Happy Not Dead Yet Day

When does Happy Birthday become Happy Not Dead Yet Day?  Is there a cut-off age for birthdays, or should men become like women and become just 21 again?  Are birthdays just for children?    Why am I talking about this anyway?  Today is the anniversary of my birth.  I was born on this day in 1972, 51 years ago.  When this article will be published my birthday will have passed so don’t try finding my date of birth.  Some people love their birthdays and enjoy them and just go for it.  I, surprise, surprise, am not one of those dreadful people.  Noooo, I am just in a foul mood, and despite receiving happy birthday wishes with good grace, I remain, under my breath, just an angry old man.  What is wrong with me?!

It could be because my birthday isn’t even being celebrated on the day itself.  Well, it is but it isn’t.  I expressed the wish for a beer and pizza night.  So, of course, I’m the one who has to go out and get the effing pizzas and get the beer.  I’m not even allowed to choose the effing film, because I am a sucker for a Rom-Com, and my family members aren’t so we won’t be watching one.  My daughter chose a birthday cake, a chocolate cake, which I am rather partial to, but it has that sickly sweet icing on it and is a unicorn rainbow cake.  She’s basically taking the piss out of me.  This isn’t me being paranoid since she actually admitted everything!  I’m even more pissed off with myself as I should be grateful instead of being selfish.  Damn you conscience!!!

I don’t like being the centre of attention and feel very uneasy about it.  If any bugger sings happy birthday to me, I just want the ground to swallow me up.

There were actually people last year for my fiftieth who actually came around for a party!  The utter gall of it!  Apparently “they,” say you have to be made a fuss of and receive presents.  It was awful.  You have to sit there pretending to have a good time.  The thing was a disaster and I still have a wine stain on my favourite shirt!

I told my son last night how I generally love my fellow man, and he promptly replied with the word bollocks!   You hate people!  I don’t necessarily hate them, and I do like them, far away, and on my own terms, i.e. not in my house wishing me a happy birthday!

How can I be like this??  I have no idea.  I remember my childhood birthdays with great affection, and I can’t blame booze for giving me just partial recollections.  My mother always went the extra mile, and I remember various styled chocolate cakes with great affection.  Even when I was at boarding school birthdays were fun.  I would get some cards, and Thornton toffees from my grandmother, and Matron would come round asking me if I wanted a chocolate cake or fruit cake?  I generally asked if I could have a chocolate cake, and at the end of supper, the cake would be brought out of the kitchen and divided up amongst the whole school which was a great way to do things. 

Even when I came back into the state school system, you would get the bumps which never really hurt, and one would have to pretend to struggle and just take it, but it was a laugh.  Now it would be classed as bullying and possibly assault!  How times have changed!

So, thank you to all who have wished me a happy birthday. Thank you for not picking me up by my hands and feet and not kicking me!  Thank you for taking a moment to have a thought for me on my special day.  I really do love you all!

Welcome to 2023

First of all, Dear Reader, I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2023! May it be better than 2022 and may it bring you everything you need to continue your life journey. At this time of year, we all tend to look forwards and backwards, and it seems fitting that Janus, the two-faced god, gave his name to January. We look backwards to the preceding year to see what we can learn from our experiences, good or bad, and forwards to the new year with hope and an expectation of change.

2022 saw my first contact with Covid back in March. Not the most pleasant of experiences, and I think I gave it a 1 out of 5 rating… It saw the war in Ukraine, and our fears of Russia going mad and destroying the entire continent. This, despite prayer, seems to still be the case, except at the cost of so much human life. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US and hope was given to the Pro-life movement. It saw my first trip back to the UK since 2019, and it was wonderful being back and seeing family after such a long time. In the final days of the year, it saw the death of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most misunderstood popes of these times. On a personal note, we were so worried about Molly, our family dog, and feared losing her in December. Fortunately, she is a lot better but it was a close shave. It might sound silly to some, how one can get so emotionally attached to an animal, but I swear I was writing her obituary in my mind and crying about the whole thing.

For Christmas this year, I am happy to report a total lack of drama, and on the contrary, think the whole shebang went off wonderfully. This was in part thanks to the visit of two of my nieces who came to spend this special time with us. One of the nieces even came to midnight mass with me and the next day, Christmas Day, the six of us were together for mass which just shows how special Christmas is. It just shows how the simplest of things can have so much meaning and how they can bring us such joy.

