Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Half Term Report

Welcome back. 

So a season recap. It's the summer holidays and Vince is enjoying some free time, while tiring the rest of us out.  Stacey is in the US right now awaiting her passport renewal while the previously efficient US passport service now makes the British one look like the KGB in the getting things done stakes. 

The weather has been surprisingly good and it's curious how the year fits into a pattern of ebb and flow so that now we're petering toward the natural break time. I'm looking forward to the break but it's a disjointed one waiting for my better half.  Vince and I have adapted into our rhythm as best we can with our regular routines - whether it's swimming on saturdays, trips to the park and seaside and for the past few weeks a regular festival. Stockton has seemingly morphed into Rio Di Janero been alive in the past few weeks with the various festivals - cycling, weekender and international festival - so its been eventful.  They say you should keep busy to stop you brooding on things and to deprive the devil of his idle hands but the downside of this approach is that it's blooming tiring and I feel I'm running on three cylinders a lot of the time. 

Routine has it's place though and as Dr Maxwell Maltz and several other lifehackers have identified that it takes 21 days to establish and implement a new habit - whether you like it or not. I've managed to knock Talksport on the head on my drive to work in favour of downloads of Radio 4 WW1 programming and archive 'Letters From America' which is good but it can also work against you.  Imagine having a hard three weeks at work so you don't get time to eat or rest properly - three weeks of crumby eating and bad sleep suddenly becomes the new norm. 

I guess the price of normality is eternal vigilance which might explain why I'm so darn tired... 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Work 2.0 - Season Reboot

Return with me If you will, to late October, to a secluded beer garden in Norwich, The Lamb Inn to be precise, in the early evening. 

I had lost my job earlier in the week and had decided to spend half term week in East Anglia with Vince at my dad's place while he's working there.
He was minding Vincent for the night so I could go out and explore the city a bit more and gain some perspective on a tumultuous time.

I clutched my pint in the heated garden at a corner table and in the movie version would have made immediate plans to be successful, get another, better job and generally be confident, stupid.

The reality of course was that I was a frightened 40 year old, out of work, living in the most depressed area of the country, my home, with seemingly least demand for my nuanced and specialist set of skills.  To rub it in, social media specific jobs were growing on trees in every other major city, America too which we'd left six months previously to come back to get Vincent into a good English school, which we did.  His progress and joy was the main anchor at the time as the swell of uncertainty was threatening to swamp what little optimism I still kept.

Fast forward four months to the same pub, same time and day and everything has changed. Like swapping a red filter for yellow, everything really does look better.  I start a job on Monday within 15 miles of home, in my field, doing whatever it is I do well and with the kind of companies I've done it well for before.  It's more money than I was on previously and most crucially, is over the pernicious minimum income requirement in order to sponsor Stacey's visa.  

Uncertainty, doubt and fear have now been supplanted by assuredness, regained confidence and expectation. Even the clouds above the garden cleared sufficiently to let me see Orion in all its glory, my touchstone constellation that I could always see from Teesside, Oxfordshire, Atlanta and back. You might almost say the stars aligned again.

The return to the working world will mean saying goodbye to the pattern of living I'd adopted, systematic job hunting online in the mornings, tea by the boatload, Maury, Bargain Hunt & Dickinson's Real Deal now become names in the TV guide and not milestones of the day.

My four months at the sharp end, including Christmas, have opened my eyes to the realities of life down here and its as far away from the tabloid version of an easy life of plasma screens on housing benefit as ITV2 is from BBC4.

Nobody is here by choice. You can exist on support if you make specific choices but I'd argue strongly that you can't live.  I wouldn't call it benefit either as that implies a positive outcome. This is the bulwark against further poverty, destitution and homelessness, not a lifestyle choice.

I've got more to say and it's best in another Blessay but you can't, in all conscience, sanction or cut support until the jobs are available and they pay sufficiently well to make them a clearly better option than the alternative. Minimum wage should not be a starting point - until it's raised to £10 an hour.

