Life and a bag of sweets

A beautiful cloud but wow does that hedge need trimming….

You take a photo of a cloud and it ends up giving you another job to add to the list. Everything is connected. Yin and yang. My parents always talked about good stuff and bad stuff being linked. If something good happens to you, immediately prepare for the kick up the backside. Or if something bad has happened, remember to look out for the rainbow.

About a year after my partner died, I was asked to speak to someone who was in a similar position. Spouse had died and was now a single parent. I remember he asked me to think of one positive from the whole bereavement gig. According to my parents something good must have come after the bad. I could think of four positives

  • You get to spend more quality time with your kid(s). Your not sharing responsibility anymore,
  • It can make you into such a better parent,
  • It shows how much you loved your partner (so easily forgotten),
  • We got a pet dog…

So yes good and bad stuff must be linked. So why do I keep forgetting that…

Yesterday I got the munchies. A real bad case of the munchies. I needed something full of sugar and bad for me to eat. Nothing in the kitchen cupboards, so off I went into the garage on my desperate quest. Then a RESULT. I found an opened bag of my favourite sweets. I should have immediately remembered that where there is a good thing then bad is lurking close by. As I walked out of the garage I just couldn’t wait to tuck into the sugar filled heaven. So I started to open the sweet pack on the move. The bag ripped asunder. Bad stuff lurking. The little bits of sugar filled heaven suddenly became Exocet guided missiles. Only one target. The cat litter tray. Yep every single sweet hit it’s target. Only one word can describe that feeling. Bugger…..

I most admit the sweets are proving quite an effective absorbing material for the big boy cat. But once again good and bad are linked. Happiness is intrinsically linked with life farting in my general direction. So that beautiful cloud has gone and left a hedge that needs cutting. Life……

Options

I’ve lost my Idiots Guide to Parenting book again. Just when I really need it.

Dad so the options are Man & Woman, Man & Man, Woman & Woman, Genetically Created, No defined sexual orientation, weird different species options…. are there any other options. I guess Guardians of the Galaxy opens up the Man & Alien option.”

This is not the first time I’ve faced this question. Since the last time he’s added at least one other option. My stock answer can’t be used now. Why don’t you ask your Mum, she’s good at that sort of thing….

So how do I answer this. Thinking back to my childhood doesn’t really provide much help. At school we had one lesson about the birds and the bees. The teacher said watch this video and went outside for a smoke. The video started with a couple holding hands. We then got a cartoon description of some of the body parts then finished with footage of an actual birth. Unfortunately a lad called Martin was sick at the sight of the birth and the video had to be stopped. After Martin’s mess had been cleaned up the teacher finished with the immortal line.

I’m not going to bother restarting the video now as we can start the Games lesson early. Surely you get the picture now. Remember you can’t start having babies until your 18. Any questions go and see the school nurse…

My parents approach was very much – well that’s schools job. So that was it for my birds and the bees education.

So having quickly reviewed my extensive memory banks I was pretty confident with my answer to today’s question. I think that probably covers it really. I decided to gloss over the Man & Android option you get in some Sci Fi movies. It’s amusing how even after all these years I still get hot under the collar with this type of question. It feels way easier answering questions like what is a magnetic field and what’s the French for hairdressers. Maybe after society finally gets round to completing my birds and the bees education, then I will feel so much more relaxed with this question.

The Big Screen

Sometimes sitting in the garden feels like the biggest ever BIG SCREEN.

Dad I’ve really got use to our home based movie nights. I was thinking that I’m not sure I ever want to go to the cinema again. Too many people. Too much stress.”

Going to the cinema has always been a bit of a lottery with our Son. We need to carefully manage the process. Arrive before the queues start to form. Carefully select a movie time which will be quiet. Sit on the very front row as this is likely to be empty and you won’t get anyone in front of you. Then keep you fingers crossed that no one sits close to us. Wait till everyone else has left before we depart. So many stress points for both our son and parents. We’ve had to leave movies within minutes (or even before they have started). Slowly the number of movies he would endure the cinema stress would reduce rapidly. Before the virus took hold it was down to just Marvel movies. So no I am not surprised that he’s backing away from cinemas. Sadly I think he won’t be the only one.

