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.
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