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. 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

30 Days of Stacey

Apologies one and all for the scarcity of posting recently.

As well as finally moving into our new home, literally over the street from Vince's school,  my wife came over to visit for the summer holidays.

The last time we were all together was in April for my cousins wedding in Edinburgh and since then Vince has made a lot of friends at his new school, become a regular on the birthday party circuit and grown about a foot.

I've found a job, put on a little weight but am more relaxed/nonchalant about it than I've ever been, started running eight miles by and over the river Tees each weekend, started going to Speedway and Football with Vince, gained a new nephew, Lucas, and after six months have reacclimatised to life back in the UK.
What I haven't been able to handle well is turning 40,more on that later Mr Freaking Original, and living without my wife and Vince's mum.  My parents have been and remain a big help here but it's taken some adjustment to becoming a temporary* single parent. 

That's why this trip was so good for everybody. Vince and Stacey got to reconnect, she got to move into our new place with us, she got to finally meet Vince's friends parents but of course, after the jetlag had cleared and we were finally getting used to being around one another again, she has to return to the States.

Vince has taken it better than me. He can have his attention bought with toys, trips to the baths and playhouses and the promise of more toys but I'm struggling. It's not that I can't do this alone, it's I don't want to.  Vince needing his mum plays better to the audience but I'm missing my best friend. Even with the miracles of Skype and social media, what happens to friendships, and even marriages, when they are unattended and atrophy?

Things have got real too quickly. I feel like the last man on a bobsleigh team who slips over, doesn't make it into the sled in time and careens down the slope on his backside while his teammates are snug, safe and whizzing on ahead without them.

If this is 40, you can damn well have it back. I don't want it.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Do You Remember The First Time?

There are certain rights of passage every young man much go through,  first day at school, first kiss, first punch (taken or thrown), and for every British boy, your first football match. 

I've been aware of the omnipotent presence of Middlesbrough FC since an early age.  My grandparents lived in Meath Street, one of the myriad two up, two down terraced streets in West Middlesbrough, a goal kick away from Ayresome Park, the Boro's former home.

As loved by Boro fans as it was feared by opposition supporters, it was nestled in the middle of these street next to the old General Hospital where several generations of fans, myself included, would spring forth. As well as the streets themselves there were numerous cut throughs and back alleys which provided many short cuts and hiding places to be wary of for opposition fans making their way back to the station at the bottom of Albert Road.

A typical North Eastern Saturday would see me and later my brother deposited into my Nana's care while the men of the family and more often than not my mum would make their way to the game. We would be entertained with a round of board games, impromptu musical performances with pans and wooden spoons serving for drums and back yard football and tennis. Once this got too much, we'd come inside to catch the wrestling on World of Sport before the classified results would tell us what sort of mood the returning heroes would be in.  Occasionally they would be back before the results if the defeat was too heavy or too dispiriting to take.

I remember walking through the huge red North Stand gates with MIDDLESBROUGH AFC emblazoned above you. The gates themselves now stand in front of the new home, the Riverside Stadium, and walking through them is something of a pre-match tradition enjoyed by a new generation.  I don't remember a whole lot about my first game other than I'd never seen so many people gathered in one place before and spent as much time watching the crowd as the game.  My only sporting recollection is that the opposition played in yellow shirts and green shorts which immediately led me to see when we played Norwich City and concluded that it was must have been them. 

In the age of social media, no such guesswork will be needed to record this weekend when I took Vince along to the Riverside to see Boro's final pre-season friendly against the French cup winners - Bordeaux. 

He'd been looking forward to it all week, mainly because his cousins Jacob and Ethan would also be going but because we pass the stadium every week on our way to the Speedway, his other sporting routine, and new that Middlesbrough played there. 

He has a Boro branded t-shirt but not a replica shirt for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm not paying £50 for something he'll grow out of in six months and also, actually the strongest reason, is that Middlesbrough are sponsored by Ramsdens, a pawnbrokers.  I appreciate they are not as bad as predatory payday moneylenders such as Wonga or QuickQuid but as far as I'm concerned, they are the one-haired man in the kingdom of the blind. I disapprove and won't let my son endorse them.  It's a reason I wear the classic 1970s style Boro shirts to matches myself, as well as being timeless classic and associated with a swaggering brand of football and machismo that Jack Charlton's team epitomised, they also don't have a sponsor.

