Tuesday, May 25, 2010

One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives

This weeks gallery prompt was friendship. Pop over to Sticky Fingers for all the other great photos and posts on this weeks theme.

There was a time in my past where my friends were the most important aspect of my life, above even family. That period of my life had a massive impact on who I am now.

Let me give you a brief potted history first. At the age of 15 I lived with my mum and step dad. Then, just before my O'level/GCSEs, my mum left and went to live with another bloke (who eventually became my second step dad). My mum was a serial affair-er. By 15 years old I had already lived with my real Dad, then another bloke, then my first step dad. I also had the burden of being the only one aware of my mum's secret 'boyfriends' from aged 7 onwards. At 15 I decided I'd had enough and stayed with my first step dad (living with my real Dad was not an option due to a mutual hatred between my step mum and myself- well that's how I saw it then). I lived with my step dad till I was 21.

There are many clichéd phrases to describe the following 6 years of my life, the most apt would probably be 'going off the rails'. Previously I had played County level football and been predicted A'level grades of AAB. In the end I mustered through 5 GCSEs passes, then I half attended and failed various A'Level and Access courses, next I signed on and then for several years ingested and distributed a various assortment of 'substances'.

Through not living with my mum or dad, my friends ended up replacing my family. Together we developed a close knit group of disaffected youths who supported each other emotionally and materially. To the point where we rejected traditional family gatherings such as Christmas and spent an alternative festive day together instead.

However, when I think back, although I regret some of my actions, I had some of the most amazing times. I honed my skills as the 'official' photographer at the seedy gigs of mates bands, I was a roadie when one had their Peel Session, I spent a week at Castle Morton Common Festival, went to Glastonbury in '92, '93 & '94, watched Oasis in a small room above a pub and sat in a stone circle drumming through dawn till the sun rose. I went inter-railing round Europe, picked mushrooms in Wales, fell in love, fell out of love and off a 15ft roof on my 21st birthday. That was the year I decided to get back on track.

We were starting to drift apart and I sadly haven't stayed in touch since. Some friends went to find their fortunes in London and Liverpool, some decided to go to university, one joined a commune in Cornwall, another got sectioned. This little piggy went via Wolverhampton to Brighton University. Where I eventually met Mrs Domestic Goddess Inc.

My 'family' of friends helped me during my 'lost' years. I would not want it to have been any other way. Due to that period, and the affect of my mothers actions, I learnt a lesson in independence, the importance of fidelity, the value of family and significance of parenthood.

1991 aged 21, dressed for the pub in seventies gear , for no other reason than we wanted to. I'm bottom row second from the left, suede jacket, tie and big collars. That morning I went into the hairdressers with hair past my shoulders, showed them a picture of Brian Jones circa 1966 and asked for it to be cut like his. I like that this photo has a faded brown seventies feel as well. It wasn't a pre-empted effect, just a case of luck, having no flash and low light.

I'm in the middle, mmm, say no more.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Haircuts by Children

This weeks theme from Tara over at Sticky Fingers was self portraits. I had in mind a range of photos from my childhood up until now, which together would present a portrait of myself. However time has been limited this week and I didn't want to spend another Tuesday night up past the witching hour scanning photos and writing a blog to go with them (I am paying the price for holding onto my 35mm film SLR for so long) .

So I have gone for some theme bending again and crowbarred another collection of photos into this weeks topic.

Tara said this week would be hard, and it is. To choose an image that will represent yourself is quite difficult. There are many facets to each one of us. With that in mind I have chosen photos of an event that sum up some of my many facets- those of father, partner and teacher.

Over the past few weeks my class has been involve in an art project which was part of the opening day of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The performance art was called Haircuts by Children and produced by a group from Canada called Mammalian Diving Reflex.

Over a Friday and Saturday, Flint hair salon in Norwich was taken over and run by nine and ten year old children. They staffed the reception, handed out flyers, talked the public into booking appointments, then cut, clipped and coloured clients hair.

The aim of the project is to give children a position of responsibility. To put them into a risk situation and to challenge the norms of children's position in society. Children are so often told what they should and shouldn't do- this project aimed to give them choice, freedom and empowerment. Mammalian Diving Reflex call it social acupuncture.

The children had three days of 'training' at a local higher education college, where they were taught the basic techniques of greeting clients, holding scissors correctly, layering and using clippers on some creepy model heads.

The event was an incredible experience for everyone involved. Obviously for the children, but also the 120 brave people, like myself, who cast aside their vanity and let a child cut and style their hair. The range of expressions of people who stopped to look or did a double take as they walked past the salon was wonderful.

So why is this a self portrait of me? Because it is me interacting with children that I spend six hours of every weekday with, and also Mrs Domestic Goddess Inc and Little Dude come to join and offer support. So these photos represent a mixture of my public and private self. There is a great photo at the end where Mrs DGI and Little Dude are both looking at my new 'do with an amused 'what have they done to his hair' expression.