So I'm back into the world I know best and it's as a tougher, wiser and probably happier Guy. I wouldn't have chosen the last four months purposely but as Douglas Adams observed 'I haven't always got to where I wanted to go but I've nearly always ended up where I'm supposed to be.'

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

2004 - My Favourite Year

So we drove to Manchester Airport early today because Stacey had to fly back to the States. 

None of us want her to go obviously. Not me, our son Vince, my family, our friends, relatives and cousins to whom she's cool Aunt Stacey. Just the small fact that because she's not from round here the Government says she's gotta go.  

Vince and I had a good dad & lad day in the North West for a couple of hours afterwards, well as much fun as you can have when your hearts broken into 18,600 pieces and you can't tell your son when his momma is coming back. 

So back to being a jobless temporary single parent for the time being. This does remind me of the last time a year started so inauspiciously, exactly 10 years ago in fact, so indulge me while I recollect how 2004 turned out to be the best year of my life. 

I began the year much like this one bathing in the ashes of personal defeat. I had just come back from a mostly agreeable New Years Eve party with my friends in Bicester that unfortunately, for me, culminated in seeing my former fiance from six months previously snogging her new boyfriend. I went back to our, now my house, and took it out on the less expensive and replaceable kitchen equipment. 

I needed a change of scene and as luck would have it, I was able to join my parents on a trip to Oman, where my dad was working at the time. 10 days of sun, beaches and the secluded silence you only get in the Mountains was as good a place to take stock as any. 

As it turns out the trip was exactly what I needed. A chance to recuperate and take stock, mentally as well as physically. Being able to run at a higher altitude in a higher heat or work out in an air conditioned gym,  catch up on movies at home, eat the finest Indian food I've ever tasted - mainly thanks to the Indian expat community just over the gulf from home - a chance to take in some genuine Arabic culture and catch up on sleep.  

I mean real sleep, I have never slept as deeply or as well as I did in the Desert, going to sleep and waking up naturally, getting over eight hours every night, I felt like Superman waking up every morning. I enjoyed swimming in the sea and could not stop myself from laughing after running on the beach from the hotel and back.  I even had an improtu kickabout with a bunch of expat Iraqis - my 'Beckham 23' shirt helped and proved that despite their being a 'war' on, the beautiful game is the universal language - especially if you're far from home. 

While I was away, I was keeping a close eye on unfolding drama at home. The BBC was awaiting the publication of the Hutton Report so I was due for a busy time back in the Press Office and equally pressing, Middlesbrough were taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the League Cup semi-final against 'The Invincible's' Arsenal side that would not lose a league game that season.  

A momentous night at the Riverside Stadium saw the Boro triumph on aggregate and travel to Cardiff for the first time to contest a major Cup final against Bolton Wanderers on the fateful date of February 29th. The whole family went to Wales for the weekend and we enjoyed a tremendous day beforeout and about in the Capital running into friends and familiar faces at every turn. 

Not getting to a major final every season, we decided to do things in a little bit of style and managed to book a Corporate Box for the whole family to watch the game from. The game has been well covered in other places but despite leaking a goal just before half time, the two we had scored in the first 15 minutes saw that 128 years later, Middlesbrough FC had won it's first major trophy and I, and pretty much everyone I loved and cared about, was there to see it. 

The year continued without much negativity or drama and we enjoyed the rarity of a real, warm British summer. I celebrated my 31st birthday in Bicester during the European Championships and despite being ejected from The Litten Tree for being too drunk to speak, a good time was had by all. 

A week later, I started chatting with a bright, sparky, clever and amazingly attractive girl from Atlanta called Stacey - and so it began, although I had to pull out the big guns to keep her interest...

Suddenly my life was transformed and energised even more, by a relationship I wasn't even looking for when it exploded into my life. I still feel that way when I look at her. 

