A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service firefighter managed to raise thousands of pounds for Alzheimer’s UK after running a marathon in his full fire fighting kit.
The annual Manchester Marathon took place over the weekend and, as is the case every year, thousands of people used the 26.2 mile run as an opportunity to raise money for a charity close to their hearts.
But one ambitious marathon-runner decided to take the challenge to the next level; Andy Ball, a fire fighter for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), and his friend and colleague Ryan Jones ran the marathon in full fire kit – complete with a breathing apparatus cylinder – all in order to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Dementia UK.
The organisation is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and funds world-class pioneering scientists to find preventions, treatments and a cure for both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Andy, a dad of two from St. Helens, has run two marathons in fire kit in the past, both to raise money for charity and other good causes. But this year, his motivation was a little closer to the heart; his grandad Derek suffers from dementia and having experienced first-hand the impact the disease can have upon both the individual and their families, Andy wanted to make a difference.
He told Proper Manchester: “I’ve had a lot of personal experience with dementia in my own family – my Grandad Derek suffers from the disease, so I’ve seen first-hand not only the awful effects it has upon the sufferer, but the impact it has on loved ones and relatives, too.”
Andy explained that his decision wasn’t a spur of the moment thing, however; preparation for the marathon was gruelling, with him training for months in advance. After he cut down on beer – arguably the most difficult task of them all – he started going on regular runs with his dogs, adding more weight to his clothing each time to prepare his body for the weight and the heat of his fire kit.
Andy explained: “The oxygen tank is approximately 15kg, and the rest of the kit comes in at around 10kg, so we had a good 30kg of extra weight.”
And in the rare Mancunian sunshine experienced over the weekend, this extra weight proved to be quite the challenge, with Andy recalling how difficult the marathon became as a result of the layers and weight.
He said: “It took us over seven hours to complete the marathon. But the intention for me was to get over that finish line on that same day… It was the hardest marathon I’ve run so far. It was very hard, very challenging. It didn’t help that the sun was out, either.”
Andy also challenged himself to complete the last mile of the marathon using the oxygen from his oxygen tank, known as being ‘on air’ in firefighter speak, something that only made the task all the more gruelling.
However, he noted that the atmosphere throughout the run was ‘brilliant’, saying that the people of Manchester were the ones to get him through. He said: “The atmosphere throughout the whole marathon was brilliant – the people of Manchester were just amazing and that’s what got me through to the very end.”
And, speaking of the moment he was greeted by his wife and children at the finish line – a moment captured on video and viewed by thousands of people across the country – Andy said: “If there had been no one at the finish line, there’d be nothing for me to carry on for. That was everything to me, having my wife and kids waiting for me there. It was just fantastic.”
And perhaps in even more miraculous news, Andy isn’t in any pain from his marathon today and is instead spending his day off ‘having a couple of beers with the dogs’ – I’d say that’s well deserved.
Across two different GoFundMe pages, Andy and Ryan set a goal of £6,000 – but they have completely smashed that today with a combined sum of £10,372 at the time of writing.
Artist creates incredible micro sculpture of Tyson Fury on top of a nail
Dr. Willard Wigan used a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush to create the sculpture
A talented micro artist has created a minuscule sculpture of Tyson Fury in a ‘smallest biggest tribute’ to the boxer following his historic heavyweight championship victory over the weekend.
Dr. Willard Wigan MBE, sixty-four, has produced an impressive catalogue of miniature sculptures throughout his life – we’re talking fourteen camels fitting inside the eye of a needle, kind of miniature – and considers himself to be ‘officially the greatest micro artist of all time’.
Willard prides himself on making the ‘most wondrous’ microscopic art in history and holds down an impressive fan base which includes Her Majesty the Queen, who invited him to Buckingham Palace after he sculpted her her very own miniature crown.
But where did this unusual passion for miniature sculpting come from?
Willard, who was diagnosed with autism later in life, was excluded from his classes as a result of his learning differences and, after constant humiliation from both his teachers and his peers, closed himself off, fully immersing himself in the world of sculpting.
His first sculpting masterpiece came after an experience with an ants nest in his back garden; using just his dad’s razor blade, a five-year-old Willard sculpted, built and constructed a whole miniature village – complete with tables, chairs and a fully-functioning playground – for ants using only twigs.
Recalling the moment his talent was discovered, Willard told Proper Manchester: “When my mum saw what I’d created, she brought it all into the house and said to me ‘If you make them smaller, your name is going to get bigger.’
“From there, my journey to create the smallest sculptures in the world began and I became possessed with it. My mum kept telling me I was the best, and that encouragement made me truly believe it.”
