Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pig Scabs

Sex gravy....

I don't usually get hungry in work. But today I had a massive craving for gravy and chips. A few hours later this had morphed into needing a Scotch egg. In an effort to assuage me a coworker offered me some Hershey's chocolate. Which is a bit like saying you're incredibly horny and someone showing you a naked photo of Keith Chegwin.

A Can of Corned Beef
Anyway, the food-lust was strong. Luckily I keep a picture on my phone of a food from back home that helps me beat the cravings. A reminder that there's plenty across the water that is beyond rank. It's only right that I share it with you - so that in those times when you crave something from back home you can remind yourself that sometimes it's good to be five thousand miles away from this sort of thing.

Keith Chegwin
I should admit that I haven't set foot in England since 2008. So there's a lot that I just don't know anymore about food. I haven't been exposed to Mel and Sue making risque comments about cakes. It's been an age since I've witnessed Nigella Lawson explaining why she really thinks you'd like to suck the frosting off her muffins. I have ni idea if you can still get a bloody good much down the pub before hanging around for the quiz. And I have next to no idea if when you buy a sausage roll from Greggs if they still have those weird lumps in them that can only be a pig verruca. So in a sense feeling shockingly queasy about corned beef doesn't really mean all that much. I'm well aware that for other English people transplanted to the US - reminded about corned beef sandwiches or corned beef pie - that I'm probably in in the minority here. I know a lot of British people who adore that stuff. You know I've had a lot of deeply suspicious things in my mouth. But I choose foods based on two very simply rules -:

1 - Never eat anything that might give you a yeast infection.
2 - Never eat anything that looks like that - at one time - it might have had scabs.

So you see why I won't eat corned beef.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


My son can now read. Almost everything.

This morning I found my son stuffing fistfuls of Trader Joe's Pumpkin O's into his underpants. I very quickly told him how disgusting that was. "Shame on you Owen. Nobody in their right mind should be doing anything with pumpkin flavored cereal." I didn't feel it necessary to tell him that at Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke deliberately left out pumpkin-flavored food out of Nine and a Half Weeks for good reason. By the way - take stock a second and think about how that movie is THIRTY YEARS OLD. Anyway - turns out that he'd packed a Ziploc bag of the foul cereal last time he was at his mother's house. It'd been knocking about in his backpack since Halloween. His sister - well educated in just how repellent I find pumpkin flavored things - gave him a disapproving head shake. I swear she even closed her eyes a touch just to really ram home how much shame he should feel.

Obviously I did get around to asking why he felt that the need to fill his knickers with Cheerios. What possible motivation he might have. I fought back any images of an elephant picking up a bun. That would be quite a stretch - in more ways than one. Although frankly if he could then hold each Cheerio up to his mouth with his trouser-truncheon I couldn't in good conscience tell him that was something he should stop. Although it would sadly poke at any doubts I may have that he's actually my child. Granted I do have ears like Dumbo - but that's not really what I'm getting at here. So I asked him what he was up to. His answer was chilling. "I saw it on your computer, Daddy."

Now - technically speaking - that could quite honestly be true. I rapidly tried to think about anything I'd been looking at recently. I couldn't quite think of any cereal-based porn I may have either been cheeky enough to have a glimpse of whilst the kids were with me. Nor any deviant, breakfast
titillation I may have inadvertently been subjected to by any of the "friends" I know that spend a good portion of the day posting photographs of people doing things that they would need a good wash after doing. After thinking very quickly my mind rested on this.

Now, I knew I hadn't actually seen that particular image for about a month. But I was fairly certain I hadn't had that up on my laptop screen at any point when the kids had been at mine. And just to clear tis up - I wasn't looking at that for myself. Instead it was a general Facebook question a friend of mine had about how they were having a drink and dinner party at their house after moving across the US. Mainly with friends but also with inviting a few of the new neighbors - and they wondered if it was appropriate or not to whip this game out later in the evening. If you're interested the vote was more or less split down the middle with a few people suggesting Pie Face instead. I made the point that whichever game they chose it did appear that some people would end up with cream spattered all over their faces at some point.

So I ruled that out. Besides - the idea that my son had inadvertently seen that silliness and reduced that down to pouring Cheerios all over his willy didn't give me any sense of pride at all. So I breezily asked him what he meant. And he said that I'd left my computer open on "the thing you write on when you think of something". Meaning the enormous long, list of random nonsense I type onto a draft Blogger page. Most of which involves long, complicated means of figuring out what I've been thinking about. Good, bad, happy, sad - all of it jotted down as a means of thinking about it. But also on that page are quick lines and phrases. Some funny or some that I just like. And then I remembered what he'd seen.

Years ago I made up a list of monsters that my daughter and I would fight. And recently I'd decided that I'd try to boil that down to a short story of it's own. And had tried - very poorly I'm willing to admit - to add to that original list (I still think hiding under a duvet because we're being attacked by The Chocolate Chip Chicken and LL Cool J is utter genius). And - as my son helpfully pointed out - two of the names he'd seen were the The Underpants Onion (I swear I can kind of smell what that would smell like...) and "A Willy Full Of Cheerios."

Which is where you should stop and be eternally grateful that I discovered my son when I did. Because that description is painfully (seriously..) clear about where said Cheerios should be about one's person. And no matter how proud I am of my son. Nor how sometimes I just look at that boy and think, "he's a good kid - we've done alright there." It would take a shockingly long period of self examination to understand what kind of parenting fail led to my son wedging pumpkin-flavored cereal under his foreskin.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


This is our third Christmas like this.

Since I've been divorced the kids have spent every Christmas with me. For anyone doing the counting that's three Christmases. Honestly at least the one before that was very much a pretend family Christmas. The first one as a divorced dad was fairly modest. I'd not long moved to a little apartment in Westmoreland, New York and had very little furniture, no internet service and it was shockingly cold. I didn't have any decorations up. But I had bought one of those two-foot tall Christmas trees. My daughter spent a good few hours attaching the tiny baubles that go on it and also making a bunch of decorations herself. She cut out cards and colored paper to make figures for the tree. We gave each other a gift each. But I also carried on the tradition of giving a tree ornament to each of them so that when they're older they'll already have a tree-full of ornaments that mean something to them. There was a little Douglas fir tree out in yard that looked like a Christmas tree. So we spent some of that Christmas day out in the snow making a snowman next to "Daddy's outside Christmas tree." My son was quite concerned that Santa wouldn't have any idea where to leave presents seeing as he'd have to go to two houses. He ended up leaving them at both houses. He's a smart one is Santa.

I do remember feeling guilty when we got up and there was no real Christmas scene in the living room. The kids had put their stockings out. And when they got up they were fat and plump with little bits and pieces. After opening what we had I made breakfast and the kids set abut watching the Christmas episode of the kids show Arthur. I remember being stunned at how - unlike any other kids show - it stated outright Christmas is a made up holiday stolen from the Romans and the Jews. It went to great lengths to ram home the uncomfortable points that both Santa and Jesus have sod all to do with Christmas, thank you very much. And that Christmas in America has now evolved into a weird, commercial nightmare where families of people whom don't really like  each other force themselves into the same company.  The reason I remember this is because I recall quickly turning that awfulness off and thinking we'd try the radio. Can't go wrong with Christmas songs. Only for my radio to be set to NPR. And as I popped to the bathroom I swear I could hear my kids deflate a little as they were subjected to a story about the spread of "militant radical Islam" in Ireland. And I quickly thought "we're going to the playground in the snow" and, "Really? Suicide bombers in Ireland? Oh that'll never catch on there."

I did make a big Christmas lunch though. Which was hard in my tiny kitchen. And we sat down to eat and it was just happenstance that it was one of those days where neither of the kids really felt like eating. Both fully aware that they were going off to their mother's a bit later on to carry on with Christmas there. My daughter often does this thing where - even if she isn't all that enamored with dinner - will try to eat as much of it as possible to let me know she ate it for me. Not on that Christmas. They just wanted to know when they were going to their mother's. That was the first time I'd ever truly felt like I'd let them down. It was a very difficult evening after they left.

