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Friday, 7 December 2012

The Lady in White Gloves

Nanny Bette

Someone approached me once, a colleague whilst I was working at Safeway, “Your nan isn’t it, the Lady in White gloves, what a character! She’s been asking after you.” I had never considered it before, how she was known to others, to complete strangers. I just knew her and loved her as my Nan, a lady who sadly passed away this week at the fine old age of 93.

In looking back, as one does when one is faced with the reality of such news I cannot do anything other than smile. The cherished memories that I have of her are of humour and laughter, drawn from her character, - that word again which defines us as individuals, along with personality, of which undoubtedly she was one.

That same colleague of mine, after I had confirmed my relationship status asked the inevitable next question “Why does she wear white gloves?” And the answer was to help combat psoriasis, a dermatological disease that caused her serious discomfort with itching around her hands and fingers, which was by far the worst affected part of her body.

In fact, it was her treatment in hospital at Joyce Green that was my first memory of her, clouded and monotone as early memories are, walking along a dark corridor and saying hello to the lady in the bed. But as we grew up and became more aware about who she was and who we were to her, our childish imaginations crept in. We may smile wryly about it now, but had Nan known about them she’d have told us not to be so stupid and perhaps we’d have offended her ever so slightly. Jessica and I, whenever presented with food prepared by her hands would inspect it thoroughly, in case flakes of dried skin from her hands found their way into our meal, the very thought of which repulsed our squeamish young minds.

It wasn’t just her white gloves that made her stand out, the way she spoke and her sayings stood her apart from anyone else I’ve ever known. She was born in Newton Abbott, Devon, in 1919 and was the youngest of six siblings. The Symons family come from a long line of Devonshire and Cornish ancestory and the west country accent was still evident in everything she said. I never tired of hearing her greet me with “oh, hello cock”, or “how are you my old cockle”, greetings that were delivered to people she would meet out and about as I watched in wonder at their reactions to being call ‘cock’, however endearing its original intention.

Those out and about moments, it was when Nan was at her best. Sociable, outgoing, bubbly and unashamedly embarrassing for all the right reasons. On one occasion, on one of our many childhood visits to Greenwich Park, where she’d drive us to in either one of her proud new Renaults, we were walking from the bottom of the park, up the hill back to the waiting car. She made one of her “Hello cockle” introductions and engaged with an American couple walking in the same direction as us. By the time we had all reached the summit, life stories had been exchanged as well as telephone numbers and almost certainly a request on behalf of Gramps (“that old bugger”) for some stamps!

They were by no means the only ones. Long friendships and acquaintances made were the result of random conversations and meeting of people built up over time. Restaurateurs from Sheerness where Nan and Gramps were one time frequent visitors or nurses at hospitals when Nan was visiting for treatment. Both of which bring other memories flooding back. Like during a hot valentines double date when Stephanie and I partnered Nan and Gramps to Sheerness and Nan walked out of the toilet with her skirt and half a length of toilet paper tucked into her knickers. “Ooh I flashed everyone me drawers” she said, her face lit up in laughter as Stephanie walked her back discretely from where she came.

Or at the eye hospital in Maidstone, talking to the nurse, “me gal” about her wedding, which Nan seemed to know more about than the blushing bride-to-be herself. In fact, I wrote about that episode at the eye hospital previously, about her bravery and courage as I sat by in witness to a glaucoma injection into her eyeball. How I had gone white, shivery in fear holding her steady hand as she faced what appeared to be my own worst nightmare. I called her the bravest women I’ve ever met and I stand by that even more so now.

During those more difficult times, at the hospital when she was having minor repair work or later on when things were at a level much more serious it was difficult not to imagine Nan in her earlier years. The Nan who on picking me up from school and asking me what we had for dinner and singing “Meatballs” in a high falsetto when I replied with the answer. Or the Nan who loved and cherished two of her closest companions - Bleepy and Indy, two dogs who meant the world to her and made nonsense of the term ‘man’s best friend’.

In passing, Nan leaves behind seven children, thirteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren, all of whom she had memorised the names, if not the faces. When Layla was born, the news went around the family that Jessica had given birth to Lala, which wouldn’t have been quite so funny had the teletubbies not been at the height of their fame. If she ever wanted my attention when my back was turned she would call for me “David, Raymond, Delmos, oh Adam I mean’ and the same would apply when talking to Oliver, whereas Steph, just to make things easier would be forever known as “my Gal”.

It didn’t matter though, whatever she called us, whether she got it right first time or third time lucky, we all knew who she was. Whether it was Mum, Nan, Nanny Bette, Betty or simply The Lady in White Gloves, she was a women who didn’t shrink into the background, she called a spade a spade and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She was never embarrassed easily and proud to be who she was supposed to be and never tried to be anything else.

I’m left now with memories, wonderful memories of the times we shared, the childhood trips to the park, to the beaches, the smell of a brand new Renault. I’ll remember Marmite on fresh cut bread for breakfast and the promise that Olay is the elixir of life. I’ll remember her accent and the sayings that will sadly pass along with her and I'll have forever the sound of the singing of her voice saying, “Hello my love” whenever I entered the room which was a comfort softer than any blanket.

Sleep well Nan, The Lady in White Gloves. A name someone gave you for want of a better description. A name that wouldn’t have better described anyone else.

All my love, David, Raymond, Delmos.... Adam I mean x



Saturday, 10 November 2012

My First Year - The highlights

Phoebe

On Thursday evening Stephanie took Phoebe's photograph for the final time as part of our second 'Year in the life of...' project. Just like we did with Oliver, everyday for the first year of Phoebe's life we took a photograph to help track her progress through what is an incredible year of change.

In this blog post, I've taken one photograph from each month to quickly show how quickly time flies:

9 November 2011


November 2011

31 December 2011


December 2011

30 January 2012


January 2012

29 February 2012


February 2012

25 March 2012


March 2012

11 April 2012


April 2012

22 May 2012


May 2012

17 June 2012


June 2012

25 July 2012


July 2012

27 August 2012


August 2012

19 September 2012


September 2012

30 October 2012


October 2012

8 November 2012


November 2012

To view the full project »

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Patience is Paramount

Universal Islands of Adventure - coming to town

Humunga Kowabunga, Bubba Gumps Shrimp Shack, Manta, Rip Ride Rocket, all names and sounds synonymous with the heat and surreality of Florida, a playground for the young and the young at heart which has drawn families in for decades bringing dreams to life. Names which could soon be coming to North Kent and rejuvenating an industrial backwater famed for the manufacturing of cement and refinement of industrialised metals.

I arrived into work yesterday morning under a barrage of text messages from a very excited younger sibling. My sister had read an article on one of the local news websites detailing plans of a new multi-billion pound development which would see a world class theme park and entertainment resort built quite literally on our doorstep.

Apparently land local to us on the Swanscome peninsula has been earmarked as a possible location for this venture and Paramount, a Hollywood movie studio has agreed licensing rights which means we could potentially be seeing a collection of Hollywood related attractions as the focal point of any development.

It is of course incredibly early days, consultation and planning hasn't yet formally started, but what exciting prospects lie in store! The benefits to the local area are huge, construction jobs, opportunities for service providers, hotel spaces, eateries and probably from an entirely selfish point of view, first rate leisure and entertainment venues within ridiculously easy reach. As a family, as I guess most families do, we love stuff like this. We were lucky as kids to visit Florida and see world class Theme Parks for ourselves, so to have something potentially so close has brought out the manchild in me and made my sister go even more barmy!

It might all be pie in the sky, plans that never reach fruition and the land which has a long heritage of local industry gets left by the wayside and falls into terminal decline. But with details so thin and scarce at the moment I thought I'd do a little creative thinking and put some ideas out there as to what the eventual final project might consist of.

The name:


If you think of a Theme Park you might think of Alton Towers or Chessington World of Adventures, places named after what was already there and built up over time. With that line of thinking it would be logical then that the names Swanscombe, Ebbsfleet or Northfleet would feature somewhere in the name. Neither Swanscombe World of Adventures, Ebbsfleet Island of Adventures and Northfleet Towers sound particularly appealing, certainly not on a European or global level - enticing overseas tourism being all part of the 'big idea'.

Also aligned with plans, what we are seeing being proposed isn't just one park, it's a collection - a whole resort, namely; a water park, a theme park, a boardwalk style collection of shops, cinemas and restaurants, plus event and concert space.

With that in mind it would more likely have a collective name, no doubt with the brand name featuring prominently. Also, as it's going to be a global attraction Ebbsfleet simply won't fit, even us locals don't know where Ebbsfleet is (it's a train station right?) How about then Paramount Peninsula of Pleasure, or Paramount World, with each area having its own identity, similar to Disney World and its collection of individual park areas, Epcot, Magic Kingdom and such like? Paramount World is perhaps too ambiguous, Paramount Kent is hardly appealing, whereas we are close enough to the capital to get away with Paramount London, even if it does upset a few of the locals.

The theme:


In the original news article it stated that an emphasis will be made upon British and Kent character. What this means exactly is entirely open to interpretation and could be almost anything at all. The buildings could be built in the shape of oast houses with thatched cottages or a dark ride based on the former cement works could be built - Colonel Colin's Concrete Catastrophy doesn't quite have the same ring or appeal as Professor Burps Bubble Works, so it would be interesting to see what exactly this entails!

Keeping things entirely Paramount orientated would be the better idea, although this does come with its own challenges. Paramount owned a succession of US based parks and invested heavily in rides across their properties tying in with poplar film franchises, but once Paramount were brought out the rides lost the licensing and all film references were removed making for some disjointed and disappointing experiences.

