Fiddling with sheds…

What a lovely weekend.

Yesterday I spent a long day in the garden with my boy William installing a shed in the garden. It was kind of his birthday present- he was desperate for a tree house, but none of our trees are ideal, and I was rather fearful that one of his friends would end up in hospital as a result. So the compromise was a small shed, installed in a corner of garden all his own…

Of course, this involved a load of work- ripping out enough ivy for a hundred Christmases, building a level platform (our garden is rather like the north face of the Eiger, minus the snow) and then the usual hammering and screwing and cursing that accompany any shed erection. (And if you read any rudeness into that last sentence- then it is YOUR mind, not mine!)

Here he is, with freshly installed (purple!) wall to wall carpet. If you should call round you are sure to be invited in- please remember to leave shoes outside…

Today, by way of contrast, I took my lovely daughter Emily to a wedding over the water, where she had been booked to play fiddle (with me as accompanist on guitar.) I was so proud of her, and we had a lovely day out together. The wedding was the daughter of Simon and Helen, our friends from Dunoon, so it was great too to see them all so happy.

Now, back home, well fed, watching the light fade over the Clyde, I am a man blessed. And for a melancholic, it does not get much better than that.

Happy birthday William!

William is 11 today!

We have just done the party. All the mess is cleaned away. Peace descends- apart from Emily playing some dreadful dancing game on Wii in the next room. After a long day (much of it  in a small room with the suits trying to decide what services to cut) I am ready for some peace.

But Will had a great time so it is all good. This year he had a ‘Detective Party’ with fancy dress and games like ‘pin the magnifying glass on the detective’.

And as ever- when kids are happy, parents have a special feeling somewhere deep inside. I think it is related to love.

A day of mixed blessings…

We had a lovely day yesterday- on the whole.

We were up and away on the 7 AM ferry because Michaela, Emily and Danielle participated in the Race For Life which took place on Glasgow Green- a 5K run/walk in aid of cancer research. Michaela walked- taking around 40-50 mins, Emily and Danielle ran and took around 25 mins. Well done!

It was a bitter sweet moment- as everyone running had the names of people on their backs- survivors and sufferers of cancer, and people no longer with us. We remembered most Michaela’s step father Robert whose died just over a year ago.

Unfortunately, whilst standing around and NOT running, my back suddenly went into spasm. It may have been some kind of empathetic response to all these thousands of exercising women, or it could have been associated with a hard day of DIY the day before.

I managed to hobble back to the car and take a handful of pain killers, but our next destination was Edinburgh, where Will and I were due to play a cricket match against a Royal Botanical Gardens Cricket Club side- an old fixture between our clubs, competing for our own little ‘Ashes’ urn.

When we arrived I could not get out the car- but I then did manage to free up a little- and being the first match of the season that has not been rained off, I was really keen to play, so out I went. Movement helped, and I managed to send down a few overs of arthritic wrist spin- 4 overs, no wickets for 12 runs. Beat the bat a few times, took an edge that was missed.

On the whole we got tonked- they rattled up 176 off 40 overs.

I went in to bat at number 4 with 40 odd to our score- not looking good. I blocked out the pace man whose tail was up and then took guard against a spinner, eyeing up a short boundary. I let the first one go by, but then had a go at the second- a bit of a stiff-back swing at one that kept low and under edged on to the stumps. Out. Blast.

William went in at number 6- and fared rather better! He looked very small- the youngest player by far. Campbell was batting well at the other end, and had a chat between each over- instructing Will to block out the bowlers- which he did, for around 5 overs- finishing with one run, but a whole lot of respect from the opposition! Even if he did put his Dad to shame.

We lost by the way- making around 120 all out.

Finally, we met my brother Steve, his wife Kate and wee Jamie and went for a meal- before catching the last ferry (midnight) home.

This morning we all slept in- kids late for school. I can barely move, so my plan to go walking with Simon is done for. But it was a good day. Full of good people.

And cricket.

It’s a cracker…

Well, Christmas is past for another year.

We have had a lovely time- we had an extra house guest as a friend had a burst pipe on Christmas eve.

Finally the hold of ice and snow has been loosened- it is raining at the moment, revealing slowly retreating treacherous sheets of wet ice.

Not a day to venture far from the fireside.

So as is my tradition, I think it is time for some bad cracker-type jokes (thanks Isobel for the raw material!)

Firstly for the numbers people-

Apparently the  fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was the very well fed Sir Cumference. He acquired  his size from consuming too much pi.

Next, for the geographers-

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be
an optical Aleutian

Now for the hardened drinkers-

She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

And the non-believers-

Atheism- the non-prophet organization.

For the sporty types-

He wondered why the ball just kept getting bigger. Then it hit him.

And my fellow poets-

Did you hear about the backward poet? He writes inverse.

For the engineers-

Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says ‘Dam!’

For the long in the tooth-

Did you hear about the Sadistic Buddhist Dentist? His goal: to transcend dental medication.

And finally- for my fellow canoeists-

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly so they lit a fire in the craft.
Unsurprisingly it sank,  proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

(Perhaps I should get out more- despite the ice.)

William’s birthday party…

William is 10 years old on this coming Thursday- and today we had a party in the garden.

This year the theme he chose was ‘sport’- so we had a tournament. Each guest took the name of a country and then built up points playing football, cricket, basketball, archery, ‘pin the ball on the footballer’, obstacle course and good old pass the parcel with sport related forfeits.

And I think they (and we) enjoyed every minute! How many kids parties can you say that about?

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Cricket…

The grass is too long

Mossed by a hundred wet summers

Rolling in from the western sea

Deadening the bounce

And flattering my feeble attempts

At shape and spin

Cutting out all shots

Apart from sweep and drive

.

