A grand day out

Following on from yesterday’s unpleasant anniversary, it would have been my Nan’s birthday tomorrow.  2011 really does seem to be a year that we survive rather than enjoy.

Fortunately, we (that is, the Bexley Carters) went for a lovely walk and a picnic yesterday in local beauty spot Joydens Wood.  We’ve been there before, but as the girls get older and able to walk for longer – not to mention more interested in what’s around them – these walks are becoming more of an exploration of the woods. And there’s not much I enjoy more than exploring.  It’s an interest I’m trying to inculcate in the girls: to make sure they don’t grow up scared of lonely places or wildlife or being very very slightly lost.

As you can see, we had a lovely picnic far from the madding crowd and the girls – Millie, in particular – poked and prodded things, discovered some ruins and followed Faesten Dyke for a little while before losing interest in it (to be fair, it is mostly just a long depression in the ground).  Millie took the lead for most of our expedition and kept proudly declaring that she was the leader.

It was , in every sense of the word, a grand day out. 🙂

More pictures here.

Morris with Millie

Millie and I went to Camden last night, to Cecil Sharp House, to watch Must Come Down – Millie’s first proper grown-up “gig”. 🙂

I put gig in inverted commas because it wasn’t your conventional rock’n’roll mosh pit, not by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a…well, let’s be completely honest: it was a show about folk music and morris dancing.

We went because Millie (and I) both love Jackie Oates‘ album, Hyperboreans (as mentioned here) and Jackie was playing there.

Before we left I was a bit worried that Millie would be bored – Cecil Sharp House had replied to my question about bringing a six-year-old, saying that she would love it, however, Millie had barely mentioned the gig since being told about it.  She was apparently more impressed about being out at night, in the dark, when everyone else (but particularly Amber) was in bed.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: the morris dancing.

I have no problem with morris dancing and I enjoy folk music.  I don’t drink real ale or wear hairy jumpers – I don’t even have a beard!  When I was small I remember seeing my dad and his brother take part in some morris dancing (I need to follow up on this memory, actually, as I have no idea why they seemed to do it once and never again), but otherwise I’ve never seen any live morris dancing before.  Not because the concept repelled me, just because…well, just because…I don’t know.

So Millie and I went to see Must Come Down as a Jackie Oates gig, but it was actually advertised as ’An exuberant spectacle of vitality and passionate dance wrapped in a cloak of beautiful music, stunning singing and heart-stopping stories.’

And, by George, they weren’t wrong!  It was wonderful!  If Millie hadn’t been there I would still have loved every second of it. With Millie there it was simply glorious.

We arrived at C-Sharp House just in time to see a fearless lone morris dancer doing some kind of jig on a high wall.  Going downstairs to get a pint (for me, not Millie) the bar was filled with the sound of singing – and really good singing, all the participants in tune and in harmony.

Coming back upstairs we discovered the show had already begun so we hot-footed it across the floor to some empty seats – just missing being trampled by morris dancers with sticks!

The video above gives some idea of what we saw next, but doesn’t really get across the eerie joy of the dance.  With the striking blue lighting, the stately, haunting music and the sight of so many white-clad people dancing so expertly in time it was oddly moving.  Millie was quite obviously mystified and spent most of the evening nuffling a toy bear she’d brought with her.

I realised how excited she actually was when she kept tapping me on the shoulder and pointing things out.  She asked what I thought would happen next, and when the dance was over was audibly annoyed that it had finished.  I had to reassure her there would be more to come…

Another worry of mine, before we arrived, had been that it might be a very formal affair – too much so for a six-year-old Millie.  Fortunately, it was a fairly brief show (two hours, with interval) and as well as something new beginning every 10-15 minutes it was just a really joyous thing to watch.  I’m at a loss to put it into words here, but I had a smile on my face all night as we watched.

Millie’s sort-of-dream was realised during the interval when we went back out into the garden (against Millie’s will, it should be said – she wanted to play on my phone) and got to meet Jackie Oates!  I introduced us, told her we were both fans and she was very very nice indeed.  Millie was almost completely tongue-tied so we left Jackie alone after a couple of minutes, but I felt like a very Good Dad afterwards.

