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six years later…

…David Bowie (who sadly left us in January) wrote the brilliant “5 Years”, but as I write these words (and as the title might already have suggested) to has been six years since I last put digital pen to digital paper.

A lot has changed, not in the ‘earth-shattering trans-continental-move’ sort of way, no, more in the small, quiet, self-seemingly-profound but probably very boring and narcissistic sort of way.

The boy is now a man, and the man is 23. He has a big beard. He is about to finish college finally, after a lost 14 months where he likely learnt more about life and how it works for him than any classroom could ever have shoved down his hirsute neck. He coaches soccer too, regularly, and has developed quite a skill-set in terms of developing the younger players. It’s a funny thing the relationship between a father and son at 49 and 23. I love him tremendously, but however much Le Labo fragrance I buy, however much I dwell on emotional well-being, I still find it harder than I should to hug him a lot, and he the same with me. Must be a guy thing, I ponder, but I don’t know. Is it? I make sure I do hug him whenever I see him, but it is a male hug, a slapping of the back as if the gesture must be accompanied with some sort of painful after-touch. But we see a lot of each other, given that he is 23 and could just easily pretend he didn’t get my phone calls in time, or that his battery had given out when I sent a text. No, it’s great. We speak, and hang out, a lot more than my Dad and I did at 23…there again, he hasn’t moved a continent away, it is easier to remain in close touch.

The girl is now 10 1/2 going on 11. She has gone through full puberty. She is no longer my ‘little girl’ and is barely my ‘girl’ more than is now a ‘pre-teen’ a couple of years ahead of schedule it feels like. Must’ve been all the chicken? I mean, I always bought the chicken which supposedly died ‘nicely’, having spent a life with it’s feathers gently swishing in the wind to Hall & Oates or The Eagles, you know, the ones not shot up with antibiotics and extra hormones, but who knows what’s in the air we breathe anyway, and they all seem to be developing quicker, whether it’s girls and their physicality or boys and their voices quavering awkwardly.

She is an electric wire of perpetual thought and motion, sometimes unfeasibly hard on herself, excited by dance and singing and baseball and soccer. She has an appetite for life, and it has one for her, so the two do a merry dance every single day, and from it comes a frothy explosion of hopes, dreams and fears. Switch off? Chill. Out. Moto? Not a bit of it, in fact when she does have a 10 minute quiet spell, you have to be sure not to check in and ask her if she is alright!

We started going to baseball, the SF Giants, a few years ago. A journey just like with my son. She was 7 when she got hooked, and so we bought in on a season ticket packet. She saw a crappy season, but then she saw a World Series winning season, and thanks to some folks I work with, we even got on one of the victory floats. She also dragged me back into coaching soccer, something I was reluctant to do at first but which I fell head-first for again like a child myself. The result has been a sudden love for Tottenham (!!!) and myself, her brother and her all going to the San Jose Earthquakes regularly. Wonderful. Her Mum, she and I have been to Europe (Prague, Vienna, Budapest, London) and a wolf sanctuary in the Mohave Desert because OF COURSE she loves wolves. She is a whirlwind and I have to say, my ‘father’ skills are sometimes tested by the estrogen-bursts, the pre-teen anxieties…I find myself ‘zen-cookie-ing’ her, which is to say, delivering these supposedly profound zen statements which are more suited to the rase-side of a shite fortune cookie. But I think it’s profoundly helpful, and she seems to either agree or just want me to shut-up.

Zen? Well, yeah…I’ve gone there…sort of…nearly 50, but it took a dog coming into my life for the penny to drop. Tilly is my dog, yeah, I’m punning and I don’t care because she is all that and more. Every ember of her hairy, whiffy soul touches a deeply personal button in me, centers me, calms me and reminds me that when we are on our deathbeds, when the moment of last breath is near, we won’t remember the emails we didn’t send or the wankers we didn’t argue about a project shape with for the 9th time. No, we will remember a shared game, or a funny family exchange, or a walk on the beach with the dog or an extra huggie squeezed from the furry philanthropist as she selflessly allows herself to be hugged and sniffed for 20 minutes whilst I doze…

 

Maybe I’ll be back soon, maybe my time of writing to express, to empathize, to try and muddle through it all, has come to an end.

We shall see,

But I signed in and saw it had ben 6 years, and for the few of you who had followed this column, I thought you deserved an update…

HUGS NOT DRUGS

I was never a huge fan of Amy Winehouse, but her death certainly got me thinking. She had a wonderful voice of course, but I wasn’t a dedicated listener. However, it was hard to avoid the continual train-wreck of her life being broadcast via web, print and TV on a seemingly-weekly basis for the last 5 years or so. The juxtapose of her fag-ash Lil-gin-hand-beehived figure sprawling catch-phrases and curses to all and sundry made her seem curiously close, the sort of girl we all either knew or had known. Headlines of her latest antics would be accompanied by tuts, sighs and eye-rolls. We’d occasionally see photos of her flat in Camden, it’s Tracy Emin-meets-teenage-sloth debris raising a chuckle.

