All about Tom

Today is Tom’s birthday. He’s thirteen and growing up too quick. I asked what he wanted for his birthday and he said he just wants money so he can put it towards a new Xbox since his is ‘glitching’ badly. He will get a card and it will be stuffed with cash. I think, sometimes, that all I can give to him is money. Perhaps it is a sign of his age now but he doesn’t seem interested – much – in doing anything other than playing Xbox and going out with his mates. Dad gets relegated to a supporting act; I know this and I expected this, but it still stings.

I still remember the day he was born. Mum went into surgery and left my boy and I for a few hours. I held this new life in my arms and knew that at that moment I loved him unconditionally. I promised, silently, to always love and support him and to do my very best for him. I don’t think I have kept that promise. I wish things were better between us. Due to my job and the rigours of shift work I don’t see him as often as I should. I feel guilt about that but when I do see him its often difficult to know what to say to a teenager. What do you talk about? I don’t feel like we have very much in common and I get a feeling that when we are together he can’t wait to get home again.

Tom is very attached to his mother. We went through an arduous series of meetings with CAMHS to try and understand what is going on in his head. Tom played along but wasn’t invested. I want to push him to realise his full potential but I feel it is too late and he never will. His mother is the primary influencer and, whilst I know she loves him totally I don’t feel she is the best influence on him. I want him to be an independent, adventurous, inquisitive soul but instead he’s a home bird and still essentially attached to the apron strings.

Maybe one day he will reject the status quo and venture out on his own but as I type this, on the thirteenth anniversary of his birth, he won’t even sleep over here or at a friend’s house. We tried to understand why; that was the purpose of the CAMHS meetings but it didn’t make any difference.

What to do, what to do. I feel as if his development is being restricted by his attachment to his Mum. He plays up for her and she panders to him. I won’t and I think that is perhaps one of the reasons why he doesn’t like to stay here. Children need structure and routine. His routine revolves around his bedroom, his Xbox, and staying up until 3am before sleeping all morning and getting up in the afternoon. This whole coronavirus lockdown situation hasn’t helped as it played right into his hands. When he was required to stay in that suited him perfectly. I’d like him doing sports and clubs and activities which don’t consist of playing GTA V until the early hours.

I have to take some responsibility for the situation. When I left his Mum I caused this mess and I have never been able to fix it despite my attempts to do so. I believe we both want the best for him but neither of us can provide it. She lacks the strength to go against his wishes and I lack any influence to push him down a better path.

The future is uncertain but fills me with worry. What on earth should I do about Tom?

Social Media

On 30th December 2019 I posted the following message on Instagram along with a photo of my children and I.

“Happy New Year to all. I’m taking 2020 off social media (here and Facebook). See you in 2021”

I haven’t made it to the end of 2020 without returning to social media, but I have given it a good run. Almost eight months in the wilderness has been revelatory.

I wrote before about life through a social media lense. About how we’re all so glued to a small screen that we miss the big world around us:

Standing there with my boy’s arms around my neck just watching the display I realised that this is what is important. It’s not about what we can commit to electronic memory to be forgotten as soon as it’s happened, it’s about what we can feel and remember. What we can share with those people who matter to us.

So next time you experience something. Next time there is an event. Put away your phone. Hold those who matter to you close, and simply enjoy the sensation of sharing a time and place. You’ll get more from that act of intimacy than you ever will from your Instagram picture or your tweet.

The self-imposed ban gave me an opportunity to reassess what is important in life. These are the things I’ve learned:

Do not judge your popularity by your friends list. Many social media ‘friends’ are just numbers on a screen. True friends will remain true even if they cannot click ‘like’ on your Facebook post.

Do not compare yourself to Instagram ‘models’. For every selfie that makes it onto Instagram a hundred are rejected. People only let you see what you want them to see. If you compare your just woke up bed hair to the thrice-filtered selfie on the small screen you’ll never realise just how beautiful you are.

There is no such thing as a perfect family. For every wonderful day trip there’s five days of domestic chores and workplace boredom.

People are brave from behind their keyboards. Happy to threaten and abuse when anonymous; cowardly in person.

Life is not a popularity contest. Better to have five true pals than a legion of fair weather friends.

