Five Absent on the Register

This is a poem that I wrote at work a couple of weeks ago, in little intervals across the day. Sometimes, I manage to do this type of thing; scribbling down notes and lines while classes are completing a task or at break or lunch. I find I have to note things down when they come to me as I have such a bad memory for this type of creative stuff, that I won’t remember it later. As a consequence my desk is often littered with Post-It notes or scraps of paper, which is probably quite annoying to anyone who uses my room when I’m not in it.

This poem came about when I was feeling particularly ill. I’d gone in, as I tend to do, despite feeling really poorly, but then was struck by the numbers of pupils and staff absent that day. I suppose, feeling sluggish and snotty, I was just feeling a bit sorry for myself. When I did my first register of the day the title of the poem just stuck in my head along with the idea that I was going to regret not staying at home.

As it turned out, every register that day had significant numbers of absentees and it cast me back to various stages of lockdown and remote learning, making me wonder if we were headed back into the dark days of Covid. This was the direction that the poem headed in.

Five Absent on the Register

Having dragged myself in, all heavy breathing, wheezing, tight chest and runny nose,
I find there are five kids absent on the first register of the day.
I read their reasons; symptoms largely similar to mine
and it makes me wonder if perhaps I also should have got my mam to ring in.

In front of me two boys cough, almost constantly,
sniff at all too frequent intervals, not a hand, a tissue or even the cure all crook of an elbow in sight
and I wonder if we'll ever be well again.

Another register reveals that six of fourteen are missing, presumed similarly snotty and there are more as the day trundles on.
I picture them coughing their way through a Netflix binge
and wonder for a moment, if our world is changing once again.
More needles, more prescribed exercise, more masks, 
more Thursday night claps, more futile silent queues at shops.

It turned out – for now – that my worries were unfounded. While Covid remains with us, its previous threat feels like it’s lessened for the majority. Every now and then its shadow looms over me in the form of supermarket shortages or the news that someone I know is suffering with it. And for that morning, maybe even for a few days that week, I grew more and more convinced that things were headed backwards once more. It’s certainly something that will live long in the memory and something that I feel sure none of would welcome a return to.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the poem. As ever, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment as I always enjoy reading them.

Spring Goals

As I sit here this morning, looking out of my classroom window across our playing fields, a change is in the air. I noticed it while eating breakfast too. Three quarters of our daffodils are now in bloom and the huge camilia bush that has dominated our back garden for a good 15 years has enormous pink flowers in bloom at regular intervals across its bulk. And of course I couldn’t miss the bright blue sky that greeted me as I drew back the curtains. Definite signs of change.

Whichever way you look at it – the change in weather and light or just by consulting the calendar – Spring is on its way. So, as bloggers often do, I thought I’d take advantage of the weather and pretend to all of us that it’s prompted an upturn in mood and the urge to get even more done in my life! You guessed it, I’m setting some goals! However, unlike my usual way of doing things, I thought I’d make them realistic and attainable this time round.

I have a 10k race coming up in May and am planning to enter a few more across the Spring and Summer, so I thought I’d use the weather to help me step up my training. In terms of being a goal to set, I’ve already started with this one. We’ve seen a definite change in the weather in West Yorkshire over the past couple of weeks and it’s just given my enthusiasm for going running a real boost. It can still be a little cold, but not worrying about the sun setting if I’m on an after school run, makes it a lot easier to motivate myself.

As you can see from the image above our weather is looking good for the next week and this really helps get through the working week. I usually aim for a Friday evening run and as you can see, this coming Friday looks amazing. Whatever that big yellow thing is, it looks promising, I have to say! This gives me something to really look forward to as I drag myself through another week of work. Because, as we all know, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as dragging yourself through a 10km run on an unusually warm afternoon after a week at work! Joking aside though, I know that I will thoroughly enjoy being out running and completing my first 10k in a while. And if the legs will allow, that Sunday afternoon is looking good for a bonus half hour run too! Hopefully, by the time May comes around I’ll be a lot stringer and fitter and ready to take on my first race of the year…if the weather doesn’t make me do something daft like enter an earlier one!

One of the first things I did during the first Covid lockdown was to paint all of the fences round our house. The weather was glorious, but of course fresh air was being rationed unless you had a garden, something which we’re lucky enough to have. And so, armed with the knowledge that I wasn’t allowed to go into work and two cans of fence paint bought previously – probably just after publishing another ‘goals’ blog – I set to work.

At the time it all looked great, but now, having had far less time on my hands since lockdown, it looks tired, worn and in places covered in a thin layer of bright green moss. It’s definitely time to get those brushes out again! Luckily, I have an end of term holiday coming up so I should have time enough to get this one done without even a hint of trouble! Goal two achieved (in my head)!

In another of our periods of lockdown/partial lockdown/that thing where some of us followed the rules and stupid people wondered why they felt so poorly having been out in bars mixing freely, I chanced upon what I thought was a bargain in our local supermarket. Grey shed paint. Now, I’m reading back that last three word sentence and wondering what on earth I was thinking when I bought it, so I can wholly understand your own confusion. Paint, for the shed, that’s grey.

A few factors go against this next goal…in fact let’s just call it a job, because goal makes it sound almost enticing; like a good idea when I now can’t figure out what I was thinking in buying it. The first factor that goes against it is that my shed is going to be a different colour to my fences and I’m not sure I like that idea anymore. In fact, I probably only liked it for a few seconds at the time. Then there’s the time. Do I really want to invest this time, when there are other, more productive things I could be doing that? There’s no doubt that the shed could do with a lick of paint, but it will stay standing without it. Clearly, this goal or job will need a little more thought before I commit my time to it. Either that or I need to find a way to dispose of said paint and hope that my wife doesn’t remember this particular plan. Or read this blog post.