I parked near the old Dockside clock and told Vincent the story about why it has three faces (the fourth one is a bricked out section that faces the docks themselves. Designed so the workers would not know how close it was to 5pm, and therefore wouldn't slack off from their duties), and walked past the giant Temenos sculpture which resembles either a huge Star-Trek style wormhole or twisted femidom depending on how charitable you are feeling.  A hop across the swing bridge to take in a downriver view of the Tees including a submerged jetty and sunken boat at low tide and to the gates to meet up with his cousins.  

Providence takes many forms the site of three handsome young Boro fans took the imagination of a local director.  He asked if he could film all three of them in cheering mode to feature in the opening titles of the matchday show this season. I happily signed the release form and am looking forward to seeing them immortalised for at least the next 24 matches, especially when the weather and probably results take a grimmer turn than today's sleepy sunshine draped Riverside. 

The boys settled down to enjoy their drinks and sweets and happily cheered a motivated Marvin Emnes scoring both goals in a 2-1 including a great top corner consolation for the visitors. Vince left with a spring in his step as we walked back down Vulcan Road, past SLP where I spent a happy summer working in the Shipyard and nailing down my claim to working class Teesside credibility.  I watched Vince running around with the happy boys, playing together, wondering if he suspected the lifetime of worry, pain, annoyance, embarrassment, confusion, anger and occasional joy I've bequeathed him through a lifetime allegiance to the forces of the Roaring Red Lion. 

As misery shared is a trouble halved but for one bright, brilliant summers day, it was a deserved dividend in happiness.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Party Season

So the summer party season is in full swing.  The children’s party season that is.  Vince has settled in really well at school, making a lot of new friends and getting on really well with them and his teachers.  A consequence of which is that we get invited to every single party on the calendar, boys and girls - more on which later, so barely a weekend goes by without a race to get a present and a card.   The card is trickier than it should be because some of the kids in his class are turning five, not being five already so I tend to go for a generic, boy/girl birthday card rather than a specific number based one.

Presents are even harder.  Our average spend is about £10 because I don’t know how well or not Vincent likes them.  Boys presents are easier because, well guess.    I usually go for something constructive like Lego for them to use, because everybody likes Lego, but also if they are really REALLY into Transformers, I would not like to bring them either a) Ninja Turtles or other toy that they aren’t collecting or b) one they have already got.  

Girls are harder to buy for.  I resent the implication that they will be interested in dolls or anything else pink but there is a hugely limited choice.  Books mark you out as some kind of weirdo or grand parent so I’ve been appealing to their creative side and getting some arts and crafty things like DIY Jewellery or sparkle stuff.  

Boys parties are straightforward and less taxing for the parent. They are at a soft play place or room and the kids just go off and go nuts, running around, laughing, screaming or playing tag.  Parents get the chance to sit down, relax a little from watching their child intently and catch up with one another before meal time.  A selection of crisps, cakes, chocolate, sausage rolls, sandwiches and juice comes along before the presentation of the main cake and the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’.  

Girls parties are a little more intricate.  Because Vince is popular and friendly, he gets to go to virtually all of these, which his mates don’t for several reasons.  Girl’s parties are like disco’s and haven’t changed in the intervening 30 years since I used to go to them.  The girls stand in small groups performing increasingly elaborate dance steps and moves while the boys sit around the outside of the room fiddling with their pants or moaning about being hungry. I’ve noticed it’s exactly the same for the parents too.  Some games are played and Vince is chased around by some of the girls until the food comes out, usually daintier and fancier than the boys parties, and the cake.  