I am the guy at the end of the slide show with the stubble. I end up with a quiffed hairdo and missing sideburns, even though I did tell my 'stylist' I didn't want him to go any higher than my earlobes with the clippers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Model Behaviour

Even though I have attended many professional development courses on positive behaviour management and delivered numerous training sessions to student teachers on the same subject, why is it that I still have some trepidation when it comes to managing the behaviour of my son. I am confident when faced with 30 'challenging' little people in class. However, when my one year old son continues to pick up and chew pieces of coal, then smile cheekily at my repeated utterances of "No! No! No!", I feel somewhat de-skilled.

So what do I do? I return to default mode and look for the answers in books. Simply put, the advice is that I should continue to say no and stick to my guns. The other advice is that Mrs Domestic Goddess Inc and I should decide on what behaviour/character traits we want our son to develop and then model them. We have talked about this a few times, sometimes linked to the "I should exercise more and eat less bad stuff" type of conversation.

So let me consider the behaviours that myself and Mrs DGI model at the moment from our son's point of view.

How to put away your clothes.
When I get undressed I should lie on my back on the changing table, cause much fuss, make much noise and then, as the parents do, throw my dirty garments onto a pile on the floor just outside my bedroom. This pile should continue to be added to and rise for a few days until it is too big to go unnoticed or it becomes a hindrance to step over. At some unknown point this pile will disappear and I should start all over again.

This is the main way to get the attention of someone in the house, especially if they are in another part of the building. You should continue to do this until the other person in the house answers you. They still won't be able to understand exactly what you say, so you keep on doing it until they come and find out what you want. Shouting can also be used if you get frustrated.

Apparently it is hilarious for others to watch and listen to me do this, it is best to do at the most inappropriate times, such as when there is a lull in the meal time conversation. It a makes me look grown up and sound like Daddy.

Drink from a bottle
Dad does this with the milk straight from the fridge. Mum doesn't need to do this because she has her own and shares it with me, but as soon as I am tall enough I will try the fridge milk.

Eat cake
While I survive on rice based products, home made rusks or fruit and green things (that I throw on the floor) Mummy is able to survive on mainly cake (or Thornton's Caramel Shortbreads). She is clever and makes me laugh, maybe I will be cleverer and funnier if I eat cake. Apparently cake tastes better if you go into town and have it with coffee and friends.

Hugs and Kiss
Quite simply you should do this as often as possible.

Mmm, maybe we need to rethink some of our model behaviour. Or not. Sod the self help books. Little Dude has an abundance of love from his parents and other relatives. He has many years to learn rights and wrong and social norms and graces. With a foundation of respect and fairness- I'm sure he will turn out fine.

(please note that this was a fluke moment captured from a video still, not modelled behaviour)

So lets hear it, what behaviours does everyone else model that self help books would stick a finger up too wag a finger at?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fathers Bury their Sons

Last week I was chuffed with all the positive responses I got to my post, especially as it was my first entry in The Gallery, thanks for all your comments.

This weeks gallery theme is men. When Mrs Domestic Goddess Inc told me what the theme was, I soon had an idea of the photos I wanted to use and a topic I wanted to write about. Tara at Sticky Fingers gave the example of men in our lives, dads, sons, uncles and brothers, so please excuse me for a little theme bending (if you do want to see a great post on dads, sons and daughters have a look at Mrs DGi's gallery post over at MummyLimited).

In peace the sons bury their fathers, but in war the fathers bury their sons.

I have never been in a fight, I seem to have avoided aggressive male conflict, whether by luck, by design or quick feet I don't quite know. I have enjoyed contact sports and their combative nature, but I abhor violence. I watched Band of Brothers with avid interest, but find it difficult to watch an episode of Greys Anatomy or Brothers and Sisters and keep a dry eye. Mrs DGi calls me a wuss, I would consider myself a pacifist, but I still have the utmost respect for men who are conscripted to fight.

Being a pacifist is easy when you belong to a generation that has no experience of war. Video game style bombings taken from the cockpit of fighter planes and Middle East conflict played out thousands of miles away on 24 hour news is the closest I hope to ever get. This was not so for my Grandfathers generation.

My Grandfather was born in 1913, and was 26 years old when the second world war started. Luckily for him he had 'flat feet', which meant he stayed back in Blighty and did administration duties. His brother was not so fortunate. He was conscripted into the Navy and was lost at sea when his submarine was sunk in a battle in the Atlantic.

