Made Funerals More Personal?

As a Funeral Director working from an extremely busy location, this last 12 months have been incredibly hard, as I can imagine it has for the majority of my colleagues the length and breadth of the country or in fact the globe. We have been largely unrecognized throughout the pandemic, and have seen so many changes within our working environment I’ve lost count! The rules have been somewhat hazy most of the time, with different crematoriums adopting different working methods to each other? Cemeteries working to a different set of guidelines again? Hospital mortuaries all doing different things? Then you come to Funeral Directors who are doing a whole plethora of things completely different again! It has been a minefield from the very start, one which throughout has been made to work through hard work and dedication from all in the funeral industry.

Where all these rules that we have come to understand become very difficult is when we have to explain it to families. Here is where numerous problems occur, oddly a lot of people still think funerals are a free for all? They cannot comprehend why churches are closed? they do not understand why some funeral directors air on the side of caution, and do not dressed deceased that have sadly passed away with Covid-19, not are the coffins open for viewing, whereas some funeral directors are operating as a “business as usual” ethos. The company I work for thankfully are taking staff safety very seriously, and have put in place measures to ensure we all get to go home safely to our own families. I’m pleased that we have adopted this measure, as if we operated during this pandemic as a “business as usual” funeral directors, I would of hung my hat up and placed my gloves down a long time ago.

What I have noticed though throughout this pandemic and the reduced numbers at Cremations and Burials, is how personal the services have become, personally I feel cramming 100s of people into a crematorium is not the right thing to do, and takes away the personal element of the funeral, having listened to hundreds of eulogies over the years, I have found over the past year how deep and meaningful the eulogy has become, they no longer need to delve into the usual born at? Raised where? Worked at? etc as the eulogy no longer needs to cater for the friends that show up, who might not of been in touch with the person for 20 years, but feels they have the right to be at the funeral, the eulogy and the way the service is carried out, no longer needs to chronologically chart a persons life, so mere passers by understand who the person was in the coffin at the front?

The contents and context of a service now is so deeply personal I feel really connected as I listen, I start to understand how the person worked, and where I may not be able to know what the families personal moments were like with their loved ones. I get a sense of the bonds as the stories and memories are so very personal and from the heart. Having 500 people at your funeral does not make that funeral any more important than having 10 close family members who shared everyday with that person, for me a funeral is a private moment for a family to say goodbye, prior to the pandemic I’ve witnessed families holding back their emotions as they have a hundred eyes bearing down on them, I’ve seen families become overwhelmed due to the amounts of people showing up, I’ve listened to eulogies where the family have grappled to try and make the eulogy understandable to everybody attending, only to miss certain things they wanted to talk about, as given the amount of time they have they figure people won’t understand what they are saying or talking about.

To summarise I know many will no doubt disagree with me and feel having dozens at a funeral is what makes the funeral, I will have to respectfully disagree, a funeral should have the people who are the absolute closest to that person, and the whole contents should be about them and the person they’ve lost, since the pandemic started and through the minefield of information given out and the varied amounts of procedure changes, I feel having sat through so many services, is that almost everyone I’ve conducted has been profoundly personal and extremely meaningful throughout, not one family has said to me afterwards that they were unhappy with how things had gone, nor has anybody since day one commented that they wished more could attend, that goes for everybody I’ve looked after regardless of age! Because everything was so immensely personal any thoughts of packed chapels and overcrowded cemeteries are mere things in the backs of peoples minds. How you explain it to the family is key critical in how they will manage the differences.

I feel the pandemic has unwittingly made funerals more personal, and only time will tell if we move back to how we was before? Will crematoriums want packed to the rafters chapels? Will cemeteries want hundreds standing all over graves trying to get as close as possible? Will families want to move back to writing eulogies to accommodate the masses rather than it being deep and personal? Only time will tell and until it does we will carry on in the caring and empathetic manner we always do. Stay safe guys Paul 16.03.2021

A Stroll Through The Streets Of Manhattan (2001 Spring)

Who doesn’t want to visit New York City? After all its the city that “never sleeps” immortalized in so many songs and movies, countless books and publications, the line in the Frank Sinatra hit New York New York really sums the place up remember the line?

If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York

No truer a line could have been written about this iconic amazing city, from its amazing world renowned land marks such as The Empire State Building, Central Park, The Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Madison Square Garden, Grand Central Station and so so many more, from the long avenues running North to South or the smaller streets stretching East to West, every corner a new sight and sound playing out in front of you. A living theatrical production happening directly around you, New Yorker’s going about their business, tourist with their heads looking in every direction, trying to capture every square inch of this city in one visit. Every couple of seconds or so a horn sounds from and impatient cab driver, or a delivery person rushing from job to job. Followed by a blast of police sirens or the loud deafening horns from Fire Trucks as they maneuver around this organized chaos of a city. It’s all mad but it works believe it or not, when you stand still long enough to actually absorb it, it actually sodding works its baffling really is.

So swiftly moving on from my little introduction, I got the opportunity to live in New York between October 2000 & March 2004, whilst I was working at JFK International Airport. I didn’t live in the city (way above my pay grade) instead I resided on Long Island in an area called Island Park or Barnum Island (yep the same Barnum as the circus performers) where in the summer I tended to stay where I lived! (it was a summer beach town what would you expect) I did venture into Manhattan, to mooch around. I tended to go more in the winter months as the city is so pretty in the snow and around Christmas somewhat magical. I was a little bit of a creature of habit I tended to wander the same routes, the places where I could people watch, and marvel on New Yorker’s and chuckle at tourists as well I must confess, so I thought why not take you on “A Stroll Through The Streets Of Manhattan” as I did through my eyes experiencing the things I saw and did, the places I ventured to and stops I made. So stick your trainers (or sneakers) on and lets go.

Up and out my bed for 07:30hrs my home is a ground floor of a house in Island Park on Long Island, proper summer beach town, a walk over Long Beach Bridge takes you to guess where? Long Beach!! Where white sandy beaches alongside a long wooden boardwalk greet you, as well as the many bars and restaurants that are present along the main drag (my home and area is another blog) once I’d hopped in the shower, dressed and ready, off I go nice stroll down my street, heading towards my LIRR station (Island Park), there I will hop on the train that takes me all the way to Penn Station, ticket bought and paid for (all day return $8.00) not bad considering as it is a lengthy journey, the silver train pulls in and i make my way to either the maroon or the blue seat, armed with my NY Post, the train pulls away from the station, Manhattan here I come.

I settle back to my seat and start flicking through the paper to see what nonsense has been happening around New York? from the corner of my eye I see the various towns and stations going past, I tend to pay no attention at all to the stops just a casual glance, seeing Oceanside, East Rockaway, Center Avenue, on to Lynbrook, Valley Stream, Rosedale, Laurelton and Locust Manor before we pull into Jamaica Station. If I was driving to work (JFK) I’d hop off the train here then make my way to the airport, but as I’m off to the city I stay in my seat. Then off we go again glancing up I see Kew Gardens, Forest Hills (on the train you can see the Tennis stadium), Woodside from there we descend into darkness as the train enter the tunnel going under the East River taking me into Penn Station, I always leave my paper on the seat, so somebody getting on can enjoy it on their return trip. I’ve arrived I’m here time to get out of the station and into the daylight see what Manhattan has to offer today?

7th Avenue is my first route strolling from Penn Station up to Times Square, now I don’t go to Times Square to sight see or shop1 Been there done that got the “I Love NYC” mug, no I go to Times Square to sit outside a coffee shop be it Starbucks or whatever, I settle down in my seat outside with my Coffee and pastry and I people watch! There is no greater way to pass time than people watching, it is superb and a laugh a minute, you see and hear into peoples lives for a split second, New Yorker’s are very animated when they speak, I see bankers and brokers going towards downtown, all on their cells talking about deals, or the game last night? I see business people scurrying in all directions trying to get to there respected offices, nothing more odd than seeing a business woman in full business attire with a pair of sneakers/trainers on? guess the Jimmy Choo’s are just not up to the job eh? Full business attired men dashing through the crowds with napkins hanging from their collar due to still throwing their breakfast down their necks, workers and delivery drivers arguing over who can park where? Then in the midst of all this chaos insert the tourists hundreds of them everywhere, from all over the world, so easy to distinguish due to there heads being all over up, down, side to side looking at everything, cameras taking pictures of literally everything possible! I mean do people really go home and look at pictures of advertising hoardings they’ve taken? Or a mound of horse **** in the middle of the street? I find it incredible when I sit and watch the tourist, I remember one day I dropped my coffee cup which spilled on the floor, the cup was leaning against a wall with the coffee, running towards the road, I went to grab a napkin as I had coffee on my hands, when I got back there was a group of Japanese tourist on the floor photographing my spilled coffee cup, with Times Square in the background? Really? seriously what on earth? But hey it’s New York so better let it slide eh? once I’ve engaged in my people watching, its time to engage with the globe!

I always stopped at the “Easyinternetcafe” spend an hour or so reading the English newspapers, see whats going on at home, send some emails to family and friends whilst having a coffee, located on 42nd Street it was always busy, and often I’d have to wait my turn for a terminal, but once I was settled I’d utilize my time quite productively, once I was fully up to speed with happenings in the UK, I’d stick in my earphones and connect them to my terminal, listen to the radio from the UK whilst I surfed the globe absorbing information, before I ventured back onto the mean streets of Manhattan, I don’t know if the “Easyinternetcafe” is still on 42nd Street? If it has now gone its a shame as it was always my second port of call. Once I’d loaded up on world wide affairs is was on wards on my daily ramble around Manhattan, I logged my terminal off and made for the door, always being asked exactly the same question as I exited “Do you want a coffee to go Sir? Have a great day” I liked my routine I guess.

So off I went on my stroll around the streets of Manhattan, being a bit of a movie buff, I liked to stroll and see various places around the city that had appeared in movies, suppose standing in that exact spot for a movie nerd was an achievement hahaha, some of the places I strolled to was place from the Men in Black movie the bench Will Smith sat on in Battery Park, the entrance to MIB at the Northern end of Battery Park, Jeebs Pawn shop located 90 Orchard Street on the corner of Broome Street, Lower East Side, I would also wander to the Plaza Hotel where so many movies have been shot Including Home Alone and Crocodile Dundee, I would also stroll to the bar that Crocodile “Mick” Dundee drank in it’s called the Horseshoe Bar located Avenue B at Seventh, at the South East corner of Tompkins Square Park, here I’d enjoy a cold beer and think of the infamous scene from so many years ago, as I made my was around I’d pause at FDNY Hook & Ladder 8, 14 North Moore Street, Tribeca made famous as the home of the “Ghostbusters” as well as seeing “Spook Central” where Dana’s apartment was this was located 55 Central Park West at 65th Street, I also stumbled across another location, purely by chance (I tripped on the curb here) as I corrected myself somebody said I’d tripped at one of the most famous locations in New York City? All I could see was a set of subway grates, but it transpired this was the actual spot where Marilyn Monroe skirt blew up! Bit of narrative for you on this –

At the time of filming, in September 1954, Monroe‘s marriage to Joe DiMaggio was falling apart. They were staying at Suites 1105 and 1106 in the St Regis-Sheraton Hotel, 2 55th Street at Fifth Avenue.The notorious subway grating scene was largely staged as a publicity stunt. The studio made sure that the press knew exactly when and where the scene was to be shot, and that Marilyn would be wearing an outfit that would ‘stop the traffic’. Around 2,000 people turned up to witness the filming, including an enraged DiMaggio. The crowd roared as Monroe‘s skirt billowed up, and one of the most enduring Hollywood images was born. The next day, Monroe was sporting bruises and within a few days she and DiMaggio had split. The close-ups of her legs were re-shot in Hollywood. The subway grating was outside the Trans-Lux Theater, where Ewell and Monroe had just watched The Creature From the Black Lagoon. The Trans-Lux has since moved to 1221 Avenue of the Americas, but the subway grating can still be seen at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street.

Whilst wandering around there was various food and drink places that I enjoyed frequenting one of my absolute favorites was “A Salt & Battery Restaurant” 112 Greenwich Village, NY10011 this is effectively an English chippy, I’d call there and have Chips with Chip shop curry over the top, just like being in Manchester, if anybody came to NYC for a visit I’d always point them towards this place as it was amazing, I also liked eating at “Republic Restaurant” 37 Union Square Park, NY10003 this was a kind of Noodle bar, I’d often order and take a table outside in the sun, watching the world drift by as I chowed down on my noodle bowls, and an Asahi Beer, what more could I need! For beverages “Nevada Smiths” located 74 3rd Avenue NY10003, was always a good port of call it was a Manchester United Bar so I felt right at home, would have a beer and watch United match re-runs, my favorite bar in all of Manhattan was “The Swift” 34 E 4th Street, NY10003, I just really loved this little pub, it served Boddington’s Bitter and Stella Artois on draft, always a great chilled out vibe in there, staff always ready to talk shit all day with you, such a superb spot, no matter what time of year it was when I was in the city I’d be at The Swift! When I was going home before I jumped on the LIRR I’d call into the Tir Na Nog Bar near Madison Square Garden like a tradition had to have a beer before leaving.

