Month: November 2019

Fight

I can remember the jeering, the cajoling and the pushing, a cacophony of noise and blurs as we got pushed together in the long grass. I can’t see the faces but I know I recognised most of them, I was first to get to the agreed place and then all of a sudden more faces and my opponent is before me and it’s all happening so quickly and I don’t really know what to do. I can remember the stomach clenching fear and nerves that made my skin jitter, and fighting the desire to vomit. Senses heightened, adrenalin coursing, fight or flight instincts pinging loudly around my brain. I did not want to be there but knew I couldn’t be anywhere else.

The challenge had been laid down that morning. I had reacted to yet another incident and snapped. The deed was done, the time and place named. My first fight.

I was all of 8 or 9 years old, standing in the patch of long grass just outside the school gates. Looking back now I wonder if it was parents that rushed over to split it up as I don’t remember much about how it ended.

All I can remember is standing there waiting, then he was there, and then it started and the sudden pain as I doubled up and struggled to breathe, one punch to the stomach was all it took. I fell to the ground to protect myself, a few kicks maybe landed whilst I was there but then somehow I was getting up and running away.

I’ve not been in a fight since.

I sometimes wonder how I would react now. Back then, as a weedy little kid, I wasn’t confident at all, being more of a book worm than an athlete. I still am, but I’m also a large man, just over 6′ tall, heavy built, and part of me hopes that’s enough to put off any random altercations because, frankly, if someone did throw a punch at me, I have no idea what I’d do.

In my mind I’d react with speed and precision, I’d block or duck out of the way, throw a counter-punch whilst simultaneously moving my weight to make sure my next movement would put my opponent on the ground with a simple trip. I’ve watched UFC, I know the theory of how this would work, yet I get the feeling that the reality would be very different.

In reality I’m unlikely to have the cat like reflexes that I imagine, so I’ll get hit, my body will freeze in shock and denial as the adrenalin floods my system at which point I’ll either turn and run or try and tackle the person to the ground so they can’t punch me again. Hopefully there my, er, superior weight will be in my favour.

But really, I just hope I never find out.

Love

It is rightly hard to put into words.

It can be raw, deep, and fleeting, all at the same time.

It can bring comfort, joy, security, and a sense of quiet peace to your life.

It doesn’t matter where it comes from, and I’ve found it best not to question it too strongly.

And no, I can’t explain it to you, not properly.

And as cliched as it is, once you’ve found it you’ll know and you’ll realise how much it means to you.

Once you have it, you’ll find the world changing around you in the best of ways.

There are many forms of love, mostly when we think of love we think of partners and the emotional connection they share, or perhaps the love of a caring family is the first thought in your mind, or yet still the trusted love of kinship with your closest friends.

A few years ago I made a point of telling all the people in my life that I truly care about, that I love them. It sounds easy but it really isn’t, which is awful to realise, awful to hit that moment and find yourself a little bit tongue tied and unsure if you should say it and what will the other person think and so you stutter and fumble your way throughout.

But like most things, with practice it gets a lot easier.

And that’s the thing, the more you say it, the easier it gets, and the more you put it out there, the more you get back. It’s a wonderful circle, and given how much hatred we see on TV these days, all over the news, in the media, on social media, I think we all need to put out MORE love to try and get things back in balance.

And you, dear reader, in my own way I love you too, I love you for taking the time to visit this little corner of the internet and reading these words.

Game

Our two dogs have a number of chew toys. Occasionally we will buy them something nicer, an antler perhaps, to chew on. Their breed does a lot of chewing and they have powerful jaws so antlers are the choice du jour.

There are two dogs, so we buy two small antler (parts, it’s not a full on antler getting thrown about the living room!), so they each have one. Of course that’s not how it works.

How it works is that, for some reason or another, one of the antlers is deemed the favourite and then they spend hour after hour trying to trick each other into giving it up.

Dave usually gets first shot at it as he is the one who chews the most, which means Sasha then spends her time picking up all the other toys and nudging Dave to get him to play. As soon as Dave drops the antler to start playing with Sasha, she quickly shakes him off, grabs the antler and runs off.

Every time.

And then, despite the fact that Dave is a far bit bigger and stronger than Sasha and could, quite easily if he wanted, get it back from her, he doesn’t. He just stands about a metre away from her and whines. And whines, and whines, and slowly works up to a full bark.

Which, of course means, that we need to intervene, retrieve said antler from Sasha, distract her by getting her up on to the sofa for cuddles, so Dave can be left in peace to chew his favourite antler.

