Adam Bird

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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 »

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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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