Adam Bird

v4.0

become a fan on Facebook

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

From Princes Park to the Nou Camp

Nou Camp

During my self-imposed blogging sabbatical I started writing several posts, all half-heartedly and never got around to finishing them. I had a look through to see if any were worth saving - then I came across this one. Oliver’s ninth birthday and a trip to the Nou Camp. Now a little out of date contextually, but all finally finished for the record.

I’ve long held aspirations to mix two of my favourite things; travel and football. A wannabe tourist if you like of the beautiful game. But life as a Gills fan comes with restrictions, there are no European nights against the continent's finest. The closest we are ever likely to get to any form of foreign opposition is the odd pre-season game in northern France against a local side, which is treated as nothing more than a glorified training session. But last weekend I ticked a big box off of my footballing bucket list, namely a visit to the Nou Camp stadium, home of FC Barcelona. An experience far, far removed from the previous ground that Oliver and I attended just two weeks earlier.

Oliver has been growing ever more competent in his goalkeeping, mainly in part to the work that he has been doing with Deren Ibrahim and the coaching staff at Dartford Football Club who have shown a lot of faith and encouragement in him. We felt that it would only be right and proper to show some support back, so with the Gills away in Shropshire playing against Shrewsbury we had a free footballing weekend. A perfect opportunity for me to revisit Princes Park and for Oliver to watch his coach in action against Whitehawk in the FA Trophy, a competition I'd never seen live before.

Princes Park opened in 2006, shortly before Oliver was born, reuniting the football club with the town finally after a nomadic existence on the back of the financial fallout caused by a failed groundshare with Maidstone United in the early 1990’s. With a capacity of 4,100, there was plenty of room for the 601 hardy souls who stood on the freezing cold terraces being serenaded by the non-stop chanting of the Whitehawk Ultras.

In fact, Oliver and I nearly became honorary Ultras for the day, albeit unsuspectedly. Standing behind Derens goal before the match, watching him go through his pre-match training routine Oliver and I found ourselves on an empty terrace. The opposite side of the ground was filling up quiet nicely and the Dartford colours and scarves were making themselves known. Feeling rather isolated and sticking out like two sore thumbs I felt slightly conspicuous and wondered how we were going to move into a more populated part of the ground without upsetting Oliver who was quite happy watching Deren being put through his paces.

Whilst I was slowly formulating a plan of action, we were finally joined by other members of the human race, which was a blessing as it made me feel quite normal and part of something again. But these guys were a throwback to another age. With skin-heads, tattoos and Dr Martin boots, skinny jeans and tight leather jackets I was immediately transported to The Football Factory, ID or another one of the hooligan based movies whose stereotypes were visually now alive and representing “The Hawks” right in front of me. From feeling lonely, to normal, to slightly afraid in the space of thirty seconds I had found my escape route “Oliver, we are in the away end - we are going!”

Far from the stereotypes as portrayed on screen, the Whitehawk fans were a credit to their club and the lower league game. Chanting, singing and banging their drum for the whole ninety minutes, the look of the football casual might still be alive in certain parts, but the menacing behaviour and attitude was long gone - and a firm reminder to me that one should never judge a book by its cover!

The game didn’t go according to plan, with the Darts losing 2-1 and exiting the trophy at the first hurdle. The Darts looked fairly solid in the most part without much threat in the final third, but a defensive lack of judgement from the full-back conceding a soft and rather needless penalty for handball meant that the Darts had too big a mountain to climb. However, the highlight for us and certainly for Oliver, was a spectacular second half save from Deren which had everyone in the ground clapping, including the Ultras, drumming ever louder in support behind his goal.

On the bus on the way home after the match, I asked Oliver if he had enjoyed himself. He looked up at me agreed that he had. “Barcelona up next mate”. I said, he smiled, the irony completely lost on him.

Dartford: Ibrahim, Gardiner, Onyemah, Vint, McNaughton, Noble, Hayes, E Bradbrook, T Bradbrook (Simmons 65mins), Cogan (Pugh 79mins), Harris. Subs not used: Adams, Wynter, Burns.

Whitehawk: Ross, Sessegnon, Braham-Barrett, Deering, Leacock, Lorraine (Gotta 71mins), Neilson (Stevens 79mins), Torres, Robinson, Mills, Martin (Mendy 53mins). Subs not used: Ijaha, Rose.

Childrens birthdays don’t come cheap. If you want to arrange a party there is the expense of a venue, plus food, plus entertainment, party bags, cakes and decorations. There are ways to minimise costs, but even when you add everything up alongside presents it can easily equate to hundreds of pounds. As a way to highlight comparable value, I did some research.

Looking up ticket prices to watch Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Bayern Munich, plus adding up flight prices for two to each of those cities, I was staggered at how affordable it all was. When looking at hosting a party earlier in the year for Phoebe we had a quote for £300 for a women to arrive at the party and pretend to be a princess for two hours. Whereas Oliver and I could fly to Barcelona, watch a match and stay overnight for nearly a hundred pound less than that.