Washington Square Park I religiously had to visit this place, as I walked towards the iconic marble arch I wondered who would be performing today, would it be the man dressed as a medieval knight (without Armour) and his wooden sword, he would stand there swinging his sword in his imaginary world, of battling other knights and saving a princess, the more people who stopped to watch the more enthusiasm he would inject into his performance, it was intriguing to watch i must say. There were always musicians in the park playing different instruments, some sounded awful yet some were incredible and the music they performed was as good as any celebrity artist, I remember sitting in the park one afternoon I was on a bench watching a street performer singing “American Woman” he was really good, there was a guy at the end of my bench watching also, he was foot tapping all through the song, I couldn’t help think he looked familiar, he had sunglasses on a leather jacket and large hat that covered his hair, I thought at one point he was a Rasta, it was only when I got up to move on I realized who I’d been sat near? None other than Lenny Kravitz just like me taking in the ambience, I spoke briefly to him he was a nice guy, he signed a napkin I had in pocket, then as I strolled in one direction he got up hands in his pocket strolled in the other direction, I love Washington Square Park, many an hour sat just watching the world, watching New Yorker’s scurry about their business, watching tourists all looking for that one unique shot, that they hope nobody else on the planet has caught.

As I stroll from Washington Square Park up town along 5th Avenue I’m surrounded by the sights and sounds of this amazing city, different smells coming from everywhere, stinky sewers, vehicle exhaust fumes, different restaurant aromas, street vendor’s selling everything from Hotdogs and Burgers, to Sauerkraut to kebabs to the wonderful aroma of roasting nuts.

As I progress to the top of 5th Avenue I see the iconic Plaza Hotel and just beyond Central Park, a number of Red open top buses drive past me, I can hear the guide talking to the passengers about all the sights they are seeing, I snigger to myself and think bloody tourists :o) I cross the road at the top of the park and wander in, its edging towards 4pm, the park isn’t the safest place in the dark so i aim not to be here to long, as I stroll through Central Park, I approach an area set up for rollerblading and roller skaters, I stand and watch for a while as they whiz around, some are with partners dancing away with each other, another man is whizzing around the area with a bottle on his head? Every now and then he squats whilst skating then slowly rises up again, he’s aware he has an audience so he tries to add a little more to his performance its actually quite funny, I notice a pretty woman come and stand next to me, she has a small dog on a lead, I can tell by the way she is dressed I should know who it is? As I rack my brain wondering who she is? I then acknowledge it is Rebecca Romijn I nod and say “Hi” she looks back smiles and replies “Hi” back, then the moment is gone and our two completely different lives go separate ways, the moment lost in time! My journey takes me across the park to Strawberry Fields, the memorial spot for John Lennon, directly across the road is the Dakota Building where John was shot dead, I pause here for a minute of reflection, I listen to people strumming Lennon songs on their beaten up guitars, I see a man sat newt to the mural on the ground, cross legged meditating! (only in New York) as light starts to fade and the flickers of candles begin to become brighter, its time to leave the park and start to head back to Penn station, my home beckons.

I stroll all the way down 6th Avenue watching the daylight disappear and the artificial lights illuminate the streets, Manhattan is a completely different city when night fall’s as the shops begin to close, the lights of the bars and restaurants shine bright, between 5pm & 7pm thousands of workers begin their trips back home after their work day. The bars fill up as stock brokers, office workers, retail personal, tradesman and women all stop to grab a drink before home, as I continue to wander towards Penn Station I stop at Sbarro’s Pizza on the corner of 33rd and 7th for a slice of Pepperoni, before walking past Madison Square Garden, to the Tir Na Nog Bar an Irish bar, as I make my way and take a seat at the bar, my good friend Shane serves me a cold Corona, I throw $30.00 on the bar, and drink my drink, when my bottle is near empty Shane comes along with a fresh one he takes the money from my pile, I tell him to take his own, every 3rd beer he tells me its on him lol, I end up spending more than $30.00, I take a Bourbon on ice to go, then cross the road and head down the stairs to my platform, once on the train I settle into my seat, and I’m on my way back to Island Park, I make sure I don’t nod off on the train as I’ll end up in Long Beach not where I need to, it’s been a great day wandering around the city, I’ve seen places of interest, ate in great places, enjoyed a few beers, and mingled with the greatest people on earth New Yorker’s. Stay Safe Paul 13.03.2021

September 11th 2001 and Me! A view from JFK Airport.

September 11th 2001 I think every single person reading this blog, knows exactly where they was and what they were doing that day! Most can remember the reports coming in across the globe, reporting on the events unfolding in New York as well as Washington and Pennsylvania. Most of those watching the reports, I’m sure thought it was a movie or a trailer for a TV series or something? I’m sure nobody thought this was real and was actually happening as they were reading it, but it was very real and it really was happening.

I was working over in New York when the September 11th attacks occurred, I was working at JFK International Airport working for a company called GlobeGround North America, I was based at Terminal 7 the British Airways operation. I recall that morning was like any other really sunny and quite warm for the time of year, I set off from my home on Island Park in Long Island heading for JFK it was around 0830am, having driven through Long Beach on my way to work, I remember my cell/mobile phone ringing next to me, it was a call from my mother in the UK? At this point I was somewhere along Park Street in Atlantic Beach not to far from the Atlantic Bridge, unusual for my mum to call me so early, I answered the phone putting her on loud speaker. She immediately asked my if I was OK and if I was safe? My response I recall so clear even today was “I’m fine why wouldn’t I be safe mum?” she then got upset and said whats happening in America and New York is awful? the time I remember clearly was 0855am. I said to her that I didn’t have a clue what she was on about? (I’ never drove with the radio on) she then said through her tears, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center! I said “thats impossible mum” but how wrong I was!

I continued talking to my mum as she was explaining what was going on, I couldn’t see the city from where I was as it was hidden from view, all of a sudden my cell/mobile went dead nothing no signal nothing? I remember frantically trying to reach the office at the airport and the team to see if they were OK? But communications were down, I recall as I was driving that there was nobody about nobody on the streets, shops empty, I remember as I crossed the toll bridge I was waived through without hesitation, everybody was preoccupied on other things, as I approached Rockaway Blvd, so many thoughts running through my head, I remember speeding up anxious to get to the airport to my guys and my teams, I caught the first clear view of Manhattan smoke bellowing from from the World Trade Center North Tower, I felt an overwhelming sadness at what I seeing, as continued down Rockaway Blvd towards the airport, I saw the 2nd aircraft flying along the skyline, surprised at how low he was flying? At that point I saw him fly straight into the South Tower! A massive explosion occurred even from the distance I was it was immense, flames, smoke debris everywhere it was horrific to see and equally frightening, I remember whizzing up to the security ramp access point close to building #6. The security guard at the booth was sobbing, he was called Barrington Jeffers (I think) I asked him, what was up? he said his brother works in the WTC and had been in his office since 0800am, I remember telling him that hopefully he got out or was in a safe location, he turned to me and said “he works on the 92nd floor of North f**k, f**k he ain’t answering his cell” I tried to calm him down, I called his supervisor to come and look after him as he was in a bad way, and unable to function in his role, I waited for about 10 mins until somebody came to help Barrington and let me through the security post to the ramp, I gave Barrington my cell and told him to call me, when he hears from his brother.

Driving across JFK’s ramp was eerie there were aircraft all over the place just stopped, askew taxiways, across terminal points just a strange surreal stillness, port authority vehicles were whizzing around, but nothing else just a strange kind of apocalyptic per-calmness before something big was going to happen? I remember entering the building staff were mulling around some in a kind of shock, there was elements of anger at what was happening, there was sadness, there were guys in that were profoundly worried for friends and loved ones who could be caught up in this awful event happening only 13.05 miles away, our EMT were meeting with both our customer airlines and the port authority to plan what was needed, first and foremost was ensuring any of our customer aircraft that were still on the ground could get back onto stands to let their frightened passengers off the aircraft, I remember our guys immediately getting out on the ramp and clearing all the dollies and OTR’s, I remember them without being asked rushing out FOD walking the whole area, so it was safe for returning aircraft, I think the guys needed to remain busy and active, those early moments on that ramp I can honestly say, every single one of the guys and gals I worked with were incredible, without hesitation they performed their individual tasks so eloquently, in spite of the horrific events going on around them, they never faltered once! So often these guys were taken for granted, and under valued but during this event, they became my family watching out for each other, knowing I was on my own in New York, they constantly told me I wasn’t alone and they were all there for me, I never forgot that and never will, they were my friends and still are.

We got a call at 0945am that all US airspace was completely closed, anything flying had to get on the ground at the nearest safe landing point, 90% of the transatlantic traffic was diverting into Canada, airports such as Halifax, St Johns and Gander taking the majority of the traffic, I recall that I had driven around to Terminal 1 where GlobeGround North America also had an operation, I cannot remember why I needed to go across but nevertheless that’s where I was stood, when a Port Authority Police car slammed his brakes where I was stood with a colleague, he jumped from his car yelling “ Holy F**k* No No No, what the F**k is happening here” his finger pointing to Manhattan, it was then we stood and watched the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapse, a low distant rumble could be heard, as the majestic tower, gave into the attack it had sustained and from standing so tall and proud looking across this great city, descended slowly into clouds of dust, taking with her so many brave people as it disappeared from sight, not sure what I felt at this point? dumbstruck, shock, scared, anxious I honestly don’t know. Behind me I could hear people screaming, I saw people coming out looking at what I was watching hands on faces, tears streaming down there faces, these were moments and reflections I can never forget.

The next 20 minutes or so were a whirlwind I actually cannot remember what I was doing? what I do recall was standing at the door of the jetbridge on gate 3 back at terminal 7, outside by the steps, I could see the smoke rising from Manhattan where the South Tower had fallen and could clearly see the North Tower smoke pouring from the top of the tower where the 2nd aircraft had hit, that I had watched earlier, my view was unobscured of the City from where I was, (the picture below shows what standing on gate 3 was like) it was at exactly at 1028am (and 22 seconds) I stood quietly alone and watched the North Tower fall just the same as its sister tower, at that point I remember the tear rolling down my cheeks, so much sadness, so much death happening in front of me, the fear and the sadness of the day need to be released, as I stood there looking at this awful sight in front of me, I held my head in my hands and I let that emotion out.

A lot of details after watching that are sketchy, a mixture of being profoundly busy, as well as stopping to watch reports as they were coming through, talking to each other and offering words of comfort where we could, some of the teams had gone home to be with their own families in these harrowing of times, I remember calling up my mum and dad just to let them know I was safe and well and where I was, just to reassure them I guess as communications as you can imagine had been down a lot of the morning, I remember ringing my now fiancee who at the time was working as cabin crew for Air Atlanta Icelandic, she told me she was currently in Sharjah in the UAE at the time of the attacks, due to take passenger somewhere, she said there was TV monitors in the terminal building where they were watching the events happen, also there were many others in the terminal passengers, workers etc. she recalls when footage of the building collapsing was being shown, there were loud cheers and a sense of such happiness, people actually clapping and applauding these awful events! Utterly disgusting! She advised me that the aircraft was going to leave Sharjah empty and with all the lights off in the aircraft operating in complete darkness as advised, I was anxious that she got the hell out of the country ASAP! Consequently she did leave not long after our call safely flying out in the darkness back to a safer airport. I worked late into the evening then on in to the early hours before heading home, exhausted and overwhelmed, I remember reaching my home, the owner of the house was sat on his steps to his front door, he had raised the American flag outside his home, he was sat there with a beer in his hand, I remember sitting next to him he told me to grab a “cold one” which I did, he then said he should of been in the city that morning, he was an electrical contractor and they were due to work, at the World Trade Center, he had got caught up in traffic due to a fender bender before he reached the tunnel crossing, he never made it into Manhattan, but many of his co-workers had already arrived that morning and were in working, they were still unaccounted for. I sat with him for a while before I had to go and grab some sleep, I could no longer function.

It was surreal the next day hearing fighter jets over head patrolling the skies, they were armed and they were on alert, strange to see army vehicles screaming pass you heading towards the city, a weird new day was confronting everybody, I remember as I drove to the airport seeing people, in the streets kind of like zombies, no expression no life in them shock still taking hold of the good people of America, I decided on day two after the attacks I needed to go into Manhattan I needed to go and reflect, pay my respects and just sit and contemplate just what the hell had happened in the last 48 or so hours, that was reverberating around the globe, I kept in touch with my good buddy in New York, Mark Appleton he was my unofficial unrelated brother, he and his family were amazing to me, along with Jeff and Karen. I jumped on one of our company buses that was assisting with the efforts transporting things to and from the city, as I slowly walked down 5th avenue over past the Flatiron Building down Broadway towards Union Square Park, I was completely overwhelmed by the volumes of people, I could hear people shouting out other peoples names frantically trying to find their loved ones, there was photo’s posted on every possible surface of those missing or unaccounted for, there was flowers everywhere, thousands of candles lit, a flower montage of the WTC was a focal point in the middle of the park, there was so much sadness and anger mixed throughout the park, I had to leave at first as it was overwhelming, I carried on down to where the towers once stood smoke still rising into the air, and an awful aroma filled the air, I’ll never forget that smell it was bitter and rotten.

I spent a long time in Union Square Park chatting to people and just being amongst other people, street performers played there guitars and instruments to try to lift spirits somehow, there was no buckets placed down expecting money, it was New Yorker’s coming together as one to try and help each other through this horrific period, to try to come to terms with what had happened, the atmosphere was calm and I felt safe it was way into the early hours when I made my way back to Long Island and my home on Island Park, slowly as the days moved to weeks JFK began to operate as it normally did, and our terminals and operations were almost back to capacity, it wasn’t forgotten not by a long shot, but life had to carry on we had to move forward, and through our teams and the amazing individuals we had employed with us, we carried on through the hardest of times together a solid unwavering unit. I remember driving around the ramp one evening, as I drove near Hanger 17 I noticed numerous things outside, it was only when I got close to them I realized what they were, they were steel girders from the WTC, the subway cars from underneath the buildings, crushed fire vehicles and taxis etc.

