2003

2003. A time before parenting. A happy dreaming couple. A time when digital photography was still seen as the work of the devil by many. When a mobile phone was just that – a mobile phone – nothing else. My football team was still playing in the European Champions League.

31st May 2003. As the local paper described it. A once in a lifetime opportunity. The chance to see a 90% solar eclipse. Two problems

  • The peak eclipse would happen dead on sunrise. Best viewed from the East Coast.
  • This is Yorkshire.

Yorkshire does many things well. Cricket, Rhubard, Beer, Ferrets, Terriers, Chocolate, Moody Moors. We also do lots of cloud and rain. We don’t really do sun – bit of a bugger when your looking forward to a solar eclipse.

With a wing and a prayer we set off for the coast at 3am. Arriving at Scarborough an hour later. People looking out across the sea. Just before sunrise it’s hard to tell if the clouds have formed.

The first signs of morning and we wait with baited breath. Will the Sun appear.

As the sunrise time came still no sign of the sun. Maybe too much sea mist.

Then at 4.36am a thin red strip of sun appears. The crowd let’s out a huge cheer. Some hardy folk jump into the sea for a swim.

Unbelievably the infamous Yorkshire weather was playing ball today. Not a cloud in the sky.

As the Sun continued to rise a beautiful red then orange water path virtually led the way to the eclipse. Someone had brought a ghetto blaster and almost hypnotic music drifted across the morning air. The dreaming couple talked about an adventure to a far off land to see a full eclipse one day. One day.

17 years later. The Yorkshire weather is certainly not playing ball. I came across these photos looking for my birth certificate. They instantly took me back to that time of dreams and a truly magical partial eclipse.

One more little miracle. A photo involving me. A photo I can sign up to. So to those who have asked for a picture. Ok here it is.. Me back in 2003.

Strange Yellow Thing

Such a change 24 hours. Yes still very very very wet and muddy. But that strange yellow thing in the sky has returned. It does make such a difference.

Son did you get time to look at the strange yellow thing in the sky today”

What strange yellow thing.

“That big yellow thing we don’t often get in Yorkshire”

Dad was it a large Canary or Yellow Parrot.

No it was Big Bird from Sesame Street”

Your pulling my leg aren’t you Dad. And Big Bird can’t fly.

Son it was the Sun. Did you see the Sun today”

Dad your not supposed to look at the Sun directly. It could damage your eyes.

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But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

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It’s Wednesday so it must be time for this weeks spelling test. Not the easiest thing for a kid with dyslexia. Ok Gang your words for this week which you need to learn or makeup fiction with are

Overreact, Hero, Claudio, Beatrice, Benedick, Character, Scene, Subservient, Discipline, Accused, Blessing, Suspicion, Breadwinner, Complicated, Stereotypical.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

A letter came home with Son today. In two weeks his year group will sit exams for all subjects. They will be organised in the same way as final exams to better prepare students. Exams will last 75 minutes with time for reading provided. Results are important as they will largely form this years assessment. This determines which set you are placed in.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

So beginneth the first true school test of 2020. A test for school not pupils. What support will school put in place for our son. For kids like our son. I have already let school know very clearly what we expect. Additional Time. A Reader & Scribe. Separate room. If these are not viable in any particular exam then significant marking adjustments or removing son from exams where adjustments can’t be made. Over to school now.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

Today at work I found out that the office unit might be relocating. A local Car Garage is looking for a trustworthy organisation to share a unit with. Oh what fun. It’s closer. More modern office. And best of all maybe I get some company. No more Billy no mates.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

On further investigation I do get some company just not quite what I was expecting. The garage will be using it’s part of the unit to store car parts and tyres. So my new buddies are called Mr Dunlop, Miss Bridgestone, Mr Goodyear, Mrs Pirelli and Mr Continental. Will have to tread carefully with these guys…..

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

Grief and muddy puddles

A brief respite before the next storm arrives. Grey, cold and very muddy. Soon to be grey, cold, very muddy, very wet and stormy. It’s been one of those winters. Constantly just trying to avoid deep muddy puddles. Today I failed. My old running shoes have hardly any tread left on them. As I tried to sidestep a large puddle my foot slipped and I ended up standing in 4 inches of dirty water. Lovely. I really should buy a good pair of trail shoes but money is a little tight. Expenditure is prioritised. They will have to wait their turn.