However, looking through the list of films on the Paramount portfolio, there are some really interesting opportunities; Iron Man, Mission Impossible, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Titanic, Grease, Indiana Jones and Forest Gump are all films where potential attractions could be devised from. Not really sure however how any of those could tie into British and Kent character, but then again I'm not an imagineer!

A mix and match will possibly be most likely, movie themed rides around locally themed lands. Such as a land which celebrates the pre-historic origins of Swanscombe and the finding of the 'Swanscombe Man' fossil. I'm sure that there is plenty of fun to be had around that, much more so than the manufacturing of cement!

The reality:


However much fun thinking about what the potential possibilities could be its well worth remembering that absolutely nothing has happened so far. The idea so far is great, but that's why we spend hard earned money to fulfill our dreams - because someone once dreamt the impossible and made it happen. For the artist impressions to come to life billions of pounds will need to be spent, infrastructure constructed, roads and public transport networks upgraded and no doubts miles and miles of red tape to be scrutinised and overcome.

Patience really is paramount over the next few months, as further snippets of information and further imagery is released. In the meantime I might have to dig that old Theme Park computer game and come up with something a little more inspired, Colonol Colin's Concrete Catastrophy will simply not do!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day - Stars

Notepad and Pen

Today apparently is National Poetry Day. Oliver's homework this week was to find his favourite poem in mark of the occasion. He is nearly six, poetry isn’t quite clearly defined yet in his vocabulary, but I thought that well, if it was good enough for him it was certainly good enough for me. So to mark the occasion, I’ve had a go and written a poem.

Firstly, poetry is hard! If the word ‘poem’ is unknown to a six year old vocabulary then the terms; Villanelle, Triolet, Amphimacer Meter; Iambic Pentameter and so many others are strangely foreign to me. But that’s what days like today are for. To get people learning, understanding and appreciating an art form which is difficult to master but beautiful to read and listen to.

Today’s theme then is ‘Stars’ and my poem on the subject was based upon the thought that when we die, heaven gains another star. I should also tell you, that I had some guidance, took some advice and was advised by a true professional. I work with a proper poet, a chap named Rishi Dastidar who is known as the ‘poet of adland’ and has had much of his work published. A big thank you then Sir for your advice and encouragement!

I hope you enjoy it and even more so, I hope you also write something poetic about stars or anything else for that matter.

Stars


Treasure chest memories etched into the night,
Constellations are collections of consolation,
Peeking upwards, silvery threads of light,

An infinite sky measured by immortal height,
Monochrome pencils, paint faces with perception.
Treasure chest memories etched into the night,

Lost pilgrim friends and fathers, discernibly bright.
Canis Major barks loudly, the canine conception,
Peeking upwards, silvery threads of light.

Ursa Major, Great Bear, a loyal fierce knight,
Requiem for the romantic, a sentimental recollection,
Treasure chest memories etched into the night,

Adverts for heaven, visions of God’s might.
Dystopian deity, dismissive dissections,
Peeking upwards, silvery threads of light.

Bereaved witnesses, married in grief, unite,
Impressions imprinted, measured imperfections.
Treasure chest memories etched into the night.
Peeking upwards, silvery threads of light.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Differences Between Pink & Blue

Phoebe

Over the past two weeks Mrs B has been asking me some rather strange questions, mainly about what we should buy Phoebe for her first birthday. Questions that, at first might not seem odd at all, but for me highlights another difference in nearly a year of subtle nuances I’ve noticed between the sexes. How has having a girl in the family been so different from having a boy?

Each and every one of us are of course different, our characters and personalities define us and make us who we are. Phoebe and Oliver may share the same genetic building blocks and at times scare us as parents with looks and the odd stare that give the impression that they are very much the same person. But throughout Phoebe’s first year there have been moments when I’ve felt uncomfortable not being able to handle certain situations as I’ve not been able to relate to the female point of view - or have suddenly realised to myself, “Ooh, she doesn’t like that, it must be a girl thing”.

The first, big, noticeable difference came right at the very beginning, on an anatomical level. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘hands-on’ father, doing the late night bottle feeds and changing the messy nappies, but I’ve never been comfortable with changing Phoebe. It sounds stupid, and totally obvious, but things are packaged very differently between pink and blue nappies. At least with a boy everything is familiar and positioned externally so that any mess is easily found and removed with a swish of a wet-wipe. With a girl you need to be a bit more evasive and make sure any spillages are not spread in the wrong direction. It has taken me a while to get used to the whole operation, but I’ll be much happier once she is running around fully potty trained!

There are other things, on the face of it that seem more obvious, silly things like playing “Boo”. With Oliver you could really make him jump and he’d laugh, with Phoebe you have to take it down a notch and not be so loud or else she cries. It might just be that Oliver is of a stronger constitution, but with him you could chuck him in the air and catch him with a big laugh whereas Phoebe has a look of terror on her face. Having said that, she isn’t entire fearless, she quite happily crawls around after my brother-in-laws dog, Donk, who is a ten stone rottweiler and nearly as tall as me - not that I’m entirely comfortable with that one either!

I know that my sister has noticed these differences a lot more than I have. She had three girls before her fourth, a boy came along. Despite a household of dolls, make-up and Edward Cullen posters, her boy naturally does the boy things that are part of the masculine code. Plays with mud, gets himself dirty and likes nothing better than kicking things around, football or his elder siblings, whatever is closest to hand (or foot).

Phoebe isn’t quite there yet, her personality is starting to come through, but she is still very much a baby with a babyish ideals. She is very much more affectionate that Oliver ever was, quite happy playing with the softer assortment of toys that she has available to her. Cuddling up to teddies and anything soft and tactile, cooing “ahh” as she does so. Which leads me to the blank look in response to Stephanies questions. What do we buy our daughter for her first birthday?

With Oliver it was easy, building blocks, cars, trucks, anything to do with football, things that I would have enjoyed, or still enjoy as a fully grown adult manchild. But until she says to me Daddy, I want this, or I want that, it is all very much guesswork on my part. I look online or through the argos catalogue and pick out things that are pink, purple, look ‘girlish’ and ‘cute’, but really what do I know? I’m just another useless male father looking at the world through naive, macho blue eyes.

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Trial Separation

Gillingham Football Club

Last weekend Gillingham Football Club kicked off the new football season with a home game against Bradford City. It was the first time in... well, perhaps ever, I wasn’t there to see the start of a new campaign. In fact, as much as it pains me to say, it was the first time in twelve years that I began the football season as a non season ticket holder.

The past few seasons have been a difficult time for us Gillingham fans. The reappointment of Andy Hessenthaler after the shambles that was our relegation season was a move aimed to rebuild the fans relationship with its players after deteriorating so badly under previous manager Mark Stimson. But ultimately, it was the wrong move as time and time again the players at the managers disposal were not playing to their full potential and two eighth place finishes meant that once again Gillingham Football Club found themselves looking for a new manager during the close season.

It would be easy for me to turn around and say that on the field failures were the reason for my non-renewal, but it would be far from the truth. Our failure to gain promotion has made my decision a lot easier to handle, but the simple fact of the matter is, something had to give.

Stephanie, now we have exhausted her statutory maternity leave is back at work and will be working Saturday shifts when available to help bring in more finance. Having to find someone to look after both Oliver and Phoebe every other Saturday it becomes an effort to make necessary arrangements, as well as putting on people who help us out during the week whilst we are at work.

Having said that, ticket prices for children under sixteen were remarkably good value with a season ticket for Oliver, if I chose to buy one would cost just £50. But as yet, he hasn’t shown any real desire or wish to want to come with me week in week out. Meaning we’d only need help with Phoebe, but by the time I get home from work she is in bed, I get up to go to work she is asleep and I don’t want to be the strange man she sees only on Sundays.

The plan is by no means to stop going altogether, I couldn’t turn my back completely on the team that I love so much and have grown up with all my life. Every Saturday Stephanie isn’t working I’ll go to the game and take Oliver with me. It might even allow me to visit more away grounds and reach the elusive 92 club which I’ve stood stuck on 52 for so long.

If the team finally does get that elusive promotion back to league one which we’ve all craved for so long, I’ll be over the moon. If it means that they do it and I’ve missed out on certain victories and last minute winners, it won’t really matter, not compared to the alternative - missing out on my children growing up.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Center Parcs!

The Bird Family at Center Parcs

As way of a thank you for the work that I did earlier this year for King’s Church Medway, Stephanie, Oliver, Phoebe and I were invited to join the church on their annual summer holiday to Center Parcs. Which is where we spent the past week wearing ourselves out surrounded by woodland, nature and fine company.

Center Parcs is one of those places that I always wanted to visit as a child, a seemingly magical, exciting place with water slides and activities galore. So when Uncle Matthew invited us along, I was happy to accept - rest assured that it wouldn’t be all “kumbaya” around the campfire (his words not mine!) We were to share a cabin with my cousin Rebecca, her husband James, their two children and Ricky, my soon to be cousin-in-law which helped as we would be sharing with people we knew and not complete strangers.

In fact, it wasn’t just my cousin Rebecca and my Uncle Matthew who would be going on the holiday, my Auntie Mara, Auntie Mandy, Uncle Tubby, cousins Amy and Victoria, their husbands and children would all be going too! Perfect opportunity for Oliver and Phoebe to get to know their cousins better and for me to catch up with family that have for whatever reason been so distant for most of my adult life.

