Know that love is truly timeless

The year started with an air of optimism.

Let me explain… Everyone spent time at the end of December reminiscing and moaning about all the celebrities who died in 2016. Some of my own heroes passed, too: Cruyff in particular.

Still, having spent most of the year pregnant and then getting used to a new little blue in the house – and dealing with the potentially life threatening illness he developed at three weeks old – a big positive of the year, for me anyway, was learning the skill of putting things in perspective and… Prioritising.

Time management, work/life balance; call it what you will, things were – had to be – more settled, with an evening routine and another one in the morning which allowed for maximum quality time and although it meant little or no visiting my creative wells, for now at least that’s ok, because it’s all about love.

I also came to recognize that night that life doesn’t automatically reward those who deserve it. If anything, those who appear not to deserve it seem blessed, destined to enjoy success by any means necessary. Not just in terms of football, 2016 also gave plenty of examples of laughable behaviours from those who should know better. As Michelle Obama so cleverly put it in one of her last speeches, ‘you go low, we go high’ and I’ve tried to stick to that mantra.

I haven’t spoken to you since Christmas… the Day itself brought with it lots of plastic, fraught kitchen work and a broken phone due to turkey juices being spilled on it, which would cost me £100 a few days later… Not the best start to the year, I’ll be honest, but the kids had a wonderful time and as things improved. Meanwhile, in my drinking den, tensions had built up to the extent that mutinies were planned and bugging devices had been found – think Phoenix Nights combined with Ancient Rome – and, most controversially, a member’s wife even turned up to drag her husband home, despite the fact that women were actually allowed in over the festive period.

First week into the new year, I was due a haircut. It’s only around the corner but the barber – a good Blue, sits in the Gwladys Street – was late opening, so I dived in the café opposite to wait.

I recognized the car outside, straight away.

I walked in, and there he was, sat happily devouring his eggs on toast and cup of tea. I had EFC tracksuit pants on, so ignored him completely, pretending I didn’t notice him, because I didn’t want to come across as a sycophant, nor a hypocrite after having told him in town that ‘K A G’ after a derby in 2001. He was reading the paper, probably his own column, so I downed my espresso, ignoring the fact that he was a noisy eater and would haggle over the bill, and made a quick exit.

The rest of the first couple of months have been tiring but enjoyable, and full of love. For a variety of reasons, I’ve been in a nostalgic mood recently and decided to delve into the archives of my mind, both to self-indulgently reminisce and to compare current events to those of yesteryear.

Strap yourselves into the DeLorean and get ready to hit 88, as we first go back…  then, into the future.


After the delightful victory against Man City and embracing the positivity which followed that crazy afternoon, it would have been easy to regret not being able to go to that match, it being our best result for years. That I hadn’t was due to WW having a weekend away with her friends and me spending quality time with the kiddiewinks.

In the past I really would have been bothered, because unlike the baying majority, I actually go the match once in a while, but again this was all about perspective, priorities and love.

The following week, too, I made the sacrifice of a nice lie-in and day with the family, to go into town early and visit the NORTH exhibition at the Open Eye. What a great show, and reminiscent of yesteryear fashions and culture. The subtext was seeing an old friend who wanted to have a chat – the good news being that he’d got engaged at Christmas and wanted to share his announcement, and I was delighted.

Things had clearly changed – for the better.

And, not just for me.

The following weekend, just to remind us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, my little girl broke our TV with a violent swing of the toy binoculars, which meant a large amount of money being spent on a replacement.



It’s funny, like I said, how you look back and time has deceived you. It’ll be five years very soon since we got married, and things are so very different.

Better, but very different.

I was planning my stag night in town, then a last hurrah in Barcelona – the idea of both now would be but a pipedream, as I find it impossible to stay awake past midnight plus could never manage a weekend away, but evoke wonderful memories of a time before things got even more wonderful.

Sentimental tosh, maybe, but true, and I ‘m envious of those nearest and dearest about to embark upon exciting adventures of betrothal or parenthood in equal measure because that’s when the real excitement – and love – begins.

Know, though, that love is truly timeless.