Repeat. At least three or four times a night.

It’s all part of how they play and interact, and this little game, once you learn it, has tactics and strategies and different outcomes depending on what pieces are in play. It can be quite complex for something that is driven by base instinct.

I’m not that into games myself, certainly nothing in depth. I have a Playstation 4 but tend to only play sports games; football (soccer), racing, beat ’em ups, nothing that requires a deep level of knowledge to pick up and start playing as my motivation for play games is never to learn something new, it’s to distract myself and let my brain relax a bit.

I think that’s why I’ve never gotten into games like Call of Duty, and it’s certainly why the more involved board games leave me a bit bored. All those rules!

I don’t think it’s just instant gratification that I seek either, I have a few games on my phone and they mostly get played during my commute on the way home, a way to decompress with some mindless nonsense.

Which I guess is all part of gaming oneself, literally using games to reset my mood and my emotions, to give myself a time to relax a little. It usually works, although sometimes a little too well when a ‘quick game’ turns into a couple of hours but then isn’t that the point, a game should be something that’s fun, something that you enjoy, and if time isn’t flying when you are playing your favourite game then maybe it’s time to find another?

Party

Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999, sang Prince.

Which would mean ditching our smartphones, not playing Crazy in Love, or Uptown Funk, and I’m not even sure I want to contemplate the fashion choices we’d be subjecting ourself to once more.

I bought the single, 1999, when it came out. It wasn’t my first foray into the music of Prince but it was the one that got me hooked and delving back through his previous albums. Years later, when it was 1999, with the millenium looming it re-entered the radio playlists and made me think back to my childhood parties.

There are photos of my first few birthday parties, typically just me and a couple of friends (Alan and Iain) and a homemade cake. A few years on as we hit the final years of primary school, birthday parties were marked by what we called ‘record nights’. A gathering of boys and girls, and you brought your LPs and singles. Food and juice, and the first venturing into games like spin the bottle.

We were so young, and it wasn’t until one specific party where, for whatever reason, that everyone played along. Previously, spin the bottle had led to being shoved into a cupboard with a girl you knew but didn’t like, or knew and liked a lot but you knew she was ‘getting off with’ someone else, so nothing much happened except some embarrassed giggles. God help you if you got shoved in there with your childhood crush which rendered you a blushing mute.

That party though, the one that changed things, meant that my first kiss with a girl happened in the dark. To my shame, my memory won’t let me remember who it was, but like everyone else, as we exited the cupboard to giggling exclamations from our friends, we broke off into our own little boy/girl splits and confirmed that yes, we snogged but no, no it wasn’t a frenchie.

And we all did it, random couple after random couple spun that bottle and entered the cupboard, did the deed, then walked out again and, after that, it all started to change. Soon there was talk of boyfriends and girlfriends, snogging became a past time, that open mouthing of each other for tens of minutes on end until you got the much heralded badge of pride, lock jaw, because you’d been going at it for so long.

Parties like that dwindled away for me through secondary school as my group of friends chopped and changed. There were Christmas dances at school, and other gatherings, but it wasn’t until I went to college that the notion of parties rolled around again.

These were entirely different beasts, for a start alcohol made an appearance, the music was louder and typically it was merely the precursor to heading out at midnight to the Tunnel or Sub Club for further debauchery. But that’s enough about that, my parents read this ya know!

And now as a mature adult (stop laughing at the back) parties are now things held to mark an occasion, not just because it’s the weekend. Engagement parties, Christmas parties and the like. Except, for the most part, we stopped calling them parties.

For example, every December 27th, me and my closest friends gather and spend time together, eating, drinking, laughing, playing games. It’s a party in all aspects except name. And it is the best of times, and certainly my favourite day of the festive season.

The years churn on and my niece has kickstarted the cycle of parties once more. These days they take place in play centres, safe spaces where the kids can run and jump and dance and eat cake. Which really isn’t all that different to how things used to be. And that’s beauty of a party, it’s not time based, and whilst the activities and musical backdrop may change, and lord knows the fashions have, it’s still a time to be happy in the company of friends and family.

So, here’s to the party, may it always evolve but never change.

After all there’s only one approach that has always, and will always apply, right?

Party on, dude!

Animal

I’ve always enjoyed nature documentaries. Admittedly in the UK we are especially spoiled by the wonderful gift that is Sir David Attenborough. For many people my age we grew up with his voice resonating.