It’s not helped that our cinema options are limited. The only cinema he would go to in the end was a large muliplex in the city. It ran early morning showings which where usually empty. Unfortunately they have redesigned the cinema. Bigger, armchair like seats have been installed. Bigger seats means less seats. Less seats means fewer chances to find space. Which means the screenings feel so much busier. For someone with Aspergers that is a major issue. So are the cinema trips over? Well if they are then I have so many memories from them

  • Taking mum to see the Horse Whisperer. She hadn’t been to a cinema in many many decades. She was a little taken aback (and very relieved) that PATHE News wasn’t shown before the movie and she was amazed that people didn’t wait for the credits to finish – as a child she had to wait for the national anthem.
  • Taking son to see one of the Smurf movies and realising we were the only people watching it. Having your very own giant big screen is such a cool feeling.
  • My first date with my partner was to see The Phantom Menace. Unbelievably our relationship survived that experience.
  • Going to our local cinema in the nearest market town. It always looked such a small cinema from the outside. Unbelievably it was actually way smaller. We watched Black Panther with a couple of his old school friends and it felt like we took up half the seats. A screen probably smaller than most peoples TV and with just a handful of rickety old seats. That was the main screen, lord knows how small the second screen is.
  • I was brought up in a seaside town where the cinema was on the beach. During a high tide the gents toilets would flood.

Photo from Trip Adviser

  • Went to see the Blues Brothers at that cinema and someone let off a stink bomb. Only the very hardy got to see the end of that one. Luckily a head cold and a blocked up nose gave me a distinct advantage.
  • Went to see BMX Bandits there as well. It was absolutely heaving. Unbelievably two kids sneaked in bikes and started riding them around during the film. A week later a famous Oscar winning movie was on and no one turned up. Summed up the town really.
  • My first trip to a cinema was to see Digby The Biggest Dog in the World. Yes I am that old.
  • Before I met my partner I remember going to see JFK with a long time girlfriend. Foolishly it was the midnight screening. I fell asleep after the first few minutes and woke as the credits started to role. Strangely I was able to fill in the missing 3 hour gap and actually felt that I had not missed anything.
  • My partners mum wanted to go to the cinema as she hadn’t been in years. She was a devout Quaker so we looked at various religious film options which the local specialist cinema would offer. One film looked very promising. It was a 2 hour documentary about monks living on a remote site. The monks had taken a vow of silence so the movie only featured background sounds, no talking and no music. After seeing the various options her mum opted for the cartoon, Chicken Run and loved it.
  • I took son to see Captain Marvel. Unfortunately his muppet Dad took him into screen 3 rather than screen 2. As soon as the movie started it was clear that the movie running here was Dumbo. Unfortunately Dumbo in 3D. We didn’t have any 3D glasses so we had to rather embarrassingly trudge out.

So just maybe our cinema days are over for the foreseeable future. That’s kinda sad but if that makes our Son happier then that’s fantastic. There is something reassuringly nice about watching a movie premiere wearing your old comfy jogging pants with a big bowl of popcorn on your lap. Also in full control of the movie options, so we can decide to switch films at any stage. So here’s to the days of the home based cinematic experience. Time to create some new memories.

Week whatever of school at home

Ive been thinking about what I will do if my job doesn’t survive the shutdown. The longer this goes on then the little company I work for will struggle. What’s hurting it is not the lockdown but it’s the lack of a national plan. What’s going to happen whenever things are safe to reopen. Currently the Government is clueless. Lots of words but a complete lack of willingness to think things through. Wearing a little NHS badge, slagging off the money footballers make and a smug smile DOES NOT COUNT AS EFFECTIVE PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT. So like many people we just don’t know if it’s May, August, November or 2021 when the company might start operating again. We don’t know what the regulations will be when we open. We don’t know what changes we will need to make. My head is telling me that I will stay furloughed until the end of June and then the reality will hit the company and it will have to fold.

