Robbo: The Bryan Robson Story {2021} – A review

‘Captain Marvel’ supreme, this is a must watch for all sports fans.

Bryan Robson, arguably the greatest ever captain of Manchester United Football Club. A hero with no ego, this documentary about his life is both a joyous and emotive watch.

The most appealing aspect of this film lasting one hour and forty minutes, is the new unseen footage we see. This is not just an old rehash and collection of his greatest ever goals. Instead, archive footage is mixed with present day interviews specially recorded for this production. It is this mix which gives this documentary a very welcome fresh feel to it.

Narrated superbly throughout by actor and lifelong Man United fan Ian McShane, this is a filmic autobiographical account of Bryan Robson’s life thus far.

We first meet Bryan sitting in the stands at St James’ Park, the home of his boyhood club Newcastle United. We hear him fondly retell his childhood tales of how he used to first go and watch Newcastle with his long-distance lorry-driver dad, Brian.

What shines through most of all in this documentary, is just how much Bryan was, and still is highly respected within the game. We hear glowing tributes from the likes of Gary Lineker, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Eric Cantona.

However, the most insightful contribution came from Bryan’s Scotland and Liverpool FC archnemesis of many years, namely the formidable Graeme Souness. Hearing such praise come from such a fierce opponent should not have come as a surprise, but in some respects it did. It was very magnanimous of Graeme and helped avoid the interviews having any sycophantic feel to them, i.e., the praise came across as genuine.

The most moving part of this documentary came when Bryan and his family discussed his throat cancer diagnosis back in 2011. Having never before aired this footage about his cancer ordeal, it really felt like as viewers we were being given very privileged access. 

Hearing that Bryan is now cancer free really gave this film an emotional climax. Watching this celebration of such a national sporting hero, I am unashamed in revealing that I certainly had tears in my eyes as the ending credits rolled.

Bryan Robson really is a true sporting hero with no ego. This is an extremely rare thing these days, and without doubt is exactly why this documentary was so enjoyable to watch. 5/5.

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Are you brave enough to scale the heights? ‘The Heights’ by Louise Candlish – a review

Louise Candlish has done it yet again with The Heights.  The only way is up for this storyteller supreme!

Having been mightily impressed by Louise Candlish’s last three novels (The Other Passenger, Those People and Our House), it was always going to be intriguing to read her next offering.  With The Heights, we possibly get her greatest piece of work to date.

For anybody who has not read anything by Candlish, then she deals in British psychological suspense thrillers.  You very well could argue she is our very own Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl fame), high praise indeed.

Candlish’s narratives are so convincing because they are believable.  Her characters are believable too.  Twists are aplenty, and you must always be engaged with her texts not to get lost.  However, as with The Heights, the compelling nature of her narrative is what keeps you wanting to read right until the very end. 

Like with her previous novels, the structure of The Heights is very original.  We get told the story via the perspectives of three different characters, in different time periods.  It is the multi-layered nature of the plot that makes it stand out as a high-quality piece of work.

All is well with the classic nuclear family of Ellen Saint’s, until one day her late-teenage son Lucas, is asked by his school to buddy up with a more disadvantaged boy called Kieran Watts.  Watts rebellious behaviour is then what sets the darker train of events in motion.

This is a book about grief, revenge, and taking control of your own destiny in life.  The Heights by the way refers to a tall, slender apartment building in the Tower Bridge area of London. It is there where Ellen sees a ghost from her past.  This is a ghost that she thought her ex-Vic and her, had killed two years ago!

A narrative like this that keeps you guessing right until the end is a great one.  It is a right page-turner of a read at 429 pages long.

You know you have enjoyed a book when you are sorry it has ended.  This was my experience with The Heights.         

I was brave enough to scale the heights.  Trust me now, you will be so glad when you decide to do so too! 5/5.

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Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In – A Review.

Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In – A Review – The rare glimpse of a genius!