She was obviously not well. When you drink that much and take heroin, you’re not looking for the party you’re looking for the walls to wrap you up in a velvet cloak of anonymity, peace and quiet. You’re looking to escape not just the world but your own demons. Show me a heroin user who doesn’t have issues and I’ll show you a myth who’s pain and wounds you haven’t yet discovered.

I became very interested in her parents, Janis and Mitch Winehouse. Their efforts to help her, whether with health or career, became increasingly vague. For the last year or so they seemed to be nowhere. But hat can you do? What can you do for child who cannot help themselves? What can you do for a child who is so obviously ill? What can you do when you see the very thing they’re good at being a major factor in exacerbating the illnesses which would eventually overcome them? Where’s the balance and what’s the answer? Is there an answer? When was there an answer which would’ve worked? At what age? Was there ever really an answer at any age?

I don’t know how Amy Winehouse grew up, few of us do. But from what I can tell, it was a with the added spice of a Dad who sang Sinatra and played jazz around the house, and one which also had a Dad who cheated on his wife/her mother for 8 years, leaving the family home when Winehouse was 10. If the child was already of a delicate nature, the egocentricities of children dictate that such a prolonged situation culminating in departure would not have helped. When parents are having trouble with each other, their attendant moods and attitudes filter into all around them; children are sponges for unseen but fully-felt emotional waves. Wounds develop in places we cannot see, scars remain internally forever.

No childhood is perfect, but there can be little doubt that oftentimes, parents don’t consider the long-term impact of their choices. I am not slamming Mitch Winehouse, God knows he had his reasons and they certainly would not have been rooted in malice or intentional harm, indeed, the sadness and pain he and Janis Winehouse must feel can only be tempered but the relief which must’ve come from knowing their daughter’s pain was finally over. But I am saying that as a parent, your choices are important messages. And if you send the wrong message, especially if you have a sensitive child, you might well be adding to their subconsciously increasing doubts, confusions and pain.

One thing I know I don’t do enough for the front woman/main songwriter of Peace Ruler (aka my 1st grader) is hug her. I mean, I hug her a lot but I need to hug her more. It’s even worse with the 19 year old. I’ve written before of how difficult I’ve found it in the latter teenage years of his life to hug him, and this is doubtless tied up in some convoluted feeling with regards to my own dear Dad, who cherishes our occasional hugs having given few of them during my childhood, because he has no-one else to hug him in his life anymore. Just last night, before he went off back to his friend’s house so as they could continue working at soccer camp this week, I said ‘see ya later’ and sort of stood there like some emotional incontinent. He laughed and said, “Err, OK then, see ya…this is kind of awkward feeling.” And it was. And it was my fault. I’m not sure why it’s so tough sometimes, but it is. I love him but, well, he’s a 19 year old dude. And sometimes he says dumb stuff which annoys me. But I sometimes say dumb stuff which annoys me, and I’d still like a hug myself, so it’s not a good enough reason.

And the first-grader is a bumper packet of hugs and squeezes, her energy and light and sheer electricity fizzing and fuzzing and crackling for them, enough to make me selfishly realize that I NEED some of that juice, I NEED to absurd some of that currency, and that more than anything I need to take a deeeeeeeep breathe and fold into the hugs and squeezes, allow her words and limbs to envelope me and charge me full of good.

I don’t know why Amy Winehouse died, and I don’t know how much her parents could’ve really done in the end because it was a one-way ticket their daughter’s mental health booked a long-time ago, one which stripped her of rational choice and only left her with ways to self-medicate a pain she couldn’t stop. But I do know that simple hugs on a much more regular basis would make my children, and myself, happier.

The singer of Peace Ruler can look forward to a lot more squeezes for the foreseeable future and beyond, as can the coach…

One of the great pleasure in my life has been playing music for my children. The teenager does his own aural thing these days, but the K! child is always ready to swing and sway to whatever hits the old man’s stereo, and I love throwing her cultural curveballs.

There’s been a lot of Bowie, Iggy Pop, The White Stripes and Daft Punk among many others, but I have had particular happiness playing her Bowie. A small sizzle travels up my spine and shivers my eyelids when we listen to ‘Jean Genie’ or ‘Suffragette City’ or ‘Heroes’ and recently, after my wife got me Moonage Daydream (the book Bowie did with photographer Mick Rock about the Ziggy era of Bowie) I had the pleasure of sitting with the K! girl and going through the pages.
“Ha ha ha,” she roared, “he looks like a lady-man!”
I explained that he did and that what was so goddam cool about him, always, was that he didn’t give a good Goddamn because this is what he needed to do.
“He was,” I said with great gusto, “a pioneer!”
“What’s a pioneer?”
“Someone who leads the way doing something new and exciting.”
Yeah, Bowie might’ve taken a bit from here and a bit from there, but no-one ever sported a ginger trojan spike-helmet hairdo, make-up and a one-piece women’s bathing leotard while singing’wham bam thank you ma’am!’ before he did, and no-one ever made it so goddam COOL to be DIFFERENT…