If you we’re like me then you tried not to think about death and grief. I knew it would strike at some stage (that’s life) but best not think about it too much. I could understand the emotions as I had experienced losing my Dad when I was quite young. But I was shielded from much of the fallout. I really didn’t have the faintest idea about the practicalities. Years passed and I avoided thinking about death again. Then my mum died. This time no shield. Suddenly I was grieving again but this time I was also dealing with practicalities. So when my partner then died 6 weeks later. I was doubling up on the emotions and doubling up on the practicalities.

That is what’s tough about losing someone so close to you. At your lowest emotional point you are saddled with practicalities. You can’t think but you are trying to organise

  • Registering the death
  • Informing people
  • Organising a funeral
  • Sorting out your job
  • Sorting out your partners job. Returning work assets and documents.
  • Trying to work out finances
  • Trying to find the will and wade your way through probate
  • Dealing with Government Departments, Banks, Utility Companies
  • Trying to change the deeds to the house
  • Going through personal items and enduring countless trips to charity shops
  • Trying to change car ownership so I can sell her car
  • Sorting out what to do with the ashes

Your not even warned that the ashes come back in a glorified giant sweet jar. I wasn’t expecting an Egyptian Sarcophagus but I certainly wasn’t expecting a sweet jar shaped thing.

Like grief the practicalities tend to stick with you. As we were not married probate was brutal and took 15 months to finally bottom out. I didn’t expect that. I never considered that my career would have to be ditched quickly as it became incompatible with the now number one priority – single parenting. Suddenly two steady incomes dropped to one zero based hours contract income. Where did that practicality come from. I should have realised really. The sudden loss of someone your intrinsically linked with is going to send seismic waves through the very foundations of your life. Stuff will fall down. Things will change. Seismic waves – guess whose been trying to help son with Wave Theory for school.

So here we are in 2020 and I’m still dealing with grief. Still dealing with practicalities. I have managed to kinda stabilise the new post death financial world. But things are tight. Very tight. Again something I would never have immediately associated with losing someone close to you. But it is what it is. You prioritise the essential stuff. Unfortunately brand shiny mud loving trail shoes are not essential. So I guess it won’t be the last muddy puddle I end up standing in.

I guess I can forgive myself for not seeing that particular connection. Grief and muddy puddles.

Earthquakes and The Scottish Play

Finally succumbed to the New Year ‘Sort myself out’ bug. So the Gluten, Soya, Caffeine, Dairy, Meat Free diet is back in force. Whats the old phrase – in for a Penny in for a Pound. So on top of that it is a fasting type regime as well. 10pm to 4pm no food. Allowed to eat in just 6 hours everyday. If I was sticking to the 8:16 diet then I could start eating at 2pm but as Son is not back from school until 4 then might as well wait. It’s funny the effect it has on me. Even a simple bowl of green salad takes on an out of body experience at 4pm. Almond Milk becomes pure nectar.

Anybody who experiences the pleasure of IBS will probably understand the length you will go to try and sort your innards out. You realise it’s unlikely ever to be that magic fix. You happily settle for work around that settles things down for a few months. As you get older more items are added to the banned list. Or at best the once a year I’ve got to have my fix and will take the consequences list. It never seems to be the boring or least favourite foods does it. This Christmas shockingly Marzipan has been added to the naughty list. Absolutely heartbreaking. It’s bizarre as Almond Milk is currently fine with my body and yet Marzipan…… So if you ever see me in the street looking like Mr Creosote then you know I’ve just succumbed to Marzipan with a large coffee.

Anyway the diet switch has been surprisingly easy this weekend. As soon as we have got up Son has wanted to play football in our mud patch and then take the dog for a walk. It’s helped pass the empty feeling hours. Frustratingly the football was set all day in a misty and rainy backdrop. Only as we started to pack up did the clouds finally part and we got to see the last embers of the setting sun. It will be a brief interlude as another Atlantic Storm is flying towards us. The Trampoline is hopefully well and truly sandbagged down.

So now we prepare for school. Last week was best described as a holding pattern. It didn’t get worse but certainly didn’t move forward. Currently we are trying to revise for a Science Test. For whatever reason Son suddenly gets areas of knowledge that he just can’t visualise. Being dyslexic visualisation is his memory method. I’ve previously talked about his struggles with decimal points and shapes. We can now add Waves to the list of struggles. Poor kid just can’t get his head round them.