Dramatic, pulsating, and insightful.  These are the best three words that accurately describe this new football documentary on the life of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Directed by one of his sons, namely Jason Ferguson, Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In, is a must watch for any sports fan.

The drama kicks-off right away as we are transported back to the very day in 2018, when Sir Alex, suffered a near fatal brain haemorrhage.  Via a reconstruction and the actual audio footage of Jason speaking on the phone to an ambulance phone operator at the time, this is our chance to live the harrowing experience too.

Due to this film being made by a family member, we thus see Sir Alex at times in both his most natural and most vulnerable states.  He recounts how he did not want to die.  He speaks very movingly of his love for his wife Cathy.  He also touchingly reveals a written note that he wrote to her when he was extremely ill. He stated how he feels this immense sense of guilt at how he never played a bigger part in bringing up his boys due to his football work commitments.

I am a big Manchester United fan, and so you would have expected me to have been most interested in all the stuff discussed about Sir Alex’s Man United years(as manager).  However, as I already knew a lot about these events and footage already (say the 1999 treble year), it was therefore more the recollections of his younger days growing up that sparked my interest the most.

Trying to view this sports documentary objectively though, then you can certainly criticise aspects of it.  It must be asked why certain subjects were covered, but other more controversial ones were not? 

There was no explicit mention of his infamous fallout with unquestionably his greatest ever captain at United, Roy Keane.  He never touched on that big debacle he had that concerned a certain racehorse called Rock of Gibraltar. Furthermore, it also would have been interesting to hear why this great fighter in Sir Alex, finally decided to retire from football?

Sir Alex Ferguson

Overall, it was well edited, well shot, and some of the impressive archive footage of the Govan shipyard gave me goosebumps.

Nevertheless, this is not a faultless sports film due to its formulaic nature in parts, along with the already mentioned omission of certain topics. 

Very enjoyable without ever being amazing, this is the final verdict here. 4/5.

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 – My daily battle with nature!

Going for an enjoyable walk a few weeks ago.

Mental Health Awareness Week is this week(10-16 May 2021), with the theme this year being nature. For years, I kept a big OCD secret that I was petrified of nature. Or if you want me to be more exact than this, walking in any kind of poo!

I can still remember all those years ago, regularly coming out of my university lectures feeling all positive and buoyed by the learning experience. I can also still remember the feelings of utter paralysis and fear that would then follow.

Would this finally be the time that I walked in dog poo or horse muck I’d fear? What if I did? I couldn’t cope then, my inner peace would be destroyed. I’d feel like self-harming as well as wishing I was dead. You see, me, jokey Andy, I was the best actor at my uni by far yet I wasn’t even doing drama!

At my worst at uni, I can remember getting a black cab to take me just 200 yards down the road from the library to my home school. I did this cos I did not want there to be the slightest chance of me walking in any dog poo. It was AVOIDANCE at its magnified best.

The main problem with avoidance and OCD, is that ultimately it just makes things worse in the long-term. I was being too short-sighted to realise this at the time though. I was after a quick fix that didn’t exist. I’ll be honest with you as well, I was just TOO SCARED to face-up to my fears back then.

Fast-forward to about 3-4 years ago and big sceptic me, finally relented and agreed to try taking Fluoxetine and Aripiprazole for my anxiety and OCD. I had reached rock bottom and thought I had nothing to lose. It has been taking these meds with the CBT that have got me tonnes better.

The meds made me actively engage and want to do the hard CBT exercises this time around. The baby steps that I took soon led to GIANT LEAPS forward. I would do short walks around the block at first, exposing myself to the fear that I might see dog poo whilst out on my travels. The length of the walks increased as I gained confidence.

I don’t want this blog though to be like a, OH LOOK AT ME EVERYBODY I’M NOW CURED!! That would be a lie because I am not. I guess the point of this blog is to hopefully show you how much I have improved. If you are suffering as much as I was back then with contamination OCD, then I hope my vast improvements can provide you with some sense of hope.

