Making the most of a new life

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As I write this I am angry. I have been angry for quite some time now and think that it is about time that I expressed that I am angry through this blog. I am not angry with the boys, or Karen (the usual subjects I write about), but angry about the Jimmy Savile case.

I am angry because people knew what was going on and did nothing about it, and many of those who lionised him are now trying to pin the blame on others or say that they knew all along.

I am angry because he preyed on many people who were the most vulnerable and most trusting in our society. People who he purported to support through his charitable work, which now seem to be a front for him to be able to abuse them.

I am angry because every case of abuse is a life scarred, and there are a lot of lives involved here.

I am angry because he died before he could be brought to justice for what he did and was given that sickening funeral procession around Leeds, including his ‘lying in state’ at the Queen’s Hotel.

I am angry because individuals will now try and introduce spurious stories, taking away some of the focus from the genuine victims who deserve our collective support.

I am angry because it will mark more erosion of parental confidence in allowing our children freedom, not knowing who we can trust. So, while I want to allow my children as much freedom to roam and find out about themselves, I will now have to think twice about it. The fact that he ‘hid in plain sight’ also chills me.

I am angry because he has, on more than one occasion, been in the same room as Jake (at a park cafe we used to frequent): a cafe that was always full of children where he used to hold court. I am so relieved that I always found him too creepy to approach.

Of lesser importance I am also angry because part of my childhood has been taken away. A person who I thought, at the time, was being nice to people like me turned out to be a monster, along with Gary Glitter, whose records I bought when I was between 9 and 12 (makes me shudder just thinking about it). Although it gradually became clear to me, and many of my friends, that Savile was someone who was rather creepy: especially having seen him around Leeds on occasion.

I am angry because it makes me think twice about my trust in human nature. Not only that someone can act in such a depraved, systematic and calculating way; but that he also abused other people’s trust in him and it makes me wonder how I would have reacted if I had had something to do with him. Would I have be similarly starstruck, and have been taken in by his charisma? I would like to think not, but the doubt is enough to again make me shudder.

I feel that as a society we have taken quite a jolt with the conversion of Savile from charismatic and ceaseless charity worker to serial abuser of the very vulnerable people he was supposed to be supporting; using the power he gained as a prolific fundraiser to ‘blackmail’ institutions into giving him access to those who they were supposed to be protecting. It is somehow more understandable when, as is more usual, a monster emerges who has ‘kept themselves to themselves’, but for such a public figure to get away with it for so long is something I find very difficult to comprehend. Just as shocking it looks like investigations are spreading out to involve other celebrities, further undermining our trust in those we put on a pedestal.

As a parent, then, this whole affair has hit me very hard. I am not normally an angry person but I can hardly think of what I would do if I found out that something had happened to one of the boys. It is a scenario that I do not really want to think about, and should not need to, but having this at the very centre of our society forces me to, and that really scares me.

I hope that something positive can come out of this whole affair. That perhaps children (and adults) will feel more able to report cases of abuse and it will lead to a more open revulsion in such things in such a way that will not allow people to hide in plain sight in the future. I do wonder though whether this will be a less free society, and then we must ask whether this is a price worth paying.

The unmasking of this monster will lead to change at many levels. It will make us re-assess risk in relation to our children since it creates paranoia. It may change our relationship with the idea of celebrity (which, in itself, may not be a bad thing). It will make us more aware of the possibility of abuse, and I hope that this will lead institutions such as hospitals, children’s homes, prisons and broadcasters to make sure that they are never in the same position to allow this to happen ever again. Above all I hope that it does create the environment for genuine victims of abuse to come forward and receive the trust, support and closure that they need.

Finally, I hope that our children do not suffer as a result of this greater perception of risk and no doubt things will calm down. But at the moment it is a scary situation that makes me very angry and very wary, and I feel changed by it in ways that I am yet to fully comprehend.


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Moving memories

So the day of the house move finally came, the packers arrived and we saw all our possessions being boxed up and put in the back of a lorry, and there certainly was a lot of stuff. No wonder we hadn’t been able to move in our own house.