So that’s what we did.

We knew that it was only going to be a whistle-stop tour, in and out. Just as we do on Saturdays when we watch the Gills play away from home. I’ve been to all of the major cities in the UK, but I’ve not seen any of them. You arrive, watch a game and come home again.

When Dad heard what I was planning, he wanted in too. Had it just been Dad and I we could have done it the same trip for less, with an early arrival on Saturday morning and even earlier departure on Sunday we’d have not bothered with the hotel room, but gone out, got drunk and slept off any alcohol at the airport. But with Oliver in tow we needed a base to drop our heads for a couple of hours. Which gave me a logistical challenge of finding somewhere that was central, near to the underground station so that we could get to and from the airport and also to the ground as efficiently as possible. With time being a premium the perfect place looked to be an Ibis neighbouring the Sagrada Familia. If we were going to see very little whilst we were in town, we may as well see the most iconic building of them all.

In the end, it worked out perfectly. We didn’t bother with the underground from the airport, a taxi was an inexpensive option direct to the hotel where was able to see the city in the early morning light. From dropping our bags off at the Ibis, we took a short stroll around the corner via a Christmas market for a walk around Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. It really is quite something. Work started on its construction in 1882 and it isn’t due for completion for another ten years - mind blowing when you think about everything that has happened in the intervening years. Oliver seemed fairly impressed, or at least the selfies say so.

We brought our match tickets online from the clubs official website two weeks before (after much searching and anxiety that three seats were going to remain available!), but walking around tickets for the match vs Deportivo de La Coruña were readily available from street vendors and ticket offices around the city. If we ever go again, which I am sure that we will - I don’t think that I’ll bother with advance tickets and will get them whilst we are there, it’s what everyone else seemed to be doing, in fact I was quite taken by the frequent availability of last minute match-day tickets.

A short stone's throw away from the hotel was an FC Barcelona exhibition which we came across completely by chance. We lucked out in our discovery as it was well worth a walk around, whetting our appetite for what was about to come. Pictures of teams past, players immortalised as legends and their role in the fabric of the club. Oliver had his photograph taken with Messi in action in the background as well as Koeman, Lineker, Xavi, Iniesta, Cruyff and Ronaldinho. If Oliver was unaware of just how big Barcelona is in world footballing terms, he certainly had his eyes opened to a few new things.

Before making our way to the ground we stopped off for some lunch. It may well have been December, but the air was quite mild and we were able to sit outside in the streets dining al-fresco. We still needed our jackets on but we were more than comfortable, far removed from the temperatures of a freezing Princes Park and the smell of fried onions in the air. I knew that Oliver wouldn’t particularly fancy a series of tapas dishes so I played the safety first game and ordered him a chicken burger as you cannot possibly go wrong with a chicken burger. Or so I thought. When it arrived with a sesame seeded bun and fiery hot sauce and mustard Oliver’s first Spanish dining experience turned into a feast from his version of food hell. It didn’t get much better as the day progressed, with various levels of fussiness and turned up nostrils at perfectly edible fare that turned Dad into a grump and Oliver ever deeper into a hungry depression. Until we came across a churros stall where Oliver’s attitude changed and he devoured hungrily several donutty sticks oozing in chocolate. Spanish cuisine may well have left an indelible mark of negativity on his first real tourist experience but in time all will be forgiven, and forgotten -  as the real treat of football at the Nou Camp was something to treasure.

From the underground station at the edge of the city, with townhouse style buildings obscuring any views of the stadium the first glimpse of the mighty colosseum came as we walked around a bend and it stood before us imposingly like a giant concrete carpark. From the outside, the height, whilst visibly evident lacked the architectural wow factor that much smaller stadiums can sometimes convey. The grey, industrial blandness of the underside of the tiered rows stood like inverted stairways up to the Gods, promising little but a sense of anti-climax. If you hadn’t see inside of the stadium, or photographs of the birds-eye view you’d be wondering what the fuss was about and feel sympathy with the clubs plans to spend millions of euros on bringing the ground up to date with a new, modern synthetic skin.

The stadium might well be showing its age from the outside, but entry was super-modern with tickets stored on my phone in my Wallet App, a few swipes and a flash of infra-red gained us entry into the stadium complex and the long walk up to our seats ahead. The concourses, on the outside of the building with a maze of staircases and levels dotted with retail outlets that were functional without offering anything meaningful. But once at our required level we walked through a cold concrete doorway and the vast expanse and sheer beauty of the Nou Camp await. Like the Whitehawk Ultras, the outside appearance told a contrasting story to what lay beneath and the Nou Camp stadium is undoubtedly a thing of mesmerising beauty.