Even now, I still get a bit flustered sometimes before going out, due to worrying I might stand in dog poo. The key difference here though, is that I now know I COULD COPE should it happen. It doesn’t stop me going out for walks like it used to. I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but I even said to my dear mum the other day, “it’s(dog and horse poo) just eaten food at the end of the day”!

Unbelievably, I’ve now become one of those people that loves going for a walk. It is tough at times when I see dog poo, but the more I see it then the less scared I have become. This culminated last week in me walking to my local hospital for my 2nd Pfizer vaccine. There and back, I walked about 4 miles. It was the furthest I’ve walked in over a DECADE……AND I SAW POO AND JUST STRODE OVER IT!

I love the endorphins rush afterwards when I get back home too. Like with all things CBT wise, repetition is key!

That is my story about nature. It has been tough ride at times, but now I can really appreciate it. If you are scared of it like I was for so many years, then believe me things can improve. I might never fully conquer my daily battle with nature, but all I know right now is that I’m enjoying it like never before!

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Our House by Louise Candlish – a review. Whose house is it?

Fi Lawson comes home to find two strange people moving into her lavish house. The problem is that she never put it on the market for sale in the first place!

Our House by Louise Candlish, is a critically acclaimed thriller and it is easy to see why. Straight away there is no messing about as we are pitched right into the action. Fi’s husband Bram Lawson, is mysteriously missing too which is signifcant, because he is to blame for all the mess that is about to be revealed.

Although darker than Louise Candlish’s latest offering those people, Our House is similar in terms of how the narrative is originally told. It has a dual narrative, where we get two sides of a story, alternating between viewpoints. This therefore gives the novel a somewhat appealing fresh feel about it.

Blackmail, infidelity, and recklessness, these are just some of the striking themes that this book deals with skillfully throughout. At its root this is a story about trust.

It is a believable story with some wonderful twists, especially one right at the end. The only faint criticism I have is that I wonder if there are perhaps too many for some readers to comprehend? As I finished it, I did immediately have to ask myself whether I understood it as the author had intended.

All-in-all, a great worthwhile read. Read it before the TV adaptation is aired. Read it so you can find out whose house it really is! 4/5.

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It’s getting better all the time! OCD and me, an update!

The smile that says things are continuing to improve for me!

This is going to be a short blog about me and my OCD. An update about how things have been for me since my last OCD blog in late November. I’ll give you a good clue here, it’s been fandabidozi!!

Fandabidozi, this is me probably overstating things as per usual though. Lets be honest, I doubt anybody felt this way throughout the last neverending lockdown we’ve just been through. Nevertheless, I just wanted to try and encapsulate for you my current positive vibe.

Now and again I think about the past and how severe my OCD actually was. I discuss it with my dear mum of course. Just over a decade ago, I didn’t want to be here. I was self-harming again too. I hoped things would improve for me, but I’m not sure if I really believed that they would.

I threw all my belongings away(contaminated in my eyes), was constantly on the verge of tears, and all the time I was like a volcano waiting to go off regarding my bad temper. I musn’t recite my old OCD story here though, because I’m aware many of you know it by now. I guess, I just can’t believe how bad things got for me. I therefore can’t believe how much they have improved.

I guess I feel lucky to have been given a second chance at life. Hey, MY OCD ISN’T CURED and there are contamination hurdles I’m going to have to face moving forwards. However, I’ve lost all that bitterness and fear that I once had about life. Thinking about all my physical and mental health struggles, they no longer get me angry like they once did. I feel at peace with myself. I am ready for the next chapter of my life.

I fear I’m waffling here, so time to talk about the here and now. Since my last OCD blog, my OCD has been stable as well as improving I’m pleased to report. Lockdown has been hard at times, but I’ve got my head down and tried to keep myself busy. I am still regularly doing home workouts via my multigym and rowing machine.

