X-Box, YouTube edits, Minecraft? Sorry, I’m just not game.

I’m starting to think I’m living in the wrong house. The more I hear the shouting, the stamping and watch the levels of concentration and frustration that go into looking at a mobile phone, the more I feel like an alien in my own home.

So what’s the problem? Has lockdown found us out? Are me and the wife no longer compatible after 25 years together and has everything just run its natural course? Have my children decided they want a cooler, younger dad and have I decided that, in fact, I just don’t really like them? Have they been mixing with the wrong crowd? Do they all resent my accent, my north-east roots and my football team?

Well, although my daughter especially would like a younger, cooler dad, the answer is no. In fact, it’s just a question of creativity and a difference of interests. There’s no major crisis; a marriage won’t end, there’s lots of love still to share and I’ll be dadding around these parts for a while yet. It’s just that I don’t understand all this gaming and YouTubing!

While I don’t live in a house of what you’d call obsessive gamers it’s fair to say that the other three occupants (wife and two children) play their fair share of games. My son especially, is worryingly keen on his X-Box. He’s ten and into things like Minecraft and Roblox, as well as being a fan of FIFA. My wife, while also enjoying the odd game on X-Box, is far more likely to be found scrolling around and tapping away on her phone playing Hay Day or word games, while my daughter is obsessed with making video edits. None of this makes any sense to me.

I think I probably gave up all things game related in my twenties. At that time I was hooked on Football Manager and would gladly spend hours buying and selling players and taking teams from non league through to European glory. I would spend so long playing, sometimes into the early hours, that it would cause arguments. And it became a real bone of contention in my relationship. So I stopped. Simple. I still have the odd urge to play, especially when a friend mentions the game, but I know that the demands on my time really won’t allow. And dabbling with such addiction is a dangerous game to play.

It’s not, however, the act of playing the game or making the video that I don’t understand. It’s the games and videos themselves. I don’t know as much about the kind of video edits that my daughter makes, so can’t really comment in any detail. I will though, of course! I’ve watched them and they made me feel unnaturally old! Images were cut together so quick that I couldn’t really tell what was going on, let alone see the point. The gaming however, is another matter.

The first thing that strikes me when I watch my son playing Minecraft or Roblox is just how primitive it looks. In an age where computer graphics look like scenes from life itself, these games are put together with blocks and they look like the kind of graphics and games I grew up with. But I can get over that. The thing that really puzzles me is what he’s actually meant to be doing.

Socially, it’s a nice thing, really. He’s there, headset on, controller gripped tightly, conversing with several friends and rampaging through some kind of landscape. But why? From what I can gather, on Minecraft if he’s not building something, he’s killing something. Unless of course he’s just running away from something that’s trying to kill him. And then there’s the fact that sometimes one of his friends might just try to destroy the thing he’s built, because that’s funny right? Nope, you’ve lost me. It’s like getting some IKEA furniture, but with added – and made up – jeopardy.

Then there’s Roblox, which seems to have several hundred different varieties of game to it. Sometimes he’s in a world – building, of course – while trying to find other gangs’ eggs and break them. Egg Wars, apparently. No, really. He’s just running around trying to smash eggs. He’ll be simultaneously trying to keep his own eggs alive. At other times he’s earning money to buy cars and then drive them down a hill, in what seems to be a huge garage, and crash them into the wall at the end. His character will just bounce out of the wreckage ready to do it all again. I’ve stood and watched this, transfixed, for a good quarter of an hour, and nothing changes. Drive, crash, drive, crash ad infinitum. I don’t understand. I watch, waiting for something to happen and yet it just doesn’t. And he keeps on doing it like it’s the greatest thing man has ever discovered. Weird. I usually walk off feeling like I might be going mad.

And then there’s the noise. The gaming noise. We have a wooden floor in our living room and when he’s playing X-Box the noise is just incredible. He doesn’t seem to be able to stand still. If his character is moving then so is he. Literally bouncing around the room, thudding off the floor with every step. While he’s doing this he’s invariably shouting nonsense into his headset’s microphone. Sometimes it’s sentences, commands, sometimes it’s just words, but more often than not it’s simply tortured noises. Like someone’s invited a zombie or a bear into the house. Or a zombified bear. Recently I made a video – a poetry reading – and while it wasn’t something deadly serious that I was doing, I didn’t want peoples’ main reaction having watched to have been wondering about phoning Childline because someone in Graham’s house was torturing a child or an animal. But despite the fact that I was in another room, and the fact that he’d been asked to try and keep the noise down for just a few minutes, there he was “Nnnnnghhhh”ing and “Aaaaaarrrgggghhhh”ing on in the background.

