Sunday, 27 November 2011


Friday night and we're sat in front of the TV.  From my vantage point at the end of the sofa I can see Giles in the hallway, sitting in one of his familiar places: just by the door.

Currently he has a number of favourite places, not least of which is on a mat by the radiator: but he keeps returning to the door.

Just to see what will happen I call him and he comes, stretching slowly and padding towards me with a tiny miow.  I pick him up, marvelling again at how heavy he is.  I put him on my lap.  Today he is in a relaxed mood and seems happy to take the attention, beginning to purr as I stroke him.  Herself gets a piece of the action too as he briefly takes a stroll over to her side of the sofa and puts his face into hers. 

Then he returns and flops down into my arms, lying on his back with big catty eyes staring adoringly into my face.  It is possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Myself and Herself have The Conversation again, the one that always begins "remember when..."

And we do - we remember when he first invited himself into the house just over 12 months ago and would scarper if you came within a few feet of him.  We remember how sad and bedraggled he looked, we remeber that neither of us had ever heard him purr at that point.

We remember how he spent the first few weeks just hiding under the sofa, only coming out to eat, the first time we caught him sitting on the bed and the moment when he finally started to decide we were ok.

Niether of us can quite believe that a little bit of patience and kindness have changed the cat that once sank his claws deep into Herself's arm and tried to scramble out of a high window to escape us into creature before us.  OK so yes, he still tries to pounce on our toes sometimes, but now its just in play and although he will always be an outdoors cat he always comes when you call him.

Maybe one day we will get over the change, maybe we will be able to look at him without that constant surprise and endless "do you remember when..." conversation, but I hope that day doesn't come too soon.

Giles, meanwhile, tired of all this soppiness, rolls over and jumps off, proceeds to the kitchen where he demolishes the contents of his bowl and then demolishes the litter tray.

Somethings never change

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Only Way Is Ethics

Sometimes it's the little things that stay with you as much as the big. 

Like a few years ago there was a small news item on our local news: it couldn't have been more than five minutes long, and yet I can't quite shake it from my memory.

The story was about a six year old boy who'd been banned from his local school because of his constant disruptive behavior.  The act that had finally got him barred was when he had lashed out at and hit a teacher.

And so the news cameras had gone around to the parent's house to interview the parents.  There was no sign of a father figure and the mother was sitting in the front of the shot, smoking and clearly wanting to get back to whichever soap opera she had been watching.  The six year old kid was sat in the background laughing and playing on his playstation: clearly as happy as Larry that he no longer had to go to school.

The journalist asked the mother, "Why do you think he behaves this way?"

She shrugged, 'It's not my fault if he's evil, is it?'

So there it is: a single, highly depressing moment of Television reminding us that a hell of a lot of parents out there just don't seem to be aware of the impact of their actions on their kids.

It was a comment by Michael of Always Going, Going, Going On Beyond that reminded me again of this news item.  He was talking about his own fears that the school his child was going to were not necessarily evaluating his children's progress sufficiently to help them prepare for the world outside and, in a response to a comment, he said "we need a new subject: morals and ethics. They could talk about all the religions and have debates about tricky decisions (e.g., should the government support smoking -- by allowing it to be sold -- while at the same time encouraging us to avoid it). It's clear the many parents are not offering this knowledge to their children."

Children are not born into this world with an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong.  They are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and experience and it is no single factor that defines this, but a series of experiences.  Although parents cannot be the sole source of information for a child they can at least be the steady thermometer against which they measure the temperature of how to act.  A parent who is unable to distinguish right from wrong is unlikely to teach their child the same.

So perhaps it is time that we involve parents more in the process of their child's education.  Perhaps we should teach morals and ethics, not only in school but in classes involving the parents?  We as adults are no more born knowing how to be a good parent than we are born knowing how to be a good person.  Any person can, providing they can find a willing sexual partner, go out and have kids and raise them pretty much any way they want to.  Would interfering with this to enable parents to teach their kids right from wrong lead to complaints of a "nanny state", or is this something that we all need to learn?

For my own part I was recently asked "If you were able to perform a single act and have no consequences: what would you do?"

After some thought I replied that there are always consequences: the main one being that you, as a person, still have to be able to live with your actions, to be able to look yourself in the mirror.  I quoted Shakespeare, "to thine own self be true" and thought about the words of Ghandi when he said "Be the change you want to see in the world"

I wonder what the mother of that kid would have said?

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Defining Moment

I don't think I've ever had that defining moment - the moment where, all of a sudden, everything just clicks and you go "ah..."

I've always kinda fallen into things whilst stumbling about through life, wondering what it was all about and where it was all going.  If one were to look at the chain of events that led me to meet Herself, for instance, there would be very little logical path to follow: no single choice, but a series of small steps (ones which it is worth mentioning i am very greatful i took).