Christmas Spiders
I recall last Christmas being a mix of Lego and sweating. My son was utterly Lego obsessed. But at not-quite 5 years old he didn't really have the patience to build his own Ninjago Lego Jet Fighter thing that I'd got him for Christmas. I must have built that thing three times before getting it right. And then ten minutes later he dropped it. We spent a large part of the day at the playground. The kids remarking often about how weird it is to be outside in shorts and t-shirts on Christmas day. There were people swimming in the apartment pool. Of course in hindsight now I know they were visitors. Nobody who actually lives here is going to be swimming in December. Last Christmas my every waking moments were a medley of weird joy and discomfort. I would continuously think how fantastic it was to live near my kids again. It'd been almost 8 week since I'd arrived in Arizona. But it really felt like a few weeks. I'd also met some wonderful people who I just instantly clicked with. Principally a few English people. Some actually in town and a few farther afield. I kept just walking around with a silly grin on my face. But then I'd also think about how frighteningly hot I was at all times. Unable to sleep. Richard Herring talks about a time when he was quite depressed and started crying and had the realization that he may never stop crying. Obviously that's absurd - but he felt that knowing that he may actually never stop. Last year I was absolutely convinced that I would never feel comfortable again. Always be too hot. Always the sweaty one. Always thirsty. Too hot to eat. I am beyond delighted that I was completely wrong. Right now it's 40 degrees and I've got the heating on.

It was also the first Christmas in a very long time where I wanted to be back in England. For expats/immigrants there is sometimes a nagging tug that you belong "back home." Mine was exacerbated by living somewhere that seemed entirely alien. All I could see was desert and cactus. My eyes were being extremely selective. I'd also suddenly met a whole host of British people. All with different ideas of why they were in the US and what England meant to them, But most of them made trips back home every year. For many it refueled them. Able to enjoy the benefits of living in the US because they knew that they could go home - see family and friends. Feel where they felt they belonged. I hadn't been home in over seven years. And I knew I wasn't going to go home. But I felt that knowing - that I want to grow old there - very strongly. I dropped the kids off at their mother's house Christmas afternoon and dearly wanted to go find a British pub. Not to get drunk in. But to enjoy that British tradition of being with friends for a chat and a laugh. 

This year I've completely adapted to Arizona. I'm bloody freezing. There are decorations all over my apartment. The tree is big and sparkly. And the kids have been here since Christmas Eve and aren't going back to their mums until Wednesday morning. I made a bloody big dinner. Made Christmas cookies and we've completely overloaded on hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. We gave and received gifts. I really enjoy giving other people gifts. Somehow this year I ended up with a whole pile of stuff under tree. The kids loved what they got. My daughter has been asking for a Chocolate Pen for three months. And despite it clearly being a sex toy for lovers who love chocolate and calligraphy she ended up with it for Christmas. And truth be told it's a bit crap. But she's happy enough to have fund that out rather than not. She also got jazz dance lessons from her mother and I. There's no soccer between now and Spring so it's dancing instead. Santa also threw in a few books and little bits and bobs. And of course - a tree ornament. Like every good boy my son wanted a sword. Done. He got a little radio-controlled car, a Guide To Being A Superhero book (ghostwritten by me, obviously) and the bits and bobs of his own. And - about bloody time - they got proper beds. Plus the gift of the year - Pie Face.

Spoiled little monkeys.
I was rather spoiled. Sugar Skull wallet and decorations. Some chocolates. A new crock pot too. Plus a wonderful package in the mail crammed with some truly lovely things. I even got a Christmas Pickle in the mail. Yes. A Christmas Pickle. It's funny how you can be almost forty and have never heard of that until this year.

This year there was no playground. Although at first it seemed like me cooking a big, Christmas dinner had not really landed after they sort of made an effort at it. Only to ninety minutes later eat the entire thing. We don't even have any leftovers .And we sat and watched Netflix - wonderfully projected to my TV with another gift - last night and enjoyed a rather quiet Christmas.

This morning they want to put everything away. Owen has already grabbed half the ornaments and put them back in the box. Quite honestly I don't know if they do this at their mothers. Usually they've gone home Christmas evening so this is quite different. So we've been slowly packing things. I've been talking about friends of mine - some already back in England and some about to go. And my son asked me flat out if I'm going to move to England. I told him I had no plans to. To which he very strangely answered with, "...you should Daddy. Then people could understand you." 

I've been overthinking that statement since he said it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Chilling In The Name Of

Me: Do you remember what it was like when snow got inside your clothes and everything was freezing cold and wet?
Son: It was horrible!! My sleeves wear always soaking! And that's why I was always getting naked inside the house in winter!
Me: Actually no Owen that seems to have been for an entirely different reason. Besides you still do that and we live in the desert.
Son: I do that just in case it snows here daddy.

On Wednesday morning of this past week my son was sad. We are not going to have a white Christmas here in Phoenix. I know - it's shocking. You'd think quite honestly someone like Sheriff Arpaio - a man notoriously quick to chase away anyone who even remotely seems Mexican - would be doing everything in his power to be making the entire city of Phoenix as white as he probably wanks that it should be. But then logic was never his strong point. After all here's a man who fits that mould of right wing non-thinkers who want to get the government out of everyone's business because it's power mad and scary and Stalin and "Obama's never shown his real birth certificate" and etcetera. Except for gayness of course. Those sorts of people tend to forego all that ranting about how government is too invasive when it comes to anything gay. Then it's state and federal marriage amendments galore. Plus as far as Sheriff Joe goes, I'm not saying he doth protest too much. But I'm not the one stood around in a police uniform stroking my big, big gun watching Latinos I've arrested wear pink blouses and women's underwear that I've made them put on. He seems to know what he likes anyway.

I might have wandered off the point quite a bit there. Still - while we have weirdly hit the low thirty degrees for a couple of days straight the chance of snow here in The Devils Gusset is next to zero. Granted I did find myself having to scrape a very thin layer of frost of my windshield the other morning. I even whipped out the massive ice scraper I brought down from Upstate New York that I used to batter the six-inches of ice and snow off my car with. God I felt so manly. And then I instinctively looked at the wheel arches of my Jeep and felt a sense of sadness knowing I wouldn't get to kick those nasty grey-black barnacles of sludge that would inevitably collect there all winter long in New York. Personally I do miss hearing this sound. But dear God that looks cold.

Nevertheless, my son plopped himself into his seat on the drive to school one days this week and asked, ".....WHY isn't it going to snow here?" He already knew the answer to that. And he let that fact hang in the air after he finished speaking. So I didn't make too much of an effort to explain it. After that he spoke about how - if you really want snow - you can drive ninety minutes north to Flagstaff and there's sometimes some there. But not like in New York. And that he remembers how every year he and his sister would be taken out to cut down a fresh tree in the snow a few weeks before Christmas. Of course he's only five. So I think his memory of doing that is more recounting my own memory of doing that with. Last year the kids mother drove up to Flagstaff with them to cut one down in an attempt to keep up that tradition. Evidently the reminder of what snow is like - be it a half inch of the stuff - was enough to jog her memory as to why she wanted to live on the surface of the Sun. So they didn't do that. I did ask them if they wanted to and both of them said that actually that sounds like it would be way too cold.We've all turned into pussies.

Speaking of which my son lost my best winter hat. Let's overlook the fact that I should never be wearing a hat. You'd think with my satellite-dish ears that a hat would be a good thing. Trust me - no. Regardless my son misplaced it at school. Which isn't remotely his fault. I knew when I started plopping it on his head that it was likely to last for three weeks at best. So I spent twenty minutes looking up winter hats online to see what was knocking around. Most that I saw seem to be deliberately absurd. Like this one below. Maybe it's just me but that's got an odd Karma Sutra vibe. Although to be fair the panda doesn't come up (...I can practically hear Sid James' rude laugh) in that. It's more pretending to be a flamingo or a duck.

Like all pandas this man is now notoriously difficult to mate with.
 I did just look through my closet to see what proper cold weather stuff I brought with me. It's all very functional. Meaning it looks terrible. But because where I lived in NY it was below zero for months on end you mostly gave up on any pretense of looking nice and wore anything that would keep you warm. So I have ridiculously expensive winter coat in there. Snow boots. Other boots I'd wear to stomp about in the slush and ice. Plus a balaclava. Frankly looking at it now it's got quite a serial killer vibe to it. Nobody should be wearing a balaclava AND a red, puffy Marmot jacket. Ever. I did find this photo from a few years ago today though. Yes -  I really am wearing those clothes.