Dad not sure Im going to do very well on this one. Can’t even spell Electromagnetic or Longitudinal. So even if I do fluke the right answer I still won’t be able to write it down correctly. Maybe as I’ve been practising for a Shakespeare spelling test I should just put down random bard words. At least they will be sort of spelt right.

That did make me smile. Imagine the look on the Science Teachers face when the response to the question. Which of the two types of wave produced by an earthquake is the first to arrive at a location. And will it be the P or S wave? Is as following

Macbeth and Stratford upon Avon.

Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday so it’s time for a bit of Switzerland.

Time travelling back a few years. The Hotel Owner takes a look at our shorts, T-shirt and sunglasses.

“I do hope you have brought something warmer with you. It’s going to be warm this morning but we have a cold snap coming through this afternoon. If not let me know and I can get you some jumpers”

I know it’s a generalisation but I always found the Swiss to be staggeringly polite. My partner knew this country so well. Even though this was deep into May she knew it was worth bringing a few items of wool. So with warmer gear in my rucksack we set off. Within a couple of hours it was most appreciated.

Another thing about Switzerland. The weather forecasts. In the UK our gerbils give more accurate forecasts than the weather services. Switzerland is different. Like its trains the forecasts are usually precision perfect. Each day would start with watching the weather guide on the TV. No weather presenter here. Stunning live web videos from the countries best locations with the hourly forecast underneath. I could watch that all day. So on this Sunday the forecast had snow from 2pm. At 1pm the clouds rolled in and suddenly the temperatures dropped sharply. Just after 2pm the snow started.

We watched the snow line descend rapidly down the mountains.

A few snow ball fights later and we found ourselves in the hotel enjoying copious amounts of pizza and apfelsaftschorle. The Hotel Owner confidently predicting that tomorrow would be a sun cream day.

The next morning we opened the hotel window and were rewarded with this view. Yesterday’s cold snap was so worth it.

Odd sizes

Running. Running. Keep on running to try and get closer to the hot air balloon. As hard as I tried this was as close as I got. In the photo it looks so small. Odd sizing.

Only two hours work today. Really could do with a few more hours. But that’s the price you pay for having to work to a zero based contract. What I miss out in terms of money is balanced by the flexibility it affords me. I’m lucky it’s run by good honest people. On the way back home I called into the supermarket. The shop has over the last few days introduced a new car parking layout. After two minutes of unsuccessfully trying to park I realised the problem. Unless you are driving the smallest two seater then your car is going to be too big for the parking bays. Clearly the shop only wants to attract those with car boots the size of glove compartments. Odd sizing.

Is it so difficult for running shoe manufacturers to actually use a shoe sizing standard which applies to all trainers. Each manufacturer seems to have a slightly different definition of what size 9 is. That’s UK 9 or EU 43 or US 9.5. Yet depending on which brand I go for sometimes I need to buy a 9. Then again sometimes it has to be 9.5. Then again 8.5 has been the best fit. That’s even before we go down the line of feet width. According to some manufacturers I’m wide, some think I’m standard and one company think I’m narrow. This is all fine as you can try them on in the shop. But what happens if you need to buy them online because they are so much cheaper. It’s a nightmare. My new trainers came today. With New Balance I’m either a 9 or 9.5. So I played safe and went 9.5(wide). And guess what they are too pigging small. So they have to be sent back. Deep breath. Along with Son’s new coat. Which was too small even though I went two year sizes up – so he could grow into it. Ha ha. Very odd sizing.

Yesterday was the school bag apocalypse day. Every two weeks we have one day which requires separate kits for Drama, indoor PE and outdoor Games. The day also involves Design Technology with its own wheelbarrow full of items. On top of this he needs to bring the bucketload of daily required school gear including books and iPad. And then as Monty Python would say ‘just one more wafer thin mint’ – room needs to be found for his lunch (as school can’t guarantee that he will be given food). Poor kid was sent in with two extra large rucksacks packed to busting. Too busting for his plastic lunch box. So with trepidation the food is sent in a food bag. Asking for trouble.

Dad I look like I’m carrying a parachute and a paraglider.