Rebecca and James are Center Parcs veterans, having been previously on at least four occasions, so we had heard lots of good things before we had even left. But upon arrival I was left feeling quite disappointed. We were staying in a comfort villa, which is the basic level of accommodation and was as described. Very basic, with a pungent smell of dampness in the air and the interior looking rather worn and threadbare. Added to this the price of food and drink at the village complex I did begin to wonder just what the fuss was all about.

It wasn’t until we had all unpacked, the cars had been moved back to the carpark and we had a chance to explore our immediate surroundings that it all kind of made sense. Peeking out of the patio doors of the villa lounge, we could see two rabbits sittings on the grass just beyond the small patio. Alongside them were a handful of squirrels which were racing up the tall trees that blanketed our view to the rear. Scenes which more than made up for any minor cosmetic discomfort that we might have first found.

Prior to dinner on our first night, Oliver and I head off towards the main attraction, the subtropical paradise which is the Center Parcs piece de resistance. Oliver had been wanting to show off his newly found swimming skills for the previous three months, so now he finally had the chance to show me - whereas I just wanted to find the slides and relive part of my youth! After a quick dip in the main pool where Oliver swam slightly, but rather nervously, I suggested that we take a walk around and see what we could find. Our first stop was the ‘white slide’ which is pretty self explanatory. A dual, short, steep slide that plunges you into the water below - right up my street. I said to Oliver that I would go first, before catching him at the bottom when it was his turn. Off I went, creating a small tidal wave which rippled around the subtropical paradise, before waiting eagerly for Oliver below. Except his courage deserted him and he couldn’t bring himself to plummet down as I just had. Instead I had to get out and meet him, tell him not to worry and that we would find something more suitable instead.

Our next stop was the toddler pool which contained two rather tame slides indeed. I sat waiting impatiently in two inches of water whilst he ran around having the time of his life, feeling guilty as I pondered my next move. Rather than continue sitting where I was, I called Oliver over and suggested we continue our walk around, which fortunately he agreed to. We walked around and found two flumes, which varied in levels of excitement. I started him off with the smaller one, where we went down together, before returning and going down individually, building up his confidence and proving to him that he did have the courage and that nothing could go wrong.

After the flumes had been conquered Oliver wanted to take on the white slide once again, so that’s where we headed and as before I launched myself down creating another huge wave and waited anxiously at the bottom. Oliver confronted his initial fear head on sliding downwards and with a splash I caught him, already jumping up and down with excitement at how much fun he’d just had! After another seven visits to the same slide even I began to lack enthusiasm, plus we had a dinner date back home to return to and so we kept our first visit to the pool short and sweet.

Stephanie and I had a rather late night that first night, talking with Ricky until 3am about a whole manner of things, evolution, creation, weddings, relationships and the Big Man, who Stephanie and I were quite open about not having what everyone we shared with had - a relationship with Him. I was a bit worried before we went that we were seen as being ripe for ‘conversion’ and that we would be listening to people constantly trying to evangelize but other than that conversation with Ricky, which Stephanie and I instigated there was nothing of the sort.

In hindsight, three o’clock in the morning is not a suitable hour for bedtime at Center Parcs, particularly as the little man had his first activity booked for 9am! Fortunately for me, but not so for him, his first football training class was cancelled due to insufficient numbers. He didn’t seem to mind too much, which was fine with me as I went out for a quick twenty minute run instead. It was quite nice, despite the rain running through the trees of the complex along the ring road that was void of cars - the only traffic being people on bicycles, which there were hundreds and more hazardous than any motorcar would have been!

As football was cancelled, we busied ourselves around the complex looking at things that were going on. Auntie Mandy and Uncle Matthew had booked a badminton court and invited Stephanie and I along to play. Oliver was playing with the other kids and Phoebe was enjoying her morning nap, so why not we thought! Sadly, I haven’t played badminton since I was at school and was never particularly any good at it then. But between the four of us we had a good laugh and a good workout which is all that matters even if the skill levels were a little bit to be desired!

It isn’t just indoor sports and pursuits that Center Parcs caters for. There are hundreds of things to book and do outside, including a whole load of watersports and activities which take part on the lake, which is where we head for next. Rebecca had arranged for her Dad (my Uncle Tubby) to have a go on the cable ski, which is a mechanical contraption that allows multiple people to attempt a turn at waterskiing on the lake without the need of a motorboat. There were quite a few of us watching on the banks of the lake that afternoon, but along came Tubby, resplendent in a rubbery, black wet-suit carrying a knee board for which he was attempting to surf. We all waited with baited breath as he readied himself on the edge of the little pontoon, arms out gripping onto the handle which in a moment would fire up and drag him furiously around the lake. And then suddenly it did, off he went to a chorus of whoops and cheers and almost right away to a deafening chuckle as he went crashing into the lake with flailing limbs and an almighty splash! Uncle Tubby might not have gotten very far on his first attempt, but on each subsequent turn he got further and further around the lake to cheers from us standing along the side. It looked great fun, something I’d definitely have a go myself if we ever went back!

Time certainly flies at Center Parcs with so much to do and take part in. After the excitement at the lake Oliver had his first class, “Little Outlaws”, which was basically a junior version of archery, with plastic bow and arrows made with velcro tips. Likewise a day later, another class, allowed Oliver to fire mini crossbows, again made of plastic with velcro tips so that they stuck to the velcro covered targets. Oliver really enjoyed both classes, but as a grown-up I’d suggest that for the age group they cater for, a little more ‘serious’ equipment could be used instead.

Other than those two classes, the only other thing we had booked Oliver in for was the soccer school which gladly resumed as normal on the Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve long given up in the hope that Oliver may one day play for England, let alone Gillingham and seeing Oliver in action over the course of the two sessions nothing has changed my mind. We did have one rather noteworthy incident at the end of the first session. The whole group, including the Dad’s were split into two teams, greens and reds for a match. The ball finally made its way to Oliver who was in acres of space. He controlled it well, turned rather smartly and with no one around him he unleashed a hell of a shot that left the (grownup) goalkeeper well and truly beaten. Except rather then cheers, his goal was met with groans and ‘oh my God’s.’ Oliver had scored one of the most spectacular own goals I’d ever seen! He knew straight away what he had done and walked off the pitch in a state of upset. I walked off with him in embarrassment telling him that it didn’t really matter, accidents happen and that there was only one way to make up for it. Go up the other end and score twice! Despite my encouragement and gentle persuasion Oliver was too upset to continue which began to annoy me. I didn’t mind him making a mistake, but what I did mind was that he threw in the towel, walked off and left his team with a man down. But we live and learn I guess! After all, he played again the following day and was one of the better players which more than made up for the day before!

With all sorts of things happening left right and centre, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that we made it back to the pool. This time, we had Stephanie and Phoebe with us, plus all the family were already there, which allowed everyone some quality time on the slides as we all took it in turns looking after the little ones. Rebecca and Uncle Matthew had been talking about the rapids and how wonderful they were, but I hadn’t come across them on my first visit. I hadn’t really looked too hard as I had Oliver with me and didn’t think he’d be allowed on them, but upon finding them that Wednesday afternoon and with some further advice from Rebecca we decided to give it go, with Oliver firmly attached!

Basically, the rapids is a long waterslide that starts off outside the building, meanders through the grounds before dipping sharply back inside and dropping you into a pool at the bottom. All the way along the course you are carried by a surge of rampaging water that is artificially pumped to form a whitewater effect - to much fun and hilarity! Sadly, my youthful exuberance was too much for my ageing body and I fear that I may have cracked a rib. Wanting to go that ever bit faster I decided to stand up and dive down the rapid chute giving myself some extra momentum, but in that act, I must have landed wrongly, or on something and caused a pain on my left hand side that still hurts even now! For the rest of the day I had to walk with my hand nursing my side and whenever I sneezed, coughed or hiccoughed for the next week a shooting pain would stab me from the inside causing me to wince and grimace in pain!

However, cracked rib aside, traversing the rapids with Oliver attached was at first quite worrying, seeing grown men bombing down out of control, people crashing into one another is one thing. A body of surging water and the early stages of being able to swim is another. But as on the first visit to the pool where Oliver’s confidence grew, it was the same over the course of the final three visits to the pool. On day one Oliver would be gripping me around the neck and holding on for dear life, by the end of day three Oliver was swimming up to the entrance of the rapids and throwing himself down on his own as one of us swam manically after him! Someone once said it to me and it was a great piece of advice “teach your kids to swim at a young age,” - so very, very true!

If we wanted to, we could have stayed in the subtropical paradise all day, everyday. But there was so much going on. Over the course of the five days we had played table tennis, soft tennis, racquetball, badminton, pool, american pool, football, archery, crossbows and mini-golf.

In fact, I wasn’t going to mention the mini-golf as I’m still terribly sore about the whole episode, but Rebecca went to such lengths to organise the whole the event that it would be quite rude of me not to.

Amongst all of the things available at Center Parcs, there is also a nine hole mini-golf course. Rebecca had arranged a tournament for the family and so we all met on an island in the middle of the lake, me feeling quite confident that this was one the sport I might actually be good at. Except, evidently I wasn’t! After nine holes, bottom of the pile, twelfth place... was me! In first place, to add salt into the wounds was... Stephanie! She even won a trophy which Rebecca had brought and now sits tauntingly on our mantelpiece at home. In my defense, I blame the course and unprecedented bad luck...

Okay, so I might not have fulfilled my potential but we all had fun and a right good time, which is the most important thing. In fact the mini-golf summed up the Center Parcs experience for me. A group of people, having fun, a laugh, all different sporting abilities and interests by joining in on a level playing field where the result didn’t really matter after all, as that’s what it is all about. Fun and enjoyment. We do take things too seriously sometimes, sport, people, religion, one another. It’s good to enjoy life with a smile for a while and realise that it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day - life is fun, let’s make the most of it!