But to me and my boy

This too is sacred turf

Our ‘Lords’

.

Where memories are made

By crafty curl of leather

And the joyous crack of willow

As the bat hallelujahs its connection

.

And the trees around the field

Clap their hands

Facing fear…

Michaela is away for the weekend to meet an old school friend in the Lake District. The kids and I needed an little adventure of our own and so I somewhat reluctantly agreed to a trip to an amusement park.

I am not a fan of these places. They are very expensive, and I usually feel rather depressed by the tacky pre-packaged fear-tainment- each step we take carefully ‘monetized’ (forgive the Americanism.)

They are all about noise,  smelly fast food and rust-streaked mass manipulation and they offer a quick adrenaline buzz which is over in a flash of neon and a wave of nausea.

It is a far cry from the trips into empty wild places that I love so much- and try to inculcate into my children’s souls.

But to be honest, like most parents I am happiest when I have made my kids happy.

It was touch and go for a while. We arrived in a burst of excited chatter from the kids, and paid out the best part of £70 for tickets then walked around the park as the rides opened deciding what seemed possible and what we would avoid at all costs.

We all had such different thresholds. Emily would go on most things, me on a few- Will became increasingly quiet, and I knew that his world was getting smaller.

And so in this rather dreadful modern excuse for living fuller and more present lives, we all began a kind of journey.

Emily went on almost every ride- daring herself towards the extreme. There was also a reptile house, and she overcame her fear of spiders and held a Tarantula.

I too was banged and crashed around on roller coasters, and soaked on log flumes and water chutes.

But the greatest journey was made by William.

William is at his happiest when with his friends in the forest with a stick and a head full of pokemania. He is comfortable with what is known and understood and has little interest in what lies beyond this. So standing before a huge Ferris wheel, or a plunging water slide, or even a roller coaster aimed at little kids-he was transfixed with fear, and no amount of persuasion or encouragement would force him forward.

Emily was great, and took him on some little rides. He had a go on trampolines and crazy golf. But he was not happy. When I pushed him a little too hard, he wept into my shoulder.

So began a long conversation about how life was full of things that will shrink us down into ever smaller boxes- and how the only way to deal with fear was to face it  and take some small steps into the danger zone. And how we often find that when we do the the fear itself retreats and new things become possible.

And there in that artificial and rather unpleasant space, that is just what happened to Will. After a gulp he decided to go for the big scary Ferris wheel. He was visibly shaking- holding every muscle rigid, but still he climbed into the cage…

And the old magic happened. As we are exposed to fear, our autonomic nervous systems fire into fight or flight mode- thoughts become hyper focused and instinctive, blood flows to muscles, breathing becomes shallow and quick. We become totally pre-occupied with making the fear go away- and making the symptoms of the fear go away too. But for most of the time (particularly when the risk is measured or even unreasonable) if we stay in the moment- face up to the fear but act anyway- then we find that over a few minutes (around 5-20 mins)  the fear tails away, and the most primitive part of ourselves recalibrates to view this action as ‘safe’.

In this way, like the ripples made by a stone on still water, we expand.

Alternatively, if we avoid the fear then not only does this unlearning fail to happen, but actually we are likely to entrench the autonomic response still further. In some cases, the fear then encroaches on other areas of life like a kind of psychological gangrene.

Fear of falling then may extend to ladders, to tall buildings, to airplanes, to staircases.

In some cases, mixed with the right amount of vulnerability and damaging childhood experience, these fears make us a prisoner in our own bodies. They stop us coming out of our protective huddles- sometimes they stop people leaving their front doors.

It is kind of easy to visualise the fears of childhood- but so much more difficult to understand and unlock the fears that hold us as adults. I am reminded of that point where Jesus sends out his followers in twos to declare the New Kingdom in acts of healing and deliverance- and when some demons prove to be beyond them, he says that some only are over come by prayer and fasting. It is almost as if he is saying- there are no magical answers to this kind of freedom- it requires work.

Yesterday Williams faced up to his fear- and stood on top of his own mountain. And I was so proud of him.

May we stand on ours.

Because it is for FREEDOM that we are set free.

Big fish little fish…

There has been trauma in our house.

William has a fish tank, in which have lived two goldfish for the last four or five years. He has long had a desire to get more fish, and in particular, some mountain minnows to share the tank with the goldfish. We could never find anyone who sold them though.

However, at the weekend, we discovered that out local pet shop had them in stock- probably in no small part due to his regular request. So we bought 4 of the little things, and carried them carefully home and plopped them into their new home.

William gave them each a name.

But later that day, there were only 3 left in the tank. We held our breath, but Will was quite philosophical; ” Ah well, we can’t let these things upset us too much…” he then he stood stiffly before the tank and said ” But Qwerty- know this, you will always be remembered…”

And indeed he would have been. But then there were two.

And then one.

Then none.

And two rather bulging goldfish (whose names by the way are Jaws and Mako.)

Bless him, Will was very upset for a couple of days. We reasoned that this was one of those learning experiences that we all go through in which we encounter some of the hard realities of life. Despite the insulation we would parents seek to provide for all our beautiful kids as they grow into this cruel world.

A life where small fish are always prey to the bigger ones. And they in turn are on the menu of even bigger ones, and it all might just end badly…

All the way up to the top of the food chain- and then up the socio-economic ladder for our own human cannibalistic big fish.

Except this is not a lesson I want William to have to learn. I still hope for a world where small fish swim free, and Nemo finds his way back to his father. A world where small is beautiful and survival is not just for the fittest.

Alas this was not to be the fate of Qwerty and his brethren…