They are a really good chance to meet other parents.  Vince is famous because he came from America where they call ‘lifts’ ‘elevators’ and put ‘gas’ in cars instead of ‘petrol’, so I enjoy recognition by association although I think they are all slightly disappointed that he doesn’t talk more like Mike TeeVee from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I am really looking forward to another party next month though.  Stacey will get to come along and meet the other parents for the first time and they have also selected the best venue possible for it - a pub.  A wonderful place where the kids can see just how different their parents are.  The mums sitting or standing around in small groups, talking together, laughing, being sociable and even dancing.  The dad’s sitting around, staring into their pints, mumbling to each other, checking their watches or eyes glued to Sky Sports if there’s a screen in the vicinity. Girls grow up, boys just get bigger.

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Sleep and the Fury - An old man readies for war

So I've been 40 just over two weeks now and I only just about started smiling again.  

I don't know why, ageing has never held any genuine terrors for me before but maybe this time is different. For the first time you’re aware that the clock is on and it’s already been running for some time. You’re not the next big thing anymore, you are what you are and maybe about to step into the queue for the downhill ride of your life.

There’s also other cumulative factors too - lack of sleep, hard work, emotional stress from being apart from Stacey and looking after Vince despite my parent’s much required and admired help, bright light streaming into the room far too early and remaining far too late and maybe too much tea, which in turn allows me to eat too many bisuits.

Also gradual reassimilation into the currents and eddys of everday British life, like trying to join in a dance if you’re one step behind and need to catch-up.  One thing that has taken me by surprise, and not pleasantly, is a general hardening of attitudes and rising meanness amongst people.  I can understand why. Hard economic times mean people are uncertain and like to look around for easy solutions or scapegoats. If they are misinformed or ill informed by higher powers with agendas of their own, then you can see it play out in action.  

Immigration being a case in point.   From the rhetoric about skivers v strivers, and every sentence being peppered with adjectives such as ‘hard working’ and ‘british’, than anything falling outside that definition is easy to be viewed with suspicion and at times downright hostitlity.  Look at any coverage on migration these days and see the accompanying pictures and language used.

They won’t be of Jose Mourinho or Robin Van Persie but most likely niqab or sari wearing women pushing buggies. Look - they’re different from you, their names sound funny, they might have more kids than you (that you’ll pay for!) and you just know they’re up to no good in those funny looking temples of theirs.   Lay on a strong foundation of suspicion, mistrust and deceit and then it’s ideal to build a restrictive and discriminative platform on top.  

Minimum income requirements for anybody wanting to bring non-EU dependents to the country? Great.  £3000 bonds for visitors from certain countries to come to the UK, because lots of ‘them’ run away when they’re here? No problem. Charge non-EU visitors or residents to use the NHS? At last. Obscene official tweets and alarmist research? Gotcha.  Taken individually, the above measures, of which there are many more, and these are just aimed at immigrants. Taken individually, each one is a mean-spirited, dog-whistle low political headline grabber, but taken together, is an official assault on a group of people without the profile, voice or funds to fight back. I’m not going to address similar campaigns against the disabled and the unemployed, but you know it’s happening.

No wonder my feelings of lethargy and acceptance are rapidly being replaced with aggression and belligerence. As the country I loved and always tried to greet previous difficulties with a shrug and a smile replaces it with an officially sanctioned shove and a snarl.
Churchill, that most British of icons and symbols who was himself a product of an international relationship, with an American mother, said “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Maybe I’ve spent too long ducking and keeping my head down, making nice, turning the other cheek and letting it lie. All you’re doing is allowing knucklebeaks and worse to prosper by silent acquiescence.

Maybe it’s time to take two of my mentors words and act on them: ‘We can all be little Tom Paine’s. Changing a little bit of history at a time by being the first in the room to say ‘That’s not right - we’re not standing for that. So everyone else goes, their saying exactly what I was thinking.  If Tom Paine has one thing to say to us it’s: Make A Fuss’. That and woe betide any fucking moron dumb enough to start on about ‘bloody immigrants’ in my actual or virtual presence.

The 20s are about establishing an idea of the self, the 30s are about building and actualising it. Maybe the 40s are about fighting for it and defending it. The righteous sound and fury may fade, especially as I get more sleep, but as long as the fire doesn’t go out then at the very least I won’t be disappointing myself anymore. 