I was on holiday the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It would appear that I might have even lost a tiny amount of weight, and some of my t-shirts seem to be less tight. It might not last, but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy it.

It was just so special to have time with my family and have them around me. I took the girls into Nantes to share some of my world with them, and believe it or not, I had a camera with me, so I might just have to share some of my world with you, too! The weather was abysmal, but on the last day before the return to work, the sun was out and I went into town to have some special Ian time, and just wonder the streets between confession, and missing the pub being open. It is likely, however, that I pop in this weekend to wish my friends a Happy New Year too!

Happy birthday dear Daughter

13 years ago today, I had just had 24 hours of being a father for the second time.  I had become the father of a daughter.  The father of a daughter is not the father of a son.  Despite what the feminists might tell us, there is still a void of difference between the two.  If I listen to the ambient discourse, I have to treat my children the same in the way in the name of sacrosanct equality.  This is complete codswallop because, being an only child and becoming the father of two children, I did not know what to do.  I thought, well, not that bad back in the day, but little did I know that this was even more codswallop than the concept of equality.

I didn’t realise that I had to deal with two completely different people and although one was still a very tiny person, this young lady would teach me how different it can be.  Did I suddenly become overprotective of her?  Damned right I did.  And still am.  And she knows it.  So does my son…  Ooops a daisy!

Like any man and woman, they are complementary.  The same but different, and reflections on my parenting and on my spouse’s parenting.  I like them both despite their many qualities and failings.  Puberty was easier to deal with when my son was going through it, but my daughter was different.  I don’t know if it’s because she’s a girl or just another person.  I know that this too will pass, even for her as it has for my son.  But with a daughter entering puberty at 100 mph and a wife going through menopause, it’s nice having my son around as some testosterone backup.  Before he came back home, there was far too much oestrogen in my house.  Things can be a “little intense” at the moment.

As Padre Pio said, and whose feast day it is today, Pray, Hope, and don’t Worry.  He lived in a friary and not in my house.  He might have said something different had it been the case.  Or maybe not.  God is great, after all.

And how did you spend your summer?

Everyone seems to ask that question after the summer holidays when we take leave from our daily toils and worries, and maybe for a week or two, we can create our own little paradise on earth. Some make it to a hotel next to the ocean and enjoy the sun’s warmth on their skin, whereas others will find a boat and spend time in the ocean trying to stay cool. Others will drive all over making that Grand Tour that the Victorians made. Others will be at work keeping the country going. Others will be fighting fires in the Gironde because of somebody’s carelessness in this heat wave, which I wouldn’t really call a wave but rather a smack around the face, with the heat taking away our comfort, our sleep, our water, our rivers, and our gardens.

Whatever your summer, I hope you could find moments of cool, in the figurative and literal senses. What can I tell you about my summer? In four days, I go back to work to start the humdrum of my daily life, and in these remaining four days of freedom, I seem to look back over the previous three weeks wondering where it all went!

It went off to the UK, that’s where it went. I haven’t been back home since 2019 and it was about bloody time that I got back to my roots. Living without roots or being able to feel rooted somewhere that one calls home is an idea that only immigrants can really get their heads around. They left their homes, sometimes forced by evil and unfortunate circumstances, and for others, it was for love and freely entered into. I was lucky to be in the latter category. But it’s still amazing to get back home.

With modern technology, I can call my parents on the phone when I want to, and do so a few times a week. I can hear their voices, but it’s not the same as taking them in my arms and hugging them and really showing them how much I love them. Only when in their presence can I do that. And as none of us is getting any younger, one has the morbid thought, will this be the last time I see them? I tend not to dwell on this rather disturbing question, but one still asks it.

I found a country where everyone speaks the same language as me and where my wife and daughter seemed to cope with what I do every day (ie speaking a foreign language) and maybe it gave them the chance to walk around in my shoes for a while, as Atticus Finch once said in a book a long time ago.

I found a country that had gone through Brexit, Covid, and yet further Tory government and it looked more or less the same. Tired, pissed off, but still exquisite to my eyes. And most of all, it was home. The Germans talk about this concept of Heimat, home, but not quite. It’s more akin to a motherland, or a place where you are rooted. Some could argue that after nearly 30 years in France, France should be my Heimat, and although I am very grateful to have been “welcomed” to France, it certainly isn’t home, despite all the best intentions.