Vast, wide, tall and steep, over 90,000 people sat in an oval bowl watching a collection of the finest footballing talent in the world. Dad, Oliver and I all stood silently trying to take the magnitude of the views in and soaking up the alien atmosphere as cheers, claps and Spanish chants rang out under the roofless twilight skies. With the altitude, the open air stadium in a cooling December evening left us feeling ever more chilly but the sights of Messi, Suarez and Iniesta below gave us a warm glow. Neymar was injured, so we missed an opportunity to witness the famous trinity of goalscoring talent.

But I could live with Neymars absence, it was Messi who I really wanted to see, another name added to the collection of players that I’d seen play live. I could now add Messi to Ronaldo, the two finest players of their generation. Messi scored one of his long-range trademark free kicks after 39 minutes and my weekend was complete. It was an otherwise uninteresting first half and Messi’s goal would have graced any match in any game in the world. But if Messi was the making the headlines it was Iniesta who drew my praise.

Watching Iniesta was a thing of majesty, like Paul Scholes in his pomp, Iniesta made the game look easy. He had more time than anyone else on the pitch and his movement was unhurried, strolling around the park, receiving the ball and passing with pinpoint accuracy in one movement. It was a joy to watch and the backdrop of the Nou Camp was the perfect canvas to watch a real artist at work.

Rakitic scored early in the second half and it seemed as if it was game over. But a down and dead Deportivo showed impressive fight and determination. They pulled a goal back through Perez after 77 minutes and the game came to life. A scattering of Deportivo fans at the opposite end of the stadium to us, high, high up in the Gods awoke at the same time as their team who rewarded them with a deserved equaliser after 86 minutes. The game was far from over as they attacked the Barcelona rear-guard and threatened a shock third. But it wasn’t to be. Darkness had descended over the Nou Camp and our footballing Odyssey had come to an end.

It was a unique trip and for Oliver a special experience, if only to prove a point. The Spanish food might not have agreed with him, but the football certainly did. “Daddy, after I’ve played for Gillingham and then Liverpool, I want to play for Barcelona now” he said. True to form it was my Dad who had the last word “You won’t be able to Oliver, you’ll go hungry”

Barcelona: Bravo, Dani Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba (Mathieuat 77mins), Rakitic (Sergi 72mins), Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, L Suárez, Ramírez (El Haddadi 68mins). Subs not used: ter Stegen, Bartra, Adriano, Vermaelen,

Deportivo de La Coruña: Lux, Sanabria Ruiz, Arribas, da Silva Junior, Navarro Corbacho, Juanfran (Nunes Cardoso 70 mins), Bergantiños García, Fajr, Correia Pinto (Domínguez Lamasat 45mins), Rodríguez Portillo (Luis Alberto 58mins). Pérez Subs not used: Gracia Calmache, Medunjanin, Lopo, Fernández Muñiz




Wednesday, 25 January 2017

New Year, New Plans

Some news from me

I started blogging over ten years ago as a means to document becoming a father for the first time and coming to terms with growing up. It took me on a magical mystery tour beyond accounts of childbirth, marriage proposals, family trips and unlocked an interest in writing and prompted the beginnings of a novel and other journeys into the world of creative writing. But then as suddenly as it started, it stopped and real life took over instead.

18 months of unpublished thoughts lay left unsaid and whilst that time hasn’t been filled with notable tales of adventure, dismay and excitement, the preceding years before it hadn’t either. It was merely the minutiae of an ordinary, everyday life left behind as a legacy to remind myself and those closest to me what had happened, when it had happened and how we all went about it. Any comments, likes and shares were a welcome surprise and gladly received, but the motive behind my words was not for others benefit, it was for mine and mine alone - an accessible way to rabble on irrespective of who was listening.

But lots can happen in 18 months and the start of a new year seems the perfect time to pick up the keyboard again and waffle into the vacuum of cyberspace. We’ve lots happening this year and have drawn up plans and changes for the future. We’ve started a fairly major renovation project on our house after years of talking about it, and in the grand scheme of our relatively inconsequential existence it is something of a major milestone. The ethos behind the blog was to record the significant events as they happened, and for us this is an event worthy of the record.

With house prices in the local area going up at an astronomical rate, finding a suitable living space for our growing family proved to be a challenge that we could not meet. There is the added sentimental value of living in the house I grew up in, the house we bought off of my parents and slowly put our stamp onto, turning it from Mum and Dad’s house into our own. But as it stands at the moment, we have challenges in the near future that if we don’t act now could cause us headaches further down the line.

Hayden’s arrival changed the dynamics of our family and our needs as five are far different than those of four. Had Hayden been born a different gender we could have adapted without too much change, but two boys nine years apart meant that sharing a room between them was less than ideal. I appreciate that people do it all the time, but with equity available to us we are fortunate to be able to make the adjustments that we believe we need to, and by doing it now, in good time, it gives us the freedom to do it without pressure.

