Some Things that Happened

Be prepared for Christmas chat, self indulgent images and pontifications on the state of society at this time of year… If you’re easily offended, look away NOW!

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The last time we spoke was just before Hallowe’en, and the day I managed to get out for a match, indeed the first – and so far, only – victory of his lifetime; all was good in the world, because things were looking up on a series of counts.

But… After the positive, another negative.

Back at the hospital the next day, infection levels had gone down and initially the results looked positive, but after coming home, carried by deep sighs of relief, we were called back in to A&E in a bit of a panic to sit in an isolation room for hours because of a concern over white blood cells. Honestly, I’ve learned so much about the body, it’s all to do with neutrophils apparently, which are made in the bone marrow, and eventually, after a scary-looking rash was dismissed as non specific reaction, and, when a trial of oral meds went well, we were home once again.

OK, so the key had broken in the lock for the grandparents when bringing her home and, as a result, B hadn’t quite been able to enjoy the evening to the extent she’d have wanted to, but we were home safe and happy enough for now. She still managed to give out the Trick or Treat lollies etc that the neighbours had prepared, whilst the locksmith worked his magic.

Eventually, things got better for us… we felt very lucky.

The panic over, we grew to celebrate every kick of the right leg and relaxed a little in the knowledge that slowly, things were improving. The strappings came off, the medicines stopped… Having been teaching Of Mice and Men intensely, I could recognise the links with the harnesses in the barn but, like Ol’ Crooks in the bunk room, we too face future pains, referencing the bottles of linament or anti biotics  as we all grow older – and, somewhat inevitably, came to turn our attention to  more positive things… and specifically Christmas.

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It all started with the John Lewis advert: how serendipitous that I should have watched it with colleagues in school the day it was released, and immediately texted home to say that it reminded me of B and her cousin on the garden trampoline. Then, upon researching further, I should discover that the second – let’s be honest, specimen of nocturnal vermin – to enter the arena would be called Betsy the Badger – which then reminded me of previous years, and previous posts, on how emotive and reminiscent those John Lewis adverts of yesteryear, were.

Did I mention how this very website had been hacked, thus making it impossible to link for you my previous musings? So, in a nutshell, last year’s man in the moon wasn’t particularly resonant but the previous year featured B feeding her Cashew some fishfingers just like the kid with the penguins, and previous to that, other seminal moments including the romantic snowmen and the boy with the head in the cardboard box (courtesy Charlie Brooker) which all means that this was a key moment in the calendar.

Still, there remain the conspiracy theorists who claim that this year’s ad is a perfect allegory of the US election, you know, where the girl is happily running towards an apparent ‘finishing line’, only to be beaten / scuppered by a slobbering beast who’s been ogling the other creatures for a while… which is nearly as good as the incredible-yet-plausible concept that Eleven might actually be the demagorgon, if you believe everything you read…

Back in reality, another Christmas tradition is the annual Courteeners gig. I’m past explaining who they are, and their brilliance, preferring instead to ignore the haters and ignorami but rather, enjoying that ‘we are us not you’ and the special feeling their performances offer.

A wonderful night was had by all; no-one will ever replace them.

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We even got ‘preferential treatment off taxi drivers’ on the way to the Hometown One, as he searched his Spotify to play a couple of tunes for us, and it was a truly wonderful evening, after a couple of cheeky ones in the Alchemist before the gig, a must-go for anyone (unlike me) heading out on a Christmas night out.

Talking of which, I’ve been teaching A Christmas Carol in Prose (Being a Ghost Story of Christmas) intensely too. Really love the dramatic tension that Dickens creates, especially in the story of Tiny Tim: the youngest of a family, trying hard to get over a childhood illness and lower limb injury, remaining positive despite a potential future ailment…

“BUT THIS BLOG’S NOT ABOUT TEACHING!!” I hear you cry.

“IT SHOULDN’T BE ABOUT YOUR PARENTING ISSUES!!” You yell.

So we return to the art, and the surprising fact that I actually sold a painting the other day.

I’ve never really gone into detail on this site about my own schooling, for good reason. Yes, I went to an outstanding school, but my educational experiences since have somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for said seven years and now it feels like more than a distant memory.