Within a day it went from being our place to a collection of empty rooms, devoid of our things. That’s it I thought, onward and upwards. Then a very strange thing happened (and I can feel the emotion rising just writing this) while I was vacuuming the upstairs landing, which effectively is a corridor. I suddenly got a vision of the boys running up and down it laughing, joking and tumbling. It was such a strong image and, for me, so evocative. I remembered lots of different times when, just after bath time particularly, I have sat at the end of the corridor and caught them as they tried to run past. Suddenly our empty house came to life again.

Thinking about this, and I’m as surprised getting emotional about it now as I was at the time, I realised that while we have a lot of memories invested in our belonging, the place that we live in carries so many memories too. I also realised that I had been so focussed on moving to the new place, that I hadn’t really thought about the old place.

After all this was the house where Karen and I moved into after we were married. The house in which we have got to know each other more and more over the six years we were there. The house that we brought Jake and then Sam home to. The house where we struggled with the early weeks and months of parenthood. The house where we found out that Karen was pregnant with Sam. The house where both boys took their first steps, and did so many other things for the first time.

It’s no wonder then that I got emotional at that sudden memory because it was representative of so many other memories, good and bad, over a six year period; possibly the most changeable period of our lives. It felt a little like a bereavement, because for every change there will be a sense of loss; a certain amount of letting go.

I had been so excited and pre-occupied with the move and all the good things that were to come, I forgot to reflect on the things that had gone before and how special they were; I hadn’t realised how much we had invested emotionally in the place that we were now saying goodbye to. In a sense I think that I probably couldn’t have realised this before the house was empty. By taking out all the paraphernalia the house was stripped down and there was nothing except the house to think about, and this leads me to think about the importance of breaking through the clutter sometimes. Perhaps then we can see what’s important.

So leaving our house was a moving experience in more ways than one.


Daddy Soft Play Centre

If I decide to lie down during the day in our house it’s usually not very long before I feel the thump of one or two boys jumping on me. I call this “Daddy soft play centre time’. The boys really enjoy riding on my stomach or back or trying to pin me down, and I quickly designate ‘tickle zones’ which they enter at their own risk of being tickled.

I think we all get such a lot out of this time, it’s enormous fun and I find it a great way to bond with the boys, and it’s something that we can all do together. It’s good that Sam is very strong for his age and so doesn’t get knocked about too much so there is never really any danger in it. It’s also good that Sam now has all his teeth and so doesn’t dribble over me all the time.

I’m also aware that as they get bigger, my ability to keep them in check will diminish, even now if they realized that they only had to have one tickling my feet and the other one holding me down then I’d be utterly helpless, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that. As it is I’m often laughing uncontrollably and almost gasping for breath as they take advantage of jumping on my tummy: also know as the ‘trampoline section’.

I think that ‘Daddy soft play centre time’ is really one of those things that we have to make the most of because it will be one of those things that disappears as they grow up, but I hope it is something that they will remember fondly as I remember the ‘rough houses’ I had with my Dad, in which I pretty much remember the same emotions as I do now with the boys; uncontrollable laughter from being tickled and a real closeness. I also remember feeling a reassurance in my Father’s strength and something that felt very comfortable.

One of the things that I repeatedly hear from parents of older children is “make the most of them when they’re that age because they soon grow up”, and that is something that I’m trying to do. I love it that they have such a sense of fun at this age, but I can already see in Jake that real desire to be older and distance himself from being a ‘baby’ or a ‘little boy’; and I have learned from experience not to refer to anyone as a ‘little boy’ – they really don’t like it.

So while I always tell Jake (to his increasing embarrassment) that he’ll always be my baby, I know that each part of their growing up is such a fleeting time that I really need to make the most of. That’s why I enjoy ‘Daddy soft play centre time’ so much. It is a thing of the moment to treasure, great memories for both the boys and me. So then, here we go, seconds out, round two….

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The Word’s End

I had a bit of bad news today. Although no one has died or been hurt, my life will not be the same again. It was announced that The Word magazine is to cease production after its next issue. I dare say that most of you have never heard of this magazine (and that is no doubt part of the problem) and will be wondering what all the fuss is about; but to me it was the perfect publication.