The plan is a fairly straight-forward one. To build a single storey extension at the rear of the house with an enlarged family room and remodelled kitchen. Place a downstairs washroom in part of our existing kitchen area and convert the loft into a bedroom with ensuite. Stephanie and I will move into the loft, Oliver will have our old room and Hayden will keep the boys room which we only finished the year before last. Phoebe will then have the remaining bedroom, giving us all room to grow without any future upheaval or desperate need to relocate. With house prices rising steadily around us, the challenge for the children as they grow older to move out will be even more difficult than it was for us, so making it as comfortable as possible for as long as possible for them has been a major consideration behind our plans.

Being novices at this and having no previous experience of major home renovations inevitably means that this journey will be fraught with obstacles, mistakes and wonderful surprises. But so was the start of this blogging adventure, becoming parents for the first time and not having a manual to guide us through it. It is all part of the fun of the journey and if anything learnt can be shared then that can only be a positive thing.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A Lesson in History

Buttes New British Cemetery

For several years, mainly whilst drinking in the British Legion Club before Gillingham home games, my Dad, my friends and I would talk about visiting France or Belgium to tour some of the battlefields and visit the cemeteries of the fallen during World War One. We talked about Belgian beer and how we might be able to combine the two for a weekend of history, culture and light entertainment. But after talking about it once too many times, a decisive action was required and plans were drawn up once and for all.

History as a child didn't interest me, not in the slightest. I had to choose a humanity subject when I chose my options and the joy of dropping history felt wonderful. It was all in the past, black and white pictures that had no relevance to the ‘real-world’. It was nothing more than ignorance and whilst I wouldn't say that I've developed an insatiable thirst for the subject I've learnt that its relevance cannot be understated and in actually fact, our very existence owes a debt of gratitude for the actions of those that have gone before us.

It was only really as an adult that I started showing an interest, after Dad had joined the Territorial Army and he returned back from weekends away and talked of his trips and re-told some of his discoveries that I began to pay attention. I even accompanied him on one of his trips to Europe, a brief whistle-stop to Vimy Ridge for the afternoon with my grandfather that was a mere extension to a ‘booze cruise’ where we shuttled over and made the most of the cheap duty-free beer at the time. But that brief experience provided so much, and to see it in more detail became a genuine thing to do as opposed to simply appeasing my Dad’s requests.

Our first stop was Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, the final burial place of Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, one of only three men in history to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice. The cemetery is located within a small hamlet on a roundabout and is one of 205 cemetery’s in the Ypres Salient area.

It felt strangely out of place, we arrived early in the morning and we were by far and away the earliest visitors of the day. The cemetery lies tucked away behind the gardens of neighbouring houses on a road void of tarmac and under construction or repair. That first visit is the worse one emotionally, suddenly seeing the immaculate line of gravestones and reading the messages that have been left from all over the world, “We will remember you forever, Lucy, age 6, New Zealand” and seeing the words inscribed on the headstone “A soldier of the Great War - known unto God”.

For all the men that are revered and talked about and have Wikipedia entries under their name, there are hundred of thousands of others who are soulless bodies that have had their name detached from them and inscribed on a monument some place else.

If I come across suddenly knowledgeable, like claiming to know the story of Noel Chavasse then I apologise. Everything written here I've either learnt from my Dad who played our guide over the course of the weekend, or is further information that I've looked up online in response to those new discoveries. Gareth and Foordy, my two friends who accompanied us on the trip were equally grateful for the depth of knowledge and information that Dad shared. With it being Father’s day on the Sunday I couldn't have wished for a better time to feel a huge sense of pride in him and thankful that I've still got someone to look up to at the age of 35, two years older than Chavasse was when he was killed.

With so much to see and the scale of everything so truly difficult to comprehend it is helpful to try and put some context to the situation. We visited the Passchendaele memorial museum, which is a collection of replica trenches, dugouts and collection of memorabilia housed in a rebuilt châteaux. Included in the museum is some rather haunting artwork depicting some of the hopeless scenes from the battlefields which provided some difficult answers to my main question ‘how did so many soldiers become ‘known only to God’?’. The answer isn't easy, but seeing raised hands pointed to the ceiling from a field of mud offered a profound experience as any felt at any point over the weekend.

After a morning of reflection and dark discoveries, it felt like an appropriate time to enjoy what the other half of the weekend was about - Belgian hospitality.

Now my knowledge of Belgian beer is as good as my history, namely non-existent. So when presented with a ‘bierkaart’ which carried nearly 100 names I took what I believed to be a logical approach. The same way I choose horses from the list when the Grand National comes around. If the name sounds good, the beer must be good! So a bottle of Kwak it was! Which arrived with a rather odd wooden contraption attached to it - all part of the wonderful journey of discovery that travel brings.

Talking of which, another thing that I learnt... ordinarily when ordering food from a menu, the words ‘cheese and ham toasted sandwich’ would get sniffed at and something more adventurous would be chosen. But label the same item as “Croque Monsieur”, they become immediately more appealing… so much so we all had one...