My eldest child also baffles me with her gaming choices. She’s a fairly avid player of the game BitLife, a life simulator where the aim appears to be to become a model citizen. Because of course actual life – not a simulation – is simply not enough when you’re thirteen. Again, I just don’t get it. She seems to spend her time on it aiming to become anything but a model citizen. If she’s not telling me that she’s got eight children by seven different dads, then she’s declaring that she’s lost her job or some other worryingly negative achievement, like having mudered someone. This is literally always accompanied by a huge grin.

I suppose some of the attraction here comes from the fact that teenagers need to feel more grown up. And we all wanted that when we were younger. Maybe BitLife should add a paying your Council Tax section or a ‘the top of the tap’s come off in the bathroom and there’s water everywhere’ bit. Add some more of the humdrum of actual real life in and let’s see how attractive it all is then!

Her other obsession is with video editing. Now I totally see the point here. It’s creative, it’s a skill that may well be useful in later life and given that she’s quite artistic it serves to sate some of that appetite. But then I watch some of her videos and I’m absolutely lost. When she was a lot younger they used to just be her dancing and flicking her hair to music. Not exactly interesting, but harmless all the same. And also ones to use during the Father of the Bride speech at any future wedding that she may have.

Nowadays, she seems to specialise in pictures of celebrities edited together with captions and music. People actually watch them! She’s also edited stuff together about celebrity news stories. And when I say celebrities, I mean absolute talentless nonentities. I watch them and, as well as being disorientated by the speed of the edits, I’m utterly puzzled as to who these people are. I never recognise anyone! My daughter just laughs at her middle-aged dad, face screwed up in concentration and failing to see the point, once again.

Lastly, we come to my wife; also a bit of a gamer. Now some of the time she plays what she calls ‘educational games’; things where you have to make words or do a bit of maths. She’s also topping up her German language skills via Duolingo. All fair enough. However, then we come to some of the other games that she plays. (And reading this back, that’s quite the terrifying sentence about one’s wife).

Now, to be fair, she plays each of the following games with one of our children. So, it’s a nice thing to do. A parent playing with their children. No problem. Until of course you look at the details.

I shouldn’t have a problem with this gaming. I could easily go somewhere else and do something else. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But in our house, that’s impossible, because gaming tends to take the form of sitting in the front room, using the big TV, clutching a controller while shouting at the other person in the room. Teamwork, in our house, certainly does not make the dream work. I have never heard arguments like these. Just the other afternoon, I had to stop making a series of work-related phone calls such was the noise below me in our front room. At one point, as one player let the other down and probably got them into a position where death was the only outcome possible, there was the most blood-curdling scream I think I’ve ever heard. I gave it a few more minutes and then just gave up. No one’s actually listening to what you’re saying when there might be a serial killer at work in the background.

The games have no appeal to me whatsoever. One of them is a Jurassic Park game – I have no idea which one. I watched them play a little bit of it just the other day and after a while just had to walk off bewildered, as usual. For a good ten minutes all they did was manoeuvre a jeep around a landscape – probably called Jurassic Park now I come to think of it – before stopping to take pictures of dinosaurs. It seems to be that these photos could be ‘sold’ for money in the game, but as far as I could tell no one had any idea what constituted a good photograph and thus the value of them just kept coming up way short of what was needed. What a waste of time and effort.

Next, we have two more games – Plants vs Zombies and Garden Warfare II. (I had to ask for the names, by the way – as if I would’ve known about the existence of Garden Warfare, let alone the follow up!) Now, I’ll confess, I don’t know what the latter one is. But a part of me hopes it’s the battle to get plants in to the garden in order to annoy your neighbours. The other one is simply plants fighting zombies. They seem to just take a side and then shoot at each other. Again, it usually involves my wife and son and again, more than anything, it seems to just be a case of screaming at each other for doing it wrong. Meanwhile, a zombie has just killed one or both of them. Now maybe I’m too practical, but when I see them playing it I just can’t get past the fact that plants can’t run around and zombies don’t actually exist, and that even if they did I’m not sure they could fire a gun.

I suppose this just shows that, in terms of games and gaming I’m very much a fish out of water. This often leads to our front room being very much a no-go zone for me. Really, I shouldn’t criticise as in a way the gaming that goes on in my house is just another form of creativity. It could be worse. The rest of them could all hate football or music and then I’d be truly lost. So, I can be thankful that it’s just a small difference. That said, I don’t think it’ll ever be a world that I really set foot in. And that includes as a plant, zombie or a strange figure made up entirely of squares.