Sticking with all things shed related, another Spring goal has to be the clearing out of my sheds. I have two (but don’t be fooled by the sheds that I got, I’m still Grahamy from the block) and can’t actually set foot in either without having to remove countless tins of paint and varnish, a lawnmower, tools and garden implements. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation.

One of my sheds has a lot of football gear in it. In particular, that’s essentially balls. I seem to have accumulated a lot of footballs over the years. So I think the time has come for a bit of a purge. I’ve noticed that some of our training balls are looking a bit the worse for wear, with splits in their coverings and bits hanging off and there are also some balls that we no longer use as they’re the wrong size for our age group. Given that this type of thing will only take a short amount of time and effort to sort out, it’s a goal that will definitely end in a tick on a list. And those always make me happy!

Another of my short term Spring goals is to write more poems. I’ve recently identified some competitions and some literary magazines that I’d like to submit to and my blog always needs new material, so it’s time for a new batch of poems to be written. Given the weather and the change in the landscape at this time of year, there should be plenty of source material to go at. I’ve also just written the bones of a poem this morning. It’s one that goes back to worries about the pandemic after I noticed that a larger than usual proportion of a couple of my classes was missing when I looked at today’s registers. Coupled with not feeling too well myself, it started me wondering if we’re as safe as we seem to think. I also have plans for a poem that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, so I’ll definitely need to find some time to get that written.

My final goal is to spend a little bit of time at Easter sketching. Firstly, it’s something I haven’t done since last summer and something that I never seem to find the time to do, but I also want to go out with my daughter to do some. She’s a really talented artist, but is starting to feel the pressure of her upcoming GCSEs and so maybe we can go somewhere that’s peaceful and picturesque, even for a couple of hours and help take her mind off everything that’s bothering her presently.

I also bought some pastels during lockdown and then proceeded to not even get them out of the packet, which is a very me thing to do, so if for no other reason, I need to get out and doing some art just to try and use those pastels!

For once, I feel that I’m setting myself targets or goals that are fairly achievable. They’re definitely more sensible than my usual type of thing. I’ll keep you informed on how it all goes. I mean, who could resist some pictures of my brown fence, my grey sheds and my sketches of what might be trees, but could equally be just tall people in fluffy green cardigans?

New Year’s Resolutions – an update on my so called progress.

As much as I was keen to avoid them, I still found myself considering making resolutions as 2022 approached. It’s not a time of year that I like and – although I always end up making some – I never truly buy into the idea of making a brand new start. Essentially, the difference between one year and another is just a day.

So at first I was content to settle for a token three. You know the kind of things: eat healthier, exercise…give up wearing women’s underwear on a Friday, something along those lines. But the more I thought of it, the more I added, until I had nice round 30 resolutions bullet pointed on a piece of A4. So, in order to commit myself a bit, I wrote a blog at the start of the year. It’s on the link below.

2022: Letters, a gammy toe and a fake adopted cat. My New Year’s Resolutions.

Now that we’re a couple of months on, I thought I’d write an update on my progress. So, here we go.

I’d resolved to make sure that I updated you, dear reader, on my resolutions. Thus, this blog represents a big fat tick on my list, which is nice.

In terms of the order of the list though, let’s start with a package deal on my first two resolutions. Learn to moonwalk and start writing my YA novel and my Christmas story. Literally nothing done here. I figure that there’s plenty time with both though. My YA novel is in fact started, but it’s handwritten in a notebook. My Christmas story is still some bullet points that may just be on a scrap of paper…somewhere. Moonwalking will have to wait, maybe until I find that scrap of paper with my story on!

The next resolution was to research and eat more healthy foods and I’m pleased to say that there has been enormous progress made here. Well, I’ve favourited several more healthy recipes on the BBC website, cooked myself a simple fresh pasta sauce (once) and started eating cranberries after a run. So huge might have been a lie. But it’s progress all the same and I’m sure it’ll get better.

My next resolution was to try and be a better son, husband, dad and brother. Soppy, cliched, difficult to quantify. As it goes, I think I’m making progress here. I’ve phoned my mam and dad several times since the turn of the year and as I write, we’ll be seeing them in a couple of days. I even sent my mam flowers on her birthday. I’ve definitely spent more time with my kids, making the effort to pick them up from school on a few occasions and going out for walks despite work and shocking weather. I hope I’ve been a decent husband – my wife is very intelligent and yet still hasn’t walked out, so I must be able to take at least a bit of credit for this. And I’ve been in touch with my sister, although I’d have to admit that this is still limited to sending texts, so I could do a lot better.

In truth, I still haven’t figured out my next resolution which just read ‘modify my Duolingo use’. In short though, I’m on a streak of over 650 days, so I must be doing something that means progress here.

I’d decided to write more content about my work, teaching and my football club, Newcastle United. Well so far I’ve managed a couple of Newcastle related blogs, but nothing on teaching, although there was an idea in the pipeline and that will be getting written soon enough.

My resolution to stop buying crisps was going really well. And then my birthday struck. My lovely work friends, led by organiser-in-chief Laura, got me lots of presents and cake and one of my presents was four (count’em) family bags of crisps! I then discovered crisps that I thought I’d already eaten and worse still, bought another big family sized – as in it’s meant for sharing, not that it’s the size of a typical family – bag of tangy tomato ones today. So. I’ve pretty spectacularly fallen off the waggon with this one. This has also ruined my plans for my next resolution, which was to attempt to get a six pack…

Next I said I’d speak to more people. Again, difficult to quantify but again, if I’m honest, I think I’ve probably failed. I mean, I’ve literally no idea who these ‘more people’ even are!

My next two have also been failures. The first was to play more board games with my wife and this hasn’t happened…so maybe that be a better husband thing is a failure too! Then there was to mow the lawn more and put simply, it’s February and the weather has been appalling. The other day when I was in my garden water was coming up through the lawn as I walked on it. So there’s no chance it’s getting mowed!