…my Dad was different.
He’d spend hours deliberating the placement of a period in a sentence.
He hated working in offices.
He held a 5 hour vigil when Lennon died and we weren’t allowed to speak.
He spent too much money on the best stereo you could buy in the mid-70s and we took family trips to Huntington as it was service; I was bewildered as to what we were doing but we did it.
He had long hair for quite a while.
He played music. Lots of music. Lots of Bowie, The Stranglers, Ian Dury, Iggy Pop…I remember their faces. I remember Bowie’s face blaring from the poster which was underneath my Dad’s desk in the far corner of the living room, and I remember staring at the ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’ sleeves, their electric cartoon colors connecting with something deep inside.
I remember when I first heard ‘Low’…it was a hot summer, ’76, and ‘Speed Of Life’ became my vision of that time. When I hear it now, I can feel the heat and see our tomato plants, bright green and red, on our balcony, me staring into the sky watching jets far far away leaving their trails of smoke and me wondering if I would ever, ever get to go on one to America…

…I watch the K! girl’s face as we look at photos in the book, and the moment she starts to lose interest I close it and we start reading another book. But I soon thereafter play the music, and she says to me, ‘Is that David Bowie? Is Iggy Pop with him on this song?’ and for some reason it makes me very emotional.

Am I traveling a path laid down my own father? Probably. But I am doing it directly with her, walking it with her, enjoying it with her not simply putting it on regardless…

…but it doesn’t matter why my Dad played the music, the fact remains he played it and he played it in front of me. He didn’t wait until I was in bed, he slapped it on right away and we laughed and listened in the same room, sometimes even together.

Today, the K! girl just led off the school talent show with a Myley Cyrus number ‘Best Of Both Worlds.’ She sang it acapella with two other girls, but I’m not just saying this, her voice was by far the loudest and truest; she led the way and enjoyed every second…

…so thanks for the music Dad…and time to put some White Stripes on for the K! girl.

ACT ONE

(The kindergartener enters the office pre-recess. We see her speaking with the secretary. We see the secretary give her a sympathetic look and dial a phone. The kindergartener shuffles onto a chair in the office and sits still, eyes wandering the room.)

VOICE OFF-STAGE: She’s not feeling well?
SECRETARY: NO, she says her stomach hurts and that she has a headache. A lot of them have been saying that already this morning.
V-O-S: OK, I’ll be right there.

(We see the secretary place the phone down just as the kindergartener’s teacher comes in, waving at her)

TEACHER: Don’t call that parent yet, I think the kid is really OK…
SECRETARY: Oh…uh…I already did!

(LIGHTS DIM)

WE SEE A MAN SITTING AT A TABLE OUTSIDE A CAFE WITH TWO FRIENDS. HE ANSWERS HIS PHONE.

MAN: Hello…what? …ill? Seriously? She was bouncing off the walls like a nutter earlier today! …you’re going to get her…(sigh)…yes…I suppose i can cancel my soccer game…yes…OK…see you soon.

WE SEE THE MAN TURN TO HIS FRIENDS AND ROLL HIS EYES

MAN: Christ, the mini-muppet’s pulling a fast one, i can sense it! Says she’s ill!!!!!

THE TWO FRIENDS LAUGH.

(LIGHTS DIM)

(LIGHTS COME UP AGAIN)

WE SEE SIMULATED SUNLIGHT AND HEAR A CAR WHISTLE BY A MAN WHO’S STANDING ON THE ROAD. WE HEAR A CHILD’S VOICE, AS IF SHOUTING FROM THE CAR WINDOW. THE VOICE IS ALMOST CHIRPY AND RATHER LOUD.

CHILD (voice from offstage): Daaaaddy, I’m not FEELING WELL SO I’M GOING HOME!

WE SEE THE BEMUSED FATHER TURN TO THE AUDIENCE AND SCREW HIS FACE UP IN CONFUSION, HIS FRIENDS STANDING BEHIND HIM CHUCKLING.

(LIGHTS DIM)

(LIGHTS COME UP)

We are in a girl’s bedroom. The girl is in her pyjamas. The man is standing by her bed with a medicine cup and two pink tablets.

MAN: OK, so eat these two tablets, they’re Peptobismol and they will settle your stomach.
CHILD: Daddy I think I’m going to throw-up…can I watch Spongebob?
MAN: No. You cannot watch Spongebob. You’re ill and you need to rest. I will put a bowl in your bed and if you feel like throwing up, please do so in the bowl OK?
CHILD: (disappointed) Ooooo kaaaay. Can I read?
MAN: A bit.
CHILD: How long is a bit?
MAN: You’re ill. Your headache and upset stomach will tell you, and if they don’t, I will come in and tell you have no fear about that.

THE CHILD LOOKS QUIZZICALLY AT THE MAN, AS THOUGH ENGAGING IN A GAME OF MENTAL CHESS YET NOT QUITE WANTING TO LET ON. SHE ALLOWS HER EYELIDS TO GET GET HEAVY AND RELEASES HER HEAD SO AS IT FALLS BACK ONTO THE PILLOW.

(LIGHTS DIM)
(LIGHTS COME UP)

WE SEE THE CHILD IN A HALLWAY, HOLDING HER BLANKET aka ‘mimo’, AND SHE IS SPEAKING TOWARDS THE MAN WHO IS STANDING IN THE AUDIENCE. SHE FACES THE AUDIENCE.