I had been planning to take a trip to the USA later that year anyway but now I had a specific reason to go and a city to visit - Atlanta - for the first time. I've never been so nervous, excited and alive as when I saw Stacey for the first time at Hartsfield Jackson airport. The busiest airport in the world it may be but it still stopped when she spotted me and smiled.  We had a great 10 days together - I've always been an Ameriphile and we hung out, passed the friends test, went to the Baseball and clicked like we'd known each other for years. It was just right. 

I reluctantly headed back to England and reality but we had already made plans for Stacey to spend Christmas with me back in England. In the meantime, I had Middlesbrough's first European adventures to look forward to, starting in with a trip to the Czech Republic and Banik Ostrava. Leaving from Teesside Airport, my brother, Dad and seemingly half of Teesside descended on this Eastern European steel making town and felt decidedly at home with the locals. Boro progressed over both legs but lifelong friendships were made in our twin Steel City

Stacey and I kept on chatting throughout the Autumn and Middlesbrough shrugged off their history of mediocrity, beating the likes of Liverpool, Man City and Villa in the league and in one special evening making Lazio look like a Northern League outfit in the UEFA Cup. 

The year ended with Stacey coming to the UK for the first time and despite the tactical error of taking her to Whitby in December and actually making her cry with the cold, she met my family and friends and actually decided to come back again. And again, and again.

So as I sifted through the broken sugar bowl and spilled milk of the kitchen lino before I had to take a cold shower and drive to work in London that cloudy New Years Day not knowing the filips and fun awaiting me in the year ahead, so we don't know what's round the corner this except for one caveat.  It will be better than last. 

It has to be. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Being better than your word

It's Christmas Eve and while there's always something to bemoan and regret from the previous year but if there's a one lesson to take from A Christmas Carol, it's to be thankful.

I'm thankful that I'll be seeing every person I'm closest to in the world in the next 24 hours and despite a rough 2013, Stacey, Vincent and I are together as a family for it. Everyone healthy, everyone together.

I'm thankful that in really tough times for a lot of people we can give Vince a good Christmas, enjoy some nice food and drink ourselves and look ahead positively to 2014.

I'm thankful that despite not working right now I'm strong and grounded enough not to confuse my own self worth and self  confidence to a job, nor the process itself or the approach.

I'm thankful that I've made so many great friends over the years and while it gets a bad rep, social media allows me to keep in touch with old and new friends in America, Australia and New Zealand daily if need be.

I'm thankful that we're alive now at the peak of human civilization, achievement and advancement and for 24 hours at least, a lot of us will act accordingly and as we should the rest of the time.

I'm thankful that after a trying and tough year, I can go forward with firmer foundations into 2014 and make it better in every way so much so that in a years time I'll be writing how thankful I've been for the best year ever.

Happy holidays from me and mine to you and yours, I hope 2014 brings you everything you want, need and deserve and I'll leave the final meditation on the season to Mr Dickens. 

'Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.'

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Suede - the best Britpop band that weren't and other failures

I know its been a while but I really haven't had much new news to bring you. The brilliant autumn leaves and colours are beginning to yield to the wind and rain and becoming a brown mush at your feet. Even the welcoming trees of Ropner Park are now beginning to look like bony fingers, in my case usually the index and middle fingers of a hand, extended. 

Not one to waste the opportunity for a euphemism, I am currently enjoying unlimited free time with no income so see Blessay's passim for what that's like, suffice to say that the online job market is even more haphazard than previously. I don't think I'm adequately qualified for babysitting, bouncing or brochure distribution opportunities which is a pity as these are by far the three most frequent assignments that appear on the less than perfect recommendations sections of the various jobsites. 

Yes, it's set back our relocation project but Stacey was coming over for Christmas anyway, as it was too close to the date to put in a formal application, so she'll be here in a couple of weeks for the Yule season and Vince is still doing fantastically and giving me reason to get up and make breakfast every morning, followed by online job hunting with Christmas and Vintage music channels playing in the background to force a mood of festivity if none exists - but that's a little harsh, I'm nothing if not a Christmas Kid and it doesn't take much to get me in the mood - even The Cheeky Girls in November will do it, which is handy. 