And fast forwarding nearly six decades, Willard has dedicated his entire life to the art of micro sculpting, creating an array of sculptures such as a tiny Mona Lisa and a minuscule London Bridge, some of which have sold for up to £200K.
And most recently, the artist decided to use his talent to pay tribute to a very new victory; Tyson Fury’s Heavyweight Championship victory last weekend.
A huge boxing fan himself, Willard has long regarded the Wythenshawe-born Tyson to not only be the greatest boxer of all time, but a mental health advocate, an inspiration and a philosopher in his own right. He said: “He’s an example at what can be achieved when you’re going through a dark tunnel. He inspires people to believe in themselves. He’s not just a boxer, he’s a philosopher as well.”
He also sees similarities between himself and the boxer, noting that he and Tyson are both the best at what they do, and both have inspiring stories to tell.
Using a nylon cable tie, gold with a broken tip of diamond and his own eyelash as a paintbrush, Willard worked on the sculpture – which features a set of green boxing gloves and black shorts emblazoned with ‘Gypsy King’ – for four weeks in his Birmingham workshop.
He eventually titled the piece ‘Hard as Nails’, noting that not only is Tyson hard as nails, but he has ‘nailed mental health, he nailed Deontay Wilder, and he’s also nailing the World Heavyweight Championship, and he will keep that nailed down’.
‘Hard as Nails’ is now on display at the Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery, though you can view more of Willard’s pieces over on his website.
FORGOTTEN MANCHESTER: Hitler’s ‘obsession’ with the Midland Hotel and his mysterious plan for our city
Did Hitler really love the Midland?
Rumour has it that Hitler was so enamoured with the beauty of Manchester’s Midland Hotel he sent out orders to avoid damaging the building during World War II.
In fact, claims suggest Hitler planned to set up a base of operations in the city, right in the Midland – the Luftwaffe was ordered to avoid bombing the building in the Blitz because of this.
This legend has been quoted in many pieces of literature about the hotel since, but is there any truth to it?
To understand where the Midland Hotel comes into the story, we’ve got to take a little trip into Hitler’s plan for Britain in 1940, Operation Sea Lion.
As Hitler had successfully defeated most of Western Europe, his thoughts turned to conquering Britain. Operation Sea Lion was created, with which he essentially hoped to press the British Government into a peace agreement.
He planned to use the force of odds against them, as well as sea and air superiority over the Channel.
Obviously, neither of these things happened. But what is important about the plan was the sheer efficiency and detail in its creation.
What is missed out in the detail though, is the invasion of the North of the country, as the plan only described how to occupy the South leaving the North in a limbo situation.
Now we’ve got that bit of high school history out of the way, let’s get back to The Midland Hotel.
The story follows that once the South had been invaded, German forces would rapidly push North across land, air and sea.
They wanted Manchester as a key administrative centre, the Town Hall would be commandeered and The Midland would become a key location for high-ranking Nazi elite – including the Fuhrer himself.
Or so the story goes…
When you delve into the finer details it becomes apparent the truth behind the rumours are a lot murkier.
Manchester did come pretty high up on the list of places to bomb in the Blitz. This was most probably due to high munitions and war-effort industries around Salford and Trafford.
The Luftwaffe bombings smashed most of Manchester’s famous buildings including the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Cathedral, Piccadilly Gardens and Free Trade Hall.
What just so happened to be missed out from this list of landmarks is the Town Hall, Central Library and the Midland. This part is probably where the story comes from.
In fact, an anonymous American Intelligence Officer claimed to have uncovered papers indicating Hitler wished to set up his headquarters in the Midland and thus ordered Luftwaffe to avoid the area at all costs.
But how possible was it back then to accurately avoid very specific areas within a bombing process?
To refute the claim even more, those alleged papers have never been seen by anyone but that ‘anonymous tip’.
These kinds of myths don’t stop there, Hitler was apparently after the Blackpool tower and very specifically Rochdale Town Hall.
With hindsight we can see that none of this happened. After the Battle of Britain, Hitler turned his attention to the Russians with Operation Barbarossa – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Machetes, Strangeways & Police Corruption: One man turns his Manchester gangland experiences into a ‘naughty’ adult storybook
From machete fights down the Curry Mile to riots in Strangeways, there isn’t a lot Nick Fisher hasn’t touched upon in his books
There aren’t many writers who can say they’ve had stints in Strangeways, befriended some of Manchester’s most notorious gangsters and had their books gifted to British royalty; but there aren’t many writers quite like Nick Fisher.
