Adam Bird

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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011, Year of the Blog

2011 - write more

At the beginning of 2011, I accepted the WordPress challenge, to blog more, to post one unique blog post for each of the 52 weeks of the year. This is blog number fifty-two, where I look back at some of the highlights and thank, you - the people who read them and come back time and time again.

I haven't got a favourite post, so I thought I'd have a look at the analytics and find out which was most popular with the people that read them, so here they are:

1) Regeneration, not a Grave End
Gravesend is currently in the beginnings of a major transformation. Both the 'civic quarter' and 'transport quarter' are being redeveloped as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme, which will eventually see a new one-way traffic system, a new bus terminus, a vastly improved train station and much improved pedestrian areas and access routes. However, if Gravesham Council had their way, the redevelopment wouldn't stop there.

2) I've a Stalker in Jesus
A coincidence for me is finding out that your birthday falls on the same day as the new girl you are dating, or buying a new shirt from Primani and wearing it to a party thinking “nobody will know it only cost me £4.99”, but when you turn up, someone else is wearing the same thing and you are subconsciously forced into avoiding them, whilst offering glances with knowing eyes for the rest of the evening. What then do you make of a series of occurring coincidences, all on the same subject, in a short period of time?

3) Follow that Fire Engine
Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean sails a freight ship carrying its usual load of shipping containers heading for Europe, or Valencia in Spain to be exact. Within one is an extra special shipment, a Fire Engine affectionately known as ‘Martha’, who is on her way back to London after an epic nine month global journey which has seen her circumnavigate the globe in the name of charity.

4) Pink, Precious and a Whole Bunch of Pride
The human body is an amazing machine, the mechanics of thought, the intricacies and subtle nuances of the mind which stand us out as individuals as well as our own bodies carved out to provide us with our own identities aren’t things we consider on a routine basis. But last week, I witnessed my wife bring my daughter into the world and once again, reaffirmed for me just how blessed and precious life really is.

5) A Great River Race
Yesterday afternoon, west of here as I write this, six hardy souls boarded a Clayton Skiff, or a boat between you and I - and rowed it twenty-one miles from Poplar Rowing Club to Richmond in West London as part of this years Great River Race, passing under twenty eight bridges and passing sites; the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament and the London Eye to name a few, that tourists only ever really see from the safety of dry land. They did it despite rain not since biblical times, which threatened to sap the energy from them and ruin what is meant to be a fun afternoon on the river. I was one of those fortunate six - and here is my account of the race yesterday afternoon.

6) £200. What would you do?
The fine people at Archibald Ingall Stretton, the advertising agency in which I work are just as keen on personal staff development as they are on ensuring our professional know-how is up to scratch. Which is why, as part of our personal development, they wave a carrot of two-hundred British pounds as an incentive, to go out into the big bad world and learn something new.

7) An Angry Bird turned Happy Bird
In today’s modern society it seems that in general terms it has become very easy to moan about anyone and everyone, via either a Facebook status update or a tweet, but voicing gratitude sometimes gets forgotten or isn’t as widely recognised. In this, my latest #postaweek2011, I’d like to thank Apple for their excellent customer service and highlight the problem in which they resolved for me, just in case anyone reading this also has the same problem happen to them.

8) Baby Bird's Blossoming
Time off work is always nice to have, but last week I had the extreme pleasure of three days spent entirely with Oliver, the little man. This was the same week in that Stephanie and I found out which primary school he’d would be starting in September. The combination of these events and the things that I surprisingly learnt about Oliver led me to ask the question - where on earth has our little baby gone and just where has this little boy come from?

9) A Car-talouge of Catastrophe
There is a reason I don’t own a Ferrari, other than the fact that I don’t have enough money to afford one, something would happen to it. Something ludicrous, a quirk of fate or once in a lifetime sequence of events would befall it and it would break, someone would break it, or failing that, a meteorite would fall out of the sky and land directly on top of it.

10) A Poem for Valentines Day
A blog can be a story, an article, a quote, or a picture, it can be a link or a collection of links. It can be an opinion or an assessment, a review or an analysis. It could if you wanted it to be, a song or a poem, which seeing as it's Valentine's Day, I thought I'd do something brave and share with you a piece of poetry. Even better than, I'm sharing with you a piece of poetry that I wrote myself!

Although I haven't yet decided whether or not I'll be religiously pursuing the weekly post challenge in 2012, I've certainly got into the habit and can assure you that there will be more blog posts to look forward to!

Thank you all for reading and on behalf of Stephanie, Oliver, Phoebe and I. Have a wonderful 2012!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Mascot Marvel

Oliver as Gills Mascot

Standing in the tunnel, looking out at the stadium. It’s packed, a pre-christmas ticket bonanza that has put an extra three thousand bums on seats. The smell of grass, of fried food and the intoxicatingly pleasant sharpness of deep-heat which tickles the nostrils as the ears cope with the roar of the crowd and the stomach deals with the nerves. You’re dressed in the blue of your team, standing there at not yet five years old holding the hand of a total stranger. A man who leads out ten others to do battle against the other group of men dressed in green and black standing side by side in the long, deep space where shouts of encouragement bounce around the walls. The referee signals that it is time and off you go, into the noise which has reached a crescendo, eight thousand people on their feet to welcome their heroes, you leading the way, across the pitch and lining up in front of the main stand, with your Daddy standing by watching, tears in his eyes, feelings of pride swelling up and watching as you cope with the occasion admirably and take it all in your stride - and most importantly, with a smile.

Ever since Oliver was born, people would ask me, “when will you start taking him football?” I always replied that once he was five, his very first match would be as a mascot and then he would go as and when he wanted to from there on. Except it didn’t really work out that way. Oliver has been to the Gills on a few occasions now, making his debut when he was just two years old and enjoying his first away game earlier in the season at Crewe Alexandra, but the mascot dream still lived on.

I rang the football club the day that the fixture list was published and enquired as to reserving a mascot spot for the game closest to Oliver’s fifth birthday, the game against Bristol Rovers on Saturday 17th December. “No problem” they said, and they went on to tell me everything that the day involved before finally getting to the price. For £250, Oliver could be a mascot, with four tickets in the main stand, a packet of souvenir photographs and a full replica kit - which when you add it all up isn’t as expensive as it first seems. The only problem was, it wasn’t really something that Oliver wanted to do, it was something that I wanted to do for myself and experience the occasion through the eyes of my son. Ultimately cost was the biggest factor and it wasn’t something that we could afford to do as a luxury present, so both Stephanie and I decided it would have to be filed away again as another unfulfilled dream.

But sometimes, in life, things happen by chance, by a stroke of luck or more often than not, by the kindness, generosity and quick thinking of others.

By displaying my level of displeasure through the medium of Facebook and various status updates, word of mouth reached friends of mine and eventually through to a man named Mike Reason. Now Mike is the father of one of my longest friends Andrew, fondly known as Reaso, who other than myself is the biggest Gillingham fan I know. The three of us over the years have spent many a mile sitting in a car travelling the length and breadth of the country in sometimes excruciatingly painful circumstances to watch the Gills - displaying a true dedication to the cause, which for Reaso and I has started to manifest itself in the upbringing of our own two boys. Quite often we talk about the future and how we’ll all, three generations of Bird/Reason be sitting in a stand someplace, in the cold, wind and rain watching a level of ineptitude that begs the question from George and Oliver “Daddy, why couldn’t you have been United fans?”, or something heartbreakingly similar.

Anyhow, Mike is one of a group of Gillingham fans, known as the Dockyard Blues, who rent one of the hospitality boxes in the Medway stand. Sometime during the summer he received a telephone call from someone on the clubs marketing team asking him if he would be willing to sponsor one of the players for the forthcoming season. “No problem” he said “only if you throw in the mascot package for the Bristol Rovers game”. Which is how Oliver found himself lining up on the pitch at five to three on Saturday afternoon holding Gillingham captain Andy Frampton’s hand, whilst I stood at the side of the pitch feeling as sense of pride and levels of gratitude to Mike and the Reason family that I won’t ever be able to repay.

I never was a football mascot myself, probably again due to finance or that I never really showed an interest. Not until 1990 when the tears of Gascoigne captured mine and a million other hearts and the lure of football immediately became more appealing. By that time I was probably too old, you don’t really see many mascots over the age of ten, or you might do, but not in my mind - five was always the magic number.