Anyway! I saw my parents in Alnmouth and surprisingly took some photos. They haven’t all been edited yet, as I have to sort and edit them, which will be a hefty job. We didn’t really go wandering like we have in the past, but just tried to relax in the comparative cool of Northumbria. I wandered around the village and even was as bold enough as to go into Alnwick and let my daughter discover Superdrug’s cosmetics counter! Ah well, it was going to happen one day.

I had some time with my father as we drove towards Otterburn to get some landscape photos. It was lovely just sharing with him how I take my photos and seeing this part of me that few people see. We ate with my parents and enjoyed curries, Chinese food, and the tastiest of Sunday roasts. My daughter, that intriguing and sometimes frightening creature, discovered more of her father’s country and just how special it is.

As some of you may know, I am adopted and have been since three weeks after my birth. The story of all that, Dear Reader, is understandably only for those concerned, and during our time in Alnmouth, I had the good fortune to see my birth mother and my half-sister for the day. Afternoon tea and we even had crumpets with salted butter and jam, and tea. Coffee is fine, but tea in the UK takes you to what heaven must feel like!

On our way back south towards France, we stopped off to see my birth mother again. It felt so intimate being able to visit her in her own home. My half-brother’s daughters were there to meet not only me but probably more Kate, their half-cousin who by definition is exotic because she is French! They have, of course, received an open invitation to come over whenever they like. We even saw my Aunty Margie, whom I hadn’t seen for over 5 years.

Then down to Hull to see my father’s side of the family. My cousin Nick and his wife, Maria, received us like kings and I will be ever grateful to him for organising the family reunion where 23 of us gathered in his immaculate back garden. A couple of beers were drunk that day. The following day it was off to see Aunty Mon, and Kate was delighted to see me being scolded as I answered a question for her. Nobody messes around with Aunty Mon! We met up with Nick and Maria in the next village for a pub lunch, with the traditional and nigh quasi obligatory roast dinner! Those two pints of Yorkshire bitter just helped wash down the meal in the most tasteful way.

Sadly, we had to continue our voyage down South and ended up in Dover, where the next day, we were to catch our ferry back to France. We met up with my wife’s cousin for dinner in our hotel, and they discussed everything about family, from gossip to scandal, to the next generation who will carry the family name.

We arrived home and found my newly single son at home and Molly, the dog who have both been sorely missed.

As I read the article, there is one word that seems to stand out, and that word is family. These holidays had nothing to do with visiting tourist sights. It did, however, have everything to do about renewing connections to those most important in our lives after Covid had separated us for so long. That is what the holidays meant to me. I became rooted in my country, my culture, and my family. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to see old friends, but everyone knows that family has to come first. It’s what gives us our sense of being and belonging. It is the visible form of our roots on God’s Earth, however warm that earth might feel during an exceptionally warm summer.

May God bless you and your families, bring you together, heal the eventual discords, and give you too a feeling of being grounded after so long.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Everything is in the title, to be honest. It’s Boxing Day today, therefore the aftermath of Christmas. I hope you all had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. I have a cousin whose plans were altered because of COVID. The post on Facebook showed a beautiful London living room decorated for Christmas and you could feel the deception in her writing. Thankfully Covid doesn’t last forever, and this new south African variant seems slightly less menacing than the one from India. Is the old Empire trying to get back at the Mother country for past wrongs?

At the end of each year, we all seem to have this primaeval urge to analyse the year just gone by. With Christmas just finished, you’ll realise this when you watch the news with all the look-backs on 2021. This year has been yet another year that I haven’t seen my parents. All this Covid bollocks is annoying the shit out of me! I haven’t seen them since August 2019, and it’s long. Too long. I’m fortunate enough to still have my parents still alive, and I know that so many people have been left without since this Covid. At first, I tried to joke about it, but it’s not been a joke for quite some time. Our lives have changed in so many ways and we have seen our leaders being completely defenceless against it. Policies have been brought out, each one being even less coherent than the last ones. Boris has been caught out not obeying his own rules and has so much egg on his face that he could prepare an omelette for the entire country. He appears to be finished as people no longer want a posh bawdy wannabe comedian; I mean Prime Minister, lording it over them. In France, it appears to be just as ridiculous, with the Président Macron contradicting himself all the time and just shouting loudly to show that he is “managing” the crisis. People might accuse me of being a tad conspiratorial when I say that this crisis has been used to erode individual freedoms and “track” us even more than before. The one thing however that is not codswallop is the vaccine which I would urge all people to get. “Big pharma” definitely is making millions out of it all, but do we really have a choice in the matter. I don’t really fancy dying just yet and feel that I may still have things left to do in this strange life of mine.