CHILD: DADDY, CAN I GET UP NOW?
MAN: No. You’re ill, remember? Does your head still hurt? How’s the stomach?
CHILD: Well, I slept a lot and I think it’s better now. I didn’t throw up.
MAN: (feigning shock) REALLY? WOW. GOOD NEWS!!!! But back in bed please, you need more rest.
CHILD: Can you take my temperature?
MAN: No.
CHILD: Why?
MAN: Because you’re only slightly warm.
CHILD: Is that bad?
MAN: No. it means you’re alive. Now go to bed.

THE CHILD GAZES AGAIN WITH A SEMI-QUIZZICAL LOOK. SHE TURNS AROUND AND HEADS BACK TO HER ROOM.

(LIGHTS DIM)

END OF ACT ONE

ACT TWO

WE SEE THE CHILD IN THE SAME HALLWAY SCENARIO. A LIVING ROOM IS STAGE RIGHT/HOUSE LEFT. THE MAN IS IN THE AUDIENCE AGAIN.

CHILD: Now can I get up Daddy?
MAN: You didn’t sleep very much did you?
CHILD: (grinning, wide-eyed, shakes her head ‘no’).
MAN: OK, go to the sofa. I will put the Spongebob film on, but you must lie down and relax.
CHILD: (smiling lightly) OK.

THE CHILD BOUNCES ONTO THE SOFA, LIES DOWN AND PULLS BLANKET OVER HER.
THE MAN PUTS SPONGEBOB ON.

CHILD: Daddy. I’m hungry!
MAN: I thought your stomach hurt?
CHILD: Only a little bit.
MAN: Toast it is…by the way, how’s the headache.
CHILD: (drops face into a lower-register semi-sad expression)…Weeeeell…it’s a little better…is kinder-care still open?
MAN: It is but you’re resting because you’re ill, remember?
CHILD: (sighs) OK…

(LIGHTS DIM)
(LIGHTS COME UP)

The child is on one sofa, the man on the other. Spongebob is finishing. We see the front door open and a woman walk in.
the child leaps from the sofa and runs to the front door.

CHILD: MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!
WOMAN: Hiiiii, are you feeling alright?
MAN: Let me interrupt…she has bravely fought off the awful stomach pains and appears to have battled back the headache, am I right?
CHILD: (dropping back to lower-register, semi-sad expression) Yeeaah…kind of.
MAN: They’ve both gone though right?
CHILD: Well…my stomach doesn’t hurt that much but the headache has moved from here (points at top of head) to here (points at side of head).
WOMAN: Ah.
MAN: Hmmm.
CHILD: Can you take my temperature? I might have a fever!!!
MAN: I’m afraid I can’t because I know you don’t have a high temperature?
CHILD: But I might?
MAN: Sadly, the only way to tell if you have a slightly elevated temperature would be to do the ‘last resort’ reading with the thermometer, and that entails placing it in your bottom!
CHILD: Eeeeuuwww (turns to woman) Mama, he’s not right is he?
WOMAN: (sighing with a slight, slight grin) Sadly he is.
MAN: When there are very minor shifts in temperature it’s the only way.
CHILD: Eeuuuwww, the thermometer would be brown!!!!
MAN: I don’t REALLY think we need to take your temperature after all, right?
CHILD: (sighs) No daddy, actually I think I don’t have a fever…

The man walks over, holds her head and presses a thumb gently into the top. he acts as though he knows what he is doing with regards to pressure point head massage, but the truth is the only thing he knows that he’s doing is pressing his thumb gently into her head.

MAN: (authorative soothing voice) Does that feel better?
CHILD: Yeeaaaah…
MAN: Has the pain gone?
CHILD: Yeah…if kinder care is open, I think I could try to go and be fine!!!
WOMAN: Really?
MAN: Really?
(THE MAN AND THE WOMAN EXCHANGE KNOWING GLANCES).
CHILD: Yeah. I think so, I’m prepared to try it. I think I’m fine now.
MAN: Did anyone else complain of bad stomachs and headaches today?
CHILD: Well, Maddy said she had a headache and some other kids said they had headaches and bad stomachs too.
MAN: And do you think you caught it in the classroom this morning then?
CHILD: (nodding with wide-eyed earnestness) Yeah!
MAN: Well then, you certainly can’t go to kinder care, no, because you called the sick shot today and we now need to make sure you’re OK. Now, before I go, I juuuuuust want to make sure. Stomach good? Headache gone?
CHILD: Well, my stomach is OK but the headache has now moved to one side of my neck.
MAN: Wow! A traveling headache in ‘becomes neck-ache shocker’! Crikey! Lucky you didn’t try and brave it back to kinder-care then eh? (GENTLY RUNNING FINGERS THROUGH HER HAIR) And I can tell you, the next time we get a phone call from the office saying you have a headache or upset stomach, unless you are vomiting or children’s headache tablets don’t work, I will not be come and get you. Do you understand? Are we clear?
CHILD: (nodding with the look of someone who just suffered a check-mate) Yes.