On our final day, before making our way back home we decided to have one last session in the pool and another few hundred rides down the rapids and my particular favourite, the white slide. I am a speed and splash man when it comes to waterslides and is probably the reason why I broke a few rules along the way. One of those was the strict feet first rule on the white slide. Just when the lifeguard at the bottom was looking away, off I went, head first down the slide before skimming across the water and crashing into the barrier at the end! When it was Olivers turn I was still catching him, but hadn’t banked on him a) copying me and b) skimming across the water as I had. So that after he had taken his first bounce across the surface his head and my head collided rather painfully. His eye and my nose! Ouch, did I nearly cry or what?! I hadn’t quite broken it, luckily, but have spent the past week with a disfigured nose which seems to have settled back down again now - and fortunately for Oliver, his threatened black eye didn’t ever materialise which would have only accentuated my guilt even more!

So there we have it, a week at Center Parcs! Battered, bruised and broken!

We had heard so many good things about it and everything was true. It might be expensive in the village, incredibly so, but done correctly you need not eat out, there isn’t much to do of a night and the best nights we had were the nights we spent in. Everything else, the activities are all good value and worth every penny.

Ultimately, we were invited to spend time with King’s Church Medway on their church holiday. But it wasn’t, not really, it was more like a time from years ago when we were kids spending time with our cousins and having a laugh and fun with it, when we were allowed to just get on and have a good time without whatever it was that we believed in getting in the way.

From Stephanie, Oliver, Phoebe and I, a huge thank you to Uncle Matthew and Auntie Mara for allowing us to spend last week with you and to Rebecca for all of the effort you put in to make it extra special!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Perfect, Perfect Poznan

Mr and Mrs Grant

Sometimes things happen coincidentally, like winning a weekend away the same time a wedding invite to a foreign city lands on your doorstep. Sometimes things happen for a reason, like two people from different countries meeting some place altogether neutral and falling in love - the place they meet being an environment for where they both share a passion and lifelong enjoyment. Sometimes coincidence meets reason and it becomes altogether something entirely different - in this case, it all came together in Poznan, Poland. A place that Stephanie and I won’t ever forget.

Whilst I worked at RMG, I met Paul, who became a part of our development team. Over the course of the time we worked together, we became good friends along with the rest of the small team that we had, including Iqbal, another developer. Before Paul left the agency, he told Iqbal and I of a girl that he had met on his holiday. A girl that Stephanie and I subsequently met for the first time a little later, ironically at Iqbal’s wedding. By then we had all gone our separate ways and were working in places elsewhere, but have kept in contact meeting for drinks, not as often as we should, but as much as we can.

When Paul introduced us to Gosia, it’s fair to say that we were as smitten as Paul was, even in the infancy of their relationship. I don’t think anyone can radiate such warmth from a simple smile and it was clear to Stephanie and I that Paul had met someone very special. I’m sure that Iqbal won’t mind me saying either, but we did speculate and say that we hadn’t seen a couple that were just so simply made for each other and said that they would one day end up marrying just as we both had.

True to the rather prophetic discussion that Iqbal and I shared, Stephanie and I received a save the date notification towards the end of last year. We had been preliminary invited to celebrate Paul and Gosia’s wedding with them in Poznan, Poland - a place that had us both diving for Google Maps! Then this year, just as Stephanie and I had claimed first prize in the inaugural Bird Family Fat Fighters competition, a rather terrifying sounding invite landed on our doorstep which gave us the perfect opportunity in which to redeem our reward.

I say terrifying in the loosest possible sense, intriguing would be the more sensible word. But the invite carried a carefully worded survival guide. Paul’s top tips on how to survive a Polish wedding, mainly in handling the severe quantity of Vodka that was likely to be consumed. Alongside that vital information were other things of lesser importance, how to get there, where to stay, such things as that. A little Internet research and a few emails to our benefactor, two flights and a room at the Don Prestige Residence had been secured - we were going to Poznan!

Upon arrival at Poznan airport, a rather woozy Stephanie and I made our way through to the arrival hall, forming a small group of people evidently also there to celebrate alongside Paul and Gosia. Paul was flying out without his wife-to-be, she had already been in Poland for a week making the last minute arrangements, of which later evidence would prove how busy she had been.

We were met in the arrival hall by Gosia’s father, a tray of vodka glasses and an assortment of breads. The invite hadn’t prepared us for that, nor the words of welcome which were offered via a translation from Gosia’s father who thanked us all kindly for coming. He spoke about how proud he was and happy that we had arrived in his country to celebrate a very special weekend. We didn’t need a translator to understand the sincerity of his words and both Stephanie and I felt immediately humbled and privileged to be just a very small part of it.

We had cars laid on from the airport to our hotels, the wedding party being spread about across various hostelries around the old market square. The Don Prestige Residence, our home for the next few nights being one of them. Gosia and Paul had arranged a welcome pack, a message thanking us for coming, some Polish beers and chocolates which was a lovely gesture in a weekend where lovely gestures were frequent and varying.

After a whistle-stop pause at the hotel, where we got changed and quickly refreshed, we head out into the Old Market Square, famed around Poland and beyond for its size and authenticity. We had a couple of drinks before meeting at Brovaria, a local restaurant, hotel and bar that was sat directly on the square. It was our first opportunity to meet with the people that we would be celebrating the wedding with and a chance to sample some local food which was quite honestly incredible - and very cheap.

Our fellow guests were a mixture of people; family, friends, past and former colleagues, both English and Polish. There was even a lady from Canada who had met and travelled with Paul whilst Paul was circumnavigating the globe. Everyone asking one another how they knew the bride and groom, sharing embarrassing stories that went down as well as the food and copious amount of beer.

Once the meal had finished we moved from the restaurant and sat outside in the square where we were taught and educated by a chap named Bart about the finer intricacies of drinking Vodka. Two large bottles were ordered alongside two jugs of fruit juice. Vodka isn’t consumed with coke, or lemonade as we drink it here. But rather straight, down in one from the shot glass and chased leisurely with the fruit juice which takes the sting out of the burn. Stephanie and I also learnt that Vodka is to be served as cold as possible and over the course of the weekend, we learnt that this was true. The colder the vodka, the better it tastes - or it might just have been our senses were obliterated by over consumption!

Rather than wobble home back to the Don Prestige Residence, we opted to stay out and soak up the atmosphere and enjoy Paul’s official last night as a free man. With Euro 2012 having just finished, there are a couple of Go-Go clubs which have popped up as a result in foreign trade. Being firm traditionalists Stephanie and I decided that we hadn’t wanted to miss out on anything, so we went along and shared some more drink in the basement of a lightly lit ‘Gentleman's’ establishment whilst getting to know a bit better the people in our group.

At four am, we stumbled out into the night air, where we were hit by the inevitable alcoholic bite. Somehow we managed to find our way home and passed out into a vodka induced coma until both Stephanie and I woke up a few short hours later feeling very, very much worse for wear!

In fact, I would safely go as far as saying that it was by far the worst hangover I’ve ever had, in terms of headache, that I could have cried believing that I’d ruined the wedding day for myself and that I would never, ever be able to drink again! As much as Stephanie and I, along with Iqbal and his wife Ratna walked around Poznan viewing some of the sights, I could not make myself feel any better. It wasn’t until we stopped for a spot of lunch where I ordered a beer that I began to feel better. Hair of the Dog? You bet!

Feeling slightly better, albeit only just, it was time to get ready for the wedding. And what a wedding it was!

Just as we were met by Gosia’s father and his words which evoked a feeling of something very special happening, upon walking into the Pałac Działyńskich we got the same feeling all over again. The wooden doors of the building, which had been locked earlier on during the day had now been opened and walking in, we were guided along a curving pathway up the stairs littered by tiny pieces of coloured petals. Either side of the aisle were large, sepia coloured photographic prints, sat on easels of Paul and Gosia that they had taken of each other during their courtship. Stephanie whispered as we were walking past them that the hairs on her arms had stood up and I, being me got a little teary eyed!

The main reception room upstairs where the ceremony took place was simply stunning. Washed in history and decorated beautifully with white cotton chairs and green roses which dotted the aisle, standing out in contrast against the white statuette that was at the head of the room.

Stephanie and I were sat on the aisle towards the back, which afforded us a great view of the proceedings. We could watch Gosia being walked down the aisle by her father and as he gave her over to a waiting Paul. Now he might not have spoken English, but every man who walks down the aisle with their daughter says exactly the same thing. That ferocious feeling of pride which was evident across the way he held himself and stood tall with his chest out. It was beautiful to watch and see how much a father genuinely loves his daughter. I couldn’t help but think of Phoebe and the eventual man she might marry - I’ll be a mess, I know I will!

The ceremony was conducted by the town mayor, which gave it a much stronger sense of formality. He was standing in front of them, with his mayoral chain and formal posture, but made much more personal than the UK equivalent as both Paul and Gosia, rather than standard vows had written their own ‘promises’. If Iqbal and I had speculated much earlier on about Paul and Gosia making an immediate connection, the promises they made between them only cast those thoughts in stone. I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the house after those promises had been made and they were made with such feeling that the only thing left was to declare them man and wife!