My Grandfather was devastated by this loss. Both their parents had already passed away and he looked up to his older brother Bob. He was the cheeky chappy he would like to have been. My Grandfather told me how Bob would wake him up when he got home, from his night shift at the bakery, with a freshly baked bun. When my Grandfather passed away himself four years ago, we were sent a letter from a lady who was Bob's fiancée at the time he died, she told us that my Grandfather was an 'honorable gentleman' and that he had proposed to her after finding out Bob had died. This seemed quite strange to me, but apparently it was the done thing- different time, different generation

So when my pacifist-but-conscript-respecting self and Mrs DGi went to Washington USA a few years ago, it was clear that a walk around West Potomac Park , Constitution Gardens and the various war memorials was in order.

I found the Vietnam veterans memorial wall the most poignant. The wall is made of highly polished granite and when you look at it you can see your reflection simultaneously with the engraved names of all soldiers killed or missing in Vietnam. There are 58,261 names, including 8 women. Approximately 1200 of these are listed as still missing.

Vietnam veterans memorial wall with the Washington Monument reflected in the background(1)

The Korean War memorial

The Korean War memorial

Vietnam veterans memorial wall with the Washington Monument reflected in the background(2)

The above photo is not a memorial but the Washington Monument. I saw these service men walking towards me and the side walk, I thought a shot of them with the famous landmark in the background would look good. So I stopped and pretended to take a photo of the monument, and luckily managed to get off two shots.

The photo above is from the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, if you can not make out the engraved quote it reads:

I have seen war.
I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen agony of mothers and wives.
I hate war.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Knocked off my bike and blown away

This weeks gallery theme is to share a secret and paint a picture of the world we live in.

I took these pictures when I was travelling by train across Eastern Europe with my sister. Her friends had dropped out of their planned trip, so I was quick to offer myself as a willing replacement. I had wanted to go on another Inter Railling trip since I first went 20 years ago.

Prior to this Mrs DGI and I had been through the toughest times of our relationship following the extreme highs of three positive pregnancies and extreme lows of three miscarriages. Mrs DG Inc had been signed off with bereavement for several months and our family plan had gone on hold. She received some excellent support and councilling, but as a truly stoical British male, I did not really talk about my feelings or fears and carried on plodding away at work. By that summer I needed a big trip to get away, recharge my batteries and have some time to think, write and reflect. She gave my trip her blessings- on the condition that I met up with her in France after four weeks, so we could still have a holiday together.

I had been travelling for two weeks and was staying in Trogir in Croatia. A truly beautiful part of the world, the Croatian coastline is a hidden gem, there are numerous little islands with untouched beaches that can be reached by quaint taxi boats, the weather is wonderful and the people are warm and welcoming. I was also blown away by the history of the Croatian coast, it was used by the Romans and Venitians as a holiday and retirement base and the land is dotted with palaces, temples and amphitheatres. It is somewhere I have recommended ever since. Trogir is a walled town on a small island, it has many winding alleys similar to Venice and is linked to the mainland via a single bridge, it is then linked to a much larger island called Ciovo. My sister and I had rented and apartment for a few days. I took up the landlords offer of borrowing their bike and went for a ride over to Ciovo.

The roads were busy, it seemed as everyone wanted to be out on such a wonderful evening. I cycled a couple of miles until I came to a long golden beach. Vendors were still selling their wares, families were dining out on the sands and as the sun began to set people were still swimming in the sea. I decided to stop, brought a cold beer, sat on the beach and soaked up the atmosphere. I felt truly rested, all life's woes were lifted.

I tried to capture the moment, so took a picture.

After enjoying my beer I cycled a bit more, came to a small harbour and couldn't resist another obligatory sunset photo.

As the light was fading I got on my bike and turned for home.

The road back into Trogir was mostly downhill, there was still a lot of traffic and a large tailback from everyone trying to use the single bridge between the islands. I decided to follow the cue of the teenagers on mopeds, weaving down the middle of the road between the cars. It was when I had built up some speed and was coming to the bottom of the hill, that some old guy in a clapped out Fiat 500 decided to open his passenger door. I would like to say my life flashed before my eyes, but there was no time.

It caught me across my face and chest. There was no permanent damage, but my sunglasses were smashed, my ribs were bruised and my throat felt weird. The old guy spoke no English, I spoke no Croatian. While trying to close his now oddly bent door, he cursed something I didn't understand and I cursed something he did understand (bloody Hollywood). I was dusted myself down, and got off my bike to pick up my battered sun glasses, some Dutch guys in a bar opposite were shouting something about me suing him. Meanwhile, old guy goes round to his boot and retrieves a large hammer, walks back towards me, raises the hammer. Then begins to angrily pummel his passenger door, while still cursing in Croatian. I leave the scene, bruised, but at least not battered.

When I get back to the apartment my heart is still racing with adrenaline. After a quick G&T (lemons straight from the tree overhanging the balcony) I check my phone and see I have numerous missed calls from Mrs DG Inc, roughly about the time I crashed into the car. I return her calls, I obviously have an event of some importance to share with her. I start to babble, however, she cuts me short and trumps me by announcing, "I'm pregnant!"