THE MAN LEAVES, THE WOMAN SMILES QUIETLY, THE MAN ROLLS HIS EYES AS HE LEAVES THE ROOM AND THE CHILD WATCHES SPONGEBOB…

ENDS

FERAL CREATURES…

“Look Daddy, Bubbsy’s a poo-licker! Poo licker poo licker pooooooooo licker!”
We both laughed, the K-girl and I, because as crude as it sounded, she wasn’t wrong.
Our cat Bubbles, aka Bubbsy, was (and is) indeed a poo-licker.
That is is to say that he can flip his hind leg over his shoulder, arc his head and neck towards his bottom, and wash himself.
“Imagine if WE could do that!” she squealed, bursting into a peel of gurgling laughter.
I refrained from my favorite response to such things (“Give him a cat treat and he’ll probably let you!”) and just laughed.
Sometimes, with poo jokes, you just have to laugh. They are funny, they are silly, they are gross and they are childish, and anyway, where’s the harm? I was also jealous I hadn’t thought of it.

Besides, gross humor is a feral part of the human condition. We might wear clothes and eau d’colognes and drink nice wines and drive fancy cars, but beneath it all, everyone eats, sleeps, shits, gets dirty, washes, laughs at farting and enjoys a blast of crude humor whether they wish to admit it or not. Because essentially, we are a simple creature. It is important to strive for more, to place emphasis and weight on things which will elevate ourselves and our children beyond the base lines and the animal kingdom, but to deny it’s in us is a horrendous dereliction of duty.

Sophistication and expectation can have a funny way of fogging life’s mirrors, and no-one endures the conflicts on a daily basis more than parents. We have lofty ideals of who we are and how we behave, that our way is the right way is the one way is the ONLY way, and thus those ideals become expectations that, if we’re not careful, we end up shoveling onto the shoulders of those around us…friends…family…children.
Children can get it the worst. Parents can hammer them with a whole table of ideals and expectations based on their own failures in life, a dangerous and common thing, which in turn breeds generation upon generation of angst-ridden, nervous and ultimately broken people. Great minds, you see, do not always think alike and neither should they. Indeed, great minds often strike their own blows in their own, sometimes feral, way.

I have always striven to make sure I do not do this to my children. Yes we have a moral standard, a moral code, but beyond that and the importance of polite personability, I have always tried to walk a fine balance between instruction, dictating and trust. It’s not been easy with the teenager. Undoubtably smart, he is also part of a generation who were probably the first to grow up with hand-held Nintendos (denied to him until he was 9) and the growing surge of video games and mobile phones. He grew up in two homes. Mine was, for a few years, like The Likely Lads in terms of it being one of my best friends and I, watching lots of soccer, playing lots of music and doing the sorts of things mid-20s guys do (bath sheets for a curtain in the back window). I was never irresponsible, no, not at all, but I wasn’t going to stop playing music or stop watching soccer (or for that matter stop playing it). He was always a part of everything, yet he also had regular bedtime and proper meals.

I look back now and think that to him, my life must’ve seemed bizzarely easy. Working my own schedule, seemingly doing nothing but listening to music, traveling the world with rock stars, hanging with rock stars, never being by any stretch wealthy yet never wanting for anything; I remember, at the time, being an ardent user of public transport on the basis that it would help keep us all in touch with the ‘real’ world. That need to stay in touch disappeared around 29 years old. Regardless, I was always one to impress the importance of good social skills. Academics were important, but I never did his homework for him more than I’d give him advice on how to do it; but again, I wasn’t one to jump all over that sort of thing. I think somewhere in my mind I still had memories of the British education system and how comprehensive it was, plus his primary school Buena Vista Spanish Immersion, had been tremendous. I had been on that school board, I had enjoyed that community, and the trip we took to Mexico as a 5th grade goodbye remains one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.

We went to lots of football in the UK over those years, a lot of Spurs games it seemed. Flights were cheaper and schedules more flexible. We would sing and jump around and hug each other. He was smaller then, a boy, not ever much more than a youth.

Somewhere along the line, as they morph into galolloping teenage connundrums, things get stranger all round. It’s easier to criticize than encourage, more convenient to pass on having those difficult conversations than engage. More often than not I’d bite the bullet, and make sure to steer well clear of over-criticism as the only net result I could envisage was a teenager who would shut-down to me. In his last year before college, I was virtually mute by choice, as I had explained to him that it was down to him, that he had to want it, that this was his life. I’d been playing that tune since his first year of high school, but now it was even more pronounced. It must’ve been confusing to a degree, because he’d only really seen me effortlessly write some stuff. He never saw me struggle to an office on a daily basis, or come home at 6pm complaining about the boss or that weird bloke in Admin or that total bastard in Receivables. In essence, he had not seen the tremendous amount of graft I’d put in to achieve the time-style I had, and I’d never made an especially big deal of it. It is wholly possible, therefore, that he had a bit of a false impression for a while when it came to working and what it took to be a functional, self-supportive adult.