Still, they contacted me about an Old Boys’ exhibition selling artwork. Natch, they were taking twenty per cent. Due to being back and forward from the hospital, I couldn’t devote the time I wanted to to the submissions I selected, however I was extremely proud that my Sixth Form English teacher, Mr Novell, bought one of my pieces, just as he had fifteen years ago when I was on the verge of something big.

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He said at the time I should be starving in the garrets for a little while longer, but I wasn’t. I followed his advice from a few years before, and became a teacher… back when I mentored a younger pupil who struggled with his reading, at the request of Mr Novell, he’d later suggested I either try for Oxbridge or be a teacher ‘because (I’d) be a good one’ and only years after did his wise words ring true.

His lessons were wonderful, largely because he introduced innovative starters (I recall answering the “would you rather sleep with a man or the ugliest woman in the world?” with ‘a man if it was Elvis’) and he acknowledged my creative flair (marking an elaborately decorated title with ‘Art for Art’s Sake (10CC)) and encouraged a love of film, too… He kept a notebook of reviews of every film he ever watched; such devotion, which must have inspired a fellow OL whom he taught, who went on to be editor of EMPIRE magazine.

As you can probably tell, he made a huge impression on me and I’d love to be half the teacher he is. I still know Great Expectations inside out, because I hung on his every word… I ended up with a B at A Level which we were both disappointed with, and he pushed for a re-mark, but it matters not. His influence has lasted to this day and will linger for years to come.

I just hope my painting – of Nile Monitor lizards devouring their owner – has such a lasting effect.

I digress.

Art work: yes, I forgot amidst the early mornings and late nights and general hullabaloo of the last couple of months. Admittedly, I’m gutted to miss the shows of Rauschenberg and the Abstract Expressionists currently going on in London; the former was a real catalyst for the development of my style on Foundation and I really loved the cut of his jib from the moment that another inspirational teacher, Iain Sloan, mentioned his name, all those years ago in the ‘Blackpool Bronx’.

I’m hopeful that the new year will offer some opportunities to create once more; until then, I will concentrate on my greatest creations and focus on their development, rather than the development of my own little obsessional trains of thought.

In between, it’s Christmas…

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The magic of which we enjoy more than ever, seeing it through the eyes of a child once more.

And before that, the special birthday of my even-more-inspirational father, whose demeanour, unselfishness, dignity, compassion, humility and love remains the biggest influence on how I live my life now… and I thank him so much for that.

Here’s me, with my Dad and my sister and an elephant, somewhat bizarrely:

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I did a speech at his party which centred on the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life!’ and his importance to so many people.

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Note the exclamation mark, because its sarcasm should make us all think about how we live and how the little things get us down but, as I said at the party, it’s all about how we’ll be remembered and how things might be different if we weren’t around.

It was great to spend quality time with the four generations of family I’m so lucky to have:

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Professional head on, I was labelled Grinchbank the other day for not wanting to play Christmas songs in class. I’m very excited, believe me, about little E’s first Christmas,and B’s fourth, just show it in different ways, like writing a blog for no apparent reason… and taking her to a Christmas party at my drinking den.

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We sell paintings, we have problems, we spend too much on Christmas when it should be about other stuff… but in 2017, we, the dreamers and writers, are all about to take over the world, and we all need to remember that during Advent.

Me, Mrs G and the baby – as well as the preoccupied badger – certainly will.

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“God Bless us, every one!”

 

We two boys together clinging

mickey-mIt’s been half term, and a funny old few weeks have led to yet another well-earned rest… but this time, not much of a rest, with an added little twist.

We start with a poem.

Ahem… *coughs*

Nettles by Vernon Scannell

My son aged three fell in the nettle bed.

‘Bed’ seemed a curious name for those green spears,

That regiment of spite behind the shed:

It was no place for rest. With sobs and tears

The boy came seeking comfort and I saw

White blisters beaded on his tender skin.

We soothed him till his pain was not so raw.

At last he offered us a watery grin,

And then I took my billhook, honed the blade

And went outside and slashed in fury with it

Till not a nettle in that fierce parade

Stood upright any more.

And then I lit

A funeral pyre to burn the fallen dead,

But in two weeks the busy sun and rain

Had called up tall recruits behind the shed:

My son would often feel sharp wounds again.