Coaching football: When just in case becomes just too much.

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Back from Storm Ciara to announce a surprise postponement!

As a grassroots football coach it’s easy to become obsessive. I’ve blogged about this before. Training sessions, team shape, ordering kit, even how kids’ families might feel when their son or daughter isn’t picked. But our obsession with weather must be right up there.

Since going back to coaching I’ve become completely obsessed with the weather. One of the first things I do each morning at work is to bring up the BBC’s weather page on my screen. The tab is always open on my phone too. And as dull as it undoubtedly is, I’m forever checking. Percentage chance of rain, wind-speed and the search for the sunshine emoji are personal favourites. But it’s essential. No, really. It’s essential.

It’s not even a case of what the sky is doing on matchday either. Some weeks are spent scanning the day by day percentage chance of rain in the week leading up to a game in order to assess whether we’ll have a pitch or a swimming pool waiting for us on a Sunday morning. I spend more time refreshing the weather than is healthy really. But then you never know when the forecast will change and the rain will just disappear.

This week though I feel like my obsessiveness has moved on to a new, much sadder level than ever before. My team, Morley Glen Juniors Whites of the Garforth League, division 3a should have been in cup action. And we’re on a cup run, so this is exciting stuff. Although, when I say a cup ‘run’ I mean that we got a bye in the first round and today should have been the second round, but the season going as it has been doing, we’ll take any win possible. Even if we won a game that wasn’t even played against an opposition that didn’t even exist. In my head it was a tactical triumph.

As ever, having confirmed the match details with the opposition coach on the previous Sunday afternoon, I checked the weather. With the pitch in mind I went through every individual day. I’d be at work for most of it, but it feels important to know if it’s going to just rain all week or whether we can expect a drier pitch by the weekend. As I said before, it can be the difference between a pitch and a swimming pool.

The week looked great. Day after day of dry weather, one or two warm-ish temperatures, sunshine and a bit of a breeze. Our pitch would be brilliant. And then I read Sunday. The cloud and rain emoji spelt trouble, but maybe it’d be a case of getting on with it and getting soaked again, like we have done on several occasions this season already. But there was an exclamation mark. In a triangle. A weather warning. And clicking on to the actual day would reveal the small matter of potential 48mph winds. Driving home that evening from work the news then informed me of the approaching storm, this one given the charming moniker of Ciara.

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As the week progressed it seemed that the wind speed was increasing day by day. I’d refresh the weather several times a day just in case the storm had miraculously changed direction and was now heading for Spain or somewhere else that wasn’t Morley. But oh no. This lass Ciara was very definitely heading our way. Ever the optimist though, I was still texting all concerned on Saturday night, confirming that yes, the game was still on and that I intended to have a walk over to the pitch on Sunday morning to check exactly how things were. The now predicted 68mph winds weren’t going to cause a problem.

And so it came to pass that I left my front door slightly before 8am this morning and headed out into a quite horrendous storm. I could hear the scale of the thing through the bathroom window while having a shave half an hour earlier. I could see it from the kitchen window when I went downstairs. But a combination of guilt and stubbornness prevented me from calling the match off from the comfort and warmth of my own home. Surely, once you were out there, you could have a game of football, right?

There was no-one around as I started the five minute walk to the pitches. Scanning the houses around me seemed to reveal that people were still in bed, perhaps playing hide and seek with Ciara. The main road also revealed no cars. But still, I pressed on. Of course I did.

In actual fact, it didn’t feel that windy. It was raining, which probably didn’t bode well for the pitch, but the wind wasn’t too bad. There was hope for this game yet.

And then I turned a corner and headed up a narrow path that leads to the pitches. Now the wind stopped playing games with me. Suddenly I was being battered and it was actually quite tricky to walk in a straight line. Like three years at university encapsulated into a matter of seconds, but with less lager.

Staggering like a drunk I had to keep my head down now because the rain was actually stinging my face. But I still hadn’t checked the pitch. There was a glimmer of hope for this game and the magic of the cup was still alive. I kept on going, still with no other human soul anywhere in sight. Where were the dog walkers that normally left us a Sunday morning surprise? Where were the runners in badly matched shades of lycra? Who knew?

Before I knew it I was out in the open. Ciara was flinging me round like a rag doll (Wow, reading that back, perhaps I’ve got a Mills and Boon or a Fifty Shades in me yet?) but I was ridiculously determined to carry on. Pausing to edge my way up a muddy grass bank in order to avoid a path wide puddle, I pressed on as best I could. I slipped and slid and for a moment feared that I was going to end up face down in the mud, but I leapt the last bit in hope and desperation and made it to the other side of the path. I mean, how stupid would I have looked falling in the mud? Well, in truth, no more stupid than I did with rain streaming down my face and a veritable lake down my front, but my obsessive coach’s nature tells me that as yet, this game hasn’t actually been called off.