Time to suit up, not shut up.

Update 1 - Who's Tom Paine? Only the most influential English writer on American culture and society. Sorry Chris Hitchens.

The Mark Steel Lectures: Thomas Paine - made by the glorious Open University

Friday, 14 June 2013

A Curtain or A Wall? - Thoughts on Online Personal Boundaries

I've been doing a lot of thinking this week following my previous post.  

Primarily about this blog and what it's for and also the wider issue of where the boundaries in your lives are, whether they are solid, moveable or exist at all. 

As a Social Media Professional (don't laugh), I have attracted a cult following (as in small and crazy) on some social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ who expect me to post links and ideas on Social Media, new ideas, platforms, tactics etc. and how they can best use it.  I use Facebook primarily to catch up with and communicate with friends so I have already compartmentalised my social media consumption thusly. 

How have I reacted in the past when other people's boundaries start getting blurred and their real lives have intruded into their professional online persona's?  I follow a lot of social media and tech bloggers and I admit, I become more intrigued and interested when the realities of everyday life come over, because it personalises them more.  

I'm a big fan of the writer Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness projects. An attempt to lifehack and reprogram/force yourself to be happier in all aspects of your life.  Her books are an enthralling read and full of background reading, information and examples from the lives of philosophers, statesmen, spiritual leaders and other inspirational characters but the most compelling parts for me are her interactions with her husband, kids, friends and family and what happens when the rubber of her theories meets the road of reality. IE, what happens when you become a real person, not an esoteric author. 

It reassures me to know they are a real person with real life problems and not a digital avatar sat on a silicone throne pontificating on Pinterest Pages from on high, removed from the everyday digital and detritus we all have to deal with.  

Of course there are limits, WH Smiths has a tragic life story section now for horrendous memoirs so I do like them to go back on topic occasionally but the fact that they are willing to share their own experiences somehow makes them a more real writer and authentic voice than before.  

I thought about this very carefully before writing about our current immigration travails. I know the blog is different, especially this one, as it is meant to be a filtered mirror into my life back in the UK, and this problem is currently weighing me down significantly, so if I didn't make mention of it then I think I'd be doing the reader a disservice. You're here for a couple of reasons but primarily I guess, it's to hear from me.  Guy Bailey the person, not the social media enthusiast and expert, or the writer or the PR/Comms freelancer. 

I link to my blog on LinkedIn, where maybe the personal stuff should be kept to a minimum, and on Facebook where the professional stuff should be put on a leash so I apologise if I let light in on magic by lifting the corner of the curtain, but ultimately, no matter why people follow, read or connect with you on Social Media or even offline, it's because of you. 

Your knowledge, opinions, thoughts, prejudices, ideals, humour and ideas are all facets of you and while some filtering and a process of segment marketing your personality are in operation every minute you're awake, maybe it's not such a new idea. Before the internet it used to be called a conscience.

So I'm not going to make any more apologies for keepin' it real.  You're here (or on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Vine or someplace else) to hear from me, and even though I know a bunch of stuff about a bunch of stuff, none of it means anything without the filter of life and living to give it the human context.  

Monday, 10 June 2013

All the fun of the unfair

Some readers may be a little confused as to why Vince and I have moved back to the UK and Stacey remains in the US.

Basically in July 2012, new rules were brought in to curtail British people bringing their partners and family members into the country if they are non-EU citizens.  Not just folks from those funny sounding countries either, but Americans, Australians, South Africans - you know, our friends.

The upshot of which is that in order to bring your partner, you have to find a job earning a minimum amount of money (£18,600), to sponsor them for two years and an additional £2,400 for each non-EU child.  Vince is dual so doesn't count in that equation but Stacey does which is why my freelance Social Media/Consulting business is on ice and I'm working for Bloggs and Son to meet this figure so Stacey can come over.   It is ostensibly to stop her signing on the dole when she arrives, which of course is foremost in any immigrants mind but also disallows third party sponsorship, so even if I was the son of Richard Branson or Alan Sugar, this would not be taken into consideration.