Before that there was Animal Magic with Johnny Morris, another advocate who taught us so much whilst making us laugh as well.

And of course like many children I grew up with pets, two little remember tortoise called Jack & Jill, and my still missed best pal Sintra. Countless goldfish and the odd hamster too, of course.

That early fascination with animals has remained with me, and my most typical reply to the question of “if you could do any job in the world?” is always something to do with animals, either working with them in a zoo (the childhood dream), or these days running a sanctuary of some sort.

You may have noticed that I now live with two dogs. This has, oddly, meant that watching any TV featuring animals is not really an option, simply because one of our dogs is the friendliest boy in the world and wants to make friends with ALL the new animal friends on the screen and, if he’s especially excited at the prospect, this includes jumping up at the screen itself. Quite simply, we can’t afford a new TV every time Dave (the dog) spies a potential new friend!

Part of what fascinates me the most is just how little we know about these things that we share the planet with. From insects, to birds, to fish, to mammals, we have still barely scratched the surface of understanding.

And what horrifies me the most is watching species die out due to the influence of humans. Recently I spotted a headline that a rare blue breed of parrot was no officially extinct

How many in my lifetime

Some animals have been saved from such a fate, but the more this happens, presuming we even know about it given how little we really understand about the animal world, the more it scares me.

The planet we live on is so well balanced and inter-connected, and the dominate species is the one wreaking the most havoc and destruction.

Shame on us.

Renovation

The title of my blog has been Happily Imperfect for some time now. I’ve written about this before but since then, things have changed.

The name came about because I am, on the whole, happy with who I am, where I am in my life, and where my life is headed. If anything, the past year or so has made me even happier but ‘Happier Imperfect’ doesn’t really scan… and there’s the rub, since I last wrote about this, almost five years ago, I’ve found myself at place that could simply be described as ‘Happy’ but, again, it’s not the best title for a blog…

Yes, I am happy. Happy with my life. Finally. It feels good to have gotten here, after all it’s taken me a long time, but I guess that’s what life is all about, getting through things, learning, growing, and accepting who I am. And I have.

But there is still a part of me that, whilst I can acknowledge how happy I am these days, is always wondering about a tweak here and there. If anything my advancing years are pushing me towards this as well, my health will become increasingly important as I head towards 50 years old (wow that’s so weird to write yet it’s not that far away really) and so I still find myself looking to make small changes and tweaks. I’m also happy that that is also part of who I am.

I’ve always thought this way, I accept that life is what it is, that I’m not perfect and that no-one is, but I don’t ever want to stop trying to make things better for myself as I know that makes things better for my loved ones. A wonderfully virtuous circle, no?

I am happy where I am today, I am at my happiest, my most content, my most comfortable, and it feels like the jigsaw pieces of my life have all neatly slotted into place again. I feel whole and complete.

But life continues to move forward and give us challenges. Yesterday my doctor confirmed that the pain I’ve been experiencing in my lower stomach was a mild Inguinal Hernia, it’s not serious and will heal itself with a little gentle help from me, but it reminds me that my body needs to be taken better care of or such things will become all the more frequent as I head into the next, exciting, decade of my life.

I thought that turning 40 would be the kick in the pants I needed to get my health sorted out and, thinking back, I probably thought the same when I turned 30. Neither happened, and even more recent efforts and dedications at the gym were never fully committed. Looking at this body though, and it’s growing list of aches and pains and I know it’s time to renovate as best I can.

I’m not quite sure what that means just yet, as ever I know the basics but finding the constant commitment is always a balance and it’s here I’m focusing. How can I maintain the effort needed for, say, six months (and why am I starting now, with the decadent indulgence of Christmas ahead of me!)? I don’t know yet but that’s half the fun. Figuring it out.

And it’s much much easier when you are already happy.

So this is not going to be a renovation project of a sad dilapidated body, rather it’s just a few tweaks on what I hope are some good solid foundations.

Fingers crossed.

Recycling

Every little helps.

It’s a reasonable maxim to live your life by; save a little money when you can, eat a little less of the bad things and exercise a little more than you do to stay fit and healthy, make a little gesture to brighten the day of a stranger, and so on and so on. A little at a time. It all helps.

It’s also a phrase to hold on to in the growing clamour around the state of the world we live in, the damage we all do to the environment every day, not to mention the lies and misinformation that are spread, for some reason, by people who seem to be happy to let the world burn.

As has been said elsewhere, why are we even arguing about this, the WORST that can happen if we all do something is that the world is a better place for all of us?

