Tag Archives: parenting


Mark Harris contacted me a long time ago, saying lovely things about the first chapter or so of my book. Ever since then I’ve kept a close eye on what he’s been up to. This man speaks of holy unions. A beautiful truth. I’ll let him speak for himself.

I’ve been a midwife since 1994 and a nurse before. I’ve trained in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming to the point of being a trainer. I’ve done youth work and taught in further education. Now I work as a midwife but mainly in birth education. I’ve just authored a book called Men Love and Birth the book your pregnant lover wants you to read and I’m writing a book on fatherhood at the moment. My focus at this moment is doing workshops all over the country and more recently in Europe. The workshop focuses on teaching men about birth. Mainly birth professionals tend to come, anti-natal teachers, hypnotherapists, doulas and midwives and it explores all the things we’ve discussed in this interview. I also run a professional programme for birth professionals called A Conversation. They call me and we have a conversation about what’s happening in their practice and their life. I guess you’d call it coaching or mentoring but I prefer to call it a conversation because inside these conversations it kind of loosens up both of our presuppositions about what’s real in the world and new possibilities become available. I also run Birthing for Blokes workshops for men supporting their partners through the birthing process. I am also a co-presenter on a podcast called Sprogcast and that’s a monthly look at what is current in the birth and early childhood world with an interview with someone high profile in the birthing world. Me and my co presenter Karen Hall speak about current research and that’s Sprogcast.


Why did you become a midwife?

Well I come from a rough working class background and for the first seventeen years of my life I was absorbed in surviving. Whatever that means to a young man growing up seeking to be accepted. Seeking to be liked by others. I got involved with sports in a big way but was rubbish at school and got kicked out late on with no qualifications whatsoever. Having got myself wound up in a group of second generation mods that were quite aggressive, tribal but there was a real sense of belonging there. My daughter reminded me that I used to tell a story of us having nuclear fallout parkas and stealing Sainsburys trolley handles and stitching them in the linings of our parkas so that we always had a means of protection. They were wild years in a big family. Five sisters, three brothers with very little money and about the age of sixteen I started to get worried about dying. Not because of the violence (I came close but I never did) really more to do with wanting to make a difference in life, wanting to have an impact on the world in some way. Sounds cheesy when I say it now but it was a bit of an existential crisis. I didn’t know why I was here and I decided through loads of reading and thinking that being a nurse would suit me. I wanted to care. I wanted to be involved with supporting people. A long story short I sat the general nurse council test which you could do in England but you can’t now and I passed and I got accepted on the RGN SRM programme and qualified as a nurse. Very soon after qualifying as a nurse I realised that the physical aspects of the role were less and less and less and the management paper part of the work was more and more and more and I was being pulled away from the very things I loved the most. Being with people. My mate was the very first ever midwife who was a man in Warwickshire at the time there were 62 men out of 32000 and he rang me up saying “Mark! Mark! ‘Midwife’ it’s a verb! It’s a verb!”

“Calm down Dave what do you mean it’s a verb?” I said.

He said “It comes from the middle English (mid meaning with and wife meaning woman) and he interpreted it to mean as it’s something you do. It’s who you’re being. It’s not a noun but it’s an expression of who you’re being and you can’t be a midwife without being with woman. It’s kind of core, it’s part of the genetic makeup of what it means to be a midwife. So he said give it a go so I did and when I qualified in 1994 there were 62 men out of 32000 and as we currently speak in 2015 there are 122 men out of 48000. That’s why I became a midwife and I was hooked with being with women.

What angers you the most?

People that have polarised positions not being kind and gentle with each other as human beings. People getting lost in their strongly held beliefs and truths. And being so lost and so in their reality tunnel, because we all are. We’re all engaging with reality indirectly. But they’re kind of lost in their view of the world to such an extent that they can’t hear what other people are saying and I think it leads to us losing a bit of our humanity and it angers me when I lose touch with my own compassion and kindness. That angers me the most.

There’s lots on information about parenthood now. I feel the spirituality of birth, and how this is taught and discussed, is missing from the agenda. For various reasons and for both sexes to a degree. Do you agree?

At the root of what I write about and what I teach is, if you like, a spiritual understanding about life that doesn’t really include a necessarily personified deity. I think all the religious books advisedly call them myths, but not myths in terms of their content not being true, but myths in terms of them being stories that teach us truth that we can experience. At the root of my teaching is an understanding that men and women both have masculine and feminine energy. Every person on the planet was a female before 12 weeks and then the differentiation occurs biologically and every man and woman has the same makeup of hormones in their bodies. But what happens is those hormones dance in different ways so you have a masculine endocrine dance or a feminine endocrine dance. There’s a sliding scale to it, it’s not just black and white. And we’ve all met men who have a feminine essence and women with a masculine essence. In truth the masculine and the feminine expresses itself and that’s life occurring. For me relationship is a spiritual experience. Life itself is a spiritual experience. I intuit that I have a predominately masculine essence. I seek and crave freedom. Nothingness. Oblivion. Being just the spacious awareness of life occurring. That’s home for me and my masculine essence. But the feminine is dancing energy, creative energy. It’s happening. It’s occurring. And the masculine and the feminine meet and that’s life occurring! It’s a uniquely spiritual happening in my opinion. The only thing I can be sure about in life is that I am. And that’s the quintessential expression of masculine energy that meets life occurring on a day to day basis.