The Visa processing process takes two to three months itself and costs £850 to apply. Stacey has to apply from the United States, cannot do it from the UK, and has to hand over her passport in the process to make sure there are no sneaky trips to, you know, see her son and husband in the meantime.  There is also no right of appeal if the request is turned down so you'd better make damn sure you've got all your ducks in a row.

The reason the rule was brought in is a classic example of realpolitik.  The government wants to reduce immigration so it can go to the polls in 2015 and say - "Look, we reduced immigration!".  There are several methods to do this but the one they have decided on impacts non-EU citizens immigration rules, which they can control as opposed to EU citizens free movement which they can't.  So, by erecting barriers to non-EU citizens, the number of successful applications falls, immigration goes down and it's a policy triumph. Regardless of how many families and homes are split up in the process.  Japanese and Chinese research students go to more welcoming universities in the US, taking their goodwill, money and brains with them, willing immigrants from countries that are our past and present allies linger on the sidelines whereas citizens from countries with a dubious grip on human rights, rule of law etc, yes Russia & Dubai, we're looking at you, can have the red carpet rolled out if they have £62,500 in the bank.  I should have mentioned that the Government has left a loophole for 'high value' migrants that have that amount of spare income.

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration has been published today which reacts as any fair-minded individual would when informed of the wrong-header, cruel policy put in place as a sledgehammer to crack the walnut sized problem of non-EU/British family immigration.  The report addresses cases like us and calls for a review of the procedure - good luck with that.

As a last insult, the rule does not apply to non-British EU citizens and their non-EU partners so Jose from Ireland and his American wife or Bert from Spain with his Brazilian partner can bring them in as soon as they get to a wifi access point to submit the paperwork.

I never thought it would be easier for me to emigrate into the US than Stacey to come here but there we are. I hope this sheds some light on the frustrations and outright outrageous unfairness we face in trying to reunite our family in the UK. Expat message boards are full of heart breaking stories of families breaking up and British citizens being forced into exile just to keep their families together.

But I'm sure it's worth it to keep those darn New Zealanders out...

Update 1 - As ever, our good friends at The Northern Echo are first out of the gate

Update 2 - I also spoke to Amy Lea on BBC Tees drivetime about the issue yesterday too. 

Friday, 31 May 2013

Blessay From America now available on Amazon!

Well I'm officially an author.  

Blessay From America, the ebook, is now available on and everywhere else with an Amazon.

It's a lot easier than going all the way back through the previous blog so save some time and get yourself one.

You're Welcome. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sun Days and Bizarre Love Quadrangles

It's an extended bank holiday weekend followed by half term week so it's an advantage to be off work so I can enjoy the sun and entertain Vince this week.

Starting as we mean to go on, Vince was invited to a classmates birthday party.  Like a lot of places on Teesside, I haven't been to Thornaby Pavilion in years and it's certainly smartened up since I used to play 5-a-side there.  As has Thornaby itself. 

There is a large silver golf ball on the roof, a kind of miniature Sunsphere which for the first time this year, was working.  The sun does funny things to Northern people. The first sniff of a rising temperature then off come the tops, out come the tatts and (muffin) tops and the trousers shrink faster than in a Jam video from the early 80s.  My unofficial 'worst bodyart in the north east' competition has now gone from the qualifying rounds at Splash baths to the first round proper.  Leader so far is an inept drawing of The Hulk on one guys calf who looks more like an annoyed Jolly Green Giant opposite an equally bad Iron Man but we've got plenty of time left.  Like a mate of mine commented 'I've never seen a butterfly with a middle aged woman wing design'.

The party was great fun. It's was a girls disco and Vince was one of the only boys but this didn't perturb him or me.  He's a good looking young chap so had better get used to being chased around by girls - literally.  The women spent most of their time dancing with each other and chatting while the dads were glued to the walls checking their phones and mumbling to each other. Exactly as I remembered school discos.