It wouldn’t have been a bad idea had someone suggested staying in De Volksbond for the rest of the afternoon, but there was still so much to see.

Nearby lies the Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest British Military Cemetery in the world. 34,887 names are listed on a giant wall which forms the northern perimeter of the plot of land in which the cemetery sits. Each name commemorates a soldier missing in action, which is in addition to the 11,954 graves that make up the cemetery census. Of those 11,954 graves, 8,367 as marked as unidentified burials. This statistic was repeated over and over again over the course of the weekend and continued to be the biggest thing for me to get my head around.

Tyne Cot and each of the other cemeteries we visited over the course of the weekend are looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, an organisation set up as a direct consequence of the first world war. There are cemeteries all over the world, all maintained and looked after by the CWGC and judging by what we witnessed over the weekend they do a staggering job. Each and every one of the graves was immaculate, with information and visitors books supplied at each site. There has been a push over the past few years to ensure that they are at their most pristine, what with the centenary events that are happening over the next few years, but even once the commemorations are over the CWGC will continue to do what they've done for the past 100 years.

Our accommodation was in Ypres, a city that was destroyed and rebuilt exactly as it stood before hostilities started. It is also home to the Menin Gate, another memorial to the fallen and home to another 50,000 names of those whose graves are unknown. At 8pm, there is a processional ceremony of remembrance where the Last Post is played and a story of a soldier is told to the crowd - even if nobody is in attendance. This homage has been performed daily since 1928 and is intended to continue in perpetuity.

As the minute silence passed by and the dignitaries laid their poppies I felt slightly ashamed of myself. This event had been happening every day for nearly 100 years and I had never heard of it. 13,000 men were buried less than 3km away and goodness knows how many more in the wider area, and I never knew about it either. Grainy black and white images that had no relevance to the real world? What a stupid boy I was!

It wasn't until the following day, whilst visiting the Liverpool Scottish memorial stone at Bellewaarde that things began to make a semblance of sense. The stone is much like many of the memorials dotted around and that we visited. But this was in the middle of a field next to a copse of trees and a mine crater which acted as a permanent reminder of war. Out of all the places we visited this one felt the closest to the picture that I had built up in my mind of where I imagined it would be. Dad was telling another one of his stories and if you closed your eyes you could vividly imagine the noise of shelling and bombing overhead, it was that atmospheric. The generation of World War One survivors has long since passed. Leaving ghosts behind, names and those more fortunate, stories of their existence. Those stories Dad filled us with all weekend are those that have been passed down and immortalised for us, and for those who live long after us. I may well have been naive, ignorant and not interested as a child, but as an adult have been given a responsibility to ensure that those stories are continued. That when Oliver, Hayden and their generation grow up, that despite their personal ignorances they are given the opportunities to listen, learn and discover the past as I have done.

Human beings have committed gross atrocities against one another throughout history. But the first world war was a four year battle of attrition that neither side particularly wanted. Millions of lives were lost, for what? The answers, unlike World War Two are less clear, but they fought for us and gave their lives so we may live in peace. We say that we shall remember them and it’s all very well doing it once a year, but come November 11th this year I will truly mean it.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Hayden

I started writing a blog out of an interest in writing and technology, which over the past nine years has helped document events in mine and my family’s life. It has helped me come to terms with becoming a dad, a husband and document things that have happened, my role in them and its helped me learn more about myself as a man as well as a father. Except I’ve let life take over for a bit, more living, less writing, which is why there is a bit of a gap - a nine month long one.

After all, it isn’t like I’ve not had anything to write about, in fact I could easily have filled the pages of this blog with news on a daily basis, but if I had to write one post about the past nine months it would be summed up with the title of “Eat, Work, Sleep, Repeat”, all the rest is merely a collection of sub-plots, namely:

- Phoebe’s Little Sister Dreams
- Oliver's Footballing Ambitions
- Stephanie’s Birthing Nightmare

Which brings me nicely up date.

When we found out that we were expecting again, underneath the surprise and shock of the reality-hit, was the underlying emotional response to the news - fear of giving birth all over again.

It started with the result of the test and it built all the way up until the Monday evening of February the 23rd. As is now traditional, the baby had hit its due date and sailed right past it, warm and comfortable in the confines of Stephanie’s womb. We were sat watching a film called Fishtank, ironically enough when half an hour towards the end Stephanie’s waters finally burst - with it, nine months of fear escaped and a petrified mother-in-waiting took its place.

Being old hands at this racing off to the hospital lark I knew exactly what to do. With Oliver it was a hundred mile an hour dash of excitement as I brushed my teeth and packed a suitcase at the same time, Phoebe was more leisurely, but I was bitten by that experience, so with authority I readied all that needed to be ready, packed the car whilst waiting for the mother-in-law to arrive and to reassure a crying, anxiously shaking Stephanie who didn’t want to make the inevitable journey, efficiently or not.