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I’ve been teaching about this poem a lot, and it’s particularly resonated over the last couple of weeks. You see, Scanell was a deserter and many think this poem was alluding to his experiences of service, as well as the fact that he sadly lost two children.

The common conclusion is that it’s all about the agonies of parenthood, that inability to protect your children as you’d like to, and the realisation that no matter what you do, they’ll suffer again in the future.

Whatever the meanings, my own epistemological standpoint means that I’ve come to liken it to the fact that my own son, aged three weeks, fell into a hospital bed and there was equally little we could do about it.

It all started two weeks ago with a bad couple of evenings  / early mornings which we thought was down to colic, so I went the chemist around the corner and spent £20 on remedies.

The following (Tuesday) morning, WW had real concerns that he wasn’t moving his right leg, and was in ever increasing agony when being changed or held, so rang our health visitor and was advised to go to A&E at Alder Hey.

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This picture was taken a couple of days in… She ended up there for ten days with him.

They knew on the first day it was an infection, thankfully nothing too sinister, so started him on antibiotics. I was there all day the Wednesday waiting for a MRI which never happened, the next day was the worst as he was on a drip and couldn’t feed, he was inconsolable and eventually had the scan at 5pm. Those few hours were some of the hardest we’ve both shared, whether as parents or otherwise (otherwise? Did we even have a life before kids?)

We were sat in the room waiting for him to come round after the GA and a doctor came in to explain the infection was worse than what they’d thought so they’d decided to operate straight away. We panicked, despite the fact that we knew there were much worse off kids and parents on the ward, but he was ours, so little and helpless.

Plus, we didn’t really understand…

BRONX, NY: Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York circa 1960. Mickey Mantle played for the New York Yankees from 1951 - 1968. (Photo by Louis Requena /MLB Photos via Getty Images)
BRONX, NY: Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York circa 1960. Mickey Mantle played for the New York Yankees from 1951 – 1968. (Photo by Louis Requena /MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Research discovered that Mickey Mantle’s career was cut short by the same issue: osteomyelitis, as illustrated brilliantly in this beautiful little painting by Thomas Eakins entitled The Gross Clinic.

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They cleaned out his hip and drilled into his femur, turns out that what they drained was streptococcal which is the same strain as that which can cause meningitis. We were mightily relieved and, whilst hoping to come home by the weekend had to be told that, with his age, they had to keep him in for a few days at least, for daily checks.

One of his nurses was a Blue, made up to see my attire, talked about how he’d taken his little girl to her first game against Espanyol in the summer… it filled my heart with hope that one day I can do the same.

Days went on and the tests thankfully abated, but resulted in him being fitted with an odd looking contraption called a Pavlik’s harness – appropriate for Oktoberfest, as it looks a bit like lederhosen – meaning that still, regular changes of his IV were still necessary, so I had another couple of days in the hospital then they eventually came out last Friday evening. In between times, my employers were very supportive and the highlight of the difficult days in between was on one of my days off, literally bumping into David Unsworth on the way home one afternoon.

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He was in the atrium with his daughter awaiting an appointment and I just wished him all the best with the U23s, explained that he was my favourite player when I was 15, and that the Norwich game was one of my best days as an Evertonian. He simply said, smiling, ‘me too’ and I left with a smile on my face, thinking we were going to be a complete family again soon… but had to endure a couple more days of Arriva Wifi, expensive coffees, stolen paper cups and cans of Red Bull before being discharged.

You see, some of his samples had had to be sent to Great Ormond Street, which is what we’d been waiting for, and it’s still not clear what the long term problems might be such as arthritis but it’s much better than it might have been. School had been great to me, like I said, but I had to go back in, if only to teach about Nettles. The wait to be discharged felt like an age, but we got the green light at tea time and on the way out, down the ‘helterskelter’ of a car park exit as my eldest called it, a friend was on Radio Merseyside and all seemed good in the world.

We were back in there again twice this week, but got some bad news.

Fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious. There’s not a lot we can do, other than wait… We’ve been amazed with the professionalism and kindness of each and every one of the staff who have dealt with us. We’ve also been overwhelmed by the offers of help and support from colleagues, friends, drinking buddies and family, particularly some who’ve never even met the little guy – and hardly know us – so thanks, if you’re one of them.

