Category Archives: Thoughts

Slight Mishap

one gentle throne
a blink of an idea
lost in the sludge
buried in the nadir of this construct
who makes the iron freeze
no fire left
There is a light for all of us
buried in ourselves.
Hope is there, in these new stories
spun by the young.
Take hold of each other.
Vote us.

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Hi Sam,

Firstly we’d like to congratulate you on reaching this stage. After managing to complete your fourth and final year of your degree whilst simultaneously becoming a father for the first time, it’s clearly been a journey for you.

The following time you spent teaching children scuba diving was commendable. Then of course you chose to fulfil some necessity somewhere else. Which we were concerned about at first. But you knew then after a time. You knew when you first walked through the doors of that job centre, sat behind a desk and started helping people. You were never late for that job.

Here we come to your time spent working with children. Since your second child started nursery you have clearly shown a genuine connection to the place, the children and the brilliant, fascinating people that work there. You can be assured, and have been advised accordingly, that all feedback from this area has been positive. The gardening, cooking, singing (perhaps not eh? 😉 Why you choose to pour every minute of your time into your daughters life and then volunteer, for free, for weeks on end with even more early years children is beyond me. But know of course that your time and help is always appreciated.

We spoke briefly about your belief in the importance of the early years, your interest in how the education system is shaped around them and how much you enjoy it. Out of all the weird, brilliant, symbolic things you have achieved with your life this is clearly the one that keeps you the happiest.

On a technical note it is admirable that you passed both the literal and numerical tests within one week after having only 4 days to revise for both. It is clear that you are perfectly capable of all that you desire.

Sadly, as we discussed Sam, things aren’t as they should be in this case. I would hope that we’ve all learned something out of this.

Yours in gratitude. If I can be of any help my door is always open.

Solitary

I like my own company. I can spend a long time on my own quite happily. This has always been the case. Happily introverted. Before I met my partner I’d spend nearly all of my time alone. Happily. I don’t have close friends. I don’t want any. I’ve had them before. Didn’t work out too well for me.

These hermit based tendencies are not the behavioural patterns required to engage, amuse, raise and teach a three year old. It’s not fair on her. I don’t want my daughter to assume my sensibilities about people are normal. They’re not. These are the lessons that I have learnt.

Indirectly my three year old is teaching me how to become more sociable. I’ll give you an example. We love going swimming. It’s a special time for both of us. But I shrink at the thought of bumping into someone we know. Someone ruining our special time. Some awkward conversation with someone I barely know who clearly doesn’t want anything to do with me. But Eve can’t wait to bump into someone. Which is great. It demonstrates that she hasn’t been that afflicted with my horrendous shyness. And I’m still not over mine. I’m nearly 40 years old. Last week Eve swam over to a little girl and her mum, looked back at me and said “Daddy are you coming over to meet this little girl with me or not?” The water nearly started boiling I was that embarrassed. Ashamed of myself. Some hairy, grown ass adult who should know better.

Last year our circumstances changed considerably. I lost my job, was out of work for nearly a year, credit cards, baliffs, crippling debt and all the shit that comes with that. We had to take her out of school. We nearly broke. And each and every day we’d be woken by a smiling little girl, hair exploding in the light of the morning. None of this is her fault. She didn’t mash credit cards, lose her job, spend all evening drinking, forget to pay that bill. None of this is her fault. She didn’t choose to be here. Essentially my moral code can’t help but stop any of my trials and tribulations becoming hers. So far it’s working, but I’m not sure how long I can keep up the pretence.

The mornings are the worst. She wakes at 05:30 or thereabouts every day. She’s three. She is surrounded by stimuli, waited on hand and foot, wants for nothing and everything. As soon as she awakes until midday chaotic combinations of the following take place: painting; puppet shows; bug collecting; Lego; drawing; visiting friends; calling my parents; tea parties; doctors and nurses; baking; gardening; reading; music making; writing; basketball; trips to the park; more trips to the park etc.

Somewhere in-between these odd fragments of time I clean. Tidy up her toys. Tidy up my toys. Wash clothes. Open red topped letters. Make desperate, pleading phonecalls. Try and make some friends. Worry. Scream into a pillow.