No wonder when he comes home we have rucksack chaos resulting in sports kit being scattered over a 15 mile radius. Even accounting for lost items you can still see the forces building inside the bags like an overheating pressure cooker. The seams fighting not to burst like The Hulks pants. And at the bottom of the last bag is his uneaten packed lunch. Due to the Black Hole type conditions at the bottom of the bag the packed lunched has been compressed into a fraction of its original size.

“I take it you didn’t have your packed lunch.”

No after PE it was missing in action.

Did you get a school lunch then.”

No by the time I had got everything back into the bag the queue was too long for lunch. So I just gave it a miss.

You must be starving. What do you want to eat now”

Super size bowl of cornflakes with a mega packet of crisps. The biggest banana in the house washed down with a pint of orange juice. Then the biggest bar of Cadbury’s chocolate as second helpings.

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That’s an odd sizing order I can finally sign up to.

Lakeside

New Years Eve. A walk to a local lake. For our Son a good walk as apart from a couple of anglers we had the place to ourselves.

This might have been the first place we walked to when we moved to the village. A time before parenthood. But parenting was at the forefront of our thoughts. It was the main reason we left the city. It looked a good safe place to raise a family. A perfect fit.

Fast forward far too many years and again I’m walking around this lake. This time as a parent. Still thinking about parenthood. Realising with hindsight what an excellent location choice we made. It’s perfect for our son. A landscape which can inspire dreams. Quiet. Isolated.

Yet even here sometimes it’s not isolated enough. Two anglers fishing at the far corner of the lake. A hundred yards away. Yet son still pulled his hood over his head and talked quietly. Just in case. It’s so difficult for him to interact with our society. Imagine how difficult it would be for him if we lived in a busy city. How difficult it is for him trying to learn in a school with 800 pupils.

Looking back to my life I can understand his anxieties. I can understand the effect those two anglers can have. I’ve always struggled in social settings. People thought I was outgoing and confident. They didn’t see the nervous kid with a stammer. The child only truly at ease when he was playing by himself. Only happy to laugh and joke when in small groups of trusted friends. Or within a trusted sports team where I would allow myself to take down some the self erected defensive walls. Yet throw in a stranger and I clammed up. I remember the teacher telling the class that the next day would be different. Kids from another school would be visiting us. The thought of strangers spooked me. The next day I bunked off school. As I walked towards the school gates I panicked. I spent the rainy day crouched under a bush. As an adult again I was often seen as the outgoing confident joker. Oh so wrong. Often my social skills needed to be fuelled with alcohol. Those antics masked my anxieties. I kept to a small circle of close friends. Avoided strangers. Constantly battling with my insecurities and nervous stammer.

These years later I’m still wracked with social anxieties. Now no alcohol to fuel the alter ego. So yes I can understand what our Son is going through. I’m no expert but what he has to deal with makes my struggles look like a cakewalk. So everyday I ponder on ways I can find to help him with his anxieties. Yet apart from Sport, Alcohol and hiding under bushes I’ve not been able to help myself. Maybe we could add – walking around completely deserted lakes to the list.

Vanish

A wall which needs to be crossed, damp moss and a spare pair of trainers with hardly any tread left. That my friends is a recipe for disaster. Today’s woodland trail run was blocked by a tree felling operation. Either that or Yorkshire is clearly the location for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 25. The deafening roar of multiple chainsaws close by. For what ever reason the trail was taped off. So two options. Turn back or cross the wall. An attractive downhill path swung the decision in favour of the green wall. Twenty seconds later I’m lying face first in a muddy puddle. Forty minutes later I am stood semi naked in front of the washing machine trying to work out how much Vanish I need to add for caked mud clothes. Two hours later a fully clothed Neanderthal is now surveying the wonderful job Vanish had done to my running kit. My once blue leggings are now a mottled light blue psychedelic design. The dark blue leggings colouring had now jumped ship and transformed my once white running top. But the muds gone. That Vanish is good stuff.

For that time when the runner has gone thud

And his clothes are covered in filthy mud

When soap and water won’t do the job

And that runner doesn’t want to look a slob

In need of rescue after that mossy wall

Which hero are you going to call?

With just 5 scoops your colours will banish

But that mud will be gone thanks to VANISH.

I was lost for an idea for the returning Chelsea Owens Terrible Poetry contest. But thanks to chainsaw wielding lunatics and a mossy wall a terrible poem was born.