What precisely am I pointing at? And why is my finger on fire?
Still - I want the kids to experience something wintery this Christmas. Which is precisely why I think I'll let them watch me drink snowballs on Christmas Day while they open their presents.

I'm sure they'll appreciate that.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Shrapnel

I need the needle. 

Ah the good old days. A time when people thought that bit in Only Fools and Horses when Delboy fell through the bar was funny (it definitely wasn't). A bygone period when people still ate pilchards on toast (gah). An age that people look back on and ask "do you remember when there was white dog poo everywhere? Where did all the white dog poo go?" (which on reflection now sounds suspiciously like something Nigel Farage would bang on about in a speech). And a time when I looked like a prize pillock. 

A disturbingly long time ago I was walking down the high street of the town I lived in and walked past a tattoo place. At the time I thought tattoos were ridiculous. Considering I had bright green hair that was stretched into a ridiculous hedgehog shape you'd think I wouldn't make a judgment like that. I mean honestly - every other week I'd dye my hair a deliberately stupid colour and then smear a mix of Imperial Leather and water into it to look as deliberately as silly (or "cool" as I mistakenly thought) as I could. Every now and again I'd wear one of two things I owned on my head as well. One was a black baseball cap with the word "pervert" written across it. The other was a weird yellow Gaelic headband. I'm talking quite an excessive level of twattery here. I have a photograph of me wearing that. It might be one of only a handful of photos of me between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. Probably to ensure that nobody sees what I looked like and therefore I'll get to have sex again. Quite honestly I don't really remember me at eighteen with bleach-blond hair wearing a second-hand wool sweater from Oxfam. But there it is. Good God I looked like one of the members of East 17 had run off to become a gypsy.

Tony Mortimer's Pikey Cousin
But let's be honest - like most young men I was a pretentious twat. I held views. I had feelings. God damn it I'd lived through pain and triumphed. But in a totally cool, sexy way. Right girls? Girls....? Anyone...? Even more embarrassing was that you could tell of this without actually having to meet me because I owned a denim shirt that I'd written lots of aforementioned pompous feelings on in marker pen. I don't remember much of the nonsense I scribbled on that thing. Other than some not-particularly clever allegory about Sisyphus pushing a rock up a mountain. And the patently-wrong-because-I'm-eighteen-years-old phrase, "everyone is wrong, and I'm the one that's right". Well clearly. I remember the sensation that I thought that was clever. That people would read my shirt and feel the same way they do after reading the last line of Funeral Blues. Or after watching the very last seen of Black Adder. Instead looking back that shirt had the touch of a manifesto about it. ..  

I don’t really remember making an actual decision. I was just walking past the tattoo shop. But fifteen minutes later I had my left nipple pierced. I remember the mechanics of it. And I remember during the entire thing that the bloke doing it seemed genuinely surprised that I didn't seem frightened at all. I'd love to say I'm just as tough as ten bears and those sorts of things barely tickle my sense of fear. Rather the truth is sometimes being massively ignorant can be quite helpful. Still my enduring memory – to be completely honest – was that I surprised to learn what people meant by a fine line between pleasure and pain.

A few years later I wandered into another place – still all pompous and snooty about tattoos – and had my bottom lip pierced. Weirdly that didn't hurt at all. A month or so later I had my eyebrow done. I kept all those piercings for a few years. I calmed down with the ridiculous hair. It was still silly quite often. Just not as often.  And I developed a schizophrenic dress sense. One day I'd be 90s Grunge. The next I'd have a shirt and tie on.

I remember two things happening right before I ended up waltzing off to university when I was 21. Firstly I was invited to a friends house for a party. That was the beginning of me farting about in weird rock bands playing guitar and drums. And at that party I was supposed to be showing up to play guitar a bit. Everyone else there was dressed up like a goth. I had on a pair of grey trousers, a collared shirt and a black tie. And a very drunk kid there kept calling me trendy as an insult. Yes I had silly hair. And yes I had an eyebrow ring and a spike sticking out of my lower lip. But he missed the irony completely of being dressed up exactly like fifty other people and saw me as a Townie. Right up until I picked up that guitar and started playing Sinatra and Meantime. I realized on my way home that night that the desperate grasp for an identity had piss all to do with clothes and only liking certain music. Which certainly helped because I'd been feeding a serious man-crush on Chris Isaak for years. I mean seriously...

Then I showed up at university. Still with piercings in - but no longer dressing like a homeless man had been given a makeover by the people on MTVs Headbangers Ball. And met probably a hundred people with a piercing in their face. I remember sitting in one of my first lectures and glancing down the row to see a line of people with their lip pierced. Exactly like in a  went back to my student house after lectures and took them all out. And that was that. 

Nowadays I don't have any shrapnel in my body. And I have two tattoos. And dear lord do I crave more. And no my skin has not become a substitute for that rambling, late-teenage denim shirt. But I love the sound of a tattoo place. And again - there's something strangely erotic about the way it feels when the ink hits your skin. Funny how things change. Mind you Only Fools And Horses still isn't funny. Nobody eats pilchards anymore. But you just know that someone, somewhere probably has a tattoo of white dog poo on their body. 

I'm betting it's Nigel Farage.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Running Man

I was not a cool teenager.

When I was about twelve or thirteen a girl in my school that I didn't really know asked me to be her boyfriend. Actually that's not quite right. She sent one of her friends to ask me if I'd be her boyfriend. It was right before the first class of the day. I wasn't entirely sure who she was but I said yes anyway. Total slag, I was. Actually truth be told I had no idea what I was doing and nobody had ever suggested such a ludicrous thing before. I honestly don't think before that moment that anything to do with grils had ever crossed my mind. I remember going into class and completely forgetting about it. At break time another girl that I didn't know at all came and told me that my girlfriend was breaking up with me. Again - I had next to zero experience of any of this silliness so just meekly nodded. At which point I was told that was actually this was just a test. And that because I didn't cry then clearly I didn't like her enough and now she's breaking up with me. Madness.

Fast forward a few years through a series of fluffy, innocent, childish boyfriend/girlfriend experiences. The kind that have absolutely no sense of anything physical in any manner. Not a hint of rudeness. If you consider that around that age I was still chuckling innocently at seeing belly buttons in the Littlewoods catalogue it should give you some idea of what sort of thing was going through my head. Whilst my friends were frantically wanking in secrecy I was still playing Kick Off 2 and waggling my Kempston Competition Pro joystick in an effort to get my tiny Daley Thompson across the finish line (euphemism of the day, surely).

Puberty Training Device

Not to lift the veil on the torrid, ickiness of being a thirteen/fourteen year old I do distinctly recall being with a bunch of my mates in an abandoned house and one of them revealing that he he'd nicked one of his dad's porn mags. And as the three or four of my friends creepily grunted at the naked photos on the page I remember looking around completely bewildered at what all the fuss was about. I mean - you could see the ladies belly buttons which was pretty awesome. But most of them seemed to be squatting in unusual fashion and draped in weird amounts of fur and lace. Which was stuff my nan had in her house. I remember that afternoon ending with me wandering off home as the magazine was divided up and each of my friends wandering off to different parts of that house to have a look on their own. Bored senseless I was.

Then in a six month period the frail bubble that held in my innocence was well and truly burst. This was when I was fourteen. Firstly by two sisters who lived across the street. One was the same age but the other was a year or so older. One afternoon they convinced me to practice kissing behind the shed in my backyard. My first true exposure to romance, clearly. The point here is that this was when I was taught that you can actually use your tongue. And not in that frightening, whack-a-mole rapid fashion that we've all experienced at one point or another. I'm sure my memory is all-a-mess looking back, but I do remember thinking afterwards that I definitely wanted to do more of this kissing business. 

