The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Happy Birthday Mum …

Yesterday would have been my Mum’s birthday.

My Mum’s 87th birthday.

That means she has been gone 4 years and frankly, that seems incredible.

So much has happened in that time …

From moving countries twice.

To changing jobs twice.

To selling our family home to buy a new one.

And while I am in a much better place than I was after the tragic days that she died, I still am prone to being hit by moments where her loss is almost overwhelming for me.

I wish she could have met Otis for real.

I still remember her words when I called her minutes after he was born.

I was incredibly emotional and she was so tender towards me.

Making sure I was OK, Jill was OK and Otis.

Asking if the baby crying in the background was her grandson.

Telling me how happy she was and how happy she was for us.

How she loved the name Otis.

And while she was alone in her home in Nottingham – wishing madly that she was with us – she still told me to go and be with Jill and my son because she was the most compassionate, thoughtful person I have ever known.

While Mum saw Otis on video chat, sent me countless emails/SMS’s about him and – for a brief while – was in the same room together [though sadly it was after she had passed away] … the fact is they never were together in the flesh and I would have loved to have seen that happen.

To see her face as he called her Nona.

To watch her smile he wrapped his arms around you and gave her a big hug and kiss.

To look at my Mum reading her first grandchild a story or walking him through the gardens and explaining the flowers or just watching him run around like a tsunami and then look at me with that look in her eye that tells me everything.

How he’s perfect.

How she loves him so much.

How she is so proud of me and Jill.

How happy she is right at that very moment.

That would be the best present for her – not to mention for me – and while none of those things will be able to happen for real, I will think about them tonight when I’m home and giving Otis a big hug and kiss, because while there are many things I can do a whole lot better at, my Mum [and Dad] taught me one thing I am very good at.

How to love.

Happy birthday Mum, I miss you so much.

Hope you and Dad are laughing and holding hands.

Rx



It’s Time To Say Goodbye …

So the time has come to close the door on the house I grew up in for one final time.

I’ve written the reasons for why this is happening in the past – as I have the reasons why the house was, and always will be, be so important to me – but it is the beginning of a new chapter for my family and my Mum and Dad would be so happy.

Anyway, we went to visit her one final time.

While the garden remained pretty much as my parents left it – thanks to us having a gardener visit every fortnight for the past 4 years [and we’ve taken a couple of things from there to plant in our new home so we will forever be connected] – going into the actual house was a very different feeling.

Part of it was because there was nothing in it.

No furniture.

No people.

No noise.

And so the overall effect was the house felt smaller … more fragile … and yet, as I walked through each room, there were so many emotions going through me.

As I watched my son run through the place holding his toys, I could see me – probably at his age – doing the same.

I saw where my Raleigh Grifter was waiting for me in 1989, on Christmas day.

I could see where my Dad – and then Mum – would sit in the lounge, on their rocking chair.

I could hear my Dad shouting ‘it’s ready’ from the kitchen our Saturday Beefburger was ready for scoffing down.

I could see my old clock radio when I was in the ‘small bedroom’ and my big stereo when I got ‘upgraded’ to the bigger room.

I could see the bed Mum and Dad slept in … where I would sit by them and chat throughout my time in the house.

Mum and Dad’s bedroom was especially poignant to me.

Regardless what happens in the future, it will always be ‘their room’ as they used for the entire time they were alive [and I was around].

Below is a photo of their empty bedroom that I took.

I’ve superimposed another photo of Otis that I took on the day after Mum died.

He’d just flown with his Mum overnight from Shanghai and he’s lying on the side Mum used to sleep on, looking at a painting of a mother and her child that hung above her bed.

He never got to meet her in person – he was supposed to a couple of weeks later when she recovered from her operation.

Alas it didn’t work out that way which is why this photo is so precious to me and why I feel, in a weird way, they did get to be together – hugging each other tight – if only for a second.

Another thing that got me, was when I went to the garage.

When we were having the house refurbished because we wanted to help a family live in a good area, we wrote a message on the wall about how much that house meant to us.

Well, when we checked at the weekend, we saw the tenants had left their own note and I have to say – it got to me because while my life is moving on, it was built in those 4 walls and I hope it does the same for anyone and everyone who lives there.

Thank you Mum.

Thank you Dad.

Thank you house … you will always be treasured.



Happy Birthday To My Wonderful Dad …
September 17, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Anniversary, Birthday, Comment, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis

Happy birthday Dad.

Oh how I wish you were around …

You’d be 81.

EIGHTY ONE!

I’m not sure what is more amazing … that or the fact it means you’ve been gone 21 years.