I saw over the next several weeks, truck after truck bringing various items to this hanger unaware what was inside knew it had to be items from ground zero but wasn’t sure. It was one morning after I had been to the Biz port, I went passed Hanger 17 and saw the security guard waiting by his vehicle near the entrance, as I drove over to say Hi I noticed it was Barrington Jeffers the guy I had spoken to on day 1, he had a brother on the 92nd floor, he remembered me and gave me a typical Island greeting a hug but with shoulders (if you know what I mean), I asked him how his brother was and what had happened? He confirmed his brother had in fact died on that day, somebody he worked with had gotten out the building before the collapse, she had been in contact with him, and recalled what had happened, once the plane had hit, there was fire and carnage everywhere, all the people at the far end of the floor were ushered down stairwells, she said she had seen Barrington’s brother alive, but instead of coming down with the others, she remembers him and some others, going upstairs, to help others out she assumed, that was the last she saw of him, not long after she left the building, it came crashing down, sadly Barrington’s brother was inside still, to this day he does not know if his brother died in the fire, or from when the building collapsed, he does not even know if he managed to save anybody, all I could tell him was his brother was “a complete hero a f*****g legend” I shook Barrington’s hand offered my condolences but also told him, it was a privilege to shake the hand of a relative of a real hero, not a fictional person in a cape, but a genuine hero, in spite of the terrible conditions in front of him, ran into hell to try and save others. He thanked me then asked what I was doing, I told him where I had been, and often drove past just wondering what sadness was inside? Barrington said “I’ll take you in bro” he disappeared for a minute then came out with his supervisor and a Port Authority Police officer, they said they would take me in, but urged me not to take any pictures, as what was inside was parts of the WTC, crushed vehicles, subway cars, personal items from victims, clothing, fire helmets, mangled bicycles so many different items all born through tragedy, the pictures below are stock pictures from the internet of what was in hanger 17, I saw all these items raw, before they were arranged for viewing.

I like everybody else will never forget the events that took place on September 11th 2001, for those of us there and witnessed this awful tragedy, it will leave a lasting imprint on all of us, we do not sit there each day thinking solely about it, but when September 11th comes around each year, we stop and and reflect, close our eyes and we are back there remembering what we did to help, and how we got through such a terrible time, we recall all the stories of bravery as well as the stories of profound sadness and horror, we try to put aside our anger at what they did, instead we look at peace and reconciliation we hope and pray it will never happen again, I got through this period through the strength and support of all the guys I worked with, who formed a protective circle around us all, without even realizing they had done to name but a few of the amazing guys and gals that I can recall as there were so so many, Andy Shawcross, Asgeir Asgeirsson, Barrington James, Bruce Johnson, Chucky Smith, Clifton Henry, Conrad August, Dan Sewell, Everett Sparks, Greg Powell, Hobart Grant, Jacques, Jeff Wright, Conrad Dalland, Keeble Medwinter, Keith Patterson, Keith “Heavy” Bryant, Mick Baker, Natasha Forde, Ovi Sanchez, Jim Groak, Terry Hennessy, Ritchie Esposito, Boyce, Samantha Abrahams, Sarah Blackford, Scotty Gerber and all the engineers, Stephen Manswell, Tamieka Senior, Gabriela Rambay, Wayne Green, Darwin Benevides, Joe Bonaventura, Roy Cascio, Mark Wetherington, Gene Roy, Ernest Ceasar, Frank Romano, Anthony Eastmond, Shawn Scott, Alexa Perez, Claude Rodriguez and so many more. We all formed a bond we had each others back, for that I will always be eternally grateful to all these guys, the teamwork and the friendship at JFK was truly incredible and inspiring, a moment in my life I will never forget not only for the tragic events but the awe inspiring determination of ordinary people, to overcome such adversity and tragedy. I thank you humbly each and every one of you. stay safe Paul 05.03.2021

When The Bully Wins With Tragic Results.


Verb: bullying (present participle)
seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).
her 11- year-old son has been constantly bullied at school” · “a local man was bullied into helping them
persecute · oppress · tyrannize · torment · browbeat · intimidate · cow · coerce · strong-arm · subjugate · domineer · push about · push around · play the heavy with · pressure · pressurize · bring pressure to bear on · use pressure on · put pressure on · constrain · lean on · press · push · force · compel · oblige · put under an obligation · hound · harass · nag · harry · badger · goad · prod · pester · brainwash · bludgeon · persuade · prevail on · work on · act on · influence · dragoon · twist someone’s arm · blackjack · bulldoze · railroad · put the screws/squeeze on · bounce · hustle · fast-talk

A lot of words to accompany the dictionary meaning of the word “Bully.” I’m sure as you take the time to read this blog, many of those words will be familiar. I believe a great many of us have either, been bullied at some point in our lives, or still are. Or perhaps some may well have been the bully! Sadly it is all to familiar in our lives now whether it be our children suffering at school, or online through various social media outlets, or even online gaming. Or to adults being bullied be senior management within companies, or suffering at the hands of their colleagues, the prevalence of bullying is all around us. In so many different formats its staggering, the reason I’ve decided to write this is, I’ve been bullied in the past as a child, plus also later on in life as a working man. Bullying can have devastating consequences one of which I’m going to share with you, such a tragedy. But also quite common and numbers are increasing year on year. Bullying is very hard to stop in children. Due to the many forms and reasons which can be peer pressure, wanting to fit in, size, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, parents status (financial and personal) fear of being beaten up etc.

In adults it can be all the above, but also fear of losing ones job ranks high when allowing corporate bullying. As does believing your not good enough, or the feeling of alienation from the your co-workers, financial pressure etc. again this list could take an entire blog on its own, before I jump into this and highlight the worst case scenario, its important to understand, the number and statistics, now I’m using United Kingdom based statistics, for readers in other countries, the statistic relevant to your area/country are all widely distributed on the internet, a little research and you will see your own alarming figures. so lets inject some statistics to strengthen my post.

What is bullying?
People often think of bullying as being physically violent towards another person, but bullying can take many forms – it can be physical, verbal, social or psychological. Bullying is repeated aggressive behaviour by a person or a group that is directed at another person or group, and is intended to cause harm, distress or fear. Bullying could include making threats to someone, spreading rumours about them, attacking someone physically or verbally, or deliberately excluding someone from a group. Bullying doesn’t just affect the person who is being bullied – it also has an impact on those who are witness to the bullying, as well as on those who bully. Whatever form bullying takes, being bullied can have a huge impact on a young person’s life, impacting on their self-esteem and mental health. Sometimes someone may try to justify their behaviour by finding something different about the person they are bullying – this might include what they look like, how they express themselves or what they do. But this does not mean that the person being bullied is to blame. There is never any justification for bullying.

How does bullying affect people?
Bullying affects young people in many different ways. It can impact on their self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, education and life outside of school. Young people experiencing bullying may feel that they aren’t worth help or that nobody likes them. They may feel self-conscious or embarrassed lots of the time. They may also feel scared, sad or overwhelmed, and find it difficult to sleep or eat. Many young people who have been bullied find it really hard to ever feel safe or confident in anything they do, leading them to isolate ourselves from others and to give up the things they enjoy doing. We know that bullying can cause many young people to feel isolated, worthless, and experience thoughts of suicide. A national bullying survey by Bullying UK found that 40% of young people who reported being bullied experienced thoughts of suicide and 39% had self-harmed. It also found that 42% of young people had had to take time off school after they had experienced bullying Online bullying is a contributing factor for many young people having thoughts of suicide. Over 200 schoolchildren die by suicide every year in the UK. We need everyone to be aware of the impact that online bullying and face to face bullying can have on children and young people’s mental health.

There is no legal definition of bullying, but it is often described as behaviour that hurts someone else, physically or emotionally, and can happen anywhere – at school, at home or online, or even social gatherings. Around one in five children aged 10 to 15 years in England and Wales (19%) experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour in the year ending March 2020, equivalent to 764,000 children. More than half (52%) of those children who experienced online bullying behaviours said they would not describe these behaviours as bullying, and one in four (26%) did not report their experiences to anyone. Being called names, sworn at or insulted and having nasty messages about them sent to them were the two most common online bullying behaviour types, experienced by 10% of all children aged 10 to 15 years.

Nearly three out of four children (72%) who had experienced an online bullying behaviour experienced at least some of it at school or during school time. Almost one in five children experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour in the previous 12 months
Proportion of children aged 10 to 15 years who experienced online bullying behaviours in the previous 12 months, by type of bullying behaviour, England and Wales, year ending March 2020

This part of my blog has been written with full permission, I’m leaving out names and dates, but this story highlights, just how badly bullying can become and the devastating consequences of others unjust persecution of someone and their families.

As a funeral director receiving a call from a family requesting a home arrangement, is something that those in our profession have taken so many times. When the call comes through, we have an immediate thought process of who the deceased may be? the age? cause of death etc. I have my first call documentation by my side ready to collect as much information as I can. But one particular morning the phone rang, and a very shaky voice on the other end of the phone asked “Is this the Undertakers?” I responded to the caller advising who I was and who he had contacted, his next words reverberated through my body “My son, my Boy is dead, I do not know what to do?” he then broke into tears I could hear the raw emotion and aguish in his tears, I waited for a moment for him, to gain his composure. I offered him my sincerest condolences, but advised him I needed to ask him some questions, so I could collect some information so better to help him. He advised me that he did not want to discuss details over the phone, but rather me visit to arrange. I advised him this was not a problem asking him where I was to go? After collecting the address, but with still no information on the “son” who had passed away, I asked the man what his sons name is and how old? the answer he gave haunts me today and saddens me to the core, his response was “His name is………., he’s 9 years old and he’s killed himself!”

The drive to that address was the longest I’ve ever taken, every thought imaginable racing through my head “What, Why, How, Where” thoughts of my own young child, question after question of what could of happened to this little boy, and what could of drove him to such a sad ending to his young life. As I arrived at the house and parked up, I was greeted at the door by a big chap much taller than me and I’m 6ft! He was pale devoid of any expression, I could see the world had been ripped away from, but I knew a very difficult task lay ahead, every ounce of empathy, thought, caring and understanding would be put to the absolute test, on entering the living room the walls were adorned with this young lads pictures, from a baby to current, I saw plaster cast prints of his hands and feet, a painted pebble above the fire etc. Seeing all this and his face made this task all the more harder, but I needed to summon all the strength I could to help this man, he answered a couple of questions then fell silent, I too sat quietly letting him have a moment, I saw the tears dripping from the end of his nose onto the laminate floor. He then said “I never saw this coming!” then he said “why did they hound my boy to death why?

I sat there somewhat stunned at what the chap had said, again thoughts racing through my mind, I felt unjust to this man as all I could do was picture my child at home playing with his toys, and thinking he was safe and well, I felt terrible for my inner thoughts at this moment of complete anguish for this distraught father. The chap then said “You need to know the full story before we carry on!” he then proceeded to tell me exactly what had occurred surrounding his sons tragic death, afterwards I felt sick, as well as angry and helpless. I suddenly felt everything I thought I knew was just a lie, and things really were worse than I’d ever imagined. I felt a wave of protection to my child and how I could protect him from what occurred in this story! I’ll share with you now so sad and so ******* avoidable!!

The son had asked his dad if he could set up their tent in the back garden? It was a sunny day so the dad had agreed and helped his sun put the tent up, once it was all completed, the young lad took some toys into the tent, and his school bag from his bedroom also was placed in the tent, the boy had insisted to his dad that the thick outer rain cover was placed on the tent as well, his dad protested as it was clear skies but the boy was adamant, he also place a large sheet over the tent as well, his dad assumed it was to make it a little darker and cooler, as the boy played in the tent, his dad periodically looked from the kitchen to see if he was ok, after a short while, his son came into the house and told his dad that he had invited three of his friends (who lived down the street) to come round and play, his dad was OK with this, and thought it was nice to have some pals there he commented “my son never really had any friends around.

A short time later he saw three kids turn up, they were very polite and said they’d come to “hang out” with his lad! The chap said they were there around two and half hours, during that time his son had come in demanding snacks etc. After raiding the cupboards of all the Pringles and Chocolate and taking a bottle of Diet Coke, his dad said his son must of been having a good time so left him to it! after the other kids had gone, his lad came in and asked if he could stay in the tent for a bit? His dad told him it was fine but needed to come in before it went dark. His son agreed and off he went back to the tent, zipping up the door after he’d gone in. It had been a few hours since the other kids had left, the dad told me and since his son had gone back into the tent! he decided to go out and get him, he went to the backdoor and shouted to his son to come in! he received no response, he shouted again to come in (kids can be ignorant when they want to) again silence nothing, he did notice that the gate was still locked so his son couldn’t of gone out anywhere, so the walked over to the tent slapped his hand against the fabric and said “I know you’ve had fun with your friends but it’s time to come in! Now come on!” still not a sound? he then unzipped the tent, at that point I watched as this large man, began to sob like I’ve never seen a man cry before, head in his hands uncontrolled sadness and grief, he then said through his tears, he saw his son at the far end of the tent, we was curled up asleep ( he thought) he went into his son and he wasn’t breathing, and showed no signs of movement, he told me he pleaded with his son to wake up but nothing, he called “999” immediately, to summon help. Sadly his son was already gone, by the time paramedics arrived, the dad said through a breaking heart “my son was dead in front of me, 9 years old dead gone taken from me

As I sat there in front of this man unable to speak properly through the absolute sadness he was feeling, I felt and huge wave of helplessness come over me. My absolute sorrow for this dad who’s son was tragically taken from him at such a young age was profound, I couldn’t seem to find the right words to say, or what emotion to let out? After hearing this awful story I was stuck on the spot without a plan or any sort of resolution in my head at all. I did the only thing I thought at the time was right, which was to keep quiet and wait until he was ready to to talk again.

