Vocation

This can sound something like a strange word nowadays, but as a Catholic, it was omnipresent during my youth, or at least I thought so. When I was at boarding school, the monks taught us about the monk’s life and how one could become a monk. The local parish priest when I was younger was convinced that I had a vocation to the priesthood. During my teenage years I did wonder, but then hormones struck and knocked me for six.

As i would discover, that drive for sex is a powerful thing. I had been introduced to sex by a babysitter and at 9 years old, it is too young and it robbed me of my innocence. But that is another story and I only shared what happened in 2007, and the first reaction of somebody close to me was, well at least he didn’t bugger you. Therefore, it could have been worse, but I can still see the images in my mind as if they happened yesterday. He wanted me to eat his cum, and I said no, I took back the power, and he knew that dynamic had changed. I wasn’t going to be a victim any longer. Not very pleasant, but as that person said, at least he didn’t bugger me. Small mercies…

That was not supposed to take that route. I wanted to stay positive, and it also shaped me and formed me into the person that I am today. It gave me the strength to say that unlike my abuser, this, will, stop, with, me. Maybe I have suffered it, so that others do not have to.

Anyway. Which is English English for let’s change subjects and take a right turn and not be so heavy.

When I was 6, I discovered my vocation. I saw the Guards parading on Horseguard’s Parade on the TV and I told my father that I would do that one day. I would be a musician and play in front of Her Majesty. I would learn the trumpet. My father said why not go with the horn. There are fewer horn players, and you’ll have a better chance of getting in.

So, I did. I learnt my craft and at 16 applied to join the RAF as a musician. The horror in my mother’s eyes as she realised that I was serious, and worse, ready to go in as an enlisted man and not an officer… Everything was done to dissuade me. I had weight to lose, and by summer, I was ready, and even more serious. That Summer we went to the US and southern Canada, which is a marvellous trip but not good if you want to lose weight. My mother’s first husband who died, had been in the Navy, and had started a business with an old Navy friend. It ended up killing him, and i realise now why my mother was like that.

My mother had decided that my vocation was to do my A levels, and then go to university, and study either business, law, or foreign languages. As it turned out, it was not my vocation either. It was in a pub after a Hull Philharmonic rehearsal, that one of my mates from the orchestra, said well you could do worse than sign up. In all fairness, she didn’t stop me this time, and after going through the application processes, I took the Queen’s shilling on the 4th of October 1991. I was 19. I went through basic training and was back squadded due to fitness or rather lack thereof. I went through the process again and almost made it. The problem was that the emphasis was on being a soldier, which is not what I wanted. I wanted to be a musician. One of the lads in my platoon was having a rough time and decided to slit his wrists. He was my mate. Potentially someone I would have gone to war with, and have gladly given my life to protect. I took it very badly. My idea that this might not be my vocation changed. The band that I was about to join had been out in the Gulf during the first gulf war, as had a couple of people form the orchestra I had known in Hull. Some had come back with the traumas still fresh in their minds, like the guy who had driven his ambulance into a minefield, and as he was being guided out could only think about his daughter. One of the guys in the band was found dead, with a hosepipe leading from the exhaust of his car through the window. It was too much for him. Some of the training staff were alcoholics as the advice of the day, was to het hammered, and forget about it that way. The mental health guidance given to the armed forces nowadays was a distant dream. I though probably that for my own mental health it was probably a good idea to get the f out of there. Subconsciously maybe, I failed a combat fitness test, that sealed my fate and off I went back to civvy-street. At least this time it was me deciding bout my vocation or lack thereof.  I remember my OC asking me what I would do, and I said I would probably go back to studies and see where it could get me. 

I came back hoe and was told by my parents that my father had been promoted and would be changing not jobs but cities also.  I was told to move to Newcastle first, and with no real idea of what my future would be made of, I headed off. Didn’t really have the choice.  But I do miss my childhood home and city.  Hull will always be the place I knew as home.

My mother told me to apply for such and such a course and to my amazement, I was accepted.  There was one of the students that was in a local TA band, and whilst casually having a pint in a pub, the owner said he was in the same band.  I joined the Burma Band of the Light Infantry.  This is what I was really after.  The music, the ceremonial duties, and playing soldiers from time to time.  I still knew how to shoot, and seemed to fit right in.  That Summer we went to Gibraltar with our battalion, and O irony struck again.  The band I was going to join, was on tour there at the same time.  I saw what could have been, but I was happy.