We’ve all been teenagers and we’ve all dealt with things in varying ways.
Me? I was bizarre. I loved independence and I loved life. I loved drama and I loved music. I loved writing too. Writing came easily, so that was the path I took. I was lucky enough to have a few different passions, but equally, I was motivated enough to make one of them work for me, to ensure that I could avoided being slowly screwed daily by the man.
Was that my Mum’s influence?
Was it my Dad’s?
Was it neither?
Was it me?
Was it all of us, none of us, the environment I grew up in?
Common sense says it was a combination.

As I drove him back down to college from his latest visit, I had many things to say.
I wanted to tell him that his seeming lack of passion for his studies was worrying.
That his passing grades should be better.
That he was allowing his health to slide and that he was choosing that path.
That he needed to sleep more, longer and better.
That he should be looking at Middle Eastern affairs and thinking about them.
That he should looking for another job.
That he should have more zip about him.
That he should work harder in life generally, that he should be more pro-active.

For my own part -an as a slight tangent- I have spent the start of this year coming to grips with the fact that in my world I am woefully
under-paid and under-appreciated. That if I actually stepped out from behind the comfort of the rock I loaf at, and if I actually talked more about what I do, who’ve I’ve done it for and how long I’ve been doing it, that I would by proxy start to get the respect and financial reward my years of service and experience could net. These thoughts have swum through my head many times these past few weeks, yet when the pinch in my mind has been tightest, when it’s hurt the most to process it all, I’ve escaped to the refuge of ‘soccernet.com’ or Arsefacebook or just drifted through online music stores picking out tunes and loops until the wee hours, headphones on, before tackling some of the stuff which needs to be done but probably not at 2am…often I am tired and listless until I drag my carcass to the coffee house and then later to the gym.

…Anyway, I was going to deliver a speech in the car. A stern one. A ‘fatherly’ one. One which would address all the issues and problems I felt he had. One which would show him I meant business.

He was tired, so tired, as the drive began that I suggested he take a nap as there was class in the evening.
He flipped the seat back and was out in minutes.
I sat and thought about what we would say to each other when we arrived.
What would it do to him?
How would he react?
Would it push him into a shell?
And then I started to mull over my own life. For a start, it was clear that lecturing him on rest was a bit rich. Anyway, I wasn’t about to wake him up just to deliver what in MY mind would be a constructive pep talk, but to his ears would be nothing more than a disapproving bollocking.

He woke up as we arrived.
“Hey,” I said.
“Yeah?”
“Just make sure you really invest in yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just…just make sure you really do right by yourself and engage in everything.”
“Uhhhh…O…K?”
I smiled back at him, a bit weakly, unable to follow through on a 10 minute lecture. He gave me a quick kiss and made his way from the passenger seat to the back to get his things.

My feral sense rose, and as I looked at him I felt, just felt, that ‘man! I do not hug this boy enough!’
For whatever reason, I do not hug him enough.
And isn’t this the most basic thing?
Isn’t this the most feral thing parents and offspring do?
They hug each other or have close contact of a similar nature?

And as I saw him getting his bag, I knew that there was no need for the speech, because the speech would not sink in, that there was no need for a stern, frosty shoulder because how would that leave him feeling, especially given that he saw nothing wrong in the first place.

So I got out. And I gave him a hug. one of my big bear hugs. I held him, and I could just see his mouth turn into a broad smile as I held him tighter.
Then I gave him a quick kiss.
Then I waved ‘see ya later.’

He crossed the street, headphones on, more upright and purposeful than he’d looked for 24 hours, the slouch out of his step. And just as I started to drive away, he turned back, looked at me, winked, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I returned the gestures.

It is important, so so important, that we not only remember we are feral creatures, but that we allow our feral instincts to guide us once in a while. Because by listening to mine, it felt like a whole heap of potential hurt got turned into a huge, warm wave of encouragement.

He strode off, a little more upright, with a crispness of stride that showed no signs of abating.
And off I went back, back to the poo-licker and his observant, childish public…
None of us really need much in the end. Just the simple things, and trust me again, those are sometimes the hardest things to find in the thicket of life. Which is why sometimes you just have to let the feral instinct win through. Because without it’s balance, the rest of it is plainly bullshit…

GLITTER AND CUTS…

If I see one more piece of glitter, any color, any shape, any size, I will not be responsible for my actions. Of course, even saying something as stupid as this sets me up to be a raging asshole for the forseeable future, because I WILL see glitter, I WILL see it on my eyebrow, cheek, toe, computer, coffee mug, toothbrush, bedsheet, shower, cat, wife, thigh, lip, phone, toilet roll, because my daughter and her friend decided it would be absolutely fantastic to tip out three tubes of the stuff onto two pieces of paper via the kitchen table, and see how much would stick to the glue. This was proceeded by another, even more inspirational flash of genius which saw them decide that the ink pad from a stamp box might be better appropriated by being smeared over their faces. Looking like a cross between a raccoon, Apocalypse Now and a member of the Raider Nation, my daughter thought it would be a wonderful surprise for me to see her new look.
“Look at MEEEEEEEE!” she howled with gleee, only this wasn’t some sappy commercial for cereal or laundry detergent, this was Sunday-fucking-afternoon with me tired and grumpy, so it is fair to say that the response had perhaps not quite been expected.
“GERRROOFFFYERFCCKINGWHATTHFCKISGOINGJESUSFUCKINGCHRISTALMIGHTYMARYJOSPEPHARSE!”
I might be paraphrasing.
“But she was doing it too!” cried my daughter.
“But you DID IT!” I responded, “and that means you must TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS!”
After some scrubbing and cleaning up, the concept of taking responsibility for ones actions was discussed one more time, and I heard the penny drop. In this regard she is clearly now ahead of 95% of the human race, as the ability for most people to take responsibility for THEIR actions sits somewhere between 0% and 0.00%.