Much of the pre-match ‘banter’ was about having a great time, remembering it, are you getting excited yet and oh, make sure Oliver does too! Talking to him before the game, I’m not too sure that he really knew what to expect and all the way through the day, he just took each part as it came. Oliver wasn’t alone in enjoying the experience, which quite possibly helped in the fulfilment of his day as he was able to join in and follow the older kids - there were in fact six of them altogether, it wasn’t just Oliver getting an early Christmas present.

First off, upon arrival, getting into the kit and taking delivery of the all important autograph book and Gills pen, which came in handy just five minutes later as we walked through the stand and into the changing room where all the players were sat waiting. Even at thirty-one years old I get a little bit star-struck and suffer from not knowing quite what to say, but Oliver, with his pen and little book didn’t have so much of a problem. Walking around, shadowed by his older, football mad cousin Joshua, handing his autograph book over and politely saying thank you to a group of, to him at least, complete strangers. Last on the bench and closest to me was Luke Rooney, who I didn’t expect to see as he’d been having contract issues with the club. But as he was signing his name I made some lame gag about photocopying it and sticking on the end of a contract, which was received with a polite laugh and me vowing to remain silent!

From there, we went on a tour around the stadium, seeing some places which I hadn’t yet been to, like matchday control and the upper echelons of the Rainham End wing above the Great Hall where the boardrooms sit. Oliver missed a lot of this part of the tour wanting instead to have a pee, which nearly ruined his big moment just minutes later. We’d arrived at the most exciting part (in my eyes), going onto the pitch for the first time and kicking the ball around. But Oliver had only touched the ball twice before coming bouncing off the pitch and asking to go once again to the toilet!

During the warm up, all the mascots had photographs taken with a player of their choice, or in Oliver’s case a player of my choosing. I went for Danny Kedwell whose admission upon signing for the club in July was that he was a Gillingham fan and used to stand on the old Rainham End watching the team when he was a boy growing up. He also said that signing for the club was a dream come true, which for me epitomised what we all, as Gills fans want to see in any footballer lucky enough to wear the shirt.

After the long build-up and years of waiting, the day, as is usual in these circumstances went by in a blur. But standing on the touchline and hearing the tannoy announcer screaming “lets hear it for the Gills” and seeing Oliver lead the team will always stay with me. I expected tears and although I was slightly choked up, I was concentrating more on willing Oliver not to fall over or do something erratic like run off into the centre circle, but no. He was as good as gold and the best thing for me, was that he was genuinely looked as if he was having a great time and enjoying himself, which with subsequent question and answers has only proved to be the case. When I asked him what his favourite part of the day was, he said "when the horse gave me a lollypop" (Tommy Trueblue, the Gills official mascot was giving out sweets) and more recently he said "going onto the pitch and playing football".

Falling in love with the beautiful game happens, like meeting our wives and girlfriends - differently to us all. I fell in love with football through the tears and heartbreak of another man. I wanted Oliver to be a mascot at the Gills so that he too could fall in love with something that has given me a lifetime of pleasure and romance. It might not have happened right there and then on Saturday, only given the fullness of time will we be able to tell. But he has been giving a memory to cherish, which I wasn't quite able to give him myself. Like fate, playing it's hand, Mike helped give Oliver that gift, one that I will be eternally grateful for. One that hopefully Oliver will be able to attribute as his own "Gascoigne moment" years from now.

View some photographs of Oliver and his day on Facebook

For the Record

Oliver's match as Gillingham Mascot

Gillingham lineup: Ross Flitney, Andy Frampton (Matt Lawrence 41), Garry Richards, Joe Martin, Danny Jackman, Charlie Lee (Matt Fish 78), Jack Payne, Curtis Weston (Chris Whelpdale 81), Lewis Montrose, Danny Kedwell, Frank Nouble Subs not used: Paolo Gazzaniga, Stefan Payne

Bristol Rover lineup: Scott Bevan, Gary Sawyer, Dan Woodards, Lee Brown, Byron Anthony (Cian Bolger 35), Craig Stanley, Andy Dorman, Mustapha Carayol, Joe Anyinsah (Oliver Norburn 81), Elliot Richard, Chris Zebroski (Matt Harrold 78), Subs not used: Micheal Smith, Jordan Goddard

Result: 4-1

Attendance: 7,750 (246 Bristol Rovers Supporters)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Choosing our Future

Big Ben ready to meet 2012

Heading towards the end of the year, one cannot help but look back at the last twelve months and onwards to the dawn of the new year. Depending upon each and every one of us, we’ll all have different plans, different aspirations and feelings of excitement, apprehension or even damn right fear. For me, the beginning of 2012 is somewhat an unknown quantity, the start of a new journey for sure, but the question is - where will that journey take me?

Life has a habit of throwing a curve-ball every once in a while. Work this year has been good, I’ve settled in nicely into an agency that contains many of the nicest people I’ve had the fortune to meet. But sadly, we received the news that our biggest client is taking their business elsewhere and what was looking forward to another successful year changed into something that is filled with, at least for now, uncertainty and lies very much in the realms of the unknown.

Sometimes, things happen for the better, bad things happen, but good things come from them. We hear horror stories of people being made redundant and being on the streets weeks later as the search for new jobs become too much. But I’ve always been on the glass is half full side and in the event of the worse case scenario, I’ll move heaven and earth to get myself back in a position that I need to be for my family.

Whether my future lies at the agency I’m in, or at an agency elsewhere, I could be in the fortunate position of having a choice. If I decide to look for a new role elsewhere I could find something totally different, outside of the agency environment, in the city for financial services or any business looking for a front-end website developer. Wherever I end up, I know that I’ll most likely be happy because I am doing a job that I love and enjoy. Having nice people around you, like I have now, is an added bonus, but the work I do is a pleasure and not many people get that privilege.

A friend of mine, has a great job, from the outside looking in. Works at a bank in the city. Lives at home with his parents, must have a nice nest egg somewhere and yet he too is looking at 2012 as a year of change. Whereas I, my change comes from having to, his change comes from wanting to. The truth is, he doesn’t like the constraint of a 9-5. Getting up in the morning, getting a train to London, sitting at a desk for eight hours, seeing the same people, solving the same problems, dealing with the same issues. He feels that it isn’t what he was put on this planet to do. Trouble is, he doesn’t quite know what his purpose is and wants to go off and find it.

I’ve always thought that I use my mind too much, thinking too deeply about everyday things, but my friend, he does that too. The difference is, I’m happy to do all of the monotonous things in life as I have a reason for doing them. I have a wife and two children that need a roof over their heads and food to keep them well and healthy. My friend, is a single man, has no ties and can hear the lure of the world calling him. He is fortunate in that he has been out, seen some of the world, visited places that only a very few dream of seeing. He wants to go again, put a back-pack on his shoulders and unleash the free spirit that has been restricted inside an office block for too long.

Except that he can’t, society won’t let him. Friends and family say “you need to be settling down now” and as a father I can see why family would say that and I can see their point. But as a friend? I wouldn’t be offering friendly advice if I sat him down and told him that he needed to settle down, find a girl, get married and have children just because that’s what I, or my peers are doing. I’m doing what I’m doing because that is where the path of my life has taken me. The cards are being dealt at the moment in my life which may dictate whether I have a job or not for the new year and I respond in whichever way I have to. He has the cards in his own hands and can deal whatever hand he likes.

As a friend, my advice would be to follow your heart and go with whatever it is that it tells you. My friend isn’t stupid, he can take advice when it’s well reasoned and well argued, but I wouldn’t be a good friend if I turned around an started telling him what he “should” be doing, because as far as I can see, the only thing that he “should” be doing, is what he damn well pleases. Why sit, day in, day out doing a job that is “successfull”, because a measure of success is the salary that you get each month, or because you work in a place that everyone has heard of? Success is going to sleep each night content with what you have done that day and looking forward to waking up the next day to do it all over again.

Whatever happens, happens. And as much as we think otherwise, we do have certain control. Outside influences; colleagues, managers or friends who’s advice is well intentioned but made in judgement rather than counsel - we do have choices and we live by those decisions. I could find another job and hate my new environment or stay way I am and be part of a rebuilt agency that goes from success to success. I live and die by those decisions, but that’s the key point. When all is said and done, and we reach the end, not just of a year, but of a life - could we live with choices we made?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Pride in My Town

Gravesend

Behind every Facebook status update lies a bigger story. A thought we’ve shared that only has meaning to a select few, or from time to time, our view on a story much bigger than ourselves. These last few days, it has been like that. The sadness behind the status I posted on Friday and then last night, something new, something profound, something that helped one come to terms with an act of despicable evil that arrived and landed, allegedly upon our doorsteps.

