Saturday, 18 May 2013

Sodding exercise

I went for a walk today.

The idea is that exercise, fresh air, change of scene would ease the stress and - yes I will say it - chronic depression I've been feeling.

Part of my route took me past the playground on the village green.  The playground where I used to take my girls when they were small.  I'd sit on the bench watching them, or stand at the bottom of the slide with my arms spread.  I'm not sure if the latter was for their benefit or mine.

As I walked past, I found myself hearing the laughter, the squeals of pleasure, the "just one more Daddy, pleeeeeease"es.  I found myself wondering how, where those years had gone.

My girls are adults now.  Approaching the end of their studies.  They need me less and less and that is as it should be.

However nobody told me that as they need you less and less, you need them more and more.  You need the simplicity, the unconditional love, the unadulterated and uncomplicated fun.  You need the cuddles, the kisses, the 'I love you's that come not as a reply, a conditioned reflex, but just come because they do.  I'm not saying they don't.

But it's not the same.

I walked past the playground and found my walk wasn't as theraputic as I'd hoped. But then I realised something.

Sadness is not the same as depression.

In the end, I will take consolation in the fact that the memories of those days will carry me forward and, I hope, carry them forward too.  I hope they will be able to look back at them and smile.

As I am trying SO hard to do right now.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Trulee Misérables

So, I finally got to see the movie version of Les Miserables and I find myself in an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ position.  Am I really alone in thinking this was truly awful? Whilst freely admitting that I love the stage version, I have to say that this was one of the most abysmal adaptions since the cartoon version of Lord of the Rings.

Possibly worse.
One of the greatest strengths of the stage show is the power of the voices and the music, something that was completely lost from this production. OK, I fully understand the relationship that exists between the money men and their need for box office ‘names’ to pull in the audiences, but what on earth possessed them to cast such a group of untalented performers?  Not since Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood croaked their way through Paint Your Wagon have people been so mis-cast.  And at least Marvin and Eastwood could get away with it as they weren’t MEANT to be singers.

Wolverine can just about work his way through a song, although it must be said some of the notes eluded him and you can see why Catwoman got the Oscar for best performance by hair, but Gladiator couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and was about as plausible in his role as a toy Meer cat would be as an Insurance broker.  The debate before his suicide was hardly Hamlet’s soliloquy – “To be or not to be.  Oh what the heck, not to be. Arghhhhhhh-splat”.  All delivered with the sincerity of a politician on the hustings.

When you see the stage show, you are stunned by the sound and vision.  The music, the singers, the harmonies and the imaginative use of scenery and lighting conjure up an image of a street battle that totally transcends the confines and restrictions of a small stage.  So how I wonder, can a wide screen multi-million pound production with multiple cameras, shot on location, conjure up a SMALLER vision of revolution?  Yet it succeeds in doing just that, reducing the power and emotions of the revolution to little more than a student demo. 
“What do we want? Bread for all. When do we want it……”.  All that was lacking were some ironically-spelled placards and Peter Tatchell.

And as for Ali G, how on earth did he come up with the idea of doing a parody of a character that is already a parody?  Particularly interesting was the way that, as soon as he started his song – one of the seminal songs and probably the only light relief in what is an intense and emotional production (on stage at least) – he adopted an ‘Allo Allo’ mock French accent.  However, I can only assume he had little time to practice this, as it would submerge and re-surface with the regularity of an asthmatic dolphin.
“ Leesten veree carefulleeee, ‘ee vill say zeese from teem to teem”.

When in the theatre, one is immersed in the power and emotion of the music, in a way that playing it through a set of home-stereo speakers either side of the screen simply didn’t recreate. Yet at the end, for the Finale, they invoke the power of surround-sound.  Why on earth they waited until the end escapes me, but it reduced the music that should have been stirring your emotions to the effect of tunes over-spilling from someone’s ipod on the tube.

At the denouement, one is left caring little who (with the exception of little Gavroche, probably the one performance worthy of note) lived and who died.  Indeed, one finds oneself wishing rather more of the population of Paris had descended into the sewers for Helena Bonham Carter, delivering her standard performance, to rob.  Nice to see you can count on the dependable Ms BC to deliver a consistent performance.  So consistent in fact that it’s hard to tell one character she plays from another.

I was warned to take tissues, as I would cry throughout.  Cry?  No, but I am in mourning.  Mourning the brutal corruption of a show I love.  I only hope that, when I see the show again (which I shall), it has not ruined it for me.
Thank goodness I only paid half-price for my tickets, so at least I didn’t have that to cry about. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Many years ago, my father, who was an Accountant, had a book-keeper come to work for him.

Henry was a small, grey haired, bespectacled Jewish gentleman in his sixties. He was the sort of man who you would walk past without noticing, even if he was the only person you'd encountered on a desert island. The sort of man who made Mild-Mannered Clark Kent seem like a raging viking.

I would work for my Father during the holidays, so sometimes found myself working with Henry in the office. He was always polite, although not to the extent of referring to me as 'the young master', but reserved. You couldn't help but feel his life had passed by a little like the History of Mr Polly, not so much a series of adventures, of highs and lows; not so much a roller-coaster ride as a gentle walk across a flat and bland field.