Next I resolved to run more and enter more races. I’ve ran regularly, despite being poorly for a bit this year and I’ve already entered two races, with more planned. Safe to say that resolving to do something that I already do has been an unmitigated success!

Sadly, I’ve yet to adopt a fake cat named Fellatio Nelson, but I reckon that one’s pretty doable.

I said I’d make more videos – for teaching and for my own amusement – and as we head towards March nothing’s happened. Said videos are still very much just in my head. But, I have a week’s holiday on my own at Easter, so I will vow right here and now that I will make some videos then. I bet you can’t wait! Easter might also be the time when I make at least some headway with the next idea which was to start a podcast. Until my wife produces a list of jobs to fill my time and I get nothing done at all!

The next two of my resolutions involved what I’d laughingly refer to as my softer side and it comes as no surprise to me that both remain filed away in the space in my head reserved for ‘Good ideas that I’m unlikely to find the time for, even though I’ll clearly have the time’. I really do want to raise a big old amount of money for a charity and yet, going back over my resolutions in order to write this update was the first time I’d given it any thought. So, it’s going to take a gargantuan effort for me to make this happen. Similarly, the pen I was going to use in order to write more to the child that I sponsor in South America, is refusing to work on its own, meaning that this worthy resolution remains untouched. It’s still only February though folks…

And it’s ‘see above’ for the next few entries to my list too. I’ve made up no German phrases for various situations in order to tell people, ‘Oh, the Germans have a word for that’. Nor have I had my infected toe treated (it still doesn’t hurt and I haven’t turned green yet though. Maybe in November I’ll manage to limp to the doctor, just as it actually falls off). The Eurovision and Christmas songs also remain untouched and it’s becoming clear that I should have made my list of resolutions into a sign or signs to put up and maybe guilt myself into more action.

My next resolution was to begin noting down some of the things I heard at work. The idea here being that I had an idea for a book because I work in a school and kids constantly say silly or hilarious stuff. Now, I have actually started this…I just have no idea where the notebook is with the things I’d written down. Maybe I left it on my desk and a colleague is now writing a book. If you are and you’re reading this, could you give me an acknowledgement please? Something like, ‘I’d like to thank the careless knobhead who literally presented me with this idea’.

I’d resolved to learn new words and for the sake of this particular blog, I’m going to say that I have. Please don’t ask me what they are though.

I also said that I’d try to use the expression ‘Amuse bouche’ more as well as just making words up to use on people and amuse myself. Again – and there’s a theme emerging here that tells me that my start to the year has been a lot more sluggish than I’d previously imagined – nothing doing.

Given the previous few paragraphs, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am at the fact that I’ve made some progress with the next two resolutions. The first was to discover more new music. Now new meant both actually new and also stuff I’d heard of but never really listened to, in this case. And I’ve discovered both. In the wholly new section, I give you ‘Jenny and Johnny’ a duo with a terrible name for a band, and also ‘Dry Cleaning’. Check them both out, you won’t regret it. Furthermore though, I’ve been listening to some Minnie Riperton and I’d hardly ever done that before, making her some old new music I’ve explored. And, I know this isn’t music, but it is sound that I’ve explored, so I’d like to mention a podcast I’ve discovered via BBC Sounds, called Fairy Meadow. Again, I’d thoroughly recommend it and it also proves I’ve been a tiny bit successful with another of my resolutions.

For the last two though, we return to a familiar theme. The one of ‘Failure’. I can’t say, hand on heart, that I’ve stopped grumbling at people who happen to walk past me and I haven’t started my ‘Diary of a Middle Aged Singleton’ blog. However, it is still only February, so while I’m not going to look back and put a number on my failures, I am aware that the year still has a long way to go. I remain confident that my resolutions list will all be ticked off in good time, while also remaining utterly amazed that I can still type while crossing my fingers…

Anyway enough of this. Have you met my new rescue cat? His name? Ah, now you’re not going to believe this…

Poetry Blog: ‘The cold does not embrace you.’

I’ve written about sleep and sleeplessness quite a few times before. It’s a topic that I keep returning to because every once in a while I’ll find my sleep pattern disturbed and often for a few nights in a row I’ll find myself either lying awake and unable to focus on sleep because my mind is racing or just out of bed, sitting downstairs in our house, wide awake.

This is a poem that focuses on the former of those two scenarios, although as a result of my mind racing, I eventually got out of bed and wrote the poem. It was a night where, if I’m honest, I’m not sure whether I was awake or sleeping fitfully and suffering with nightmares. One thing’s for sure; it wasn’t a pleasant night’s sleep and there was a lot that disturbed me. You think that nightmares are things you left behind in childhood, but then get reminded that you’re sadly mistaken!

The cold does not embrace you
yet, for a short time its shiver soothes your skin
like a smooth palm comforting you through illness, fear.
An uneasy dream shifts and your thoughts are strangers
caught in the void between the fevered images of disturbed sleep
and the disquieting thud of your heart as you realise you're awake again.
Without warning, the rough skin of working hands grabs at your jaw,
takes hold, clutches.
A strangers eyes stare out from a familiar face,
gripped by a mood you know all too well,
before one last squeeze,
then the calloused hand, shoves your face away viciously,
like an imperfect toy on a production line, rejected
not good enough to be loved.
You blink to try and wake only to find another face now,
her hot breath invading your nostrils,
her gibberish bringing spittle to your skin,
her disapproval at the runt of the litter writ large
in neon across unloving eyes and twisted expression
informing you again of what feels like their hatred,
before words are put in your mouth and you flounder,
helpless against a place you don't belong,
a jigsaw you don't fit.
Shaking free, you brace yourself, 
turn your collar against the piercing winter and stumble forward,
in search of somewhere warm.
And while these ghosts will always haunt you 
with their chill,
every once in a while the winter sun will warm your skin.