So if our company is killed off by Government incompetence (not the virus) then what do I do next. Because of our Son it will need to be a largely home based, part time role. So what can I do? Well how about this as a niche market. The first Yorkshire home based wildlife photographer with a hint of Muppetry. I won’t be using any expensive photographic kit, just my very old iPhone. I can see a hit TV series to rival the excitement of Bear Grylls. Today’s action shot is an out of focus bird. That’s enough bird excitement for one day now. So it’s time to get back to homeschooling.

It’s week whatever of the enforced school at home project. Apparently it’s Friday. Only know as the school timetable is telling us that it’s Day 5. It’s been another mixed bag. Some subjects working well and some not so well. Some teachers are really embracing new ways of delivering the subject. One request – can we provide health warnings for parents trying to do some of the PE exercises – our bodies don’t naturally bend like those of our kids. A number of teachers are finding ways to build confidence and reward effort. Others sadly are still focusing less on the positive and more on wielding a giant stick. Consequently a clear pattern is developing on which subjects Son enjoys and which fill him with dread.

I have noticed a couple of clear strands underpinning our particular schooled at home process.

  • Where he does his work makes a huge impact on its outcome. Some subjects like History he actually thinks better by pacing about the house. He finds reading easier when he’s lying on the sofa rather than sitting up. Science works better for him when he’s outside in the garden, while Maths works best when he’s sat in the Lounge. Setting, room layout, wall patterns, temperature, space, background noise can have such a huge impact on concentration and mental wellbeing. It’s about what works best for each child and each subject.
  • He is benefiting from asking more questions. He feels constrained in school. Teachers have such big classes that they struggle to field the questions from the class. At home he can freely ask his Dad or look it up on the internet. In the classroom he is reluctant to ask any question which relates to not being able to read. At home he will ask for help.

These points are all pushing the virtues homeschooling offers in terms of flexibility and security. Virtues which have been sadly lacking in the current UK school system. As a household we need to find a sustainable way of maintaining those virtues. Sadly I suspect that can never be within the confines of our current school classroom setup.

Stay safe and happy my friends.

This day

I’ve been struggling to find anything interesting to photograph today. Then I had a thought. Let’s look back on this day in previous years. So a quick scan was made of my mobile phone photos and this is what I found.

This was our part of the world one year ago today. Another almost sunny day in Yorkshire. That’s 2 in a year. Wow.

In 2018 normal service has been resumed. It’s dark and rainy Yorkshire.

In 2017 it was a friends meet-up.

Can’t find a photo from 2016 but it would have been a Saturday. A time just months before the world changed for us. Saturday would have seen us get up early and visit my partners mum. After a coffee I would head off and shop for my mum. We would see her on Sunday. We would then stop off at a petting zoo. We would follow the exact same route through the little zoo. Waiting for quiet gaps to appear at each of the animals. Then we headed for home stocked up with sandwiches, cake and ice cream. In 2016 this would most likely have been a nice day.

So we find ourselves in 2020 and the world has changed for most of us. But just in case we revisit today in a few years time, we had better make it a nice one. So hopefully by the time you read this we will have built a ginormous Lego tower. The picnic in the garden was not disrupted by ants. I remembered to hard boil the eggs before they are decorated for this years Easter Egg tradition. This year we are going for Marvel Super Heroes. We both will have planted some peas (and they haven’t been immediately dug up). I will have found some frozen chips and our Heinz Tomato Ketchup supply can last one more hammering. Disney Plus will have been working and not constantly buffering so we could watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2. And that we had many more random laughs along the way.

While the lockdown is on I might revisit this idea. You never know what I might find and what thoughts it might unleash.

Grieving during quarantine

As much as I like writing (well my version of writing), my favourite part of blogging is getting to read other blogs. They can make you laugh, cry, think and fill you with renewed hope. One of my favourite blogs is by Katie and Evee. It really captured me as like my son, grief often hits when we are far too young. They talk about it so beautifully. It’s grief with hope, loss with the desire to live again.

I’m really excited as today Katie and Evee are here on my blog. They have also rather recklessly allowed me to write on their wonderful blog today as well.

*******************************

Grieving During Quarantine

Hello, our names are Katie and Evee. Gary has kindly shared his platform with us today to write a little about our experience with grief during quarantine. 

~

Sometimes, during big events where the whole world is grieving such as the time we find ourselves in today, our own personal grief can feel small, detached and forgotten.