We would have had such a lovely day.

Now we are in England, we would have come down for the weekend and spent a few days there – organizing stuff, from a cake to a present.

Oh the present would be hard.

I’d want to get you something you have always wanted but could never get, let alone justify.

In a perfect world it would be an old Rolls Royce … in yellow … with white wall wheels.

I can see you now driving to Asda in it, laughing at the beautiful ridiculousness of it all.

God I’d love to have got you that … though I imagine that attitude would change quite quickly once I see how much the bloody thing cost to keep on the road.

But I’d still try and do it for you.

What you and Mum sacrificed for me will never be forgotten … will never be taken for granted.

I would do anything to be able to sit with you and talk about the choices and decisions I’ve made.

To see the corners of your beautiful blue eyes turn up with happiness knowing I am now ‘back home’.

I would love to give you a huge, huge hug and a big kiss on the cheek as I say “Hello Dad” … even though I know you would brush me aside so you could say hello to Jill and then your wonderful grandson.

Oh I wish you could have met them, you’d have absolutely loved them.

I can hear you asking them cheeky questions – at my expense.

The mischievous grin.

The dimple.

The tongue curling up on your top teeth to signify you know you have been a rascal.

For Mum to walk in and give you that look of loving exasperation as she says, “Oh Roger”.

There is almost nothing I would love more than to be with you today, though I suppose while I am not able to be physically with you, I am emotionally which leaves me with this.

I love you Dad.

I miss you so much.

A few weeks ago we went to visit Silvana’s flat in Bayswater and I started crying IN THE STREET.

OK, so I hadn’t been there for around 28 years, so seeing a place that contains so many memories of us being together really knocked me for six.

But in a lovely way.

I could see where you used to park … I could see us running up the steps to press the buzzer to be let in. I even went up and touched the front door because I knew you and Mum had done that and weirdly, it made me feel close to you.

I wish you were on the other side of that door.

I wish you were still here.

Happy birthday my wonderful Dad. Give Mum a hug from me.

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Home Is A Place In The Mind …

As I wrote a while back, we are looking to buy a family home.

Well the good news is we have found one – and while we don’t move into it till December – we’re already getting excited about it.

But as I also wrote, to help us buy it, I was going to sell the house I inherited when Mum died.

The house that was my home for my entire childhood and early twenties.

Well, it has been sold and while I know my Mum would be incredibly happy the proceeds have helped her beloved son buy a home for his family, it’s still quite an emotional wrench.

I absolutely think I’ve done the right thing.

The street I grew up on all those years has changed beyond recognition.

Neighbours have gone.

The college at the end of the street has been knocked down.

My connection to the area is no longer what it once was.

But despite that, it will always hold a special place in my heart … a place that represents ‘childhood’ … a place where it was just Mum, Dad and me and I will treasure that forever.

Anyway, one of the things we have been doing while the purchase goes through has been to visit the house.

Part of this is my way of saying goodbye.

Part of this is to take some flowers so we can plant them in our new place and have a bit of my history in my present.

Part of this is just to let Otis feel a connection to a place that was so important to his Dad and – for a period of 3 weeks in 2015 – was where he also lived.

And while just spending a few minutes there every odd weekend may seem very small, I cannot tell you how much it has helped me reclaim some connection to my roots.

The picture at the top of this page, is one of those connections.

Seeing Otis in the garden I used to play in was wonderful.

The garden my parents absolutely treasured and loved.

It brought back all sorts of memories … from hiding under those fern trees playing ‘hide and seek’ through to running through a small gap that existed between the garden and the street [right behind where Otis is standing] that meant I could have a quick getaway when playing British bulldog or simply wanting to get to the ice cream van before anyone else.

That home will always be special to me.

That garden will always remind me of my parents.

The memories created in that house will always be previous.

And while I will soon say goodbye to it [though I have had it written into the contract I can visit it once every 5 years] I will forever be grateful for all it gave me … from a childhood home filled with happiness and love, through to giving me the chance to buy a house where my family can create the sort of memories that will be as precious to Otis as Nottingham was to me.

Thank you Mum and Dad, you keep on taking care of me.



It’s Time …

When Mum died, I inherited the family home.

Despite having not lived there for 20 years, it was still very important place to me.

Not just because Mum left it to me.

Not because my Mum still lived there.

But because it’s where I lived for all of my life – until I moved to Australia – and so the memories in those 4 walls were full of everything important to me from my first 25 years of life.

I have to be honest, the first reaction I had was to hire a security guard and keep things exactly as they were because the thought of selling it was just not going to happen.