Now that my mini-rant is over, I suppose it is now the moment to tell you all how our Christmas went. This might take some time, so please try to bear with me. It might even be worth the read. As always, I will try to start at the very beginning, which is still a good place to start. ABC and Do Ré Mi etc. Get out of my head Julie Andrews!!

The factory shut its doors on Wednesday at 5pm, and we were freed. No need to come back until the 3rd of January 2022. Might as well go home and try to get into the Christmas spirit, whatever that is. My short-term memory seems to take the mickey yet again. I know I went out with my daughter to Nantes for the day and we ended up in the pub eating fries and having a quiet glass of something with friends and just enjoying being together, which is what pubs are for, after all. The drinks are just a side attraction. I’ve just looked at my phone and it was last Saturday. Thank heavens we have our phones to tell us what we did. Anyway, it was on that evening that I said to my friends that I would try to come along to say hello on Thursday night before they shut for Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Back on track. I sent a text to my wife that since we were both on holiday, then we would go for a drink at the pub, and then attempt vainly to get a table at a restaurant for a nice little something to eat. Full of optimism, I even texted my son to say that since it was going to be -2°C the next morning at 2am when he goes to work, that I would take him in. Strangely enough, he took me up on my offer. So off to work we went, and I asked when the “girlfriend” would come over. That night I was sent out by Madame to do the Christmas food shopping, and take my son to wash his bedding in anticipation of the “girlfriend’s” visit.

Driving to the shops, he let slip that it wasn’t even sure that she’d be there for Christmas. Oh, clucking bell! Red lights just started flashing, and the drama was just beginning. He looked so despondent, and above all didn’t want to “talk about it.” So that was that. I don’t know if bullshit tolerance is at an all-time low because of my age, or that I simply don’t need this shit anymore. My daughter was amazing at helping me with the shopping, and even packing it all away in the car boot. I know she’s at that “difficult” age, so I was just enjoying being a good guy for once, instead of Papa, who just understands nothing! Small mercies, people, small mercies! We picked up my son and his spotless sheets and went home. He would shower and then just go to bed because of his early start the next morning. My daughter had prepared something to eat in the microwave and everything was hunky-dory, even though a little subdued because of the mal-être of my son.

I arrived home and dumped the shopping in the kitchen.  My wife was getting ready for our date night and looked lovely!  We don’t get much time like that so every minute is so special.  I couldn’t get my poor upset son out of my mind.  Well, stop talking about it then.  Well, sorry for being concerned about my son.  But merde, we never go out, and just let them deal with their own shit!  I had been told and remembered that is more important to be kind than right and to choose my battles well.  This was not the time or place.  I kept driving and shut the f up!  Probably a wise decision.  

We arrived at the pub and said hi to people behind the bar and to other people that can be found behind the bar but not tonight.  They’re all friends anyway, and I do enjoy their company but tonight is date night.  I had some vitamin G, and Madame had a Leffe.  The restaurant is just across the street and yes, they had a table for two. You know that funny feeling you get when you kind of recognise the person sitting at the table next to you, but that’s all.  No precise idea.  Little did I know that the lady lived in Newcastle the year after we did, and moved back to France the year before we moved to the Vendée.  It turns out that it was the mother of a young friend that used to work in the pub and whose girlfriend still does.  Definitely a small world.  It also reminded me not to diss the French too much when I talk to my wife in English when out and about.  Or even about and out.  You never know.  I know that the French need to be put right on a wide variety of subjects, but it was still time to be kind and not right again….  Damn you conscience!!!