Evee: We lost our Mum 18 months ago, on the 9th of September 2018. We still feel it every day, but recently, the want for our Mum during such chaos, is deafening. For example, when I was at university trying to work out how to get home before lockdown, everyone had parents on the phone to call for comfort, or to pick them up. I felt the loss of my mum then.

Katie: Over the past 18 months I have been learning what grief is and how I can fit it into my everyday life, and our blog has been a great means of doing so. When life shifts, as it tends to do, I try to bend with it. I try to shape my grief to fit the big hole where Mum used to be. Before quarantine, I was working on allocating time to fit grief into my fast-paced life; 05:45 start, the commute, work, the commute home, cooking, exercise, writing for the blog, sleeping, and amidst that, trying to maintain friendships and socialising and trying to find time for me. Each of these parts were like spinning plates.

With this global transition, I now work from home. I think I speak for the whole nation when I say that this is a hard adjustment. We are all confined to the house, yet working towards the constant harsh deadlines. This, alongside the anxiety, fear, and sadness that the whole world is feeling right now has been intense and hard to escape. For me, something has had to give in the last couple of weeks and a couple of my spinning plates have fallen down – grief being one of them. 

Getting to grips with my new quarantine routine, I have not been able to dedicate any time to reflect on my grief or to sit quietly with my thoughts at all. But grief doesn’t stop just because our lives seemingly have, and as Evee mentioned, we both miss our Mum more than ever right now. 

Evee: On the other hand, I have a lot more time than Katie, because all of my exams and most of my assignments have been cancelled. I haven’t been able to do work because it feels like the minute I do, I get an email saying that the module that I’m working on has been abandoned. This week, the only thing I have been able to count on, is my home exercise routine. 

The gym used to be a huge part of my life; it would often be a place where I think about Mum and process everything. I enjoy the feeling of my body being spent, and of stretching my aching muscles out. For some reason, while my body is active, my mind can chug away slowly and think about everything that is happening in the world, and its impact on my small world. 

When the gym became a breeding ground for the pandemic, I began to create workouts at home. I have created a hard work out for myself to do during the day. I find this gives me a sense of normality, and enables me to have that time to myself and for me to think about Mum. Like what she would say and what she would do in this situation. My one hour outside I use mainly for cycling or walking.

I also spend a lot of time cleaning, tidying and making this house cosy and homely for my little family. It is things like this that make me feel like I am helping out, and easing the pressure off of my sister and Uncle.

It is in these moments where I can clear my head and remember happier times, and think of who I have, and what I can do to get through this period. And that also involves a lot of blog writing! 

Writing has always been a big part of my life, but particularly now, I find it indulgent and wonderful to log onto our online community, talk and feel less alone.

Katie: Thankfully, the clocks went forward recently which gifted us with an extra of sunshine in the evening. I use this extra hour of daylight to take my walk and I’m truly grateful for it. Evee pointed me to the direction of a nearby, beautiful church. It has become a wonderful addition to my newroutine. I go there to stop. Sit, think and reflect. It is an hour dedicated to being still and quiet. I close my eyes and reflect upon life and our Mum. I use this time to ground myself during such pandemonium.

~

This is a challenging time for us all. We constantly receive intrusive breaking news notifications on our phones. Our head is clustered full of worries, anxieties, and fear. It feels like at any moment our spinning plates will fall. Dedicate time to yourself. Dedicate time to reflection. Dedicate time to processing. In a little while, you’ll be able to pick these plates back up.

Stay safe, sane and smiling, friend.

Today we leave you with a song from one of our favourite and happiest artists; Newton Faulkner. 

 

My best-laid plans are washed away

No time to make ’em all again

Sometimes life gets in the way

We’ve got to keep on breathing

Look how far we’ve come

Look what we’ve made

Started from nothing, building

Brick by Brick – Newton Faulkner

 

Katie & Evee x

Foreseeable

Looking back from the edge of the micro world. Our little village increasingly isolated. Sadly we can’t take this walk now. Son started to freak out about having to touch so many farm gates – just in case. So we are restricted to hands stay firmly in our pockets walks for the foreseeable future. How long is foreseeable these strange days….