I start my teaching with our experiences of differences when we relate to men and women and then I move on to the neuro-physical, biological differences that occur in the human species. Then I track that to ancient traditions, Indian and Chinese traditions of Ying and Yang and then I trace it back further to the story of evolutionary biological adaptations. All of that gives a framework for my teaching but at its core it’s a spiritual message. But quite well hidden.

What scares you the most?

Being as candid as I can I have beliefs and fears around not having the money to pay the bills. And at the moment although I’m working with that fear that’s what scares me the most on a personal level. On a global level who knows? I cease being afraid about it in many ways because fear doesn’t serve the purpose of taking action and that’s what I notice when I have these personal fears about paying the bills is when I write about those and isolate what the core beliefs are that I’m actually believing that are creating that fear then the beliefs get to be shaken a bit, loosened a bit so that I can see a different way. I guess what scares me most is being locked into a way of seeing that doesn’t allow me to spy and detect the other possibilities.

What are your hopes for the future?

I have a declaration if you like that generates possibility for me and that I am the reinvention of birth education for men and same sex couples worldwide. I’d like my book to be read by 500,000 men throughout the world in different languages. My main hope for the future is that I want each of my six children and six grandchildren to experience life from the foundation of happiness not to achieve happiness.

What advice would you give the earlier version of you?

Chill out. Don’t worry too much about the hallucinations you have for the future. Remember that life doesn’t occur in a future place because the future doesn’t exist apart from the hallucination I have about what it might turn out like. And the past is of course just a collection of stories I’ve invented. Live more for the things that you’re actually doing rather than what you’re expecting to do.

I very much agree with the worshipping mentalist when you are talking about birth. Do men struggle with the idea of this?

A woman birthing has been a mystery to men for generations. And it still is a mystery that the masculine generated birth structures are trying to solve. When men hear about some of the differences that occur in how a woman’s neuro-physiology is experiencing the world compared to theirs they resign themselves that they’ll never know completely in their experience what it means to be a woman. So the mystery element stays in place. But that worship for reverence to this mystery generates certainly in me, and in some of the men I talk to, a sense of respect of awe and amazement in the presence of birth which is certainly productive to the kind of connection of that a woman craves when she’s giving birth.

Finally what are your top three albums?

I listen to Muse. I enjoy Ed Sheeran, anything he does. I like singer songwriters. Hmm. I want to say something cool. I was listening to some retro Johnny Cash signing Danny Boy and Bridge over troubled Waters. They’re the ones I’m listening to at the moment.

While deeply honoured to have Mark donate some precious time I found myself quite humbled by his words. His talents shine and, while I transcribed his words for this interview, his advice thumps a faster beat when he speaks. Have a listen to this interview here and indeed Sprogcast for some parenting backup. Any expectant fathers would be wise to pick up a copy of his brilliant book here. Today especially these precious words of truth and kindness hold a hot light. Do follow Mark at @Birthing4Blokes.

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I only met Pete in person recently. I’d heard lots about him, wondered if perhaps we’d be a match as friends. My partner is keen to get me “out there” to meet more people. I’m not sure where this place is but, from what I hear about Pete, he sounds like he’s filling a similar space to me. Then I started reading his online comics. I saw something sparkling. That feeling when you witness a special thing, and you can’t quite explain it. Like a comfortable button being pressed at the bottom of your heart. Here is something special. Here is some destiny with noticeable traction.

I predict great things for Pete. I see many already. Do take some time to read the words I sent to @badlydoodled and the words he, indeed, sent back to me.

Lived here for 15 years
Works in an office all day
Pretty nice guy when you get to know me
Good at baking bread
Lover of crisps and chips
Hardly ever drank tea or ate curries until I moved to the UK
Likes Danish football and music
Likes long walks on the beach
And pancakes

What’s the cruellest thing you’ve ever witnessed?

On the insanely busy roads of Delhi I once spotted a man without legs begging. He used his arms to move the piece of wood he sat on, to navigate between all the rickshaws and cars. As he rolled past our rickshaw the person in the car next to us spat at the poor guy. I don’t understand people who do such things. There really is no excuse.

My mum once bought me a bin bag of “Roy of the Rovers” comics in a car boot sale. I was four at the time. The smell of old, festering paper is one of my first olfactory memories. That and rain etched car journeys. What are yours?

Many Danish suburban home smells mixed in to one. In the 80s, the Danish version of Grandstand, would show English football on Saturday afternoons. I’d often do that next to our wood fire, at the same time as my Dad would fill the air with his pipe smoking…so lots of smoke smells. That and the smell of newly mown grass.

What three titles would you recommend for a newcomer to comics?

Ooh that’s a tough one. I grew up raiding the library every week for all the great European comics; Lucky Luke, Asterix, everything by Franquin, the Spirou et Fantasio albums by Tome and Janry, Tintin etc, but I wouldn’t be able to single out specific titles. I then had a long break from comics for no particular reason. About 10 years ago I rediscovered the medium through the many great graphic novels out there, and I’ve really enjoyed exploring all the great titles that are now available. I could recommend Maus and From Hell or the many amazing titles by Ed Brubaker or Adrian Tomine, as they are all incredible books, but my favourites are by other creators.

I love everything by Joe Sacco so one of his books. Probably “Footnotes from Gaza” which is amazing, and illustrates well how different peoples’ memory of one event can differ so dramatically.