After the ceremony and the obligatory rice/confetti throwing, Paul and Gosia head off to the Hotel Delicjusz by way of an old white classic car. I’m not familiar with the make, nor model. Paul is the petrolhead out of either of us, so I wait eagerly for him to correct me. Either way, it was a pretty spectacular vehicle which matched the surroundings of the Old Market Square perfectly. The rest of the wedding party made their way to a waiting coach and head off towards the reception, Paul's survival guide ingrained into my mind with what to expect. As we made our way across the square, we caught a quick glimpse of the happy couple who were having a quick photograph opportunity on the bonnet of the classic car parked in front of the old church on the square. I don’t know the Polish phrase for ‘Get a room’, but I’m sure I heard the locals shout it out a couple of times!

The Hotel Delicjusz was a short half hour coach drive south of Poznan, which gave us a chance to talk about the ceremony and how spectacular it was. It also gave us a chance to discuss Vodka coping mechanisms and the general consensus was to just go with it! Which we did! We also mentioned the customs of the ceremony, which two local lads helped us out with. Michał and Piotr talked about what we could expect, some of things that are usual at Polish weddings. Stephanie and I were fortunately sat next to them at the wedding breakfast as Michał was tasked with interpreting the proceedings as they happened.

After Paul had carried Gosia across the threshold into the main reception room, we were all invited in to meet, greet and provide the married couple with a gift. Gosia was provided with flowers by the women and large vases were at the ready in which to store them all in. Stephanie and I queued to finally greet the bride and say a massive thank you for inviting us - how welcome her family had made us feel and wish the pair of them all the very best as a married couple.

As the formalities died down, we were invited to sit ahead of a seven course wedding breakfast as outlined in Pauls survival guide. We were served with chicken soup, which helps line the stomach for the forthcoming vodka. Shortly followed was a selection of meats, potatoes, other vegetables and salads. Afterwards came a course of small bites, appetizers including some fish dishes which were all explained and identified rather helpfully by Michał and Piotr. During each course toasts would be made, with Vodka and me chasing manically for my fruit juice glass. I might have been feeling rough earlier, but I was back in the game and gratefully so! We had a course of sweets, beautiful, intricately made cakes that tasted as good as they looked and a further course of ice-cream with an assortment of fruits.

All the while that people were eating, the Polish members of the party would spontaneously stand together in song, with their glasses raised. We learnt that this was a song of celebration, sung at weddings, birthdays, christenings and other times of blessing. Everybody sung with gusto and knew all the words, except of course us English onlookers. I felt rather ashamed that we didn’t have anything equivalent but joined in the vital toast part where the word cheers was universally understood.

There were other customs which we joined along with, but wasn’t too understanding of their purpose. For example, a cheer would sound and Paul and Gosia would have to be joined together in a long kiss. All the time people were cheering, the kiss would need to continue, it seemed almost that the cheering would only end once everyone had been satisfied that the kiss had lasted for a significant period of time!

Not everything was unfamiliar. The first dance heralded the beginning of the dancing, we all watched Paul and Gosia dance together as husband and wife before joining in ourselves where the dancing lasted all night - only to be interrupted by further courses of food. At two o’clock in the morning the dancefloor was cleared and a table appeared its place with more soup, succulent gammon and more bread and pickles.

The atmosphere, as you can imagine with so many people content on food and endless supplies of vodka was exuberant, jovial and celebratory. We all joined in the dancing, the chains of people that danced merrily around the room in ways more elegant than the English equivalent. Gosia’s father stopped Stephanie and I and hugged us both, in a thanking gesture that put me in a rather reflective mood. We’d both been made to feel so warmly welcome that we struggled to imagine a situation whereby had the roles been reversed would we be as welcoming back?

Iqbal and I were outside later on that night, or should that be very early the next morning. I’d been feeling fairly humbled anyway and Iqbal and I, as we’ve done before started talking about Rene Descarts, philosophy and the meaning of it all. I even later on that night attempted to write a long winded, though-provoking Facebook status which wouldn’t send, thankfully. But it talked about love being the meaning of life, not religion, nor politics or all the rest of the stuff that we have no real control over. How two people from different lands could meet in neutral territory only because it was a passion for something that led them there in the first place and that love didn’t share borders or something along those lines.

Before I could develop too much of a complex and hate myself and my nationality for our general ignorance, the evening was over - at six o’clock in the morning! It could have stayed on had we wanted it to, but taxi’s had been booked and all the people who were staying around the Old Market Square were due to be taken home. So we did, eventually crawling, literally into bed at six thirty, more or less fully clothed wondering just when we had ever been to a better party!

On the Sunday after the wedding, even though half of Sunday had already passed by the time we had woken up, we were invited back to Hotel Delicjusz for the official after-party BBQ. Stephanie had the foresight to arrange with Michał and Piotr a lift back during the afternoon ensuring that we’d arrive promptly at one o’clock. However, we didn’t wake up until 12:20 wondering what way was up, still drunk and unsure what had been planned or not. We received a telephone call just moments later from Michał saying that they were outside waiting for us and were ready to go! Cue mass panic, mild hysteria and a whirlwind of smeared makeup and lost clothes. We managed to keep Michał and Piotr waiting for twenty minutes as we got ourselves into some form of respectability.

On behalf of Stephanie and I, a huge thank you to both Michał and Piotr for your help that afternoon - and a big apology for keeping you both waiting!

Evidently we were not the only couple feeling much worse for wear. Pretty much everyone was feeling the same way. Armed with my rejuvenated belief in hair of the dog, I attempted to level myself out with a beer and a little bit of food which was once again in vast supply. It was pretty much in vain as I was very much still a broken man. But around the tables in the courtyard of Hotel Delicjusz, stories and broken memories of the night before were being shared and remembered. Making the feeling sorry for myself a little more easier to bare.

After the BBQ, Stephanie and I head back to the Don Prestige Residence and prepared for our final evening. We began with a quiet meal on the square before meeting up with those still left standing. We shared more celebratory drinks and said farewells that all endings to all things good eventually brings.

I wrote another Facebook status on my last night from my iPhone, but the Facebook gremlins swiped it as they did the day before. It wasn’t quite as alcoholically motivated, but said that if we, as people are measured by our friends and family, how successful does that make us? If anything, what does it say about us? More importantly, what does it say for Gosia and Paul? They truly have some amazing, kind, warm hearted people around them that I would be proud to call any one of them a friend. Stephanie and I are lucky too, we have people like that in our lives and a lot of our success as a couple is due in part to them.

In summary, what can I say that I haven’t already said? Stephanie and I were invited to a friends wedding, a friend that I knew very well for a short space of time and haven’t seen as much as I should. A friend whose wife and family treated us as one of their own and shared their celebration with us as warmly, kindly and as hospitably as anything we’ve experienced before in our lives.

We went to Poznan for a celebration, but it is the people of Poznan that should be celebrated. We’ve had our eyes opened to a different culture, a different way of living and a different way of treating the strangers that we meet through life.

Stephanie and I would like to thank Gosia, Paul, their friends and family for having us and making us feel so welcome. We would like to wish you all the very best in married life and know that with the support and love you have around you - it will be amazing, just like your wedding!



Wednesday, 4 July 2012

On Being Reunited with Strangers

The Bicycle Man

Last year I took part and completed successfully the Wordpress post-a-week challenge which saw me write 52 blog posts over each week of the year. In 2012, as we cross over into the second half of the year I've found myself lapsing back into 'lazy blogger' mode, posting sporadically and with time growing ever more distant between posts. That’s not to say that I’ve been idle, far from it - I made a promise and I’m trying my damndest to keep it.

The promise, made via this blog towards the end of May, was that I would finally find my way back into a project that I also started last year. A project in which I attempted to write a novel, which was inspired by a photograph of a man I took; a man who sat gazing out to sea at Riverside Country Park – a place right on the end of the causeway there known mysteriously as ‘Horrid Hill’.

What was he thinking as he gazed out at beyond? Only God will ever know. But I took a wildly fictitious guess - which subsequently grew into a mystery that spans over eight decades and is woven around a modern story of complex relationships; a mixture of love, loss and betrayal whilst taking a look at how effectively people really communicate in a world where everyone seems to be connected.

I started writing with blind enthusiasm, let words spew forth from my mind and onto my computer in a series of connected sentences that kind of made sense and my manuscript began to grow and develop.

But then Phoebe came along in November last year and ‘The Bicycle Man’ hit the brakes. On return to work we had the crisis with our client roster and the uncertain future of our employment. Then this year when the crisis passed with a satisfying resolution I began the epic build of three websites for my uncle Matthew and the fine people at King’s Church Medway who do so much for their local community.

All the time, in my mind at least, whilst I was busy with other things, I’d think about the characters I’d invented. I’d wonder how the mystery I started painting would finish and if Ian Parsons, the man whose world was turned upside down in my novel under construction – whether he’d ever find the answers he was looking for and Pete, would the mystery of his disappearance so long ago ever be solved?

I am a strong believer in things happening for a reason, and my six month writing gap is no exception. That time was spent in thought and reflection. It allowed me to build up a stronger desire not to fail and to finally complete what I started. It also allowed me space, so that when I went back, I could see the little holes that had come from such a spontaneous explosion of words, letters and ideas that didn’t quite make sense.

When I printed out what I’d written in preparation to start where I left off, I reread my work in a new light. The names and sounds were familiar but the journey so far left me, as a reader excited and wanting to know what happens next. Those thoughts and feelings have done nothing but increase my confidence and desire to see this project to the very end.

Which is where my promise finishes too. I will get to the end, of that I’m certain. But anything that happens after that – well we can all dream, can’t we?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Dark and Broken Heart

My Ellory Collection

Long term readers of this blog will know how much I enjoy reading and that my current favourite author is a writer named Roger Ellory. He is the author of nine previous novels and three novellas, most of which I have reviewed through the pages of this blog. Last night I turned the final page of his latest novel “A Dark and Broken Heart” and in keeping with blog tradition - I share with you my thoughts.