Secondly when I was fourteen I was hanging out in someone's garage with a bunch of people I didn't really know all that well. Somehow I'd been invited in to hang out because I'd been told a girl there liked me. Truth be told that didn't really hit home. It didn't stir anything and I imagine I went along out of peer pressure rather than anything. At some point during that evening I ended up sat next to this girl. She was the same age. But she was the girl at school with big boobs. So all the other boys who seemed to have gone through the absolutely ravenous progress that is puberty lusted after her like a dog after another dog's arse. I've seen the tiny handful of photos of me as a young teenager. I looked about ten years old. So quite what this girl saw in me is actually baffling. In fact if memory serves me well - and it often doesn't - I spent a shocking amount of time trying to dress in as much flannel and layers as possible, and develop as much unkempt, long hair as possible, that people might accidentally think that Eddie Vedder had shown up. At some point during that evening I ended up sat with the aforementioned girl. Who was rather forward and - right in front of everyone - figured she'd have a go at kissing me. Obviously my stellar experience behind my own shed meant I had some skills to display. Ten seconds later this girl had somehow managed to take my hand and stuff it up her shirt. Which I hadn't expected at all. The stirring, powerful rush of puberty hit me for the first time. It was mental. I handled it (the puberty - not the boob) really well. She stuck my hand up her shirt and I casually and smoothly ran all the way home. Not immediately obviously. I made some sort of excuse to get up and go outside. And then I ran all the way home. All cool and stuff.

A few months before I was fifteen I was at youth club and a friend of my sisters that I kind of fancied found out and did that thing that some people did around that age. As in she displayed no subtlety or tact of any kind and just came over and grabbed me and dragged me outside to somewhere much more private. At which point she confessed her long-held crush on me (I'm guessing it had been at least ten minutes long). and we spent half an hour or so licking each others teeth. And then - much to my surprise - she stuffed my hand up her shirt. Obviously I'd matured from my earlier and only other experience of boobs. I remember calmly telling her I had to go grab something from inside youth club. And she said okay. And then I ran all the way home.

A few months later I was subjected to that shameful experience nearly all of use have been subjected to. That being I was hanging out with a friend of mine and his girlfriend. And her friend. And I was literally convinced into being her date for the night despite the fact that if it was up to me then in no way would have I said yes. But say yes I did. A few teenage beers later I ended up in a bedroom with this girl. Now I don't want you to all cheer too loudly but I didn't run all the way home after a quick fumble. Oh no - far too cool for that. No. Instead when she stuck her hand down my trousers I ended up faking an asthma attack and needing to go hide in the bathroom for a bit. And then I ran all the way home.  

I lost my virginity four days after my fifteenth birthday. Now as an old man (almost forty - still look fifteen) I am horrified at that statistic. It's far too young. All fifteen year old boys are dangerously stupid. Not in the mean sense either. I mean naively, ignorantly stupid. I lost my virginity to another virgin. Nothing quite as brutally awkward as two virgins discovering that neither of them have any idea what they're doing. I'll always remember that night. And by "night" I obviously mean "five minutes".  And I'll always remember it because somehow the white Liverpool shirt I was wearing (frankly who could resist ill fitting polyester?) somehow ended up on the bed beneath the two of us and she bled all over it. I ended up having to put it back on and walk the nearly-two miles home from her house in it. And without a word of a lie I was genuinely stopped by an old couple on my way home who thought I'd been stabbed. I wasn't cocky enough to respond with, "actually I think you'll find I was the one whose been doing the stabbing." To really underline that night when I got in I weakly tried to explain the horrifying evidence to my mother - when she opened the front door to let me in - by telling her I'd been at a friends house cooking with beef. Yes - during a two mile walk home that was the best excuse I could come up with. And frankly I deserve a reward for not actually running all the way home for that last one.

Eighteen months, that was. From innocent, foolish youth to vile, defiled beast. From not having the slightest proclivity to have anything to do with girls - to losing my virginity. In hindsight that's horrifying. Seriously I don't like that at all. On the plus side I suppose is that no teenage boy should be held accountable for the nonsense they get up to. But you aren't allowed to judge me for running away from boobs quite as often as I did.

I totally don't that anymore, by the way.....

Monday, December 14, 2015

When I Was A Gypsy

It's been awhile.

My gran.
Five years ago to the day I was sat in a dingy, office training room listening to a woman - who looked exactly like a cross between my Gran and Ray Winstone - swear blind they knew someone who turned themselves albino. Four years ago I found my daughter covertly locked in a bedroom intentionally slam dancing into her brother whom she had taken hostage. Three years ago today I picked my daughter up from school and she told me loudly in the corridor that, ""there's no kissing allowed at school......and if the teachers are caught kissing too they have to go and sit in the principal's office until the end of the day." Two years ago today my ex-wife's now fiance met our kids for the first time. Which involved him walking into our old house (I'd popped over to pick them up) while they were blasting Primal Scream's Swastika Eyes at an ungodly volume whilst pretending to spray everything like skunks. It's a credit to him that he didn't just walk back out the door. And a year ago today I was still aghast at how absurdly hot it was in Arizona in December and endured this ironic piss-take from my son.

There are two main points to this. Firstly - I know all that because I wrote it down. I have all those memories written out. Because I did that when I looked back through to see what happened this day for the last five years I swear I could hear all those things happen like an echo. I'm very lucky to have just spent twenty minutes having a poke back through time and feeling those things again. Granted I wasn't quite prepared for that sudden, dull sense of despair of five years ago of working a fucking dreadful job knowing that a) it was just a matter of time until I would be a stay-at-home Dad (still one the best things I've ever done in my life). And b) remembering that ever-present knowing that for all intensive purposes my marriage was already over. And that we both knew it but just wouldn't address it. And that nobody outside our house had any idea. We were just in a very, very long wind down. It's a very odd thing to feel that sensation again. That treading water feeling. And personally I think it's good to remember how that feels.

But it's also equally as odd to remember opening that bedroom door four years to find my son defending himself against his sister's violent dancing. Especially as today she spent an inordinate amount of time dancing to Minecraft songs while flailing a foam sword around while he deliberately tried to get hit by it. And it's weird to remember that look of confusion on the other parent's faces three years ago as my daughter loudly talked about how the teachers aren't allowed to make out at school. And as for a year ago - I can sincerely feel how uncomfortable it was to not have adapted to the Arizona heat. And being absolutely positive I never would. And yet now I'm huddled in my house with a cup of tea and a blanket at 10.20pm on December 13th writing away at this and well aware that I'm probably behaving as if I'm colder than most people around here. The words "delicate flower" come to mind. But I can also sincerely feel that sense of happiness I'd grown to a year ago of being pretty damn happy with who I'd become. Of having moved here and smiling with my kids. And of having met and got to know pretty well some of the most important people I'll ever meet in my life.  

And then there's today. Today my son lost his second tooth.

Albert Steptoe
Oddly enough he looks a bit like a cross between my Gran and Albert Steptoe there. He's quite excited. Firstly that his tooth falling out involved next to no pain at all. In fact he laughed it out. Apparently that's what I get for doing a workout in my own living room. It's just that funny to look at. But also my son is excited because when he found it in his hand he realized he was rich. And I realized I best find the six quarters (precedent set by his mother when the first one came out) the Tooth Fairy will be coughing up tonight. And lastly he's excited because with that tooth missing he now has his own personal hot dog hole. I strongly advise not Googling that.

More importantly is in five years I'll know that. Because I wrote it down. And I should say that even though I might not publish on this thing anywhere near as regularly as I used to - I still write things down. Thoughts I have. The inane stupid nonsense that I used to ALWAYS say out loud - I still write that down. Weird little ideas or stories - I still write them down. Not every day. But on scraps of paper that once a week or so are saved so that in weeks or months or years I can look at them and know what I was thinking. And while there are gaps they say their own thing too in just as silly, as importantly and as powerfully as words can sometimes too.

Secondly the point is the point we really don't have any idea where we will be in a year. Let alone five. That's both daunting and very exciting. I knew some things five years ago. I knew I didn't like an awful lot of things and that they had to change. For one thing my dress sense. Good God what was I thinking? I looked like a gypsy. Three years ago things were changing enormously and I knew that I was heading in very much the right direction. Painfully and into the unknown in many respects - but still the right direction. Six months before that I didn't think they would. It was almost unimaginable. I was an entirely different person then. Still looked like a gypsy for starters.

Six months can do that. In six months I won't be under a blanket - that's for certain. Six months from now my son will have a lot more hot dog holes. Six months from now these workouts better start paying off. I'm hoping that in six months lots will be different. I need to change some things. Just like we all do. And I'm fortunate enough to be able to look back five years and know that with a little work, a lot of waiting and a good mix of serendipity that I'll get closer to whatever that is. And I try not to do this but I'm well aware that in a year - and in five years - things will have changed in the same seismic ways as the last five years have. Dearly hoping I don't have some sort of hideous regression and start dressing like a gypsy again.