Guy Delisle is another great storyteller but very different from Sacco. His “Jerusalem” is brilliant.

And every single book by Chris Ware. He is so imaginative and has such a recognisable style. His books look amazing, and even if his stories were rubbish, you could spend years staring at the artwork in total awe of this man. “Jimmy Corrigan” is brilliant, but his newest “Building Stories” is so innovative and just incredible, that any newcomer must read it, just to get a flavour of what this medium can do that no other is able to do.

So, that was loads more than 3 books, but our newcomer will thank me for this. You’re welcome.

What is obvious in your work is how much you clearly love your son and, at the same time, find him hilarious. Would you say your creativity has been kindled by his very existence? Or, to put it another way, has parenthood ignited something inside you that perhaps might not have been realised without him?

No Oskar. No comic. I never knew that I wanted to do this and it was a total coincidence that it happened. I had made lots of notes of the funny things he would come out with since he was about three years old. My wife designed a book for me and all my “bloody notes” as she put it, so I used it for all this. I would update this every now and then but never really knew what to do with it. I was afraid that one day it would be forgotten and then what was the point. Around the same time I got really fed up with not really having any kind of hobby. I have always been fairly creative and it annoyed me to bits that all I did now was go to work and come home and do nothing in the evening. I thought that I should take up photography again, but I had no good camera and no time to take photos, other than photos of Oskar. And then I thought, why not do something with those bits of dialogue and comments I had noted down. “Fatherhood. Badly Doodled.” was born.

It’s been great ever since. I was not good at drawing at the beginning so it has been a journey for me too, where I have improved my drawing skills, refined my style and had a sense of achievement by seeing how far I’ve come since those first drawing in Paint. It has also made me more aware of what my son says and I am sure I am more tuned in to his monologues etc now, than I was back in the day. It sounds like I didn’t use to listen to him, but I think most parents know that sometimes you just have to put the mute button on when they don’t stop talking.

So, yes. No Oskar. No doodles, and luckily he finds them quite funny too.

You’re a keen tack on Twitter. Without even trying. What is your take on social media?

To start with I had no idea what it was all about and I had no idea how to engage with people, or how to get people to look at my work. I still don’t really understand this but I know a lot more now than I did 18 months ago. I started out by finding a list of comic artists on Twitter. The list was humongous and I never made it past the letter A before I got insanely bored by asking them to be friends with me. However, over time, and I have no idea how this happened, I started “meeting” likeminded webcomic creators on Twitter. People who creates the most amazing comics, some of them daily strips, and with so many different themes. It was a real eye opener. I had no idea that there were so many of them out there and quickly found out two things; my comic was by no means the only one about being a father/parent, and the comics community on Twitter is incredible and so supportive. Again I had no idea how massive this community is.

So back to your question. I use Twitter a lot. It’s the place where I get most followers and most feedback from, so it has been a great place to spread the word about my work. I try to engage with other artists, but I wish I had more time to do so, and it is one of things I’d like to get better at. So, I do try to use social media. Facebook is a funny one and I am not sure how much I get out of that one. My page grows by 1 follower a month so this is not the place where I get to promote my website. On the other hand, it’s the main promotional platform for all my friends and family so definitely has a place. I also publish on other platforms like Tumblr (which is the platform I used at the beginning) but that grows even slower than my Facebook page, and finally I have started using Instagram but this is mainly a platform where I can share my drawing progress and the occasional cartoon. This is the platform I understand the least.

So I am trying to learn all the time and at some point I am sure I will crack social media. I have no idea what a good amount of followers is or what is a good number of website visitors, so I still have much to learn. There are still a few other places to try out like Reddit and Pinterest…

Do you draw digitally or with pen and paper? I’ve always thought new technology/software must be a drag for comic artists. Discuss.

I draw with various pens and pencils on card/thick paper. Around the beginning of the year I started using a non-photo blue pencil (that scanners don’t pick up on) for my outlines and that has really improved my drawings. Around the same time I got a selection of pens in different sizes which made it even easier to play around with my drawings than before, so these two tools instantly improved my life and my drawings. I use technology a bit. I use Photoshop Elements to correct mistakes, sometimes I add the text on there as well (I’ve created my own font) and also to colour in large areas.

I have thought about drawing digitally and I get the impression that a large amount of artists do that these days. Their work is amazing and I get the idea that it’s a real skill to draw that way. However, I am happy with the way I do it. I like to play around with my pens, I can sit on the sofa and watch Netflix with my wife while I draw. I sit in front of a computer all day at work so I don’t want my hobby/evening job to be in front of the screen too.

Top five films.
As a former film student this is impossible. Even if I wasn’t a former film student this would be impossible as it really depends on my mood.

  1. The film that moves me the most is a Canadian film called Last Night from 1998. It’s about the end of the world, but without all the drama and explosions of other Armageddon movies. It is very funny and very moving.
  2. Since most of the films I watch these days are cartoons I feel like I have to put one on this list. I love Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 and 2. Amazing gags and amazing characters.
  3. I love First Blood and there is nothing you can do or say to make me change that. It’s a great film.
  4. Old detective novels, especially Raymond Chandler, have a big place in my heart, as does Film Noir. I am not sure I can pick a specific favourite as there are so many great films from that period; The Third Man, Double Indemnity and Big Sleep. Pick one.
  5. Finally it’s a toss-up between Alien and all zombie movies ever made. I can’t decide.