On the inside cover of the book is the usual synopsis, which is repeated on Amazon as the book description. It is deliberately vague, gives nothing away, but a small taster of what we eventually learn through the first few fast-paced chapters about the main protagonist Vincent Madigan and his debt to the local drug king, Sandiá who rules the roost in East Harlem and Madigan’s plan to finally get his life back on track.

Vincent Madigan has a simple idea, take four hundred grand from the thieves who stole it in the first place. But this is literature and so things go inevitably wrong - spectacularly so. Madigan is forced to kill his co-conspirators and a child is shot amidst the carnage that ensues. Now not only is Sandiá after him, but the might of NYPD are too.

Just like the book cover and just like Amazon, that’s all I am going to give you. Because what happens next is a thrilling rollercoaster of shock and surprise, twists that hook you in from the off and doesn’t let you go until literally the last word of the book.

As a crime thriller, that is all you ask for, all you need, the reason why the genre is so universally popular.

But as with any of Ellory’s previous novels, there are bigger questions buried within the plot. About man, about human nature, about the nature of evil and what drives people towards unspeakable deeds.

Last time around, in the novel Bad Signs, we had Elliot Danziger, a man that was just plain evil and questions were left asked; are people naturally born bad, or does something break inside, like a switch? Whereas this time, the issue is not quite so black and white, more of a deep expanse of grey.

We are as readers, when the back cover has shut, are left in conflict. Just like we were in A Quiet Vendetta with our dear old friend Ernesto Perez.

Is Vincent Madigan an evil man or a victim himself, of life, of the system, of decisions that were made at the time that with the benefit of hindsight were later proved wrong? Deep and searching questions which will divide opinion in each one who reads it, but another set of questions that are left on purpose by an author whose intricate weaving of brutal realism vs the very nature of what drives human behaviour has become something of a trademark.

Another reviewer commented on A Dark and Broken Heart, called it “classic noir” and it is. A Dark and Broken Heart is a deeply dark and penetrative view into the underworld. The action is violent in places with dialogue as gritty and harsh as the New York environs descriptively brought to life by the author - which is a tribute by Ellory to all of the things that interest him; American history, American literature, music, film and television with subtle references throughout the novel in homage to those very things that inspire him to write.

How that inspiration can manifest itself in people and what they achieve just by taking the lead from something or someone they have enjoyed or listened to is incredible. After ten novels, ten very different stories and an vast array of memorable characters that live long in the memory, Ellory continues to be a master of his craft.

As a long term fan of his work it has been a great privilege reading and championing the books that he has written. And whilst writers in general inspire me, I’ve a particular respect and affinity for Ellory’s work that is difficult to explain. But what I need to do now, just like he has with his own work is take that inspiration and turn it into something real and tangible.

I’ve my own ambition to write, a very different style and a very different story. But it’s not there yet and it’s nowhere near it, but all the time there are people out there showing that it is possible, with graft and craft and no shortage of talent - anything is possible.

In the meantime, do yourself a favour, visit a bookstore, online or on the high-street. Buy a damn good book from a damn good author and tell the next person all about - just as I have.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Case Study (Part 6) - kings-medway.co.uk

King's Church Medway

On Sunday, 3 June 2012, amidst the pomp, pageantry and celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. King’s Church Medway were having a minor celebration of their own - a launch party of not just one, but three brand new websites which concluded four months of hard work and effort by  everyone involved in the project.

If you have followed the journey through my series of case-study blog posts, you will know that I asked to be involved after seeing a new website launched at the beginning of the year by the existing media team and publicly advertised by my Uncle Matthew, who is pastor of the church.

I felt that the website was of insufficient quality, that it suffered from a lack of direction and a confused message. It was also blatantly clear that it had been built by someone with little experience and who had gotten by with a huge amount of commitment and enthusiasm.

You’ll also know that I started this project by understanding more about the work done by the church, by its people and discovering that they are not just confined to a place of worship - meeting once a week on a Sunday. They are a community of people whose lives intertwine, mixing socially whilst working to provide a better future for the underprivileged in Medway and even further afield than that - right across the globe.

My mission then was simple, to take that commitment, that enthusiasm and raw attitude of “anything is possible” and blend it with a vision of my own, whilst equipping them with the means to carry the project forward with a more professional mindset and structured methodology.

So then, Sunday, I was asked to stand in front of my Uncles congregation and present to them the three websites that we had built:

www.kingschurchmedway.org.uk
- The site built for the church, for the people of the church. Learn more about them as a group of people, as a group of Christians and how King’s Church Medway binds them together individually and collectively in their everyday lives.

www.caringhandsuk.org.uk
- The site built for the homeless charity that the church founded. Learn more about the services that they provide, see evidence for yourself of how peoples lives have been changed and how you too can help make change happen.

www.lightthewayuk.org.uk
- The site built for the overseas mission team that operate out of the church. Learn more about their work across the globe; in India, the Philippines and next year’s mission to Guyana in South America. Learn about volunteer opportunities and how to contribute to a mission in other ways that will benefit them and the people they aim to help.

Initial feedback has been very positive. When I brought each site up onto the screen during my presentation there were audible sounds of “ooh” and “ah”, which was highly encouraging. People I spoke to afterwards were also incredibly complimentary about the websites and the work that had been done.

I personally am very proud of everything that we have achieved to date and I am looking forward to spending some more time with the media team establishing the websites and the roles of the individuals involved as the project continues to evolve and move onwards.

Working with family can perhaps be difficult, the professional boundaries that you wouldn’t cross ordinarily simply don’t exist - so you can be more open about any issues that may be faced.

During the entirety of this project my relationship with my uncle has always been nothing but brilliant, indeed with all of the people at King’s Church Medway. They have been receptive to my views, to my ideas and taken on board most of my considerations and have understood the reasons why I might want to, not put a damper on their ideas, but see things in a different, more professional light.

The one main sticking point we had throughout was in the execution of the Caring Hands in the Community welcome video. I personally felt the messaging was slightly cloudy, elements had been added for the sake of adding them, when perhaps they were at the ultimate detriment to the end product. However, having voiced my opinion they considered their own and moved forwards with how they saw fit. It is never a case of one party being right, the other being wrong. It is about taking on board advice that has been given, in the intention that it was intended and stepping back for a minute and looking at the bigger message and asking “does the message make sense?” And “Is it being told in the clarity that is required?”

Building three websites from scratch, from a blank piece of paper takes time and effort, mistakes will be made along the way and adjustments will need to be made to ensure their ongoing effectiveness. One of the reasons for blogging about the process is learning to identify where I can improve and what lessons I can take with me into my next project.

Working with people who make not share my knowledge has been easier than I believed it to be. It isn’t testament to my ability, but testament to the people I worked with and their determination to listen and take on board what is being taught. I’ve learnt that inundating people with messages when things don’t go right is not the way to communicate effectively - not working in the same building as the people you are working with has its limitations, and it is managing those limitations which proved to be the hardest challenge of the project.

By condensing my thoughts into a single email, or presenting them at a hastily arranged meeting is easier than sending multiple messages and expecting someone at the other end to immediately understand my viewpoint - let alone take the correct action from them.

One thing that is for certain, whatever happened during the journey, we’ve all learnt something - which sometimes is a greater gift than the end result.

But the real hard work starts now - in keeping the websites maintained in the manner in which they were built. Ensuring that the integrity remains the same and that the high standards are kept.

Over the coming weeks I hope to run a series of workshops which will enable everyone involved to learn some of the things needed to keep that integrity in place, how to blog effectively, how to use Social Media with an identified tone of voice and for the media team how to manage the website without the long sought after CMS in place.

So finally, there we have it! Four months, three websites and one point of view - my point of view. It’s now over to you!

Please have a look at the three websites yourself, share anything you may like, connect with King’s Church Medway, Caring Hands in the Community or Light the Way on any of their social channels and most importantly let me know what you think!

Monday, 21 May 2012

News, Views and a Promise

Some news from me

In danger of slipping into the abyss that is known as ‘non-updated blog content’, I thought I’d write a short and concise account of just what’s been keeping me away from my keyboard and broken the weekly habit which I’ve so long maintained.

I should first of all congratulate myself on ‘short and concise’. Afterall, those who have read any of my previous blog posts will know that I don’t do short and concise very well! Waffle yes, overthought and over complicated, yes to that as well!

Anyhow, before I get too far into beating myself up, what’s been happening?

The biggest thing? That would be the three websites I’ve been working on with my Uncle Matthew and his colleague Austin. We aim to soft launch next weekend with a formal live announcement a week later.

I’ve actually been invited to stand up and talk about the whole process to the church congregation at the formal launch service. To say that I’m nervous is an understatement! I don’t think I’ve ever stood up and spoken to an audience, let alone nearly two hundred baying Christians! I say that in jest, it should be okay, as long as I can talk as passionately about the subject as I write about it, the message should hopefully come across.

With a sprint race now to the end, it hasn't been a case for me of being away from my keyboard unable to blog. It has been the other way around, chained to the blasted thing instead! I can't complain though, It has been a great experience and I am really happy with how things are progressing. I will of course add a full and comprehensive review of the project as a conclusion to the series of case studies I've written previously so that I can measure what I’ve done and have something that both parties can use to look back and learn from.