After about 30 minutes, we began to go through the necessary things we needed for moment. I agreed that we needed to meet up again to discuss further, as clearly he had, had enough at this point. I visited him the following week to go over some further details I required, after he had made me a cup of tea, he began to tell me what had occurred on that day. His son had scribbled notes down that were later found in his bedroom as well as in the tent in his ruck sack. He had been subjected to a torrent of bullying from other kids that was happening both online through gaming platforms, as well as social media such as Snapchat, WhatsApp & Discord. As well as verbally when he saw these kids, it was not physical they were not hurting him or hitting him, but psychologically they were destroying this little boy, he had written several notes saying how horrible he felt, and how we wished he could die like the characters in his games. On the day we committed suicide, he had researched through the internet ways to kill himself, and found somehow a site that told school children the best ways to commit suicide (I was shocked something like this could exist) but nether the less it did. The 3 kids he had invited were the ones inflicting the worst of the bullying, in one of his scribbled notes, he had said that they had come round so he could plead with them to leave him alone! By providing a place to play and ample snacks and drinks was his way of trying to be liked by these kids, his dad said whatever had happened in that tent that afternoon clearly did not work and he had formulated a plan to end his own suffering. , so on that day once the kids had left the tent, He must of lay in the corner and fell asleep whilst taking the most extreme of measures to end his life, his father found him several hours later. The thought of this little boy alone with these feelings, then executing a plan that would end the systematic psychological abuse he was enduring daily was so hard to take in. His father said he knew nothing whatsoever, his son was a happy kid at home never gave anything away of his bullying, the schools had never been in contact with concerns as they to were oblivious. He sadly kept silent and carried the weight of his bullying on his own shoulders until it was all to much for him to take, and he decided enough was enough.

For his father a lifetime of sadness will be his burden, not being able to watch his boy grow up, not seeing him graduate through school, or see him attend college or university. Never given the opportunity to see him work in his chosen career path, or watch him meet someone and live happily ever after. No more hearing his boys voice or being able to tuck him in at night time, or protect him when needed. These things we take for granted but for him they are gone taken away so ridiculously early, in fact 80+ years to early. It’s all so so wrong on every level and heart breaking, really upsets me just how cruel this world can be really does, as a tragedy like this really didn’t need to occur did it!

The point of sharing this account of a very tragic case I was involved with, is to highlight how important it is to know what our kids are doing? Who they are talking to? How they are conducting themselves online? Being able to allow them to openly talk to you without flying off the handle, remember your child might not be being bullied, they might be the bully themselves! Help them to understand what it right and wrong and offer guidance when required. Point out to them that what they think is a laugh might be devastating to another child. Don’t let them isolate a child when playing games, or let them think its funny to have a pop at someone, as perhaps they cannot afford the latest I.T. or the trendy clothing. Everybody’s circumstances are different. If your child is being bullied listen to them and offer as much help and support as you can muster, involve the schools, other parents and collaboratively find a solution that helps you, to stop your child from being bullied, but helps the parent of the bullies to understand and deal with their side of this serious issue. I’d love to see a world where no children are committing suicide through bullying. I know this is wishful thinking but we all have a part to play, those that chose to ignore this from either side are equally as guilty. Embrace your kids, learn with them and create an environment where they feel comfortable to be able to tell you anything. You never want to be in the tragic circumstances that the Dad I’ve written about was in, form both sides! As a parent of a child you’ve lost through such horrific and senseless circumstances, or as a parent who’s child has caused another child to commit suicide through harmful bullying, neither is a position we’d ever want to be in. Keep safe guys Paul 23.02.2021

Working at New York JFK 2000-2004 (Part 1: Arrival)

My career in aviation has taken many twists and turns as it ran its course, none as exciting and daunting, as my time in New York working at JFK International Airport, between October 2000 and March 2004, now on paper the thought of living and working in New York, would seem like a lottery win, the big apple, the city that never sleeps, but I can assure you it was very far from sunshine and roses, but what was amazing were the incredible people I got to work with, and the unique and varied situations I was placed in really opened my eyes, and taught me the importance of teamwork within the aviation sector, as well as teaching me a lot about myself in the process.

I landed in New York on October 31st 2000, ready to start this new aviation adventure, I was heading to JFK Airport to work for the American branch of our company “GlobeGround North America” I had left Manchester Airport and “GlobeGround Manchester” to work at terminal 7 the British Airways operation, Globeground the parent company had purchased an American ground handling business called “Hudson General” the process of amalgamating the businesses was well under way, I’d already visited the operation having been invited, several months earlier, so I knew what it was about, and what was expected.

Initially I traveled over with my partner, who was hoping to obtain a position within aviation as well, as her resume was one of check-in to cabin crew, we both had dreams and aspirations that we were hoping to achieve? Our first residence on arriving in New Work was the Sunrise Inn,1000 Sunrise Hwy, Rockville Centre, NY 11570 (now the Ramada Hotel) . Nothing to shout about it was a room in an inn, perhaps in hindsight this should of been my first warning as to what I was letting myself in for, an employee traveling from the UK to work for you, placed in not the most salubrious of places to live, in a strange country with very little understanding of the area’s or cultures around me? But hey ho as they say we dealt with it, and made the most of the situation, making sure we researched the surrounding area’s in order to find somewhere to live, that was safe, and far enough from work so as to have the possibility of disconnecting when I wasn’t working. I was given a beat up Ford Taurus to use. I assumed this was going to be my vehicle? How wrong I was again! The search began!

Long Beach or Island Park for those that know New York and Long Island will know those locations well! My father had a long time best friend living in New York who had opened and been running a very successful business, he lived on Long Island with his wife, he had two adult children (son & daughter), who were to become the closest thing I had to family in New York (I didn’t tell them that though lol) There was also my dads friends wife’s brother living there with his wife also (phew that was hard to explain) they to would become a massive part of our lives, both as friends and cracking drinking buddies, we looked at several properties to find the one we could call our temporary home, after trawling through listing we visited a property in Island Park, close to Long Beach it was perfect for what we needed, not a lot to it one large living room with kitchen, a shower/bathroom and a bedroom ($950.00 per month!) the landlord agreed to a rolling tenancy which was unusual for the area, but it worked out perfect, the landlord was an Italian American guy, really nice and very accommodating, we had the ground floor of his house, it worked out OK. Once we got the keys and got ourselves settled in, it was approaching the time I needed to go into the office to meet the teams and start my aviation journey in the USA. I was nervous not because of the job as I knew that with my eyes closed. More because I knew that I was going to have to adapt to a massive culture change, us in the UK are fairly shielded from such huge cultural workplaces, we tend to see one group of people, be it one gender or one color etc. whereas in New York you could not get a more diverse group of people in a workplace! I was nervous more of what the guys and gals would make of me? and did I have enough to manage teams with my very English work ethic, that was the thing that was concerning me. But I was here now I’d arrived and I had a job to do. It was going to be an interesting challenge that I needed to approach positively and confidently. I’d arrived finally in New York to work at one of the most incredible and diverse airports on the planet! (Working at New York JFK 2000-2004 (Part 2: Day 1) to follow

My Bike Ride by James Sargent (11 yrs old)

Yesterday on the 18/02/2021 I went on one of my longest and hardest bike rides yet. The bike ride was 30 kilometres long! This is how I was, on my bike ride!

While I was waiting for my football friend to come round so we could go out on a bike ride, I could feel my blood pumping and I was overly excited, because I wanted to get going. Rapidly, I got my helmet, water bottle, bag and bike out. A few minutes later I saw him outside with his dad, so I sprinted to get my stuff, and got on my bike. I do not know how fast I ran with my bike but all I knew was that I went rapid.

Once we got past my gates, we went down the lane and when I got on my bike it felt unusual because it was my first time on my bike in at least 6 months! Martin (my friends dad) told us it would be a smooth ride and that we were going down the canal and we are going through some dry backroads. Normally, back roads basically mean muddy roads to me and I think a back road will normally be muddy.

First, we went up to the flash and we went round there, and we even saw loads of swans and ducks all together. Going past some stalls a got a nice smell of donuts and other delicious foods. It was so tempting to just get a donut and a burger, but I had to hold the urge in. At the end near the canal there was a big hill and we had to ride up, halfway up the hill I ended up stopping because it was hard to get up.

Later down the canal we got into a Wigan and we were all peckish, so we all wanted to go to the pie shop somewhere nearby. Soon we found a shop called ‘’Ince fish and chips’’ so we all decided we would get a chip barm. So, me and Lewis (my football friend) waited outside and while I was eating and Martin was getting his and Lewis’ at that moment Lewis accidently knocked Martins bike over and when he came out Lewis said ‘’It just fell, it just fell!’’ A few minutes later when Martin put the bike back up, we all enjoyed our chip barm.

Soon we got off the canal and we got to a place and it was like a mud bath. The worst news was that we had to go down it for about a mile. Me and Lewis walked a bit of it and when we rode, Martin told us that we need quick fast legs so we had to go in a low gear which means our legs go faster but the bike can go slower and more stable in thick mud. On one bit Lewis got stuck in the mud and when he stopped, I was forced to stop and I got stuck in the mud and I put my feet down and I sank in mud so I had dirty and muddy feet.

After the mud we got back on the canal and took our route back to the flash. Soon we got near the flash, so we decided to go down the canal a bit more. 10 or 20 minutes later we got to the flash and then we cut into Pennington Park and then we were like 2 minutes away from home. I am not exaggerating this, but I went as fast as I could back home.

When my friend left and went home the first thing, I did was I got all my stuff off and went in a nice warm shower. Then after I got out, I just chilled out and got my pyjamas on and watched TV and went on my PC.

My bike ride adventure was fun, but I will now have achy legs for a week.

My Lockdown By James Sargent (11yrs Old)

I am a 11-year-old from Leigh in England, my name is James I want to talk about my feelings, so this is my lockdown in my own words.

I have missed out on some things that have been to do with my health. Like, I cannot go to dentist appointments, normally I would go there because I need to see if my teeth are in good shape and that I will not get infections or a disease in my gums. I also cannot go to doctors’ appointments to see if I am OK and if I’m fit and healthy? This worries me sometimes because I only know if I am fit or healthy by my weight and how I look. This is also quite a serious thing because you do not fully know if you are healthy or not with an infection. So, I am not that OK I cannot go to appointments to see if I am healthy.

A thing I have missed is my friends because we cannot really talk face to face because we cannot go and meet up and the only way of communication is on phone or other electronics. You also can not really see your friends fully because the only way you can see their face it by a face time, WhatsApp video call or a zoom call. Plus, with the way lockdown is going I probably will not be able to see my friends for a while. I miss when I could wake up and go to school, and have a smile on my face seeing all my friends. So, missing my friends and not being able to see them it has been a real drag for me.

There is also various attractions and restaurants that I cannot go to any more because most of them are closed or it is just a takeaway. I miss going to a restaurant because although my mum’s cooking is AMAZING I just miss going there and waiting for a 2 or 3 delicious course meal. I would just love to have a scrumptious meal again. I also can not go to the cinema or even just a theme park nearby. When I used to go to the cinema, I would just like to spend time with whoever is going with me and I enjoyed eating some popcorn and watching the thrilling movie on the gigantic TV. So, without all these things it has been quite boring and slow.

My education has also been hard for me. Now, we do a thing called online school where we have live lessons and pre-recorded lessons. I like attending the live lessons because if I have a question to ask, I will just put my hand up and the teacher would answer it straight away. But in the pre-recorded lessons if you have a question you research it or message the teacher which consumes more time. Since some schools are open a lot of the teachers might not the message that you sent and if they do end up seeing your message it sometimes might be after 3 o’clock (my schools closing time.) So online education I really do not like it very much.

I have also missed quite a few holidays we were going to. When I found out that the fact, I could not go on holiday any more it probably would be one of the hardest things to face in lockdown. The reason for that is, because even if you do go somewhere abroad it will not be pleasant because a lot of things will be shut and the only thing to do would be to be in the hotel room or going on some walks. Holidays may be something that I might take for granted without even knowing it. But if I do go on holiday soon, I will treat it like a £10,000-pound trip. So, without going on holiday, it has been bad. Don’t you just love chilling out away from work, school and other things?

I have also missed out on my favourite sport, football. Before lockdown started, I did a sport called football and I would train on Wednesday and Thursday and play a match on Saturday and Sunday. I also have a lot of friends there. My position is RB which means right back and that is in the defensive area and my job is to defend and not let the other players get the ball into the net. I really miss my football because it did not just make me have fun, it even got a bit of exercise for me. I really do not like the way I am not allowed to play football. To be honest I really wish the rules would change and I would be allowed to play it.

Basically, my lockdown has not been the best and I really do not like the things I have missed. I really wish things would just go back to normal and this corona virus would just stop and go away. I also go on quite a lot of walks and this year I have even practised a bit of running. I wish everyone the best through lockdown and I really hope you stay fit and healthy. By James Sargent

The Determination From an Old World War Veteran.