I don’t want my failures in life to bleed into hers somehow. To make everything rotten. But it is hard work to stem what you would usually let flow. Especially when it’s only you holding everyone together.

But I’ll say this. In these shattered, frenzied hours my daughter will be far more concerned about when she’s getting another toy pony. She will be hard at work ensuring that she gets what she wants, that she goes home when she wants, she eats what she wants and that she does whatever she wants. When you work as hard as you can, with the focus of ensuring she has the best day she possibly can, it cuts to the gut when it clearly isn’t good enough for her. Even though I know it is.

Give me a day or two of solitude. Long enough to sort our lives out. Just to stay on the line long enough to the bank without her demanding I do my Fireman Sam impression. Just one more time.

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(review) Echoes of the Underground: A Footsoldier’s Tales

I discovered this title through the more traditional author marketing campaign. Meeting the author face to face.

And what a pleasure it was, it is and shall always be.

Having been on the hunt for a copy of “Brainstorm” by Bryan Talbot I discovered that Lee Harris (the original publisher of Brainstorm and good friend of Talbot) sells brand new copies over the counter at “Alchemy”, the headshop he still runs in the frenzied, colourful guts of Portbello road. It was at this time he told he about the completion of “Echoes of the Underground”, asking most graciously if I would read it.

Covering his beginnings in South Africa before moving into a thought provoking account of the numerous individuals encountered in his life Harris has collected articles, insights and personal recollections over what appears to be a troubling but rich lifetime. Lee manages to capture his experiences of the sixties with a high degree of lucidity. His intelligent discussions around LSD, the Arts Lab and numerous other counter culture topics are a brilliant insight into the general mindset of the time. The capturing of the flux and reflux of the creative spirit, and the legalities surrounding the march of the free thinkers, is quite astounding.

As Harris recounts his time with various beautiful creatures of the time his curiosity and genuine interest in the human soul is evident. Lee is a curious and soulful individual indeed, as well as being a gentle and powerful writer. The memories he recounts read as if you are there with him, reeling in psychedelic delirium, frothing in hedonism, swimming in history.

In this Harris takes you by the hand through the multi-layered strands of his memories. If you’re looking for a genuine, applicable, honest account of the sixties culture look no further. Lee will be only too happy to take those rose tinted spectacles from your face.

A brilliant account of a lifetime that now seems a galaxy away.

Conversations with a Liar

I had this conversation with my three year old yesterday afternoon. A good lesson in how to set up a good hustle.

“Have you had a bath?”

“Yes”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll ask mummy y’know.”

(covering her mouth and whispering) “Will you ask mummy?”

“Yes. Then we’ll find out if you’re lying. Do you know about lying?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“No.”

So I start telling her about lying. I use examples to provide consequential outcomes. She seems to get it.

“Let’s say I break your lego castle while you’re at big school. Then, when you come home, you will say ‘Who broke my castle?’. How would you feel then?”

“Sad. And cross.”

“What happens next if I lie and say it was mummy who broke the castle?”

“I would laugh.”

“You would laugh.”

“Yup.” (big show of pretend laughing)

“Why?”

“Because it’s funny.”

“But then we’re all cross! Because of the lie I told you would then get cross with mummy. Then mummy gets cross with me.”

“And then mummy is cross then you are cross then you make me cross.”

“And how would we all feel if I had just told the truth in the first place.”

“Happy. And I would say ‘don’t worry daddy. We can fix it together.’”

(One hour later. In walks mummy. To much delight a question is asked.)

“Mummy we have something to ask you. Have I had a bath today?”

“Yes.”

“Ha ha.”

The look she shot me when she’d seen I had realised she’d been telling the truth all along was the only lesson I learned worth remembering that day. Adults don’t know anything.

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Instructions

Everything dies, Everything is born. Again and again. Just like you.

There is no meaning to life. It just is. Unrelenting chaos. Why search for something that you know isn’t there? To become another flapping flesh socket blabbing about itself?

Life has no meaning, You give it some crutch. Make it your own. It is that simple.

Bully

To be a bully. Flicking cigarette ash in hoods. Leaving vile drawings in books. Tipping bags on the floor. Sitting next to victims on the school bus. Watching them quiver. Feeding off the power. To be a bully. They come in many shades. I have learned that essentially they are all the same.