It feels like there are two antagonists in this poem. The first I’m not sure of and it would be unkind to speculate. However, the second is definitely my grandmother, who was someone that I had a fractious relationship with, at best. She was a woman who never seemed to display any warmth whatsoever to me, which as a child was quite perplexing. In company with my many cousins, I remember she’d frequently refer to me as ‘this one’ while everyone else got called by their name. Let’s just say that it was clear I wasn’t her favourite! I can’t say that her treatment of me didn’t bother me, as it did. But as I got old enough to make my own choices, I just decided to avoid being in the same room as her. Even now though, there are occasions when she comes to mind and it’s never pleasant. Hence, the words in the latter half of the poem.

I tried to end the poem on a more positive note, just explaining what I’ve just mentioned, really. Childhood memories will always be there and will always crop up and affect your day. But there’s always a positive to be found.

I hope you enjoyed the poem or at least it had some kind of effect on you as a reader. The memories I’ve written about were incredibly vivid and I hope that feeling is conveyed by what I’ve written. As ever, feel free to leave a comment.

Review: Leeds Knights vs Raiders IHC

I first got the ice hockey bug on a holiday to Canada. We were in Toronto visiting friends and the local team, Toronto Maple Leafs were heading for the NHL play-offs. We watched a game at our friend’s house and I fell in love immediately with the pace, the action and the atmosphere (of the game, not my friend’s house).

On the same trip, we travelled across Canada to Vancouver and one night, as we were heading back to our hotel, there were thousands of people on the streets and cars everywhere honking horns with people hanging out of windows. It felt like the kind of scene you’d only witness in a film and it took a while to work out what was happening. However, the Vancouver Canucks had just qualified for their first play-offs in a long time and Vancouver was very much in celebratory mood! So, ice hockey had just added another attraction in terms of the fans.

From that moment on it was something that I always intended to make more of an interest, but due to any number of reasons, didn’t really manage to fulfill. Despite being a major city, Leeds didn’t have an ice hockey team and having to follow the progress of the Leafs from afar, I didn’t want to do it again for an English team, so my ice hockey watching plans went on the back burner.

And then, in 2019 as a new ice rink was built in Leeds it was announced that we would have an ice hockey team; the Leeds Chiefs. However, Covid put pay to my hopes of attending games and while I might have fairly regularly driven past the rink, I never visited. In the meantime there was a change of ownership and the team were re-branded as Leeds Knights.

On Saturday evening, thanks to my wife buying me tickets as a birthday present, we attended our first ever ice hockey match; Leeds Knights versus Raiders IHC a team based in Romford in Essex. The whole family went along.

I think I’m probably too old to get overly excited by anything at all nowadays, but I was definitely looking forward to going to Planet Ice. Ice hockey is very much an all-action sport and so I knew we’d be sure to be entertained. Other than that, I didn’t really know what to expect, which I suppose is a good thing!

Having parked up, we made our way to the ice rink, which was only a few minute’s walk away. This being a fledgling sport in Leeds, there wasn’t an enormous queue like you might find at the neighbouring Elland Road stadium on a matchday, and so we were ushered in and pointed in the right direction for our seats within a couple of minutes. After a quick glance at the merchandise stall we made our way up the stairs and into the stand above the rink. I’ll buy a scarf or a puck next time though!

The players were already warming up as we sat down and again, this was very different to what I was used to at football. Only the goalkeeper (the net minder?) seemed to do any stretching at all and the rest of the squad just seemed to skate around at high speed or whack pucks towards the net! A much more dynamic way to get warm and it was something I watched in complete awe. I’ve always been fascinated by people who can skate or ski as they just seem to make it look so effortless and incredibly graceful. I’ve never skated before – I mean, if you can avoid car crash, you’ll just avoid it, right? – but have skied and I never felt like I had any control whatsoever. I make young Bambi look poised.

A word of warning if you’re planning on going to watch ice hockey and something we discovered within minutes of our arrival. Watching ice hockey is not a warm experience! Luckily we were aware of this and attended with several layers of clothing in place, but it was still oddly cold. Not oddly as in, where’s all that cold coming from, but as in it was only really certain parts of me that got cold. I mean, I suppose my toes would be obvious, but my knees? My knees were almost frozen – maybe some hastily improvised knee pads will be an option next time! I’d brought gloves, but my hands never got anywhere near cold enough to wear them, so it was rather strange indeed.

As the face-off/puck drop got closer the mood in the arena built. A countdown clock will automatically raise tension anyway, but when the lights dropped and the opposition emerged from their dressing room to line up, things were beginning to get exciting. I’d expected entrance music and a burst of Leeds Knights racing onto the ice, but instead the announcer gave each individual a build up and they came out alone. After this was done, another surprise, as the teams and fans stood for a burst of the national anthem, which I really wasn’t expecting. And then, the puck was dropped and away we went!

I won’t attempt a match report, given the sheer amount of action and my somewhat ‘relaxed’ grasp of the rules, but suffice to say the game was a real experience. The action itself was almost non stop and even when there were stoppages for various penalties the PA would play a burst of music, meaning the whole crowd were kept positive. Actually, not the whole crowd. We counted 16 Raiders supporters and broadly speaking, this wasn’t a positive night for them. Leeds Knights dominated the game and ran out convincing 7-3 winners, with well over 30 shots at goal. And if 30 odd shots isn’t a great advert for hockey, then I don’t really know what you want our of a sport!

Each period of play is 20 minutes long, followed by a 20 minute break. I didn’t understand the need for such a break until watching the sheer speed of the game. The six players from each side on the ice are frequently rotated and it’s only when you watch the intensity of what they do that you realise why. There’s literally no chance for a breather in ice hockey. I have to say that it all combines to make the game utterly gripping.