After yesterday’s accident mayhem we approached April 1st with some trepidation. What enhanced carnage would April Fools Day bring. As life is clearly so foreseeable the answer was rather surprisingly – NOTHING. No accidents. No backfiring pranks. Zip all went wrong. My family tradition was that April Fools Day ends at midday. No accidents by lunch to distract from today’s aim.

We decided to make today a fun day. No talk of the bad stuff happening in the world. No depressing talk. No news. A day of respite amongst the mayhem. I keep saying this but if it’s bloody tough for grizzly old farts like me, what the hell is it it like for our kids. The adults are not that good at living like this, kids most certainly are not designed to live like this. So that’s why today was going to be a rebalancing day. That was the plan but not everything is foreseeable…

Today’s first lesson was Religious Studies. Given the current stress and anxieties kids are facing why don’t we pick a fun or light topic. Well the teacher picked a belter.

Look at four different countries and see what their approach is to DEATH. What are the funerals like….

Well that’s a real laugh a minute project. What next, how about History looking at the Black Death, Geography looking at the spread of pandemics, Science taking a closer look at the Ebola mortality rates.

So we have postponed the fun day for the foreseeable future. As that is clearly not very long we shall be having it tomorrow. Once we rearranged the fun day and put April Fools Day to bed for another year we could get back to normality for the rest of the day – household madness.

Have you ever pressed the start button on the washing machine and as soon as it starts spinning you notice something going round which does not look like an item of clothing. As the machine slowly turned and a rouge object kept appearing, my mind whirled – what is it. Then the penny dropped. It’s my mobile. Oh bugger. An hour later it emerged looking sparkly clean but a little soggy. In a further moment of madness I decided to put it in the pocket of one of the washed jeans and tumble dry it. Maybe that will dry it out. Please children – don’t try this at home. Only really tired parents are allowed to do such stupid things. Unbelievably the super clean phone came out dry. And it still works although I may wait a day or so before I try to charge it up.

So in our foreseeable world tomorrow is fun day and today has been ‘wow my ancient iPhone is sparkly clean day’. Who needs April Fools Day for the foreseeable future.

Gnomeless

Maybe it’s my dear parents influence but I’ve always liked a garden gnome. But for years we had a problem. My partner hated them. Which is unusual as she was the kindest soul going. Never a bad word about anyone. All except gnomes. She had serious issues with them. When I suggested the garden would benefit from at least one of these sweet little chaps the response was razor sharp

If I find one in the garden then it’s getting smashed with a hammer….

Even when I suggested that a gnome would significantly raise the IQ in the garden when I was gardening alone, the response was similarly brutal

The garden gnome will get it then your next…..

What I will now tell you will probably get a really pissed off spirit coming my way. I might have ignored my partner just a tad. A few gnomes did get sneaked into the garden. To ensure their life expectancy was measured in days rather than seconds they needed to go into deep cover. Very deep cover. The compost heap, under bushes, hid behind plant pots. Unbelievably a few survived the inevitable apocalypse.

One such hardy soul is still with us. Now he is enjoying life in the open. He has long forgotten the long years buried under the hedge. He’s a gnome from my favourite footy team. He’s over 20 years old and is still to see his team win anything. What was I thinking of when as a toddler when I picked Newcastle United as my team. I could have picked a team which won things. No I picked the team which is in a permanent state of chaos, a never ending winless soap story. No wonder the poor gnome looks so washed out. I went through a stage of telling the gnome the teams results. Unfortunately as that usually entailed breaking the bad news of another defeat I changed to just letting him know of good team news. As a result I haven’t spoken to the gnome in years…….

Torquay

My neighbours bird bath. Over the years it has become increasingly hard to fill. Thankfully the Yorkshire weather usually takes care of that.

Yesterday was a decently fun day. Any day with Pizza helps. We played football in the garden. Son fired a million questions at me. Including the following belter.

Name 10 best things about Torquay”

We had been watching John Cleese in old episodes of Fawlty Towers. It’s set there.

“Son your going to annoyingly tell me that you know 10 such facts”

Actually 17 facts Dad”

I whispered a silent bugger under my breathe.