As a Funeral Director I have seen many types of funerals, each one different in it’s own unique way and every one I have conducted or been a part of always leaves a memory, but I wanted to share one with you that took place many years ago, it was so powerful that I will always remember it, and the impact it had on my thought process, and just how much it amplified my absolute respect for those that gave so much to our freedom.

I conducted a funeral for an elderly gentleman, who had sadly passed away, he was a military man having served in World War 2, he had been part of a regiment that still to the day attended fallen servicemen/women, I remember looking at his coffin draped in the union flag, and trying to picture what this man had given, in order for the freedoms we all enjoy, I always feel a huge wave of emotion when looking after veteran’s, this was no different, with a lip beginning to quiver, I quickly composed myself and carried on with what I needed to do.

As the mourners made their way in to chapel, I saw a group of very elderly men all with smart blazers, brightly polished buttons, and their chests adorned with the many medals they had received, I felt so very humble to be amongst them, but immensely proud that they were here and I got to share this grieving moment with them, a chance to say goodbye to their fallen comrade, and say a prayer as we sent him on his way.

At that point a very elderly man passed me, hunched up as he walked in, I could hear him wheezing as he passed and coughing, he proceeded to sit on the chair directly in front of me, I asked him if he would like to sit nearer the front, but in a raspy, wheezy voice he told me he was perfectly fine at the back, I noticed on his lap was a “Bugle” my first thoughts based on a first impression was “surely this chap cannot be here to play this Bugle?” then I figured perhaps it was a memento and he was going to place it on the coffin at the end? or perhaps it was something he carried to veteran’s funerals? either way I was convinced he was not here to play it! Oh how wrong I was going to be!

The service had started and we listened to the man’s life story, condensed into a shortened eulogy, but enough to paint a visualisation of this remarkable chaps life, throughout the service the man with the Bugle remained hunched and coughed intermittently throughout, at one point I asked him if he wanted a cup of water, which he was very grateful for, taking many sips until it was all gone, he then declined a second cup, the service came to the point where traditionally “The Last Post” is played, for a few seconds nothing happened, just an overwhelming silence befell the chapel, not a sound not a movement occurred, until all of a sudden the man with the Bugle rose to his feet.

He slowly walked to the front of the chapel clutching his beaten up Bugle, still hunched over I could hear his wheeze with every single step he made, until he arrived at the front, he stood to the right of the fallen soldiers coffin, and next to another veteran holding a flag near the chapel exit, I watched in awe as I saw him take a large breath, and at the same point slowly stood upright perfectly straight, his back completely aligned with his legs, the most perfect military posture one could muster, at that moment he started to play his Bugle, playing “The Last Post” more beautifully and poignant than I’d ever heard it played before, every note went through my body as I watched him play for his fallen friend, I could see tears rolling down his cheeks as he played flawlessly, at that point my emotions gave up and I cried like I’ve never cried at a funeral before, the pure emotion that he put into each note was simply inspiring, I felt everything he played, and I was taken along on that special journey.

After completing the most incredible version I’d ever heard in my life of “The Last Post”, the chap turned to the coffin, shuffled closer and said to his friend “Goodbye, I Miss You Already, We’ll Play Again Soon” at that pointed he hunched back over and moved back to his seat, tears streaming down his face, he looked at me and saw the state I was in, and came to me put his hand on my hands and whispered to me “Thank You Son For Caring About Us Old Duffers” I let more tears out as he said that to me I simply couldn’t help it, the emotion of the moment was to overwhelming, he then sat down head in hands and quietly cried for his friend, I dried my tears, composed myself and carried on the role I needed to do, albeit difficult! that I can assure you of!

I went to the chap at the end of the service just to offer both my condolences, as well as my thanks for allowing me to be there and witness what I had just seen before me, the chap was very humble, and said to me “Thank You For Always Remembering What We Did and Why We Did It” that was all he said nothing else, he headed out of the chapel where a car was waiting for him, he manoeuvred into the passenger seat, shut the door, then he was gone, just like that.

I later learned from another mourner that the chap was a battalion Bugler, and served with that regiment, his Bugle was given to him by his father, who no doubt served in World War 1? and had probably been passed down through the generations, he’d had it all his life and with him throughout the great war and the many battles he served in, the mourner told me that the chap, would play “The Last Post” for every single soldier killed in battle, he would play for each on individually, I was astounded to hear about his story, an know a little of the remarkable man that I’d just seen, his actions left a profound and lasting memory on me and for every veterans funeral I conduct now, when “The Last Post” is played I immediately think of him, and that Bugle and I’m overcome with emotion and the tears flow, I’m not ashamed not at all, I’m deeply proud that I and so many others like me care, and will never forget the sacrifices made by so many incredible people. Stay safe Paul 16.02.2021

The Beast Within Written by Steven Williams (My Uncle) Living With Cancer In His Words!

Steve Williams my uncle born 02nd June 1953, and sadly left us on 14th October 2015, Steve lived his life in Australia after emigrating when he was just a teenager, where he and Lucy lived a very happy life and enjoyed everything life gave them, he sadly left behind his wife Lucy and his two children Amanda and Wayne, plus many grandchildren and lots of other relatives both in Australia and the UK, Steve was an amazing man, actually no he IS an amazing man, his courage and fight will always be remembered, he didn’t give up when he was given the news, the news that nobody ever wants to hear, the words that impact life as soon as they fall off the lips of the person saying them “sadly you have cancer” Steve & Lucy was told that sentence in 2010, they had found that Steve had developed Carcinoid Cancer or Neuroendocrine Tumors, this was a very aggressive cancer and one that Steve couldn’t beat but oh did he try, that said Steve battled for five years fighting everyday against the odds, enjoying his life with his amazing wife, his children and his grandchildren, even after Steve had to have one of his lungs removed as well as part of his Liver, again even though often struck with ill health he always battled and remained himself with his infectious smile and ever lasting laugh.

We was fortunate to have made it to Australia in 2011, we wanted to get my Nana over so she could see her son (Steve) possibly for the last time, it was amazing to spend time with everybody, family I hadn’t met before and get the chance to see Steve and Lucy’s lovely home, Steve made sure we saw many places during our time which even in spite of his own struggles, pain and ill health, he ensured we enjoyed our time in Australia and also got to spend time with his mother, Steve continued on with his battles long after we had left taking everyday head on, Lucy told me that Steve was a blood donor for many years, he had a rare blood group (like me), he was on a panel where he would go at certain times, as they also had another person who donated the same as Steve and between the two of them, their donations provided lots of research samples, not that Steve ever found out what that research was for? Sadly as his cancer worsened and Steve became more poorly, he began writing an account of of living with cancer he titled his story “The Beast Within” which with kind permission of his wife Lucy, and his Daughter Amanda I’m going to share his story here on my blog, it is a powerful piece and written by Steve directly, his words, his thoughts, I feel sad when I read this it, but then privileged that I’m able to read his words and that I knew and was related to this incredible man, Steve didn’t get the opportunity to finish his story as the cancer claimed his life before he got the chance to complete it, finally closing his eyes on 14th October 2015.

The Beast Within by Steve Williams. It felt so long ago now when it all started to begin, it lay waiting in my body the beast within. The shivers and uncontrollable shakes which no doctors could explain, but it was the beast within that would be the cause of all the pain. It was a year or so along the track, the coughing and the aching back. The diagnosis was influenza, whooping cough, or could it be a chest infection? There were the signs, but no detection.

Then the X-Rays, CT scans begin, and then painful biopsy’s finally showed the beast within, it had taken residence within my lung and wrapped around my airway, I don’t know why it had chosen me, but it was surely going to make me pay, The surgeon said we’ll cut it out; we will perform a lobe resection, you will be just fine, as good as new, as long as there’s no infection. The day arrives they shave and prep me and lay me in the hospital bed, I look around so very scared, so many things going through my head, they wheel me along the corridor into that freezing room; My heart is beating so fast, its going to happen very soon.

Arms outstretched so many people stood around, I’m looking at their face, One long push of that syringe and I’m in a peaceful place, The surgeon holds the scalpel and slices along and spreads the ribcage, as he looks inside he sees the Beast Within, large and ugly so full of rage, it wasn’t going to let them take it without a huge fight; They had removed the whole lung by the end of the night, they wheeled me along and into a ward, eyes are closed still asleep I cannot see, but I know my wife and daughter are by my side, they will comfort me, as I awoke the first question I asked was “did they have to take the whole lung” as my wife whispered in my ear they did with her head sort of hung, now the hurt really begins as it feels like they have ripped out my chest, the aching pain is so unbearable this is really going to be a test, the pain and the agony as I lay in my bed, thoughts of dying were going around my head.

Six days later they sent me home with my daughter and wife, it would be a huge change to the rest of my life, at home for two months in the recliner I lay, pumped up to the hilt with drugs every day, the sloshing of fluid as it filled up the cavity in my chest: The burning sensation like a red hot poker being plunged inside would give me no rest, Six months later the suffering and the worries seemed all in the past, I really thought the Beast Within was gone at last, back to work after six months off and everything seems to be going really well, at home fixing fences pulling down blocks I’m on the mend I can really tell, the more symptoms begin again, hot flushes, headaches and immense back pain, my Ten month check was due I feared, I was so worried about these symptoms that have now appeared.

My appointment day arrived the respiratory specialist said to me how have you been, I proceeded to explain the symptoms that had begun, he said to me we will need to do another CT scan, off to the PA, then into the scan machine I slide again, contrast is injected into my vein, the circled band inside starts to spin so fast, deep breath in and hold I’m told. Your scan results will be through in a week or so, another anxious wait to go. A few weeks later it’s off to the specialist for my scan results, we are holding our breath. Well Mr Williams the doctor said, good news your lung scan is clear on that pane.

Unfortunately the liver scan has shown several tumors, the Beast Within was back again, the sickly, fearful feeling strikes you with vengeance, could this be another life sentence, A monthly appointment with Oncology was made straight away, also a visit to Professor Fawcett a liver surgeon was made for a further day, my wife and I walked out of hospital at noon, feeling that I could be gone very soon, it was the worse news we could ever of had, we felt confused, angry and sad. We walked to the car eyes welting with tears: it was a nightmare the very worst of our fears, a visit to with Dr Fawcett the liver surgeon was next in line; he had said I can help you, and maybe give you more time.

He said to me as I walked in the door, you realise one thing thought, it will not be a cure, I can remove about 60% of the cancer he did hark, but you know this will be no walk in the park, there is a high risk with the surgery with only having one lung he said, but there’s no other option or you will end up dead. The next step was here at the PA hospital again and as I arrived to be admitted to a ward, I signed the authorisation for a Portal Vein Embolisation they were to block one side of my liver, the very thought made me shudder and shiver, the idea of blocking was for one side to grow, and then the two large tumors would have to go, that night I lay in my hospital bed, there were strange thoughts going on in my head, the Beast Within had me all worried again, would I wake up in intense pain, they wheeled me to the theatre the following day, I remember awakening as I could not breathe, “no way” As I panicked and tried to pull the mask off my head, the next thing I know I was lay back in my bed, the procedure was over it had all gone fine, the liver resection was next in line, waiting, waiting and more worry again, the liver resection was now way over time.

A letter arrived to see the surgeon again and in the meantime my monthly Oncology appointment was due, the news wasn’t good they cancelled the surgery it was a huge disappointment to Lucy and I, the tumors in the left lobe of the liver had doubled their size apparently being the reason why. Another round to the Beast again, my body reeked with aches and pain. The flushes, pulsations, shaking, nausea and headaches were out of control, I feared my days were slipping away, I was virtually living from day to day, then out of the Blue some months later as I answered the phone, a voice said, “Hello Mr Williams this is the PA Administrator I’m glad your home.” “I’m ringing you just to let you know, the surgeons have looked at your latest scans and decided it’s time to give it the go” The butterflies started again for a minute or so, a mixture of relief, anxiety waved to and fro, an appointment was made to see Professor Fawcett again, to make a date for surgery and things he had to explain, I have been in touch with Dr Whyte from the Royal Brisbane, the targeted therapy is on the agenda again.

But first of all that huge tumor must be removed the whole right side of your liver none will remain, it was a huge operation that has to be done, to stop the Carcinoid crisis or the Beast had won, the day had arrived, the surgery would begin, to try and take the Beast Within, the nervousness and the feeling inside, I feel sometimes that I would just like to hide, no sleep tonight just worrying dreams, but I’m not alone with these thoughts I have today, I know my family and friends are with me all the way, but I can’t stop this lonely feeling I have deep within, I don’t want the Beast to win, it won’t like what’s going on and I’m worried it might try to run, it might try and find another hiding space. I can just imagine the anger on it’s face, the smaller Beasts might take advantage and move away to another place.

Its the day of surgery and that nervous car trip to the PA, thinking as I drive along “what if something goes wrong” nobody in the car has much to say, they are all thinking about the day, as I check in at the admission desk the lady said “take a seat please I will organise your bed” after entering the ward an Octreatide drip was place in my arm to stop a Carcinoid Crisis that could happen under the knife, otherwise it could end my life, next morning into that freezing operating room I was wheeled again, as I lay on the bed arms stretched aside, the fear and anxiety I was trying to hide, “we will start the injection now Mr Williams” they said, then all of a sudden blankness filled my head, next thing I know I feel a tube being pulled out of my throat, “take it easy Mr Williams it is all over now you’re in ICU” I felt like I really wanted to spew, tubes and pipes were hanging out of my body, and the wrenching pain in my stomach like my guts had been torn out, for a minute I thought ‘what is this all about’ Just then my wife and kids came in and though I was in so much pain, it was a great relief to see them again, the drugs are pumped into my body again to help me handle the aches and the pain, The Beast Within was beaten once more and I felt I was ahead in this fight for my life, and so much was due to my kids and my wife.