We went with our two kids, aged 15 and 12, and both really enjoyed themselves. From the drum-led chanting of Leeds Knights fans, through the adrenaline of the game itself to the frequent bursts of music during breaks, my two – usually found attached to some kind of mobile device – were totally involved. The atmosphere was really family friendly too and smiles were very much the order of the day. There was none of the anger, edge and foul language that I associate with football, where I feel like I’m having to protect my kids rather than just relax and enjoy the game.

I’d thoroughly recommend a trip to the ice hockey, if you have a local team. It’s still very much a niche sport in the UK, but I reckon if you go along you’ll be hooked pretty quickly. We’ll definitely be back to watch the Leeds Knights before the end of the season, hopefully more than once. The four of us thoroughly enjoyed what we encountered and felt absolutely welcome alongside punters who were obviously far more regular watchers than ourselves.

Let’s go Leeds Knights, let’s go!

Poetry Blog: ‘Absent Friends’

This is a poem that I wrote around Christmas time and then spent far too much of my time either poorly, relaxing or just eating and drinking to remember to write it up properly for my blog. As a result, it’s a little out of date, but I think the sentiment holds up, whatever the occasion.

It’s a poem about reflecting back and remembering those that we’ve lost, which I suppose we tend to do at important points in the year. We do it all year round, I suppose, but at times like Christmas and birthdays, when you’re maybe at your most relaxed you’re more prone to thinking about how much a particular person is missed or maybe even just how much they themselves would have enjoyed that occasion, it’s a little more pertinent.

Absent Friends

Absent friends sparkle even more at this time of year
and we raise a glass to remember more intensely now
than over the passing months,
more distant now, yet somehow our focus tunes more 
than before and we toast our absent friends,
tears punctuating what is still a celebration,
staining cheeks and mixing incongruously 
alongside cracker borne paper hats and party poppers.
our absent friends are guests once again and we all see
those smiles, hear those voices, cradle each other in arms 
used just hours before to shatter anticipation and tear at wrapping
covering all manner of happy shapes.
Now, a moment hovers longer than a moment, 
sharper than the year before until you can almost see them,
almost touch them, hold them again as they stand in the kitchen,
glass in hand nodding wistfully, gone but only a thought away,
yet agonisingly too distant for one more conversation.
And all we have left is love...

I must admit that when I looked again at the draft of this poem in my notebook, it didn’t make a lot of sense. The start of it, anyway. It was another poem that I’d written in the early hours and given that the first couple of lines didn’t seem to make any sense, perhaps I was more tired than I thought! After reading the rest of the poem a couple of times I was able to re-draft and change those lines in order to give it some clarity. I was tempted to leave it as it was – poetic license and all that – but decided that something that made sense was better than something so confusing. I’d love to know what I meant with the initial first line though!

‘Absent Friends’ is a product of both Christmas and New Year. I think we’re more likely to look back at New Year, but I know that having lost a close family friend relatively recently, our thoughts were with them on both occasions, both this year and last. I suppose it’s natural that we look back at these times. As I said earlier, it’s obvious that when we’re relaxed and happy we might reflect on those that aren’t around anymore and what they would have made of the situation that we happily find ourselves in.

In a different way, we found ourselves explaining to our children about another absent friend this year. The absent friend in question – still alive, but moved overseas – lived in the UK as a student teacher years ago and joined us for Christmas Day as he had no family around. He’s from Australia – hi Andy, if you read this – and so everything he knew and loved was on the other side of the world. As our mate, it was only right that he joined us and it was a fantastic day. We still think of him every year at Christmas and this year it was lovely to re-tell the tale of that particular Christmas Day, even if it left our kids quite perplexed as to why we chose to share our day with anyone else, when we always just have Christmas as a family these days! It was funny to hear their almost outrage at the fact that our guest wasn’t grandma or grandad, uncle or auntie, but Andy!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the poem and that, if it brought any memories back, they were fond ones rather than bad ones. Sometimes, despite the obvious pain that it can cause, it’s just a nice, warm feeling we get when thinking of those absent friends.

How old do I feel?

A funny question, this. And one that is quite close to my heart really. You see, I started my blog shortly after recovering from a heart operation having been admitted to hospital a month or so earlier and being told I was lucky to be alive. Among many things that were brought to mind around this time was the question of feeling so old. That, coupled with the realisation that I really was now middle aged and the desire to write prompted me to write a three part blog about the troubles I’d encountered and the realisation that I felt very old indeed.

You can read that very first blog on the link here that asks When did I get so old?

In truth, the question of how old I feel has been a regular topic in the vast desert of my mind ever since. Surgery was a wake-up call; I needed to be healthier, fitter, stronger – I needed to live.

Since then, I’ve made changes – not perhaps as dramatic as I’d like to make, but everything’s in transition at my time of life – and am able to give a far better answer to the question these days! So when asked to write something about it https://billswritingplace.wordpress.com/2022/01/01/how-old-do-i-feel/ by my very good internet pal, Bill of ‘A Silly Place’ fame, I leapt at the chance.

Like Bill, I’m approaching 50. In fact, I’m 50 in February (which leaves plenty of time to organise some kind of gift, dear reader!). I really don’t feel it though. If others are to be believed, I don’t look it either, which is something I’m truly grateful for! Without sounding too big-headed or pleased with my little self, I’m comfortable in my own skin and to a point, with my own reflection in the mirror. But ultimately, this isn’t really important in terms of how old I feel.

So, if I had to nail it and put an actual number on how old I feel, then I’d plump for 18. Not bodily. Running and football and having two kids – I didn’t actually birth them, but sweet Jesus, they’re exhausting – have definitely taken their toll. However, in my head, I feel 18.

There’s a brilliant song by The Courteeners called ‘Not 19 Forever’ and while I love the song, I’d argue vociferously against the title and its sentiment. I won’t reach 19, because I am 18 forever!