It was that year that I finally realised that the girl in Germany that I had been writing to since the age of 13, and thought I was in love with, wasn’t going to have any future.  It was then that I started to become a fatalist.  I met a French girl that would eventually become my wife and mother of my two children.   Things seem to happen for a reason as if God was giving you a gentle nudge in the right direction.  I still didn’t know what I was destined to do.  However, I knew that this girl was going to be part of it.

I wasn’t destined to complete my studies and became a proper College drop out.  Possibly because I was trying to please others rather than myself.  I’m still an occasional people pleaser but with time I am getting better, and soooo over it!  We had started to create a relationship out of mutual attraction, a good dose of sex, and actually liking each other as people.  Virginie was fed up of the UK and didn’t see her future there, she wanted to go back to France to live, and that she would like me to go with her.  I was scared shitless.  This was serious and would be a massive change.  I spoke reasonable French and even now, my written French is better than my wife’s is, as long as I know which words are masculine and which are feminine. And there was me that thought I was destined to live in Austria of Germany.  Guess not.

I still had no idea on what I was doing and what the future held and just seemed to get on with life and settle down into French life.  Any idea of vocation and career went out of the window.

We got our first flat, and life just seemed to roll by without any set direction.  I had asked Virginie to marry me back in 1993 and she said yes.  Nevertheless, it was still up in the air.  We went to see my parents in the UK for Christmas 1997, and was told by mother to bloody well get on with it, as there is no point in just letting your life slip by.  Be proactive and set a date.   We did.  It was decided that on the 21st of June 1998 we would get married.  In April of that year, Vrginie and I did the Catholic tango and I knew that my destiny was to be a father.  We had each bought a pregnancy test, and when I arrived home I was told I could take mine back.  From that day, I thought right, here we go.  God had intrusted a child to me and my duty was to help him become the adult he was destined to be.  My father is somebody who lost his father when he was 11 years old.  And when he became my father in 1974 when my widowed mother remarried, he adopted me and was there for the duration.  I realise now, that the instant that you become a father, you’re a father for the rest of you life.  He had set the bar really high for me, but I have always tried to live up to his example.  He is a just man, and always ever so fair.  Each time I have disappointed him, I felt so awful each time.  So this was my destiny!

I have two children.  I love both of them dearly and am trying to do everything I can for them to help them develop into the people that God wants them to become.  You can’t un-become a father.  It’s part of your very essence.  I don’t care about a career, as what I do to earn money does not define who I am.  My social rank, does not define who I am as a person.  Despite the Army telling me I was weak, I know that through my battles with what life has thrown at me, I have the mental fortitude, and strength, to keep going.  I have acquired wisdom.  I have acquired knowledge.  I still suffer from depression but it does not define who I am.  You have to keep going, because others are depending on you. 

My son is now the age I was when I left the UK.  He too has a French girlfriend, and we like her immensely.  I wish them both well, and that they too, find their vocation.  I hope part of that is to become parents.  I’m ready to become Grandpa, and let the next generation get on with their lives.

My old friend

My old friend melancholy is back with avengeance. She’s a bitch and knows exactly what you don’t want to hear. She reminds you that you are in a sexless marriage, that you are useless to everyone, and that you would be better off dead.

If I look for sex somewhere then I’m the shit, but it’s not the “done thing” to impose oneself. And sex is not just the only thing lacking in my life.

I want out. I want to die. That’s why I’m slowly killing myself. When I’m not good I eat, which will only bring me closer to death, and yet, in an ironic twist of fate, if I don’t eat the same fate awaits me.

At least as a fat guy, society has decided that I’m not allowed to be a sexual being. Who would to have sex with me anyway? Not even my wife does, so why would anybody else?

It’s not just about sex despite what society might say. It’s the connection that sex can give its protagonists, or even the intimacy. Since the advent of Covid we have been told to be wary of everyone else. We all have masks on. We are told that we have to socially isolate. We are social animals and this lack of physical contact is ruining all of us. It will leave scars on all of us for years to come. The problem is that I love my wife deeply but it’s as if there’s a gulf between us. Maybe through death I will be able to set her free.