I have personal reasons for enjoying looking back to a decade ago, and not just because it was the time that Sylvester Stallone spat out his tea in the director’s box. What a great moment in my life that was, by the way, but 2007 is largely memorable because I was getting with my wife at the time. My season ticket back then, in the Gwladys Street, brought us glimpses of Rocky and Rambo, yes, and last year’s ‘Creed’ showed his too was a lifelong affair…  but another key moment from that period, for me anyway, was my involvement in the design of a top ten album from that year, which is being celebrated this year and I’ll dine out on for a while longer because it’s an experience unlikely to be repeated ever again…

Anyone who doesn’t know, might be interested that you can still see our creation in the Museum of Liverpool, and the lads are doing an anniversary tour to commemorate those halcyon days when my handwriting was on merchandise, on TV, in music videos, on billboards, discussed by David Tennant on Alan Carr and spotted in the Louvre (well, the shopping centre next door) and still to this day, on YouTube: what a time to be alive.

Meanwhile, the most surreal moment form that year has to be getting invited to a Healthy Schools ceremony at Clarence House and getting promised some organic carrots by a tipsy Camilla then telling Jamie Oliver that our kids thought he was a nobhead after the whole school dinners revolution.

To make up for that (I blame the free wine) we celebrated Valentine’s Day this year at his restaurant in town and had a great meal, little E even tasting steak juices for the first time, and then, somewhat serendipitously, I saw both Jamie Carragher (again) and Alan Stubbs locally during the same week as if to remind me of that era – and to reflect on how much better things are now.

The recent notions I’d been feeling, of dreaming and romance, were underlined by a trip to the surprisingly wonderful La La Land in which central character Sebastian discusses certain people I know, quite eloquently: “They worship everything and they value nothing.”

I don’t mind admitting that I cried at several points in the film because it was just so beautiful; the planetarium scene for example, and ignored the cynical claims that it somehow discriminates against modern day Hollywood, preferring instead to celebrate its joy and love and feelgood nature – even if it’s not the happiest of endings.

What made it more poignant was that little E sat through the majority quite happily, and despite a couple of tuts, fellow cinemagoers were astounded there was a baby in the show when they heard his cooing at the end.


On said Valentine’s Day, by the way, I took my son to the Everton store in town and picked up a couple of things for him, now that he has overcome his illness and has started to catch up weight wise. Whilst there, I couldn’t resist purchasing a reminder of the more distant past, an adult sized version of the shirt I distinctly remember getting for my twelfth birthday.

It broke a rule I’d set a couple of years ago, never to buy another football shirt, but as it was one I had previously owned – and was a sign of my everlasting fifth love, on Valentine’s Day to boot – I think it made it ok.


41 years ago, Star Wars was being made, and one of the things I have to look forward to this month is dressing up as Darth Vader. I got into practice at the rather excellent – for anyone of my generation, anyway – exhibition in Southport of Star Wars toys and film posters which really got me reminiscing my childhood and those of the kids. ‘Collecting is a disease, and the only cure is sharing’ said the owner of all these wonderful objects, and it explains nicely the majority of my obsessions and projects over the years. Thankfully, I too still have a lot of SW toys somewhere in the loft that will eventually be passed down / sold on ebay…

Depending on workload, I hope to also get to watch more of ‘The Get Down’ from the same era which – late to the party as always – I’m really enjoying. Now that we have Netflix on the new TV, there is loads on my watch list that I might get around to seeing, one day. Similarly, recent additions to the library mean I won’t be bored any time in the next ten years.

And I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Going back to the late Seventies, just a few years later, a young boy in Lancaster fell in love for the first time with football, when Emilio Butragueno was in his pomp (I might go and sit in that big stand next month and achieve a lifetime ambition see him play (albeit at Anfield)) and Cujo was scaring people shitless in cinemas. I watched it recently because it had been cited as a major influence on Stranger Things and I kind of get it, but the decline of the dog made me probably scared of St Bernards forever.

I also loved the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, which again was from the early 80s and reminded us that love is timeless.

However, just like back then, the country is in a mess. Of course, it could all be La La Land talking, but it’s a nice idea to keep hold of that things will improve, akin to a story similar to that which I’m celebrating a testimonial in, this year. Ups and downs, problematic others, fall outs and make ups… and above all, hope that one day, things will be perfect.

In the meantime, B continues to astound, and E continues to improve and develop nicely. Today he could wear a birth gift for the first time, apt for the past few weeks and the theme of love. It was sent by a Liverpool fan who swallowed his pride and despite the odd negative comment over social media, I really respect and admire and thank him and his family immensely.

So – life is changing, not easy, at all, but in a good way.

But love makes it better…

So much better.

I’ll leave the last words to Sebastian again:

“This is the dream! It’s conflict and it’s compromise, and it’s very, very exciting!”

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!


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.


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.


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…



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.

Great Expectations thumbnail_img_0436

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…


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:


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


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:


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.