So, why do I feel so young? Well, it’s not as positive as it sounds. I feel 18 because I retain a fully formed sense of silliness. Just as I did at that age, I really don’t take things too seriously. I like to have fun and I’m happier than ever when just larking around and having a laugh. In short, I suppose that makes me immature, but they do say that boys take a while to catch up, don’t they? So, I’m only doing as I’m told really. But even as I hurtle towards 50, I still don’t feel that I’m a very good adult. In fact, I’m just a much better kid.

“But dad, I don’t want to form a band!” “Why not? I’m still young and hip and down with the kids, maaaan!”
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Part of feeling 18 is that I have the same kind of daft ideas that I had as a kid. A fair few of my blog posts will prove that. My recent New Year’s Resolutions post included ideas like learning to moonwalk and adopting an imaginary cat with a rude name, all very much the ideas of an overgrown child. Last summer I bought a Snoopy t-shirt and I still have a Hong Kong Phooey one and while I know these are not the attire of an almost 50 year old bloke, I just really like them.

Eighteen year old me still regularly plays both kitchen disco and kitchen band while doing the dishes. In fact, I like very little more than the chance to mince and mime my way through songs, just simply because it amuses me greatly. In my head on these occasions I’m a combination of a young Mick Jagger, a Jackson 5 era Michael, James Brown and Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, the frontman of Swedish band The Hives. In reality I’m likely much more a slightly out of shape, yet curiously skinny bloke with greying hair and a few moves, none of which are actually that great. But I’m bloody well 18!

“OK Wembley, this is the last song of the night. You’ve been a lovely…oh hi kids, dad’ll get your tea soon…he’s just…working…” Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

I think that part of the reason I still feel 18 is that I spend a large proportion of my time surrounded by young people. I’m a high school teacher, so I’m in the presence of people from 11-16 five days a week. And although this could well be the reason that I’ve developed nervous ticks and often wake in the night in a cold sweat, screaming, I think it’s kept me young, so to speak. I’m obliged to see things from a pre-teen and teenage point of view, I’m informed of the latest trends and I’m haunted, daily by their language! I suppose I’m inspired by their energy as well. For all the mini battles we might have with behaviour, attitude and application, there are a million more inspiring, positive and fun interactions to be had and it keeps a smile on your face as well as giving you the motivation to get out of bed and get into work every day. In my case, it feels like it keeps me young too!

As well as teaching, I coach a youth football team. This definitely helps in the feeling 18 stakes! At least twice a week I’m actively playing football and because I’m very competitive it means I throw myself into it…like a kid, really. It’s something I’m really enthusiastic about; not just getting to kick a ball around, but working out how to inspire our players, how to develop their skills and get the best out of them. It’s tiring, but it’s also another aspect of my life that means I really don’t feel like an almost 50 year old. However, there are occasions when it can have the opposite effect and leave me feeling like I’m nearly 90, not 50! A few months ago I injured my shoulder because I thought I’d go in goal during some shooting practice. The more I saved, the more competitive it became and the more I threw myself around! It was loads of fun, but I regretted it the next day – and for months afterwards – as I’d damaged a nerve in my shoulder. It led to a miserable summer of being in constant pain and frankly, I’ve never felt so old.

Mainly though, I genuinely feel young. Of course, I get more tired than before, but I’m not one for napping or just sitting about. I think because my job requires a lot of energy and my coaching and interests do too, then I retain that (almost) teenage energy, a lot of the time.

My name is Graham and I’m an almost 50-year-old man. I have some wrinkles and some grey hair. In my head, I’m still 18, although I’m not sure my knees agree…

2022: Letters, a gammy toe and a fake adopted cat. My New Year’s Resolutions.

I wasn’t going to write this post. I was reasonably determined not to write something so predictable. I mean, I pride myself on trying to something at least a little bit different and surely every blogger going is banging on about their resolutions? Nothing wrong with that. But I wasn’t going to do it.

And then I woke up just before 3am on New Year’s Day having had around an hour and a half’s sleep. I thought I’d just roll over and slumber on, but no. It’s quite a regular thing for me to get an idea stuck in my head at this time of day and so when it happened this morning, there wasn’t a lot else to do but get up.

I also had a pounding headache, not from the drink I might add. So, I’d go downstairs, have a glass of water and some paracetamol and scribble some things down on a bit of paper. I WOULD NOT stay for long. Just over an hour later and I had written a huge bullet point list of resolutions, a first draft of a poem about resolutions, drank a pint of water, taken two paracetamol and tidied quite a few things away in an attempt to start my resolutions early, even though said resolution (Just pick stuff up, regardless of who left it there) wasn’t actually on my new list.

Here are the results. Some of this is simply exactly what I wrote down, while other bits have been added to because it’s clear even to me that they should get explained. I don’t want people to worry about me. So, in no particular order…