I feel lonely every day. I am on my own every day at work and work on my own, and it’s the same at home. Solitude can be a blessing, but it can very quickly become a great burden. I even feel resentment every time that people ring me at work. I have my work to do and it’s as people are just interrupting my day. How inconsiderate of them.

I will not be missed. There may be slightly fewer photos on Instagram but people get on with their lives. Life continues despite death of one the protagonists. Eventually people cope and “get over it” and the person really is “laid to rest.”

I just don’t fancy dying in France. I want to die at home. It might have been a fashion in 1914 to 1918, And my grandfather had a couple of brothers eho were killed and buried over here. I want to die at home. I’ve been here for 26 years and I’m fed up of it all. Boris may have ruined my country’s future, but it’s still home.

As a Catholic I try and offer my suffering up as a sacrifice for my many sins. That’s what Ste Thérèse de l’enfant Jésus told us. She was dead by the age of 30 and was a Doctor of the church.

I’m not suffering from despair, I just want this situation to end. I know I should just suck it up buttercup, man up, and stop feeling sorry for myself. Easier said than done. That’s what I was told by my form master when I was at prep school. My mother would say the same.

Some would go and offer sympathy on Facebook, as if a message on a virtual notice board would help. I’m not putting down peoples’ intentions, but you have to get real. It’s like putting a black square on social media. It doesn’t help.

Some would say, go and consult. That doesn’t help either. The head shrinkers are madder than me, except they know they are. I just have a small inkling that they’re even more full of shit than my intestines after eating a whole load of fiber.

I don’t hate any of you. I just hate myself. I am told that God loves me. I am trying to believe that, but it’s not easy every day.

Time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana. This is why I hide myself in my bedroom as soon as I get home. It’s why I do photography. At least when I’m out with a camera I’m doing something instead of thinking. That helps sometimes. Anyway. I’m not dead yet so you’re going to have to out up with for a little while longer.

Here is a selection of photos from last Saturday. Long exposure, shitty weather. I was going for minimalism and maybe a couple of shots I managed it. In some I caught ghost figures due to people not caring and wondering into shot.

Please have a better time of it than me. I’ll get slightly better with a little more time. As I said, I’m not looking for sympathy, or for help. I’m just sharing what is on my mind. Thank the Lord that Adele isn’t singing on the radio…

Riding the waves

I have missed you Dear Reader since I wrote my last article 20 days ago. There goes my idea of writing every week out of the window. I have been going through a rough time lately as far as my mental health is concerned. Let me reassure you that I am still alive, but it’s been like riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Stephen Fry once said that depression is like the weather. It exists. We don’t know how it starts, it’s just there. It’s part of our everyday life. We’re not in the depths of melancholy every day. We even have good days. We even have great days where it seems that nothing can go wrong.

However, when it does go wrong, it can go very wrong, and go very wrong very quickly. You of course try and fight it. Which is perfectly normal and a rational thing to do. But this of course takes an awful lot of effort and leaves you shattered. When you are shattered you feel your energy levels gradually diminish, and when it happens to me I seem to have a few basic tasks that I can carry out. One of the hardest of these tasks is to get out of bed every morning and affront the world. But you do it. Because you have to. You drag yourself to work. You manage to do the basic stuff so as not to be noticed. But you withdraw. You are no longer chatty. You avoid people and only talk when necessary.

You start to get feel the presence of “darker” thoughts which become increasingly darker. You start to think the worst, but the you remember that you are so bloody useless that you can’t even tie a proper knot. Yes. My incompetence has saved me once again!

Another of my basic tasks is to go to mass. It was a couple of weeks ago. I was still going to the cathedral on the Sunday night for the music. That night, my body may have been there but by mind was in turmoil. Little did I know that I was already getting better. A voice in my head said, well now, if you’re here, then it means you haven’t given up yet. It was a voice that comes to me now and again. It’s a voice that is the opposite of the voices trying to put me down. Imagine watching a cartoon where you’re thinking, and on one side you have a daemon trying to drag you down, but on the other you have an angel trying to pull you back up. One is violent in its very essence, whilst the other is pure love and gentleness. It’s at moments like this that I know God exists. God is love and where there is love, there is God. This is such a great comfort to me during these dark episodes. Maybe depression is a truly religious experience?