Twitter is not life. You’re beautiful regardless of what Instagram tells you. Facebook is irrelevant. You are not your follower count.

Your proudest moment

There are a few obvious milestones in life which people will typically think of as their proudest moment. The birth of a child, for example. Or that child graduating from university. Mine are both too young. These are things which stand out as obvious proud moments and when I sat looking at this prompt I got to thinking. Should I be proud of a birth? My efforts were small compared to the efforts of Mum. She carried baby for nine months and nurtured life. She went through labour whilst I stood and watched feeling foolish. Is that something I should be proud of? Billions upon billions of men have become dads. Proud? Perhaps. Proudest moment? Greatest achievement? Perhaps not.

I considered whether my decision to join the police and my acceptance into ‘The Job’ would be my proudest moment. Of course I was proud! Thousands applied when I did and only 26 were successful. That is an achievement to be proud of for sure but it is just the start of a career which could be stellar or mediocre. Thus far I feel like I fall into the latter and are yet to realise my full potential.

There is one event which stands out for me and it is simple and singular. Personal between me and one other.

One day walking through the town centre doing some shopping; performing general, ordinary day-to-day activities I was approached be a man. He said,

“Excuse me, I am sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you. You see, you probably don’t recognise me but I recognised you straight away. Six months ago you came to my house when I was having a tough time. You sat with me and you spoke to me and you made me feel like I had something to live for. I wanted to end my life that day but you made me stop and consider. Thanks to you I am still here. I cannot thank you enough and I just wanted you to know.”

At that he thrust his hand out and I shook it – bewildered – and he walked away. I didn’t even get an chance to reply before he was lost in the crowds. I never saw him again. It took me some time to remember the day he was talking about but eventually I did and I was able to put a face to a name. I never chased it up. I left him to get on with his life. I appreciated his kind gesture as he appreciated my intervention.

You see, we do things in life that have an impact. My time with this man meant he was still living. He was still alive. Even if I go to my deathbed having never achieved anything in my life and in my career I will always know that once upon a time, through words and kindness, I saved a life.

What are you reading now?

Confession: I thought that this Chris Taylor (the author) was this Chris Taylor, the legendary games developer. Oh how I cringed with embarrassment when I tweeted him! Let’s move swiftly on. What am I reading now?

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise

As a true Star Wars fanboy/nerd/geek I adore everything to do with George Lucas’ epic saga. I recently wrote about my favourite movies and The Empire Strikes Back, the second (or fifth!) movie in the series features in a list of three. I’ve watched all the movies, I’ve played almost all the games, I’ve collected the collecitbles, I have read dozens of Expanded Universe novels, I even named my child Lucas George. I have lived and breathed Star Wars for as long as I can recall.

When I saw this book over on Amazon I immediately clicked ‘BUY NOW’.

Why do most people know what an Ewok is, even if they haven’t seen Return of the Jedi? How have Star Wars action figures come to outnumber human beings? How did ‘Jedi’ become an officially recognised religion? When did the films’ merchandising revenue manage to rival the GDP of a small country? Tracing the birth, death and rebirth of the epic universe built by George Lucas and hundreds of writers, artists, producers, and marketers, Chris Taylor jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how STAR WARS has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long. ‘It’s impossible to imagine a Star Wars fan who wouldn’t love this book. There are plenty of books about Star Wars, but very few of them are essential reading. This one goes directly to the top of the pile’  ~ Booklist

The book starts with Taylor’s quest to find a true Star Wars virgin and his attempts to find one at a screening of Star Wars translated into the language of the Navajo native american tribe. It seems that Star Wars has seeped into popular culture the world over; even people who have never seen the movies can reel off the names of characters, planets, droids and ships. It seems that everyone knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.

If you are a fan of Star Wars and want to understand more of how this project which nobody believed in became a global phenomenon this is a good place to start.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Life is too Sport [Guest Post]

My name is Dominic and I am a 22-year-old male from England. For the past 7 months, however, I have been living in Skåne, Sweden. The reason I came here was due to my universities opportunity to study abroad in my second year. I am studying to become a Physical Education teacher so it was a no brainer to come to Sweden. I am intrigued by their healthy lifestyle and their passion for the great outdoors. You are welcome to read more about me on my blog, as I recommend my introduction post at Who am I?