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Anyone else wanting to help… You can pray, you can do whatever you can for this wonderful hospital we are so lucky to have, buy the pyjamas they’re doing for Christmas – we’ve got ours – #Earnyourstripes at Matalan – and give thanks that we were lucky and feel more blessed than ever, however difficult this process has been.

As I prepare for going back to ‘normal’ and reflect upon the maelstrom of emotions that we’ve been through this past month, I can only summise that this whole experience has really put things into perspective, given that we were on a ward with kids who’d had tumours and leukaemia and a plethora of other bone related ailments whose parents who were living there long term. The kitchen and fridge there were full of staple goods we needed to get through and try to live normally, as normally as we could, anyway… but we were lucky and didn’t have to stock up for too long.

We really do acknowledge how fortunate we’ve been.

Through it all, I tried my best to keep a low profile about it all. Whilst some would use social network platforms to update and inform, and let’s be honest, garner attention, I’ve (largely) kept mine hidden – until now. I decided to explain all because I know that some people will be wondering, others have no idea still.

Anyone who’s watched the first new Black Mirror will understand why, because it resonated so wonderfully with the way we rate each other and what we share online. I’m as guilty as anyone – well, not quite everyone – but it’s well worth a watch because it leads to periods of introspection that little else TV could.

We have, of course, privately documented the experience to share with Elijah in the future, because just like his emblem – and the mascot of Alder Hey itself – an elephant never forgets.

That includes a hugely difficult and chastening few weeks a world away from the happy days of post birth paradise.

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This week, like I said, it’s been half term and whilst trying to have a normal week, we have had the admittedly excellent nurses visit every day to change his line and it’s heartbreaking not just to see what he’s going through because he hasn’t got a clue, but also B watching it all and not understanding any of it. The good news is that she’s decided she wants to be a nurse, and has tried her best to carry on as normal, producing these amazing drawings – rather aptly, on the anniversary of Picasso’s birthday – and whilst our world has been turned upside down, we’ve tried to keep hers constant, even if they both might have to feel sharp wounds again.

Oh the joys of parenthood!

Life really is what happens while you’re busy making other plans…

It’s nice to end on something beautiful, positive and creative because, after all, this was initially intended to be a cultural blog about beauty and the sublime in the everyday. The title of this piece is a nod to one of my paintings at least: though my creative wells are dry at present and recently, it has ended up being something of a parental diary but, I do maintain, just like Data’s dad Mr Wang in The Goonies nearly said, they’re still by far my best inventions.

Exciting, heartbreaking, and sometimes scary…

Last time we met, I was planning for the new arrival.

I wrote a heartfelt love letter to my unborn son, explaining what the world was like and how I hoped he would find it.

He arrived a few days early, and so far we’ve been having the time of our lives…

This month, I will let him write an account of what has happened since.

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A week before I was due, my folks still hadn’t settled on a name. My mum said I could be give an Everton related moniker and all dad’s friends & family assumed I’d be a little Dunc. They considered Aldous – too close to ‘Aldo’ for our liking – Sebastian, Henry, Theo, Leo… None of which sounded quite right.

Henry, apparently what my sister would’ve been called if she was a boy, in particular felt wrong because of the Red Sox owner.

A week before I was due, my dad went out to his club, a last hurrah he (rightly) thought, they still weren’t sure what I’d be called and the match, plus those few memorable pints, did little to help the confusion. The impressive turnaround could have offered Gareth, Seamus or Yannick / Romelu as possible options, but thankfully none were given second thoughts and so I sit here as none of the above.

Still, my dad says, the match offered renewed optimism that the tide was slowly turning, and when I eventually came along, we were sitting pretty in second.

I remember clearly that dad spent the previous night marking books, then they watched another episode of ‘The Night Of’, an excellent series I was hooked on within the womb, and a clever commentary on America as it approaches a real crossroads. The programme harked back to other whodunit type productions of yesteryear, particularly Murder One, which similarly made viewers question whether the accused was in fact guilty or if it was his lawyer, the investigating officer… I won’t spoil it for anyone who’s halfway through.

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Anyway, then Mum’s waters broke at 3am.

Dad panicked, as it was both a school and a match day, but then he was a little bit relieved as he would normally have got a ticket but had ultimately decided that, so close to the birth date, he would have been foolish to go, and for once wouldn’t regret missing the game.