Then one day, for reasons that escape me, the subject of the war in general, and the Holocaust in particular came up. Perhaps it was an anniversary, or an article in the press, but, one day when were alone in the office, it came up.

And slowly, Henry began to talk.

It turned out that mild, quiet, taciturn and shy Henry had been in the Army during the war. As a German speaker, he had been attached to an intelligence unit and was in the forefront of fighting across Europe.

It turned out that Henry, mild, quiet, taciturn and shy Henry had been attached to a Unit that had been involved in the liberation of one of the camps. My memory tells me it was Bergen-Belsen, but my memory is notoriously weak.

Unlike Henry's.

But then, I doubt, if I had seen what he had seen, that I would ever be able to remove it from the wide-screen of my memory.

Quietly, softly, he told me about how they entered the camp. He told me about being greeted by people who had clung to life like limpets on a storm-battered pier. He told me about the graves, about how the guards had been trying to shoot as many of the inmates as possible before the Allies arrived. About how, even afterwards, they continued to try.

He told me about how he and his colleagues reacted. He was not proud of his reactions towards the guards, but nor was he seeking any kind of recognition or absolution. He was simply telling me.

He told me about the way the people they were there to save were sick, so that even afterwards, many would be unlikely to survive.

He told me this with no pride, no agenda. I am not sure, to this day, whether he wanted to tell me so that I would know, or just because, for once, he wanted to talk about it. Perhaps, he simply wanted to help me attain the next level of maturity, to ensure that, if I should talk about this again, it would be with the benefit of a degree of insight.

I learned a lot that afternoon. A lot about the war, about the Holocaust, about what Man is capable of doing to his fellow human beings, in the process surrendering that very humanity. But most of all, I learned not to judge a man's history by his present, his soul from his demeanour. I learned that maybe, after a roller-coaster, a walk through the fields is all you yearn for, and that does make you any less relevant.

Compared to what Henry, and so many like him experienced, I am the one in the flat-lands. And I learned to be able to feel gratitude for that. Henry is long gone, but I remember him, as he remembered those for whom he was too late.

Thank you Henry

Monday, 17 October 2011


Two red eyes, stare at me malevolently from the darkness, unblinking, unwavering, heartless.

I know in my heart they've been there, lurking throughout, but during the halcyon days, I have been able to put them out of my mind, my thoughts, almost convincing myself that they were gone, resigned to the fact they no longer had sway over me, that they no longer had relevance for me.

But I knew, in my heart they would be back. I knew I was not free.

So now I find myself locked into a optical stalemate, unwilling to break the gaze for fear of....well...for fear. Thoughts of Dr Who; don't blink, DO. NOT. BLINK. No wonder that episode had such resonance, plumbing such a primordial fear.

Maybe if I back away, slowly, carefully close the door, they will give up, go away, find some other place to haunt, some other person to torment. It has to be worth a try?

Doesn't it?

Fingers close on the edge of the door and so slowly, begin its arc, all the time maintaining a mantra of smooth...smooth..don't rush...don't slam...

Finally, the door is closed. Not shut fast, but close enough. Or not. For I find myself filled with the need to check. Are they still there? Do our fears only exist when the door is open? Are they no more than the light in the fridge?

I won't look.

I won't.

I don't want to. Please don't make me.

But I know I must. I must confront those two red eyes and know, once and for all if they are truly back.

I crack the door, just enough to dart my head forward, to see without being seen, and immediately wish I hadn't.

They stare back at me, confirming my deepest fears, knowing now, all doubts and uncertainty banished, replaced with the certainty of cold, of darkness, of pain, of the struggle to remember the days of light and laughter and warmth.

The red eyes stare at me, silently mocking me with the knowledge. The knowledge that winter is here and my central heating and hot water have come on.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Who IS that?

Have you ever looked at a picture and, for a moment, not realised that the person in it is you?

Have you ever found yourself looking back at a time and place and almost feeling that the memories, the emotions, the thoughts and feelings it evokes are almost a fiction, a narrative that happened to someone else?

I've been reading some of my posts and, apart from spotting some grammatical mistakes I either didn't notice or couldn't be bothered to correct at the time, I find myself almost detached from them, as if I'm reading the meanderings of another mind.

I dint know if this is normal, a side effect of the impulsive and unplanned nature of my jottings or whether it's the first signs of the reality I'd joked about - that my blog would act as a way for me to remember when my memory fades. Either way, I'm hoping I will enjoy what I read and, rather more importantly, if you come across this, that you enjoy reading it too.

Heck, if your memory goes too, I hope you enjoy reading it again and again!.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Have you ever

Have you ever pretended to be someone you're not?

I'm sure you have. All of us have at some point in our lives, whether that's pretending to be someone we're not in the school playground (I have a feeling that, for a while, I was Jacques Cousteau's son - not a good plan if you don't speak a word of French).