Thursday night, I came home from work, I was running late, so went straight upstairs to say goodnight to Oliver before he fell asleep. I came downstairs afterwards to say hello to Stephanie, my wife and I immediately saw that something was wrong? “Are you okay?” I asked, but she wasn’t and burst into tears. A couple who we’d met at a party two weekends ago had given birth to a beautiful baby boy, shared his name with our own son, but sadly complications during the pregnancy meant that the baby passed away two days later.

Our thoughts had been with them, they still are. But Saturday night came around and during the advert breaks, our phones came out and Facebook switched on. A friend of mine posted something quite nasty, something vitriolic, wishing death upon persons unknown at an address in the town that I live. I thought it sounded quite harsh and out of character of the person who posted it. But they weren’t alone, other status’s were of similar tone. Anger, disgust, shock and tension. Research found the root of all of this. It was in the news, on the Sun website, on the Daily Mail website as well as the BBC - news that made the harsh status sound quite calm and composed.

It has been reported that a month old baby from Gravesend was now in intensive care. The baby had a cardiac arrest en-route to hospital as a result of their injuries sustained during an alleged act of abuse against them by their parents. Both the articles that appear on the tabloid websites make some quite serious accusations against the accused without really backing up their stories with proof and reasoned argument.

Either way, if what has been written is true, the gravest crimes have been committed against the most precious of all victims. Crimes that go against everything we are naturally programmed to do. We are born to nurture, to care and to console. Which is why, when people hear of such things, they automatically tune into a powerful response that tries to make sense of something that is so very senseless.

Two Facebook status’s, two very different stories, both heartbreaking, both make you look at yourself introspectively, your children and your families and be grateful for what you have and if possible, appreciate them that little bit more.

Last night though, wasn’t just about my status, it was everyone from Gravesend, all showing a real sense of community spirit. Yes, there is anger and yes there are people who are willing to carry out ‘revenge’, but in the main, people displayed humility, caring and deep levels of upset for what has been allegedly committed in our town.

Via the medium of Facebook, certain details have come to light, the house in which the alleged perpetrators live, which last night became the scene of an emotional vigil. Locals standing outside with candles and leaving teddy bears in prayer that the child, whose name has also been ‘released’ pulls through and makes a recovery from their heinous injuries.

Whilst Facebook and the social media scene is great for expressing feelings of shock and anger, there are obvious pitfalls. At certain times, like during the August riots, when Facebook was awash with rumours and speculation that did nothing but create a climate of fear and worry, last night certain reports of the baby's death were untrue and unhelpful. When emotions are running high and people are discussing lynch mobs and revenge attacks it becomes a time for calmness and clarity of thought. This morning, Kent police have issued a warning which says exactly that.

Acts of evil aren’t something confined to the television, or the movies. They are, unfortunately around us and from time to time shock us with their severity. On ever rarer occasions, they happen around us, in our towns and shock our communities. Acts of evil are not a true measure of society, its how society deals with it that counts. Candles, teddy bears and quiet tears of prayer standing hand in hand with our neighbour are cause of pride. Anger, revenge and promise of retribution, however well intended are not.

Having family and a wife who work in foster-care comes with the understanding and knowledge that there are young people in this country who are being brought up in very different and sometimes dangerous circumstances. It’s not right and never will be - as long as there are people, like those that stand outside with candles and hearts that are worthy and compassionate those children are in with a chance. With prayers and a loving home, hopefully the baby at the centre of all this will be to.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas

With the pregnancy and a million other things happening, Stephanie and I haven’t really paid much thought to Christmas and now that life has calmed down somewhat it is about time that we did!

Growing up, Stephanie and I had very different Christmas’s, which means as a couple, we have quite contrasting views as to what Christmas means to either of us. Stephanie would spend her day surrounded by extended family around a huge table tucking into turkey and trimmings whilst for me, it was always a smaller affair, just the four of us, toys, tears and tantrums, which to me is what Christmas is all about.

Now that Phoebe has arrived safely and our family unit is complete, I wanted our first Christmas together to be a quiet one, with just the four of us. I’ve no romantic ideals about sitting around a roaring fire, toasting chestnuts and listening to Good King Wenceslas playing quietly in the background. Phoebe is far too young to appreciate the experience anyway, but to me, having a quiet day, letting Oliver open his presents (if he is a good boy and Father Christmas brings him any) and sitting down to dinner with just the four of us for the very first time is my idea of Christmas heaven.

Stephanie meanwhile has a very different ideal, wanting us to be around either her parents, or mine, where the rest of either family is likely to be. The scenes at both houses are rather more different, with people buried under maelstroms of wrapping paper and everyone sitting down to dinner on planks of wood balanced between two chairs, fourteen people sitting around a table which is normally built for four. I call it carnage and chaos, Stephanie prefers to call it fun and atmospheric - either way, everyone has a great time.

Whichever way we decide to go this year, whether its a compromise half and half, or spent in peace or madness it’ll be a Christmas that Oliver is likely to remember and as it’s Phoebe’s first, she shall most certainly not. Stephanie and I talk about what our Christmas’s were like growing up and what it was that we did. They were obviously moments that meant a lot to both of us and for us to want to replicate them is always going to ask of the other person to be disappointed.

What we have now though, is an opportunity to make two very special children happy and make their Christmas times as special as ours were. This year has been particularly difficult, so we might not have hundreds of pounds to spend on toys and the long list of items Oliver has begged Father Christmas for during the advert breaks whilst watching Ben 10. But what we do have is family and friends around us, Oliver has his cousins and grand-parents doting on him. Christmas time is about family, the importance of just the four of us as well as the extended ones. Trying to balance them all out so everyone gets an equal share is a balancing act, but whatever Stephanie and I define as a “traditional” Christmas has long since past.

Just like Charles Dickens and his Christmas Carol, Stephanie and I between us have seen the Ghosts of Christmas past. With a bit of magic sprinkle dust we can learn from that, take all the best ingredients and make sure that the Christmas’s of present are as good for our children, if not better - so that Oliver and Phoebe aren’t haunted by our failures in the future.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Things that go bump in the night

Boo

Time seems to have very elastic properties right now. The past two weeks have flown by in a blur of babies and excitement and yet, life as we knew it seems so distant and long ago. November has been a monumental month in the grand scheme of things, not only did I witness the safe arrival of my daughter Phoebe, I was published for the very first time.

'Things that go bump in the night' is an anthology of Ghost Stories written by students and collated by tutors of The Write Place, a creative writing school in Dartford that I have been attending this year as a part of a work sponsored initiative. The “Me, Me, Me” fund allows each staff member £200 to learn something new and being published as part of the anthology is the unexpected but delightful climax of a year where I have learnt a huge amount.

The book itself is available from Amazon at a bargain price of £3.16 in e-book format, which makes it compatible with their Kindle e-book reader, or any associated Kindle software which can be downloaded for your smart-phone, tablet or if you prefer your plain old computer (Not sure which is which? The best way to check is to visit the Amazon Kindle page).

As expected with any anthology there is plenty of choice for the reader, so whichever way you like your horror, ‘Things that go bump in the night’ will sure to have something for everyone; gothic horror, poignant tales of the unexpected, contemporary fiction and even a small dose of comedy!

As well as myself, there are twenty other contributors, which I’ve listed below along with the name of their story:

  • ZoĆ«'s Car by Christine Webb
  • Nana's Helper by Gerry Savill
  • Better Late than Never by Catherine Burrows
  • The Cherry Orchard by Angela Johnson
  • Buddha by Natalie Kleinman
  • Good Ghost, Bad Spirit by Stephen Reed
  • Highly Strung by Rosemary Goodacre
  • One Man and his Cat by Michael Deal
  • The Old Medicine Chest by Pat Clarke
  • Daffodil Hill by Samantha Whayman
  • Flight 45 by Andy Prue
  • Christmas Cottage by Elaine Everest
  • Stained Glass by Linda Tovey
  • Gone by Barbara Clements
  • The Puppet Master by Giovanna Burgess
  • Boo! by Adam Bird
  • The Voice from the Old Pumping Station by Judith Webb
  • Small Blessings by Mark Bigg
  • Innocent until Proven Guilty by Valerie Miller
  • Danny's Special Project by Tracy Phillips
  • The train to Necropolis by Francesca Burgess

Being in such distinguished company was something that I never expected at the beginning of the year, joining up to a class where I knew nothing about what to expect. But for me, seeing my name down in print hasn’t been the highlight, its the process that taught me so much along the way that has been a real blessing.