I was allowed a pint before going home.  Wonders never cease!  I saw the weather for the next day and sent a text to my son telling him it might well be raining at 2am and would he like me to take him to work at 2am.  Again, strangely he took me up on my offer.  I can hear my father telling me what a big softy I am, and my mother telling me that I am too soft.  Ah well…  There goes a day….  Again….

On the way to work, my son seemed slightly better than the previous evening, so I supposed they must have “talked things through.”  I knew that it was a tad early in the morning or in the middle of the night depending on your point of view, but since he was finishing at 11am I could have a lie-in.  Or at least that I what I told myself.  Little did I know that he would phone me at 8am telling me he had finished and could I please pick him up!  Oooh, the little bugger!!  Give me 10 minutes son, and I’ll be on my way…  10 minutes later I was indeed on my way to get him.  However, it was his turn to be nice to his old man.  I didn’t care if he was going to see his girlfriend for Breakfast, he was going to help me finish the Christmas shopping in the market in Clisson.  He carried everything back to the car for me.  Bless his little cotton socks. 

So this all sets the scene for Christmas Eve.  Virginie, bless her, would tidy the downstairs part of the house, whilst I would take Kate to Nantes, and eventually find some stocking fillers for the children. I would then be in the kitchen preparing the Christmas meal.  Boeuf Bourgignon, from a vintage recipe by a certain Constance Spry.  Those who know will just know!  I was busy as a little beaver, ok, let’s be serious for one moment, a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver.  I am always wary of skinny people who cook…

Everyone was there.  Well, my wife had spent time preparing the salmon, fake caviar, and foie gras.  The “girlfriend” was taking photos with her new camera and a rather snazzy lens.  Everything is always fine when we just talk about photography.  My daughter, or so it would seem, decided that she no longer wished to have her photo taken.  I know this is a cue for me to put my camera down and change subjects.  The “girlfriend” however, did not.  Oh, bugger.  Here we go again.  The shit storm had just been let loose and words were said and things just got shouty all of a sudden.  

I had an “Oh bollocks!” moment.  We had a situation Houston.  I had a screaming 12-year-old in the living room, two very young adults in my son’s rooms arguing about how Kate had been mean.  Female violence is not like male violence.  Men will just kick several tons of crap out of each other, and then go and have a beer and get over it.  It would appear that this isn’t the same approach with ladies, where one will talk about an unclean hob, and what happened to her brother.  I know it was low, but don’t go down that road.  It’s not good.  So my wife came down and asked what the hell was going on, and I had been in the kitchen creating culinary miracles so I only had second hand and possibly biased information.  

Situation report for everyone.  One 12 year old in her room feeling shitty for having ruined Christmas, two you adults arguing in their room, over analysing everything and getting everything wrong.  One furious wife, and how dare they ruin her bloody fucking Christmas, and they had bloody well get a fucking move on downstairs because everything was ready.  At the precise moment I was wanting to put on body armour, and a helmet and take cover.  I would have been quite happy to go and take cover in my own room and sod the food.  A cheese sandwich would have been fine, we could always eat the stuff on Christmas Day!  

It is better to be kind and not right, and it was time for a cheese sandwich however appealing it might seem at that very moment.  Who could imagine that some cream cheese on one slice of bread, Branston pickle on another slice of bread, and a couple of slices of mature cheddar, could make a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver, rather happy and forget WW3 that was starting.  The children were told how furious my wife was and how they had better bloody well come downstairs this bloody instant.  The “girlfriend” said she was going to see her mother.  Oh clucking bell, here we go again but assured us that she would be back soon.  I took cover on the sofa, and eventually, the “girlfriend” came back, and my daughter had remembered how it had been decided that presents would be opened at the apréro.  The daughter went to tell the lovebirds that it was time to come down for the presents.  Two attempts were needed but her peacekeeping skills were amazing.  Five people around my table were no longer wanted to kill each other, but open presents.  Peace had come back to the proceeding.  Our own little Christmas miracle.

The youngsters spent Christmas Day with her family, and therefore not my problem anymore.  My daughter stayed with us.  I sent a text message to our neighbour asking if she wanted to come round for tea, or drinks.  Seeing what time it was I knew it would be drinks.  Ah well.  Into the breach once again!  It was nice.  I was calm.  I spoke to my parents who indeed told me how soft I am with that lad, and how Christmas can lead to a little drama.  I think that I am not a fan of drama.