Top five comics

I’ve already mentioned some of these previously.

  • Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. One of the best books I have ever read. It’s incredibly moving, the artwork is incredible and atmospheric and everyone should read this. Everyone.
  • Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. Sacco is one of my absolute favourite writers/artists, and this is my favourite, although all his books are brilliant.
  • Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth by Chris Ware. Another of my absolute favourites. His style, innovative ideas and imagination blows my mind.
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I always assumed that everyone knew this, but every time I have mentioned it to colleagues they just stare at me. Clearly not everyone knows how amazing this comic strip is. I introduced it to my son last year and he loves it and reads it every morning before school. So much that he wants to dress up as Calvin/Spaceman Spiff/Stupendous Man at the next World Book Day
  • There are so many more I want to mention but can’t. Anything by Guy Delisle, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine and Charles Burns. The Criminal and Femme Fatale series by Ed Brubaker, or Maus and From Hell which are both momumental. There are so many amazing graphic novels/comics out there, not to mention all the talented webcomic artists out there

What makes you feel comfortable?

When I can relax. Drawing is a very relaxing thing to do so I am always very comfortable in those situations. Being by the sea is very comforting too. Finally those moments where your child curls up next to you on the sofa for you to sit and read together or watch another of the loud cartoons he likes, that is probably the most comfortable moment I can think off. When I know he is content and happy.

What lessons do you really want to pass on to your son?
Ok this is a bit cheesy but; be kind to others, be empathetic, positive, inquisitive, explore, learn, fail, follow your heart, be true to yourself, learn languages, travel, read, don’t work in Events like me, don’t get a job in an office, and don’t ever change.

What are you afraid of?

That anything bad happens to him. Things that are out of our control like serious illnesses or accidents. Also, him becoming a money grabbing, selfish, banker, who exploits us common folk. That does potentially go against my advice for your previous question as I said he should follow his heart. Well, if this is what he wants to do he should NOT follow his heart.

Lastly, if you could have any team of writers, artists etc compose the comic masterpiece of your very own life, who would you choose?

I see a multi-platform event here. Comics will be written, films about the process will be produced and performance artists will brighten up the streets of London in the months leading up to the event. Every single one of them dressed up as Toulouse Letrec and miming sequences of my life to confused, and intrigued, tourists who would rather be left alone.

Since my life isn’t really that eventful it would need to be someone who can find the small stories in ordinary lives. Someone like Adrian Tomine would be great at that. Although, I had some odd experiences travelling in my early 20s and for that Joe Sacco would be a good artist to get on board. It would also need to be funny, as I am a hilarious person, so someone funny like the Swedish Martin Kellerman who wrote a great comic strip called Rocky. I imagine this collaboration would be designed by Chris Ware.

Yes, that would be rather, as my son would say (due to excessive US cartoon consumption), awesome.

Some lovely words and crafted insights from Pete here. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for donating his precious time to me. You can follow Pete at @badlydoodled and read his brilliant, heart smashing comic Fatherhood. Badly Doodled here. I especially enjoy watching a creative talent flourish and sharpen. Through his strip archives Pete’s love for the art and his family grow symbiotically, which is all an audience can ask for. Check it.

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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.


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?”


“Are you sure?”


“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?”




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)


“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?”


“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.


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.



I was lucky enough to work with Amanda on a short story competition I ran last year. As a judge for all the entries she was a joy to work with. Along with @motherventing we ensured that the decision was fair, honest and not taken lightly. Her emails often had me howling with laughter. Not only this she is a curious, tender and devastating writer with a host of questions to ask. Nearly all of them we often ask ourselves. Here Amanda talks to me about her children, finding creativity and death.  

Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings

Is it fair to say that you would be a very different writer (if a writer at all) if you hadn’t become a mother?

I think that’s a very good question. I’d like to say I wouldn’t be any different, but I don’t think I can in all honesty. I rail against women being defined by our children and husbands all the time – it’s one of my pet hates in British media! – but at the same time these children, my three fantastic daughters are in integral part of my life. I had my first daughter at 24, before I started writing. In fact, I began writing because I wanted to be at home with her, so gave up my job at the BBC and to keep myself sane (whether or not I’ve managed this is arguable) I began to write. My first book was all about a family coming to terms with the death of one of their daughters a year earlier. She was sixteen and they discover all sorts of secrets about her that tamper with their recovery process, not to mention raise questions over the circumstances of her death. I couldn’t have – and wouldn’t have thought to have – written this book if I hadn’t been a mother. The emotions, the fears, the love, the shifting from self-centredness to the feeling that you would do anything for this human being who you care about above all others, these are the things that strike you after you’ve had children. This is a very long-winded way of saying: yes, I think I’d have written differently if I wasn’t a mother.

Death appears to have a consistent voice in your writing. Why?

I have been obsessed with the concept of death, and the grief that goes with it, for as long as I can remember. It’s genetic. My father is, my middle daughter is and just recently my youngest daughter, who is eight, asked ‘Mummy, I’m worried about what it will FEEL like when I’m not here any more, when I’m dead.’ My mother, sister, husband and eldest daughter aren’t so afflicted and I’m often jealous of them. My husband merely says: ‘when you’re dead you’re dead, you won’t know any different. Don’t think about it.’ Hmmm…more easily said than done. I am not religious, but I consider myself spiritual and I am prone to over-thinking, I do believe that if I had religion in my life, that if I believed in the afterlife, or some greater purpose, that death wouldn’t fascinate me so much.