My story in the Anthology is called “Boo”, I’ll let you download a copy and read it, so won’t post any spoilers here, but the version that you’ll (hopefully) read is very different to the story that I wrote to begin with.

Firstly, I should confess, I’m not a fan of the genre, blame it if you like on the scourge of Hollywood films that consist of unbelievable creatures/maniacs chasing unbelievable characters (mostly female and/or teenagers) resulting in a ninety minute muddle of where the only thing horrific is the acting. For that very reason I decided that this project was going to be way out of my comfort zone, but to try and do something that will do myself and the genre justice.

I thought that by writing a children’s story I would have greater freedom in putting something unbelievable in a more believable setting - using a child imagination for the ‘ghost’ and wrapping a story around the child’s experience, but although well written, it didn’t really work first time around.

If at first I was disheartened, I can look back now and be glad of it. Nothing is ever done first time around, whilst writing, particularly for a short story, you need to follow a few golden rules which looking back, were absent from my first draft. I’m grateful for the advice and encouragement from the tutors and the classrooms elder statesmen who also passed judgement on my first and second drafts - passing all their experience and know-how so that I could deliver something that would fit in with the anthology and have something that I can stand up and be proud of.

Writing a blog on a tiny space of cyber real estate for a handful of people, least of all myself has been fun and I will continue regardless. But writing for the greater public, who invest a small fee to read something that I’ve written has been an amazing challenge and has inspired further ambition in me, least of all the completion of my novel which I’ve talked about but need to go that extra mile and finish. It’s a daunting prospect, it took three revisions for a short story to get it up to scratch, goodness knows how many iterations will be required for a full blown novel!

But nonetheless, that’s a challenge I a shall relish for another day! For now though, I’m still celebrating being part of a collaborative effort and enjoying the success of being part of a talented team of writers. All of whom should be thoroughly applauded and kept an eye on in the future - as make no doubt, they will all, I’m sure, go onto have much more success with other ventures anytime soon.

Download the book now »

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Monday, 14 November 2011

Pink, Precious and a Whole Bunch of Pride

Phoebe Anne Bird

The human body is an amazing machine, the mechanics of thought, the intricacies and subtle nuances of the mind which stand us out as individuals as well as our own bodies carved out to provide us with our own identities aren’t things we consider on a routine basis. But last week, I witnessed my wife bring my daughter into the world and once again, reaffirmed for me just how blessed and precious life really is.

Phoebe Anne Bird was born on Wednesday 9th of November 2011 after a short, sharp labour that was in stark contrast to her older brother who took twenty-nine hours to reach us back in 2006. I only had Oliver’s birth as a guide to the whole process and as detailed here, it wasn’t an experience that I particularly enjoyed, purely for the duration and the feeling as a husband of being very much a spare part.

An awful lot has changed in the five years that Oliver was born and I am sorry to say, not for the better. With local hospitals closing and birthing policies amended our second experience was a rather different affair.

I was woken, once again by Stephanie in the early hours of the morning. At one o’clock she informed me that her waters had broken, that she had called the hospital and that her mum was on her way around. I was to get ready, which I did, rather less enthusiastically than last time around as I believed I had the next two days to prepare myself. I also packed a small bag of provisions as light entertainment to keep me occupied; an iPad, a few books, War and Peace and the entire back catalogue of 24 just in case.

Stephanie experienced her first set of contractions en-route to Darent Valley, which would normally have meant the hospital saying it was too early for us and to stay at home. But Stephanie had been carrying a lot of water during the pregnancy, the hospital were concerned and fortunately for us, that was the reason we were making our way rather than waiting patiently at home in our lounge.

On arrival at the hospital and after a brief examination, it was found that Stephanie was 2cm dilated, another measurement that would normally have meant being sent home, but as it was, the water issue saved us again and we were found a bed after an hours wait on the ward. All the time that this was happening, Stephanie was having contractions closer and closer together and at each one a further wave of pain was causing her further discomfort. This was the first warning sign registering in my mind that we were dealing with something very different to what we had experienced with Oliver.

Once we were on the ward, a room of four beds that contained two sleeping mothers I was acutely aware that this was now happening. I hadn’t needed bother with my array of boredom busting devices, my hand was needed again; either to rub gently Stephanie’s back, mop her brow or allow it to be squeezed ever so violently as a mechanism for coping with the pain. The midwife, not quite so up to speed as I was offered Stephanie two pain killers in an effort to stem the tide of pain, which was akin to using a plaster for an amputated leg.

After another half hour wait the midwife popped by again for another inspection and had a sudden “oh no” realisation that I had an hour previously. She disappeared rapidly and popped back two minutes later wheeling out the gas and air which Stephanie guzzled quite thirstily to get through another hours worth of contractions. The poor sleeping ladies on the ward probably were not sleeping very soundly at this point as Stephanie bravely coped with everything that was happening as quietly as possible, which wasn’t really very quiet at all. I just hope that the two ladies had already given birth and were not in on an overnight stay due to some complication as the fear of given birth would only have been heightened listening to Stephanie’s gasps and cries.

After a healthy dose of gas and air, the midwife and nurse were starting to monitor the baby and were, for a few moments worried about the heart rate, which had dipped to less that half of what it should be. Stephanie, totally drunken from the pain relief was still of a sound state of mind telling the staff at the bedside that they needed to make sure that they were clear when they were talking to me as I was hard of hearing and that they needed to shout, not that she needed to, it was clear to me exactly what was going on. Stephanie was in labour and we were still on the ward.

I asked the midwife what would happen, would we be giving birth where we were right then. She said no, but I wasn’t as convinced as she made out to be. After a while on the gas and air, the contractions were coming quicker and sharper, Stephanie was starting to push. The midwife wasn’t happy “don’t push Stephanie, I will be really cross if you push, we are not ready yet” but there is no way of stopping once nature and the human body have started the wheels in motion. The baby was coming and it was coming now.

As soon as it became clear to the midwife that things were now in action stations we were on the move. We never made it to a delivery suite, but instead, we were wheeled down the corridor to the recovery room where women are brought after having a cesarean. Hardly the most suitably place for a child to be born, but a hundred times better than on a ward with an audience.

At this stage of the proceedings, time is no longer recorded. We could have been there for five minutes, we could have been there a week, but whatever happened in that space of time, I have nothing but admiration for Stephanie and what she went through. Clearly scared and clearly in a lot of pain she told me that she loved me and that she loved Oliver. She was in a state of such severe emotional detachment that she honestly believed that she was about to die.

Now I know that there may be people reading this who are pregnant or have given birth in a manner that was a whole lot different to the experience we had. But in writing a personal blog, I have to be as true to the experience as I can possibly be. What Stephanie and I went through is by no means the norm, it’s simply an event that happened to us.

If previously, or up until that moment I felt like something of a spare part I finally felt a sense of worth. My role was more than just a hand in which Stephanie could squeeze. I was there to look into her eyes, which were on stalks outside of her head as she pushed, or reassure her that everything is fine when the little army of people standing at the foot of the bed are wearing faces of concern and rushing around at the behest of the little general that barks instructions to the people around her. I could see the baby as she made her way out, unaware of sex or what was happening on any technical level - but it didn’t matter at that point, Stephanie still needed to make one final monumental effort.

Which she did and out came the baby at exactly 6:45am, which was flopped onto Stephanie's stomach as one of the nurses cut the cord. The baby was purple and to my mind, not moving. Then it was gone. I hadn’t seen what we had and as Stephanie had already found out during an earlier scan she told me that we’d had a little girl - but I thought that we’d lost her.

When Oliver was born, he too was taken away, but we didn’t even have the opportunity to see him before he was taken to resuscitation, which was directly behind me in the same room. I had no fear then, I could see what was happening, but this time around I really did fear the worse. There was a brief moment of unknowing. The nurse in the room with us was reassuring, but in my mind, she’d just spent the previous goodness knows how long telling Stephanie that everything was great and wonderful so I took it as nurse speak for the worse kind of news.

A short while later, someone came back into the room, asked me if I’d like to see her. “Is she okay, is everything all right?” I asked, and yes, she was. She was fine, needed a little puff of oxygen. She’d been through a lot. So I asked Stephanie, can I go, and I did, walked off out of the room into the room opposite with a whole bundle of emotion that I had no names for. Which was really strange as when I saw my little girl lying in a little crib I was hit by a load more and I still don’t have names for those either.