Now - I should go put that Tooth Fairy money under the pillow.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tears In The Syrup

Me: .....chickens....?
Waitress: (pitiful look) Okay...

Where I went to university I lived above a greasy spoon for my first year. The guy who owned it was named Wayne. Every now and again he'd clearly seen the bedraggled, mischievous faces of us lot who lived upstairs and would wander up with fry-ups spilling over big, heavy plates. If I'm honest I don't really remember anything other than the lake of baked beans on there. Although I'm also certain there was a doorstop wedge of fried bread involved as well. After I moved out of that place I infrequently would pop over to another greasy spoon closer to the beach. In which you could only order a Number One of a Number Two. Without any sense of irony a Number Two swapped out the sausage and potato for an enormous black pudding that looked an awful lot like a number two. That was the extent of choice.

A pervert's wet dream

I distinctly remember going to an American diner for the first time in Lewiston, NY. Actually I remember an awful lot of first times when I came over more than fifteen years ago now. I remember being offered frozen custard and turning it down because all I could envisage was my Nan gleefully picking the skin off a bowl of cake and custard. Gah. I remember being brutally cold and trying to order a hot chocolate in a Tim Horton's in Niagara Falls and the girl behind the counter not being able to decipher what I was asking for at all. Which frankly is a pet peeve of mine. You might have an accent. But when all you sell are donuts, coffee and hot chocolate (let's not count the sandwiches in there - a cardinal rule is if it's sold in a donut shop it really isn't a sandwich) it really can't be that hard to figure out what two-word drink someone is ordering when it's cacking it down with snow outside and the first word they say is "hot." I then also recall her figuring it out and telling me I sound like James Bond. At the time Pierce Brosnan was James Bond. And he's Irish. And I - despite that one time I shaved my head and looked suspiciously like the last potato in Galway - am not Irish in any way.

An authentic Irishman
I remember arriving in Buffalo, NY and the bunch of people I met up with said we needed to go buy some milk. Then we went outside, got in a car and started driving down the thruway. We were still driving five minutes later. And all I kept thinking was, "wait.....are we going to a farm?" Which is a long way from popping around the corner to the Spar and passing your mate coming out holding a pint of milk, a newspaper and a single roll of toilet paper and it being very clear they need a cup of tea and a poo. I remember driving down a suburban street with friends and seeing that someone had put one of those massive twenty gallon drums the kind that football players seem to dump over their head coach during every game. Unless you're a Bills fan obviously. There's been no reason to celebrate anything at all that involved pouring ice and water over some twat in a visor-capin Buffalo for decades. Actually an idea I had was for a Gremlins movie-franchise relaunch where a man somehow has been infected with the Gremlin gene, lives his whole life as a crossbred mogwai/human until that dreaded day when he has a massive drum of ice water dumped on at a televised football game and then goes on to go batshit nuts and eat everyone.

Anyway - I remember seeing that drum and the car stopping suddenly and two people jumped out and stuck it in the back. And I was absolutely certain I had just been present for perhaps the most feeble, whitest middle-class robberies ever committed. Had no concept of garbage picking at all until then. And still didn't really believe it for years afterwards. Especially considering I had a relative who kept "finding" things that he claimed were frm garbage picking that nobody in their right mind would be chucking out. Like a canoe that someone clearly had just left out on their front lawn.

I remember being taken to Sullivan's in Niagara Falls for a hot dog and being bewildered that a) there could possibly be twenty different types of hot dog, and b) that people actually were queuing up to buy a hot dog. And then I ordered a chili-dog because that's what people ate in TV shows I'd seen and thinking that it tasted an awful lot like someone had accidentally spilled chilli on a hot dog. And I remember going into a grocery store for the first time to buy cereal and practically breaking down after realizing there was an entire thirty foot aisle of choice. All of which I'd never heard of - bar your corn flakes and rice krispies. And they had two prices marked on them for some reason. And then - after genuinely feeling like I might crack picking out a box of Life and getting to the cashier who then told me a price that was not only different from the two prices it had listed under it on the shelf - but perplexing higher (sales tax and whatnot).

American grocery stores are dangerous places.

But that diner. First of all - there was a lot of flannel and trucker hats going on in there. And no - not college kids and hipsters. Big, haggard men who's every fiber screamed that they'd been a farmer their entire life. And the waitress was nice. Sincerely so as well. She seemed to actually give a shit that I'd gone in there. I could tell because every time she inexplicably kept giving me coffee even though I hadn't paid for it she would stop for a chat and ask me stuff. I remember knowing I didn't want pancakes or waffles - I was very much in the understanding stages then that because Gavin eats things with flour in that's actually why Gavin then spends enormous periods of time afterwards feeling like total shit. So I figured I'd play it safe and order sausage and eggs. What followed next was a series of questions that would have Oedipus Rex baffled. First of all she asked me if I want links or patties. I was fairly certain that my order only involved two things - some sausage and an egg. Quite what links or "paddies" had to do with them was a mystery. So she offered an olive branch and let me know she was talking about sausage. After I twigged what she was on about I distinctly remember answering by making a hand signal that was supposed to mean links, but could only have looked like I was miming masturbating delicately with my index finger and thumb. 

Most breakfast food looks like a wound in The Walking Dead
She then asked me what kind of eggs I want. Which I thought about really hard (eyebrow furrowed, lip bitten) and replied, "....umm.....chickens...?" It turned out she meant what shape I want them in. Eggs in America is a bit like Cadbury's chocolate back home - about fifty different shapes of something that for all intensive purposes tastes identical to all the other shapes. So I let her run through the thirty eight different types and picked the first one she said - sunny side up. I'm sure she really appreciated that. Then lastly - the pièce de résistance - she asked me what kind of toast I wanted. I wasn't prepared to learn about seventeen kinds of toast I'd never been exposed to and decided against any. And then - after getting my coffee refilled umpteen times in a few minutes - they brought my breakfast out. And the monsters had done something my innocent little foreign mind just could not compute. Something that still now turns my stomach. They had poured a puddle of maple syrup over my sausage (unfortunately not a euphemism). I was confused and horrified. And not anywhere near as aroused as the notion of pouring sticky things all over my sausage should make me. Needless to say as a newly-arrived Englishman in America I grudgingly ate them so as not offend the really nice waitress. A few weeks later I ended up in an iHop (surprisingly not a prosthetic leg made by Apple) staring down at a plate of sausages that some barbarian had covered in powdered sugar.

Of course all these years later I'm an expert at breakfast. I'm quite capable of confidently telling the waitress that no I don't want all the free toast, biscuits and pancakes thank you. And no syrup anywhere near anything I'm eating please. I'm sorry Canada - I love you dearly. And I would move to Quebec City or Toronto in a heartbeat. But outside of Stephen Harper, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams (Worst. Threesome. Ever.) I can think of very little that makes me gag more than maple syrup. And keep that rancid pish you call bacon off my plate. This is really the key to the entire restaurant that I'm foreign. The four cultural cornerstones of America after all are way over the top holidays (balls to all of you that think Halloween and Christmas is over done - it's amazing), not being able to pronounce the letter T properly, high school massacres and bacon. And lets all be clear that the worst atrocity there is the last one by far. 

The fact that pumpkin-spice bacon exists is the clincher there.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Melt

In twenty six days I will gave been in Arizona for a year.

I have a confession. I spent six weeks in college packing fudge. Actually - let me back up. Just to be clear - that's not something I said in college. No. I had three jobs in college. For two years I worked in a cornershop as the evening manager. I worked for two months in a Walkers Crisps factory packing Monster Munch into boxes. I literally sweated Pickled Onion flavoured crisps right into my own eyes for twelve hour shifts. And for six weeks I worked for an eccentric South African family who lived in and owned a chocolate factory. Part of the time I wrapped Christmas chocolates they made for Boots and Woolworths. And the rest of the time I literally packed fudge. One evening while I was packing fudge I was hit in the back of the head (I'm told, by a falling box of fudge) and swallowed my tongue.