The next day I was moved back to a ward, the surgeons came in that had saved my life and said that everything had gone well, to me and my wife, how could I ever repay them for what they had done, if it wasn’t for them I would definitely be gone, up the next day and starting to walk with the aid of a frame, but after I finished my body racked with intense pain, “I know this hurts Mr Williams” they said, “but it’s no good for you to stay in bed“, as the days go by the pain gets less, but my stomach really looks a mess, another large scar added to my skin, you can really see where the Beast has been, another round to me, I’ve beaten the Beast again, but it’s left my body wracked with pain, I look so withdrawn and so frail, and my face looks really thin and pale.

My condition worsens the following days, admitted through emergency in another faze, the nurse on duty says to my wife, he looks very sick, take a seat over by the door we will rush him through quick, they take me that night into a ward they did pick, my stomach so bloated and feeling so sick, they put me on a drip and give me an injection; they say that they think it’s a liver infection, they starved me on a drip with nothing to eat, after a few days I was back on my feet. Sometimes at night I dream that I leave my body behind, and travel through time with my mind, past, present and future I travel through space, and I end up in this magnificent place, Then I awake in the morning and I’m still here, I think that the dream just lessens the fear. As time goes on the healing process is slow, I still have ten tumors and a battle ahead I know, but each day I get stronger and I put on weight it certainly has delayed my fate.

It is time now to start my radiation targeted therapy, four sessions every six weeks they tell me, I’m a bit nervous the first time I go, but I do have faith in the doctors I know, I lay in the chair and an intravenous drip is placed in my arm, I’m thinking is this radiation going to do me some harm, Amino Acids are pumped into my veins first to trick the liver into thinking I’ve eaten a meal, then I just lie there for an hour or so until the radiation is ready to go, it sounds so unreal, the radiation is brought in on a specially designed trolley and a bag of Octreatide is hung from a hook, they are mixed together as they are sent into my vein, and for a few minutes it makes me feel quite crook, a large lead lined screen is then wheeled in and placed between me and the staff, it really makes me laugh, I lay there was the rest of the day thinking if this treatment will make the Beast go away.

I know this is not a cure and only a trial, but it may make the Beast Within lay low for a while, after the treatment a pet scan is done, later on down the track they will tell me if the Beast has won, but my gut feeling is that it will slow the Beast down and give me more hope, a Dota Scan with nuclear medicine is booked for January 2014 and another Pet Scan too, another long wait, but that’s nothing new.

Life seemed to be going well for a while, less aches and pains than before, but that didn’t last for long and I was in for more, the tumors were on the increase again, CT scans show more metastasize now in my spine and lymph nodes, I’m in for more pain, feeling sick again it’s getting me down, more depression not knowing how long I will be here, off to the PA Hospital again to see what the plan is to be next, not much I fear, the next attack on the Beast Within is a new experiment chemo drug from the UK, once a week for a cycle of four, then two week break and then some more, on the fourth week I was feeling so sick, this treatment was hitting me hard, but they were pushing on without regard.

I got home that afternoon my whole body was out of tune, I flopped out on the sofa in the lounge room, a temperature of 39 that night, but I think I gave the family a bit of a fright, apparently I was very sick so they admitted me to a ward very quick, skin was peeling off my arms and chest, I was given oxygen as I could not breathe the best, they said they were stopping the chemo treatment straight away, I was lucky to be here to see another day, a week and a half I lay in that bed with thoughts of dying going through my head, needles and more needles it was relentless my veins started to collapse, my arms black and blue, as they tried to ween me off the oxygen too, they asked me how I was, a lot better I said, we will send you home today then as we need that bed, the chemo had made me diabetic through the steroids they had given me, I have to inject myself with insulin every day from now on, I sat in the transit lounge waiting for the diabetic worker to come, I thought to myself ‘oh’ what have I done.

I went home feeling completely not right, and was rushed back to emergency that very same night, admitted again this is a nightmare, my poor wife Lucy another huge scare, test after test they found I had contracted a bug in my lung, it turned into Pneumonia, with only one lung it was going to be tough, but with antibiotics fed through a line, a week and a half and everything was fine, home I went exhausted and fatigued, another round to me against the Beast Within, I’ am determined not to let the Beast win, weeks down the track now, starting chemo again, it’s not the same one this time though, I’m feeling apprehensive and a little scared, but I have to try everything there is you see, To stop that Beast trying it’s best to kill me, well again to the hospital for my Octreatide

(To be completed)

Steve didn’t get the opportunity to complete this piece, the Beast Within finally beat Steve after he battled it to the bitter end, on the 14th October 2015, Steve sadly had no fight left, and closed his eyes for the last time, as I write this and copy his exact words my eyes have been shedding tears throughout, a mixture of complete profound sadness that such an amazing, loving, caring and considerate man had been cruelly stripped of more years with his family because of this horrible, loathsome Beast, but also the shear power of his conviction, the battles he fought so bravely even when his body was ravaged and tired, he didn’t quit he took his fight to the very very end, if I could emulate a fragment of what Steve achieved would make me a far far better man, his strength should all rub off on us, and drive us forward to live our dreams and to fulfil our lives the very best we can, when we think things are “to hard” or “we cannot do it anymore” Steve’s example should be our benchmark, giving us the will and determination not to quit but to push forward and battle for each day we have.

You will never be forgotten not by me , you have left behind an amazing family especially in your wife Lucy, your children Amanda and Wayne and your many grandchildren who will always want to talk about you, here in the UK your family will always treasure the times we spent physically with you, and the memories we have through airmail letters, countless emails and pictures, and the lengthy phone calls we shared often, I love and miss you with all my heart Steve and I hope when we do meet again we can continue the conversation we were having, on the telephone the one we never got chance to finish. stay safe Paul 13.02.2021

Donating Blood, Lot’s of Pro’s With No Con’s

I was sceptical when I used to see adverts asking me to donate my blood! In my mind I went through every known excuse why I shouldn’t donate, things like “I need all my blood” “Why should I donate to someone I don’t know?” “All they do is sell it to foreign countries!” “I might catch a disease when they take it?“I’ve heard your ill for weeks after?” Yep these were all my pathetic excuses, one after the other of why I shouldn’t donate, but not once considering why I should? I’d hazard a guess that most reading this blog have felt like that at some point and had the very same thoughts as I used to have? I kind of did the whole “Doesn’t affect me all this donating lark” I think as I look back it was fear and ignorance, fear of the unknown, ignorance because I didn’t fully understanding what happens to my blood and how urgently it’s needed? I kind of acted like “Ill never need blood will I?” mentality, looking back what a ridiculous and senseless observation and thought that was.

Until someone you love needs blood you never give it a second thought! exactly what happened to me and my family, to cut a long story extremely short, in 2009 my fiancée was giving birth to my little boy, everything going swimmingly until, he decided he was comfortable and didn’t want to come out, so there he lay hour upon hour, until things started to turn in the wrong direction, he became destressed so a decision was made to perform an emergency Caesarean Section, obviously this was upsetting to my partner as she desperately wanted to have him naturally, but all things considered think she’d had enough and needed it to be over, now I know Caesarean Sections are relatively common nowadays, but a C section is major surgery and certainly not given the respect it deserves, having stood there and watched it first hand, I felt like I was in and episode of Holby, all sorts going on things being cut, etc etc anyway I’m rambling on I’ve noticed! it was an unbelievable experience, but once my little man was delivered and the nurses were attending to him, my partner rapidly deteriorated and needed an emergency blood transfusion, due to loss of blood during the operation, let me say that again in bold capital letters “NEEDED AN EMERGENCY BLOOD TRANSFUSION” what would of happened if everybody thought as I did? she would probably of died, but people had donated hence why there was stocks available and her life as well as countless others are saved daily, I took it for granted that it would just be there, not for a single minute respecting those who bother to cast aside all doubts and prejudices and donate there blood.

A complete mind reset was to happen, after the events of my son’s birth I kind of shelved all thoughts of donating blood, not because I didn’t want to, I just allowed the flow of life to consume me, and being 100% honest I never gave it a second thought, which looking at the bigger picture, people struggling in hospitals desperate for blood, are kind of hoping I ‘am giving it a second thought and am considering donating my blood as they really need it! I remember sitting one evening and a news report was on the television, it was about our soldiers, not sure where they were? but the reporter was interviewing a senior officer, who was talking about injured soldiers in battles and how they often struggle for blood to support their needs, thus was the spur I needed, not just because it was our brave soldiers but it made the plight and importance of blood donation drives more real, not like I should of needed convincing, but it was the straw the broke the camels back so to speak, my need for information was well and truly aroused, a blood donator I was set to become!

Time to enrol and become a hero that’s what I kept telling myself, so I delved into the Donate Blood website gathered as much information as I could, answered the questions, and an appointment was set up, it was that easy nothing invasive, no endless questions about my entire life, very straight forward and easy to navigate through, I was completely surprised! I’d been working myself up for 10,000 questions when in fact there was 50 tick boxes done end of sorted, so jump ahead and the day of my first visit arrived, I was somewhat apprehensive and a little worried about what would happen next, my normal donation point is Leigh Sports Village so I mad me way up the stairs and into the area where the donations were taking place, I was met with a very large smile by a friendly nurse who welcomed me and talked me through everything that was going to take place, I immediately felt completely at ease and unworried, I was taken to a private area, for my assessment, my Blood pressure was taken, then I had to have an iron test, nice and simple little jab on the end of your finger, they drop it in to a beaker of liquid, mine sank like the Titanic so I was good to go, I waited for around 5 minutes then was taken to my donation chair, again everything explained in full detail, a few safety questions asked including my address and date of birth, my blood pressure checked again, then my arm where the needle was to go was swab cleaned for 30 seconds, once it was cleaned, the nurse popped the needle in and away I went, so easy I was shocked, after around 20 minutes my blood bag was full, they removed the needle, placed a plaster on and asked me to go over to a table, full of crisps, sweets and drinks, I was advised to help myself and wait for 10 minutes before I left, couple of bags of mini Chedders and an Orange Club biscuit and a cup of hot chocolate later and I was good to go, I felt like I’d really made a difference, I felt like a bit of a hero to be honest.

Nothing like knowing your blood group I realized that I didn’t even know my own blood type which I guess is really important nowadays, a week or so later an envelope landed in my post-box telling my blood group, it appears that less than 2% of the population have the same type as me, perhaps I’m unique who knows? After researching as much as I could about my blood group, and what donating does I felt even more determined to donate, around 3-4 weeks after my donation, I received a text message from the people at Donate Blood advising me that my donation had been used at Southport Hospital, it was so amazing to be told exactly where your blood is actually going, made it somewhat more real to know exactly where it was going, I knew that I needed to continue donating my blood whenever I was able, every time I went to a session thereafter, it was always the same, big smiles all round made to feel at ease, and a massive sense of doing the right things and helping somebody in need, I feel like a hero ever time I attend I really do, such a good feeling! You have to try it to appreciate the feeling you get afterwards, and again every donation I give, I receive a text afterwards telling me where my blood has gone, a lot of the time mine has gone to children’s wards or hospitals, which as a father myself gives me even more of a great feeling inside.

Thursday 11th February 2021 my 14 donation to date as normal arrived at my allotted time, slightly different format due to the covid-19 situation, but equally managed extremely well and very professional, all staff very frienfdly all wearing masks and all ready and eager to assist everybody attending, I was met by a wonderful Irish nurse called Emma, very friendly and explained everything in detail, after we put the world to rights between us, with a reassuring smile she disappeared to attend other people in the session, as my donation was finishing another friendly nurse came over he was called Justice he was from Ghana, again very nice to chat to, ultra professional and very appreciative that I was donating, it was all run like clockwork so easy and calming, once I’d had my mini Chedders and Orange Club Biscuit I was on my way feeling all proud and pleased with myself.