What is your favourite part of the day?

Well, I tend not to generalise like that. I’m a big avoider of generalisation. Some mornings are fabulous, some are rubbish. Some evenings can’t come quick enough, some days I never want to end. Sometimes lying my head on the pillow – especially if there are clean sheets on the bed – is the best time of day. Wine o’clock is up there though.

When do you find yourself most creative?

I used to wake up in the middle of the night when I was in my late teens and paint a picture or write a poem. Ha – the thought of that now, in my sleep-deprived, post-40 state? Ridiculous! I tend to think that if I waited for my creative muse to appear I would never get anything done. I’m sure my creative muse is a lazy so-and-so who would probably be asleep under a tree somewhere. I don’t rely on her. I write when I sit down at the computer and make myself do it. Writing is a job and I have to see it like that or else I’d procrastinate continuously. Having said all that, I do a lot of my thinking on my dog walks every morning. The routine and exercise and fresh air are good for thoughts and it works well because I know exactly what I’m going to write that day by the time I get home.

Describe yourself in five words

Five words? Erm, haven’t you gleaned from previous answers that brevity isn’t my strong point. But if you insist: energetic, maternal, fun-loving (is that two words or one? Let’s go for one), hug-loving, smile-giving. (Hyphen-user…)

What was the first thing you did after finishing writing The Judas Scar?

Made a cup of tea.

Amanda’s impressive resume includes publishing two books, the first Sworn Secret (Constable and Robinson, Canvas) featured in Vogue Online as one of their Best Summer Reads of 2012. It reached number 4 in the Kindle Bestseller chart and has been sold to the US, Taiwan and Italy. The Judas Scar (Cutting Edge Press) is her second book published in May 2014. She has three daughters, far too may pets and a husband, living in a cottage in the woods between Henley and Reading. Before she wrote she was a researcher at the BBC. She been known to drink wine and eat chocolate and occasionally go on Twitter… @mandajjennings. Find out more about Amanda at www.amandajennings.co.uk.


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Parenting is quite the journey. Seemingly endless the experience itself differs depending on each separate set of existing circumstances, all of which are random and imposed. All of us as parents however share one common experience. The inner journey. Each of us stare bewilderingly at our own precious collection of memories, beliefs and ethics as we cradle our children. We all seek guidance on our own internal journey whether from our families, our faith or indeed ourselves. Sometimes the only clear decision maker can be you.

In this interview with Alice Grist, author of three books with Soul Rocks Books (John Hunt Publishing), I take some time to talk to her about her new book Dear Poppyseed. Intelligent, fierce and beautifully written Alice explores her journey throughout her pregnancy right through to the birth of her little girl. I reviewed the title here but I thought it would be illuminating to hear from Alice exactly what empowered her to write about her pregnancy and what she learned from her experiences.

What happens when you take a spiritually enlightened girl, add a rock ‘n’ roll boy and a pinch of magic in the form of Poppyseed? The answer is a soulfully honest, humorous and insightful glimpse at the authors’ journey to becoming a mummy.

Alice Grist wrote her first two soul inspiring books and found herself asking, ‘so I’m spiritual… what next?’ That question is now answered. It seems, that what is next, is she is pregnant. Indeed she and her husband have nine months to embrace a transformation more powerful than any spiritual awakening she ever dreamed of! Whilst simultaneously straddling real life, coping with attacks of hormones and finding a path forward as parents after a decade of doing what they please!

Alice reveals the tricks and trials of a soulful pregnancy, whilst also admitting to and fully illustrating the all too human moments that can befall any momma to be. Whilst bridging the very human and the super soulful Alice takes on her pregnancy with gusto, blazing an inspirational, hilarious and emotional trail.

Alice Grist

Since becoming a mother have you encountered any changes to your spiritual outlook on life?

Just a bit. I no longer have time for it! So it’s rather handy that in my last book The High Heeled guide to Spiritual Living I concluded that all life is spiritual, even the parts where you forget to be spiritual. Spirituality is not just for the seeker, it is, to me, a basic part of our human make up. There is a reason we are in a human skin with all it’s complications. We are simply not here to float off into the ether quite yet. I don’t want to spend my life trying to reach a state I believe I will access quite easily when I die! That is for later, it is inevitable. I want to be here now.

Life is always a trip towards something more spiritual, consciously or otherwise. Being a mother, and the all consuming nature of that, is entirely spiritual in it’s own way. It is the greatest experience of my life. It comes prepackaged in unconditional love, and that sits at the heart of my soul. My life is a poem dedicated to my new little family. It all sounds very romantic, but changing nappies at 3 am and working to entertain a toddler in a heat-wave, when I’m exhausted, is not romantic. It’s all very swings and roundabouts. But it’s inherently my favorite thing ever, and because of that spirituality now exudes from living in the moment. I sweat it, rather than intellectualise it.

Looking back on your pregnancy and the birth of your daughter would you change anything in hindsight?

