Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Many years ago when I was but a youth my first job, other than being a fitter on heavy plant and machinery for my dad’s building firm, was as a barman.
I enjoyed being a barman. It was clean and warm and I never had to crouch under a broken down wagon with rain trickling everywhere. I could remain warm and dry in a place called Wharfs on North Shields fish quay.
It was a bar and restaurant before bars and restaurants were a thing down there and was manhandled to success by a big, bluff character called Dave Mark.
Always nattily dressed and an omnipresent life and soul of his own party he drove his new venture by sheer force of personality.
With a spit and sawdust bar in which the most grizzled Tyne trawlerman could feel at home on the ground floor and an upmarket lounge and restaurant above it was a winner and soon I found myself doing shifts behind the bar or on the door with an ex Special Forces soldier / professional mercenary who’d fetched up on civvy street. He was an interesting mentor!
But the person I really hit it off with was the owner’s son – ‘Young David’.
Great lad, great sense of humour and easy to get along with like his dad but whereas Dave the elder was a hard nosed businessman and (according to some) a bit of a lovable villain, young Dave was a romantic and a softer soul altogether.
Wharfs soon became the focal point of our socialising. Dave and his girlfriend, a lass called Judith, quieter than him but possessed of an inner strength that would later be tested to the full, plus a whole gaggle of youngsters who worked behind the bar and restaurant or were partnered with those who did.
Lock-ins, joking about and living life to the full – we loved it. And beyond that, Dave was into water skiing whilst I was into diving so there was always boats and tides to discuss.
But a storm was brewing, though I was oblivious to it initially.
The problem was Dave liked the romance of his dad’s alleged slightly villainous lifestyle but he basically wasn’t any good at it. We’re not talking the Kray twins here – more Del Boy and Rodney but the rumour began to circulate that he’d got himself in with the wrong crowd.
There was talk of him being used by bad people but for what and whether this really happened I don’t know. It was hard to be sure where fantasy ended and truth began because Dave was a bit of a wind-up merchant. For example, one day he flashed a big wedge of cash then winked conspiratorially and said he was off to make a ‘deal’ but it turned out to be nothing more dastardly than buying a car.
But things took a turn for the sinister when one of the older staff let slip that Dave had got really scared of someone and driven off to the Scottish Borders in a tatty little van and was found there by police sleeping rough with a shotgun for protection, but again there was no way to know if it was real or another of his tales.
The plot then thickened further and again how much truth it contains I couldn’t say but the latest was that his dad had baled him out of the shotgun thing and kept him out of trouble with the law but they’d had a bust up over working hours and now Dave’s bail was to be withdrawn thus sending him straight to jail where bad people would get him.
Whatever the truth something major must have happened because Dave phoned me one evening to say he’d got married that very afternoon. I was stunned. Why hadn’t I been asked? Why wasn’t I best man? I’d have bought them a present or at least a card. Where was my invite?
And then he got serious and asked me to look out for Judith should ‘anything happen’ to him. I thought this odd but they'd recently announced they were expecting and I wondered if it was a touch of pre-parental nerves, of having to suddenly consider mortality when faced with the responsibility of having a baby. I assured him I would then said I’d forgive my lack of a wedding invite so long as I got to buy him a celebratory drink in his dad’s bar that weekend.
“I won’t be drinking there anymore.” He told me.
“What? Why not?”
“You’ll find out.” He said.
“Where will you be drinking then?”
“You’ll find out.” He said again.
Were someone to say that me nowadays I’d be deafened by the sound of alarm bells but back then we were all going to live forever and the other thing was Dave’s penchant for mystery and intrigue. I assumed his dad had opened another bar and put him in charge or something. What I never considered in any way was that that night, only hours after he married his pregnant girlfriend, he drove his car into his dad’s lockup, fixed a hose from the exhaust and took his own life.
There were no words to describe the shock and horror of what had just happened. Not then, not now. I just could not grasp what he’d done. It wouldn’t go in. He couldn’t be dead. He had to be hiding somewhere. Maybe in Spain where his dad had a villa. That was it, he was hiding from the bad guys. Keeping his head down until the trouble blew over. This was all just an elaborate cover. It finally hit me when I saw his mum collapse into his dad’s grasp at the funeral. It was no hoax.
His son was born soon afterwards. Another Young David and over the years I kept in touch with his mum but I was never needed for anything so I watched from afar as he grew up and every summer I’d visit his dad’s grave and call him stupid for missing his boy growing up and another summer when we could be playing boats.
Then one day I stopped off at the cemetery and couldn’t find him. I’d not been for a few years because after Young David had turned 18 I decided I ought to put that chapter behind me but I was passing. The graveyard is one of those where the old plots are reused after a while so there’s always new graves next to old ones and, though there were a couple of new ones in what I thought must be the right spot, there was no sign of Dave.