My semester studying abroad began at the start of the year. I arrived on the 16th of January in Copenhagen and took the short train ride over to Sweden’s third-biggest city Malmö. I was filled with such excitement and nerves… It was a strange but incredible feeling. It took some time for me to get used to my surroundings (not least the cold winter months) but I soon began to realise what a beautiful country it is. Swedes love the sun but even in winter and spring before warm temperatures, they are out and enjoying nature. That is something for sure I want to do and treasure when I return home to the UK.

These winter months and my amazing Skiing trip in Tänndalen now seem a lifetime away, what with the vicious hitting of the Covid-19 pandemic arriving in mid-March. I was devastated then as I worked so hard for a once in the lifetime opportunity, something that I felt was snatched away for me for so long. I had only been here for 2 months, and with the stress of getting used to my new life, I had not explored as much as I had wanted to. The next two months were brutal as the virus was so new, and I was more scared to go outside. I hardly went anywhere.

Eventually, things started to calm down and I could truly start to experience the Swedish summer that was just around the corner. I thought I would be long gone by the time summer had arrived, but what with tighter restrictions in the UK and my original summer plans in the UK affected, it made more sense to stay here. Since then, I have been all over the Skåne county but with many more adventures planned. I have sampled various beaches with warm and cold refreshing dips in the sea. I have been through many forests for hikes and truly experienced what a wonder this country is. I even have had time to pop over to Denmark properly in the cities of Copenhagen and Helsingør.

Although I am having to adapt what I am doing and the opportunities to travel effectively are compromised… I am still living the dream I was working so hard for. To me, that is a relief. It was a difficult first few months and I have not got much time left in Sweden, but I will always treasure these fine moments. Sweden is definitely a must-visit country when you can safely travel and do so!

If you like what you have read, I have written a lot on my blog about my travels and experience abroad. But I also write about other things such as autism, sport an university. I like to write about things that are personal to me but I strongly believe there is something of interest to everyone. So come on over to Life Is Too Sport.

Top three movies

This is a tough call. It would be impossible to say just how many movies I’ve see and how many of them I have enjoyed or which have influenced my likes, interests and passions. How to choose just three from hundreds? This isn’t going to be the three ‘best’ movies as I’m no movie critic or student/scholar of cinematography. There are better movies than these listed. Much better, but these reluctant three are the ones which stand out for me.

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” — Maximus

Gladiator. Released in the year 2000 Gladiator was my first DVD purchase when DVD was the highest of high tech. Ridley Scott’s epic has it all. A classic tale of good vs evil. A revenge story with enough superbly captured action sequences to cover up the often-obvious plot issues. Brilliantly filmed from the initial Roman army ‘unleashing hell’ to the final showdown between Maximus, the hero of Rome, and a snivelling, whiney Emperor Commodus.

Gladiator tells the story of the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor. It starts by offering a glimpse at the world’s first superpower at war. The roman army with its superior technology engages in battle with Germanic barbarians and we see Maximus at his best. As a man of the people, a general respected. Someone who cares about the fighting man. With Hans Zimmer’s triumphant soundtrack accompanying the cavalry charge giving way to soft strings and low horns as the dust from battle settles, the audience cannot resist buying into the charm and charisma of our hero. Enter Commodus who misses both battle and war and is seen as the whiney and weak soon-to-be Emperor he becomes. Commodus committing patricide is the final act dooming him to become the hated villain of the piece.

Gladiator does a cracking job of chronicling the fall and rise of Maximus. His time in the provinces under the tutelage of ex-gladiator Proximo sets the perfect counter to the grandiosity of the Roman Colosseum.

When Proximo and Maximus return to Rome to fight in Commodus’ games the CGI representation of the now partially ruined Colosseum is a beautiful sight to behold. The series of pitched battles and epic one-on-one fights which punctuate a classic tale of revenge are a joy. Throughout Maximus can do no wrong in the eyes of both the modern audience and that which is portrayed on screen. He is the hero of Rome:

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Gladiator never claims to be anchored in realism and both story and set pieces are far fetched, but the CGI shots of ancient Rome are stunning, Hans Zimmer’s score stirring, Maximus’ quest for revenge appealing, and Commodus a villain we all love to hate.