A Cool Dad and a Good Dad. 😉

Back inside, we were interviewed by a lady with a microphone about why we were there, what we knew about morris dancing and would Millie like to learn how to morris (“No, it looks too difficult” but since changed to “Yes!“)

In the second half Millie confided that she didn’t really like the singing and wanted to see more dancing.  Fortunately, as I said, we’d come there expecting a gig and had gotten a full-blown morris dancing show, so everything worked out for the best, really.

One of the last things we saw was this dance (below) featuring a giant boar and a unicorn.

Millie turned to me after the unicorn arrived and excitedly asked, “What do you think is going to come on next?

God only knows,” I replied, but burst out laughing when Millie suggested “A polar bear?

After the show finished we went downstairs to use the toilets before we caught the train home and found the sticks the dancers had used.  Millie carefully picked one up as though it was a sacred relic, not sure she was allowed to touch it, and waved it around.  The stick-hitting – and a synchronised leap-frog at the end of one song – were her two favourite things of the night, she told me.

And then we caught the tube and train home, getting back to Bexley at 11.30, much to Millie’s continued amazement – “I can see 30 stars!” she told me, as we walked home from the station.

So that’s me entirely converted to the merits of morris dancing, then.  One final thing I particularly liked was that the dancers were ordinary people – they weren’t stick-thin whippets and didn’t seem to be pushing themselves to the limits of human endurance; no, they were all shapes, all sizes and a variety of different ages (although I think the oldest couldn’t have been more than 35).

From watching them I got the real sense that they loved what they were doing and were enjoying it purely for the physical pleasure of dancing with each other.  Twice they asked members of the audience to join in and there was never any shortage of volunteers.

I called it “joyous” earlier, and I stick by that description.  It was beautiful and it was joyous. 🙂

Coroner’s report

Feeling a bit shaky just at the moment, having been reading the coroner’s report on Trev.

It’s not something I ever expected to be doing – reading Trev’s coroner’s report.

It’s mostly in medicalese, but I think I can understand most of it; and what it says is that there was nothing wrong with Trev.

I’m reading the report because Monday is the day of the final inquest into his death.  It’s over in Bristol so I wasn’t planning to go originally, but then had a think about it.  And what I thought was that since Conny and my parents are going it might be good to get some closure on Trev’s death for myself, as well as being there to support them on the day.

I’m feeling more positive this week so might be capable of offering some support.

Plus, as his big brother I want to be there, I want to see this through to the end so I can say that I was always there for Trev – even when it no longer really mattered to him.

Turning back the clock

My parents took the girls back to Swindon on Saturday afternoon; they’re staying there until Wednesday, which has given the Lovely Melanie and myself a blissfully relaxing weekend.

Yesterday (Sunday) in particular, was heavenly.  We went out to see a friend’s band play in Hoxton (or “London’s Fashionable Hoxton” as I like to call it) the night before so were slightly hungover…

But it didn’t matter!  No one woke us up at 7am; no one wanted breakfast at 7.30; no one needed entertaining or feeding or wiping down or anything!

It really struck me how easy our day was at about 4pm.  That’s when Operation Bedtime normally lumbers into gear – even though bedtime isn’t until 7.  There’s dinner to be cooked, not to mention:

  • dinner to be eaten
  • bath time
  • pyjama time
  • hair-drying time
  • warm milk time
  • teethy time
  • wee-wee time
  • homework time
  • and story time

before, finally, we hit the nirvana of bed time or sleepy time.  And not infrequently there’s also tantrum time (or “benny time” as we refer to it) from an especially tired child; “playing computer games with Daddy time” or “watching a film downstairs time” (usually something with James Bond – all of which have been shown over the last few months, and have led to some interesting discussions…)

Only after Operation Bedtime concludes do the grown-ups get to have some dinner and some time to do grown-up stuff.  Sadly, “grown-up stuff” these days mostly consists of collapsing onto the sofa for an hour or two.