Anyway, spare time in the day allows me to get more tasks done so it frees up time in the evening to catch up on TV and movies I've missed in the intervening four years. I finally caught up with 'The World's End' the other day - Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's final part of the Cornetto Trilogy which started with Shaun of the Dead and followed up with Hot Fuzz.  It follows a man-child and his mature friends as they attempt to relive the best night of their youthful lives, which the lead character never get over, and complete the 12 pub crawl in their home town which culminated in the famous 'World's End'.  There is a sci-fi sub-plot but as usual the strongest observations are on how society, friendships and life itself changes or not over 20 intervening years.  Brilliant dialogue, an amazing soundtrack (more on this soon) and tremendous performances all round elevate it over the typical British comedy but I found it very close to home in places, which is maybe the point. 

I would give any film two thumbs up if it has The Beautiful South and Primal Scream on the soundtrack but Suede too...

For two years, Suede strode across the British pop landscape like a lone colossus, sure Take That were doing there thing but for shoegazing indy kids like myself there was only one game in town and it was the fey, proto-emo, proto-britpop boys from south London - Brett, Bernard and Co. 

The first album, self-titled, gave us a glimpse of the swaggering, emotional literacy and lyricism of Brett Anderson's vocals and writing but married (figuratively) to the soaring musical orchestration led by Bernard Butler, the best British guitarist since Johnny Marr, and you've got something special. The Drowners, Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate and the song featured on the soundtrack So Young were all instant classics and very much of a time - 1993, self confident, sensing the beginning of a new time - we didn't know it was going to be Britpop, New Labour, Sky Sports, The Premier League, Simon Cowell and more, but we knew it was going to be our time.  It also dovetailed nicely with my first year at University so it was an incredible backdrop to seminal events and great nights out with still great friends. 

Dog Man Star was the follow-up album and observers immediately sensed the change in tone, direction and indeed relationships within the band, the calm after a storm, it even sounded like a house after a blazing row, which in terms of Anderson and Butler's fractured relationship, it was. Songs such as Heroine and The Two of Us, liberally sprinkled with Byron quotes and Hollywood references along with strings and a genuine unrequited longing which is ambrosia to the confused and miserable Northern student in at the best of times, it was a stretch and a reach and while not entirely successful, at least showed you can have a go and succeed on your own scale if not a grander one, say the charts. They also released Stay Together - a colossal single and three supporting tracks including The Living Dead, possibly their greatest work together. 

Like all tragic stories, when they should have been at their pinnacle in terms of cultural reward, influence, cache and fame, Butler left, as Marr left The Smiths before him and derailed the project allowing Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Elastica to jostle for the crown and affections of the court. The Britpop thread that starts with Suede continues here as Brett's ex Justine Frischmann, lead singer with Elastica became Damon Albarn's tragic lost love seeing Blur's jaunty Parklife/Great Escape salad days morph into the darker 13.

Suede continued with a new guitarist Richard Oakes, and added a keyboardist, never a good sign, and while Coming Up, released in 1997 was their greatest commercial hit, by then I and many other fans had moved on, musically and with our lives, and the strong hits, of which they were with Trash and Electricity, were so much commercial radio fodder while we, individually and collectively, were moving on with our lives - and living. 

What 'The World's End' did, not only with its soundtrack but also its themes of unrequited ambition and refusal to move on and accept diminished horizons and possibilities, was to suddenly and emotionally bring me back to a time and period in my life that I had totally forgotten about.  Like seeing a girl you had a brief, intense love affair with years before and never saw again, I didn't expect Suede to come back into my life but I'm glad they have. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Happier Birthday

So, it was Vincent and Stacey’s birthday on Friday.  Stacey is still in Atlanta so could only view proceedings virtually but I was determined to put on the best distractions around for Vince.  He was at school on the actual day which was a relief for me as I was able to run around and get all the last minute decorations, cakes and other sundries which of course, I had left to the last minute. 