Lately I have been thinking about that alot. My birth did not go to plan. And I accept that. I personally blame Kate Middleton, and my brother for this rash of retrospect. They are both having babies (Kate in labour as I type), it’s making me think what could I have done differently? But anyone who reads Dear Poppyseed will see how hard I fought for a natural birth. I wanted it so, so much. But my attempts to control that failed. I know that I did all I could and therefore, I couldn’t change anything. Clearly it happened for a reason. So even if I had a magic wand that would grant me the perfect hypnobirth in a pool of water, essential oils and chanting. Nope I wouldn’t take it. My birth, medicalised as it was, was perfect in it’s own ways, and it makes for a relatable, real story in Poppyseed. The chanting and mantras will wait for a future birth, in this life or another!

What is your ultimate spiritual goal?

Now there is a question Mr Coleman! Geez! I don’t have one. Life tends to turn and twist. A couple of years ago I may have said that I’d like to become as enlightened as possible. But that can wait till I pop off this planet. I’m here to get gritty and down with the details. Right now my goal is to create a lovely life for me and my family, and to be here, in this human body as long as I possibly can. Enjoying every second of it, moment by moment.

As a new mother what lessons, spiritual or otherwise, do you hope to pass on to your daughter?

I am sure she has her own lessons to experience, far apart from what I may schedule for her! In essence I would like to be a living example for her. To show her how to be calm, loving, strong. I’d like her to have a good clear mind and not get lost in overthinking, or in an idealised view of herself and femininity as set out by our mainstream culture. I’d like to show her alternative ways to be and to think. The power of thought is so important. They don’t teach it in school (I plan to homeschool her). So many people get lost in their worldviews, confused by the examples around them. If I give her anything I’d like it to be a crystal clear sight, unburdened by drama, angst, violence, abuse, general life confusion. I see people so often stuck in their little ruts, stuck in a perception of how the world is, unable to move past it. In general I want my baby to see clearly, believe in miracles and understand her connection to all things.

What did you set out to achieve with the publication of “Dear Poppyseed”?

Nothing. It’s the true life diary of my pregnancy and birth. As such I have no plans for it, no expectations. I hope people enjoy it. I hope they relate to it. I hope it brings something a little special into their lives. That’s all. 

When do you find time to write?

These days… I don’t really. That’s cool though. I’m 34 and I wrote three books already. I’m going easy on myself for a bit. I’m way ahead of myself! 

Define yourself in five words

Loving, a-bit-daft, peaceful, momma, friend

You can find Alice on the web here. You can find her on Twitter at @AliceGrist. Please see this little trailer to get a taste for the book, and if you require any more information about Alice, her publisher Soul Rocks Books (John Hunt Publishing) or the book go here…

Dear Poppyseed

Dear Poppyseed

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Book Chapter Sample: “A Gentle Savagery” (The Milk Diaries)

(An imagined diary written from our daughter’s perspective)

I awake with stomach cramps too painful to bear silently. So I scream. The things above me stare silently into the distance.

There are no feelings in those colour-filled eyes. No feelings at all. As a pale green light creeps slowly into the room I begin to visualise my surroundings. While surrounded by the cold expanse of a soft prison encasing my view I see little except a vast white space above me. The things weightlessly bobbing above won’t respond to my enquiries. At times they follow each other ominously in a moronic, circular parade. There is an accompanying music to their slavery. It sounds as if bones are being crunched between the blackened teeth of giants. My stomach cramps even further and in the mangled chaos of the morning I soil myself.

The pain ebbs away, yet now I lie here in my own faeces. A familiar acrid smell fills the room. The white space above me offers no respite. So I scream harder and longer. There is a muffled shuffling in the distance. The soft padding of feet. A brief gust of wind as the door to my room is pushed open. The things rotate backwards against their mechanical shackles then morosely swing forward to their original positions. Sometimes if I kick them hard enough I can induce their musical clatter but this is an effort I am unwilling to partake in this morning.

It’s Mummy.

“Good morning little one!”

“Good morning. I have yet again soiled myself,” I tell her.

The wrinkling of her nose indicates that she is more than aware of this. She bends over the side of my cot. Her hair brushes against my face. I stop screaming for a moment to gaze at her face. Her eyes are half closed. Her smile sits awkwardly on her face. She leans over and tucks each hand under me to lift me out of my cot. I am free. The room and the occupants stand to greet me. My loyal silent subjects.

First there is Flat Teddy. A useful companion when initialising a cot-exit strategy. His time will come but for now he sleeps.

Next to greet me is Milly. A strange and weird creature with dark, soulless eyes. She makes me feel endlessly uncomfortable. Why she persists in staring at me is a peculiar matter. She remains one to watch.

Oliver is my trusted companion. Long into the night have we conversed on matters close to my heart. Along with Flat Teddy he too provides a platform for potential escape. His eyes speak the language of trust and accompaniment.

Best of all is Bunny. I cannot sleep without this soft-faced companion wrapped around my fingers. Ever will he be my most treasured of friends.

But the observations of the morning are drawn short by Mummy. She draws me close to her. My head now rests against her warm, soft skin. Her essence is my rapture. Her smell wraps around me. My fingers, once clumsy and inept, feel strong and supple. I curl each digit into a fist and bash her chest in my ecstasy. I cannot help but squeal in delight. She moves me in ways I cannot control. I am addicted to her. I hear clumsy footsteps. Daddy, the one who elates yet saddens me in equal measure, is leaving me. Again. I turn from Mummy and call out to him:

“Daddy! Don’t leave us today. There are so many things to accomplish with the morning. I can show you my rolling trick I showed Mummy yesterday. She must have told you about it? I turned on my front then turned back over again. Mummy was ecstatic and I’m sure you will be too? Daddy!”