I briefly recall playing in horizontal snow last season and imagine that we could yet have a game. And then I reach the pitch. Even at a distance the surface water is clearly visible and I know that unless we play in wellies we haven’t got a game. But still I feel that I should walk on the actual grass to just confirm it. I’m wearing fly knit running trainers that give no protection at all and my feet are already damp, but there’s nothing like the feeling of actual water squelching between your toes to confirm a postponement. So out I stride.

Except I can’t stride out as it’s far too slippy. So I tip-toe on to the grass like some kind of wet, clumsy ballerina. We still have white lines, which is a plus, but in no time at all I’m ankle deep in liquid mud. I hang around for a few minutes, just walking on the pitch, maybe in hope of a dry patch, but it’s inevitable that we’ll have to postpone. I love football, but it’ll be no fun whatsoever to play in this, let alone stand around barking instructions at my team.

I spot a dog walker approaching and it’s this sight that brings me to my senses. We exchange pleasantries, each as funny as the other in a not funny at all kind of way.

“Lovely morning.”

“Aye, just beautiful isn’t it?”

We’re vying the title of Archbishop of Banterbury here, but rather than claim the sceptre and funny hat, I walk on, heading for home. I’m soaked and there’s a path wide lake to avoid on the way back.

When I get back the whole family are waiting for me. My wife and daughter both tell me how ridiculous I look and how stupid I’ve been, but it just makes me laugh. My son joins in, probably more out of relief that he doesn’t have to go out into the storm and attempt to play football. I know why I’ve been out. I understand that I could have called this game off from the safety of my home, but that wouldn’t be right and proper. Other coaches will understand.

I dry off – every item of clothing is wet (I’m definitely writing that racy novel by the way, ladies) – and head downstairs for breakfast. Picking up my phone to relay the postponement to all involved, I see that I have a message. I open it to find that, from the safety of his home, the opposition coach has texted.

“That wind’s probably going to spoil the game mate.”

When did I get so old?

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Young people, doing young stuff, yesterday. Possibly.

I decided to start a blog for a number of reasons – some serious and some just the usual inane knobheadery that sadly dominates my thinking.  However, it occurred to me earlier this year that I felt old. Simple as that; not particularly bad, but definitely old. Stuff hurts when it never did before. The legs don’t recover so quickly anymore and there’s loads of things about ‘youth culture’ that either irritate me immensely or that I just don’t understand. I’m ‘only’ 46, but life’s definitely changed. So, rather than sitting moaning, I thought I’d write this.

So, when did I get so old? What makes me feel old? And why does it concern me so much?

‘my heart had been racing for four days…’

The main thing that made me feel properly old (and actually made me think there’s loads of stuff that I should get done, like a blog or taking a year off and backpacking to Machu Picchu, man) was falling ill. In March I took the unusual step (unusual for me, being male, Northern and like,totally macho) of going to the doctors. To be fair, there was good reason and I only felt a tiny bit wimpy about going. I’d felt rough for a month or so but now my heart had been racing for four days.  Now I’m no doctor, but I know that your heart is much better when you’re not feeling like it’s trying to punch a hole in your chest. Every night during that time I went to sleep thinking that I’d wake up and everything would be back to normal. Every morning though, I woke up and wondered if anyone would spot my heart trying to escape from my chest as nothing had changed. Because, of course in my mind when people aren’t gazing into my eyes or checking out my sugarlumps, they’re staring at my pecs.

Anyway, I was forced to admit what was going on to my wife because frankly, I was getting a little bit scared. And so, despite my protests, she made me an appointment and I accepted my fate – to sit in a waiting room with Morley’s elderly, listening to lift music until way after my actual appointment time before going in to have a doctor listen to my chest and then look at me like I’d utterly wasted his time.

But then when I actually did go in something quite surprising happened. The doctor looked a little bit concerned. He touched me far too many times with his freezing cold stethoscope. He ‘ummed’ and ‘hmmmd’ a lot until it got to the point that I thought he was going to tell me I probably only had hours to live. But then foolishly gave me an option. Go straight to A&E to get properly checked out – no thanks – or wait for him to ring them and maybe arrange an appointment with the hospital at a later date – yes please. So, still convinced that it’d all magically go away I decided that rather than waste anyone’s time I’d just go with the later appointment and head off to my coach’s meeting. Job done, yay, I was still young and invincible!