She was wide awake, wrapped up snug in a hospital issue blanket and her eyes were open as wide as they could go. Looking up at me as I said “hello, I’m your Daddy”, barely audible through the tears and sobs of relief as I realised how scared I’d previously been.

When Oliver was born, I shared that first cuddle with him and held him, staring at the wonder of it all as Stephanie was being repaired and I did the same for Phoebe too. There was a definite difference between the two, the macho bravado and the “that’s my boy” attitude with Oliver compared to the pride and preciousness of holding your little girl for the first time and promising her that you will do your utmost to look after her. But the one thing that has stayed the same, that’s my full and unwavering respect and admiration for my wife. What she went through, the fear, the pain to provide me with the two greatest gifts a man can have. I have no answer for that, other than the ones that I made on the 11th of September last year.

Together, we have everything that we have ever wished for and we are incredibly blessed, fortunate and lucky people, we appreciate and are massively thankful for that. If I stopped and thought about it, asked myself why, I’d go a little mad, so I won’t and will instead continue to be eternally grateful.

And finally, on behalf of both of us, we would like to thank everyone for all the well wishes, beautiful pink things, flowers and cards. We have such amazing friends and family and we thank you each and everyone of you.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson

Football

Yesterday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure as manager of Manchester United, a record which is staggering considering the trigger-happy culture which runs through modern day football like a shameful cancer - but then nothing about Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign can be called ordinary.

I was just six years old when Sir Alex Ferguson walked through the doors of Old Trafford for the first time and took over a struggling Manchester United side that had the likes of Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and the England captain Bryan Robson. I hadn’t heard of those names at that age, I don’t even think I took an interest in the game at all. But as my interest grew, the one remaining constant is that man, 'Old Red Nose' from Govan in Glasgow, a ship-builders son who has gone on to be knighted, rewrite the history books and become, in my opinion the greatest football manager of all time.

Twenty-five years in the same job, for the same company is a good innings for any man whatever profession, but in footballing terms it is something of an anomaly. I can think of Dario Gradi of Crewe and Guy Roux of Auxerre who was in charge for 44 years, but without resorting to the Internet not many other names roll off the tongue. But its not only longevity that Sir Alex will be remembered for.

Manchester United had up until that point a fine and varied history, defined in the main by their exploits in the sixties, the Matt Busby era and winning the European Cup inspired by one of the finest footballers who ever lived, George Best. All this came after the Munich air crash disaster had wiped out the beating heart of the club and the “Busby Babes” were borne from the ashes. But until Sir Alex Ferguson’s appointment the long search for a league title had been fruitless and numerous managers had come and gone, haunted by the past and each ending in glorious failure.

Often you will read that Mark Robins was the man who saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job, during an FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest, Robins scored a late winner, sealing Manchester United’s progress in the competition which they went on to eventually win in a replay, 1-0 against Crystal Palace. But whether that is fact, or another legend that has grown from rumour is neither here nor there, the simple fact is, that triumph was the beginning of a long dynasty of trophy laden years that continues up until this very day.

In those intervening years, we have had the introduction of the Premier League, the money and glamour that Sky television has brought, turning the top level of English football into a monstrous cash-cow where the ‘product’ is more important than the value. The Bosman ruling which give more power to the player, meaning that they can sit and wind their contracts down and sign for another club that is willing the pay them obscene amounts of money. Sir Alex has adapted through all of that as well as fighting on the pitch and coming out on top against a host of adversary's, Howard Kendall and Leeds United, Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal ‘Invincibles’, Abramovich and his rouble inspired Chelsea and today’s modern day challenge, the might of Manchester City and the middle-eastern powered bastard of a once great club.

The great thing for me as a lower league football fan is that I can appreciate the higher echelons of the footballing pyramid without getting involved in the bitterness and animosity which comes from success by opposing supporters. Yes Liverpool do have a wonderful history and yes they do have two of the greatest ever managers (Paisley and Shankly) on their own roll call. But then, so do Arsenal with Wenger and Herbert Chapman, as do Leeds with Revie and Tottenham with Nicholson and the list goes on and on. But when all is said and done and when one is asked the question. “Who is the greatest football manager ever?” I don’t think that you can look past the man from Govan.

So much has been written, so much will continue to be all the time that the great man is in charge. But for me, a man who can win the amount of trophies he has, with the style and flair that his teams play, the players he has brought through and the manner in which he is clearly held in such high regard from the players he has managed and his peers throughout such a period of change, there can only be one answer.

It’s all a matter of opinion, football is based around that. But all the time Sir Alex remains as Manchester United manager that’s where my opinion lies. Any dissenting voices, at least for now let them argue on. But in ten, twenty years time and we look back, it’s only then we will truly be able to say, and be thankful for that we were the lucky ones and we were around to witness the greatest.

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Watch out for the Bad Signs

Bad Signs

One of the highlights of any year is that time in the calendar when a favourite author brings a new novel out. Everything you read in between just plugs the gaps and anything read afterwards are just half digested words as you sit wondering how long until the next novel comes out. I’ve just closed the back cover of one of my favourite writers, Roger Ellory, his new book Bad Signs and as is customary, I thought I’d write a review and share it with you.

Bad Signs tells the story of two boys, two half-brothers and their journey growing up together, the loss of their mother at a young age to an act of senseless violence and being put in juvenile detention for nothing other than what else to do with them. The younger brother Clarence Luckman, the thinker, the boy so very unlike his violent father attributed his life to growing up under a bad star, a bad sign that follows him around like an impenetrable shadow. Clarence, along with his half-brother Elliot Danziger, known as as “Digger” are heading out of juvenile detention and up into the big house, two wasted lives destined for institutionalisation until they are broken out and taken hostage by Earl Sheridan, a degenerate of the highest order, who drags both brothers along whilst committing a string of violent crimes that inspire and terrify the two brothers to an extend that neither of their lives are the same ever again.

As with all of Ellory’s books, they are based upon a core, fundamental principal, this time around he looks at man and his ability to commit the most heinous deeds. What are the reasons, the motivations and the trigger that sets these events in motion? Bad Signs, attempts to answer these questions and once again leaves the reader thinking long afterwards, in my case, is an evil man naturally born evil, or does a switch to a dark side exist is all of us?

Just as these bigger questions and answers that are found deep inside the novel, there are many themes that appear in Bad Signs that will feel familiar to those, who like me are fans of Ellory’s work and plenty for the newcomer to appreciate and enjoy. As with all eight previous novels, we find ourselves again set in an American setting, as Texas plays host. This time however, we travel back in time to the 1960’s which helps the author with his story and the investigation technique which runs as a secondary viewpoint as the carnage unfolds. This story would not have worked had it been in a contemporary time-frame, the sixties being a time when several high profile killing sprees shocked and horrified Americans and changed the way that police investigated crimes of this sort, which is explored slightly as one of several sub-plots within the novel, the psychology and genetic make up of a psychopathic mind.

The very nature then of criminality and taking an investigative look into the minds of those who perpetrate grave acts, means that there is a level of violence in the book that might be uncomfortable reading for some. A measure of the authors skill therefore is making those deeds come across almost as a matter of fact and not gratuitously, as can be the case from time to time with authors elsewhere. But it’s not all blood and hiding behind the duvet reading the book with the light turned on, one of the things that I have celebrated and championed the author for in the past has been his ability to transcend the crime-fiction genre, which he has done once again - to a lesser degree perhaps than in A Quiet Belief in Angels and Candlemoth. Elements of romance and coming of age adds colour and vitality to the darkness and brutality of crime, offers the reader hope and once again adds weight and argument to the question I found myself asking above.

If I was to have any criticism at all, and it is none levelled at the author, its is the American language. When things start from “the get-go” or someone is hiding “out back” rather than out the back, it becomes slightly grating and I find myself wanting to correct the character on his vocabulary! Probably a good example then really of how well the characters are written if that is my only gripe!

As someone who has a new found ambition to do something with their own writing, authors like Roger Ellory continue to be a huge inspiration. My project, The Bicycle Man, has been in part inspired by the author and his works of which I am unashamedly a huge fan, which is hopefully the greatest compliment that I can give right now.

I too am trying to write something about life, in general and the essence of truth, the power of what we believe we know to be fact but coping with the circumstance when we find out that everything we know is a lie - except I can only hope to have the success that he rightly deserves and will hopefully keep on getting.