Nick, from Reddish, Stockport, has worked as a bricklayer and property developer throughout his life but has also managed to write ten books in that time; his first book was ‘Gym’ll Fix it – Lose Fat, Build Muscle and P*ss Yourself Laughing’, a playful fitness, bodybuilding and lifestyle book that offered health tips with a little bit of warped humour thrown in for good measure.
Other books include ‘Everyone’s Got A Story To Tell’, a collection of true life stories by people from around the world, ‘The Best Husband and Wife Joke Book Ever’, which was actually gifted to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their wedding day, and ‘Hardmen Gangsters Jokers and Pranksters’, a book detailing the murder, mayhem, antics and shenanigans from 1980s Manchester.
But his latest literary offering, ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bare Arses’, instead puts a dark twist on the title of a number of popular children’s tales to relay a number his own life experiences, such as his days spent with spent with famed gang lord Chris Little, stories from his stint in Strangeways, bloody machete fights down the Curry Mile, and the time he attempted to recreate the famous ‘great train robbery’ – which resulted in Nick and his friend being charged with the same offence as Ronnie Biggs – as well as tales from ‘clubland’ when he was as a ‘sixteen-odd stone doorman full of steroids’.
Though don’t let the grisly theme of his life experiences fool you; Nick also adopts a wickedly dark sense of humour in all of his stories, so you’ll be guaranteed to ‘p*ss yourself’ throughout.
The idea to relay his experiences under the template of children’s tales actually came from a simple run-in with a friend of his during the 2020 lockdown, who told Nick about the time he stumbled upon a rather lewd sight while enjoying a holiday with his daughter.
Nick, fifty-eight, said: “My friend was out in the forest with his daughter when he came across this parked car… And what he didn’t realise was that during the day, this was a huge beauty spot and all the tourists gather there but during the evenings, doggers meet there! He told me how he saw these three blokes with their arses out, and that’s how the idea to rename children’s stories came about.”
A stand-out story in Nick’s book comes courtesy of his eight-month stint in Strangeways – where he was an inmate during the infamous riots – after being convicted for threatening witnesses. In a story titled ‘Bedknobs and Sharpened Broomsticks’, Nick recalls an incident involving a convicted paedophile, several inmates and the end of a sharpened broomstick handle. You can picture the rest.
Another story titled ‘This Little Piggy Went to Market, And Some Other Piggies Went to Court And Told A Few Porkies’ touches upon police corruption and the lengths the force would go to to get a conviction. Nick explained: “One of the stories relates to the trial of the murder of David Barnshaw, where the police deliberately took around fifteen pieces of evidence and disposed of it in order to strengthen their case and secure a conviction against those they’d arrested for his murder.
“Another example I use is when they arrested Paul Massey for a credit card scam just after he’d been released from prison. He’d been out of prison for a day so it was impossible for him to have been involved in it but they banged him up anyway.”
Massey – known as ‘Mr Big’ – enjoyed a reputation as a leading player in Salford and Greater Manchester’s underworld until he was killed in a doorstep machine gun attack in July 2015. It has since emerged that he or his associates had been paying off police officers.
Many of his other stories include the infamous Stockport gangster Chris Little, too, one of which details the night they became embroiled in a feud between two Rusholme curry shop owners down the Curry Mile, resulting in a gruesome machete attack.
Nick said: “There was an ongoing feud between this restaurant and the restaurant across the road, and these men thought we’d been sent from their competitors across the road to cause trouble. So it all erupted. Pots were flying, as were fists and the tables and chairs.
“The chefs came out of the kitchen armed with machetes and meat cleavers… One of the chefs stabbed me through the arm with a machete and my friend in the face. My friend very nearly died from his injuries. I was lucky because I ducked at the right moment.”
Becoming an author wasn’t always on the cards for Nick, however – even before he had started mingling with some of the most formidable figures in Manchester’s crime underworld, he found it difficult to focus at school. He recalled a moment when his English teacher gave him a black eye after he wasted time during his English exam.
He said: “This teacher told me I had a potential to do something because he said he enjoyed reading my stories. But writing a proper book was never something I thought I’d actually do, it was just something I did then for a laugh. But when I write my stories, working class people can relate to them and that’s the key to it for me.”
And fast forward to today, that potential has been proven; Nick’s books have been read by people all over the world, including the likes of Prince William, whose assistant even wrote a letter to thank him for sending the book over – though the contents of that letter have remained shrouded in mystery. He has also used his books to raise awareness and money for the NHS and issues such as prostate cancer.
Nick’s work is well worth a read and will provide some real eye-openers and, most importantly, some real laughs. His latest book, ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bare Arses’, is on sale NOW – get your own copy here.