We arrived at the hospital shortly before midnight, where Stephanie was attached to the usual machinery measuring contraction levels and the babies heartbeat. Rather than approaching the rather major subject of fear and how she might be made to feel more comfortable through pain relief, Steph decided to tackle the non-existent elephant in the room, namely how she might be able to give birth and not push anything else out at the same time, you know, that thing we all do anyway irrespective of whether you are a boy or a girl... but that, along with the current horticultural state of her ‘lady area’ were issues that were decidedly more important, and I had to sit and listen to them on three separate occasions with three separate midwives who probably have now, like me, finally heard it all.

Despite enjoying a rather entertaining hour at the hospital, we were sent home to wait for the contractions to speed up and were asked to return once they had, or if not, 24 hours later we’d be medically induced. Needless to say, we didn’t need to wait that long!

Having arrived home at 1am and returning back to the hospital an hour later and wired up again to the same contraptions we finally managed to talk about what was needed to get through the next few hours. It was a brief conversation, a simple ‘yes Stephanie no problem’ when the midwife was told politely “I NEED SOME GAS AND EFFING AIR!”

After what happened with Phoebe I knew that events were once again going to be quick. But after what happened last time around I felt the same level of anxiety that Stephanie had displayed earlier. I didn’t want to be put in a temporary room again, or the cleaning cupboard. I asked if there was room available at the inn, and there was - fortunately. The same delivery suite as Oliver was born in and with that my fears and worries, for the time being evaporated as suddenly as they had descended.

Phoebe arrived quickly, very quickly, whereas Oliver was a long drawn out affair. This time around speed was to play an important role.

Just as the nurses were readying Stephanie with various needles and attachments into the veins in her hand she needed to start pushing. Gas and Air was inhaled deeply and her breathing was fast and everything was as before. Stephanie had done this twice already and she was doing it brilliantly all over again with the fear seemingly gone and running on her maternal instinct.

Where I was standing I had the contraption behind me that was monitoring the contractions and the baby’s heartbeat. With Phoebe there was concern with her heart rate dropping and things got nervous for a little while so I was alert to what was happening around me. With Stephanie pushing and the baby arriving any minute now, things started to get tense.

The room filled with more people and the growing crowd at the bottom of Stephanie’s feet started to get more concerned. Looking over my shoulder I could see that the baby’s heart rate had dropped and it had been low for a little while. With a concerned atmosphere in the room I knew that they needed the baby out and quickly and as safely as they could.

The delivery suite is a chaotic place. It starts of calm except for the beeping of machines and the deep breaths of the mother-to-be. People come in and out and a lot of the time it is at a leisurely pace, at smoking pace if you were outside in the park and watching the world go by. Until the exact moment when the baby is visible, thing change, the energy levels ascend instantly and it all begins to happen.

It was all happening now, instruments were passed around, starting with small ones, big pushes and disappointed faces. Further instruments were passed along the line to the midwife at the front, getting bigger in size and more evil with their intention. In the background more people were arriving, they are wearing suits with hastily thrown on scrubs which indicate they are the serious brains and the go-to people when something goes wrong. They are preparing for all eventualities and this is all communicated in secret body language and signals as the worried looks get more anxious.

The only way I can describe what was happening is by reverting to slap-stick. It was a game of tug-of-war and the queue of people at the foot of Stephanie's bed were getting stronger in number, pulling one way as Stephanie pushed downwards for momentum. Further instruments appeared, more mechanical in look and ever larger. I had my head buried in her chest, half in fear and half in encouragement. My elbow was resting on her protruding stomach, which fell suddenly as the pushing and pulling finally met its goal.

We were told much later, that during the birth the baby was side on and they couldn't turn it around in time as they needed to get it out safely. Had the heart rate been fine, ordinarily they'd have taken Stephanie into theatre, had an epidural and made all the more comfortable before attempting to move the baby into position.

But with the baby now safely out, I didn’t know what we were having. Stephanie suspected, or she knew from peeping during an earlier scan. I didn’t need to be told once I had seen. We had another boy, who just as Oliver and Phoebe had before him needed some air inside his lungs before we could hold him. The atmosphere in the room, the energy, the nervous looks and glances and my relief that he was out expressed themselves in the form of deep, dry sobs as we waited to hear our new-born son cry.

I couldn’t watch with Oliver, I wasn’t in the room with Phoebe and I nor could I watch this time around. So I watched the midwife. The one with the posh voice who kept apologising to Stephanie in an “I am so, so sorry” voice, enunciating the “I am” as opposed to “I’m”. Her face was etched in worry, a concerned look which didn’t help me, but I needed something to concentrate on as looking at Stephanie would have been too emotional. With hearing the baby cry the midwifes face changed, she breathed out heavily and Stephanie and I did too.