We then tried to watch the new Joker movie. I was watching it thinking the acting is brilliant but I’m not enjoying this in the slightest bit. Then son broke my thought pattern.

Dad I’m really not in the mood for this. I enjoy a good bit of Joker but this isn’t a Joker movie. It’s a movie about how a country fails to deal with mental health and how people look down on others who are different. I don’t like the way the film is doing it. Let’s watch it another day.”

So ten minutes later we had the new Shaun The Sheep movie on. That there is a movie.

But I understand what our son was talking about. Not the right time or mood for this Joker movie. There is too much going on in the world. It is also Mother’s Day in the UK. That’s one of THOSE days…. I must admit the social distancing has severely restricted our visits to the shops. That means less chance to walk past all the cards, flowers and potential gifts. Dealing with it for just one day is better than having it rammed down our throats for weeks on end.

I must admit this one has been less painful than the other ones we have endured. We have wished our lost mums a happy day. In my partners case we have kissed the ashes. Then so far we have gotten on with the job of making the most of today. My heart does go out to many mums today. Because of the restrictions and other factors outside of their control, they may not see kids and grandchildren today (or for many days to come). I really hope a way is found for a connection to be made. A text, a video call, a card, a cute photo, a virtual hug or a telephone call saying ‘I LOVE YOU’.

Stay safe and to all mums out there. Sending you a big hug. Thank you for being super heroes.

Is winning best

At last sun. Just a couple of hours but even that feels like a win. Certainly lifts the soul.

Dad are you trying. That’s 9 – nil to me”

Mini Air Hockey is a tricky sport. Requiring a unique combination of hand eye coordination, reflexes, ability to bend your back for more than 10 seconds and unchecked brutality.

“Just look at my fingers. That’s missing skin. Yep I’m trying. Your just too quick for me.”

Son worries that I let him win. That’s such a difficult area for parents. Do we play hard or do we let our children win. I remember reading a story about a former giant international rugby player. He was playing touch rugby in his garden with his kids. As a feel for how seriously he was taking this game ask his garden shed. Apparently in an attempt to win the ball off his young son he crashed into the wooden structure. The poor shed was basically demolished. The Dads take on that. They have to learn to compete. When I play I always play to win. Kids need to learn this.

But on the other side I was watching a video of the great Mohammed Ali. He was boxing with a small child. Ali was repeatedly knocked down and finally the kid scored a dramatic K.O. The kid walked away with the biggest smile and feeling like a champion.

For what it’s worth I was in the Ali camp. I wanted to see my kid smile and feel like a winner. Yes the occasional defeat was important to learn about life and that failure will happen. As you get older failure comes regularly so why not grant a few years of success to the young. Son has been through so much in his short life. Seen so much sadness. He’s earned the right to feel good sometimes. But what do I know – I’m still trying to learn this parenting gig.

But time moves on. With a cruel flick of life’s switch, happily letting your young ones win becomes increasingly hard. Suddenly you can’t buy a win. The cold reality sets in. Your kid is better at stuff now than you. Maybe he should go easy on his Dad. He is quicker, thinks faster, has better reactions and has higher skill levels. What happened to Dad being a computer game legend. Now Dad is a Noob. Oh the shame.

Yes there are complications. A kid with Aspergers and Dyspraxia will struggle in some areas. It’s so important I factor those things in. Confidence levels are so brittle. It sends daggers through a parents heart to hear you kid say things like ‘I’m just stupid’, I’m useless’, ‘I’m so rubbish‘, ‘ hate being different’. So yes allowances are still made. He loves Jenga but struggles with his fine motor skills. He hasn’t noticed yet that I play just using my left hand. Connect 4 is another favourite but he struggles to see diagonal patterns. Yes I will tend to ignore the obvious connections.

So what’s your take on winning or losing?

Am I getting this so wrong?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of my approach. Dads are strange sensitive souls. We still need to feel like kings sometimes. Yes to show off a bit. Those area are becoming increasingly difficult to find these days. That’s why bench pressing weights and the ability to stomach increasingly disgusting tasting jelly beans are so important. That’s all I’ve got left. Long may I rule over those two talents.