At the beginning of May, shortly after my last post, Phoebe turned six months old. Another milestone that measures just how quickly time flies and just how impossible it is to stop, enjoy and appreciate the discovery of life and all of the new things that Pheobe does everyday. Just as Oliver does too, constantly learning, constantly finding new ways to put across his point of view, or tell us something he has done - as well as of course, new excuses for his cheekiness!

It's for those reasons why I’ve loved doing the “Year in the Life” projects, which in Phoebe’s case is now over half-way complete. There was an interesting article last week in the BBC which I share with you here discussing the trend and why this experiment is becoming more and more popular. In the main, it was a load of bullshit looking at the wider social aspect and how people’s perspective has changed and blah blah blah.

The simple reason why people are doing it now is because they can. My parents wouldn’t have been able to do it of me and Jessica because it would have cost them an arm and a leg getting the photographs developed and when they did, they were never sure whether the photograph would come out alright in the first place. I can take 100 photos of Phoebe each day, one is used and the other ninety-nine are disposable. It might be too simple an explanation for the BBC, but it good enough for me.

Whilst all of this has been going on, life, work and the general day-to-day existence I’ve been acutely aware of something nagging in the back of my mind. Finishing the book that I started writing last year has become something of an obsession recently and as soon as the paint has dried on the three websites I’ve been working on, the manuscript will be back out and the mysterious tale of the Bicycle Man will be finally told once and for all!

I promise...

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Gills - End of Season Review

Priestfield

At the beginning of every football season, the vast majority of football supporter will harbour hopes that their team will be victorious, that the end of season will be a celebration of sporting endeavour and an outpouring of pride revelling in a promotion or cup win.

For most however, the reality is somewhat different and the end of season is met with apathy and frustration, whilst looking back and wondering just where the hell it went oh so wrong.

Maybe it isn’t, maybe it is just the way I see things as a long suffering Gillingham supporter and that I’m a unique type of person, blinded by rose tinted glasses with extra thick lenses. After all, on reflection, come August last year I believed that we, as a club had lots to look forward to.

The previous campaign had ended with the Gills in 8th place, just missing out on a play-off spot and with it a chance to return straight back to League One, “where we belong” , the gospel, according to our current manager Andy Hessenthaler and certain members of the home faithful, who still have something of a superiority complex when it comes to our humble League Two opposition.

Last summer was spent shipping out the dead wood left over from previous incumbent; Mark Stimson and his underachieving squad and replacing them with, on paper, players of superior quality and footballing prowess.

Granted, we lost our three leading goal scorers from the season before in McDonald, Akinfewa and Barcham, but with Danny Kedwell and Adam Birchall signing up in replacement, we had two players with plenty of goals in their locker - even if they were relatively unknown quantities at League Two level.

Further to those two acquisitions the management team somehow convinced Charlie Lee and Chris Whelpdale that they should ply their trade for North Kent’s finest and with it, make a temporary step down to League Two - the brief being of course, that we were going up as champions!

The players believed it, the management believed it and so did us supporters, sold once again to hype and expectation. When will we learn?

To be fair to Andy Hessenthaler, two things happened which dramatically affected his preparations and turned the beginning of the season into a funeral wake as opposed to the start of a non-stop party all the way back to the ‘promised land’.

Firstly, we lost our assistant manager, Ian Hendon to West Ham and with it perhaps, the touch of tactical nous that was evidently missing from the dugout for long parts of the season. Secondly, key summer signing Adam Birchall was injured rather innocuously after only five minutes of his debut in a pre-season friendly at Welling, which forced him to miss the season entirely.

We will never truly know what would have happened had both events not taken place, but they did and we had to move on regardless.

On the goal-scoring front, it seems that the loss of Adam Birchall was irrelevant. The subsequent loan/short term strikers that helped fill the void his injury created meant that the club finished top of the ‘goals scored’ league, which wasn't enough, we still finished the season once again, in a good, but not good enough 8th place.

Scoring goals then, wasn’t a problem, we hit six away from home, five goals twice and on numerous occasions hit four and three goals in a match. It was those that we conceded what proved our undoing.

Was it the earlier loss of Hendon, or have we generally got a shit defence?

My answer would be, probably both! Having an unsettled lineup and an established back four hasn’t helped, nor has the whole catalogue of injuries which seem to have befallen the team irrespective of position. Our fullbacks are probably our weakest links, often beaten too easily and lacking pace, which can certainly be said for most of the back line! Andy Frampton was another of those who arrived during the summer, but flattered to deceive and was beset by injuries that ruled him out for one reason or another.

At one stage, we lost an entire team due to injuries and played a string of games with a makeshift side of youth and reserve team players. In fact, it was the emergence of some of these younger players that proved to be the one big highlight of a season that was full of unfulfilled expectation.

Paolo Gazzaniga, Conner Essam, Jack Evans and Callum Davies as well as the steady improvement of Jack Payne. Names of young men with big futures in the game and all, except Gazzaniga are players who have been nurtured and grown up through the club’s academy teams.

The question is, can they improve sufficiently under the current management team?

Andy Hessenthaler was given a three year contract. His brief was to make an immediate return to League One, a league which Hessenthaler feels is our natural level. Except after two seasons, when we should be aiming for consolidation and year on year improvement we have the unappealing prospect of another failed promotion attempt to look forward to.

Last year we wasn’t quite good enough, nor this season it would seem - despite having arguably a far superior team. The success and failure is purely dependant upon the management team whose job it is to organise footballers, to inspire them and to ultimately win football matches.

I’d argue that Hessenthaler strongest strengths lie in his ability to inspire, but is ultimately let down with his organisation and tactical know how. Too often players are played out of position, or played when other, better options are crying out from the bench.

It is easy for us as supporters to sit in the stands watching and passing judgement, moaning on Twitter and online message boards. We don’t know what work goes on behind the scenes so can only judge on a results basis and what we see on the pitch before us.

Despite lighting up the league with the amount of goals we’ve scored, the brand of football currently played at Priestfield is dull and uninspired. Hessenthaler’s predecessor, the much derided Stimson who oversaw our disastrous away record (0 wins in an entire season) - actually played a brand of football that in the most part was enjoyable and exciting to watch. Long ball and kick and hope tactics will only get you so far, which has proved to be the case over the past two years.

The board of directors are therefore facing a pivotal decision.

Do the current management team have what it takes to take the club onwards and upwards? Is it worth investing over the summer in the current management team only to reach October and November no better off than we are now, or is it better to get a new man in with new ideas and let him start from scratch rather than inherit a team that is not his own?

Andy Hessenthaler, whatever happens will always be a man of Gillingham Football Club. He epitomised as a player what it means to wear a Gillingham shirt and we’ll always be grateful for that. There is a new generation of fan coming through the club at the moment who didn’t know Hessenthaler the player and Hessenthaler the manager is struggling to live up to his legendary name.

All of those who knew and remember both, we all want him to be successful, but not at the detriment of a successful team.

Whatever happens, whatever the decision made by the board, we need to get behind the decision. If Hessenthaler stays, it really will be do or die and if he goes, let’s thank him once again for the good times, get behind the new manager and have yet another attempt to secure the promotion we all crave.

Until then we've got the England national team and the European Championships to take our minds of our individual club failings, so if you have just been promoted, you'll soon get a chance to feel exactly like the rest of us do!

EDIT


And so, literally after ten minutes of this post existing live in its humble home of cyberspace, the news on the Official Gills website declares that Hessenthaler has left the club by mutual consent.

Much of what I said above is applicable and they were the reasons ultimately for his demise. He never once did anything wrong, he always had the club at the heart of every decision he made. Luck, judgement, didn't fall for him, sadly and we will always wonder what might have been.

I wish him luck whatever he does next and thank him dearly - for the good times.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Case Study (Part 5) - kings-medway.co.uk

King's Church Medway

It has been nearly two months since I wrote the last part of my series of case studies looking at the project I am currently working on for King’s Church Medway. I’m pleased to say that those two months have not been wasted. We have the skeletal bones of the websites and creative ideas in place, we have a launch date in mind and all hands are on deck adding gloss to make sure that the final products are something that I and more importantly the church can be proud of. With that in mind, I thought that now would be the ideal opportunity to talk about copy.

A website generally has many levels of engagement. You have the ‘bouncer’s’; those visitors who have hit your website by mistake and immediately leave. You have those who arrive at the correct destination, but leave shortly afterwards as the site on first view just doesn’t do it for them. There are people who then arrive to be nosey, looking around the website, looking at the pictures and videos with no real aim in getting something from it - the website content is hopefully interesting enough to keep them amused before they leave and return at some point possibly in the future.

You then have people who have a genuine interest, in something specific. They know about your business, but need to get an answer to one of their questions. Depending upon how long it takes them to find what it is they are looking for you have their attention, before they leave and return again sometime in the future for a similar purpose.

Finally, you have those users who have come across your website with an open mind and sit, read, digest everything before making an informed decision upon whether or not to take that engagement further.

The list above is by no means exhaustive, afterall, we are all individual and all have different needs. We all use the internet in a way that suits us and the information garnered is uniquely digested.

For the three sites that we are currently building we already have a definitive user base that doesn’t fit into any of the types above; that of the church congregation which will use the websites for an entirely different purpose.

In an agency environment we have a highly skilled and knowledgeable team of planners, who look at the makeup of any potential visitor and create a series of persona’s which build up an idea of the type of character who is going to visit the website. The design, user experience and copy is aimed at those people and success is measured by levels of engagement - how long have people stayed on the site for, how many interactions have they made, how many transactions have they completed and so on.

