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


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.

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We’re All Going On A [Almost] Summer Holiday …

Well this is the last post for another week except this time I’m not going away for business, I’m going away with the family for a holiday.

Believe it or not, this is the first family holiday we’ve had in almost 3 years.

Part of that is because we have moved countries twice in the last 3 years … the other part is that when we lived in Manhattan Beach, it felt like we were on holiday whenever we were together.

So this weekend we all go – including Rosie the cat – to a farm for a week.

If I’m honest, I never ever dreamed of going to stay at a farm for a holiday.

Only staying in a tent would be worse.

But whether it’s because I’ve been on a plane so much over the past 6 months or whether it’s because I’m a Dad to a kid who absolutely loves animals … I’m genuinely looking forward to it.

Evolving opinions are a wonderful thing.

While we might think our points of view on life remain fairly static, I love that they can grow or shift.

One of the reasons I’ve kept this blog up for so long is that it’s a reference point for how I have looked at the World over time. Looking back at some old posts reveal how much my opinion on certain subjects has changed.

I love that.

It means an old dog can be taught some new tricks.

Maybe this is because having lived in so many different countries, I’ve always had to be open to how things work … but whatever the reason, I’m happy I’m going to be spending a week feeding cows even if a version of me from the past would rather be a Derby County supporter.

See you in a week.



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.



We Are All The Same Even If We Are Different …

I have written a lot about how we are bringing up Otis.

What we want for him, what we want him to value.

I have also written about the education we want for him.

A none-religious, state school that celebrates creativity as much as the more traditional academic pursuits.

Sadly I know there are many people out there who think we are mad for the choices we make, but as I have also written, my advice to them is to look after their own kids upbringing and leave ours to us.

That said, following these ideals is not easy.

Apart from the simple issue of access, the reality is most schools and kids companies focus on structure, stereotypes and grades because that is what most parents – and Governments – seem to value most of all, so for us to go outside of that takes effort and commitment.

None of this means we don’t want Otis to have a quality education – of course we do – it’s just that when it comes to what we think ‘education’ means, we see it going beyond the importance of reading, writing and maths.

We want his school to help him develop a love of learning.

Give him the ability to practice critical thinking.

An openness and comfort to express himself openly and creatively.

But there’s something more – something we feel very strongly about – which in part is one of the reasons we’re against religious and private schools.

You see we want him to learn that stereotypes limit, control and create prejudice.

That just because you’re a different gender or come from a different heritage or have a different sexual preference doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to – or achieve the same level as – anyone else.

And while it’s a small thing in the big scheme of things, it is the reason why I love that Otis’ school had a black Santa visit them last Christmas.

Of course Otis didn’t care, comment or even probably notice … but for the other little kids who come from different backgrounds, they saw a face that could give them comfort, confidence and courage about who they are, where they come from and what they can achieve and who wouldn’t want a school that teaches kids – all kids – that.

Education is so much more than just grades and while this is not all of the schools responsibility, it is part of their responsibility.



The Definition Of Conflicted …

Otis is obsessed with a bunch of things.

His iPad.
Fail Army videos.
Transforming cars.
Bumblebee – the Transformer.

OK, so I accept I might be to blame for a couple of those things, but the fact is, he bloody LOVES them.

Given the evil that targets kids on Youtube – a lot from Youtube themselves – we have disabled the function on his iPad, but he has recently discovered the power of Siri.

He loves Siri.

Siri – like Alexa – is his friend.

By friend, I mean his servant … doing what he wants, just like his Mummy and Daddy but without the pushback.

Anyway, we recently heard him asking Siri for photos of Bumblebee, before we heard a frustrated sigh.

When we looked at what was going on, we discovered something that I am still conflicted by to this day.

You see Siri translated Otis request for photos of ‘Bumblebee’ as photos of boobies.

While it raised a smile on his parents faces, that’s a potentially dangerous mistake but where I am conflicted is that as bad as that is, Siri then said she couldn’t find any photos of boobies anywhere on the internet.

Nowhere.

WTF?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Otis to be exposed to any of that stuff, but not only did Siri fail to understand a simple request, she also failed to deliver on her misunderstood request in a category that – arguably – is the most popular subject on the whole wide internet.

So while this proves AI still has a way to go to truly integrate into our lives, Apple’s kid security systems are safer than Fort Knox.

Or at least Facebook data.



Toilet Level Thinking …
January 18, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Daddyhood, Otis, Parents

Otis sometimes needs to go to the loo in the middle of the night.

Because I want to win ‘Dad of the Year’, I thought I’d help by fitting some automatic ‘loo lights’ so he can see where to, errrrrm, point.

With hindsight, as you can see from the photo above, my choice of lighting might not have been the best idea … that is unless I want to turn him into the next Stephen King who writes a series of best selling horror books featuring a killer toilet that flushes random people to their deaths after they violated it after a bad kebab.

I believe this is known in the World as #ParentingFail



Twenty Years In The Blink Of An Eye …
January 16, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: Anniversary, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Dad, Daddyhood, Mum, Mum & Dad, Parents

So 20 years ago today, my wonderful Dad died.

That means 40+% of my life has been without him.

That’s mind-blowing … but it’s also testimony to his brilliance as a Dad, that I think of him every day.

The older I get, the more I understand what he – and Mum – taught me.

The way to look at life.

The things to encourage and believe in.

The need to always life a life of fulfillment rather than contentment.

Amazing, valuable, brilliant lessons that he was able to bake into me in such a way that they continue to grow in importance, even though he has been gone for 20 years.

The good news is that I have started to remember him when he was healthy rather than ill.

For so many years when I thought of Dad, I saw how he was over his final few years rather than the years before his stroke.

But even then he was an inspiration.

His ability to try and be positive even when his entire life was falling apart.

To stay strong for his son when he knew he was trapped in a prison of the mind.

I love my Dad so much.

I would give anything to see him again.

Talk. Ask questions. Introduce him to my family.

See his eyes glisten with mischief and love.

Dad was someone who ensured I can look at my childhood with the feelings of love and support – something, that as I get older, I realize was not something everyone can say – which is why 20 years later, I might miss him even more than when he first passed away.

Which – when you come to think of it – might be the best compliment I can give him.

I miss you Dad. Hope you and Mum are together and happy.

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