  • Learn to moonwalk. I will study YouTube and then astonish/bore to death anyone within my moonwalking eyeline.
  • Write my YA novel and Christmas story. I started the first of these around this time last year and then ran out of wherewithal. It’s still there, in my notebook and I still like it. It has been a lifelong disappointment to me that I’m not related to Bing Crosby. Imagine the money White Christmas makes every year. My Christmas story is one of many attempts I’ll be making this year to make enough money to speed up retirement. It’s also a good idea, if I say so myself.
  • Research and eat more heart healthy foods.
  • Be a better husband, father, son, brother. There are times when I think that I’m pretty shit in all of these roles. I tried to ring my mam and dad this morning, but they were out. By my estimation, this means that I’m already smashing this one, as the young people would say.
  • Modify my Duolingo use. That’s what I wrote down. I’m not sure what it means.
  • Write more teaching and football content for my blog. These subjects always get more people reading, which fascinates me as even after 22 years of teaching I feel like I don’t really know a great deal more than talk a lot and write stuff on the board. I make a mean display when I can be arsed though. Did I ever tell you about the Andes mountain range that I drew on a huge display board? It was the size of something you’d find in a major art gallery. People gasped when they saw it. I don’t like to talk about it much though…Perhaps I’ll write an epic poem about it…
  • Stop buying crisps. They’re like heroin to me.
  • Attempt to get a six pack – I’ll settle for four – while refusing to give up beer and chocolate, in moderation. Did I ever tell you about my lockdown six pack? Probably not…I don’t like to talk about it much.
  • Speak to people more. People must think I hate them and that I’m just really miserable. I’m not. I’m actually very shy and genuinely can’t imagine that people will want to talk to me. I regularly imagine their thoughts as I drone on about football. As a result, I’ve most likely uttered one word to at least 60% of the people I work with over the last year. That word is ‘Alright?’
  • Play more board games with my wife. She loves them. Be a better husband, see? Seriously, I’m like a freight train once I get going.
  • Mow my lawns more regularly. It looks better and would surely annoy my neighbours, right?
  • Run more. Take part in more races and get back to Parkrun.
  • Amuse myself by telling people I’ve adopted a cat and named it Fellatio Nelson. I might write some spoof adventures of said cat. All because the name amused me. This is genuinely the resolution that kept me awake and got me out of bed, by the way. Some insight into the mind of an idiot there…
  • Make more videos. I created a teacher character called Damian Malarkey in the first days of lockdown. He was the kind of arsehole I really don’t like and as such, made me laugh a lot. My colleagues enjoyed the video and this tells me that Damian deserves another airing. I’ve met quite a few Damian’s in my time in teaching, so I know him well. I also secretly worry that I’m turning into him. For ages I’ve also harboured the idea of videoing myself dancing to certain songs, not because I’m a good dancer, but because it makes me laugh. I do it all the time. I’m like a shit Mick Jagger, I hope. I also mime along to certain songs and have what I think is a brilliant idea for one of these mimes. It’ll no doubt be shit. I’ll laugh though.
  • Start a podcast. I’ve mentioned the idea to my best mate. I repeatedly let him down by floating these ideas and then not being able to find time. I think we’d just chat about middle aged stuff. You know, just moaning and stuff?
  • Get sponsors for a run. Try to raise a silly amount of money. I’ve got a lot of people to be grateful to.
  • Write to the boy I sponsor more often. Over the past 22 years I’ve sponsored two separate children in South America, yet probably only written to them half a dozen times. This is something I hugely regret. (Now you can all join my cardiologist in knowing for certain that I actually have a heart).
  • Make up German words and phrases for things and pass them off as actual fact. “Oh, the Germans have a word for that. Yes, you’re experiencing schencillpumpenhooff.
  • Get my toe treated before it either falls off or I turn into a hobbit or a troll. One toenail is black and has some kind of crust under it. It doesn’t hurt, so what with lockdown conditions and social distancing, I’ve just put up with it. No doubt the Germans have a word for that. If they don’t I’ll make one up for when I go to see the pharmacist.
  • Write a Eurovision entry. I’ve wanted to do this for years. I have the bones of one written down somewhere and it wouldn’t take much to finish.
  • Write at least 2 Christmas songs. One spoof, one real. That second home by the sea won’t buy itself.
  • Start to note down things that pupils and colleagues say. I’ve wanted to write a ‘Things I Heard in Class’ book for years. And boy, do I hear some things.
  • Learn some new words.
  • Invent new words and phrases to impress gullible people with.
  • Use the phrase ‘amuse bouche’ more. I don’t really know what it means, but doesn’t it sound nice? See also words like ‘journey’ and ‘vision’, but only inappropriately. E.g. ‘I’ve just finished reading a book about teaching. I’d like to thank the bedside lamp for all it’s support while I’ve been on this journey.
  • ‘Discover’ new music. Not new like bands containing teenagers, necessarily. More bands that I should know, but haven’t really listened to over the years. I recently discovered James Taylor, someone I’d been fully aware of for years, just by asking Alexa to shuffle some of his songs. I’ve undoubtedly benefitted from this. More please!
  • Stop grumbling at people when I hear them walking past our back fence. Better still, stop this behaviour in supermarkets. Face masks are not soundproof.
  • Write my Diary of a Middle Aged Singleton blog. A spoof, inspired by someone who lives close to us.

The final resolution doesn’t get a bullet point as it is simply to write further blogs updating your good selves on the progress of my resolutions. Some of these are just to amuse myself but plenty of them are deadly serious, which I think is the point of these type of things. In total there are 28 resolutions, plus the promise to keep the blog up-to-date on their progress. I’m genuinely hopeful that I can keep some of them up!

Christmas 2021: Some thoughts…

It’s just gone 3am on Sunday 26th December 2021 and despite a long Christmas day and the fact that I could have crashed out on our settee at around 4pm, I am still very much awake. I think I dropped off into a fluttery eyed sleep of sorts somewhere between quarter past midnight and quarter to one in the morning, but after that I was wide awake.

My wife chatted sleepily to me for a short while, but then as her deep breathing told me that I was now alone, I just got back out of bed and headed downstairs.

And then I wrote. A long poem that on first read back seems like something that I really like, another that I’m not that sure of, the premise for a children’s book about Santa and Christmas – because I’m told that the two generally go hand in hand – and then an A4 page of bullet point notes about Christmas that will make up the bones of this very blog. After that, at around 3.20am, I went back to bed. I was still awake enough to glance at the clock later and see it reading 3.45am. Suffice to say, I’m a tad tired this Boxing Day morning.

So far, it’s been a strange old Christmas. Some family – and some people in general – are insisting that visitors take a lateral flow test before visiting, emphasising the odd shift that Christmas has taken in the past couple of years. I think they’re right to do this, by the way. If you’re shielding someone vulnerable then why put them at risk? And if you’re unwilling to take a test in order to see family, then what kind of person are you? After all, Christmas is about family, so if sticking a glorified cotton bud up your nose is enough to put you off, then I hope Santa avoids your house just to make a point.