Only, I wasn’t. About an hour later my phone rang and I had to excuse myself from my meeting after the doctor basically told me to get to A&E or he’d send an ambulance my way! I think I even heard him use the phrase ‘blue lighting’ and I was sure he didn’t want me to feature in a moody 80s music video. So, in a bit of a daze, off I went. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, Chuck Norris here drove himself to A&E, heart problem and all).

‘I was still in the same shape as I was in my early 20s’

A little while later and I was stood in the A&E department of the LGI asking myself the question, ‘When did I get so old?’ Still though, with a mixture of bravado and my head telling me that I was still in the same shape as I was in my early 20s, I was sure it’d just be magic tablets and getting sent home, wondering what all the fuss was about and worrying that Louise was going to make me eat more of those vegetable things she’s so fond of.

And then a nurse told me they were going to put a cannula in my arm. Now I’d heard that name on Casualty – cannula, not nurse, I’d heard of nurses ages ago – a cannula sounded serious! They tell you it’s going to feel like a ‘sharp scratch’ but it bloody doesn’t. It bloody hurts! Why were they wanting to hurt me? Nurses and doctors came and went, poked and prodded me, asked me many of the same questions (don’t these people talk to each other?) and still there was no sign of any magic tablets.

What happened next was definitely not expected though. A doctor came in and, with her best serious adult face on, told me that I was being admitted. Like, kept in hospital and given a bed on an actual ward. They left me on my own for an overly long time – enough to start really worrying – while I tried to carefully choose my words in texts to Louise. During this time another nurse came in to take yet more of my blood and when I told her about my magic tablets theory she replied with ‘Well, it’s a good job you came in, because if you hadn’t…’ and just left it at that! Now I really felt old! What? What would have happened if I hadn’t come in? She never did tell me.

Eventually I was allowed back out into the waiting area and Louise came in with an overnight bag. And if there’s one thing that’ll make you feel old, it’s the wife. Just kidding, it’s an NHS waiting area. I try not to judge (not really) but let’s just say that all human life is here. And at least 90% of it has dressed itself head to toe in Sports Direct and is no longer in possession of many of their original teeth anymore! Several of them also need to stop bringing pairs of police officers with them to hospital, but that’s another story.

‘…some bloke was wheeling me on to a cardiology ward in the middle of the night…’

Eventually I was taken up to Ward 19 of the LGI and while I felt perfectly able to walk to a lift and find it myself, our wonderful NHS had other plans. That’s right, as if I didn’t feel old and battered enough they were going to take me there in a wheelchair. A few days earlier I’d been chasing 9 year olds round a football field – I’m their football coach, not the Childcatcher or anything worse, don’t call Childline – and now some bloke was wheeling me on to a cardiology ward in the middle of the night with several almost dead pensioners. Probably.

And it was that type of assumption that led to my next bout of asking myself, when did I get so old. On the ward I got talking to a lovely bloke who had suffered a heart attack a few days earlier. We talked about the NHS, how amazing the staff were and what was happening to us. I realise now that I must have looked terrified and he was being incredibly nice and trying to calm me down. After a while though, I caught a glimpse of his heart monitor. His heart was doing something like 62 beats a minute. Mine? 148! Not the kind of race I want to win, however competitive I might be! WHEN DID I GET SO OOOOOOOOLLLLDDD? The bloke with the dodgy heart was seemingly perfectly relaxed while the aspiring Rafa Benitez here was more like Dot Cotton! He’d nearly died, but I’d been telling myself that some magic tablets would put everything right. I was old, I was poorly and worse, I was more scared than ever.

And so that was the thing that brought it all home to me and made me think, amongst other things, about starting to write a blog. I was allowed home the next day and took the rest of the week off work. I rested. I napped quite a lot. I read, watched telly and I did a lot of simply sitting about daydreaming. So, a lot like work life really, except that lots of people were nice to me, rather than calling me a dick all day!

A month later I was back in hospital, again for a short stay, in order to have a procedure where they inserted tubes into my groin and fired radio waves at my heart. But more of that thrilling adventure another time. I’d had a small scare, but now, a few months on I’m feeling like I’m getting better. I still feel tired, but I’m back out doing tentative runs, I’m back at work and I’m back coaching my team again. I can do dad stuff without feeling worn out and I’ve even dropped telling Louise ‘I nearly died you know‘ in order to get out of doing too much or eating fruit and veg. I’m even remembering to use my inhaler.

Best of all though, and despite the realisation that middle age is definitely upon me, I’m still here.