People generally notice that I’m not so well only after I’ve hit this rock bottom and am back on the way up. I have friends that are Catholic also, and have helped me more than they realise. Others offer simple kindness, which is another form of love. Others will just listen and not treat me as if I’m a headcase even though I might feel like one. This again is pure kindness. this kindness is like a breath of fresh air and so precious to me. I would really like to thank those of you but I can’t thank you enough.

My mental health is like being a sea. I am the ship, and get battered about by the waves. There is always a real risk that I may sink and cease to be, but when I’m at the very bottom of the wave I know that I will start to rise again. Sometime it takes a little longer than I may first have hoped. But I will rise.

I have accepted this as being part of who I am. I am fully conscious of when I am starting to stumble. I know the signs. I know what I am looking out for. Can it be cured? I don’t honestly know. There is certainly no quick fix. There is no pill that you can pop that will make everything right again. At best it offered me an automatic pilot for a given period of time.

Some have said that I suffer from Hypersensitivity. I was given a book as a present from a friend and have actually started reading it. I don’t know what to think about it yet. I’m not a great believer in self-help books and don’t believe there is one solution for everyone, let alone for myself. All I know at the moment is that I am feeling better, and am feeling ready to ride the waves one more time.

Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas dear Reader. Ok. I know I’m a little late but that’s fine. Most of these blog posts have that impression of being slightly out of sync like a news reporter talking live from outside Parliament, or a badly dubbed film… trust me, I will wish you a Happy New Year by the end of June, I just don’t know in what year yet.

Christmas has been great this year. For those who know me I’ll just let that sink in. For those of you who know me as a tea drinker and cake eater, I mean cake amateur, this is the first Christmas where I have not been depressed for so long. The others can come back now.

I always make a difference between Christmas, and the secular Christmas , which is all about joining the orgy of consumerism, eating,and drinking. The kind of Christmas we have in France, buy all this nice food, buy all this nice wine, buy the expensive presents for those you love, and you will have happiness and people will love you. They’re so good at fooling us that we fall for the same bullshit year in, year out.

The Christmas I had this year was post Lourdes and my return to the Church. I still bought presents for my family, and loved the presents my family gave me. One was a machine that made tea. And I’m always so wary of people that claim that it is possible to make tea without using boiling water, scalding the teapot first etc. This machine is actually rather good. Will wonders never cease?

Right. Back to where I was. I travelled though Advent and what the readings in Mass during Advent teach us. I went to confession to prepare my soul. I asked God to bring my family together and celebrate the giving of Christmas the way that God gave us Jesus, Emmanuel, or God amongst us. Maybe before I was the problem, because this year I was in such a different place mentally.

We have a tradition of always having somebody over for Christmas who is alone or not with their family for Christmas. This year, it was a friend of Killian’s whose family had just suffered a death. He needed to be elsewhere as a self preservation mechanism. The table was laid out with finger foods, but the good stuff that makes this meal special the way Christmas is special. There was wine and beer. There were Christmas crackers that had been spotted my daughter in the shop where I get various cakes and sweets. The French don’t do Christmas crackers, and my son’s friend was slightly put off by the English tradition of putting a stupid flimsy paper crown on. but he did it and we all had a good time. I had just one beer so I would be clear to go to midnight mass.

Midnight mass started with a service at 23h30. As I drove up to Nantes there was hardly anybody on the roads. I parked and had never seen so many spaces in that car park. As I walked though the Quartier Bouffay, I could see nobody on the streets. I could see windows with lights on, and people around tables. As I walked pas the Sainte Croix church, I could hear the singing of hymns already celebrating Christmas. I saw the Soldiers guarding the Church just in case. I wished them Merry Christmas and felt thankful that it wasn’t cold. I walked on past Decré, past the Place de Pilori, and on towards the Cathedral. As I advanced, more people seemed to join me. Otherwise Nantes was sitting down to eat.