Later that evening, with her good self flying round my good friend Rich’s house with his kids after a particularly enjoyable dinner of brisket and mash, Rich, Dawn, my wife and I sat discussing an impending school crisis.

Three schools in a district. Diminished funds. Two schools in our ‘valley’, one on the other side of the mountains and part of a whole other place, yet curiously zoned for ours by the quacks that do this sort of zoning. The edict that one will have to be closed. I won’t bring you deeply into the issue, suffice to say that there is talk of closing the primary school my daughter attends, the one which sits squarely, emotionally and geographically at the heart of our community. Our town is essentially in a valley, and sits self-contained. It has the primary school and a middle school. Two years ago there was a fierce lobby to get a high school in the neighborhood because of the people it would serve/bussing it would save. And now, two years on, we’re trying to save one of them from potentially being closed down, thus forcing local kids onto busses and out of the community to other schools outside the valley. Let me put it this way; our primary school already fills two kindergarten classes and has demands for more. The school over the mountain will have 9 eligible kindergarteners next year, and has a student population already made up largely of ‘inner district transfer students’. Not that I am a stat whore, as you will see in a paragraph’s time, but whichever context you view this in, I think the point is that there should be no decision.

Fiscally-speaking, I am ignorant of the situation. So, it appears, is the person making the recommendation that one of the schools might be closed, because when I have tried to sniff around for some hard facts and figures, it appears there are none. I have been on school boards before when the teenager was this age, and it was not the greatest experience, important issues getting bogged down in a sea of skewed intentions when some simple, clear leadership and directions sans agenda would’ve done the trick on many on occasion. So you could say I am apprehensive as to the true goodness of any potential resolution.

There will be ‘facts’ and there will be ‘figures’ but rarely in my experience do these things tell the full story, indeed, both are only worth the context they’re presented in. Often, it makes sense to view the human side of things, the non-statistical…my town has a heartbeat with it’s primary school, and that primary school buzzes and hums and vibrates with happiness and life, real life, genuinely happy children who ENJOY GOING TO THIS SCHOOL. Parents chat, grab a quick coffee together afterwards, and kids are generally within their pedestrian GPS range to get from A to B to C. Our town’s middle school allows those kids to bike, skate or stroll to school, no bussing necessary.

This is all about communities and keeping them together where they can be kept together. the third school is part of a neighborhood but not a community. Do I feel sorry for the 9 kindergarteners? Absolutely, In the ideal world, would all three stay open? Of course. But in a world where bombs trump education and defence against perpetually-created enemies is of paramount importance over schools and learning, it doesn’t look like that will be an option. We would welcome those 9 children. Yet I hear that the person charged with making the recommendations was a student at the ‘third’ school…to my cynical mind, it’s a bit like taking a vote on who to offer a defence contract to when you’ve had family members on the board of a specific contractor and yours is the major vote.

There is no easy answer, and I’m certainly not going to find one here (well, there IS an easy answer to me, and I think it’s clear what I think should happen) but it underscores the deep, deep problems children today suffer.

My daughter and her glitter-twin, however infuriating said-glitter showers can be, are sparky, imaginative little beings imbued with pizz and zazz and energy. They love their school and it’s energy, yet they might well be shoved off to some other neighborhood and some other building. It will be hard to explain to them why they can no longer go the school within walking distance, instead having to drive 15 minutes to one in a neighborhood they don’t know. Indeed, it would be pathetic to have to try.
“I worry about her education sometimes,” said my wife, and yes, she should, but equally we have to know that all the reading, all the discussion and all the arts and crafts we do with her at home are supplemental education, that we will likely spot a burning desire or two and really focus her energies there with the hope that she can write her own ticket. That’s the game. That’s how it goes. Because we cannot afford $25K a year for private schools, and most can’t.

I will never, ever forget looking at all the high school options for the teenager. One of them, a fantastic place with a $25k annual price tag, was designed to have ‘breathing spaces’ of common grass, and had a large degree of glass in it’s design as the school knew that natural light affects and enhances mood. Meanwhile, all we can hope is that common-sense prevails in saving the heartbeat of a town which sheds it’s very own bright light onto our community, no glass required…because if the elementary school goes, these kids might not feel like showering my life with glitter. And despite all I’ve said, that would be one of the saddest things imaginable…

I have been here before, twice in fact, but it’s still as sweet as ever.