He tells me that he’d had a dream that same night that he was lining up in a tunnel alongside Zinedine Zidane and he went up to him and hugged him, conversing in French about their hatred of the police and their joint love of La Haine…then he was taking selfies with Thierry Henry in theplayers’ lounge, but before he knew it, in reality he was unblocking the toilet and holding his breath both physically and metaphorically…

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Thinking I might be on my way, he took my sister into nursery and put on an Everton t-shirt so that if I did come along, the first thing I would see, would be the badge.

Labour wasn’t much fun at all, and as the countdown to kick off arrived, Sky Sports News was switched off and the pool prepared because I was to be born at home.

He was in the middle of sending e-mails to colleagues; his new role and responsibilities meaning he didn’t want to leave anyone in the lurch. However, things took a serious turn and he realised that there was only one priority now – everything else could wait.

Dad was a bit worried, he always had been about a home birth, but went along with it because he was so confident in Mum’s knowledge and preparation. With the help of grandparents the hose, the pots and pans, the kettles boiling, did their job and thankfully, as predicted, my mummy was wonderful so, after a difficult afternoon I arrived in time for tea.

I was a little tongue tied, but a good weight and my folks were elated.

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Funnily enough, my sister had been born a few hours before a game against Norwich three years ago, Martinez’s first game in charge in fact, and Dad’s last league game was the 3 0 win against them at the end of last season, so they clearly have a place in his heart… Still, I hate them after they beat us on the day I was born. My dad wasn’t too bothered, for once, but couldn’t even follow the game as the midwives were here doing paperwork for hours due to complications after my birth; still, there was always the following Saturday.

I slept through the next game completely… And they lost, so it was probably for the best. Still, the chance would come again the following Friday!

It was his birthday in between. He got his haircut and got told a funny, if rather homoerotic, tale by his barber, about one of our players’ behinds, having seen him in a food hall the previous day and likened it to a curvy celebrity’s rear. Maybe this explains his up and down form (the player’s, not the barber’s)

Back home, despite the gin, the wine, Cruyff and Iniesta autobiographies, I was definitely his best present, closely followed by those two halcyon hours my parents had in bed drinking prosecco and finally watching Stranger Things – something he’d been told about months ago but was too busy preparing the house for my arrival.

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It’s well worth the wait, and transports you back to late 1983 with such accuracy, even the cinematography and opening credits are so of the time you feel like it’s from then, and the surreal twists hark back to a great time in Science Fiction (and, I believe, the dawn of a great era for our football club; maybe it’s a good omen) all in all, another incredibly addictive series I’d wholeheartedly recommend – it’s exciting, heartbreaking, and sometimes scary, so a perfect parallel to parenthood – we’re watching an episode a day together, proving that a week without pay, has its perks.

It’s back to school for him this week, though. He sang me a song from his youth about it:

 

Two weeks’ paternity isn’t enough, I believe, especially when there’s another (very lively) little one and a fatigued Mum for him to look after as well, plus the plethora of well wishing visitors, but thankfully we bonded well during that time and he taught me a bit about the Blues. A crazy paternity leave with dad ended with my first televised game against Palace and, after a welcome couple of pints for him wetting the baby’s head, in that club he keeps telling me about and can’t wait to take me to, he came home to sit with me and watch it together, before getting an early night.

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How things have changed!

Parenthood second time around is different, harder… and better, Dad says. I overheard him on the phone and he said to a friend that it’s impossible to explain but just feels right, and us going out along the beach today, as the sun shone, summed that up quite nicely. He also said he didn’t think he could be more proud and grateful, and couldn’t believe how much more love people can give and receive after weddings and B’s arrival.

We had fun today; I visited a sensory room for the first time…

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And Dad took us to where they had their wedding reception. It looked lovely.

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The good news keeps coming – friends have disclosed their own pregnancies, and we wish them all the best. Even though none of us know what the future will bring, it’s a nice feeling right now, and we all feel very lucky.

Especially Dad.

Lucky to have my wonderful mummy, and our family.

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And just as much – I can tell by how many photographs he’s taking – proud of us.

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Thanks for reading… I hope to meet some of you soon.

Elijah Jude, October 2016