Monday, October 20, 2014

My private moment of beauty

As fingers flit rhythmically across the digital dance floor of the internet, one rather worrying fact is beginning to emerge.

If you didn't film it, then it didn't happen.

Will future generations completely shed their ability to remember the wondrous feeling of a moment if they are too busy concentrating on the focus on their phone to absorb it?

When we can no longer capture a moment of beauty in our heads and hold onto the feeling of awe that it creates – what exactly do we become?

And what of the anecdote? What of the story? If we cannot remember or validate anything we do without a film or a photograph, then how do we communicate? A night out with your friends telling stories and reliving memories should be face to face, not face to phone. Will we lose the ability to describe something we have seen when all we have to do is push a screen into someone’s face and show them it?

I probably sound like my Dad, right now.

It was a week ago.

A beautiful, if unusually warm, October morning.

The Sun’s insistence on warming the planet, long after it should have buggered off on its annual Skiing trip, continued to radiate smiles upon the people of London as they sped by on their way to the office.

And not just the people.

Outside my office, set into the ground, is a water feature that I've barely even noticed in the past. It is a triangle of about eight water spouts that occasionally jet into life and spray water about half a meter into the air, before draining back into the ground to be recycled. We often take these little features for granted, grumble at their humble size or baulk at the cost of such a non-necessity.

But every now and again we get a glimpse of why we humans need such luxuries. Why a little bit of beauty in our lives can lift us in ways that can never be quantified or labelled with a price tag.

The water was spouting at its highest peak and glistening in the sun, forming a miniature rainbow in the mist that caught my eye and slowed my commuter pace to an amble. If the sight of a knee height rainbow crossing your path can’t, at the very least, slow you down, then what can?

And that was when I noticed the bird.

The bird that reminded me how truly awesome life is.

I'm no Twitcher. I don’t know what type of bird it was; maybe a blackbird, maybe not. Pigeon sized but not pigeon coloured is all I know.

What matters is that I've never before seen a bird having so much fun. Ever.

In and out of the spout it jumped. Back and forth, up and down.

I patted my pocket in search of my phone. I could see a You Tube moment staring me in the face.

And then I stopped.


This would be my moment. My private moment of beauty.

By the time I’d have found my phone and started the camera, the show would be nearly over and then I’d be watching the final part of it through the screen, just like everyone else I ever showed it to.

That wasn't enough. I wanted to enjoy the moment live. So I left my phone in my pocket and just stood in the middle of the street and watched.

And laughed.

If you were walking in London last week, and passed some balding guy with a backpack on, stood by a water fountain laughing – that was me. What you missed, was wonderful.

The bird shook its head in the water. Then turned, lifted its tail and walked backwards into the flow to give its bum the freshen up of its life. It turned towards me, lifted its left wing high into the air and sidled its way back into the water to jet-clean its armpit, before turning around and repeating the process for its right wing.

Happy with its work, the bird had one final dance in the spray and shook itself dry before flying away, framed perfectly under the arch of a tiny rainbow.

It was a moment.

It was my moment.

There is an awful lot of horror in this world of ours. There is evil and there is suffering. But just occasionally, when we look up from our phones and take out our earphones, we can also find beauty.

You just have to look.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The mysterious antics of the midnight sweeper

The pillow had just shaped itself perfectly around my head; the duvet cocooned exactly how I like it.

The swirls of imagination inside my head had slowed.

Heartbeat steadied.

My wife was silently turning the last virtual page on her Kindle.

A deep, soul restoring, sleep was inevitable and imminent.

This was last night, the time on the clock recorded that it was very nearly this morning.

And then…

What was that?” We both asked each other, with the distinct hope that whomever knows the answer is clearly in charge of the situation and would therefore be the one that gets out of bed to sort it out. There had been a very loud smashing of glass – and it was close.

Very close.

Something told me that this one was mine.

I brazenly looked out of the window to see the thing which I dread the most, a Youth! Right outside my house – on my road! Luckily it was alone and not part of a gang and luckier still it didn't see me. I don’t think it would have seen much anyway considering how drunk it was.

I checked around but could see no signs of damage to homes or cars that could explain the distinct noise that we’d heard. Was it just a coincidence that we’d heard smashing glass outside at the same time as an alcohol fuelled young person was passing? If it wasn't him, then what was it?

I bravely waited until the man had bounced and swayed himself out of sight, and then pottered out to have a look.