Today was more of the same weatherwise so I headed off to the coast with Lil man to meet one of his idols - Kwaazi Kitten from the Octonauts at Scarborough Sealife center. We went via Whitby so we could have a clifftop picnic in the Abbey grounds.  He's a little young to learn about Dracula and the fate of the Demeter in the rocks below but the sun and views of the town compensated enough. Plus it adds another cultural touchstone to his lexicon. He already looks for and is excited by the sight of the transporter bridge every time we go to Middlesbrough and recognises the pictures we have of it around the house.  We've got several more of Saltburn and Whitby too so these will be further mental connections waiting to be made.  I did miss the sea in Atlanta, must have been why I enjoyed our trips to Charleston and the Carolina coast so much.

We drove along Scarborough south bay seafront, Diet Blackpool if you will, and headed to the center. We had some time before our entry so we rode a narrow gauge railway to nearby Peasholme Park for a lolly and an ice cream and back.  Vince has been brought up on steam trains thanks to Thomas and the brick sculpture of the Mallard just outside of Darlington which he insists we stop at every time we can.  The journey is only 10 minutes but is one of the most picturesque you could enjoy. By the sea, beach and castle perched on the clifftop on one side to the park, bridge, tunnel and park lake on the other where miniature battleships used to reenact naval engagements hourly for the tourists. It reminded me of enjoyed another warm week in Scarborough back in the early 90s.

I was going out with a girl who was way more into me than I was her but it wasn't her fault. I was in love with her best friend who she was sharing a flat with at the time but was going out with a guy from Leeds, one of my least favourite cities. To add to my antipathy, I once spent 30 minutes inadvertently impersonating him on the phone with her mother when I finally plucked up enough courage to call. Her mother answered and assuming it was him, gave me the state of the nation address. Our Mike Leigh week passed off without any such incidents but definitely laid the myth that lots of women are mind readers.

The center isn't as large or expansive as the Georgia aquarium but more downhome and charming for it.  A black cat meandered lazily outside the penguin enclosure which closely resembled a cavernous bunker on a decent golf course. After leaving the penguins of the Sahara, we watched the lazy sunbathing seals living the life and then inside for the sharks, rays and eerie Alaskan Spider Crabs.

We watched a huge turtle sloping across the tank until Kwaazi the cat pirate appeared and enchanted the young audience. It's a measure of the Octonauts success that we were able to identify several fish and creatures from sight.   We had a quick round of crazy golf in the sun afterwards, only spoiled by a swarm of pasty skinned meerkats swearing loudly at each other while slurping Stella on the slipway while the tide came in. Sadly not swiftly enough.

We took a leisurely drive back over the moors counting horses, sheep and cows and knowing that an already sleepy vince would  have a solid nights sleep, I drifted back to the unrequited week.

I did eventually date the girl I had set my hat to. My genius idea of a movie followed by a night on the tiles was prematurely scuppered by the choice of Leaving Las Vegas where - Spoiler Alert - Nic Cage plays an alcoholic script writer who moves to Vegas to drink himself to death.  Not being able to so much as look a coke in the eye afterwards, the initial momentum stalled and she bombed me out soon after for a guy who removed barnacles from recreational boats on the Tees. I'd been winkled.

The great thing about the seaside is the constant renewal occurring in front of your eyes. The sand, waves and even rocks will be there again offering warm memories yet they are unique offering constant renewals and the promise and idea that you can begin again, anew, brighter and better than before. The best sand castles will be washed away but can always be rebuilt in the sunshine.

Monday, 13 May 2013

2003 called, It wants its shirt back

Last weekend was one I've been looking forward to since I arrived back in the UK. I headed off to Stratford Upon Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare for a golfing weekend and FA Cup Final cocktails with some very good friends of mine - Rich, Les, Tom and Paddy. Collectively we were known as the House of Kwong after a nameplate on the house we used to share in Oxfordshire after University. 