But it makes us who we are. Bullying does that. When you have enough fingers in your face. Being told you’re worthless. Violence. Intimidation. When you just keep being beaten and can’t face standing up again.

I was bullied at school. I moved around a lot as a kid. Starting a new primary school for six months before being moved to another. Another country mostly. Settling but not settling. Making friends and losing them. Mostly because I haven’t quite learned how to keep them. Preferring my own company from an early age.

I have a strange accent. An odd mix of Aberdonian and rather posh sounding English. My skin is quite dark as I grew up in the Middle East. When we moved to Aberdeen I was six. I had already been to five different schools. As a regular newcomer to many a class I was earmarked from the beginning until I left school. My father tells me “moving your kids around at a young age is fine. They adjust really quickly.” I don’t agree with that at all.

I was bullied because I was different. The wrong accent in a small town. Trying to fit in again. For me I reached breaking point and stopped trying to fit in altogether. Moving up through the education system I made some friends. Only one of them I would truly count as one today. Ask me how many friends I would invite to my wedding it would be her. Don’t ask me who I’m inviting to my funeral.

It started gradually. Small meaningless scuffles. Nothing I couldn’t handle. My reaction to it was to laugh. Revel in my differences. I grew my hair. Got tattoos. Socialised with an older peer group. I was a “freak” and remained one, purposefully or otherwise until I left school.

To be different. To stand out. To be beaten at the school gates and have no one in your corner. No one to pick up your bag. No one to wipe the spit from your face. I was hated for the sake of having something to hate. The first real bully I came across hated me because his sister thought I was attractive. He came with cigarette burns and a regular fist in the back of my skull. He also came from a large extended family. For my regular beating after school his backup was ten to fifteen family members of various sizes. I didn’t have anybody. People were afraid to be seen with me.

I kicked back. Started drinking. Putting myself in dangerous situations. All of this was of course some sorry attempt to find some level of confidence. I felt like I was nothing. A pointless worm. The more I hated them the more I hated me. The more I altered my own self the more I isolated myself. Trying to isolate myself yet paradoxically putting myself in the spotlight even more. I became accustomed to fear.

One of the worst. Followed home by a large gang of local kids spurred on by an older girl I’d never seen before. After refusing to fight with this girl I received a fair beating from her and her family in arms. After kicking me in the testicles several times she then suggested to her brother that he might like to drive over me with his car. I don’t remember much after hearing that. I was twelve years old.

This went on for a while. Small town mentality. It escalated to a ridiculous level. One particular loon became very fond of terrifying me after school. It reached a rather odd point whereby he had become so fanatical about me he searched every single bus after school, tearing up seats and smashing windows as he went. A desperate search as I was hiding at a friends house. This same individual later made several death threats, tried to burn my house down and eventually turned up outside our house threatening to rape my mother.

I went back to Aberdeen several years ago for a short while. One morning I saw that same bully begging for change outside the post office. He didn’t have any teeth. Track lines all down his arms. I dropped some change in his hat. The same orange skull hat he wore at school. The same fists that pummeled me in the face every day for months.

My most humiliating. Having my gym kit stuffed down the toilet. A very unpleasant young man with a gang of uglier friends behind him. Kicked to the front of the bus. Covered in spit and blood by the time I got home. I think I was ten.

My daughter is beautiful. She attracts a lot of attention. Already she tells me that she doesn’t like the boys at school. I’ve watched from a distance and seen her being targeted by a couple of them. It is hard not to get involved when you see it. Your child being hurt. Because that’s what bullying is. It is nothing more than a vindictive, often long term need to cause pain to something you don’t like or understand. So you try to destroy it because that is what humans do. Sometimes it is all we do.

Many of my assailants had abusive parents, drug problems, no real prospects or safety net. Yet I’ve witnessed hideous bullying from wealthy, comfortable people in very powerful positions. The only common, and general denominator between each party is despising oneself. That burning frustration. Remembering all those private moments you never tell anyone about. Clutching your skull in agony with the weight of it all. Carrying an ache in your chest wherever you go. Perhaps in retrospect my bullies and I were more similar than we might think. Each living some hell. Disappearing without the other.

And all of this was before the days of social media and smart phones. I did try to kill myself at one point and I’m certain that I would have done with todays modern technology.