But whatever you read, whether you write or not, if you have a favourite author, write about them, write a review on Amazon, give their books as a present to someone else, tell someone else about them. One thing I have found out in my very short journey so far, is that to be successful takes effort, a lot of effort and then a lot more effort on top of that. The authors you read, the authors you champion are gifts in themselves and they can only keep selling books if people buy them, even if you don't buy this one, have a look on Amazon and find out a bit more - or ask me and I'll let tell you all you need to know.

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

In the Write Place

Writing

At the beginning of the year I explained about the agency I work for; Archibald Ingall Stretton - how they give each member of staff £200 every twelve months to go off and learn something new. I also explained that I’d be enrolling on a writing course and using my allowance to see if I had it in me to write something greater than the words you find inside of my blog. With that allowance now expired, I thought I’d share with you how it has been and what I hope to do next.

With anything new, when one enters a space that is outside of ones comfort zone there comes a period of time where everything encountered comes as a surprise - my first few lessons were just like that. My first piece of homework, set after we’d spent two hours talking about famous fairy tales and were asked to retell a fairy tale from the perspective of the first person I went off and wrote a version of Hansel and Gretel which came in as a 10,000 word story! I later found out that this was in fact around 8,500 more than what was expected and subsequently the tutor has had to start adding word count limits onto homework tasks so that I don’t spend another sleepless week trying to get things done in time!

Shorter writing and short stories are very much the name of the game when it comes to this particular course. And as things have started to become clearer and as time has gone by I’ve started to become aware of the wide world of short story writing and the competitive nature of the community in which this is built around. There is a large market of magazines which writers of classes like mine can be published and earn money for doing so. There are also magazines written specifically for those who want to write for those markets. There are also competitions both online and in those publications which offer good financial incentives for winning and other prizes such as holidays or the opportunity to have manuscripts reviewed by editors from large publishing houses.

The irony is, all the time that I’ve been taught how to perfect the art of writing a short story, I’ve spent all my spare time over the past four months writing something a little bit more substantial in the form of a novel, which I’ve mentioned through the pages of this blog on two previous occasions. I am now nearly at the 70,000 word mark, which is around three quarters of the way through through this project and goes by the working title of “The Bicycle Man”. As I work towards its conclusion, in ways that are new and alien to me, working in a manner that I feel comfortable with, plotting on the fly and very much each word being written in response to the one before it.

I realise that this technique is hardly refined and is unlike the one being taught to me on a week by week basis. But I am pleased with how the novel is progressing, even if I am aware certain areas will need to revisited and rewritten to make them shine - its the nature of the job, which for me has been the toughest lesson to learn.

At the moment, all of the members of The Write Place have been invited to submit a short story for inclusion into an anthology of ghost stories, to be titled “Things that go bump in the night” - which is to be published at the end of the month on the Kindle. Not being particularly fond of ghost stories I decided to try and lighten the tone with a story for children, which although well written needed much work to be suitable for publication, as also has been my second submission - an adult, darker version of the same story.

It may well be back to the drawing board for now, but if at first I felt offended and upset that my work had been so critically pulled apart, I’m now grateful that it has - even for a second time. If I want my story to appear in a publication I at least want it to be at the best it can be, even if maybe I cannot see where the issues lie straightaway and that my story doesn’t meet the required “formula”. It’s about taking on board what is being advised by people who do this professionally day in, day out. More importantly, it’s about growing a thick skin when it comes to finishing my novel and putting it out in the real world for people to review and make decisions upon its suitability for publishing.

Which is why next year when the Me, Me, Me fund comes around again, rather than spend it on something new as it is intended, I’m going to spend it on learning how to get better at what is that I’ve found this year and have loved doing. After taking an enforced sabbatical next month for when the baby comes and then December the tuition fees I’ll pay myself. But next year, the ambition has to remain high, else there is no point in doing it. Getting The Bicycle Man published and hopefully writing novel number two and why not? If you asked me this time last year would I have written some of the things I have this year, I would have said no - so who's to say what this time next year will bring?

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Monday, 17 October 2011

My Bucket List

Bucket List

Earlier this year, I read the heartbreaking story of a young girl named Alice, who had written a “bucket list” after hearing that she that had a terminal form of cancer. I hadn’t heard of the term before, which apparently comes from the movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Alice isn’t the only person to have been inspired by the movie, thousands of ordinary bloggers have done the exact same thing.

A ‘Bucket List', according to the movie, is a list of items one would like to do before dying, or kicking the bucket. It might sound rather morbid, but we are all dying in an inevitable kind of way, and having now watched the film and seen the list of items that were depicted by two fictional characters from the minds of Hollywood writers - I thought I’d have a go myself.

Firstly, this task isn’t as straight forward as it might look. It’s easy to write a list of things, but in my view, they need to be things that are achievable. I’d like to land on the moon, or have a threesome with Angeline Jolie and Megan Fox, but they just aren’t going to happen. So items that made my list need to be things that in the grand scheme of things are perfectly doable within the current parameters of my life right now. Which leads me to the other thing, variables.

Had I written this list ten years ago, or attempt to write it again in ten years time, my list will change dependant upon my current circumstances and well being. I feel perfectly fit and healthy enough to do a parachute jump right now, but would I feel the same in ten years time? Likewise, the thought of having a book published ten years ago would never have crossed my mind.

Other things that I’ve not included on the list, are the usual things that we all wish for rather than make happen ourselves, like remaining healthy, living long and being prosperous, making the most of our lives and being kind towards others. Those things I believe are mandatory requirements, so the items below are really things that I’d like to do or experience myself.

So here, in random order of importance, is my Bucket List.

  • - Watch every Gillingham FC game in a season
  • - watch an Old Firm
  • - watch a Manchester derby
  • - watch a Merseyside derby
  • - watch El Classico
  • - watch a Milan derby
  • - watch the World Cup Final
  • - visit all 92 League Club grounds
  • - visit Machu Pichu
  • - visit Cedar Point
  • - visit Six Flags Magic Mountain
  • - visit all the Disney Parks
  • - have a child graduate
  • - go to Monaco Grand Prix
  • - go to Singapore Grand Prix
  • - drive Route 66
  • - climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • - do a parachute jump
  • - do a bungee jump
  • - publish a novel
  • - inspire someone into doing something great
  • - be an extra in a movie
  • - visit the Grand Canyon
  • - take my children to the places that inspired me as a child
  • - visit the Great Wall of China
  • - take a hot air balloon ride
  • - build a treehouse and camp in it overnight
  • - have a religious epiphany
  • - take an award winning photograph

What would yours be?

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Monday, 10 October 2011

Sencity 2011



On Saturday evening just gone, I went to the O2 arena with my sister, her husband and my mother for an evening out at an event called Sencity 2011, which was held within the Indigo nightclub which sits under the famous O2 tent. Sencity is a club night promotion held for deaf people and their friends and family, who can enjoy a multi-sensory experience where music isn’t the main attraction. For someone who was rather nonplussed about going, the night turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Firstly, a little bit of history. Deafness in our family is like a badge, it is who we are. Mum is the eldest of five siblings - all of whom are deaf, born to a deaf mother. The sisters, all have deaf children of varying severity. The boys, as we’ve now scientifically discovered, help prevent the gene which carries the defect from being passed on as it’s carried within the tail of the sperm which fertilises the egg (it’s amazing what men in white coats can do nowadays). Which for me comes with a slight blessing, as it would appear at least for now that my own children will be exempt from what is a life defining affliction. Unfortunately, there is a prevailing female dominance in the family, my sister has three girls, my auntie has four, so the deaf gene will continue to be passed on for the next few generations at least.

Having a serious hearing loss hasn’t affected Mum’s ability to enjoy music, which some people find hard to understand. How you can you enjoy something that you cannot hear? But it’s not always what you listen too, music is a multi-sensory experience in itself, what you can feel, both physically and through the emotive response to the lyrics or through the personal emotion that the artist portrays through their performance, which is exactly what Sencity was all about.

The venue, a large bowl in which the dance-floor is spacious and well proportioned had upon it a smaller, raised dance-floor which vibrated in time with the music, which was a mixture of dance music and urban R&B. On stage, various deaf DJ’s went through their sets, some accompanied by sign dancers, which were as described, people on stage dancing, whilst signing along to the lyrics of the song. Also on stage was an Aroma DJ, mixing like a mini apothecary various potions which when ready and smoking, wafted across the arena quite pleasantly, adding to the overall experience and atmosphere of the occasion.