“No. I am your father.” — Darth Vader

Of all the movies released from the Star Wars franchise, The Empire Strikes Back is the stand out title. It’s the first of the original trilogy not directed by George Lucas with Irvin Kershner taking the helm (thanks Scooter for the correction). Episode V retains all the magic and wonder of A New Hope but has darker undertones which are not repeated in Star Wars movies until Revenge of the Sith was released 20 years later.

The setting of the movie replicates the darkness found within the story; from the inhospitable ice world of Hoth and the dank swamps of Dagoba to the dark underside of Cloud City on Bespin. These settings frame a story where the evil empire is poised to crush the rebellion, where our hero’s destiny is revealed, where friend betrays friend and Darth Vader reveals himself to be Luke’s father.

This revelation now ubiquitously known by both Star Wars fans and Star Wars virgins.

 

The Empire Strikes Back appeals to me in many respects because I always loved the ethos and aesthetic of the Galactic Empire. I always – and in no way secretly – cheer for the bad guy. This perhaps speaks volumes about my character!

This movie hits my list because it was really the gateway to science fiction for me. Sci-Fi is my go-to genre for movies, TV, books, games. For anything entertainment I’ll take Sci-Fi over fantasy over drama over true life. From Star Trek to Warhammer 40k to Iain M. Banks’ the Culture series, I’ll always Veer (and not in the General sense) towards science fiction. As well as being my introduction to Star Wars and the Expanded Universe*, Empire Strikes Back opened up an entire genre to me. This might explain why the third spot on this list was a toss up between The Matrix and…
__________
* the Expanded Universe (abbreviated EU), encompasses every one of the licensed, fictional background stories of the Star Wars universe, outside of the original six Star Wars films produced by George Lucas and certain other material such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created before April 25, 2014.

“Game over man! Game over! What the fuck are we going to do now? What are we gonna do?” — Private Hudson

Aliens. Not Alien, the 1979 science-fiction horror movie, but rather its sequel, the 1986 science-fiction war movie directed by James Cameron.

Here we have the perfect storm. A relentless adversary, a rag-tag band of marines sent in to deal with the xenomorph infestation and probably the strongest ever female character ever committed to celluloid.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley is superb. She is everything a movie hero should be. Strong yet gentle, brave in the face of fear and resourceful. Aliens drew inspiration from the Vietnam War where a technologically superior force becomes mired in a hostile foreign environment. All their training and high-tech equipment mean nothing in a fight against a determined and numerous enemy. It’s a clear allegory of the Vietnam quagmire. A war movie; a Vietnam War movie dressed up in a futuristic science fiction setting which is gritty and realistic unlike, for example, Star Trek’s clean and pure lines.


There is so much to love about Aliens. The utilitarian aesthetic of the USS Sulaco and the weaponry of the Colonial Marines, the implacable Xenomorph bogeyman (one was terrifying in Alien; hundreds are dreadful in Aliens), the sheer monstrous size of the Queen, the climatic battle between Queen Alien and Queen Ripley (“Get away from her, you bitch!) and the dialogue from the marines convinced of their victory even before there are boots on the ground:

“I’m ready, man, check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me. Check it out! Hey Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out! Independently targeting particle beam phalanx. Vwap! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, we got sonic electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…”

Aliens has it all. Now thirty-four years old it sets the standard for science fiction war movies. Sheer brilliance.

So there you have it. My top three. What are yours? Do you agree with my choices?

Current relationship status

When you see someone and get a tight feeling in your chest, that’s not a heart attack, it’s love. When I see Fran I get that feeling. Not all the time, but often enough to know what I love her, through and through.

We’ve been together for almost three years. That doesn’t seem too long when I write it down but we have been through a lot in that time. Bought a house, had a baby, decided to start a life together. It’s not been easy but then nothing worth having is easy. And loving someone is loving their flaws and imperfections as well as the good.

She tolerates me when many others wouldn’t. She puts up with my moods and my sulking. She puts up with me being a grumpy old man. I put up with her insecurities and occasional bad moods. I couldn’t imagine my life without her and sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure I’m not dreaming and that she chose me.