We had a birthday tea at my mums for him with his cousins Claudia and Lucas and he enjoyed his latest, greatest present – a Wii. Frankly, he would have been just as a delighted if I had downloaded two or three new car racing apps for him on his iPad but then I’d be featured in the Daily Mail as a deadbeat modern dad (married to a foreigner no less), who symbolises everything that’s wrong with our post-modern, techno-obsessed culture – oh and did you know the Daily Mail website is the most popular in the world? Etc.
Saturday saw our traditional Saturday morning swimming session. Here is one area where I can see real improvements in him, he is so confident in the water now and can backstroke and doggy paddle really well.  

He always enjoyed swimming in the community pool at our old subdivision in the States so he is something of a water baby.  Mind you it helps that modern swimming pools are a far cry from the draughty, cold, bare brick Stockton Baths I got my 10m and 25m certificates in.  I never graduated as high as the superior class that got to wear pyjamas and dive to the bottom to retrieve bricks but maybe it’s something Vince can aspire to.

Saturday afternoon came and the big party itself, held at a local funhouse attached to a pub round the corner – so there truly is something for everyone.  After an initial mix-up over the number of seats, the kids had a rocking time, all having to be dragged forcibly from the playhouse to eat their dinners and get their party packs and cakes afterwards.  The number of presents and cards filled the boot of my Mercedes C class, to give you an idea of how many he got, and I seriously considered hiding half of them when we got home to take care of the Xmas shopping but that would be cruel.  

He got 26 cards in all, which is more than I ever got but he’s a cute, charismatic and charming individual, ideally suited to a career in the media or as a cult leader – whichever pays more.

Sunday saw another birthday party on the social circuit for one of his friends and in a charming, generous gesture, gave Vince a present and card for missing his birthday the previous day.  Typical, the only kid I know who can go to somebody else’s birthday party and come away with a massive present and a card (as well as cake and a party bag)!
So he’s six and already wants to know when his next birthday is.  

The most touching part of the weekend was being able to listen in to him skyping with his mum and telling her everything he got up to over the weekend and how much he missed her can couldn’t wait to show her his wii and other new presents. It’s funny how you can be stronger for others than you can for yourself. You just are.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fall Down

It's the first of October and while it's officially been Autumn for a month this past few days have actually felt like it for the first time.

The leaves are becoming red, yellow, brown and brittle. When the sun catches them as it did on my regular weekend run along the Tees to the Barrage and back, they and it are beautiful. Providing a welcome respite from introspective ennui.  I realise I'm not that much fun to be around of late, having something of a one track topic of conversation, and if you think it's tiresome to read, try living it.

If I was always miserable and melancholic that would be one thing but I used to be a happy go lucky individual and while I enjoy the odd moment of levity today, that's pretty much all it is.
Like another famous procrastinator, 'I have of late, wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth'.

Not that I'm stamping around the house like a hungover Gruffalo you understand. Vince and I have a lot of adventures and fun on a weekend and after school, playing with his friends, going swimming and to the park.  His natural good nature and energy have been a real tonic when my own sunshine levels have dipped into the doldrums.

I imagine this is similar to what people who have partners in jail go through.  Contact limited to the whims of Governors/Skype; no guarantee of visits, future release and reunion a distant, out of focus mirage, missed birthdays, events and unseen memories dropping by like those self same leaves and an inevitable weakening of the essential bonds that hold you all together in the first place.

It's Vince and Stacey's birthday next week. I feel like a louse and a bad, inattentive husband for missing hers so I can't begin to approximate how she feels to be missing her son's.

All the while the nights draw in, the leaves keep falling, the breeze begins to rise and while the only sound in my front room is the ticking of the New York Skyline clock I bought the other week, time itself seems to be immobile.

As frozen as the literally powerless flat-screen tv on the wall that waited until it was firmly in a position of responsibility before giving up the ghost. A replacement is on the way and everything will be back as it was soon.  Jam tomorrow again but everytime I wake up I find its today instead.