From my experiences meeting bullying head on with further violence is a grey area. Learning how to defend yourself is vital. It does however rarely solve the problem. And what is the problem? What are the solutions? I don’t think there are any. What I do know is I never asked my bullies why I was being bullied in the first place. Perhaps then, with a little more understanding, it might have been a little bit easier.

Authority

I’ve never been a fan of authority. I’ve rarely taken direction from someone I haven’t respected. I don’t like being told what to do. This in itself can be somewhat of a problem.

I’ve been wrestling with the authority I now have as a parent. Because there is some degree of authority to being a parent. Now that Eve is three she’s able to communicate freely, express her emotions and her intentions. It is sometimes the case that her intentions and/or actions go against what constitutes as normal behaviour. Which can require a variety of management techniques.

“Normal” behaviour is only what we as her parents perceive to be as such. In reality we can only bring to the table what we have learnt. The totality of the essence of any being comes from that individual being’s experience of life at that point in time. So what is normal? I’m not normal. I’ve met lots of people who don’t feel normal, all with brilliant, sparkly eyed children. All somehow guiding their children through their lives with particular patterns of behaviour. Somewhere a level of authority has to come into it. And power. A dangerous ability in the wrong hands.

Her actions which are life threatening to her or others need to be managed with a tight lipped diplomacy. I frequently lose sleep imagining some horrific accident involving my children so seeing it nearly happen first hand is quite stressful. It could be very easy to lose control in that instance, to rage at the child. I’ve seen it happen countless times. My daughter is three. She doesn’t understand the perils of deep water. Or why she can’t place her hand onto a opening door on the underground. These things need to be explained to her calmly so she can understand the situation. Life is filled with life threatening things. I don’t feel that using anger to make a point is of any use. Controlling my own stress levels is important.

Sometimes she feels that it’s her fault and that we’re angry with her. Sometimes her behaviour is just plain embarrassing. Occasionally her behaviour simply goes against what I feel is correct. I’ve now come to realise this is wholly irrelevant to her. My idea of what is correct, and my subsequent behaviour, is only based on what has been passed down from my peers and my own personal misadventures.

As I am now her peer I have to pass on what I know to her. In the finer details of life this becomes interesting. Table manners for example. Why I expect her to understand the importance of something like table manners is beyond me. Yet it bothers me. And I start to remind me and others around me of my father. My father was very strict about table manners.

But I’m not my father. And do I really care that much about table manners? For me this is where it all gets a bit messy. Who am I to tell her what’s right and wrong? I’d rather she developed the instinct and confidence to find out for herself.

I think it’s about finding what works for you. What you think is important and giving them the space to work it out for themselves. Allowing them to question it. But also being genuinely interested in what information they bring back to you. Because they can’t wait to tell you how they did it all by themselves. And to see how proud you will be.

Often what they’ve learned from a certain situation can be very different to what you might think or feel. It’s important to remember that your preconceived notions or ideas are yours, not your children’s. They might feel you’re wrong which is great because then you’re learning something. If you choose to listen to the reasons why. In any case if my children weren’t challenging me I’d be disappointed.

There are too many variables in so many lives to make any judgement calls. But my daughter sees the world through a curious telescope. I want her to tell me all about it.

Seeing Red

(Original published via @mammapolitico on bodkinpress.com. A collective, collaborative ezine which you can download here for free.)

I used to have violent flashes. Imagining streets falling apart. Pushing that bully off the bridge. Picturing a horrific car crash around the corner. Lucid images of my children being hurt. I would bite my bottom lip that hard. Leaving scars. I wasn’t allowed pets for a while. It’s under control now.

I’m a married father to two girls (2, 14 yrs). I am surrounded by females. Pets included. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Regardless of gender one thing I cannot stand is public displays of parents violently thrashing their children. Physically or verbally. Witnessing it starts a sick little fire in my gut. That horrible, uncontrollable little part of me. It’s familiar to the ashen faced, savage determination I display if my family are under threat. Yet horribly, indirectly misplaced. I start to bite my bottom lip.

There are parents who forget that they are extremely physically strong in comparison to their tiny child. There are parents who forget that their words resonate in that cold afternoon. Memories remain and expand beyond your own personal experiences and as my grandmother tells me; “your children always remember the bad things that happened. The bad memories.” Push hard enough and they leave a foul mark.