Under the dim street lights, the road outside looked like Simon Cowell's toilet roll cupboard, it had been layered in diamonds. It twinkled and sparkled so much that I thought for a moment that the stars, in their endless quest to be appreciated, had found a way to get past the light pollution.

Sadly, it was nothing so grand.

It was just glass. Lots of it.

I sighed. There was no way I could leave it. The road was absolutely strewn in a million tyre piercing shards right by, and indeed on, my drive. I fetched the broom.

A car came along, just as I started, and helpfully waited for me to clear a path for him to manoeuvre through. This was fine, because it was very obvious that the road was covered in glass.

However as time passed, I began to feel a little self-conscious. I could see the glass that still needed clearing, but perhaps the drivers couldn't. Perhaps the faces behind the curtain twitches couldn't. 

And if that was the case then all they could see was me in a T-shirt, shorts**, and slippers, frantically sweeping the road at midnight. Quite clearly I looked mad as a box of frogs!

** It’s a very strange and disconcerting feeling when you start wearing pyjamas as an adult male. You find it very difficult to admit that this is what they are – so you have to tell yourself that they are actually shorts and not in any way, shape, or form, pyjamas. Something about the concept of wearing pyjamas reeks of either being a kid again or being very, very old – I don’t know why this is but I do know that, from the moment my kids started jumping in bed with us in the mornings, before I’d had chance to go for a morning visit to the toilet, I was just too uncomfortable without them. I won’t be going into any further detail than that, suffice to say it’s a gentleman thing.

And so I began feeling somewhat silly as I desperately tried to clear up the mess before anybody came walking past, staring at me like I'm an OCD, road sweeping, serial killer”.

And then I went back to the warmth of my duvet, knocking over something that clattered loudly as I tried to feel my way to the bed in the dark. My Wife turned and complained, “But I’m a God-damned glass-clearing hero!” I pointed out, expecting some form of respect or reward for my antics.

“Well, be a f***ing quiet one then, I'm trying to sleep!”

She takes a lot of impressing, that woman.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Because it ain't always bad being a Dad

Being that I've spent the last two posts talking about the difficulties of raising a 12 year old boy, perhaps it’s time I swung that about a bit and talked about the nice bits.

One thing my boy has always had but is just getting better and better, is a sense of humour.

You spend years laughing at your children then, as they mature, you find yourself laughing with them.

I truly love that.

Although, sometimes you still find yourself laughing at them….

Take Father’s Day (or Farter’s day according to the lovely, eye moistening, home-made

card my youngest gave me – I'm fairly sure it wasn't intended but uncannily accurate at the end of the day – this post is not specifically about Jamie’s card or about the boy himself but you can rest assured he has received plenty of attention and fuss away from these pages).

Last Sunday, here in the sun-baked United Kingdom, we celebrated Father’s Day and so I awoke to the excited faces of a couple of kids who’d grown tired of waiting for me to awake naturally. My eldest bounced as he produced the card he’d cycled up to the shops to buy with his own money.

I say his own money, this was indeed the case, but only because the first time he had attempted this purchase with the money his Mother had secretly given him, he’d accidentally spent it on something from the sweet shop instead….

I read the card’s front, confused as to where it was going….

Wondering what the joke’s punch line would be?

And then I opened the card….

There was no punch line, none at all. There was a lovely handwritten message but the joke went nowhere. I turned the card to the back, nothing.

“Odd”, I thought.

I was carefully trying not to look ungrateful when Dan said something that literally made me choke with laughter.

“There was an insert with the rest of the joke on it inside the card, but I didn't get it at all and it wasn't funny so I took it out”

I laughed – I couldn't help it. Who does that? Who buys a card they don’t get and just removes the offending punch line? I laughed again at the thought of it.

Daniel ran off and came back in with the offending insert.

I read it.     "Believe me, Dad, it really hit the spot"

I nearly died.

It’s not the joke itself but the ridiculousness of it. The completely stupidly, inappropriate,  mentalistickness of it (is that a word? It should be). With no understanding that on wrapped cards, the internal message is shown on the back; my Son had blindly bought a card and brought it home. On opening it he’d not only missed the inappropriate nature of a 12 year old saying he was stealing his Father’s beer but then just made the call that the card would be better off without an ending that he hadn't understood.

Love it.

And the best bit? Dan may have misunderstood the joke but he totally knows how to laugh at himself, to recognise when a situation is funny, even if it is seemingly at your own expense. That takes maturity and a good, solid, self- confidence.

And so we laughed at him.

And then we laughed with him.

Both of my two kids may well be little buggers – but they are awesome!