Yet it is not to be. He is leaving us again. He shows his face at the door to smile at me, dashes into the room to kiss my head before heading towards the bathroom. I will enjoy ripping the hairs out of his chest later. But no matter. My soiled clothes are removed. I am nude for a short while which pleases me no end and I squeal in my short freedom and the anticipation of what is to come next. The euphoria of breakfast. The supple, warm combination of aroma and taste entangle me in their web of hedonism. I am at one with her and at one with myself. My very being centres itself in a slow passionate dance of blissful elation. The universe speaks to me in these moments.

But not for long. Daddy enters the room and bends to kiss me again. I cannot help but smile at him. In my intoxication I can forgive him for anything. In the paradise of my inebriation the world is a joyous kingdom indeed.

I fart loudly which induces fits of laughter from both of my companions. At times I struggle to understand this world. Its gentle savagery grants little comprehension.

This sample chapter is taken from my book Sometimes you have to Bite the Dog published by Soul Rocks.

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Eve inserts people into my life very easily.

Outside we stood. Our faces in the sun. She told me all about the wheels on the cars lining our road. Five in total. Five “wheels”. She is very good at pronunciation. Two women then walked by, bearing the Watchtower magazine. They smiled enormously at Eve. What did Eve do? She said “hi”. And waved.

Great. Wave in a friendly manner at a random human passing by will you? Let’s see how far in life that particular skill gets you, my girl.

I don’t believe in God. I believe in people. I don’t believe in organised religion. I don’t believe in judging a human based on their individual beliefs, that they, as one amongst billions, are free to choose as they wish. I don’t believe in the persecution of a single human being who thinks differently to me, or sees the world differently to me. We all exist in our own space. The world is for sharing. Not destroying.

It’s important to remember that our beliefs are taught to us at a very young age, religious or otherwise. This does not make them true. There is no truth in an idea. Truth exists in action. Action is the result of an idea.

So. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Annoying aren’t they? All their talk about “Jesus Loves You”. Taking time to happily plod around a community. Being stared at. Ridiculed. Children spitting at their feet. All for the love of God. Each one trying their very best to make a connection with endless, frowning strangers.

“1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

There is some lovely writing in the bible. We discussed other verses. We spoke about Nelson Mandela. Science. Existence. The whole experience lasted about ten minutes. The time between us throbbed.

Eve was quite taken. They smiled at her adoringly. Children can be very powerful.

Anyway. We’re meeting again to have more discussions. I will have to project manage the whole affair. I am still slightly worried that she will one day just “turn up”. On a whim. Or perhaps God will speak to her, conveniently right outside my front door. Every Sunday.

The two women knew the Bible inside out. They had tiny Bibles. Pocket books. Each leather bound and old. Wrinkly. Experienced. Each one happy to divulge content to any who wished to peel their pages open. An incredible amount of content in a tiny, tiny book. How many people turn to a book for comfort? How many people turn to the Bible for comfort? Many. There are a lot more devout Christians than there are people like me. I haven’t read the Bible. I don’t believe in God.

I do, however, believe in the idea of a God. The idea of a God swims through all of us. In various international waters. In many endless, countless shapes and colours.

Whatever God is, and whoever and whatever decides to enter into your life, it is nice to be nice. Even though I think I do, I do not know everything. Eve is doing her homework in a few years. There will be learning to do. For all of us. In many, many ways. Eve will listen patiently to me. Or ignore me. The latter is more likely. Overall my point to this piece is that the more you know about the world around you, the more likely you are to understand why it is the way it is.

So for Eve? Her beliefs? It’s up to her. I’ll enjoy exploring religion with her. I’ll enjoy exploring the world with her. If she wants to. The world we live in is shaped by religion. It’s important we know the reasons for this.

The idea of God can even be used for comedy. The comments are worth reading.

Educate yourself a bit.


1. The Jehovah’s Witnesses who stopped to talk to me and my daughter were intelligent, sharp and friendly. Tender and gentle people. The important point to raise is that they both asked who we are. My daughter and I. Idly watching the sun burn across the sky.

2. In this world, a spare five minutes to be pleasant to someone, can instlil unseen levels of confidence in others. It is not difficult to do.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing much more to listen to damaged and broken people living in my community than I am. Perhaps there is something I can do about that. Perhaps there are some ideas, some glistening green shoots of hope in Tottenham. We can all help these ideas grow. Wherever and whatever they may be.

4. If anything the pictures in the Watchtower pamphlets are, at times, hilarious. At times.

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When I joined Twitter I very quickly came across Lewis (@babberblog) and instantly learned that he and I are quite alike. He is hilarious, passionate and an excellent, honorable father.

I learned a lot from him about being a dad in the first hectic, miserable, eye-gouging, terrible months of fatherhood. Sleep deprivation does strange things to you. Lewis is the type of person who likes to help other people out. His pacifistic nature shines through when you converse with him on Twitter. He’s talked me off the edge a couple of times. He might not even know that. That’s Lewis for you. He is quite human.

I’m Lewis, I’m a distinctly average person making my way through life. I’m ticking boxes on my way through, as we all do. Last year I finally ticked one of the big ones: having a baby (not the physical act, of course, that would have been distinctly un-average).

Aside from having a small human to look after, I also have a wife, a house, a car, lots of bicycles, a healthy appetite and a scraggly beard.