As an organisation King’s Church Medway doesn’t have those resources, so a lot of what we are doing is educated guesswork. I’m working alongside Joel Buckland, a Media Content Producer so together our experience is being used collaboratively for guidance. How we envisage the websites working are as online brochures that show the respective strengths of the three key areas and tell people who don’t yet know about them who they are and most importantly share the good work that they do.

By adding a social layer on top of that, the church congregation can get involved with the respective areas that they have interest in via Twitter, via YouTube and the blossoming community pages of Facebook.

Taking each site in turn, I’d like to look at the style of copy required, the potential areas in which stories can be told via the medium of blog posts and how to use copy to make the website universal to all that come across each site - irrespective of what they arrive originally looking for, or background, in order to help drive engagement.

Kings Church Medway


The main role of the King’s Church Website is to inform people within Medway of what happens inside the four walls of their church building on any given Sunday. Why are they there, what do they do and more importantly, why as a visitor would I want to visit and ultimately give my life to God?

How do you sell that idea and whilst still getting the message across?

By showing!

Interesting video content, relevant imagery and text that is welcoming and friendly. Using King’s Church Medway in the collective sense “we do this, we are, we have, we believe and we feel this way” in a manner that isn’t too scripture oriented and forceful will enforce that feeling of community and belonging.

Fundamentally we are working with a place of worship, with those people in attendance having a strong belief and understanding of biblical text and scripture. A careful balance has to be taken into consideration when writing copy for the website. Too much scripture and forceful evangelism can be detrimental if the visitors to the site are curious and looking to take their first steps into Christianity. But on the reverse of that, by omitting it altogether, fully educated Christians looking for a church in the area will notice a definite lacking in spiritual atmosphere.

On the homepage we have a warm welcoming message from the Pastor, with a brief introduction and the visitors as they make their way through the site are guided into the various aspects of church life. The About Us page, the Locations and Times page and all those that provide visitor information need to contain just that - Information. The what, the when and how. Nothing else is needed. Whereas the areas describing worship, scripture, prayer and the all important introduction to Jesus for those who ask “who is he?” can be slightly more focussed with suitable references from the bible - but alongside a qualified explanation as to what the biblical text is saying.

My message is - showcase that spirit, the atmosphere and sense of community that is prevalent whenever I enter the building. Those people who want to learn about Christianity and to worship alongside those that do will, in a suitable environment - namely Sundays sat in front of people who preach with passion and enthusiasm, something that is difficult to convey simply with the written word on a website. It is getting them comfortably into that environment in the first place which is the most crucial action to achieve.

If I may use an example, a recent FAQ that was written for inclusion into the site:

Q) Do you do Christenings?
A) No. As we are a Bible believing and following church we understand that as the Bible does not lend itself to Christening but to 'full immersion water baptism'.


The answer itself, is quite blunt and comes across in a matter of fact way. From that answer, you can immediately conjure up a string of alternative questions. “Hey, I was Christened as a child, does this mean it is invalid?”, “Why does the Church of England Christen people then?” or something along those lines.

I’ve actually edited the answer below, softening the tone slightly whilst trying to combat those responsive questions.

No, unfortunately we don’t. We use the Bible as our guide and follow the scripture contained. We understand as stated within the scripture that to be Baptised in Christ is to be 'fully immersed in water'. Learn more about baptism, and the biblical references which explain this in more detail here. (with a relevant link to the right area of the website).

Be friendly, be warm, be welcoming and be considerate to the fact that not everyone is on the same spiritual wavelength and could be fazed by facing an immediate onslaught of quoted references. Or worse still, be put off by blunt, inconsiderate responses.

Kings Church Medway, is a lot more than what happens on a Sunday. LOTS of things are happening on a daily basis, with many members of the congregation joining in, whether it be social activities or something a little more philanthropic - things that so far have gone unnoticed. What we have now is a platform which will allow those endeavours to ‘get out there’ and tell people just what it is that the church members are doing.

By adding blog content these stories can be created, shared and used as tools for subtle evangelism.

I may not have a deep religious understanding myself, but I have read books such as Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz and The Cross and The Switchblade by David Wilkerson. Both of these are true accounts of how those authors found Christ and eventually ended up evangelizing the Word of God to people in rough and difficult environments. Neither of which contained much in the way of heavy scripture, but both were told with honesty and conviction that resonated with those who read them and have the power to change the minds of even the most stubborn.

Every member of the church has a story to tell. How they found God and how their life at King’s Church Medway has empowered them as Christians. The stories don’t need to be heavy, just reflective of the truth with honesty and conviction.

Likewise, the other blog that we have implemented is to cover all of the events that happen on a weekly or monthly basis. A Men’s Breakfast with a Guest Speaker for example. A blog will be posted with the times and the details, but follow up blogs can be added under the same stream. Who is the guest speaker, what will he be discussing, why has he been chosen? And afterwards, what was the reaction, how did it go, was his message relevant and did anything good come out of it?

It all adds to a sense of community, belonging to something and doing something great.

Slowly over time, a truer reflection of the church and its people will be built up fostering a greater relationship with the people of Medway and beyond. The work itself is great, but it is selling it out in a way that people can relate to and be inspired to become involved.

Caring Hands in the Community


Homelessness is a worldwide issue and is something that will never go away. But whilst people such as King’s Church Medway operate endeavours such as Caring Hands in the Community homeless people will always have a helping hand.

The role of the Caring Hands in the Community website is simple. To educate people in the issues that ANYONE can face, what it is doing to those who are facing it and what you as an individual or organization can do to help.

The question that is less simple; how is that message put across?

I had a conversation with a colleague in the pub on Friday night, he edits videos for the agency and so I thought he’d be interested in hearing about Joel’s work for the website I’ve been working on. I explained a little bit about the background and was really interested when I told him that it was for a homeless charity. He said himself that he does stuff in London for homeless people and it means something to him, but when I mentioned that it was a Christian endeavour he rolled his eyes and said “Oh, Christians!”.

Whether that response is a measure of general Christian persecution I really couldn’t tell you - but it is a response that is not helpful. Considering the work that the people at Caring Hands in the Community do, I find it rather unfair that people’s spiritual beliefs should take precedence.

The Caring Hands in the Community copy was always going to be very different to the church in any case. A more formal, a more structured tone of voice is required. Consideration needs to be made for the issues that people face, with a sympathetic and understanding tone that isn’t judgemental or based on political opinion. By being neutral in the causes and effects of the problems people face, the website will hopefully reach out to anyone who wishes to help regardless of faith, of political persuasion and social background.

The about us page should emphasis the background of the charity, the links to the church and that the management team are full time members of King’s Church Medway which actively guides the ethos of the organisation - but remind visitors that help and assistance is welcome from anyone regardless of faith. Afterall, it is the people that need help that will benefit the most from a positively engaged website.

All the other pages should detail in facts, cover the information that people are interested in. How they can help and what it is that Caring Hands in the Community do each day. Scripture shouldn’t necessarily be required - if people want to understand the motivation behind the organisation, send them off to the church website which should cover all of that and much more besides.

Finally, as with the King’s Church Medway Blog, the Caring Hands in the Community website will be provided with a communication platform that allows stories to be told. Whilst much of the blog content will be more formal; a review of day to day happenings, a journalistic style report of Police, or outside organisation visits and outcomes from those meetings, which will act as a nice contrast to the stories of clients that have visited and shared with members of the team.

Some stories will be sad, in fact they will be damn right depressing. But what is more depressing than a story left untold? If one person reads it and makes a donation or volunteers to help off the back of it then it will be all worthwhile. Other stories may well be uplifting and will possibly restore people’s faith in humanity let alone God - again making that investment all the more worthwhile - and justifiable.

Light the Way


The Light the Way website, although smaller in anticipated user base has probably the widest target demographic. When King’s Church Medway go overseas on one of their missions, they “Light the Way” and have done for the past few years via the Philippines, India and have already scheduled Guyana for sometime next year.

It is for those very reasons that we can expect people from all over the world to visit the Light the Way website.

Just as homelessness is an issue that blights society, some of the projects that the Light the Way team have been involved in have changed lives for people who miss the things that we take for granted.

Working with specific charities, it is an opportunity to celebrate those partnerships. Who have we worked with? How did they help us, how did we help them? There is no shortage of achievement to be proud of and to shout about - such as the installation of solar panels, rebuilding school classrooms, installation of fresh drinking water facilities. Just a few of the achievements that the team have listed to date!

As a visitor to the website you’ll also want to know to where they have been, how they got there, what did they do when they arrived and how was their involvement measured in terms of legacy for the people they left behind.

Most importantly, how can I help next time around - better still, can I take part?

Whilst there are elements of the website that need to be written respectively, just like the site above when discussing the issues that people face, there is a chance for a spot of light heartedness. Organisation of these trips takes time and effort and a sense of humour is occasionally needed, but the team that go, go with a sense of camaraderie and companionship with the knowledge that they are going to better the lives of many.

Let people know that they are more than welcome to join in, take part, make a change themselves, but in the full knowledge that they are going on a Christian sponsored ministry and with that comes certain responsibilities, even if that faith isn’t quite shared.

Just like Caring Hands in the Community there are stories that need to be told surrounding peoples circumstances, but there are also stories to tell as tourists, such as finding yourself in Manila, or India and not understanding the language and how that barrier was overcome. Lost bags, misunderstandings and even drive-by robberies, all things that can happen to tourists irrelevant of the reason behind their visits.

The main thing again is honesty and showing a true reflection of the work that is being done and what it means to be a part of a worthwhile cause. Inspire someone to take part as these opportunities don’t come along often, or are often exclusive - whereas “Light the Way” is open to all.
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