I have not been back to Ciovo, Trogir or Croatia since, but the photos of that evening will always remind me of that eventful night and the start of the biggest trip of my lifetime.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Great Expectations

With 12 months past since Little Dude was born, I thought it would be interesting to compare what I expected of the whole being a parent situation before he was born, to what has actually transpired.

Obviously a good starting point would be my expectations BLD (Before Little Dude), but I find it quite hard to look back objectively through the haze of sleepless nights, snotty noses, teething pains and gurgling smiles. I am also slightly handicapped by the trait of being quite expectation-less about most things (except holidays- of which I always expect great things).

This trait tends to help, in most circumstances- having no expectations means being less likely to be let down. So it would probably be easier to describe things that have most surprised me over the last 12 months, not because I wasn't expecting them, but because they are things that I wouldn't have even contemplated, even if asked about BLD.

No guidance from books, words of wisdom waffle from relatives, and none of the unending and unsolicited advice ever mentioned the horror that is the sleep cycle of a baby. Why is this life upturning facet of parenthood kept such a secret? Warning me wouldn't have changed my mind about being a dad, but I might have been a bit more prepared and made use of those undisturbed halcyon nights BLD.

It isn't the lack of sleep, I can cope with life on relatively few hours for some time- it is the unbroken sleep that really gets to me. Not knowing... will I get one block of three hours or a one hour block with three wake-ups?

The unsolicited questioning and advice still continued after Little Dude was born- the main question being "Is he sleeping through yet?" (the answer by the way is still no- part of my answer would also include the question- when was the last time you slept solidly from the moment your head hit the pillow till you woke? Everyone wakes- even if only for a few seconds- it's just that babies need to learn how to get back to sleep when they do wake up)

Like most of life's experiences, words do no justice, and it is only something that can be understood by having done it yourself. At Guantanamo they tried water-boarding, pah...piece of cake. All they had to do was give each inmate a new born baby and after a couple of weeks of sleep deprivation they would happily confess to hiding behind the grassy knoll or being Miss Scarlett in the library with the lead piping. So for any prospective parents out there, get your beauty sleep in now.

With not much prior thought I would have said, breast milk followed by mushed food, leading on to more solid stuff, within some kind of time frame. How wrong I was.

Mrs Domestic Goddess Inc came across the concept of Baby Led Weaning, this has been one of the more enjoyable and exasperating experiences so far. Suffice to say it means you forgo puréed food and introduce solids as soon as your baby can sit up and grasp things. This has meant we eat our meals at the same time as Little Dude and as much as possible he eats the same things as us.

At just over one year old we are now in the position that we can place his meal in bowl and he feeds himself, uses his own tipee cup and can use a spoon to eat yogurt. It has meant much goading, laughing and celebrating, that is the enjoyable part. The exasperating part is giving him choice, because what he doesn't want gets quickly cast aside into the pit of wastefullness surrounding his high chair- which inevitable needs sweeping up after every meal.

It's endless. It never stops. It makes his grandmother reach for a hanky the moment she sees him and consequently implies that as parents Mrs DGI and I are not taking good enough care of our son (which seems to be the main aim of grandmothers). He on the other hand could not care less. A quick head shake against the nearest leg/shoulder/sofa and the majority of it is gone- job done. However, combined with night time nasal drip (which induces coughing) it does have a tendency to disturb his sleep. (see above for sleep deprivation)

Another unspoken secret. No one told me the joy I would feel from being a parent. There are moments in every day that never existed before, when I am filled with this overwhelming joy and love for my son- and it can come from something simple like his giggle, or a smile he gives when he turns round and looks up from having a bath. The world and my life have a meaning they never had before.

See Sleeping/Snot/Joy and Vanity

Time Management
Focus, Focus, Focus. 20 spare minutes BLD would have meant more time reading a book, surfing online or channel hopping. 20 spare minutes now mean time to paint a fence, put up a shelf or fix a bike. Time is now very important and spare time even more precious. My time management has not improved since BLD, what has improved is my attitude to getting 'stuff' done, whether that be home, personal or work 'stuff'. That way I have more time to spend with Mis DGI and Little Dude

As parents we are all proud of our child's achievements and want to and make comparisons and share those milestones with other parents. However, some parents are a little to vocal with their 'pride', this doesn't make me feel competitive, as a teacher I am acutely aware of how children's development can vary widely, but it does make me feel irritated that they don't understand this and frame their questions and conversations by narrow comparisons.

Anyway, I don't need to be competitive, because like all other parents I know my baby is the cutest, smartest, happiest, snotyest, contented, fittest, most consistent percentiled, best sleeping waking baby in the world.

I wonder what surprises the next little dude has in store?