This is genuinely a better photo than my Greencard photo.
"That's all very interesting Gavin. And quite honestly sounds like something discovered after a character on Broadchurch is hypnotized to reveal a past trauma in order to help solve a murder. But pray tell - why are you bringing this up?" I'm bringing this up because a mantra I live by is that you really have no idea how different your life will be in twelve months. Weird shit happens. And always keeps happening. My life a year ago is not remotely the same. It's 2,500 miles different for a start. Which is more or less the same distance as moving from Bristol in England to Cairo in Egypt (I did want to say that I did look up a generic image for British people in Cairo and Google offered up a disturbing amount of people wearing Burberry). Let's just say there's a markedly different amount of flannel being worn here in Arizona. Ironically I'm probably wearing it more than anyone in some desperate attempt to pretend it isn't 115 degrees. I do though own an entire array of jackets that it will require a plane journey for me to get any use out of. I do see some people who have insisted on wearing jeans and jackets right the way through the summer. But those people are clearly mental. I've had a few people try and say it's akin to people in Africa covering up all of their skin to regulatte their temperature and protect themselves from the sun. So essentially a group of Denim Bedouin, if you like. But no - denim layers at 115 degrees is demented. I can't even imagine the amount of liquid trapped under there. Admittedly though when I started work in January I attempted wearing a sweater. My brain told me it was just the time of year for it. That lasted two days until I started feeling faint. Here - this is my work photo ID. It's shockingly bad partly for the fact it's a picture of someone in Arizona wearing three layers and a tie. But more so because the person taking the photo took it before I even looked at the damn camera. Shifty is the perfect description.

Gully Washer

I also now have an entirely different career. To be fair it does still involve an office cube and being surrounded by people who are convinced I'm a lot younger than I actually am. And it pays a whole lot more. But it's not the same at all. Certainly not the same as a few years ago of being a stay-at-home dad. I've developed friendships that I will hold dear until the day I die (by the way I'm dearly hoping that doesn't have anything to do with fudge packing and tongue swallowing). And I'm right around the corner from my kids. Which is a whole lot different than 2,500 miles.

If I could say one word that encapsulates much of my life during that time it would probably be, "Minecraft." Shudder. The feverish addiction my kids have developed for that thing is a thing to behold. Actually it wont be much of a surprise if I said a better word to describe the last eleven months was, "hot." Good God it's been hot. I'm ashamed to say I think I became one of those people that moaned a bit too much about the heat. I recall being at a British expat meetup thing late 2014 and the principle thing I asked all those lovely people was "please tell me it isn't just going to be this hot all the time?" And every single one of those people looked confused and told me it was actually cold at the moment. It most definitely wasn't. But they were British so I knew they couldn't possibly be lying. Plus some did the distinctly British thing of taking quite a bit of schadenfreude (the irony of employing a German word there) in remembering how revolting sweaty their own gusset was for the first few years they moved to Arizona.

Actually I prefer another thing that those born and bred here do. For example this weekend I opened up a bank account here. My old one was so local and small a bank that the local farmer gave away free cheese in the store when you opened an account. So I opted for a big, national bank. The kind where you can take a photo of your check to deposit it (yes - I'm well behind the times there). Anyway - the guy at the bank was obviously aware I'm not a local. I mentioned it was hot. He laughed. I then mentioned plenty of people have told me I'll get used to it and be wearing sweaters just like everyone else does in January in just a few years. To which he chuckled and said, "no - you'll never get used to it." He clearly enjoyed saying that.

Outside enduring the heat and the relentless assault of Minecraft lots has happened. I've had a wonderful time with my kids. From the minute I surprised my son at his school (and he leaped across the room struggling to understand how we both could be smiling and crying at the same time) I've seen him actually start school. Save a little blip where he absolutely hated being dropped off he's actually enjoying it. He loves his class. He enjoys having friends. He's not so hot about having to do work. He hasn't done so well with recess. Because time to play has normally always involved his sister and he can't quite understand why he isn't allowed to. But that will sort itself out.

My daughter has carried on as per usual as far as school goes. She worked her way into a statewide program for absurdly-advanced kids. In which she had a reading comprehension test last week and it was determined she is at an 8th grade level. Which is genuinely mental. Her school library doesn't even have any books recommended for her. And her math (I still hate pronouncing it that way) level is a few grades higher too. She's made friends. She's in a few clubs. And as of next weekend I'll be her soccer coach.

I've met a shocking number of people too. And I'm delighted to say most are wonderful. The thing I should say more than anything is that I held my own preconceived ideas of the kind of people I'd likely encounter here.I was quite expecting a mix of Sheriff Arpaio (the power-mental Sheriff of Arizona who refuses to not racially profile Latinos) and Doug Stanhope. Basically I expected people to be quite political and possibly demented. But weirdly this has been the most diverse, multi-cultural, uneven bunch of people you can imagine. And yes - while my favorite people I've met are those men who rant about Mexicans but get all confused in the underpants area when they see hot, Latino women - on the whole I've met a strangely, tolerant, melting-pot of people. I've met a surprising number of British people. Weirder still is I've become friends with a large number of British people who don't live anywhere near this place. Lovely bunch of misfits they are too.

I did want to say too that I thought Arizona would be exceptionally religious. Not in a personal-relationship-with-the-Big-Fella way. But more a Jesus Says I'm Allowed to Hate You kind of way. I've been quite surprised there too. On the block I live on there is a church of some type sticking out of each side. Right near me is a huge Sikh temple. Around the corner is a Mormon church. Furthest away is a gargantuan Catholic megachurch. The kid with a flashing billboard outside that has messges on it to passing motorists that says "Pray for Anonymous and his gambling addiction!!" And on the other corner is a little mosque. Which - puzzling considering the whole Danish cartoon thing - has a big picture of Mohamed (from off of Islam) on a sign outside. There's also a Buddhist mini-temple thing down the road too. Which - and I'm aware I'm channeling Arpaio here - I'm dearly hoping has a panda in it.

Mmmm Mongolian Beef.
Needless to say those eleven months have rocketed by. And I've absolutely no idea what life holds for the next year. I'm excited to find out though. And I can say this. This last year has been great. I'm quite happy. And I didn't think I would be. Sure it's been weird. And there a whole bunch of things I wish were different. Minecraft and the heat, specifically. And while I'm aware my ex-wife moved here for her man and because she likes the heat surely they'd be every bit as happy somewhere a little milder that still has plenty of heat and isn't California expensive. Like Texas. That'd be nice.

Anyway. Here's to the upcoming anniversary. I'm excited. I mean - it's not like I'm nearly 40....

Saturday, September 12, 2015


A calming, beautiful bedtime story you can also tell your kids. Or a grandparent you don't like who seems especially frail.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Windchime

Daughter: It's impossible.
Me: You know back in England some people say, "better out than in."
Son: Why would it ever go in!?

My daughter is a chimney. Don't worry - I'm not suggesting she's started hitting the Rothman's and is smoking. Although I'm quite aware if she were to hold a cigarette to her mouth and say, "sod you then" she'd look disturbingly like her Gran. Who - as an aside - looked an awful lot like Colin Firth. Anyhoo - it's far more nefarious than that. Every evening after school my daughter will park herself on the couch with her brother (usually after shedding most of their clothes in that way that kids tend to) and bottom-burp away like a wind-powered metronome. It's not just the rhythmic frequency that's alarming. It's the ferocity. She's like that one bloke we all know that holds no shame and just bellows it out in public. Her brother is so desensitized by the whole experience that he doesn't even remark on it anymore. And of course I have to. I do that tiresome, repetitive parent thing I've suggesting she might need to go to the bathroom. She'll shake her head, trump some more and then inevitably two minutes later will make the, "oh yeah - he might be right for once" expression and sprint to the bathroom.

Two things here. Firstly it boggles my mind that my daughter seems to treat going to the bathroom like a game of chicken. Obvious by the fact she appears to be trying to beat the land/speed record when it becomes clear to her that she absolutely must go now or something foul and depraved is going to occur. Any parent can attest to the countless times of cleaning up whoopcidents. Although they usually involve much younger children than my daughter. I'm sure I can't be the only one who has spent thirty minutes bleaching a toy trampoline after one of my kids appeared to have a shit-and-salami party on it.