Eventually I admitted defeat and called Judith and confessed to being deeply ashamed at my failure.
Her answer totally rocked my world for a second time. It turned out that aged 21, Young Dave, without apparent reason or offering any explanation, had gone out and done exactly the same thing. He was dead too…
There was a new headstone and recently dug earth where he'd been laid to rest with his dad.
As many of you know, Bluebird Project’s association with Sky News stretches back many years. They were determined to be in the thick of things when the big tin boat went back to the water so we worked closely with them for many years making several news pieces, a short documentary broadcast at Christmas 2010 and finally, Bluebird The Afterlife about our return to the water on Loch Fad in 2018.
The two main players at Sky were Jim Old and Mike McCarthy and we became good pals so even after our documentary making was done I kept in touch and called up Jim for a catch up one day only to be told that that Mike’s son had taken his own life. All those dreadful emotions welled up once again though I’d never met Ross but I thought I might be able to imagine a tenth of what Mike was felling so I called him straight away. I told of my experiences and offered my heartfelt sympathy but what can you say? Nothing makes it any better. Mike said that at some point he was going to do some fund raising for suicide prevention, so I immediately said to count me in, that I was in with bells on.
Baton of Hope wasn’t even dreamt of back then.
Fast forward to earlier this year and Mike called to tell me about Baton of Hope and asked me if I still wanted to be a part of the effort to get people talking.
I therefore read today’s latest offering from the Ruskin Museum shaking my head in dismay at the sheer predictability of it. Oh, how they support the aims and objectives of Baton of Hope but they also believe that representatives of BBP have tried to bring BoH into an historic argument and that, presumably, precludes them actually doing any supporting.
They couldn’t be more wrong if they tried and it hardly needs pointing out that if they truly were supportive they would know all of the above and not have written anything so ill-informed and offensive but because they have steadfastly refused to engage they are wildly off the mark, as usual, and owe both BBP and BoH an apology.
Likewise, Straightliners called us offering display space. We didn’t go to them, though we gratefully accepted, and the museum would have known that too had they bothered to find out what was what there too. But no. Instead their narrative reads that we recruited unwitting partners in order to leverage our position. You're wrong, Ruskin Museum. Completely and utterly wrong.
They say they’ve made ‘every reasonable attempt to resolve the matter’ when they have done nothing of the sort. All they have done is demand we hand over our life’s work and leave with nothing, never to return.
In fact the real reason they issued today’s statement is because they were hours away from being outed for threatening a suicide prevention charity. Did they mention that? No, of course they didn’t.
Oh yes, they fully support the aims and objectives of BoH but…
‘should further action be necessary Our Client reserves the right to recover its costs from doing so’.
The simple fact of the matter is they have but one aim and that is to spite BBP by any means possible and having their lawyer make threats with that sole aim shows just how low they are prepared to stoop and it may be imagined how their threats were received. Straightliners was given the same treatment.
Of course, the cowards didn’t write to us because they know what we’d tell them. No, their chosen method is to try and undermine us by threatening our partners – it’s pathetic.
They also tried to keep it hush-hush hoping those threatened would buckle and quietly ditch us without explanation but they went too far this time and realised too late hence getting their statement out first as an attempt at damage limitation.
It isn’t us dragging these willing partners into an old argument – it’s them! They set their lawyer loose with his keyboard, not us. Everyone involved with us was thoroughly briefed ahead of time so none of it came as any surprise and there was no dragging anyone anywhere.
The RM doesn’t care a hoot about BoH, or Straightliners, or any of the people those organisations might benefit in their own ways, all they really care about is waging their vendetta against BBP.
What were the words they used? ‘Cynical ploy’? Not us doing that either.
Then their statement is shot through with the usual, ‘we own everything, we’ll take you to court’ thing. The most they ever had a chance of owning was the recovered wreckage but several times they’ve been put to proof that it was ever the Campbells’ to give away in the first place seeing as they rendered it abandoned property. Needless to say, we’re still waiting. Then there’s no way around the fact that we own our parts and for a while they were interested in the laws of accession until they discovered it works more against them than for them.
That said, if they can come up with proof that they own anything, which they’d have to do for a court anyway, and demand its return they can arrange for someone to spanner it off and they can come and get it but that wouldn’t be our way, we say that the only way to resolution is around the negotiating table while they flat refuse and seeing them try to explain that to a judge would make our day(s) in court worth it all on its own.
Every reasonable attempt to resolve the matter… I don’t think so.
Seems they have no choice but to issue proceedings... picking up the phone is a choice.
So there’s a few of the blanks filled in. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who is playing with a straight bat here.