On the career front, I still want to become a Copywriter. In fact, I’ve never wanted to do anything more in my life. Once I have readjusted to life again out of lockdown, then I am going to give it everything I have got regarding this career ambition of mine. I am still reading my old course notes to keep all what I learnt in my head. I am sooooooo ready for the next stage now, i.e. a junior copywriting post.

Changing subjects somewhat, my mum, my big sister and I, enjoyed an afternoon out at the cemetery recently to see my dad’s grave. It was the first time mum and I had been since the very first lockdown had started last year. It would have been my dad’s 89th birthday on April 9th. I say ‘enjoyed’, but I hope you know what I mean by this? It was a moving, touching, and emotional day, all rolled into one.

Dad’s grave, hooray for Harold Lloyd!

Talking of my big sister, I must go on record and say how much I love her and how much I enjoy being her younger brother. Growing up, we were never super close, but I think now is the closest we have ever been. We are very different people, however we have a sibling bond there that uniquely unites us(in a good way). Anyway, enough slop ha ha, but if you ever read this blog big sis, I just wanted you know how much I care.

That is it really, feels like I have run out of things to say(“NEVER”, I hear you all cry ha ha ha). Next is my second vaccine soon, which will therefore hopefully mean I can finally start getting out and about more. Keep fighting everybody. Keep safe and I wish you all well till next time.

Best wishes, Andy! x

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those people by Louise Candlish – a review. Neighbours from hell!

New neighbours from hell might not be the most original of ideas for a whodunit, but in those people, author Louise Candlish has skilfully produced a right page turner that will leave you fully satisfied.

The premise might not be that original, however what is fresh is how the chapters are constructed.  Most of them open with a statement to the police by one of central characters.  

This storytelling formula lends itself to making it feel like we the readers are also interviewing them.  It feels like privileged access. 

Lowland Way is where the action is set, an idyllic middle-class suburb of South London.  As indicated, all is blissful and peaceful with life until number 1 has new inhabitants. 

Darren Booth and his partner Jodie, are the extreme opposites to their established next-door neighbours. They are loud, brash, and totally inconsiderate.  Loud music until 2am as well as loud drilling till all hours.  They also operate a car business on the street which means alpha male Ralph Morgan, ends up with an orange old rusty campervan in his car parking space.

As the narrative unfolds at a good steady pace, we find out that all of Booth’s neighbours have an axe to grind with him.  They all have a motive for wanting to see his demise.  Even the award-winning Play Out Sunday (where kids can play on the road safely), gets knocked on the head due to his impatience with children.

There is great narrative tension that builds throughout.  It is one that makes you want to keep on reading to find out what happens next.  Narrative exhaustion does not exist at any point here. It keeps on giving to the reader with a series of wonderful twists.

One of the most significant parts of this novel, is that the plot is believable.  It was never too far fetched or too fanciful.  I believed it as a story and so my imagination was fully transported there.

If you love your whodunits, then put this novel down as one to try over the coming months. This is worthy of being made into a TV drama it is that polished. This is most definitely worthy of your attention! 4/5.

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A magical love triangle – Here We Are by Graham Swift – A review

Here We Are, by the critically acclaimed author Graham Swift, is a typically understated delightful read that you cannot help but be enchanted by.

We first discover our three love triangle protagonists during the summer of 1959, in the holiday seaside resort of Brighton.  Ronnie, known on stage as ‘Pablo’, is a young magician going places.  His partner and able assistant is the young and beautiful Evie.  The popular compere of their end of the pier show is a bit of a Jack-the-lad character, Jack Robinson.

This is a story told in both the past and present tense.  Swift, artfully details significant aspects of their lives as the narrative moves forward.  Reading this book was akin to peeling a red juicy apple, i.e. I wanted to keep on going.  It was a nostalgic read, a wistful one, and a moving one at times too.