It's something of a tradition for us to take off for FA Cup Final weekend for golf and gottles of geer. All are memorable and fun, a chance to catch up with the guys, talk nonsense for a few hours and have some convivial drinks in great company. We've been to Nottingham, Norwich, Bath and several other places but one of the more outstanding adventures we had was 13 years ago on this very weekend in 1993, we had a similar weekend on the Isle of Man which we went to, to play in a Football tournament.  I chronicled the various events, and it was eventful, and let you download the full report 'Manx Tales' for your delectation.  

I've also got The Great Gatsby on my mind. Not so much the book as Baz Luhrman's new adaptation starring Leo DiCaprio as the eponymous Gatsby. I've been looking forward to it since it was announced several years ago and now it's here, accompanied by a blisteringly good soundtrack. the themes and ideas of the greatest American novel come flooding back. Particularly one - The idea that you can't repeat the past. Or can you?

We're all older, heavier, more weathered and experienced but have we fundamentally changed? If so, how? 

The golf itself was tremendous fun at a club outside of the main town. Rich, the most diligent golfer in our group and previous winner of the Kwong Championship came to the fore but the battle for second was tight between the rest of us. I was glad to get through 18 holes in one piece, not having played for at least two years but a glorious birdie followed by two pars set nervous pulses racing until normal service was resumed and the only participants worried about my form on the course were the ducks.

We went back into town on the evening, taking care to note all the various authentic Shakespeare tie-ins including his genuine boyhood coach terminal and gift shop and immediately sought to recapture the evenings of youth in the company of various cocktail pitchers, bottles of foreign lager and something of a Kwong trademark, a round of BMW's.  Rod Stewart's tipple of choice, a Bailey's, Malibu and Whisky, as lethal as it is luscious.  The night ended in a surprisingly sparse Chicago Rock Cafe before we sloped back to the hotel.

I first began to doubt the veracity of my theory on the past when I woke up to paraphrase The Blackadder - feeling as if my head had a Frenchman living in it.  Two schoolboy errors of not drinking sufficient water before turning in and not taking paracetamol to head off the runaway hangover express that was heading your way. 

We went back out at lunchtime to eat and take in the first football match of the day. I had conspicuously bought a new shirt for the event, specifically similar to a blue and white Hawaiian number I used to rock in the early 2000's, an effort to create a kind of like a sartorial time machine to see if the act of recapturing your dress could recapture your thoughts and feelings of a particular time and place.  This one was holed fatally when my good friend Paddy complimented me on my 'Alfie Moon' shirt.  

More football and frolics followed including a solid hour of power which involved drinking five bottles of blue WKD within the allotted time frame, another theme-drink of lost early middle-age. A great cup final followed by a really nice Indian meal before we made our way back to the hotel  definitely feeling older if not wiser.

So what did we discover in our 48 hours on the banks of the Avon?  That for all the silk shirts and pink suits on Long Island, the past is a feeling, not a place, and definitely not one that can be reached by conventional means. And would you want to repeat it at all? Notorious party animal Keith Richards thinks his own reputation is somewhat overblown and admits that he rarely drinks/smokes more than one accelerant as you cannot create the initial buzz and rush so it is a waste of time, money and energy doing what so many others do and trying. 

I did realise, surrounded by some of my closest friends and fellows I've shared many drinks, meals, nights, insults, ideas, heartbreaks, setbacks and victories with, that the past is not fixed, it's evolving and exists only to bring you to the most important time in your life. Right now.  Your ultimate duty is to make the most of this time and surround yourself with the very best and most important people, ideas, goals and dreams right now.  This time will be past soon enough, and while you might not remain Young and Beautiful for long, your memories and friendships will, if you give them half a chance. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Unfinished Business

If you're looking for a word to describe my relationship with the great northern city of Manchester, it's unrequited.  True, I graduated from Manchester University (class of 96) but the three years I spent were mainly in Warrington, 12 miles to the west as this is where our faculty was based.  I visited on many occasions and had a great time in the early Britpop years, and made great plans for a triumphant return after graduation.

I was working at a shipyard in Middlesbrough (who's got blue collar credibility?) and was saving up for my return. Every day when we worked into town for lunch, I saw the Manchester Airport train idling at the station, seemingly letting me know it was ready whenever I was and in January 97, I made the move back.  I got a room in Didsbury, the leafy suburb of choice for the young professional, had friends in town, and even landed a job at a business ratings company in Old Trafford, a stones throw from the cricket and football grounds.  Life was going to be great.