I blog about stuff, mainly the baby, but also other things that interest me. I’d love you to come and say hello. Validate me.

What inspired you to start blogging?

Blogging is one of those things I had felt like I ought to do for years. I’m a gifted procrastinator, so I’d never got around to actually doing anything about it. It was a quiet murmur in the back of my head, which occasionally got a bit louder.

When my wife was seven months pregnant with Cam I had a week off work on my own, which I used to indulge myself in all the hobbies I thought I would probably have to put aside for a while once the baby arrived. I also listened to the murmur which was suggesting that blogging would be a hobby I could keep doing.

I’d also spent some time reading sites like Bounty and Netmums, and not engaging with them at all. I had no idea there were so many great blogs out there, which is good, because if I’d found them I’d have been too intimidated to start my own.

What is the one thing you hope to achieve with your writing?

To provoke a reaction in whoever reads it. It’s what I want when I read other people’s words too. I don’t mind too much what the reaction is. Laughing’s a good one. Crying would work for me too. Thinking about something that wouldn’t normally register.

Obviously, if someone wanted to pay me to write, that’d be just fine…

What characteristics for you, based on what you’ve learned, make a good Father?

There are so many, and I’ve barely got started yet.

Early on, I was glad I’m a patient man. Babies don’t set out to wind you up, I don’t think, but they’re very good at doing it. Battling through the mental effects of having less sleep than you’ve had since you were a baby yourself, patience and tolerance are essential. No matter how many people tell you how difficult a newborn can be, no-one gets it until it happens.

One I feel is really important, but that I could do with working on, is feeling comfortable making a fool of yourself regardless of the situation. I’m a shy sort, and easily embarrassed. I don’t always find it easy to be effusive and “fun” in public with Cam. I hate feeling like I’m being looked at, and people tend to look at you when you’re busting out your best baby entertainment moves.

As time goes on, I’ll be looking to emulate the characteristics I saw and continue to see in my own father. He’s a quiet, gentle, fair, honest man. If I can be as much of a father to Cam as he has been to me, I’ll be doing a damn good job.

How close is your online personality to your real life persona?

The protection we’re afforded by our keyboards, monitors and the physical separation of the internet all mean it’s very easy to fabricate a completely different life for yourself online. That’s fine, if you let people know that’s what you’re doing. If you’re a blogger and you’re not telling the truth, I don’t want to read that.

I don’t make any attempt to be anything online which I’m not in real life. I want to be honest, I want to be thoughtful, compassionate and kind. I want the people I interact with online to feel that there’s value in those interactions. I think the connections and friendships we make which start online are just as important and “real” as those which start offline.

All that said, I’m quieter in real life and I’m not confident talking to people I don’t know. I had to make a conscious effort to overcome that when I joined Twitter. I’m happier putting words in writing than verbalising, so it wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared.

So, I guess, “pretty close” sums it up.

What do you hope Cam learns from reading your blog (when he’s able to read)?

He’s going to read it? Shit. Erm.

I didn’t write it for him to read, really. If he does decide to, I hope he’ll learn that I’ve loved him from the very first moment. Actually, I hope he’ll know that already.

Describe one moment of your parenting in which you’ve felt “a bit of a twat”?

Just one?

I feel like a twat when my tolerance reservoir runs low. When Cam has managed to rile me and I’ve got to the point where I feel like I love him, but I don’t like him.

He then makes me feel even worse by doing something really sweet to make friends with me again, usually a particularly coy game of “peepo”.

That makes me feel an utter twat, because all the blame lays with me, and there he is being the bigger man.

What is your favourite piece of writing that you’ve written?

A while back I wrote a short piece of fiction and posted it on the blog. It was the first time I’d written anything like that in about ten years.

All my blog posts are hastily scrawled in a lunch break, so it was nice to spend a bit more time on something. To think about it. To finish a draft and think “no, not right” and go back and change it rather than just posting it anyway.

It’s nothing special, but quite a few people commented on it in a positive way and some of those were people whose own writing I really admire. That made me feel good.

If I had more time, I’d love to write more fiction. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to.

What inspires you to write? What inspires you in general?

I love words. I’m a bit of a word geek. I’ve always loved writing and I find it a more comfortable way to communicate than speaking. So the thing that inspires me to write is a love for writing. Usefully, this also means I can find myself writing about any old thing and still enjoying it.

In general, I’m inspired by people. People who achieve things which I think are good things, invent things I think are worthwhile, overcome things I imagine I’d find insurmountable.

I once took a psychometric test which told me that altruism was one of my strongest drivers. So I’m inspired by a desire to help other people. I quite like that, although it does come with its own set of awkward questions.

Lastly if you could offer any new parent one piece of advice what would it be?

I think the most important thing is to trust in yourself. Nobody goes into parenting with all the answers, no matter how hard some people try to make you think they have some magical manual at their disposal. Trust that everything you do out of love for your child is very likely to be the right thing. Of course there’ll be mistakes, but we all make them.

Being a parent is hard enough, without trying to be a perfect one.

Before I go, I want to say a huge thank you to Sam for inviting me to answer his questions (and for putting up with how long it took me to do so, it’s an honour to have some of my words on one of my favourite blogs.)

Lewis makes being a dad look easy. If I was a brand new father I’d follow him on twitter for sure @babberblog. Read his blog. There are some excellent pieces of writing in there. This is my favourite at the moment. There are beards within it.

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