Adam Bird

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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Scaredy Cat



The path of fatherhood has been many things, mainly a journey of discovery through various stages of development, enlightening moments, humorous moments, frustrating moments and in the case of posterity, intriguing moments. It has been interesting recording at what exact point in our lifetimes  we first learn to speak, to walk, to grow a first tooth and roll over onto our stomachs, all key moments that we sit and discuss with friends around a cup of coffee and air of admiration, but at what point in time do we start to learn the darker traits that make us human, feelings of hatred, hopelessness and fear?

Last night, I sat with Oliver, our nightly story time routine. It’s his choice, his bedtime is 7.30, he can stay up until 7.45 without a story, or on the dot with a book. He chose to have a story. I’ve done this so many times, the same stories, the Gruffallo, the Stick Man, the Gruffallo’s child and A Very Lonely Night. So I suggested a ‘big boy’s’ story, one of the Roald Dahl books perhaps. “The one about a Giant?” I asked, remembering how he’d been telling me about his dreams of giants not so long ago.

So he lay, as I sat, enunciating each word clearly and asserting emphasis on the mood of mystery as the story unfolds, Sophie awake in the witching hour, until I got to the part that reads:

She saw the Giant straighten up again and she saw him poke the trumpet in through the open upstairs window of the room where the Goochey children were sleeping. She saw the the Giant take a deep breath and whoof, he blew through the trumpet.

Oliver was sobbing, big fat tears rolled down his cheeks, “what’s the matter I ask?”, “this story gives me a really bad feeling!” I turned away, to laugh, it sounds wicked of me I know, but it was his choice of words that surprised me more than anything. I’d understand if he said, “I’m scared Daddy”, but it was the feeling of being scared that he didn’t like - but couldn’t quite identify immediately. He went onto explain that he was scared and didn’t like the story, leading me to abandon the BFG and opt of the Twits instead. He much preferred the account of a man with too much food in his beard and how the man would stop and eat food that he found inside, ultimately falling to sleep with a smile upon his face.

Then today, I get a telephone call, from Stephanie. Can I please speak to Oliver, he is really scared of the thunder and wants to talk to me about it! “Don’t worry Oliver”, I said, “it’s only God, clearing his throat in the sky, nothing to worry about!”, “But Daddy” he replies, “it’s really loud and I had to turn the TV off!” Oh the hardship and sacrifices a four year old must make!

In the space of two day’s, two things, strikingly different circumstances, but the same emotive response. What is it that makes us fear different things? When does fear become irrational, and is it possible to overcome each of our fears?

In the case of Oliver, I could force him to sit and listen through the BFG, learn the story and understand that once you get to know him the BFG isn’t quite so harmless, that it is only a story and all make belief. But in the real world, with real people, the same thing applies, Stephanie has an irrational fear of Sharks. Why? The joys of a Hollywood movie at an impressionable age. She can’t possibly walk down the street without the fear of being eaten by Jaws, but it’s never going to happen is it? My sister, sitting on an aeroplane, on the verge of nearly having to be sedated, despite a cocktail before embarking of alcohol and Prozac. Why? Because the plane was going to crash and she was going to be a victim of a terrorist atrocity.

Laughing as I write this, it’s true isn’t it? We laugh at the things other people are scared of, but confronted with our own fears we shy away and become gibbering wrecks. Is the best way to overcome a fear, stare at it face on and show it that it won’t beat you. Scared of spiders? Pick one up, scared of heights, jump out of a plane, scared of water, learn how to swim? If only life was that easy!

On the flip side however, there is the use of fear as a fuel. Scared of being made redundant and losing your house not being able to get a new job, so you work harder, faster, learn more in an attempt to become indispensable, not that none of us are. Scared of dying too young, so you run further, eat healthier, cut out the late night and the cigarettes.

In Oliver’s case, the two recent examples are easy to explain, feed a child’s imagination with the wonder and mystery of Roald Dahl’s finest, whispered in an eerie tone, let the internal human mechanism take control. Add the unexpected and unknown noise of a thunderclap overhead recording the loudest on recent records and you ask yourself is it any wonder? But I’ve taken more than a passing interest in what keeps us awake at night. Since last week, when I started telling the story of the bicycle man and having to add fictional fears to a fictitious character. Why is it the someone refuses to die? Not the fear of dying as the character is a religious soul, but the fear of never finding out what happened to his missing friend, even though he knows it’s almost likely he’ll find out in the next life anyway. Where did that seed of fear originate, who nurtured it, and how does he overcome it? It’s nothing revolutionary, nothing new, it’s part of what makes us human, right from the moment of birth it would seem.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Bicycle Man

The Bicycle Man

Enrolling on a Creative writing course has been a rich and rewarding experience. It is all very well being able to write a blog from week to week and have your parents tell you that they enjoyed reading it, but having complete strangers sit and listen appreciably of your made-up mini tales of fiction is a completely different feeling.

Confidence is a great thing and I guess that's what I have been looking for. But it can also be very dangerous. With the little confidence boost that I've recently acquired I've taken on the challenge of writing something a little more substantial.

I'm not going to come out and say "I am writing a book" as that isn't quite what it is. I was out on a family day out at Riverside Country Park a few months ago and after we had made our way out to the evocatively names "Horrid Hill", we came across an old man, sitting on a bench, watching the world go by. Next to him was a bicycle, parked carefully just in front of him.

I thought to myself at the time, about the effort that it took for us to get here and how it must have been ten times worse for him with his bike. Why then was he there, it must be some place of importance perhaps, what is it that he thinks about looking out all the way down river?