My particular highlight was Signmark, a deaf rapper, who was accompanied by a signer and had the subtitles of the lyrics displayed on the wall in the background. You could quite easily have been at a gig in the main arena next door such was the level of professionalism in the performance - but a key thing I noticed, was whenever a performer was on stage, the dancing stopped. Everyone pays attention to the signer, or the lyrics as they scurry quickly across screen, one of a couple of subtle differences that I picked up on a night of very new experiences.

But it wasn’t just the value of having each of the five senses heightened. My cousin Charlotte, who we met there, brought with her a friend, who has perfect hearing and it was the pair of them that highlighted for me the real value of Saturdays event. On a normal night out with her friend, Charlotte has to rely on her to interpret things that have been said, or keep asking questions such as “what did he/she just say?”. But on Saturday night, the shoe was very much on the other foot. Charlotte, signing away to a guy, who she’d just got talking to as her friend watched on trying to work out what was being signed. Asking Charlotte what was being said and if she could say back something on her behalf, even saying to me that she didn’t realise “deaf blokes were so fit”, which I attributed entirely to her youthful ignorance.

Ultimately, it wasn’t about me, I was just along for the ride and had a thoroughly good time in the process, but for people like Mum and Charlotte it was a chance for them to feel part of something ‘normal’ where they are the ones who know exactly what it is that’s going on and the hearing are in the minority trying to keep up. Music, ultimately is just noise which evokes a sensation or an emotion, things that just because you can’t hear doesn’t mean you don’t have. In fact, as a thousand people testified on Saturday night - probably the opposite.

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Digital Evangelism

www

As in life, users of the Internet can be loosely grouped into demographics, or categories dependent upon age, or behaviour. We use them at work in planning for a website, add a little bit of fictional background information, give them a name and call them ‘persona's’ which are designed to try and work out ways in which the project we are building can be used to serve them purposely. The other night, a chance conversation led me into taking my own persona and dissecting it into pieces, not for research but to stand up for who I am and what I work and believe in.

A friend of mine greeted me on Friday night by saying “how are you doing, how is your second life?” which I wasn’t quite sure how to take. Originally, I took it as it was intended, as a bit of banter, taking the piss - we do it all the time, nobody is, or should be immune. But being a sensitive creature and one prone to over analysis, I pondered the question over the space of a few days and thought, actually, this might be a good topic for discussion. In the banner above, I have labelled myself as a digital evangelist and although I might be spreading the gospel at work, the pages of this blog haven’t really been used as a pulpit in which to speak and share my views about living today in a digital world.

Firstly, I sought to find an explanation, get some further details, or some elaboration upon what it was that appears to be funny about what it is that I do - but when asked what they were referring to, neither friend were actually able to offer much in the way of an explanation, which is understandable. It’s the whole thing about taking the piss, it means nothing other than highlight how shallow and well thought out the original comments were in the first place.

I feel that perhaps I should begin with a distinction, highlight the difference between what it is that I do and what it is that is perhaps perceived. Second Life, first of all, is the name of an application in which users can create an avatar and create a fantasy life and live within an online world that is fictitious and evolves separately and at a pace which is defined by the people within it. Whereas I, use social networking platforms to share real information, real content about myself with friends and family, as well as curate digital content, ideas and innovations with people I work with and others within my field of expertise.

The Internet is no longer a place inhabited by long haired, unwashed IT geeks hiding within the dark and just the glow of their laptops for company. Nor is the Internet available to those sitting purely at a computer, not with mobile, games consoles and handheld’s easily available - and all connected to the digital space. The Internet surrounds us and impacts our everyday lives whether we like it or not, particularly now that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have massive amounts of users sharing and contributing digital content for friends, family and colleagues to watch, read, listen or interact with.

My website was born out of necessity and has since evolved for what I used it for now. I build websites for a living, it’s the perfect place to practise things on, a skunk works environment where I can tinker with code and create. Demonstrated as I have, with a scrolling bookcase with books I’ve read or a personalised map with places I’ve visited - or showcase some of the other sites that I have worked on. Nothing revolutionary but it helps me out professionally.

It was originally intended as a place to keep my Dad in contact and up to date with the family whilst he was out in Iran, long before Facebook was fully established. Even now, as he flew out to Libya last week on his latest assignment, mobile communication and telephone systems weren’t working in Tripoli, but the Internet was and Dad was able to contact us via Facebook to let us know he had arrived safely.

Nowadays, I use this site for my blog, an online place where I can record things that have happened, or chart the journey through a pregnancy, which I will have done now for both of my children. I can recall thoughts and worries about the wedding last year and the excitement about researching honeymoon destinations or more recently record the steps I’ve taken into writing something bigger in the form of a novel which is entirely new, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I don’t write for approval, for any particular audience other than for myself. I find that I know myself better as a result and am able to compartmentalise better thoughts and reasons that certain things happen and where it is that I am going.

In fact, if it wasn’t for writing this blog, I would never have entertained the thought of writing a novel, proof if you like that one small step in one direction takes you on a massive detour into weird and wonderful places you never expected.

It’s this example, and ones like these that continue to drive me into doing what I do. The Internet empowers people, people use it as a research tool, an information gateway and an entertainment source.

Take the example of the little old lady who brought a computer and hooked herself up to the Internet because everyone said she should. She had never been abroad before, was too scared or had no reason to. Yet she started researching her family tree and opened up a can of worms, revealing part of her ancestry that was unknown and in which led her to being invited to the US as a guest of honour in a small town which was established by her forefathers. She is not alone in her case, there are plenty of couples out there who have to thank a dating site for bringing them together or Skype for allowing two people to continue a relationship despite the width of oceans and continents between them. People who have strange phobias that they thought were unique to them until they use a search engine and find a whole manner of people who have been afflicted with the same condition.

I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for this particular media, not do I expect everyone to love watching television, reading newspapers or listening to music. I also realise that not everyone wants to use or embrace these things as much as I do. For example, with Facebook. I very much share the vision Mark Zuckerberg has, where people collect and record everything of any importance with their Facebook profiles. With the pending release of the new timeline feature you’ll be able to map back to not just when you began to use Facebook, but right from the beginning of your birth - which I find hugely fascinating. Your account is then your life story, wrapped up in a Facebook branded frame, which is of absolute no interest to anybody other then yourself and your friends, but can live on long after you’ve gone. For no other point other than prosperity and philanthropy. We are all here for just a blink in an eye within the grand scheme of things and if I can leave behind a tiny digital footprint for someone to divulge a meaning upon later on in time then why the hell not? I’ve never once said that my life is interesting, which it isn’t, it is what it is and if I want to share certain things I only do it because I can. It takes a second to record something that has just happened, but forever trying to remember it.

Which then leaves me returning back to my original question, what would my online persona say about me?

Well my name is Adam Bird, I’m a power-user, meaning that I spend more than 50 hours a week connected to the Internet. I work within the industry and understand how the Internet works and is put together. I help build branded pages for clients that have been thought about and have a creative idea behind them. I write a weekly blog for my own personal use sharing information and stories with friends and family members who live locally, nationally and globally. I believe that the Internet as a medium empowers people and that used correctly can enhance peoples lives. By creating the right tools and with the right technology we can innovate creativity and unlock peoples potential, whilst leaving an ever-lasting digital footprint for the future, just like the books and information we had of the past.

A second life? Would be nice wouldn't it - I just hope that it is as fulfilling as this one.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ready for Launch

Baby Bird 2

As the months roll by and we head into October, we become ever closer to finally meeting Baby Bird II, who has slowly been growing within the confines of Stephanie’s womb and will make an appearance when he or she deems themselves to be perfectly ready - in or around their due date of November 3rd.

As pregnancies go, we have been fortunate with this one, no precautionary overnight stops at the hospital or worries about minor things that first time around seem like major obstacles. It is generally perceived that the second pregnancy is easier for parents to cope with and fortunately, so far that seems to be the case. If anything, the only real worry that Stephanie has faced, has been having to cope with the baby’s sporting process. It’s a bit of a footballer apparently with Stephanie’s inside being kicked, booted, twisted and pulled on a regular basis, which anyone who knows and has seen this in action will testify to being quite a sight!