Secondly - my once proud, warm feelings about how my kids have developed good bathroom etiquette have evaporated as far as my daughter goes. So desperate is she to get there on time she no longer closes the door and has returned to that infuriating habit of trying to hold a conversation loudly across the house whilst she's at it. I'm certain she remembers House Rule 73 (Urine, children and Daddy making dinner do not a casserole make) and yet she flagrantly seems to be ignoring it. When she's done I now always have to ask if she's washed her hands. Which she hasn't. Or if she flushed. Which she's batting around .500 at. So frequent is her lack of bathroom decorum that I'm quite persuaded to pick up one of those cute signs you see in Hobby Lobby or Homegoods.

Owen though - bless him - still holds dear the notion that bathrooming (as he calls it sometimes) is a private, ignoble exercise that one should take ample time to get to and that holds a series of steps to ensure everything is all in proper order. He tends to casually mosey towards the bathroom - perhaps with a little song or dance - breezily letting me know he'll be gone for a bit. He'll close the door (and weirdly always has insisted on that ever since he was toilet trained at a bizarrely early age) and then proceed to shout a few ingrained statements that oddly remind me of Winston Smith chanting, "We've always been at war with Eastasia." His two most common phrases being, "this is none of your business" and, "pooping is not a team sport." Personally I'm quite impressed that he's taken something I've said a few times to heart in such a manner. After bellowing that out there is silence. Then a flush. Followed by the sound of him happily washing his hands. If he could he'd do that grandpa-whistle that grandpas make when they're happily working in an allotment. After which Owen feels no desire to narrate his experiences in the bathroom most of the time. Unless he has concerns, of course. Of course he is five. So there are those treasured moments when you're stood in line at Starbucks ready to order when he loudly tells me, "my poop has been green lately, Daddy." I wont lie - I did wonder if that was some odd marketing ploy on Starbucks behalf that involved their signature color.

Anyway - I have had the conversation with my kids that perhaps - and it's just a suggestion - there isn't quite the need to roar out wind like a foghorn warning a ship about a sandbank in a storm. And there's certainly a time and place. I recall many a disappointed look that I've made when out shopping for groceries years back and looking at their mother with, "that evil monstrosity was you, wasn't it?" Which brings me to the point. I told my kids that you don't have to do that. Yes you don't want to be all bloated and uncomfortable. But that personally I'm quite capable of not thrumping any and every time the incident arises. At which point my kids looked at me like I'm some kind of magical arse wizard (and just to be clear that is not my profile name on Tinder). They simply don't believe me. They really do believe it can't be prevented. Once at the border it will attempt to cross. So basically that same fear that irrational Arizonians have about Mexicans. My kids naturally believe 99.99% of what I say. It sends a shiver through me that I've been wondering when my kids will develop that wonderful sense of questioning the things they hear - and that it'll be rooted in thinking that Daddy doesn't seem to know anything about farting.

Quite frankly if there's something I don't want to be an expert in it's that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Gap

Me: Alright kids. Tonight there's going to be something fantastic. Let me give you a hint. It starts with "p" and ends with "orn."
Evelyn: (blank face)
Owen: Ha ha you said pee.
Me: That's right kids - popcorn.

"Mmmm salty..."

Quite often I have this moment where I want to describe something about growing up in England to my kids, but it's actually quite inappropriate at the same time. For example watching the footy and having the impulse to tell them that yes the crowd are singing, "the referee's a wanker." Or when having my son help me look at stuff to make for lunches while I'm at work and him asking me what I'd do for lunch when I lived in England. And instantly remembering how I'd pop out of the office across to the pub across the street. Which in the US sounds mental. And while perfectly innocent and normal would sound deeply odd if my son mentioned it out loud in school here.

My son then asked me, "so you lived in England until Mommy was in charge of you?" Interesting analysis there. Then he quickly thought to himself and said, "she's in charge of someone else now." Quite. At which point my son said that when he's older he'd like to marry someone from England. I asked him why and he said he doesn't like the way his teacher sounds. And that he does like the way my friend does on the phone. Which is somewhat fair enough. Except his teacher is Vietnamese. Of course being five meant his brain rocketed off to an entirely different tangent and he enthusiastically asked me, "remember when that fly went in your ear and it tried to eat your brain daddy?" Which tweaked his sister's attention and she offered, "yeah and it stole all your information." Then she randomly veered onto a joke I made eight months ago that I moved to the desert not just for them. But because I can't swim that the desert seemed like a good place to be - and now ironically everyone spends five months out of the year living in a swimming pool.

And then something very odd happened. My daughter made the face and body language of someone with something on their mind. And she asked me if I would ever get married again. I told her maybe. Didn't give her any details or anything like that. But told her I'd very much like to. Then she told me she didn't want me to be lonely. It's moments like that when you aren't sure whether to explain a complex situation. About how when I was married I was extremely lonely. Or that I'm not now, most of the time. And that sometimes you can be with someone in some capacity not even doing anything and it fills up your whole soul. The nuance of the two situations is not easy to explain. Still it's a bit odd to have an eight year old say they're concerned you might be lonely. So I had to do that thing where you quickly decide as a parent whether this is something you need to sit down and have a ten minute talk about it. Or breezily chat so that the situation seems easy and not a big deal. I opted for the second because you can easily transition from that into the first.

After asking her why she told me her mother has been talking about getting remarried. So I told her that sounded like a good idea. That her mother seems pretty happy and her boyfriend seems like a really good guy. And that they've been together for a few years so why not. Then I left it hang there while she figured out her thoughts. And she said out of the blue, "I don't really like living here." She went on to say she really likes my new apartment. And that she can tell where she is relative to her school and friends at this place. That she likes her school very much. And being able to swim. But that Arizona is too hot. That she can't do anything because it's so hot it makes you tired. I asked her in the lightest way possible if she actually was worried about me being lonely or if it was something else. And she said no, she was just sad sometimes that Arizona is too hot and she doesn't like it. Because it means she doesn't get to go see anyone or do certain things. And that makes her feel lonely sometimes. So surely I feel lonely too.

It's very interesting to me that people have intense emotional feelings that seem to be rooted in something. But without really analyzing it it's sort of missed that it's rooted somewhere else entirely. And therefore you can't really understand or fix the issue. So here was my daughter asking me an emotional question about how I feel. When what she really meant was she was holding a feeling of her own she didn't really know how to fix. I talk a lot about how in the midst of my own divorce that I realized I held a lot of conclusions to things without really looking to see if I was actually answering the actual questions. And then had a small epiphany that revealed that I absolutely was not. Coincidentally after my kids left New York I went to chat with a counselor. And they underlined that perfectly. That most people keep repeating themselves and feeling a sense of emptiness or unhappiness about an issue. Just hoping it'll change. A lingering frustration that things aren't feeling right, or better. And it's because they haven't really looked at the actual question they've been asking themselves and determined it's the wrong question to ask. It's the wrong starting point. And that you need to address that. And until you do honestly you can't resolve so many things beyond that point.

The irony of my own situation was I went to school specifically to learn about what defines men and women and how that's presented in culture. But more so how there's a gap between what people identify themselves as and how that is acted upon or shown. Specifically that the bedrock of relationships is that everyone is seeking true intimacy. Not sex. That's a common error. Not a partner to share a lifetime with. That's what a lot of people end up doing. While shared experience is valuable it's not something that makes you feel whole. The fundamental thing that people crave is an actual shared intimacy. The knowing that there is an openness that is nurtured by an other person. That they take genuine pleasure in what makes you happy - whatever that is. Simply - that they love you for who you actually are. In all the ways that you innately feel happiness from.

I say this a lot too. You own your own sense of happiness. You decide if you're happy. You decide if you're attractive. You own you. But when you enter into a relationship the contract you essentially enter into is to let someone into your heart and soul and allow them to impact it in lots of different ways. And that there is a responsibility then not to abuse that. But that what so many people confuse is that it's hurtful to not take up that offer when it's offered. And that creates a giant, gaping hole. People attempt to fill that gaping hole with all kinds of things. But the hole is still there and they can't figure out why it feels like something is just wrong. Not letting someone in is at least a choice. The other person not even wanting to come in and share is infinitely more painful. I knew that's what my marriage was from very early on. And yet we kept avoiding that. Papering over the hole with moving house. With kids. With stuff. One of us closed off. The other not even interested in the first place. Doomed to failure is how people might read that. And that's sort of wrong. Not supposed to succeed in the first place might be more apt.