And it was until I broke my leg playing football as a ringer on my cousin's team on a Friday night and spent the subsequent six months in plaster up to my thigh. I had to let the job and room go and convalesced at my parents.  During the intervening 16 years, I've had a couple of other close calls about going back, jobs that weren't right, or I wasn't right for then, ,as John Lennon sagely observed, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. 

This week however, saw an unexpected but welcome opportunity to revisit the old place for a job interview.  I took the train in from Darlington and was trying to conserve my battery as I thought I might need the map navigation when I got there. Ridiculous because as soon as I came out of Piccadilly Stations impressive glass fronted atrium, I could find my way around blindfolded through Picadilly Gardens and the new Arndale.  This is a city of warm memory for me - I had my stag do here, Stacey and I have had some great nights here going to the Lowry and cavorting round Deansgate.  It was here I met my old BBC pal and fellow Boro fan Paul for lunch at the Moon Under The Water, formerly my favourite pub in Manchester and scene of some delirious celebrations in 1998 when Middlesbrough contrived to win 3-2 against Manchester United.  In the days before mobile phones, my friends were worried they might not be able to find me in one of the biggest pubs in Europe.  They told me they could hear me singing as soon as they set foot in the door later. 

After a pleasant catch-up we parted and I made my way up Oxford Road to my Alma Mata, the University of Manchester, to the old Quad where we graduated on a rainy June day back in 1996.  It was having expensive refurbishment work done but it is always pleasing to read of the achievements of other notable alumni such as Anthony Burgress, writer of A Clockwork Orange, Alan Turing, father of modern computing and Ellen Wilkinson, first female Minister of Education and MP for Middlesbrough as well as being a great socialist.  My interview was here - at my old school.

It's a situation worthy of further consideration. I want to stay close to my friends and family in the North East but new media jobs are hard to come by in our enclave of The Far Corner, the title of Harry Pearsons' seminal 1994 book on North East Football, so I might find myself commuting farther afield.  Driving in Atlanta has given me an appreciation for the longer commute that most American workers take forgranted.  Manchester would previously have been off limits but there are some calls you really must take - and one from your old school, in the industry you love in your favourite city is one.  

Manchester and I have always had unfinished business and while I've been cautious about pulling on the loose ends of the tapestry of my life lest it begins to unravel, my link to Mancunia feels more tethered than most.  

For one reason or another, I may not end up back at the University but I at least have opened up another possible route back into employment and enjoyment and removed another self-imposed limit from my outlook and my life.  I've already done as Horace Greeley and the Pet Shop Boys once advised, 'Go West!', so maybe we'll end up doing it again and achieving a British manifest destiny of our own. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Made Of Stone

I was back in the North West last week so I took the chance to visit my old college for the first 
time in years.

It was always a quiet, leafy campus and still is with some superficial changes but essentially the spirit and essence of the place remains the same. 
I spent 1993-1996 at Warrington Padgate Campus, now part of the University of Chester, and really had the time of my life - meeting a lot of lifelong friends and setting me on the journey to becoming the person I am today and tomorrow.  But what about yesterday?

You cannot help but think back to the times past when you return to an old home or school, to the person you were and what became of you.  I wandered around the town centre too to see our old pubs closed and refurbished, shops opening and mainly closing and the vestiges of individuality of any town being eroded with another soulless identikit shopping mall.  In a house I lived in for a year, my bedroom overlooked the River Mersey floating by and I was constantly willing my future to come floating along with it. 

In the same way your experiences stay with and mark you, so you sometimes mark them. The first week of term In 1993, I engraved my name in wet cement outside the hall and 20 years later it's still there. I find this immensely comforting, that no matter what I achieve, there will always be proof of my existence here, safe from rebranding, reinvention and inevitable decline. As my body and mind break down and ultimately perish, at least I'll have a good name somewhere...