At home we recycle as much as we possibly can and when we are shopping and living life we try and avoid single use plastics or anything that isn’t easily recycled. It’s not easy, compromises need to be made, but these too are little things that aren’t, and shouldn’t, be a blocker for what is a wider goal. We get our milk and fresh orange delivered from a local farm to us in glass bottles. We buy glass jars and bottles of condiments where we can, we use our own bags when we go shopping, picking loose fruit and veg over pre-packed bags.

Every morning I use my reusable mug for a takeaway coffee, for my lunches I tend to only eat in places that use paper bags, or have a recycling scheme in place, and the more I look the more I see opportunities to buy smarter which means I’m recycling less and less.

It can be done, it takes effort.

It’s good to see the big supermarket chains slowly getting on board with this too, offering better alternatives, even in little ways. Replacing the free plastic bags available when you are picking your vegetables with paper based alternatives, is one recent example I’ve seen.

Every little helps.

And yes, I believe all of this, the small changes made in stores, and the effort we go to to recycle at home all make a difference. I know a lot of people don’t bother because “what’s the point?” and cite things like how it’s industry and government that needs to lead the way, and I agree they should be. But they aren’t, not yet at least.

So, until then, if we all do something, anything, to help, no matter how small then surely that has to be a good thing. It’s better than nothing.

Start small, read up on what you can and cannot put in your local recycle bins, or be more mindful when you shop, that’s all it will take. Like me you’ll find that one small thing will lead to others.

And, after all, every little helps, right?

Beverage

I’m on my way to work. I step off the bus and head for the same location as I have these past four years. As I enter, if she’s working, Alice says hi and takes my precious travel mug from me, and starts to prepare my … wait for it, large skinny, sugar-free vanilla, latte.

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted, more that I like routine, and as this coffee house is on my way to the office, it’s a convenient place to stop.

Isn’t that what an addict would say?

I’ve tried going cold turkey, both by choice and by happen-stance, neither times were particularly fun and both resulted in a splitting headache by the early afternoon.

At a previous job I drove to work, parked in the car park and walked into the office, usually one of the first people there, my first port of call was the filter coffee machine. Again, it was routine; take off my coat and hanging it up, retrieve laptop from bag and start it up, open drawer and remove mug and head for the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen I’d set up the coffee machine and wait for it to filter through to the pot. Just me, in silence, almost like a meditation, listening to the quiet gurgling of the machine, and the first tell-tale drip drip drips.

Rumour has it that, as people started to appear in the office, they’d check to see if I’d had my coffee before approaching me. I am very OK with this. It’s not like I was grumpy until I’d had a coffee, more that I like to have my moment with my favourite beverage.

Growing up, coffee was a constant, the only hot drink I recall my Dad ever drinking. My Mum was all tea, and the occasional hot chocolate which, given my Father’s sweet tooth I have to presume he also indulged in, is still something I have now and then.

I take my coffee with a dash of milk and a sweetener, the same as my Dad. For a while I switched to black coffee for no other reason than securing a source of milk in an office environment was always a bit tricky. These days, with someone else making my first coffee of my working day for me, it’s a little more exotic.

Is it an addiction? Perhaps. I know my limits though, and tend not to drink coffee after about 5pm, lest I be awake at 2am and ready to take on the day!! I also try not to have more than four or five cups throughout the day, most days I have three which I think is a reasonable balance., right?

Science says otherwise but that was yesterday, and no doubt tomorrow we will be told that no caffeine should be consumed. Wait a week and we will be told that, actually, a few cups a day is perfectly fine but no more than eight.

I’ve tried tea a couple of times, builder’s tea I guess you’d call it. The first time I was on holiday with a friend and his parents in a holiday resort in Anglesey. Few memories remain of that week; cassettes of Soul II Soul and Bomb The Bass on rotation on my walkman, snogging a goth girl who smelled like peaches, and drinking a cup of tea as I was too polite/shy to say no. It was an odd week.

More recently I tried it again, having spent many years treating the drinking of hot water and leaves with disdain. I retain that view still, tea and I do not get along.

Aside from coffee, I drink about three to four litres of water a day as well – the joys of being on a diuretic – and occasionally will have a can of something fizzy. We get fresh orange juice delivered from a local farm, as well as milk, each week, and that’s about it. I’m partial to the odd glass of wine with a nice meal, and will happily spend an evening in the company of friends drinking beer, or perhaps a gin (and after that, who knows, cocktails?!), but my beverage of choice is, and always has been, coffee.