I certainly never had such a moment when it comes to work anyway.  If I were to nip back in time and tell my 10 year old self that I was not going to become a bus driver (bus driver's get lots of tea breaks) but would end up working in some hard-to-explain IT Support role he would probably blink at me before going back to playing on his latest video game.

When I left school I wanted to be a photographer: pretty much because it was the only thing that I had, at that point, shown much aptitude for - but it soon became clear that actually there was no career to be had in this and so I learned how to type and us a computer pretty much on the grounds that most jobs were seeming to need computer skills.  From there I pretty much have gone where the wind would take me, taking extra experience and responsibilities as and when they were offered with no particular end game in mind.

Even now I flit from interest to interest, like a moth drawn towards a light bulb, trying to experience it all and never settling on a single one.  I'm not sure that I could if I wanted to: creativity is a funny thing and it can bounce off in all sorts of wonderful directions, but sometimes I do wish that I could concentrate on something long enough to get good at it.

So I couldn't help but wonder the last time I went to the Dentist about those paths and the choices we all make and the little steps that define who we are.

And I couldn't help but ask - what was it?  What was that defining moment?  At what point in their lives did that person stop in the middle of the street with a little lightbulb over their head and think, "I know what I want to do every day for the rest of my life!  Look at other people's teeth!"

Oh to have such clarity.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The First Time I Had The Blues

I guess you could say that we grew up in something of a musical vaccuum.

Don't get me wrong: my parents aren't the puritanical rock-n-roll is evil types...they just weren't into music that much.

We had one of those old wooden boxes with a heavy lid that could play 33 1/3"rds or 45" inch vinyl.  It was supposed to be able to hold two or three records and let one drop down after another, but the truth was that most times it would let them all drop, or the sound would just come out warped after the second or third long player had fallen.

My parents had a small collection of vinyl, of which I remember:
1x Elvis Presley Twenty Golden Greats (side two scratched)
1x Cliff Richard 40 Golden Greats (not sure if it was the Elvis or the Cliff that was "Golden Greats" or both)
1x New Seekers compilation (warped)
1x Sound Of Music soundrack
2x albums of Dutch Barrel Organ Music
2x Muppett Show albums (which were mostly for us kids and which i wish we still had if only for Scooter's infamous "Hey Mr Bassman" which may be the funkiest song of all time - see below)

This, along with the bands on Top Of The Pops was my sole introduction to the music world until I became old enough and rich enough to start my own collection.

I guess I started with the music that was popular in the charts or that I took a liking to and then slowly, as I became influenced by new sets of friends I expanded my musical vocabularly

I guess I was already vaguely aware of the Blues but hadn't really been exposed to it until I came to work at a local theatre for nine months.  I was part of the lighting and sound department (LX) and there were often hurried periods of activity spent mostly suspended from extremely high places.

To be honest the run of shows that year wasn't the best and one of the worst of the series was The Asylum, a play about some patients in an asylum threatened with closure set against the backdrop of a pop video being filmed there.  It starred someone who had once been in an episode of Fawlty Towers and a once nearly-famous actress more famous for drinking her own urine than actually being an actress

It was, quite simply, awful.  The only thing that stopped it from being the worst play of the run (the dubious honour of which falls to a touring production of Wuthering Heights in which the actor playing Heathcliff just shouted on the spot for two non-stop hours) was the interval music

For whatever reason the director of the show, who must have realised how appallingly dreadful the thing was, had chosen Robert Cray for the interval music - having made a compilation of his first and second albums and put it onto a big spool that would play as the audience came in, during the break and again as they left.

Every day for a week I heard this amazing voice and superb guitar: I was hooked and for many years I continued to own a copy of that interval music on a cassette (I bet if I looked for it now it would still be somewhere...)

But it was only recently that I thought to check out the internet and see if I could replace my dusty viynl copy of "False Accusations" with a clean and immaculate CD

In the intervening years I've always tried to challenge myself about my pre-conceptions of music: don't like synth-pop eh?  well what about this group?  Don't like hip-hop?  Well have you tried so-and-so?  Don't like Jazz eh... well...I'm still not sold on that one, but you never know.

But in the end it's always the Blues that I come back to: for whatever reason it's that soulful guitar, the haunting voices and the tales of misguided love that bring me back time and again.  Since then I've discovered the wonders of BB King, recently found Muddy Waters and decided that Eric Clapton's From The Cradle album may be the finest album in my blues catalogue

But a special place should always be reserved for Robert Cray: for introducing me to the blues.

For as the wise man once said: there ain't no other colours without the blues