If you fancy a go then this weeks rules are

  1. Let’s start off with a fun Topic: commercial jingles. Pick a product and *wow* us with an awful little diddy.
  2. Most commercials have a short runtime, so keep theLength fairly short as well.
  3. Do you need to Rhyme? No, but catchy tales bring in more sales.
  4. Look, chum: just Make it terrible. Make your audience sit up, take notice, and frantically push the Mute button until the horror passes.
  5. This needs to be appropriate for General Audiences. Write accordingly.

You have till 8:00 a.m. MST next Friday (January 10, 2020) to submit a poem to Chelsea’s site.

One final irony. Vanish normally comes in bright pink containers. I went on Amazon to see if I could find a cheap pair of running leggings. One pair stood out. Unbelievably cheap. And the colour. Bright Pink. Yorkshire you have been warned…..

Ghost letters

We have some really nice postmen who work our mail route. Even down to our third reserve postie who is equally nice and conscientious. So rather than just post an unusual letter he knocked at the door.

“Sorry to bother you but I don’t recognise the name on this letter addressed to you”

After a quick scan I confirmed the letter was correctly addressed to us. You see this postie only occasionally covers our village and probably only for the last couple of years. He has no idea, nor should he. We often think the world stops when someone dies and grief hits. But you quickly realise that the wider world keeps spinning. Only you and maybe a handful of others experience a shuddering world halt. When finally your world does starts spinning again there is no guarantee that it will get back up to the speed of the wider world. Until the speeds harmonise you feel out of synch. Not quite part of this world anymore. For me everything seems to happen in slow motion while outside of my bubble the world flies by. Sometimes I drift into social settings and no one seems to see me. They certainly don’t see the grief baggage that I am am shouldering. My chains. When I do reach out to make contact with the outside world again I often fail. As if I just can’t grasp it anymore. Part of the world yet removed from it. Maybe this is what a ghost feels like.

So when a letter arrives addressed to my partner and only two people blink. An efficient but blissfully unaware postman and me. You realise then that grief is deeply personal. Incredibly localised. All this from one of those letters. A random invite to a furniture sale. A mass produced advert. But the computer generated name on the front of the envelope changes everything. It reminds me of what I have become. Someone going through a process. Transitioning. Currently in the ghost stage.

Just turn round

Sometimes it’s worth taking the time to turn round and see what’s behind you.

A few years back I was driving back home late at night. As a I was feeling tired I pulled over on a country lane and looked south at the beautiful starlight view. Feeling happy with myself I got back into the car. The next day the local news was full of videos of that nights stunning Northern Lights show. If I had just turned round I just might have seen one of the natural worlds greatest sights. Its a big deal here as we rarely get to see them. I still haven’t seen them. Just turn round…

Today I spent two hours ransacking the work base for one box. Not a sign of it. Then I turned round. Yep suddenly it was right in front of me. If only I had turned round sooner. With the box in hand I set off back home. If I had turned round as I left the office I would have seen my wallet and house keys on the desk. I then would have not got virtually back home before I realised that I had to turn round and go back to work.

I remember a Saturday afternoon visiting my partners bedside in the hospice. When I left the room something inside of me told me to turn round and spend some more time with her. I decided to go and pick my son up from relatives. I often think that I should have turned round as she died just a few hours later. Other times I think I probably made the right call. Son needed me. That’s probably an excusable failure to turn round.

Doncaster Wildlife Park is our zoo of choice. It’s a new park so the animals seem to be given space. It’s normally a good sign that due to the space and quality of the habitat that there is no guarantee that you will see all the animals. Some places (often the older sites) you visit are deeply depressing. Here it often doesn’t feel like a zoo as you walk round it. That’s probably why son likes it so much. Space for the animals, space for the humans.

The Wildlife Park also has a claim to fame. It’s the only place I have ever seen a snake in the wild. It was on a path at the edge of the Park – chomping on an unfortunate frog.

The irony. In my whole life the only snake I’ve seen in the wild was in a zoo which doesn’t have any snakes.

The Wildlife Park has one often overlooked attraction. As the visitors stand and look for the tigers a few people turn round. They look in the opposite direction. Across to the wetlands. It’s a stunning view. Yet so many miss it. What a waste.

Sometimes just turn round.