The first time, as a breathless 10 year old, I trogged up to the Odeon Leicester Square with my parents, held my souvenir program and dropped my jaw when he first hit the screen. The Imperial March, then the breathing, then the cape, then the helmet, christ that helmet/mask/whatever blew my tiny mind. Then the voice. Deep, rich, all-knowing, all-powerful. Yes Darth Vader was ‘evil’ but show me a boy who didn’t think he was cool and I’ll show you a smarmy little pressed-shirt goody-two-shoes bore-buddy. Again, Darth Vader was cool. Very cool. Irrepressibly cool.

When the teenager was 7 or 8, I promptly re-discovered Vader and his supporting Star Wars cast. We immersed ourselves. He had the bank which came pre-programmed with phrases from the film (‘impressive…most impressive…but you are not a Jedi yet’) and we saw the re-releases on a big screen.

Recently, the kindergartener has discovered sci-fi. Through one foible or another, I ended up playing Eddie Izzard’s superb sketch ‘Death Star Canteen’ in the car one day when she was in the back, and we both laughed and laughed (she’s smart; she knows NOT to register, or repeat, the ‘f’ word…it’s a deal we made and I trust her).
‘This one is wet, this one is wet, this one is wet…’ became a standard household joke, as did
‘do you want peas with that?’
‘PEAS? YOU CAN’T HAVE PEAS WITH PENNE…’
as well as
‘I am your boss!’
‘What/ You’re Mr.Stephens?’
and the golden
‘Are you Jeff Vader?’
Of course, ‘you’ll need a tray the food is hot’ caps it all off in our mix n match repetition, but importantly, all this comedic view of Vader made him far less scary to her.
Add to that the music, which she latched onto immediately (and probably, in some way, the whole Daft Punk-Tron soundtrack interaction aided that) and we had a situation where she was happy to watch the first (or 4th in ‘new’ terms) Star Wars.

Aaaaaand sheeeeee fucking LOVED IT!
I felt my enthusiasm soar. Even though I shouldn’t have, on the pretence of buying a gift for someone’s birthday, we ended up at Toys R Us. And I saw it. The helmet. With voice-box and pre-samples.
‘Shall WE get a gift WE can share?’ I asked.
The nod of agreement was furious.
I asked again to make sure. The nod didn’t waver.

She had the helmet on in the back of the car, and God knows why but I could not have been happier. Pink dress. Pink car seat. Vader helmet. I asked her a question and she pressed a button in reply;
‘You don’t know the POWER of the dark side!’ she replied.
Emboldened I asked another. She pressed the button again.
‘Your powers are WEAK!’
Jesus I was ecstatic. It was all I could do not to film her in the bloody thing all afternoon when we got home, furthermore, even though my enormous middle-aged head barely squeezed into the thing, I could not resist, and myself shoved it over my aching dome at least five times.

A friend, Todd, sent me a link for VWs superbowl ad featuring a sm all kid in Darth Vader costume trying to use ‘the force’ around the house.
‘I thought of ——-‘ he said.
I watched it. And again. And again. And again. It is a brilliant advert, evoking emotions within us 40-somethings which at once bring us back to childhood and have us enjoying the innocence of that time. We look at the child in costume and we remember, we see ourselves at similar ages, exploring with such fervor the boundaries between fact and fantasy fiction. And for a few of us, we look and see the beauty of escaping into not just these memories but these fantastic, enduring characters.

I ordered the box set of those first three films, and we watched the final two this past weekend. I had started to be a little concerned that I was so obviously pro-Vader. Did I really want my kids going with ‘the dark side’? Not very ‘responsible’ parenting is it? I had forgotten about the every end of ‘Return Of The Jedi’. Totally spaced on it. I mean, I knew that Vader was Luke’s father and all from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ but what unfolded in the final 30 minutes was a beautiful thing.
“YOU SEE,” I squealed like a hybrid small child-pig, ” VADER IS GOOD IN THE END, VADER DOES THE RIGHT THING, VADER IS COOL!!!!!!’
And as I watched Vader pick up Emperor Palpatine and toss him to oblivion, unable to take watching his own son get hurt any longer, I felt a GSOE (genuine surge of excitement). My spine tingled. I actually felt a small rush of near-tears as Skywalker cradled the dying Vader in his arms and took off his helmet. Unbelievable. The good in Darth Vader won.

We have, this, week, been drawing landscapes in which to place stickers from the new Star Wars bumper sticker book, and I have plans this weekend to get the paints out and help paint a giant Star Wars-vader scenario. She is delighted, I am delighted, we are both children enjoying the escape, the fantasy, the really really REALLY cool helmet, the voice, the phrases…I even found myself buying a limited edition Adidas Darth Vader tracky-top via ebay this week, complete with cape in special light sabre bag and detachable button plate (I will not be wearing the cape or button plate…most of the time).

My good friend Francois mentioned that at Disneyland, a place I have avowed to avoid, there is a Jedi training camp and kids then get to fight Darth Vader. I found a video on youtube. Last night I casually asked Bea, ‘errr, would you fight Vader if you had the chance, with a jedi knight beside you?’
She nodded yes, as long as she could be Princess Leia.
I casually said I was sure she could ‘if’ the moment every arose.

It is only a matter of time before we go to Disneyland and the young jedi fights Vader…although in the end, I’ll probably have to sit down and let her fight him instead…

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