If you don’t donate you should really consider it, I’m not going to jump into a salesman’s pitch here I shouldn’t have to, please consider donating blood, they are desperate for donors as a clue to just how many people are donating and regestering these figures have been taken directly from “NHS Blood Donate” website

  • New Registrations and Donations
  • 2016/2017 – 362,619 – (UK population 65,650,000)
  • 2017/2018 – 478,762 – (UK population 66,040,000)
  • 2018/2019 – 509,009 – (UK population 66,440,000)
  • 2019/2020 – 416,381 – (UK population 66,800,000)

As you can clearly see from the statistics the amount of people donating, versus the population of the country is a tiny percentage, they need more desperately so if this blog does anything after you reading it, I hope it makes you inquisitive and look into donating blood and start making enquiries here is a great place to start your journey this address will take you to the page that talks about registering for blood donation, I hope this is an interesting read and I wish you all the luck on perhaps your journey donating blood, love you to share your experiences in my comments section, until then keep safe Paul 12.02.2021

Leigh’s Almost Forgotten VC Hero

The beauty of being a Funeral Director, is I get to meet so many amazing people and learn so much about families and their loved ones, I also get the opportunity to meet people from all different organizations, which also helps me broaden my knowledge of my local area and the incredible people from around me, kind of where this story begins, back in May 2018 a gentleman called at my funeral home and informed me that Leigh had its own Victoria Cross recipient, his name was Alfred Robert Wilkinson, his name lost in time sadly, the gent advised me that Alfred’s grave had fallen into a state of disrepair, he asked if there was anything I could do to get it fixed? With my curiosity in overdrive my quest was on

So who exactly was Alfred Robert Wilkinson? Alfred went to fight in World War 1 at the age of 21 years old, joining the army on the out-break of war 1914, enlisting with the Royal Scots Greys, he then transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders, before finally moving to the  1/5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Alfred was sent out to France to a town called Marou , where he was to be part of the Battle of the Selle that took place around 20th October 1918. Alfred saw the cruel brutalities of war  he experienced fear, saw death, destruction, injuries, friends shot dead, and so much more. On October 20th 1918 at Marou in France, during the attack, four army runner’s had been killed shot through the head by the enemy, attempting to deliver a message to the supporting company, it was here Private Alfred Wilkinson volunteered for the duty! Alfred succeeded in delivering the message, his journey was one we can only imagine in our minds he was shot at by hand guns and machine guns, shells were fired at him, mortars from all sides raining down, he had to run 600 yards or 6 Football pitches, Alfred completed his duty. On 08th February 1919 Alfred was given 14 days off to return to Leigh where he was given a heroes welcome news of his deeds had traveled from London everybody knew his story, Alfred was taken to Leigh Town Hall where he was presented with 500 war savings & £50.00 in cash (today would be worth £1805.00.

On 22nd February 1919, now promoted to Lance Corporal, he traveled to London with his mother and brother Henry, to receive the Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace, After the ceremony he immediately returned to Belgium to re-join what was left of his old battalion. On the morning of 18th October 1940, Alfred left home at 06:15 to work at Bickershaw Colliery, at 08:15 one of Alfred’s work mates went into the room where Alfred was working and thought he looked ill, Alfred told his work mate that he had a headache, and if it didn’t pass he would go home,

At about mid-day Harold Webb, a brickwork’s clerk at the colliery went to an outside water tap ,and saw Alfred reclining in a chair with his head thrown back and his legs outstretched. He immediately assumed that Alfred was ill and went over, finding him unconscious. He sent for breathing apparatus and artificial respiration was carried out before Alfred was taken to the Bolton Royal Infirmary where the Doctor pronounced him dead.

An inquest was held to confirm Alfred’s death was confirmed, as carbon-monoxide poisoning.  The colliery supervisor tried all the apparatus and found it in order. Further checks had been necessary to remove a ‘T’ junction which was on the outside wall. Once removed it was given a knock to remove any shavings of rust or dirt. ‘some feathers were noticed and on the pipe being given another knock the body of a sparrow fell out. The bird, which was in a fresh condition, was in the down section and required a hard knock to remove it’.

A requiem mass was held at St Joseph’s Church, Leigh attended by a large congregation. From there to the cemetery the streets of Leigh were lined with spectators paying their respects, at some points three deep. The cortege must have been an impressive sight. Members of the Home Guard led the procession with ‘arms reversed’, followed by the Bickershaw Colliery brass band, members of the British Legion and the Special Constables.

He was buried in the same grave (plot IU 99) as his father who had died in January 1916. A headstone, in the form of a cross of black marble, was later erected on his grave, provided jointly by The Manchester Regiment and Wigan Borough Council. His name and citation are recorded in the VC Book of Honor in the Manchester Regiment Chapel in Manchester Cathedral. A plaque to his memory was unveiled in Leigh Town Hall on 27 January 2005 and a similar plaque is positioned in Wigan Town Hall.

Early Thoughts and Observations after reading as much as I could on Alfred’s story it was evident that he was an extraordinary man, who’s story needed to be told, I began jotting things down after extensive research in my spare time to understand what I was taking on, I visited Alfred’s grave located in Leigh Cemetery and sadly it had fallen into a sorry state, certainly not befitting the hero resting peacefully below my feet, the curb stones around the grave had become separated, the wording fading away slowly as time and weather were taking it toll, dirty pebbles within the grave looking tired, the large upstanding cross wasn’t straight on the base setting, all in all it was a sad state it had fallen into, hard to believe that beneath this, tired looking gravestone was the body of a war hero, it was obvious from this point that a lot of work was required, so my first point of contact was with the local council, owner of the cemetery, after numerous e-mails and telephone calls back and fourth, it was agreed that the works would be allowed to proceed, the council advised that they wanted to be part of this project, and advised that they wanted to pay for the restoration of the grave stone, through their own appointed stone mason, this was a massive result, which allowed me to concentrate on the various other ideas I had, to not only tell Alfred’s story, but I wanted him to have the right recognition focal point for his deeds, so the quest moved up a gear.

Social Media and Local Schools when trying to tell a story like Alfred’s even though he was a local chap, sometimes falls on deaf ears, its about rousing peoples interest and trying to get people involved in his story, figuring out how to deliver it in a way where peoples attention would be caught, but without a massive information overload, my first objective was to create a powerpoint presentation, plenty of visuals with interesting snippets of information, I figured the best place to send this out was via social media! so Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Whatsapp became the host of my powerpoint, I created two powerpoints one was family orientated the other was more aimed at adults (I’ve included the adult PPPT here) it generated massive hits and some superb discussions, many people hadn’t heard of him or even knew our town had a Victoria Cross recipient, it was clear that through public opinion Alfred’s story was generating pace, but I wanted to project it further, I wanted his story to become a subject or topic for our local school children, I put together a project file, then contacted all our local schools, the response was fantastic and most schools were rally interested in Alfred’s story, and wanted to include it within their own curriculum, this was a fantastic result for Alfred, it meant his story would continue to be told be generations to come, the project was going from strength to strength, it was time to really up the ante whilst I had the bit firmly between my teeth.

A Lasting Memorial to Alfred I had a thought that I’d like to design a last memorial to Alfred, something telling his story that would continue to push peoples imagination, so I decided I wanted to portray his story through the eyes of children, as my son was a pupil of St Thomas’s C of E Primary School in Leigh, it was the obvious choice as a location in which to discuss with the headmaster, to enlist the pupils to help create pictures of Alfred’s story, that would be placed inside a large poppy mural, I had the vision in my head of what I wanted needed to put it into a design, then cost it out, I discussed with a local signage company what I wanted and how I wanted it to be constructed, after a week on the drawing board my design was born

I was pleased with my design but I wanted the children’s pictures in the poppy petals rather than it being red, so my family friendly powerpoint was delivered to the school, and the children began their drawing project, due to the costings I injected my own money but made up up the remaining through a crowdfunding page I set up, the response was overwhelming, during this phase of my project I spoke with the armed forces contact within the council, he was massively keen to get onboard, and advised if we could create another poppy identical to the first, as he wanted one to be placed in Wigan town center, he advised me that his department would pay for the second poppy, again fab result, full steam ahead, the children did me proud creating truly inspiring pictures depicting different parts of Alfred’s story that were printed into the design, I place was agreed for our poppy, it was to be placed in the Wilkinson Memorial Garden within Leigh Cemetery, a lasting memorial to our VC hero.

One More Addition To Alfred’s Memorial the land where Bickershawe Colliery once stood had been purchased by a house building company, who along with the council wanted to also remember Alfred and all what he did and stood for, as Alfred had worked his last years at the Colliery on the spot where new houses and families now called home, they decided to commission a full size wooden statue of Alfred, again a lasting memorial to his memory, an event was planned between the council and house builder, members of the armed forces came to speak about Alfred as well as some children from St Thomas’s Primary School spoke as well, prior to the poppy being secured in the Wilkinson Memorial Garden it stood at the font of the event, allowing everybody to see it, the event was a wonderful end to an amazing 5 month journey for me, it was very satisfying to see our end results, that all started from a simple conversation between two people.

A Lasting Conclusion after several months of full on promoting and working behind the scenes Alfred’s grave was completed and looking truly wonderful and befitting the person it represented, the poppy memorial was placed into the Wilkinson Memorial Garden not to far from Alfred’s resting place, a chance for all to come and enjoy his story through the eyes of young children, his story has been told at all the schools in Leigh, as well as generating hundreds of talking points across social media, also making local and national newspapers and radio stations headlines as well, his statue stood tall head bowed for all to see, and to stop spare a thought or just quietly reflect for just a moment, Alfred was no longer forgotten his story is out there for all to know and read about, his gallantry being applauded and his life remembered, children will continue to keep his tale alive for years and years to come, nothing more than he deserves, finally when somebody say Do you know Alfred Wilkinson? it is not met with “who?” instead he is now discussed, he is immortalized by the dedications created in his honor a lasting legacy, Alfred was nearly forgotten in the passage of time thankfully now he will always be remembered! stay safe Paul 07.02.2021

Makes You Stop And Think Doesn’t It?

I saw this piece on a social media site and thought it was simply to good not to share, with those that read my blog, kind of does make you stop and think for a moment about what is important! I do not know who the author is so cannot credit them.

Can you imagine being born in 1900, when you’re just 14 years old World War One begins, then ends when you’re 18 years old, sadly twenty two million people are dead.

Soon after the war has ended a global pandemic starts called “Spanish Flu” which sadly kills fifty million people, luckily you walk out alive and free, You’re now 20 years old.

At 29 years old, you’re going through a global economic crisis, that started with the devastating collapse of the New York Stock Exchange causing mass inflation, unemployment and hunger, but you come through this.

At 33 years old the Nazi Party come to power.

You’re now 39 years old, and World War Two starts, it ends as you reach 45 years of age, during that time over Six million Jewish people have died during the Holocaust (Shoah).

There will be over Sixty million deaths in total, you come through unscathed but broken.

When you reach 52 years old the Korean War begins, up to Four million are sadly killed, you remain safe.

When you reach 64 years old, the Vietnam War starts then ends when you’re at the grand age of 75 years old, you are one of the lucky ones that came through the war or wasn’t their unlike the Four million that lost their lives.

A baby born in 1985 thinks his/her grandparents have no idea how difficult life really is, even though they survived all the above and more.

A baby boy/girl in 1995 and today reaches 26 years old, thinks its the end of the world, when his package to Amazon arrives in more than three days, or doesn’t get more than fifteen “likes” for his photo posted on Facebook or Instagram.

In 2020/21 many of us live in comfort, we have access to various sources of home entertainment, and more often than not have more than we actually need.

But still people complain about everything?

However ypu have Electricity, Gas running hot and cold fresh water, phones, food and a roof over your heads, money in a bank or in a purse/wallet.

The greatest thing we are being asked today is to stay home with our loved ones, put our feet up and enjoy time with our families, some people are being given money to stay home, yet we cannot do this and have to break the rules at every turn, when we do venture out which incidentally is suppose to be minimal all we are asked, is to sanitise our hands, wear a mask and keep our distance, yet we cannot even get that right!

None of these luxuries existed before our current predicament.

But humanity has survived far more tragic circumstances yet never lost the joy of life and strived to support each other throughout, where have we gone so wrong?

Maybe its time to be less Selfish, Stop Complaining, actually spare a thought for the person next to you, and show some humility.

Stay safe Paul 05.02.2021

When an Angel Gets Her Wings to Early

Everything I’m going to write here is with full permission from the family, I will refrain from using names, dates and locations to protect privacy also there WILL be a second part to this blog, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the parents for their continued friendship and incredible strength, above are the prints from their beautiful little girl! god bless you both.

Some things are easy to write they simply flow and you use the opportunity to open up, writing this will no doubt be one of the hardest things I ever write, it was one of the hardest moments in my funeral director journey, I want to share how I felt through this time as well as share the incredible strength shown by the parents of this truly beautiful little girl, who melted hearts around her and left a last impression on me that I will never allow to leave me, as I wander through this period, I intend to be as honest and open as I can, many may disagree with the way I handled these moments or in fact how I conducted myself, but it’s important to me to allow you to share my feelings (if you can?)

There is no footprint too small to leave an imprint on this world.” author Unknown

As a funeral director to be told that a child, a baby had sadly passed away, is one of the most awful feelings one can experience, yes we are professional and we know what we have to do, but those qualities are always overtaken be immense sadness, those of us that have children immediately think of them, those planning a family feel an air of fear, those without children often feel profound sadness at not knowing how on earth the parents could be feeling in such sad tragic times, when anybody passes away it leaves a cloudy layer of upset and sadness, but when its a child it’s amplified and the magnitude echos around us all, even those who proclaim to be Thick Skinned are affected, for me it was everything and then some! I had no idea just what an impression this family was going to leave on me and just how much this beautiful little girl would touch my life, as I’m sat her now thinking of her and the time I spent with her, a lone tear has run down my cheek and dripped ever so gently onto my keyboard, leaving a solitary droplet of water which I’m sure won’t remain solitary for long.

I’m going back a few years when I was advised that a baby girl had sadly fallen asleep, before she had the opportunity to embrace life, as the immediate wave of sorrow and sadness began to cloud my thoughts, I managed to write down all the information I needed, her name, where she was, who her parents are, whats she is wearing etc. its at that point I slumped into my chair, closed my eyes and pictured my son, playing with his things, for a moment I silently thanked God for keeping him safe, that is a parents job right? to ensure their children are safe, I immediately, on that thought moved my mind to the parents of this little girl, starting there journey as mum & dad only for it to be stopped in its tracks, and tore away from them, for reasons I was unsure of at that moment, I began to wonder what I could say to these strangers I’d never met, who undoubtedly are going through the worst time of their entire lives, what do I say to make them feel at ease? How do I address the their little girl? by her name? I didn’t want to upset them, all these things race around your head, because this is not normal, there is no script to follow! There are no guidelines! I’m dealing with two parents who’s child has been taken from them, at that point the sadness consumes you, I remember my hand trembling as I wrote some notes, this was wrong why does this have to happen? Echoing around in my head.