My son is five. He gets upset, mad, confused and sad about things - and then forgets why. But he still feels those things lingering afterwards. Hence why after he moved 2000 miles away and then I arrived that he carried around a fear that his dad might move away again. My daughter is eight. And she spent part of today expressing concern that I might be lonely because sometimes she feels that way. And my ex wife and I spent just under fifteen years feeling emotions that we couldn't/wouldn't fix because we didn't want to address the actual causes in the first place.

So today - even though it's currently 104 degrees - I'm whisking the kids off to wander around a pet store. Get out and about and do things. Then later my daughter has a pool party. During which my son and I will pop off home and hang out together while she eats pizza and shows people the dance to Watch Me Whip that she's been doing constantly for three days. And I'll attempt to show my son the footy highlights and see if he doesn't get instantly bored by them. Maybe I'll let him put on an old England shirt that's so big it looks like a 19th century nightgown. That might persuade him. Although like me he seems quite happy to plow through Pinterest and Etsy and window shop. And eat some popcorn even though I'm not a fan.

Seems like a decent Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Duck and The Pixie

Owen: They put fireworks in your milk at school daddy.

One of the best gifts I've given my kids is creativity. On the one end of that scale is a wonderful imagination. To be able to have fun just making anything up and having fun with it. My daughter still holds that dear and I love it. No opportunity is missed to take the slightest stimulus and turn it into something hilarious. Such as her contention (after buying shoes for her toy dog her grandparents got her at Build-a-Bear - what a shocking money pit that place is) that somewhere in the mall is a store for dogs where they can dress up their humans. But the genius being their toy humans end up doing dog stuff - like eating out of a bowl or shitting in the garden. Didn't think it was the right time to bring up the fetish club two blocks over and how both those things are half-price specials on a Thursday night.

Anyhoo - I love that imagination. Her brother though has taken that flight of the imagination to the other end of the scale and quite often just talks endless bollocks. And instead of a cheeky laugh and the understood notion that it's all for fun insists it's true. Such as the fireworks in milk thing. He scowled when I suggested that wasn't true. He also insisted one of the kids in his class is a dinosaur. And - more troubling - confessed that he'd persuaded one girl at school that there's such a being as the Poo Pixie that works very much along the same lines as the Tooth Fairy. I can't imagine the level of disappointment in that girl's house this morning when her parent's discover she's had a shit under her pillow. Followed quickly by the kid's despair that doing so didn't earn her twenty five cents. The thing, is I'm somewhat sure I've joked about the Poo Pixie in the past to him. Which might mean that is actually my fault. I mean I am aware that apropos of nothing I will spout utterly inane nonsense to almost anyone when I think of it. For example I remember in work on Friday someone mentioned the new James Bond movie. And instantly I started rambling that now Bond is grittier and Bourne-esque that presumably a side-story of the new movie will involve Daniel Craig contacting all the women he's knobbed in the last four films to inform them he's got an STD and they should probably get checked. It's just that while it's obvious I'm having a laugh that my son might actually think it's funnier to claim that sort of nonsense is actually true.

My kids have been at school for just over two weeks. My daughter is - as expected - loving it. My son took to it like a duck to water. He gushed and gushed about doing crafts, playing in the gym, being invited to parties and getting to talk endlessly about Minecraft to people who simply can't get away. He wore a huge, happy grin that first week and a half. Especially as his teacher kept remarking what a shockingly good boy he was. But then a funny thing happened. It's as if someone sat him down and said, "This is cool right? Loads of new friends. Fun stuff to do. Pizza for lunch every damn day if you want it. Here's what The Man isn't telling you though. You have to do this for the next thirteen years." At which point he presumably (and continuing the water-fowl theme) muttered the very English phrase, ".....well fuck a duck." His unspoiled, perfect-child record has a few plummets from a One Star (basically the teacher couldn't ask for any better) to a Three. Normal and expected. It is only week three. And it's not like he's showing signs of mentalism like the kid in my daughter's Kindergarten class in New York who threw a pair of scissors at the bus driver. Scissors he'd stolen from art class. And then when he saw the buses pull up out the window had legged it out of class specifically to chuck them at the driver. And that was at the end of the year. I'm serious - that kid was so resistant to any rules laid down in class that he may actually have fucked a duck just to get out of helping put the toys away.

Anyway - the point is that it is expected. It's quite an adjustment. And as stubborn and driven by emotion as his sister is (translation: has been known to instantly flip into Cthulu-levels of murderous, demonic rage) he is a lot more stubborn. If he doesn't want to do something then he won't. His sister is driven even more by pragmatism. She can be tormented by her emotional side. But she'll know that from a Big Picture perspective that she may have to just do things she doesn't especially want to. Hence choosing friends with bullied kids because it just seemed unfair. And knowing she'll endure crappy treatment but being okay with that temporary sadness because in the end two people will be happier in the long run. Of course she had to work and age to get to that. When she was five there were inexplicable moments when she'd vault over the couch to rip me apart like a bread roll. Which made the dichotomy between her unbelievable good behavior, weird superhero-levels of intellect and unexpected eruptions of satanic rage even starker. This is a girl who - and I swear there was no indication or logical reason behind it - was once given sour gummy worms whilst in the back of the car by her mother and instantly started throwing them at her and screaming, "why does everybody have to be mean all the time."
Owen though - he's five. Once that emotion wells up he's paralyzed. I used to mention often how years ago he'd get chocolate or cream on his fingers and be absolutely unable to move. Mouth clamped open like a hypnotized snake. I'd find him stood in the kitchen - trying to alert me with his eyes whilst at the same time trying not to let the melted chocolate know he was calling for help lest it go batshit and heaven forefend claim another finger - stood statuesque until I cleaned him up. And no reasoning whatsover could release him from the horror of knowing his finger was dirty. "You could just....lick it off?" The number of times I made this point whilst looking at a terrified boy traumatized by the near-fatal melted-chocolate-on-finger nightmare he'd just endured. With chocolate smeared all over his face (apparently that didn't count though). Of course then he'd go outside and sit in an enormous mud puddle and literally pour buckets of river water and mud down his underpants. Consistency wasn't important, apparently.

Still I've been told by his teacher that a couple of times he's become upset and nobody can get him to do anything. And any persuading or demanding goes from pointless to problematic when he just breaks down in an emotional heap like a teenage Brony kid who has just discovered that his hormone-driven fourth wank of the day ended up landing on his favorite Twilight Sparkle plush doll. Evidently the only person who can snap him out of that standing-still and boiling into a sobbing mess is me. And then only by getting right down to his height, telling him it's okay and he's allowed to feel what he's feeling - and then he still has to let out the angry, crying, flailing-limbs intensity of five year old's feelings. 

And as his Dad I want to go help him. I don't want him to be tormented. Stood in his classroom knowing he doesn't want to do something because it sounds scary. And because someone is making him and his Dad said school really isn't all that scary that everyone is mean, Dad might be a liar and that can't be true but right now it feels like it and all all he wants to do is go home. But that can't happen. Not for hours. And this horrible feeling might happen every day. For thirteen more years. But I also know that the best thing for him is to suffer a few more of these episodes and learn that it's okay. It's a really weird thing to know as a parent that a major element of growing up is learning that sometimes pain is necessary and that you are going to get sad - and that it's how you deal with it that counts. Written like that it seems warped. I only realized that feeling overwhelmed to the point of sadness isn't a weakness about five years ago. And as a nearly-forty year old adult there are plenty of moments where I've thought that I just can't take it and I want to run.

And then last night we sat and did homework. I'll just briefly say it's shocking how much a five year old gets. It's at bare minimum 45 minutes a night. But during that - as he sat on my lap on the floor - he became so happy when he could read a word he didn't know a month ago. Clearly felt such a level of achievement when he knew how to solve a problem. Moved from being slightly annoyed that even after school he was still expected to do work, to feeling really happy that he knew how to do it. And that I got to see that he can too. And that's the point. So often the pain, the sadness, the discomfort - it's all worth it. It's all a part of growing. I'm no different at my age. There's lots that's uncomfortable. Lots that seems insurmountable and confusing and too strung out. But  it's okay. It's just dealing with it, thinking things through, making choices and knowing that someone loves you beyond words and that in itself will help you get through those moments.

Plus I go back to work tomorrow and I'm fairly confident I can convince someone that the Poo Pixie is totally real by the end of the week.