Or perhaps, in later life, in an interview. I remember once explaining that I had a PhD in the articulation of arthropod knees and it's potential application to the creation of hinged cricket stumps.

I didn't get the job which, I seem to remember, was for a trainee manager's position with HFC Bank.

Later still, some of you may have experienced the joy that is online dating. Many MANY people there pretend to be someone they're not. I know this from personal and anecdotal experience. I don't just mean the 'lop-a-couple-of-years-and/or-a-couple-of-pounds-off-the-profile' type creative accounting, but the full blown 'are-you-SURE-I-didn't-mention-my-three-wives-and-seventeen-kids' type creativity. My personal favourite was the chap who claimed to be a Squadron Leader in a Tornado squadron of the RAF. He turned up in full uniform on at least one occasion, used military jargon in all his emails and actually promised his girlfriend (a friend of mine) a flight.

He turned out to be an Estate Agent.

Still, if I were an estate agent, I'd probably lie too.

Of course, this can work to your benefit, as I'm becoming convinced that whatever you say about yourself, people now automatically add several years/pounds or deduct several..... what IS the collective noun for hairs?....... bushells? That'll do. Several bushells of hair. So when you actually ARE what you say, it can work to your benefit.

I hope.

But despite honesty in that arena, we all sometimes pretend to be someone we're not. I just did it. Just now. I've done it before, but this time it somehow hit me. Maybe it's "that" time of year. Whatever the reason, it's not something I felt good about.

I just sent my daughter an email with her motor insurance certificate.

I told her to check it carefully and let me know if anything was incorrect.

I told her to keep a copy with the car.

I signed it "Dad".

And it suddenly struck me.

I'm an imposter.

I'm not 'Dad'. Dad is Dad. I'm me. His son.

I feel all unsettled.

Think I need to go and talk to Dad.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The sound of silence

I think the silence is the worst thing.

It’s not just the absence of sound, but something that is almost physical, cloying, thickening the air around me and dampening all other noises so they seem unable to penetrate it,to break through. I hear noises and, for a second, I think she’s home, in her room, chatting excitedly on the phone in that tone of voice reserved exclusively for anyone who isn’t her parent.

But it’s not her and the silence almost seems to deepen in malicious, gleeful response.

Earlier, I stood at the foot of her bed, the duvet thrown back exactly as it had been when she’d got out of bed this morning, the pillow still bearing the indent of her head. I notice, with a vision grown suddenly acute, a stray hair on the pillow and resist the impulse to gather it up, hold it in my hand. G-d forbid I should smell it. My acute vision blurs, acuity lost as, once more, the tears well up unbidden, unresisted.

So much has changed in such a short time. Just hours ago my life, if not exactly revolving around her any more, was still constrained within the confines of her needs. Would she be home for dinner? Was she going to be with me at the weekend? Did she need a lift somewhere? This last despite the fact that she now had her car, the little purple monstrosity inherited from a generous Aunt that, in such a short time, became almost as much a financial drain as another child and even more demanding.

Oh yes, the car. It now sits, unloved and un-needed on my Mother’s drive, almost recriminating with me for not taking it shopping, to a party, out for pasta. Yet even if I drove it, I feel it wouldn’t respond to my silence, to the radio, missing the laughter, the shouting, the unique coded language that she and her friends shared, excluding anyone old enough to remember the days when social networking meant meeting people.

G-d but I hate this silence.

I make a mental note to see if I can reduce the number of channels on the cable TV package. It was only a matter of weeks since I proudly told her I’d extended them, giving her access to channels I knew she’d watch in 6 second bursts, as the remote control was punched repeatedly at the screen in some sort of cathode-ray gunfight at the OK Corral. I make a mental note to stop thinking of things on TV I need to tell her about, to stop buying DVDs we can watch together as we eat dinner off trays on our laps.

What to make for dinner? Suddenly I don’t have to worry about what she will want, whether she will like it. I don’t have to consider a menu that will entice her to spend an evening with me, rather than being out with her friends, although perhaps that would have, should have prepared me for this feeling of emptiness, of loneliness. For this terrible aching silence.

I dread the next Friday night dinner at my Mother’s, knowing that the empty chair, the un-set place will be a hole in the fabric of my life, sucking my gaze inexorably into it, almost believing if I stare hard enough, she will be there, a light at the end of the tunnel. I find myself wishing I had a tape of her voice, like the one I made for her when, terrified and crying, she went on her first school trip to York. I made a recording of our ritual goodnight and embedded it in a teddy bear, so it would be my proxy when she hugged it at night.

I could do with a hug. I really could do with a hug right now.

I think of where she has gone and, fleetingly, I wish I could have gone with her.

I should have. She shouldn’t have had to go there alone. No child should have to go through that without a loving father by her side.

But where she has gone, I can’t follow. My life has to continue on its own path, a path suddenly more bleak, yet I know in my heart she would not want me to be with her, she would want me to carry on with my own path and not deviate from it to be with her.

That is, after all, why she decided to go to University in Birmingham and move away from home. I was so excited when she got the place, even though I knew it would mean her moving out. To think, I was worried about how SHE would feel.

Who knew?