Then came the day of meeting the parents of this little girl, I cannot describe the feelings you have going through your body, you tell yourself how strong you will be, and how you will bring this family through this tragic period, It all sounds great as you tell yourself, but putting it into practice is another task on its own, I was actually quivering inside, a mixture of not knowing just how they will be when they arrive? coupled with an overwhelming feeling of sadness for this little girl, I felt my eyes well up, but I quickly composed myself, I knew I needed to be strong for these guys, they needed that composure to help them through this terrible period of their lives, I got everything ready I needed before they arrived, I didn’t want to be fumbling for paperwork, or not have what I needed close to hand, once I’d arranged myself and gotten to a place of calm, I waited watching the seconds hand of the clock going around, the tick tock was deafening in the empty room as I sat silently for them to arrive.

I remember greeting both of them as they came into my arranging room, introducing myself and asking them their names, I could hear the anguish in mum’s voice as she trembled her name to me, dad shook my hand, i could feel the lack of strength he had as we shook hands, I could see the strain etched into their faces, red eyes through endless tears, pale complexion through no doubt lack of sleep and zero appetite, my heart went out to both of them, I started feeling weak inside struggling, yet here they are in front of me summoning up all the courage they had, to come to a funeral home to arrange their daughters funeral, I had no right to struggle when they were being so incredibly brave, and digging into every ounce of strength to do what needed to be done, I admired both of them so much for their unwavering courage at just making it to the see me let alone open and discuss what we needed to, I think the manner they conducted themselves in those darkest moments, is an example we should all emulate! They faced the most horrific time of their lives, with determination, calm, constructively and with so much love for their daughter it was overwhelming to see. We slowly and carefully went through the details that were needed, their daughter was always referred to by her name nothing else, as the story unfolded, and mum opened her heart to me, and dad told me of the days leading up to the sad moment their little girl fell asleep, I won’t lie and won’t hide the fact that my eyes were red and tears dripped off my chin, the impact of their words and their experience was incredibly hard to absorb, but I needed to stand where they were, so hearing what had happened, gave me a better understanding on what I needed to do both for their daughter and for mum and dad.

I’m not going to delve into what was arranged and what was chosen, as that isn’t the objective of what I’m writing, one of the key things for mum was that her little girl was dressed in her little baby clothes, they had gotten ready for her, whilst she was sleeping, I remember when she finally arrived into my care, seeing her for the first time, this perfect beautiful little girl, she had such a pretty face, and the sweetest little cheeks, and tiny little ears perfect in every way, I remember her little sleep suit with stars on and she was accompanied by her two little teddies that were keeping her company, I remember introducing myself to her telling her who I was, and what I was going to do whilst I looked after her, I did promise her that I’d ensure she was comfortable and that her teddies would stay with her at all times, I remember wiping my eyes as I sat and talked to her, there was no way to avoid becoming upset it is human nature, it is empathy it’s it’s what you do in this moment! I didn’t speak as a funeral director, I spoke to her softly as you would normally speak to a baby, it was a new place to her perhaps scary so I wanted her to be at ease.

I remember calling mum to tell her, her daughter was in my care and when she was ready she could come and spend time with her, hearing her sob down the phone was absolutely heartbreaking nothing prepares you for that, was it relief her daughter was close by? was it profound sadness that she was going to see her daughter in a way no parent should? I’ll never know what her uncontrolled tears were, as i never asked but I’ll always remember it always. When mum and dad came to see their little girl, before we went in I explained what I’d done etc. Mum hugged me before I took her to the chapel, I remember her trembling as I heard her tears in my ear, dad put his arms around me I remember hugging him like we were related for a moment, this was not professional, this was not a funeral home, it was two parents about to face something we all pray we will never have to experience in our lifetime, I was at that moment i was the closest link to their daughter so I understand totally, what they needed, I battled back the tears at that point I can tell you, it was so difficult I cannot begin to explain!

Once they entered the chapel where their daughter was sleeping, seeing the color disappear from mum’s face was so sad to see, I stayed close for fear of her perhaps passing out though the sheer emotion that was engulfing her, it was awful to watch knowing there was nothing at all I could do, no way of easing the pain they were both suffering, I hated myself for an instant because I didn’t have the answers, I couldn’t wave the magic wand to make it better for them, sadly they were on there own and needed to find, their own approach, their own way to come to terms with their profound grief and loss, I remember walking out and leaving them alone with her, going to the arranging room and sitting quietly head in hands, unable to speak unable to think, just a moment of emptiness, knowing one room down from where i was sat a family was being tore apart being pushed to the very limits of their emotions, life is bloody cruel and somethings that happen beggar belief! wrong wrong wrong this!

Dad came out and asked me if mum could hold her little girl? I immediately said “yes” but had to explain that when holding her, keep her arms tucked in as she can no longer support them herself, as well as holding her head just as you normally would, when I went into the chapel mum asked me to lift her out of her Moses basket as it would be to much for her to handle at that moment, I ever so gently lifted her out of her Moses basket, my hand cradling her head as my other hand held her little body safely as I placed her into her mothers arms where she belonged, I remember mum looking into my eyes through her tear glazed eyes, as she wrapped her arms around her daughter, she didn’t need to say anything I knew how profoundly important this was to all three of them, I left them alone with their daughter to have all the private time they needed.

Over the course of the next few days, they visited several times, then asked if grandparents could visit, which of course was agreed without hesitation, I remember so well the day Grandma and Grandpa arrived, as was our now routine, mum sat on the chair waiting for her daughter, I gently lifted her out of her Moses basket, ready to place into Mum’s arms, as I turned mum had moved on her chair as she wasn’t comfortable, at that moment instinctively I put her little head to my shoulder, and stood patting her as we waited, just habit I think or the fact that she was so beautiful a little girl you forget the moment you are placed in, I remember turning around to see the four of them staringat me, I’m unsure what I felt? Part of me thought I’d done wrong, then part of me looked at Mum’s face and saw the look she had which was so heart warming, I handed her daughter to her and again left them alone to be with her, this was to be the last time at the funeral home as the funeral was the day after, the tears and the anguish as those goodbyes were said in that chapel, will stay with me always, I’ll never forget hearing the hurt and sorrow it was absolutely heartbreaking!

I’m not going to detail the funeral as this was the personal time between parents, grandparents family and friends, I was in the service and as did everybody in the chapel I stood there tears streaming down my face, as I listened to the service and the music and said my own personal goodbyes to this exceptional little girl who had touched everybody that met her, it was a privilege to be entrusted to look after her, and to be able to bond with the family, to of had the opportunity to hold her as I passed her to her mum, are moments I won’t forget, her perfect little finger and cute little feet, are memories I’ll hold for ever, she will always be remembered and forever loved and missed by her parents and family, for me I will always remember her and will always take what I can from the strength shown by her parents throughout, her memory will always live on, whenever I hold a memorial evening her name is always mentioned, as I will never forget her.

In writing this piece has stirred so many emotions so many thoughts, I remember her as if it was yesterday, I remember the details of her teddies and what they were, I remember what she was wearing so clearly, her passing and funeral did affect me, I won’t lie and say it didn’t but I cherish that I got to play a small part in her journey, even though I wish I didn’t have to, none of us can relate to losing a child, only those that have know exactly the impact and emptiness it leaves on you, none of us should try and put ourselves in the shoes of a grieving parent as we simply can’t, if I could offer any advice to anybody dealing with a childs funeral or looking after a grieving family, it is so important to be yourself, put the manuals down and do everything from the heart, remember you are the closest link to their baby, that link needs to be personal, I hope sharing my thoughts provides you further insight into why I’m writing my comments down, I thank you for reading my thoughts and hope there might be something from my experience that might help, or hold something you can relate to. stay safe Paul 04.02.21

“A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam, and for a
brief moment its glory and beauty belong to our world:
but then it flies again. And though we wish it could
have stayed, we feel so lucky to have seen it.”

Author Unknown.

Funeral Directors Suffer Too!

Believe it or not many funeral directors are suffering mentally and physically through this pandemic! why wouldn’t we after all we are human beings, we feel, we hurt, we cry, we struggle, yet through most peoples eyes we are solemn, unwavering folk, really couldn’t be further than the truth.

When the government started advising us more and more on how the virus was spreading back in March 2020, for me as a funeral director massive concern started to come over me, everyday reports of infections and death rates climbing quicker and quicker, I like everybody else watched our country being consumed by this aggressive invisible killer, being the father of a young child, I immediately went into protection mode, wanting to ensure he was safe as well as the rest of my family, including my mother on the critical list to shield, my father who given his age I was massively concerned and worried for his safety and wellbeing, all the while my mind spinning around about, what will happen at the funeral home? how will our industry cope? how will we be protected? what can or cant we do now? plus numerous other corries and apprehensions, not unlike I’m sure my colleagues all over the country have felt at some point?

As the situation escalated from bad to worse across the country and in fact the globe, I went into a kind of automatic pilot, not knowing what lay ahead and the overwhelming safety implications that was to lay before me, and as the funeral director my task was to keep my teams and my families as safe as I could, document upon document was dispatched from our health and safety teams changing weekly as the virus’s grip tightened, obviously our role is to reassure our families and to make sure we fulfil those final wishes of the sadly departed person to the very best of our ability, even that was removed in numerous ways, when my local crematoriums and cemeteries, dropped attendances to 10 mourners only adding increasing pressure on arrangers and FD’s alike, churches closing, no singing, no bearers allowed, no viewing, etc. inside I was screaming, as I said I’m a person and there is a fine line between remaining calm and collective, whilst being nervous and apprehensive about the unfolding pandemic, which could claim any one of us as a victim sadly.

I know a number of people within our industry suffering far worse than I was, not understanding what was happening to their once calm commanding exterior, I probably don’t need me to tell you that the pandemic has not been great for anybody that’s about as obvious as the nose on my face. Everyone is feeling the impact in some way. Many I know including me have been feeling incredibly sad, angry, or anxious. A lot have been spending a lot of time spiralling about the future or worrying about your safety, as well as that of others. Many just like me wasn’t eating properly, as well as sleeping much more or much less than I normally did. I felt all these things but still somehow maintained stability to conduct my funerals professionally, but I won’t lie it was and still is extremely hard.

So much has occured throughout the pandemic, our industry has lost great people to the pandemic, some have sadly passed away, where as many others have left because the burden and strain became all to much to carry, it does not make them weak, it actually shows great courage to admit that you can no longer cope and need help, I personally admire all that spoke/speak out and bring their fears and concerns to the open, we’ve seen all year numerous frontline workers being applauded for the work they do, mentioned on the television and radio, posters and billboards everywhere applauding the sacrifices given, but rarely a mention if any of the incredible work we do, for many this blanket of ignorance was demoralising, even though we know what importance we carry, and how key critical we are in the chain, for many the exclusion increased those anxiety and depression levels, I personally haven’t heard a single celebrity applaud the work done by the funeral industry, I’ve heard them thank the NHS, Police, fire, ambulance, shop workers, delivery drivers even bin men and council workers but never an FD or and FSO, arranger, embalmer etc its sad and I do understand how this impacts peoples already fragile mindsets.

I cannot speak for all in our industry but for myself and many I know, it has been a daily struggle that we have simply had to learn to live with, and learn to manage yes it has brought with it inherent problems and I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve sat with my head in my hands wondering “why?”, the anguish from families who have been unable to be close to their loved ones, throughout this pandemic, each story as harrowing as the last one, profound sadness at unanswered questions, rules changing weekly, lockdowns began then lifted restrictions everywhere, Tier systems in place, 2nd lockdown measures implemented then a 3rd lockdown, it has just gone from bad to worse, yes those of us who have a corporate arm of the business, have received regular updates of the dos and don’ts etc. I just find the void in the middle difficult to comprehend, from those working at home daily not having to be outside, not having the worry and concern, that the next family coming into the branch to arrange could very well be carrying the virus that I could catch, sending directions that I disagreed with for safety reasons? its been an extremely stressful set of principles to follow and has raised numerous lengthy sometimes heated respectful debate, on what exactly constitutes best practise and keeping our people safe, but that’s another discussion for another blog.

I’ve felt so bitterly sad for my families given the restrictions they’ve been placed under, when saying a last goodbye to their loved ones, I’m pleased in some respects at the levels my company has worked to, with regards to managing the pandemic and our teams and our clients safety, then there are other things which leave my mouth a gape scratching my head as it completely contradicts the good measures in place? I’d like to think and hope that those in our industry find the courage to speak out and open up on their own individual thoughts and concerns, speak to the relevant departments within your businesses, talk to HR or any other confidential department, I hope and pray they do not sit in silence and allow the worry and stress to consume them, and take away their opportunity at a normal life, this pandemic has and will affect us all in some way, no matter how hard faced you think you are, I thought I couldn’t be fazed, I believed I would easily ride through this strong and composed as normal! It was the most stupid thought I could of possibly have had because I felt quite the opposite, remember we are professional at what we do, we care immensely about our families, we want to do the very best for those we are looking after, our teams are at the front of our care and considerations, but lets not doubt the gravity of this pandemic, its hit us all hard and we are hurting but finding ways to come through, we are human beings always remember we are not infallible. stay safe Paul 02.02.21