For me personally, I’m left questioning what will happen with my parents once again. In summer I saw them for the first time in over 18 months, thanks to Covid and now, having tentatively planned another post Christmas visit, it looks likely that we won’t get to go. My mam and dad are just getting over some kind of winter bug – referred to by my mam as ‘this chest thing’, like I’d be fully acquainted with it already – and combined with the omicron variant currently doing the rounds, visiting them seems a bad idea for all of us. But then, can we afford to wait? Not really the thought process you ever want, let alone in the season to be jolly.

When we visited in summer I had a moment of clarity while out on a walk with them and started taking furtive photos of them both. I didn’t want anything posed, just images of them chatting, looking at each other and things like that. And I got some lovely ones, but now, in the very early morning, thinking about everything while wide awake, I regret not taking dozens more.

Away from the serious stuff about Christmas we had a lovely moment yesterday that really took me back. My son – aged 12 – burst into tears upon opening a present. It was a gaming desk – or as people of my vintage call them, a desk – and he was so delighted and so surprised that he ran across to his mum, hugged her tightly and just sobbed. It was the kind of thing that would happen every year and on birthdays when our kids were younger, but not so much anymore and I must admit, it brought a tear to my eye. As commercial as Christmas is, it was just a really lovely moment.

Christmas takes a lot of balancing. As someone who didn’t always have a lot when I was a kid, I always vowed that when I had my own they’d always have good birthdays and Christmases to remember. But I never wanted them to be spoilt. So we’re always working with a balancing act in that aspect of Christmas. So the joy brought about by some flat-pack furniture made the day, really!

Another area of balance is with the indulgence of the whole period. The chance to eat and drink a ridiculous amount of deliciousness is almost too much. But then I think about fitness and my middle aged body as well as heart health and Christmas becomes a real battle between my ego – I mean, you try catching sight of your little fat, hairy belly in the bathroom mirror – , your health – I still want to be able to exercise regularly – and temptation; show me someone who can resist pigs in blankets and I’ll show you a wrong ‘un! So the past two days, with their wine, Christmas dinner, cheesecake, chocolates and crisps and the next week or so of all the same stuff and then some, is going to be difficult, especially when quite a few of my presents have been either alcohol or chocolate related!

The lead up to Christmas continues to be a royal pain in the backside. It shouldn’t be. We should finish work and be able to take ourselves off out, doing bits of last minute Christmas shopping and maybe rounding things off with a visit to the pub or a meal out. In actual fact though, what happens now is the ‘deep clean’. And judging from things others have said, it’s not just us. Everyone is working day and night to get their house spotless…in order to then scatter wrapping paper, boxes and opened presents all over the place.

In the lead up to Christmas we washed the windows, transported all manner of stuff to charity shops, recycled like never before, scrubbed floors, made every part of the bathroom shine, washed down walls and kitchen cupboards, hoovered repeatedly, dusted, wiped down skirting boards and just generally found new homes for all manner of things. As a consequence, I’m absolutely shattered by the time we get round to Christmas morning. Is it any wonder that I’ve not exercised since Tuesday and that in actual fact, indulgence is winning when it comes to what I’ll be doing with my days!

So now, on the evening of Boxing Day, it’s all well and truly over. And there are a couple of things remaining to tell you about in terms of stuff I realised or discovered yesterday. The first was that Christmas crackers are utter rubbish and almost a complete waste of time. I’m not a party hat wearer, the jokes are awful and the gifts are an absolute waste of time. I got yet another set of tiny screwdrivers yesterday and they now reside in a cupboard with all the rest.

The other thing was the realisation that charades is an absolute winner. Inhibitions suitable loosened by a glass of wine, I get to show off and act like a knobhead, thus playing to all of my strengths without ever having to truly exert myself. And all within arms reach of another glass of wine!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed Christmas, the holidays, the festivities…whatever you refer to it as. All in all, as the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of year; I wish I got to see more people, but I know I’ll still have a lovely time! See you in the New Year!

Poetry Blog: Christmas Lights

So this is a poem I wrote a few weeks back. It’s seasonal and inspired by the sights around the town where I live, particularly in the centre where the Christmas tree was put up and decorated a few weeks ago now and the town had its annual ‘big’ lights switch on.

I think the other thing that inspired it – apart from Christmas itself – a time that I’ve always loved – is the way that people celebrate the festive period with lights on houses, trees visible in windows and various ornamental features around the gardens. I know some may think it’s tacky and cheap, but for me it’s always felt just a little bit magical. As I say though, I’ve always loved Christmas.

Anyway, it got me thinking and then inspired me to scrawl down some stuff in my notebook. From there, well it became a poem.

A Town at Christmas

For weeks the town's lights shimmer a symphony,
spotlighting the drizzle of a northern sky and somehow warming the air of frozen nights.
The town hall clock seems to reach for the sky even more keenly than before at this time of year,
its stately architecture contrasting sharply with the fact that spirits are lifted more by oversized, synthetic snowmen, baubles and Santas 
flanked by grinning cartoon reindeers.
Every walk home brings a new discovery, 
a rueful smile and outside, adults are kids again, footsteps lightened, strides widened by this special atmosphere.

It’s funny how, the same old places and the same old sights can be transformed at this time of year. There are certainly more beautiful places and even at Christmas, more beautifully decorated places. But I don’t think it matters. Wherever you live can feel utterly transformed as each day of December passes and more decorations appear. Throw in the sound of Christmas songs and what I suppose we have to refer to as a dollop of Christmas spirit and it really is the best time of year and you could be living anywhere.

Well, as I write we have a few days until Christmas. In our house there’s still a lot to do in order to be prepared for the big day. Family to visit, tidying to be done, last minute shopping and wrapping and of course relaxing and watching Christmas films. Hopefully, if you’re as flat out as we are, it’ll all be worth it and you’re still finding time to enjoy the kinds of things I’ve written in the poem!

Have a great Christmas everyone!

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