My main issue is that ultimately that parent has forgotten why they had the kid in the first place. Believe me I’ve been in situations where I would happily have thrown my child into the sea and walked away whistling. I realise I’m fortunate to have learned how to control these feelings. Meditation helps. But there is never any excuse for treating your own child like an inconvenience. Parents forget that their tiny, powerless versions of mushy genetics mashed together grow into frustrated, impressionable, endlessly demanding humans.

All children can turn out to be proud, kind, self assured adults. Or emotionally crippled, broken, scared versions of what they could have been. A parent thrashing their child in public for demanding something only makes me see how hard they want to beat themselves. How hard they hate themselves for putting themselves in their position. How much that child has ruined their life. How much they deserved to be punished for wanting more for themselves.

A two year old being punched in the back of the head for asking for a magazine. Then being told to shut the fuck up for crying. I have seen far worse. Categorically the broad necessary scope of the charity sector aiding vulnerable children and young adults leaves me cold. I’ve met parents who they can barely look after themselves let alone know how to cut their newborns nails.

It is easy to conceive a child. I can see the attraction believe me. But why have them when you don’t even love them? Why have them when all you do is pour your own self disgust down their throats? Why have them when all you do is lock them in bathrooms? Why have them when you leave deep scarlet bruises on their faces? Why have them when all you do is avoid them? Or hold them by the throat in the freezing depths of an ice cold bath? Or sneak into their bedrooms to do unimaginable things? Why would you have children in the first place when you can’t even bring yourself up?

I’m not judging anybody. Yet I lay the blame at the door of anyone who has children and believes that belittling, disrespecting, abusing and refusing to take the time to understand them is the proper way to bring up a child. Parenting is difficult but there is no excuse for taking your own self hatred out on someone who didn’t choose to be here in the first place. Doesn’t seem fair, does it.

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Parenting is not a social club

Based on situations being as they are I’m now looking after Eve on a full time basis. Keeping any toddler fed, entertained, happy and alive is a tough job. I spend a huge amount of time with her now. Some of which is spent having to remind myself that the time with her is a blessing. But that’s my choice. Some fathers may not choose to do so but again it’s a personal choice. It’s a question of finding a balance with what suits the situation best. Let’s just say I’m not well suited to capitalism or indeed having a boss.

As a result I’m spending time with other parents. In parts of Tottenham I’ve never seen before. In old, decrepit rooms with toys that deserve to be melted into something else. I want to start meeting other dads so poor Eve has to be dragged along.

One thing I’ve noticed as a parent in the field is that I am constantly judged. Mostly by women. It’s fair to say that I do have a slice of paranoia to my personality but I know when I’m being spoken about. I’ll give you an example.

Soft play. Eve is two. I have to go in with her otherwise she won’t climb the stairs. A group of boys were whooping like rabid gibbons which Eve found quite terrifying. The thing about kids is when they spot a weakness in another child, and they’re at that pokey, vindictive age, they’ll exploit it. So we spent twenty minutes trying to find our way through a brown edged, piss soaked maze while being howled at by ten year olds. Not quite Apocalypse Now but I would not have been surprised to get home to find faeces on my back.

I was the only dad there. I was the only parent talking to their kid and showing her around. I think each woman on the premises either sneered or leered at me at least once. I’m sure not one of them smiled at me. I don’t like being stared at but if you have something to say I’d rather hear it from you. I don’t like being whispered about and I have very good hearing. I don’t appreciate being treated like a piece of meat. Most of all I will not tolerate being judged. Especially for acting weird in public just to make my daughter laugh.

Also when did parenting become a job? Why do people hide behind their children, using them to define and fill their repulsive little lives? The garden furniture tables, weak tea, sad plates of cold oven chips and stale crisps, piggy little poisonous eyes, strange lies, horrible conversations, sickly judgement, dead air. Parenting is a way to meet other people just like you? What a hideous thought. I’d rather meet someone who makes me feel alive.

Step outside the norm. Live your life the way you want to. Cut out guilt and self judgement. And you can judge me all you like. I know I walked out of there with my head held high. My daughter’s laughter filled the cold, empty warehouse like she was pouring in sunshine. Until some little shit stole her balloon.