Category Archives: family

Ebony And Ivory

The great Alexei Sayle once had a routine that went along the lines of: ” I heard this bloke on the radio the other day going on about how we could all live together in perfect racial harmony on piano keyboards. Well, I’m telling you, pianos aren’t going to solve nothing, no way, no how”

That’s as might be, but late last year a piano was involved in something pretty darn special. Flash back about seven years: For reasons I neither remember nor understand, my then wife and I bought a keyboard at Costco as a Christmas present for the kids. It came loaded with tunes that they could play by simply following along with the book, and I considered it a waste of money, to be honest. The kids and their mum both had some fun with it, and it stayed at that.

However, as my daughter’s interest in all things creative grew, she took up playing the guitar, and began paying more than passing interest in the keyboard, apparently just playing along and following the instructions. She seemed to be doing pretty well, when as luck would have it, the son of the woman who made her spare land available for a community P-Patch (allotment) turned out to be a genius, who later on was accepted into Julliard at 17. My daughter took lessons from him on an informal basis, but eventually he was no longer an option, so her mother signed her up for lessons with a local teacher.

Just before Christmas we were informed that the pupils would be giving a recital for the benefit of the parents, so on the appointed night, I hurried to the teacher’s home and took a seat in the studio. The kids in my daughters’ group ranged from about five to thirteen years old, and as you can imagine, all parents waited with bated breath for their own child to perform. I, of course, was no different, and I have to say that heavily biased as I am, she gave a wonderful performance, playing 5 short pieces. I don’t have the sheet available, but they were not easy pieces, and as she had made the effort to dress for the occasion, my daughter looked every inch the professional musician. As we were departing, her teacher commented on how well she had performed, despite being extremely nervous – apparently one of her legs was shaking almost uncontrollably with nerves during the entire performance. I hadn’t realised this, as my daughter is one of the most confident and self – assured people I know. Of course, I congratulated my daughter profusely, as I found her playing to be flawless, but as I say, I’m not exactly the most unbiased of listeners.

The kicker came when her teacher said that she would like her to perform again, two days later at another of the recital sessions. At this later performance I was seated so I could see her hands and was amazed at the level of dexterity and professionalism she showed. I know this is a dreadfully overused cliche, but her fingers just danced across the keyboard, and I have to admit choking up with pride that she could play with such flourish and elan.

Just to push things even further, a couple of weeks later my ex and I received an email from her teacher saying that she would like my daughter to take an exam from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto some time in May. Bloody hell! This is the institution attended by Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould!

Lest you think I’m getting ahead of myself, this exam is a test of both ability and progress, and in no way means that she is headed north of the border for schooling, but if she’s good enough to take one of their exams, her teacher must think very highly of her indeed. I honestly don’t know what to make of it all. I’ve always known that she is highly talented and extremely creative, but where the hell she gets it from is beyond me, I mean, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, even if I use both hands. One thing of which I am certain, though is that whatever path she takes, she’s always going to go straight to the top. I’m also certain that I’ll never hear her repeat one of Eric Morecambes’ more famous catchphrases, used when performing one of his musical pieces: “I am playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.”

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Filed under child rearing, family, Live music, Music

Most Messed Up.

Now that I am only working half time, and most of that from home, you would imagine that I have plenty of time to take care of all those little household tasks that require attention. Well, imagine again. It would not be unreasonable to think that given the amount of free time on my hands, I should be living in a home that resembles the model unit at a new residential development. Once again, you’d be wrong to think that. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in a dumpster, but for some reason, my living space is less than immaculate.

“Why is this?” I hear you ask. Well, actually, I don’t because not only don’t you read this blog, but my hearing is pretty much fucked, but I’m going to answer anyway. But first, let me say that I understand why so many single guys live like Neanderthals. Buying furniture, bedding, curtains, etc. is a harrowing ordeal. Going to Bed, Bath and Beyond is a nightmare that no single man should ever have to endure. The contact high from the Oestrogen pushes me two cup sizes higher. And that’s just in the walk from the car to the entrance.