Slowly I came round to the idea that a security guard was a bit extreme so I started – slowly – thinking about renting it out.

The thing was, when we had estate agents come check it out, they highlighted that having not been renovated for over 40 years, it needed some major work.

This was really hard for me because by saying it needed renovating, I heard it as ‘the house is not good enough’ … which I then interpreted as ‘the house my Mum loved and lived in, wasn’t good enough for others’.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but my emotions – and need to protect my Mum’s legacy – were very high at that point..

And if that was challenging for me, it got even harder when it got to clearing the house.

We spent a couple of weeks going through photos and possessions so we could identify everything we wanted to give to charity.

While Mum didn’t have expensive things, there were some lovely items which is why the worst thing – almost as bad as losing my Mum – was when I saw the charity people come by with bins and throw everything into them … no care, no consideration, no nothing.

And when I heard them literally smash my Mum and Dad’s wardrobes to smithereens – the things that had held their cliothes for 40 years – I had to leave the house as it was all too much.

But out of this darkness came an idea … an idea that I felt would honour my Mum in terms of the life she lived and the values she believed in.

We found a fantastic set of builders and had the house refurbished from top to bottom.

Removed all the wallpaper.
Plastering all the walls.
New paint everywhere.
New Kitchen.
New Bathroom.
New flooring.
New carpets.
New front door.
Some structural change in the house.

At the end, it was basically a new house and yet with the warmth and love of the old, as exemplified by this note that I wrote in the garage …

But that was only part of paying homage to Mum…

The next step was to find a young family who would love to live there, but couldn’t afford it.

You see our plan was to subsidize the rent – and maintain the gardens my parents loved so much – so a young family would have a chance to raise their kids in the beautiful environment my family gave me.

Of course, when my family bought the house – back in 1970 – the area was very different to what it is today, but zoom forward 40 years and it’s seen as very desirable. Not because it’s posh, but because it’s safe, has a strong community and great schools for all.

To this day, I’m so grateful my Mum and Dad were able to find £100 more than the other buyer or who knows where I would have ended up.

Anyway, by pure chance, we found a family who were sort-of connected to someone Mum once worked with. That was perfect, as it felt even more connected to her.

But what was even better was the mother of this family was Italian, like my Mum.

For the past 4 years we have had this arrangement and everyone has been happy.

But now it is time for a bit of a change.

Not because I want to become a bastard landlord, but because I’m now living in the UK and things are different.

You see part of the reason I wanted to keep the house – apart from the obvious – was that it gave me roots here. It meant I was still connected to where I grew up. That I mattered.

It’s kind-of similar to why we bought a bench for Otis at his school in LA.

Having spent the last 24 years out of England, the house represented a connection to my heritage and that was important.

But now I’m back … and while I don’t know how long for, I see it in terms of long-term rather than short.

On the day before Mum died, she told me she was sorry she wasn’t going to be able to leave me much.

I told her not to think like that and reminded her the love she and Dad gave me made me rich beyond my dreams.

But on top of that, I reminded her she was generously going to leave me her house … a house in a wonderful area … so she could relax knowing she had given her son more than he could ever have imagined.

And that’s why I am ready to let the house go.

Not – as you may think – because I am ready to move forward.

The truth is, I will always miss her and want her in my life.

The reason is because I see a way to use the house to reinforce the role my parents had – and have – in my life.

You see the one thing my parents would have loved to do is help me have a home of my own.

While I have been incredibly fortunate to do this without their assistance, I know that their dream would have been to contribute to that.

Of course they did with the love and support they gave me in life, but to them, providing some cash to do it would have made them feel so happy.

So that’s what they are going to do.

While we are happy in London, the truth is my wife and son need to be surrounded by nature.

Nothing reinforced this than our trip to the farm recently.

So we want to find a home a bit outside of London.

A home Otis can truly settle in.

A home that is our home.

Of course we don’t want to unsettle the tenants and will do all I can to help them – as well as give them as much time as they need to work out what’s next – but selling the house allows us to use that money to help my parents fulfill their dream.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in this position.

We are incredibly grateful to be in this position.

But the idea to have a place that is – for want of a better phrase – our forever home, is hugely enticing.

It will let us put down roots.

Connect to the community in ways we have never done previously.

Build rather than live.

This might sound dramatic and I am not saying we have had it tough in any of the other places we’ve lived or houses we’ve had … but we have also never been in a place where we saw ourselves for the long-term.

Because of that, we have always been looking to what’s next rather than maybe enjoying the moment as much as we could or should.

Of course this isn’t going to happen overnight, but to come to this point of decision represents a landmark for my family and for my grief which is why I am so happy to be home and so happy to look forwards with more security, regardless what the future may bring.