I had the camera with me that day and took a candid photograph which whenever I look at it, the same questions arise. Why then my own interest in a random stranger? I really cannot answer that. From time to time, you see a person on that street that is a little out of the ordinary and wonder what story it is that they would tell - I just decided to have a go at telling it.

So I sat down and started to write, about the man, who I named James talking to his deceased wife, Annie and how she offers him comfort knowing that she was there, at the place they met as children. About how he still wonders about Pete, his childhood friend that disappeared and how it was stopping him from dying. He didn't want to die without ever knowing what happened, despite knowing that he'll have all the answers when he reunites with his wife in heaven.

And then I stopped, read it back and had a whole load of new and unanswered questions. Who is Pete, what happened to him? Does James find out the answers to the mystery? What are the answers? So I've carried on writing, not with any real plan at the moment, but instead guided by a selection of A3 pieces of paper, names written on them with questions. Is he Dead? How did he die? Is he part of the mystery? What is the big mystery? Ages, timeliness and personality traits, relationship status and other vital bits of imaginary information.

The point is, I have something tangible to write about and the importance of confidence to do it. I just need to keep the momentum going and see what comes of it. I'm not going to say that I'm writing a book, because I'm not. I'm trying to tell the fictional story of a man I never met. I may not finish it, I may waver and get distracted, real life will almost certainly intervene but all the time that I have that photo, the possibility exists that a story will come of it. Whether or not it's good enough for publication, well let's cross that bridge if we get that far.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Nesting

Shhh, baby sleeping

Last night just as Stephanie and I were starting to fall asleep, she nudged me to say that the baby had woken up,“How do you know?” I asked. She then began to tell me about the strange feelings and sensations that she was currently experiencing in the darkness of our bedroom. These internal nudges and movements, constant reminders of the miracle growing inside, the beginning of the maternal bond between mother and child.

You can see that Stephanie is pregnant at the moment, in fact, it surprised me just how much when she informed me last week that we’d reached the half way stage! Whilst she is having that physical bond with her child, I won’t be able to feel any movement for a few more weeks, until the bump has filled out and physically witness the baby starting to kick.

I am however, not entirely useless at this stage. For the past few weeks we have been getting some of the house in order, particularly the nursery where the baby will sleep when he or she is a little older.

When we moved into our house, the room had just been vacated by Craig, my Mum and Dad’s foster child, who had inherited it off my sister. Having brought the house off my parents I had wanted Oliver to have my old room, but knowing that we would one day (hopefully) have another child, we cleared the smallest room out first, created a nursery whilst my old room laid untouched. Once Oliver was old enough and we had fulfilled my own fantasy, a football themed bedroom Oliver finally moved out, leaving the nursery empty.

In the subsequent three years the nursery has become home to old toys, old clothes, bits and pieces that we haven’t managed to bring ourselves to throw away. Sentiment gets in the way of practicality “but this toy was the one Oliver was playing with when he smiled for the first time”. It’s only when you go back to it years later and it’s covered in dust and you realise, it’s only an old toy, the memory lives on in your mind, you don’t need the physical reminder.

When Stephanie was pregnant with Oliver we had a blank canvas to start with. The excitement of our first child was heightened by creating a living, breathing environment for our new born baby. Our spare room in the flat that we lived in at the time was used as a home office. Well it, was a room with a computer inside! But once everything had been removed, the walls were white and we had a space to begin from nothing.

This time around, it is a matter of taking what we have already got, neutralising everything, moving the keepsakes we were given, the ornaments that spell out Oliver’s name and the teddy bears he was given as a baby and creating a warm and inviting place for the new baby.

Really, the tasks that we are doing now could be used as an analogy for the whole second baby experience. Rather than something new, exciting, unknown and mysterious, building a new world from the reality we’ve always known, we are perfecting, compromising, rounding off the sharp edges of the lives we are now living. The new baby will hopefully be the final piece of our puzzle and it’s just a matter of rearranging the pieces that are already there.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Appeal

School Days

Last week we received notice that our appeal for an infant school place had been unsuccessful. Whilst this might sound like particularly bad news, it isn’t really, although the results of which will have a lasting effect upon our day-to-day lives.

At the beginning of the year we had to fill out an online form listing the three schools we would like Oliver to attend in preference. We chose Riverview as our first choice and Shears Green second. To make sure that we got either first or second place we put Cobham down in third knowing that this was highly impractical and almost unlikely to be chosen.

Academically, Riverview and Shears Green are equally as good as each other, so we are very lucky that it could have fallen either way, but what made the application process more interesting is that as a child, I went to school at Shears Green, whilst Stephanie went to Riverview, so it was in a way, a little race to see whose footsteps Oliver would follow in.

But for practical purposes Riverview was our number one choice. We are so very fortunate that we have a family who continue to help us so that Stephanie and I can both go out to work. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s a matter of necessity that both of us are in full-time employment, bills need to be paid. With this in mind and that Stephanie’s parents live close to Riverview, that our nieces and nephews all attend the school would make picking Oliver up afterwards all the more stress free.

It may seem a little frivolous, but this was the reasoning behind our appeal. We read all the documentation beforehand and the criteria in which children are allocated to specific schools. It all made sense and was 100% fair. We could have been given reason to feel guilty had Oliver been accepted into Riverview and someone else a lot closer hadn’t, but we would have felt a lot worse had we not at least tried. Not for our sakes, or indeed for Oliver’s, but for those people who continue to help us on daily basis.
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