Still, my travails in setting up a livable environment are well documented and need no repetition, so fast forward to the present. My Living Room is small, but serves the purpose and I try to avoid eating on the Futon as much as possible – late night snacking whilst watching a film and drinking excepted- but still, there  seems to be a permanent debris field of crumbs and random food particles on the rug no matter how careful I try to be. However, I have very little motivation in breaking out the stick vac. and clean up, partly because I know that in a couple of days the mess will return. Inevitably I will stand barefoot on some particularly sharp shard and will admit defeat by plugging in the vacuum.

I think part of the problem is that I have no separate kitchen, just a slightly larger than usual galley kitchen separated from the living room by the strip that covers the border between the carpet tiles and the lino, hence crumbs and general detritus have no significant barrier to migration. Actually, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that someone was breaking into the house at night and deliberately scattering crumbs on my floor. Intermittently I will do a proper clean of the house, removing everything from the kitchen counter and giving every hard surface a deep cleaning.

Until the 4th of July weekend I had deliberately avoided dealing with my son’s bedroom. I used to give each of the kids $5 for helping out around the house, which included keeping their rooms within accepted Western standards of hygiene, but as the cash has dried up, this went the way of all flesh. They still make their beds, and my son did gather up a lot of garbage, but the real horror lurked beneath his bed. He has a habit of eating whilst lying on his bed, and the fallout goes everywhere. A few months back I moved the bed away from the wall to find the top of the skirting board with crumbs so old they required carbon dating.

As Independence Day is not really my thing, I steeled my nerves, girded my loins and tidied the back room. Oh, and as my people gave you July 4 as a holiday, you’re welcome. Back in the day, the area beneath a teenage boy’s bed was the favourite hiding place for all manner of one handed reading, but at least the invention of the iPad and laptop have removed this horror from parent’s lives, so at least I can be thankful for that. It required the use of several wet paper towels to remove the mess, and I almost filled the dust container of the vacuum with assorted matter from the carpet, but at least I didn’t have to dispose of any questionable publications with their pages stuck together.

My daughter uses my room when with me, so I had less to deal with, although the pile of riding magazines on her desk almost required crampons and a belaying line to surmount. She’s a talented artist who seems to regard the surface of her desk as a blank canvas, so it took a gag – inducing amount of 409 to return the worktop to its original white. It didn’t occur to me until much later that I could have removed the top and sold it as a recently discovered Jackson Pollock original. Damn. That would have solved my financial problems.

Ah well, lesson learned.  I reckon I should put more effort into cleaning up the place and removing as much clutter and extraneous matter as possible. Despite downsizing as much as possible ( see “The Boxer and “Space Oddity”), I have acquired a lot of crap I don’t really need. A result of the OCD and pack rat mentality, I suppose. At least if I do, it will mean less stuff to deal with when I’m homeless.

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Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

I’m now entering what Sir Alex Ferguson, one time manager of Manchester United Football Club once famously described as “Squeaky bum time”. You see, ever since early February, when my hours were cut in half, I’ve been living on borrowed financial time. When working 40 hours a week I was earning enough to cover my bills and leave a bit over, sometimes, at the end of the month. Not so now. I did a quick calculation and as things stand at present, I will have to move out at the end of April.

I’m applying for jobs like crazy to no avail, I’ve sold my wedding and eternity rings, cashed in all my change and cut my spending to a bare minimum. I’m living off what I have in the fridge and pantry and with the exception of essentials, only  buy food for the kids. All this is not really going to help, but what are my options? I will have to find some way of paying for a storage unit and keeping gas in the car, but how long can I keep that up? My job contract runs through August, but if I’m living in the car – which is a very real possibility – how long can I keep it? If I lose the job, the situation becomes exponentially worse, and I don’t see someone like me lasting long on the streets.