She needed a little help after the events of the previous hour, so I went and met our son. The nurse was there holding the umbilical cord in her hand. I hadn’t the opportunity to cut the cord with Oliver or Phoebe, so this was a special moment for me. It might sound strange, but for me cutting the cord is a defining time for a father and to have missed out on all three children would have been a disappointment. But I did, third time lucky and I looked at him for the first time. With Oliver it was a shoulders out pride at a first born son and with Phoebe my heart melted in an instant. But right there, right then, the feeling was different, it was like everything made sense, the missing piece of the puzzle if you are a fan of clichés - and it was. The boy in my arms, who looked like Oliver and Phoebe all mixed up made everything fit together as if we’d been waiting for him the whole time.

Hayden Aaron Bird. A second son, known for nine months as ‘Oops’ in loving acknowledgement to, as Stephanie said to me - the greatest decision we never made.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Two's Company, Three's Proud

Oops

When Stephanie and I discussed children, our magic number was always and never any more than two. We were blessed with a beautiful blue one, and a pink one completed the set. Our lives were happy and content, until a recent late night bum squeeze under the covers turned into something a little more energetic, which is where we find ourselves once again... at the beginning of another nine month long adventure.

Oliver had a code name, “Baby Bird”, Phoebe was imaginatively labelled “Baby Bird 2”. Our as yet unborn third child has been given, the (perhaps unfair) moniker of “Oops”. Which, in the event that he/she reads this in the forthcoming years is a term of endearment (we promise), but we won’t hide behind the fact that when we do eventually meet he or she, it will be behind the eyes of a blessing that we never expected.

Inevitably, I guess, when something happens that catches you by surprise is a sense of denial and perhaps a sense of regret that we’d done things differently, not at all or whilst wearing safety equipment. But I’ve always been a believer in things happening for a reason, for a purpose defined not by me but a greater force that knows the greater meaning of things and that we are to face the challenges head on and reap the rewards of successfully overcoming them.

Which is why when Stephanie told me the news the only answer I could give was a shrug of the shoulders and mutter “oops” as there wasn’t anything more I could possibly add, no consoling words would change the situation and a show of enthusiasm would have been in stark contrast to the vibe at the time. Stephanie being the more emotive of the pair of us had a moment or three and needed a period of reflection to allow the news to sink in.

During our discussions on adding to the flock we always tended to look at the negatives; less room, need for a bigger car, holidays would be too expensive, we’d be ancient and past it by the time we were grandparents, five is an odd number and other such trivialities. My belief is that our continual focus on the negatives was the cause of Stephanie's initial reaction. It wasn’t that we never not wanted another child, we had simply prepared ourselves for the probability of not having any more.

Now that we have had the time and sense to digest the news, the worse our initial reaction is beginning to look. I’ve found myself looking at Oliver and Phoebe in a different light, more closely and analysing their personalities, behaviours and achievements. Every success they have, we have that to look forward to all over again. Even the naughty and annoying things like Phoebe colouring her legs in with felt tip pens - it will happen. It will make us cross, but even writing the words brings a smile to my face as in the cold light of day its actually quite funny!

But like all great trilogies, the biggest anticipation is for the final chapter. In a funny, roundabout kind of way, I’m actually more excited about meeting Oops then I was either of the others. Oliver was new, exciting and a leap into the unknown. Phoebe was a return to familiar territory, but this time, with that sense of inevitability about the conception, the fateful sense of serendipity and the ultimate feeling of reaching a definite conclusion I can’t actually think of a better way to bring the curtain down - they’ve certainly got a lot to live up to!


Sunday, 25 May 2014

An Afternoon at the Theatre

Alice in Wonderland at Greenwich Theatre

Admittedly we are not the most cultured of families, our collective experience of the theatre amounts to a few pantomime performances and the odd West End show. So when we were offered the opportunity to visit Greenwich to watch a performance of Alice and Wonderland we set off not really knowing what to expect.

Sell a Door theatre company is a mid-scale touring theatre whose aim it is to attract young adults and teenages who wouldn’t ordinarily attend live theatre and excite them of the possibilities in which live theatre provides. Alice in Wonderland is their latest work and is running at Greenwich until the 1st June.

Yesterdays performance was the first live showing to an audience and we were invited to the preview and to enjoy the celebratory Mad Hatters tea party beforehand. The communal areas of the theatre had been decorated with props and themed around the whole Wonderland world as written by the author Lewis Carroll and brought to life in many forms of media ever since.

My two children, aged seven and two were given a fully immersive taste of the eccentric with people roaming around in full costume and a range of activities on offer. Face painting, badge making, biscuit decorating and even the bar was given a full Wonderland makeover with tasty treats such as ‘Caterpillars Cranberry Crush’ aimed at thirsty amongst us - which we all were and enjoyed thoroughly!