At 4pm yesterday we didn’t need to do any of that.  The pressure was completely off.  I’d just woken from an afternoon nap and decided to read a bit before playing Crysis 2 for three hours (and I could have played some more, if I’d wanted to…)

The Lovely Melanie keeps asking me “Don’t you miss them?  I miss them.” to which I reply, “Yes, I miss them, but for the last six years I’ve also missed quiet Sunday afternoons spent reading the paper so I can live with the heartache.

We spoke to my parents and the girls on Skype, and it looked and sounded mental where they are.  Everyone looked to be having fun, but, as I say, I’ve had plenty of that kind of fun these past few years.  I was thoroughly enjoying some grown-up fun. 🙂

One other nice thing to mention: being out with the Lovely Melanie on Saturday night was so much fun.  We had a quiet meal in a Vietnamese place in Hoxton and then went to the Underbelly where we met some friends and watched their band, The Dacoits.

It’s been so long since we were out together like that: just the two of us with no, ahem, distractions, but it reminded me why we got married in the first place.  At one point I looked across the dance floor and happened to see her happily chatting with someone.  And she looked so beautiful I couldn’t help but stare at her and smile, thinking proudly, “That’s my wife.” 🙂

The day before (Friday) was my first counselling session, which was interesting.  It was less structured but otherwise pretty much as I thought it would be.  We spent most of the session talking about what had happened to Trev, my memories of him and reactions to his death; plus, how I felt I was dealing with both that and the ongoing fall-out from it.  Basically, I seemed to be setting the scene for Russell, my counsellor, and giving him something to work with in later sessions.

When I came out I wouldn’t say I felt better, but I was quite thoughtful about my experiences of the past six months.  And – good grief – it is nearly six months since Trev died now.  The next appointment is on Friday again, and I’m quietly optimistic that they’re going to help.

Spot The Millie competition

Millie, did you just do a bottom burp...?

From the official CRY photos of Sunday’s walk.  Can you see Millie anywhere…? 😉

Here’s another nice one of Millie with Conny and Amber.

And there are more photos from the day on the official CRY Heart of London Bridges page.

And I would like to say, once again, thanks very much to everyone who sponsored us for the walk.  We’ve been amazed by people’s generosity and have raised well over £1,500.  In fact, there’s still time to make that even more if you want to.  Click here to retro-sponsor us in Trev’s memory.

Life in Year 1

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It’s the last day of term for Millie – and her last day in Year 1 – so I thought I’d share this piece of her work with you.

It details the highs and lows, the dramas and triumphs, the ins and outs of life in Year 1.

I particularly like the self-portrait near the top. Last night saw me feeling pretty down once again about Trev, but seeing a smiling purple Millie having an obviously grand day out cheered me up no end.

Hopefully this is how she feels most of the time.  She’s only just six so I would hate to think that she’s anything other than happy and amazed at the wonder of the world around her.

She got a certificate for reading out this slice of Year 1 life in assembly, too, so I wasn’t only person who liked it. 🙂

The rumour in her class at the moment is that her Year 2 teacher is very strict.  I had a chat with her about this the other day, reminiscing that my second teacher, in Class 2 at Haydon Wick School, 1978-9, was Mrs Simmonds.  She also had a reputation for being very strict, too.  Quite how she got this reputation I don’t remember; however, it turned out she was fine.

Hmm, wait – was it Class 2 or Class 4?

I was in Class 1 with Mrs Habitch(?) for two years and then went straight to Class 4, I think… Umm…

Anyway, my time with Mrs Simmonds was absolutely fine – despite her slightly more old-school approach to teaching.  She gave me and three other kids “the ruler” once (a smack across the palm of the hand with a ruler).  I recall it hurt a bit, but the surprise at getting such a completely unexpected punishment has stayed with me more.  What was it for?  I have no idea.  Did it teach me a lesson?  No, it just gave me a smidgen of “street-cred” (or “hard-ness” as we called it then) for a about a day.

That was the 1970s for you – a lot of brown and a little bit barbaric.

Sorry, I’m meandering a bit – anything rather than read more about “Employer Branding”. 😦