I’m 52 and in fairly reasonable health, but without my meds, I’m sure to go into a tailspin. Those of you who knew me at school will attest to the fact that the un-medicated NWSD is not the kind of person who can cope, even when well fed and housed.To make matters worse, it means that I will lose contact with the kids. I can’t spend time with them if all I have is the car and nowhere to take them. I won’t have access to laundry or washing facilities, and having worked downtown, I know how quickly people deteriorate without access to basic services.

Unless I can find a job by the end of March, I am royally fucked. Seriously, this is an existential crisis that shows no sign of resolving itself in any kind of positive way. I don’t have a social network on which I can fall back, and I’m by no means certain that my sweetie will be willing to take me in until I can get a decent paying job and get a place of my own again. I would hope that she would, but if she took me in and I didn’t find a job before the money ran out, there’s no way she could support both of us on her wages.

Just writing this is making me depressed, so I am going to sign off now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under employment, family, mental health, unemployment

Father And Son

Shocking revelation number 873. Fatherhood is a hard job. Really.Fucking.Hard. Furthermore, it is a job without much gratitude or even acknowledgement. I heard recently on NPR’s “Science Friday” that researchers studying parenting don’t even consider fathers. This I know to be true. We used to get “Parenting” magazine, which may as well be called “Mothering” magazine for all the attention it pays to those of us with external genitalia. When it does deign to grace us with it’s attention, fathers are portrayed either as hapless boobs unable to remember which end gets diapered or slavering beasts whose thoughts return to boobs five minutes after returning from the Maternity Ward.

Truth is, fatherhood is a lifetime commitment. This was brought home to me recently when my father arrived for a five week vacation, his first in two years. Medical issues kept him in Blighty last year, so he had been anticipating this trip for quite some time and was ready to kick back and spread his favour far and wide. Let me state up front that I love my dad and now that I am a father too, I have developed a deep appreciation for all that he and my mum did for me over the years.  I didn’t realise fully  at the time, but he sacrificed a lot for us and made darn sure we were financially secure and well provided for materially.

He manages pretty well on his retirement income and was able to put aside enough funds to cover his expenses while visiting  and made no bones about his desire to “Take care of things”.

This is where it got weird. We all remember our youth when our parents took care of all our financial needs and had their hands in their pockets more often than not, but imagine how it feels to be fifty and be in that situation. Dad made no bones about paying for everything and anything as his way of balancing out the financial support he extended to my brother over the last two years, but still, it felt weird to be in Costco buying food and beer for my birthday party (see “Happy Birthday”) and have my dad hand me  a wallet that was more than capable of choking any donkey within 20 miles.

In fact, I didn’t need to take any money out of the bank for the entire five weeks of his visit and the only time I was allowed to pay for anything was the trip to see his first ever MLS game and his last night when my sweetie and I took him to a restaurant for a farewell meal, and only then because I had made it quite clear to him that those events were non-negotiable.

Some things just don’t change. He still sees me as a teenager, despite the fact that I’m most clearly not, and I know how he feels. My son just turned 12 and is one of the most intelligent and caring people I have ever met, yet I still see him as a wide eyed two year old fascinated by his first sight of falling snow and  can’t believe that the tiny bundle of pink we brought home from the hospital nine years ago is already turning into a young woman.

Damn, but that last paragraph made me tear up, and I can feel the years slipping away from me. I only hope that no matter how old we are, that my kids stay my kids and that I can be as good a dad to them as mine has been to me.

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Happy Birthday

I celebrated a birthday recently. Nothing unusual in that you may say, but it is the first one I’ve celebrated in a decade. My daughter was born on my 41st birthday, and as you can imagine, one can’t compete with that, so whilst we all had much fun decorating the garden in pink and purple, setting up Princess Pavilions, organising craft activities, inflating bouncy castles and balloons, my birthday was acknowledged begrudgingly, if at all by my Ex mentioning it in passing as the birthday party morphed into a late evening barbeque with our friends.