Before we had ventured too far into the rabbit hole it was time to grab our seats and wait curiously for curtains up, except something appeared to be missing… the curtains themselves. Sat in our seats looking down at the dimly lit stage all of the actors were already in situ, all motionless apart from the actress who was obviously playing Alice. She was sat silently on her bed reading a book and being distracted by her phone, which caused my seven year son no end of confusion, had we started or not? His question was soon answered as the lights went down and a quiet Alice launched into her first few lines, captivating us all entirely.

Now not being a theatre going connoisseur, writing a review of something that I have absolutely no authority on is a near impossible task. But what I will say is that having now witnessed a production of this scale, I have nothing but admiration for what these people do. For nearly two hours aside a short interval (where the delicious ice-cream provided much novelty for the little people), six actors stood on stage and brought to life the complexity of Lewis Carrolls much love tale. With ingenuity, stage craft and various role changes the entire production was filled with surprise and the three of us were left very much delighted.

I was concerned that it might be too long a time for my two year old to sit and watch a performance of that length, but apart from the occasional bathroom visit (she is at that age now) she sat glued to the stage pointing and commenting on various occasions whilst my seven year laughed at the required places and clapped along whenever the audience felt obliged.

If the Sell a Door theatre company has a manifesto in which to attract young adults, they’ve certainly succeeded this time around. The three of us don’t quite fulfil that category (sadly), but they’ve certainly gone a long way to attracting members of the ‘young family’ demographic. With an accessible production that doesn’t feel elitist or pretentious it ticks all the boxes any young family needs with a big emphasis firmly on fun.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Secret Testers

Secret Testers

As a child was it just me who used to devise imaginary play areas and build the world longest slide and the highest swing ever known to man? Did others dream as I did about being offered a job as a toy tester like Tom Hanks’s character did in the movie Big? No, you did too? Oh good, I’m glad about that, as that is exactly what happened to us last week!

When an old friend sent me a message via Facebook wanting to know if I was interested in taking the kids to Greenwich to test elements of a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum I jumped at the chance. As a family we love spending time in Greenwich, there is so much to do -  we didn’t need asking twice! Besides the park, which is a global treat, you have the iconic Cutty Sark and masses of Maritime History. The Old Royal Naval College is a must see, particular for us as my Grandfather used to school there.

Also, as it was Saturday and with the wife working I invited my mother along, her foster child and for good measure my niece and nephew for company!

The mission was a simple one. The National Maritime Museum have drawn up plans for a new exhibit aimed at children under seven. They wish to spend their money wisely and so needed a group of volunteers to see some of the ideas, have a play with some prototypes and be observed on how they used them and to provide feedback as and when necessary.

For a family that like to get out and about this was very new territory for us, none of us knew what to expect. The kids, being kids and no older than seven were none the wiser and went with the moment, whilst I sat wide mouthed as the realisation that people are living out my childhood fantasy on a daily basis - and getting paid for the pleasure!

We were directed to a side room off of the main entrance to the museum and met by a lovely group of people who kindly thanked us for our time and participation. They explained to the children (and the grown-ups) the order of the day and invited us all to watch a digital fly-through of the plans for the new exhibit. Think big boats, huge shipping containers, naval history and pirates, (shiver me timbers!). Even the big kid in me couldn’t help but get excited about the ideas that have been lovingly put into place.

The video presentation was deliberately brief, young children want to play and off we went to do just that! In the next room an assortment of contraptions, presentations and tables were laid out. The girls went straight to the cooking pots and pans whilst the boys also reverted to type and headed for the cannon! The idea in mind is that part of the centerpiece of the exhibition is a pirate ship where children can fire foam balls at other pirates (not real ones of course!) and the test was to see how children managed the mechanism and how they used it. Maybe not like our children, who stuffed as many balls into the cannon as they possibly could and fired them at each others head - glady not all children are as viciously minded as ours were!

From time to time I found myself on tenterhooks as the children did childreny things. Slowly dissecting each of the exhibits into their component pieces and devising weird and wonderful alternatives of their own choosing. I found myself quietly apologising on the children’s behalf but found myself being rebuked in turn “You should be proud of having children with such wonderful imaginations” they said, which I’m certainly no stranger to myself. But I didn't have time to feel guilty, after an action packed hour it was time to walk the plank!

A sure fire test for measuring any success or failure is telling children that it is home time. If you are greeted with tears and tantrums you know you are on to a winner and with the National Maritime Museum that is exactly what it would seem.

In fact we are all desperately looking forward to returning next spring regardless and the promise of changes we might have affected is an additional draw. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some complimentary face protectors next the cannon, or warning signs to the contrary. But whatever happens the plans that are currently under development promise to surprise and delight and as it has been tried and tested by the experts it can't fail to live up to expectations.

In the mean time, I’m off to update my CV “Attraction tester” - looks so much fun!


Older Posts » Home »

Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)

Contact me: via Google+