As with Swift’s brilliant novel Last Orders, the human condition and a character driven plot lie at the heart of Here We Are.  Love, adultery, guilt, and grief, are all themes that are touched upon.  These coupled with kindness and laughter along the way, all makes for a beautifully told emotive tale.

In a certain way, this novel felt a bit old fashioned. I mean this in a complimentary way though.  In a fictional world now where some novels regrettably try to be too clever for their own good, this novel was refreshing because it was the exact antithesis to this.

A straightforward read that was captivating and moving throughout.  4/5.   

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Mayflies – Andrew O’Hagan. Manchester, music, and male friendship that lasts forever! A book review

Mayflies is a rather touching tale about the wonder of male friendship.  Not perfect, but not rubbish by any means.  If you are after a bit of 1980s Manchester and indie music nostalgia, then the first part of this book is for you. 

The problem is though that the much darker second half is not as strong as the first. The debate about assisted dying is one worthy of exploration. However, I was never intensely moved like I had suspected I would be prior to reading.     

Starting in a small Scottish town in the mid-to-late 1980s, we fondly get to know the lives of two best friends called Tully and James.  In their late teenage years, these two boys share a love of indie music and movie line quotes.  With respect to the latter passion, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, being a particular favourite of theirs.   

The author clearly no fan of 80s Thatcherism, shows how the escapism of music was vital to the existence of so many young people back then in Britain.  With a group of friends our two protagonists decide to go and have a weekend of indie music heaven in Manchester.

Their Manchester escapades did get a tad tedious in places though.  It was too drawn out.  Admittedly, bits were interesting and entertaining to read.  Nevertheless, if one is honest, then other parts verged on the slightly corny.

The second part picks up the action again in the Autumn of 2017.  One of the characters is dying and so the topic of euthanasia is what the entire narrative is then shaped around.  It must be acknowledged as well as praised, that both viewpoints are covered i.e., for and against. However, by the end I think it is very easy to deduce what position author Andrew O’Hagan holds.

Having earlier criticised this second half for not being intense enough, undoubtedly though the friendship of Tully and James is a touching aspect throughout.  It made me think for example, of the close male friendships that I have in my life.  

Overall, this is a thought provoking read, without ever being an immensely captivating one.  I thought by the time I turned the last page, then I would be a blubbering wreck. I was not though much to my surprise. 

Brilliant 80s Manchester nostalgia, but this got diluted by it becoming a book essentially about assisted dying.  A good read, without it ever being an amazing one. I wanted more emotion, I wanted more tears, and ultimately I wanted to care more about them by the end. 3/5.          

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A likeable, touching mid-life crisis! Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. A book review.

Male, forty-three going on forty-four, OCD sufferer, who likes to put the bins out for the neighbours and who hates radio phone-in shows.  No, this is not my profile from the Plenty of Fish dating website, but it could be.

Instead, this describes Micah Mortimer, the central character in Anne Tyler’s latest great novel, Redhead by the Side of the Road.

The similarities between Micah and me are that similar that it caused me to laugh out loud as I read them.  Therefore, I instantly bonded with this very likeable character.  A perfectionist who is a nice guy with a good set of morals, yet another three things that accurately describe us both.

Set-in present-day Baltimore in the United States, we first find Micah plodding on through life.  His life is ordinary doing a computer maintenance job that he just about tolerates.  He has a girlfriend called Cass, but nothing seems exceptional about their relationship either.

Micah then gets a surprising visitor one day at his front door.  It is this visitor that then mainly shapes the rest of the narrative. Could Micah really be a father after all these years?

There are two ways you can look at this book though.  You could argue it is boring because not much happens (even with this surprise visitor).  Whereas I fall in the second category, that appreciates a beautifully written story about the mundanity of life. 

Narrative tension builds through Micah’s depression growing deeper.  Without giving away anything crucial, it ends on a rather poignant note. 

A modern-day story that superbly depicts the alienation of modern-day life. 4/5.

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