Lest you all reach for the world’s smallest violin, I’m not invoking victimhood. I love my daughter and will always put her first, but it’s nice to have some recognition of having survived yet another lap around Sol.

This year was different. I hit the big five-oh and my sweetie wanted to make sure that the event didn’t go unremarked. I drew up a list and she sent out emails and made all the arrangements whilst I remained in blissful ignorance ( “No change there” I hear you say) until the day.

This is where it got weird. I usually spend the day shifting tables, setting up and generally making sure everything is organised whilst my Ex worked her way down her list of tasks. “A woman’s work is never delegated” as Basil Fawlty once remarked, so it was no wonder that I felt more than a little guilt sitting in her kitchen while she busied herself with the final preparations, insisting that I relax. Seeing how much energy she was putting into the event made me realise just how much effort I had expended in the past and how much I was treated like a servant in my own home.

Of course the evening was a great success, with much drinking, eating and conversation, and I can’t begin to explain how nice it was to be able to sit down and just enjoy an entire afternoon without having to run inside to deal with some minor chore every ten minutes. The decorations were overwhelmingly red and white and my sweetie had even gone to the great extravagance of buying Liverpool Football Club paper plates, cups and hats for the occasion. The cake was an amazing rendition of the Liverpool crest, and I just couldn’t believe that she had gone to so much effort on my behalf.

Then of course, came the gifts which fell into two categories. The useful ones were incredibly on target and much appreciated. The gag gifts also had a lot of thought behind them, including the pack of replacement pencil leads (think about that one),and the place mat with my head stuck onto the bodies of assorted dinosaurs. I was truly humbled by the amount of effort and thought that had gone into each gift. My friends are a truly wonderful bunch, and to be the centre of their attention humbled me in a way that I have rarely experienced.

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Filed under family, friends, lifestyle

Take The Skinheads Bowling.

Whoever invented the calendar deserves a bloody good kick up the arse. Whoever invented the calendar for the Galaxy III phone deserves  two. Let me explain. Recently my sweetie and I sat down to synchronise our calendars and I mentioned in passing that as the kids were away during spring break I would be having them for a couple of days outside the regular schedule. Icy stare. And I mean icy. Icy enough to make a White Walker reach for an extra cloak.That’s how icy it was. My sweetie had had a dreadful week at work and was not ready to hear that our planned weekend together would not be happening. I’m a guy. Hard as you may find it to believe, I am a guy, which means that just because you tell me something and I’m looking at you, it doesn’t mean I actually heard or remembered what you just said, let alone put it in my calendar.

At this point, my mind was scrambling desperately to find a solution so I wouldn’t end up with two ruined weekends instead of just one. Picture Wile E. Coyote trying to claw his way back to safety having just realised that he has run off the edge of the cliff. With me? It was then that I came up with another brilliant idea. “Another one?” I hear you ask in a voice composed of equal parts incredulity, surprise and contempt. Yes. Another one. You remember that idea I had about wearing underwear on the outside to save on laundry bills?

“Why don’t you come over on Saturday like we planned and we can all go bowling?” Phew. Just managed to grab the edge of the cliff with my fingernails. So that is what we did. The kids got a taste for bowling at a friends’ birthday party, and I’d asked them if they would be interested in going again as I’m always looking for ways for them to have a fun weekend with me. They both like my sweetie ( see “We Are Going To Be Friends”), and she and I had been  bowling, so I had a fair belief that the day would work. We all duly piled into the car and headed off to the bowling alley. My son, tech head that he is, set up the scoreboard and away we went.  It was interesting to watch the interactions, as my daughter insisted on showing my sweetie the game in the arcade that she really likes while my son kept track of our combined strikes and spares. All went well, as I expected it would, and I was pleased that the kids took it as read that the four of us would be having what amounted to a family day out. Lunch at a local hostelry followed, giving us more time to chat and the kids to get comfortable with the situation when I got a text from my ex regarding my daughters’ softball uniform pants. The original ones didn’t fit, so she would drop the new ones off so my daughter would have them for practice the next day.