Given my birthday is tomorrow, that’s possibly the best present anyone could have.



Another Landmark Moment Of Daddyhood …

So today is my last post for over a week as I am off to the US [again].

And while that news might make you happy, today makes me happy for totally different reasons.

You see later today, my wonderful little boy, Otis, takes part in a theatre production.

For the last few months, he has been going to a drama class with other kids his age … and to say he loves it, is an understatement.

He comes home singing songs.

His vocabulary has noticeably evolved.

He’s using his imagination in new ways.

He is even projecting his voice to new levels.

Though on this last point, there are some disadvantages given Jill sent me this text as they were sat on the bus on their way to pre-school last week …

OK … OK … you can wipe the smiles off your faces now thank you.

I know it’s just a kids show.

I know it will be a bit ramshackle.

I know there may be tears and laughter.

But that’s what makes it brilliant.

Not from a ‘I get to laugh at a bunch of kids’ sense, but from a ‘look at those kids discovering the impact they can have on others’.

But of course, from a personal perspective, seeing my son express his creativity while being part of something bigger is going to be a massive thrill.

Quite frankly, I don’t care how he performs as long as he enjoys himself.

He wanted to do this – there was absolutely no push or pressure from us – and so all we care about is him having fun and seeing his parents support him.

That said, I hope it’s not like the first ever performance I did.

Christmas 1976.

The school nativity play at Heymann Primary School.

I was a rabbit. OK, not a pivotal role, but one that gave valuable context to the other ‘actors’.

However just before I was due to go on, Mrs Staples – or it could have been Mrs Berry – asked me to swap jumpers [Mine was a white one with red stripes in boxes, where hers was pure white] for some reason with Rebecca Baldwin.

After that last minute change, I went out on to the stage to a packed assembly hall full of parents sitting on very small seats trying to jostle their way to the front so they could snap off a few pics with their cameras.

Now imagine my pain – as I looked though my rabbit mask – seeing my parents proudly looking at Rebecca, thinking it was me.

They did this through the whole play and I can still see the look of shock on their faces when we took off their masks and they saw their little boy had become a little girl.

To be honest, if that happened with Otis, I’d probably find it funny … but overall, I am incredibly excited to see him perform today. Seeing him happy and free is one of the most beautiful things in my life. It’s why the schooling thing is quite hard because British schools are pretty strict and we want one with a much greater creative syllabus.

But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it …

Most important for me today is to see my little boy have the time of his life, which – as I’m sure most parents will agree – is the thing we wish for them most in the World.

What a great way to head off out on a business trip.

Thank you Otis.

See you in 10 days.



For Auntie Silvana …
February 19, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment, Dad, Family, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Silvana

Outside of my Mum and Dad and my best friend Paul, Auntie Silvana has been involved my life the longest.

From my earliest age, I remember her always being there – whether that was arguing with my dad about politics or showing us around London on one of our frequent trips to visit her.

Despite facing many challenges in her life, Auntie Silvana – like her sister – was a fiercely independent woman. She never wanted to rely on someone else for help which is why she could be incredibly stubborn if she disagreed with something someone was trying to make her do. But when I think of her, the memories that flood my mind are of an incredibly kind, incredibly considerate, humble yet generous person.

She only ever wanted the best for others. She would encourage you every step of the way. And when you achieved something – however small – she would celebrate it with genuine happiness and celebration … never wanting or expecting anything in return.

There are so many things I am thankful to Auntie Silvana for. From giving me my first ever television to taking me to my first theatre show to helping my family when we needed it most.

She was a wonderful, kind, worldly and cultured lady and while I am devastated she has gone, there are 3 things I am grateful for.

1. She was able to continue living an independent life till the end. Given her eye problems, that’s testimony to her tenactity.

2. I am able to be here to let her know how much I loved her and how much my wife, Jill and my 4 year old little boy – Otis (who called her ‘Auntie Nana’) – did as well. I will forever be grateful she got to hold my son given my Mum sadly passed away before she could meet him in real life.

3. I am able to repesent my Mum and Dad – who are no longer here but would absolutely want to be if they were around – so they could share their love for her and say thank you for all you did.

Silvana, you were an amazing Auntie to me.
An amazing sister to my Mum.
And an amazing friend to my Dad.

Words will never be able to capture how much I thought of you and while the pain of your loss will last a long, long time … the memory of you will last far longer.

The World is a little less kind for your loss.

I’m happy you can be reunited with your family.

Say hi to Mum for me and thank you for everything.

Tanti Baci.

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