I wish it was better for me, I wish I could drink it after 5pm – and no, decaff doesn’t work, my brain seems to work on the fact I’ve had coffee, not the amount of caffeine I’ve ingested – but part of me doesn’t care about any of that.

The only thing better than the smell of freshly ground coffee, is the smell of freshly made coffee. Whilst I’ll occasionally indulge in a seasonal special, as offered by the large coffee chains around the world, I’m just as happy to make a mug of fresh coffee at home, sit on the sofa with a dog at my side and take 10 minutes out of my day to just enjoy.

Addiction? Routine? Whatever.

All I know right now, is that it’s time for another coffee.

Smells

“In the greenhouse, my grandfather and me. Smells of summer.” – Martin Stephenson.

Is it the gentle aroma you get after a warm summer shower on dry soil? (Also known as Petrichor).

Is it the subtle waft of a perfume from a passerby that transports you to forgotten time and place?

Is it the smell of fried onions, or grilled bacon, that dances on your tongue?

My sense of smell isn’t the greatest, I don’t think, I mean I’ve never had it tested so it might well be as good or as bad as anyone else, but as I don’t tend to remember smells, and don’t tend to use them the way I use imagery and words as a way to remember things, it’s fair to say that my olfactory system is one of the lesser appreciated.

Or perhaps it’s because I take it for granted.

But then isn’t that the same for all of the wondrous things our bodies can do, things we barely notice from day to day, until they start to fail (I write this with a suspected hernia, so perhaps my awareness of failing bodies is a little heightened).

Yet it is my sense of smell that I pay the least attention to, my eyesight and hearing seem so much more important in the grand scheme of things. With those two, you have a sense of their slow erosion, the quiet failure of hearing, the blurred vision that older age brings. But those shortcomings are only made real by the knowledge of how you were before.

Is there a way to train your sense of smell? Do sommeliers and aromatherapists go on training courses for this? Are the senses even something you can train, or is an inherent part of their existence down to the fact that they are natural abilities, the effectiveness of which ranges from person to person?

And what would happen if you lost your sense of smell? I know it is linked to how we taste so that would be the most obvious sensation, one which is most frequently given life when you have a bad cold, but what else would we lose?

I think the associated memories would be the biggest loss, the knowledge that a certain flower, or the sea air in a particular part of the world, would no longer trigger emotions and bring those we miss back to us for a fleeting moment, I think that would be the biggest loss of all. Standing on the shore of the Mediterranean after my mother-in-law passed, walking the corridor of the nursing home when my Gran left us.

Of course it is fitting that our senses carry such power, and the more you pay attention to this the more you see it throughout every day. Tomorrow, try and notice how many times people comment on the way something smells, it’ll surprise you.

And the more I think on this, the more I realise how many memories are only heightened by our sense of smell, how the best moments in life are made all the more vivid in recollection; the warming comfort of the first time I held my niece as a baby, the sanctuary and care of the nape of the neck of the one I love. These things are made all the more important and vital the more senses we can attach to them, and it only takes the tiniest scent of them to bring them flooding back into view once more.

Such a powerful sense. I hope it never leaves me.

Childhood

A blue desk, with a flip up lid, painted red in a later life, sitting there looking out through warbled glass.

The smell of a warm wet dog from the back of the car.

Sitting at the top of the stairs whilst my parents and friends talked and laughed late into the night.

My blanket, my panda, my blue horse.

The taste of dog biscuits.

Action Man adventures in the back garden.

The chaos of the primary school playground.

Camping trips and caravans.

The box of old lego at my Gran and Grandpas house.

The click clack of knitting needles, and the rustle of a newspaper.

Walking the nearby woods, chasing the dog.

White bread, green apple slices, butter and sugar; a sandwich for when you weren’t well.

My sister arriving home, swaddled in white cotton.

Cycling home, up the driveway, round the side of the garage, one thump of a front wheel to knock the back gate open.

My old model railroad, roads and grass painted on plywood.

The cupboard under the stairs.

Setting up Hot Wheels running track down both flights of stairs from the top of the house to the bottom.

Visits from family and friends, best behaviours and a smell of polish.

Summer barbeques, juicy slices of melon and marshmallows toasted on sticks.

Winter nights, a crackling fire, roasted chestnuts.

These are the things I chose to remember about my childhood.

All of this and so much more.

All of this to a soundtrack of happiness and laughter.

All of this with a heart full of love.