The Bishop said mass and the music was special in a way that only Christmas music can be. Despite being part of the body of the Church and celebrating mass like so many other Catholics in the world I felt alone. I was missing having my family by my side. I would have to wait for the next day, Christmas Day, to be able to have my wife and two children with me. That made my Christmas. That and really good tea, and some lovely Christmas cake with cheese on it…

PS. It’s actually the Epiphany today today, so technically I’m not late yet.

The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.

Day out with my son

I’m in the pub after having heard Mass in the Cathedral with my son. Last might he was out having “drinks” with friends for his birthday. I said I would meet him in Nantes the next day and that we would spend the day together.

He would be able to choose his birthday cum Christmas present. Since I’m a nice guy and loving father (sometimes…), but what the heck, I said that I would pick him up at his friend’s flat.  The plan was to go into town, have brunch together in the Passage Pommeraye, go around the shops for him, his sister, and my wife, and then go to mass together.

That, at least, was the plan. I picked him up and he looked almost human. We drove into town and actually had a coherent conversation, but he did say that it was a little too sunny and bright… We parked the car and entered “smug mode!” There wouldn’t be any spaces later on, but I found one quite easily… Lady Luck was smiling on us. Little did I know she was just lulling us into a false sense of security.

First things first, he needed some cigarettes, so of we went to the Tabac, then off for brunch. On the way we met a couple who are those kind of people that know how to make you feel wonderful as soon as you see them. I’m not saying that being Canadian has anything to do with it, but it might explain something. Or it might just be that they are just so special and one of a kind. They’ll know who they are if and when they read this. They’re also the couple that told me about Mass in the Cathedral on a Sunday night.

We left them to their meal and pre-meal drinks on the terrace of the café. Direction, the Passage Pommeraye for a wonderful brunch, and Killian was in need of coffee. We got there and the bloody place was shut! Disaster. That Lady Luck was being somewhat less of a lady.

I started scrambling for a plan B. We found a place that sold hot dogs. Everything made on the premises and sourced locally, and not expensive. But they were massive, and we wondered how we were going to get something so big into our mouths, which as you guessed is what she said… We sat on the steps in the street to eat them. As we ate, we saw children passing and “they” knew they had just seen Father Christmas…. Happens often at this time of year.

I had decided that my son needed some clothes and I wanted him to have something nice, so we headed to the nice part of town. We hadn’t had coffee yet and he really needed some, so we ordered 2 expressos, and chatted whilst we sipped them. There was a shop that I had been in and thought, oh I have to take Killian there, and I had forgotten the name of the place and where it was. Two hours and quite a few steps later we found the place and our luck changed. The shop was open!!!! He wanted a flat cap à la Peeky Blinders, and he found one. Present for Killian, check!

By this time he was human again and caffeine had obviously worked its magic, in that peculiar way that caffeine seems to do.

We started wondering again, but this time looking for something for my wife. We ended up on a kitchen equipment shop selling any gadget you could need. This is a very dangerous place for me as my eyes light up like those of a child in a sweet shop.

We got a message from a friend’s daughter saying that she and he brother were in town with friends and would we like to meet up. I of course said yes and that we were near such and such a place. She said she would phone me as soon as she was parked. She couldn’t find a space so they would park away from the city centre and catch the tram to joins us and where would we be. I of course said why don’t we meet up at the pub, and here’s how to get there. We arrived just in time to order Guinness and say hello to the guys behind the bar, and in they came. It was good to catch up and we talked about nothing and everything in equal amounts and they left saying how we would meet up in 6 weeks time at their mother’s wedding. I’ll be taking a few photos as a present for the bride.

Killian and I wondered around more shops just in case we found something for the girls (wife, and my daughter) we couldn’t find anything except for my daughter, but as we were talking about my wife, his mother, we knew what we were going to get for her. Except we have no idea on where to look.

We got the the Cathedral with time to spare so looked around before mass started. That organist is amazing, and you can literally feel the organ music and it resonates in the church. It goes right through you. It was lovely not being on my own for mass too.

Afterwards we thanked the priest for mass and headed off to the pub for a quick pint, and then on to get some food. Vegan burger that was actually really good, and even Killian thought so too, which is praise indeed.

A long day, but a good day. The kind of day that any father and son should have once in a while. The only thing missing? Some cake….