We have also spent the past eight months of so deliberating about names and I think its fair to say we have our final choices now. It has been a difficult process. Names that either of us have liked, the other one hasn’t or in most cases, we’ve both liked it, but have a close friend who has a dog or a cat which shares the same name. It might sound a bit silly, but take the name Millie for example, which both of us like. A friend of my Dad, he had a dog called Millie and it was the ugliest four-legged creature I have ever seen. I still remember it, even though it has been dead for a number of years. If you are going to choose a name for your child it needs to be the right one! As to letting the readers of this blog know what we’ve chosen? Well, you will have to wait a month like everyone else!

Other final preparations have also been made, the nursery has been given a spring clean, with my Stephanie’s sister-in-law coming around later this afternoon to specially clean the carpet (anyone need a cleaner - let me know, I’ll put you in touch) and we’ve got down all the original stuff from Oliver’s birth washed, ready and recycled. The only thing that we’ve not done is got all the blue stuff down yet as not knowing what we are having there isn’t much point!

Finally, to round off the Baby Bird news and to give us that huge sense of impending excitement a rather large holdall sits patiently by the front door, armed ready with all sorts of lotions, potions, contraptions and the vital necessities required when going to the hospital ready to give birth. If we weren’t sure quite what we were letting ourselves in for, the bag acts as a constant reminder - as if we could ever forget.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Great River Race

Oarsome Foursome crew

Yesterday afternoon, west of here as I write this, six hardy souls boarded a Clayton Skiff, or a boat between you and I - and rowed it twenty-one miles from Poplar Rowing Club to Richmond in West London as part of this years Great River Race, passing under twenty eight bridges and passing sites; the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament and the London Eye to name a few, that tourists only ever really see from the safety of dry land. They did it despite rain not since biblical times, which threatened to sap the energy from them and ruin what is meant to be a fun afternoon on the river. I was one of those fortunate six - and here is my account of the race yesterday afternoon.

I had originally been pencilled in as being passenger, which all entrants are required to carry - but due to issues within the crew a vacant spot for cox became available. I received a surprising text message only 78 hours before the race from Will, who is skipper of the Oarsome Foursome crew informing me of my unexpected promotion. I didn’t really mind about taking on the role, although some pre-warning and explanation would not have gone amiss! My main worries were the vocal energy needed to keep the crew in rhythm as I’d already mentioned previously in the confines of this blog, steering is relatively easy and felt confident about that, but shouting madly at people isn’t really my forte.

My race preparations were not really in keeping with the amateur sporting code, instead I’d spent the afternoon prior to the race with the people from work on a “team building”, exercise which was another term for alcoholic revelry. We spent the majority of Friday afternoon at the London Cocktail Club learning about mixology and sampling various potent concoctions which left me slightly worse for wear on Saturday morning. I received a call from a worried skipper early Saturday morning ensuring that I was fit for purpose and that I hadn’t suffered absinthe poisoning or the dreaded alarm clock pass-out - which I have done on previous important occasions (my own stag do anyone?).

Fortunately for me Cox’s are not required to submit a mandatory breathe test, so had no worries on that part. Instead I was more concerned about suitable attire for the afternoons race. The weather looked okay to me, nice sunny skies, but I remember last year feeling a bit chilly towards the end of the race, so decided to play it safe after some advice from the skipper, wear jeans, take a waterproof jacket and wrap up warm. I decided to take some shorts as well and another change of jeans just in case the ones I was wearing got wet - the ability of foresight being a blessing as this particular story unfolds.

After I’d demolished a pre-race meal of a rather large McDonalds, again violating any sporting code but satisfying my post alcoholic appetite we made our way via a PLA water taxi to the beach at Poplar Rowing club, where preparations were made to Magog, our Clayton Skiff vessel for the day. Stuart and Keith were screwing, bolting, sawing, drilling, gaffer taping, clamping an array of cushions, flagpoles, refreshments kiosks for each rower and an assortment of other bits, which had we known what was coming; central heating, damp proofing and a roof would have been a better alternative.

Once however, final preparations had been made, I took a look at the weather, was feeling rather warm and a touch sweaty, so decided to change into my shorts; which at the time was a great idea! Even as the race got going, leaving Poplar at 14:07 on the dot, keeping in line with the military organisation as the cannons went off around our ears and crews began earnestly rowing as their lives depended upon it, I felt quite comfortable and steered our fine Magog through the early traffic with calm and confidence.

Now coxing for me is like driving. You have good drivers (me) and bad drivers (everyone else), it’s the same upon the river. As Stuart, Keith, Foordy and Will made haste and Anthony, youngest of all Foords counted loudly, keeping the pace which compensated for my lack of vocal encouragement I was left to avoid the bad and even worse of other cox’s. None more so than a hulking great viking boat which had a crew of about twenty, all rowing this heavy great boat with oars that were four meters long and going at a rather pedestrian pace. We are allocated arches for each bridge that we are meant to go under, miss them at your peril by all accounts, so it was important that I made each bridge correctly. As we were rowing considerably faster than the Viking boat, I took us around the left hand side (bow side for coxing enthusiasts), who were themselves overtaking someone else, but we all needed to swing right and through the archway furthest to the right of the bridge - else we’d miss our allocated arch. As we were alongside, I expected, like any right minded individual would, that the boat alongside us would move over, but it didn’t until I gently moved closer and was forced to bully them out of the way - mission accomplished which was gratefully received by the crew, maybe not so much theirs!

After this little scuffle, we carried onwards as the clouds grew darker and the water grew choppier. We had already hit some big waves passing the docklands and a tourist boat had sped by causing the water to ruffle wildly in it’s wake. Poor Anthony, youngest of the Foords who had stood in at the last minute as my replacement as passenger. He was the one who received the full weight of the waters wrath as he was perched delicately on the front of the boat. A pair of wet trousers never hurt anyone but as we approached the House of Parliament, the weather took a turn for the worse. One of the benefits of coxing is that you can see what is approaching, as opposed to everyone else who is facing the other way. It was quite surreal watching the rain ahead, like a brick wall that we were about to hit with force and face the circumstances, which in this case was a right royal soaking.

This was BIG rain. Huge, heavy and stinging. I managed to get my waterproof jacket on and camera bag covered up before I was too wet, but with the water acting like a volatile, spoilt child ensuring the boat was straight with just one hand was a near impossible task. The rain continued at its heaviest for nearly and hour, and it only really stopped fifteen minutes from the end. But coming up to each bridge, the applause from the spectators really gave the boys a lift and as we passed underneath we were given a nice five second respite from the rain that seemed to grow colder as we went on.

Towards the end, when the four oarsmen were at their most physically tired, the knowledge that they had nearly reached their goal inspired them to new heights. The counting returned from the front of the boat, Stuart bellowed “ROW” loudly in rhythm with the oars and our worn out Magog was forced up a couple of gears until the finishing line passed by with a cannon salute and the sound of musketry ringing once again in the ears.

The end of the Great River Race is normally a time of celebration. Champagne corks pop amidst the carnage of getting the boats out of the water. Beers are sunk and backs are slapped as everyone congratulates everyone else on a job well done. But this year was a slightly muted affair - at least for us. I cannot talk for everyone as we had already left. Attempting to get the party started Stuart ordered beers, but the two Foords and I stood there, with a pint in our hands I could barely bring it to my lips as my hands were shaking too much with cold.

By the time I got home, my clothes were just a damp mess, right the way through to my underpants which I could still have easily wrung out. But snuggled on the warmth and comfort of the sofa I read a Facebook status from Anthony, youngest of the Foords, which read “worst experience of my adult life” and I laughed, it could have, should have been me. But whilst his afternoon was particularly unpleasant, as ours all were, we are left with the day after the night before syndrome where things are put into perspective.

Not many people get an opportunity to row up the River Thames, some of these boys have done it at least four. But rowing up the most famous river in the whole world which is bathed in history, viewable the entire length of the route by artifacts and reminders, during weather conditions that need to be written and described to be believed is something that I will always remember. Worst experience of my adult life? Maybe, but one of the most memorable, almost certainly!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mr and Mrs Bird - A Redux

Cheers!

Exactly a year today, Stephanie and I married at the Little Silver Country Hotel in Tenterden. I could sit and write about the whole day, how much it meant to us to be surrounded by our friends and family and having them enjoy the day with us. Or the romance, or the fear and nervous excitement in the build up. But then, pictures sometimes speak louder than words - here is a selection of photos that tell the story of a day we'll never forget.

Saturday September 11th 2010

Saturday September 11th 2010

Saturday September 11th 2010















































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