My current relationship can only be described as ‘happy’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s so bad about Mondays?

The notion of ‘Monday’ marking the return to the working week following a weekend of fun and laughs matters little to me. My working week can start on Monday or Thursday or Friday. That ‘Friday Feeling’ marking on onset of the weekend occasionally hits at 5am on a Tuesday morning after five long, tough shifts. I’m not the type to complain. It’s the career I chose. If I wanted to hate Mondays and love Fridays I’d have chosen something different; something normal.

Today, this particular Monday, is the first of six long shifts. Three day shifts and three night shifts to finish. It’s a tough week when you have a young family to deal with also. Today I have dealt with a hit and run collision, a burglary, and two sexual offences. Each incident is different, each approach different, each Monday different. If its a Monday or any other day for that matter it doesn’t matter! I love going to work and I love doing the job I do. I get to protect those most vulnerable and put away those who caused the most harm. Today, this Monday, was a good day.

The stigma attached to Mondays can become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think your Monday is going to suck it probably will. If you choose to take Monday by the horns and make it a good day it will be. Don’t fall for the trap of thinking there is some mystical meaning behind the first day of the week and that it will be awful. That way madness lies. To quote an ex-colleague of mine who moved on to pastures new recently:

If you hate Mondays to me a favour and next Monday… be a shark.

August blog-a-day challenge midway review

When I started this challenge I was concerned that I might not finish it. It is very easy to sit and write 31 lines but each line, when you get down to writing, equals a lot of work. Between working, being a parent, running two new websites and maintaining relationships with friends and family there isn’t an awful amount of time to sit down and write stuff.

Some of the posts I’ve put up have been easy to do. I deliberately added easy ‘favourite’ style posts (photo, songs, quotes, books) to break up the task of writing a few hundred words a day.

Coming in the second half I’m going to attempt to get a few guest posts up. This not only takes a bit of pressure off me but it gives others a chance to promote their writing on my blog. I like to help people and if they get views from their writings here that’s great. Look out for them.

I am digressing, however, so lets keep focused on what was been posted before rather than looking to the future. Writing about personal concerns has always been therapeutic. Its interesting that the things with bothered me in the past still bother me now. I haven’t effectively dealt with the issues around my brother, for example, but I didn’t just want to revisit old themes. Writing about the #BlackLivesMatter movement was interesting. Its sometimes difficult to know what you think about something until you come to try and explain it. Having to research something you want to write about is a great way of improving your understanding of a subject:

The core focus of Black Lives Matter can be summed up like this. Shouting that All Lives Matter when someone says Black Lives Matter is like saying ‘save all forests’ when someone says, ‘save the rainforests.’

Yes, all forests matter, but it’s the rainforest which is being decimated and destroyed. When you consider that a man born black in the United States has a one in a thousand chance of having their life ended by a police officer you can understand why people may come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sometimes you think you know about something but writing about it expands your knowledge and understanding.

A place I want to visit

Lockdown sucks. The coronavirus pandemic sucks. We are due to visit Kiev, Ukraine in October and I hoped to fulfil a long term ambition of visiting Chernobyl with my friends. It took a bit of persuasion to get them to agree to enter the exclusion zone in the first place and now, due to the restrictions on travel and requirement to quarantine upon returning to the UK it looks like the trip will probably be cancelled.

Chernobyl is number one on my list of places I want to visit. Ever since I stumbled upon the Kidd of Speed website I’ve been fascinated by the Chernobyl disaster. It happened in 1986, I was 9 year old at the time and I have vague memories of seeing it on TV. Watching reports of a deadly cloud of radiation spewed into the atmosphere and drifting hundreds of miles. Here in the UK, 1500 miles away, toxic heavy rainfall hit farms in North Wales in April and May 1986 with radioactive caesium and iodine. The government responded by banning the sale of sheep at thousands of farms to stop radiation entering the food chain.

Now, 34 years later, with the radioactive core of the reactor encased in steel and concrete, Chernobyl is ‘safe’ to visit.

And I want to go.

I’ve always – well, for as long as I can remember – had an affinity for dystopian settings. Places like this which are desolate and ruinous or abandoned hold a fascination for me. If we don’t get to Chernobyl this year we shall go another time.