I still remember when I saw the first issue on the shelf. It had the singer and writer Nick Cave on the cover and, looking back, I remember it as having a sort of glow around it. Of course it didn’t, but it was such a significant find for me that that’s how I still see it in my mind’s eye. Upon picking it up I felt that it had been put together specifically for me with a great mixture of music, film and tv, current affairs, books, and technology. It was intelligently written and both complemented and challenged my cultural life.

In addition to the magazine there is a complementary podcast that has accompanied me on countless train journeys and bus commutes. It was fantastic, like having a group of like-minded friends having a chat and a laugh in my ears. Around the magazine the editors (Mark Ellen and David Hepworth) built an amazing online community that put me in touch with others who were interested in many of the same things that I am; and all the messages of support and sadness on the Word forum and on Facebook are testament to how much it was loved. All in all The Word has helped me keep in touch with the sort of things I wanted to be kept in touch with, and I feel rather sad that it will no longer be there.

I’ve always been a fan of things cultural, and music in particular; and this was something I was determined to try to keep going when I became a Father. In fact a song, Changingman (by one of my favourite singers, Paul Weller), inspired the title of this blog. Paul Weller originally sang in one of my all time top bands, The Jam, which he split up in 1981. As a teenager at the time this seemed like a huge tragedy, I wondered how I would ever cope with life without The Jam. Of course life went on, and other great music came along too.

As life goes on we learn how to cope better with change, perhaps as we experience more and more of it. What led to us feeling utter desolation when we were young now seems like a minor aberration in the grand scheme of things. So while it’s sad when things that we’ve really enjoyed come to an end other things soon replace them, and I dare say that it won’t be long before I’ve found something to replace The Word. In the meantime it has provided me with great memories, and I think I will be having those 200+ podcasts on syndication on my iPod for many years to come.


The Flash of the Torch

The Olympic Torch Relay came our way this week. The Olympics aren’t something that I’ve got particularly excited about yet (although I am looking forward to going to an event in August) since they have seemed so far away.  Nevertheless I thought it would be good to go and see the Torch since it would probably be a once in a lifetime experience for me, and maybe even for Jake too: Sam probably being a little young.

And while it was over in seconds the whole anticipation surrounding its coming was well worth it, and it didn’t seem like an anti-climax after it had gone.

I wrote last time about memories, in relation to photos, and I guess that to some extent this post is about memories too. By going to see the Torch I wanted the boys to have this once in a lifetime experience because I remember so vividly some of the once in a lifetime things I did as a child: walking through the new Kingsway Mersey Tunnel and over the new Humber Bridge before they were officially opened to traffic; and watching some huge ships being launched at the shipyard close to where we then lived.

These and many other things remind me of being young and of how happy my childhood was. It also reminds me of the responsibility I have to make sure that Jake and Sam have a happy childhood too.  I don’t mean this in any idealized or indulgent manner, but in a way that is natural and spontaneous. This is often quite difficult as I also have things that I want to do: read a magazine of mine rather than a book to the boys, listen to some of my music rather than nursery rhymes; or stay just that bit longer in bed rather than building that wooden railway. Sounds trivial? Well maybe but culmulatively it has an effect.

I’m not sure that I fully appreciated this responsibility when I first became a Dad, and I dare say that there will be times along the way that will suggest that I still haven’t really got it.  There’s also the temptation to not think about it at all. After all it’s huge because bringing up children is a one shot deal (I know I’m not the first to realize it, but it’s still a pretty big bombshell when it lands) and that can sound very scary.

In the end I suppose it comes down to trial and error, a series of checks and balances that seek the best way forward, hoping that when all is said and done the boys will, like me, look back with fond memories of when they were young, and have an appreciation that their childhood has given them a good grounding for their lives to come.

So, like the torch flashing past, Jake and Sam’s childhood will race by and before I know it they won’t be my little boys any more. I need to constantly remind myself to make the most of it and enjoy it – and, for their sakes and mine, not waste it.