I was futzing around the house when the doorbell rang. I answered it, expecting a quick exchange when my son announced my sweeties’ presence and insisted that the two of them meet. Awkaaaaaaard! Naturally this was unplanned, but both were civil to each other, and at least it answered my question about whether the kids had talked about our museum visit.

I have to say that it was nice to see the three of them spending the day together and getting along with each other, and how the kids just regarded it as a perfectly normal day. I’m really happy that things are working out and that I can expect future visits to be just as successful. Only slightly happier than I am about those three consecutive strikes I got in our second game.

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Shakespeare’s Sister.

“School play”. Two words guaranteed to strike dread into the heart of any parent. Usually such events involve sitting through a parade of nervous children clad in badly made cardboard cutouts of various U.S. states, or being subjected to such musical classics as “There Are Four Major Food Groups, Yes There Are”. (I have to add as an aside that my school play experiences involved  performances as Pontius Pilate, a classic example of typecasting if ever there was one, and appearing in blackface. Hey, it was the 70s, and we didn’t know any better, or maybe Catholics just don’t care about such things). Thankfully, this is not so at my son’s school. For the past couple of months the entire sixth grade were involved in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Not just the theatrical performance, but an exploration of the characters and their motivations and an exploration and  retelling of the story.

As you can imagine, the theatre was full of expectant parents, each one of them eager to see the fruits of two months’ work by their children. Elizabethan English is difficult at the best of times, but the entire cast gave their best effort in presenting a full blown production. My son is not the most demonstrative of people, so he was well cast as Vulpecula, one of King Oberon’s servants, and it was gratifying to see him throw himself into the role, delivering his lines with confidence and assurance; just what I would expect of him. My daughter is a natural born performer, so she was eager to see the play, and now can’t wait until she is a sixth grader and can participate in a production. She had some difficulty following the plot during the first performance, but at the matinee she got much more from it.

Of course, my Ex was there, with her boyfriend in tow. As I’ve said (see “Creep”), he’s an ignorant, freeloading redneck, so I’m not sure if he was there because he wanted to be, or because she expected him to be there. I have to say, that for the evening performance, he could at least have made the effort to dress up a little,  out of respect for the space, the occasion and the cast. But no, he turned up in his dirty baseball cap and cargo shorts. The first performance was not too bad, as they  were seated on the opposite side of the room, but for the matinee they were directly behind us, partly at my daughter’s behest, and partly due to the restricted options available to them due to their arrival shortly before the start.  While I was at least able to engage in polite conversation with my Ex, he again didn’t even have the grace to say a word.

The kids were with me that weekend, so we had to wait for my son at the stage door. I have to say, that I never expected to hear the words “Your son will be out soon, he’s just removing his makeup”. Needless to say, both of them slept soundly the first night. After the matinee, the cast all headed off to an after party while the parents broke down the set. The stage was disassembled and carried piece by piece to the barn for storage, the lighting removed, and so on. A task that was accomplished with much comradeship and cooperation, although a few more Allen keys would have been nice.

I had expected my son to be running on empty after the party, but  much to my surprise he jumped at the opportunity of a sleepover with some of his friends, the invitation having been extended as my daughter and I drove home. I think that the prospect of playing in the snow the following day was too much for him to resist, and who can blame him? Where he gets the energy from, I don’t know. I guess being 11 has a lot to do with it.

I have to say that I am immensely proud of my son for taking such an active interest in the play. He tends to be on the quiet side, yet when on stage it was as if he was in a different world. I did note some signs of nervousness among some of the cast, which is only to be expected, but he showed none of that. Bravo, son. Encore!

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